Way back in Book 2 of Genesis, Moses told us about how God planted a garden in the east, in the land of Eden, a safe space walled off from the untamed wilderness outside. And he told us about how God placed Adam there to work it and take care of it: it was Adam’s job to cultivate the garden, and to protect it from invasion. As God’s first High Priest, Adam was supposed to lead the creatures of the garden into orderly worship.
And in the very center of the garden, God placed two trees: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In other words: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Wisdom. And God told Adam that he could eat from all of the trees of the garden — except from the Tree of Wisdom. “For,” he said, “when you eat of it, die la you!”
Now, it is not as if God did not want Adam to be wise. He had already created Adam in his own image, which means Adam already had God’s authority to rule over the garden, and Adam also had God’s wisdom, so that he would know how to rule over the garden.
But, Adam was still young. His wisdom was in seed form, we could say. It was still a childish wisdom. And the plan was for Adam to grow in wisdom as he worked alongside his Father God in the garden. Eventually, after Adam had proven that he could be obedient to God’s program over the long term, eventually God would give Adam permission to eat from the Tree of Wisdom and the Tree of Life. These two fruits combined would basically be Adam’s graduation ceremony. He would go from being God’s prince over the garden to being God’s king over all the earth.
In short: the Tree of Life gave…eternal life! The Tree of Wisdom was…a test for Adam. It was the source of his ”education”, we could say in modern terms. Ironically, perhaps, the way Adam was supposed to learn wisdom from the Tree of Wisdom was by not eating from the Tree of Wisdom. He was supposed to learn wisdom through self-control.
Well, as we know, Adam failed. He failed to protect the garden from invasion: he allowed a serpent from the wilderness to slither right into the center of the garden. And then he ate from the tree. He tried to shortcut the process of learning wisdom. He tried to shortcut the process of education, and graduation. He tried to crown himself king over the earth before God said he was ready.
And on that day, Adam lost his access to the Tree of Life. He lost his access to the garden, that sacred space walled off from the wilderness. Instead, he found himself outside, in the wilderness, without having completed his education process, without passing his final exam. He crowned himself king…and then discovered that he was really, really unqualified for the job.
And the rest of the Book of Genesis has been the story of God’s plan to provide a Second Adam — a Messiah, a Saviour — who will prove himself faithful, a man who will learn wisdom through self-denial and suffering, and, once made perfect, will be truly crowned with glory and honour so that he can reopen the garden of Eden, and become the source of eternal salvation for all who come and submit to his rule.
And over these last few weeks, as we have been nearing the end of the Book of Genesis, we have discovered that Joseph is meant to be a very clear preview of that Second Adam, that Messiah:
When he was young, his father Jacob gave him authority…but at age 17 Joseph really did not have the wisdom to exercise that authority very well. Joseph’s brothers rebelled against his authority, and sold him into slavery — and so, just like the first Adam, Joseph found himself in the wilderness, far from God’s land, far from God’s family, and very unqualified for the job.
But God was with him, and over the next 13 years Joseph learned wisdom through self-denial and suffering. He was given authority over two small gardens — his master’s house, and then his master’s prison — and he proved himself faithful. He did not try to short-cut the process, he did not try to crown himself king over anything! and as a result he graduated properly: God lifted him up and crowned him with the authority to rule over the great garden of all Egypt.
And so far Joseph has proven himself worthy. Instead of using his power to smash his brothers when they came looking for food, Joseph forgave them. He removed their guilt, he covered their shame, and he extended his offer of salvation to everyone in their families — 70-over direct descendants of Jacob, not counting the wives and the servants and the employees.
And so, last week, we saw that the first-fruits of Joseph’s Golden Age was the reconciliation of the nations, the reversal of God’s scattering judgement on the Tower of Babel. Joseph is using his power, first, to draw people from all nations back into the garden of God.
This week, now that the nations are being drawn back in toward the garden of God, Moses is going to show us how Joseph uses his power to bring structure to God’s garden, God’s kingdom.
