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05 Sep 2021

When Life Is In The Pits [Genesis 37]

Overview

Dislocated. Shocked. Saddened. Puzzled. Pained. These are words we hear often during the COVID-19 Pandemic. And it may be especially so for those who are facing many other trials and tribulations. It may be a betrayal, a sickness, a struggle, or a bad relationship. It's hard when life is in the pits. But instead of focusing on our "enemies", or our problems, the story before us encourages us to see 3 things: 1. Joseph. 2. Jesus. 3. God (the Judge of all the earth who will do right)


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As a church we have been going through the book of Genesis, and today will be no different, we are continuing our journey through this Old Testament book. We are at Genesis chapter 37, now, we are left with 13 chapters, but it will not be 13 sermons, it will be about 7 sermons to come.

So very quickly in about 2 months' time we will be going on to a new book. Now, I've been preaching in Gospel Light for many years in the English service for 15 years now. And it has always been my goal to take our people through the Bible. And I think one of the best ways to do it is to do it in an alternating fashion. That is to say, "Old Testament book, New Testament book, Old Testament book, New Testament book."

So right after Genesis, an Old Testament book, we're going to a New Testament book. Anybody knows what book that would be? I think I only revealed it to just a few people, but after Genesis we are going to the New Testament book of ...? 1st Corinthians. Oh, alright, 1st Corinthians!

Now, I know some of you may say, "Wah, 1st Corinthians seem to be a book about a lot of problems, seems to be a problematic epistle!" Well, yes, Paul is going to deal with a lot of problems in the church at Corinth. But it is really a Gospel-centered approach to all the problems, so it is a book that is dripping, saturated with the Gospel. And I hope that as a church, we would understand what Gospel-centeredness is in a deeper way, and develop that Gospel-centered perspective to look at the problems in our lives and in the church.

So I think it will be an encouraging journey, though it will be from the perspective of problems. It will be a rich; enriching experience I hope for all of us. So that will be coming in about 2 months' time, alright. But today let's focus on Genesis chapter 37.

Now, last week we looked at, "The Successful Man Who Failed Miserably". That's chapter 36, that's about Esau. He was a successful man by world standards. He was rich. He was influential. His family was like a dynasty with kings and chiefs, and so he looked like a success, but he was a man who did not choose to walk with God. So I think in the final analysis, according to Scripture, he was a man who failed miserably. All that was encapsulated in Chapter 36.

The question now is: What is going to happen to his twin brother Jacob? We know that God's plans flows through Abraham and Isaac and their families. So in Isaac's family, there are two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau the older twin, Jacob the younger twin. We have known the fate and destiny of Esau, pretty much in Genesis 36, but we are going to study about the fate of Jacob in the next 13 chapters.

So, that's the perspective I like you to take up. The book of Genesis is not complicated, it starts off with the 11 chapters about human history as a whole. Then from chapter 12 to the end, God focuses his camera on ... on Abraham, then on Isaac, then on Jacob. So we're going to trace Jacob's fate of his family in these remaining chapters.

Now, you already know that God has said that, "Jacob will be the favored one." God is going to set His special love upon Jacob, not Esau. He said, "The one that is Jacob, shall be stronger than the other, that is Esau. And the older Esau shall serve the younger Jacob." [Gen 25:23] That's very clear! God's plan; sovereign choice is made clear to the family.

And later on in Malachi 1:2-3, this is also very explicit, "Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated." So God has set His special; sovereign; electing love upon Jacob. And we're going to see how that is going to take place in the remaining chapters of Genesis.

We joined the story now when Joseph is about 17 years old. Joseph is the favored; the favorite son of Jacob. Out of 12 sons and one daughter, this Joseph is his favorite one. Probably because Joseph is the offspring, the oldest son of Rachel. Now, Jacob had two wives, you will recall Leah and Rachel. Leah is the one he got cheated into, but Rachel is the one Jacob really loved. He was willing to work 14 years for his father-in-law in order to win Rachel's hand.

