The End of the Beginning
A sermon on Genesis 49:29-50:26 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 12/5/04
Suppose you have a job interview tomorrow. This is a job you’d really like to get. Indeed, it seems perfect for you. You know you are well-qualified and will be able to do the well; you know you will be an asset to the company; furthermore, you are sure you would enjoy both your colleagues and the work itself. You’ll be interviewed by the CEO of the company – a man you’ve never met before.
What goals will you have for the first 5 minutes of the interview?
In that time, you want to make sure he knows the most important facts about you. You don’t want to let the conversation move to areas of less importance. You want to identify and then communicate a few key points about your skills, your experience, your ability – as well as something of who you are as a person.
Just as the first five minutes of a job interview are important for communicating who we are, the first book of the Bible is important for communicating who God is. God has ensured that when we pick up His Word, the first book we encounter tells us key facts about Him, key themes that run throughout Scripture.
Today we complete our study of the book of Genesis. For those of you who have been at DGCC every Sunday since April 18, this is the 30th sermon you’ve heard on Genesis. What has God told you about Himself in this book? What key characteristics has He chosen to communicate through this first book of the Bible?
As I said in the first sermon in the series:
Our text for today, the final 30 verses of the book, brings out some of these themes. But I also want us to look back and recollect what God tells us throughout the book, so that as we reach the end of the beginning of the Bible, we can hold on to the precious truths God chooses to leave with us.
There are four themes we’ll emphasize this morning, providing us with four headings:
How does Genesis begin? What are the first words in the Bible? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Thus, God existed before the beginning of time.
Furthermore, Jesus Himself was an active agent in creation. As John tells us:
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:3
But why did God create? Why did He create anything? Psalm 19 tells us why God made the heaven, the skies:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.Psalm 19:1
And Isaiah 43 tells us God made people for the same reason:
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory . . .21 the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise. Isaiah 43:6, 7, 21
So why did God create? To display His glory. That is, to display what He is like. To show His excellencies.
Thus, God is the central actor – not only in Genesis 1, where He is ONLY actor, the Creator, but throughout the book. The Bible is a book about the acts of God. Genesis begins the Bible by emphasizing that God created, and remains active in His creation. He remains active through controlling, intervening, correcting, judging, and loving both the world in general and humanity in particular. And He does this all for the purpose of glorifying Himself.
What did God say about the first man and woman after He created them?
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:31
God created Adam and Eve without fault. But they did not trust God. They did not have faith in God. They did not believe that He would reward them. As Hebrews tells us,
Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6
Adam and Eve chose instead to believe the lie of Satan, who suggested that God was withholding the good from them by commanding them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When they believed Satan’s lie, when they disobeyed God’s command thinking that would improve their lot, they acted as if God were cruel, selfish, and unloving. Far from glorifying God, they were belittling God. In that act, therefore, they violated the very purpose of their creation.
God created man for His glory. Adam and Eve stole glory from God through their disobedience.
The impact of that sin is apparent throughout the rest of Genesis. That sin stains both the world and all of Adam and Eve’s descendants.
Cain, the first human child born in the world, becomes a murderer. By the time of Noah,
The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. Genesis 6:5 NIV
So God wipes out mankind and all living creatures through a worldwide flood, saving only Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives, along with representative animals in the ark.
Does this solve the problem? The author of Genesis makes clear that it does not. Immediately after the story of the flood, the narrator tells of Noah’s drunkenness, and the sin of his son Ham and grandson Canaan against him while he is in that state. Man is still lost in sin.
Chapter 11 tells of the attempt to construct the tower of Babel so that men can “make a name for” themselves. Men here try to exalt themselves by their might and ingenuity. They are not living to God’s glory, but to their own glory.
From chapter 12 to end of the book, Genesis tells the story of God’s dealings with Abraham and his descendants. God chooses this particular clan as His special people. Are they stained by sin also? Even the very family God chooses? By all means: Genesis relates sins of every patriarch: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and the others. And, as we have seen, some of those sins are gross, terrible sins.
Today’s text refers to some of those sins. Look at Genesis 50:15:
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him."
Remember all those evils? They threw him in pit, planning to kill him. They refused to listen to his cries for mercy, callously sitting down and eating while discussing his fate. Then a caravan came by, and Judah suggested they sell him into slavery and make a buck, instead of simply leaving him to die.