So as we catch up to things here, we find that Jacob — Joseph’s father — is on the way down from the land of Canaan to the land of Egypt, along with everything he owns: what must have been tens of thousands of people and animals!
Basically, Jacob is leaving nothing behind except the buried bones of his ancestors: he is leaving the land of Canaan entirely in God’s hands.
And as this huge caravan arrives on the borders of Egypt, Jacob sends Judah ahead to get directions. And when Joseph hears that his dad is arriving, he has his chariot made ready and goes to meet his father. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time…
 Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”
Jacob and Joseph got to live as father and son for 17 years — and then they were separated for more than two decades. But now all that is over: father and son are reconciled once again.
And then, over the next few verses, Moses shows us how Joseph uses his wisdom to make sure his family ends up in a particular land called Goshen.
First, Joseph introduces his brothers to Pharaoh, but he manages that entire conversation very carefully. And then, only after Pharaoh has promised to give them the land of Goshen, only then does Joseph bring his father in to meet Pharaoh.
Now, what is going on here? Why is Joseph so careful? Why is Joseph so obsessed with the land of Goshen? And why is he so slow to introduce his father to Pharaoh?
We’ll answer those one by one:
First: why was Joseph so careful in his arrangements?
Because he was aware of certain political and cultural tensions that were going on in Egypt at that time. Back in Chapter 43 we were told that Egyptians would not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. And here, in verse 34, Joseph told his brothers to tell Pharaoh that they are shepherds: “Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians!”
Joseph knew that the Egyptians would not want Joseph’s family to settle in the center of Egypt, because they are Hebrews, a people that lived by shepherding. Egyptian society was centralized, urban, and highly structured. A shepherding society is the opposite of all that. Which means that shepherding people did not easily fit into Egyptian political structures. Which means that shepherding nations were a destabilizing influence on Egyptian society. And archaeologists have confirmed that, several times during the history of ancient Egypt, the country was overthrown by and ruled by nations of shepherds, nations that were, in fact, related to the Hebrews.
So we can understand why the Egyptians would not be especially excited about inviting Jacob’s massive caravan to come live in their capital city.
The situation there is similar to Malaysia’s relationship with Rohingya refugees today: a few is fine, but after a few hundred thousand the government begins to feel a bit uneasy!
Joseph knew all this. So he coached his brothers to say that they are shepherds, and that they are happy to live far away from the centers of Egypt — because Joseph knew that Pharaoh would jump at the chance to keep them away from the center of Egypt.
But that leads us to the next question: why is Joseph obsessed with the land of Goshen?
Because Joseph also does not want his family to settle in the center of Egypt, because they are Hebrews! They are the sons of (H)Eber, and the sons of Abraham: they are shepherds, but most importantly of all they are God’s covenant people! Which means that they must not mix their worship or their culture with the Egyptians.
And Joseph, in his wisdom, knows from personal experience how hard it is for a people to keep their identity pure in the midst of the centers of power. Almost from the very beginning of Genesis there has been this war between the City of Man and the Garden of God, and the City of Man is always more powerful and persuasive. So, even though Joseph rules Egypt now, he knows that the full transformation of Egypt’s people into God’s people is going to take a long time, and so he knows that it would not be a good idea to drop God’s covenant family right into the center of what is still — truthfully speaking — a nest of serpent-worshipers.
In short: just like Adam in the beginning, God’s family is still a young nation. They are not yet old enough or wise enough to live in a land as messed up as Egypt without being corrupted by it. They need their own safe space walled off from the untamed spiritual wilderness of Egypt. The plan is for Israel’s nation to grow in size and wisdom during their centuries in Egypt, until it is time for them to graduate, and return to rule over their own land of Canaan.
That is why Joseph is obsessed with Goshen: because it is his job, as God’s messiah, to rebuild the garden of God, to give God’s people a rich, safe, garden land in the east of the land of Egypt.
Okay. But why does Joseph introduce his father last?
