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Christian Natural Health

Christian Natural Health is the podcast that teaches you about natural health from a biblical perspective. I'm Dr. Lauren Deville, a practicing naturopathic physician in Tucson, AZ. In this podcast, my guests and I will cover topics ranging from nutrition, sleep, hormone balancing and exercise, to specific health concerns like hair loss, anxiety, and hypothyroidism. Once a week, I'll include a bonus episode, meditating on a Bible verse or passage. I'll also interweave biblical principles as they apply throughout the podcast--because true health is body, mind, and spirit. Learn more about me at http://www.drlaurendeville.com/
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Nov 19, 2021

Trial Lawyer, Scott Pryor, turns real life tragedies into award winning screenplays and films.

Pryor is the Founder and CEO of Pryor Entertainment which is a bi-coastal independent production company that creates films, tv, and content that inspires, empowers, and educates so that others may truly live. After setting the record for the second highest grossing domestic box office for self-distributed movies to theatres in 2020, on February 2, 2021, Pryor Entertainment is releasing digitally their most recent feature "Tulsa" starring Pryor, John Schneider, Livi Birch, Nicole Marie Johnson and Cameron Arnett.

Pryor describes himself as a big kid with really big dreams whose goal in life is to Pioneer Hope.

For more on Pryor entertainment, see officialscottpryor on all social media platforms, or pryorentertainment.com 

Nov 12, 2021

Dr. Krystosik is a board certified chiropractic family physician, with an undergraduate degree in clinical nutrition. Dr. Krystosik has helped over 15,000 patients reclaim their health without drugs and surgery using safe, time proven, evidence based natural medicine. He is the author of 5 books on nutrition and functional medicine, including his best seller, “Carbs from Heaven, Carbs from Hell”. He’s been the host of a weekly health talk radio program, “The Other Side of Medicine,” for over 25 years and he is a nationally known speaker.

To learn more about Dr Krystosik, see his website at theothersideofmedicine.com 

Nov 5, 2021

This retelling comes from Genesis 37, 39-45, and it appears in Blood Covenant Origins: Biblical Retellings

Introduction: 

Joseph is one of my favorite biblical characters; he’s such a great example of faith. It took thirteen years for his reversal of fortune to finally occur, and another nine years after that for the complete fulfillment of God’s promise to him. Yet if he ever wavered in his faith that God would fulfill what He showed him in his two dreams, we have no record of it. This is even more incredible when you consider that Joseph had no written scriptures to cling to like we do. He wouldn’t have even had an oral tradition of previous faith heroes similar to himself. While Abraham his grandfather had to wait 25 years for the promised child, the circumstances had little in common with Joseph’s own circumstances. He couldn’t read about the 13-17 years between King David’s anointing and when he finally became king, for instance. Moses had not yet written Deuteronomy, telling him all the blessings he could expect if he remained faithful to the Lord. All Joseph had to go on were two cryptic dreams… but it was enough. It’s fitting that the first dream showed his brothers’ sheaves of grain bowing down to his, considering it was the famine and grain distribution that propelled him to second in command of Egypt in the end. 
The one charge leveled against Joseph by some is that he started out arrogant: after all, what was he thinking, telling his brothers (whom he knew already envied him, due to his father’s blatant favoritism) that God had told him he would rule over them? Maybe this was arrogance, or at best, a decided lack of wisdom. He was only seventeen at the time, after all. Also, with the exception of the death of his mother when Benjamin was born, Joseph had presumably lived a charmed life: the coat of many colors that Jacob had given him was the attire of a great landowner, even though Joseph was the second youngest of twelve brothers. (Pretty foolish of Jacob, too.) It’s no wonder this galled them. Even so, their response to him shows how evil his brothers were, at that point. Had they not sold Joseph into slavery, they very well might have killed him—that was what they meant to do at first, after all.
Despite this, despite slavery and then imprisonment, God said Joseph was prosperous and successful (Genesis 39:2-3, 23). Even though Joseph himself was not paid for any of his work, the blessing of the Lord was upon him, and therefore his master got blessed because of him. This is an interesting concept, that the overflow of God’s blessing upon us (Deuteronomy 28:2) can affect those around us who just happen to be in the way—including our bosses in this case, or our families as well (1 Corinthians 7:14). 
Joseph also happened to be very handsome (Genesis 39:6)—ordinarily a blessing, but under the circumstances it was a curse, as he drew the eye of Potiphar’s wife. If she was this aggressive, probably this wasn't the first time she had cheated on Potiphar. I suspect that the other servants, and maybe even Potiphar himself could compare what they knew of her and what they knew of Joseph and deduce the truth. But if Potiphar did not choose to believe Joseph, what could the other servants do? And wouldn’t it have disrupted Potiphar’s life more to have believed Joseph? He surely couldn’t have kept Joseph in his house with his wife; he had to get rid of one of them. So in my retelling, I assumed that Potiphar’s pride forced him to believe his wife, even though deep down he knew the truth. I would imagine that if he had truly believed his wife’s accusation, he would have had Joseph killed, rather than merely thrown into prison. 
So Joseph started out with two dreams of greatness, which led directly to his being sold into slavery for a decade (deduced from his age at the time he was sold, the number of years he was in prison, and his age when he was finally promoted). At the end of the decade, Joseph refused to commit adultery and sin against God (very interesting that he phrased it that way, Genesis 39:9)—yet for his integrity, he got thrown into prison. Most people would be bitter at this point, but“until the time that His word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested [Joseph]” (Psalm 105:19). Joseph was holding fast to the word that the Lord had given him through those dreams, even when it looked like every circumstance in his life was heading in the wrong direction. He did not yet know Galatians 6:9, but he seemed to understand the principle: “let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
Joseph continued to exhibit diligence and faithfulness in prison, and he must have even kept up a contagious good attitude—we can intuit this because when the butler and baker each had dreams, Joseph said to them, “Why do you look so sad today?” (Genesis 40:7). You’d think they would look sad because they were in prison without cause! But apparently their distress was unusual. Under Joseph’s rule, the prison had become a cheerful place. Moreover, Joseph was not merely sulking about his own misfortune; he knew and cared about the other prisoners. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” 
 
