Posts Tagged 'God and Iniquity'

God and Iniquity, Part 4

Iniquity is an awful thing. Sure, it’s sin, but it’s the worst possible of all sins. We all sin. We may be redeemed, but we still struggle with sin. We live in it. It’s all around us. In a million different ways, every minute of every day of our lives we are exposed to sin. Whether we hear it or see it. And whether we like it or not, it influences how we think, feel, and act. That’s why we most of the time we aren’t ever aware that we are sinning until it’s too late. It’s as though we can’t help ourselves – that’s not an excuse, just an explanation. Iniquity is different. You have to out of your way to commit an iniquity. You plan to do it. You scheme to do it. And when at last you’ve done the deed, you hide it; you do your best to make sure nobody finds out. Unlike your run-of-the-mill, garden variety sin, you have the power to not commit an iniquity.

But of course, God knows all about your iniquities. As we’ve discovered, He not only knows about them, He reveals them. They are always right in front of Him. And you are stained with the guilt of your iniquities.

Is there any hope? Fortunately for us, there is.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied ; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:5, 6, 11 | TNIV)

Context

As far as the majority of Bible scholars is concerned, the content of Isaiah 53 really begins back in 52:13.

See, my servant will act wisely ; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. (Isaiah 52:13 – 15 | TNIV)

This is God the Father talking about “his servant.” We Christians view all the “Servant” passages in Isaiah as finding their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In these verses here, we get a glimpse into how the Father viewed His Son and His Son’s mission on earth.

God’s view

The first thing God draws attention to is the Son’s wisdom; His belief that Jesus Christ will act wisely. And He did. The wisdom of the Son was completely self-denying. He made all the right decisions that would put Him on the Cross. But Jesus Christ possesses all the wisdom needed to deal with man’s greatest problem: Sin. And what looked like foolishness to onlookers, was in fact wisdom on display.

He was beaten beyond recognition. People who saw Him were appalled and disgusted with the appearance of this so-called Messiah. And yet, as the Lord says, Jesus Christ “sprinkled many nations.” That’s an interesting phrase that is probably lost most of us today. It has the idea of a Jewish ceremony involving purification and the forgiveness of sins. Even as it appeared as though the Son of God was dying and helplessly nailed to a cross, He was acting in complete wisdom and in complete harmony with His Father’s will, obtaining the forgiveness of sins for people that hitherto was never available to them.

We don’t talk a lot about the wisdom of the Son of God, but a long time after Isaiah wrote what he did about the issue, the apostle Paul tackled it like this:

Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:20 – 25 | TNIV)

Christians would do well to remember what both Isaiah and Paul wrote. It applies to our time as much as it did to theirs. Too many believers don’t have the confidence they should have in their faith, their Scriptures, or their Savior. There is no equivalence at all between man’s wisdom and God’s.

Man’s view

From God, we move to the astonishment of those who came to believe in the Savior. But it was hard fought belief.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1 | TNIV)

Bible scholars love to debate who the “we” here is. Jews or Gentiles? Maybe both, since “the arm of the Lord” has embraced all people. Anybody who found Jesus has wondered in astonishment of a couple of things. First, we who love Jesus find hard to believe why so many don’t! “Who has believed our message,” indeed! Apparently few have!  Yet God in His great love and compassion has embraced all sinners who need saving. Why do so many people miss Jesus? It’s because He’s the unexpected Savior. Just read how Isaiah described Him in these verses.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:2 – 3 | TNIV)

Jesus didn’t come in power and glory. He came as one of us. Just an average guy who could feed 5,000 people with almost no food, walk on water, raise the dead, and change the weather. But Jesus wasn’t what people were looking for and He isn’t what people are looking for today. The great sadness is that people of every generation are looking for the same things: peace, happiness, contentment, security, love, and acceptance. But what they don’t know is that all those things are found only in once person: Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ became a “man of suffering” because He became one of us, and suffering marks the human condition. Living the life He did and hanging on the Cross, Jesus experienced, if only for the briefest moments in eternity, what it is like to be one of us: lonely, sad, abandoned, betrayed, and suffering alone.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4 | TNIV)

We tend to focus on the first part of that verse, but it’s the second half that is the most telling: “…we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” In other words, we saw everything Jesus went through, but we got it wrong. We didn’t understand what we were seeing. And most people today still don’t. People today still don’t understand Jesus. They don’t get what He did for them, which is why when you share your faith them, more times than not you get a blank stare for your efforts.

