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The Background to the Mosaic Covenant (Lesson 6.1)

1. The Story of JOSEPH: Genesis 37-50

A) Joseph the SON: The narrative of Joseph is one of the most beloved stories in all of Scripture. Most of us know it well. Joseph was one of twelve sons, but he was the favorite. This was mostly because he was one of only two sons that were born to Jacob's wife, Rachel. All the other sons were born to his other wife, Leah; and Rachel and Leah's maids. So Joseph was the favorite. And this was wrong. None of us should ever have any favorite children. Scripture tells us that this was actually the biggest reason Joseph's brothers were so jealous of him: “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him. . .” (37:4). Jacob's favoritism nearly destroyed his family. And as we read through the narrative, we discover that Joseph wasn't only Jacob's favorite child, Jacob had actually made him into an idol. Jacob loved his son Joseph so much that when he is taken away from him, his whole world falls apart. What do we learn from all this? We learn that even mature believers like Jacob continue to need the sanctifying work of the Spirit in their lives. And so, to heal Jacob of his idolatry, God takes Joseph away for a season—but only for a season. In due time, the Lord restores Joseph once again to his father.1 . As we meditate on these things, the Lord would ask us: What are the things in our life that we've come to love a little too much? What are the ways we've become like Jacob? What are our idols? What are the things—even the really good, God-given things—in our life that we've begun to love in unhealthy ways?

B) Joseph the MAN: It wouldn't have been a hard thing for Joseph to believe that God loved him and had a wonderful plan for his life. After all, he was from the line of Abraham. And not only that, he traced his lineage through Abraham's son Isaac, and then again through Isaac's son, Jacob. Which meant that Joseph was part of the chosen family—an heir of God's promises. He didn't come from Ishmael or Esau; he was the chosen stock of the Lord. Further, he wasn't just any son of Jacob; he was the son of Jacob's wife Rachel—the special and beloved wife. What's more, Joseph knew that his father saw him as special and set apart from his brothers, since it was he alone who was given that special, varicolored robe. To add to it all, God even started giving Joseph dreams, where all his brothers were coming and bowing down to him! There's no question Joseph believed God loved him and had a wonderful plan for his life.2

But the plan that God had for Joseph's life must have been very, very different than what he imagined it would be. The plan that God had for Joseph's life would involve being exiled from his home-land, the land of Canaan; it would involve his own brothers selling him away to foreigners; it would involve being bought off the slave-block at the market; being wrongly accused of horrible things; and being banished to a dark prison cell for years on end. I wonder what Joseph was thinking during those years of slavery and prison. The Lord had spoken to him; He had given him these dreams, telling him what was in store for him. But Joseph's outward circumstances seemed to run totally contrary to what God had said He would do. It's like his life was spinning out of control. The Lord had made some pretty amazing promises, but as he looked at his life, he would have had to wonder: Is it really true? Is God going to do what He said?

And yet, even in the midst of everything he's going through, isn't it amazing how Joseph responds? What does he do? He continues to trust in the Lord; he continues to cling to what God had said; he continues to believe that the Lord would prove faithful. One reason we know this is from what we read in Genesis 40. This is the account of the two other men that are thrown into prison with Joseph. These men served Pharaoh as his cupbearer and baker; and Joseph is put in charge of looking after them. In verses 6-7, we read, “When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. He asked Pharaoh's officials who were with him in confinement in his master's house, 'Why are your faces so sad today?'” In itself, this is actually quite an amazing thing. Why? Because if I were in Joseph's shoes, and I was suffering and in prison, and two other men in prison with me happened to look dejected in the morning, do you know how I would have probably responded? “Who cares? I'm pretty sad myself; this is a pretty miserable place.” Isn't it true that it's so hard for us to enter in to the sufferings of others when we're going through sufferings of our own? We tend to just focus on ourselves; feel sorry for ourselves. But that's not what Joseph does. Though he has plenty of suffering himself, he enters in to their sorrows.

Then look at the next verse. When Joseph asks them what's wrong, how do they respond? We read in verse 8, “Then they said to him, 'We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.'” Think about Joseph's own story. Think about his own dreams God had given him in his youth. Really, those dreams were the biggest reason he was sitting in that prison. It was his dreams that started this whole thing. And what's more, it seemed that God had completely failed to do what He had said that He would. So again, if I were Joseph, do you know how I would have responded? “I don't do dreams anymore, sorry.” If I'm honest, I probably would have responded with a good bit of cynicism and bitterness. “God, what about my dreams?” But again, that's not how Joseph reacts. He says, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.” Joseph is faithful in the moment God gives him with these two men over breakfast. We might think: “Yeah, but God ended up doing some pretty amazing things for Joseph.” But here's the thing: Joseph didn't know that. We know the end of his story—but he didn't. He didn't know what was going to happen in Genesis 41 while he was living in Genesis 40. He didn't have that luxury. Joseph had to trust in the Lord for what he couldn't see with his eyes (just like we do). How was he able to do this? Because Joseph knew that God's job was to do what He had promised; and his job was to trust in Him.