These are God’s chosen people! Judah is the ancestor of King David, of the Lord Jesus Christ! Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s sons all exist only by the grace of God. He created them for the purpose of glorifying Him. He chooses them is a special act of grace by bringing Abraham out of Ur and to the promised land. But they think nothing of God’s grace. Instead, they act like Cain – they are prepared to kill their brother.
What about you? Do you acknowledge the reason for your existence? Do you see sin in your life – your failure to live up to the purpose of your creation? Do you see how pervasive that sin nature is, staining every act, every thought?
Certainly man’s sinfulness is a key theme of Genesis. But God shows great mercy in response to man’s sinfulness. This appears first in chapter 3, in what God does NOT do. He would be justified in killing Adam and Eve at the moment they eat the forbidden fruit. But God does not kill them. Similarly, He does not kill Cain after he murders his brother in Chapter 4, nor Noah and his family in chapters 6 to 9.
But God’s mercy is even greater than that. He not only shows mercy, but promises mankind a redeemer! God promises to raise up a man who will put an end to evil. As He says in Genesis 3:15 when speaking to the serpent,
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." Genesis 3:15 NIV
This promise of a redeemer is THE major theme of the Bible. This theme continues through the history of Israel, until Jesus is born, dies, and resurrected. The last book in the Bible, Revelation – which we will study beginning at the end of January – tells final installment:
The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. Revelation 11:15
In Genesis after 3:15 we see this theme in microcosm, in particular stories. Consider first the covenant with Noah after the flood. God says,
I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man's heart is evil from his youth. Genesis 8:21
Did you get that? God says He will NOT curse the ground BECAUSE the intention of man’s heart is evil. It seems like the opposite should be the case: if man’s heart is evil, God should zap them! Instead, God is saying, “If I wiped out mankind every time man exhibited his sin nature, I would just repeat an endless cycle of sin and judgment. That is not my purpose in the flood. The flood does not deal with sin. The flood instead is a picture, a warning to mankind of the final judgment of sin. I will save a remnant from that final judgment – and this remnant will fulfill the purpose of humanity – to glorify God. And I will send my Redeemer to cover their sins.”
Where else in Genesis do we see the theme of God’s sovereign mercy in microcosm? To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when they sin again and again. The Bible doesn’t hide their sins – instead, it details them, it elaborates on them: Abraham runs to Egypt right after his arrival in the promised land, fearing famine; Abraham lies about Sarah, saying she is his sister – not once but twice. How does God react to this sin? He has a pagan king rebuke Abraham – but then that same king gives him riches! Abraham sins, but God graciously sees that he benefits nevertheless.
Abraham later sins in listening to Sarah’s doubts about God’s plan to give Abraham offspring through her. When she suggests that he have sexual relations with her maidservant Hagar in order to father a child, he agrees, leading to the birth of Ishmael. How does God react to this sin? He makes Ishmael into a great nation! And He continues to fulfill His promise: when Abraham and Sarah are too old to have a child, God miraculously gives them Isaac.
That very child of the promise, Isaac, later sins in trying to resist God’s plan to fulfill His promise through Jacob, not Esau. Isaac tries to bless Esau on the sly, without telling Rebekah or Jacob. But when Jacob deceives him, and receives the blessing despite Isaac’s best efforts, God opens Isaac’s eyes to his foolishness, and he repents. God once again shows great mercy.
And what about Jacob? He sins again and again and again – we can’t even list them all:
· Conniving with his mother to deceive his father;
· Showing obvious favoritism towards Joseph over his other sons;
· Becoming bitter and angry towards God after Joseph disappears.
How does God react? With sovereign mercy. As we saw in last two sermons, by the end of his life, Jacob fully trusts God. He is even willing to give up seeing Joseph again if God wants him to stay in the promised land.
But God’s sovereign mercy perhaps shines through most clearly in the story of Joseph’s brothers, the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel. We already read verse 15 of today’s text, noting how the brothers feared Joseph would punish them for their sin after their father died. They thus send a message to Joseph:
“Your father gave this command before he died, 17 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." Genesis 50:16-17
How doe Joseph respond?
Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." 19 But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:17-21
“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Here God takes the evil inclinations of man’s heart, such as those described in Genesis 6:5, and uses them for the good of His people and glory of His name. Most notably, He uses their evil actions to save them and their children.
