How did the Jewish people become a nation?
And what about us? What is God in control of and what are we responsible for?
We’ll answer these questions and more in our podcast today.
Below is a podcast, a video, and notes of this material of this material.
• How did the Jewish people become a nation?
• Did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph have any say in being the founding fathers or were they predestined to do all they did?
• And what about us? What is God in control of and what are we responsible for?
• We’ll answer these questions and more in our lesson today.
From a person to a people: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph
plus, a discussion of God’s sovereignty vs. man’s responsibility
Teacher, Yvon Prehn
So much more going on here than first apparent
• Not just a retelling of Bible stories that you may have heard growing up—about Joseph and his coat of many colors, Jacob and angels, the family of Jacob moving to Egypt and later becoming enslaved there.
• We are going to step back and look at the story of how from one man became a nation of God’s chosen people, to whom He would give his word and from whom the Messiah would come.
• In this we will also look at the interplay of the Sovereignty of God where He is in control of everything and human free will where we are free to make choices.
• We’ll attempt to understand how God being in charge of everything fits in with the choices we make.
• We’ll explore if our choices truly free or if our every action is determined like a puppets.
Review and Overview
• First part of Genesis 1-11
• Four major EVENTS that involved all of humanity
• Confusion of language at Babel
• Second part of Genesis 12-50
• Four major PERSONS that narrow the focus from an individual to a nation
1 more intro comment:
God’s focus on Israel doesn’t mean forgetting the rest of humanity
• The remainder of the OT focuses on the nation of Israel, which we will see formed in this lesson.
• But that does not mean God does not care about or is not working in the rest of the world.
• We saw how Job, who was not a Jew, was commended for his faith in God; we saw Melcizdeck who was called “priest of the most-high God” blessing Abraham.
• There will be stories throughout the OT about those outside the Jewish faith who come to know the true God or who already know Him.
• Romans 1 reiterates that all people innately know about God and are accountable to him.
• But to tell the Biblical story clearly to the world, God chose one people and that is what we will focus on in this lesson.
To help us understand the connection between God’s sovereignty and human free will
• We need to understand all the stories in the Bible have TWO plot lines
• The same destination; different paths to get there
• LINE #1: God’s plan – ultimately salvation for all the earth–clear and linear
• Line #2: Human lives that carried out his plan–all over the place, but heading in the same direction and constrained by God
How they work together
(credit to Rick Warren for this analogy)
• God’s overall plan is like an ocean liner—the direction is certain; the route is set.
• The Captain is in charge.
• It’s his ship, HIS word is law.
• But within the ship the passengers given quite a bit of freedom.
• Individual actions do not affect the final destination—that is determined by the captain—but …..
Individual decisions greatly affect the traveler’s time
on the ship
• There is a crew with assigned tasks and if they don’t do them, things don’t go well
• Also, each passenger responsible for his or her actions, his or her attitude and based on that, what they get or don’t get out of the trip
• There is individual freedom whether they are a helpful part of the crew or pleasant passenger, a dead weight, a bore or someone thrown in the brig.
• They can’t change the destination of the ship, but their actions greatly affect their experience of the journey, and often the experience of those around them.
Not a perfect analogy, but useful
• God will work out his plan of salvation for the world—that’s the destination of ocean liner Earth
• He chose a people, Israel in OT, you might say as His crew with these responsibilities
• Entrusted with his Word
• Spoken by his prophets, verified by signs and prophecies, recorded and passed down faithfully
• Model his Worship
• Which we will see formed in our next section of the Bible, Exodus-Deuteronomy
• To be his Witness
• When they followed orders which He clearly spelled out, they were blessed, when they didn’t, they were disciplined
• Which is the plot line of the rest of the Old Testament
• Watch for how the plot lines of both intertwine as we go through the Old Testament—there are a lot of crazy detours and corrections, storms and times of calm, but ultimately, looking ahead “when the time is right” the prophesied Savior will come into the world.
Where our story happens
• Abraham now settled in the land of Canaan.
