Part 3 of 3
Psalm 40:1-3 (NIV, 1984)
(1) I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.(2) He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand(3) He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
The Anguish of Captivity
I Am Bound
(By Heather Book)
I am bound by cords of fear;
Cloying distrust and creeping ill,
Covering Your Presence not felt, tho’ near,
Capturing the joy Your love could fill.
I am bound by cords of shame;
Drooping head and downcast eyes,
Drowning in a trust that’s maimed.
For Your mercy, my shattered hope cries.
I am bound by cords of unbelief;
Distrusting heart and disloyal mind,
Disavowed faith without relief.
Your goodness, though sought, I cannot find…
(to be continued…)
Prison. What images or emotions does this word evoke for you? Perhaps this word conjures up ideas of abuse or injustice, especially if one is imprisoned unfairly. Inside prison walls, there may be a sense of failure or inadequacy. Undoubtedly, a prisoner will feel trapped, discouraged, and even hopeless.
As I researched to write this update, I looked up some of the prisons with the worst reputations in the world. Five came to the top: two in America, one in Russia, one in Venezuela, and one in Thailand. What I found interesting in all of the discouraging pieces of horror that I read, was what these prisons had in common: overcrowded conditions, underfunded facilities, unfair sentencing, inmate abuse, gang violence, abusive prison guards, abuse between prisoners, and psychological mind games.
The top two spots in this horrid list go to Petak Island prison in Vologda, Russia, and the USP Florence ADMAX in Florence, Colorado. Petak Island prison is called “Little Alcatraz” because it is on an island surrounded by freezing waters. It is virtually impossible to escape alive. Similarly, the prison in Florence, Colorado, houses some of America’s most violent criminals and though there are a lot of notorious prisoners there, not one has ever escaped. Most conspicuously, there is almost no gang violence or inmate abuse at all.
What makes these two prisons so impenetrable and feared? One word can sum up these two prisons’ effectivity in squelching escapes and internal violence: isolation. Petak keeps its prisoners in a 22.5 -hour lockdown each day and the prisoners are only allowed one visitor per year. ADMAX’s lockdown each day is even higher at 23 daily hours. Each cell has only one, tiny, four-inch slit in the wall so the prisoners can never know their whereabouts within the prison, which keeps them constantly disoriented.
Petak’s prison psychologist Svetlana Kiselyova said this about the effects of the isolation, “This place destroys people…After three or four years, their personalities begin to deteriorate. There is no way anyone can spend 25 years in a place like this without being psychologically destroyed.” Vladimir, an inmate, said, “This room is my home; it will also be my mausoleum.” (allthatsinteresting.com/worst-prisons)
You see, though the inmates in these two prisons are safe from the violence, rape and abuse of the other horrible prisons in the world, they suffer from the psychological anguish of being held in isolation – all alone and forgotten. Captivity has a way of destroying people, changing their personalities and rendering them completely ineffective.
For those of you who are just joining me, we are working through a series of lessons from a personal pit of despair. This has been a five-year journey for me as I have learned some really hard truths in a very difficult way. After working hard to narrow down five years’ worth of learning God’s truths, I have been sharing them with you in three simple points. First, I shared my awareness that trusting God with my head is much different than trusting God with my heart. This was a lesson where I rediscovered faith, real faith, that enabled my numbed heart to thaw. Last week I tried to explain the difference between being “broke” as a believer and being broken. Along this arduous pathway, I rediscovered hope in the Person of Hope. And to round off this mini-series, today I will be bringing to you the biggest lesson of all: a lesson in which I rediscovered love.
Lesson Three from the Pit
There is a difference between being captive and being captivated.
In late 2012 and early 2013, the Lord revealed two miraculous aspects of His will for me: a vision of our future ministry in Thailand and a prayer over me by a stranger answering my own six-prayer about my niche in ministry. These were huge, positive, exciting movements of God on my behalf.
But in September and October of 2013, the Lord also allowed three horrific traumas into my life. The first was a confession that broke my heart. The second, an unexpected pregnancy at the age of 43. And the third was a seeming cancellation of the answered prayer I had received in 2012; if there was a baby, there would be no time to sleep, let alone be engaged in the ministry I had believed God had revealed to me.
