Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Relating of the Promise Is Altered and Why God’s Exact Words Matter - Genesis 48:3-4 (part 2)


Then Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and He said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.’

As we look closely at this section of scripture again, it is important that we stop and realize its significance in the big picture so far.  Jacob is now relating to Joseph his own personal experience at Luz, which is another name for Bethel, in the land of Canaan, where Jacob had his encounter with God.

You will remember that God, first to Abraham, then to Isaac, and then to Jacob, personally spoke the covenant He made to the Israelites.  In reality God’s promise only needed to be made once, as He did to Abraham.  He is God and does not need to repeat Himself especially when making a promise.  He may do so for our benefit, but not out of necessity.  His speaking to Isaac and Jacob after that was mere confirmation of that original promise.  But nevertheless God spoke to directly to all three generations.

Now Jacob’s son, Joseph, is hearing of the promise – not from God, but from his earthly father.  And Jacob is very careful to use the same words that God used with him so that the promise is clearly understood exactly as God meant it.  God used similar words that He had used with Isaac before that, and then with Abraham before him.  The exact words of God are very important.  They are important in passing on divine teaching.  They are not to be added to or subtracted from.  Doing so, leads us, and those that we teach, into errant doctrine.

The exact words of God are also important as we try to interpret and match what we see unfolding before us in world history to what the Bible says.  This is especially true both with respect to the minds and evils of man in the end times before the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as in the matter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians today.  As the hired vendors say at major events often held in sports stadiums or in large theatres these days, “you can’t tell the players without a program”.  We are fortunate enough to have the program written by the Master Manager and Playwright Himself.  He’s got it right and He shares it with us.  Many world leaders would do well to merely recognize His existence.  Many would do much better to heed His words when it comes to these matters.

Finally, the exact words of God matter when we, as mere humans will ultimately do, come up against matters on which we disagree.  We need to get back to the exact words of God.  If it is critical to life, God has addressed it in His word.  If it is not in His word, or can be clearly traced and attached without doubt to something He has spoken on, then it should not be cause for division.  We should agree to disagree and for the sake of the Gospel being shared with others, stop pushing our own perspective exclusively.  When will Christians, especially those in a local church, learn that people do not want to join a divisive group?  They have enough strife in their personal lives.  They are looking for peace and solace as they seek to adopt a faith that gives them comfort and hope.

And if God has addressed a matter in His word, we need to agree to what is there, not what we want it to say, hope it means, interpret to mean, and so on.  With our God-given ability to think and reason, we should be able to agree on what is clear and adhere to those principles, promises, and instructions.  Failure to do so is not the fault of God or His word.  It is clearly our human stubbornness and dare I say pride, either which can be interpreted as sin.

Jacob was sharing this promise of God with his son Joseph so that the younger man may be encouraged in his life.  Jacob’s two grandsons, perhaps hearing this promise for the first time, may well have been perplexed, depending on their ages.  Here they were living in Egypt, with an Egyptian mother, and their father second in command in all of Egypt, and now they hear their grandfather talking about a promise God made to their father’s people, the Israelites, about a land in Canaan.  I am sure Joseph had some explaining to do before they all returned home.  And can you imagine the surprise of Joseph’s wife when she heard the account from her sons later?

Jacob’s intent here was clear.  As the commentator Robert Jamieson puts it, Jacob wanted “to engage Joseph’s interest and preserve his continued connection with the people of God, rather than with the Egyptians.”  Any immigrant, who has moved his or her family to a new land, knows that challenge that Jacob faced.  As I grew up in Canada, I could always sense the daily challenges we faced as to whether or not we would do something the Canadian way, or the way my parents did it back in Greece.  Would we associate with more Canadians, or try to find the other Greeks that immigrated to Canada like us?  We spoke Greek in the home so that I would not forget it (for which I am thankful) and left the English-speaking for school and the playground.  In my particular case, the challenge was complicated as we were clearly a Protestant family while all our Greek friends were Greek Orthodox and at all social events it was assumed we were too.  Jacob was trying to make it clear to his son and his grandsons that their true heritage was that of the people of God.  And perhaps that is the lesson for us as well.  It is not so much about where we live, but it is more about ‘to Whom we belong’.  I trust understanding that and living by it ourselves as models and examples will be our true legacy to the generations that follow us.

Relaying this promise of God to his son Joseph, Jacob commenced a very critical tradition and necessary practice for the Jewish people which, if followed, would enable them to survive all they had to go through for thousands of years before the promise could be fulfilled in its entirely.  Without it, the Israelites would have disappeared over time.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention that all do not interpret this promise the same way.  For some, these words are to be considered in a limited sense, that is, applying only to the immediate few centuries that followed when the Jews did occupy the Holy Land.  Others attribute an understanding to this promise as speaking ultimately about all the Jews of the diaspora (the scattered tribes) being reinstated in the land God promised them as an “everlasting possession”.  Some within this latter group accept the formation of the accepted State of Israel in 1948 as the fulfillment of that promise and that all the conflict since then is simply one of maintaining that land as their own.  Still others within this second group hold to the view that the “everlasting” aspect of the possession promise is yet to be fulfilled when Israel regains full control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and re-establishes a holy temple on the site.  All we can do is wait with anticipation to see how God intended to fully seal the delivery of His promise.  In the meantime, we read the “program” and try to follow it as closely as possible.  But for starters, we know the words do say, “everlasting possession”.  Politicians, who claim as many do during election years that they are ‘God-believing’, never mind ‘God-fearing’, should remember that.


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