20211204 Parsha Miketz – All For The Good

Torah Portion   Gen 41:1-7

Haftarah         Zech 4:1-7

Brit Chadashah       1 Thess 5:12-18

The tenth reading from the book of Genesis is named Miketz, which means “the end.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream” (Genesis 41:1). The portion begins with Pharaoh’s portentous dreams, Joseph’s interpretations and his subsequent rise to power over Egypt. When a famine strikes the land of Canaan, his brothers come to Egypt seeking grain, but they do not recognize Joseph, who engineers a means by which he can test their character.

The life of Joseph demonstrates God’s sovereign hand in human lives. Though the world seems to follow a completely random course around us, God is actually working out His purposes in the midst of it. From Joseph’s point of view, there was no reason to suspect that God had his best interests in mind.

Joseph had been kidnapped and betrayed by his own brothers, sold into Egypt as a slave, falsely accused of attempted adultery and imprisoned in a dungeon. His life seemed to be following Murphy’s Law of “if anything can go wrong, it will.” So far, everything had gone wrong.

Joseph stubbornly clung to an unshakable confidence in the God of his fathers. Even though everything had tumbled down around him, He kept looking to God and believing that God was working through the chaos. There are those that say he never fell into depression or despondency because he always believed that he was right where God had placed him.  I would like to think that was true.  The Bible doesn’t comment either way regarding Joseph’s state of mind.  It does say that Joseph asked Pharaoh’s cup bearer to speak kindly to the Pharaoh so that he could get out of prison.

Before the Covid shutdown we were studying from the late first-century compendium of instructions to Gentile believers entitled the Didache.  The Didache says, “Accept the things that happen to you as good, knowing that apart from God nothing comes to pass” (Didache 3:10).

Similarly, Paul says, “Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

This can be compared to the Jewish folk story of a rabbi from the days of the Apostles named Nacham. Everyone called him “Nacham This-Too” because, no matter what happened, he would always say, “This too is for the good.” Amazingly, God honored his faith by continually providing miracles for Nacham.

Once it happened that Nacham This-Too was serving as an ambassador to Rome. He was presenting the Roman Emperor with a gift from the people of Judea in an attempt to bribe him into reversing some anti-Jewish legislation. While en route to Rome he stopped at an inn. While he slept, the inn-keeper stole the precious treasures meant for the emperor from Nacham’s chest and replaced them with sand! Nacham went to Rome, unaware that he was carrying a box of sand. When the emperor opened the chest and saw the sand, he ordered Nacham to be put to death. Nacham simply replied, “This too is for the good.” Just then Elijah the prophet appeared in the guise of a Roman officer and suggested that perhaps the sand was “magic sand.” The emperor agreed to test the theory, and indeed, when his troops hurled the sand at their enemies, they prevailed in battle. The emperor immediately released Nacham, reversed his decree against the Jews and rewarded Nacham with great wealth.

The story of Nacham This-Too is a good illustration of Joseph’s story. Like Nacham This-Too, Joseph refused to be pushed around by life’s circumstances. Instead he looked to God for strength and encouragement, and he kept on believing.

The story of Joseph is well known by Jews and Christians alike.  It would make a great TV series complete with intrigue, betrayal, despair, success, attempted seduction, despair, success, more intrigue, mystery.  This story has it all.  But with all of Joseph’s problems from the time of his enslavement to his ascension to the second highest position in Egypt we must not lose sight of the purpose.  This was all in God’s plan.  He provided a way for His chosen people who at this time consisted of just one extended family to escape a deadly famine in the Negev.  This family was to grow miraculously from 70 souls to a couple million in just over 400 years.  The story of Joseph from prison to power was all to the good.  It mean the salvation of the Jewish people.

Today we are in the midst of the Hanukkah celebration.  Have you ever thought that if there was no Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas to celebrate?  And before you get mad and walk out because I mentioned that dreaded C word, I am talking about the circumstances of the birth of Yeshua, on whatever day you choose to observe it.

The Jewish people were systematically being annihilated by the evil Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes.  What Jewish culture was not being lost through Hellenistic assimilation was violently being destroyed by Antiochus.  Israel was slowly but surely dying out as a nation of people who were following Torah.  The picture was bleak.  Finally, when a few remaining patriots had had enough, they rose up and rebelled against the Greek tyranny.  During several years of guerilla warfare punctuated by hardship and many deaths, the Jewish patriots never lost their faith.  God brought them several miraculous victories against overwhelming odds.  Eventually, their faith was rewarded and the Greeks left Israel.

