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THE WOOING OF REBEKAH
Gen. XXIV. To v. 29, and v. 58 to end.
[This lesson is more naturally fitted for a girls' class. I have written it with such in view. But it can be taught in any class.]
§1. Eliezer's Commission.
Remember last Lesson, when Isaac as a big boy went up Mount Moriah to die. Twenty-five years have passed before we come to this chapter--ordinary, uneventful for the most part, but with one awful year amongst them, when, in her husband's absence, Sarah died on the heights of Kirjath-arba, and Abraham came back broken-hearted to the encampment to mourn and weep for her. What a lonely place it was now for him! No one to sympathize, as she would have done, in his trouble, and his hopes, and his faith in God; no one to talk to about the old home in Ur, which they two had left together fifty years ago. So the two lonely men mourned together for her; for Isaac seems to have loved his mother with a great, strong, love, and to have mourned with an intense sorrow (see ch. xxiv. 67).
No (v. 2) we have Abraham and his old steward closeted together. What about? Yes; they want her all the more, because they are so lonely. Why not get a wife in Canaan? Must have been very nice Hittite and Canaanite girls, perhaps daughters of Abraham's friends, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, (xiv. 13), and others? Probably they were chiefly godless people in Canaan, though not as bad as later (see Deut. vii. 3). Besides, news from the old far-away home had come to Abraham (xxii. 20, &c), and probably turned his heart to his own kindred. Old Eliezer saw a difficulty in the way. What? (v. 5) What did Abraham reply to him? (v. 6) Did Abraham think that his servant would fail? Why not? (v. 7.) So we notice in him three things to be admired and imitated. What? Let the class try to guess--1st, he was not content to let his son marry a rich girl in Canaan, who could bring him flocks, and herds, and power. The son, who was the heir of promises, must be married to a good woman, even if she were poor; 2nd, he committed the whole thing to God; 3rd, he believed that God would help him in it; "He shall send His angel before thee," &c. So Eliezer started off on his journey, encouraged by his master's faith.
§2. Eliezer's Prayer.
The next scene is in far-off Mesopotamia. The old steward, with his train of camels and gifts, has been travelling wearily on for many days; and now, in the sunset light before him, he sees at last the little town of Haran, the city of Nahor, and the girls of the town out chatting and gossiping by the wells, as is usual in the evenings, and filling their pitchers for the morning use; and the sight of the girls reminds him how critical and delicate is his business. "How can I, a dull old man, choose the sort of wife that my young master needs? Is it to be one of the maidens yonder at the wells? Who is she, and where is she, that shall be the young mistress in our encampment?" Don't you think he might well be puzzled and frightened at the task before him? What help did he seek? Ah! that is the true help in perplexities. Where had he learned to seek God? Yes; clearly Abraham tried to have a religious household about him. No man could live as close to God as he did without his household feeling the power of religion. How can religious men make their servants and children righteous? Is it by talking about it? or scolding them about it? No; there is only one sure way--by being very religious and very lovable themselves. Realreligion is the most lovable thing on earth, and makes the most lovable people. There are some religious people who wish to be religious, but, through their own fault, are somehow not lovable. They often hinder young people from being religious. A girl said to the writer lately: "I don't want to be religious, for some religious people I know are very disagreeable." If you know any such, don't blame their religion for it; always remember that it is their own little peevishness, or pettiness, or want of sympathy, which remains in spite of their religion: though they have some religion, they have not enough to make them really unselfish and lovable. When they grow nearer to Christ, they will grow more lovable and nice to be with.
What was Eliezer's prayer? (v. 1.) "Send me good speed this day." Suppose we all used it every morning, and especially on any critical day in our lives! Now tell me exactly what guidance Eliezer asked (vv. 13-15). Why? Would it be any sign of her character? Did God hear his prayer? How long had he to wait? (v. 15.) Read promise, Isa. lxv. 24. When God does not answer so quickly, there is probably some good reason. Amongst the girls laughing and chatting together on the way to the wells came one just at this moment, a very pretty girl (v. 16) and evidently a bright, lively, generous-hearted girl, too. Who was she? She was a chief's daughter; but in those simple days a "lady" did not think it degrading to work--a true lady never does. She could cook well (xxvii. 9), and mind cattle, and carry her pitcher of water as well as any girl in the village. There was evidently something winsome which attracted the old steward. A pretty face and winsome manner would naturally do that; but these are only surface things, and Eliezer is too wise to trust them. What is the most lasting and important of any girl's attractions? Yes. Religion. A noble, beautiful soul. Can't always discover that at once. What is first and most easily discovered attraction in a girl? Yes. Prettiness; and if a girl has that, it attracts us, and makes us look for the further attractions. What is the next most easily discovered? Quickness, brightness, pleasant disposition. And the last and most important and enduring of all? An earnest religious heart. With God the first of these attractions shall be last, and the last first. Can you explain? It is so with mankind, too. Explain. Yes; when the pretty face and the cleverness have lost their charm, right on to old age, the attraction of the beautiful soul remains. Learn by heart this: Kingsley's advice to girls--
"Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever;
Do lovely things, not dream them, all day long;
And so make life, death and that vast forever,
One grand, sweet song."
Eliezer, then, is not content with prettiness and brightness; so he tests her character. How? Yes, evidently she is kindly as well as pretty, and his heart warms towards her, as with delight he sees his whole test fulfilled. Wonderingly, as if it were too good to be true, he questions her. What? (vv. 23-26.) And then? (v. 27.) Yes. With glad heart he gives thanks to God. He seems to think that God did it all for Abraham's sake only. Do you? I think that that simple, lovable, unselfish old steward, seeking God's help for his master, not for himself, is the sort of man whom God would love to grant things to.
§3. The Bride Coming Home.
Did Rebekah wait till he was done his thanksgiving? (v. 28) Just like a girl, she was off at once at a run to tell them at home: "Who do you think is coming? You told me about our rich cousins in Canaan! Well, their steward is outside. What do you think he has come for? Look at the ear-rings and bracelets he has given me." And then she told the whole story. What is her brother's name? We read of him afterwards. He was covetous then. I am rather amused to see his covetousness even now. It is when he sees the ornaments, that he rushes out to invite the old man in. Then, can't you imagine what a night of talking they had, and how they sat up listening unwearied to the story of their kinsman's greatness, and the errand on which he had sent his steward; and how the girl, with bright, eager eyes and parted lips, sat listening to this wonderful romance that had come suddenly into her life; and how they started off in state next morning? and how Eliezer beguiled the weary way for her with descriptions of the new home, and stories about Isaac, especially that story of the day when the boy had gone up Moriah, and loyally offered his young life as a sacrifice to God? How a generous girl's heart would throb at such a tale, especially about her lover. What a strange, wonderful home she was going to, and how awfully real was God's presence there!
When and how did she meet her lover? What was he doing? Was it not a beautiful beginning for their new life together, that the first sight she got of her future husband was when he was at his evening meditations in the field? When you remember what Isaac was, and the holy household he had been brought up in, you will easily believe that they were holy meditations about God, as well as, no doubt, about the young bride, too, that God was bringing into his life. Eliezer must have told her a great deal about him. She seemed to know and love him already; and as she saw the young man crossing the field to meet her, and the steward whispered, "It is my young master," she alighted down from the camel, and he turned straight from his thoughts of God to his thoughts of her; or, rather, he mingled thoughts of God and of her together--the most blessed attitude in which any man could meet his bride.
I'm afraid this life did not go on as it began. It must have been some fault, I fear, in the home to explain a story like that before us in next lesson. When we come to it, I shall ask your opinion.
Questions for Lesson XIII
Who was Eliezer of Damascus?
What were the two old men conferring about?
Show Abraham's faith here.
What was Eliezer's simple prayer?
What do you know about Rebekah?
Who was Laban?
How did Rebekah meet her future husband?
Jacob and Esau
Gen. XXV. 29 to end, and Ch. XXVII. to v. 41.
This is a long and important Lesson, Only time for the most important parts. Don't waste a moment unnecessarily. Let class read ch. xxv. 29, &c., and examine. Teacher should read ch. xxvii.; it is too long for class to read, and they will spoil the pathos of it. For senior classes, perhaps, the main thought in Note on election may be used. At any rate teacher should study it.
§1. Isaac and Rebekah.
What was the last story about Isaac and Rebekah? What the previous one about Isaac? Their first meeting gave great hopes for their future lives. Were these hopes quite realized? A great many years have elapsed. The young bride and her lover are now aged people. Is it not a disappointment now to find Isaac setting his heart so much on nice venison to eat (xxv. 28; xxvii. 4), and Rebekah joining with Jacob to deceive the old blind man? Perhaps poor Isaac was in his dotage, and sick. Men shut up in a room do get the habit of thinking much about their dinners. But he seems to have fallen back in his religion. The heroic boy who would lay down his life for God ought to have a grander old age. It is easy to spoil a life. Perhaps life had been too easy for him. Abraham had all the struggle, and Isaac inherited the comforts. That often stunts a boy. To have to struggle and make his own way, and fight fierce temptations, is what will make a man of him.
Then see the favouritism. Each had a favourite. People often love opposites. Isaac, dreamy and quiet, loved the active, daring Esau. Rebekah, active and bustling, loved the boy who was, probably, the weaker and more dependent on her. Mothers usually do. Favouritism is bad. I think it made Isaac try to give the blessing to his favourite against God's will. It made Rebekah lie for her favourite.
Now look at the two brothers. Utterly different. Which of the two brothers do you like best? And you? You? Of course, you are all up in arms for "poor wronged Esau." And you think that the teacher is bound to defend Jacob. And you feel that the Bible seems to do so. And you feel that it is not quite generous and fair. But teachers and clergy, too, when younger and less educated in Scripture, always stood up for Esau. What puzzled them is that the Bible does not. That sets one thinking. Must be some reason for it. Must be that they had not read the story thoughtfully enough, nor quite understood the characters of the two brothers. For you know God is absolutely generous and fair; more so than you, and therefore He, too, would prefer Esau if he were the nobler man. Now let us think and examine.
First look at Esau. Make picture of him in your mind: strong, shaggy, red-haired hunter--full of vigour and power--every inch a man--hot, passionate, generous, impulsive, with a sort if Irishman's recklessness as to what may come to-morrow--a man who could be brave, who could forgive--could scatter gifts with lavish hand--the sort of man that men often like and seek as a comrade and leader. And yet, as we learn from the disapproval of him in the Bible, a man utterly worldly and sensual--would give up anything for a passing enjoyment. Excitement, pleasure, hunting, eating, drinking, were everything to him. No deep sense of God or the future. No care for spiritual things. His good and evil acts alike spring from the impulse of the moment, not at all from principle or sense of duty. See him come in hungry (ch. xxv. 30). What did he see and smell? Yes; and he was such a big baby that he could not wait for an hour to make red pottage for himself. No! "Oh, give me that red pottage, and I'll do anything you ask." "Will you give me your birthright for it?" "Yes, anything, only let me have it! I'm at the point to die." Think of a big, strong man going on like that because he could not get his dinner in time. What would you say of a young man to-day who gave up his prospects thus? Jacob was mean, and tricky, and unbrotherly at this period of his life, before religion had purified him; but Esau, with all his courage and strength, was contemptible--a slave to his passions. Greedy, unbridled men like him are not fit to be fathers of great nations, or to help forward the world as God wanted. If our ancestors had all been like him, we should be ignorant, heathen savages to-day. God wants a higher type, to help Him to lift up the world.
Do you think there are people of the Esau type now? Boys strong, brave, merry, good-natured; girls bright, pleasant, attractive, but without real religion. These attractions are God's good gifts, and grand gifts they are when accompanied with faithful hearts towards God, but very dangerous otherwise; for the attractive boys and girls and men and women become leaders of others, and if they don't care for spiritual things--i.e., for putting God, and right, and duty first of all--they do more harm than unattractive people, for comrades admire them, and are in sympathy with them, and so get low ideals of life, and think that pleasure is more important than right-doing.
But was not Jacob worse? Yes; it seems to me that while Esau came into the world with certain natural attractions, Jacob came into the world with none at all; and yet look what he rose to through religion and God's grace. In his youth he was a liar, a schemer--what schoolboys would call a sneak. He deceived his father, cheated his brother, made bargains even in his prayers with God. He made up for his want of courage and manliness by being unpleasantly sharp and clever.
As we look at the two brothers in their youth, no one could hesitate in preferring Esau. Yes; but at the close of their lives how would it be? Though one was a proud, successful Arab chieftan, the ancestor of a princely race, with his desires all gratified--plenty of eating, and drinking, and hunting, and wives, and children, and power; and the other was a poor broken old man, with his young wife long dead, and his favourite boy, as he thought, murdered; a poor, sorrowful old man, bowing down in deep humility before God, and crying out from the depths of a contrite heart, "I am not worth of the least of all Thy mercies."
What is the lesson of it all? That there is a deep difference--deep as eternity--between mere natural attractiveness and real character, formed by the grace of God through discipline and trial, and that God can, out of very poor material, make a holy saint. That is great encouragement for poor creatures like us, when we hate ourselves for our meanness and faults, and yet long to be good. Jacob was mean and tricky; but there was a something within him that would not let him rest in his meanness and trickiness. Perhaps the knowledge of his meanness, &c., made him determined to cling to God. And he did; and he bore sorrow, and suffering, and pain, and trouble all his life, till God had burned the meanness and trickiness out of him, and made him a noble old man--Israel, the "Prince with God."
§4. The Birthright.
