An impossible situation

Genesis 37:3-4 states that Jacob “loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.” Joseph’s brothers conspired against him to kill him and when he came looking for them in Dothan, they stripped him of his robe, and threw him into a pit (Genesis 37:18-24). “Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh…And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt” (Genesis 37:26-28). Joseph’s brothers took his “robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, ‘This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.’ And he identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without a doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:31-33).

Joseph’s brothers seemed to have committed the perfect crime until a famine spread over all the land and they were forced to go to Egypt to get food so that their families wouldn’t starve to death. “Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers” (Genesis 42:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated strangers, nakar (naw-kar’) means to scrutinize with suspicion as if disowning (H5234). Joseph was pretending as if he had no connection with his brothers (H5234) and seemed to be intent on punishing his brothers for the harm they had done to him (Genesis 42:15-17), but the problem was that he felt compassion for his brothers and when they admitted their guilt, Joseph “turned away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:24).

Jesus used the example of divorce to address the hard heartedness of his people. It was common in the first century to “divorce for reasons other than unfaithfulness, such as incompatibility or unhappiness. The person who was put away was innocent but often acquired the false stigma of being guilty of moral misconduct” (note on Matthew 19:3-9). When he was asked if it was lawful to divorce one’s wife for any reason, Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-5). The Greek word that is translated joined together, suzeugnumi (sood-zyoog’-noo-mee) is derived from the Greek words sun (soon) and zeugos (dzyoo’-gos) which means “a couple, i.e. a team (of oxen yoked together)” (G2201). Zeugos can refer to a pair of anything and suggests that Jesus was talking about a man and woman being joined together in the context of spiritual unity.

The Apostle Paul identified spiritual unity as a key aspect of the body of Christ and said we are all to “come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, KJV). The phrase “unity of the faith” refers to the fact that there is only one way for a person to be saved, by believing in Jesus Christ. Paul went on to say, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). Paul indicated that the body of Christ builds itself up or strengthens itself through love. The Greek word that is translated builds itself up, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) is derived from the words oikos (oy’-kos) which means a family (G3624) and doma (do’-mah) which denotes a housetop or the roof of a building. One way of thinking of oikodome is a group of people that are related to each other who are all living under the same roof.

The Greek word sun (soon) describes a central characteristic of the kingdom of heaven. Sun denotes union “by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition, etc.” (G4862). Sun is most often translated as “with” indicating that joining together is primarily about spending time with someone. Judah’s argument for not killing Joseph was “he is our brother, our own flesh” (Genesis 37:27). What he likely meant by that was that Joseph had grown up in the same household with them and was a member of their family. Judah probably thought that should entitle Joseph to special consideration. And yet, when his ten brothers arrived in Egypt hoping to obtain some food to sustain their families, Joseph treated them like they were strangers (Genesis 42:7).

Joseph’s primary objective in treating his brothers roughly seemed to be to get them to bring their youngest brother Benjamin to Egypt, but his father Jacob refused to be separated from his beloved son. Genesis 43:1-9 states:

Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.

Judah’s pledge to keep Benjamin safe placed him in an impossible situation because Joseph was determined to not only be reunited with his younger brother, but to keep Benjamin in Egypt so that they would no longer have to be separated from each other (Genesis 44:2-5).

Jesus warned the Jewish leaders, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6) and told them, “Because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:8-9). The phrase hardness of heart refers to a condition of being destitute or lacking spiritual perception (G4641). When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they didn’t fully comprehend the ramifications of their action and couldn’t see how it was going to affect everyone in Jacob’s family throughout the course of their lives. The only thing they were probably thinking about when the sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites was getting rid of the person that was stealing their father’s affection from them.

Jesus made it clear that divorce doesn’t break the spiritual connection between a husband and wife. He said, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). The point that Jesus was making was that adultery didn’t have anything to do with being legally married to someone, but about two people that were joined together by association, process or resemblance being separated from each other. Jesus explained that divorce for any reason other than sexual immorality caused the divorced person to be deprived of his spiritual integrity. Jesus likened it to being castrated and said, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:11-12).

