God is with Us

Genesis 24-50

January 29, 2006 | Brian Bill

As we focused on the life of Abraham last week it struck me that he was able to get up and go because he knew that God was with him.  In spite of all his foibles and failures, it was God’s faithfulness that held him fast.  Having served as a missionary, I understand a little about what it means to leave family and friends and go someplace foreign.  This week I started thinking about the missionaries that we support and marveled at their ability to get up and go.  Most of them live with very little, they make do with what they have, and the cool thing is that they don’t seem to mind.

God is with Isaac (Genesis 24)

Abraham is now very old and has become concerned about who Isaac would marry.  He wanted him to find a wife who worshipped the true God and wasn’t involved in idolatry.  This principle is found throughout the Old Testament (Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 7:3) and Paul makes it clear that believers are not to be unequally yoked.  This is an important biblical truth: If you are a member of God’s covenant community you should only marry a committed Christian.

Abraham decides to send his servant Eliezer with a caravan of ten camels to the area of Haran in northwest Mesopotamia in order to find a wife for Isaac.  Abraham knew there was a better chance of finding a believer among his own relatives and made Eliezer swear to not bring back a Canaanite woman.  The first thing Eliezer does is pray in Genesis 24:12: “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, give me success today…”  He asks specifically that the woman would give him a drink and water his camels.  This shows the importance of being specific in our prayers.  Too often we’re so vague and general in our requests that we then don’t have any idea when they’re answered.  Notice also that he asks for a blessing for Abraham.  Instead of a selfish request for himself he asks for a blessing on another.  I love verse 15: “Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder…”  Sometimes the answers to our prayers come even before we say Amen!  Rebekah is a relative of Abraham, she’s a virgin and on top of that she’s beautiful.

When you see God at work make sure you worship Him

Amazingly, after giving the servant a drink, Rebekah draws enough water for his ten camels.  Do you know how much water a camel could drink?  Around 30 gallons!  That means she could have drawn 300 gallons of water.  This beautiful woman was obviously a body builder as well.  She was a hard worker and also had a caring and serving heart.  Eliezer is praying and he is watching to see what God is going to do.  In Matthew 26:41 Jesus tells us to “watch and pray.”  Many of us pray but too few of us watch and wait for God’s answer.  After giving her some expensive jewelry, she invites Eliezer and his caravan to spend the night at her father’s place.  Eliezer is amazed at this point.  He started with prayer, he experienced God’s provision, and now he ends with praise in verse 26: “Then the man bowed down and worshipped the Lord…”  That’s a good outline for us to follow as well.  Pray specifically and when God provides, praise Him.  When you see God at work make sure you worship Him.

We’re introduced to Rebekah’s brother Laban, who after seeing all the resources that Eliezer had, quickly ushered him to his father’s house.  He was a man who was greatly motivated by material possessions, as we will see later.  After explaining his purpose in coming, both Laban and his father say, “This is from the Lord” and let her go.  Rebekah agrees to be Isaac’s wife by saying just one word in the Hebrew that we translate as “I will go.”  After traveling for hundreds of miles, they come upon Isaac who was out in a field meditating.  The Bible says that they both looked up and saw each other “and he married Rebekah.  So she became his wife, and he loved her.” Notice that he loved her after they got married.  He was determined to be unconditionally committed to his bride in the covenant of marriage.

What a great love story!  But it’s more than that.  Now God’s promise to Abraham could be fulfilled through Isaac and Rebekah.  Incidentally, Isaac and Ishmael, who have been separated for years, finally come together to bury their father Abraham (Genesis 25:9).  This shows us that it’s never too late to be reconciled.  Before we leave Isaac let me just say that compared to his father and to his son Jacob, he was pretty ordinary and even a bit blah.  One pastor put it this way: “He was the ordinary son of a famous father, and the ordinary father of a famous son.”  His life shows how God uses ordinary people who obey Him.  God was with Isaac and now we’ll see that he was also with Jacob, who was anything but average.

God is with Jacob (Genesis 25-36)

After being married for about twenty years, in answer to prayer, God allows Rebekah to become pregnant with twins who started fighting in the womb and never stopped until they were older adults.  Rebekah prayed and asked God why there was so much trouble in her tummy and God told her that the “older will serve the younger.”  When the boys are born, the first one was red and his “whole body was like a hairy garment.”  His name was Esau, which means hairy.  When he came out, his twin had hold of his heel as if to trip him up and was therefore named Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel” or figuratively, “he deceives.”  The two boys could not have been more different.  Esau was an outdoorsman while Jacob liked to stay inside.  Unfortunately, each parent had a favorite son.  Isaac loved to hang out with Esau because he was a man’s man and Rebekah favored Jacob.  We see this in 25:28: “Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”   Fellow parents, be careful about playing favorites with your kids.  It never turns out well.