So Rachel had only two sons, the older one is Joseph and so it would not come as a surprise that Joseph is the favored son of Jacob. And that was displayed made very blatantly obvious when Jacob gave Joseph this coat or robe of many colors. Now, you can imagine just how painful; how difficult; how angry it must or how stirring it must be for the brothers. The rest of the 11 brothers must be so jealous and upset that, "Our father would only favor Joseph, and not treat us the same."

Well, that's life in the Jacob family. Did ... it did not help that Joseph was also someone who kind of became a spy for the father, who kind of brought bad reports about his brothers. He ratted on them basically. Now, the Bible does not say he's doing a wrong thing or bad thing, it just stated that Joseph also reported on his brothers. So that I think just made the brothers, all the more in what we say here in Singapore, 'buay song' [Hokkien dialect]. They are very I think, unhappy about their little brother, Joseph.

And it did not help matters when Joseph had a dream and told his brothers about the dream. In a dream, he is claiming that he will be the pre-eminent one. Because he told them, "I dreamt that the 11 sheaves, representing all of you, will bow before my sheaf." Now, he probably didn't say in that tone, alright, but they probably heard it in that tone.

"You say we are going to bow before you?" I mean in Jewish culture, the older one is the one who has pre-eminence or prominence. And it will be unthinkable that they would have to bow to their younger brother, their 'di di' [Hokkien dialect]. But this is what Joseph is saying he dreamt about. Now, that did not stop, because he had another dream and he also chose to tell the brothers about the dream.

Now, I do not know why he chose to tell the brothers about the dream. If I was Joseph, I will probably keep quiet. I think my EQ slightly better than that. But maybe I'm ... I'm unfair to Joseph, maybe God told Joseph to say it. In any case, it becomes a lighting of a fuse, because he told them a similar concept that, "There will be the sun and the moon, and the 11 stars that will bow before my star."

The family heard it and said, "Are you saying that daddy and mommy and all of us will have to bow before you?" They were upset with Joseph, but the Bible also tells us that, "Jacob nevertheless took the saying to heart. He kept this saying in his mind."

So Moses has painted a picture, Moses had set the stage. The tension is rising, if you were Judah, or Reuben or Simeon, wow, the temperature is rising in your heart! You're just waiting for an opportunity to give this guy a good lesson. The time, the moment came, the Bible tells us that, "The brothers were out shepherding, pasturing the flock, when the father Jacob said to Joseph, "Go and check on your brothers, come back and tell me how they are doing."'

So seems like this is his regular task to be that spy, to be that kind of a rat in a sense, to rat on the brothers. So he traveled first to look for them at Shechem, but found out that they were Dothan and so he went there. And can you imagine, when the brothers saw Joseph coming, they were not excited to find a little di di or their little brother, but they were so delighted that this might just be the opportunity to get rid of this, what we say in Cantonese, 'Ngan Zhong Dang' - the nail in the eye, that ... that irritating pest.

"Now, if we get rid of him, let's see what's going to happen of his crazy dreams." So they hatched a very vicious, but straightforward plan. They will kill their brother Joseph, cold-blooded murder and then throw him into a pit, and go back and tell their dad, lie in his father's face, in their father's face that Joseph had been devoured by a fierce animal.

That was the original plan! But Reuben, the oldest brother, stood up and said, "No, no, no, no, let's not do that! Let's not kill our brother, but let's just throw him into a pit." He hoped that later on, he will come back and lift him out of the pit and save him. Now, we are not told why Reuben would want to do this, maybe Reuben being the oldest one felt responsible for his brother. Maybe he was stricken with guilt. Maybe he was just a more compassionate person or maybe he just wanted to make amends to his father because he had slept with his father's concubine, we read about that earlier.

Nevertheless, the brothers listened to Reuben and said, "Alright, we will not kill Joseph, but we'll throw him into a pit. There is no water, no food, he would just die there anyway." So they stripped Joseph of that multi-colored coat, they had a plan for it, and you'll see what their plan is with this coat. And then they threw him into the pit, and then they sat down and had a meal. Doesn't bother them the least bit that this is what they did to their brother.