Jesus’ teaching about divorce showed that the spouse that had not been unfaithful, but was divorced because of incompatibility or unhappiness was being forced to abstain from sexual activity for the rest of his or her life. The reason why Jesus said, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:12) was because the idea of being celibate for the rest of one’s life was unthinkable; it was thought to be an impossible task. Jesus’ disciples responded, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10). In other words, they would rather never get married than have to give up sex in order to remain faithful to one wife. Jesus confronted his disciples resistance to adapting to God’s standards by demonstrating to them that childlike faith was all that was necessary for entrance into God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). The Greek word that is translated belongs, esti (es-tee’) implies that the benefits of heaven can be obtained while we are living on earth.

Paul indicated that hard heartedness was a hindrance to unity and said that we must not act like unbelievers who “are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:17-18). Joseph’s stalemate with his brothers centered around the fact that no one was willing, or perhaps able to admit that Joseph had not been torn to pieces by a wild animal like his father Jacob imagined, but had actually been sold into slavery and taken to Egypt. Joseph himself played along with his brothers’ charade by pretending to not know them and by keeping his feelings hidden from them.

Joseph may have hoped that his brothers would eventually catch on and figure out that he was the governor of Egypt, but there was no indication that anyone even had a clue when he seated his eleven brothers at his banquet table according to their birth order “and the men looked at one another in amazement” (Genesis 43:33). The final showdown came when Joseph planted his silver cup in his brother Benjamin’s sack and then, sent his steward to recover it (Genesis 44:4-5). When his brothers realized they were going to have to return home without Benjamin, “then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city” (Genesis 44:13). The interesting thing about Joseph’s final confrontation with his brothers was that they all became committed to sticking together. Speaking for the group, Judah said, “God has found out the guilt of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we and he also in whose hand the cup has been found” (Genesis 44:16).

Joseph didn’t want all of his brothers stay with him in Egypt. He told Judah, “Only the man in whose hand the cup was found shall be my servant. But as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Genesis 44:17). Judah’s dilemma was that he couldn’t go home without Benjamin. He had told his father Jacob, “I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever” (Genesis 43:9). Essentially, what Judah did was to exchange his life for his brother’s and to a certain extent you might say that Judah became his brother’s savior. When he said, “let me bear the blame forever,” Judah was talking about a moral failure toward both God and man that would result in his eternal punishment in hell.

Jesus used the example of a rich young man that was unwilling to part with his possessions to illustrate his point that a person is incapable of saving himself, much less another person. The man asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life” (Matthew 19:16). When Jesus said, “keep the commandments,” the young man responded, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:17, 20). Jesus told the man, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). Afterward, Jesus told his disciples, “‘Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?'” (Matthew 19:23-25).

Jesus’ disciples made the mistake of thinking salvation was a human rather than a divine act. Jesus told them, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). The Greek word that is translated possible, dunatos (doo-nat-os’) refers to being powerful in the sense having the ability and resources to do something (G1415). Paul described salvation as a gift from God and said, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep illustrated God’s determination to save people that have been overtaken by sin. He said, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of that one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). Rather than physically tracking down sinners, God’s method of recovering his lost sheep is to bring them to a place of repentance. That seemed to be the case with Joseph’s brothers when Judah said, “What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants” (Genesis 44:16). The Hebrew word Judah used that is translated guilt, ‘avown (aw-vone’) portrays sin as “a perversion of life (a twisting out of the right way), a perversion of truth (a twisting into error), or a perversion of intent (a bending of rectitude into willful disobedience)” (H5771).

Judah clearly understood that selling his brother Joseph into slavery was a sin and he deserved to be punished (Genesis 42:21), but instead of accepting the situation as impossible, Judah attempted to change the governor’s mind about making Benjamin his servant. Judah thought his plea for mercy was being made to a stranger, but because Joseph was the governor of Egypt, Judah’s future was dependent on his brother’s compassion. Paul instructed members of the body of Christ to, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). Therefore, it was left up to Joseph to forgive his brothers and to let his inward affection for them make it possible for Jacob’s twelve sons to be reunited as a family.

