Why would God do this to me, Pastor?”
“Don’t expect to see much of George. He doesn’t believe in a religion where God would let innocent children suffer and die. Can you blame him, Pastor?”
I have stopped trying to answer those questions.
Our God asks us to believe in him.
He doesn’t ask us to understand him.
Job discovered that.
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know. Job 42.3
With that said, however, the problem of evil is only half answered. God does what is best—trust him.
There is a second half to that answer and the first book of the Bible gives it.
What is the Christian to think of evil in the world?
He is to overcome it.
I. What Choice Do We Have?
II. The First Promise
III. You Must Master It
V. The Public Abraham
VI. The Private Abraham
VII. Jacob at the Jabbok
VIII. Judah and Tamar
IX. Joseph in Egypt
X. God Intended It for Good
What Choice Do We Have?
When it comes to a serious look at evil in this world, people get lazy and beat blindly at Christianity like kids whacking a piñata. God cannot be all powerful if he can’t keep disasters away. God cannot be all good to have the power to stop evil but stand back and watch it happen.
How have you heard this anti-Christian view expressed?
I can’t believe God took my mother away—she was so young and still had kids to raise.
How can God permit all those innocent children in Somalia to starve to death?
Why would God send an earthquake that would kill all those people in Haiti?
How could God let me get cancer?
Did you ever say anything in return?
God has his own reasons.
God works good through evil.
We don’t understand now, but we will when we get to heaven.
If you did respond by defending God, how satisfying did you find your answer?
Not very. The person who questioned God didn’t have his questions answered and I found myself starting to doubt God’s goodness or power or love or all of the above!
Actually, people shouldn’t be so narrow minded. If they knock Christianity, they should also knock everything else! When you boil it down, there are only three approaches to evil.
Optimism is the opinion that everything is the best (what you see around you) in the best of all possible worlds (ours!).
Evil is illusionary. It only looks like evil because we just don’t know everything.
God is concerned about the big picture, not about his individual creatures.
Explain how a young child’s optimism may be shaken at these times in his life, yet optimism explains everything!
- Booster shots
The child doesn’t know that it is for his own good. Better to experience a little pinprick and a slight fever than these life-threatening diseases which you could also pass on to others.
- First haircut
You can hardly go through life looking like a hairball and you will find out that your hair won’t hurt at all to be cut—if you just sit still!
You will get much more out of it, friends, fun, an education, than staying at home with mommy. So don’t be scared, say good-bye and make the most of it. You’ll like it come next week.
Certainly, if you don’t read the Bible too closely, you could go away thinking Optimism is the way to go.
Read Psalm 1.1-3
What is the Psalmist promising a morally upright person?
Whatever he does prospers.
Always. That’s what “whatever” means.
And what happens to the wicked?
They will perish.
Always, just like the righteous will always prosper.
Optimism at its best! (um, but take a quick look at Psalm 3).
Do the righteous always prosper?
No, it seems here the righteous are surrounded by foes.
The Bible certainly does not support Optimism.
But other systems of thought (religious or non-religious) do!
Libertinism:Happiness is the pursuit of pleasure
This is the theory that life should be lived to the fullest and that fullest is the pursuit of pleasure. You can call it Epicureanism (after the Greek philosopher, Epicurus). Often the definition of “living life to the fullest” can degenerate to the lowest possible denominator very quickly, aka Woodstock—“if you can remember it, you weren’t there.”
Dario Herrera, a former county commissioner who was sentenced to jail for corruption in a sex-tinged scandal, has now been released and is expecting a child with his live-in girlfriend. He recently gave an interview in which he confidently stated "I don't regret anything, because I'm proud of who I am. I like who I am, much more than ever before in my life. And I can attribute that to all of my experiences -- the good and the bad."
Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 4, 2010
How is that an expression of Optimism?
Everything works out for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Darrio’s life couldn’t have been any different, because all that has happened in his life has worked out to the best. Who could be sad about that?
And why would Atheism be a very fine pairing with someone living the Libertine life style?
Deep down, Darrio knows he has sinned (we hope). Our consciences tell us that sin will be judged by God on the Last Day. If I can convince myself there is not God, I can dismiss my conscience and its fears of eternal hell as so much subliminal conditioning from my superstitious parents. It is a lot of unfortunate baggage I am carrying around thanks to their poor parenting, but I am trying to rise above my circumstances!Enlightenment:Happiness is the pursuit of morality
This is the theory that life can only be lived to the fullest with moral and intellectual investigation and accomplishment. For those who seek him in a moral life flowing from the Temple of Reason, God will offer rich rewards in this life.
Here is a very different biography than Dario Herrera’s.
President Monson served in the United States Navy near the close of World War II. He married Frances Beverly Johnson on October 7, 1948, in the Salt Lake Temple. They are the parents of three children, with eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Professionally, President Monson has had a distinguished career in publishing and printing. He served as an executive in the advertising division of the Deseret News and the Newspaper Agency Corporation. Later he rose to the position of general manager of the Deseret New Press, which position he held at the time of his appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1963.
He currently serves as a trustee of Brigham Young University and the Church Board of Education.
Since 1969 President Monson has served as a member of the National Executive Board of Boy Scouts of America.
For many years, President Monson served as a member of the Utah State Board of Regents. He also served as an officer in the Alumni Association of the University of Utah.
President Monson was awarded the University of Utah’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1966. He is also the recipient of international Scouting’s highest award, the Bronze Wolf (1993). In 1997 he received the Minuteman Award from the Utah National Guard, as well as Brigham Young University’s Exemplary Manhood Award.
Humanly speaking, what kind of life would you say Thomas Monson has lived?
Look at all the success he has enjoyed in both his private, business and spiritual life.
How is this an expression of Optimism?
Everything is working out for the best in Tom’s life, even through the hardships he must have experienced in WWII and the sacrifices he made to serve others in his business associations, Scouting and in the LDS fellowship.
Evolution:Happiness is expressing your genes into the future
Scientifically, Optimism expresses itself as Evolution.
Everything turns out for the best as life forms change over time to become better adapted to their changed environment. This adaptation takes place as individuals most fit for survival express more of their genes into successive generations of offspring.
If we are working solely on the basis of evolution, why is it wrong to use modern medicine to treat sickly children?
We should let the sickly specimens of our society die as painless a death as possible before they can reproduce or, if we wish to grant them a full life and our society can afford it, prevent them from reproducing so that their bad genes will not weaken the human race in the future.
But how does this help your little girl who has developed asthma?
It won’t. The human race will be better off without her genes being passed on to the next generation. She will be a hapless victim of survival of the fittest.
Dualism is the opinion that good and evil coexist and are engaged in a struggle in this world.
Evil is being caught on the losing end of that struggle.
There are gods who are good and caring, but not omnipotent and at the same time there are gods who are not good and not caring, but also are not omnipotent.
Dualism basically turns into a wash, with the negatives counter-balancing the positives. The only unique feature of dualism is its insistence that evil is coeternal with good, therefore “god” as defined by dualism, is the source of evil.
The world was horrified by the December 2004 Tsunami. Killing around 230,000 residents of countries around the Indian Ocean, Christians were at a loss to explain it. How could God let such a thing happen? Where was a loving God?
The largely Buddhist population of Thailand had no problem explaining this act of God. “The Sea God was angry at us.” They had neglected to pay the reverence due to one particular god/goddess and were suffering from that neglect, especially because the gods/goddesses they were revering were not able to protect them from the Sea God’s wrath.
Happiness is either being on the right side through your virtue (which makes your side temporarily more powerful) or by your luck. Both can quickly change.
Remember your high school English classes? How do the myths of the Greek and Roman gods fit in with the theory of dualism?
One set of gods favored one side and its heroes, the other set of gods favored the other side and its heroes. The side that was the strongest, most angered or sneakiest, won.
American politics is based on dualism. “They” are bad and “we” are good. The hope for the supporter of a budding politician (that he will be able to get a paying job in government once his man wins) is that “our” side will prevail over “their” side.
How does dualism explain a nation’s psyche when going to war and cause us to be deeply shaken by atrocities (My Lai, Abu Ghraib) committed by our side?
We are obviously in the right and they are obviously in the wrong. Therefore God is on our side and the devil is backing them. We expect the side of “right” to win. But when our soldiers are found to be doing things that only the side of wrong does, it weakens the cause of right and makes us wonder if we are on the right side, after all, and how God can further support our side of the conflict. Invariably such atrocities are hidden from the public to prevent them from doubting the righteousness of our cause.
Christianity is the Biblical teaching that the Triune God is at the same time omnipotent, all good and all-caring, but he chooses to set limits on his raw exercise of power in this world.
Evil is the result of man’s disobedience to God.
There is a struggle between good and evil in the world, but for God’s believers, all will ultimately work out for the good (not the best!).
God calls mankind not only to believe in him, but as a fruit of that faith, to participate on the side of good in the struggle against evil.
All Christian denominations faithful to the Bible believe this.
Much of government, rooted in Biblical principles, put this into effect through a system of checks and balances. Man, though good at times, has a darker nature that must be kept in check.
Happiness is keeping a watch over one’s own heart and staying close to God’s Word for strength and guidance in the battle against evil.
Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan sums up the Christian response to evil.
Quickly read through Luke 10.25-37.
What is the Christian response to suffering?
Do good to your neighbor.
Who are we to help?
Everyone—everyone (even our enemy) is our neighbor.
Does the parable even address the ultimate cause of evil?
No. Jesus simply says the man fell in among thieves. The real parable starts with him in his plight as a victim, half-dead beside the road.
Fill in the chart to summarize our discussion up to this point.
God is Omnipotent
God is All Good
God is Source of Evil
Cares for Individual
You will notice this is a different approach than what we are used to in Bible Study. There have been very few Bible passages and no real in-depth Bible study. It is an argument based mostly upon logic whose goal is to show that Christianity, if not preferable, is at least as possible as other systems of belief.
The goal of the apologist is to get people to give Christianity a fair shake and approach it with as open a mind as they are able.
The goal of this lesson was to convince you that Christianity is the only system of belief that can offer some response to the problem of evil, not a response of explanation, but a response of action.
Let’s see how successful we were.
Just looking at Christianity from the point of reason, why is it preferable than Optimism and Dualism in confronting the problem of evil?
Optimism and Dualism seem to offer no reason why we should confront evil in an attempt to overcome it. Evil in optimism is illusionary. We should simply try to understand how it works for the best outcome. Dualism seems to say we should simply try to avoid evil by making sure the gods who back us are at least as strong or, for the time being, stronger, than the gods who oppose us.
Christianity calls us to action in alleviating the evil that is in the world. As such, it seems a more moral position.
How might your defense of the Christian God “who lets these terrible things happen” change in light of this lesson?
Instead of sitting here, wasting time pointing fingers and assigning blame to God, let’s get off our hands and try to do something about this evil in the world.
The First Promise
God does not expect us to overcome all evil. There is one evil we cannot overcome and have no power to undo. That is the evil of sins (ours) already committed. We cannot atone for them. We cannot make amends for them. We cannot make up for them. If left to our own devices when it came to dealing with our sins, we could only end up in hell.
Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. Galatians 3.10
What happens to us if we do not keep God’s law perfectly?
We will be under God’s curse.
No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the Law. Romans 3.20
How many people will be under the curse of God?