Because Joseph was waiting to see if Pharaoh really would do the right thing.
See, Pharaoh owes Joseph everything, and he knows it. After all, Joseph is right in the middle of saving Pharaoh’s empire from this terrible famine! However: power corrupts, and politicians have a long history of betraying those they owe the most!
But good news! In verse 5 of our episode here we are told that Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you,  and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen if they want to, but seriously: they can live anywhere! And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.”
Pharaoh knows he owes Joseph everything, so he is offering Joseph everything.
And that is why, when Joseph brings his father Jacob in before the throne, Moses is careful to point out that Jacob blessed Pharaoh on the way in, and then — after a polite conversation — Jacob blessed Pharaoh again on his way out.
This is significant! Because, in the bible, it is the greater who blesses the lesser. Jacob blesses Pharaoh — twice! — therefore, Jacob is greater than the Pharaoh of Egypt. Pharaoh may rule Egypt, but Jacob and his descendants are one day going to rule the whole earth!
And Jacob’s superiority is confirmed by the little conversation they have: Jacob reveals that he is 130 years old, and that he is a youngster compared to his ancestors. Well, in Egyptian culture, 110 was considered to be the maximum. So Jacob and his ancestors are greater than Pharaoh and his ancestors.
 So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed.  Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.
So now Joseph has completed job one: God’s garden has been replanted — in the land of Goshen, this time. And God’s covenant people are safe again within those walls. And once again, just as in the beginning, God is giving his people everything they need.
However, outside the garden of Goshen,  there was no food in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine.
So the situation is exactly like it was at the beginning of Genesis: one small part of the earth has been turned into a garden of life, but outside the walls of that garden is nothing but wilderness.
And so now, over the next few verses, Moses details for us how Joseph begins to consolidate his rule over Egypt, so that he can bring life to the wilderness:
First the people spend all their money buying food from the government. Then they spend all their livestock, all their movable assets. Then they finally offer to sign over their lands.  So, we are told, Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s,  and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other.
And over the years since then people have seriously wondered if what Joseph did here was good or bad. Free-market capitalists have read this and said, “Hold on! This is socialism! This is bad!” But then, of course, socialists have read this and said, “There! See! Socialism is biblical!”
And then still others have read this sentence in verse 21 where it says Joseph reduced the people to servitude, and they say, “Wait a minute: servitude means slavery! And slavery is wrong!”
But all of that discussion is really missing the point. Moses is not teaching economic or social theory, he is teaching theology. His whole point in writing all of this is to give us a clear understanding of who God really is, not how the economy should be run.
So, before we all start debating about whether it was right or wrong for Joseph to take control of Egypt like this…the first thing we have to notice is that, in the end, it is not Joseph who owns all the land of Egypt: in verse 20 Moses tells us that the land became Pharaoh’s.
This is significant, because just a few minutes ago Pharaoh gave land to Jacob’s family, and Jacob called down God’s blessing upon Pharaoh in return.
Well, here, God has fulfilled Jacob’s blessing: the man who gave Jacob land has now been rewarded with all the land of Egypt.
What does this mean?
Well, remember that when God first called Abraham, he said, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.” Pharaoh blessed Abraham’s family, so now God has blessed Pharaoh.
So the first theological point Moses is making is that God keeps his promises, even to pagan kings.
But there is more:  Joseph did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.
Now here Moses wants us to notice the parallels between the land of the priests and the land of Goshen. All the land of Egypt now belongs to Pharaoh! — except for the lands that belong to the priests, and the lands that belong to Jacob’s family. Pharaoh is feeding his priests; back in verse 12 we were told that Joseph is feeding his father’s household.
What does this mean?
Well, what Moses is showing us is that everyone in Egypt is now in slavery to the government — except for two groups of sacred people. On one hand we have a group of false priests worshiping false gods, supported by their lord, Pharaoh. On the other hand we have a family of true priests worshiping the True God, supported by their lord, Joseph. So this is yet another picture of the relationship between the City of Man and the Garden of God.