What was the birthright? Was it merely to get his father's property? At any rate, Jacob did not get it. To be the heir of God's promise; to be associated with Abraham in God's covenant; to inherit Palestine; to be the ancestor of the chosen race, through which all the earth should be blessed; to have the blessing of his dying father, so highly prized to this day by the Eastern peoples--this was the grand future which Jacob's ambition sought. Don't forget, then, what grand things Jacob was aiming at. He was a dishonest and untruthful Eastern shepherd. Had not been well brought up, I think, by his parents; was mean and selfish; but had something in him higher than Esau had, and which God could make something of. He pursued his ambition with a good deal of selfishness. Yet how much higher and better an ambition that Esau's, which was--what?--to get a good dinner, and without delay. I don't think Esau was capable of appreciating this birthright, even if he had got it. If it had been something to eat or drink, he would not have sold it so easily. Tell me now exactly the aim of each of the men, so as to compare them clearly.
Do people ever sell their birthrights now, like Esau? What is your birthright? To be "a member of Christ, the child of God, an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven." Think of it: to be a member of Christ's kingdom here, making life happy, and holy, and beautiful for others; to live as God's child on earth, and be received into His glorious kingdom above by-and-by. Was it as good as Esau's? Better. Could you sell it away? Ah! many a one has done it for a miserable mess of red pottage--the drunkard for his mess of red wine, or the worldly man for his handful of red gold, &c., &c. Read Heb. xii. 16. Pray to God to keep you from doing it.
§5. Jacob's Deceit.
Question carefully on ch. xxvii. Indicate that God's purpose was to make Jacob the ancestor of the chosen people, and that God's purposes would be exactly and beautifully worked out if men would everywhere follow their highest ideals and most generous instincts; but that, in this evil world, God has to take account of evil-doing, and over-rule even that, to bring about good, while punishing the evil-doer. So here. Esau's greedinesspunished, but not allowed to spoil God's plan.
I can but indicate a few lines of thought here. The chapter is full of lessons. Point out the gradual growth of Jacob's sin. Important lesson. I don't think he was either bad enough or daring enough to plan such a sin if could have foreseen it all. He had qualms about the first step, but not strong-willed enough to say No, when it was only proposed to personate Esau. Hear his weak protest. Not "It is wrong, mother, and I can't do wrong for anyone" (that was the protest of his nobler son in Egypt). No; but "my father might find me out." Whenever a man takes that position, he is sure to fall. Step by step he went on. The first step of personating Esau started a train of further sins. Putting on the skins; then the direct lie, "I am Esau;" then the blasphemous statement, "The Lord the God brought it to me." Think of the shrinking as he felt forced on from step to step. Think of his terror when Isaac said, "Come near, that I may feel thee, my son." (Luther says: "If I had been Jacob then, I should have dropped the dish in terror, and run."
That is the devil's plan always. Step by step. Such things happen every day--e.g., young man, not intending much evil, bet on horse race; then borrowed money to pay his losses, honestly intending to pay it; then, being pressed, took from employer's cash box, intending to refund it; then discovery, lying, false swearing, prison, disgrace, ruin. Thus the devil urged him on step by step. Oh! take care the beginning of sin.
Point out, too--referring to Heb. xii. 17, that Esau found no room for repentance--the irrevocableness of our deeds. Not that he could not repent. He had repentance, and remorse, and sorrow. The tears show that; but the passage means he found no means to undo his act of selling the birthright, if which this was consequence. So with us--lost youth, lost purity, lost opportunity cannot be recalled. You might notice, too, that Esau had not so much right to feel wronged as he thought--Esau had deliberately bartered away that birthright, and with it, it would seem, the right to the blessing.
In spite of your teaching on ch. xxv., the pupil's sympathy will still be with Esau and against Jacob here. That is as it should be. Don't try to oppose it. Be intensely careful and apprehensive lest you should distort the fresh, healthy, moral consciousness of the children, and let them believe Jacob was any the less wrong because God's purpose would be accomplished by his evil act. Don't let them think that God's sympathies would be opposed to theirs in this story. Surely God was angry at Jacob's treachery, though He made allowances for his circumstances, which we cannot; and surely God was very sorry for Esau, as for every sinner who has bartered away his birthright, and now has to suffer for it. Unless you are sure that the child's sympathy is wrong and mistaken, you should never let him have the vague notion which so many grown people have about this story, that God's standard of right is somehow different from theirs.
§5. The Sin and Punishement of Each.
What was Isaac's sin? Not quite sure. I think it was that though he knew God's will about Jacob, he tried to give the blessing to Esau, his favorite. Otherwise it is hard to see why, when he discovered the trick, he did not reverse his blessing, and in fierce anger curse Jacob. What did he do? "Trembled very exceedingly," and confirmed the blessing (v. 33); trembled probably with awe and fear, as he saw God's purpose comquering them all, making one sin overthrow another.
Esau's sin we know. What was Rebekah's and Jacob's sin? Doing evil that good might come. Probably they both knew God's purpose. Perhaps their excuse to themselves was--"We want God's will to be done. God's will is in danger. We had better tell lies and deceive to accomplish it." Some people are tempted to that still, and say or do things not quite straight, or not quite charitable, "in the interests of religion." Does that make it less wrong? No; God will hate and punish it just the same. When you are in doubt about your conduct, be sure always that the one only way to accomplish God's will is to do the right at any cost, to follow your highest instincts, your noblest aspirations. Never can you please God by ignoble means.
God punished them all. How? Esau lost the birthright that he could not appreciate. Isaac had his home peace destroyed. Rebekah never again saw her darling son. Jacob, the deceiver, was deceived again and again by Laban, as we shall see, and spent twenty-one years of hard labour and banishment. Never fancy that because you trust in God He will let you commit sin without suffering for it. Would that be real love? God has higher ambition for you than merely to make you comfortable and happy. He must make you good at any cost--the rod, the scourge, the pain, the increased temptation, the evil consequences of many kinds--that is the great loving discipline of God. He is too wise and good to rest satisfied till He destroy and burn that evil out of our lives.
§7. God's Purpose Accomplished.
Is it not wonderful? In spite of all the wrong-doing, and unbelief and worldliness, and lying and trickery appearing in this story, God's will got done after all. Oh, that is one's comfort and hope for this poor evil world, with men lying and tricking, and sinning and failing--God is above all. He will help them, or punish, or do what is best for them; but His good purposes cannot be spoiled by them.
"God's in His heaven:
All's right in the world."
NOTE ON "ELECTION"
This story of the election of Jacob and the rejection of Esau is to many thoughtful teachers a puzzle and perplexity, especially when they read it in connection with St. Paul's comment in Rom. ix. 10-13. There is, though they do not like to put it into words, a tacit suspicion of favouritism on the part of God; and this spoils the heartiness of their teaching, and hides from them the grandeur of God's purposes in election. In a lesser degree this difficulty has been running through the previous Lessons--the election of Abraham, the election of the Israelite nation, &c.: therefore it is just as well that it should be forced into prominence here.
The difficulty, of course, mainly arises from false traditions, a false doctrine of election. Some of us have been brought up in such traditions, and have learned that election of one implies reprobation of others--that God sent certain babies into this world destined to eternal heaven, and certain others destined to eternal hell; not for any good or evil in them, but for His own glory, to magnify His power. As Burns has put it, with his terrible sarcasm, in Holy Willie's Prayer--
"O Thou, with whom all goodness dwell,
Wha, as it pleases best Thysel',
Sends ane to heaven and ten to hell,
All for Thy glory,
And na for any good or ill
They've done afore Thee."
If that were the Bible teaching about Jacob and Esau, it would indeed be a terrible lesson to teach. Let us be thankful that the deeper study of Scripture, and the fuller enlightenment of the Christian conscience thereby, have made such teaching now for ever impossible, and that our most thoughtful commentators boldly assert that it has no warrant at all from any word in the Bible.
Why, then, do I think it necessary to write this note? Because the recoil from the false doctrine is doing grave harm in leading some of our teachers to ignore plain statements of inspired Scripture, and in leaving a vague impression that God has no definite plan for individual lives. In refuting the false doctrine of predestination and election, it was necessary to seek for the true. For, whether we like it or not, predestination and election run through all Scripture. Through the Old and New Testaments alike we are told of certain persons, or races, or Churches chosen especially by the Almighty, "elect according to the foreknowledge of God." We find something very like this in secular history, too, even in the ordinary life around us to-day. Everywhere we meet the mysterious fact that God gives special gifts to some which he withholds from others. Some are born to beauty, to position, to influence and power; one great genius stands out in the midst of an ignorant family; one nation is gifted with special characteristics which raise it over other nations; and so on.
In secular history, however, it does not disturb our consciences. We realize that all life is a great plan of God slowly working itself out for the blessing of the world. And therefore we see nothing strange in the fact that He should elect, and predestinate, and allot higher and lower places to individuals, for the accomplishment of His beneficent purposes. No general could win a victory, no prime minister could carry on a government, no musician could perform a great oratorio, if there were no plan, no electing individuals, and allotting them their parts. It seems quite reasonable that God should do this, and it does not trouble us with any sense of unfairness, for we see that great endowment means great responsibility, and that the greater endowment of the few is for the good of the many, and does not preclude the many in their lesser endowment from living happy and holy lives.
If we could see that something of this kind is true also of God's election of men in Bible history, our difficulties on the subject would soon pass away. The subject of election is a great mystery. There are depths in the secret purposes of God which can never be fathomed by our puny minds. Therefore there must be no glib talking of it, as if any child could explain what it really means. Yet, on the other hand, it is not an insoluble mystery. Clear and distinct runs one clue-line through it--"The Judge of all the earth must do right." Holding this clue-line, much can be learned of it by careful study of the Bible. Let me indicate briefly what careful students have learned. In this short note, I cannot give proofs or processes of reasoning. I can merely point out the lines on which our teachers may proceed in investigating the subject for themselves in the Bible.
First, as to what it does not mean--(:) it does NOT mean that God ever sent any baby into the world predestined to eternal destruction. The special calling, and election, and blessing of some do not in any way prejudice the eternal prospects of those who are not so called. We do not need nowadays to prove such things. Merely to remind the student that God is good, and to ask that he should think over certain questions, such as, for example, how a great soul like St. Paul's could have spoken of election with such a solemn joy and enthusiasm if it meant that, or how he could, in the next breath, tell us so gladly that "God willeth all men to be saved."
2. It does NOT mean that men and women are acted on irrespective of their own will and co-operation. They are not like mere marionettes on a stage, with the Almighty Ruler pulling the strings. St. Paul warns the elect Christian Church: "Be not high-minded, but fear . . . lest God also spare not thee." He bids men "make their calling and election sure," and he hints the possibility of at least conceiving that he himself might be a castaway. It is a glorious and inspiring thing to feel that some are "elect" and co-operate with God, chosen by His eternal love and wisdom to accomplish something in the world. But the elect must will to co-operate with the will of God. If they do, there should come the glad comfort that God's purpose is behind them, and that "He who has begun a good work in them will perform it unto the end."
3. It does NOT mean necessarily an election to prosperity, and comfort, and happiness. Look at the most prominent of the elect mentioned in the Bible. They are the strugglers and sufferers, the men who, in pain, and loneliness, and helpless clinging to God, are learning God's deepest lessons wherewith to enrich the world. Let that thought come to you as you teach this story of Jacob and Esau, when you hear the children say, "It was not fair to poor Esau that Jacob should be the elect. I doubt very much if Esau would have accepted such an election, with the terrible discipline needed to change the tricky, selfish Jacob of youth into the noble-hearted old Israel, the "Prince with God." Esau had everything that he cared for--hunting, and fighting, and eating, and drinking, and wives, and children, and the honours of the world. His rejection from God's plan for the race did not necessarily mean his rejection from heaven if he grew fitted for it. But look at Jacob, the elect, with his terrible life-discipline--the long exile, the dead young wife, the lost Jacob, the lonely old age, the grey hairs going down in sorrow almost to the grave. There is surely little for worldly men to envy in that weary discipline by which the mean and false is purged out of elect souls, to make them fit for God's purpose.
If these be what it does not mean, can we get any glimpse of what election does mean? Some little glimpse we can. I have already pointed out to you, in teaching about the election of Abraham (p.75), that it was not for his own sake, but for that of the world at large. "I will bless thee," said God, "and thou shalt be a blessing." "In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." That is, the calling and election of Abraham WAS FOR THE SERVICE OF OTHERS.
That first recorded instance of "election"--the call of Abraham--strikes the key-note of all. As you go through the history of the elect souls in the Bible, you will see that it consistently and throughout affirms "that when God calls or separates one man to Himself, it is for the good of other men; that when He selects one family, it is that through it all the families of the earth should be blessed; that when He chooses one nation, it is for the welfare of all nations--salvation being of the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well; that when he elects and establishes a Church, it is for the spiritual benefit of the whole world. No man, no family, no nation, no Church, possesses any gift, any privilege, any superior capacity or power for its own welfare alone, but for the common advantage, the general good."
