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God’s Loving Graciousness

God is love.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

We hear these statements all the time. We smile, nod our heads, and enjoy the warm fuzzies.

But do we know what they mean?

We think we do. We assume we do…. But remember what happens when we assume? Yep. You guessed it.

I didn’t want to assume that I knew what Moses and John and other Biblical writers meant by “love”, so I spent some time over the last few weeks looking at the various Hebrew and Greek words that are translated into English as love and how they are used in Scripture.

Most of us who grew up in a Christian church have probably heard more than one sermon about the difference between agape and phileo. Agape is supposed to be unconditional, godly love, while phileo is a lesser, brotherly love, but I think that might be making too much of it.

(Just FYI. I’m not an expert in any Biblical languages. I have only a small knowledge of Hebrew and rely extensively on concordances, dictionaries, and commentaries.)

In many cases, “like” is a perfectly adequate translation of phileo in the Greek Scriptures with no need to add anything mystical to it, while agape is closely analogous to the English word “love”. Certainly *unconditional* love would fall within the scope of agape, but to say that agape always refers to that kind of love is an overstatement.

Genesis 34:3 says that Shechem loved Dinah, whom he had just kidnapped and raped. The translators of the Septuagint, who understood ancient Greek far better than anyone alive today does, chose to translate the Hebrew word for love in this verse as agapao, the verb form of agape.1 Clearly Shechem did not have unconditional love for Dinah.

Since the Apostolic writings were essentially exposition on the Torah and the Prophets in the context of Greek and Roman culture, I think we can get a very good idea of what these words meant to them by looking at their corresponding Hebrew words in the Old Testament.

There are essentially 3 Hebrew words that are frequently translated as love in the Old Testament.

  • אהב (H157), pronounced as ahab
  • חשׁק (H2836), pronounced as chasak2
  • חסד (H2617), pronounced as chesed2

Ahab is usually translated as “love”, and its meaning is almost identical to the English: a strong, favorable emotion linked to desire, longing, and affection. Accordingly, it can refer to the love of God for his people, a father for a son, a man for his wife, and anyone for his favorite food. Ahab has a wide range of meaning. It can be used in almost any context in which you would use the English word love.

Here are some ways in which this word is used in the Old Testament3:

  • Genesis 27:4 – The food that Isaac loves (ahab).
  • Genesis 34:3 – He loved (ahab) the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.
  • Leviticus 19:18 – Love (ahab) your neighbor as yourself.
  • Deuteronomy 11:1 – Love (ahab) YHWH your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.
  • Isaiah 61:8 – God loves (ahab) fair and honest judgment.

Chasak is a more difficult word to translate, but the concept doesn’t seem to be very difficult to understand. (Did I mention that I’m not a scholar of ancient languages?) Essentially, chasak is an attachment to something, whether of one physical object to another or, in a metaphorical sense, an emotional attachment to do or have something. It’s translated into the Greek equivalents of the English words choose, elect, smith (as in a metal smith), and take.

Here are some examples of chasak in the Old Testament:

  • Genesis 34:8 – Shechem longs for (chasak) Dinah.
  • Exodus 38:17 – The pillars of the court are fastened (chasak) by silver.
  • Deuteronomy 7:7 – God set his love (chasak) on Israel.
  • 1 Kings 9:19 – Solomon desired (chasak) to build.
  • Isaiah 38:17 – In love (chasak) God delivered.

The third word, chesed, is closer to what people usually mean when they talk about the Greek word, agape, but different Bible translators favor different English renditions. Some of the most common translations are “loving kindness”, “steadfast love”, and “mercy”. It is usually translated into Greek as eleos, instead of agape or phileo.

I’m going to give you more examples of chesed from the Old Testament, because frankly I think it’s a much more interesting and profound word, and I’m going to spend more time talking about it:

  • Genesis 19:19 – You have shown me great kindness (chesed) in saving my life.
  • Genesis 24:49 – Show steadfast love (chesed) and faithfulness to my master.
  • Genesis 47:29 – Promise to deal kindly (chesed) and truly with me.
  • Exodus 15:13 – In your mercy (chesed) you led the people whom you redeemed.
  • Numbers 14:18-19 – YHWH is slow to anger, and of great mercy (chesed).
  • Deuteronomy 5:10 – Showing steadfast love (chesed) to thousands of those who love (ahab) me and keep my commandments.
  • Deuteronomy 7:9 – The faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love (chesed) with those who love (ahab) him and keep his commandments
  • Judges 1:24 – Please show us the way into the city, and we will deal kindly (chesed) with you.
  • 2 Chronicles 35:26 – The acts of Josiah, and his kind deeds (chesed).
  • Jeremiah 33:11 – YHWH is good, for his steadfast love (chesed) endures forever!
  • Daniel 9:4 – God keeps covenant and steadfast love (chesed) with those who love (ahab) him and keep his commandments.
  • Jonah 4:2 – You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (chesed), and relenting from disaster.

