Joseph: Just Another Myth? March 11, 2014

Recently I have been studying the life of Joseph in preparation for our continuing series through the book of Genesis.  One of the key events in the life of Joseph occurs while he is in Egypt serving in the house of one of Pharaoh’s officers.  The name of this officer is, of course, Potiphar, and he has a wife who attempts to sleep with Joseph.  As is well-known, Joseph stands firm, and even flees from her presence when necessary.  Of course Potiphar’s wife is not happy about this, and ends up falsely accusing Joseph of attacking her.  Potiphar then throws innocent Joseph into prison.  It is truly an astounding series of events with many lessons for the Christian.

One striking thing one notices, however, in spending any significant amount of time studying this text, is that it does not take long to discover that many find numerous striking similarities between these events in Joseph’s life, and other stories circulating in the Ancient Near East around this time period.  These other stories in the Ancient Near East that involve a spurned seductress clearly have mythical elements in them.  Needless to say, critics of the Bible grab on to these similarities as proof that the Bible’s account of Joseph’s life is also in the realm of myth.  Yet, when one actually compares these stories, are they really as similar as many would have us think?

The Ancient Near Eastern story that probably most closely resembles the events of Joseph’s life came out of Egypt.  It is often referred to as “The Tale of the Two Brothers.”  The tale is found in a manuscript which probably should be dated sometime around 1225 BC.  In the story there are 2 main characters who are brothers.  The older brother’s name is Anubis, and the younger’s name is Bata.  It should be noted that these were also the names of 2 Egyptian gods, so the tale seems to be describing the actions of certain deities acting like humans.  Anyway, the younger brother, Bata lives with his older brother, Anubis and his wife.  Bata is a very strong and good worker.  He works with, and for, his brother and brings much success to the household through his good and wise work.  One day the brothers were working in the fields together, and they ran out of seed.  Anubis sends his younger brother, Bata, back to the house to get more seed.  It appears that Bata impresses his brother’s wife with how much seed he can carry, and Anubis’ wife attempts to sleep with Bata.  At one point she even grabs hold of him, but Bata will have none of this.  He refuses out of loyalty to his brother.  Anubis’ wife is of course very angry, so she pretends to have been attacked by Bata which enrages Anubis.  Now, we must admit, up to this point at least, there do seem to be some similarities between the events in Joseph’s life and this Egyptian tale.  However, let us continue with the Egyptian story.  Anubis is so enraged that he plans to kill his brother.  He takes his lance and hides behind one of the doors in the stable.  As Bata approaches the stable, a talking cow warns Bata that his brother is waiting to kill him, and Bata flees for his life.  Anubis chases him, but Bata prays to the Egyptian god, Re, for deliverance.  Re places a massive body of water filled with crocodiles between Bata and Anubis which saves the life of Bata.  Bata then speaks to his brother across the water and informs his older brother about the despicable actions of his wife.  Bata is so serious about showing that he is innocent that he actually castrated himself to prove his innocence to his older brother!  Anubis believes his younger brother, and returns home to his wife where he kills her and throws her body to the dogs!  The end.

While this is indeed quite a story, and there are some similarities between the Joseph narrative and the Egyptian tale, it does not take an Ancient Near Eastern scholar to see how incredibly different these stories are as well.  The events in the Egyptian story clearly veer off into the realm of mythology about Egyptian gods.  As is often the case in this type of mythology the gods don’t act any better than humans do!  When one reads the Joseph narrative there is a completely different feel.  The Joseph events clearly sound like historical narrative as opposed to the mythological details in the Egyptian story.  In the Joseph narrative people often behave in very wicked and foolish ways, but God is always holy and righteous.  While critics of the Bible may try to make a mountain out of a molehill by emphasizing the similarities between the Joseph story and the Egyptian tale, it seems clear that the similarities really are cosmetic at best.  The details of the stories really go in very different directions.  To say that the similarities prove the Bible is a myth too really says more about the critics’ bias against the Bible than it does about any substantive similarities between the two stories.  God’s Word is true, accurate, and historical.  We can count on His Word to be true as history, but also to be true as it highlights areas of our life that need to change.  God uses the truth of His Word to show how our great God works in human history, and how we have hearts that need to be changed by the truth of the Scriptures.  Thank God for His true Word.

 

-Pastor Nathan Hogan

Our anger does not produce God’s Righteousness March 5, 2014

In James 1:19-20 we read: Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.

 

Anger is a natural emotional response to situations around us. Normally, anger happens when we believe that we have been wronged: someone manipulates the truth, or mocks us, or verbally attacks us, or one of many other things that happen to us.

 

However, more than once I have felt anger welling up within me only to realize later that I had misunderstood the situation, or that the person making the comments had misunderstood the situation.

 

James reminds us that we need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Our emotions can alert us to the fact we think something is wrong – but our emotions are not the voice of God. We need to carefully examine and understand what it is that we have heard and what the situation is before we make judgments or respond.

 

Often we are concerned about justice, especially justice on our behalf. But as James points out, our anger is not going to make things right in God’s eyes. It does not produce God’s righteousness.

 

Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us: Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.

 

Anger and feeling injustice is a natural part of life. How we deal with it reveals the depth of our maturity. Notice with me that neither James or Paul tells us not to ever get angry and neither encourages us to just bury it. We need to deal with it but in a rational way once we have carefully understood what is going on. If we just bury it (don’t deal with it) and we become bitter, we give the devil an opportunity to influence our lives – and that never leads anywhere good.

 

We are a Blessed People February 21, 2014

 I was thinking this week about what a blessed people we are.