Fictionalized Retelling: 
I whistled, absently twirling the cord of the colorful tunic Father had given me as I made my way back out to the fields where my brothers tended the sheep. I couldn’t stop smiling, couldn’t think about anything except the dream I had had last night. In it, the sun, moon, and eleven stars had bowed down to me! I pictured this over and over, relishing the thrill of it, knowing that these celestial bodies represented my entire family. I was already my father’s favorite, but the Lord confirmed it—I was to be the greatest of them all! Moreover, it was the second dream of its kind; in the first, a few days ago, eleven sheaves of wheat bowed down to my sheaf. I knew upon waking what it meant: all of my brothers would bow down to me one day. 
I told them so the next morning. It went over went about as well as I’d expected. They already envied me, and my little brother Benjamin: we were our father’s favorite, the only two sons of our mother Rachel, the woman Father had truly loved. He was duped into marrying Rachel’s sister Leah, and then in a competition to see who could bear Father more sons, both sisters had given their maids to bear children when it seemed that Mother was barren. I was the first child to open her womb, and so I was much favored even from birth. Father didn’t even try to hide it—in fact, he’d given me as a gift the multicolored tunic I now wore, of the same style as the owners of the great estates. This galled my brothers; it was a preference that should have belonged to Reuben as the eldest, and only after our father’s death. Yet here I was dressed as the heir, the second youngest of twelve, while our father yet lived. 
I might have felt guilty for my father’s obvious preference for me, but quite frankly, I could hardly blame him. My brothers were self-centered, lazy, and cruel.
God clearly preferred me over them, also! Had I doubted it at all after the first dream, the second one clinched it. Would I somehow become a king? Maybe a neighboring nation would offer their princess’s hand to me in marriage… that was possible, as I was the favored son of a great man, and I was also exceptionally good looking. I didn’t say so out loud, nor did anyone say it to me… but I saw the way all the young women gazed after me with longing and admiration. I knew. 
But, it couldn’t be marriage to a princess, I mused, because then I would only be a consort, and not the king. Unless it was of a nation with different customs, in which a king could ascend to the throne by marriage… 
“Oh look, here comes the dreamer!” sneered Simeon as I approached. He and Levi mock-bowed to me. “So! You’re going to rule us? You’re going to boss us around?” Simeon taunted. 
I shrugged. “I was just telling you what the Lord told me.”
“Oh, sure,” cried Levi, “and I had a dream I’m going to have a harem like Pharaoh, every concubine more beautiful than the last. I know it’s true, because I dreamt it!” 
I bristled, knowing he was trying to get a rise out of me, but unable to keep myself from responding. “I know it’s true, and irrevocable, because I had another dream last night just like it! This time, the sun, moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me!” 
Levi’s expression froze for a beat. In that half a second, I knew he believed me. Simeon recovered first. 
“Oooh, bow down, guys!” cried Simeon, waving his hands in the air, “bow down to our perfect baby brother, the future ruler of the entire universe!” 
Every time one of my brothers caught sight of me for the rest of the day, he made me an elaborate bow. They continued mocking me before my father and stepmothers that evening once we came in from the fields, compelling my father to ask what they meant by it. When he did, Issachar taunted, “Ask your little prince here! He’s got it in his head that he’s going to be greater than all of us put together!” 
Father turned to me with a frown. “Joseph? What are they talking about?” 
Feeling slightly abashed, I repeated my dreams, and my father, predictably, rebuked me. “What’s with all this dreaming? Am I and your mother and your brothers all supposed to bow down to you?” 
“I don’t know,” I muttered, “you’re the one who taught me that the Lord speaks in dreams, remember?” 
“Give him a pretty tunic, and suddenly he thinks he’s God Almighty!” cried Zebulun. 
But I saw my father’s thoughtful expression: he believed me, too. He had taught me that the Lord often spoke in dreams. He himself had a dream of a ladder from heaven to earth, with angels ascending and descending upon it—echoing the first dream God had given to our ancestor Abraham, in which He had cut a covenant with him. In another dream, the Lord had told my father to go home to Canaan. Father had also told me of how God had appeared to my grandfather Laban in a dream when he had fled from him, telling Laban to be careful what he said when he next encountered Father. 
Father knew of the power of dreams to both instruct and to prophesy. He knew my dreams must have significance, particularly since I had dreamt two that were very similar. But how could I, the second youngest son of twelve, come to rule over the other eleven? I had the same question myself—that was why I’d shared the vision. I realized, after today’s taunting, that doing so had been foolish. I should have known better, considering my brothers’ animosity and my father’s obvious preference for me. Yet, why would God give me a dream of my future without interpretation, if He did not mean for me to share it? 
The next day, my brothers went out from the Valley of Hebron to tend to the flocks out in Shechem. I did not volunteer to go with them, as I preferred to keep my distance from them after the encounter the day before. But my father sent me to them later that day, asking me to send word on how they and the flocks fared. I cringed inwardly, dreading the ongoing heckling, but that was hardly a reason to disobey my father. So I went. 
I did not find them in Shechem, however. I had to ask directions from another shepherd I came across. 
“I saw your ten brothers several hours ago,” he told me. “They’ve left here, but I overheard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’” 
I tracked them down in Dothan late that afternoon. I saw the flocks first, neglected as usual. I could tell that my brothers had seen me, though they were huddled strangely in the middle of the field, as if having an intense conversation. When I was close enough, I perceived that their council had ended, and they stopped talking, spreading out in a half circle as I approached. Their postures gave me pause: they looked alert, like predators. My steps faltered.
“Our father sent me to you to see how you and our flocks fared—” I began. But no sooner had I begun to speak, Judah and Dan started toward me, followed by the other eight. “What are you—ahhhh!” I tried to fight them off as they lunged for me, but at seventeen years old to their late twenties, thirties, and forties, I could not have fought off even one of them, let alone all ten. The blows came at me from all sides. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground curled in upon myself, trying in vain to protect my face, which was a swollen, bloody mess. I felt them rip my colorful tunic from me. Then three of them picked me up, carried me a short distance, and cast me down into a dry cistern. I landed with a sickening crunch, and let out a fresh cry of pain. 
It took me some time to test my feet, and the boundaries of the cistern. I could hear my brothers’ voices filtering down from up above me, so they were still there—but they were too far away to make out what they said. I began to cry out, “Help!” When there was no response, I tried again, “Someone let me out! Let down a rope!” I knew they heard me, as they stopped talking—but none of them bothered to help. 
I could just make out some sort of commotion up above—new voices had joined those of my brothers, interrupting the flow of their conversation, as well as the rumble of wheels and the characteristic jingle of merchandise. I strained to hear what they were saying, but could not. 
All of a sudden, Zebulun’s face appeared up above, backlit by the sun so that I could not make out his expression. He tossed down a rope and said cheerfully, “Grab on, Joseph!” 
I asked no questions; I grabbed on, as he and Issachar hauled me up, squinting in the brightness when I cleared the top of the cistern. Then I discerned the Midianite traders, their camels laden with spices to sell, and saw the merchants hand silver to my brother Zebulun with a handshake. My eyes widened as I began to understand what was happening. Naphtali and Dan shoved me toward them, and I cried out as the traders caught me and pinned my wrists behind me, binding them and then my feet as they tossed me sideways atop one of their camels. 
“No, please!” I begged, “please! Help me!” 
My pleading gaze happened to fall upon Simeon, who sneered, “Let’s see what comes of your grandiose dreams now, eh, little brother?” 
It was the last words any of my brothers spoke to me. After that, the caravan moved on. 
It was first an uncomfortable, then a painful journey. My position on the camel caused my abdominal muscles to spasm, and blood to pool in my head and feet as I bounced. Before long I had a splitting headache, which was no doubt worsened by my fear, despair, and previous injuries. None of the traders took any notice of me; to them I was only merchandise. The only exception to this was when they stopped to relieve themselves—they unceremoniously unslung me from the camel and made me lift my tunic right there beside it, so that they did not have to unbind me. 
Days passed—I lost count how many. I was constantly hungry and thirsty. The traders did feed me on bread, water, and strips of dried meat when they stopped, though never enough. I overheard one of them comment, “Don’t want him to waste away before he gets to market, or he won’t fetch a good price.” It was from this that I understood my fate for certain, though I had suspected before. I was to be sold as a slave. 
Once we were deep into the desert and there was nowhere I could have gone even if I had escaped, one of the traders unbound my feet so that I could ride astride my camel, rather than tossed over him between his humps like so much cargo. It was amazing what an improvement this made: my headache and abdominal cramps relieved, and at last I had some mental space to think about something besides my physical pain. 
Lord, I prayed. Then my mind went blank. I was so overwhelmed with my circumstances that I didn’t know where to start. 
I wondered what my brothers would tell my father to explain my disappearance. All I knew for sure was that they would not tell him the truth. They would tell him I’d been killed—they must. How else could they explain my long-term disappearance? 
I had a vision of my father weeping for me as he had wept for my mother. I saw my little nine-year old brother Benjamin, my only full-blooded brother, weeping beside him. The vision made my chest ache with sorrow and longing. I closed my eyes and shoved it away as tears stung my lashes. I took a deep breath. 
I’m here now, I told myself, and at least at the moment, there is nothing I can do about it
After another few miles, as the sweat rolled down the sides of my face, I tried praying again. 
Help me, was all I managed. I had no specifics. I didn’t know what else to pray. 
Presently I overheard some of the traders telling one another that they had made good time: only fifteen days, they said, when the glittering mirage of Egypt appeared on the dusty horizon. At first the sight of it filled me with dread, and terrible visions of oppression, whippings, and chains—but I shut these thoughts down, recognizing the futility of experiencing imaginary hardships before the real ones materialized. 
Within hours, we were in the heart of the bustling city. I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells—never had I seen so many people and animals and buildings all in one place. There was a profusion of both wealth and waste intermingled in a confusing array. The traders allowed me to dismount on my own, but then led me with a vice grip on one arm to a raised platform. I blinked, taken aback, when I saw the lineup of naked men upon it. I had only seconds to process this when the trader who had steered me toward it released my arm and in the same motion produced a knife in one hand, gripping my tunic with the other. Before I knew what he was doing, he had sliced half of it away. I started to resist when another trader pinned me so that the first could finish the job. Seconds later, horror and hot shame rolled over me as the traders shoved me up on the platform with the other woebegone men, my hands now bound behind me so that I could not so much as cover my genitals with my fists. 
Lord, I cried out in my mind, but again, I could not think how to finish the prayer. 
I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to pretend I was somewhere—anywhere—else. Trying to tune out the jeers and the haggling of the buyers. It had never occurred to me in the long journey to Egypt that the slave trade required nudity, but now suddenly it seemed obvious: buyers wanted to inspect their purchase, to see what they were getting. When the haggling began over me, even though I did not speak their language, I gathered that the bidding was fierce. I heard the note of finality in their voices that I had heard in previous sales when the price was agreed upon, and opened my eyes to behold my new master as he stepped forward. He was a tall, swarthy man—as most of them were—imposing and probably at least twice my age, if not more. I had no experience with Egyptians, but his dress suggested a uniform. I wondered if he was an officer of some kind. 
The man beckoned me to join him, and I meekly obeyed. Nothing like public nudity to induce humility. He produced a small knife and sliced through the bonds that held my wrists behind me. I rubbed the raw places where the ropes had bitten into my flesh, not even bothering now to use my hands to hide myself. What difference did it make? Everyone who had wanted to had already gotten a good look. 
Though he could not speak to me, the man produced a simple blue tunic and a length of silken cord to secure it. My eyebrows raised as I saw it: both the dye and the material suggested wealth. I put it on at once, grateful for the renewed dignity. The man gave me a nod, and put a hand on his own chest. 
“Potiphar,” he pronounced, very slowly. 
“Potiphar,” I echoed, understanding that my new master was telling me his name. I placed a hand on my own chest and said, “Joseph.” 
“Joseph,” he echoed, and gave another perfunctory nod, beckoning me to follow. 
I gaped as I beheld my new home for the first time. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined such opulence as these marble floors, sculpted columns, and dyed silken curtains. I wondered what Pharaoh’s palace must be like, if this Potiphar was only one of his officers. 
Potiphar introduced me to the rest of his household via charade, but I was already starting to pick up a few Egyptian words here and there. I was one of dozens of servants, male and female, their skin ranging from dark to pale and with all sorts of distinctive features of races I had never before beheld. 
As I made my halting introductions to the staff, an attractive woman in her late twenties approached Potiphar and languidly draped her arm through his. She drew my eye because I felt her gaze upon me, roving over my body in a way that made me feel like I was still naked. She wore fine blue silks, and her arms were spangled with bracelets. From this and from her familiarity with Potiphar, I gathered that she must be either his wife or his mistress. I looked away abruptly. 
The overseer of the household, an aging man who introduced himself as Babu, took me under his wing. With him, I learned to do all of the various chores, both in the estate and in the fields. Babu was also very patient with me as I learned Egyptian words, and within the next few weeks, I at least knew enough to communicate the essentials with a combination of halting Egyptian and hand gestures. I quickly grew wary of spending too much time indoors, though, as Edrice, whom I learned was in fact Potiphar’s wife, always seemed to be wherever I was. She lurked in hallways and lingered in boudoirs, sometimes pretending to be occupied but always with her eyes upon me. 
At first this was all she did, and I ignored her when I could not avoid her. But as time passed and my Egyptian became more proficient, she began to engage me in smalltalk, which I could not avoid without rudeness. She’d comment on the weather, ask unnecessary questions about the progress of whatever task I was engaged in at the time, or sometimes ask me personal questions about how I had come to be in their household as a slave. I answered as briefly as possible, asked no questions in return, and excused myself.
Years passed. In time I grieved the loss of my freedom, my family, and my identity, and I determined that I would do the work the Lord placed before me with all my heart. Babu and then Potiphar took notice of this. Babu, I learned, was beginning to suffer from poor health, and had been hoping to find a replacement for his position. He had recommended me to Potiphar for the job, so that he could take on less responsibility. Suddenly I found myself managing scores of servants on what I later learned was one of the largest estates in Egypt—and actually, I loved it. Even in my father’s household, I’d never had either respect or responsibility. Here, I was trusted, and I rose to the challenge. Babu praised my management, telling Potiphar in my hearing that never had his fields or his wealth grown so quickly, never had his affairs run so efficiently, as they did under my care. 
The only blight upon my surprising happiness was Edrice. She grew increasingly bold over time, when I did not return her attentions to her satisfaction. When she started to inquire about my history with women, and whether I was still a virgin, I began to avoid her outright. At last I hinted about her behavior to Babu, who gave me a knowing glance, and said, “Edrice is a beautiful bird in a gilded cage. She longs for freedom, and will seek it where she can.” 
I blinked, understanding that he meant to tell me, without telling me, that she had been unfaithful to Potiphar in the past. 
“Does he know?” I asked at last. 
Babu hesitated, and then gave a very subtle nod. “Everyone knows.” 
“What do I do?” I whispered at last. 
Babu sighed. “I don’t see that you can do any more than you have. Avoid her when you can. But do your best not to spurn her outright. Her pride is… easily wounded.” 
 