• Never forget the importance of true history taking place in identifiable geography
• You can visit today all the places we will talk about
• There is a reason our Bibles have MAPs—because it contains true history in real places
• The writings of many other religions do not
The characters who formed God’s chosen people
• The Founding Fathers of the Jewish people, are often described in summary as “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”
• Joseph is also a key person as he was responsible for bring Jacob’s family to Egypt to save the nation from starvation
Quick review of Abraham’s life
• Abraham moved to Canaan from Ur, a rich, urban, but sinful nation
• He trusted for a son though it took 25 years
• Goes through many trials, some successful, some failures (as all of us)
• Later passed God’s test to sacrifice Isaac
• Declared righteous because he believed God and acted on that belief
• Sarah dies, Abraham buys the cave of Machpelah for a burial place
• Abraham then marries Keturah, and by her, he had other sons, gave them gifts and sent them away
• One was Midian—we hear much more about his descendants in the Bible
Midian was where Moses fled to from Egypt, where God spoke to him
• His wife from there, father called Jethro or Reuel meaning “friend of God
• He was “a priest of Midian” also described as a “Kenite” a sub-tribe of Midian
• “And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.10 Jethro said, blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods,. . . 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God.” Exodus 8:9
• Counsels Moses to train other leaders; His son, Hobab, serves as a guide for Israel through the wilderness.
• Larger group of Midianites with the Moabites later turn on Israel and hire Balaam to curse them and tempt them to commit immorality. From here on, as a people they are enemies with Israel. During the time of Judges, they were the people Gideon defeated.
• Smaller portion of the Midiantes, the Kenites were always friends: Jael, a Kenite kills Sisera, a Midianite general after the battle with Barack and Deborah; Later when God told Saul to destroy Amalakites, Kenites lived near them and were told to move away, which they did.
• Application: when we don’t pay attention to some of these smaller stories, we miss seeing God’s care through the ages with people
Back to the main story…..Abraham knew Isaac, was the son promise
• Gen. 17: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you.”
• So, after (or in the midst of) sending other sons away
• Abraham sends his servant to get a wife for his son back to his family near Haran
• Servant asks for God’s help; Rebekah appears and offers to water his camels
• The servant asks that she return with him, father and brothers see his wealth and she agrees to go (brother was Laban, her son’s future father-in-law)
• From a shepherdess with nothing special in her life, she leaves to become the wife of a very wealthy man, who would love her greatly
• And she will become the mother of a great nation.
• All starting with her kindness to a stranger.
• Application: Always do your best even in the “little” things because you never know who might be watching or what it might lead to.
• At the last judgement remember those commended by Jesus for something so simple as, “I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink”
• Little things are seldom “little” or “simple” to the one receiving them and Jesus promises an eternal reward for them.
Focus on Isaac
• Know the least about him
• Married when 40, but for 20 years no children
• To their credit, Isaac and Rebekah did not attempt the solution of Hagar
• Finally, Rebekah becomes pregnant, “the babies ‘jostled each other’” and when she asked why—
• Gen 25: And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.
• When God says something, he does not change his mind and we need to remember it.
Very Different Children
• Esau-hairy, loved the outdoors, hunting, Father’s favorite
• Jacob, obviously mother’s favorite, liked to cook….
• Esau comes home hungry and sells his birthright for some stew
• Bible says, Esau “despised his birthright”
• Esau an example of a really bad decision—some things cannot be undone
• See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. Hebrews 12:15-17 (ESV)
• Forgiveness is always possible; but decisions have consequences
• Later when Children of Israel refuse at first to go into the Promised Land, they were forgiven, but still had to wander for 40 years.
We have a more encouraging example of how to fight temptation when hungry
• Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:1-4
• And Jesus wasn’t just hungry, he was starving and
“When starving, you can feel your body consuming itself.”
• C.S. Lewis—the limits of temptation only felt by those who resisted to the upmost and most of us give in far too soon.
• Application: don’t focus on your hunger (whatever it might be) but on God’s Word applied to your situation.
Isaac and God’s Covenant
• Abraham apparently told him God’s promise—because he didn’t get it personally for a long time
• God’s Promise to Isaac, didn’t come until a time of testing when there was a famine in the land, as bad as the famine during the time of Abraham. And Isaac went down to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, in Gerar.