Forgiveness

Jesus warned his disciples of a future day of judgment and said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). The Greek word that is translated give account, logos (log’-os) refers to something said including the thought, “also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension a computation” (G3056). What this seems to suggest is that everything we say is somehow being recorded and when we stand before God to be judged he will use our own statements to determine our innocence or guilt in the things we have done during our lifetimes.

Jesus indicated that people who are bound in sin are loosed by the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 16:16-19) and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). The Greek word that is translated save, sozo (sode’-zo) speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982). The point Jesus was making was that it is impossible for someone to save himself. Our sins must be forgiven or we will be separated from God for eternity.

Jesus taught his followers to ask God for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12) and promised them, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Peter asked Jesus, “how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus’ response was meant to indicate that there is no limit to the amount of forgiveness that we can give or receive because God’s grace is sufficient to cover all sins. Jesus used the parable of the unforgiving servant to illustrate his point. He said:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus explained that forgiveness was not based on the amount of debt one owed, but the creditor’s willingness to show compassion to another human being. Jesus said that we must forgive our brother from the heart. In other words, we need to be a compassionate person in order to express compassion to others.

Joseph’s encounter with his brothers when they came to Egypt to buy food during the famine showed that he was initially hard hearted toward them and treated them cruelly (Genesis 42:7-17), but his attitude changed when he saw their remorse. Genesis 21-22 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has some upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”

Reuben and the others realized they were guilty of a sin against their brother and they believed God was holding them accountable for it, but they didn’t know that Joseph was the Egyptian governor they were talking to and that he understood everything they were saying because he was using an interpreter to speak to them (Genesis 42:23). After hearing their confession of guilt, it says in Genesis 42:24 that Joseph “turned away from them and wept.”

Joseph’s lamentation for his brothers demonstrated that he felt compassion for them. Instead of making them all stay in prison until their brother Benjamin was brought to Egypt, Joseph only took one of the brothers. “And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey” (Genesis 42:25). Joseph’s change of heart was a result of him seeing and hearing the misery of his brothers’ guilt. In his parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus said, “out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). The Greek word that is translated pity, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) means to feel sympathy (G4697). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of tender affections” (G4698).

The Greek word that is translated mercy in Matthew 18:33, eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) “means to feel sympathy with the misery of another, especially such sympathy as manifests itself in act (G1653). Eleeo is derived from the word eleos (el’-eh-os). “Eleos is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it…It is used of men; for since God is merciful to them, He would have them show mercy to one another” (G1656). After the servant who owed ten thousand talents refused to forgive his fellow servant, Jesus said, “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailors, until he should pay all his debt” (Matthew 18:32-34).

Jesus talked about forgiveness in the context of salvation. The Greek word eleos “is used of God, who is rich in mercy, Ephesians 2:4, and who has provided salvation for all men” (G1656). The act of salvation is sometimes described as being converted. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word that is translated turn, strepho (stref’-o) means to turn quite around or reverse (G4762) and is similar to the Hebrew word shuwb (shoob). The basic meaning of the verb shuwb is movement back to the point of departure. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725).

The Hebrew word shuwb is used in Genesis 42:24 where it says of Joseph, “Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them.” It seems likely that when Joseph turned away from his brothers and wept he was converted; his heart was changed and he was able to forgive his brothers. After that, Joseph showed his brothers mercy by letting them go back home, returning the money they paid for their grain, and giving them provisions for their journey (Genesis 42:25-26). Joseph’s merciful actions prompted his brothers to fear that God’s involvement in their situation would lead to their undoing. When one of the brothers saw that his money was in the mouth of his sack, “He said to his brothers, ‘My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!’ At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?'”

Joseph’s brothers were fearful because they knew they were not being treated the way they should have been. The unusual circumstances of their attempt to buy food in Egypt caused these men’s hearts to fail them. In other words, Joseph’s brothers were caught off guard or you might say tripped up by what was happening to them. Joseph’s course treatment and then his reversal by sending them back home with their money hidden in their bags was not only confusing, but also detrimental to his brothers’ spiritual well-being because they were unaware of what was going on and didn’t know why the Egyptian governor (Joseph) was treating them the way he did.