All people, for no one has kept the Law perfectly so they can be declared righteous in God’s sight.
The wages of sin is death. Romans 6.23
What do we get because of God’s curse over our sin?
Death is the wages we earn by our evil, an end of physical life and an end to eternal life.
Genesis is, first and foremost, the story of God’s promise to send a Savior. Genesis 3 introduces the promise, then shows how mankind’s grasp on that promise grows weaker and weaker until God chooses to focus his energy on the family of one man, Abraham, which will be the bearer of that Promised Savior. The Promised Savior becomes intertwined with the promise of land for God’s people. Those promises are threatened repeatedly by sinful mankind, but God preserves the Promise and his people rely on the Promise. Joseph’s dying words at the end of Genesis reveal his fervent hope that the God of promise will bring his people back to the Promised Land. “You must carry my bones up from this place.”
As Genesis 1-2 provide the foundation for the Promise of a Savior, the very Promise of a Savior forms the foundation for God’s call to his people to overcome evil.
Read Genesis 1.26-31
What is God’s judgment upon his finished work of creation and what does that mean regarding mankind?
Everything is very good. That means man is very good, too, perfectly sinless and holy. There is no evil anywhere.
Man is given some work to do. What are his tasks?
1. Be fruitful and increase in number
2. fill and subdue the earth
3. rule over every living creature
Man is perfectly equipped to carry out his task—he has been given the image of God.
Discuss what an image is and what that could possibly mean in this context.
(you may want to consider Ephesians 4.24 Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.)
An image is a person’s reflection, like in a mirror. The mirror reflects back to the person something about himself, what he looks like on the outside. Man carries God’s image. The image man carried about reflected back to God something about himself, his holiness, sinlessness and moral perfection. Adam and Eve had the righteousness and holiness of God.
How do people know what God is like by seeing you in action in your life?
The way Christians act mirrors God’s actions. We are loving, kind, forgiving, helping.
Is God the source of evil here?
No. There is no evil.
How does God show his goodness? His power? His care?
God shows his goodness by creating a wonderful world without evil. He shows his power by creating it in the first place and by the powerful words of his commands. He shows his care in the special gift of his image to the man.
Read Genesis 2.8-9, 15-17
Show that God’s command was not unreasonable.
Every other tree in the Garden of Eden they could eat. There had to be hundreds of them. Only one tree they were to stay away from.
Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil right next to the tree of life in the middle of the Garden?
To give Adam and Eve a chance to exercise their free will in choosing good over evil, to give them a concrete way of showing their thanks to God (by obeying his commands) and to give them the knowledge of what was right and wrong—right was doing what God said, evil was doing what God had forbidden.
Show that God was sincere about having Adam and Eve choose life.
He does not forbid them to eat from the tree of life and he promises death as the penalty for eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
There is the stereotypical picture of an abnormally insecure mother. She always tells her children to give her a kiss. “Tell me you love me.” “Tell me I’m the best mamma in the world.” And then she ages into the dowager who uses money to force attention and feigned affection from her spawn. This can’t be real love!
How does God show he really loves Adam and Eve?
He lets them make their own choice. He doesn’t treat them like robots, forcing obedience.
How does God show he loves you and me as much as he loved Adam and Eve?
He still gives us a choice when we are tempted by evil. He doesn’t break into our world and preclude any options that would lead us to choose evil.
Check the pertinent boxes that refer to God in Genesis 1 and 2.
God is Omnipotent
God is All Good
God is Source of Evil
God Cares for Individual
Read Genesis 3.1-13
How does Eve show she is a perfectly sinless, moral human being?
She agrees with God’s command and has even added her own precautions to prevent her from breaking God’s command.
Why does Eve disobey the commands of God which she had previously agreed with?
She believes the lies of the serpent.
What has Adam been doing all this time?
Evidently he has been silently watching all this go down, for he is with her.
Who is the serpent?
Where did the devil come from?
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1.1, 3
God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment. 2 Peter 2.4
God created the angels who were good, perfect in holiness. But they also had a free will, as Adam and Eve had. Some of the angels sinned against God and were sent to hell. Their leader is now known as the devil.
How had God shown he loved the angels as much as he loved Adam and Eve?
He had given them free will. They were not forced to obey him.
According to the serpent, who is the source of trouble in the world?
From what has been presented so far, is this true?
Not at all. God created nothing evil and his commands are reasonable and good.
The serpent also promised that Adam and Eve would be wise. Evaluate the serpent’s truthfulness in view of Genesis 3.7-8.
The serpent lied, for Adam and Eve have become foolish. They make the flimsiest of coverings to hide their shame instead of dealing with the shame to get rid of it, as a wise person would. They hide from God when they hear him, as if a God who can peer into the furthest corners of the universe is too stupid to peek behind a bush.
What would God have done if he had wanted Adam and Eve to be forever lost?
He never would have come into the Garden that day or any day thereafter.
What was the penalty for disobedience to God’s command about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
If death is defined as separation (physical death, separation from the physical life on earth; eternal death, separation from the eternal life with God in heaven), how have Adam and Eve already died once they ate the forbidden fruit?
By running away from God they have shown that separation from the source of life has already taken place. They are spiritually dead already.
How does God prove to Adam and Eve that they cannot save themselves?
He gives them a chance to repent of their sins, but they simply accuse each other (or God) or play hard-ball with God.
After Adam and Eve have proven their inability to confess their sin to God in the face of overwhelming evidence, God steps in and announces the promise of a Savior who will overcome sin for mankind.
Read Genesis 3.13-20
After talking about the outward stigma attached to being a serpent, forever marked in the minds of God’s people as the sign of evil, the Lord confronts the devil inside the serpent. There will be a constant struggle, enmity, between the offspring of the woman, mankind, and the offspring of the devil, the demon hordes of hell. We’ll get to that in Genesis 4.
How does God show his concern for all mankind?
He promises a Savior from sin.
What does the “he” of Genesis 3.15 imply about the Savior?
The Savior will be a single person, a male descendant of the woman.
If you crush the head of a snake, what happens to the snake?
It is really dead.
What does this symbolize?
The Savior will kill, put out of commission, the power of the devil.
If a poisonous snake strikes your heel before the invention of modern medicine, what happens to you?
You will die.
What does this symbolize?
The Savior will conquer the devil in the battle over sin, but it will cost the Savior his life.
Then God tells Adam and Eve how sin will inevitably stain their lives. The woman’s most cherished aspects of her life, child-bearing and her marital relationship, will be tarnished by pain and oppression. The man’s life of work will be subject to frustration.
And what will ultimately happen to man?
He will die.
How does Adam’s naming his wife Eve show his faith in the Promise of a Savior?
Eve means the mother of the living. Adam’s faith trusted in God’s promise of a Savior to give them life. She would not be the mother of the dying.
Is man helpless in the face of sin already committed? Fill in the chart below before you answer.
Things I can do to live longer
Don’t drink to excess
Cut down on red meat
Get a yearly physical
Cut down on my stress levels
Get enough sleep
Go to church
Things I can do to come back to life once I’ve died
Yes. There is absolutely nothing we can do to take away sin once it is committed. There is absolutely nothing we can do to remove the guilt of sin or escape the punishment of sin.
Genesis 3 is the foundation for God’s call to his people to overcome evil. People who have experienced God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ are changed.
I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Psalm 119:104
Prove the truth of the Psalmist’s words regarding the story of the sinful woman caught in adultery and the healed demoniac.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
The woman has been forgiven her sin of adultery by Jesus so she will turn from her life of sin. Her turning from her life of adultery is not a precondition of her forgiveness, but will be a fruit of her repentance, something she will do out of loving thankfulness for being forgiven.
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
The demoniac wants to stay with Jesus and be his disciple because he loves Jesus so much for driving the demons out of him. Jesus gives him a hard command—stay at home and tell others of what I have done for you. And the man, out of thankful love for the deliverance he received from Jesus, did just that.
Why is preaching God’s forgiveness rather than preaching how to fix some social problems a better way to go when confronting evil in this world?
Preaching “how to” sermons may provide some technical details necessary to get a job done, but the “how to” sermon never addresses the desire to fix the problem in the first place and see the fix through to a successful conclusion. It’s like having a giant public works project with all the plans laid out, a highly skilled work force ready to go, but the money for the project has been pulled!
Preaching God’s forgiveness is the money behind the project. God’s forgiveness provides the motivation, drive and perseverance necessary to see the job through.
You Must Master It
Now the subplot of Genesis is vividly introduced. As God has overcome the guilt and condemnation of accomplished sin, the ultimate evil, so he commands his children to overcome evil in their lives by mastering contemplated sin, the temptation to sin and some of the earthly impact sin makes.
Again, we have two people. Again, we have the Lord’s words of encouragement and guidance.
Read Genesis 4.1-5
The Hebrew (and Luther’s translation follows this) offers the possible translation, “I have given birth to a man, the Lord!”
Certainly there was more attention given to Cain’s birth than to Abel’s. Give a few reasons Abel might feel like the neglected one.
Cain was the firstborn, a novelty.
If Luther’s translation is correct, what else might have contributed to Abel’s neglect?
At least until he misbehaved for the first time (or until Eve was finally convinced of the error of her assessment), Cain was mistaken for the Savior.
God had promised that there would be fighting between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the devil. How did this struggle manifest itself in Cain’s offering to the Lord?
There is a struggle within Cain himself between the devil and God. He does not seem to believe in a good and loving God, yet he knows he should love this God and offer God sacrifices.
Why didn’t God receive Cain’s offering favorably? After all, wouldn’t nice vegetables be more appetizing and pleasant to look at than a bunch of bloody, greasy pieces of fat mutton?
(seeHebrews 11.4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. )
Cain did not have faith. That is the only reason God does not receive Cain’s otherwise good and wonderful offering.
Explain why Cain might be angry at…
God God isn’t accepting Cain’s offering.
Abel Cain is jealous that God is accepting Abel’s offering and mad at Abel for making him look bad.
Himself Cain shouldn’t be feeling this way. He knows it is wrong, yet he keeps dwelling on it.
Read Genesis 4.6-8
When Adam and Eve sinned, God came looking for them. What similarities and differences do you see here?
God comes looking for Cain before he has fully carried out his sin. Cain has already committed sin in his heart, but has not let it yet grow into action. God confronts the small, outward aspects of Cain’s sin up to this point, asking him why he is angry, just as he asked Adam what he had done. Then God encourages Cain to resist the progression of this sin, something he did not have the opportunity to do with Adam and Eve. We have no response from Cain, either of repentance or, as in the case of Adam and Eve, sinful justification.
What is the name for God Moses uses here?
What does it mean?
(see Exodus 34 The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.)
This is a special name for God which stresses his forgiving nature, as he has promised to his people and which will be most fully made known in the work of the Promised Savior.
How does God’s compassionate and slow to anger nature show itself in dealing with Cain?
He does not strike Cain down on the spot. He gives him the time to think over what he has told him, even though Cain uses the time only to plan Abel’s murder.
Picture a cat crouching in front of a mouse hole in the wall. Now blow the image up. Imagine a lion crouching before your front door! What images does the LORD convey through these words?
Do not open your door even an inch to the devil. He is not cute, he is not naughty, but nice. He is a terrible force of evil which, if left unopposed, will tear us down as far as he can and utterly destroy us.
Now comes God’s command. “You must master it.”