Are you beginning now to get a glimpse into the reason of St. Paul's enthusiasm about this doctrine of God's election? Are you beginning to see that it may be a nobler thing that Augustine or John Calvin imagined--a something more worthy of the All-Just, All-Merciful, All-Generous Father of all men? I have not been foolish enough to attempt an explanation of this mystery. I have but offered you a few hints to guide you, and to save you from unworthy views of God. You will still find difficulties connected with the subject; but if you take as the central thought ELECT FOR THE SERVICE OF OTHERS, and find out how far that is taught you in the Bible, the worst of your moral difficulties about the doctrine of election will gradually pass away, and instead of them will come the ennobling thought that there is a great, blessed purpose of God to which the elect minister, God's plan is to use the few to influence the many. Those elected to the highest gifts of capacity, genius, beauty, position, influence, are by that very election bound to the service of the rest. Those to whom the highest measure of God's grace come to make them noble and lovable are those who can most deeply influence others to be so too. The great elect body, the Christian Church, is elected for the universal reconciling of the world to God. God help us all to realize the grandeur and moral beauty of this election, and to live worthy of that high calling to which we, as members of the Church, are called. Noblesse oblige.
Questions for Lesson XIV
Did the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah continue as beautifully as it began?
Why do you think this?
Who were their two sons?
Tell fully the story of Jacob deceiving his blind father.
What did Esau feel about this?
What do you think of Esau's character?
What do you think of Jacob in his youth?
What of him in his old age?
Why the difference?
Have you any notion as to the meaning of "election"?
THE VISION AT BETHEL
Gen. XXVII. 41 to XXIX. 15.
§1. The Flight.
Esau hated Jacob. Why? Question briefly on last Lesson. Rebekah cleverly planned that Jacob should be sent away out of danger. For how long? (v. 44.) How did she plain it? (v. 46) Think of her thoughts turning back to the old home of her girlhood, that she had left one bright morning about fifty years ago, to be Isaac's bride. And she would picture her son arriving, and seeing the dear old place, and staying for a few days, and coming back to tell her how it all looked. Poor loving, sinning, planning mother! She never counted on her brother Laban being as clever as herself. So the years went on, and she waited and waited for him who never came. And at last died without ever seeing him again. So, perhaps, was she punished for her deceit. Tell me Isaac's charge to Jacob? and the blessing? (v. 4.) Meaning of the "blessing of Abraham"? So you see the faith in God's promise firm still.
Now, see lonely Jacob leaving home for the first time--very lonely thing. Ever been away from home yourself? Do you know of anyone leaving home for the first time to go amongst strangers? Had Jacob anything worse than loneliness? Probably terrified lest Esau should catch him up. He knew well he deserved punishment. He knew he had tricked Esau, and deceived his father, and so the going away all the sadder. He had been very mean and dishonourable, and wicked, and deserved no kindness from God or man. Yet, don't you think he must have been sorry? Why? Yes. God's coming to comfort and encourage and bless him. He would scarcely do that to one impenitent. When you are very lonely, or sorrowful, or penitent for sin, that is God's favourite time to draw near. Give instances? (Lam. iii. 55; Acts xxiii. 11; xxvii. 24, &c.) Many have at such times learned to love and trust and yield themselves to God.
§2. The Vision.
Probably some days travelling. Now night drawing on, he finds himself on a great bleak moorland among the hills of Bethel. Probably had often heard of the place from his grandfather. Why? (xii. 8.) Perhaps found the old altar, and settled down there to sleep. It was a wild spot, the sloping ground strewn with slabs of white rock, with the big crags standing irregularly around, like old Druid remains in our day. Looking at it sleepily, it might well seem like a great staircase of rock and crag reaching from earth to sky. You know the way that waking scenes weave themselves into dreams? Probably the whole scene wove itself into this dream, which was sent to encourage him, the dream of the wondrous giant staircase, with God at the top of it, and the angels of God ascending and descending between God and himself. Thus God revealed Himself in the visions of the night to encourage and teach Jacob. How would this encourage him? What it would mean? Angels coming down from God to help him; angels going up to tell God all about him. Probably it was his first direct dealing with God. His father and grandfather would have told him of such; therefore very solemn for him. Why did he specially want comfort and encouragement just now? Yes, loneliness, fear, conscience troubled, unknown future before him. Tell me God's three promises to him. When before similar promise given? (Gen. xiii. 15, 16.) What was meant by "all families of the earth shall be blessed"? Which was the promise to himself personally? What new lesson about God did he learn? (xxviii. 16.) "I knew it not." Can we learn it? We sometimes thus. We quite believe God is in church, or at a graveside, &c.; but that God is in every place--in school, playground, road, street, mountain--that wherever we are, is the invisible stairs, whose one end is at every poor man's door, and its other end at the footstool of God--of that we are not so conscious. Yet it is true. At any moment we can dart up prayers to God. Always and everywhere the angels of God may be ascending and descending upon us. What did our Lord once say about this? (John i. 51.) To whom? This story was probably the portion Nathanael had just been reading "under the fig-tree," where he was at his devotions--the thought in his mind about angels. Hence, probably, Christ's allusion. Through Him is the eternal straightway between earth and heaven. He is the "mediator between God and man." Explain and dwell on this. What did Jacob do in the morning to keep his glad vision in remembrance? I think we might call this Jacob's conversion--the beginning of the new high life which made him such a noble character afterwards. And I think it was caused by his being touched to the heart by God's undeserved goodness to him. Just when he had been so wicked, and was sorrowful for it, and lonely, God came, and helped, and forgave, and comforted him. No amount of fear of punishment, or hope of reward, can touch men's hearts like that. That is what should touch all most, and make us love God. Jacob wants not to forget it, so sets up his pillar as a memorial. What two vows did he make? Those are good vows for each of you. Life will be a beautiful and blessed thing if you make them. In every decision between right and wrong all your life say: "The Lord shall be my God." In every increase of money, and power, and ability, and influence, say: "I have got it from God; I will surely use part of it for Him." Everyone should give a fixed proportion of his time, and thought, and energy for God's work. World full of social evils--drunkenness, pauperism, child neglect, misery of every kind. Why? Partly because the clever busy men and women give little thought and energy to cure it. Too busy about themselves and their families. If people gave to Christ's business of helping the helpless even a tenth of the time, and thought, and energy they give to their own business, we should have a very much better world. If people gave to increase religion in the world, a tithe of the money, or prayer, or thought that the give to their own affairs, Christ's Kingdom would soon come. Remember that God's plan is to help men and women only by means of other men and women; and if these will not help, the misery and wrong must remain. So if you would make life better for others, God must be your God, and you must give a share of all your powers to God's work on earth.
§3. The Meeting with Rachel.
Now, with his new-formed resolve, Jacob starts afresh on his journey. Tell me of the meeting at the well. Tell of any other story like in Old Testament. Lesson xiii. And so Jacob finds, in spite of all his badness, that God has for him a still greater happiness than he had ever hoped for. What/? The love of his young cousin Rachel. I think she must have been both beautiful and good, if we are to judge from her son Joseph, and if it be true, as people say, that a boy inheritshis qualities mainly from his mother. At any rate, we know she was very dear to Jacob. Not merely that he loved her at first sight, but deeply and enduringly.
How is it expressed? (xxix. 20.) Don't you think God was very good to Jacob?
Was it because Jacob deserved it? Do you think He is good to you? Tell me some of the good things you have to be thankful for. Is that you deserve them? I think if we counted up all God's goodness, we should not have time for grumbling any more. A dear old man, long since dead, said to the writer long ago: "If you want to be happy, never rise up from prayer any day without thanking God for something; and if you can't think of anything to thank Himfor at the moment, say the General Thanksgiving." Could not some of you take that old man's advice?
Questions for Lessons XV
Jacob had to leave home. Why?
Where did he go to?
Tell his dream about angels on the stairs.
What vows did he make then?
Here comes another story like that of old Eliezer and Rebekah. Tell it.
What trick did Laban play on Jacob?
Show how in all this new experience Jacob was being punished and yet trained to be better.
A CRITICAL DAY
Gen. XXXII. and XXXIII. to v. 10
Teacher should sketch in briefly the events between last Lesson and this. Tell briefly that many years have elapsed since story of meeting Rachel at well; how Jacob worked to win her, and was tricked by Laban, as he himself had tricked his old father, Isaac; how Laban had treated him unfairly again and again, till at last he determined to fly from him with his wives and cattle; how Laban pursued him, and how they parted at Mizpah.
Now we come to the most critical day of all Jacob's life--morning, evening, midnight, all full of exciting events. What was the most important time before this? Probably that of the Bethel vision, the offer of God's friendship from the great rock stairs while the angels ascended and descended upon it. But now a far greater day.
First, in the early morning he parted from Laban, and started to continue his journey to Canaan. He was rid of one enemy, Laban, but the dread of a far more dangerous one was on his heart. Who? How do you know? (vv. 3, 4.) Yes, he had sent the messengers perhaps some days before, and now he was anxious and frightened, expecting every moment to meet them on the road, or perhaps to meet Esau with his warrior band. Dangerous road, and helpless condition, to meet a hostile chief. Women, children, cattle, farm servants, very helpless. And at any moment he might see the spears of Edom flashing over the hill. What did he see instead? (v. 1.) A wondrous sight--a bright procession, probably of warrior angels, coming down the mountain side to meet him. We are told very little of them. But it seems likely that God gave vision for encouragement. Refer to Elisha's servants in 2 Kings vi. 17, and Psalm xxxiv. 7: "The angel of the Lord encampeth," &c. It would remind Jacob of a scene twenty-five years earlier (ch. xxviii). Are they always about us? (reference, O.T. & N.T.) Perhaps by a slight change in our eyes or in our minds they would become visible at once. Wonderful, glorious, solemn thing of ours, with God's presence and God's angels everywhere around.
The messengers at last! "Well, what tidings from Esau?" Very serious tidings! "The chieftain of Seir is coming with 400 warrior after him." What did Jacob think of Esau's purpose? Friendly? Hostile? Evidently the messengers thought so too. And probably it was so. We can't be sure. We find Esau afterwards kindly and generous--but did not something happen that might have changed his purpose? (vv. 9-13) Who can tell the changes in men's purposes every day, through other men's prayers? Possible that Esau did not mean to slaughter; but possible, too--nay, probable--that he did, and that by that prayer he was saved from being a murderer, and Jacob and his family from being all slain.
Now look at this prayer. Notice that he first does all he can himself. "God helps those who help themselves." Don't you think from it that Jacob was becoming a better man since we last met him? It is a simple, humble, beautiful prayer. Show me in it his humility? his belief in God? his claiming of God's promises? Does it show any comfort because he was in the path of duty? (v. 9.) "Thou saidst me, Return," &c. That is a great comfort always. If ever you are in doubt between two courses, never mind the consequences, but ask--which way lies duty? Which is the higher, nobler? Which is likely to be God's will? Then, even if trouble and vexation come of that course, you can feel like Jacob: "I tried to do Thy will; Thou saidst to my conscience, Do it; therefore I can leave it all to Thy care." So Jacob. Then, probably calmed by the prayer, he cleverly arranges his present for Esau. Show the cleverness (vv. 14-21).
Now a very mysterious story. Don't quite understand it. Poor Jacob is in great dread. Where was Jacob? Who with hiim? Where were they all? If you were in a great fright, should you like to be alone on a dark night? Why did he? Perhaps so troubled he could not bear the chatter; probably because in his great torture of soul he must be alone with God. Remember similar case of our Lord (St. Matt. xxvi. 39). Now picture the lonely man sitting by the dark rushing stream at midnight, thinking of his past, his present, his dangerous future, praying to God, thinking of God. Far in front he hears the noises dying away in the distance as his people go farther away. At last he rises to cross the river. Can he do it? Instantly he is gripped in a powerful wrestler's grip. He is startled. He wrestles. He can't overcome; but he won't give in. He strains and struggles, and the great calm wrestler holds him firmly still. A dread is creeping on him, a feeling of the supernatural. No mortal man can this be who is wrestling with him! Who can he be? Is it God? Is it one of the angels he has seen? But still he won't give in. And at last, as the dawn breaks, the mysterious being can wait no more. He conquers. How? And instantly as that nerve is touched the struggle is over, and the poor helpless Jacob is clinging, instead of wrestling, clinging to be held up from falling, crying out, "I will not let Thee go, unless Thou bless me!" And then a wonderful thing happens. By this helpless clinging he conquers! (v. 28) And so a great lesson taught him. Not by his strength, but by helpless clinging to God in his weakness, does man prevail with God.
I can't quite explain this wrestling. Don't quite understand it myself. Some people think it only meant eager wrestling with God in prayer. See what Hosea says (Hos. xii. 3). But that would not explain his being lamed as result of struggle. Who did Jacob think wrestled with him? (v. 30.) We know too little of the mysteries of the Unseen to form any conjecture. But we believe the whole matter was of God. See angels with Abraham (xviii. 3), and the captain of Lord's host (Josh. v. 14). Remember that morning the host of the bright angels on the hillside revealed to his sight. We can only guess. But we know that God meant to teach him a great lesson by it. And he means to teach us great lessons by it. Here is one:--
The great, calm, strong God is frequently wrestling with us. He wants us to conquer. Why? For His own good? No, but for ours, to make us noble, to make us, entirely yielded up to His will, that He may bless us utterly. And we poor fools keep struggling and wrestling. Our will has been allowed that wonderful power of holding out against the Almighty God. Do you remember ever wrestling thus, wanting you own will? Could He not force our will? But will He? Why not? Because He wants to gains us not as slaves, but as loving children. Sometimes He has to touch us as the angel did, with pain, and weakness, and disappointment, to break down the power of the opposition. A girl vain of her beauty, a boy proud of his popularity, men and women full of their ambitions. They don't want to give up God. Would like in a measure to serve Him, but not utterly. /And he wants them to serve Him utterly. So the wrestle goes on. At last in love God has to touch the sinew. What does that mean? To touch that beauty or popularity, or ambition, or whatever made the strength of our opposition. But all in love, because He has much grander things for us, which He wants us to win. What? Love, truth, faithfulness, generosity, unselfishness--in a word, a noble character. And sometimes boys and girls, and men and women, in pain and vexation and disappointment, learn, at last, whom they have been wrestling with, and, clinging, in their weakness, cry: "Bless me, Lord! make me good at any cost! I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me!" And so they, too, like poor Jacob, rise to be princes with God.