Babu’s warning rang in my mind for days, particularly because I had sensed Edrice’s growing irritation with me. I needed to appease her. So when I felt her eyes upon me across the room, rather than pretending I did not notice, I looked up and smiled. She blinked, and her scowl softened in response, replaced by a flirtatious gleam in her eye. I panicked and looked away abruptly. I’d meant to appease, not encourage her—but how was I to know the difference? I’d never done this before… 
She crossed the room to me, and before I knew what was happening, she was beside me, stroking my forearm with her trailing fingers. I was suddenly very aware that we were alone—I had no idea where the nearest servants were. Potiphar was away on Pharaoh’s business.
“Joseph,” she murmured, as if savoring my name, tracing my bicep with her fingers. “You are… so very handsome.” 
My heart hammered in my chest, though with fear or with arousal, or a strange combination of both, I could not tell. My throat felt too thick to reply. I just froze. 
Edrice gave a soft laugh. “I’m making you blush! Oh, I just love virgins…” Her hand trailed from my arm down my torso. I grabbed her wrist before it could descend any further, and found my tongue. 
“Look, my master doesn’t give a second thought to anything that goes on here—he’s put me in charge of everything he owns. He treats me as an equal. The only thing he hasn’t turned over to me is you. You’re his wife!” 
She puffed out her lower lip. “I know you find me attractive.” 
This was dangerous territory. There was no safe answer to that question. “That has nothing to do with it,” I insisted. “How could I violate his trust and sin against God?”
“God?” she scoffed. “Your God allowed you to be sold as a slave. You owe Him nothing. And Potiphar has never paid you a day’s wages in the almost ten years you’ve been with us. Don’t you think it’s time you got a little… reward?” The hand I had not seized by the wrist also went exploring before I took hold of it too. 
“I cannot do this! It is wrong!” I hissed. I let go of both of her wrists at once, and fled the room. 
Either fortunately or unfortunately, I could not tell which, Edrice did not take this as rejection, but as enticement. I could tell by her increasing brazenness that she thought I burned for her and could barely restrain myself. At times, I wondered if this was actually true—after all, I could not stop thinking about her, even though thinking of her was a kind of torture. I successfully avoided being alone with her for the next week or so, but I knew I could not do so forever. 
At last, one day after Potiphar again went away on Pharaoh’s business, I was inside managing the orders for the kitchen after the morning meal. I stopped what I was doing, and frowned when I realized that the whole house was eerily silent—more so than I had ever heard before. Usually there were some servants chattering or clanging about at least in the distance. It was as if all of them had suddenly gone on holiday. 
A wave of foreboding passed over me, and then I sensed that I was not alone. I turned around and saw Edrice standing there in the most provocative gown I had ever seen. She rested one arm on the doorframe to give me the best possible view, her gaze inviting me to come and take her.  
“You know you want to,” she purred. “I promise I won't resist.” 
“Edrice—” my voice came out hoarse, and I couldn’t seem to tear my eyes away from her nearly exposed bosom, no matter how hard I tried. 
She grinned and sauntered forward, swinging her hips. I could not move. The next thing I knew, she stood before me, tugged on the cord of my tunic, and began undressing me. 
“Sleep with me, Joseph,” she whispered. 
I had one choice in that moment: stay and obey her, or run.
So I ran. She had a firm grip by then on my tunic, and I nearly tripped and fell on my face, as it was half off already. Instead I wrestled myself free of it, leaving my tunic in her grip, and alas—fled naked. 
Some of the other servants who were outside at the time saw me. I saw the fleeting looks of confusion and shock. Then Edrice began to scream. 
There was a commotion after that. Several of the men went running into the house, and those near enough to me cast glances of alarm in my direction. I hid myself among the shrubbery, not sure what else to do, feeling like I might throw up. I didn’t know exactly what Edrice was playing at, but I suspected I knew well enough. 
A few minutes passed. Babu found me and handed me one of his own tunics without a word. I saw the look in his eyes, of mingled worry and sympathy, and it alarmed me. 
“You should have just done as she wanted,” he murmured under his breath. 
“How could I do such a thing against Potiphar, and against the Lord?” I protested as I put on the tunic. 
Babu sighed, and shook his head. It was a long moment before he answered. “Joseph.” The way he said my name, with such regret, made my heart sink into my stomach. He bit his lip and then said, his voice barely above a whisper, “You spurned her. It’s exactly what I told you never to do. All the servants know who and what she is, and I daresay Potiphar does too, but I don’t think it will matter. She is accusing you of attempted rape.” 
Waves of horror washed over me. That was even worse than a consensual affair. How was it that by doing the right thing, I’d managed to make my situation even worse? 
“But… if everyone knows her ways…” I began weakly. 
Babu shook his head. “She is the lady of the house,” he murmured. “Any servant who dares to contradict her story will be subject to her wrath himself. The only one who might be able to challenge her is Potiphar, and while I suspect he knows, if he admits that she is guilty in this, it makes him a cuckold—not just this once, but the many times he has turned a blind eye in the past as well.” 
 
