The Thirteen Tribes of Israel

On, and on is the mention of the twelve tribes of Israel, the sons of Jacob, and yet we find the land divided into 13 territories. Most people, who’s study of Scripture includes the Hebrew Scriptures, know this. Most, even those who study those Scriptures, haven’t really thought about it, though.

Now these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob; they came each one with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt.

Exodus 1:1-5 (NASB)

There are twelve sons, and Joseph is given two spots in the land. That’s what happened to give us 13 instead of 12 tribes. And it shouldn’t have surprised us, the elder son was supposed to get an extra portion, so with 12 children, there should have been 13 portions anyway. But there’s a lesson in this.

Back in the final words of Jacob in Genesis 48 and 49, Jacob specifically tells Joseph that his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, would be considered Jacob’s. His father adopts these two and places them ahead of his first two sons, Reuben and Simeon (Genesis 48:5). So, Jacob has given Joseph the extra portion reserved for the first-born. And this carries on a series of reversals among Abraham’s descendants.

Jacob was blessed over Esau, and Isaac over Ishmael. And all this was from the God who led Abraham from the land of the Chaldeans to a new land. These reversals would continue. The lessor would become master of the greater, the first last, and the last first. Reversals become thematic throughout Scripture.

Even in the blessing of Jacob on the sons of Joseph, the reversals continue. Joseph arranges his sons before his father so the correct son is under the correct hand, yet Jacob reverses his hands as he blesses Joseph (Gen. 48:14). It’s another reversal, and Jacob does it intentionally. Jacob blesses Joseph with his hands reversed on the the heads of Joseph’s sons, and then blesses the two boys.

Reversals are supposed to happen. They’re not flaws, they’re features. We don’t like reversals, at least not in our own lives. We like it when the successful evil guy finally looses big time. We like it when our enemies stumble and crash and burn. But we’re not so likely to enjoy our own problems, foibles, setbacks, and failures. Even when we do what is right, obey, pray, read Scripture, and participate in the Kingdom of God, we still suffer. That’s how our Master designed it.

So, don’t be discouraged when the going gets tough. We don’t need more duct tape, we need more Jesus. And He may not make the going easier, but He will never abandon us as we go through it. If Paul sought to make up what was lacking in the sufferings of Jesus (Col. 1:24), why should we expect to suffer less? It’s not necessarily punishment, but often it’s character-building. Just what we wanted, right?

Keep in mind also, that reversals are also blessings. Joseph was blessed twice as much as his brothers through his sons. It wasn’t that the other sons of Jacob didn’t receive territory in the land of promise. It was that Joseph received two of them. Jacob loved all his sons, and he blessed all his sons, but he blessed Joseph twice as much. As much as this may have been difficult for his brothers, it was also expected. Jacob had favored Joseph before, and their jealousy of him is what God used to get Joseph into Egypt.

But this wasn’t the end of the story, it was another chapter. Joseph in Egypt is how God provided for His chosen people during the famine. He used Joseph to rescue Israel, but also Egypt. So, the brothers of Joseph understood that it wasn’t their father who preferred Joseph, but it was God Almighty who chose him to provide for them. To the degree they were able to understand that, and Joseph explains it to them twice, at least, they would understand the double-portion falling to Joseph.

Perhaps the reversal in your life is a double portion you weren’t supposed to get. Perhaps it’s a loss of the portion you expected. Whatever it is, rejoice in the continued work of our Master in your life. Paul says in Philippians 4 that he has learned the secret of being content in every situation because he can do all things through Jesus, the One strengthening him. So can we. We can learn that same lesson, because we can also do all things through Jesus, the One strengthening us.


Blooming Where Planted: Joseph IV

If I can’t judge the love of my Master for me when I’m in the crusher, then can I do so when things are going really good?  Nope.  Paul claims that he learned the secret of being content in plenty and in poverty (Philippians 4:11-13).  A change happens for Joseph, but his behavior remains consistently focused on his Master, Yahweh.

Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.  Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “I would make mention today of my own offenses. (Genesis 41:8-9 NASB)

The cup bearer has an opportunity to remember Joseph, and what he did for him while in the jail.  Joseph is brought out, cleaned up, and given an opportunity to come before Pharaoh.  When he does, what does Joseph say? He points to God.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”  Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”  (Genesis 41:15-16 NASB)

And God does give Pharaoh a favorable answer, but there’s more than just the answer God gives to understand the dream.  Joseph also gives Pharaoh guidance in how to respond to the meaning.  There’s an important element to how Joseph does that.

“Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.  Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.  Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance.  Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it.  Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.”  Now the proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants. (Genesis 41:32-37 NASB)

Whether Joseph did this with the hope that he would be “the man discerning and wise”, or whether he simply saw the answer and gave it without hope to be that man, is debated.  It’s not easy to know.  In every previous circumstance we’re not given the initial response of Joseph to his masters, merely that he succeed under each master.

So, it’s possible that he uses this suggestion as a way to get in good with Pharaoh, who has already demonstrated a lack of wise magicians.  But it’s also possible that Joseph is simply without guile by this time, and makes the suggestion knowing that this will be the best response for whoever Pharaoh appoints.

Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?”  So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are.  You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.”  Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:38-41 NASB)

But it works out that Pharaoh has no qualms about who Joseph has been, only for what he has said to Pharaoh now.  There’s no “class” problem with Joseph having been a slave, or a felon, or even a Hebrew.  Pharaoh makes Joseph the second in the Kingdom of Egypt because it’s clear he has a plan.  Joseph has arrived.

Right away, Joseph gets busy implementing his plan for surviving the seven years of famine.  And he collects so much grain in the seven years of plenty that they stop counting it.  But Joseph also is fruitful personally…

Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him.  Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”  He named the second Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:50-52 NASB)

The names of Joseph’s sons is an important view into Joseph, and how he sees what God is doing with him.  Think about why he names his sons as he does.  “God has made me forget all my troubles, and all my father’s household.”  He’s done with where he has come from, and is totally invested in his present.  His past wiped away his dreams.  He has forgotten his father’s house, their dysfunction, their treatment of him, his loss, and his pain.

To Joseph, this is what God is doing in him, this is his “payback” for all he has suffered.
“God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”  He is finally being blessed for his faithfulness to God.  So, the lesson for Joseph is that, if we hold fast to our faith in God, then, eventually, we’ll be blessed wherever we are!  God is good, see?  Look what He did for Joseph, rewarding his faithfulness.

So, decisions we make, decisions to remain faithful to God, these eventually work in our favor.  The question is timing.  The problem with pragmatism is that, way too often, time is too heavy of a factor.  Understanding and wisdom comes over long periods of time, but we’re impatient.  Often it’s the spectrum of experience, bad and good, that helps us better understand where we are, and what our Master is doing around and through us.  But keep in mind, the goal isn’t the achievement of power God granted to Joseph, but the serenity Paul learned.  We, too, can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

What’s your view through the knothole?


Do what’s right, and you’ll succeed, all will be well, flowers will bloom, birds sing, and the sun will finally come out from behind the stormy clouds.  Right?  Or, you might end up in jail.  On this day celebrating the reformation, perhaps it will do us good to remember one who fought against tyranny, named for the reformer, Martin Luther, who wound up shot for his good and faithful service.  There’s a sad saying that, “No good deed goes unpunished.”  We can, perhaps imagine this on a plaque in Joseph’s cell.  But, still…

But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer.  The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it.  The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper. (Genesis 39:21-23 NASB)

Joseph resists the temptation to take more than Yahweh provides to him, and he’s thrown in jail.  Awesome.  And yet, all he does there Yahweh blesses, and makes prosper.  It’s even something that rubs off on all Joseph touches, so, the entire jail ran better, and the jailer is blessed because of Joseph.  But, before you might think that this sunny ray of goodness is always cheery and has no concept of the bad situation in which he lives, just read further.

Once more, dreams enter into Joseph’s life.  It’s possible that they remind him of his own, or it could be those dreams never left him.  But two newer criminals have dreams.  The cupbearer to Pharaoh and his chief baker both have dreams.  Joseph interprets them for these two bewildered criminals, but see what he says, all that he says to the cupbearer:

Then Joseph said to him, “This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer.  Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house.  For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.” (Genesis 40:12-15 NASB)

It’s easy to believe that Joseph’s success was due to his sunny disposition.  But we learn here that he is very aware that he doesn’t belong there.  He’s not happy that he’s been wrongly accused, that his brothers sold him into slavery, that he’s deserved none of this.  His success isn’t due to his attitude, it’s due to Yahweh.  It’s Yahweh’s work in his life and through him, into the lives of others that brings this success.  It’s very possible Joseph would have traded all the success to be out of the jail, no longer a slave, and back home, even with his brothers.  But Yahweh wasn’t done yet.

Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants.  He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them.  Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. (Genesis 40:20-23 NASB)

Joseph wants out, helps another, sees a way out, and…remains where he is.  Joseph’s Master wasn’t done yet.  It wasn’t time.  Maybe Joseph needed to “marinate” a little more, or maybe his Master was setting up the other characters in the play.  Either way, Joseph remained there for another two years.

The philosophy unique to Americans is “Pragmatism”.  It’s a wonderful system where, if it works, it must be right.  We bandy about the cliche, “Whatever works!” not even realizing it’s the expression of the root of the “American Spirit” and the “American Way”.  Think through that for a moment, “whatever works”.  Really?  Any means to an end is right?  Well, perhaps, if the end sought includes good for all involved, maybe then, any means to get there would be right.  But even so, at its core, it’s actually creepy.

What if our Master leads us through a path, which, for every right choice we make, increases our misery?  We remain faithful to Him, and our life here becomes more unbearable?  That does not follow the “pragmatism” of our culture and society.  How will we be able to remain faithful to our Master when He doesn’t improve our situation?  If we are faithful and end up in jail, will we continue in faithfulness?  Martin Luther King Jr. did.  He continued to do the right thing and eventually was killed for it.

What will you do, when it actually gets worse for you, what will you do?  Will you judge the Almighty by your circumstances?  I do.  It doesn’t work, but I do it anyway.  In the end, it’s not very pragmatic to judge the Creator of the universe by my circumstances on one crumb of that creation.

What’s your view of our Master through the fence this morning?

Blooming Where Planted: Joseph II

Have you ever known one of those people who, regardless of the weather, are sunny?  How long have you spent with someone for whom every situation seems to be another opportunity to shine.  Not only does nothing seem to get them down, but they succeed at everything.  They really annoy me, because they show just how bad my attitude really is, and how cynical I’ve become.  Do you know anyone like that?  Except for the “sunny all the time” bit, that’s Joseph.

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there.  The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. (Genesis 39:1-2 NASB)

Sold into slavery, by his brothers no less, and he works, works hard, and is successful.  I’ve always wondered if Joseph was “cheery” as he worked, or if his attitude improved as his success increased.  Was he despondent when he first arrived?  Was the trip down there loud and obnoxious, a spoiled brat calling for his dad?  Did he progress through the “stages of grief” or whatever it’s called when your life drastically becomes worse and you have to adapt?  Would it be stages of trauma or disaster?  He’s a human, so I’m guessing he did.

But, when you read about those stages (like in Psychology Today), the stages aren’t necessarily automatic.  So, a lot of people, without help, get stuck in the progression.  Joseph doesn’t.  I admit, I probably would.  Think about how you would react.  Being sold, by his brothers, into slavery, in a foreign country, it all completely undermined the safety and control Joseph had assumed he had.  Parental preference actually meant a lot less than he thought it did for his safety.

Somewhere in that traumatic shock of powerlessness and violation, he discovers that Yahweh is with him, that the God of his father is giving him success.  We’re not told how he noticed it.  We’re only told that Yahweh was with Joseph, and “…he was a man causing success; and was in the house of his master the Egyptian.”  What a strange way to put it.  He was a man causing success.  In other words, whatever he tried, worked.  That is, except escape or to not be a slave.  This God of his father wanted him as a slave.  And Joseph lived with that, blooming where Yahweh planted him.

Which of us could bloom in such hard ground?  I’m not sure my sense of personal entitlement or pride would totally prohibit me from blooming, but it sure wouldn’t help.  What do you think you would do?  If you tried to escape, where would you go?  The desert is in all directions.  My passive aggressive nature would probably kick in, do you have that too?  Yet, all we’re told is that Joseph succeeded, he caused success, even to those around him.  I’m not sure how I’d react to that.  Somehow, I’m sure I’d figure out a way to try and use that for my personal gain, and that would be what would fail.

Joseph is elevated in the household of his master.  He’s a slave, but he’s the chief slave, running everything, and everything he runs succeeds.  It’s the life, perhaps the best of a horrible situation, but he’s finally doing well.  Until that woman.

It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge.  There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:7-9 NASB)

The clue that Joseph hasn’t given into complete self indulgence due to his success is how he responds to his master’s wife.  Perhaps he’s smart enough to know that she is a disaster, and would eventually spell his death if he cooperated with her.  Maybe there were already stories of predecessors who had suffered her, and then suffered because of her.  All we’re told is that he resisted her, and did so because of his success, and that he ascribes such an act as a sin against God.  He recognizes who is responsible for his success, he knows it’s not him.  I’m not sure I’d be that insightful, how about you?

