Joseph and Jesus (Joseph #8)

I have now written and published a series of posts on Genesis 37, which covers the early part of the story of Joseph. I know it is a familiar story to many, and I hope that you have found my thoughts helpful.

Let me summarise chapter 37 for you now:

There once was a son, beloved by his father, and he made some very bold claims about himself. He was hated by his brothers, so much so that they bound him and beat him. They wanted to kill him and left him for dead. They thought they had gotten rid of him for good for the price of a few silver coins. They did not realise that one day, he would return to rule over them.

Who am I talking about here? Joseph? Or Jesus? With some careful wording, the above seems to apply rather well to both the son of Jacob and the Son of God.

Joseph is a “type” of Christ, and by type, I mean something akin to a prototype. In the Hebrew Scriptures, prophecy is less about predicting the future, and more about  establishing a pattern. Joseph is a pattern for Christ.

Let’s walk back through Genesis 37 and see if we can spot the similarities between Joseph and Jesus.

  • Joseph was hated by his brothers. Jesus was largely rejected by the people of Israel. (Gen 37:4)
  • Joseph was beloved by his father, as was Jesus beloved by His Father (Gen 37:4)
  • Joseph’s brothers hated him for telling them the truth (his dreams). Jesus was hated by the religious leaders of the day for telling them the truth. (Gen 37:5)
  • Joseph told his brothers that they would one day bow down to him. Jesus said that one day we all will bow down to Him (Gen 37:6-7)
  • Joseph’s father sent him to his brothers. Jesus was sent by the Father to the people of Israel (Gen 37:13)
  • Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him; Jesus’ fellow Israelites plotted to kill Him. (Gen 37:18)
  • They threw Joseph in a pit, and Jesus was put in a tomb hewn from rock. (Gen 37:19)
  • They stripped Joseph of his tunic, and the same was done to Jesus (Gen 37:23)
  • Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver; Jesus was sold for thirty pieces. (Gen 37:28)
  • Reuben returned to Joseph’s pit and found it empty. Likewise, the women found Jesus’ tomb empty on the third day (Gen 37:29)
  • Joseph’s brothers killed a male goat to hide their sin. Jesus became a sacrifice for us all, and His blood covered our sin (Gen 37:31)

Some of these, alone, may seem just trivial or coincidental. But when you look at the list as whole, you must admit there is certainly something here.

Is Joseph a perfect, prophetic representation of Jesus? No, not exactly of course. However, there are signs here and patterns set out which we must not gloss over. This passage alone is surely not enough to convince anyone of Jesus’ future coming, but take it alongside the many other Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and a picture forms.

I am not suggesting you bend Scripture to make it say whatever you wish. IF you look however, you will soon see that Jesus is ever present in His Word. The old Testament is a shadow of things to come, and that shadow is that of Christ Himself.

Genesis 37 is not the only place in Joseph’s story where we see Christ. As we continue on through his story, I will try to point them out to you. If you spot one that I miss, do let me know!

Rest assured; the Bible is true! It is the only truth we can rely on! I have not just bet my life on it, but my whole eternity as well. How about you?

Reuben Returns (Joseph #7)

Reuben returned to the pit, and saw that Joseph wasn’t in the pit; and he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The child is no more; and I, where will I go?” 31 They took Joseph’s tunic, and killed a male goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 They took the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father, and said, “We have found this. Examine it, now, and see if it is your son’s tunic or not.”

33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s tunic. An evil animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces.” 34 Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, “For I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” His father wept for him. 36 The Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard.

Genesis 37:29-36 (WEB)

Reuben Returns

If you cast your mind back to an earlier part of the story, you will recall that Reuben was the one who convinced his brothers not to murder Joseph in cold blood. Instead, he talked them into leaving him in the pit and letting nature take its course. This somehow seemed more palatable to them.

Secretly however, Reuben had planned to return and rescue Joseph so that he could return him to his father, and claim the credit. This is pretty low…

Our passage today picks up the account and opens with Reuben’s return. His is more than a little dismayed to find Joseph gone!

Reuben tears his clothes as a sign of grief, or perhaps regret. It does not appear to be a sign of repentance, as he was not exactly acting out of the purest of motives. Rather he recognises that he won’t be able to “save the day” and claim the credit now. He is sorry of course, but for quite the wrong reasons.

I acknowledged my sin to you.

    I didn’t hide my iniquity.

I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,

    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

Psalm 32 is one of the Penitential Psalms or Psalms of Repentance. Here in verse 5, the psalmist asked to be forgiven for the iniquity of their sin – other translations say the “sinfulness of my sin.” See my post of the same name – The Sinfulness of my Sin.

Often when we are caught in wrongdoing, we are sorry for the consequences, not the sin itself. A bank robber is sorry he got caught red-handed, but would feel no guilt had they gotten away with it. Reuben, here, is likewise sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the wrongdoing itself.

The Cover Up

There is a possible gap between verse 30 and 31, as the text moves from Reuben’s cries straight to the brothers’ cover up of events. Presumably one of them told him what had happened in his absence.

Joseph is gone, and the brothers must now deal with the obvious. What will they tell their father? Taking Joseph’s coloured coat, they kill a goat and use its blood to stain the tunic. This will be evidence enough of Joseph’s supposed fate.

Taking it to Jacob, they ask him to identify it. In the absence of a body, this is the next best thing and they do not correct him (of course) when he assumes Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.

Look at the grief they inflict on Jacob! His heart is broken and he descends into deep mourning for many days. His other sons and daughters try to comfort him, but to no avail.

Did they feel any guilt, I wonder, as they looked upon their father during this time? He was so broken that he wished to go to Sheol – the place of the dead – so that he might be with his beloved son. Would a spark of remorse have been felt by any of them? The Bible does not record it.

To what lengths people will go to cover up their sinfulness. I see it in myself at times too. I make a mistake at work and there is clear temptation to sweep it under the carpet, or to give a version of events which look less unfavourable. Surely I am not alone in feeling such temptation in those moments?

Christians must not lie however. We must be honest and truthful, even if it means admitting we’ve done wrong and facing the consequences.

The passage, and this chapter, close by telling us that Joseph (meanwhile) is taken to Egypt and sold to a man named Potiphar, who is a servant of Pharaoh and the captain of the guard. This will later turn out to be another divine appointment for Joseph – but we’ll pick that up another day.

Every blessing to you!

Opportunity Knocks (Joseph #6)

They sat down to eat bread, and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not let our hand be on him; for he is our brother, our flesh.” His brothers listened to him. 28 Midianites who were merchants passed by, and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. The merchants brought Joseph into Egypt.

Genesis 37:25-28 (WEB)

Joseph has found his brothers in the wilderness, and they hatched and executed a plan to capture him. Tearing off his coat of colours, they throw him into a pit. Having talked themselves out of killing him directly, they now plan instead to leave him to the elements.