There was once a sports-radio talk-show host who was expressing frustration at the fans who had voiced disagreement over a decision the coaches had made. This is what he said: “You be fans, let [the coaches] be [coaches]. You're all for [coaches] making decisions until their decisions don't mesh with your own. . . Let the [coaches] be [coaches], when they do well, you scream really loud. That's your job. . .” Joseph knew what his job was. He knew that God's job was to do what He said; and his job was simply to trust in Him. It's the same thing us, friends. I don't know what you're going through right now. But here's what we all need to remember: God knows what He's doing. So, you let God do his job; and you do yours.

It must have seemed to Joseph like his life was completely spinning out of control. And it must have all seemed so meaningless: “Lord, what is going on? Lord, what in the world are You doing?” But the fact is, God did have a purpose behind all of it (a pretty amazing one). Think about it: If Joseph's brothers had never sold him into slavery, he would never have ended up in Egypt. Had Joseph never ended up in Egypt, he would never have gone to Potiphar's house. Had he never gone to Potiphar's house, he would never have ended up in prison. Had he never ended up in prison, he would never have been there to interpret those dreams. Had he never been there to interpret those dreams, he would never have stood before Pharaoh. Had he never stood before Pharaoh, there would have been no one to announce the warning about the famine. Had no one been there to warn them about the famine, Joseph's family and all of Egypt would have been swept away. So, it all seemed so meaningless. But it actually wasn't, was it?

At times we go through seasons of confusion in the Christian life. The way God is dealing with us doesn't make any sense; it doesn't seem to fit together with the promises He's made to us. Sometimes we don't understand what He's doing or why He's letting something happen. Sometimes it feels like our world is spinning out of control. What we need to remember in those times is that our job is to trust in the Lord.

C) Joseph the TYPE: Scripture sets forth Joseph as a Hebrew youth who proves faithful to the Lord. But Scripture also sets forth Joseph as a type of Christ. Think of it: He was the unique, beloved son of his father. Joseph was special, he was set apart; but his own kinsmen hated him for it, so much so that they sold him into the hands of Gentiles. He was falsely accused; and even though he was innocent, he suffered punishment. For Joseph, there was suffering before glory—there was a cross before a crown. But after his sufferings, he was highly exalted and given all authority by the King himself over all the land.

Indeed, behind it all, the Lord had a plan; He was weaving it all together for a greater purpose: It was through Joseph's sufferings and exaltation that the whole land would be preserved alive from death.3

Does it sound familiar? This is the story of the Savior. We see the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in the narrative of Joseph: Set apart by the Father, but betrayed by His own kinsmen. Falsely accused, but He uttered no threats in return. He suffered, though He was innocent. But after His sufferings, He was highly exalted, and given the name that is above every name; indeed, all authority has now been given to Him. And it was all for a single purpose: In order to preserve us, His people, alive from death.

Often, when we read through the story of Joseph, we tend to put ourselves in his shoes. This isn't a bad thing in itself. It's helps us make sense of our own story as we go through seasons of confusion in our life as Christians. But really, in a lot of ways, we're actually much more like Joseph's brothers in this story than we are like Joseph. Jesus is like Joseph. We're the ones who rejected Him; we're the ones who caused Him to suffer. We're the ones who sinned against Him; and so we're the ones who come into His presence, bowing at His feet, pleading for His mercy. And the most wonderful part is, when we do this, we receive His forgiveness, just like Joseph's brothers did. Our Savior speaks to us now in the very same way that Joseph spoke to his brothers, when he said to them: “Do not be afraid. . .you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19-21).

