Christ in Genesis

My writing project for 2016 was a series of studies of Christ in Genesis. I want to publish it all in one place, but now that I have time to work with it, WordPress is being uncooperative. Therefore, as one reader asked, here are links to the twenty-two pieces of the work as published.
Introduction

  1. In the Beginning
  2. In the Garden
  3. A Tale of Two Trees
  4. The Better Garment
  5. Confession and Promise
  6. Raising Cain, Raising Abel
  7. Noah, the Ark, and the Flood
  8. The Tower of Babel
  9. The Promise to Abraham
  10. Melchizedek
  11. Abraham, the Father of Faith
  12. Miracle Babies, and the Rights of the Firstborn
  13. The Sacrifice
  14. The Bride
  15. Birthright and Blessing
  16. Jacob’s Ladder
  17. Wrestling with God, and Seeing the Face of God
  18. Joseph & Bros.
  19. At the Right HandAt the Right Hand
  20. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
  21. “Am I in the Place of God?”

 

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Christ in Genesis: “Am I in the place of God?”

After Jacob died, his sons feared that Joseph may have been delaying his vengeance until that time. Their guilty consciences made it hard for them to believe that Joseph sincerely and whole-heartedly forgave their sins. Therefore, they sent a message to Joseph. They claimed that, before he died, Jacob had demanded forgiveness from Joseph for his brothers. We cannot tell whether or not Jacob said such a thing. No record of Jacob’s message about forgiveness appears in Genesis, aside from the quote given by Joseph’s brothers. Their guilt and fear may have tempted them into lying to their brother. It did not matter, though, because Joseph had already forgiven his brothers all their sins.

Before he died, Jesus commanded his followers to forgive those who sin against us. He even put into his model prayer a promise to forgive those who sin against us. Jesus spoke so firmly about forgiveness that some Christians believe that forgiving those who hurt us is a requirement for salvation. They think that the Bible says that we must forgive first so that God will forgive us. They forget that God always goes first. We forgive others only because of the forgiveness of God. We forgive others, passing along the forgiveness won by Jesus on the cross. Refusing to forgive someone who has hurt us calls God’s complete forgiveness into question. If a sin against us is too big for God to forgive, how can we be sure that he has forgiven all our sins? But we do not forgive sinners out of the goodness of our hearts. We forgive sinners because Jesus has already purchased their forgiveness by his blood, his suffering, and his death.

Why does God allow sins to happen, knowing that we will be hurt by the sins of others? In the abstract, Christians can find answers to that question. Dealing with a specific sin, we do not always know which answer applies. In the case of Joseph, he was allowed to know the answer to that question. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph reports, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good, so that many people are alive today.” God permitted the sin of Joseph’s brothers so Joseph could sit at the right hand of Pharaoh and run Egypt, saving the lives of the Egyptian people and of their neighbors, including Joseph’s family.

Sometime God allows sin and evil so we can see the true nature of sin and evil and reject them, preferring what is good. Sometimes God allows sin and evil because he has a way of turning them into a greater blessing, as he did in the case of Joseph. Sometimes God allows sin and evil to provide an opportunity for his people to do good things, forgiving the sinner and helping the victims of sin. Sometimes God allows sin and evil to remind his people of the suffering of Christ on the cross. The devil persecutes God’s people, intended to make us doubt God’s goodness or love or power. When our troubles remind us how God saved us through the suffering of his Son, the devil is thwarted and God’s Kingdom remains victorious.

God does not cause evil, although even evil things come from his creation. Evil is not equal to good; evil is good that has been twisted and misused. God placed metal in the ground and gave skill to a craftsman who makes a knife from that metal. When that knife is used in a murder, God is not at fault. He permitted that sin for a reason, and he provided the ways that sin could take place. If he allowed that sin and did not intervene to prevent that sin (and only God knows how many times he has intervened to prevent evil), then he had a reason to allow that sin. God is under no obligation to tell us all his reasons.