Kindness is a dominant theme in the use of chesed throughout the Bible, but kindness is both too simple and too broad of a concept. Chesed is a special sort of kindness. In every case, the person who shows chesed to another is in a position of relative power.

Let me give you two examples from the Old Testament texts and two illustrations from Biblical relationships.

Two Examples of Chesed in the Old Testament

When Joseph was young, he would have loved (ahab) his father. He probably felt affection for him, enjoyed being in his presence, and did good things for him. However when Joseph was the Prime Minister of Egypt and Jacob was very old, their positions were reversed. Joseph held all the power, while Jacob was feeble and completely dependent on his son. Then Jacob begged Joseph’s mercy (chesed) in not allowing his bones to remain in Egypt after his death.

The translators of 2 Chronicles 35:26 had difficulty translating the chesed of King Josiah. Different translations render it as good deeds, goodness, mercy, kind acts, etc., but these differences are minor. The intent is clearly to show that Josiah showed exceptional mercy to his people.

Two Illustrations of Chesed from Biblical Relationships

It’s good if a man loves (ahab) his wife, and it’s even better if he loves (chesed) her. This is what Paul meant when he said that men should love their wives as the weaker vessel. Husbands have spiritual authority and physical dominance of their wives, and they need to keep that in mind so that they will be mindful to give chesed. It’s easy to be kind to your peer or to someone with more power. It’s something else to be kind to someone who is relatively weak and vulnerable.

Although God loves (ahab) us, he also shows us loving kindness (chesed) in deigning to provide for us, protect us, and raise us from our sin and poverty. God loves (chesed) those who love (ahab) him. God shows chesed to man by forgiving, protecting, and healing, but man never shows chesed to God because no man has ever been in a position of power over God.

Chesed and the Grace of God

If I had to summarize the meaning of chesed in a single English word, that word would be grace. Not in the sense of the physical grace of a ballerina, but the regal grace of a king who treats his subjects with kindness and understanding. He has the power, the authority, and the right to destroy those who offend his law, but he shows grace by commuting sentences, by hearing and embracing his poorest subjects, and by granting mercy and honor to weaker rivals.

When the Apostles wrote of God’s grace, this is what they meant.

The Greek word usually used to translate chesed in the Septuagint (a 2200 year old Greek translation of the Old Testament) is eleos, and this Greek word is almost always (and accurately) translated into English as mercy.

On the other hand, the Greek word translated as grace in the Apostolic writings is charis.2 Grace is an excellent translation of this word into English, as it appears to carry the same dual meaning of physical elegance and regal forebearance in Greek as it does in English.4

So why did the Apostles use charis instead of eleos to express the concept of Hebrew chesed?

Perhaps it was an idiomatic use that had been adopted by Jewish scholars when discussing biblical concepts among themselves in Greek. Or perhaps they consciously used charis because of the additional dimension of elegance in the meaning of the word.

Regardless of how the word Greek charis was used in everyday speech by the Greeks of the first century, the Apostles used it very much like Hebrew chesed was used in the Old Testament scriptures: to refer to the loving graciousness that one person in a position of power willingly shows to another in an inferior position.

Read these Apostolic passages as if they were written using the Hebrew word chesed instead of the Greek word charis:

John 1:17 – For the law was given through Moses; chesed and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, this is the wording used in Proverbs 16:6 – “By mercy (chesed) and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.” Chesed gives this verse so much more depth of meaning. God Law was revealed through Moses, but God’s grace to forgive was revealed in the person of Jesus. (And I can already see I’m going to have to write another article on the topic of “grace and truth”.)

2 Corinthians 8:9 – For you know the chesed of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Although he had all power and authority in Creation, he came down from his throne to live among his subjects in order to elevate them.

Ephesians 3:8 – To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this chesed was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…

Paul wrote that his appointment as the Apostle to the Nations was an undeserved kindness granted by God.