I can tell you, with absolute confidence, that these three woundings together in so short a span of time far outweighed any pain I have ever felt in my entire life. I felt betrayed by my circumstances, by people, but mostly, I felt betrayed by God. It seemed that God was punishing me for being obedient to Him and I could not get past my sense of injustice and pain. I struggled to sense His love for me or even trust Him; my faith was truly at a crisis point.
But there was no time to deal with any of these personal and painful traumas, for God did bring His prophetic word of early 2013 to fruition and we packed up ten years of ministry in Manila in order to move to the country of Thailand. We then spent a whirlwind year raising support in the States and eventually moved to Thailand – three countries in thirteen months. It was only after we had settled here in Chiang Mai and were engaged in language learning and juggling our youngest child that God began to probe me about my relationship with Him. I knew I was in trouble, but I truly had no idea how to break free of my feelings, to find freedom from the pain of the traumas, or to find any kind of healing in my situation. Tony and I both both met with counselors and I spent some time with a prayer minister while reading everything I could on brokenness, knowing that was where God was leading, but to no avail. I was still captive, imprisoned in what felt like an isolation chamber of unbelief.
I had been thrashing around in what felt like a prison for close to four years by this time and was desperate. I could not name my prison walls then, but now I can tell you that shame, anger, fear, and unbelief were working to destroy me. Like Petak Prison’s effective isolation techniques, Satan was psychologically manipulating my mind, will and emotions and quite honestly, I was close to coming apart inside. Desperate, depressed, and discouraged, my faith unraveling at the seams, I was a prime candidate for a spiritual mausoleum. Trauma was the only word that made any sense to me and I was desperate for a revelation from God.
Praise God, He chose that time to begin revealing Himself to me. Listen to these life-changing words from Genesis 45:26-28: “And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, ‘It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.’”
The NIV uses the word “stunned” when it refers to Jacob’s reaction, but as I studied different translations, the ESV’s wording literally jumped off of the page and into my heart. In reading that Jacob was so numb he could not believe his son’s words, God was talking to me; that somehow in all my woundings, it had been so severe that my will had not guarded my belief and I had become numb to survive the pain. That numbness also insidiously worked to numb me to God.
But I also was intrigued by the reversal of health in verse 27. He had been numb, but after he heard all that Joseph had said and saw the carts, the evidence of God’s providence, his spirit revived. I sensed God telling me that I, too, was numb in my unbelief, but that if I could understand the revelation of Joseph’s words and embrace them as my own, my spirit would also revive. And so I dove in and began a very long study on the story of Joseph and his brothers. I just knew God’s answer to my numbness, His key to my freedom, was in this passage.
These verses – Genesis 45:26-28 – put a bow of completion on a number of traumatic stories. Joseph, as you may know, was sold into slavery by his brothers. Trauma after trauma occurred to him in Egypt until one day, God’s providence and purpose released him from prison and empowered him to carry out saving duties as the second highest leader in all of Egypt.
Jacob endured his own trauma when the brothers came home from Goshen without their brother and only a bloodied, ripped cloak as a memory. Jacob could not be consoled, Scripture says. This is a clear picture of numbing to me, of living in a pit or prison. For the almost twenty years that Joseph was perceived to be dead, Jacob lived only out of his head. This can be proven because in all of those years, he is rarely called ‘Israel,’ though that was his new name given by God. Jacob, the deceiver, the supplanter, is how he is referred to for twenty long, dead, isolating years.
Most people know these stories well, but there is a third traumatic story woven among these tattered threads of captivity: the story of Judah. After selling his brother into slavery, Judah moved away from home, married a Canaanite woman and had three sons. The eldest, Er, was killed by the Lord for his wickedness. The second, Onan, refused to fulfill his duties to Er’s wife so God put him to death as well. Onan’s wife, Tamar, was promised to the third son when he grew up, but Judah delayed fulfilling this with painful consequences.
In the meantime, Judah’s wife died and after he mourned her death, he went to hang out with a friend. Tamar dressed up like a temple prostitute, waited for Judah by the roadside and then seduced him to sleep with her. He did, and in the convoluted process of her pregnancy, his self-righteous judgement of her, her honesty before him, and the series of traumas God had allowed into his life, he was convicted of his half=hearted walk before God. The next time we see him, he is taking a front row seat in the reconciliation of his brothers and Joseph in Egypt.
