Last week one of the most educated people in the world left this planet. He was a highly regarded individual and had quite a following. He dedicated his life to things I cannot pretend to understand. As my mother used to say, “He’s too smart for his britches.” Being smart, in and of itself, is not a sin, but it is what a person does with the knowledge that counts. This scientist gave us many scientific theories and knew more about “black holes” than any living being (other than the God who created them). I believe the motive for his research was to disprove God. It seems like a terrible waste of talent. Moreover, I think of the woman that spent most of her life living with apes. When I pass from this world, I want to be known for more than ape-whispering!
Webster defines “theory” with words such as an interpretation, abstract thought, concession and tentative assumption. These words do not provide a sense of assurance, but Ps.34:7-8 does, “The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” That, my friends, is palpable security.
In Acts 26:24, ”Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” Paul was not spewing some unproven theory. He was preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ! Paul was a very learned man in the Jewish faith, and Festus had mistakenly believed that this knowledge put Paul over the top and did not consider his born-again experience on the Damascus Road. All of Paul’s pre-Christ knowledge was laid aside for the truth of the Gospel. He states in 1 Co. 2:2, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Our quest on earth should be likewise. Our objective should be, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Php. 3:10).
Possessing knowledge can be a good or bad thing. Knowledge (and pure unbelief) led this scientist to conclude that “the concept of an afterlife is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” I admit I was afraid of the dark as a child, but God enlightened me. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Co 13:11). I never had to worry about learning making me mad, but running with the world did. I praise God that He supplied a way through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross so when I die I will spend eternity with Him. I have learned to flee the dark and run to the Light (John 14:6)!
Would you like some advice? Do you think a 130-year-old man (who has seen his share of blessing and betrayal; terror and triumph; wonder and worry) would have advice for you?
The last few chapters of Genesis focus on Jacob in a unique way. He has a lot of wisdom to offer, but the most important tip he has is in Genesis 47:9, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage…”
You probably were not expecting that to be the best tip from Jacob, but listen to what the old man is saying.
The children of Israel are about to experience privilege and blessing in the land of Egypt for more than a century because of Joseph’s wisdom. You can see the contrast between the Egyptians and the Israelites in Genesis 47. While the Egyptians run out of money, herds, lands, and freedom, the children of Israel are given food, herds, land, and freedom. While the Egyptians are becoming slaves of Pharaoh, the Israelites are earning favor. Yet, Jacob says it is all a pilgrimage. Do not grow attached!
It is a subtle insight into the mindset of this old man and he must have taught it to his children. It was not caught though. The children of Israel obviously enjoyed their choice position in Egypt too much for too long. It took a couple hundred years of slavery for God to eradicate the pleasure of Egypt from His people. Even with all the slavery and persecution, once God delivered His people from Egypt, it has been said, “God got his people out of Egypt, but getting Egypt out of his people was another story.” If only they had lived life as a pilgrimage! They would have been better for it.
God’s blessing in this life is not designed so you can anchor yourself to this terra firma. The more you indulge yourself with the blessing of this life, the more indelibly its impression upon your identity. The more comfortable you become, the less delight you have for eternal things. Keep your eyes looking ahead for the greatest blessing. Like Jacob, see this life as a pilgrimage. “These…confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on this earth. For they…seek a country…a better country, that is, an heavenly” (Hebrews 11:13-16). This was the signature of those champions listed in Hebrews 11. They did not settle for the pleasantries of this life. They saw it as God’s blessing to accomplish His will through their lives. The promise given to Abraham was still echoing through their minds.
“I will bless thee, and make thy name great…and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).
Take the advice of an old man. Live this life as a pilgrimage. Use God’s blessing now as a tool to bless others. Keep looking forward to the eternal blessing.
Jacob lived on the edge. He struck when the opportunity was ripe without considering anyone else’s interest or welfare. His deception forced others to step between him and the blood-thirsty victim of his trickery. Even God came to Laban in a dream and warned him not to touch Jacob!
It’s encouraging to see someone like Jacob, whose relationship with God seemed to be overcast, suddenly transform as if the sunlight of faith burned through the mist. Think about the examples of his grandfather and father whenever there was a famine. Abraham and Isaac immediately descended into Egypt and lied about their wives. You see the sunbeams of good judgment peak through the clouds for Jacob because, unlike his predecessors, he avoided going down to Egypt personally. Only his sons were permitted to go down to buy food so their families would not starve to death. Does Jacob lose his senses when he hears Joseph has invited him to live in Egypt? Think about how much Jacob wanted to see his son, yet he showed restraint. Jacob journeyed through Beersheba “and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1). He actually desired to know God’s will in this matter! Is this the same Jacob?