It seems to me that God’s mercy & loving kindness, as described throughout the Old Testament with the Hebrew word chesed, is the very essence of divine grace, and it is glaringly obvious that grace was not a new concept in the first century. Yeshua’s death on the cross wasn’t God’s first act of Grace. Rather, it was the apex of his grace, the most personal, painful, and heart-wrenching extension of his loving kindness to mankind.

The grace of a king is manifested in the mercy that he extends to those who have violated his law, and he rightly expects them to be grateful and to stop doing whatever it was that caused them to come under his Law in the first place. How must it seem to Yeshua when those for whom he suffered and died in order to earn that pardon use it as a license to ignore his law instead of as an opportunity to start over with a clean slate?

God’s grace, his chesed, is not the suspension of his Law, but the suspension of his judgment for violating it. That suspension will not be extended indefinitely to people who abuse it.

God's grace consists of his willingness to forgive and heal those of us who have rebelled against his Law.

1 The language of the New Testament (Koine Greek) is a little different than the language of the Septuagint. I don’t think that difference has any significant impact on this point.
2 In both Hebrew and ancient Greek transliteration, the letter combination of ch is pronounced like kh. There is no ch sound (as in church) in either language. Why tranliterators chose to use ch instead of kh, I don’t know. They should have asked me first.
3 Most of the Bible quotes in this article are taken from the ESV, but I also used the KJV, LITV, and others when the ESV’s translation of a word seemed especially obscure.
4 See these comments on the secular and Biblical usage of charis: https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/518/Charis.htm

The Betrayal of Mashiach ben Yosef

The story of Joseph's betrayal to Egypt is the most profoundly prophetic story in the Bible.Even as long ago as the first century, synagogues were well ordered places of worship, learning, and ancient tradition. There were rules about which direction the building should face, how the interiors should be arranged, and even what could be done with the land if a newer synagogue were to be constructed. The conduct of services was flexible, but only within certain bounds. The Scripture readings were on a set schedule and the readers were chosen well in advance.

Wherever Yeshua happened to be in his travels, he went to the local synagogue (or to the Temple if he was in Jerusalem) on the Sabbath. In Luke 4:16-30 he was visiting his home town of Nazareth and, being there on the Sabbath, he attended synagogue with his family and old neighbors. I think he must have been expected, because when he stood to read, the ruler of the synagogue had the scroll of Isaiah brought to him. It’s even possible that Yeshua had come to Nazareth because he was scheduled to read on that day.

Luke summarized what Yeshua read:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19)

I’m sure he read more than this, especially since these words aren’t a single passage from Isaiah, but a paraphrase of at least two–possibly three–different parts of the scroll. Likewise, I’m sure Luke paraphrased Yeshua’s commentary:

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
(Luke 4:20-22)

Essentially, Yeshua preached the Gospel in his home town: the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. His message seemed to be well received, and why shouldn’t it be? It was a message of hope that they had all been waiting for. Here was a man of their own village telling them that the promised redemption of Israel had come, that the oppressed were about to be set free and the blind to gain sight!

But there was more brewing beneath the surface than their flattering words revealed. The people of Nazareth were like the stony ground on which the seed fell and sprouted only to die under the hot sun because it had no roots. Their hearts were hard, and Yeshua knew that his message wouldn’t find lasting purchase there. He knew that their thoughts would soon turn to his ministry abroad in Israel and his long absence from home, and he interrupted them before the thought had congealed in their minds:

And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘”Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'”
(Luke 4:23)

The saying, “Physician, heal yourself,” didn’t mean to them what it usually means when people use it now. We use those words today to point out the hypocrisy of one person who tells another how to fix a problem that the first person also has and is unable to fix himself. In ancient Judea, the phrase meant something like “Why are you out solving the world’s problems when we have more than enough to worry about right here at home?” It isn’t about hypocrisy, but about prioritizing your own friends and family before strangers.

Unfortunately, because of their hard hearts and their disbelief that one of their own could be the Messiah, Yeshua’s friends and extended family were unable to receive him.