Verse 25 opens by telling us that they sat down to eat bread. I am not sure if there is any significance to this in particular, but it strikes me that having captured and essentially murdered their brother, food might be the last thing on their minds! It takes a callous heart to condemn someone to death, and then in the next moments enjoy a hearty meal.

Perhaps the significance lies in the timing. The text tells us that while they were eating, they look up and see a caravan of Ishmaelites heading their way. Had they dumped Joseph in the pit and moved on, they may not have run into this group at all, and the rest of our story may have been quite different.

There are no such things as coincidences with God.

Opportunity Knocks

Judah is quick to come up with an alternative ending to Joseph’s life. Rather than murder him outright, he sees an opportunity. Judah sees the chance of making a profit by selling Joseph into slavery. He also adds that why should they shed his blood, after all, Joseph is their brother. His words show perhaps little respect for Joseph himself, but for the family. They all recognise that shedding one’s own brother’s blood is not exactly a righteous thing to do.

So they haul Joseph out of the pit, sell him to the merchants and gain a bag silver in return. We learn that the merchants are heading to Egypt, and surely the brothers expected that to be the last they would ever see of this dreamer. How wrong they would one day prove to be!

God has not been directly mentioned in any of this up to now. Clearly though, He is ever present in the account. God is the source of the dreams that Joseph has had, and surely God is the one who has preserved Joseph’s life at the hand of his brothers. Likewise, God decreed events to take place in such a way that these merchants just happened to be passing at the precise moment necessary.

God has a plan! And this is no less true for you. What happened to Joseph was truly terrible, and yet it was all part of the tapestry of God’s plan. As he lay in the pit, Joseph was likely questioning his dreams and wondering what on earth was to happen to him. Even in our darkest moments, we can cling on to the promises of God and know that they will never fail.

There is a well-known verse from Jeremiah which is often quoted, although I’m not certain if the context applies to all people at all times, but here you go:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says Yahweh, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:1 (WEB)

When you know Jesus, the future is bright. That does not mean there are no dark days ahead of us, but we can rely on Him to take us through. Whatever God’s plan is for you in this life, there is an eternity in paradise to look forward to.

To finish, let me ask you what opportunities may present themselves to you today? How can you be a blessing to someone, or to share your faith with a person who needs to hear it? Don’t just wait and see if an opportunity presents itself, ask the Lord for divine appointments where you can act as a light in this world.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The View from the Pit (Joseph #5)

Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand, and said, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father.

Genesis 37:21-22 (WEB)

To remind you where we are, Joseph was not popular among his brothers. In fact, the Bible makes clear that they hated him to point of not be able to speak to him kindly. Having shared with them some controversial dreams, their resolve against him has only been strengthened. Searching for them in the wilderness, an opportunity has presented itself to them to finally be rid of him for good. Putting it bluntly, they plan to kill him.

Reuben to the Rescue?

Reuben, hearing the plan to murder Joseph, delivers him out of their hand. It may sound as though Reuben has had a bout of conscience but in fact, his motives are purely self-serving.

Instead of shedding Joseph’s blood, an obvious crime, he convinces them to simply throw him into the pit and let him die “naturally!” To the brothers, this apparently seems less unsavoury than actually doing the deed itself. However, would God see them as guiltless for this? I hardly think so.

James, in his letter, says:

So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin.

James 4:17 (Amp)

If we know what is right, and yet refuse to do it, that is sin – plain and simple. For the brothers here, it is not as though they have stumbled across a Joseph who has accidentally fallen into a pit, and refused to rescue him… that would be sin enough! Instead, they plan to throw him in there themselves. Whichever way you shake it, to fulfil such a plan is no different from shedding his blood themselves.

Selfish Motives

We see from the final words of verse 22 that Reuben was not actually concerned about Joseph at all. His motives for rescuing him were purely selfish. He wanted to sneak back later on and pull Joseph out, claiming to be the one who had rescued him and gaining favour with his father.

I wonder if Jacob must take a slice of the blame here. Imagine being in a family where you felt you had to go to such lengths to obtain a father’s favour. Clearly Reuben’s actions are very wrong, but so was the favouritism which drove him to it.

In the pit

When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him; 24 and they took him, and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty. There was no water in it.

Genesis 37:23-24 (WEB)

I wonder, as Joseph approached his brothers that day, if he had any idea what was coming. Even a naïve dreamer (if that’s what he was) must have known their feelings towards him. Perhaps he simply thought the best of them, and never expected them to act in this shocking way.

They strip him of his coat of many colours, and this, in their minds, would have been like ripping off Jacob’s favouritism from him. The coat would have been a sign of leadership too, and likewise they are saying, “You are not above us!” Throwing him into the pit is to throw him beneath them once and for all.

The text makes a point of saying that the pit (or water cistern) is empty. Why is this important – apart from the obvious consequences for Joseph? I want to address that at a later date – so stay tuned! Suffice it to say that I do not believe any detail is in the Bible for no reason.

Water cisterns were no small holes in the ground. The picture above shows the size and scale of some of these pits. We do not know how long Joseph was in there, but from the bottom he would have seen little but sky.

The Bible does not seem to reference Joseph prying all that much, but I can only imagine that as he sat or lay at the bottom of this pit, that he was praying earnestly for rescue. “Get me out of this pit, please God!” he might have said, and would we have prayed any differently? Yet God does answer his prayer (as we will see next time) but not into freedom, rather instead into slavery.

Similarly, if God had rescued Joseph completely in this situation, he would never have found himself in Egypt and in that place God had called him to. Joseph, if he was praying to escape the pit, was praying against God’s will and against his own dreams. That is something to pause on. When we pray, we pray from our human viewpoint and not from God’s stance. Could it be that some of our prayers of rescue are not answered because they would contradict God’s plans and our dreams? I’ll leave that with you…

Let our prayers be led by the Holy Spirit today and every day!

Evil (Joseph #4)

The man said, “They have left here, for I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

Joseph went after his brothers, and found them in Dothan. 18 They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them, they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Behold, this dreamer comes. 20 Come now therefore, and let’s kill him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, ‘An evil animal has devoured him.’ We will see what will become of his dreams.”

Genesis 37:17-20

After a time of searching, Joseph is directed to the town of Dothan where he finally catches up with his brothers. Suffice it to say they were not exactly thrilled to see him coming…

Coat of Many Colours

We have pointed out before that Joseph was wearing his coat of colours and this is no doubt a large part of how they saw him coming from afar. I do not want to draw an overly spiritual point out of this, but do people see you coming a mile off? Do they recognise your clothes, behaviour or attitude? Do they look forward to your approach, or does it fill them with dread as it does Jacob’s sons?

We ought to be properly dressed. Ephesians 6 instructs us to put on the armour of God, and Romans 13 tells us to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to write a fuller post on that subject another day, so won’t say a great deal more here.