But you understand what Jesus did for you. He didn’t have any pain, until He felt yours. He never suffered, until He began to feel your suffering.

The facts

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5, 6 | TNIV)

The first four verses are basically what believers think about Jesus. Beginning with verse 5 are the facts. Let’s take a closer look.

Pierced for our transgressions. This simple phrase is really the basis of a wonderful theological doctrine: vicarious expiation. The English “pierced” comes from a Hebrew term meholal which means “pierced,” “transfixed,” or “bored through.” He was nailed – nailed for our pesha, our transgressions, which were our devious, deviant rebellions. The pain was all His, because of the sin that was all ours.

Crushed for our iniquities. Jesus Christ was shattered for our “inborn crookedness.” The Hebrew, medhukkdh, means “pulverized,” “crushed,” or “shattered,” and awonoth means not only “iniquities” but “twisted and perverted crookedness.” Our iniquity is basically our perverse, persistent, hopeless addiction to doing the things that hurt God, ourselves, and others. Our secret sins.

Punishment that brought us peace. The word “punishment” means “disciplined.” Can you imagine? That Man on the cross was being disciplined so that we could experience peace! What a wondrous thing that Jesus did for us. All that He went through on the cross – all the violence and pain resulted in peace for you and me.

By his wounds we are healed. This phrase is far more controversial than it should be. The natural way to read this is that what Jesus went through on the cross provided physical healing for us. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but there was physical healing before Jesus was crucified. Peter, over in the New Testament, gives us a divinely inspired interpretation of this phrase:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23, 24 | TNIV)

It seems that Peter links this healing to the wounds caused by sin. And while you and I get all get all hung up on the notion that cancer or heart disease or a broken bone are the worst things that can befall a human being, the Bible teaches something very different. Sin, and what sin does to people – individuals and their relationships with others – is far worse than any physical problem you could think of. That’s not that we shouldn’t pray for sick people; the Bible says we should! But we shouldn’t minimize the devastating effects sin has on us. Your iniquities and sins are what put Christ on the Cross. He dealt decisively with sin, in wisdom and in full possession of all of His faculties, and once and for all freed man from his enslavement to sinning day after day, after relentless day, so that potentially every human being could enjoy peace with God, with his fellow man, and with himself.

Unfortunately, rarely do we human beings ever do what’s best for us.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 | TNIV)

Again, these are the facts. Man prefers his own way to God’s way. He has transferred his allegiance to a god of his own making, fulfilling his own will and desires, leaning on his own intellect and innate talents, proving he is wholly selfish. This is sinful man’s ongoing iniquity. This is humanity’s common guilt.  That’s the folly of the human race.

As we wrap up this study, the last phrase of verse 6 is haunting and continues to reverberate down the corridor of time: “…the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Understand what that means, and you’ll understand the depth of God’s love. Ross Price, in his wonderful commentary on Isaiah, sums it up perfectly:

God became the Suffering Servant, provided the vicarious atonement, and bore, in His Son, the iniquities of the world. Since then, vicarious pain has been life’s highest decoration. God does not punish the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18: 25). He accepts the suffering of the righteous for the wicked (Mark 10: 45).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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God and Iniquity, Part 2

Last time, we defined “iniquity” as the worst of all sins. It’s a deliberate twisting and bending of God’s law and God’s will to suit you. It’s scheming to commit a sin. And the first thing we learned is that God has a habit of revealing your iniquity. In other words, you can’t hide any sin, least of all your iniquity, from God.

Here’s another shocking bit of information regarding your iniquity:

You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. (Psalm 90:8 | TNIV)

Think about that the next time you’re fiddling around with something or some behavior you know goes against the Lord’s will. Can you imagine how offensive it must be; having your iniquities sitting there, in front of God, not going away?