§5. Meeting with Esau.
Have not time to read next chapter. Just look at it. We want to see answer to Jacob's prayer. Esau, in spite of all his unworthiness, had a great deal of good in him. I never yet saw a man that had not some. We were all made in the image of God, and the image has not been quite defaced in any man. We don't know how much Jacob's prayer had to do with Esau's attitude, nor how much the angel hosts on the hillside, nor whether the strong wrestler, who had to go at the dawn, was going to meet Esau, and influence his heart. All we know is that Jacob, in his terror of Esau's 400 men, met a generous, kindly brother and 400 soldiers, who would guard him, instead of killing him. And so we are glad. It helps us to believe that, though Esau was rejected from God's great purpose for the world, he was not rejected from God's love or God's heaven. It helps us to believe that he, too, became a better man. It helps us to believe in the power of prayer, and in the blessed guardianship of the angels of God.
An there is another lesson: "Fret not for to-morrow." Or, as old proverb says: "Don't cross the river till you come to it." Half the fretting in the world is for evils that never happen after all. Here was Jacob fretting for years at the thought of some day meeting Esau, whom he had wronged. Be sure it had worried him through many a sleepless night in Padan-aram. And now, after all his fretting, he finds there is nothing to fear. What does our Lord say of this? "Take no thought, i.e., freat not about to-morrow." Need not any man be afraid of to-morrow? Yes; but if the life is given up to God in lowly penitence, even after doing wrong, we may trust God with the future. "Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him." "Fret not thyself for to-morrow." Live one day at a time. Here is a useful prayer for people who fret about the future:--
JUST FOR TO-DAY
(A MORNING PRAYER)
LORD, for to-morrow and its needs
I do not pray;
Keep me, my God, from stain of sin,
Just for to-day.
Let me both diligently work
And duly pray;
Let me be kind in word and deed
Just for to-day.
Let me be slow to do my will--
Prompt to obey;
Help me to sacrifice myself
Just for to-day.
Let me no wrong or idle word
Set Thou a seal upon my lips
Just for to-day.
Cleanse and receive my parting soul,
Be Thou my stay;
Bid me, if to-day I die,
Go home to-day.
So, for to-morrow and its needs
I do not pray;
But keep me, guide me, hold me, Lord,
JUST FOR TO-DAY.
Questions for Lessons XVI
This is a most critical day in Jacob's life.
What happened in the (1) morning, (2) evening, (3) midnight?
What other time had he seen angels?
Show that Esau too was becoming a better man.
Illustrate here the proverb "Never cross a bridge until you come to it."
What does our Lord say about this "not fretting for the morrow," and why does He say we are not to fret?
What is the spiritual meaning of "wrestling with God"?
Gen. XXXVII. and XXXIX. to v. 7
The story of Jacob now ceases for the present. He has grown an old man, and by God's discipline a good man, which he certainly was not at first. He will come before us again at the close of this story. But for the present the inspired historian passes away from him to talk about one of his sons. The probable reason we shall see as we go on.
§1. The Boy Joseph.
We have spend some time with the story of Joseph, so I want you to get to really know him, and try to enter into his thoughts and feelings. How old was he at this time? Do you think he was a handsome boy? (xxxix. 6.) Was he religious? (xxxix. 2-5) Was he a lonely boy, or had he plenty of friends? Was anybody in the encampment fond of him? I have sometimes pictured him to myself a tall, handsome boy, dressed in his beautiful robe with its border of gold and colours at the neck and sleeves. A clever boy, with this father's cleverness, as well as his mother's beauty. And yet a lonely boy, amongst all his rough companions, whose thoughts were so different from his. All the more lonely because his mother was dead. A motherless boy is a very lonely boy. I picture him sometimes when his brothers were very cruel to him, sitting out in the pasture fields, and letting the old memories rise up to him. He could remember his childhood in Laban's pastures, where his father was the manager. He could remember one day, when somebody seized him and put him on a big camel, when they were all running away secretly from Haran, and the excitement of feeling that Laban was pursuing. Then the terrible fright about his uncle Esau coming to kill them, and the caravan hurrying off in the early dawn, and stopping when they missed his father, and their wonder when he limped up to them lamed for life, but with a strangely serious, solemn look on his face. And clearest of all his memories stood out one terrible day when they stopped on their march, and his brothers and the drovers and servants whispered together, and his father was distracted with grief, and they told the poor boy that his young mother was dying. That was a terrible day to him and his father, the two who loved her best in all that company. It was a tie between them ever after. The old man loved Joseph, and confided in him more than in any of his other sons; and all the days of his life the old father was first in Joseph's thoughts. He knew more of his father's secret struggles and God's dealings with him than his unsympathetic elder brothers or the child Benjamin could possibly know. I feel pretty sure that when they were passing Bethel, Jacob showed him the altar he had built, and told him about the great stairs whose top reached to heaven. Perhaps it was there that his heart first thrilled with the solemn resolve of his life that God should be his God, too, for ever and ever.
§2. The Dreamer.
Now we have got in some degree acquainted with Joseph, tell me two reasons why his brothers hated him. What do you think of his telling tales of his brothers? Is it not a mean thing to tell tales of others? Perhaps Joseph was wrong. Yet I don't know. In after days we find he knew well enough when to hold his tongue. We know that some of these brothers were fearfully wicked, and perhaps out on the lonely pastures the poor boy was often startled and shocked at their abominable conduct, and found it necessary to tell. Do you think it was wise or right of Jacob to dress him in more beautiful clothes than the others? Do you remember that sort of favouritism in Jacob's own boyhood? Did much good come of it?
Now tell me first dream? Meaning? Second dream? Meaning? How did his father like it? (v. 10.) Yet he thought seriously about it (v. 11). Now tell me the story of journey to Dothan? Was it dangerous? Why? What did they say about "this dreamer and his dreams"? Yet God had sent those dreams to show His great purpose for Joseph. Is it possible to hinder God's purposes? These men tried. What result? That they helped them on instead. How? Wonderful about God's purposes, that no opposition is the least use in hindering them.
Poor Joseph! Little he thought of his brethren's evil intention. First, to kill him. Who persuaded them not? Then they found one of those great pits that shepherds dig in the East to let the waters run in in rainy weather, to be used in drought. It was covered with a big slab. Fancy being left to starve to death in that horrid, slimy place, with crawling things all about, in the darkness. Many a poor boy would go mad with terror. Poor Joseph cried out, and besought mercy. We are not told that here. How do you know it? Because his cries and agony tortured his cruel brothers' conscience for years and years; and in their terrible fright in Egypt many years afterwards they whispered it to each other (xlii. 21). A good thing that God has given conscience such power to torture.
How did he escape that death? Great central road to Egypt runs by Dothan. The brothers saw dust rising, and heard the shouts of a great caravan. Often saw them bringing merchandise and slaves to Egypt. "Ha! This is much better. We need not murder the boy. Sell him. Get twenty pieces of silver for him. Good price for slaves in Egypt." Was it much better for poor Joseph? Not much, it would seem. Egyptian slavery a terrible thing. Might be sold in the market to some cruel person. Poor boy! how he cried and prayed, and besought mercy. All no use. Nobody cared. Perhaps it seemed to the poor lad that even God did not care.
§3. God's Purposes.
Did God care? He heard the cries and prayers in the pit. He saw the boy's agony when tied in the slavegang. Yet He did not save him. Was God cruel? Was He indifferent? Why not save him? Ah, because that was just the very way to lead to the highest good for Joseph, and his father, and brethren, and the Israelite nation, and the whole world afterwards. Poor foolish men and women still cry out against God, and say He does not care; and God has to bear all that, and still He goes on guiding their lives patiently and wisely for their good.
I want you to think about the way God's purposes get fulfilled by what seem just chance events. Do we not all feel ourselves quite free to do good or do evil? Do we not know that everybody else is so, too? We never know what people may choose to do. It would seem at first as if all went by chance in the world, and that God could not possibly make any plan which He could count on being fulfilled. Yet somehow he is able to leave every man free to do what he likes, and yet to take care that His own wonderful plans for human life are carried out.
God told Abraham of His great project for the Jews. What? To be a great nation; to be the helpers and teachers of religion for the world; to be the nation of whom Christ should come. God had planned for them, as part of their training, that they should be slaves in Egypt (xv. 13). Perhaps because they had to be somewhere out of Canaan while growing into a nation, and also that they had to learn a good deal from the wise Egyptians--the wisest nation on earth. Whatever the reason, it was part of God's plan for them. And now here we have a story of family quarrels, and cruel brothers, and merchants passing by chance, and buying a slave-boy. It seems to have nothing to do with God's purpose. It seems all mere chance. Was it? Tell me again God's message to Abraham 200 years before (xv. 13, 14). 200 years, and everybody doing what they liked; not in the least thinking about or trying to help God's purpose. And yet how wonderfully it is coming right, though it seems to men all chance. Where did these slave-dealers take Joseph to? Yes; and then there was a slave sale, and the boy stood bound amongst the other slaves, and rough men were examining him, and feeling his muscle, and haggling about his price, when suddenly there rode in one of the greatest officers of the king. He looks round in the market, and his eye falls on the handsome boy standing near a post. "What is the price of that boy? Send him up to my house." And so the next step is taken, that is to bring Joseph near to the King of Egypt, and by-and-by to bring all his family down there to live.
Thus God's purposes were being fulfilled then, and are being fulfilled now. We see only the chance things happening. The Bible writers could see God standing behind all, and guiding everything, even the wickedness of bad men, to work our His purpose. What is God's purpose for you? I don't know all of them, but I know one--that is, that you are to make a good, true, faithful servant of His; and He will guide all your life to accomplish that, and nobody but yourself can hinder its coming to pass. Is not your life a grand and hopeful thing thus guided by God?
Questions for Lesson XVII
What age was Joseph when he first appears in the story?
A lonely boy--why?
His two dreams and their meaning?
What happened at Dothan?
Three reasons why his brothers hated him?
Who was Potiphar?
Show God's leading in all this trouble.
JOSEPH IN PRISON
Gen. XXXIX. V. 20 to end, and XL.
Recapitulate briefly last Lesson. Remind of God's purpose for the whole family of Israel, that they should go down to Egypt to be trained and disciplined. Remind of purpose for Joseph, and for every man, that he should grow to be a brave, faithful servant of God. Watch the accomplishing of this purpose. What was our last sight of Joseph? Carried off with fettered limbs to Potiphar's house.
Now comes new scene to-day. Several years have passed, and the boy, now grown to be a young man, is leaving Potiphar's house, and again with fettered limbs . He is a prisoner, disgraced and shamed, and they are hurrying him to the State prison, where the State criminals are kept. Has he committed some crime? Has he forgotten God? Not he! but his master's wife hates him, and has told a terrible lie about him, and Potiphar believes it, and the brave young slave holds his tongue. He will not hurt his kindly master by telling that his wife is a liar and a wicked woman. He will bear his wrong silently. Potiphar has been very good to him. He saw that in the midst of schemers and liars this Hebrew boy was honourable and true and faithful; and step by step he advanced him over all the servants, and trusted him with his whole house and all that was in it (xxxix. 6). Why was Joseph so faithful and honourable? (xxxix. 2.) Yes; because he was a religious boy---because "the Lord was with him." No man could deprive him of that friendship of God. Men could rob him of home and father and freedom. No man could rob him of character---of God. He held fast by God all along. He knew that he belonged to God; that he was made in God's image and likeness; that he was meant to walk Godward, with head erect, and not crawl in the mud, and eat dirt like the serpent. That was what made a man of him, as it will every boy who learns the same lesson. And because Joseph had learned that, he had faced his trouble and loneliness and hard work like a man. He was God's servant, not merely Potiphar's. He could be prompt and faithful and diligent; he could serve God in Potiphar's house as well as in his old Syrian home. Other servants might work to win Potiphar's praise, or escape Potiphar's whip; he would work for sake of right, of duty, of God. That was why Potiphar trusted him; that was why, as the old Wycliffe Bible puts it (ch. xxxix. v. 2 ), "The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a luckie fellowe."
§2. In Prison
But why then did God let him be sent to prison when innocent? Does not God always reward men who try to be good? Yes; and comfort and praise and good fortune usually come to them; but in God's sight comfort and praise and good fortune are not the highest rewards for right-doing. What is God's great reward for right-doing? A deeper love of right-doing . I want you to repeat this three times, and try to remember it always. It explains a great many mysteries of life. I think Joseph must have learned this, or least guessed it. Else I don't know how he bore up so well. Think of him in that prison, with the shame and dishonour, with the fetters and the filth, and the confinement, and the degraded companions. There he lay for seven years---the best years of his brave young life. If ever a man had excuse to lose heart, distrust God, and go wrong, he had. He had tried to be good at home long ago, and yet he was sold as a slave. He had tried to bear up still and be faithful to God, and to resist all sorts of temptation in Potiphar's house. He had held his tongue, and trusted God when falsely accused; and yet here he was eating out his heart in a filthy prison, and with no chance of ever getting out. How could he have kept his trust in God? I think he must surely have guessed the lesson that I want you to remember. (Repeat it again for me, one by one; then the whole class.)