Jesus warned his disciples about causing others to sin. He said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). One of the definitions of the Greek word that is translated sin in this verse is “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Joseph’s brothers and their families were suffering because of the famine in the land of Canaan and needed food to sustain their lives. Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers and his demand that they bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt to prove they weren’t lying to him made it more difficult for them to return to Egypt when their food ran out a second time (Genesis 42:38).

Jesus’ reference to little ones who believe in him in Matthew 18:6 was meant to point out that any person who has faith in God is considered to be just as important and valuable to God as Jesus is. Even though Jesus used the example of a child when he talked about little ones who believe in him (Matthew 18:2, 5), it’s possible he was talking about new or immature believers. He said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10-11) and then he went on to say:

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18_12-14)

Jesus instructed his disciples to not go among the Gentiles, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6) and told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Therefore, it seems likely that the little ones Jesus was talking about when he warned his disciples not to cause them to sin were the Jews that were supposed to inherit God’s kingdom.

In his parable of the lost sheep, Jesus asked, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them had gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). The Greek word that is translated gone astray, planao (plan-ah’-o) has to do with deception and is used in Revelation 12:9 with a definite article “as a title of the Devil” (G4105). One of the reasons believers go astray is because the devil deceives them and makes them believe a lie (Ephesians 4:14). Paul instructed the Ephesians, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:25-32).

Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers may have been warranted, but it wasn’t helpful and caused a situation that was already difficult to become even worse. Joseph could have revealed his identity to his brothers when he first saw them and let them know that he was put in his position to take care of their physical needs, but instead Joseph took advantage of his brother’s guilty consciences and tortured them into thinking they were unworthy of God’s mercy. Jesus told his disciples, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Gaining your brother meant that you had won him to Christ or that he had been saved (G2770). Jesus went on to say, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Spiritual bondage seems to be associated with a lack of forgiveness, except that the person that suffers is not the one who has committed the sin, but the one who was sinned against. Like the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable, Joseph was unwilling to forgive his brothers after God delivered him from prison and placed him a powerful position in Egypt. Instead of forgiving them, Joseph used the position God gave him to torment his brothers and to capitalize on their guilty consciences. Even though he didn’t change his behavior immediately, Joseph did begin to show signs of tenderheartedness when he “turned away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:24) after he overheard his brothers admitting, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother” (Genesis 42:21).

Compassion

One of the essential characteristics of God’s plan of salvation is its impartial treatment of sinners. God’s word makes it clear that every person has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of living and that we are all “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23). Beginning with Abraham, God counted righteousness to mankind based on each individual’s belief in his ability to take away the effects of sin. Through justification, God declares believers to be innocent of all charges that are brought against them in his heavenly court of law (G1344).

The life of Jacob clearly portrays justification by faith. You might conclude that Jacob did everything wrong and yet, he ended up on the right side of God’s concern for the suffering and misfortune of others. God helped Jacob to overcome the circumstances that threatened to ruin his life. Jacob was the younger and weaker of Isaac’s twin sons, but he managed to steal his brother’s birthright and tricked his father into blessing him. Jacob also obtained the blessing of Abraham which entitled him to possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 28:13-14). With all of these advantages going for him, you would think Jacob would be content, but he continued to pursue prosperity and wound up with two wives that were just as discontent with the status quo as he was.

Jacob’s uncle Laban had two daughters. “The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance” (Genesis 29:16-17). Both of these women became Jacob’s wives, but Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Genesis 29:30). “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). The Hebrew word that is translated hated, sane (saw-nay’) is an antonym of the Hebrew verb ‘ahab (H157), meaning to love. The reason why Jacob hated Leah may have been because she reminded him of the sin he committed against his father Isaac (Genesis 27:19). Jacob had to serve Laban for seven years in order to get Rachel as his wife, but on the evening of his wedding, Laban deceived Jacob and substituted his daughter Leah for Rachel in the consummation of their marriage (Genesis 29:25).