Three men devastated by the traumas of anti-love, yet one rises to the top. Joseph, who many commentators believe is a type of Christ, takes his traumatic beatings and keeps his spiritual fervor ticking. Scripture does not reveal how he manages to stay alive to his God. Nor does it share with us the process of how he went about handling all of his trauma, but Genesis 45 is a clear primer on how you and I are to handle similar traumas. Joseph demonstrated love for his abusers in his words and actions, providing a perfect mirror for us to view God’s demonstrations of love for us. In this chapter we can see how God desires to rebuild broken roads, removing the obstacles out of the way so that God can live with us, revive our hearts, heal us, guide us, and restore comfort to us (see Isaiah 57:14-19).
What God showed me over those long months of study is what brought me out of my pit. I would love to share everything God has taught me, but that would fill a year’s worth of updates. So I have narrowed my insights down to just four; four truths that will help you if you ever find your faith faltering, if your heart starts to go numb, or if you undergo a trauma that threatens to destroy you. My prayer is that these truths will be a guide to show you a safe place to go. A place for healing. A place of rebuilding. A place of awakening to refreshing love, for that is the answer, my friends. Love is the key that opens the door from captivity, that swings those prison bars wide so that you can move into the land of the living. Love – being captivated by our Divine Lover – is the Spirit’s movement from numbness to wholeness.
Truth 1: Love Reaches Out
One of the most precious truths I found in this passage was seen in how Joseph behaved when he told his brothers who he was: “he made himself known to his brothers” (v1c). As you think about Joseph as your Jesus, imagine if you actually believed that God desires to make Himself known to you. This could free your head and heart; it’s a revolutionary key to life and joy and freedom. Listen to these invitations to come and be known:
- “Come, all you who are thirsty…listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live…your God has endowed you with splendor. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near…for he will have mercy…he will freely pardon…” (excerpts from Isaiah 55:1-7).
- “I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed” (Isa 46:13).
- “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it or proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deut. 30:11-13).
Here are just three tiny fragments of the thousands of times God reveals Himself to us through His Word, but if you struggle to believe that God makes Himself available to you, just study the seven “I Am’s” of Christ found in the book of John. Spend some precious moments pondering how God reveals Himself to you: “I am the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35, 41, 48, 51), “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 9:5), “I am the gate” (Jn. 10:7, 9), “I am the good shepherd,” (Jn. 10:14), “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25), “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6), and “I am the vine” (Jn. 15:1, 5).
Are you hungry for love, attention, or significance? Know the only One who can satisfy those needs (the Bread). Are you hemming and hawing around a decision that will not be made? Know the One who illuminates your next steps (the Light). Perhaps you have hit a proverbial wall and cannot find a way through your convoluted circumstances. Know the One who not only creates doors, but opens them (the Gate). Do you feel lost, alone or scared? Are you lonely and in need of a friend? Know the One who cares for you as if you were the most important person in the world (the Shepherd). Do you feel numb, deadened by others’ hurts or your own sin? Know the One who can quicken your ‘want-to’ and enliven your waning interest (the Resurrection and Life). Are you struggling with some theological issues and need a fresh burst of faith? Know the One who is the answer and also enlivens belief (the Way, Truth, and Life). And lastly, do you feel rootless, fruitless, or barren in your ministry? Know the One who grounds the uprooted, infuses life and grows fruit, not just a tiny bud, but abundant fruit that will last (the Vine).
Dear one, God is reaching out to you – even at this time. He longs for a relationship with you. He desires to have you call Him your friend, and really mean it. He reveals who He is in His Word, in His creation, and in His ways of dealing with you. Won’t you answer His vulnerable invitation to love? He is waiting to make Himself completely known to you.
Truth 2: Love Reveals
Joseph made himself known to his brothers, but he also moved toward them by two other actions. He wept over them (45:2a). Actually, in this one passage, Joseph weeps five times, showing us that Jesus, as our beloved Joseph, weeps for us. He has compassion for us and moves toward us with complete empathy and concern. Nothing we have ever suffered, no sin we have ever committed, no lack of faith we have ever demonstrated will keep us from this loving movement of God. He feels our pain very deeply, but are we sharing it with Him?
