As we come to the end of the year and the joy of Christmas can you remember the feelings you had as a youngster as you anticipated Santa and all the gifts he would bring? I guess those feelings of joy and excitement are some of the best feelings we have in life and yet now we know the wonder of Santa is not even true. As we come to the end of studying the book of beginnings (Genesis) we must not miss the main point of this great book and the main point of all of Scripture – God is real and His promises (His Word) are true and the joy of heaven our true home, where all of our righteous desires will be realized forever, will be far more wonderful than the best Christmas morning we have ever had. This means living by faith in God as modeled by the four patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph as seen in Genesis. "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Heb.13:7-8) From Abraham to Joseph, from our fathers and mentors to the ultimate Man and model Jesus Christ, we are to remember the words of God these people of faith speak to us (as seen through their lives in Scripture as well as our mentors today) and imitate their faith, and pass this on to those who follow us by sharing God's truth with them as we live and die in faith. "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (Heb. 11:13-16) Let's look at Jacob and Joseph's life of faith as we conclude our study of Genesis.
"Then Jacob called for his sons and said: "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel." (49:1-2) "Chapter 49 is not a father's blessing on his sons. Rather, it is a prophecy of what the sons could expect in the future because of their individual characters and the decisions they had made." (W. Wiersbe) The prophecies of Jacob over his 12 sons (plus Ephraim and Manasseh) relate to their obedience or disobedience to God. Many commentators say that interpreting the full meaning of these prophecies from the Hebrew text is very difficult. For example, Dr. Merrill Unger says these prophecies represent different stages of history for the Jewish nation and include OT history (Reuben, Simeon and Levi); NT history and Christ's millennial reign (Judah); Israel scattered among the nations (Zebulun and Issachar); apostate Israel during the reign of the Antichrist (Dan); the godly Jewish remnant during the great tribulation (Gad, Asher and Naphtali) and the kingdom age (Joseph and Benjamin). One clear point: our faith or lack of faith and thus our obedience or disobedience to God can have a ripple effect for good or evil for years to come as seen in the sons of Jacob. Yet, we are all accountable for our own sins and cannot blame anyone, even the sins of our fathers. (Jer. 31:29-30)
Later we see that both Jacob and Joseph died in faith as they told their family to bury them in the land God promised to them and to not leave them in Egypt. "Then he (Jacob ) gave them these instructions: "I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah." (Gen.49:29-32)
Later on Joseph says the same: "Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." "And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place." So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt." (Gen. 50:24, 26) "Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place." (Exodus 13:19)
"Like his father, Joseph knew what he believed and where he belonged. If we consider all the difficulties he had experienced in life, it is remarkable that Joseph had any faith at all. He knew God's promise to Abraham that the nation would be delivered from Egypt (15:12-16), and he reiterated that promise to his family. Joseph had brought them to Egypt and cared for them in Egypt. His coffin reminded them that God would bring them out of Egypt. What an encouragement that was during the dark days of their bondage. Our encouragement today is not a coffin but an empty tomb." (W. Wiersbe)
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Peter 1:3) Genesis ends with a full tomb (6 people) in the promise land but still not possessed by God's people. The New Testament ends with an empty tomb (also in the promised land but under the bondage of Rome) and the promise of heaven. "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:2-3)
"These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." (Heb. 11:39-40) God had promised Abraham and his descendents the land of Canaan and they all lived and died with that hope yet it was unfulfilled in their lifetime. But their faith was not in vain for all the promises God made to Israel will be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom (Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 20:1-6). Their faith was solid because it related to what God had told them to hope for. Likewise we are to hope for what God has promised us and as we do our faith can remain strong even as we wait for heaven where the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises to us will be fully realized.
Biblical hope and faith go together as modeled by the four patriarchs in Genesis and as we see in Heb. 11:1: "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see."
So to keep a strong faith to the end we must be careful to hope for what God promises us. Otherwise we will have misplaced, unbiblical hopes and get disappointed with life and God. I see three primary promises for us as New Testament believers: 1) The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, etc, (Gal. 5:22-23) that comes as we abide in Christ (John 15:5); 2) that Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us, so we need not fear any evil for He is always with us (Psalm 23:4; Heb. 13:5); and 3) that one day we will be with God in heaven where our obedience will be rewarded and all the righteous desires of our hearts will be experienced forever (Rev. 20-22).
Questions for reflection and application.
How do hope and faith relate to one another? See Hebrews 11:1.
What did God promise Abraham and his descendents and when will it be fulfilled? (Gen 12 and 15; Revelation 20:1-6; Isaiah 65:17-25)
What does God promise us in this life and after this life?
Are you hoping for something that God has not promised? If so, how does this affect your faith?
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:8-11)
We wish you and your family a joyful and blessed Christmas, Len and Kristen