At the end of Genesis 47, Jacob acknowledged God’s sovereignty with a simple gesture. After giving his last wishes to Joseph, “Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head” (Genesis 47:31). Decades earlier, a young Joseph intimated a recent dream to his family where the stars, moon, and sun made obeisance to him. The family sneered at such insolence! Now, at the end of his life, Jacob realizes it was God’s plan and humbly accepts the handiwork of God.
Even after his death, Jacob directed his children and grandchildren to look forward to the day they would return to Canaan. Jacob definitely learned in the school of hard knocks, and he eventually graduated from such adolescent foolishness. He began to discern God’s mighty provision and masterful direction in his life.
How about your life? Has it been a little like a bumper car? You’ve arrived where you are but you have many bumps and bruises to show for it. It’s never too late to change the way you rely on God. If someone like Jacob could change then there is hope for us all.
There are many subjects and issues in Scripture which are explicitly spelled out for us, giving us little if any room for argument or discussion. For example, the Lord is very clear in His Word how he feels about issues such as homosexuality, theft, idolatry and laziness. That said, there are many other issues that are not nearly as “cut and dry” in the Bible but often instead God gives us principles to live by without giving specific details. Our passage this morning discusses how our spirit and attitude should be towards others with whom we have a difference of opinion.
In 1 Corinthians 8, we come across the subject of eating food that had at one point been offered to idols. Some found that food to be implicitly tainted by the fact that at one point it had been offered to an idol as part of false worship. Others in the church; however, had the attitude that since the idol is obviously just a man-made invention, who cares if that food had at one point been offered to an idol- that’s good food! Paul apparently could eat that food with a clear conscience. However, he also made it clear in verse 13, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh (meat) while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
Let’s swing this principle over to 2018 in America. The issue of eating meat that had once been offered to an idol is not something we face. However, there are many such issues that I think would fall into this category. In my time in fundamental circles, I’ve seen many disagreements among good godly people on things like celebrating (or not) certain holidays, differing music standards, dress standards, public vs. Christian vs. homeschool, and the list goes on. The point of this passage and lesson is not to determine who is right or wrong, but instead what our attitude should be toward others with whom we disagree.
Paul is very clear that if his eating meat that had once been offered to an idol would offend a brother, he would not eat the meat. His attitude was one of submission towards other believers. He was not going to parade around his Christian liberty but was instead going to do whatever was necessary not to offend another believer with his personal standard. Should we study these previously mentioned issues to come to our own personal convictions? Absolutely. Should we compromise our personal standards for the sake of unity? Absolutely not. But while we may be convinced we have the correct stand or understanding on an issue, we need to make sure our attitude is equally as Biblical. As 1 Corinthians 13: 4 reminds us, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”
You’ve certainly played the game with youngsters where behind your back you wrap your hand around a small toy, coin, or item of interest then show both fists and exclaim, “Guess which hand!” You are teaching the child an early lesson on probability and statistics. They begin to understand if it’s been in one hand for so many times, then eventually it must switch to the other hand. They notice patterns. Although they couldn’t write out a formula, they are developing a formula to help them predict potential outcomes. Job’s miserable comforters are playing a little game where they attempt to predict God’s hand. Through their experiential knowledge, they have the statistical formulas worked out as to how God works. If you are blessed then you are righteous, but if you are cursed then you are wicked. Job denies their theory, but he demands God give him an explanation which, we will eventually see, he is unable to comprehend.
We cannot cram the infinite God into a formulaic system. There are too many probabilities in the universe. There are too many factors to consider. Job said it best when he declared, “Lo, their good is not in their hand” (Job 21:16). The wicked really do not have any control over their future. They cannot hack the system. Your life lays vulnerable in the hands of the Almighty God. This would be terrifying if God were like us. We would fear oppression and mistreatment with such power. However, God’s nature is not tainted with our self-centered misgivings. To know God is to know your greatest solace. In Psalm 123, we are given the portrait of a servant watching the hand of his master. We are to have our eyes fixed on the hand of God. His hand directs our path, dispenses His mercy, and disciplines our failures.
We are told of three moments in Scriptures where God’s hand wrote. In Exodus, the hand of God inscribed the directives we know as the ten commandments upon stone. These were the guardrails of righteousness for the people of God. In John 8, a woman was thrown at Jesus’ feet who had failed to follow the commandments. She had been taken in adultery. Jesus stooped down and wrote with his finger on the ground. We are not told what he wrote, but we do see him dispense mercy to the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). The third time we see the hand of God is in the book of Daniel. Those who disregarded the directives and despised the dispensation of mercy found themselves receiving an omen of severe discipline for Babylon’s failure. The book of Hebrews echoes the terror, “The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30-31).
Blessings come from God’s hand but trials also come. Watch God’s hand in your direction, provision, and even the loving discipline of a loving Father. Take the guessing out of your life and rest in His inexhaustible goodness.