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”
(Luke 4:24)

It’s interesting that the people of Nazareth asked one another, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Indeed, this was the man who had grown up in the house of Joseph of Nazareth, but he was the son of Joseph in a much more profound sense.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s certainly worth repeating. Ancient Jewish thought expected two messiahs: Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph), who would suffer and die for his people, and Mashiach ben David (Messiah ben David), who would avenge the death of the former and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel. (See this article from Hebrew 4 Christians for a a more detailed explanation and a truly astonishing list of parallels between Yeshua (Jesus) and Yosef (Joseph): Mashiach ben Yosef). They had the basic idea right, but they didn’t realize that the two Messiahs were actually a single man who would save them in two ways.

When Joseph was a boy, he told his brothers about a dream he had in which they all bowed to him. Like Yeshua, he was rejected and betrayed by his own, sold to a band of foreigners for a bag of silver, and stripped of his clothing. Unlike Yeshua, however, Joseph didn’t understand the purpose of this at the time it happened. It was only many years later that he finally began to see the great plan that God was working through his life and suffering.

Joseph had been in prison for years, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, when Pharaoh called on him to interpret a dream. As God revealed the meaning of Pharaoh’s dream to Joseph, he also began to understand the meaning of the terrible events in his own life: the betrayal of his brothers, the years in slavery and in prison. He finally understood what Yeshua hinted at in that Synagogue almost 2000 years later: He had to be betrayed by his brothers in order to save them.

What would have happened if Joseph’s brothers had not sold him to the Ishmaelites and he had remained in Canaan? Maybe someone else would have had a dream like Pharaoh’s and maybe Joseph would have interpreted it, but his brothers would not have believed him. They would have laughed and scorned him instead of giving him the authority and power to act on the dream’s message. They wouldn’t have stored up grain during the seven good years, so there would have been no grain in the seven years of famine. If Joseph had not been betrayed, buried in a pit as if dead, and resurrected to glory in Pharaoh’s court, Egypt and Jacob would have perished from the earth together.

No Israel, no David, no Yeshua, no Salvation.

Now imagine what would have happened if Yeshua’s brothers had not betrayed him to Pilate. No prophet is ever accepted by his own people. They would have laughed and scorned him, just like Joseph’s brothers did.

Fortunately, God loves both Israel and the world.

Like Joseph, Yeshua had to be betrayed by his own people in order to save them, and God arranged circumstances so that it would happen. It was God’s will that Yeshua be rejected by the Jewish leaders and sold for a bag of silver to be stripped, humiliated, convicted, and executed for a crime he didn’t commit, buried in a pit, and resurrected again to glory, not in the court of Egypt, but in the court of Heaven. Without that betrayal, the world and Jacob would be eternally damned together.

Through the betrayal of Messiah Yeshua, son of Joseph, salvation and citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven has been made available to the whole world, thus paving the way for Messiah Yeshua, son of David, to one day set up his kingdom on Earth.

But none of this works if those whom Yeshua has saved do nothing to provoke Jacob to jealousy. If our faith doesn’t change us, doesn’t bring us to do good works in the King’s name, then what good is it? Kings have laws or else their kingship has no point. If our faith in the Gospel that Yeshua preached and paid for doesn’t radically inform our daily lives, our conversation, our politics…then to what king have we really pledged allegiance? If there is no bread in Egypt for Jacob to desire, why should he send his sons there at all?

Our responsibility as adopted children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is to sow seed, to raise up a crop of obedience, worship, and love that bears fruit a thousand fold. Only then will the natural sons of Jacob see any point in seeking salvation in the Son of Joseph.

Garments of Authority and Submission

Veils, robes, and mantles are marks of authority and submission.

This Torah portion (Vayeshev, Genesis 37-40) is full of clothes and head coverings.

  • Reuben tore his clothes (Genesis 37:29)
  • Joseph’s brother dipped his robe in blood and presented it to their father (Genesis 37:33)
  • Jacob tore his garments (Genesis 37:34)
  • Tamar removed her widow’s garments and donned a veil (Genesis 38:14-15)
  • Tamar removed her veil and donned widow’s garments (Genesis 38:19)
  • Potiphar’s wife caught Joseph by his garment and used it to frame him (Genesis 39:12-16)
  • Pharaoh’s baker dreamed of three baskets on his head (Genesis 40:16-19)

Garments and coverings of all kinds are prominent throughout Scripture and almost always have a deeper meaning than what can be read only on the surface.

For example, when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, his face glowed and he wore a veil over his face to hide the glory of it from the Israelites. (Exodus 34:29-35) I was taught that this was a purely pragmatic act, that he had absorbed so much of God’s glory that nobody could stand to look at it, but I think that’s only partly correct.