What a beautiful way he tried of comforting himself! What was it? To try to amuse and cheer and comfort the other prisoners (ch. Xl. 6,7). The keeper of the prison had found out, too, what Potiphar had found out about Joseph's religion (xxxix. v. 21), and he left his cell open, and took his word of honour that he would not run away. He knew well he could trust him. And so Joseph used his freedom to help and comfort others. Is it a good plan? Yes; if ever you are misunderstood or slandered, if ever you are suffering in any way, the grandest way to get comfort is to go off and comfort others. Say to yourself: "Never mind my little troubles; others are worse off. I'll go and help them and comfort them." And God's reward will surely come in peace and comfort to yourself, and a new interest in life. That was Joseph's way. Better still, that was our Lord's way. The very night before He was wrongfully murdered, He spent in comforting His poor frightened disciples (St. John xiv. 1). Let not your heart be troubled, &c.
§3. God's Purpose Again.
Now tell me about the two prisoners from the palace that got into the State prison. Who? What had Joseph to do with them? Tell me their talk with him. Tell me the first dream and interpretation. The second? Joseph's request to the chief butler? (v. 14.) Did he remember it? Poor Joseph! think of his hopes day after day, as he looked through the prison bars for a message from his friend. But his friend was so busy about his grapes and his wines and the delight of his escape, that he had quite forgotten the poor lonely Hebrew lad. And so two years passed by, and life grew very hard. What reminded the butler at last? Tell me of Pharaoh and his dreams, and how Joseph's name is thought of.
Can you see now, as in last Lesson, how all these chance events were bringing about God's purposes? (1) State one purpose. That Israel should go down into Egypt, to be there prepared for their future. Here is Joseph coming in close contact with Pharaoh, about to be made ruler of the kingdom, and here is the famine coming that will force his brethren to come down. We can only guess yet. We must watch how it all work as the story goes on. (2) Now what was God's purpose for Joseph himself, and for every man in the whole wide world? Was this being accomplished? Yes. He was growing patient, and noble, and brave, gentle, and unselfish, by means of the terrible discipline of these prison years. That might now have been the result in every man. But God was watching him, and training him, and making him strong through struggle. Like boys in a gymnasium, or training for races, &c. The training that hardens the muscles is very tiring, and often painful; but the trainer never spares for that. (3) What is God's purpose for you? To make you good at any cost of struggle and difficulty. He longs to make you brave and strong and holy. Therefore when He lets temptations come, and vexations and hard school lessons &c., think of the great loving Trainer trying in every way to form splendid character in you, and pray to Him: "Lord, at any cost of trouble or difficulty make me good."
Questions for Lessons XVIII
Why did Potiphar trust Joseph and promote him?
What is God's chief reward for right-doing?
How did Joseph comfort himself in prison?
Tell the dreams of the chief butler and baker.
How did his acquaintance with these prisoners influence Joseph's career?
FROM THE PRISON TO THE STEPS OF THE THRONE
Gen. XLI. 14 to end.
§1. The Man who Forgot.
Where did we leave Joseph? He had been in that prison for years already when he interpreted the chief butler's dream. You remember his request to the chief butler? Poor Joseph! Can't you imagine him on that birthday of the king? The whole city of Memphis was bright with music and color, and joyous processions, and he could only just get a glimpse of it through the bars and wonder if he should ever be free again. His friend, the chief butler, was just going out; but Joseph could not go out. He could only beseech his friend to remember. Can't you imagine the man promising, in the joy of his liberation: "Of course I will remember you, Joseph. You have been a true friend to me, and I will not forget it. I have influence with the king and with Potiphar. Be quite sure that I will try to get you set free." And how the big doors closed behind him, and the poor lad's heart was lighter for that promise, and how he waited and waited hoping against hope, as the days passed into weeks, and the weeks into years, till all hope was gone. What had happened? (xl. 23.). Ah, that forgetting by selfish people! The world is very sad for it. The forgotten by the friend; the poor old mother, sitting at home, listening for the postman's knock, for the letter which her boy had promised when he left home. " Be sure I'll write, mother, every week. I shan't forget you." Yet he did not remember, but forgot. Never let that be so with you. Ask God to keep you from selfish forgetting, which makes so much sadness in life.
Poor Joseph! in spite of all his trust in God, I am sure he had often his fits of black despondency, especially after his friend had forgotten him. He knew of many a man forgotten and left to rot in those prisons (cf. stories of the Bastille). I should not wonder if he sometimes said to himself, "Has God, too, forgotten me? Does God care?" I know many people who in troubles thus doubt at times. Now, if Joseph could see what was going to happen, would he have fretted? You can see it, and you know he had no cause to fret. But poor Joseph did not see it then. I am pretty sure he often looked back in after years, and said to himself, "How good and kind God was all the time! What a fool I was to distrust Him! Why, every one of my troubles was for good after all! If my brothers had not thrown me into the pit; if the Midianites had not bought me; if I had not been sold as a slave to Potiphar; if I had not been cast into prison, and met the chief butler--why, I might have missed all this happiness and usefulness. And when the butler forgot me, how miserable I was! But now I see it was for the best. If he had got me out of prison, I could not go back to Potiphar's house. I should have been sold as a slave to some farmer, or perhaps let go home to my father to live in obscurity, all my life. And I should have missed the training and discipline of the prison, and the knowledge that came to me through my intercourse with the State prisoners, the knowledge about the king and the court, and the government, the very knowledge I wanted for my high position."
You will have your disappointments and reverses. Will you try to learn the lesson that all this taught to Joseph--that God has a plan for all men's lives, for yours and mine, as well as for Joseph's; for each of us the best of which we are capable; and that he will accomplish that plan for us if we do not hinder. But how can we find out and accomplish God's plan for us if we do not exactly know that plan beforehand? Just as Joseph found it, and accomplished it. How? By always following your higher instincts--always obeying your nobler impulses--for they are always the indication of the guiding of the Holy Ghost. The one important thing is always to do right at any cost. Let that go on in your life, with the help of God, and them be certain that all else will go on in your life, too, that is in God's highest plan for you. What the Bible says is perfectly true for everyone in this class who will submit to God's leading, "I will inform thee, and teach thee in the way that thou shouldest go. I will guide thee with Mine eye."
§2. Before the King.
The next scene is a very striking one. Try to picture in your minds a magnificent hall, the great Hall of Pillars, in the palace at Memphis; the king on his throne, the princes and rulers, and all the splendour of the court. Potiphar and his stern guard of kilted soldiers keeping the door. They are just bringing Joseph in from the prison. Should not you think he would be very frightened coming before this great king? In his hands are life and death; in his face at the moment are anger, and impatience, and perplexity. Why does the king look so angry and impatient? He had dreamed, and his dream was repeated in another form to him. It has deeply impressed him, and he has just had in all the interpreters and magicians, and they have all failed him; and now he is utterly puzzled and vexed. Who thought of Joseph? Ah, the chief butler has remembered at last! Now, would you be frightened coming before this king, when all the wise men had failed? I don't think Joseph was. The story leaves the impression of quiet, simple dignity and ease. Why, do you think? I think he was so accustomed to the thought of a greater Presence, in which he always lived. Whose? So, too, the Baptist before Herod, and the Apostles before the Council (Acts iv. 13), all kept from fright and cringing by that "The Lord God, before whom I stand."
"I have heard," said the great kind, "that you can interpret dreams. All my wise men have failed, and I want to see what you can do." I am going to ask you Joseph's answer; but first let me remind you that this was a splendid chance for the poor prisoner. Interpreters of dreams had a high position. If, where they failed, Joseph succeeded, the king would think him cleverer than they, and probably give him a high post--make him a great man for life. He might say, "Yes, I can: I know more than all your magicians." Did he say it? What? (v. 16.) "Not me, but God." You see he did not think the one important thing was that he himself should be promoted. But what? That God should be honored. That God's will should be done. It is the old rule of his life. Follow the higher leading always, and leave the result with God. I wish I could get you all to learn that rule.
§3. From the Prison to the Steps of the Throne
Now tell me the dreams exactly as Pharaoh told them to Joseph. Now tell me exactly Joseph's interpretation. Who does he say had sent the dreams? (v. 28) Joseph knew that nations, no less than individuals, were God's care. Would it not be well if all our statesmen and politicians knew this, and acted on it as Joseph did? That was what made Joseph fit to be a great statesman and politician.
Who taught Joseph the meaning of the dreams? I suppose that was why he ventured on such daring as to give advice to the great king and court. Think of a young Hebrew slave, just out of gaol, doing this. See what courage comes from feeling oneself on God's side. What did he advise? And then he paused. What would happen to him? Would Pharaoh and the court be offended? Well, at any rate, he had tried to do right, and that was all that concerned him. What happened? Were they angry? What did the kind say? (vv. 37-40). Do you think it strange? No. It is just the same today. In the long run the greatest influence always belongs to men like Joseph--men who are not thinking merely of themselves; to whom God, and right, and duty are the rule of life. People somehow feel that they can always trust themselves with such men. What a grand impression he made on Pharaoh! "A man in whom the Spirit of God is". I think it must have made the king wish to be religious too. Every one of us will make that impression on people if we are living close to Christ, and being brave, and true, and loving, and unselfish, as He wants us to be. And the more we are all like that, the more will careless people believe in religion, and seek it for themselves.
Tell me now all about Joseph's grandeur. Ah, God's promise is true. " Them that honor Me," (1 Sam, ii. 30). Don't you wish poor old Jacob could have seen him on that day of his glory, moving like a king; a triumphal procession, with all the nobles in attendance, and all the people on their knees as he passed, and the shouting, and the music, and the waving of banners. Surely it must have been like a dream to him, who had been but a poor slave in the prison that morning. Don't you think his doubts and hard thoughts of God would vanish then?
§4. A Religious Business Man
With all this power and grandeur there came a great crush of work of Joseph. He had to have his council and his clerks, with their broad sheets of papyrus, and his buyers of corn, and overseers, and builders of granaries. And he had to travel north and south, and east and west, to inspect the works everywhere; and see after the draining, and ploughing, and building, and storing of corn. Sometimes he had to be away for weeks together, and then he would come back tired to his beautiful home and his young Egyptian wife, to get a few days' rest before he started again. I suppose he was busier than any man in Egypt. The whole responsibility was thrown upon him (see v. 55). But from what we know of him already, what do you think about his prayers and his religion? Sometimes very busy people say they have not time for religion. Do you think Joseph made time for it? I am sure he did, even in the crush of his hardest work. Nay, I think that only for the help and refreshment of his religion he could not have got through the crush of that work at all. For religion, instead of taking away time and making hard work more weary, is just the thing to make work easier to do. nd it is a great pity that men and women busy with the work of life, miss the peace and refreshment it would give. They go through life worried and tired, not refreshed themselves, and not refreshing to others.
Look at Joseph, busiest of all busy men. Do you remember how his father described him? (ch. xlix. 22. ) " A fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall." By a well. Do you see the meaning? Amid the withered trees is one fresh and green. Why? Because down beside it lies the deep, cool well, and the roots run far down into its cool depths. Therefore the boughs are green, and the fruit rich. So Joseph's life. Can you explain? So with all. If busy people get habit of being with God, if they read their Bible, if they come every morning to consecrate the day, and every evening to ask forgiveness for the failures, and help and strength for the next day--that will keep the thought of God's presence with them in all their bustle and care; that will refresh and invigorate them: it will be like having the roots running into the cool, deep well.
Questions for Lesson XIX
Who was "the man who forgot?"
What made him remember?
Even this forgetting worked out well for Joseph?
Pharaoh's two dreams?
How did Joseph interpret them?
How did Pharaoh reward him?
What was his opinion of Joseph?
Lessons XX & XXI
JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS
Gen. XLII., XLIII., XLIV.
I have taken the unusual course of putting these two Lessons into one. They are really one. I tried to make them into two; but it spoils the whole idea, and would be likely to make the teacher miss the point of the Lesson. But he must teach them as two.
Recapitulate last Lesson briefly. Point out that we are now passing over nine years to come to the beautiful story of Joseph meeting his brothers. Teacher, study carefully ch. xlii to xliii. 26. A mother with her children should spend several days over this story. A teacher in school must just use his discretion. Class cannot read sixty-four verses in the time. Best that teacher should read briefly and smartly with running comment, and sometimes passing over a few verses with a brief word of paraphrase. Or perhaps make the reading of these chapters with brief running comment the whole of one lesson.
§1. Joseph's Object.
Story of Joseph and his brethren not enough appreciated or understood. Necessary to keep in mind: first, that Joseph was a man of great wisdom and sagacity, and compelled by his position to be a keen judge and tester of character; and, secondly, that, as the story proves, he had a very loving heart, and was deeply religious, and, therefore, was not likely to be spiteful or revengeful. People sometimes say--How much kinder if Joseph had not so tormented his brothers, and made his gather so anxious--if he had at once fallen on their necks, and forgiven them. What do you think? Before you answer remember what bad men they had been, and that in all these years they had never confessed their sin, but let old father mourn for Joseph as dead. Now, should Joseph have embraced and forgiven without knowing if they were sorry or not? Would it be good for them? Does God do it with us? Why not? Because it would do us great harm to pass over sin if we were impenitent.
Joseph had much more loving designs--designs such as God has towards all who do wrong; not first make them comfortable; but make them what? Good. So he had first to find out if they were different men from what they had been twenty years ago; and, if not, to try to make them different. They must have penitent, changed hearts, else God could not forgive them. I don't know that he thought of all this the moment he saw them; probably not. Probably his plans grew as the days went on.