However, just as Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, recognising him immediately, I want us – the church – to be immediately recognisable by those who look upon us. Let them see how we conduct ourselves, and spot our holiness, and by so doing draw them into relationship with our wonderful Lord.

The Plot and the Lie

The brothers decide they have had enough of this dreamer, and make a plan to kill him, toss him into a pit and then lie about it to cover it up. We have spoken of their hatred several times in this series so far, and now it bubbles up to a point where they intend to act on it. Surely the Lord Jesus was right when He said that to hate someone in your heart is to murder them.

It sounds absurd to say, but clearly the brothers knew this was not the right thing to do. No one who believes themselves in the right, then lies about it to cover it up. If it was all above board, then they would have had no need to lie. There is a lesson for us there too. If you find yourself “decorating” the truth, or just outright lying about something, then you likewise must know that it is wrong. When I walk into the office and find members of my staff quickly turning off their screens or hiding what they were doing, chances are they were not working!

Beyond that though, the brothers don’t just lie in the heat of the moment, but they plan to lie. Someone caught red-handed may try a bold story to get out of trouble, but it is a whole new level of deceit to plan to lie and cover up ahead of time.

They intend to pass the blame on to some “evil animal.” This is rich, as I know of no animals which are truly evil. Perhaps mistreated ones become mean or untrustworthy, but we would unlikely describe such an animal as evil. Humanity though, we were born with a sinful – evil – nature which corrupts us in every way. The only thing that can rescue us from this evil nature is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He not only cleanses us from our sin, but puts a new nature inside of us, one free of corruption. Praise His Holy Name!

What Will Become of His Dreams?

The final line of our passage today may seem a bit throwaway. “We will see what becomes of his dreams.” It is a sneer almost; the brothers believe they will never see the dreams come to pass because they will end his life right here and now.

God’s plans are not so easily thwarted though.

Next time, we will see how Joseph escapes this murderous plot. For now though, Joseph’s dreams were a sign from God that He had a great plan for this young man’s life. God has a plan for you also. There may be those who try to end your dreams in the here and now, although I pray it is not in such a gruesome way! Nothing can stop God’s plan for your life, so rejoice in that truth today. His plan may not always be comfortable, but continue to trust Him with all of your heart and He will bring you safely to your heavenly home.

Joseph Searching (Joseph #3)

Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing the sheep at Shechem. Get ready, and I will send you to them.”

“I’m ready to go,” Joseph replied.

14 “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along,” Jacob said. “Then come back and bring me a report.” So Jacob sent him on his way, and Joseph travelled to Shechem from their home in the valley of Hebron.

15 When he arrived there, a man from the area noticed him wandering around the countryside. “What are you looking for?” he asked.

16 “I’m looking for my brothers,” Joseph replied. “Do you know where they are pasturing their sheep?”

17 “Yes,” the man told him. “They have moved on from here, but I heard them say, ‘Let’s go on to Dothan.’” So Joseph followed his brothers to Dothan and found them there.

Genesis 37:12-17 (NLT)

We return to the story of Joseph today, and pick up a section of text which is, well, not apparently all that interesting! You can sum it up in a few lines. Joseph’s brothers go to pasture the flocks, and after a while Jacob sends Joseph to go check on them. Joseph can’t find them, and an unnamed man directs him to them. No great theological revelation there right?

Is this section just padding though? Is it just a build up to the real action scenes that follow? It is my firm belief that nothing is in the Bible by accident, and every single word is in there for a purpose. If so, what is the purpose here? Let’s walk through the text and see what we can find. And I do not claim to have all of the answers.

Ready To Go

The first thing I want to note is how ready Joseph is to serve his father and family. Jacob wants to check on his sons and the flocks, but doesn’t immediately give reasons. Is he potentially concerned about what they might be getting up to? Verse 14 is an instruction to go and see, and then return with a report. This may suggest concern on Jacob’s part, but it may also just be a fairly normal practice. Remember, they had no mobile/cellular phones in those days!

A few questions start to emerge here. Why was Joseph not with them? It could be that they simply did not want him around, so left him behind. It could have been that Joseph was favoured such that he did not have to go along, and could stay home and please himself.

Given the brothers’ hatred of Joseph, which they made little attempt to hide, neither Joseph nor Jacob showed any apparent concerns for sending the dreamer off into the wilderness to look for them. Clearly, neither had any idea of what the brothers would soon do, or were even worried about giving them such an opportunity.

Sending Joseph to bring back a report reminds us of the early verses in this chapter where Joseph had brought an evil/bad report back about some of the brothers. Perhaps he and/or Jacob made a habit of checking up on them. Why? Were they known for their not so exemplary behaviour?

Shechem and Dothan

Shechem is an interesting place to go and pasture the flocks. The last time we encountered Shechem, was in Genesis 34. This is a rather grizzly affair where one of Jacob’s daughters in defiled, and the brothers hatch a plan to take vengeance on the man and town of the same name. We do not know how much time has passed since those events, but it is probably advisable to steer clear of the place for a long while. That may explain Jacob’s concern for how they are getting on.

I cannot help but wonder if there is some prophetic or symbolic inference here. Joseph travels to Shechem – the place of recent violence – but does not find either the brothers or trouble there. The fact that they have moved on, and he too heads away from Shechem may allude to Joseph avoiding the same kind of violence the people of that place felt at the hands of the brothers.

I certainly do not want to read more into the text than is there, but as I mentioned above, every word and every place mentioned in the Scripture is there for a purpose.

Verse 15 sees Joseph arrive in Shechem, find nothing and encounters a man of the area. On the surface, he asks what Joseph is looking for, and then directs him to where his brothers have travelled on to. Again, the text could simply be reporting what happened, and there always danger of seeing things that are not there.

Likewise, however, some questions arise in my mind. Does Joseph bump into this man by accident? There is no such thing as coincidence in the Bible! Also, Joseph does not appear to introduce or identify himself to the man, so how does he know who “my brothers” are? The family of Israel were likely quite well known in that area of course, and we know from later events that Joseph was once again adorned with the coat of many colours. No ID required in that case!

Whenever I see an unnamed individual or servant in the Bible, I immediately ask if this is a representation of the Holy Spirit. That statement takes some explaining, but often in the Old Testament we see the Spirit of God prophetically depicted as a servant with no name – because He never testifies about Himself. In Genesis 24, an unnamed servant (named elsewhere) is dispatched by the “father” to obtain a bride for the “son.” This is prophetically similar to the Father sending forth the Holy Spirit to prepare the Bride of Christ.

Back to Genesis 37, this unnamed man directs Joseph away from Shechem (the place of former violence) and towards a place called Dothan. As far as I can tell, the only other time that this place was mentioned in the Bible was in 2 Kings 6.