Joseph also spoke to his brothers, revealing yet one more truth about God. God is not silent. He does not make Himself obscure and hard to find. He’s given us creation which points to His glory. He’s given us godly authors and composers and preachers who teach us through their varying expertise. He’s given us the Holy Spirit, who speaks truth into our lives and most of all, He’s given us His very words, a love letter written to us, the depths of which can never be plumbed. His Word is a bottomless well of passion and mercy and grace and it is all for you and for me. He speaks to us in so many ways, but are we listening?
These actions of Joseph demonstrate God’s revelation of Himself, but I was most touched by a small sentence that revealed who I was inside. The love of God not only revealed His character and ways, but it revealed to me my heart, filled with something to which I was completely oblivious. This internal revelation was brought home to me by the reactions of the brothers to Joseph’s initiatives. Look at Genesis 45:3, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still living?’ But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.”
The ESV Bible uses the word ‘dismayed’ instead of the ‘terrified’ transliteration in the NIV. This word means “to tremble inwardly (or palpitate).” Figuratively, it means to “be suddenly alarmed or agitated, to hasten anxiously, to be afraid, to disturb, alarm, terrify, hurry…be nervous” (ESV Strong’s). To be dismayed seems, to me, to be a lot less of a problem than being terrified, but in essence, fear is at the core of both of these words and the brothers’ response.
At first, I did not connect any emotional feelings with these brothers, but as I continued to meditate on this passage, God began to probe rather deeply into my motivations. He showed me that I was dismayed in His Presence. I finally admitted that much to God, but God kept pushing, showing me a deeper problem. Here is the excerpt from my journal, which captured my struggle in owning up to what God revealed:
Me emoting: “Oh, God, how I desperately want to join you. I long for fullness and abundance and rest. I want you to be my all in all; there is just such rubble in the way. Help me to be able to pick through the rubble for all the treasures I need to rebuild a new and more glorious “wall”. Yet even inside myself, I sense a hesitation. What is holding me back, God?”
God answering, “Just as the brothers were not able to answer Joseph because they were terrified at his presence, you are full of fear. You fear being unloved, being rejected, being made to do something you don’t want to do. You fear trusting me because you feel I have punished you when you obeyed the last time. You are terrified that you will miss my will and yet your fear is keeping you from doing my will. You must learn to live in my love. Perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. You desperately want to be intimate with me, but you are “terrified of my presence” as well. You can’t trust me. You can’t fully obey me. You can’t embrace my will and plan for you because you are frozen, numb with fear. Heather, come into my arms and feel my love for you. Let that love melt your fear. Let me thaw out those emotions that are numb toward me. Let me bring life back into your frozen faith.”
The truth of 1 John 4:18 came home to roost in my unaware, but fear-filled heart that day, “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (NLT version). In essence, God told me three things: I was afraid of Him; my fear was rooted in the expectation that I would somehow be punished by Him; and the presence of fear in my life showed my lack of living in God’s love. After all, love and fear cannot coexist so the reverse has to be true as well. Fully experiencing and living life out of God’s perfect love completely eradicates all earthly fear.
I cannot tell you how hungry I am for God. To know Him, to hear Him speak to me, to sense His Presence in my life is why I spend so much time with Him. I cannot go through my day running on empty, so meeting with God first thing is my primary priority. I do not care what God says to me; I just need Him to speak. Yes, hearing encouraging, loving words is wonderful and exhortation can be hard to digest, but I would take rebuke over silence any day. That is why I listen to all that God says to me – positive and negative – and seek to readjust my walk so that I can align with His will.
These last six months have been a time of readjustment as I have sought to live in love. I have had to do a lot of facing the facts and feeling the feelings; now I am a regular Sherlock Holmes of fear-identification. You see, I have discovered that there were secret conduits of fear running all through my faith and it often paralyzed my responses to others and to God.
In any given day when I am hurt by someone’s words or face a difficult emotional mountain, I quickly fact-find and emotion-feel in my soul, talk those things over with God in my spirit, and work to release them into His capable hands. It is a cycle I will probably repeat the rest of my life, but it is the way I am practically walking in God’s love.