§2. How He Carried Out His Plan.
Now follows the story. Seven years of plenty passed. Two years of famine had made the pinch of hunger felt in the nations around. Here first scene opens in today's story. Can you call yp scene in your minds? Shut your eyes and try. Splendid hall in Memphis, the hall of granaries, governor in chair of state, surrounded by bodyguard, and with a host of clerks and secretaries writing his orders; hall crowded with foreigners in their curious bright dresses. Now, I have that much of picture in my mind, have you? Now, I see in the crowd ten rough looking countrymen staring around with wonder. The great civilization of Egypt has made a deep impression on them, the splendid buildings, the crowds of people, the trained soldiers, the swift chariots of red and yellow dashing through the streets. You know how simple country folk would be impressed. Just in the mood to fall down prostrate before the great lord of Egypt. Did they (v. 6)? What a start Joseph gets when he hears the voices! One moment his heart nearly stops beating, and the next he remembers--what? v.9. What dreams? How fulfilled now? How is it that he knows them and they don't know him?
He is watching and listening as they answer the usual questions of the clerks at the desk; and all the time he is thinking of the old days more than twenty years ago, and the dear old father, and merry little Benjamin playing with him in the fields. And one scene he surely thinks of--the last time he had seen these brother. Oh, he could never forget that! I think he wants to remind them of it, and to trouble their consciences about it, and find out if they were sorry. With this in view, see how he treats them. Remember scene at Dothan. How the boy came to them helpless; they hated him, because they said he was a spy, and had brought to their father their evil report. How he pleaded and agonized (see v. 21). No use. "We'll soon stop his dreaming and his spying on us!" And down into the horrible black pit they forced him, and left him there in his terror to die, with the dark, and the damp, and the horrid, slimy, crawling things creeping on him. Now, he will bring it back to their memory. See his treatment of them (w. 7-17). peaks roughly, call them spies, refuses to believe them, throws them into a dungeon, as if acting out the old scene again. [Illustration:- Story of Hamlet; secret murder; guilty pair not thinking of it. Hamlet gets players to act it out in dumb show on stage, till the conscience of guilty king nearly maddens him with remorse.]
Now, don't you think Joseph might stop? He had tried them. They were now frightened, and disturbed in conscience, and sorry for that old wickedness. Some people think he should have been satisfied here. What do you think? If you saw a wicked boy thinking of his sins when he was frightened at the darkness, or a selfish woman moved almost to tears by an earnest address, would you feel quite sure the life was changed to God? I should not. And Joseph would not either. He knew too much of people to believe in mere feelings and frights. He would think: "My brothers may be changed. Probably they are changed. I know they are sorry, and their conscience is accusing them." But is being sorry the whole of repentance? No; must have a changed heart, a resolution to act differently in future. Joseph must feel satisfied that they never could do to Benjamin what they had done to him. For, you see, he noticed that Benjamin was not with them, and he would wonder why he was not; whether it was their jealousy and spite, or whether the old father, who knew them best, would be afraid to trust the boy with them.
So, in spite of his soft heart, though he was kinder, and let most of them go home, he had much testing to do still. What next? (v. 24). Why? Simeon was a very bad fellow (ch. xxxiv. 25, 30; ch xlix. 5.). I suspect he had been the ringleader in the attack on Joseph. If so, you see how it would still more frighten them; they would feel that God was punishing and bringing their sin to remembrance in a marvellous way. Don't you think Joseph's plan was working well?
So he sent them home frightened and perplexed, and very much disturbed in conscience. And he told them that Simeon must remain as a hostage to ensure their coming back with the young brother. But he did one very kind thing secretly to them (v. 25.). So ends their first visit to Egypt. And before they come back there again, I have some questions to ask you.
§3. God's Discipline.
Who had prompted Joseph thus to stir up his brothers' conscience? But does God care to do this for bad men? Thank God for it--yes. His care, and training, and discipline are not only for His own servants. He will not let any of us rest in our sins. Those who go against Him are not happy. He will not let them be--why? So all the past twenty years He had been watching these men--they had the keen pain of an accusing conscience. They did not like to talk of it even to each other. But they would sometimes wake in the night and think of Joseph, and try to forget the memory of his face; and of the poor father's misery. Ah! conscience gives men a bad time if they will not give in. God put it there for that purpose. He never could get back sinners otherwise.
Do you think when the brothers got home, their consciences were easier? I don't think so. Tell me of their talk with their father. How often they must have wondered whether the silent old man had any suspicion of their cruelty to Joseph. He had kept his own counsel. But now, in his passion of grief, he lets it all out. He had suspected them all the time. How do you know (v. 36)? Surely, it must have touched them, too, to see his anxiety. And still more, when forced to let Benjamin go, to hear his earnest prayer as he bade him good-bye. Say it (xliii. 14). And every touching of their hearts was part of God's discipline for them.
§4. The Dinner in Joseph's Palace.
Now they are back in Memphis, with the old dread and wonder upon them. But greater dread was to come. For scarce were they finished their purchases when Joseph's steward nearly frightens them out of their wits. With what? Fancy an invitation to dinner! And in the governor's palace! They have already a fear of this masterful governor, with his mysterious power of calling up to them their sin. "What can this mean?" "What is he going to do to us?"
Now, can you make another picture in your minds? Joseph's dining-hall. Splendour and luxury, bright colours, strange, rude music, &c. The Egyptian guests (v. 32) are arriving. After them, the ten brothers, timid and embarrassed. The governor is there with his young wife, the Princess Asenath. She is watching with interest the ten country brothers, especially the handsome younger one, so like her husband. Then they bring the presents, and receive Joseph's courtly greeting: "Are you well? Is your father well, the old man? &c. Is this your younger brother, of whom you told me?" Don't you think he was acting the stranger well? Do you think it was easy? What blessing did he pronounce on Benjamin? Ah, that blessing nearly finished him. As he looked into the face of his only brother, the only other child of the beautiful young mother who had died that far-back day near Bethlehem, he felt something rise in his throat again, and he had to rush out of the hall. And when Asenath went to find him, what did she see? Yes, the great ruler of Egypt sobbing like a big child, and could not restrain himself. Ah! his heart was too soft for a stern tester of men. Do you think he could be cruel and spiteful to his brothers? Don't you see all the sternness must have been for their good?
What happened next? Washes off traces of tears, and comes back calm and dignified again. Allots places to the guests. And again the terror of the supernatural is on the brothers as this terrible Egyptian points them to their places. Why? (v. 33.) He puts Reuben in first seat, then Simeon, then Levi, &c., all exactly according to their birth. I wonder if Asenath smiled at their terror. And then he tries another clever test to see if they are jealous of Benjamin? (v. 34.) But I think he soon put them at their ease 34). Such kindly hearts as Joseph have always the knack of doing that.
§5. The Severest Test of All.
But the most searching test of all had yet to come. After the dinner they started homewards, proud, surely, and flattered at the honor done to them. Benjamin is safe. Simeon is set free. How good this lord of Egypt had been! How delighted the old father would be!
All very pleasant--but in the midst of all they hear the clatter of hoofs, and in a few moments they are surrounded by Joseph's bodyguard, and the old steward is bending sternly from his chariot to hurl his angry charge in their teeth. What? Fancy! to be thieves. It was a horrible charge. They, the sons of the honorable old Jacob in Canaan, must feel the shame of it deeply. At first they don't believe it. What do they propose? Can't you picture their faces as sack after sack is emptied--seven, eight, nine, ten; surely it is a mistake! Ah, but just as the last sack is emptied, there is a groan of horror. They hear the clink of metal, and see the bright goblet as it rolls upon the sand!
So this petted Benjamin is a thief after all! He who is more valued in our father's eyes than the whole of us put together. He is a thief, and we are disgraced and ruined! This terrible Egyptian will make an end of us now.
Show me how this tested their attitude? Don't you see it? Why, if Joseph had given them a chance like that twenty years ago, don't you think their knives would have settled the question soon? Or, at any rate, they would have willingly left him to his fate. But marvelous is the change that is passing over their lives. They did not know it themselves. They did not know how they had got to love "the lad" till this great crisis forced them out of themselves. They will stick to him at any cost. Guilty or not guilty, he is their brother, and it would kill the dear old father if anything should happen to him. Besides, I think they feel that God is dealing with them. They feel it is all a just retribution; and, humbled and bowed down beneath His hand, "they rent their clothes, and laded every man his ass and returned to the city."
How does Joseph receive them? (xliv. 15.) Do they resent it? No; they have no heart to resent it. They feel that One higher than Joseph has controversy with them. Utterly humbled, they can only say, "God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants." What do they propose? (v. 16.) Does Joseph accept this? Do you see how his suggestion tests them still more? Unless they really loved the lad, they would accept that way out of their trouble, and neither Jacob nor anybody else could blame them much. What happens? (Teacher, read for class this exquisite speech of Judah--read it with care and feeling; it is one of the purest bits of true natural eloquence in the whole of literature.)
No wonder Joseph could not refrain himself; the sternness, which had been only assumed, vanished--
"I Am Joseph, Your Brother;" and he fell upon Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck; and he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them.
§6. How the Divine Brother Deals with His Brethren.
What is the lesson of this story for us all? [Let the pupils guess, and then show the teaching as indicated here.] It is often said that Joseph is a type of our Lord. Perhaps he is; but with children I don't care to talk too much of men as "types." I want them to feel that Joseph is a real man, working out his real, actual life just as we do; not a figure set up to exhibit certain analogies., We know that he was guided by God so to deal with his brethren as to produce in them what? Conviction of sin. It is, therefore, a picture of God's dealing with men--a picture of the great Divine Brother dealing with His brethren, if by any means He may produce in them conviction of sin. He cannot get them back otherwise. Why do people listen so carelessly to teaching of Christ's love, and atonement, and pardon for sin? Because they are not convicted of sin. If you could see how often you have disappointed Him, and how lovingly He bears with you, you would be touched. So He has to deal with people as Joseph with his brothers; but alas, not always so successfully. He wants to make them sorry, and bring them back to Himself. So sometimes He lets them have a famine in their lives, i.e. they feel a want; they feel restless and worried, and dissatisfied, and in need of something; they hardly know what. Or sometimes sorrow and the loss of friends. Sometimes He has to take little child away from mother; or sometimes He sends trouble, and pain, and disgrace; something that reminds them and pains them about their sins. Are these pleasant? No, and often people get vexed with the Lord, and say, "Much He cares, indeed, if He lets such things happen." Does He care all the time? But still He lets the sore discipline go on, and ceases not at all for our crying and pain. And we are like Joseph's brothers. They thought Joseph hard. They could not see his anxiety, and yearning, and tears. When did they find out what Joseph really was? And so with us all. When people find out their sin and their neglect of Christ, and feel--" We are verily guilty concerning our Brother. We have sinned against Him, and neglected and disappointed Him. And now we are coming back to ask for His forgiveness "--then we find that He had been caring all the time; that He had been letting us have the pain and weariness only for our own good, that they might bring us to Himself.
Questions for Lessons XX and XXI
How did it happen that Joseph met his brothers again?
What was Joseph's Egyptian name and who was his wife?
Why do you think he did not at once reveal himself to his brothers?
How did he treat them?
Was not this cruel of him?
What was the result?
How did he surprise them at the dinner?
The ten brothers were now eleven?
What was his final test as to their feeling towards Benjamin?
This dealing with his brothers reminds us of our Lord--how?
JOSEPH AND HIS FATHER
Gen. XLV., XLVI. to v. 8, and v. 26 to end.
§1. Joseph Declares Himself.
Recapitulate last Lesson. Where did we stop? With telling that, after the passionate appeal of Judah, Joseph could no longer restrain himself. And so to-day we, as it were, raise the curtain on the same scene. The Egyptians have been asked to retire. The brothers are standing before him, frightened and excited. They have already noticed that queer breaking in his voice. It has greatly surprised them. But there is a greater surprise in store. For scarce has the heavy curtain fallen behind the departing Egyptians, when, to their utter bewilderment, this great governor of Egypt stretches forth his hand to them. What does he say? "I am Joseph!"
Were they delighted? (v. 3.) Can't you imagine them starting back like frightened animals? "What does this terrible, mysterious Egyptian mean? He knew even our poor brother's name! "And then he repeats it again with an addition--what? (v. 4.) Surely nobody but Joseph could know of that! They stare stupidly at him, utterly dumbfounded. And as they stare, slowly the face of the great Zapenath Paneah seems to change into the likeness of their lost brother. Surely, it must be Joseph after all! Do you think they are delighted now? Why not? Afraid of what? Yes, I should think they had, as the French say, a very "bad quarter of an hour." Should not you have, if in their place? And I think the most beautiful touch of the whole story is the exquisite delicacy with which he feels their position, and tries to comfort them. Tell me of it (v. 5). What a keen sympathy he had! What an unselfish, loving heart, that hated to see them troubled!" Don't fret--it was not you that sent me. It was God." Was that true? Then, were they not to blame for their wickedness? [Let the class try to puzzle out this difficulty for themselves. Try to interest them in it, and make it real for them; but don't explain it if they fail. The explanation comes better later on. Tell them they must leave this puzzle for a little while, and talk of Joseph's faith.]
§2. Joseph's Practical Faith.