Background of the psalm

Psalm 90 is an honest psalm – a look at how temporary and transient man’s life is. It’s a hard look at living life under the wrath of God.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness…. (Romans 1:18 | TNIV)

All human beings are living under the wrath of God, which is to say that we are living on a sinful and sin-cursed planet, and we witness God’s displeasure with man’s sinful ways every minute of every day. Sickness, disease, war, hunger, poverty, death, are all the inevitable results of a world stuck on the wrong side of the Almighty. Psalm 90 was written from that perspective.

Most versions of the Bible add this subscription, which is not part of the inspired text:

A prayer of Moses, the man of God

Since these little titles in some of the psalms aren’t part of the original texts, they’re interesting to consider but may or may not be accurate. Psalm 90 may or may not have been written wholly or in part by “Moses the man of God,” but it’s similarity to Deuteronomy 33, which Moses did write, is obvious. Bible scholars who come down on the side of Moses’ authorship point to the overall antiquity of this psalm. It’s old. It’s an ancient piece of literature.

Regardless of who wrote it, Psalm 90 is a magnificent psalm. English philosopher and writer, Isaac Taylor, thought so highly of this psalm that he wrote:

It is perhaps the most sublime of human compositions, the deepest in feeling, the loftiest in theological conception, the most magnificent in its imagery.

The sovereignty of God, verses 1 – 6

The psalm begins in a way that, if you believe Moses wrote it, makes sense for a man who didn’t really have a place to live for half of his life.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. (Psalm 90:1 | TNIV)

Moses and Israel, after leaving the land of Egypt, wandered around the desert for 40 years. In all that time, as nomads, they kept moving – trudging across the trackless desert in search of a promise given generations ago. This psalm begins and ends with a declaration that God is “the Lord.” The Hebrew is Adonai, the Creator and Ruler of all there is. God had made the universe, and in Him God’s people find protection. He is constant. God can be depended upon to be “dwelling place” for all generations.

Not only is God the Creator and a dependable Source of protection, His love is eternal – without beginning and without end.

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:2 | TNIV)

God the loving Father has made the planet man lives on. Just think about the care with which God made the perfect home for His masterpiece of creation; a person created in His very own image. When you stop and consider yourself and the world around you, you’ll come to the same conclusion the psalmist did: From all eternity, there is God. Wherever you look to the past, He is there, working in the history of man. He’s all around you today; He’s the “dwelling place” where you can find protection. And God is in the future. These first two verses give us powerful images of our God as the Creator, the Sustainer of our lives, the ultimate “Safe Place” for Christians, and the One who is dependable because He has been so from eternity past.

And then there’s this:

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:3 – 6 | TNIV)

Compared to the greatness of God, man is little more than dust. As great a creation man is, even as he bears the image of his Creator, he is weak and subject to the Eternal God. Man doesn’t like the implication of this group of verses, but the fact is, it is God and God alone who has power over His creation, not man. The thought that man thinks he can alter what God has created is beyond arrogance! If you’ve visited the many “ghost towns” that litter the coal fields, you’ll see what I mean. Nature reclaims the monuments of man. Man is transient and so are his works, as great as he thinks they may be.

In comparison to the eternity of God, man is like a blade of grass. It’s there one moment, gone the next. Even the famous Methuselah, a man who managed to live an astounding 969 years, just 31 shy of a thousand, is viewed by God as transient. Time means nothing to God, and yet time means everything to man. We never have enough of it, we run out of it, and it slips by faster and faster the older you get. Yet one more indication of how temporary man really is. Willem VanGemeren, who has written numerous books about the Old Testament, including a superb commentary on the psalms, made a powerful observation on this fact:

Each human being is a drop in the giant stream of time.

Dealing with God’s wrath

We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:7 – 10 | TNIV)

Here is it – living under God’s wrath. This sounds like a piece of poetry, yet it perfectly describes the life of all people living under and dealing with God’s wrath. All people, even Christians, are in the same predicament, though believers have a hope that non-believers don’t. We are all having to deal with God’s wrath even as we go about our daily lives. Doctor’s appointments, aches and pains, the funeral of a loved one, natural disasters, all these things and more are evidence that we are constantly facing the wrath of God.