But here is the real brain-twister for us: these false priests supported by their pagan king are actually being supported by Joseph, and by the blessings of God.
Think about it: without Joseph, without God’s blessings, everyone would be starving, including these false priests and their pagan king!
But because their Pharaoh made God’s messiah his Prime Minister, and because their Pharaoh blessed Jacob’s family, now God is blessing these pagan priests with life and food.
In short: the City of Man is being blessed by the Garden of God because the City of Man is treating God’s garden with proper respect.
And all this is Moses’ second theological point. He is showing us how God’s messiah Joseph is structuring God’s kingdom. And this is the structure:
Under Joseph’s rule, God’s covenant family gets to live safely within the walls of God’s garden in Goshen. They get to live in the sacred centre of God’s presence, eating from the Trees of Life and Wisdom: which is Joseph himself, the source of their life and salvation.
But, even outside the walls of God’s garden — even outside the land of Goshen — the rest of the land of Egypt is also being saved from the famine. The land of Egypt used to be a complete wilderness! But now, through Joseph’s rule, life is flowing out of God’s garden and bringing life to the wilderness of Egypt.
But, hang on, objection: how can we say that Joseph is bringing life to Egypt when, in fact, Moses told us he is bringing servitude to Egypt? Servitude means slavery. So how can we say this is good and life-giving?
Isn’t Joseph simply setting himself up as yet another tyrant?
Well, to answer that question, really we need to understand what Moses means when he says Joseph reduced the people to servitude. What did this “servitude” under Joseph look like?
The next verses tell us:
 Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground.  But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.”
So, a couple of points here:
This is clearly not “chattel slavery”, where one person literally owns another person. This is a kind of servitude that is technically called “tenured farming”. Basically, the people of Egypt are now leasing their lands from the government at a 20% tax rate.
— basically, we live in a “tenured farming” economy right now. We live in this same kind of servitude, where we derive a salary from the larger economy, and then out of that salary we pay our mortgages and taxes.
And before you say, “20% tax? Come on, Joseph!” you should know that in the ancient world the normal tax rates were between 30% and 50%. So Joseph has actually reduced the Egyptian tax rate. The people of Egypt are actually going to have more to eat now, during the famine, than they did before, during the years of plenty!
So what we are supposed to realize here is that, even though the people no longer own their lands, even though they are all now essentially “owned” by the government…they are actually better off now, in “servitude” under Joseph’s rule, than they were when they were “free” land-owners.
What Egypt has just experienced here is what we would call a change of government. The king, the Pharaoh, is still the same, of course. But the opposition party, led by Joseph, now rules parliament. And with Joseph as Prime Minister, the entire orientation of the government has changed: from feeding itself to now feeding the people.
Joseph, God’s messiah, is bringing life to the wilderness.
And the people recognize this:
 “You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
In other words: “We agree to this arrangement. We submit to this government.” Because this is a good government!
 So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.
And the sly irony behind all of this is that, once upon a time, Joseph was enslaved by Egyptians, and they treated him unjustly.
Now the Egyptians have been enslaved by Joseph! He could take revenge on them. Instead, he uses his power to give them life.
And so the years of famine pass. The earth begins to produce vegetation again: seed-bearing plants and trees that bear fruit according to their various kinds, just like it did way back in Chapter 1 of Genesis. In the land of Goshen, God’s people are thriving:  They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.
They are finally getting to do what Adam and Eve were called to do in the first place: they are working and protecting the land, they are filling God’s garden with human life.
And Jacob gets to live with Joseph for the last seventeen years of his life, just as Joseph go to live with Jacob for the first seventeen years of his life.
And  when the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt,  but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”
“I will do as you say,” Joseph promises.
 “Swear to me,” Jacob said.
Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
Now, the fact that Jacob wants to be buried with his ancestors in Canaan is significant. But we are going to save that topic for our last sermon in Genesis, two weeks from today.