All through Joseph's story what did we find to have been the strength of his life? The simple, honest belief that God was always near, and that God had a high plan and purpose for his life. Was he right? We can see it now better than he could at the time, for we see the end of the story. You remember how 200 years before, God had told Abraham that Israel should go down into Egypt, and remain there for 400 years (Acts vii. 6). And we have watched the curious way in which God's will was carried out. Joseph sold--taken to Egypt--put in prison wrongfully--interpreting dreams--made ruler of Egypt. Then we see how the famine forced the brothers to go down; and how all the after events carried out God's plan. But did all these people--the brothers, and Potiphar, and Pharaoh, and the rest--intentionally carry out God's plan? Did they even know of it? Ah! that is the wonderful thing. That people without their own knowledge, and even against their will, carry out God's plans. All that men could see at the time was the jealousy of brothers, and the foolish favouritism of a father, and the sins and lies and self- seeking of people in Egypt, and one true, faithful life being lived for God. But you, who have the whole history before you, see God overruling it all for His purpose, and carrying out His design. You see His design getting steadily accomplished, that the children of Israel should sojourn in Egypt. So today God has great purposes for the world. Are all the people trying to carry them out? No. But even those who are thwarting are overruled by Him. So He lets the free wills of men have free play, and yet gets His great purposes accomplished. But, though He turns men's evil designs to work out good, yet He punishes them for the evil designs. Don't you see that that is quite the just and fair thing to do? And that is the answer to the puzzle we had just now. God looks at men's motives. If they intend to do a wicked thing, they are punished for it. And then God, the great, wise ruler, overrules that wicked thing, that it shall not spoil His plans, or even that it shall help them.
Something of this about God's dealings Joseph learned by the experience of his life. Does everyone learn it? Who do? Those who are trying to do God's will, and live for Him. That is a great help to understanding God. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." Those who live truly see truly. The pure in heart see God. Joseph saw bad people seeming to triumph, and himself, though trying to serve God, getting into trouble. Yet he learned by slow degrees that God was ordering his life, and that therefore things would somehow come right in the end.
§3. What Joseph Learned About God's Help.
But he learned something else very beautiful about God's plan? (xlv. 7.) Can't you guess? That, where God helps and blesses a man, He intends always through him to help and bless other men. When God called and blessed Abraham, it was that Abraham should be a blessing to many. When He selected the family of Israel for blessing, it was that through them "all the families of the earth should be blessed." And so here with Joseph. Now, can you find that in verse 7? Some people think that God's love and care for them means that it is entirely for their own sake, in order that they themselves should be happy and holy. They thank God for His care, and kindness, and love, and all His help to their own souls and bodies; but all the time they are doing very little to bless other people's souls and bodies. They completely misunderstand God. And so their little souls shrivel up in them through their selfishness.
Not so Joseph. He knew that God cared and planned for careless people, too. He could have understood our Lord's teaching about the hundred sheep--what teaching? (Luke xv.) He knew that his brothers were not good; but he knew, too, that he would be just as bad if he were selfishly satisfied to get good things from God which should be for himself alone. He could not be satisfied with such a thought. No man whose life is growing like to his Lord's can ever be content to look on the sin and misery of his brethren around, and comfort himself with the thought that God is caring and planning for him, and not for them. I read once a beautiful Scotch story of a dear old Christian woman teaching her grandchild of God's love to him, in this imperfect way. "But, grannie," said he, "what about the little ignorant boys in the back lanes, that get hungry and cold, and sometimes fight and curse, and say bad words?" "My child, God only loves His own dear children. He cannot care for those who are not serving Him." The little boy looked at her, puzzled for a moment; then, with that strange, Christ-like instinct that is often in children, he horrified the dear old grannie by retorting: "If He don't care for them, grannie, I don't want Him to care for me!"
Ah, you see, Joseph had learnt God's love better than that dear old grannie. He knew God had a Divine plan for all, and that when they broke loose from it, He would make them miserable, in order to bring them back. Just what he himself had been doing with his brothers; and so he knew that when God helps and blesses His faithful children, it is that they may help and watch over the others.
§4. The Message to His Father.
Next comes the beautiful message to his father. Read me vv. 9-13. Was not it a loving message? Was not it beautifully natural, too, that he should be so anxious to have his father proud of him? (v. 13.) "Tell him of all my glory." If you went away, and became a great man, would you not delight that father and mother should see you, and be proud of their boy? One thing always puzzles me--I wonder if it puzzles you--that Joseph never sought out his father all these years. But I feel pretty sure there was some reason which we don't know. First, he was a slave; then, a prisoner; perhaps something else hindered afterwards. From the moment he sees his brothers his heart goes out towards his father. Little they thought how eagerly he was asking, "Is your father well?" Little Judah thought how he was wringing his heart as he pictured the old father grieving at home, and told that he would die if evil came to Benjamin. And now see his eagerness--"Haste and bring down my father."
Do you think there was no disadvantage to him in bringing down his father and brothers? Read ch. xlvi., end of v. 34. Shepherds an abomination. We are told, too, by ancient writers how intensely proud the Egyptians were, and how sharp was their caste prejudice, and that shepherds and cattlemen were the most utterly despised and degraded--like scavengers or crossing sweepers with us. Now, remember that Joseph was a great nobleman, and that the proud, jealous nobility of Egypt who were under him would think much less of him if his family of shepherds came to live with him. Do you think a meaner type of man would have been so quick to bring them? But Joseph was above all such littleness. I daresay he thought of it, but he would not let it influence him.
§5. Three Pictures.
Now shut your eyes and make these pictures in your mind. Old Jacob sitting in his big, black tent, with all the women and children around him, all listening to the wonderful story which the sons from Egypt were telling. Why, it was like a fairy tale--all about kings, and nobles, and palaces, and beautiful cities; all about Joseph's splendid home, and the young Egyptian princess, his wife, and all the glory and power he had in Egypt. The old man is completely overcome. He falls back fainting at the shock. When he recovers, he flatly refuses to believe a word of it. Then they lift him up, and get him his staff, and help him out into the sunshine, and show him the waggons, and chariots, and drivers, and the guard of honour--the costly presents from the mighty noble who was once his little boy in that very tent. And at last the spirit of the old man revived. "It is enough, it is enough. Joseph, my son, is yet alive. I will go and see him before I die!"
A great plain in Goshen, near where the famous battle of Tel-el-Kebir was fought by the English about forty years ago. The black tents of the Hebrew shepherds are pitched. Their flocks and herds are feeding on the plain; but no one is minding them. The splendid cavalcade of the Egyptian governor is approaching, and there is great excitement in Jacob's company. The children are watching the beautiful uniforms. The women are wondering what Asenath will be like. But the poor old father's heart is filled with one great craving--"My boy is coming, my boy is coming. Let me see Joseph and die!" And now he knows that the first of the chariots has stopped; he hears his son's voice, that he has never forgotten; he feels the strong arms round his tottering frame. And as he looks with glad, proud, satisfied eyes at his little Joseph, now grown to be the great lord of Egypt, can't you imagine you hear that sigh of deep satisfaction--"Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive!"
They are sitting together in the tent. The old father, now grown very weak and grey, and the strong, stately governor of Egypt, with his jewelled collar and his splendid robes, sitting at his father's feet, as when he was a boy long ago. How very happy they are! How much they have to talk about! All that has happened in Canaan these twenty years--all the marvellous story of Joseph's adventures in Egypt; how he was sold in the slave market; how he was put into prison; how he got placed at the head of the whole land of Egypt. All about God's goodness to him; his happy home, and his young wife, and his two boys, and all his power. I think it was the gladdest day that ever came to Jacob and Joseph.
This is God's beautiful inspired picture to tell you what He loves to see between parents and children. Through their love for you God has given you a great power over the poor fathers and mothers. You have great power to hurt them or to gladden them. No one else on earth has that same power over them. He has, as it were, placed your hands upon their heart-strings, that by the slightest twist you can torture them as you will. Aye, and with the slightest touch you can gladden them, too. I have seen fathers and mothers growing pale and sorrowful, heart-broken with sorrow that their children had given. And I have seen fathers and mothers proud and glad, like Jacob, because their children were a pride and a gladness to them. And I know that God, who has given that power to the children, is watching very carefully to see how they use it.
Questions for Lesson XXII
Tell of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers.
Did they enjoy it?
How did he try to set them at ease?
State pretty fully his message to his father?
There would be some unpleasantness in bringing down his family?
Can you make in words the three little pictures of Joseph meeting his father?
AT JACOB'S DEATH-BED
Gen. XLVIII. v. 15 to end, and XLIX. to v. 27.
Remember last Lesson. Waggons going down to Canaan for Jacob ; the eager delight of the old man at the thought of meeting Joseph -- that beautiful, touching scene, when the great ruler of Egypt in his state robes sat in the old black tent beside his father, as in the old days of his childhood, and told him all the story of his life. (Teacher must take trouble to prepare this recapitulation so as to touch the feelings of the children ; otherwise he loses much of the interest of the present Lesson.)
§1. Beside a Father's Death-bed.
Now we go on with the story. Seventeen years (ch. xlvii. 28) have elapsed since the meeting in the old black tent. Joseph is in the prime of his life, rejoicing in his splendid work for Egypt. His two boys are grown up; done school; probably at college in their mother's city of On, the Oxford or Harvard of ancient Egypt, where it is said Moses was educated long afterwards--"in all the wisdom of the Egyptians." But, as they are growing stronger, do you think the old grandfather in Goshen is growing stronger too? So, one day, there comes to Joseph the hurried message. What? (xlviii. 1.) What does he do? Who go with him? Do you think Jacob was glad? (v. 2.) Why, he nearly got well with the pleasure of it! And then Joseph sits down beside him in the dark tent, and the old man talks to him, as old men love to talk, about the old, far-back days. Yes; about his long life, and the goodness of God, and the promises to his race; and one other memory of a deep pain which neither of them could ever forget. What? (v. 7.) Ah! poor old man, nobody but Joseph could ever fully enter into that trouble with him. Don't you think it was nice to talk it all over with Joseph? Don't you think it was nice for Joseph, too? Ah! it is good to have these close relations between father and son remaining unbroken as the years go by. God's blessing always goes with them. Sometimes sons and daughters miss this. As they grow up, and new interests come, the old interests die out, and they forget about the dear old father and mother whose hearts are bound up in them. What does God say of it in Fifth Commandment? Be quite sure of this, that no blessing from God can come to any of us who forget or neglect the old father or mother.
§2. Ephraim and Manasseh.
There is one part of the conversation which we have passed over. It is a plan which Jacob had to propose about Joseph's two sons. What? (vv. 5, 6.) Yes, they were to take their place as members of the family of Israel. Do you think most fathers in Joseph's position would have cared for this? Remember Jacob and his sons in Egypt were despised shepherds, people looked down on as " abominations to the Egyptians." Remember that Joseph was higher than the greatest nobles of the land; that his sons would be like young nobles in position; that the best posts in Egypt would probably be open to them if they cared to give up their connection with Israel. When a man has won such a grand position as Joseph had, it would be quite natural that he should wish to hand it on to his children. Did Joseph consent to his father's proposal? Yes. He knew that God was especially with Israel, and had a great purpose in the future of blessing it, and blessing the world through means of it, and it seemed to him that God's blessing and a share in God's purpose were of more value than all the wealth and honour that Egypt could give. Don't you think that the young nobles of Egypt would think Ephraim and Manasseh very silly? Do you think so? It is good to have wealth and high position if it be with God's blessing. But it is better to remain poor and unnoticed all our days rather than miss the best thing that God has to give, ie., His blessing on our lives and a share in His great purpose of helping the world.
But in the midst of all the talking and planning, Jacob and Joseph seem to have almost forgotten the presence of the two boys. I should think they would be getting rather impatient by this time. I expect they made some noise which drew Jacob's attention. Why did he not see them before? (v. 10.) Was he pleased? Did he think of God in his pleasure? (v. 11.) Men who know God best, feel that all their good things come from Him. He told Joseph to bring them to Him. What for? What surprised Joseph in the blessing? I think it is beautiful to have religion so real in a home that the old grandfather's first thought on meeting his grandsons is to bless them in God's name. I don't think the boys would ever forget that day when they knelt beside their grandfather's death-bed, and heard that wonderful prayer. Say it for me (vv. 15, 16). It is only in religious homes such things can occur.
§3. Blessing the Twelve Tribes.
After blessing Joseph and his boys, the old man was growing steadily weaker. He felt death drawing very near. So he directs that all his sons should be sent for, that they might hear his last words. Very solemn thing at any time is a gathering of sons around a father's death bed. But this was a much more important matter than an ordinary gathering at a death-bed. It was, in a sense, the formal founding of the Israelite nation, and sending it forth for God's great purpose. What purpose? That they should keep alive the knowledge of God in the world, and that, finally, through them the Messiah should come, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed. So, I think, God gave Jacob the spirit of prophecy to tell in outline the future of his race, and to give some hints even of Messiah, the King who should reign in peace.
When a wise, religious old man like Jacob is near death, he can see things with more clearness than others, and have clearer ideas of what is likely to come. He knew well the characters of these sons. After fifty years watching them, he ought to know them, and be able to guess what they would probably do. But this would not account for the fact that his prophecies about their tribes through many centuries came in a great measure true, or for the fact that after deposing Reuben from the chief place he should be guided to put Judah in it instead ; not Joseph, his favourite, whom we should have expected. And especially would it not account for that strange, far-off thought in his mind of some great Being whom he calls SHILOH--or Prince of Peace--who should come out of Judah, and to whom " should the gathering [or obedience] of the people be."