How can Cain master sin if he is a sinner?
He can repent of his sin and rely on God’s power of forgiveness to move him to resist this terrible sin he is contemplating.
How can Cain master sin if he is already an unbeliever?
He can listen to God’s words and the Holy Spirit can work faith in his heart, thus making him a believer who can overcome evil.
From Hebrews 11, which is Cain?
So how can this be a valid command from God? It seems unreasonable to give a command that cannot be followed.
Before you answer, consider these passages
Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Acts 16.31
Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. Romans 10.17
The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. John 6.63
In the very command of God is the implied promise of deliverance from sin. The name of the LORD used here implies the Savior God of the Promise. The words the Savior God speaks to Cain contain the Holy Spirit and can give faith.
What is the only way Cain can master this sin?
A Christian is in a difficult spot. His work situation is terrible. He is honest and dependable. Some of the people working around him are lazy and engage in petty thievery. But his supervisor is absolutely a devil. He is trying to drive the business into the ground so the owner will get sick of it, sell it for a pittance to him and he can then turn the business around once the profits are going into his pocket! At times, even when the business, hobbled as it is, is somehow making money, this dishonest manager cooks the books with phony invoices and siphons off what meager profits there are. The Christian sees this, but the manager is the owner’s son-in-law!
What can the Christian, who desperately needs this job, do?
If the worker was on an equal basis with the wicked manager, he could go to the owner and tell him, but he the wicked manager is over him. He cannot go around the chain of command, especially since the wicked manager is the owner’s son-in-law. Because he is so closely related, the owner has probably already seen many incriminating pieces of evidence, but has either ignored them or blinded himself to them. The Christian’s best course of action is to continue to give faithful service to his employer through the wicked supervisor, without doing anything that personally siphons money away from the business. He is called to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages. He can also, and will, pray that the situation becomes better and he would also be well-advised to start looking for a different job to get out of this terrible situation.
The Call Rejected
Read Genesis 4.8-12
Whose offspring has Cain now become and how do you know?
The offspring of the devil, for he goes out and murders Abel.
Again the Lord comes to Cain. Why does he ask Cain about Abel’s whereabouts--doesn’t he already know what has happened to Abel?
He wants Cain to confess, just as he wanted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to confess.
Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent. How is Cain’s response to God’s question worse than his parents?
He challenges God’s right to even be concerned in his relationship with his brother. He casts off all responsibility towards his brother’s physical safety.
Am I my brother’s keeper? How does that play a role in overcoming evil?
If I am my brother’s keeper, I will be involved in overcoming evil in this world. If the circumstances of other people are no concern of mine, I will not be concerned with, nor will I lift a finger to overcome, evil.
There is no repeated promise of a Savior for Cain. The Savior God, the LORD,is talking to Cain directly. What is the punishment God sets for Cain?
He will be exiled from the society of the believers gathered around Adam and Eve. He will be a wanderer to the east, no longer a farmer.
Read Genesis 4.13-16
Cain acts much like a child being punished acts. He exaggerates the punishment to make the parent look bad, so he is justified in feeling oppressed by this unjust punishment.
How does Cain exaggerate the LORD’s punishment?
Cain claims the LORD is giving the green light to any and all who find Cain to kill him.
How does God still show that he cares, not only for his own people, but for all people?
God protects Cain’s life by putting a special mark upon Cain so that anyone who finds him will not put him to death.
Why does God protect Cain’s life?
(see Isaiah 55.6 Seek the Lord while he may be found.)
2 Peter 3.9 The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to cometo repentance.)
God still wants Cain to repent and be saved. It is not God’s will that someone should cut that precious time Cain has short.
Read Genesis 4.23-24
The story moves to Cain’s great-great grandson. What can we instantly discover about this man’s spiritual condition?
He is not a believer. He has multiple wives, is a braggart and a murderer!
Look at Lamech’s last words very closely. Is Cain still alive or is he dead?
Cain is still alive, for he speaks of Cain in the present tense.
Whose descendant is Lamech?
Lamech is descended from Cain.
Who told Lamech about the story of Cain and Abel and, evidently, who was the villain in the story?
Cain must have told his unbelieving, wandering children the story of his murder of Abel, but from Cain’s perspective, God was the villain in extracting unjust punishment from Cain.
If I believe God is my enemy, what is that going to do to my ability to overcome evil?
I will not want to overcome evil, for that would be working towards God’s, my enemy’s, advantage.
What if I only doubt God’s goodness? What is that going to do to my ability to overcome evil?
I will not want to overcome evil, for maybe God wants that evil to exist and actually created that evil to punish evil-doers, and I don’t want to work at cross-purposes against God.
Your friend, Ellen has lost her teenage daughter in a car accident. Both of them were faithful Lutherans, but neither of them was meek and mild-mannered. In fact, that morning they had gotten into a real argument. Neither one was sad to see the other disappear from sight. And then, forty-five minutes later, Ellen gets the call from the police. Her daughter’s friend, who had picked her up for the ride to school, had gotten into a car accident on the way. There were no survivors. What do you say to Ellen when she stops by your house on a Saturday morning, for a cup of coffee, but then starts crying her eyes out and saying she just can’t understand why God would take her child.
It is best not to give a lot of glib, shallow answers. Just be with her, letting you know you feel something of her sorrow, you sympathize with her and keep your mouth shut. A hug or holding a hand is very valuable at a time like this. Then, don’t try to explain God’s ways to her. You can’t. If anything, keep telling her not to lose her faith that God is good. Don’t give up on the goodness of God.
“Certainly I’m not a Cain!” How does Luther explain the Fifth Commandment? “Help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need.” How can trusting in God’s goodness help me to be the friend and helper God wants me to be in this world?
Again, if I know God is good, I know he wants me to help others who are in need, others who are suffering. It doesn’t matter how they got into that situation. The point is I am to help them as best as I am able. Unlike a Hindu who views a life of suffering as bad karma, a judgment on the person from a previous life, I will view a life of suffering as something to be made better by getting rid of that suffering, whatever it is. God’s goodness to me, especially in the goodness of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, will move me to befriend others.
Many times the evil God asks us to overcome is not an evil that expresses itself in outward, manifest sins. It is the evil within, the battle against unbelief and doubt and how to display victory in that battle by living a godly life as a testimony to those around us.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the account of Noah. After recounting the absolute failure of Cain’s line to overcome evil, Genesis 5 traces the lineage of Seth, one of the many children of Adam and Eve. The family tree extends to Noah which sets the stage for Moses’ account of the Flood.
Read Genesis 6.1-8
What has the human race been divided into, according to Moses’ words?
Daughters of men and the sons of God, believers and unbelievers.
What was the weakness in some of the believers’ lives?
They were attracted to the outward beauty of unbelieving women, instead of being attracted by the inward beauty of a godly life among the believing women.
What does Moses seem to imply about the result of these “mixed marriages”?
They turned out badly. The faith was lost in the next generation.
Why does God talk about his Spirit struggling with mankind? What have the daughters of men (and their descendents) been doing to God’s Spirit?
They have been resisting his efforts to keep their faith alive or bring the unbelievers to spiritual life.
How many years does God give the human race?
Many have taken the word Nephilim to mean giants (like Goliath). The text explains what it means at the end of verse 4. How were these people “giants”?
They were giants of industry, commerce, politics, being heroes and men of renown.
Coming from these mixed marriages, how weren’t these people giants?
They weren’t giants in their faith. They weren’t even moral pygmies. Faith in God was simply not a part of their makeup.
These heroes of old were valiant and self-controlled enough to do great things, but they were still not self-controlled enough to overcome evil!
Here’s some non-heroic plot lines. Connect them to the hero.
- While on a lark, his friend is killed. This hero goes to the underworld to recover a plant that can restore life, but falls asleep and loses the plant.
- With the help of the king’s love-stricken daughter, this stranger steals the royal treasure and, after fathering two children by her, he jilts her for a girl of his own country, causing her to dash her sons’ brains out.
- This hero loses his entire crew on his return home because of his reckless curiosity and desire for adventure.
- Angry that the king has taken his prize of battle, a beautiful slave girl, this hero refuses to go into battle. Unmoved by the wasted deaths of his comrades, he only reenters the battlefield after his closest friend, disguised in his unused armor, is killed.
Gilgamesh-1, Jason-2, Ulysses-3, Achilles-4
The Bible sometimes portrays God in human terms. This is called anthropomorphism. God grieves over man’s wickedness. He feels pain that he created mankind.
What do you do when you are grieving over a course of action?
You wish you had to do it over again so you could do it differently. If the course of action isn’t complete yet, you change the course immediately.
How did God change his course of action?
He now is going to start over in the world through the believing family of Noah.
What is different about Noah? Why?
He had faith. God had given him faith.
A Witness to the World
Read Genesis 6.9-22
How did mankind’s corruption especially display itself on earth?
Guess how many crimes per 100 Americans were committed in 2009. (put an X before your answer)
Less than 1 1-5 6-10 11-15 16-20 Over 20
Any guess where this ranks us in the world?
Why are we so bad at overcoming evil?
We are bad at listening and believing God’s Word.
What awaited the world at the end of 120 years?
Why so long?
God wanted to give everyone plenty of time to repent and live.
How does God continue to show his love for mankind and the earth he created?
He permits history to go on for another day.
What is Noah’s response?
He does what God commands and spends the next 120 years building a colossal ark in the middle of nowhere.
We might think this is not such a big deal, but imagine an ark building project that lasts 120 years. Imagine the ridicule and scorn that was heaped upon Noah. We don’t, however, have to imagine it.
Look at Hebrews 11.7 and explain the battle Noah was facing.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Noah’s very actions, building the ark in holy fear, condemns the world and the world does not like to put up with that condemnation. They must have made Noah’s life miserable.
Rescue from Evil
Read Genesis 7.1-16
Notice the shift in names between Genesis 6.22 and Genesis 7.1. What might this signify?
The name for God becomes LORD. Now we are going to see the LORD’s power to save all life on the earth.
Again, Moses tells us why Noah is saved while the rest of the world is condemned. What kind of righteousness does Noah have? Prove it.
He has always done good and has never sinned. Noah has a righteousness of his own works.
Noah is a child of Adam and as such, is a sinner, coming into the world with Adam’s image, not with God’s image. He cannot have his own righteousness.
Like the rest of mankind, Noah is also wicked, but he has faith in the Promised Savior.
This is true. It shows in Noah’s obedience to the LORD’s commands, moved by his thankful response to the LORD’s forgiveness of sins.
How much time does Noah and his sons have to load up the ark?
Did they have to round up the animals? Why?
No, the LORD moved the animals to come to the ark.
How in the world did they get that bulky door of the ark shut?
The LORD himself shut the door of the ark when everyone and everything that belonged inside was safely inside
OK. We’ve all got questions about the ark.
How big was it—let’s compare it to a college, Division I, smaller school football stadium. About as long as a football stadium (and as high), but only a third as wide.
How could Noah get all the animals into the ark?--He didn’t get all the animals into the ark. He only got pairs of kinds of animals into the ark. Not every species of dog or warbler or mouse went into the ark, just a pair from every kind, a term somewhere between our species and genus classification. Also, we aren’t told whether these were adult animals or juveniles. You could pack a lot more little ones into the ark than big adults.