My breath came in short, ragged gasps. “What do I do?” 
Babu ran a hand through his graying hair. “I will… try… to convince Potiphar to merely sell you, rather than punish you.” 
I sank to my knees. Babu stood watching me. At last I murmured, “Shall I be killed?” 
“I do not think so,” Babu said with surprising conviction. “You would be if Potiphar believed her story, but he is not an evil man. He will want you out of his sight and out of his household, but he knows you are not capable of such a thing, even if he does not admit it to himself.” He patted my shoulder. “Stay in my chambers and do not show your face until Potiphar returns. I will attend to your needs myself, and discuss how we might best plead your case to him when he does.” 
The rest of that day was one of the longest of my life, with the possible exception of those first several weeks’ ride to Egypt. Fortunately I did not have to wait longer, as Potiphar arrived back home unexpectedly that evening. I heard him in the vestibule, and I heard Edrice’s renewed histrionic wails. I cowered in Babu’s small chambers, catching words here and there—mostly my name in Edrice’s high-pitched shriek, and Potiphar’s angry growls. I closed my eyes, and tried to steel myself for what came next. Heavy footsteps pounded down the hall toward me, and the door flew open. I opened my eyes and beheld Potiphar’s face. It was nearly purple with rage. He held my tunic in his hand like it was evidence against me. 
“What,” he seethed, “is the meaning of this?” 
In a split second, even though I knew it would likely make my own situation worse, I decided to try the truth. If I were married to an unfaithful woman, I would want to know. I stood up straight and said, “Your wife has been attempting to seduce me for years, Master, and earnestly for the last several months. You know this to be true. She has invented her current story because I spurned her and fled, and she kept hold of my tunic as I did so. I could not sin against the Lord and against you.” 
If possible, Potiphar’s color turned an even deeper shade of purple. “How—dare you!” He threw my tunic down and took two steps toward me, hands balled into fists. I clasped my own hands behind my back as hard as I could, determined not to protect myself, should he strike a blow. But I looked him directly in the eye, knowing that doing so would communicate my truthfulness better than anything else I could do. 
It worked, at least on some level. Potiphar nearly snorted, he breathed so heavily, his face etched in a snarl. But he did not strike me. Behind him, three of the male servants who had grown quite fond of me in the last few years, and I of them, appeared in the hallway. 
“Throw him in prison,” Potiphar pronounced my sentence, and turned to stalk out. “I want him out of here tonight.” 
The three servants shuffled awkwardly, before moving forward to fulfill Potiphar’s orders. One apologized as he began to bind my wrists. I shook my head. 
“That is not necessary,” I told him, and forced a smile. “You know I will not resist you.” 
The young man gave me a tiny nod, and the four of us marched out of the room with one abreast, two at my sides. I tried not to look around at the great manor I was leaving forever. This was the second time my home had been ripped from me; I did not think I could bear it if I looked and considered this. 
Edrice appeared at the entrance to the estate with one arm positioned brazenly on a marble pillar, a vicious half smile on her full red lips. She still wore the scandalous gown, which surprised me at first—wasn’t that gown evidence of my version of the story? But then I realized, it doesn’t matter. She knows Potiphar will refuse to believe her unfaithful, regardless of the evidence. She still wore the gown on purpose. It was evidence of her power over me. 
“Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” she taunted in a low trill as I passed by her. 
“Oh, how quickly your lust turns to hatred,” I returned, looking her straight in the eye. “The Lord sees what you have done, and will repay you for it.” 
My words hit the mark. Her gloating smile vanished, and she began to shriek after me, “How dare you, you filthy Hebrew slave! You should be hung on the gallows! I see to it that you’re hung on the gallows—!” 
The door closed behind us, cutting off her threats. I took a deep breath of the night air, and one of the other servants murmured, “Empty threats. She’s already exerted the extent of her power against you.” 
Another agreed, his voice still low, “We’ve seen her watching you for months, and watched you avoid her, too. We know you’re not guilty. So does Potiphar, even if he won’t admit it.” 
Tears pricked my eyes at this, and a lump rose in my throat. “Thank you.” 
We walked in silence the rest of the way. When we arrived at the prison and the other servants identified me as the prisoner to the keeper, he glanced at my unbound hands in surprise.
“And… he comes willingly?” 
“I would not struggle against my brothers,” I said. “They are merely following orders. Besides, where could I go?” 
The keeper of the prison looked even more surprised at this, and looked to them for an explanation. They told my story for me, and I bowed my head. 
“You will never find a more capable worker or better manager, sir,” one of the servants finished, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Judge for yourself, but we are all very sorry to lose him.” 
The keeper of the prison let out a breath through pursed lips. At last he pronounced, “Well, this is certainly the strangest way I’ve ever been introduced to a new prisoner.” He took me by the arm and began to lead me inside, but the servants stopped him to hug me goodbye with some tears before they went their way. The keeper shook his head. 
“Curiouser and curiouser,” he murmured as he watched our farewell. Then he said, “Well, normally I’d take you to a barred cell, but with three witnesses such as those in your favor… you might just be a gift from the gods. I tell you, I’ve been quite overwhelmed lately with the number of prisoners, particularly managing resources from Pharaoh and directing labor. I could use the help of a skilled household manager.” 
I inclined my head. “Happy to be of service in any way I can.”
“Splendid!” The keeper, who introduced himself as Shakir, took me to a small room with a cot and a desk near the cells where the prisoners were kept. It did have a small window though. “This will be your room, then. I’m sure it isn’t much compared to your chambers in Potiphar’s house, but at least it is neither a cell, nor the gallows, eh?” 
I managed a smile. “I am very grateful for your kindness. I will work hard for you and will not take it for granted.” 
Shakir blinked at me again and shook his head. “Poor kid,” he murmured at last, more to himself than to me. “Those good looks of yours are a curse.” With that, he left me alone and closed the door behind me. 
In the silence that followed, I approached the window, leaning on the sill and looking up to the stars. I reminded myself how many years my ancestor Abraham had believed the Lord for a son, looking at those very same stars. His descendants were not yet so numerous, but certainly my father had been fertile. My chest ached as I thought of my brothers, particularly of my little brother Benjamin. He had been nine when my half-brothers had sold me into slavery. He would be nineteen now. I wondered what he looked like. I wondered if he remembered me. I wondered if—
No, I stopped myself. I had been about to wonder if my dreams would ever come to pass. They certainly looked impossible, as I went from my father’s favorite son, to slave, and now to prisoner. But the Lord had given me two dreams for a reason: that told me that the future it foretold was not conditional. It would happen. It was not up to me to determine how, or when. I must continue to cling to that; I must continue to believe that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, or my heart would faint. Especially tonight, of all nights. 
Many years ago, I’d had to release my anger and bitterness toward my half brothers, or it would already have eaten me alive. Tonight, the image of Edrice’s scandalous dress and haughty smirk floated back to me, and I gnashed my teeth. She belonged here, not me… but I knew the memory came because the Lord wanted me to release her to Him too. He was a God of justice—I knew this, despite how things looked, because of the covenant He had made with my father Abraham. He’d said to him, “Your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.” The gate was the place of power and influence, was it not? 
I had had power and influence over Potiphar’s house, relatively speaking. I now already seemed to have the favor of the keeper of the prison. Was that all God’s promise had meant for me? Was this the extent of the blessing I could expect upon my life?
No, I told myself emphatically, closing my eyes and deliberately conjuring again the memories of the dreams, now rather faded and possibly distorted with time. I saw again my brothers’ sheaves of wheat bowing down to mine, and then the sun, moon and stars bowing to me. The Lord gave me those dreams in advance because He knew I would need them, in addition to what I knew of the covenant to His people in general, to sustain me through this dark period of my life. It would not last forever. It must not. Somehow, somehow—I would be reunited with my brothers and my family again. The Lord would place me in a position of power and influence. How prison was a stepping stone to anything, I certainly did not know. But He was God, and I was not. 
“I trust You,” I murmured aloud to the Lord. “I forgive my brothers, I forgive Edrice, and I leave their punishment to You. I trust You to bring Your word to pass in my life. Somehow.” 
I heard nothing back. I wished God would speak to me, the way He had to some of my ancestors, and even to my father Jacob. But I felt the comfort of those stars winking down at me from above, and I knew He saw me and He cared. I was not forgotten. 
Over the next days and weeks, I got to know the prisoners as well as Shakir, and learned the business of prison—for business it was. We had finances and shipments from Pharaoh for the upkeep of both prison and prisoners, schedules to manage and enforce, and some of the prisoners also engaged in labor as part of their service. I could see why Shakir had been overwhelmed before. But I applied the management skills I had gained in Potiphar’s household to management of the prison, and within the first month, I gained not only Shakir’s trust but his admiration and gratitude as well. He often referred to me as a “gift from the gods,” though he’d always look a bit abashed after he said it, conscious that he was profiting from my misfortune. When he apologized for the third time after a declaration like this, I finally smiled at him and said, “It is all right. The Lord is with me, and He will repay me for what was stolen.” 
Shakir blinked, and seemed to want to say something. He opened his mouth and then closed it again. He walked away with a puzzled look on his face. 
In time, the prisoners and Shakir came to be a sort of makeshift family to me, just as Babu at the other servants had been. I was surprised to wake up one day and realize that I was happy again. Despite all, I found great satisfaction in doing my work well, and in the relationships I had formed with those around me. I genuinely cared about my fellow prisoners. I came to know their stories, and wept for those whose stories were even more tragic than mine. Of course there were a few actual criminals among them, but in short order I won over even them. I rejoiced with those whose sentences were completed or commuted when they returned to freedom, even though I was still imprisoned indefinitely, with no apparent hope of escape. They were perplexed how I could maintain such hope in such a place—so I taught them about the Lord, about the covenant He had made with my fathers. 
“That’s all very well for you,” one of them grumbled at first, “but your god has never spoken to me or my fathers. What hope do I have?” 
“It’s not about what He’s said or hasn't said,” I insisted. “Yes, He made a covenant with my fathers to prosper and bless them, but how could I be assured that that blessing would extend to every one of their descendants, including me? Yes, I had two dreams that suggested I would be blessed”—I had told the prisoners the secret of my dreams, in due time—“but those were very obscure, after all. If I wished to doubt their meaning, particularly after all that has happened to me, I certainly could. What assures me is the character of Him who made those promises to my father Abraham. It isn’t about what He has done, but about who He is. He told Abraham that through him, every nation of the world would be blessed, not just Abraham’s direct descendants. That includes you, too! He is both good and mighty, as well as trustworthy. So yes, I have hope, and always shall have. You can have that same hope, if you want it.” 
A few months after I had arrived, the prison received two new rather illustrious prisoners from the Pharaoh’s own household: his butler and his baker. I felt sorry for them, as they seemed exceedingly upset to have found themselves in such a predicament. We all understood; every one of us, even the guilty ones, went through a period of first denial, then anger, then grief, and ultimately a depressed sort of acceptance when we arrived here. It was even worse for the two of them, as the butler had no idea why he was there at all. The baker’s cooking had apparently displeased the capricious Pharaoh one too many times. 
“I don’t know what I said,” the butler moaned to me, his head in his hands. “I don’t know what I did…” 
I clucked my tongue sympathetically as the baker sat beside him, patting his arm. “One never knows,” he murmured, “Pharaoh is like a child.” 
“Shh!” hissed the butler, horrified. “You must not say things like that?” 
The baker gave a short laugh. “Why not? What else is he going to do to me?” He gestured at the bars of their cell; they were currently in the same one, as I had allowed them to comfort one another as they could. 
“He could kill us, of course!” the butler hissed back, “the walls have ears, I’m sure!” 
“You are as safe as I can make you here,” I assured them. “We’re all family here, right guys?” I called to the other prisoners. Shouts, claps, and grunts from the other nearby prisoners responded to this, and I flashed a brief grin at the newcomers. “We’re here if you need us. Take your time.” 
It was a few weeks before the butler and baker worked their way through the various stages of acceptance of their new predicament. I marveled as I watched their fellow prisoners commiserate with them in the process, feeling how I’d imagine a proud father might feel as he watches one child comfort another in his distress.
One day after both the baker and butler had adjusted to life in prison, and had grown cheerful for the most part, I noticed an abrupt change. Both of them seemed sad and troubled again, and did not perform their work as efficiently as usual. I frowned. 
“What is wrong?” I asked them. “Why do you both seem so sad today?” 
The butler said for both of them, “We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.” 
The vision of my own dreams to which I had clung for the past many years flashed across my mind as I said, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.”
The two men exchanged a look, and then the butler ventured, “Behold, in my dream a vine was before me, and in the vine were three branches; it was as though it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes. Then Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”
My heart swelled as he spoke. I understood the dream’s meaning, and I also knew, I knew this was to be my salvation as well!  “Here’s the meaning. The three branches are three days. Within three days, Pharaoh will get you out of here and put you back to your old work—you’ll be giving Pharaoh his cup just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. Only remember me when things are going well with you again—tell Pharaoh about me and get me out of this place. I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews. And since I’ve been here, I’ve done nothing to deserve being put in the dungeon.”
The baker’s eyes lit up too, and he declared, “Three days—that will be Pharaoh’s birthday! That is often when he commutes sentences…” He turned to me and said eagerly, “Tell me what my dream means too! It went like this: I saw three wicker baskets on my head; the top basket had assorted pastries from the bakery and birds were picking at them from the basket on my head.” 
I blinked at the baker, and felt my heart sink to my stomach. He saw my expression and his own faltered too. I knew this interpretation at once, also, but wished I did not have to tell him. “This is the interpretation: The three baskets are three days; within three days Pharaoh will hang you from a tree, and the birds will pick your bones clean.”
All the color faded from his cheeks, and his mouth fell open. The three of us sat in silence, not even looking at each other. At last I placed a hand on the baker’s shoulder, who shrugged it off and hid his face. The butler and I exchanged a sympathetic look. 
“Well,” the butler said to me in a low tone, “at least we know that you do not hesitate to prophesy good or evil. In three days’ time, we shall see.” 
I nodded, knowing full well what we should see. I reminded the baker, more soberly now, “Do not forget me.”
“I won’t,” he promised. 
 
