Thursday, August 18, 2011

Building Altars

I have been reading through a portion of Genesis beginning around the birth of Jacob and Esau through the story of Joseph and his rise to power in Egypt. It is an amazing story. As I read the story of Joseph and all he went through I wondered how he did it. I wondered how he kept his faith in God after being sold by his brothers into slavery, through being falsely imprisoned, through being forgotten about by the baker and cupbearer. These events did not transpire over a few days or even a few months. This story transpires over years. In Genesis 41 it states that two years after the baker and the cupbearer were released from prison Pharaoh had a dream and the cupbearer remembered Joseph.

So how did Joseph keep his faith? How did he keep from losing heart in the midst of all of this? I think it has to do with the example his father set. His father was in no way perfect but he did remember God and he set up a reminder of God's faithfulness.
Genesis 35: 2, 3 - 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”
Jacob made an altar to God so that his entire family and all of those around him would be able to see it and know about the faithfulness of God. The God who has been with him wherever he has gone. I do not think this was a one time occurrence. I believe this altar and his message was simply an outflow of the faith Jacob had in God and those around him saw it.

Now back to Joseph. I wonder if in the midst of the Ishmaelites taking him to Egypt as a slave he thought about the altar and what his father said. I wonder if he thought about this as he was being taken to prison after being falsely accused by Potipher's wife. I wonder how many times he thought about this altar and his fathers words as he sat in the Egyptian prison for over two years. We don't know but I think he thought about it. I think he saw the faithfulness of God when he was young. I think he saw his father's faith in God and all of this had an influence on his faith. I love how the story ends.
Genesis 50: 19-21 - 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph realized that all of the stuff he went through was planned and directed by God and in the end it was for the good of many lives. He realized that there was nothing man could do to disrupt the plans of God.

So what does this mean for you and me? What are we to get from this story? I cannot speak for you but these are a few questions I had to ask myself. Am I establishing altars, so to speak, for the next generation? Am I speaking about the faithfulness of God for the next generation? What am I leaving the next generation? Many lives may depend on my altars. It's time to start building.

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