Jacob might have been quiet but he was a schemer and a deceiver.  Once when he was cooking some stew, Esau came home famished from a hunting trip and wanted something to eat.  Seeing an opportunity to come out ahead, Jacob made a bargain for the bean soup saying, “First sell me your birthright.”  A birthright was a big deal.  The oldest son was given special privileges, including a double portion of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17), a unique blessing from the father, and the advantage of leadership in the family.  This tells us a lot about both boys.  Genesis 25:34 says that “Esau despised his birthright.”  Hebrews 12:16 adds that by selling his birthright he was “godless,” not caring about his future or his role in the family.  He was willing to sacrifice everything for the pleasure of the moment.  Living for instant gratification will rob you of spiritual blessing.  Jacob on the other hand, is quick to take advantage of opportunities for his own benefit, resorting to whatever means necessary to come out ahead.

In chapter 27 we read that when Isaac was old and not able to see well, he sent Esau out to hunt some wild game.  His intention was to give Esau his blessing when he returned.  Rebekah heard this conversation and helped Jacob trick his dad into stealing the family blessing from Esau.  I’m going to let you read the rest of this dysfunctional family dynamic for yourself.  Suffice it to say that when Esau finds out what happened, he is enraged and says in verse 36: “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?  He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright and now he has taken my blessing!”  We read in verse 41 that “Esau held a grudge against Jacob…” and determined to kill him after their father passed away.  

When Rebekah found out she told Jacob to run for his life.  She sent him to her brother Laban in Haran to give Esau time to cool off.  She also hoped that Jacob would find a wife while he was gone so that he wouldn’t marry a Hittite woman.  Like the line from a popular movie, Rebekah was the “neck that turns the head” because Isaac ends up saying the same thing to Jacob, obviously prompted by his wife.  Jacob then receives this blessing: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples.”

With a five hundred mile journey ahead of him, and enraged Esau behind him, Jacob runs for his life.  But God wants him to know that he is actually running into the arms of Jehovah.  As he lies down to sleep after an exhausting day, Jacob has a dream in which he sees a stairway that goes from earth to heaven with angels of God ascending and descending.  This is none other than the kingdom of heaven intersecting with human life on earth.  God reaffirms his covenant in Genesis 28:13: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.”  And then God gives Him this incredible promise in verse 15: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.  I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  

Jacob then realizes something that we all need to learn: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.”  God is always present wherever we are and most of the time we are not aware of it.  Friend, if you are a born again believer, God is always with you.  Moses picked up on this theme in Deuteronomy 31:6: “…The LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”   Ask Him to help you see Him at work in your life.  Jacob then constructs an altar and names that place Bethel, which means “House of God” and in verse 22 pledges to give God a tenth of all his possessions.  

Jacob is probably feeling pretty good now but what he doesn’t know is that he’s about to be enrolled in the college of character building.  As he skips along his way, he meets Rachel, one of Laban’s daughters in chapter 29.  He’s so taken by her and wants to impress her that he rolls a massive stone away from the mouth of a well.  He must have had an adrenaline rush because these stones could weigh hundreds of pounds and were normally rolled away by a group of shepherds.  He then comes up to Rachel and kisses her, and then begins to weep outloud.  That’s quite a first impression!  Rachel wondered what hit her!  She probably had given up all hope of finding a strong yet sensitive man.  After sweeping her off her feet, Jacob meets her father Laban and is allowed to stay with him.  By the way, there is no mention of prayer or seeking the Lord at all in this chapter.

Little does Jacob know that he has met his match in Laban, who is really the king of con-artists.  After hanging out for a month, Laban tells Jake that he can’t be a freeloader any longer.  Because Jacob was in love with Rachel, he offers to work for Laban for seven years if he can marry her.  I love verse 20 because it shows how much he cared for Rachel: “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.” That’s pretty mushy, isn’t it?

In verse 21, Jacob has been counting down the days and says, “Give me my wife.  My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.”  That’s pretty crass and not the best way to talk to your future father-in-law!  After a big wedding reception, Laban took his other daughter Leah and in the cover of darkness gave her to Jacob, and Jacob slept with her.  Using economy of words to keep this story PG, verse 25 says: “When morning came, there was Leah!”  Jacob is irate and lays into Laban and ironically asks this question: “Why have you deceived me?”  This word is a form of Jacob’s name.  He’s really saying, “Why have you ‘Jacobed’ me?”  Jacob was known for deceiving others and now he is receiving what he has dished out.  Laban then gets in a dig by saying, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.”  This was a slam because as the youngest, Jacob had finagled his way to steal the benefits from his older brother.  Maybe it’s different where you come from but around here that’s not how it works.  Jacob had to work another seven years and now has two wives, who don’t get along at all.  Here’s the principle: God graciously uses circumstances, consequences, and difficult people, over time, to shape his people.