Three days later it happened just as the Lord had shown me through the dreams. Pharaoh held a feast in honor of his own birthday, and summoned the butler and the baker from the prison in the middle of it. Shakir, who had been at the feast, arrived with guards to escort them. We all watched them go in dead silence. Everyone was nervous for them. 
Before they all vanished, I took Shakir by the arm, and asked, “Please return after the feast tonight, no matter how late it is, and tell us all what became of them.”
Shakir gave me a strange look. “I thought you already knew.”
“I do,” I confirmed. “But for the sake of the rest of the prisoners.” 
He gave me a small nod, and left, last behind the guards. 
Around the third watch of the night, Shakir returned again, looking haggard. Most of the prisoners dozed, but lightly. We all roused when we saw his lantern and heard his footsteps. I sat up first. 
“Well?” 
Shakir sighed. “It was as Joseph predicted,” he confirmed. “The butler was restored to the right hand of Pharaoh. The baker…” he shook his head and bowed it. There was a moment of silence. A few of the prisoners swore. One quietly sobbed. We had all grown quite fond of the two men. 
Despite my sorrow for the murder of the baker, I could not entirely forget that I now had an ally at the right hand of Pharaoh. I had reminded him several times not to forget me. Surely he wouldn’t! Every day I anticipated a retinue of soldiers to come and release me as well. When they did not come after a week, I grew confused. 
When they did not come after two weeks, I sank into depression, for the first time since those weeks riding across the desert to Egypt. Even when I’d been thrown into prison, I’d maintained my faith, and bounced back quickly. But now, when I was alone at night, I cried out to God. 
“It’s been eleven years!” I told Him in a hissing whisper, like He didn’t know. “Eleven years!” I panted with rage, until I finally needed an outlet of some kind and pounded my fists against my wall. “Am I ever getting out of here? Did You forget about me? Do you care at all?” 
I knew the answers to all of these things by the quiet reproach in my mind as soon as I’d said them. At once, my rage melted away and I crumpled, giving way to tears for the first time in years. I buried my face in my hands and wept, feeling small and vulnerable, like the child I had once been in my mother’s lap. She had died giving birth to my brother Benjamin, when I was only eight years old. I conjured her in my mind now, picturing her caresses on my back as I remembered them until I had no more tears left within me. They were followed by first a dull numbness, and then, inexplicably, a sense of peace. I fell asleep to the vision of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to me once again, a reassurance that despite the apparent setbacks, the Lord had promised. He would fulfill His word. 
 