• Genesis 26: 2-5 God appeared to him and said, “Don’t go down to Egypt; stay where I tell you. Stay here in this land and I’ll be with you and bless you. I’m giving you and your children all these lands, fulfilling the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky and give them all these lands. All the nations of the Earth will get a blessing for themselves through your descendants. And why? Because Abraham obeyed my summons and kept my charge—my commands, my guidelines, my teachings.”
6 So Isaac stayed put in Gerar.
• But then sinned telling the King Rebekah was his sister and God once again rescued her.
Isaac lives a relatively uneventful life
• Digs a wall, get chased from it, does it again, happens several times until he makes peace
• Esau marries 2 pagan women; does not go well— “a source of grief”
• Time to bless Esau …..Isaac asks Esau to bring meat so he can give the blessing to his first son, but God told him not that Jacob was to be the preeminent son
• Jacob with his mother’s help steals this blessing also…
Before specifics, you need to understand the nature of “blessings/curses” in the Bible
• Particularly in the passage at the end of Genesis c 49, there is a section titled “Isaac blesses his sons” where it then goes on to say some pretty awful things, we need to understand the full meaning of the idea of pronouncing a blessing in the Bible.
• Most times when the word “blessing” is used in the Bible, it has the idea of happy things, good things, what we call “blessings” coming.
• But it also has the idea of a prophecy, of something that will come about in the future.
• Blessings are not spells we cast over people, but what one might call insightful prayers, if by Biblical characters.
• A recorded blessing from God is a certain promise, though as in many things God says, the timing to receive that blessing is not specified. In addition, some blessings are conditional—God does not bless behavior that goes against His Word.
• Keep this in mind as you read through was are prefaced as blessings in the Bible.
Isaac’s blessing to Jacob and to Esau
• To Isaac:
• May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.” Genesis 27:29 (NIV)
• To Esau:
• Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above.
You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.
But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.” Genesis 27:39-40 (NIV)
Back to Jacob
• Flees to his uncle Laban in Haran
• Stops on the way and a most unusual dream, angels ascending and descending to heaven (“Jacob’s Ladder” of the spiritual)
• God appears and gives him the covenant in Gen. 28:13-15, promises him the land, that “all people would be blessed through him” and that God would watch over him and bring him back to the land.
• He goes to Laban, falls in love with his daughter Rachel
• Works for her 7 years and is given Leah and then Rachel
• Old story….. Leah has four sons, Rachel initially barren, Rachel gives Jacob her maidservant, Bilhah, Leah gives him Zilpah to have children with, finally Rachel has Joseph and later Benjamin.
• Not a happy family, but very wealthy and he returns to Canaan
• But before arrives another extraordinary encounter, where he .wrestles with God and given a new name, Israel, “Prince of God.”
After settling back in Canaan, Joseph becomes the favored son of Jacob
• Joseph had a special calling from God, but instead of reacting with humility, he brags about it and his brothers hate him for it
• Sell him as a slave to Ishmaelites who take him to Egypt
• He was 16-17 when he was sold into Egypt
• First Potipher’s house; then put into prison
• We see a man of deep faith, who gives glory to God in his reactions to the Baker and Cupbearer
• But must wait 2 more years before his release
• He was 30 when he was made a ruler in Egypt
• He was 39 when his brothers first came to Egypt (second year of the famine, or nine years after being made ruler)
• He was probably 41 or so when the brothers came a second time and Jacob comes to Egypt
• Puts brothers through various tests—for them to deal with and confess sin
Joseph’s final words on his family history
• You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
• Twisted, evil actions brought this about, but God made good of it.
• They will stay in Egypt for 400 years, but you may be wondering…..
Why ok for Israel to go to Egypt?
• When they weren’t supposed to go there before
• But remember God told Abraham:
• Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” Genesis 15:13
• God gave Jacob permission to go to Egypt where 66 people became about 3 million.
• Isolated, did not intermarry or serve Egyptian gods.