For now, we’re going to focus on something else that is very significant about this moment:
A few minutes ago we realized that when Jacob blessed Pharaoh, that was Moses’ way of showing us that Jacob is greater than Pharaoh.
Well, here, when Jacob commands Joseph, “Swear to me,” this is Moses’ way of showing us that Jacob is also greater than Joseph. And the fact that Joseph agrees to make this vow is Moses’ way of showing us that Joseph is voluntarily submitting to his father’s rule. Joseph is the Prime Minister of Egypt, he is the most powerful man in the world of his time! but he is now submitting all that power and authority to his father.
Basically, Joseph owes Jacob everything, and he knows it. Without Jacob’s seed, there would be no Joseph. Without Jacob’s sin of favouritism, Joseph would have never been sold into slavery — and he would never have been promoted to Prime Minister of Egypt.
And so here, effectively and symbolically, Joseph gives his completed kingdom back to his father. And next week we are going to find out what Jacob does with this power that his son has returned to him.
But what does it mean? What was Moses trying to teach by writing all this down?
Well, as we know, throughout this history of Joseph’s reign over Egypt, Moses has been giving his people — the ancient people of Israel — a preview of what it will look like when God’s risen Messiah finally rules over all the nations of the earth.
Last week, he focused on how the Messiah will reverse the curse of Babel and draw the nations back to live and worship under the Messiah’s rule.
This week, Moses has focused on how the Messiah will organize his rule over those nations. This is what the Kingdom of God is going to look like:
At the very center, in the holiest place, will be the Messiah’s throne, with the Messiah seated there — the Messiah who is also the Trees of Life and Wisdom combined. Around that is the throne room, of course, which is really the garden of God. And that is where the Messiah’s people get to live: in the sacred centre of God’s presence. Because they are in a covenant relationship with God’s Messiah, they get to eat and drink freely and forever.
But when we zoom out of the garden, we realize that the sacred center of the Messiah’s kingdom is not in the center of the kingdoms of this world: it is off to the side, set apart from the nations that have not entered into a covenant relationship with the Messiah. This is partly to protect God’s people from corruption. It is also to emphasize the fact that the only way to enter God’s presence is by entering into a covenant relationship with God’s Messiah.
However, even outside the walls of the garden — even outside the walls of the covenant — the Messiah will graciously provide food for the nations. The Messiah will bless them to the exact degree that they are willing to bless the Messiah’s people.
And to help reinforce this understanding of how God’s world is structured, God gave Moses very detailed plans for a sacred tent of worship: what we call the tabernacle.
In its center was the holiest place, a tent walled off from the outer world by curtains woven with blue and purple and scarlet threads. This holiest place contained all the symbolic elements of the original garden of Eden, and only the holiest of God’s people were allowed to enter.
But when we zoom out from that holiest place, we realize that this sacred center is actually set off to the side of a larger enclosure, where more ordinary people were allowed to enter.
And outside that larger enclosure was the rest of the nations of the world.
So the tabernacle that Moses built for his people was designed to be a model of God’s original plan for the world: with the garden of Eden at its center, set up to bring life and order to the wilderness outside. But it was also designed to be a model of the Messiah’s kingdom that was to come.
This is what Moses was trying to teach his people. He was hoping that, when God’s Messiah finally arrives and begins to organize his eternal kingdom, the descendants of Jacob will recognize what is going on and make sure to join in!
So: that is what this episode was supposed to mean for the ancient people of Israel.
What is it supposed to mean for us?
Well, the ancient people of Israel were looking forward to the Messiah’s kingdom. We are living in that kingdom now.
2000 years ago, on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus of Nazareth was revealed to be God’s risen Messiah, the true Second Adam. He had proved himself faithful, even to death. He had learned obedience from what he suffered, and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
And on that day, the Golden Age of Jesus began. And last week we discovered that we are the first-fruits of Jesus’ Golden Age. We are the people from the nations that were once scattered across the face of the earth: now brought back into one family, one people, under one Father. As Christians, we are now the citizens of the Messiah’s kingdom.