Just look at how insightful the psalmist was. He knows that even our anxieties are evidence of God’s judgment! He uses the phrase, “terrified by your indignation,” but the context shows us that we are “terrified” of life and death and everything in between.

That gets us to verse 8, which is terrifying in its implications. Our “iniquities” and our “secret sins” are always in God’s view. No wonder man is terrified. He should be. God’s wrath is always His moral response to our disobedience. God’s isn’t normally in a bad mood. He’s not a grouchy, angry, miserable deity. God is love, but when man disobeys His law, then God has a moral right to impose His wrath. He made the rules, after all. Man may think he’s in charge, but Psalm 90 declares another truth. God is in charge. Many years later, the apostle Paul wrote about this:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18 – 23 | TNIV)

Paul wrote than man is without excuse, and knowing that our “iniquities” and “secret sins” are not only known by God but He has to keep looking at them, man is rightly terrified about dying and what is waiting for him. God sees man’s “iniquities,” his despicable acts of bad behavior, hidden from public view. And man’s “secret sins,” the things man thinks he’s “gotten away with,” are no secret to God. God is rightfully angry with His creation as man acts in ways completely contrary to how he KNOWS he should be acting.

And verse 10 is almost too painful to read. It states the obvious, but it’s still hard to read. Everybody knows that 70 or 80 years are all most of us will get. Maybe a few more or less. Maybe a few more if we eat food that even rabbits don’t like, avoid all the good food and all those wonderful glutens that make life worth while, and take up jogging, but in the end, that old Grim Reaper will get us. The psalmist wrote that in the end, after all our years, we will go out in a moan. That’s about it, isn’t it? We moan because we know, deep down in our heart of hearts, it’s because of sin that we come to an end.

How we should respond

Well, we can’t stay in this depressed state! So thank the Lord the psalmist kept on scribbling:

If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:11, 12 | TNIV)

Praying for wisdom is the proper response when you know you are living under God’s wrath, when you’re trying to deal with His anger, and when you know your life isn’t your own; that you aren’t guaranteed the next moment. You need wisdom. You need to know how to live the best life you can given the limited number of days you have been granted. It’s not an accident that “fear of God” is linked to “wisdom” here. They’re frequently linked together throughout the Psalms and the Proverbs.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10 | TNIV)

There’s nothing wrong with a healthy fear of God and of His anger toward your sin. You can be a born again, blood-bought child of God, and though your sins have been and will be forgiven, God still sees your bad behavior that causes Him to be angry. You’re a fool if you have no fear of that. So pray for wisdom, so that you will know how to live in such a way as to be pleasing to God.

Prayer for God’s mercy

In light of God’s Sovereignty and of His complete right over this world and over you, mercy is what you need from the Lord. He should be angry, but experiencing His mercy would be better.

Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. (Psalm 90:13 – 16 | TNIV)

This short but powerful prayer has three simple components. First, the psalmist would love to experience God’s favor once again. In the strictest context, the people of Israel were suffering self-inflicted wounds, but they were still God’s servants. How many of you are having to deal with your own self-inflicted wounds caused by your iniquities and secret sins? But if you are child of God, you remain so. God never abandons His child, even as that child is tending to his self-inflicted wounds. Mercy is what is needed.

Second, the psalmist wants to experience joy again. Having to live in a sinful world while maintaining your integrity is hard enough, but when you stumble from time to time and have to scramble to regain your uprightness is enough to rob you of your joy. Nobody wants to be miserable, yet once you are in that run it’s hard to jump out of it. Real joy and gladness comes from the love of God.

Lastly, the psalmist longs for a continual flow of God’s blessings. Wouldn’t you ask for that, too? Isn’t it better to constantly experience God’s love through His blessings than to experience it once in a blue moon? The psalmist’s request is well founded and it’s a request you should be making, too. Realizing that it is from God that all good things flow, why not ask Him to keep the spigot of blessings open?

