Monday, February 8, 2016

Do You Want Peace? Be Hopeful, Be Prepared, Be Forgiving

            Last week we saw examples of how being honest, being prosperous and choosing our battles wisely contributed mightily to experiencing a Shalom type of peace — rest, happiness, favor. Isaac chose his battles wisely, journeyed where God led him, and experienced a Shalom treaty with a powerful king. He lived in prosperity and peace. This week we’ll leave Isaac and move forward in time to his son Jacob in Genesis 28: 21, and discover how being hopeful, prepared, and forgiving contribute to having peace.

            The backstory to this passage is that Jacob, under the tutelage of his conniving mother, Rebekah, has usurped the coveted birthright blessing from his older brother by posing as his brother before his blind dad, Isaac. (Ugly picture, isn’t it?) When Jacob’s older brother, Esau, learns of it, Esau threatens to kill Jacob, after Isaac dies, of course.        
            Rebekah hears about Esau’s oath and plans a getaway for Jacob. So, under the guidance and command of his mother, who sets up Isaac to make it seem like he’s the decision maker on this plan, Jacob flees to his Uncle Laban’s (his mom’s brother). In the process of running away, he meets God in the wilderness.
            At nightfall on his first night out, and using a rock for a pillow, Jacob dreams a prophetic dream about a ladder that extends from earth to heaven. In the dream, God makes Jacob promises about giving Jacob the land on which he’s lying, and making him prosperous in descendants. God also promises to protect Jacob and safely bring him back to his father’s land.
            When Jacob awakens, he has one of those “Ah ha” moments. And he’s so giddy with joy that he makes a vow, which starts in verse 20.

            “…If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give
            me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s
            house in Shalom, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have
            set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will
            surely give a tenth to you.”

            Now, let me first point out that the first word “If” is under debate among Biblical
scholars and teachers. Some read it as “If” while others say it should really read “Since.”
I’m not going to get into a debate about it here, since that would sidetrack us from the point of the Shalom. But I tend to come down on the side of “If” because of the way the rest of the passage is worded, and the words “shall be” which indicates future. (Unless, of course, Jacob is making a statement as though it’s already happened, and he claims God right there as his God, too, not just his father’s and grandfather’s.) And if you read ahead, you know that Jacob does return years later, but in the process he wrestles mightily with God and is so terrified of Esau still being on a death hunt that he chickens out and sends the women and children ahead of him to meet Esau! Doesn’t sound to me like a guy who is convinced of the promises God gave him in his dream. But I digress…
            For us in this study, the point is that Jacob, like most of us, wants to live in Shalom — peace, rest, safety, health and prosperity. He wants to live in harmony with his family, and he wants to return home one day. He hopes that this running away and tension and hate won’t go on forever. And he knows that God alone is the one who can make that happen for him. He acknowledges that. And he does try to honor God by setting up an altar, a memorial standing stone of sorts, to remind him and others of what happened there. And he promises to give back something of his wealth to God. He knows and acknowledges that God deserves something. And he makes a vow to God about it. But from this passage, we know that living in Shalom is uppermost in Jacob’s mind. And you could say that he was hopeful about the future God has foreshadowed to him.
            But we’ll leave Jacob at his standing stone and move onward in Genesis to Chapter 41, verse 16. And I’ll need to give you a backstory here, too, although this story is well known. Perhaps you’ve heard it in Sunday school. It’s about Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph — the son of his beloved, deceased wife, Rachel.
            Joseph has been sold into captivity by his ten brothers. (They were very jealous of him and the favoritism Jacob showed him.) Joseph ends up in Egypt, where he becomes a slave and household servant in a rich and powerful man’s house. Joseph is such a man of integrity, though, that the rich and powerful man trusts him with everything. Unfortunately, the man’s wife takes a liking to the young, handsome Joseph and tries to seduce him. Joseph won’t have anything to do with that, and she, in her rebuffed rage, accuses him of trying to molest her. Well, Joseph gets tossed in jail for a very long time. But God has granted him a special gift: the ability to interpret dreams. And that gift will save him.
            Fast forward to a day when the Egyptian Pharaoh has had some disturbing dreams none of his magicians can interpret. Quite suddenly, Pharaoh’s butler (who had also been imprisoned at one point) remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh that Joseph is the man who can interpret his disturbing dreams. So Pharaoh sends for Joseph, and Joseph washes off the prison filth and gets all tidied up to meet with Pharaoh. We’ll pick up the story in verse 15.