“Am I in the place of God?” Joseph asked his brothers when they came to Joseph looking for forgiveness. The way he phrased the question, he expected the answer to be “no.” Yet as a picture of Christ, his forgiveness was Christ’s forgiveness. He had authority to punish his brothers or to forgive them. He was indeed in the place of God, and his forgiveness was a vivid picture of God’s forgiveness given freely to sinners.

When Peter declared his faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus congratulated Peter on that declaration and added, “I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you unlock on earth is unlocked in heaven, and whatever you lock on earth is locked in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-19). Later, Jesus said the same words to all his apostles (Matthew 18:18). After he had died and had risen from the dead, Jesus said the same thing a third time. John says that Jesus breathed on the apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whatever you forgive on earth is forgiven in heaven, and whatever you do not forgive on earth is not forgiven in heaven” (John 20:22-23).

Who has the keys to heaven? Who has the power to forgive sins (or to withhold forgiveness)? Everyone who has received the Holy Spirit has this power. Since we know that “no one can say Jesus is Lord apart from the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12: 3), everyone who confesses faith in Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Everyone who, like Peter, knows that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is able to share his forgiveness with sinners.

Why would Jesus also give the power to lock heaven, to refuse forgiveness to sinners? He tells us not to give dogs what is holy and not to cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). We do not speak words of forgiveness to people who boast of their sins, who refuse to admit that what they are doing is wrong, who do not want to be forgiven. God calls sinners to repent. Because we have the keys to heaven, we also call sinners to repent. Our goal is always to lead sinners to repent so we can forgive them. Yet our words of forgiveness would have no meaning if we said them to everyone, even to sinners who proudly continue to sin and who do not care whether or not God has forgiven them.

“Am I in the place of God?” Since he was a picture of the Christ, Joseph should have been answered “yes.” “Am I in the place of God?” Jesus says, “Yes, you are.” He could bring forgiveness to sinners any way he chose. After purchasing full forgiveness on the cross, Jesus chose to bring forgiveness to sinners through the work of his Church. Every member of that Church has the power to share Christ’s forgiveness. Every person on earth is either a missionary or a mission opportunity.

Like Adam, like Abel, like Abraham and Isaac and Esau, Joseph was a picture of Christ. Today, in a different way, every Christian is a picture of Christ. (That is why we are called Christians.) God wanted ancient people to know his plan of salvation, and he wants people today to know the same plan. He chooses to work with us–his will be done. J.

Christ in Genesis: At the right hand

Throughout history, certain kings and emperors and other executive authorities have enjoyed the privilege of rule without accepting any of the responsibility of rule. Sometimes they were considered too important to do the work of government. Sometimes they were incompetent. Sometimes they were merely lazy. In every case, someone else was found to do the real work of governing the land. Joseph became such a man in Egypt. After interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh, predicting seven years of bounty followed by seven years of famine, Joseph was put in charge of Egypt, collecting supplies during the good times to take care of people during the bad times. Joseph ran Egypt, while the Pharaoh sat on the throne and enjoyed the worship of his people. In a similar way, in the book of Esther, first Haman and then Mordecai took royal authority in Persia. The real emperor sat on the throne, but his prime ministers did the work of running the empire.

We call such a power a “right hand man.” As the right hand of the king or emperor, he does the work to run the country while the chief executive gets the credit. Medieval France had a “mayor of the palace” doing the real work while the Merovingian kings got all the credit. Medieval Japan had a Shogun doing the real work while the Japanese emperors got all the credit. Modern corporations and universities often have a President who receives all the credit while a presidential assistant is doing the real work that brings success to the business.

After his resurrection, Jesus told his apostles, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). The apostle Paul shared the same message in a different way, saying that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father (Ephesians 1:20 and Colossians 3:1, among others). The right hand of the Father is not a ceremonial position. Sitting at the Father’s right hand means doing the work of the Father. Because Jesus has been given power and authority by the Father, Jesus is the only Way to approach the Father. Those who try to come to God the Father through their own good deeds, or because they were created by him, cannot reach the Father. Only through Christ can the Father be approached.