What about the dinosaurs?--If they were still around, Noah would have taken a few of them, too. But remember! The average size of a dinosaur is the size of a sheep. There would have been room for a few, strategically targeted kinds of dinosaurs to replenish the earth, too, if they were still in existence (man has a tendency to kill off large carnivores).
Wasn’t God unfair to bring the Flood upon the earth? Ah, here we go with that initial problem again. We aren’t called to understand God—we are called to believe in him. It is also hard to see why we want to insist to hold God to the same standards he holds us to. But let’s, for the sake of apologetics, explain why God wasn’t unfair to bring the Flood upon the earth.
God gave mankind a long time—120 years—to come to repentance. During that time he had a powerful testimony to his coming judgment, Noah and his sons building the ark. The world of that time knew the righteous decrees of God and also knew from the Law written in their heart and their consciences that God was angry at them. Their culture had preserved the story of God’s creation of the world and answer to mankind’s sin through the Promised Savior. They had every reason to turn from their ways, but they didn’t and God wouldn’t force them.
What would have happened to the Promise of a Savior if God hadn’t sent the Flood to rescue believing Noah and his family from that corrupt and violent world?
The Promise undoubtedly would have been lost as even Noah’s small family would have intermarried with the unbelievers and the Word of God and his worship would have grown less and less attractive in their thinking.
Read Genesis 8.21
Upon his exit from the ark, Noah offers God a sacrifice.
What is God’s promise?
He would never send a flood again to destroy the whole world.
What is his evaluation of man’s spiritual condition (remember—the human race now consists of 100% believers)?
They are always evil.
Read Genesis 9.20-21
How does Noah prove God is right?
He gets drunk on a new wine harvest.
Why is it easier to overcome one, big evil than to overcome many pesky, little evils?
One big evil is a one-time affair. We see what is at stake and rally our resources to overcome it. Especially when the evil is so big, we despair of our own ability to handle it and turn to the Lord for help and strength in overcoming this evil. This path does not put us to shame.
But overcoming many pesky, little evils is harder. They don’t seem big enough to call upon God for help—we can handle it ourselves. Yet the continuing nature of these evils sap our strength and we start to try to make accommodations with them and try to put up with them.
The Public Abraham
As we see both sides of Noah’s character, the righteous and obedient man of God building the ark and entering it, and the weak, powerless and inebriated Noah, so we are going to see two sides of another man of faith, Abraham.
Abraham was a descendant of Noah through Shem. He lived around 2000 BC.
The Power To Do Good
Before we look at the good Abraham did, we should look at why Abraham did that good in the first place. Where did he get his power to overcome evil? The Promise of a Savior, God’s Gospel, moved Abraham to respond in faith and do what was good.
Read Genesis 12.1-4
Give some very good reasons why Abraham should not move from Haran, in northern Iraq, “to the land I (the LORD) will show you.”
He doesn’t even know where he is moving to! It was dangerous to move to a foreign country, outside of the support your extended family and life-long friends could give you. At his old age, it wouldn’t exactly be easy, either.
Any significance to the name used for God here?
The Savior God who has Promised a deliverance from sin.
How is it possible that every single person on earth, the ones who were alive when Abraham was alive, the ones who died before 2000 BC, the ones who would live after Abraham (like us), how is it possible that every single person on earth would be changed by Abraham?
It is only possible if the LORD is promising Abraham that he will be part of the family tree of the Savior. Whoever blesses Abraham’s Savior will be blessed, and whoever turns their noses up at the Savior through Abraham’s line will be cursed with an eternity in hell.
Because of this Gospel Promise, what can Abraham do?
Obey the command of God and move to the Promised Land.
Read Genesis 18.14
What does God promise Abraham?
He and Sarah will have a son within a year.
What does this Gospel Promise move Abraham to do, as recounted in the latter half of this chapter?
He tries to save Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD’s destruction.
Believers never do good just because they are so good and wonderful. They do good, overcome evil, in response to God’s goodness to them. But not always.
Abraham in Egypt
Abraham settles in the Promised Land, the land where God had shown him. God wants Abraham to stay and live there. “To your offspring I will give this land,” the LORDtells Abraham.
Read Genesis 12.10-17
God had commanded Abraham to live in Canaan. Do you agree or disagree with Abraham’s decision to move to Egypt?
Disagree! God had not told Abraham to move to Egypt. God had told Abraham to live in Canaan. It was in Canaan that the Promise of a Savior would come about.
--remember your answer when we come to the end of the chapter!
When people ask me why I never travel, I tell them, “Nothing says victim like a Minnesotan oversees. If God wanted me to travel he would have made me Canadian.” How safe is it for Americans to travel to:
Mexico Iraq Afghanistan Somalia
What do all these places have in common?
All these countries are places of extreme lawlessness.
Evidently the rule of law was equally flimsy in ancient Egypt when it came to foreigners. How well-founded was Abraham’s fear?
Very well-founded. Sarah becomes a target for the Pharaoh’s lust as he takes her for himself and makes her part of his harem.
How would you feel right about now if you were Sarah?
Very isolated, alone and scared. I know the Promised Savior is yet to come and he’s going to come through me. Yet the time was running out. It had to happen soon. How could I keep this pagan away from me?
With Sarah in the Pharaoh’s harem, what is at stake here?
The integrity of the Promised Savior coming from Abraham’s body.
We tend to think that when we do good, we will be rewarded. Watch out! Isn’t that what an optimist like LDS President Thomas Monson thinks? In a later lesson we will see what can happen when we do good. But what happens to Abraham for doing evil?
He benefits greatly! He is treated well while Sarah is part of Pharaoh’s harem. Sarah is returned to him safe and sound, as well as the Pharaoh giving Abraham many rich gifts.
Can you recall in y our life times when you or someone else benefitted from wrongdoing?
Cheating on tests could result in good grades. Telling your mom a sibling did something that you really did may have gotten us off the hook. Lying to a police officer may have gotten us off with a warning.
Did you really?
No, it finally catches up to you and it doesn’t matter much in the long term.
Read Genesis 12.17-20
How is the Promise of a Savior protected and who is the agent to protect it?
The Pharaoh and his family are stricken with a disease and he, out of guilt, returns Sarah to Abraham. The Lord is the one who brought the suffering and repentance upon Pharaoh.
Can you think of some reasons why Sarah might be rather attractive at the age of 65?
She has had no children, so she may still have her shape. Her diet is probably very good, so she is in terrific shape and she may have had really beautiful parents who passed their genes on to her.
Can you think of some starlets who are (or were) pretty well preserved?
Raquel Welch, Anne Margaret, Sophia Loren.
We don’t know what the disease or diseases were that God inflicted upon Pharaoh and his household. The Hebrew word can mean anything from leprosy to bubonic plague. It is used in connection with the Ten Plagues of Egypt in the days of Moses. It was enough to get Pharaoh’s attention. How did he know the cause?
He was feeling guilty for taking yet another wife.
Who does Pharaoh blame? Is this fair? Does it matter?
He blames Abraham for not telling him she was his wife. It isn’t really fair, because Abraham didn’t exactly pawn off Sarah on the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh saw her, liked what he saw and proceeded to grab her. It really doesn’t matter, because Sarah and the integrity of the Promise is imperiled no matter who is to blame.
What had Abraham gotten out of his sojourn in Egypt?
Nothing but grief and sorrow—and all those sheep and cattle Pharaoh had given him.
What had Sarah gotten out of his sojourn in Egypt?
Grief, sorrow and worry. She has not fared nearly as well as Abraham did.
Look at Genesis 13.1. They go back to the Promised Land, to the southern scrub land, the driest part of the Promised Land. Reevaluate your assessment of Abraham’s initial decision to go to Egypt.
If Abraham could make a living here during the dry years of the famine, he certainly could have made a living in the Promised Land during the years of famine. He didn’t have to go to Pharaoh for protection.
Read Genesis 14.11-16
After Abraham returns from Egypt, he and Lot part company. Lot takes his herds and moves down to the Jericho Valley near the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. After a while he gives up the nomadic life and settles in town. In the meantime, Sodom and Gomorrah have rebelled against their northern overlord. A battle is fought and Sodom and Gomorrah are defeated.
What is Lot’s connection to Abraham?
What does the number 318 show about Abraham’s wealth?
He has a lot of hired men to run a big ranching operation. In this day, herds were wealth.
Look at the map and to trace Abraham’s route. How far did Abraham and his men have to go?
Almost 100 miles before they catch up to Kedorlaomer’s army.
An army of four kings had seized Sodom and Gomorrah. If the three allies of Abraham had as many men as Abraham did, that makes up a force of 1200 men. How could so few drive away so many?
They attack at night when it is unheard of. For equally matched armies to fight at night would mean many “friendly” casualties. With a force of so few, Abraham’s men could be assured everyone they saw would be enemy soldiers. A night attack would also unnerve an army enjoying the spoils of war and eager to get home. The simple (and correct) answer is that the Lord gave him the victory.
Read Genesis 14.17-20
What two kings meet Abraham?
The king of Sodom and the king of Salem (Jerusalem).
What is your initial feeling about the King of Sodom? Why?
He is a craven coward. He was not captured with his people. He must have turned tail on the battlefield and fled into hiding. He is so brazen, now he comes back to claim the rule over his people.
What do you think of the King of Salem? Why?
He is a good guy, a priest of the most High God who blesses Abraham.
What does Abraham give Melchizedek and why?
(see Hebrews 7.1-7)
Abraham gives Melchizedek a tenth of all the plunder as a gift to the Lord in thanks for the victory the Lord has granted Abraham.
Read Genesis 14.21-24
Why does the King of Sodom make his offer of a gift to Abraham after he has seen Abraham give Melchizedek the tithe?
He is imitating Abraham’s generosity and at the same time imitating Melchizedek’s authority. He will generously give Abraham all the wealth of Sodom for rescuing his people. As Abraham gave Melchizedek the tithe, so Abraham should give him the people.
Why does Abraham refuse the gift?
He will receive nothing from this perverted ingrate. The king of Sodom would turn around and say he made Abraham rich.
Why did Abraham do good?
Because he loved the LORD for all the things the LORD had done for him and the promises the LORD had made to him. This translated into love for others, even if they weren’t very lovable.
What did he get for it?
Not much, because he refused the reward. Basically he got expenses.
We hear of people who do well by doing good. Every so often people are offended by the high salaries some head of charities pull down. It makes you wonder. Jesus instructed us, “Let your light so shine, that men might see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
What should be the message left behind when Christians overcome evil by doing good?
Look what a great God they have who can do such great things through his people!
How can we make sure that happens?
Don’t enrich ourselves through our good deeds. If we are in a position in a charity or a paid position in a church, the salary we will draw will certainly be moderate, in keeping with the general income of the people we serve. We will also not insert ourselves into the work we do as a way to get publicity for ourselves or make other people feel like they need to pat us on the back for all the good we have done. Do the good deeds and then get on with your life. Don’t be keeping track of them. Jesus said, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
Can you recall the bio of Thomas Monson’s life? What might be happening differently there?
His great life is redounding to his account.
What is your obituary going to say?
Lived, died, believed, is in heaven, who I left behind, whose son I was and when the church service will be.
If Abraham, the father of all believers, could at one time be magnanimous and forceful and at another cowardly and selfish, what does that say about our track record in overcoming evil and how can we live with ourselves?