Leah may not have had the affection of her husband, but she gained an initial advantage over her sister Rachel by giving Jacob four sons to carry on his legacy. After Leah’s fourth son was born, Rachel envied her sister and decided to give her servant Bilhah to Jacob as a wife so that she could give birth on her behalf (Genesis 30:3). “And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son” (Genesis 30:5-6). God’s vindication of Rachel showed that he was being impartial toward each of Jacob’s wives. God could see that both Rachel and Leah were suffering from the disadvantage of having to share their husband. Rachel said God had heard her voice, in other words God understood Rachel’s situation and showed her compassion.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that when some people brought a paralytic to him lying on a bed, “Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2). Another way of describing what happened would be to say that Jesus was moved with compassion or you might say affected by the people bringing a paralytic to him to be healed. Jesus said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2) indicating that he saved the paralytic man. Jesus then explained to the cynics who were watching him that salvation and physical healing were essentially the same thing. Matthew 9:4-7 states:

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.

The critical point that Jesus wanted to make clear was that the paralytic’s well-being was dependent on both his physical and spiritual health. The paralytic wouldn’t benefit from being saved if he had to continue living as a cripple and he wouldn’t be satisfied being able to walk if the guilt of his sins continued to torment him.

Jesus asked the question, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5). The Greek word that is translated easier, eukopoteros (yoo-kop-o’-ter-os) suggests that it was Jesus’ intention to eliminate the paralytic’s grief or perhaps to improve his mental health (G2123). It seems likely that the paralytic’s situation had caused him to become depressed and he may have even thought about suicide in order to escape his unbearable circumstances. Jesus’ command to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6) meant that Jesus expected the paralytic to immediately start living a normal life.

Rachel viewed her moral struggle with her sister Leah as being linked to her physical ability to give her husband a son. After Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a second son, “Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed'” (Genesis 30:7-8). The Hebrew word that is translated wrestled, pathal (paw-thal’) means to struggle or figuratively to be morally tortuous (H6617). The Hebrew word Yakowl (yaw-kole’) or prevailed in English refers specifically to physical ability (H3201). Even though Leah had given Jacob four sons and Bilhah had given birth to the two she claimed as her own, Rachel saw herself as having won the moral victory over her sister.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Rachel and Leah’s battle. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob two more sons and then Leah herself conceived and bore Jacob two more sons, bringing the total of Jacob’s sons to ten. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ And she called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son!'” (Genesis 30:22-24). The Hebrew word that is translated reproach, cherpah (kher-paw’) denotes a state of disgrace. “The disgrace found in a person or a nation become the occasion for taunting the oppressed. The disgraced received abuse by the words spoken against them and by the rumors which were spread about them” (H2781).

Jesus’ disciple Matthew who had been a tax collector for the Roman government was among the class of citizens that we might refer to today as low life or the scum of the earth. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

A sinner is a person that practices sin as a lifestyle. This category of people would most likely include prostitutes, thieves, and murderers. Jesus referred to these people as being sick and in need of a physician. The Greek word that is translated physician, iatros (ee-at-ros’) refers to physical treatment, but figuratively it speaks of spiritual healing (G2395/G2390).

Jesus’ quote, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” came from the book of Hosea which focused on the unfaithfulness of God’s people. Hosea was instructed to “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea’s message was one of mercy and redemption and indicated that God was “concerned with the attitude of the hearts of men rather than the ritualistic performance of religious acts, and he values a relationship with his people more than outward ceremonies” (note on Hosea 6:6). Hosea 6:6 states, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The words steadfast love and mercy are often used interchangeably in the Bible and refer to God’s compassion toward sinners (G1656).

Mercy is God’s attitude toward those who are in distress. The Greek word eleos (el’-eh-os) “is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sins brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery. Eleos is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it” (G1656).

Jesus used the example of new wine being put into fresh wineskins to explain how regeneration makes it possible for believers to rejoice in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. He said, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wine- skins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17). The Greek term that is translated preserved, suntereo (soon-tay-reh’-o) has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and his ability to keep us from being separated from God.