So as they were eating, a caravan entourage of Ishmaelites traders passed by. They saw these traders and Judah immediately had a plan. Judah said, "Hey, let's kill two birds with one stone! We can get rid of our brother by selling him to these traders, they will bring him far, far away and then we get some money." So a deal was struck with these Ishmaelites, they sold their brother for 20 shekels of silver. I learned that the typical price for a slave is about 30 pieces of silver. So they said, "Our brother is nothing worth more than any 20 shekels of silver. You can have him, just give us the money, and we will be rid of this irritating pest - 'Ngan Zhong Dang'."

And so, he was sold and traders eventually would bring him to Egypt, and he will be then sold to Potiphar, a ... an officer in Pharaoh's kingdom, a captain of the guard. But they will take that robe, that multi-colored robe, dip it in that blood of animals, and bring it back to Jacob and deceive Jacob that their brother had been killed by a fierce animal.

Kind of a poetic justice, if you ask me, because earlier on Jacob deceived his father Isaac also with a robe, to disguise himself to look like Ishmael (sic Esau). So now, he is also deceived by his own sons, and he was bereft. He was absolutely devastated that his son had been eaten up or at least he thought had been eaten up.

So that was a narrative of the story before us, and I'd like us to adopt this maybe viewpoint and I think the theme that I like to portray, and that is, "What Happens When Life Is In The Pits". I think you can absolutely understand where this is from, it's about Joseph being in the pit: What happens when life is in the pits?

[1] See Joseph
I like us to see first of all, Joseph.

Of course, I mean the story here revolves around Joseph, although it's in a greater narrative arc of what's going to happen to God's promise towards Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet, this is clearly revolving around Joseph. What happens to him?

Let's see Joseph. Let's slip ourselves into Joseph's shoes. Let's think how he might think when he is down in the pits? I'm pretty sure Joseph must be shocked; surprised; saddened that this has happened to him. Now, he might have seen it coming. I'm sure the brothers have already been critical of him, 'buay song' [Hokkien dialect] about him, maybe rude towards him. But it must still come as a shock that his own brothers would be upset with him to such a degree that he will throw him, they will throw him into a pit, leave him to die, betray him and in a sense sell him to other people for 20 shekels of silver.

It would have been so sad. I can't imagine if this would happen to me. I have a sister, I hope I'm not her 'Ngan Zhong Dang', I don't think so. But even if I've been very mean to her when we were growing up, I don't think, I hope she will not ever sell me to someone else, or throw me in a pit. It would be so painful! But this is what happened to Joseph, eleven brothers all conspiring together to do it to him.

How about you? Maybe today you are living in a pit, something caught you off guard. And life suddenly just got a wrong turn, took a wrong turn, and you're devastated, you're sorrowful. Maybe your spouse betrayed you, maybe your siblings betrayed you, things took a wrong turn and now you feel like a Joseph. What's going to happen?

Well, I would think that Joseph here would be struggling. Don't you think? He must be struggling, I ... I can't imagine anyone betrayed by the brothers and left to die will not be thinking about many things. Maybe at this point of time he will be shouting, "Hey Judah! Hey Reuben! Why did you do this to me? Save me!" He will be crying out to them. He'll be shouting out for help. I would think so! It would be very strange if you did not say anything at all.

Now, the Bible doesn't record it, but it does not say that he would not have said it, I think he might have tried his best to get himself out of the pit. He might have done all that, but obviously no one would hear him; no one would save him. And when you cry out long enough, and there is no help, it will not be too long before you also cry out to God and ask Him, "Why? Why God?"

Certainly that would go through the mind of Joseph, just like any one of us. When you're hit with any illness or a disaster or a difficulty, a trial or pain in life, you may say, "I need help!" But soon enough, you will also ask God, "Why?" And you know something interesting about Genesis 37, there is no mention of God at all in this chapter. It's almost as if there is silence. It's just something that happens amongst this group of brothers, God is not there. And Joseph must have struggle, "Why?"