When Moses was engaged in God’s business–for example, when he spoke the Torah to the assembled Israelites and when he was in the tent communing directly with God–he removed the veil. When he was about more mundane business–for example, judging legal cases and performing administrative duties in the camp–he wore the veil. The key distinction is not whether or not the person in front of him could stand to look at him, but whether or not it was appropriate to display God’s glory directly.

I think it was important that he did not appear to be speaking for God at every waking moment. He wasn’t a replacement god–as much as he must have seemed so both to Pharaoh and Israel–but an emissary for God. He had to hide his face so that the Israelites would not be tempted to worship him or to take every word he spoke as divine law. Removing the veil for Moses in the wilderness was like the Catholic Pope speaking ex cathedra. He removed the veil when he spoke God’s Law because he wanted Israel to see God speaking in the rays of light that shone from his face.

Coverings in Scripture are often emblems of authority and protection: headcoverings, veils, mantles, robes of state, wraps, hangings, bedding, shadows, gold plating…even tree branches and pitch are used in this way.

Headcoverings and mantles are two of the most obvious as well as two sides of the same coin. How the covering is worn or used advertises the bearer’s relationship to the authority.

Worn on the head, they indicate submission to the authority of another, like a military cover. One who is under authority is obligated to obey, but is entitled to protection and provision. To a certain extent, he shares in the power of that authority.

Some examples of coverings representing submission to authority or protection:

  • Ruth covered herself with a corner of Boaz’s tunic (tallit?) as a subtle marriage proposal.
  • Boaz told Ruth to remove her veil–something that should only be done by someone in authority: a husband or father, for instance–so that he could fill it with barley, so that he could provide for her. He was replying in the affirmative to her proposal.
  • Paul argued that a woman who prays or prophecies without a headcovering dishonors her husband.
  • Headcoverings were frequently used to hide shame or sorrow, an expression closely related to submission.
  • The Hebrew word for “pitch” in the story of Noah’s ark literally means “covering.” The same word is also translated “bribe” or “ransom.”
  • After God threatened Abimelech’s life for attempting to take a prophet’s wife as his own, Abimelech told Sarah that Abraham was a covering for her.
  • In the trial of a wife suspected of adultery, the priest removes her headcovering before subjecting her to the ordeal, symbolizing the removal of her husband’s protection.

Worn on the shoulders, coverings represent the authority carried by the wearer. One who carries authority is responsible for its exercise and for the protection and provision of its subjects. The fact that it is worn on the shoulders and not under foot reflects the reality of good leadership: authority must never be worn for its own sake, but for the sake of those beneath it, like Atlas holding the world on his shoulders.

Some examples of coverings representing the bearing of authority:

  • Elijah was a chief prophet and the headmaster of a school. He wore a mantle on his shoulders as a badge of office and passed it on to his successor, Elisha.
  • The High Priest wore an onyx stone bearing the names six of the twelve tribes on each of his shoulders. They represented his right to judge the nation on spiritual matters, while he wore a gold plate with twelve different precious stones over his heart to represent his obligation to judge with love and mercy.
  • Jacob gave Joseph a coat of many colors. Immediately after that, Joseph dreamed that all of Israel would someday bow to him. I don’t think that Jacob meant for Joseph’s coat to represent anything except his affection, but God had other plans. Think of the twelve differently colored stones on the High Priests breastplate. How much do you want to bet that there were exactly twelve different colors on Joseph’s coat?

Noah’s pitch coated his ark to keep out the floods that destroyed the rest of the world, like Yeshua’s blood that separates us from our world and its eventual fate. Likewise, the Hebrew word translated “mercy seat” in Exodus 25:17, referring to the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, actually doesn’t have anything to do with seats. The term was originally intended to refer to the focus or center of mercy, like a county seat is the capital city of a county, but “seat” is rarely used in that sense today, and it was a very poor translation even in the 17th century. The Hebrew word actually means “lid” or “cover” and comes from the same root as the word translated as “pitch.”

The coverings on both arks protect the contents of a wooden box from something outside. The Ark of the Covenant represents (at least on one level) the heart of a human being. It’s where David said he hid God’s law and where God says he wants to write it in every person. We can’t directly face God in our natural state, but in the Tabernacle God’s presence hovered above the Ark.

