Devotional Hours Within the Bible
Devotional: January 16th
When Jacob returned to his father's house, Esau met him with four hundred men. If Esau's intent was hostile, he was appeased by Jacob's generous kindness. Then we must remember that Jacob had prayed to the Lord to protect him and his household from his brother's anger, and we believe in prayer. God softened Esau's heart toward Jacob. Jacob had got right with God that night at Jabbok, and now he also gets right with his brother. There is rich instruction in all this even for us who read the story so long afterward.
We saw that the home of Isaac was not ideal - but was rent with strifes and jealousies; the home of Jacob as we see it now was also full of discords. The behavior of Jacob's sons caused the old man great sorrow. The hand of death also wrought sadness for him. Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died. There are old servants who are so faithful and true, who do so much for those with whom they live, that they become almost as dear as if they were members of the family. We should be kind to those who serve us.
Then a still greater bereavement came to Jacob. Rachel had been close to Jacob's heart all the years. Polygamy had made his home a most discordant and unhappy one - but the one abiding comfort of his life had been Rachel. On the way from Bethel a son was born to her - but the mother died in the hour of her anguish. She knew, in dying, the mother's joy that a son was born. She had strength to give him his name - Benoni, "The son of my sorrow," and then died. Her disappointment was very bitter. "She was never to feel the little creature stirring in her arms with personal human life, nor see him growing up to manhood as the son of his father's right hand. It was this sad death of Rachel's which made her the typical mother in Israel ."
Rachel was buried at Bethlehem and her grave marked by Jacob. Then the family journeyed on. We cannot stop long, even for sorrow, on our pilgrimage. The baby lived and took his place as the last of the twelve sons of Jacob, completing the number. We now take up the beautiful story of Joseph .
The family of Israel was still living in the land of Canaan, although they did not own it. Canaan is called the land of their father's sojournings. That was all this land was to any of those old patriarchs - a land of sojournings, of pilgrimage. They had no abiding home in it. They merely pitched their tents here and there, tarrying for a little while, then pulling up the tent pins and moving on.
This is a picture of what the world really is to all God's children who are passing through it - a land of sojournings. We have no permanent abiding-place here. Our true home is in heaven. We are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
A distinguished clergyman used to wish that he might die at an inn, because it looked like one going home, the world being but like a great noisy inn - and he a wayfarer tarrying in it as short a time as possible, and then hastening away.
Not all of us, however, look upon the world in just this way - but if we are children of God, why should we not? It is said that ofttimes those who walk by the lakes of Switzerland are scarcely aware of the lake, are hardly conscious that they are journeying beside it, their eyes are so enchanted by the glorious mountains that rise up, piercing the clouds. So in a sense it is with the Christian in this world whose eye of faith sees heaven's glories.
JOSEPH was of rare person of beautiful character. Because of his importance in the great events of the beginning of the nation, the story of his life is told with unusual fullness in the Scriptures. We would not say that Joseph's early environment was just such as to make a great man of him. He had not much to inspire him to beautiful or noble things. Yet, no doubt, the circumstances amid which he grew up, proved in the end - full of the best influences for his growth. His home was a quiet one.
His father was now at his best. Jacob had not begun well, and he had had many hard lessons to learn, for there was much chaff in his character, which had to be winnowed out. He had to be knocked about rather roughly - to get the refining and polishing which he needed. But in his old age he was no longer Jacob the supplanter - but Israel, prince with God. His disposition was softened, his character was improved, his nature was enriched. He was a long time ripening - but at last the late fruit was compensation for all the experiences through which! he had come.
Joseph grew up in the patriarchal home in these better, softer, richer years of Jacob's, and we cannot doubt that the blessings of his father's later evening time - had their part in the making of his character. Isaac, also, was an inhabitant of the home when Joseph was a boy. He was a very old man, more than one hundred and sixty years of age. It is ofttimes a beautiful friendship that is formed between such a grandfather and a young boy. Isaac doubtless would talk to the lad about his own experiences, about the divine promises, and not the least beneficial of the early impressions upon the heart of Joseph - were those which the touch of Isaac's hand left there.
Joseph did not always have a sweet and happy home in which to grow up. If his brothers were much in it - there must have been bickerings and strifes ofttimes, and much ungodliness. The boy had no good books, magazines, and newspapers, as our boys have. An English or American boy of this day, would have had a dreary time in Joseph's environment; but the man is the proof of his education, and Joseph came out of his training - as one of the noblest men that ever was grown on this earth!