As the Pharaoh’s right-hand man, Joseph had power to reward people and power to punish people. Though they did not recognize Joseph, his brothers placed themselves under his power when they came to buy food in Egypt. Joseph, unlike Jesus, was not sinless. He could not resist the temptation to toy with his brothers before he finally told them who he was. Like Christ, though, Joseph forgave his brothers all their sins against him. He provided generously for his family without accepting any payment from them. In the end, he brought them to live with him, as Jesus brings his people into Paradise and into the new creation. Our sins caused Jesus to suffer, as the sins of his brothers caused Joseph to suffer. Yet Jesus does not hold a grudge against any of us. He forgives us, he provides for us now, and he has guaranteed us a home where we will live with him forever in peace and joy. J.

The other Joseph

While I am studying Joseph the son of Jacob in the book of Genesis, I am also learning about Joseph the husband of Mary in the book of Matthew. Beyond sharing a name, the two men are similar in other ways as participants in God’s plan to save his people from their enemies.

Mary’s husband is called a carpenter in English translations of the Bible, but “builder” might be a better translation of his occupation. Joseph probably worked more with stone than with wood, and he helped to build more houses and public buildings than tables and chairs. When the wise men came with gifts for the King of the Jews, they found Jesus and his mother in a house in Bethlehem–Joseph may have built that house during the infancy of Jesus. Joseph appears to have died between the childhood of Jesus (He is mentioned when Jesus is twelve.) and the preaching career of Jesus when Jesus was in his thirties. From the cross, Jesus assigned his mother to the care of his disciple John, something he would not have done if Joseph were still alive.

Early Christian traditions assign later ages to both Mary and Joseph, but those traditions are based more on Greek attitudes about marriage and family than on life for Palestinian Jews of the first century. Mary was probably fifteen years old, give or take a year, when an angel appeared to her and told her that she would have a son without the help of a man. Joseph was probably about thirty then. Women were married when they were in their teens, but men did not marry until they were successful in their careers and could support families. Nevertheless, marriages were based on love as well as convenience. Mary and Joseph were betrothed, which was a formal agreement between Joseph and Mary’s parents (but which probably included Mary’s acceptance and approval of Joseph as a husband). The wedding had not yet happened, but no doubt wedding plans were being made. On the day of the wedding, the groom with his friends would come to the house of the bride and escort the bride and her family and friends to his house. The celebration of the event included food and drink, music and dancing, and much merry-making. Communities looked forward to the joy of a wedding, and many wedding celebrations lasted several days.

Imagine Joseph’s consternation when he learned that Mary was going to give birth to a baby. Joseph knew that he was not the baby’s father. He had the right to demand that Mary be punished, even that she be stoned to death by the community for the sin of adultery. No doubt he found it impossible to believe Mary’s story of an announcement by an angel about her son. Being a righteous man, Joseph did not want Mary killed, so he was planning a quiet divorce–breaking the betrothal before the wedding could take place–when an angel spoke to him and explained the situation to him.

When Joseph accepted his pregnant bride, the whole town of Nazareth must have smiled and winked. Joseph was acting like a man who had been enjoying the privileges of a husband before the wedding day. That happened from time to time, then as now, and people knew that such behavior was sinful, but they tended to regard it as a natural fault rather than a grave sin. To protect Mary and her child, Joseph was willing to allow the appearance of guilt in his life, even though he had done nothing that was wrong. Joseph son of Jacob, in Egypt, was also treated as guilty though he had done nothing wrong. His master’s wife accused Joseph of attempted rape, and for that he was thrown into prison. Both men named Joseph became pictures of Jesus, who also was punished for sins he did not commit, taking guilt upon himself that others would be spared and protected.