Furthermore, Joseph’s understanding of God’s sovereign design frees him from anger and bitterness. He is free to forgive – knowing that God exalted him and benefited him through their evil actions.
So do you see why we label this section “Sovereign Mercy” and not just “Mercy”? God displays His sovereignty over all that happens – even the evil plans of evil men. He guides and superintends all events to bring about His good purposes. He is sovereign. He is king.
In addition, God is also sovereign over who receives His grace. He chose Abraham - why? There is no explanation in Genesis. God chose him simply because He chose him. Indeed, the book emphasizes God’s sovereign choice again and again, frequently in His choice of the younger brother over older siblings: Seth over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Ephraim over Manasseh. God certainly didn’t choose Abraham and his descendants because of any foreseen good works – they are all sinners! But as Paul writes concerning God’s choice of the patriarchs in Romans 9:
When Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God's purpose of election might stand, not because of works but because of his call- 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." 14 What shall we say then? is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:10-16
Thus God’s great mercy is a sovereign mercy – He chooses individuals. He saves them despite their kicking and screaming. He works all things together to bring them to Himself. And He shows this so clearly in the lives of Jacob and his sons.
Also, don’t miss the obvious point that God shows this sovereign mercy not to a class of people, not even to all those physically descended from one man, but to individuals. This is one reason why Genesis has so many long lists of names, of genealogies. God is showing us that He cares about individuals, He works through individuals. And thus there is hope for you, an individual.
God shows us this throughout the book, but He underlines this truth in a lovely way here at end. Look at 50:24, where Joseph is speaking to his brothers:
I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Genesis 50:24
This is the first of 27 times in the Bible that the refrain “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” is used. Perhaps the most important of these occurs only a few pages later in your Bible, Exodus 3:6. God appears to Moses at the burning bush and chooses to identify Himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” Many of you are so familiar with that phrase that the astounding truth communicated doesn’t hit you. God does not say, “I am the God of all the universe, the God who created the heavens and the earth.” Nor does He say, “I am the God who has promised to send a Redeemer for all mankind through the descendants of Abraham.” Both would be true. Both are precious truths. Both are major themes of Genesis and Exodus. Indeed, both are implied by the statement God does make.
But God chooses to identify Himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” He is saying, in part, “I am the God of individuals. I care about individuals. I love individuals. I choose individuals.”
Our God is not the god of deism – a god who creates and sets the world in motion, but then is so transcendent that he cares not one whiff for what goes on. He is not a god who leaves the earth to stew in its own juices. No. He is a God who loves, who is involved, who chooses. He is the God who made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and will fulfill them, in part through Moses. He is the God who has raised these individuals to be with Him – and who will raise you also, if you are in Christ.
So we have seen that God is the Creator. Man is a sinner. Yet our God is a God of sovereign mercy, who shows that mercy to individuals.
The final theme: How should man respond to his own sin when the Creator God shows such abundant, sovereign mercy?
We must trust God to work out all His purposes for our good and His glory.
This has been a major theme of Genesis from the beginning. God called Adam and Eve to live by faith in His goodness in the garden. They failed to do so when they ate of the forbidden fruit. So God made the promise of a future redeemer. Ever since, God has called mankind to live by faith in that coming redeemer. We earlier read from Hebrews 11, which commends many of the characters in Genesis for such faith.
Think of Noah. God told him that a flood was coming, and instructed him to build a huge ark - in the middle of land, with no water around! Noah believed God, and acted. Undoubtedly, his neighbors ridiculed him, but he had faith in God future grace – and was saved from the flood.
Think of Abraham. Recall God’s call:
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:1-3
God tells Abraham, to leave his country – all he knew, all he loved – to go he knew not where. God promises him land and blessings; most of all He promises that the redeemer promised in Genesis 3:15 would come from his offspring, and that all the nations would be blessed through Him.
How does Abraham respond? Verse 4 tells us: “So Abram went.” He left his land, trusting God to lead him to the promised land.
After this, the promised land becomes the embodiment of God’s promise to Abraham. Believing God’s promise of the land becomes the key for Abraham’s descendants.