In the end, though, what God’s people really need is God’s favor – His blessing on their work.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17 | TNIV)

Yes, as the Teacher observed, life is vanity, but we’re all stuck here for our 70 or 80 years. We’re temporary, transient beings whose destiny in hands of another. We need to acknowledge that, as the psalmist did. We need to see that we need God’s favor; we need His blessings because, after all, they make life bearable. No, in fact, they make life wonderful. You and I as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ have the advantage of those who aren’t. God will establish the work of our hands; He will bless us and our work and He will make our lives amount to something.

God and Iniquity, Part 1

We hear a lot about sin. Not that we do much about it, mind you. But we hear a lot about it. What we don’t hear a lot about is something called iniquity. It’s used well over 200 times in the Old Testament and often it’s mentioned along with sin.

Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:7 | KJV)

The word translated “iniquity” is a Hebrew words that looks like this: avon. And it refers to something that is “bent, twisted or distorted.” An iniquity is a bending, or a twisting or a distortion of God’s law. In the hierarchy of bad behavior, “iniquity” is the worst of all. It’s worse than sin; worse than a transgression. It’s the deliberate planning and scheming to do that which is opposed what God wants. Take a look at now a modern translation translates Exodus 34:7 –

maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:7 | NIV84)

“Rebellion” is a deliberate turning away from the direction God wants you to be going in. That’s a good picture of what “iniquity” is all about. Of course, “sin” is rebellion too, but it’s different.

Sin

One of the best definitions of “sin” is found in a letter the apostle John wrote:

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4 | NIV84)

You may think that sounds a lot like a sin – breaking God’s law – and you wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s worse than that. While every iniquity is sin, there are degrees of punishment for sin and some sins are worthy of greater punishment than others. For example, if you read about God’s law in the Old Testament, if a person commits adultery, their punishment was death. But if a person stole something, the punishment wasn’t nearly as severe.

A classic verse about “sin” is what king David thought about it:

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Psalms 51:5 | NIV84)

At first glance, that looks ridiculous. How could an unborn baby be sinful? He hasn’t done anything yet! But that’s not what sin is all about. Think of “sin” as not necessarily something a person does but rather the state he is in. A sin can be an action, but it’s what every human being is. He is a sinner by default. In the Old Testament, “sin” comes from a Hebrew word that means “missing the mark” or “falling short.” By now you’re likely thinking of a rather famous New Testament verse about “falling short.”

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…(Romans 3:23 | NIV84)

So “sin” is a lawlessness but it’s also part of who every human being is – he isn’t living up to God’s standard.

Transgression

Back in Exodus 34:7, the word “transgression” is mentioned along with sin and iniquity. It’s also mentioned in Psalm 32:5 –

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”–and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. (Psalms 32:5 | NIV84)

Those three things – sin, iniquity, and transgression – form the unholy trinity of evil. Like iniquity, a transgression is a sin; it’s the breaking of one of God’s laws. It’s an act, not a state. For example. When you’re out driving around and you drive 60 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone, you are transgressing a law of man. There’s nothing bad about going 60 miles per hour, but when you go against a posted law and do it, you’re transgressing a law. You’ll be punished accordingly, and if you change your driving habits, you’ll never be punished again.

So if you look at what David wrote in Psalm 32:5, knowing the difference between the three members of the trinity of evil, you can see what David was getting at. Jack Wellman brilliantly sums it up like this:

David said he will confess (means agree with) his transgressions (his willful acts of disobedience) to the Lord, and God will forgive the iniquity (his bending, twisting, and distorting of the law that grew in the degrees worthy of greater punishment), of his sin (the transgressions of God’s law).

Over the net few weeks, I’d like to take a closer look at the relationship God has with our iniquities. Let’s begin with the fundamental fact that God finds them. Like it or not, we can’t anything from Him, let alone our iniquities.