We are never going to be saints. Our victories over evil will be uneven. Because we have a sinful human nature we are going to fall, we are going to be petty and we are going to be overcome by evil. This is the way life is for us in this wicked world. We can live with ourselves by not expecting perfection from ourselves, as if this is the reason why God were going to take us to heaven. Look to the Savior. Jesus died for the good we didn’t do as well as for the evil we did do. We are accepted by God for the sake of Jesus. Faith in that will help us keep fighting the good fight instead of cynically giving up.
The Private Abraham
What a man might be in public, walking among kings and pharaohs, might be greatly different than what he may be in private. Let’s see what Abraham is made of on the home front.
Abraham and Hagar
Read Genesis 16.1-4
Let’s list a few ways this is not the way to go.
He is being unfaithful to his wife.
He is taking advantage of a slave woman who has no rights.
He is doubting the LORD’s ability to give him and Sarah a son of the Promise.
The thought of her husband sleeping with her slave girl is going to gnaw on Sarah.
Do you know the definition of faith?
(take a peek at Hebrews 11.1 if you need help)
Being certain of what you do not have, being sure of what you do not see.
What word of Sarah’s shows this is not an act of faith on her part?
Perhaps. The LORD does not work with maybes or perhaps.
Remembering last week’s lesson, what might have moved Abraham to agree to Sarah’s request?
He is still feeling ashamed of exposing Sarah to danger in the Pharaoh’s courts and might feel as if he owes her one.
And the obvious outcome is?
Hagar gets pregnant and starts to feel superior to her mistress.
Read Genesis 16.5-6
Why does Sarah blame Abraham when she was the one who suggested it in the first place?
Abraham can see the instances where Hagar is despising her mistress, Sarah, but he is doing nothing about it.
Why is Abraham, a man who was decisive enough to route a huge army with a nighttime attack, now too weak-wristed to stand up for the pregnant mother of his first son?
He is ashamed of what he has done and wants nothing more to do with it. He is laboring under a guilty conscience.
Is Sarah a believer or not when she mistreats Hagar? Explain your answer.
Yes, Sarah still is a believer. Being a believer does not mean you are perfect in your relationship with God or your relationship with your fellow man. Being a believer means you repent of your sins and receive God’s forgiveness.
Why is Hagar wrong to run away from Sarah?
Sarah is her mistress. As Sarah’s slave, Hagar has no rights and must do whatever the mistress tells her.
Read Genesis 16.7-16
Why does the angel of the Lord (again that significant name!) call Hagar, “servant of Sarah?”
The Savior God is reminding Hagar of the responsibilities to Sarah that she has betrayed by her running away.
Where is Hagar going?
She doesn’t know. Just anywhere away from Sarah.
Why should Hagar go back and submit to a hard mistress and have a hard life?
The LORD has told her to. The 4thCommandment tells us to respect all who are in authority in our lives as a way to serve the LORD. Sarah is the authority figure in Hagar’s life.
What comfort will Hagar have in all her troubles when she thinks of the Lord appearing to her by the well?
Her descendants will also become a numerous nation through the son she will bring into the world.
What moves the people of God to do good? Where is the Gospel in the Lord’s words to Hagar?
The Gospel, God’s promise to remove the guilt of sin and bless his people, is the motivation for God’s people to do good. The Gospel lurks in several aspects of the angel’s appearance to Hagar. It is the angel of the LORD, the Gospel name for God. His way of talking to Hagar is that of a forgiving God, not a punishing God. He promises her something rather similar to what he has promised Abraham. She cannot but help to be reminded of the Savior in the promise to Abraham. And the name Hagar gives the place, “The God Who Sees Me,” portrays a God who is there to help, not to destroy.
Has Abraham done anything right in this story?
Not one blasted thing.
How rotten can you be and still be a Christian?
Evidently you can be pretty rotten, but the rottenness comes not out of deliberate and willful sinning, coldly premeditated, but a rottenness that we fall into and are almost instantly ashamed of. The sins of God’s children are always sins of weakness.
Hagar Sent Away
Some time passes. Sarah, just as the Lord had promised, gives Abraham a son, Isaac. “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Read Genesis 21.8-10
Children were weaned when they were four. Ishmael is now 18 and he acts like a typical teenager by mocking all the fuss people are making over Isaac.
When Sarah sees Ishmael’s mockery, what does she fear?
That big, strapping, handsome Ishmael will take some of little, weak Isaac’s inheritance (and maybe win over Abraham’s heart.)
What does she command Abraham to do?
Send Ishmael and Hagar permanently away.
What do you think of Sarah’s demand?
On the surface it seems heartless, but when you think about it, the Promise of a Savior cannot have anything that tarnishes it or casts it into doubt. While Sarah is probably acting out of hatred and spite, the Lord is going to work good through her evil.
Read Genesis 21.11-16
What did Abraham think of Sarah’s demand? Does anything about Abraham’s feelings strike you as odd?
He doesn’t like it one bit, but he seems more upset to send his son away than to send Hagar away. He has no feelings for the woman he slept with in comparison to the son she bore him. That is cold.
Why does Abraham finally send Hagar away?
God tells him to do it.
What dog does God have in this fight?
God wants to make sure no one comes between Isaac and the Promise, his promise to send a Savior into the world through Abraham and Isaac’s family tree.
Abraham is a rich man. His pettiness, guilt and shame show through in his treatment of Hagar. How?
He sends her off with but a wineskin and some food. He could have spared a few of his 318 men to provision her properly until she got to where she had to go.
Read Genesis 21.17-21
Who again comes to the aid of Hagar?
The angel of the God.
How does the angel of God again get Hagar to do what he wants her to do?
He promises her that God will make the boy into a great nation. It is the Gospel promise that gives life and hope to those who have given all hope up and are as dead men.
What kind of life did Hagar and Ishmael have?
It must have been a hard life at first, with Ishmael scraping out a living in the desert with his bow and arrow.
It is interesting that things turned out much better for Ishmael than we might have thought! Genesis 25 records Abraham’s death. Isaac and Ishmael meet again to bury him. Then Moses gives the account of Ishmael. He has twelve sons who become twelve tribes. They occupy most of the Sinai Peninsula. The modern Arabs claim their descent from Ishmael. And they still live in hostility towards their brothers.
We’ve seen Abraham in public, dealing with kings and pharaohs, and Abraham in private, dealing with his wife and concubine. How did he do and what might that teach us?
He has a 50-50 record in public and is 0 for 2 in private. The closer we are to people, the harder it is to consistently be godly to them. The devil would love nothing better than to concede momentary victories to us in the public arena while he wins each and every squabble and nurtures every grudge we hold against those near and dear to us. Then he can claim us as hypocrites and destroy the part of our earthly life most vital to us—our marriage and family. We need to live in the midst of our families with fear and trembling, too. And it will take just as much energy, forethought and prayer as we devote to our public battles with evil.
Jacob at the Jabbok
The story of Jacob certainly does not trace the history of a man who has overcome evil, at least not the way the Lord wanted him to overcome evil. When it is obvious that Isaac wants to give Jacob’s twin brother, Esau, the birthright, Jacob barters for it from Esau and then cheats his own dying father. Forced by Esau’s death threats to flee for his life, he falls in with Laban, a relative, and acquires two wives, the unloved Leah and her sister, lovely Rachel. In the ensuing baby race, listening to the urgings of his wives, he sleeps with their chief servant girls and fathers twelve sons, all of whom keep their mothers’ quarreling and striving for influence going. His shifty dealings at least equal crooked Laban’s changing of his wages.
Finally Jacob returns home. On the way, he sends messengers to Esau, letting his brother know of his imminent return. They return with a reply. “Your brother Esau is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
Tried and True Methods of Overcoming
Read Genesis 32.7-12
What is Jacob afraid of after all these years?
That Esau is still out to kill him for stealing the birthright from him.
What is Jacob’s plan for deliverance?
Divide his family into two groups and separate them by a considerable distance. If Esau is intent on wiping Jacob out, he will attack the first group. The second group will hear the attack in the distance and have just enough time to run for their lives and make a getaway.
Look at Genesis 33.2. If this mirrors Jacob’s original intent, how does it show his continued favoritism?
Rachel and daddy’s favorite son, Joseph, are in the final group, the one most likely to escape with their lives if Esau is intent on destroying Jacob.
Is Jacob satisfied that his plans will protect him? Why or why not?
No, he is not sure his plan will succeed. He goes to the Lord in prayer and admits he is still afraid Esau will come and attack him.
What does Jacob base his prayer to God for deliverance from Esau on?
Surprisingly, Jacob asks God to deliver him from Esau because God himself told Jacob to return to the Promised Land and God himself promised to make Jacob’s descendants like the uncountable sand of the sea—the latter is part of the Promise of a Savior. Jacob does not claim any merit or worth of his own before God so that God owes him a rescue from Esau.
What is the significance of calling God “the God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac?”
Jacob is reminding God of the promise of a Savior made to Abraham and Isaac.
Explain how the tried and true methods of overcoming problems may no longer work for:
- The alcoholic—He can no longer deny he has a problem and be physically strong enough to shake off the effects of alcohol nor clever enough to cover up the damage his drinking has done to his job and family. His liver is shot, he I being fired from his job and his wife has threatened to leave him and this time has carried through on the threat. Oh, and he has missed his last five house payments.
- The playboy—His hair is thinning and where did that paunch come from? Too many margaritas and then there’s the pesky letters from lawyers in several states demanding child support for the offspring he fathered. And look at his face—it’s not the years, it’s the miles. All the girls he could count on being at his elbow got tired of his shiftless ways and settled down to raise a family and the younger crop doesn’t even look at the worn-out specimen of a man he is.
- The independent, always-there-for-you mother (now at 76)—She needs help and doesn’t know how to ask for it. She always thought those who were weaker needed the help, not her. There was a lot of pride in her and there still is. She insists on living alone, taking care of herself, although it takes her about an hour to put on her clothes after that last stroke. No cell phone and especially none of that medic alert bracelet. Nothing is going to happen to her. As she struggles to her feet, she hears a crack as her hip breaks. She falls heavily to the floor between her bed and dresser. The land line phone is out in the kitchen.
- The congregation proud of its history of growth in a growing community until the recession hits—The congregation has always defined success as growth, but many of its younger members have moved away, a number of elderly big supporters have passed away and the community not growing. The congregation looks for ways to make itself new and exciting so it can grow again.
Did their methods ever work?
No, for they were rooted in sinful goals or sinful self-reliance. For example, the alcoholic had to find a different meaning in life than the bottle. It never was giving him happiness. The playboy missed out on love, mistaking it for lust. The know-it-all-mom probably was a real pain throughout her life because of her hard-headed ways and the church spent all those years ignoring the real source of it’s attraction—the Gospel.
When In Doubt, Redouble Your Efforts!
Read Genesis 32.13-24a
Upon further reflection, how does Jacob sweeten the pie in his plan?
He sends herds of animals as presents to Esau to try to buy him off and soothe his anger.
All told there are going to be five herds of animals which will be presents for Esau from Jacob.
At night Jacob implements the rest of his plan. What do you think Leah and Rachel were feeling?
They were afraid for their lives, frightened to death for their children’s safety, hating Jacob for getting them into this mess and doubly hating him for not protecting them.