In 2 Kings 6, we read of the Aramean king who was attacking Israel. Every time he formed a plan against them though, God would reveal this to Elisha – the man of God – and the plan would be thwarted. The King of Aram became so frustrated, he believed there was a spy in his ranks. It was told to him that Elisha was the one who somehow knew ahead of time, so the king sent to capture him. Where? At Dothan.

When the Arameans arrived however, they were met with a heavenly army that not even Elisha’s assistant could see. Elisha prayed, and the invading army became blind and he was able to lead them out and into captivity.

What does any of this have to do with Joseph? Well… truth be told, potentially nothing whatsoever! I do think it is interesting though that Joseph was heading into a place known for violence, was directed away by an unnamed man, and ends up going to Dothan. Dothan would later be the place of a great rescue. It could have been a slaughter, and yet God rescued Elisha and the rest in a miraculous way. Joseph is likewise rescued… although it may not seem like it.

If you know what happens next, then you know Joseph is sold into slavery. This is not a pleasant fate of course, but it is rather better than the brothers first idea, which is to kill him. As I say, without reading too much into the text, Joseph avoids violence (Shechem) and is instead led away into slavery (Dothan).

Let me restate that not every passage of the Bible has a hidden meaning, or some code you have to crack. I do not advise missing the obvious meaning of the text in favour of some other mysterious interpretation.

On the face of it, this text simply tells us that Joseph went to look for his brothers, and ultimately finds them. If we see other possibilities, then it is not wrong to explore them, but we must be very careful not to wander into heresy or falsity looking for things that simply are not there. I share what I have shared today to help us examine the text on different levels.

We will explore what happens to Joseph at Dothan next time. Thanks for reading.

He Dreamed a Dream (Joseph #2)

Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and behold, your sheaves came around, and bowed down to my sheaf.”

8 His brothers asked him, “Will you indeed reign over us? Will you indeed have dominion over us?” They hated him all the more for his dreams and for his words. 9 He dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, “Behold, I have dreamed yet another dream: and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.” 10 He told it to his father and to his brothers. His father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves down to the earth before you?” 11 His brothers envied him, but his father kept this saying in mind.

Genesis 37:5-11 (WEB)

Read part one of this series on Joseph here – Joseph’s Beginnings

Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers. Many will question the wisdom of doing this in the generations since he had this dream. Before we even find out its contents, we learn that his brothers hated him all the more.

We learned in the previous post, and the earlier part of the chapter, that Joseph’s brothers hated him. This was largely down to his father’s favouritism causing them to feel like second-class sons. Joseph had also brought a bad report about them to his father, which did not exactly endear them to him. We now find out that Joseph shared the contents of a dream with them, escalating matters further.

The first dream

In this dream, Joseph describes how they were all binding sheaves in the field. This would have been an activity familiar to them all, but then the sheaves take on a life of their own and Joseph’s one stands upright. The other sheaves, representing the brothers then gather around and bow down to Joseph and his sheaf.

You do not need to be a master interpreter of dreams to figure out what this meant. Having lived in Joseph’s shadow for years, the brothers already believing their father thought them inferior to him, now hear Joseph himself saying that he is superior. This kind of dream would have been thought of as prophetic, and that he was proclaiming to them that they would one day bow before him.

Verse 8 again reiterates their hatred for him. In only a few short verses, we’ve been told a number of times of their hatred for him, which underlines the strength of their feelings. It also shows that they hated him not only for the dream itself, but also his words.

This is a point of debate. Should Joseph have told them? Let’s discuss that at the end.

The second dream

Joseph dreams a second dream, and again decides to share. This dream is similar, but instead of sheaves this time, it is heavenly lights. The sun, moon and eleven stars bow down before Joseph’s star. This dream, as before, is not difficult to interpret.

The distinction here is that it is not merely the eleven brothers who would bow down to him, but the “sun and moon” also. Jacob, in his rebuke of Joseph (which may have been long overdue), interprets these two things for us. Clearly, the sun and moon refer to Joseph’s father and mother. It is now not just the brother who would bow, but Joseph’s parents too. This is indeed a bold claim, as parental authority was very important in those days (and arguably should be no less so now).

After Joseph has shared both dreams with his family, their response is the same. They both question him, saying “Will we really?” I hear the sarcasm in their tone here, and yet the Bible does not record Joseph responding to either time of questioning. Is that because the answer is plain? At no point are we told that Joseph even questioned the dreams.

And this leads us on to the question I posed above – should he have told them?

Humility

To stand before a group of your peers, friends or family and say that one day they will all bow down before me does not scream “humility” does it? In fact, we might label it as arrogance or pride.

Yet, what is humility? It certainly isn’t the opposite of arrogance as we know it. An arrogant person, in our vernacular, is someone who displays an almost offensive level of self-importance – “self” is a key word here.

The opposite, as we know it, is humility. I think, however, we wrongly define it. We believe that a humble person is the opposite of arrogant. It is someone who is perhaps shy, or timid, or who fades into the background not wishing to speak up or be seen. This kind of extremity is not humility in my mind, and actually as someone who is naturally quite shy (and many will laugh at that very idea), I can say that shyness is not humility. A shy person is just as much focussed on themselves as the arrogant person. While an arrogant person promotes themselves and how wonderful they are, a shy person may lack self-esteem to the point where they do not speak up for fear of what others may think. Their attention is on themselves and how they are perceived.

Humility does not focus on self; not in the negative or in the positive. Humility is not self-centred, but God-centred.

Joseph was, believe it or not, very humble to stand before his family and say such things. God put these dreams in his mind, and he was so excited about what God had said to him, he just shared it. Were they truly loving or humble themselves, they would have been excited for him too.

How do you react when someone excitedly tells you they have been blessed with something you’ve been praying for (for yourself) for years? Are you excited for them, or are you jealous? Do you ask yourself what they’ve done to deserve it, or think in your heart – “I’m a more spiritual Christian than they, I read the Bible, I pray, I give, I… I… I…”

They knew the truth

Verse 11 closes out this passage by saying that the brothers were envious of Joseph, and that Jacob kept these things in his mind.

You cannot truly love someone you are envious of. To be envious is to say that you want what they have, or worse, that you believe you are more deserving of it than they are. That is not love. Love wants what’s best for them, and takes no account of what we do or don’t have.

The other thing that envy points out is that they believed it. Had they dismissed it as the fantasies of a daydreamer, then they would have had little need to be envious. The envy shows that they, in their hearts, did believe one day he would rise up above them.

Jacob, likewise, stored up these things in his heart. He kept them in mind, and also knew that these things would come to pass one day.

As I close, I realise I have not directly answered the question: should Joseph have told them? Perhaps, perhaps not. It shows some naivety on his part to think they, who already hated him, would somehow be pleased to hear this. We have no indication that God instructed him to share this with them. The things that God reveals to us are often deeply personal and should not be lightly shared with others.