Often it is easy to think of all the problems we have and issues we are trying to work through. For example, I don’t really like Windows 8 at all and I’m not used to it.  I think it tries to do too much and make too many decisions for me. It also puts too much junk on my computer and I have less control—but what that also means is that I have a relatively new computer since Windows 8 is on it. The fact that new technology frustrates me also points out that I have new technology available to me!

I have things I need to fix at the house: there are dishes to wash, messes to clean up, and grass that really needs to be mowed. Of course what that means is—that I have a house, I have food, and it has rained enough for things to grow. I have a van to get smogged and registered—that means I own a van. There are issues with kids and siblings, plans and futures—but that means we have kids and they have futures. Right now I am sore from working out and trying to get in shape and lose some weight—that means that I still have good enough health to walk and run and I have plenty of food in my life.

It is easy to get frustrated about issues, about people, about plans and ideas. I am finding that if I stop and reflect on the things that I consider to be problems, they typically reflect what a blessed person I am.

When we get frustrated with the details of life, let us remind ourselves that we are blessed enough to be frustrated by them!

On Setting our Hearts on Jesus’s Return February 12, 2014

In 2 Timothy 4.7, 8 we read, “I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion’s wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He’s giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance.” Paul is able to make a positive statement at the end of his life that he had completed the work that God had for him. He is looking forward to a champion’s wreath.

He goes on to state that this wreath is will not only be given to him to all “who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance.” Several translations state to all who have loved his appearance. The idea is that this something they are eagerly looking forward to and they have set their affection on Jesus’s coming. What does that mean? Does that mean that those who sell everything and go sit on a mountain top longing for his coming are the ones who gain this wreath? It can’t mean that for the apostle Paul never did that in his lifetime.

To love something or to have our heart set on something means that we are constantly looking forward to it, that we are continually evaluating our actions in light of it, that it is ever on the forefront of our thinking.  Basically, that we orient our life around Jesus’s coming.As we set our hearts on the coming of Jesus Christ there is a purifying effect that it has on our lives. There is a champion’s wreath awarded for righteousness that awaits us (see also 1 John 3.1-3).

– Pastor Stephen

Book Review: Crazy Busy February 11, 2014

This new book is by a pastor named Kevin DeYoung who has become one of my favorite authors.  The full title of the book is Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem.  The book is true to its title with just over 100 pages.  It makes sense that a book which confronts the potential problem of being too busy (or busy for the wrong reasons) would not bog us down with hundreds of pages to read.  Even busy people (perhaps especially busy people) have time to read this book!

As the title implies, DeYoung’s book focuses on what has become a very real issue in American culture: busyness.  The problem often is not busyness itself, but the fact that we think being busy is a virtue without examining why we are so busy with various things.  DeYoung put it well on pg. 32 when he stated, “Busyness does not mean you are a faithful or fruitful Christian.  It only means you are busy, just like everyone else.  And like everyone else, your joy, your heart, and your soul are in danger.  We need the Word of God to set us free.  We need biblical wisdom to set us straight.  What we need is the Great Physician to heal our overscheduled souls.”  DeYoung spends some of book diagnosing the problem of unwise busyness in general.  He shows how often our busyness is connected with sinful motives like pride, and pride can manifest itself in numerous ways as we busy ourselves with various things (people pleasing, materialism, perfectionism, poor planning, etc.).   In short, DeYoung encourages not just to ask ourselves if we are busy, but why.  He put it well on pg. 39 as he evaluates his own personal motivations in his busyness, “I try to keep in mind this simple question: Am I trying to do good or to make myself look good?

After looking at the problem of busyness in general, the author looks at some of the specific things in our modern world that keep us so busy.  3 specific issues he tackles are parenting, technology, and rest.  There is a lot of good and wise advice in these chapters.  One of the keys, however, to enjoying this book, and especially these chapters, is understanding that wise advice is different than a biblical mandate or command.  Many of the practical things DeYoung suggests to the reader are not specific commands found in the Bible.  In fact, the author himself wants to make this clear at the beginning of his book on pg. 16, “I trust you will distinguish in these pages between practical application (which may differ across cultures) and biblical principles and diagnoses (which do not).”  As I read this book, I failed to keep this in mind once or twice, and found myself thinking as I read some of his practical advice, “The Bible does not command me to do this.”  There is, of course, nothing wrong with wise advice, but not all of it will translate into everyone’s specific circumstances in their lives.  The reader will have a much more fruitful time with this book if he/she keeps in mind the distinction between practical advice and biblical command.

One final thing that I was thankful for in this book was DeYoung’s acknowledgment that busyness is not in and of itself a bad thing.  Rest is good in the Bible, but work is good too, and we need to keep both of these truths in mind.  There is a sense in which it is true that we are supposed to be busy; busy loving others, working with integrity, loving our families, and serving in our churches.  It is not necessarily bad to be busy.  DeYoung put it well when he stated on pg. 102, “It’s not a sin to be busy…The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things.  It’s being busy trying to please people, busy trying to control others, busy trying to do things we haven’t been called to do.  So please don’t hear from me that work is bad or that bearing burdens is bad.  That’s part of life.  That’s part of being a Christian.”  This is a very helpful reminder in a book on busyness because we can be tempted to reject busyness and embrace laziness.  I do wish DeYoung had moved this to the forefront of his book rather than save it for the end as he does.  I think it would help clarify the reader’s thinking as he/she works through the material, rather than just throwing it in at the end of the book.

Overall, Crazy Busy is a very helpful book that deals with what is a very real problem in many of our lives.  While there may be some of the practical advice that doesn’t quite apply to you as an individual (or that you may even slightly disagree with), as a whole the book can prove to be a helpful starting point for readers to think through the motives behind their busyness.

– Pastor Nathan Hogan