Someone has noted that, in all the years of Jacob’s wives and concubines trying to earn his love, they all failed, because the dirty little secret was that Jacob only loved himself. Which group do you imagine Jacob would travel with?
Which group does he travel with?
None! He sends them all ahead and stays alone on the (safe) side of the Jabbok River!
His own safety is his utmost concern. He doesn’t really love any of his wives, concubines or children as God would have us show love.
Israel: You Have Overcome
Read Genesis 32.24a-33.3
What takes place that lonely night on the other side of the Jabbok river?
Jacob wrestles with a man.
Who does this “man” turn out to be?
How do you know Jacob is badly defeated?
His hip is dislocated.
How do you know Jacob is triumphant?
He lets go of the man only upon his own terms—the man has to bless him.
How can both of these things be true?
Physically Jacob is defeated, not being able to even get a firm stance off of the damaged leg, but he has guessed the identity of the man and comes out on top through his faith, his utter reliance that God has something good, a blessing, to give him.
Name changes in Genesis are significant. Abram (my father) is changed by God to Abraham (father of many nations). What does the name change from Jacob (The Heel Grabber, the Shyster) to Israel mean?
You have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.
Jacob’s tendon at the socket of his hip is dislocated. From this point on he is going to be gimpy. What effect will this have upon Jacob’s “can do” attitude?
He will not be able to rely on his own physical abilities any longer. He will need the help of others, especially the Lord.
Jacob’s plan is subtly changed. Did you notice the difference?
Jacob still has his family move in the same order, but now he goes on ahead of them all.
What does this signify about Jacob? Prove your answer.
He has been changed. Before he was willing to let Leah and her group be destroyed to save the lives of the others and the others to be destroyed to save his life. But now, if Esau wants to kill him, he is the first in line. He is willing to sacrifice himself for his family.
Paul tells us, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5.22-23
Does life beat it into us? Explain.
The hardships of life in and of themselves are not a means of grace by which God makes us into better people. Hardship by itself often hardens the unbeliever (think of Moses’ Pharaoh) and embitters them (think of Naomi in the book of Ruth). But God does send hardship to us to make us wake up, see the futility of the path we are taking and repent, go back to him and through his forgiveness, be restored, just like the Prodigal Son.
Jacob wrestling with God at the Jabbok has often been applied to a Christian’s prayer life. Make your applications and be sure to mention why God lets us win.
Many times Christians pray over a problem or concern a long time, years, perhaps. It doesn’t seem like God is answering our prayers, but we don’t give up, we don’t doubt God’s goodness, we know he wants to bless us, so we keep on praying. And God gives us a good answer to our prayer. It may not be the answer we were expecting, but it is the answer we would have been asking for had we known as much as God did.
But There’s Still a Lot of Jacob Left
Read Genesis 33.4-12
Prove Esau is a changed man, too, from.
his greeting—Esau gets off his horse, runs to meet Jacob, embraces him, kisses him and cries his eyes out. These are not the actions of a murderer.
his acceptance of herds—Esau refuses the gifts of the flocks. He only takes them, not because he secretly wants them, but doesn’t want to appear greedy, he only takes them, as the Holy Scriptures say, “because Jacob insisted.”
his offer—He wants to provide himself and his men as a body guard for Jacob as they move through a dangerous country.
Read Genesis 33.13-20
What excuse does Jacob give for refusing Esau’s offer of 400 body guards in a dangerous land?
Esau and his men will want to move much faster than the women, children, and especially the herds can travel. If the animals are pushed, they will die.
Esau, in effect, admits that he is too busy a man to travel at the slow pace Jacob must travel, but he still has a way to protect brother Jacob. What is it?
He will leave some of his men with Jacob as a smaller body guard.
What might be the real reason for Jacob’s refusal?
He doesn’t trust Esau still and is thinking they will kill him.
How do we know Jacob doesn’t trust Esau? (Compare his promised destination and his actual destination.)
Jacob promises to catch up with Esau in Seir, Esau’s town. Instead, Jacob ends up at Shechem, far from Esau’s Seir. The only time we know the two brothers are going to be together again is at the funeral of father Isaac.
How does Jacob’s actions near Shechem show Canaan is a dangerous land and he would have been wise to have those 400 body guards of Esau’s?
Jacob feels he has to pay out a hundred pieces of silver to buy a campsite for his family.
What’s the line between putting the best construction on everything (keeping the 8thCommandment) and being naïve?
There’s a fine line, indeed. We should take people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way. But when their previous actions betray what they are saying, we need to be cautious and have other plans ready. Jacob felt he couldn’t trust Esau, though through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, we know he could trust Esau and missed out on a great benefit when he sent Esau away. A former President was famous for saying, “Trust, but verify.” There’s an old saying, “A close contract makes close friends.” Even though people may mean well, they have the sinful human nature that will not let understandings and agreements stand without trying to twist them to their selfish advantage. Jesus asks us to be innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. Put the best construction on everything, but be prudent as well.
Luther said Christians are simul justus et peccator, Saint and Sinner at the same time. How does this show in Jacob’s life and how can we put up with the frustration it causes in our life?
Jacob turns to God, relies on him and trusts in him solely, as the wrestling on the other side of the Jabbok depicts. Yet at the same time he can harbor doubts, make other preparations and act like the Lord will not help him out at all, even if these preparations put others at risk. Yet he is a believer.
We are going to act like believers and unbelievers in almost the same moment. After we pray to God for help and say the “Amen,” our sinful human nature will be right there asking, “But did God really hear you?” Moved by the Spirit, we can be generous and then, literally the same day, turn around and be petty and spiteful over matters that don’t matter.
We need to focus on the Lord and his gifts to us as we ask for forgiveness and the power to do better. The less time we dwell on our failings and the more time we dwell on the Lord’s love for us, the better we will be.
Judah and Tamar
Things will not go well with Jacob in Canaan. His sons overthrow the entire city of Shechem after the prince of that city rapes their sister, Dinah. Rachel dies giving birth to baby Benjamin. Reuben sleeps with Bilhah, Rachel’s servant girl and the mother of his half-brothers, Dan and Naphtali. Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, is reported dead. And then there comes the incident of Judah and Tamar.
Far from transforming this world by their godly lives, it looked like Jacob’s family was being transformed into the thinking of this unbelieving world. This private glimpse into the life of Judah shows what happens when there is no attempt to overcome evil.
An Ugly Family Portrait
Read Genesis 38.1-11
After God gave his 10 Commandments to Moses, the Children of Israel were not to intermarry with the Canaanites. Why was it OK now?
We are a little more than 400 years before the time of Moses. Those ceremonial Old Testament laws were not in effect, yet.
Where does Judah fit into the family tree of Jesus?
Abraham-Isaac-Jacob-Judah. He is in the line of the promise. Jesus will come from the tribe of Judah, the Lion of Judah.
How does Judah show he, too, is a selfish person.
He doesn’t want to lose his third son, Shelah, to bad-luck Tamar, so he doesn’t make Shelah marry Tamar when he gets old enough.
We don’t know what the sin of Er was, but Moses is quite explicit about Onan’s misdeeds. The Roman Catholic Church strongly condemns any kind of birth control except natural means (rhythm). One of the places they point to is Onan. In fact, his method of birth control is called Onanism. Is this really the sin of Onan? What is being condemned in this text?
Onan’s selfishness in not wanting to raise a child with Tamar who is not going to be counted as his own son, but the son of his dead brother, Er.
What is a Christian’s proper view of birth control and where does Onan fit into this?
Be fruitful and increase in number. Genesis 1.28
Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Psalm 127 3
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 1 Timothy 3.4
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6.4
Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Psalm 51.5
You shall not murder. Exodus 20.13
A Christian couple should desire children and rejoice in them, if the Lord sees fit to give the couple children. Children are a blessing from the Lord and we should strive to have as many as we can raise and instruct well. You cannot make hard and fast rules. In previous ages, more children meant more free labor on the farm and families were larger. Today, both parents work and the costs of a child are staggering. Predictably, family size has shrunk. It is up to each couple to make the decision when enough is enough. It is fair to say having one more than you expected is probably just right.
For a couple to resort to birth control methods that, rather than preventing conception, rely on ending a pregnancy, is wrong. A study several years ago regarding abortions in Clark County, NV revealed that the majority of abortions were repeat abortions, a barbarous form of birth control. This is murder and a Christian couple will not resort to that as a form of birth control.
How can a young, Christian couple overcome evil in their own bedroom?
Show love and respect towards each other. Rejoice in the bond God has created and be open and frank about the gifts God has given and can give in the future. Receive every blessing from the Lord with thanksgiving. You do not deserve the wife you have and you do not deserve the husband you have. Serve one another in love.
A Seeming Pillar of Society
Read Genesis 38.12-23
How do we know Judah is not caught in the throes of despair over the death of his wife that he seeks out a prostitute?
He has recovered from his grieving.
How had Judah been unfaithful to Tamar over the past years?
He had not given her Shelah to marry as he had promised her.
How much did a hooker cost in those days?
Evidently the price was a young goat.
Why did Judah need a pledge?
He didn’t have the goat on him and he didn’t want to wait.
Why did Tamar ask for these rather worthless pledges?
She has all this planned out and wants to be able to prove without doubt who the father will be.
It is bad enough for a child of God to consort with a hooker. What type of hooker did Judah think she was?
A shrine prostitute.
The idol almost universally worshipped in Canaan was Baal. The shrine was probably dedicated to him. What type of worship went on there?
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.
Baal was worshipped with male and female prostitution, orgies.
Why is Judah good to his word in sending the goat to the shrine prostitute?
He doesn’t want to look bad! When they can’t find the prostitute he tells the men to stop looking for her or else he will become a laughingstock. He kept up his end of the bargain.
Good In Spite of Himself
Read Genesis 38.24-30
There is no righteous anger like the righteous anger of a hypocrite—it is always excessive. King David, a murderer and an adulterer, hears about a man who killed his poor neighbor’s ewe lamb and decrees the man should die for it!
It is ironic in the Torah that the penalty for being a prostitute is not death! Only if a priest’s daughter becomes a prostitute should she be burned in the fire (Leviticus 21.9). The sin of adultery, however, is to be punished by death, probably stoning as the Pharisees and teachers of the law attest (John 8.5). Why would an adulteress be punished but a prostitute not?
Adultery would be a voluntary act on the part of the woman, whereas prostitution would be an involuntary act on the part of the woman who has been reduced to almost a slave status to her pimp. The Bible seems to recognize prostitution as a sin of oppression as much as it is a sin of lust. Our society does not.
How does Judah’s words show his hypocrisy?
He wants Tamar burned to death for prostitution, while he resorts to prostitutes.
Why would Judah have the authority to carry out this punishment?
In those days, government was in the hands of the head of the family. It was still this way as late as Imperial Rome and Medieval Europe until the establishment and growth of the nation state.
What was Judah’s original sin and how did that continue to grow?
His original sin was selfishness in not fulfilling his promise to give Shelah to Tamar. It has now grown to getting rid of Tamar on the charges of prostitution, which would justify his not giving Shelah to her as a husband in the first place.
How does Judah show his repentance?
He pardons her and does not take her for his wife.
How did the Lord bring good out of this for the world? (see Ruth 4.18-22, and also Matthew 1.1, 3, 6, 16)
Perez, the child of Tamar from Judah, will be a descendant of King David and Jesus!