And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found. (Genesis 44:16 | KJV)

Famine

It all started with seven skinny cows. You’ll recall that Joseph, the brother who had been sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers, had risen to the heights of Egyptian polity because the Lord had given the Pharaoh a dream of an impending famine. The poor guy couldn’t make heads or tales of this crazy dream involving these ugly, skinny cows, but Joseph could:

Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon. (Genesis 41:29-32 | NIV84)

Well, what’s a Pharaoh to do with information like that? Again, young Joseph had a solution:

Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine. (Genesis 41:34-36 | NIV84)

What Pharaoh couldn’t possibly know, and what Joseph didn’t understand yet, was that this whole famine – a famine that would impact a large portion of the Middle East – was for the sole purpose of reuniting Joseph with his family. Can you imagine? The lengths that God will go to in an effort to make things right and accomplish His great purposes always astounds me.

Power

From prison to pinnacle in a few verses! That’s the way it is with the Lord sometimes.

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:41-43 | NIV84)

Joseph’s rule over Egypt was very successful. The seven years of extreme prosperity resulted in tons and tons and tons of produce being carefully stored away against the coming famine. During this time, two sons were born to Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim.

While Egypt was ready to face the famine, Canaan wasn’t. Apparently word spread among the people of the eastern Mediterranean that food could be bought in Egypt.

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.” (Genesis 42:1-2 | NIV84)

These brothers of Joseph were a supine, useless lot with no ambition and even less initiative. But they made the journey. It had been some 20 hears since Joseph had seen them. He recognized them but they were clueless about him. Of course, now Joseph was no longer a young, gangly teen. He was grown man, around 40 years of age, dressed professionally and clean shaven. And Joseph wasn’t a fool. He knew his brothers. He would take this occasion to test them. Over the course of two visits, Joseph treated his brothers very, very harshly. His purpose in this test was to see if his brothers had changed in the intervening two decades. Joseph demanded that if the brothers ever needed to come back to buy more food, they would have to bring Benjamin with them. He was the youngest and stayed back home with Jacob.

The famine ravaged on, and it was time to go back to Egypt to buy some more food. Jacob didn’t want Benjamin to go, but he reluctantly gave in and this time he sent his whole brood to Egypt for a supply of groceries. At first, Joseph treated his brothers royally, and especially young Benjamin.

When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him. (Genesis 43:34 | NIV84)

Now it was time to test his brother’s intergrity. Had they changed? Or were they the same shiftless, scheming, good-for-nothing, no account fools that had beat him up and sold him into slavery? He had Benjamin falsely accused of purloining an expensive silver cup.

Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. (Genesis 44:12 | NIV84)

Of course, Joseph arranged to have the cup put there for the purpose of the test. The punishment for this was death. What would these brothers do? Once before they were willing to sacrifice one of their own regardless of the pain it would cause their father. Would they do it again? Or had they changed. Apparently they had changed. The brothers refused to abandon Benjamin, and Judah, the very brother who was responsible for selling Joseph into slavery, stepped forward and in one of the most touching speeches in literature, offered his life for Benjamin’s. It’s not unimportant nor co-incidental that centuries later, a descendant of Judah would offer His life so that others could live.

And that’s the background to the verse that started this whole thing: Genesis 44:16 –

And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found. (Genesis 44:16 | KJV)

The sentence that we need to look at is this: “God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants.” The NIV84 translates it slightly differently: “God has uncovered your servant’s guilt.”

“Iniquity” involves “guilt,” but just what were the brothers guilty of? Think about that for a minute. They certainly weren’t guilty of stealing the cup! That was a trick. These brothers were guilty of nothing. Except for something they had done two decades earlier. Something they thought they had “gotten away with.” But in truth, nobody gets away with anything. God will always – always – uncover or “find out” a sinner’s iniquities. You can’t hide anything from God. Adam and Eve tried that. Earlier in the book of Genesis, we read this exchange after Adam and Eve sinned:

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid. (Genesis 3:9-10 | NIV84)

And man has been hiding his iniquities – his sins – ever since. God knows what you  and I are guilty of, even if we have managed to hide our actions from everybody on earth. God knows and one day, all will be laid bare for the universe to see. God knows your iniquities and He uncovers them.

 

 

 

 


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