                        And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who 
                        can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a 
                        dream, to interpret it.”
                        So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me: God will give Pharaoh 
                        an answer of Shalom.”

            Well, if you read on, you will find out that Joseph isn’t going to tell Pharaoh something happy and peaceful. He’s going to prophecy about a horrible famine that will come on them in the future, after a period of tremendous prosperity. So Joseph is not providing Pharaoh with an interpretation of entirely smooth sailing and peaceful times ahead.
            What he is providing Pharaoh is the peace of mind that comes from understanding the disturbing dream and knowing what to expect and being able to plan for it. For knowing and being wise in his actions in order to provide for his people, so they don’t suffer in the famine. And it is God who provides that knowledge and wisdom. Joseph immediately gives God credit for that, before he hears or interprets the dreams. And, ultimately, the story does have a happy ending — for a while, at least.
            Joseph interprets the dreams, and Pharaoh is so impressed and happy with him, that he makes Joseph second in command, under Pharaoh, over all of Egypt. Pretty impressive! Joseph has given Pharaoh Shalom, and Pharaoh is overjoyed! He has helped Pharaoh be prepared.
            But now we’ll skip a couple of chapters to a time in Joseph’s life when he is miraculously reunited with his brothers, whom he hasn’t laid eyes on in years. He recognizes them, but at this point, (Genesis, Chapter 43), Joseph looks more like an Egyptian prince than the young Israelite shepherd they last saw, so his brothers don’t recognize Joseph. Joseph meets with them once, when they come begging for food to survive the famine, and then he orchestrates events so that he meets with them a second time.
            Joseph is now a man of great power and wealth, and he has set them up in a way that forces them to return to meet with him. He is, in fact, playing out a lesson-teaching game for them. They are terrified about finding money in their grain sacks, money that doesn’t belong to them, and they have returned it to Joseph. (For once in their lives, they are being honest.) Joseph calms their fears in verse 23.

            But [Joseph] said, “Shalom be with you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God
            of your father has given you treasure in your sacks; I had your money.”

            Joseph’s estranged brothers should actually start catching on now, or questioning some things, since this should sound like a common Hebrew blessing to them: Shalom (peace) be with you. Joseph calms their fears with an endearment, a word of assurance to quiet their pounding hearts.
            In Genesis 44:17, though, Joseph is still playing out this lesson to his clueless brothers, to teach his brothers and to learn valuable information from them. He wants to find out the state of their hearts. He again plants his gold cup in their sacks, to make it look as though they have stolen something priceless from him. His brothers return the object and ask for Joseph’s mercy. But Joseph doesn’t give it, to all of them anyway. He tells them:

           “Far be it from me that I should do so; the man [his brother Benjamin] in whose 
            hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in Shalom to
            your father.”

            Really, Joseph!? Go back “in rest and happiness” to our father and leave his favorite son with you? The only remaining son of his favorite wife? You’ve got to be kidding!
            Actually, he was, in a way. He just wanted to see what they would do, how they would react. Again, he wanted to see if, and how, their hearts had changed. They had wronged him, and now they are on the receiving end of injustice. Joseph knew that if they went home there really would be no peace in the family. His aged father’s heart would be devastated at the loss of yet another son. Thankfully, they pass the test, and Joseph finally reveals himself to them in Chapter 45, and they are all reunited — aging father, sons, brothers, and family. A happily-ever-after ending.
            In spite of everything that they did to Joseph, he forgives them — knowing that their evil plan God used for good, and they do finally live together, in Shalom. Joseph is a forgiving man from whom we can learn much!