But even though I think he would ask the question, "Why?" It is remarkable that for the entire narrative here in 37, and indeed for the rest of Genesis, you will not read of Joseph ever uttering a word of complaint. It is entirely remarkable! There is no accusation of God. There is no bitterness towards anyone. He is thrown into a pit, he is not told why by God, but he never ever complained.

He was a picture of endurance; of faith; of trust; of peace and we are going to see all that in the remaining chapters before us.

[2] See Jesus
Well, Joseph is a tremendous example when life is in the pits. But maybe Joseph is more than just an example, because besides seeing Joseph in this story, I like you to also see Jesus in this story.

Now, I understand that this is not a very concrete point. But nonetheless, it is very very interesting that many, many, many, many people see that there is a pattern between Joseph and Jesus. Theologians call this, a type, that Joseph is a type, he's a kind of foreshadowing, a kind of a picture that allows us a glimpse of who Jesus is and what He has done.

So we see this Joseph-Jesus pattern. Like I said, "There is no verse as far as I know in the Bible that says, "Joseph is a picture of Jesus."' I don't have that in a verse! So, I can't say this in concrete sense, but the likelihoods, the similarities are just amazing.

For example, both Joseph and Jesus were hated. Now, that's obvious! Both were persecuted. That's obvious! And both was sold. Jesus was sold by Judas for silver coins too and so was Joseph. Think about this as well, they both trusted God. No complaint whatsoever. They both remained faithful. They stood, they ... they stuck to their task. They did not have any recorded sin. Joseph probably is that one man, together with Daniel that I don't read recorded sin about and that I think is also remarkable!

They both forgave. So I'm a little bit of a, let the cat out of the bag for those who have never read Genesis, a little bit of a snippet here, but they both forgave. They both showed favor to their brothers. They both brought about salvation for their people.

So there are many significant similarities between Joseph and Jesus, and not to mention many other interesting details, like they were both beloved of the Father, they were both stripped of the coat, or the robe. They had both been to Egypt. They have both served at 30 years-old. They both became a slave. They both were wrongly accused.

So, there are many similarities. In fact, A W Pink, preacher of time past, wrote about patriarch as a type of Christ by providing 60 specifics. So there are ... now, I don't agree to all 60, he was really scraping the bottom of the barrel as it were, but I think easily you could find many many similarities, parallels between Joseph and Jesus.

The point is this: I think Joseph is a tremendous example for us, and I think we can learn from that. But besides that when you look at a story like this and as you look at the life of Joseph, I hope we also see that he is a picture of Christ. How Christ like Joseph suffered for us; wrongly accused, but nonetheless suffered for us. How Christ like Joseph remained faithful even in the midst of intense pressure and injustice. Jesus suffered tremendous injustice for us. And how Jesus like Joseph would ultimately bring about salvation for His people.

So there are similarities and when you look at the life of Joseph, maybe it could give you a hint; a reminder of what our Savior has done.

[3] See God
But finally, I would say, "In this story in Genesis 37, not only do we see Jesus or Joseph, let's see God." And if you like J, then let's see the Judge of all the earth do right.

Now, in this case, like I said, we don't read about the word, God or the reference to God in Genesis 37. But we must read this in the context of the entire development of Genesis, and as I've said, "I think we are clearly seeing how God's hand is going to prosper Jacob ultimately."

The verses I think I've already shared with you, but one that is heavier is in Genesis 28:13-15, when God specifically said this to Jacob, we've looked at this before, "I will bless you, I bless you with a land, I will bless you with descendants, I will bless you with that one Special Descendant, through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed. I will be with you. I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you." So God gave a tremendous series of promises to Jacob.

So when you come to this story, and you now slip yourself into Jacob's shoes, it feels like doesn't make sense. I thought God said to me, "He will bless me and my family and my descendants, but why am I bereft of my son, my favored son Joseph?" So as a reader of the Bible for the first time, you are kept in suspense. This is the plot twist, this is the tension that is building up. God said, "He will bless Jacob," but Jacob seems to be robbed of his son. How will this event culminate in the blessing of Jacob?