Over the next few days, I acknowledged to myself that it was the hope of an immediate fulfillment that had set me up for such disappointment; before, when I had placed no timeline on my deliverance, I had been able to thrive regardless of my circumstances. Now that it was clear that the butler had forgotten me, I let go of my expectations and became my old cheerful self again, caring for my inmates and managing them well. The Lord would deliver me when and how He might, but I’d just as soon not know until it happened. I never wanted to go through that again.
Two more years passed before that moment finally came, and it was as abrupt as I could have wished for. I was in my office, calculating income versus expenses for the prison, when the palace guards arrived. 
“We are looking for the Hebrew called Joseph,” announced the guard. 
I frowned. “I am he.”  
The guard bowed to me—a prisoner. “You have been summoned to the Throne Room by His Majesty, Pharaoh.” 
My mind went blank. My mouth reacted first. 
“May I… be permitted to make myself presentable first?” I gestured at the filthy rags of an inmate I wore, and my long, unkempt beard and hair. 
“You may. Come.” 
A few of the prisoners whose cells were close enough to hear some of the commotion pressed their faces to their bars curiously. Shakir, who had heard the entire interaction, watched me with wide-eyed fear. I knew he was remembering what had happened to the baker. But that made sense—Pharaoh had known and been offended by him. He should have no knowledge of my existence. 
Unless… my heart beat faster as the guard led me to the river to bathe, and provided me with a razor, a servant, and a change of clothes. I bathed as quickly as I could, my nervousness only growing as I did so. I did not let my mind imagine, in case this was not what it appeared to be. When I emerged from the water, dried myself and put on the new garments, the servant combed and used the razor to trim my hair and beard before shaving my face clean. When he had finished, he gestured back to the water, inviting me to look at my new self. Tentatively, I did so, though I dreaded the change I might find—the last time I had beheld my own reflection was when I still served in Potiphar’s home, three years ago. I feared that my ordeal in the prison might have aged me ten years or more. 
I blinked at the man who peered down at me, and swallowed hard, raising my hands to my own chin gingerly. I had not been clean shaven since I was a boy; the face I saw therefore looked significantly younger than the one I remembered. I might have been a teenager again, though I had turned thirty this year.
The guard, who had waited for my transformation, now stepped forward and beckoned me. 
“Pharaoh is not a patient man. Come,” he said, and I followed.
The whole thing felt incredibly surreal, as I crossed the threshold of the enormous vestibule of the palace. Potiphar’s house had been a shack by comparison. The marble pillars held up a ceiling so high it might have been the sky. Colorful mosaics lined the floors, and intricate paintings of great exploits decorated the walls. The opulence astounded me; I could not stop staring, even though I kept pace with the guard. 
In the throne room were four men dressed in Egyptian finery. Three were gray haired and weathered. The fourth stood at a window with his arms clasped behind him, his forearms adorned with thick gold bracelets. He alone of the four wore a geometric headdress, his tunic bedecked with purples and golds, complete with a gold sash. He turned as we entered, and I saw Pharaoh’s face for the first time. He had the swarthy, coppery skin of all of the Egyptians, his black beard close-cropped. I saw that he was not much older than I was. He might have even been younger.
“Joseph the Hebrew prisoner, Your Majesty,” bowed the guard, and backed away, leaving Pharaoh and me to face one another alone. The other three—advisors? servants?—stood at a respectful distance, but close enough to hear. Pharaoh regarded me with an expression I could not read. I knew nothing of the etiquette; should I speak first or wait for him to address me? Should I bow? Surely I should bow. I had just made up my mind to do this and started, when Pharaoh abruptly began. 
“I dreamed a dream,” he announced. “Nobody can interpret it. But I’ve heard that just by hearing a dream you can interpret it.”
This is it, I realized in dazed wonder. This is really it
I found my tongue. “Not I, but God. God will set Pharaoh’s mind at ease.”
Pharaoh searched my face. Something about my answer gave him pause. Then he went on, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile. Seven cows, shimmering with health, came up out of the river and grazed on the marsh grass. On their heels seven more cows, all skin and bones, came up. I’ve never seen uglier cows anywhere in Egypt. Then the seven skinny, ugly cows ate up the first seven healthy cows. But you couldn’t tell by looking—after eating them up they were just as skinny and ugly as before. Then I woke up. 
“In my second dream I saw seven ears of grain, full-bodied and lush, growing out of a single stalk, and right behind them, seven other ears, shriveled, thin, and dried out by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the full ears. I’ve told all this to the magicians but they cannot tell me what the dreams mean.”
My mind whirred with images and understanding as Pharaoh spoke, as clearly as if there had been no parable at all. The second dream overlay the first in my mind, making me even more certain that my interpretation of the first had been correct. 
Thank you, Lord, I prayed silently. To Pharaoh, I said, “Pharaoh’s two dreams both mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh what he is going to do. The seven healthy cows are seven years and the seven healthy ears of grain are seven years—they’re the same dream. The seven sick and ugly cows that followed them up are seven years and the seven scrawny ears of grain dried out by the east wind are the same—seven years of famine.
“The meaning is what I said earlier: God is letting Pharaoh in on what he is going to do. Seven years of plenty are on their way throughout Egypt. But on their heels will come seven years of famine, leaving no trace of the Egyptian plenty. As the country is emptied by famine, there won’t be even a scrap left of the previous plenty—the famine will be total. The fact that Pharaoh dreamed the same dream twice emphasizes God’s determination to do this and do it soon.
“So, Pharaoh needs to look for a wise and experienced man and put him in charge of the country. Then Pharaoh needs to appoint managers throughout the country of Egypt to organize it during the years of plenty. Their job will be to collect all the food produced in the good years ahead and stockpile the grain under Pharaoh’s authority, storing it in the towns for food. This grain will be held back to be used later during the seven years of famine that are coming on Egypt. This way the country won’t be devastated by the famine.”
I had watched the transformation in Pharaoh’s face as I spoke. His hard features softened, his eyes widened, and I could see that the Lord had confirmed my words to him. He withdrew to consult with his advisors in low tones that I could not hear—yet I could hardly suppress the smile that stretched across my lips. 
Pharaoh returned to me, his advisors right behind him this time. 
“You shall be the one in charge of all you propose. No one is as qualified as you in experience and wisdom. From now on, you’re in charge of my affairs; all my people will report to you. Only as king will I be over you. I’m putting you in charge of the entire country of Egypt.”
I stared at him, my mind blank. I had expected that he would believe me; that he would favor me; even that I would never return to prison. But… what had he just said? 
His next actions confirmed it: he took a signet ring off of his own hand, took my own hand, and placed it upon my finger. Behind me, servants I had not seen enter the room draped my shoulders with a fine linen garment, and my neck with a gold chain. As they did all this, Pharaoh went on, “I am Pharaoh, but no one in Egypt will make a single move without your approval. We must do something about your Hebrew name, though. Henceforth, you shall be known as Zaphenath-Paneah.” I bit my lip to keep the surge of tears at bay—the new name meant in Egyptian, God Speaks and He Lives. I met Pharaoh’s eyes, and to my utter amazement, I found him smiling at me fondly, like we were almost peers. More than that—like we were kin. 
This man just met me! How—
I am restoring all that was stolen from you, the Lord whispered to my heart. Sevenfold
I found myself ushered along with Pharaoh’s servants like a tide sweeping out to sea. The day played out like a dream: they helped me into Pharaoh’s second chariot, and rode me around Egypt, introducing me to the people of the land by shouting before me, “Bow the knee! Bow the knee to Zaphenath-Paneah, second in command of all of Egypt!” 
 