The lesson is, that circumstances help to bring out what is in the life. God will help us to grow anywhere into His own thought and plan for our life - if only we are faithful in our place. Indeed, He knows just where and under what influences you will best grow into what He wants you to be - and therefore you may let Him choose the place and the circumstances. You did not come to your place by accident; it is the very place God meant for you!
Jacob loved Joseph more than any other of his sons. There was good reason for this. Joseph was of winning disposition. He was different from his brothers, who were sons of the other mothers. Jacob could scarcely help having a special fondness for Joseph. His mistake was in showing his preference. He seems not to have tried to conceal it. He showed it openly, for instance, in putting on Joseph a garment which advertised that he was the favorite. The father's showing of his partiality for Joseph, worked badly for the boy.
There is an old fable of an ape which had a favorite cub - that he hugged to death through over-loving. Some parents show their love in like unwise ways for their favorite children, hurting instead of helping them by their over-kindness.
In Joseph's case, there was at least this injury done by the favoritism of his father: that it made his brothers hate him more, and thus became the occasion of all the trouble which came upon him through them. The father's foolish mistake was no excuse, however, for the crime of the brothers. We see here again - the danger of allowing envy in our hearts to take root. At first only an unkind feeling, if cherished and nursed - it grows with alarming rapidity into hatred, often even into murder. We remember that in Cain, envy became actual murder, and in these brothers of Joseph, the murder was in their hearts and was even planned and begun.
We are all human, with human weaknesses, and not one of us dare say that such and such a result would never be reached in our case, that we never would do such wickedness.
The only safe thing to do with envious thoughts - is to crush them at once, to overcome evil with good, compelling ourselves to do some kindness to the person of whom we are disposed to be envious, to drive the wicked feelings out with that love which seeks not its own, which is not provoked, which thinks no evil.
We must notice here, too, that it was in a home that this envy grew up, in the hearts of brothers. Homes ought to be places of love. Brothers and sisters ought to love each other and live together affectionately. Yet in too many homes there is sad lack of love, at least of the expression of it. There are children who do not live together affectionately, nor always speak kindly to each other. Let us learn from what is not beautiful in this home of Jacob - to make our own home - life more Christ-like and heaven-like.
One night the boy Joseph had a dream. It was a Divine fore-gleam, or intimation, of his future destiny. Both of Joseph's dreams were glimpses of the same future. We shall see as we go on with the story - how the dreams at length came true. Every young man has visions of his own future, which are more than dreams. God often shows in the first visions of early youth - the things which it is possible for the person ultimately to attain or achieve. Many a great artist has had visions in his childhood of the greatness which later in life he achieved. Many boys show at the beginning of their days - glimpses and intimations of what they afterward become.
Joseph seems to have talked rather too freely of his dreams of coming honor and greatness. Possibly he showed or seemed to show, a little self-conceit. Yet we may account for this on the ground of his frankness and simplicity of spirit. If Joseph had been older and had had more discretion, he would not have told his dreams. He would have known that other people, especially members of his own family, are not apt to take kindly to a boy's thoughts of his superiority. He was less than seventeen years of age, without experience of the world, and had not learned wisdom and tact. It is probable, too, that he did not imagine the dreams had any real meaning. He was excited over what he had dreamed - and naturally and boyishly told the family all about it. So we must not blame Joseph too much for this. All his life he was frank and outspoken, and this quality it was that made him tell at the breakfast table what his dreams of the night before had been.
The father's rebuke was certainly not very serious, for we are told that the old man kept the matter of the dreams in his mind, no doubt wondering if they would some day come true. His rebuke may have been given with a desire to allay the bitter feeling in the hearts of Joseph's brothers. Be that as it may, we know that ultimately not only the brothers - but also the father himself, bowed down to Joseph in the land of Egypt. Then, too, we know that the brothers never forgot these dreams, and when at last they learned who Joseph was in Egypt, they remembered very vividly these incidents of his early boyhood.
'Devotional Hours Within the Bible' is a unique type of devotional from the writings of J. R. Miller. The eight volume set was published between 1908 and 1913 by Hodder and Stroughton and now is in the public domain.
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