So, we have to read on. We are left there at that cliffhanger, as it were. And we are, I suppose spurred enough to read on in subsequent chapters. I think that's the number one question that will come into your mind and ... and that is: How will God bless, Jacob, henceforth?

But you know when this book was written, during the times of Moses, the readers of Moses would look back at this event and said, "Ah, we know, we know, we know!" I won't tell you yet but the readers of Moses, "Ah, we know what's going to happen, because by the time Moses wrote about Genesis, the people of Israel was already a very significant people!" The theologians would estimate the population of Israel to be about 2 million.

Wow, that's a lot of people! So the descendants of Jacob, the people of Israel will be able to say, "Ah, we know why! We know the story!" And maybe they can appreciate better the twists and turns in the history leading up to where they were better than some of us here today.

Now, when I think about this, I think about Singapore. How did Singapore come about? Well, if I'm standing here today looking back at Singaporean history, you say, "Yah, I can totally understand the twists and turns, the trials and tribulations, our nation had to go through! Totally clear!" But you know on that day when ... if you are born in 1965, and you watch the television. And you see our founding Prime Minister cry, you may say, "Siow liao! Jialat liao!" [Hokkien Dialect]

Because in 1965, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Prime Minister of Malaysia decided that there will be no unification with Singapore. And so this little island of maybe 1, 2 million people will not have to fend for itself. With no real water supply. And if you were there, you will say to yourself, "Siow liao!" But if you're living here today in 2021, you say, "Ah, that day was the beginning of the rise of a beautiful oasis in a third world region!" I can ... wow, you could even say, "Thank you, Tunku Abdul Rahman." Because without that, there will be no Singapore as we know it today.

So when you look at the Bible and you're reading Genesis 37, you may say, "I don't know why God would do this, man? I thought God would have to bless Jacob and bless Jacob and bless Jacob and bless Jacob. But no, He gave Jacob this pain, he gave this family squabble, He gave all these difficulties!"

Now, let me say this, "God is not the author of sin, God did not make the brothers sin in this way. But God did use the brothers' sin and ... and He's going to do something amazing out of this terrible mess." So God's ways are really not our ways. William Cowper, he would say, "God moves in a mysterious way." Meaning providence, God's sovereign purposeful acts are sometimes unimaginable to us. We always try to draw a very straight line from where we are to the blessing of God. We say, "It will always be straight up."

But the paths of God, the ways of God are not so straightforward. It's sometimes up and down, left and right, twist and turn, 'ke belakang pusing' [turn 180 degrees in Malay] and whatever. And you say, "I'm wondering ..." but actually He's using all your paths to weave a beautiful tapestry of His Hand.

So God moves in a mysterious way. His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And so to the reader of Moses, I think they will be able to see this and understand, "Our God is not like us, but His plans are better than ours for sure. We would never envisage how this cruel twist of events is going to result in the ultimate salvation of our people."

So maybe this is what we need to see, when you're in the pits. You can't understand why. You say, "I'm God's child, I believe in Jesus. He says, "He loves me", so why am I diagnosed with stage four cancer? Why is this happening in my family? Why am I going through so much hardship? I don't understand why ..." But you need to understand that His ways are higher than our ways.

It was Billy Graham, who said, "God's Hand never slips, He never makes a mistake. His every move is for our own good and for our ultimate good." I think that's just another way of rephrasing Romans 8:28, "For we know that all things, even when we are in a pit, all things work together for good to them that love God." That's what we need to see in this story.

So, this is a very simple sermon. These few weeks and months have been very difficult, because I've gotten to know quite a few of our members in Gospel Light, some older, been with us for longer time, some newer, have been struck with terrible trials.
Some have been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and the doctors have flat out told you, "We will not do surgery, because there's no possibility for cure."

