The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 12

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Faith Speaks.

“By faith Joseph,” continues the Hebrews 11 account, “when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” An emigration and an exhumation is an unlikely pairing for a dying valediction. What was Joseph, great grandson of Abraham, thinking?

The end of life—like the end of a good novel—has a way of clarifying the most important things to us. To Joseph, it served to supply a final opportunity to speak hope to his loved ones—the descendants of his father Israel who were living in Egypt with him, far from their Promised Land. If Joseph had learned one thing in his long and challenging life, it was that God’s plans are for our good, even when everything around us seems to be stacking up against us. That’s a lesson some people would never learn unless someone like Joseph were to speak out.

Some ninety years earlier, Joseph had been bullied and sold into slavery by the brothers to whom he now spoke. Enslaved in Egypt, the angry treachery of his master’s wife had then sent Joseph to the pharaoh’s dungeon. Kindnesses to other prisoners were repaid to Joseph with thoughtless indifference. Joseph was forgotten by all.

But somewhere in the midst of the darkness of his life experience, Joseph remembered what God had said. He remembered the promise God had spoken to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. It was a promise that God was working for his—Joseph’s—good and the good of all who honoured God from their heart. Like a piercing ray of light, this word, this call of God on his life, brought Joseph hope.

And later Joseph began to see God using him to bring hope into others’ lives, including those brothers who had begun the terrible chain of events Joseph had suffered. “You intended to harm me,” he would later summarize for his guilt-ridden brothers, “but God intended it for good.”

Now Joseph had one more opportunity to speak. He could have used it to bitterly berate his family members for their cruelty to him resulting in so many years of his youth being lost to slavery. He could have used it to take credit for the personal skills that led to his release from prison. He could have used it to flaunt the power and prestige to which he had eventually risen in Egypt. Rather, Joseph’s words reveal that his heart was set on something bigger, something much more important, something of eternal value. Joseph was now thinking of the distant future. He was visualizing God’s promises fulfilled.

God had promised the Israelites a land of their own. He had promised to bless them. More than that, He had promised to bless all nations on earth through them. And most notably, He had promised to send a unique Someone through the Hebrew family line who would reverse the ancient curse produced in Eden by humanity’s inaugural sin.

Although Joseph knew he would not live to see the day these promises would be fulfilled, he had two reasons in mind when he spoke the message captured in Hebrews 11. Firstly, Joseph believed God’s call on individuals’ lives to be authoritative—both practically and spiritually; Joseph understood every event of his life to be a concatenation—at series of connected events—through which God’s call and promise would be fulfilled. Without Joseph’s enslavement there would have been no inroad into an Egyptian prison. Without the prison, there would have been no opportunity to serve the Pharaoh. And without serving the Pharaoh, Joseph’s family back in Palestine would have perished when the years of drought wreaked their havoc. Looking back over his life, Joseph was able to see that God’s seemingly distant promises had influenced Joseph’s day-to-day opportunities to be faithful. So when Joseph’s final words reminded his people that God would be true to his promise to lead them to their Promised Land, he was passing the baton on, so to speak. He was encouraging them to remain hopeful, faithful and true to God.

Secondly, Joseph believed that God’s call involved inexplicable hints that life was designed to be eternal. He knew the oral tradition told by his ancestors. It spoke of death as a post-scripted addendum to God’s original plan for human life. Had there been no sin there would have been no death. So while Joseph knew with certainty that he, like his ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would die he wanted to make a final statement on behalf of God’s original plan for an undying humanity. He wanted his bones to be brought to the Promised Land because if God’s plan some day included reinstituting eternal non-dying life—if there was Someone who would initiate a resurrection—Joseph wanted to be in on it.

That is what faith in God’s call speaks. It speaks of God taking the difficult events of your and my faith-filled lives and turning them into good. It speaks of a resurrection to eternal life. It speaks of Jesus. This is how faith has and will speak. Are you letting it speak through you?

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The Call of God (Hebrews 11), Part 11

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To Hear is to Worship.

Jacob had been a schemer. As a young man he had blatantly deceived his own father in order to obtain the proverbial ‘blessing’, a divine endorsement he expected would ensure his health, wealth and tribal superiority. He had maneuvered a plan to purchase the girl of his dreams only to discover he had been out-schemed by his new father-in-law, Laban. An unexpected switch found him married to the weak-eyed sister of his intended bride. Jacob had schemed with regard to the wages he earned from the equally wily Laban, and then secretly escaped with Laban’s daughters, idols, and flocks in tow to make a break from the uncomfortable relational ties. He schemed for decades to save his own hide at the expense of family, friends, and the entourage who relied upon him. Jacob’s conniving nature seemed bent on achieving his name’s meaning. He was a ‘supplanter” and ‘heel-grasper’ to the nth degree.

But God would not abandon Jacob to his own miserable misanthropic ways. He would not stand by and watch Jacob dehumanize himself, lost in the downward spiral of his foolish pursuits. God would speak into Jacob’s life in a way that was completely unexpected and counterintuitive. God would call Jacob and rename him. No more was he to supplant those he envied. Never again was he to descend to relationship-destroying deception. Jacob must replace his identity as a manipulative, cunning heel-grasper with a new identity. No longer must he try to grab the world by the tail. Henceforward he must grasp only God. Now he would be called Israel (“he wrestles with God”).

We don’t need to imagine what this new identity did for Jacob/Israel. We’re told. Genesis 35 tells us that following this mid-life christening, Israel immediately put a halt to his travels and worshiped God. And not only then, but also from then on, worship would become the modus operandi, the defining practice, of the renamed patriarch. Some time later, after exacting a promise from his son that upon his death his bones would be transported back to Canaan—the land promised by God in connection with the Covenant—Israel again is recorded as commemorating the moment with reverential worship of God. So when in Hebrews 11 the author summarizes Israel’s life, it comes as no surprise to hear that, “By faith Jacob (sic), when he was dying…worshiped…” Hearing God’s call transformed Jacob’s identity, gave him a new lease on life, a new hope after death, and a new faith in the identity-giver.

The amazing story of how God spoke words of truth and hope into Jacob’s life are relevant to us today. God doesn’t call merely one man. He is not limited to one historical setting or one unique people group. God calls all whose hearts are soft toward him. He calls us and we find ourselves being changed into worshipers. He calls us and our new identity is as His workmanship, His children, His friends, His beloved, His heirs, members of one body, sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus, overcomers, the faithful, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, sons of God, the persecuted, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the sanctified, the forgiven and the forgiving, seekers of God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, storers of heavenly treasures, loved by God and enabled in turn to love others. Read that again and worship Him.

His call to each of us is recorded throughout the pages of Scripture. His words are life and light, identity-giving and worship-producing. Today, God calls us to live by faith, but one day our faith will be made sight.

And in eternity, each of those who have faithfully listened to God’s call will be given a new name. They will be names upon which our identity in Christ will call us to higher and truer deeds of worship that bring ever-expanding glory to the One who gave everything for us. As a result, our worship of Jesus will be transformed into something far more thrilling, effective and productive than any of our feeble heel-grasping ventures came close to approaching on curse-bound earth. The new earth will be a place where our mother-tongue will be worship.

For now, we open our hearts to listen to God and to worship Him as we are able. That is enough for now. That is faith.