In Egypt, Joseph son of Jacob was able to care for his father and brothers and their families. He became their protector during the famine and kept them safe from hunger. In Nazareth and Bethlehem, Joseph Mary’s husband was also a protector. Mary and her son would have been vulnerable to poverty and starvation had Joseph not taken her as his wife. In this way also, both men are pictures of Jesus who protects his people in a world that is filled with dangers.

Finally, dreams are important to both men. While he was a teen, Joseph son of Jacob had dreams that foretold the future, picturing how his family would bow down to him and honor him. Later, he interpreted the dreams of others. Joseph Mary’s husband heard from angels in a series of dreams that guided him to make Mary his wife, to take her to Egypt to protect the life of Jesus, and to return to the Promised Land after the death of King Herod. Not every dream is a message from God. Most of our dreams are shaped either by our hopes or by our fears. When he chooses, though, God can communicate through dreams, as he did in the case of both men named Joseph. Before accepting a dream as a message from God, though, the dreamer should first compare that dream to the message of God recorded in the Bible. If the dream contradicts the Bible in any way, the dream is just a dream and no message from God. J.

 

Christ in Genesis: Joseph & Bros.

Jacob begot twelve sons and at least one daughter. They were conceived by Jacob’s two wives, sisters Leah and Rachel, and by the servants of each of those wives. Jacob’s favorite wife was Rachel, and her firstborn son was Joseph. To show his preference for Joseph, Jacob gave him a formal garment, usually described in English as “a coat of many colors.”

Like Jesus, Joseph was the son who was favored by his father. Like Jesus, Joseph was hated because of the special relationship he had with his father. Joseph’s own brothers rejected him, as Jesus’ own people rejected him. While Joseph was obeying the will of his father, his brothers seized him violently and plotted his death. They ended up selling him for a certain number of pieces of silver (twenty, not thirty). Before they did so, however, they threw him into a pit in the ground, not intending to bring him out alive again. In this way, Joseph acted out the death and burial of Jesus, as well as his rejection and betrayal from his own people.

The picture of Christ in the life of Joseph becomes even clearer because of his formal garment. When his brothers seized Joseph, they stripped him of his coat of many colors. To deceive their father, they stained the coat with animal blood and brought it to their father. They claimed to have found it in a field, and their phony concern for their brother was expressed in terms of, “We hope nothing bad happened to poor little Joe.” Jacob believed the evidence of his son’s death. He accepted the sons who brought him evidence of Joseph’s death, little realizing that they had, in fact, plotted that death and only narrowly turned aside from killing Joseph.

As Isaac was deceived by Jacob because Jacob was wearing Esau’s clothing, so Jacob is deceived by his sons because of the clothing they bring to him. As Christians, we approach our heavenly Father wearing the righteousness of Jesus. We are not holy. We are not worthy of God’s approval. We do not deserve to approach him at all, let alone be claimed by him as sons. Yet, because we come to the Father clothed in Christ’s righteousness, he accepts us. He calls us his children, says that he loves us, and declares that he is well pleased with us.

The garment we bring to our Father is also stained with blood. Jesus died a bloody death to take away our sins. Our heavenly Father claims us, not only because of the righteousness of Christ, but also because of the blood of Christ. Animals once represented Christ on the altars of the Old Testament, as an animal shed its blood to take the place of Joseph. Now that Jesus has suffered and died, we no longer sacrifice animals to God. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice of which all the bulls and lambs and goats of the Old Testament Law were pictures.

Meanwhile, as a slave in Egypt, Joseph suffered further indignities. He did the will of his master and did not fall short of expectations, yet he became the victim of a lie. Potiphar’s wife claimed that Joseph attacked her and tried to rape her, when the truth was that she had tried to seduce Joseph. Once again, Joseph’s clothing was presented as evidence, this time condemning him to punishment he did not deserve. Joseph suffered in Egypt while doing the right thing, just as Jesus suffered on the cross while doing the right thing. Both were sentenced by Gentile governments, yet in the end both prevailed in time over those same governments. After a few years, Joseph was running Egypt. After about three hundred years, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. J.