Twenty years after coming to live with Laban, Jacob and his wives and his children decide to leave.  God always takes whatever time he deems necessary to change our character.  His exit is not without incident but we don’t have time to delve into it.  His character is now beginning to soften as he learns about the pain of being on the receiving end of deception.  He’s probably feeling bad about what he did to his brother Esau and puts together a plan to be reconciled with him.  Jacob is told to return to Canaan and is reminded by God in Genesis 31:3: “I will be with you.”  Even though God is with him, Jacob is still afraid of Esau and so divides his possessions and people to serve as a buffer between him and his brother, hoping that Esau will receive the gifts and want to be reconciled.  Jacob prays in chapter 32, owning up to his unworthy behavior and asking for specific help.  

When he was alone, verse 24 tells us that a “man wrestled with him until daybreak.”  I used to wrestle in high school and any match that lasted more than six minutes felt like an eternity.  One pastor summarized this encounter very well: “God must break us out of our self-dependence so that He can bless us as we cling to Him in our brokenness.”  Here Jacob is wrestling with God himself and doesn’t stop until the morning.  Most commentators believe that this is actually the preincarnate Christ.  Suddenly in the darkness a hand reaches out and takes Jacob down.  Instinctively, Jacob begins to wrestle with this mystery man.  Let’s set something straight.  Jacob didn’t initiate this encounter.  God was grappling with him in order to bring Jacob to the end of his self-dependence.  You see, all his life, Jacob wrestled and deceived others, looking at people like Esau and Laban as his enemies.  Actually, he is about to discover that he was really in a battle with God.  We often think that our problems are other people when in fact; our real issues are with the Almighty.

Here’s a question.  Why did God let this wrestling match go on all night?  He could have touched Jacob’s hip right away or just vaporized him in a nanosecond.  It’s because God wanted to show Jacob the power of his own self-will, giving him the opportunity to surrender.  But Jacob kept fighting.  Don’t miss this.  It wasn’t until God crippled him that Jacob gave in.  God wanted to make sure Jacob learned his lesson and so he asked him a question in verse 27: “What is your name?”  He answered, “Jacob.”  My name is deceiver, the conniver, the schemer.  God wanted him to confess not just his name but his character.   I love what God says next: “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.”  Israel means “he who strives with God” or “God prevails.”

Friend, you will never win if you wrestle with God.  God will cripple you as he did to Jacob but only so that in your brokenness you will cling to Him.  Surrender to Him now or you can wait until He causes you to limp through life.  Now that he knew he was broken, Israel wouldn’t break his hold on God until God blessed him: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  Have you ever noticed that we often run from God or wrestle with Him because we think we’re in charge but when we’re broken we really latch onto the Lord?  Most of us don’t cling to the Lord unless we have to.  It’s not until the Lord is all we have that we realize that He is all we need.

Now that his name and character have been changed, Israel limps toward his brother Esau, without any tricks or devious designs.  In chapter 33, he looks up and sees four hundred men with Esau but goes on ahead of everyone and “bows down to the ground seven times as he approaches his brother.”  To bow seven times indicates complete submission and humility.  By the way, if you’re in conflict with someone right now, follow these first two steps.  First, go and meet face-to-face.  Second, humble yourself.  Too many of us are either peace-breakers as we blast away at people or we’re peace-fakers as we avoid those we’re in conflict with and then act like there’s not a problem.  The best way is to meet eyeball to eyeball and then to humbly admit that you are part of the problem.  

I love what happens next.  Esau brought a battalion with him because he was probably still battling his old ways, but when he saw his brother’s attitude, verse 4 says: “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.  And they wept.”  We learn a third step here.  Do what it takes to be reconciled.  Jacob has become Israel and the deceiver is now reconciled.  He can barely contain himself.  Friend, when you forgive and restore, you give a gift to someone that they can never repay.  Listen to what he says to Esau in verse 10: “For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably.”  We are never more like God when we forgive and reconcile ourselves to those who have wronged us.  The image of God, as we learned in Genesis 1:26, becomes a bit more visible on our faces when we forgive.

God was with Isaac and he was with Israel and now we’ll see that He was with Joseph even though he was proud and had a lot of problems.

God is with Joseph (Genesis 37-50)

I sure hope you read the amazing story of Joseph for yourself because we’re only going to scratch the surface this morning.  Joseph is also a bit of an enigma wrapped in a mystery.  We see a lot of positive elements to his character but we also see that he was filled with pride, especially early in his life.  In Genesis 37:2 he’s tending sheep with his brothers and brings a “bad report” about them to his father.  This is more than just squealing or narking on them.  It most likely means that he made up some bad stuff about them and their father believed him rather than them.  In verse 3 we read that “Israel loved Joseph more than his others sons.”  That’s primarily because he was the son of his favorite wife, Rachel.  