How might have the Lord brought good out of this for Tamar?
Tamar will be comforted by having twin sons, Perez and Zerah, to raise, a family of her own.
There is very little chance the ordinary Christian will be tempted to rob a bank for a million dollars. Also selling your soul to the devil in exchange for ruling the world is probably not a temptation we are training ourselves to meet. Looking at Judah, however, and remembering what my parents told me, what I’ve told my children and what I’ve seen, sex is the greatest temptation for Christians of mostages. What is the Church’s role in teaching sexual purity and how can this best be carried out?
Joseph in Egypt
Once the story of Creation and The Fall was told, Genesis starts out with the story of two brothers. It will end with the story of twelve brothers. The first pairing, as we saw, Cain and Abel, did not turn out well. God had put the command to Cain, “You must overcome it.” But he did not. The last grouping, Joseph and his brothers, will turn out well, showing that God’s people, relying on God’s power to forgive, can overcome sin!
Enough Blame to Go All Around
Read Genesis 37
Quickly list the villains in this story and how they hurt Joseph.
Favoritism of Joseph
Brothers hate Joseph for the favoritism shown him
Want to kill him, end up selling him as a slave into Egypt
Joseph the Dreamer
Arrogance and disrespect for parents
Stokes the fires of hate in his brothers and even incurs father’s rebuke
When Joseph is thrown into the cistern, there are a surprising hero and villain.
Why is Reuben the good guy at this stage of the story?
Reuben encourages the brothers not to kill Joseph right away, but to throw him into a dry cistern. He intended to secretly pull Joseph out and take him back to safety with father Jacob.
Why is Judah the bad guy at this stage of the story?
Judah suggests selling Joseph into slavery rather than killing him.
How had the brothers’ wicked plan gone very badly awry?
They all have to agree that Joseph has been killed by a wild animal as they present the bloodied coat of many colors to Jacob. Jacob suffers as much as if Joseph had actually been killed, the family has to mourn, the brothers will never be as good as a dead Joseph and they have to always cover their steps to keep this terrible secret.
George Orwell, the author of Animal Farmand 1984, served as a constable in Thailand for a time. An elephant went into must, broke away, destroyed a number of homes, stomped and devoured fruit stalls and trampled an Indian to death. Orwell chased down the elephant who had cooled down and was contentedly eating grass in a field away from the village. But he had ordered his assistant bring the elephant gun. Almost all the townspeople, some 1000, were behind him, expected him to kill the elephant. “So I shot the elephant to avoid looking like a fool,” Orwell admitted. How can group pressure goad us into wicked acts? Use the account of Joseph’s scheming brothers as a roadmap in how a Christian can get in trouble going along with a bad plan of his friends.
A group of “buddies” make an outlandish plan. While it sounds outrageously fun, we know it is something we should not be participating in, but since we are just engaging in idle talk, we say nothing. As the plan progresses it becomes more real and everybody becomes more animated and excited about it. Finally, when it comes time to do the deed, we’ve gone along with it for so long, we would look like a fool to back down at the last moment. It becomes easier to go along with the evil than to undo all the unspoken agreements we made in the planning process. Judah comes up with the great idea which avoids the ultimate evil of killing their brother, but the rest of the brothers, having signed on to kill Joseph, now find it very easy to simply sell him as a slave. To do otherwise would be to look like a fool. They should have objected from the start if they were going to be virtuous. Their ability to overcome evil has been severely compromised by their participation in the planning of evil.
Every Good Deed Will Be Punished
Read Genesis 39.1-6a
If you were Joseph, what would you be thinking about your family and your family’s God as you were being transported to Egypt’s slave market?
How can they be believers? And how can God be good to let this happen to me?
The lot of a slave was not a pleasant one, but how did the Lord make it turn out for Joseph’s good?
He was purchased by a noble man for work in the house, not as a state slave for life-shortening work in the fields. Also, Potiphar was a very astute master and noticed that everything Joseph did turned out wonderfully. Joseph received rapid promotion.
How was Joseph overcoming evil in carrying out his duties as Potiphar’s slave?
Instead of sulking, giving up on the Lord and doing his master harm, Joseph did his best to help and improve his master’s means of income as a fruit of his faith in God.
Martin Luther once observed that more businesses have been robbed by employee laziness and negligence than by thievery. Do you agree or disagree and why?
Agree. If every worker in America simply wasted a half hour a day on the job, that would be 120 lost hours of productivity in a year, three week’s time. That’s 6%. If somebody stole 6% of America’s Gross Domestic Product they would go to jail. If somebody stole 6% of your business receipts, you would prosecute. But billions disappear every year not only through laziness, but through negligence in misplacing forms, failing to follow through on phone calls and missed meetings due to “sickness.”
Read Genesis 39.6b-12, 16-20a
Why did Joseph put up with the daily solicitations from Potiphar’s wife?
He could not go over her head to his master. She was his master’s wife.
What do you suppose had happened that the mansion was devoid of servants on this day?
Potiphar’s wife had given everybody the day off.
Why did Potiphar’s wife rat out Joseph after he had been refusing her for so long?
Lust often turns to contempt whether it is spurned or satisfied. One of David’s sons lusts after a half-sister and rapes her, only to hate her the moment he is done with her. Potiphar’s wife, spurned by Joseph, hates the very sight of him.
What was the reward Joseph got for not only being the best slave and protector Potiphar could ever have and for also being a terrific believer standing up to sexual temptation?
He gets thrown into prison.
How would you feel about your God if you were Joseph hearing the prison doors close behind you?
How can there be a God for him to be allowing this to happen to me. After all, I’ve done nothing wrong to deserve this!
Read Genesis 39.20b-23
Is the name for God used here, “LORD,” significant?
Yes! This is the God who never forgets his Gospel promises.
How does the Savior God show favor to Joseph in prison?
The warden looks favorably on Joseph and makes him the resident warden’s assistant. Better food, able to move around the prison. These perks can save a life.
How is Joseph continuing to overcome evil in his circumstances?
He faithfully serves the warden with a cheerful disposition and does not lose his faith in God.
Read Genesis 40.12-15, 20-23
If you are not familiar with the story of Joseph, please read it! It is better than a novel.
What does Joseph predict will happen to the butler?
He will be restored to his position in three days.
What are the reasons Joseph gives the butler for a Presidential (Pharaonic) pardon for himself?
I was kidnapped to be a slave and I have done nothing wrong while I’ve been here.
How does Joseph show himself to be a true prophet of God?
The butler is restored to his position and the baker is hung in three days.
How is Joseph repaid?
The butler forgets about Joseph and doesn’t bring his case to Pharaoh’s attention.
Brenda Ginnow and CC Parker give out lots of stars and stickers in their three year old classes at our Green Valley Lutheran Preschool and Kindergarten. Shawn Nielsen and Jennifer Sigler hardly give out any stars and stickers. Why?
They want the children to grow into doing good for the sake of doing good, for the inner satisfaction.
What’s the temptation for us when we don’t get stickers for being good and how do we resist that temptation?
If a Christian is conditioned to only do good when he will be rewarded, he will hardly ever do good! Most of our good is unnoticed and simply expected. If we fall into the trap of doing good only to be rewarded, how are we different from the pagans? And we will stop doing good. But if we recognize all the good the LORD has done for us, we will want to do good in thanks to him, whether others notice it or not.
Perseverance Sometimes Pays Off
Read Genesis 41.8-16
Evaluate the Josephs’ resume as presented to the Pharaoh by the butler.
It is a good “satisfied customer” advertisement for Joseph. He told me my mysterious dream and it turned out, just as the butler’s turned out to his misfortune.
What fleeting insight do we have into Joseph’s life in prison as he prepares to meet the Pharaoh?
Life in prison is not nice. He has to shave, for his hair is unkempt and he probably has a wild beard. He needs new clothes, for his old ones are probably dirty beyond cleaning and lice ridden. The Bible doesn’t go into the physical discomforts and indignities of prison life.
If ever there was a time to pad your resume, this was it! How does Joseph’s integrity show through as he is introduced to Pharaoh?
He refuses to accept Pharaoh’s statement that he can interpret dreams. “I cannot—my God can.”
Read Genesis 41.28-40
What did Pharaoh’s dream mean?
Seven years of bumper crops will be followed by seven years of famine.
Why does Joseph stick his neck out and go beyond the mere interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams?
He is trying to be as helpful to Pharaoh as he possibly can, as he has done throughout his life in Egypt. Certainly the Pharaoh would not want the bare interpretation of the dream without some guidance on what to do with that information.
What is Joseph’s plan, in a nutshell?
Tax the people 20% of their bumper crops. Store it until the famine comes and then sell it back to them over the next seven years to keep them alive.
Why does Pharaoh elevate Joseph?
No one in all Egypt has the Spirit of God in him as Joseph does. When the real God speaks, it is pretty obvious the false idols are worthless.
Compare Joseph’s relationship to Pharaoh to his previous relationship to Potiphar.
Not much has changed in that Joseph is still a slave, but to a much more powerful master. What has changed, however, is that Joseph’s position is now unassailable. No one will dare go up against an autocratic Pharaoh to bring Joseph down out of selfish ambition or petty lust. And, better to be the head slave of the most powerful man in the world than the head slave of a government official.
Read Genesis 41.56-57
And what was the outcome of it all?
The lives of millions are saved, not only in Egypt but throughout the Mediterranean.
Let’s go back to the original premise of this Bible study. God cannot be good for all this evil to be happening in the world. Here we have a behind the scenes look at one “act of God” which befell the ancient world around 1850 BC. Defend God from the charge of maliciousness or disinterest.
God knew a terrible famine was coming. We don’t know why the famine came. But we do know God took steps to alleviate the impact of that famine. He was not disinterested in the human race, for he worked through his own people, twisting their evil to put Joseph into a place where he could make such a difference. In fact, Joseph was the only man who could have fulfilled that role. An unbeliever would have used his power to usurp the throne of Egypt and instead of worrying about feeding the people would be more concerned about consolidating his own power. It is a story repeated almost daily in famine stricken, lawless areas of the world today.
Now look at the human characters in this chapter. Do 17 wrongs make a right? How relevant is the Joseph story to life in 21stcentury America?
If we mean that the ends justifies the means, that the wrongs of all these people ended up working for the good of everyone, so they should be forgiven, no! Wrong can never be excused. The ends cannot justify the means. If we mean that God can make the multiplied evils man does against man turn out for the good, yes!
The story of Joseph is very relevant to the 21stcentury, another century where man is cruel and heartless to his fellow man in the face of famine and epidemics. Just because we are wronged, doesn’t mean we are excused from helping. American Christians, like Joseph, will strive to do their best to alleviate hunger and suffering wherever they can, without the need for gold stars or other rewards.
God Intended It for Good
At this point, an inattentive reader of the Bible could say this is optimism! God is good. God is all powerful. Everything is turning out for the best in the best of all possible worlds! Joseph has reached a position befitting his administrative gifts, not the supervisor of ten surly brothers, not the chief slave of a nobleman, but the vice-Pharaoh of the most powerful nation in the world! And millions of people are being fed out of the grain houses of Egypt during this famine.
But optimism overlooks the individual good. That is not the God of the Bible who promises to leave the 99 and look for the lost lamb. There is still one last area where Joseph has to overcome evil, and it is perhaps the most challenging obstacle he has yet to face. He needs his brothers to overcome the guilt of their sins through repentance and forgiveness.