I expected to wake the next morning back in prison. It took me several confused moments to remember what had happened when I saw the luxurious bed with linen curtains, and the window with a view of all of Egypt, through which the early morning sunlight streamed in. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, and sat up to see servants bustling about in a corner of the enormous room, laying out my breakfast. One of them looked up and said, “Ah, my lord is awake.” He brought the food over to my bed, and then beckoned to someone outside the room. One of the advisors I had seen with Pharaoh in my encounter with him yesterday approached and bowed, introducing himself as Lateef.
“My lord Zaphenath-Paneah,” he began. “We have much to discuss. Would you prefer to eat in silence and seek me after, or—”
“No, no, Lateef, please.” I gestured to a chair by the window. Lateef accepted it and seated himself as I ate. He then proceeded to tell me all of the plans Pharaoh had discussed with them on my behalf while I was riding around the city in Pharaoh’s second chariot: where I was to live, who I was to marry (marry? I thought in amazement), and how I was to begin to implement the recommendations I had made to Pharaoh regarding the collection of grain. He rattled off the names of master builders they had already recruited to build both my home—to be constructed on land adjacent to the palace—and the massive storage facilities they would need to store up dried grain. Lateef was here to ask my preferences on the architecture and building materials for my home. Would I like essentially a miniature palace? Would I like a pool indoors and open to the sky, for bathing and recreation? Would I like my bedroom to face east or west? Did I prefer mosaics or simpler flooring and walls? 
All the questions made my head spin. I had been merely a servant in Potiphar’s house, and now my own home would be many times as grand as his. I weakly indicated that I trusted the master architects’ tastes and would be extremely gratified by whatever they chose. Lateef gave a short nod to this. Then he announced, “Pharaoh also hopes that my lord will be pleased to take Asenath to wife: she is the daughter of Poti-Pherah, priest of On.” 
I had heard about the Egyptian god On, of course; he was one of many Egyptian gods. I had a brief flash of concern that my wife would worship another god, but then I realized, what alternative did I have? The same would be true of any woman in Egypt. At least they were polytheists, and therefore would not object to my worship of the one true God. And, given the new name Pharaoh had bestowed upon me of God Speaks and He Lives, the same appeared to be true of Egyptians in general. 
“I would be most honored,” I told Lateef. 
He beamed. “Splendid. We shall arrange the wedding to coincide with the completion of your house, so that you may have a home for your bride.” 
Pharaoh recruited so many workers to construct my home and storage facility that both were completed within a few months. During that time, I met and courted Asenath, and was dazzled by her. Pharaoh had clearly selected her for me not only because of her pedigree, but also for her own merits. Beautiful, accomplished, and demure, she was one of the most highly sought women in the land. I was pleased to find that she was also very intelligent when I gave her the opportunity to engage with me on matters of state, and at least did not object to my worship of the Lord. I would hope for more than mere acquiescence to Him in time. 
I otherwise spent my days touring the land of Egypt, observing the abundance of the  land, collecting and drying, pickling, salting, smoking, or fermenting one fifth of the produce of the land. Until my granaries were completed, I stored what I could, where I could, but I had designated store houses before long. 
One day on these tours, I caught sight of my old master, Potiphar. He saw me too. After a moment’s hesitation, he bowed, his expression like stone. I approached him alone, motioning for some of my servants who usually moved with me to remain behind. I did not know what I would say until we stood face to face. 
“Zapthnath-Paaneah,” Potiphar growled my new name pointedly. “Tell me, does Pharaoh know your true identity, Joseph the adulterous Hebrew slave-turned-prisoner?” 
I searched Potiphar’s face. “I believe you know, deep down, that I never betrayed you, and never would have done. As I told you at the time, it was your wife who attempted to seduce me, and left me no choice but to run. She accused me because I jilted her.” I watched as Potiphar’s face turned red with suppressed rage, and he balled his fists at his sides. But as I was now second in command over Egypt, he would not dare assault me. “Your own heart tells you this is true,” I went on, “in fact, you suspected her of infidelity long before I came to your house, I believe. I advise you to stop misdirecting your anger and confront her. In the meantime, whether you come to see this or not, I forgive you for what you did to me.” 
His mouth fell open, and he gave a short, affronted laugh. “You… forgive me?” 
“Yes,” I nodded, “because there is nothing you, or even Edrice, could ever do to me that the Lord would not ultimately use for my good. And whatever you think of my forgiveness now, when you finally admit the truth to yourself, you will be glad of it.” 
Before he had a chance to reply, I turned around and returned to my chariot, without looking back. 
Once my home was completed, Asenath and I married, and her father Poti-Pherah presided over the ceremony. The whole of Egypt was invited to participate in the feast, during those years of great abundance. I was grateful once again that my experience with Asenath was not tainted by guilty flashbacks to a sordid experience with Edrice. 
Years passed, and the sharp tang of painful memories faded in light of my newfound blessings and abundance. Asenath bore me two sons in those plentiful years, Manasseh and Ephraim. Toward the end of the seven years of plenty, very occasional moments of doubt plagued me. What if the time of plenty continued, when I had achieved my position only because I had predicted seven years of famine? All of Egypt, and Pharaoh himself, would call me a false prophet… 
But I stopped those thoughts before I could fret more than a few moments about them. It wasn’t, of course, that I wanted draught and famine—but the Lord had shown me that it would occur for a reason. He had never misled me before. Pharaoh had two dreams, each depicting the same thing. It was not in doubt. 
The first few months of the eighth year indeed produced an abrupt change. By the third month of that year, the people began to cry out to Pharaoh for food, and Pharaoh sent them to me. I had previously been busy in a leisurely sort of way; now I found myself called upon day and night by citizens desperate to feed their families. Within a few months, it was not just Egyptians who came to see me; word had spread far and wide that there was food in Egypt, and many surrounding nations came to purchase it. 
Then one day, I sat on a grand elevated chair at the top of a dais outside the central granary, and scanned the line of supplicants waiting to speak to me after I had dismissed the last one laden with purchased grain. My eyes fell upon a group of ten men dressed in Hebrew tunics, and I caught my breath. 
I steeled my expression so as not to give anything away, standing as they approached. I could tell that they did not recognize me. A lump rose in my throat as they bowed before me, the granary of wheat behind me. I had a flash of my first dream: eleven sheaves of wheat bowing to mine. 
Here it was. The fulfillment, over twenty years later. Almost… there were only ten of them. Where was Benjamin?
I prayed silently, and with a flash of insight I knew that now was not the moment to reveal myself. I forgave them long ago, but had they changed? Or were they still the same evil men who had first plotted to kill their brother, and then sold him into slavery? I wanted to know. I needed them to volunteer information about themselves, and I could think of only one way to do this: put them on the defense. 
So I pretended not to recognize them either, or to understand their language. I spoke to them through the interpreter at my side, asking in Egyptian, “Where do you come from?”
My brother Reuben, always their spokesperson, stepped forward and answered in Hebrew, “From the land of Canaan. We have come to buy food.” 
I narrowed my eyes at them. “You are spies!” I pronounced, “You’ve come to look for Egypt’s weaknesses.” 
I could feel the strange look from my interpreter as he translated my message, but I ignored him, watching my brothers’ responses. 
Issachar spoke up next. “We’ve only come to buy food. We’re all the sons of the same man; we’re honest men; we’d never think of spying.” 
I snarled, “No. You’re spies. You’ve come to look for our weaknesses!” 
I watched them all exchange helpless looks with one another. Then Reuben spoke up again. “There were twelve of us brothers—sons of the same father in the country of Canaan. The youngest is with our father, and one is no more.” 
I swallowed this reference to myself without flinching. So they’d told others I was dead after all. I said, “It’s just as I said, you’re spies. This is how I’ll test you. As Pharaoh lives, you’re not going to leave this place until your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you to get your brother while the rest of you stay here in jail. We’ll see if you’re telling the truth or not. As Pharaoh lives, I say you’re spies.”
Their eyes widened, and I gestured to several of my guards to surround them, as they all loudly protested and struggled. It didn’t matter; ten though they were, they were no match for Egyptian guards. 
“Take them to the dungeon overseen by Shakir,” I said with a wave of my hand, and did not look back, attending to the next in line. 
I knew that Shakir would treat them kindly, even without knowing who they were to me. He could not do otherwise. But I wanted them desperate enough to do as I asked. I also admit, I wanted them to feel just the tiniest bit of what they had done to me—not to get even (three days could never do that), but to spark a bit of empathy when they finally learned the truth. After all, they did not know what kind of a man I was, or what I might do to them next. They were at my mercy, just as I had been at the mercy of Potiphar and Shakir. 