Questions to Ponder

1. Like Jacob in our first story, have you ever met God in the wilderness? It’s not always an easy place to be, but it’s most often where we really get to know God — because we’re more apt to listen to Him there.

            Think back to a time when you were wandering in the wilderness. What did
            God say to you there?

            Are you in the wilderness now? If so, rather than trying to fight your way out
            of it, maybe you should lean into it, ask God what He’s saying to you. What
            does He want you to learn? Ask Him to reveal Himself to you, like He did to
            Jacob and then really listen to what He tells you. Note it in your journal.

2. Have you ever felt the way Jacob did? That you were running away from home and your desire is to eventually return home in peace? Who can make that happen for you? Have you asked Him? Are you ready to release the vice grip you have on your ego to make it happen?

            Take a moment to think about how God may have spoken to you in the past. 
            Maybe it was through a dream, or perhaps another person. An event in your life. 
            Did you listen and hear God speak to your heart? What did He say to you?

            Another important point we can’t miss is that Jacob prays for the basics:
            bread, clothing, and Shalom. When was the last time you prayed for bread
            and clothing and peace? The simple basics of life. Or are your prayers
            padded with lots of  extras? For the next week or more, try focusing your
            prayers on the simple needs of life, and determine in your heart to be
            satisfied with those things. Thank God for their provisions. Then note in
            your journal how your heart changes toward how you view God, and your
            life, and if you have more Shalom.

            Think about Jacob’s relationship with his brother, Esau, and what he did to 
            contribute to that poor relationship. Is there a rift in your relationship with 
            someone right now? What have you done to repair it? What has the other
            person done to help repair it? If they have extended Shalom to you, how
            have you responded to it? How could responding, or not responding, bring
            more Shalom to your heart?

3. Now think about Pharaoh’s disturbing dream.
            Have you ever had a dream or event in your life that distressed you, or
            robbed you of your peace? Who did you go to for wisdom on how to handle
            or “interpret” the dream or event? Do you know someone who has been given
            that gift? Remember, God is the one who can interpret and restore to you the         
            peace of mind you need to be proactive and successful in your plans. Are you
            absolutely confident that God can speak to you through that person?

            This story reminds us that there is Shalom in knowing, even if the news isn’t
            the best. Maybe it teaches you that in your years of abundance, you can prepare
            for the lean years, so you won’t have to live “lean” or in a state of distress
            through them. As American financial guru Dave Ramsey likes to say, “If you
            live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” Is that something you
            need to do now, in order to have Shalom in your life later?

4. Joseph calmed his brothers’ hearts by giving them a word of assurance.

            Can you remember a time when your troubled heart was quieted by a good
            word of peace from someone? A family member or friend? Who do you know 
            right now that needs a word of peace, a kind word of assurance?

            You may be the one with a troubled heart right now, like Joseph actually had
            in this event. He was overcome with emotion and love when he saw his
            brothers. But passing on a word of peace to someone else, like Joseph did,
            often does wonders for the state of your own heart. This week, plan to write, 
            call, or meet with that person to pass on a word of Shalom. Ask God to give
            you just the right words to say to encourage the person’s heart.

5. Joseph had every “right” to turn his brothers away, not help them in their distress, or make them suffer as they had made him suffer. But he doesn’t do any of those things. While he does put them through several tests, ultimately he forgives them, loves them, and blesses them beyond measure. Like God does for us, he gives his brothers what they don’t deserve. He extends us love, grace, and mercy.

            When was the last time you forgave someone who did not deserve your
            forgiveness and love? Can you test the waters with them to see if their hearts
            have changed and they are ready to reconciled with you so you can extend love
            to them the way Joseph extended it to his brothers?

            Either way, God wants us to love our enemies and extend forgiveness, so that
            we might be peace makers and have Shalom in our hearts. And we can have
            this Shalom even if the other person doesn’t accept this love or gesture of
            forgiveness. If you have done God’s will, you will have Shalom. I promise!

Next week we’ll move on to the Book of Exodus and see what Shalom lessons we can learn there.

Until then, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter! Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!

In Christ’s love and peace,


When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

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