When God makes Himself known to us, that revelation begs for a response. He wants us to seek Him with all of our heart, because He promises us that we will find Him (see Jer. 29:13).But even more than seeking Him, He wants us to respond to His gentle probing of our motives. If there is anger, His love demands a softening. If ambivalence is present in our hearts, His love asks for a reigniting of passion. Where there is self-pity, Love reveals the answer: self-sacrifice. And where fear reigns in our heart’s hidden corners, Love reveals that we learn to love because He first has loved us (1 Jn. 4:19).
Truth 3: Love Reframes
By far, Joseph’s actions in verses four to eight speak transformative life to me. Over my months of study, I extracted eight principles by which I can reframe a trauma, but since there is far too much information to dispense in this blog, I will talk about just one truth God taught me (these eight truths can be remembered by an acronym: R.E.F.R.A.M.E.D. You can write me personally if you want more information on these).
These four verses, more than any other part of Joseph’s documented story, show us the work he and God did to move his heart from a pit of unbelief to freedom. There is a world of sanctification – twenty year’s worth of processing with God – in these short verses. Somehow, Joseph worked through physical abuse, emotional rejection, and feelings of hate and abandonment, but sadly, none of that is documented. All we have to show for his incredible brokenness before the Lord are these eight truths, one of which spoke to my heart in megaphone decibels.
This point is pulled out of the end of verse four: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” Notice that Joseph did not pull any punches; he faced the facts and made his brothers face them too, but only after he had drawn them close. You see, love reaches out and it reveals. But before I go on another tangent, let me draw your attention to those last three words – sold into Egypt.
That word ‘sold’ describes the means of the wounding. As I began to process this through, I asked myself some questions. To what or whom have I sold myself? Who has sold me out? What have I bought into that has taken my freedom? To what have I surrendered my time, energy, abilities, and focus? To what or whom have I neglected to surrender?
These questions opened the door for God to do a lot of rearranging. I took a long time answering these questions, facing all of the facts and feeling all of the emotions. It was painful, but revelatory. I discovered many woundings I had virtually ignored. I also saw that some of my woundings had led me to “sell myself” out to lesser loves. This was equally painful, but ultimately, it led me to a crossroads of brokenness.
If selling describes the means of the wounding, Egypt stands for the consequences of the wound. In other words, what happened as a result of the wounding? How have I begun walking as a result of being sold out? I described my Egypt in very dramatic terms: torture, misery, pain, frustration, anger, grief, mourning, sadness, doubting God, and missing His intimacy. These feelings were true in my psyche, but the real moment of truth came about as I discussed my Egypt with the Lord.
I reflected on the Old Testament’s analogy of Egypt. For Joseph, it was originally a place of bondage. For Abram, it was a perceived safety during a famine, but became a place of wounding for his marriage with Sarai, not once, but twice. For Hagar, it was home, but it represented idolatry. For the Israelites, it was also a place of slavery for four hundred years. (See answersingenesis.org/bible-questions/how-long-were-the-israelites-in-egypt for a complete explanation of biblical passages.) But this truth is only one side of the coin.
Similar to God’s revelation to Hagar about her place of abuse, the flip side of Egypt’s negative portrayal is God’s perspective. God’s truth showed Egypt to be Abram’s breadbasket during a famine, a sanctuary for both Jacob and Jesus, Joseph’s training ground in righteousness as well as a place of abundance. The prophet Isaiah had a wonderful prophecy about Egypt, “In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them saying, ‘Blessed by Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance” (Isa. 19:24-25). It is remarkable to me, that with all of the negative connotations Egypt conjures up, it is also a place of refuge or a means of sustaining life.
Through Joseph’s example, we see that a huge part of reframing trauma is dealing with the fallout from both sides of the wounding coin. For sure, it is important to face all of the facts, to see all that has been stolen from you in that particular trauma, but reframing will be freeze-framed if the process stops there. To be able to move into freedom, you have to make the choice to flip the coin, to begin looking for the positives in the situation.
Love led me to see how He was a breadbasket in my years of famine. He filled me with longing for Him and a desire to continue down His desired path, painful though it was. He was a sanctuary for me. Even when I felt dead and numb, I still ran to Him for refuge and comfort and He met me. Over and over, I have seen His hand of training; He has not given up on me, but has taught me principle upon principle. I have hundreds of pages over the last few years of God speaking to me and guiding me in my next step. And lastly, like Love’s promise to Egypt, He has blessed me. I have never wanted for money, for provisions, for friends, for guidance, or for ministry. God has been so good to me.