Joseph was an inexperienced young man who was no doubt excited by what God had revealed to him. All of us would have felt the desire to share the good news with our loved ones, but let us not forget that not everyone will see God’s vision for our lives.

As I close, we will go on next to see what their intense hatred of Joseph leads his brothers to do. Had he not told them these dreams, would they have still done it? We don’t know. But we do know that God’s plan and purpose would have come to pass.

What has God revealed to you? What is His plan and purpose for your life? Don’t just let life unfold before you, seek God’s will and live for Him today and every day.

Joseph’s Beginnings (Joseph #1)

Jacob lived in the land of his father’s travels, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. Joseph brought an evil report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a tunic of many colors. 4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, and they hated him, and couldn’t speak peaceably to him.

Genesis 37:1-4 (WEB)

There has been much written about Joseph, whose life is described in the book of Genesis starting at chapter 37. You may know him as the young man who dreamed dreams and wore a rather colourful coat. For some time, I have wanted to write about him, and see what we can learn from his life. We may be familiar with the Hollywood or Broadway version of events, but what does the Bible actually say about him and what happened?

Let’s take a look at the life of this remarkable young man and learn what we can.

The story begins in the land of Canaan, where we find Jacob (Joseph’s father) living in the land of his forefathers – namely, Isaac and Abraham.

The story opens with Joseph being seventeen. Although it does not say so in the text above, Joseph was the first son of Jacob’s wife Rachel. Rachel was Jacob’s favourite wife, for he had two (Leah being the first) but also, as above, two concubines named Bilhah and Zilpah. Most of Jacob’s twelve sons were born to him via Leah, with Rachel bearing Joseph and Benjamin. Knowing these details will be important later!

The passage above says that Joseph was boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah – who were they? As mentioned, these were the sons of Jacob and the two concubines. They were Dan and Naphtali (of Bilhah) and Gad and Asher (of Zilpah).

An evil report

The first thing we learn about Joseph is the almost throw away remarks of these first few verses of chapter 37. We learn of his age (seventeen) but also that he grew up with these other boys. We are told that Joseph brought an evil report about them to his father. We do not know the nature of this, and so it is difficult to draw too many conclusions here.

Several scenarios are possible. It could have been a complete lie, for example, and Joseph just telling tales on his illegitimate brothers… but this seems very inconsistent with Joseph’s character elsewhere described in Genesis. Most likely, they were up to no good and Joseph told on them. The Bible does not record Jacob’s response.

Was this a good idea on Joseph’s part? It is hard to say without knowing more details. If one of my children were playing with matches, I would want one of the others to tell me about it. We can surmise that Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher weren’t best pleased with Joseph for this.

Some would accuse Joseph of naivety, particularly later when we read about his dreams and what he tells his family about them. This is likely true, but I think it also shows a great humility in Joseph which we will explore another time.

Having favourites

Verse three tells us that Jacob favoured Joseph over his brothers. It gives reasons for this; that Joseph was born to Jacob in his old age, but also that he was born of Rachel, Jacob’s favoured wife.

Jacob gave Joseph a tunic of many colours. This was quite a gift for a number of reasons. Brightly coloured clothing meant expensive dyes, and such a garment would not have been an everyday item. Such colours would have been reserved for the wealthy or people of some high importance. Kings, for instance, would have worn such items.

In addition, it would have signalled two major things to those who saw him wearing it. Firstly, it would have simply stood out from the rest. In a crowd of twelve brothers, Joseph would have been clear to see and marked out as special in some way. Secondly, colours of this nature would have meant leadership and superiority. Jacob was perhaps prophetically signalling Joseph’s rank above the rest.

Having favourites in a family is not a good idea. In a big family, there will always be those characters we get on well with and those we find it more difficult. Even our children can have a wide variety of personalities, and so, it can be easier to connect with some than others. The problem comes when we do not put an equal amount of effort into the relationships which are naturally more difficult. When we compare one child against another, it creates animosity. When we bestow expensive or special gifts on one, and not the other, the rest feel less valued and somehow less adequate.

This favouritism will lead to the major events of Joseph’s life. As we will see, Joseph will go through no small amount of suffering, and although it all turns out for God’s glory, what might have been different had Jacob been less obvious about who he favoured.

Hated

What is the result of Jacob’s favouritism? He brothers saw and knew it, and as a consequence, they hated Joseph. Each one was a son of Jacob, each one lived and served the family, and yet each one felt somehow less than Joseph was. Joseph’s actions of giving a bd report would have only added to this hatred (even if he had the best of intentions).

Hate is a powerful word. When my children use it in anger or in vain, I pull them up on it. Hatred should be reserved for evil and sin, and not tossed around lightly. Joseph’s brothers hated him, wishing him ill and later bringing it upon him.

Their hatred for him was so powerful that they could not even speak civilly to him. Imagine living in a household like this? The strife and tension would have been evident for all to see. To live in such an atmosphere would have been intolerable. We must also never underestimate the dangers of living in strife.

For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

James 3:16 (KJV)

Where there is strife, there is “every evil work!” Strife opens the door for the enemy to work in our lives, and we must shut that door at all costs.

Jacob’s actions led to the brothers of Joseph hating him. You may find yourself in a place where someone else’s actions have led you to feel hatred for someone else. Perhaps your parents did to you what Jacob did to Joseph’s brothers. I cannot imagine the pain you must feel for this. If you are able, pray about the situation and tell God how you feel. Ask Him to help you forgive and let go of the hatred. If you simply cannot right now, just bring your pain to the Father and let Him minister to you.

One of the things I love about the Bible is that it does not sugar coat anything. Jacob, Joseph and his brothers were a real family with real problems leading to real pain. Many of us can relate! As we study Joseph’s life, I pray that God will help us learn their lessons and not repeat their errors. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Is the Old Testament Relevant Today?

As part of my Course in Christian Studies, I have completed an assignment about why I think the Old Testament is relevant to 21st Century readers. I thought I would share it with you today.

Is the Old Testament Relevant Today?

CCS Assignment 1

  1. Imagine you have a Christian friend who cannot see the point of reading the Old Testament in the twenty-first century. Using what you’ve learned from this unit, write them a letter explaining some of the ways in which you’ve discovered that the Old Testament can speak to Christians today. The letter should be about 1500 words and should include both your own experiences, and descriptions of some Biblical passages.

Dear friend,

I hope that this finds you well, and thank you very much for your letter I received several days ago. It is always thought provoking to discuss the Bible with you, and your most recent correspondence gave me pause. In it, you stated that you felt there was little point in us reading the Old Testament nowadays. While I understand your sentiment, I cannot agree. If I may, I’ll set out my reasons below and look forward to receiving your response.