2. The Calling of MOSES: Exodus 1-3

A) Moses the MAN: There's a lot that we could think about when it comes to Moses' life. But I think some of the most important lessons for us come from meditating on Moses' time of preparation in the wilderness. We're familiar, most of us, with the story: Moses was an Israelite child, but he grew up in Pharaoh's palace. And so, as we're told in the book of Acts: “Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians. . .” (7:22); and, not only that, but living in the palace, Moses also would have had at his disposal all the luxuries and pleasures of the Egyptians. But even in this kind of environment, Moses never forgot who he was or where he came from. As Hebrews tells us: “Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. . .” (11:24-25). Well, when he was about forty years old, he went out to visit his people; and he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite; so he stood up for him and killed the Egyptian. That's when everything changed. Someone saw him do it, and word starts spreading. Pharaoh hears about it and tries to kill Moses. He has to flee; and he ends up fleeing to the land of Midian, where he meets a man who has seven daughters. Well, Moses ends up marrying one of them, and for the next forty years, his vocation is to shepherd the sheep of his father-in-law (Exodus 3:1).

Just like with Joseph, this must have been incredibly confusing for Moses. The Lord had put him in this amazing position of power and authority; he had been properly trained; he felt God's inward call to this great task before him. Now, the stage was set. This was the perfect moment. But God lets the “perfect moment” pass. Instead of delivering God's people, he's completely driven away; he loses everything and ends up living in some random place shepherding sheep for the next forty years. We can almost hear him crying out in the wilderness: “Lord, why?? This doesn't make any sense!” And not only would this have been confusing for Moses—it was incredibly humbling. He went from living in a palace to living in the wilderness; from leading an entire nation to leading a small flock of sheep (and remember, the sheep weren't even his—they belonged to his father-in-law). Years later, David would go from being a shepherd to reigning as king. But for Moses, it's like he's going backwards. He left behind a life of significance and he entered into a life of obscurity; he went from being known and respected to being a nobody. And it's also noteworthy that in Genesis 46:34, we're told that, “every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.” In other words: Moses is now doing the very thing that all his Egyptian colleagues used to despise; Moses is now engaged in the one line of work that even the common people looked down upon. We might think of Moses as going from being in Congress to working at McDonalds. This was truly a humbling thing.

There are searching questions for all of us here: Most of us dream of serving Jesus in the context of a large and fruitful ministry. That's not bad, necessarily, but here's the question: Are you willing to die to your dreams of Christian ministry? It would feel great to be the pastor of a large church where everything is flourishing; or a successful church-planter where you're baptizing new believers almost every week. But what if that's not what the Lord wants? Could you die to a life of “greatness for Jesus”? Is Christ plus nothing really, truly enough for you? Are you willing to serve the Savior in the midst of the wilderness?

The story of Moses is similar to the story of Joseph in that both men were wronged. Joseph was wronged by his brothers. But it seems that Moses was wronged too. When he went out among the people, one of them accused him, saying: “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (2:14). It was because of this comment that Moses had to flee. And when Acts 7:25 summarizes for us what happened back in Egypt, it tells us that Moses “supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand.” So, it seems he was wronged. But Moses also had plenty of wrong of his own. It was wrong of him to kill the Egyptian. And so, as Moses spent those forty long years in the wilderness, I wonder how often he turned these events over in his mind. Maybe he struggled with anger against those who made known what he had done. Maybe he was tempted to think these people had messed up God's plan and ruined his life. Or, on the other hand, maybe Moses was angry at himself for taking vengeance on that Egyptian. Maybe he thought he was the one who had messed everything up and ruined God's plan. Maybe he started thinking that this time in the wilderness was God punishing him for his past sins. Or maybe, at the least, he started thinking that though God had forgiven him, he had basically lost out on his chance to be used by God in mighty ways: Had God forgiven his sin? Sure. But now the glory days were dead and gone.

Friends, can you relate to any of this? Moses' story is here to encourage us! Others had wronged Moses, but they could never mess up God's plan. Nothing could ruin God's plan. Actually, every single thing that happened to Moses was part of God's plan from the beginning. None of this happened by accident. Nor was God punishing Moses for his sin. Sometimes when we go through seasons of wilderness, this is what we start thinking. But God was not punishing Moses for past sin—He was actually preparing him for future work. Moses didn't end up in the wilderness because he had somehow missed God's plan; his time in the wilderness was actually just the next stage of God's plan. And it was an important stage: God had already gifted Moses; and He had trained and equipped him; but now, here in the wilderness, the Lord was going to purify him; He was going to refine him; He was going to empty him and humble him. See, it was because the Lord was going to use Moses in extraordinary ways, that He had to first humble him in extraordinary ways. Moses had to be broken; this is why God brought him to the desert. But the desert was never the final destination. God wasn't taking him to the wilderness, but through it. The final goal was to bring him out humbled, refined, fit for use. I don't know what lies Moses was