Joseph was given a richly ornamented robe and he loved to prance around in it.  This was more than just a beautiful and expensive garment; it also carried a special meaning.  In that culture there was a ceremony in which the giving of a robe like this marked the recipient as the father’s primary heir.  No wonder the brothers are bothered.  He’s the eleventh son in the family lineage and the whole family inheritance is on the line.  We get some inside information in verse 4 about how the brothers felt about Joseph: “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”  To make matters worse, Joseph had two dreams that indicated that his older brothers would one day bow down before him.  The brothers were incensed and verse 11 tells us that they were jealous of Joseph.

Later, when Joseph is sent to check on his brothers they devise a plot to kill him but end up secretly selling him as a slave to a band of travelers headed to Egypt.  They bring back his robe soaked in the blood of a goat and give it to their father.  Israel assumes Joseph has been killed by an animal and “refuses to be comforted” while Joseph is sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials.  He’s actually on his way to Character College.  His dreams of being exalted have been shattered because he is now a slave.  But then we read these words of comfort in Genesis 39:2: “The Lord was with Joseph.”

Potiphar is a wealthy leader and soon entrusts Joseph with everything in his household.  Things are going well until Mrs. Potiphar makes advances on Joseph and he runs out of the room.  In retaliation she lies and Joseph ends up in prison.  This was not easy but once again we read these words, this time in verse 21: “But while Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him.”  Joseph, who once dreamt of his own exaltation now interprets dreams for others, and ends up being given the second-most powerful position in all of Egypt.  We get a clue that Joseph is not harboring any grudges against his brothers by looking at the name of his first son born in Egypt.  His name was Manasseh, which means, “to forget.”  God had enabled him to forgive and to forget.  His second son was Ephraim, which means “fruitful.”  He was able to move from the past so he could be fruitful in the present.

God, who always works through details and circumstances, because of a severe famine, sends Joseph’s brothers down to Egypt twenty years after they had sold him.  In a very moving scene, in which Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they don’t know him, Joseph can barely contain himself.  After some interaction (this is very interesting reading), Joseph announces who he is and amazingly is able to forgive his brothers and be reconciled to them.  

Steven Cole, when preaching on this passage, makes the astute observation that there is a widely promoted false belief common in Christian circles that all trials are from the devil and that a good God would never send suffering to His children.  Thus when we are hit by a trial, whether sickness or a difficult person or a financial setback, we are supposed to rebuke the devil and claim our victory by faith.  The teaching is that if we don’t experience fairly rapid deliverance, then our faith may be defective.  Brothers and sisters, this is blatantly unbiblical.

Over a hundred years ago, the beloved pastor and writer, Andrew Murray, was suffering from a terribly painful back.  One morning a woman stopped by who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her.  Murray gave her a piece of paper that he had been writing on and told her that what he was writing to himself may be helpful to her.  This is what he wrote:

In time of trouble say, “First he brought me here.  It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.”  Next, “He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.”  Then say, “He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.”  And last say, “In His good time He can bring me out again.  How and when, He knows.”  Therefore, say “I am here (1) by God’s appointment, (2) in His keeping, (3) under His training, (4) for His time.”

Genesis 50:20 summarizes Joseph’s life and is actually a theological statement that captures one of the main themes of the entire Bible.  When the brothers finally realize that they are standing before Joseph and that he could kill them in an instant, they throw themselves at his feet and declare that they will be his slaves.  What he says next can only be uttered by one who is absolutely convinced of God’s presence and power: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  God is sovereign over all, even over the evil things people do.  Joseph knew that God had been with him every step of the way, weaving His purposes and plans through all the problems and predicaments he faced.  He reassured them that they were reconciled and the Bible says he “spoke kindly to them.”

God was with Isaac when He led him to Rebekah through the ordinary opportunities of life.  God was with Jacob and made him surrender and submit.  And God was with Joseph, helping him see that his problems were part of God’s purposes.  If you know Jesus, God is with you as well.  Remember that one of the names of Jesus is Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  

Will you be aware of Him?

Most of us know that God is with us but we sometimes struggle to see Him at work in our lives.  David Mains used to talk about going on a “God hunt.”  This is simply learning to look for signs that the God who walked with Adam and Eve, with Enoch and Noah, with Abraham, Isaac and Joseph is with us as well.  “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.”  Here’s the challenge.  Every day this week, live with a sense of expectancy and ask God to show you how He is at work, for He is in every place you will be.  The question is, “Will you be aware of Him?”   Hunt for Him and when you do, you’ll find Him.  You’ll get so excited that you’ll want to share what you discovered with someone else, and I hope you do!  Here are five things to look for to get you started:

  • Concrete answers to specific prayers
  • Leadings or promptings from God
  • Unexpected blessings
  • Surprising outcomes
  • God-ordained “demotions” or trials

Will you join me and look for the Lord at work in your life?  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?