The mercy seat represents Yeshua’s role as our High Priest and intermediary with the Father, who sees us through the filter of his son. In this case, Yeshua as our covering takes on almost every aspect symbolized by all the other types of coverings. He shields us from an overwhelming power. He defends us from our adversary. He seals our hearts off from the rest of the world. He commands our obedience as we submit to him.

In Genesis 38, Tamar wore a veil to hide her identity but also to subtly tell Judah that the deaths of his sons weren’t her fault. She was only submitting to Judah’s authority all along. Her very name means “upright.” The real problem was with Judah, his sons, and their mother. Through the entire humiliating ordeal, she remained submitted to authority, and thereby found Judah’s life and power in her hands. She took his staff (a symbol of power and authority) and rings (rings, bracelets, and ear/nose rings are symbols of betrothal and ownership) from him, and returned them in such a way that, had he insisted on prosecuting her, he would have forfeited his own life.

Authority rightly worn with respect to its purpose–whether on head or shoulders–is a conduit for prayers to heaven and good relationships on earth. Discarded or abused, authority is a hindrance to prayers, to love, to life itself.

May it please our Lord, we will be servants of God

The story of Joseph and his brothers is filled with shadows of Israel’s Messiah. In a very real sense, Joseph is a messiah as he saved both Israel and Egypt from the famine. But consider these points:

  • He told his brothers that they would serve him.
  • He was betrayed and sold for silver by his brothers.
  • He was abused and imprisoned (buried).
  • He interpreted dreams about resurrection after three days.
  • He was released from prison by Pharaoh (resurrected by God).
  • He revealed himself to his brothers at the end.
  • He saved all of Israel.
  • He saved Egypt and the people of the surrounding nations.

The parallels between Joseph and Yeshua (Jesus) are astounding, but the prophetic foreshadowing goes even deeper than this in very subtle ways.

Judah and Joseph both represent Messiah Yeshua in different, overlapping ways.

 Ancient Jewish tradition expected two messiahs who would redeem Israel together. The first was Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph) who would suffer for his people and atone for them with his blood. The second was Mashiach ben David (Messiah son of David) who would defeat Israel’s enemies and usher in a peaceful era in which Israel is the chief of all nations. In the prophetic story of Joseh, one might expect that Judah, the ancestor of David, would play the role of the King, while Joseph would be the Servant, but they each play both roles. Judah is clearly the leader of his brothers, but also offers his life in exchange for theirs. Joseph, on the other hand, has also given his life for his brothers–unintentionally–and they all came to bow before him. Both of them are Messiah ben David and Messiah ben Yosef simultaneously. Perhaps because both Messiahs are actually one in reality: The suffering servant sheds his blood to pay for Israel’s freedom and returns later as the conquering king to break their chains and set up his throne in Jerusalem.

 

(Sorry, I’m getting carried away on a tangent, but Wow! What a tangent!)

Egypt represents the world. A few years after Yeshua was crucified, buried, and resurrected, the Israelites who had returned to the land of Israel were exiled again and scattered across the Roman Empire and beyond. Likewise, a few years after Joseph was brought out of prison (resurrected), the Israelites were exiled from Canaan by famine and took refuge in Egypt. The people of Egypt are the people of the world among whom the Israelites now live.

When Jacob finally met Joseph’s sons, he didn’t recognize them because they looked like Egyptians. Today, Many who are children of Israel are, in all outward respects, indistinguishable from the world. Israel does not recognize them, and only direct revelation from Messiah when he returns will allow Him to see them.

Finally, going back several years, Joseph was brought out of the prison–symbolically resurrected–and elevated to sit at the right hand of Pharaoh, who–at least in this respect–plays the role of God, the Father.

(I did say that the patterns are subtle. They don’t precisely align with the events of Yeshua’s life, death, resurrection, and return, but all of the elements are present, if somewhat rearranged.)

Read Genesis 47:25, keeping in mind that Pharaoh was, prophetically and in part, foreshadowing the role of God in the story of Messiah’s salvation of Israel:

And they [the Egyptian people] said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” (Genesis 47:25)

It’s a pitiable statement that most of us skim over no matter how many times we read Genesis. It seems sad that the Egyptians had to give up everything and became slaves of pharaoh just to survive, but consider the alternative. There was no hope of survival. Crop after crop had failed, and, without Joseph, they would have long exhausted their stores and died. They would all have been lost without him. They could live as slaves to Pharaoh or die as slaves to hunger. Either way, they were going to serve.