The Old Testament may seem more difficult to handle than the New, but it is certainly worth the effort! Before I start with delving into it, let me begin by pointing you to what the New Testament has to say about it.

Firstly, the Apostle Paul says this:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Please notice here that Paul uses the word “all”. All Scripture, including that of the Old Testament is useful for us as Christians in the modern age. Let us not forget either that there was no New Testament when Paul wrote these words, and so the only Scriptures he could be referring to were those of the Old Testament.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul sets out a number of lessons from Israel’s history. In verse 11, he says this:

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come

1 Corinthians 10:11 (NIV)

So, we see that these lessons recorded from Israel’s history are recorded for us. We take great risk in dismissing such lessons as out-of-date or irrelevant.

In addition to Paul, a cursory read of the Gospel of Matthew will show you how critical the Old Testament is to understand the life and work of Christ. Time after time, Matthew points out how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament Scripture. Were you to remove all traces of the Old Testament from Matthew’s Gospel, you would have very little remaining.

Like you, I once favoured the New Testament, finding the Old too cumbersome and seemingly distant from my everyday life. Yet, as I studied the New more and more, I found that I could not fully appreciate it without a firm grasp of the Old Testament. For instance, how could I ever fully understand how Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law, without first understanding the Law’s place and role in the Bible?

I hope to demonstrate the relevance of the Old Testament to you by taking a short review of the major sections. There is too much to cover in one short letter, but I hope what I say encourages you to want to learn more.

The Bible, as we have it, opens with the account of Creation and pre-history. I cannot overstate the importance of having a strong foundation in these opening words of the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

Before we accept anything else the Bible says, we must first accept this. Humanity was not some cosmic accident, nor a product of random chance, but a deliberate creation of our God. Until I accepted this truth, the rest of biblical doctrine remained somehow out of focus.

We also learn of the origin of sin. Genesis 3 records how the first people – Adam and Eve – disobeyed God, bringing sin and its consequences into the world. The sinfulness of humanity would taint every generation that followed, yet God already had a plan to rescue us from this plight.

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock

    and all wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

    and you will eat dust

    all the days of your life.

15 And I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:14-15 (NIV)

In some translations, the word “offspring” here is rendered “seed.” This is unusual because how can a woman have “seed”? This is a nod to God’s plan of redemption, and perhaps a reference to a Virgin who would give birth to a Son?

Genesis moves on to teach us about the man named Abraham. He, the forefather of the Jewish people, shows us what it means to have covenant with God and to one who lives by faith. God shows Himself faithful in His promises to Abraham, such as the Covenant recorded in Genesis 12.

“I will make you into a great nation,

    and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

    and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,

    and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV)

We see here that God’s promise to Abraham is not solely for Abraham’s benefit, but that this promise would reach out and bless all peoples of the world. Through Abraham, we understand righteousness by faith, and not by works (as Abraham preceded the Law of Moses).

Abraham’s descendants did indeed become a great nation, and this same nation was rescued by the hand of God from the slavery of Egypt. Moses, as recorded in the book of Exodus, leads the people out of captivity and although ultimately to the Promised Land, spend forty years wandering as a result of their sin.

In Exodus 19, the Israelites claim that they can fulfil all of God’s requirements (see verse 8). So the Law was given to them; not simply the Ten Commandments, but all the Law of Moses. It soon becomes clear that it was not so easy to fulfil everything that God asked of them, and time and time again they fall short. In the book of Joshua, the Israelites capture the Promised Land, and yet in Judges we see not a faithful people following the Laws of God, but instead:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Judges 21:25 (NIV)

Even as we read the books of Samuel and Kings, we see how the Golden Age of Israel (under King David and Solomon) slowly fell apart as even these mostly faithful leaders succumb to the power of sin. The Law, which they had promised to keep, highlighted their sinfulness, and failure after failure should have taught them that they needed a better way.

So, the Prophets come, warning the people over and over of what would happen if they do not turn back to God. As well as warnings for their own time, these prophets spoke of future things and a solution to the problem of sin. The prophets spoke of a Messiah to come – One who would be their ultimate Sacrifice for sin.

In my personal experience, what convinces me of biblical truth more than anything else, is the fact that we can see Jesus fulfilling Old Testament Scripture. Jesus met every aspect of the Law; He was our Passover Lamb, He was born in Bethlehem (as was predicted), He was crucified as described in Psalm 22 and after three days was raised to new life. I cannot say it any better than the Apostle Paul, who says:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NIV)

According to which Scriptures? Those found in the Old Testament of course!

There is a great deal more I could say about the above undoubtedly, but must add a few thoughts about the relevance of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. Proverbs is packed full of practical advice we would do well to follow today. The Psalms teach us to pray our emotions and come honestly before our God. The book of Job discusses suffering and comfort, and Ecclesiastes gives us a key lesson to learn:

 Now all has been heard;

    here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments,

    for this is the duty of all mankind.

Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV)

While I have only scratched the surface here, I do hope this has piqued your interest and challenged your views on the Old Testament. We cannot hope to have full understanding of the Gospel without it.

I look forward to your response!

Warm regards,

Andy

Apparent Contradiction

Some accuse the Bible of contradicting itself, and cite that as evidence for not being able to trust it. The premise is correct, and if even one part of the Bible is flawed, then you cannot trust any of it.

I want to address one apparent contradiction today, and point out why it is not any such thing.

I follow a number of Bible reading plans, and one is a chronological reading plan. This just means that instead of reading the Bible in the order it appears in the book, you read it in the order it happened in reality. This can be extremely helpful in understanding how the Bible fits together as a whole.

Today I was reading from the books of 2 Samuel in the Old Testament. 2 Samuel follows 1 Samuel, as you might expect… and gives the account of Samuel the prophet, Saul the first king of Israel and his successor King David.

1 Samuel ends with the death of King Saul, and 2 Samuel starts with the same event. Yet, the two accounts are different.

How did King Saul die?

The Philistines fought against Israel, and the army[a] of Israel fled before the Philistines. They fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines pursued Saul and his sons. The Philistines struck down Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchi-shua, Saul’s sons. 3 The heaviest fighting was directed toward Saul, and when the bowmen who were shooting located Saul, he was severely wounded by them.

4 Saul told his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through with it, or these uncircumcised people will come and run me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer did not want to do it because he was very frightened, so Saul took the sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him.

1 Samuel 31:1-5 (ISV)

And from 2 Samuel:

The next day, a man escaped from Saul’s camp! With torn clothes and dirty hair, he approached David, fell to the ground, and bowed down to him.

3 David asked him, “Where did you come from?

He answered him, “I just escaped from Israel’s encampment.”

4 David continued questioning him, “How did things go? Please tell me!”

He replied, “The army has fled the battlefield, many of the army are wounded[b] or have died, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.”