It is a long narrative in Genesis 41-50. We are going to hit the high parts. Please, read the entire story at home and marvel at it!
Grain in Egypt
Read Genesis 42.1-28
Why doesn’t Benjamin go with the other ten brothers to buy grain in Egypt?
Jacob won’t let him leave his side—Benjamin is all Jacob has to remember Rachel by.
How do we know Joseph already knows why he is in Egypt and that he wants to forgive his brothers?
He remembers the dream. The Lord had it all planned out and this is the way he is going to save, not only the world, but his family and the Promise of a Savior. As Joseph has been forgiven by God, he is forgiving to his brothers.
What is Joseph’s continuing charge against the sons of Jacob?
They are spies sent to find out the weak spots in Egypt’s border defenses.
In order to understand why Joseph is so harsh to his brothers, we have to look at what to do when someone sins against us. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18.
Go and show him his fault.
He listens to you.
You have won your brother over.
Why can’t Joseph go and show his brothers their fault?
The danger is that they will “repent” only because they are forced to do so. St. Augustine once remarked this is why the Lord allows his believers at times to suffer. If Christians only experienced success and prosperity, all the unbelievers would hypocritically jump on the band wagon.
What does Joseph need to know in order to express his forgiveness to this brothers?
He needs to know they are sorry for what they have done.
What is the condition Joseph gives for letting the brothers leave Egypt?
One brother will be sent back to fetch Benjamin. Until Benjamin comes down the others will be imprisoned.
How long does he let them all stew on his offer?
Three days all ten of them are left in prison.
What changes in this offer does he now make?
Nine of them are free to go, one must remain behind as a prisoner. But they must bring Benjamin back the next time they come and the hostage will be released.
What effect does Joseph’s actions have on his brothers?
Having experienced release from prison, empathizing with Simeon who still is imprisoned, they are eager to do what the Egyptian has commanded them to do.
Count the blessings the sons of Jacob have experienced:
freedom for nine
Simeon’s freedom promised
What is God doing to them?
The Lord is showing them goodness to call them to repentance. Often when we contemplate how good God is, and how terribly we have treated him, we feel ashamed of our wickedness and repent! That was the thrust of Paul’s speech to the people of Athens. “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us (Acts 17.27).”
Old Wounds Not Healed
Read Genesis 43.1-14
Where unforgiven sin remains, frequent quarrelling erupts as each side tries to wage side battles instead of confronting the real issue.
Fill in the chart to identify the gripes Judah and Jacob have against each other.
What does Judah do that none of the other brothers are willing to do at this point?
He offers to be the guarantee of Benjamin’s safety.
Remember the meeting of Jacob with his brother Esau many years before? How does the old Jacob show himself again?
Even in the midst of famine, he sends down delicacies, gifts of food from the Promised Land to appease the Egyptian as he had tried to appease Esau with his gifts of five herds of livestock.
Describe Jacob’s frame of mind as his ten sons leave for Egypt.
He suffers from a lack of faith, sinking to fatalism. “What will come, will come.” Trust in God leaves no room for chance.
Does Jacob trust Judah?
No. The gifts prove it, as well as taking back the silver returned to them the first time. And how can one trust another if there is still unforgiven sin standing between the two parties?
Read Genesis 44.1-13
Good to his word, Joseph releases Simeon and sends all the sons of Jacob back, now that they have brought Benjamin with them. As before, he has given them back their money, also, hiding it in their grain sacks. But why does he plant the silver cup in Benjamin’s grain sack?
He is going to threaten the one who means the most to Jacob and, if they have changed, the one who means the most to the sons of Jacob.
Before the silver cup is found, what punishment would be appropriate for such a thief, according to the brothers’ own estimation?
Death for the offender and a life of slavery for the rest.
How do the Egyptians modify the punishment proposed by Jacob’s sons?
Slavery for the offender, the rest can go home.
Who alone had promised Jacob he would guarantee Benjamin’s safety?
When the Egyptians find the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag, why do all the brothers go back to Egypt with Benjamin?
They all are joining Judah in seeing to it that Benjamin gets home safely. They have changed and their repentance is showing.
Read Genesis 44.30-34
Judah pleads for mercy. What are his two main points?
Father Jacob will die for sorrow. I don’t want to bear this blame for the rest of my life.
It is ironic that Judah does not want to bear the guilt and blame for Benjamin the rest of his life—what guilt and blame is he already carrying?
The guilt and blame for selling Joseph into slavery!
Repentance consists in two parts, Luther tells us. Contrition, fear striking the conscience, and faith which trusts in the forgiveness of sins. Point out where Judah is feeling both in these verses.
While understandably skirting around the family sins in the presence of the Egyptian stranger, Judah is showing contrition, the fear of the results of his sin, his father’s death from grief and his life of carrying a blame he cannot bear. Behind it is a desire to be done with it all and a trust that somehow God will make it right.
Whoever Repents, Forgive
Read Genesis 45.1-15
Joseph has been the superb politician and actor in concealing his true identity and goal in his dealings with his brothers. How do we know his forgiveness is not another act of premeditated stage craft?
He cannot control himself, he makes all the Egyptians leave and he cries his heart out—loudly!
Did the brothers believe it really was Joseph?
Yes. They are terrified by having the brother they so sorely sinned against standing before them, alive and having the power of life and death over them.
What didn’t they believe?
They didn’t believe that he had forgiven them.
If I were Joseph, I think I would have played up the “I don’t hold anything against you,” line, thus showing what a wonderful and forgiving Christian I am. (Aren’t you glad you picked such a saint to sin against?) Instead, Joseph says, “Don’t be angry at yourselves.” What is the hardest thing for a contrite sinner to do and why is that even more damnable than the original sin?
The hardest thing for a contrite sinner to believe is that he is forgiven. The sinful human nature wants to reject the Lord’s forgiveness, so long not sought for and now found. The sinful human nature wants to reject God’s forgiveness as being too easy, so you have to make yourself suffer more. This is throwing away God’s forgiveness and mercy, denying his goodness and love. This is worse than the initial sin.
How does Joseph get across God’s forgiveness to his brothers?
He shows them God’s actions in turning their evil into good.
How do we know the brothers believed they were forgiven?
They talk to him as brothers.
But Did You Really, Really Mean It?
Read Genesis 50.15-21
How do Joseph’s brothers show that they are really saint and sinner at the same time?
Having lived in the security of Joseph’s forgiveness for the years they have been in Egypt, now that Jacob is dead the sinful human nature causes doubts to rise in their minds about the sincerity of Joseph’s forgiveness.
Do you think Jacob really instructed them to say this after he died?
No, the text indicates they are wondering, “what if?” and so come up with their plan.
It would, however, have been in keeping with Jacob’s character to trust no one, not even his favorite son, and always be making contingency plans. The brothers’ plan was very convincing.
Why does Joseph weep?
He is hurt his brothers think he has not really forgiven them and he is sorry they have been wasting these years with him living under that doubt. Only one who truly loves someone can understand that sorrow.
How many times does God have to tell us we have been forgiven?
Times per month
x12 per year
Confession and Absolution in Church
Praying Lord’s Prayer
Prayers of Repentance
Private Confession to Pastor
Private Confession to Others
Why doesn’t he ever get tired of it?
He is the God who is love. His mercies never fail.
It should not surprise us that our world bombards us with the challenge to overcome evil. Unregenerate man wants to appear righteous and will ape God as much as he possibly can. Examine the resources the world puts at our disposal to overcome evil and evaluate them.
â–ºEducation Evil is just a matter of ignorance. If we can educate people, they can make the good choices and not commit evil.
Evaluation: It seems that the more educated people are, the more dangerous they can become. The problem is not knowing right and wrong, the problem is having the moral strength and motivation to choose the right, avoid the wrong and find forgiveness when we fail. Education cannot give that.
â–ºHonor This is the highest motivation the world can achieve. Those who make heroic sacrifices in the effort to overcome evil will be acclaimed and honored by those they serve. At the basest, it becomes a striving for the highest honor. The ancient Romans cherished this and would strive for office because they were loathe to have a lesser man lead them. That is why St. Augustine called their good deeds glittering vices.
Evaluation:Honor, however, becomes a hollow comfort in the useless sacrifice of lives, as English post World War I literature repeatedly expresses and has led to our prevailing modern views of the horror of war and the waste of lives it causes.
â–ºFear Evil must be overcome otherwise we will have everything we love stripped away from us and our way of life will be forever gone. This pops up most often in times of war.
Evaluation:Often fear encourages other evils to fight the evils we are against as we become convinced you have to fight fire with fire. We end up with tainted victories and are dehumanized by the fight.
â–ºShame As the improper use of the Law as a motivator in a Christian’s life, so shame can only achieve fleeting achievements. It may motivate whole peoples to redress a wrong they have committed, but it is such a depressing motivator, people will not stick with it for long. People want to feel good about doing good. Using shame as a motivator to correct the wrongs you have participated in simply brings the shameful to the forefront and leaves it there.
â–ºPersonal Gain People strive to do well by doing good. Many times overcoming evil can be lucrative, but the effort expended could often be as richly recompensed by directing the activity to a morally neutral area. There’s as much to be made in selling T-shirts as there is developing a vaccine against some disease.
Now look at Joseph and his brothers. Why is God’s forgiveness the only resource that will help us overcome evil?
God’s forgiveness is the only resource that can put the evil behind us once and for all. Jesus’ death on the cross has paid for all sin. There is no guilt or shame or condemnation still pending. Only with that forgiveness in a person’s heart can they fully evaluate the evil others have done to them and its relative weight. As Jesus taught us in the parable of the unforgiving servant, if God has forgiven us so many, grievous sins, we can forgive our brother for the few times he has sinned against us. God’s forgiveness sets our hearts free and allows us to be the tools the Holy Spirit uses to set the hearts of others free as well. This is a motivation that reinforces itself and keeps us happily on the path of forgiveness.
A Closing Parable
The intersection is a mess. Two cars are pressed together like tango dancers. Incredibly neither of the two drivers are injured. They are sitting on the curb, one holding her head, the other tilting his head back, squeezing his nose to stop a minor nosebleed. The stop lights are stuck on green in both directions. The intersection is filled with firemen, policemen and lawyers from the corner office. They are all arguing with each other about who caused the accident. The temperature is pushing 100, with the July sun high in the sky. Both drivers are dying for some water, as they hear the voices rise and fall, and watch argumentative arms wildly point here and there.
A stranger walks up on the sidewalk. He is the only one who talks to the drivers. “How are you guys doing? Need anything?”
He digs two bottles of water out of his backpack and gives one to each of them. Then he sits down between and looks them over. The girl just has a bump. No dilation of the eyes. No sign of concussion. The guy’s nosebleed has stopped.
“Can you believe this?” the girl asks.
“Oh, there’s an accident a mile down the road and it’s the same act,” the stranger said.
“How long do you think we’ll be here?” the guy asks the stranger.
“Them, I have no idea. The finger pointing up the street has been going on since God knows when. You—if they really needed you they would have talked to you by now. I think you can go right now. I see you don’t have a ride any more—my car is parked around the corner. I’ll give you a lift home.”
As they walk by the traffic control box, the stranger pops it open and changes both lights to flashing red.