Click to hear the Issues, Etc. discussion of this week’s Sunday School lesson with Deaconess Pam Nielsen.
This week we enter into the story of God’s redemption of Israel from out of the bondage of slavery into which it had fallen in the land of Egypt. God planted Joseph in Egypt to preserve his family. In the great famine that plagued the world for seven (7) years, all people were drawn to the land of Egypt, and to Joseph who was placed in charge of the land by Pharaoh working as God’s chosen instrument. God used Pharaoh in this way to make Himself known to Joseph’s family, especially his brothers. God once again uses Pharaoh to make Himself known. This time, however, it is to reveal Himself by His name, יהוה (yhwh) to all the world. For He is the God who kills to and makes alive, He wounds and heals. He is the one and only God, beside Him there is no other in all the world. Deuteronomy 32:39. And in using Pharaoh, God hardens his heart, that is God gives him courage and strength in opposition to Moses’ request. Exodus 9 tells of the plague of boils, oozing, horrible sores that afflicted man and beast throughout the land of Egypt. Until now, it was Pharaoh who had changed his mind, becoming more and more resolved not to let Israel go. Yet this time, the plague of boils affects even Pharaoh. The text does not tell us if he actually received the sores. It does tell us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not that Pharaoh hardened his own. The plague must have touched Pharaoh in some way to at least cause him to waver a bit. Yet God would have none of it. He would make his NAME known in all the world, that there is one God and one God only, and He would make it know through these slaves in the land of Egypt.
This is a strange work, foreign to the nature of God. To think that He would actually turn someone against His divine Will in order to reveal His name and who He is to the world. And yet, to make us alive, God must first kill us. Death and sin and killing were caused by man’s rejection of the Word of God, by our disobedience to His command. So God hardening the heart of Pharaoh should not seem so difficult to grasp. For He uses man as He is, sinful, opposed to God, and gives him over to his own sinfulness to wallow in it. See Romans 1. Sometimes God acts with us as He does with Pharaoh, hardening his heart even more than Pharaoh had done for himself. In our stubbornness, we refuse to heed His Word, rejecting it and steeling our hearts and minds in opposition to it. For we want to be in control of our own destiny, our own lives. God uses this stubbornness and opposition against us, gives us over to it. Sin is heaped upon sin until man is broken despairs of his own ability. And yet, all the while, God is at work using His Word to turn us to Him, to bring us to our knees in solemn repentance, begging for mercy, for forgiveness.
Sometimes it takes extreme measures to get our attention as in the case of Pharaoh. It shocks our consciences and senses to think that a good and gracious God would give us over to evil and to our own sin. It does not comport with our darkened sense of goodness and justice. And yet, because of our sin that has turned us completely away from Him, God works on us in ways that are strange and alien to His nature and to who He is. To we who are dead in trespasses and sin, God’s work seems wrong. For His nature is mercy and love. He is the God of creation, who creates and gives life. And yet when He kills, he does not take our lives away — He uses it to create new life within us. So what seems bad to us is God working on us for our good. And the suffering of the plagues of sin that we must endure is something good, for it disciplines us, corrects and rebukes us, and turns us back to God and, as we will see next week, the Cross of Christ.
Joseph Rises to Second in Command to Feed Egypt and the World, Sunday School Lesson, October 2, 2011
Click here to listen to the Issues Etc. interview with Tom Nummela of Concordia Publishing House.
This week’s Sunday School lesson focuses on Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams. While he was in jail, two key persons in the Pharaoh’s service, his baker and cupbearer, were jailed because Pharaoh became angry with them. Both had dreams while in prison. Joseph was given the meaning of their dreams by God, and the interpretations came to pass — the cupbearer was restored to his position and the baker was executed. The cupbearer soon forgot about Joseph as he went about the service of his master, the Pharaoh of Egypt. After two years had passed, Pharaoh was troubled by some dreams. He called together the magicians and wise men of Egypt, and no one could interpret them. It was at this time that the cupbearer remembered Joseph. He was brought before Pharaoh and was given by God the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams — 7 years of plenty, and 7 years of famine throughout Egypt and the world. Pharaoh made Joseph the second in command, in charge of all Egypt
From the very pit of despair and humiliation, God raised Joseph, at the right time, to feed the people placed in his care as well as the known world at that time. 41:57 tells us that the famine was so severe that all the world came to buy grain from Egypt. The story of Joseph is a story of the Christ whom God sent into the world to save mankind and to feed all those who come to him not with food for the belly, but with the bread of life. This story also shows how God cares and provides for you and for me. Joseph held fast to the hope that God would deliver him from this prison, that he would preserve and protect his life. Joseph did not become bitter or curse God, and God did not forsake him. Joseph confessed the truth of God in the very presence of the Pharaoh. And God raised Joseph up to be the second in command, to sit at the right hand of Pharaoh, the father of Egypt. Not because of what Joseph did or the confession he made, but because God’s plan for salvation had been working since before Joseph was sold in slavery in Egypt.
God took what was low and humble, and made him great. Such is the work of our God, to create life from nothing, to make hope out of despair. And we, like the magicians and wise men, are powerless in these divine matters. And we can sit in awestruck wonder, and sing vague songs about God’s majesty and awesome power and love and how it makes me feel and seek that experience and encounter with the divine in some sort of mystical union with God, or we can take heed and listen to the Word He gives us that HE is at work in your life for you in Christ, providing, protecting, and preserving your very life. Not so that you can stand before Him as He is in His full Majesty and Divine power and Glory, but so that you can live here in this world, today, carrying the Cross as a disciple of Christ, taking Christ to the world.