• Applications: #1 Always listen for current directions
• #2 Being part of God’s will sometimes means isolation (Noah, “God shut him in,” Joseph, Moses in Midian for 40 years), isolation often a time of preparation and growth
Before end of Genesis, Jacob’s “Blessing”
• More of a prophecy than what we think of as a “blessing” As were the “Blessings of Isaac over Jacob and Esau
• And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. Gen 49
• Ruben Unstable as water, you shall not excel, forfeited by his crime the rights and honors of primogeniture. His posterity never made any figure; no judge, prophet, nor ruler, sprang from this tribe
• Simeon and Levi are brothers; Instruments of cruelty…I will scatter them in Israel and that happened, Simeon, very small tribe scattered in Judah; Levi faithful in trials, became tribe of priests
• Dan shall judge his people
As one of the tribes of Israel.-Samson, a judge from the tribe of Dan
• Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; This was the tribe with a reputation for fierceness. Ehud (Judges 3:15-23), Saul (1 Samuel 9:1, 14:47-52), and Paul (Acts 8:1-3).
• Judah: You are he whom your brothers shall praise…as a lion…the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet…to Him shall be the obedience of the people…Until Shiloh comes
• All came true.
Gives a new idea to the Beatitudes
• Always a problem because what they describe doesn’t seem to be true
• Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth…don’t see too many meek people in places of power
• But when seen in light of OT uses of blessings, when we see them in terms of prophecy, they make much more sense
• And as the “blessings” of the Patriarchs came true for their descendants, so too we can trust the truth of the coming reality to us, as we work to incorporate these characteristics into our lives
Read the beatitudes—think of them in this way of Jesus saying this blessing over you
• Matt. 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
• 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you
• Have hope—may not be your present reality, but it will come—his prophecy, his blessing on your life as his child, his words can be trusted.
And so the ship of God’s plan has completed one part of the journey
• From Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph— now it has become a nation
• Sometimes they did great things, sometimes very bad things
• Tested, blessed, suffered and rejoiced, sometimes because of their actions; sometimes because God gave blessings or trials
• As Heb.11:13 puts it “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”
• No one of them could see the whole plan, but they trusted God and His will was accomplished.
On the balance of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility
• The Patriarchs are men we honor, but their lives were far from smooth sailing—and usually their problems were caused by what they did .
• Abraham brought untold misery into his family and down to the wars of today by not waiting on God and having a child by Hagar; Isaac caused strife between his sons by not obeying God’s decision on who should be first from the time the boys were born and attempting to make a son first who God rejected; Joseph acted arrogantly; his brothers sinned terribly by selling him as a slave.
• Yet no matter how they messed up on the decks, God is the captain of the ship and it traveled forward to His destination.
• The family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob made it safely to Egypt where they would grow into a great nation.
• Because God never let go of the helm.
As we look at their lives, where are you on your journey?
• Maybe you are having a great time and the trip is going great.
• Perhaps you are at a little seasick; perhaps you are tired of the journey.
• Maybe you are working hard below decks when it seems like others do nothing but lounge in the sun.
• Maybe your voyage is pleasant, perhaps it is sad, but wherever you are if you are alive, your journey isn’t over.
• The journey may toss us around and the waves may terrify us, but our Captain can be trusted and whatever tasks he wants us to do, he will help us accomplish.
One final story to remember (anonymous)
• An old missionary had spent his life laboring in obscurity in the jungles of distant Africa. He had buried the love of his life there in the foreign field, and both of his children. He was now returning back to his beloved America, to a land of distant memory. All his family and the friends of his childhood had long preceded him in death. His health was broken as the old man of God boarded a steamer coming home for a final time.
• As fate would decree, on the same ocean liner was a world-famous celebrity with his entourage. As the massive ship entered New York harbor and sailed past the Statue of Liberty, the sound of bands playing could be heard and the noise of thousands of people at the dock to welcome home this famous star of screen and stage. As the ship docked, ticker tape filled the air, music and shouts were loud and boisterous. Soon the star had left the ship and the parade followed him down the street.
• As the old missionary gathered his personal belongings, and walked down the gangplank, not one person was there to meet him. As a tear trickled down his face, the old man of God looked to heaven, and in a voice of dejection he said, “Lord, after all of these years of faithful service, could you not have sent just one person to welcome me home?”
• From the battlements of heaven, a voice spoke softly in reply: “You see my son that is the point. You are not home yet!”
• If you are listening to this….. your ship is not at its home port, you are not home yet.
• But we will be one day. What a celebration that will be.