But first of all Abraham must have a descendant! He has to trust God’s future grace to give him a descendant. Recall that he grows older and older, and Sarah does not bear a child. God changes his name from “Abram,” meaning “exalted father”, to “Abraham”, meaning “father of a multitude”, but no multitude is present. Abraham must trust God. And though he sinned concerning Hagar, as we noted above, in the end he had that faith in God’s future grace – and God gave him a son miraculously through Sarah when she was too old to bear children.
Then God asks Abraham to prove his faith in God’s future grace. He calls upon Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the child of the promise. The question is: Does he trust God enough to be willing to give up what he God gave Him? Does he believe firmly in God’s promise, knowing that Isaac must have descendants, so that God will raise Isaac from the dead if he kills him? Abraham shows that he has such faith, and God graciously sends a ram as a substitute for Isaac – so that both Isaac and the ram picture the sacrificial offering of Jesus.
Then Sarah dies. And Abraham buys a field from the Hittites in which to bury her. Our passage today refers several times to that purchase. Why? Because this is the first piece of the promised land owned by Abraham and his descendants. This is the first installment, we might say, of God’s fulfilling His promise to these people.
Abraham shows he understands the importance of the land in sending his servant back to his relatives to get a wife for Isaac. He does not want Isaac to leave the land. And God miraculously provides a wife.
Jacob shows the importance of faith in God’s promise of the land negatively. He leaves Canaan after his sins almost catch up with him, when Esau is angry enough to kill him. Yet God promises that He will bring him back, and he does so. By the end of his life, Jacob sees through God’s eyes the importance of the land as a picture of God’s promise to Abraham and his offspring.
So in the first part of today’s text, 49:29-33, Jacob, about to die, reiterates his command to be buried in the field Abraham bought as a first installment of the land. He then dies. Joseph asks Pharaoh for permission to bury his father in Canaan. Pharaoh not only grants the request, but sends many of his servants as emissaries with Joseph for the funeral. This shows that even Pharaoh himself acknowledges that the Israelites belong in Canaan, not Egypt, and are only temporarily in his kingdom. Thus, a sharp contrast is drawn between this Pharaoh and the Pharaoh during the time of Moses, who will not permit the Israelites to follow God’s command to leave.
The narrator emphasizes that initial purchase once again when telling of the funeral:
12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. Genesis 50:12-13
The land! The land! God has given the people of Israel the down payment – the rest is coming! So have faith in God’s future grace!
Then we have the closing words of Genesis, relating the death of Joseph..
"I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, "God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here." Genesis 50:24-25
Joseph asks his brothers to promise that they will take his bones with them when the leave Egypt. Question: Why this request? Why doesn’t he ask them to do what they did for Jacob: take his body right away and bury it in Canaan?
Joseph’s request complements Jacob’s. Jacob showed that although he had left Canaan for Egypt, he belonged in Canaan. Joseph’s request displays faith in God’s future grace, confidence that God will bring all His people out of Egypt and return them to Canaan. He wants his bones in Canaan – but by asking them to wait until they all leave, he shows that he is completely confident that will happen. So generation after generation of Israelite children will be told the story of Joseph, and be told that when God fulfills that promise, they must take Joseph’s bones with them.
And this comes to pass. Exodus 13:19 tells us Moses took Joseph’s bones with the people as they left Egypt. Joshua 24:32 tells us that finally, after decades of traveling, the Israelites buried Joseph in the promised land.
So God had promised the people a redeemer. God had promised them land. God had promised to make good come out of evil. The Israelites were to live by faith in God’s future grace, faith that God would live up to His promises.
This is the question for all ages: God has promised. Will his people believe, and act on that belief?
How will you respond? You are His by right of creation. You are fallen. He offers you sovereign mercy as an individual, not as a member of a class. He is faithful to His promises.
Unlike Jacob, Joseph, Judah, and the others, you have the benefit of seeing the full revelation of Jesus Christ in history. From this moment in time, you can see much more clearly than the patriarchs how God has fulfilled the promise of Genesis 3:15 through Jesus Christ.
These are the lessons and the challenges of Genesis, my friends.
Acknowledge Him. Love Him. Trust Him. And He will become your delight.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 12/5/04. Commentaries by Bruce Waltke (Genesis: A Commentary, Zondervan, 2001), and James Montgomery Boice (Genesis: An Expositional Commentary: Volume 3, Genesis 37-50, Baker, 1985, 1998) were helpful in the preparation of this sermon.
Copyright © 2004, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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