Friday, March 21, 2008

Humanity in Sin Part 45: Joseph Sold by His Brothers

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 24th February 2008 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 37: 12-36

Is love active or passive? Do we love someone because we choose to or because it just happens outside our control? This is a very complex issue because it goes beyond rationality. When we love someone disproportionately, we might end up planting a bomb that would explode some day. Jacob had a few wives although that was never his plan. Fulfilling his duty as a husband, he had 10 children from women he did not really love. God finally gave him a son through Rachel, the only woman he loved. His special love for Joseph could not be hidden among his other sons.

They were jealous and the matter was made worse when Joseph told them he dreamed he became lord over all his brothers. They hated him enough to kill him but was constrained from doing so.

This is an illustration of God’s common grace. The grace God distributes to both believers and unbelievers is called common grace. Jesus spoke of this grace when He said that Father in heaven gives rain and sunlight to both the evil and the good. Common grace consists of many aspects, including the universal ethical concepts we have. Abraham Kuyper built up this concept further. The advancement in all aspects of society came from God. Though all receive common grace, the responses and feelings towards common grace are different between believers and unbelievers. Believers acknowledge their blessings as from God and would give thanks for common grace.

Common grace also stops us from sinning too far. Sinners do not sin to their utmost because there are constraints such as the existence of law, religion, and punishment. The sense of shame, the accusation of conscience and the knowledge of the consequence of our actions also act as constraints. These constraints bring about social stability. But they are not eternal. Cornelius Van Til said that as God slowly withdraws His common grace people would be more decadent and daring in sinning. In modern days, things that used to be done in closed doors are now done publicly without shame.

Through this understanding, we can see deeper principles in the Scriptures and the hand of God in history.

When God gave Joseph special revelation, even Jacob resisted it. But he still put it in his heart, not knowing what to make of it. The rest thought of Joseph as a self-centered and abnormal person. When there is conflict between the will of man and the will of God, there would be struggles.

Jacob sent Joseph to check whether his brothers were safe, resulting in danger for Joseph’s life. When his brothers saw him, they called him the ‘dreamer’. They still held a lot of grudge regarding his dreams. Joseph’s brothers said, “Here is the dreamer, let’s kill him and see what will become of his dreams.” This is frightening as they did not realize that they were going against God’s will. We need to be careful in our decisions, lest we find ourselves fighting against what God is bringing to pass. There is also no need to over-react to claims. If it is from God, it will come to pass. If it is not, nothing will happen.

Human relationships have one common problem. Everybody in the world has become paranoid in always thinking of themselves as victims. We use this psychological response to look at others. We lost our youthful innocence and when we meet people, we think we meet the devil. We are always suspicious.

There needs to be a balance. We also cannot over trust people. Some people are not as good as we think. We will be at a loss when we think of others as too good. And we will also be at a loss when we think of others worse than they are.

Joseph would not have imagined that his brothers want to kill him because of his dreams. They looked at Joseph and his dreams as a threat to them. They felt he was arrogant. But he was merely sharing the dream God gave him. Many people react to the truth in this manner. They think that proclaiming Christ as the way to salvation is arrogant. They felt this is a threat. But this is not a threat, this is grace that would save them.

The brothers sold Joseph, and took his robe, tore it and put goat blood on it to convince their father that Joseph had died. Human beings will spin more stories to sustain their belief as the foundation of their peace. Subsequently it would be quite convincing when they tell it. One example is man’s reluctance to believe in God’s existence. In response to that, they have to find different ways to explain nature and soon theory of evolution or aliens emerge.

Jacob was a deceitful man, but his children were even more deceitful. This is the plea of humanity. Good virtues do not get passed down to the next generation, but the bad things get passed down really quickly and gets worse with each generation.

Initially, the brothers wanted to kill Joseph so that his dreams would not come true. But God had another plan and nobody can thwart God’s plan. In the end they decided to sell Joseph for 20 shekels of silver, so Joseph lived on and his dreams really came to pass.

Our decision and our judgement is not the final. The final comes forever from the One who sits on the throne of Heaven. Do not think of ourselves as the final solution or determinant of anything. If we are treated unjustly by others, do not take vengeance for yourself. God’s final judgement surpasses all our human wisdom.


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