Hebrews 11:20-22, Men Come and Go. God Remains.

[20]By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
[21]By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.
[22]By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.

1. Isaac, 11:20.

Genesis devotes about 10 chapters to Isaac; the writer to Hebrews gives him 11 words, and these are about his sons, Jacob and Esau.  Genesis 27:26-40 gives us the actual account.  The writer of Hebrews passes over the favoritism of Jacob for his son Esau and the deceit fostered by Rebekah for her favorite son Jacob (cf. Genesis 25:27, 28) because when the truth came out, Isaac probably remembered what had been said of these sons even before their birth.  Rebekah evidently had a hard pregnancy, and so she went to the LORD, who told her, “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger,” Genesis 25:23, emphasis added.  Isaac had been ruled by fleshly desire and natural inclination, but God overruled everything and brought about His own desire and will.  Notice, also, that God doesn’t just refer to these two boys, but the “nations” which will come from them.  We talked about this in our post on “An Eye for an Eye,” how that there’s a whole world wrapped up in a “baby bump,” though we never think of it that way.  And this is true, whether you look back or ahead.  God says to take care of it.

2. Jacob, 11:21.

The story is found in Genesis 48.  Hebrews leaves out all the travail of his life recorded in Genesis and just gives us the last thing that Jacob did: the blessing of his grandchildren.  The blessing was that these two young teenagers would grow “into a multitude in the midst of the earth,” v. 16.

3. Joseph, 11:22.

Each of these three men were at the end of their lives.  Jacob and Joseph were dying and Isaac knew that his time was rapidly coming to a close.  Yet the record doesn’t show them focusing on this, but rather on the future.  The nation had fairly recently moved to Egypt, but Joseph thinks of their departure.  Remember, it would be 85 years until the birth of Moses and 165 years until the Exodus.  Still, Joseph wasn’t looking at the frailty of human nature, but at the faithfulness of God.  He said, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” Genesis 50:24.

Too often, we look to some mere human being.  And God made us that way.  He made us as social beings; very few of us are content to be by ourselves all the time.  But whatever relationships we form tend to come and go, especially as we get older ourselves.  Only God is “forever.”  His word is forever, and His promises.  And, in His faithfulness, those promises are as good as done, even though far in the future, as with Joseph.

Indeed, His word says that His people have already been “glorified,” Romans 8:30, though the mirror tells us otherwise.  My mind has a hard time sometimes believing that I’m as old as I am, but my body says, “You’d better believe it!”  Not glorified, yet, but it’s as certain as that the Sun rose this morning and is shining brightly on the covering of snow on the ground.

God has promised it.


The Scandal of Christmas

That first Christmas…

So long ago…

What was it like?

Granted, it wasn’t called “Christmas.”  Those involved probably had no real idea at all of what was going on, and what the result would be of this one single day in their lives.

And we’re not concerned with the present celebration of Christmas.


What was it like for them…

Mary, Joseph and the Infant?

For the most part, it was a time of scandal.

  • There was the scandal of immorality.

Remember, Joseph and Mary hadn’t yet been married, though their engagement was as binding as a marriage.  It could only be broken by divorce.

Now, there are professed Christians who are quite comfortable with the idea that Matthew or, more likely, someone much, much later who just used his name, invented the story of the virgin birth in order to make the best of a bad situation.  After all, living together without the benefit of marriage, or other “adult situations,” are quite acceptable and very common in our day, even among church people.

It wasn’t like that back then.  There were those who lived in immorality, to be sure, witness the incident of the Samaritan woman in John 4, but it surely wasn’t as widely accepted as it is today.

When Mary came back from her three-month visit with her cousin Elizabeth, no doubt she had begun to “show.”

We’re given no details of this at all, except the angelic visit to Joseph, who was the other concerned party in all this.  But what was the reaction of her parents?  What did the townspeople think of it, this hurried, sudden marriage of Joseph and Mary?

I’m sure it wasn’t all loving and accepting.

Then, too, there was Joseph.  How did this affect him?  His reputation?  Beyond his perplexity about what to do with his beloved, there is nothing.

And there was a third party affected by this.

  • There was the scandal of illegitimacy.

This concerned the Lord Jesus Himself.  If His conception was no different than any other conception, then the Mosaic Law shut Him out from the nation.  Deuteronomy 23:2 says, One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the LORD;  even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD.

He could have no access to God.  He certainly couldn’t have become our Redeemer.

There could be no salvation – no reason to “celebrate Christmas.” 

  • There was the scandal of ignorance.

Except for a few shepherds, who were socially among the lowest of the low, no one else beside the little family knew anything of what was going on.  There were no floodlights, no fireworks, no “breaking news” on the local TV stations – if they would have had them. True, the shepherds made known what they had seen and heard, but who listened to shepherds?

No, just another birth, another little baby.

Life went on.

What about the wise men?

  • There was the scandal of indifference.