You were well! You were exercising! You were eating well! You were ... you were living life as per normal! Then suddenly you're breathless! Suddenly you fainted! Suddenly you're in a hospital! And suddenly after some scans, the doctor says to you, "You have six months to live!" It's almost like someone threw you into a pit. Or maybe your wife told you something, "I'm sorry I've done this." Your husband said this to you and you're caught off guard. You struggle because you cry out for help, but no one can help you. And you begin to ask the question, "Why?"

And it's so easy for us to fixate and to be upset with 'our brothers', with 'the pits', with 'the Potiphars', with 'the slave traders'. And we keep our eyes there and you know what, you'll never get out of this rut. But maybe this story teaches us that when life is in the pits, we've got to see things differently. We've got to look at the examples of faith in the Bible - how Joseph so beautifully with poise and patience and faith, never murmured or complaint against God. And at the end of the account in Genesis, he ... he understood God's sovereign plans.

Maybe we got to not just see Jesus, ah ... not just see Joseph, but see Jesus. That when we are in the pits, we are reminded of how our Savior willingly came down to bear our sorrows and griefs to die on a cross. He went further than the pits for us! May we be reminded of His love, even when life is difficult. And then finally I hope, not only will we see Joseph and Jesus, but we will see God's Hand, that He never moves without purpose or plan, He never makes a mistake.

That's what I want to encourage you to look at when life is in the pits. Now, I have gone through the pits before. And in particular, I feel accused; wronged; betrayed. And it's common in the ministry, but I would say, "These principles, this story in Genesis 37 is that powerful story in the whole Bible that teaches us to trust when it is difficult to trust." And I hope, Joseph, Jesus and God will be where you are focusing on in your life, because God is entirely trustworthy.

Oh, don't judge too soon! Don't judge because things are difficult. Remember one day when you look back, it will all make sense. Maybe that day will not be in our lifetime. Maybe that day would come only when we pass into life eternal. But it will all make sense for all eternity and all glory will be to God. So till then, be steadfast; be immovable; be patient; trusting.

After all, didn't God fulfil His promise? He promised that through Abraham, through Isaac, through Jacob would come one Special Offspring, through whom all the families of the earth will be blessed. And God did it!

2000 years ago, He sent forth His Son, Jesus Christ. He is that Promised One! He went to the cross, Jesus went to the cross and He proved that He is the Savior, when He not only died but He rose again, victorious and He promised that one day He's coming back for His people. He's a God who is entirely trustworthy.

If you're here today, you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ, can I encourage you to turn from your sin, to believe in Him, because He's the only One who can save you from your sin? May God bless you. May God help you to find that faith in God and His work, this morning.

Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

My heart aches when I think about the many in our church who are struggling, because I know that maybe what I hear about is just the tip of the iceberg. Because many through this one and a half two years in COVID has had their lives turned upside down.
And maybe it's very easy for us to struggle and to ask and to wonder, "Why are these things happening?"

My friends, I don't always, we don't always know exactly why. How each detail fit into the grand plan of God? Why these pains are necessary to the ultimate goal? But I think looking at Joseph's life, it might suffice us to see and to understand that His ways are higher than our ways. That's it! That God's providence is always the best! Oh yes, it's painful, it's shocking, it's sorrowful! But look at Joseph, look at Jesus, look at how God always fulfils His Word.

I pray today God will give you grace, not to be hung up over your circumstances alone, not just to cry out to your brothers who betrayed you, but to look up to Him and His Son. And I do pray that you will help ... that you would turn to look to Jesus to be saved from your sin. That hope in Christ will never be ashamed.

Father, we thank You this morning, we can be still and know that You are God. So often we like to judge You when we are in the pits. We look out of the pit with that limited worldview and we say, "You have done or committed a mistake." O, spare us from such folly, forgive us from such thought!

Help us today to be people who would rest in ... in deep confidence, because we know You in Your Word. I pray we will not be a people toss to and fro by the emotions or the circumstances of life, but we will be standing on solid ground - the firm teachings of Scripture.

Dear Lord, bring comfort, bring healing, encourage faith in the souls of Your people and bring about salvation and life to those who need it today. We thank You, and we pray all this in Jesus' Name. Amen.

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