5 David asked the young man who related the story,[c] “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?”

6 The young man who had been relating the story[d] answered, “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa and there was Saul, leaning on his spear! Meanwhile, the chariots and horsemen were rapidly drawing near. 7 Saul[e] glanced behind him, saw me, and called out to me, so I replied, ‘Here I am!’ 8 He asked me, ‘Who are you?’ So I answered him, ‘I’m an Amalekite!’ 9 He begged me, ‘Please—come stand here next to me and kill me, because I’m still alive.’ 10 So I stood next to him and killed him, because I knew that he wouldn’t live after he had fallen. I took the crown that had been on his head, along with the bracelet that had been on his arm, and I have brought them to your majesty.”

2 Samuel 1:2-10 (ISV)

This is a clear contradiction. Saul could not have killed himself, as it says in 1 Samuel 31 and also have been killed by the man from 2 Samuel 1. The Bible must be wrong… right?

For a long time, I missed the obvious answer. I read both accounts and could not understand how both could be true. It left something of a question in my mind.

The answer is simple though. Both are not true. And yet, there is no contradiction here.

There is no loophole or trickery to make both true, or to deny the contradiction. In short, the man from 2 Samuel 1 was lying. Not everyone recorded in the Bible is telling the truth, and this man came to King David with a story about how Saul had been killed. But it was fabricated.

In reality, I can only guess, this man found the body of King Saul and removed the crown and bracelets. He then raced to tell King David what had happened thinking he would be rewarded. He believed that David would have been happy to hear of the death of his enemy, and would reward this man for being the one to give the fatal blow. He was wrong!

Meanwhile, David asked the young man who had told him the story,[j] “Where are you from?”

He answered, “I’m an Amalekite, the son of a foreign man.”

14 At this David asked him, “How is it that you weren’t afraid to raise your hand to strike the Lord’s anointed?”

15 Then David called out to one of his young men and ordered him, “Go up to him and cut him down!” So he attacked him and killed him.

16 David told him, “Your blood is on your own head, because your own words[k] testified against you! After all, you said, ‘I myself have killed the Lord’s anointed!’”

2 Samuel 1:13-16 (ISV)

David, far from being happy to hear of the death of Saul, was outraged that this man would dare raise his hand to the Annointed King of Israel! So he has him executed for his crime.

This is but one example of apparent contradiction of course, and critics will often point to other things to find fault with the Bible. I believe that contradictions are not in the text, and in fact these apparent ones can lead us to new revelation of what God is trying to say to us.

The Word of God is perfect, and we can fully rely on it. Perhaps we do not understand every part of it, but that does not mean it cannot be trusted.

Do not worry about the parts of the Bible you do not understand, pray about them and ask the Spirit to reveal their meaning to you. Instead of focusing on what you do not understand, pay attention to what you do understand and make sure you live it out in your life.

Thank God for His precious Word to us!

Three Days

For us, Easter Saturday sits between the devastating day of the cross on Good Friday, and the joy of the resurrection to come on Easter Day. I prefer the name “Resurrection Sunday” but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time!

For the friends of Jesus two thousand years ago, many of them were not ready or waiting for the resurrection at all. This day would have been a day of loss and grief for them. All of their hopes and dreams had been smashed. They had expected Jesus to evict the Romans and set Himself up as King. Quite the opposite had happened! Their Messiah had been lost. 

Would they have started to doubt themselves? Would they have been asking one another – was this really the Christ after all? They had seen so many miracles and wonder works, yet they had not expected Him to die like a common criminal. 

It may seem somewhat baffling to us that the disciples had not heard the words Jesus had spoken. In advance of these things, He had told them that it would happen. And even beyond His words, the Scriptures foretold it all. But I think we can forgive them for not seeing that in the prophecies of the Old Testament. 

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Matthew 16:21 (NIVUK)


For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (NIVUK)

The verse above from the Gospel of Matthew shows that Jesus taught His disciples that He would die, and three days later rise to new life. Likewise, Paul (in hindsight of course) shares the same thing. Paul says however “according to the Scripture.” So the Old Testament must have predicted this in advance.

But where?

When reading Old Testament prophecies, we must understand that often they do not merely say “The Son of God will come, and His name will be Jesus, and after dying He will come back to life after three days…” That would be convenient for Bible scholars of course, but we must not forget the Old Testament was written by many people over hundreds of years. Despite this, it really is astonishingly coherent, and clearly shows the hand of the divine behind it. 

The first place I want to point to is the lie – or rather death – of Jonah the prophet. Sometimes called “The Reluctant Prophet,” because he ran in the total opposite direction to where God was sending him, Jonah is a fascinating character. 

You probably know his story from Sunday School, if you ever went, and may well be familiar with his being swallowed by a large fish or whale. 

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah 1:17 (NIVUK)

We see here that Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. Reading on to Jonah 2, I think it is clear that Jonah actually died in the sea or sea creature. He talks about the abode of the dead, or “the pit” so it seems likely he did actually die. If not though, the point remains. 

Bible prophecy is often pattern and not prediction. that means it establishes a pattern of events which will occur again in the future. Jonah’s three days and three nights of “death” are a pointer towards Christ’s own experience of three days in the grave. 

Similarly, Abraham’s sacrificing of Isaac is another picture. I’ve spoken before about this passage from Genesis 22, and personally believe it is a prophecy acted out by Abraham of what God would one day do with His own Son Jesus. 

We read in Genesis 22 that from the time when God gave the command for Isaac to be sacrificed, to the time Abraham arrived at Mount Moriah was precisely three days. 

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.

Genesis 22:3-4 (NIVUK)

In the Jewish mind, and so in Abraham’s mind, Isaac was essentially dead from the moment God had given the command. It was a three day journey, as we read above, until the events unfolded and Issac was returned to Abraham. So another son lost to “death” for three days. 

There is more we could explore, but it would and should take an entire lifetime to examine the Old Testament and unveil the prophecies which spoke of Christ’s death and resurrection centuries in advance. 

Many will tell you that you can’t prove God exists, or there is no evidence that the Bible is true, it’s just a personal matter of faith. Not true. A comprehensive study of God’s Word will show you that there is incontrovertible evidence of biblical truth. The more you study it, the more you will realise it is not only true, but the only real truth we can rely upon. 

Jesus died for you. Three days later He rose from the dead. Many witnesses saw it. You don’t have the luxury to ignore it or deny it. So what will you do with this truth today? 

Is it God’s will for you to be sick?

In last week’s post called “Is it God’s Will to Heal?” I examined a number of Scriptures which I believe supported the idea that it is God’s will to heal us. While that remains my view, I don’t want to put across a one-sided view, avoiding all the other Scriptures which may contradict my point, and want to tackle those Bible verses today.

In all of this, I urge you to search out the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word for it, or anyone else’s, study the Bible for yourself and make up your own mind.