I think there was much common sense in the old man's judgment of character, and marvellous faith in his actually allotting and dividing a land of which he did not yet own a single foot, except a grave ; but there is more than common sense, and more than faith. The wisest students of Scripture have agreed in believing that it was under the guidance of God's Spirit that he was able to see, not clearly perhaps, but in some dim, indistinct manner, a vision of the accomplishing of God's purpose for Israel. The whole speech is in the Hebrew a long poem. Perhaps it was afterwards made into poetry, to be more easily remembered ; or perhaps the exalted spiritual excitement of the dying man uttered it in such form. We do not know. Now tell me his opinion of first three sons. Good or bad? Does the badness affect their future, and that of their descendants? Reuben is deposed from the priv ilege of the firstborn, and of Simeon and Levi we read--what? (end of v. 7.) And all this came true. Reuben never did excel--no judge, or ruler, or prophet came from his tribe. In Num. ii. 9, 10, we see Judah take first place, and Reuben go in second rank. And so high did Judah rise in after days, that the whole nation became known by his name. We see Simeon weakest of all the tribes (Num. xxvi. 14). In Moses's blessing, Simeon is omitted entirely. In distribution of the land, it was merely scattered among the tribe of Judah, having only certain parts assigned within the inheritance of Judah (Josh. xix. 1-9). And the Levites had no inheritance, but were scattered in separate cities all over the tribes. But these Levites must have grown to be better men than their ancestors. Why? You know they were chosen to be the clergy of Israel.
All this has a lesson for us. What? That men make their own future. That the future of each is influenced by his past. Reuben, and Simeon, and Levi probably did not think that their wrong-doing would affect themselves and their descendants for centuries to come. But it did. So people sometimes think about heaven; that after a careless, wasted life here, they can somehow fly off, like the swallows, to an eternal summer after their death. Can they? No. The future is always made by the past. But there is a lesson of hope in Levi's history. What? That no man's future need necessarily be a curse, even if he have spoiled the past. True sorrow and change of purpose will be received by God, and good and bless ing will come in the future to a wrong-doer who repents, though not all that might have been if he had not done wrong.
Who is the next son? Yes; and his blessing is the most important of all. Joseph's blessing we have already discussed, and the other tribes are not so important to learn. So, we give remainder of time to Judah's blessing. How does Judah come out in the history of Joseph? Twice we read of him, and both times good. What? But that is not what makes his blessing so important. What does? (v. 10.) Who, do you think, is meant by Shiloh? Our Lord? Yes. All our best commentators give that explanation. The Jewish Targums or paraphrases of Genesis add the name " Messiah " here. All the more ancient Jews hold it to be a prophecy of Messiah. The word "Shiloh" would mean "peaceable," or " peace-giver," or " peace;" and evidently Jacob looks forward to the coming of Shiloh as something very great and desirable. But some have doubted as to whether Jacob really meant Christ, or had any clear thought or knowledge of Him. Probably he had only very dim views, and only saw that some great Peace-giver should come in the far future for the accomplishment of God's purpose. But perhaps, on the other hand, God revealed to him more than we think. You know our Lord said that Abraham rejoiced to see His day (St. John viii. 5, 6). I don't know how much that means. Perhaps Jacob saw His day, too, as death came near. I have read a curious suggestion as to where Jacob learned this beautiful name. The commentator reminds us that at Peniel Jacob asked the mysterious angel His name. The angel replied: "Wherefore dost thou ask after my name?" And He blessed him there. "I have sometimes thought," adds this writer, "that as He blessed him, He whispered in his ear this lovely title, and that it lingered in the old man's mind through all these years."
All we can definitely say about the matter is, that most of our best commentators look on this as a prophecy of our Lord, to whom "shall the gathering [or the obedience] of the people be." It does not really matter if we cannot be quite sure as to how much Jacob meant. We have prophecies enough of which there is no doubt. For, from this time forward all through the Psalms and Prophets we see the growing hope of some great coming One. We shall learn about these later on when we come to the Life of our Lord.
Questions for Lesson XXIII
Tell of Jacob's death.
Tell his plan and his blessing for his two grandsons.
Tell his prophecy of "Shiloh." What did it mean?
Repeat his blessing on Joseph.
Meaning of "a fruitful bough by a well"?
Why had the Levites no inheritance?
The Death of Joseph
Gen. XLIX. 27 to end, and Ch.L.
Remember last Lesson. Remind briefly of Jacob's death-bed, and the blessing of his sons. After this he must have been utterly exhausted. But he had one direction to give before he died. What? Why would he not be content to be buried in Egypt? Was it merely to be laid in the grave with his kindred? What else? (ch. xlviii. 21.) He knew that someday God would lead the Israelites back to the Promised Land, and he did not want his bones to lie in a strange land.
And now comes the close of old Jacob's story. How is his death described? (ch. xlix. 33.) Now, at the close of his life, do you think God's warning and discipline had done him good? Do you think he was a better man than on that day when he cheated Esau out of his birthright? Poor old man, God had led him through a hard path--but it was a very blessed path, since it made him a noble and holy man. So we bid goodbye to Jacob. How do you think they all felt at his death? All very sorry, I daresay. But one above all was? How did poor Joseph take it? (ch. 1. 1.) Many a man has cried like that since. But Joseph had not the bitter self-reproach that comes to many a man when he stands by his dead father. That day will come to most of us. Remember that on that day there will be untold pain at the remembrance of every neglect; then will be the purest, truest pleasure in the memory of every word of his approval and gratitude. It will be like the ringing of joy-bells in your heart for ever, if he should say to you then, "My son, I thank God for the comfort you have been to me all the days of my life."
Then they had a magnificent funeral in Canaan. Tell me something about this grand funeral? Why all the honour done to Jacob by the Egyptians?
Then Joseph came home after the funeral to his wife and his boys, and scarce was he well settled at home when a very disappointing surprise came to him. Tell me about it? (w. 15-18.) Why should it be a disappointment? Poor Joseph! with all his love, and his suppressed feelings, and his longing to forgive. He thought they believed in him. And now to find that all the time they had been mistrusting him, and thinking it was only their father's presence that saved them. Un generous souls never can understand a free, generous forgiveness. It was enough to disgust him, and utterly embitter him. Did it? What did he say? (vv. 19-21.) Nothing could embitter a man who lived so close to God. I reminded you lately of his father's opinion of him. What? (ch. xlix. 22, 23). "A fruitful bough by a well," i.e., with his roots running down into the cool, fresh springs; therefore did his branches run over the wall. " The archers sorely grieved him, and shot at him." Aye did they! Ill-treated him, and wronged him, and told lies of him. Did that embitter him, and sour his life? Why not? (xlix. 24.) Ah, that is it. Men living for God, like Joseph, never let these things harm them, or make them bitter.
Have any of you ever felt vexed at being misunderstood, or having lies told about you? Did it make you feel cross and bitter? That is the worst harm these things can do. Make you bitter, shut up your hearts, sour your affections. If you don't let them do that, you rob them of their power. Men like Joseph never let them do that. They simply turn back to God, and tell Him of the vexation. They say, "Lord, you don't misunderstand me; you don't believe the false charge against me--and that is what I care most for." This helps them to make allowance for the person who has thus hurt them, and who perhaps really had some excuse for his action--perhaps had been told lies by another about them, and believed them. So they say, "Lord, perhaps this man did not mean to hurt me, or perhaps he thought I was wrong. In any case I can't afford to get soured and spoiled, for then I should be less lovable, and less able to serve Thee."
§2. A Good Old Age.
Little more is told of the story of Joseph. He grew to a good old age. How old? Until the grandsons of his two boys were climbing on his knees (v. 23). I think that means that he was fond of them. Some old people delight to have children about them. I am sure Joseph was a dear, lovable old man. I think of him with the little boys on his knee, telling them stories of his boyhood in Haran; of his being sold as a slave; or the old story, that his own father used to tell him in his childhood, of the beautiful angels that appeared to him on the giant stairs at Bethel. I do like to see old people fond of children. I am sure Joseph's sons and grandsons liked to be near him. It should always be so with old people. It will always be so if they are living sweet unselfish lives for God, and if the boys and girls are doing the same. Sometimes children are a perfect nuisance, when they are spoiled, and selfish, and disagreeable. It is very sad for old people to have to live in such a home. It is the sweet, unselfish Christ- like lives that make the homes and the old people happy always.
And so at last Joseph died. How much of Exodus is taken up with his death? One line. How much with his life? Count the chapters. Fourteen chapters about his life, and only one line about his death. Why? Because a man's death is not the important thing, but his life. Some people now think far more of what sort of death-bed a man has, and whether he had much feeling of hope and love towards God, when he was dying, more than they think of the whole tenor of his life before. It is very pleasant when dying people have such feelings ; but it is not the test of their state. Some careless people can talk piously on death-beds, and some of the most faithful lives have passed away in heavy stupor or distress of mind. You remember the great trouble of our Lord's mind near the very end. Therefore, in most cases pious death-bed sayings are only of value if they are in keeping with the life. And servants of Christ, who die unconscious or troubled, are just as safe in His ever lasting arms as if they had had the most joyful death beds. It is the purpose of the life that matters. The death does not matter much; therefore the Bible does not deal much with death-beds.
§3. "By Faith, Joseph --------"
One death-bed saying of Joseph has come down to us. What? (vv. 24, 25.) Strong and deep as ever on his death-bed was, you see, that faith in the living God which had kept him all his life. Sometimes I fancy he needed it then more than people generally think. Perhaps the shadow of the coming hard times was on him and his people already. It was now how many years since he first stood before Pharaoh? (ch. xli. 46 and 1. 26.) In eighty years many things happen. Pharaoh probably dead. Perhaps Joseph's great services forgotten. Nations are often ungrateful enough to their benefactors. I don't know. But it seems to me that the ending of the story is sad. I notice that the old man talks of the hope that " God will visit you," as if there was already some shadow of coining trouble. And I notice that he is not buried in Canaan at once, like his father, and that there is no word of a splendid funeral like Jacob's. Perhaps the time of Joseph's glory was over. I don't know. But, if it were so, I know it would not matter too much to him. He had lived very close to God, in a region where earthly honours do not make too deep an impression; and in his death he shows where his heart has been all the time of his grandeur. What did he make them promise?" When God visits you, and fulfils His ancient promise, swear unto me that ye will carry up my bones." And the whole clan swore unto him that they would.
Then we are told he died, and they embalmed him, and put him in a coffin, or a mummy case, in Egypt. Ever see a mummy case in museum? We can see the mummy now of the Pharaoh who oppressed Israel, and we can buy his photograph for a few pence. I wonder if we shall ever find Joseph's? Perhaps some of the Egyptian mummies that we have touched in museums were of people whom Joseph knew. Would it not be interesting to see Joseph, and touch him? A very wonderful influence had that dead body of Joseph in his mummy case. For hundreds of years it lay in some secret cave in Egypt. Many kings arose, and died, and were buried, and still the Israelites remained in Egypt, and still the oath of Joseph lay on them, and still the secret of the mummy's cave was handed down through all the centuries of slavery, till nearly 500 years afterwards, when the Israelites were set free. On that awful night, with the Egyptians wailing over the dead first-born, and the Israelites hurried and excited at their departure, they did not forget Joseph. They opened the cave, and Moses took the bones of Joseph, &c. (Ex. xiii. 19).
Curious to think of that dead Joseph in his mummy case, and the influence he exercised all that time? When they were comfortable, and inclined to settle down in Goshen, their promise to Joseph was always reminding them that God had a higher purpose for them somewhere in the future. And when they were under the lash of the slave-drivers on any day of special misery, I fancy some of them would creep off to the dead man in the cave, and take comfort from the contagion of his mighty faith. They would say : " Joseph believed that God would deliver us, and give us the land promised to our fathers. Surely, it will be so; let us trust God; let us bear up a little longer." And so you see Joseph's faith in God, which had been such a power in all his own life, remained after his death a power to help the nation for hundreds of years.
§4. How God Buries His Workers, but Carries On His Work.
Remember again God's promise to Abraham 300 years before, and His purpose of separating one nation for the good of all men, that through them religion should be preserved to the world. God said they should be in slavery for hundreds of years, and afterwards come back to accomplish the purpose of their calling.
Did Abraham see the promise fulfilled? Did Isaac? Did Jacob? What is said in Epistle to Hebrews? (xi. 13.) No; "All these died in faith, not having received the promises, but," &c. And now Joseph dies, with less apparent likelihood of fulfilment than ever. He was probably the only one of his race in Egypt that cared much about them; and the end of him was to die, and be embalmed as a mummy. That is the last word of Genesis, and for centuries afterwards careless people in Europe or Goshen might smile at the foolishness of his faith.
But 500 years later comes Exodus, and then Joshua, and the Kings and Prophets, and at last the coming of Christ, and the long history of the Church. Does it look as if God had failed in His promise? God buries His workers. He can do without Abraham, or Jacob, or Joseph. No death stops God's plan. We, too, have to do our little work, to live, like Joseph, a pure, strong, brave, unselfish life; to do our little part to pull the poor old world straight; and then, like Joseph, in faith and peace, leave ourselves and the great future of the world to Him.
Questions for Lesson XXIV
Disappointing questions that came to Joseph after his father's funeral?
How did he take it?
How many years between Joseph's first appearance before Pharaoh and Joseph's death?
Why do we think that he loved children?
How much space is given to story of his life and how much to the story of his death? Why?
What vow did he demand as he died?
Show from history that God's will got accomplished in spite of all obstacles.
Our next volume, MOSES AND THE EXODUS, will continue the story after Moses and the freed Hebrew slaves carried the dead Joseph in his mummy-case as they marched to the Promised Land.