And as good citizens, it is important for us to recognize the structure of this kingdom we live in. The more clearly we are able to see God’s plan for the world, the more easily we will be able to find our place in that plan.
So for us, this episode is a blueprint, designed to reveal the structure of God’s world:
At the very center, in the holiest place, we find Jesus, seated on his throne, at the Father’s right hand. Flowing from the throne we find the river of the water of life, and on each side of that river we find the Trees of Life and Wisdom. And that is where we are living, right now! — in the sacred centre of God’s presence, the sacred center that is also known as Christ’s Church. Here we get to eat and drink freely of the goodness of God!
Now, to be clear, I am not saying that our particular church is the sacred center of everything. Our little church is just one local, physical expression of the universal spiritual reality.
And this becomes clear when we zoom out of our little church and realize that the Church — as the sacred center of Jesus’ kingdom — is not in the center of the kingdoms of this world!
In other words: the physical reality is the opposite of the spiritual reality. In the spiritual world Christians live at the very holiest center of everything. But in the physical world, Christians live off to the side, on the margins.
So, for instance, even though we all live here in the center of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, our Christian values guarantee that we are actually foreigners and aliens in this society. We are a spiritual nation that — essentially — lives by shepherding. We have our own spiritual family structure, our own spiritual economy, our own spiritual king Jesus Christ. Which means that we do not easily fit into the political structures of this world…which means that we are actually a destabilizing influence to the political structures of this world.
And so, just as shepherds were detestable to the Egyptians because they just did not fit in, Christians are also detestable to the nations of our world, because we just don’t fit in.
And this, friends, is by design! This is God’s blueprint: we are not supposed to take over the power centers of our world, we are supposed to be set apart. We are supposed to be detestable. We are supposed to be a destabilizing influence on the corrupted systems of our world.
Now, this design is partly to preserve us from outside corruption, giving Christ’s Church a chance to grow up and become mature, ready for our graduation to the next level.
But our destabilizing influence from the fringes is also designed to point the world to Christ. By refusing to participate in political and economic and social power-games, by refusing to live according to the corrupted values of this world, we are living proof that there is another world out there, a better world. A world without slavery, without tyranny, a world where the children of God eat and drink freely from the source of all life…
And so, here is the real brain-twister for us: the further we are from the power centers of this world, the more different we are, the more detestable we become to the nations around us…the better we are able to actually pour out God’s blessings upon those nations.
Yes. It’s true. Allow me to explain:
Shepherds were detestable to Egyptians. But the sons of Jacob did not hide the fact that they were shepherds. They told the truth: “We live according to a system that is the opposite of your. And we are not going to change just so we can fit in to your world.”
And this was actually a test for Pharaoh — a test from Joseph, a test from God himself. If Pharaoh overlooked his own revulsion and blessed Jacob’s family anyway, then he and his nation would be blessed by God. But if Pharaoh rejected and cursed Jacob’s family because they were detestable to him…then he and his nation would fall under God’s curse.
We are detestable to the nations. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. We live according to an incompatible political system, we live according to incompatible values. When we tell the truth about that, when we live our lives openly according to the values of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, we are bringing God’s test to the nations. Through us, God is saying, “Look! These are my people. If you bless them, you will be blessed. If you submit to their heavenly values, if you allow yourselves to be reduced to servitude under their guidance, then your nations will thrive: you will live longer, happier, healthier lives, with lower tax rates! And if you actually join my people in worship, if you actually join yourselves in a covenant relationship with Jesus…well, then you will be my people, and I will be your God and you will eat and drink freely forever!
“But if you despise my people and their values…I will end you.”
There is blessing outside the walls of God’s covenant, outside the walls of Christ’s Church. Several prophets in the bible tell us that the River of Life flows out through the gates of God’s Church into the world, so that the nations might drink from it, and gradually be led up that river to the source.