The Source of Sickness

Last time, I spoke of Jesus’ ministry and the massive amount of time He spent healing the sick.

In Acts, we read a summary of Jesus’ ministry:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, he went around doing good and healing everyone who was oppressed by the Devil.

Acts 10:38 (ISV)

From this summary, we not only learn that Jesus went about doing good, and healing everyone who was oppressed, but also who they were oppressed by – the devil.

Likewise, when we read of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” we discover its source also:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

2 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)

I want to explore Paul’s thorn in greater detail in a future post, so won’t say a great deal here. It is certainly a Scripture that many use to support the idea of God sometimes refusing to heal. Paul’s thorn was “in the flesh” so clearly in the body right? Well, i’m not so sure about that, but as I say, we’ll pick that up in a future post.

For now though, I want to point out that Paul’s thorn, be it physical or not, was a messenger of Satan. It was not a servant of God, nor inspired by Him – it was from the devil.

This is really important because we cannot have faith to be healed if we in some part believe that it is God who made us sick.

Let’s have a look at some further verses used to dispute this.

Paul’s eyesight

I’ve heard teaching about Paul’s eyesight, and wanted to discuss it here. Some scholars claim that Paul had some form of eye condition, demonstrated by the below verses.

What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.

Galatians 4:15 (ESV)

And:

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Galatians 6:11 (ESV)

The argument is that if Paul – the great apostle himself – was struck with an eye condition, then who are we to say that God wants us well?

While the above verses can be interpretted like that, I think there is another alternative. Only you can decide which you think is right.

Firstly, Galatians 4:15 where Paul said the Galatians would have given him their eyes if they were able. Clearly, this shows that Paul had some kind of affliction with his eyes. I’m not denying that sickness attacks us at times, and being in a battle with sickness is not something you should feel condemned over.

Scholars suggest that this eye affliction was caused by some ancient eye disease not uncommon at the time. But what about this:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Acts 14:19-20 (ESV)

Just prior to moving on to Galatia (Derbe is a province of Galatia), Paul was stoned outside the city of Antioch. If he was not dead, then those who stoned him certainly believed he was. It may even be that he was raised to life after suffering this execution attempt.

How badly hurt must Paul have been? Even if raised to new life, his body would still need time to recover. God’s healing power can work instantly, but does not always. Is it not more likely that this attempted stoning was the cause of Paul’s eye problems than an ancient disease?

Scholars point at the other verse, Galatians 6:11 to show that Paul had to write in “large letters” because his sight was so bad. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps it was the stoning rather than the sickness that caused this? But actually, the word “large” here is – pelikos – meaning volume or magnitude. And the word “letter” – gramma – meaning document, note or letter. Together these just mean a large letter, a long note, or substantial document. It does not mean large individual characters!

Timothy’s Tummy

(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)

1 Timothy 5:23 (ESV)

The wine-lovers favourite verse…!

Again, this verse is often used to suggest that if Timothy had stomach problems then clearly God doesn’t always want us well. It feels something of a weak argument to me in this case.

If you were travelling somewhere with low water quality, I might give you similar advice. Likewise, if you were sensitive to certain foods or even allergic, it would be prudent to avoid those things. I think that’s just good sense!

Maybe in this case, Timothy was so firmly convinced that it is indeed God’s will to heal, that he was deliberately drinking the water to prove the point? That is mere speculation of course, but no more so than using this verse to deny God’s will to heal.

The Old Testament

I absolutely love the Old Testament. I know many find it hard to handle, and indeed it takes some study, but it is the Bible Jesus would have read (in a manner of speaking) and without it, the New Testament would be rather thin and meaningless.

When it comes to healing and sickness, we need to properly understand the Old Testament. There are certain occasions when God inflicted sickness on people, that cannot and should not be denied. But we must understand the context first.

Some may deny that God inflicted sickness in the Old Testament, instead using words like “allowed” or “permitted” sickness. While in some cases that is probably true, there are other places where you need to bend or downright change the text to make that so – I cannot condone that at all.

In the space I have remaining, I cannot give you a detailed survey of the Old Testament and its contribution to the subject of healing. Much confusion can be cleared up by understanding the difference between the Law and Grace.

Deuteronomy 28 sets out the blessings and the curses of obeying the Law. Obey the Law, you get blessed, disobey the Law, you get cursed. Simple right? Well not exactly. Israel had made the bold claim that they could do all that God had commanded, and so He introduced the Law (see Exodus 19). This was to demonstrate to them that they were not able to fulfil all aspects of the Law, and that they needed a Saviour.

Listed under the curses, we see things like:

The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. 28 The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, 29 and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness…

Deuteronomy 28:27-29a (ESV)

Sickness is a curse. Plain and simple. For those living under the Law, they would be cursed with sickness when they broke the Law. Many of us Christians today believe this still applies.

Galatians 3:13 tells us:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

Galatians 3:13 (ESV)

Jesus took on the curse for us. We could not fulfil the Law and so Jesus did so on our behalf. The curses of Deuteronomy 28 no longer apply to us because Christ became the curse for us.

If good works could not earn us the blessing, then our mistakes now can’t take it away either. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with Christ.

Most of the sickness we read about in the Old Testament is a direct result of disobedience, and the curse of the Law. Without a Saviour to stand in the gap, people had to face the consequences of their own actions. Even then, God’s grace is still abundently clear in His patience in dealing with the nation of Israel.

Other examples of the curse of sickness can be found in the Old Testament:

  • Miriam’s Leprosy (Numbers 12)
  • David’s census (1 Chronicles 21)
  • Hezekiah’s sickness and subsequent recovery (2 Kings 20)
  • Elisha’s servant – Gehazi (2 Kings 5)

We could go on, but all of these examples are as a direct result of disobedience leading to punishment.  Jesus took that punishment for us, so we would not have to. God bore the pain on His own shoulders to free us from its curse.

The Old Testament may be difficult in places, but is also full of examples of healing too.

  • Naaman the Leper (2 Kings 5)
  • Elisha healing the Shumanite woman’sson (1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4)
  • The First Healing in the Bible, that of Abimilech (Genesis 20)

Concluding Thoughts

Again, I point out that I cannot do a complete study in this one blog post. I am simply trying to point out some of the common arguments against healing, and hopefully giving you an alternative view.

As I try to say often, don’t take my word for it! Seek this out for yourself. Study the Bible and find out what it says. If you come up with something different to me, that’s fine, as long as you can support your view from the text. Bear with those who don’t agree.

My point in this series is to help you to understand that it is God’s will to heal. Last time I drew your attention to Scriptures which support this, and I’ve tried (in this post) to address some of the other verses which may appear to go against that view.

Next time we will tackle Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh, as I think there is some confusion about this and it is often cited as a reason for God not wanting to heal.

In the meantime, pray about these Scriptures and talk to God about it. I pray you receive and stand in good health this week.