Right here in this forgettable little verse is the hope of all the world.

And the people of the world said to Yeshua, “You have saved our souls. May it please Adonai Yeshua, we will be servants of God.”

We were all lost, spiritually dead because of sin. Not a single person in all the world can save themselves from that famine. It doesn’t matter whether we think it’s fair or not. Would you deny the existence of droughts, hurricanes, and earthquakes because you don’t like them? Then where’s the value in protesting your innocence in the face of the Creator of Heaven and Earth?

And why protest becoming servants of God? We were created to serve Him. Clement of Rome, when addressing competition for status in the Corinthian church wrote,

The heavens moving by his appointment, are subject to him in peace. Day and night accomplish the courses that he has allotted unto them, not disturbing one another….Even the smallest creatures live together in peace and concord with each other. All these has the Great Creator and Lord of all commanded to observe peace and concord, being good to all. But especially to us who flee to his mercy through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever!

Why do we, who reflect the image of the Creator in function and form more than any other of His creations, struggle so hard and continuously against the purpose for which we were created?

Here is what it means to “be saved”: You are created to serve, but are lost in your sin without the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua, Messiah ben Yosef. “Flee to his mercy” and be restored to your rightful place as a servant of God. You were designed to be God’s hands in His Creation and not just to do your own thing. Like any other purposefully designed tool, you will be happier, more fulfilled in doing that for which you were made. And when you pass on or if you are still alive when Yeshua, Messiah ben David, returns as the conquering king, you will hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” While those who have refused his yoke, choosing to starve in their sins rather than to be fed in His service, will feel His wrath.

Well done, good and faithful servant!

There’s no magic formula, no “Sinner’s prayer”, that can save you. It is only Yeshua’s blood, your commitment to serve and obey Him, and God’s grace to honor both the blood and your decision. Without His blood, we are lost. Without a commitment to obey God, we are lost. Without God’s mercy, we are lost. Thank God that He has made all of these available to us! There is nothing left for us to do but to repent from our sins and obey His Word.

You don’t have to understand the spiritual physics of blood atonement. You don’t have to understand why God created the world the way that He did. You only have to believe that He has created you for a purpose, that He wants the best for you, and that He has provided a way for you to be restored to your full potential.

This is the end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

If you have declared your allegiance to the King, your trust in Him, and your commitment to obey His commandments, then you are indeed a child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a true servant of the Most High.


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There are many remarkable parallels between the lives of Joseph and Jesus (aka Yeshua). So many, in fact, that Joseph’s life could only have been prophetic of Jesus’:

Joseph’s Plot and Judah’s Redemption

Benjamin wasn’t a thief, but Joseph’s cup was found in his sack. As soon as Joseph’s steward found the cup, everyone knew that it had been planted there and Benjamin had been framed. But why would Joseph do such a thing?

When they were brought before Joseph, Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, who had all but abandoned the family in order to pursue his fortune in the world, became the family spokesman. The coldly pragmatic course would have been to disavow all knowledge of the cup and let Benjamin take the fall–He did appear to be the target of the frame-up, after all–and the rest of the brothers would be saved.

Fortunately for everyone, Judah chose another route. Whatever the purpose of Joseph’s scheme, Judah had had enough of brother turning against brother. He was determined that they would all stick together no matter the consequences. When Joseph refused to punish them all for the crimes of one, Judah offered himself in Benjamin’s stead.

It was the sign that Joseph sought, the sole aim of hiding the cup in the sack and bringing them all back to Egypt under threat of slavery or imprisonment. Joseph wanted to see if his brothers had truly repented of the jealousy and violence that had caused them to betray him so many years before. Seeing Judah’s desire to protect both Benjamin and Jacob even at the cost of his own life, Joseph wept and revealed himself as their long lost brother.

If Judah had allowed Benjamin to be punished or had betrayed any selfishness in his motives, Joseph would have continued to hide his identity and might have punished them all. The pragmatic approach of sacrificing one brother for the sake of ten would have backfired, and they would have lost everything. The story of the Hebrews in Egypt would have been very different.

The question of “Why do bad things happen to good people” has plagued believers since the beginning of time, but the answers–however difficult to accept–have been available just as long. Very often, bad things happen to good people in order to help the weak to become strong, for the faithless to learn faith, or to provide opportunities for those who have been blessed to pass on their blessings to those who have not. Sometimes an innocent person might appear guilty so that someone else will have the opportunity to defend him or to develop his faith in God or his ability to lead God’s people.