The celebration of Hanukkah was a reminder of God’s faithfulness and salvation.  What followed in the wake of the tragic Greek tyranny was an invigorated Jewish state.  I wouldn’t exactly call it a revival, but the people restored a measure of Torah observance and slowed the march of worldly assimilation.  The Greek occupation and tyranny was all to the good.  Salvation came to the Jewish people.

Roughly 165 years after the rededication of the Temple there was another revolution born.  The birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem was possible because there remained a Jewish state and a Jewish people.  However, all was not good with Israel.  The Greek hegemony had quickly been replaced by Roman rule.  Israel was still under the boot of a brutal and often unpredictable regime.  Rome allowed the Jews to practice their religion subject to certain restrictions.  Rome exacted outrageous taxes that were collected at the tip of a sword.  Any rebellion was quickly ended in a forest of crucifixes.  Temple worship and administration had devolved into political appointments and corruption.  The sacrificial system was just another way for the religious hierarchy to oppress the people. But even in this environment of suppression there were those faithful few who looked for their long awaited Messiah.

One night in Bethlehem, You pick whatever date makes you happy, the Savior of the world was born to a young teenager who had travelled from Nazareth for several days on a donkey in order to reach Bethlehem as demanded by the Roman authorities.  In any sane world, Miriam would have been in her home in Nazareth until her baby was born, it was not a sane world.

But out of all the shame and whispers that accompanied the timing of her pregnancy, coupled with a very uncomfortable donkey ride which ended with no decent place to stay, it was all for the good.  For Salvation had come not only to Israel but to the entire world.

It is often very difficult, if not impossible to look at bad situations in which we find ourselves see the good in it.  And I wouldn’t dare to presume that I can be the Pollyanna that finds the silver lining in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.  Sometimes and perhaps most times we will not find out the good that came out of a bad experience until days, months, or even years after.  We may never find out.  That flat tire you had in the driveway or on the way to work could have saved you from a catastrophic accident.  The illness that put you in the hospital could very well be because there was a doctor or nurse that needed you to encourage them or lead them to the Lord.

At a time when I didn’t know if my fingers would ever heal after cutting them off in a table saw it was hard to project a happy ending.  It would be weeks before I found that not only was there was no infection, I could actually bend my fingers.  That was a miracle because the doctor did not reconnect any tendons or ligaments.  What was the good in that accident?  I can’t tell you other than an agnostic doctor got to see firsthand the mighty healing work that God can do.  In the thirty-one years since that accident I have had countless opportunities to testify of God’s healing power.  Would I do it again?  Not on your life.  But I know it was all for the good.

So what do we do when we find ourselves in a prison of despair and defeat?  Do we break out in a rousing chorus of “Tomorrow, tomorrow”?.  Maybe that might help you a bit.  But what does the Bible say?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  Rejoice always,  (17)  pray constantly,  (18)  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua.

In the 16th chapter of Acts Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in prison.  Rather than grumbling and complaining, the Bible says that they were praying and singing hymns.  I don’t know what hymns they were singing but I’m fairly certain they were not singing “nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen”.  I think they were singing hymns of faith, songs of victory, melodies of praise.

How about this for a song of praise and victory?

Psalms 108:2-6  My heart is steadfast, O God. I will sing, sing praises with all my soul.  (3)  Awake, harp and lyre—I will awaken the dawn!  (4)  I will give thanks to You, Adonai, among the peoples, I will sing praises to You among the nations. (5)  For Your love is higher than the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  (6)  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, let Your glory be above all the earth.

Paul and Silas did not let circumstances defeat them.  They had such a trust in God’s faithfulness that they could sing while shackled in a filthy prison.  I would say those were pretty bad circumstances.  But it was all for the good.  What happened a few verses later?  An earthquake opened the prison doors and loosed all the prisoner’s chains.  Paul could have escaped but he had other things to do. Most importantly, he led the jailer and his entire household to faith in Yeshua.  We don’t know how many prisoners became believers because Paul and Silas were thrown into that dungeon.  It was all for the good, a jailer and his family received salvation.

If you haven’t had a prison experience, either literal or figurative, then hang on.  Because you will someday.  That’s not very encouraging I know, but my job is to be realistic and equip you for the day when you have a Joseph experience.  We all will, if we live long enough to see Yeshua return because that will mean we went through seven years of the tribulation.  Right now, today we need to purpose in our hearts to get into God’s word, trust in God, pray, trust in Him, be thankful for all we have as Believers, did I say put your trust in God?  That’s how we get through the hard times.  And remember, it is all for the good.  Because if we trust in God and do His will, I believe we will come out on the other side victorious and perhaps brought salvation to someone along the way.  Stay strong.  It’s all for the good.