I can promise you that reframing a wounding or transforming a trauma cannot and will not occur without this incredibly dichotomous step. Living with an open wound is crippling. Attempting to bandage that wound alone is debilitating. But Love steps in and opens the door to something new, something ironic, yet something so beautiful: choice. Making God’s perspective one’s focus, choosing God’s ways over what make sense to us, is actually the narrow path to turning a pit into a divine plateau.
I Am Bound
(By Heather Book)
…And then, hallelujah, You came
With open arms and smiling face,
Breaking chains that long since lamed.
My fear, my shame, my unbelief erased…
(to be continued…)
Truth 4: Love Redeems
We now come to my favorite part of this incredibly rich chapter in thirteen family members’ lives, the moment when Love steps in and moves in a Holy-Spirit empowered way. This is the turning point of transformation, where all wrongs are turned into good, where frozen hearts are thawed, and where forgiveness and reconciliation meet. My focus on the redeeming love of God brings us full circle to the original verses from where we started at the beginning of these devotional thoughts: Genesis 45:26-28.
The prologue to this grand finale began with the lifting of Joseph’s baton, directing his brothers to go back to their father in Canaan, conducting them to tell Jacob everything he had said, and orchestrating his journey back to Egypt to live in safety during the famine. It was an amazing work of God, enabling wrongs to be righted and hearts to be redeemed. And it all hinged on two pivotal moves: some words that needed to be spoken and some actions that needed to be taken.
Would you look with me first at the words that helped redeem this twenty-year pit of despair for Jacob and his twelve sons? Remember first that the sons told him that Joseph was alive and that he was the ruler of all Egypt. Jacob was stunned because he did not believe them (v26). The truth of the matter – having a head-faith, if you will – was not enough for Jacob to un-numb. He needed belief to spring to life in his feelings as well. How did God do that?
The first half of this answer is found in verse 27a, in the spoken word of his sons: “But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them…” You do realize that between verse 26 and 27, the brothers had to finally come clean about what they had done to Joseph. Part of the “everything that Joseph had said to them” was the truth of what they had done. Back when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt…do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here…” (vv4-5). Just telling Jacob that Joseph was alive (v26) was not enough to revive his numb spirit, but confession; now, that finally procured a divine miracle: Jacob’s spirit was revived.
Words are powerful. Tell-tale words and haughty words got Joseph on the blacklist with his brothers in the first place (Gen. 37:2, 6ff). Hateful words spoken by the eleven brothers triggered a waterfall of abusive actions (Gen. 37:19ff). Judah’s greedy words propelled Joseph on the way to enslavement (Gen. 37:26). Later on, self-righteous words almost destroyed his daughter-in-law, but words of confession changed his life around (Gen. 38:24, 26). The chagrined cup-bearer spoke words that freed Joseph from his prison and Joseph’s prophetic words earned him the second highest position in the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:9, 17ff). Wonder of wonders, Judah’s repentant words began an avalanche of mercy and goodness (Gen. 44:18ff), and Joseph’s gracious words of Genesis 45 restored relationship between the brothers. The last brick to fall from the sides of Jacob’s pit of despair fell only because of the brother’s unified words of confession, to which he spoke redeemed words, “I’m convinced. My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die” (Gen. 45:28).
The second half of God’s act of redeeming occurred in some powerful actions, seen in the second half of verse 27, “…and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back…” What was so special about those carts? In actuality, those carts were not Joseph’s idea.
After the brothers had reconciled in verses 14 and 15, news of this reached the Pharaoh’s palace and Scripture says that Pharaoh was pleased (v16). Pharaoh, himself, ordered the brothers to bring back Jacob and all of their families. Not only that, but he promised to give them the best of all of the land of Egypt and he ordered carts to be taken from Egypt to safely escort Jacob’s whole family to Joseph’s side.
Do you see the significance of this? Egyptians hated Canaanites. That is why Joseph, before he told who he was, ate separately from his brothers. Mixing in public company was forbidden because Canaanites were considered detestable. Also, sheep herders were treated with incredible bias. In fact, herding sheep was considered, by an Egyptian, to be the lowest of all jobs.