Jesus used the phrase, “take heart” (Matthew 9:2, 22) to signify the effect of being saved. The King James version of the Bible translates the phrase take heart as “be of good cheer.” The Greek word tharseo (thar-seh’-o) means to have courage (G2293) and is derived from the word tharsos (thar’-sos) which means to be daring or to have boldness (G2294). It could be that Jesus used the word tharseo in order to communicate the idea of activating one’s faith by making a bold move or what we might call today taking a leap of faith. Jesus seemed to be encouraging the recipients of his grace to act out the amazing transformation that was taking place inside of them.

Genesis 30:25 indicates that “as soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country.'” It was somewhat of a daring move for Jacob to attempt to separate himself from Laban when he had 12 children to feed and no means of supporting them. Thus far, the only wages Jacob had received from Laban were his wives Rachel and Leah. When Laban tried to convince him to stay a little longer, “Jacob said to him, ‘You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I have turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?'” (Genesis 30:29-30). Jacob realized that he had been blessed by God, but the benefit had gone to Laban instead of himself because of his agreement to work for Laban in exchange for his wives. Jacob wanted to gain his independence, but he agreed to continue working for Laban, probably because he lacked the courage to try and make it on his own.

After Jacob made a deal to continue serving him, Laban cheated Jacob out of his wages (Genesis 30:35-36), so Jacob resorted to unusual methods of producing speckled and spotted livestock in order to gain an advantage over his adversary (Genesis 30:37-39). It seems likely that Jacob’s tactics were not only unconventional, but also involved some type of sorcery. Jacob may have thought he needed to fight fire with fire so to speak, but the bottom line was that God’s blessing was all that Jacob needed to succeed and yet, he continued to do things his own way and managed to get ahead in spite of his lack of faith (Genesis 30:43).

Jesus confronted two blind men when they came to him to be healed. He asked them directly, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28). Jesus wanted to know if these two men were willing to entrust their spiritual well-being to him as their Savior. The two blind men replied, “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28) indicating that they recognized Jesus’ deity (G4962) and wanted to be saved. Jesus responded, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29). The Greek word that is translated according, kata (kat-ah’) suggests that the blind men’s faith in Christ was necessary for them to be healed. By putting their trust in Jesus, the blind men were giving their Savior permission to do a miracle on their behalf.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus “went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35). Proclaiming the gospel meant that Jesus was telling everyone how to be saved. The fact that Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages suggests that he was leaving no stone unturned in his effort to inform the masses that God’s kingdom was open for business. Matthew indicated Jesus was healing every disease and every affliction and “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36).

The Greek word that is translated compassion in Matthew 9:36, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) is derived from the word splagchnon (splangkh’-non). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the tender affections. It is used always in the plural, and properly denotes ‘the physical organs of the intestines’…the word is rendered ‘tender mercy’ in Luke 1:78…and ‘inward affection’ in 2 Corinthians 7:15” (G4698). The primary connection between compassion and God’s mercy is that compassion expresses the motivation behind God’s plan of salvation. The King James version indicates that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36). In other words, the compassion Jesus felt inside himself prompted him to heal the people of their diseases and afflictions.

Jesus used the analogy of sheep without a shepherd to express the unbeliever’s need to be taught the word of God. The Greek definition of a sheep is “something that walks forward (a quadruped)” (G4263). Jesus may have chosen sheep to represent the multitudes that sought his help during his ministry on Earth because sheep were known for their tendency to go astray and had to rely on someone else to guide them to their destination. Jesus described the crowds as helpless and harassed (Matthew 9:36). The King James version indicates that Jesus had compassion “because they fainted, and were scattered abroad.” Another way of saying it might be that Jesus was moved with compassion because he saw that the fabric of the Jews’ society was being torn apart and he knew that they were in jeopardy of losing their political identity.

Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but he laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Jesus probably described the salvation of souls as a harvest because it was the result of someone’s intentional effort and occurred at a specific time each year. There was a certain amount of reliability and necessity to the process of agriculture that made it a desirable occupation. Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” suggesting that there was an abundance of work to be done, even more than the labor market could handle. One of the reasons Jesus instructed his disciples to beg God to send out evangelists to preach the gospel was because there was a lack of faith on the part of the Jewish religious leaders (Matthew 9:34) and if the job was left to them, no one would be saved.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believer you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!