The Bible isn’t a book of soft and easy answers. The truth–like God’s methods of character development–can be hard. If you want the easy route, the safe route, Torah isn’t for you. However, if you long for the greater blessings that await those who persevere, who choose the true path over the pragmatic one, keep digging. The truth goes deep.

The Cupbearer’s Choice

Threads in a tapestry, links in a chain, cupbearers in Pharaoh’s court…

God’s plan is always convoluted. He weaves divers threads from the beginning of time knowing precisely where He will bring them together millennia later so that events will converge just so and individuals will be presented with choices that will determine their status in the world to come.

Consider the long chain of events that brought Joseph into power in Egypt. God gave him dreams and caused Jacob to give him a peculiar coat so that his brothers would be jealous and betray him in time to sell him to the Ishmaelite caravan that delivered him to Potiphar who threw him in prison where he met the baker and the cupbearer who told Pharaoh about him so that he could save both Egypt and his own people, all the while laying down patterns that foreshadowed the ministry, betrayal, death, and resurrection of the Messiah who would also save both the world (Egypt) and Israel.

Complex, convoluted, and–in the end–all wrapped up with no loose ends. Not even Hollywood could tie a plot together like God does.

Joseph isn’t the only person for whom God arranged the threads of existence.

Let’s zoom in on Pharaoh’s cupbearer for a moment. Whatever his crime had been, God needed him to be in prison so that he could meet Joseph who could interpret his dream so that he could later tell Pharaoh about it. The plot grows thicker.

Pharaoh restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. (Genesis 40:21)

Read this verse again, paying special attention to the second half. Isn’t that an odd statement? “He placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand,” as if there was only one cup and it was a one-time event.

Throughout the Scriptures, cups are used to portray what we might call fate. God gives to one person or nation a cup of wrath and to another He gives a cup of blessing.

I will take the cup of salvation. (Psalm 116:13)
and
Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath. (Jeremiah 25:15)

So the cup that the chief cupbearer placed into the hand of Pharaoh is not just a cup, but a Cup of either curses or blessings. Whether it was one or the other depended on a series of choices:

  • Would the cupbearer remember Joseph to Pharaoh or not?
  • Would Pharaoh tell Joseph his dream?
  • Would Pharaoh believe Joseph’s interpretation and heed his advice?

If any of these had gone the wrong way, Egypt would have suffered in the coming famine while God would have saved the Hebrews some other way. As it was, the cup was full of blessing until Egypt once again forgot Joseph many years later.

Interestingly, the baker and the cupbearer foreshadow another aspect of the story of Yeshua. One of them (the cupbearer) was released and the other (the baker) condemned during a national holiday (Pharaoh’s birthday). Yeshua was arrested during a national holiday (Passover) and, after His trial, Pilate reminded the people that it was a tradition to release one prisoner every year at this time. They chose to release Barrabas (the cupbearer) and to execute Yeshua (the baker).

It makes me wonder if the cupbearer was actually a murderer and if the baker was innocent.

God’s story-telling mastery is so complete that He has done the same thing for every one of us. You are somebody’s cupbearer, choosing in each moment to deliver the truth about God, His Law, and His Messiah or to withhold that truth. If you behave or speak in such a way as to deny someone God’s Truth, you become partly responsible for the resulting curses in that person’s life, and you have no way of knowing in advance which moments, which choices will have the greatest impact. It’s your responsibility to do right when you are able, to put the cup in Pharaoh’s hand, so to speak. When you have spoken the Truth, when you have shown the love of Messiah in the world by doing good to those around you, then your cup becomes one of blessing to you, and the power to transform the contents of the cup in one way or the other devolves to the next person.

We are all threads in a continuous fabric that stretches from one end of time to the other. God sees the overall pattern and places us where He needs us. We don’t always have a lot of control over the basic circumstances in our lives. We do, however, have control over how we choose to interact with those circumstances. We can be like Joseph, speaking the Truth, doing what’s right, and forgiving those who meant to do us wrong, or we can keep silent, look after ourselves, and resent those who appear to have imprisoned us.

You can choose to drink from a cup of salvation or be forced to drink from a cup of wrath. However the world appears around you, the choice remains yours.

Choose between the cup of Salvation and the cup of Wrath.