Eventually she traps him alone, and he escapes without his cloak.  She uses that to accuse him, and his master has him imprisoned with the king’s prisoners.  Where has that success from God gone now?  He did not sin against God, yet his circumstances grew worse?  No good deed goes unpunished?  And yet, we don’t have a complaint against God lodged by Joseph.  Although, we do have clues about how he views his circumstances later on.  Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, what do you learn from Joseph’s adaptation to his slavery?  What do you learn from his deteriorating circumstances, even after doing the right thing?  I learn that my circumstances aren’t what define the character qualities of my Master.  I know that, but my emotions sure don’t like that.  My circumstances do not define the character qualities of my Master, and that means good or bad circumstances.  So, my Master is who He says He is, regardless of my day, week, month, or year, or even years.  In good or bad circumstances, my Master is good, loving, and sovereign.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

A Spiritual Compass: Joseph I

The story of Joseph in Genesis 37 through 47 (less chapter 38) is one of the transformation of a spoiled brat into a ruler of Egypt, and savior of his people.  The setting of this character is a dysfunctional family (as nearly every family in Scripture seems to be).  The background to Joseph’s family includes his father stealing the family blessing from his brother, the murder of the men of Shechem by Levi and Simeon, and the eldest, Reuben, slept with his father’s concubine.  Jacob’s wives and their handmaids were the four mothers of Jacob’s twelve, and they didn’t get along.  The household was a mess, much like ours.

Into this messed up family comes Joseph.  He tattles on his brothers, receives preferential treatment by his father (an expensive cloak), and his brothers cannot speak to him in peace.  There is strife already between the kids, and the parents, Joseph, and his brothers are complicent in the problems.  Into this boiling pot, God delivers two dreams to Joseph.  Of course, Joseph shares the dreams, they will also get his brothers going.

He can’t really control how Jacob treats him, and what kid wouldn’t like the attention?  And he can’t really control how his brothers treat him, and what kid would like that?  All your older brothers get to do stuff, and you don’t.  They won’t talk to you peaceably.  They obviously don’t like Joseph, so, Joseph goes with it.  He doesn’t care that they don’t like him, he figures, with how dad feels about him, he’s invulnerable.  Only he’s not.

In the first dream, the twelve, including Joseph, are “bringing in the sheaves”, when Joseph’s stands erect, and the others gather around and bow down to it.  In the second, the sun and moon, and eleven stars all bow down to him.  This one, even his father doesn’t like, but he’s thoughtful about it.  How could his brothers accept such a “dream” from this brother?  But they do have a plan to keep it from happening.

Jacob sends Joseph to Shechem because his brothers have the flocks there.  Only they don’t.  Joseph can’t find them among the hills around Shechem.  He’s found wandering the fields by some guy who tells him they’ve moved to Dothan.  So off goes Joseph to Dothan.  A long way off his brothers see him and plot.

The first idea is to kill him and blame it on a wild beast.  Reuben talks them out of that, saying they should simply throw him in a pit rather than shed his blood.  He wants to use Joseph to get back in daddy’s good graces.  When Joseph arrives, they take his cloak and throw him into the pit.  Then they sit down to a meal.  We’re not told where Reuben went, but he’s not around for the arrival of the caravan of “desert folk” to Egypt with smelly gum, balm, and burial deodorant.

The brothers figure it makes more sense to profit from Joseph at least rather than simply let him die.  So, they sell him as a slave to the caravan for 20 shekels of silver.  When Reuben comes back, he discovers Joseph gone, and is all upset; his plan is ruined.  They opt to take the cloak and dip it in goat blood, tear it up, and give that to their father.  When Jacob inspects the coat, he assumes his son has been devoured by beasts, and mourns inconsolably for Joseph.

So, the choices made by the father brought strife between brothers.  The choices of Joseph exacerbated the strife.  The brothers chose to “unbrother” Joseph, and sold him into slavery.  Then they chose to let Jacob believe he was dead.  This dysfunctional family functioned to intensify their own pain.  Yet, in this account, Yahweh is the One using them to provide for their survival.

Either the plan of Yahweh was to use their dysfunction all along, or He simply used whatever their dysfunction led them to do in His plan.  Either way, their dysfunction was never enough to thwart the direction of Yahweh.  That’s comforting.  Problem families are now more the norm than the exception.  Yet, whatever the dysfunction, our Master still uses such families in His plans.  None are so bad they can’t be used.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of God through yours?