Yet here is the absolute monarch of the known world rejoicing that his second in command is actually a Canaanite. He spurs on a reconciliation. He invites the lowest of all low people into his land. And he provides for their every need. This is amazing to me because just like God chose Cyrus to move the Israelites to return from captivity, God moved the heart of this pagan Egyptian leader to orchestrate a great reunion. Sounds an awful lot like redemption to me.
As the brothers showed their father the carts, he would have known that Jehovah, the great Yahweh, had begun a supernatural movement of redemption. Not only was his son alive and famous, the Pharaoh was chosen by God to preempt one of the largest moments of reconciliation in the Old Testament. Twenty years of pain and sorrow and despair were swept away in this redeeming moment. Jacob knew that all of this had been planned and orchestrated by a very good, very loving, very redemptive, personal God.
As I ponder the meaning behind these two incredible acts of God – redemptive words and redemptive actions – I cannot help but think there is a strong lesson here for you and me. Are you desiring a turnabout in your circumstances? Do you need change to begin a work of healing? Is there something needing a powerful transformation in your life, your home, your place of work? I truly believe redemption is drawing nigh, but it will only come to fruition at the hands of an Almighty God. And God uses people who are willing to be broken, people who are open to the movement of the Spirit, people who will give up their rights in order to elevate someone else’s. Dear one, God can work redemptively, but He always works through broken people; people who are willing to speak words of life and act out of God-empowered behaviors.
Words and actions. Faith and deeds. Two men who walked with Love know a lot about these these two important movements of God. Listen to James, the brother of Love, speak, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (Jms 2:17) The disciple that laid upon Love’s breast also knew about these two truths, “Dear children, let us not love (only) with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18).
Notice that the overflow of both words and actions results in love. Love speaks tenderly, gently, and with great life: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (Jn. 17:26). But Love also acts tenderly and gently in the giving of His great life, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 Jn. 3:16).
The Joy of Freedom
As we conclude this mini-series, Lessons From the Pit, I pray you have been helped. I love to teach; hence, the longer updates on this blog, rather than the short ones on our update. But more than that, I feel deeply and process those feelings out carefully; I am a woman of the heart. I am not a counselor by trade nor a theologian by training, but I am a woman of the Word who lives to dovetail my life lessons with God’s love letter to me.
And…I believe God when He speaks to me through that love letter. That is why I trust Him as my Father of compassion and comfort. That is why I seek Him when I am troubled, because I know He desires to be my comfort. And I know we go through troubles, receive His love, for a purpose; that purpose being, that we turn around and comfort others with the same comfort we have received from God (paraphrase of 2 Cor. 1:3-4).
You may also be in a pit of despair like I have been. It may feel dark and cold and hopeless, much like the isolation chambers of the world’s worst prisons. You may feel bound by your past or your unbelief or your fears, but that, my friend, will not be the whole story. This could be your story: “Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains…there was no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron” (Ps. 107:10-16). Precious one, your compassionate Father is an unparalleled jailbreaker.
The journey out of numbness has taken me five long years. I have waited – sometimes patiently, sometimes impatiently – for the Lord to move in my life. He did finally turn to me and hear my cries. He lifted me out of the slimy pit of hopelessness that held me captive and set my feet on Him, the Rock, the Firm Foundation. He has put new songs in my mouth, a new heart of passion and soul. I pray many will see and fear and put their hope in God (my rendition of our theme verses – Ps. 103:1-3). I have moved from shackling unbelief to soaring faith, from bewildering despair to budding hope and from frustrating feelings of rejection to an incredible foundation of love. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
I Am Bound
(By Heather Book)
…Now, I am bound by cords of love;
Shattering fear, strengthening trust,
My victory coming from You above,
Faith rising from unbelief’s shameful dust.
Now, I am bound by cords of awe;
Honor bestowed, glory given,
Righteousness kissed when obedience saw
My identity restored and heaven-driven.
Now, I am bound by cords of grace;
Mercy bought, past sins covered.
Thrilled with the joy of seeking Your face,
I rest in Your embrace, lover to Lover.
Knowing Love, being Loved, is all that matters. And dear one, God is seeking you and will not rest until you also, are bound to Him with faith, hope and love. Come begin the journey. Come up out of that pit and you will find rest for your soul (Mt. 11:28-30).