Though they’re always part of a nativity set, the visit of the wise men was probably more than a year later.  After Jesus was born, Matthew 2:1, not “when”, the men found what they were looking for, not in a stable somewhere, but in a house, Matthew 2:11.

The thing is, in trying to find whom they were looking for, they had gone to Jerusalem. After all, when one is looking for a King, where else to go but the royal city?

Herod had no idea what they were talking about, so he called in the local minister’s alliance:  the chief priests and scribes, Matthew 2:4.  They were immediately able to give him the information he wanted.

The sad thing, the somber thing, is that, as far as we have any record, these men, these scholars of the Scripture, never went to Bethlehem themselves to see what was going on.  The visit of the wise men had stirred up the whole city, for surely there were more than the three men commonly thought of.  Even if there were only three wise men,  taken from their gifts to the infant child, surely they had what we could call “support staff”.  Their’s had been a dangerous journey of months, and even if they joined a caravan to make the trip, surely they took provisions and guards with them.

The wise men had gone to a great deal of trouble to travel hundreds of miles, but the academics in Jerusalem couldn’t be bothered to travel just down the road.

Sad, isn’t it, that those closest to the text of Scripture were farthest from its truth.

  • There was the scandal of infamy.

The scholars may not have been interested in what the wise men said, but Herod certainly was.  He had no inherent right to the throne, but only held it through the power of Rome.  He wanted to find this Rival, not to worship Him, as he lied to the wise men, but to kill Him.

Using the time line supplied by the wise men, Herod sent soldiers to the region around Bethlehem, ordering them to kill all male children two years and younger.  He would brook no competition.

So, that first “Christmas” wasn’t all lights and tinsel.  There was a lot of sorrow and grief associated with it.  A lot of scandal.

The scandal of Christmas.

Voices of Christmas: Joseph

What shall we say about Joseph?  I’ve read comments ranging from, “There’s no fool like an old fool,” for him going ahead and marrying Mary after she was, as it was thought, unfaithful to him, to the idea that Joseph was an elderly man simply assigned, as it were, to “protect her virginity.”

Though the Scripture doesn’t address the issue of “age” for either of them, it is possible that Joseph was indeed older than Mary.  He’s never mentioned after the Temple incident when Jesus was 12 years old, Luke 2:41-50.  As for the other, that he was just there to protect her virginity, Scripture teaches that Joseph and Mary enjoyed a normal marital relationship after the birth of Jesus.

Matthew 1:24, 25 says that after the angel of the Lord assured him that everything was all right, Joseph immediately took to him his wife, and did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn Son. The phrase, “did not know her not UNTIL…” indicates there came a time when he did “know” her, that is, they became a normal married couple. Further, Matthew 1:18 says before they came together she was found with child…. Matthew continues with child of the Holy Spirit,” something which wouldn’t be obvious from her condition.  Divine intervention was necessary for both of them to understand what was going on.  The word “before” tells me there was an “after.”  They had other children “after” Jesus.  Matthew 13:55, 56 lists four brothers and at least three sisters.  It’s argued that these are Joseph’s from a previous marriage, but the description of Jesus as Mary’s firstborn would seem to indicate that she had “otherborn.”  Matthew 13 lists them.

What was it like for Joseph after Mary’s three-month absence visiting Elizabeth, when she came home and would be beginning “to show?”  Everything we said about Mary and contemporary attitudes about marriage, sex and virginity would hold here, except on the other side.  Promiscuity was not acceptable, though there were undoubtedly those who were guilty of it.  Indeed, the Law had a provision that if a woman came to a first marriage and was not a virgin, she was liable to death, Deuteronomy 22:13-21.

Feminists and unbelievers find these strictures offensive because they single out the woman and don’t punish the man.  However, there is no physical way to tell whether or not a man is a virgin.  And there are plenty of other verses, like the next one in Deuteronomy 13:22, which call for the punishment of the man as well in cases of sexual misconduct.

There is a reference to this in Matthew 1:19, Then Joseph her husband, being a just man…. He was faced with what the Bible said about sexual sin, and it seemed Mary was guilty.  After all, there was no other explanation for what happened to her.  At the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to demand her execution.  I believe he truly cared for her, and was extremely distressed by the whole thing.  And notice, he’s already called “her husband,” and she is called his “wife.”  This shows how legally binding a “betrothal” was.  And it shows a merciful spirit even in the face of a death penalty sin.

We don’t know how long it took before the Lord intervened.  I don’t think it was more than a day or two, if even that long.  Too much was at stake for this couple, and for Him. The Angel of the Lord told him not to be afraid, but to go ahead and marry Mary, because her child was conceived of the Holy Spirit.  Her Son was to be the Savior of His people.  That was enough for Joseph, though it seldom satisfies any but believers.  As soon as he woke up, and I tend to believe the Angel awakened him, Joseph married his betrothed, and did not know her [was not intimate with her] till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.  And he called His name JESUS.