We are that river. But how are the nations going to recognize us as the River of Life if our spiritual nation is just as power-hungry, just as corrupted and selfish as their physical nations?
And so, in order for us to give the nations outside every chance to receive God’s blessings, we need to be different — so that the nations can be confronted with a very clear choice: are you going to continue to build your own corrupted and divisive Cities of Man? or are you going to recognize this River of Life and follow it back to the Garden of God from whence it flows?
The spiritual world and the physical world are like two spinning tops that are inverted mirror-images of one another, so that the center of the spiritual world is the edge of the physical world, and the center of the physical world is the edge of the spiritual world.
Our task as a spiritual nation in the midst of physical nations is to destabilize their corrupted physical systems by living according to our spiritual system. This is how we are to show them that there is more to this world that just what can been seen with the eyes and seized with the hands.
Now, if you have ever played with a top, then you know that the centerpoint is the most stable place: you can poke it and the top will keep spinning. But if you want to destabilize the top, you flick the edge of it.
By making sure that our spiritual nation remains on the outer edges of the physical nations, we accomplish two things:
First, our destabilizing influence is stronger, more effective.
Second, because the spiritual world and the physical world are inverted mirror-images of one another, those who are closer to the edges of the physical world are closer to the center of the spiritual world.
That is God’s blueprint for his world. That is the structure of Jesus’ kingdom, and our place within it.
And now that we can see it clearly, now we can know better what we are called to do. Basically, if we want to remain close to the spiritual center where God lives, and if we want to make a real difference in the physical centers of God’s world, then we’ve got to make sure we remain on the fringes of this world’s systems and values.
So, practically speaking now: what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed act out this structure in our daily lives?
Here is our practical application for today: make sure you are here three Sundays from now when we begin our sermon series on the Books of 1st Peter and 2nd Peter. Because that is what Peter’s letters are all about: very practical instructions for us on how to live in the center of Jesus’ Kingdom while also remaining on the fringes of a world that stands for the opposite of everything Jesus stands for…
Now, in closing, I want to return to Moses’ final sentence of this episode: Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
It is interesting to notice that the story of mankind in Genesis begins with God’s High Priest Adam at worship in the garden of God in Eden. That story of mankind really ends here with God’s High Priest Jacob at worship once again in the garden of God in Goshen.
And this is such a beautiful ending. Because when we look back over Jacob’s life we see that he first worshiped in fear at the foot of God’s stairway. Since then we have seen him worship in moments of doubt and desperation. We watched him wrestle with God through the long dark night of the soul, and we saw him finally climb limping up out of that valley into the dawn of a new day.
But then we were forced to watch as the fierce afternoon heat of that new day withered all that he had planted through such painful toil. We saw how the thorns and thistles of the wilderness sprang up to choke out everything good about his life: how his sons fell away one by one, slain by ambition and corruption and ultimately by Jacob’s own sin of favouritism! We have watched as God himself fed Jacob with the bread of tears. As Jacob told Pharaoh just now in verse 9: “The years of my pilgrimage have been few and difficult.”
What a sad summary of a man’s life!
But now, here, we see that the sun is setting at last. The fields of wheat are ripening toward the harvest: grain as plentiful as the sand of the sea. In the west the sky is woven with blue and purple and scarlet threads, like the curtains of God’s tabernacle. In the east the stars are beginning to come out: each one a shining promise of the billions of children to come.
Just like Adam and Eve once did, Jacob is hearing the sound of the Lord God coming toward him through the garden in the cool of the day — but unlike Adam and Eve, Jacob is no longer afraid.
Friends, this moment at the end of Jacob’s life is a promise for all of us who are in Christ: no matter what our lives might look like right now, during the heat of the day — plagued by unrepentant sin, by relationships that keep breaking, by crops that just won’t grow properly — friends, this is a promise that one day the sun will set for the last time, the cool wind of evening will rise, and we will look up and see our Saviour, our King, our Bridegroom, coming toward us through the fields of gold to claim his Bride.
And then we are going to worship forever.