I slept very little those three days. It took all the will I had not to run to the prison each day and reveal myself. At last on the third day I went with my Hebrew translator, pausing at the threshold in a strange moment of deja vu—it was the first time I had set foot in the dungeon since Pharaoh had summoned me, now nine years ago. I had seen Shakir in those years, but only in my official capacity as a supplier of grain to the prison, and at my wedding. Shakir saw me first, and bowed low. 
“My lord Zaphnath-Paaneah,” he said, with just the tiniest smirk in his voice. 
I gestured to my translator, “Go on inside, I shall meet you there.” Then I pulled Shakir outside and closed the door behind him, so that none of the prisoners could hear us. He beamed and I embraced him. 
“It’s good to see you, Shakir.”
“Joseph!” he whispered, and then reproached me, “You never come to see us anymore!” 
“I’ve been busy,” I confessed with a shrug and a smile. “But I’ve missed you.” 
“Sure, sure you have…” 
“How are the men I sent to you three days ago?” 
He shrugged. “About like all new prisoners. Angry, terrified. I put them all in one cell. They’ve come to blows with each other a few times.” 
I sighed, running a hand across my face. “Listen, are there still any prisoners in there who might remember me and call me by name?” 
“A few. Amon and Gamal. And Horos too. Why?” he regarded me curiously. 
“I can’t explain right now, but I don’t want the new prisoners to know my Hebrew name. Can you go in and tell Amon, Gamal, and Horos to act like they’ve never met me before?” 
A spark of understanding lit Shakir’s face as he put it together. “Those men are Hebrew too… you knew them, didn’t you?” Then his eyes widened. “They’re not…” he let the question trail off, and gasped as I nodded. 
“They are. But tell no one.” 
Shakir cackled, and clapped his hands together in his mirth. “They’re the brothers who sold you! Oh, this is rich… are you going to have them executed, then?” 
“No!” I said at once. “I’m just trying to get them to apologize!” 
His glee melted into confusion. “Apologize?” he said, like he’d never heard the word before. “For ten years as a slave and three as a prisoner… you want them to… apologize.” 
“Yes!” I hissed. “And I want them to bring my other brother, the only one who didn’t betray me. And to tell me what’s become of my father. Will you help me?” 
Shakir blinked at me, and shook his head. “I guess… if that’s really all you want. I’d hang them if  were you, but it’s your call, of course.” He went back inside to tell the three remaining prisoners to pretend I was a stranger, and then poked his head back outside and whispered, “All right, all clear.”
I met the eyes of the other prisoners, all of whom bowed and murmured my Egyptian name. I flashed a smile at Amon, Gamal, and Horos, but I needn’t have worried: they all gazed at me with disbelief and reverence, either awed by my current position even though they knew me, or else they were much better actors than I’d expected. 
I approached the cell Shakir led me to, though I’d have known the one anyway: it was the only cell large enough for ten men. They looked haggard, sleepless, and a few of them seemed listless. The translator waited for me and came to my side. When my brothers saw me approach, half of them jumped to their feet, and alerted the other half with swift nudges and kicks to do the same. I gave them a curt nod. 
“Do this and you’ll live,” I said abruptly. “I’m a God-fearing man. If you’re as honest as you say you are, one of your brothers will stay here in jail while the rest of you take the food back to your hungry families. Bring your youngest brother back to me, confirming the truth of your speech, and not one of you will die.” The translator repeated my words in Hebrew, and the brothers turned and whispered to one another, also in Hebrew, unaware that I understood them. 
“Now we’re paying for what we did to our brother—we saw how terrified he was when he was begging us for mercy,” hissed Dan. “We wouldn’t listen to him and now we’re the ones in trouble.”
“Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t hurt the boy’?” Reuben cut in. “But no, you wouldn’t listen. And now we’re paying for his murder.”
A lump sprang to my throat, and I turned abruptly away, beating a path to the office-cell that was once my own just in time to hide my tears. I buried my face in my hands and wept. 
They truly believed I was dead! Perhaps they thought I had died in the slave caravan, or that my master had beaten me to death. Such a thing was far from unheard of. At least I knew one thing: their consciences still smote them for what they had done. Was that enough? Should I reveal myself now? 
Not yet, I thought, with a flash of my second dream. In it, the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed to me. That would have to represent Benjamin, my father, and my stepmother, in addition to the ten brothers who were here already. This could not yet be the end of the story. 
When I had composed myself again, I returned, assuming the character once again of their Egyptian overlord. 
“Well? Have you chosen who will remain behind, while the rest of you return and bring your youngest brother?” 
Reuben began to step forward, but Simeon placed a hand on his shoulder, and stepped forward in his place. 
“I shall stay,” he offered. “Let my brothers return to Canaan.” 
I gave a quick nod, and Shakir opened the cell, and handed me a length of rope. I made a show of binding Simeon’s wrists together, and gestured for the other nine to leave the cell. Many of them did not even cast Simeon a backward glance, I noted, and frowned inwardly. Maybe they weren’t yet so different as I had hoped. I would have to prod them to repentance a little harder.
I sent word on ahead to the granary to fill the sacks of the nine Hebrew brothers with grain, and to likewise place the money they had brought to pay for it back with each brother’s sack, along with provisions for the several week journey back to the land of Canaan—but I told the servants strictly to make sure they did not tell the brothers that their money had been returned to them. I knew this order would raise eyebrows also, but no one but Pharaoh himself could contradict my orders, and he did not bother himself about such matters. 
Nearly six months I waited. I knew there would be some delay, as I had sent my brothers with grain to last about that long. I did not dare visit Simeon in the prison during those months, though I sent word to Shakir on a regular basis to ask how he fared. 
Toward the end of those months, though, I began to look for my brothers in my grain line every day. Then, one day, I saw them—with Benjamin! I caught my breath as I saw my brother’s face as a grown man for the first time. He was young of course, and while the other nine looked fidgety and nervous, I could only describe Benjamin’s expression as excited. He gazed around Egypt in wide-eyed wonder, and his expression reminded me forcefully of Ephraim’s, my youngest, as he discovered the world for the first time. I could hardly wait to introduce Manasseh and Ephraim to their uncle. 
Before they could reach the front of the line, I beckoned one of my servants to my side and pointed them out. “Take these men into my house and make them at home. Butcher an animal and prepare a meal; these men are going to eat with me at noon.” 
The servant gave a swift nod and made his way down the dais to where my brothers waited their turn. I smothered a laugh as I watched Reuben and Issachar startle upon being addressed. I hardly attended to the man and his wife who were speaking to me; most of my attention was focused upon my brothers’ anxious expressions as the servant led them away. I suspected what they must be thinking: this was a set up. I thought they’d stolen the money they had brought to pay for grain the first time, and I was trying to lull them into complacency, before accusing them of theft and taking them all as slaves. 
Asenath would know who they were of course—I’d told her six months ago, and she’d listened to me agonize nightly over when I would at last see them again. She wouldn't know they were coming to dine today, but when she saw the strange Hebrew men and noted their number, she’d figure it out. I knew I could count on her to maintain the charade as long as I chose. 
I finished with the couple before me, and beckoned another servant over, gesturing with my eyes in the direction of my brothers. “Send word to my steward,” I murmured, “and if those men say anything about finding their money in their sacks the last time they came, assure them that we received their payment in full, and not to worry themselves. And please also fetch their brother from the prison and bring him to them as well.” 
My servant bowed and did as I bid him. 
I paid little attention to the rest of the queue until noon, only half listening to their stories and pleas, sometimes accidentally cutting them off as I signaled for the servants to bring them grain. At last, word came that the feast had been prepared, and I leapt to my feet in relief, hurrying toward my home, where I knew my brothers waited. I entered through the back, and Asenath met me with a quizzical look on her face, dandling Ephraim on her hip. I gave her a quick kiss, and nodded, in response to all the questions on her face. Before she could ask me anything else, I washed my hands and feet, and made my way into the main dining space where my brothers stood waiting awkwardly. When I entered, as one, they all bowed to me, each man offering the present of coins he had brought back with him. Once again, I saw the stars from my second dream—all eleven of them this time. I took a moment to steady myself as my brothers straightened again. Then I cleared my throat. 
“Are you all still well since last we met?” 
They all assented that they were, shifting awkwardly from one foot to the other. 
“How is your father, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 
Reuben spoke for them. “Yes—your servant our father is quite well, very much alive.” He initiated a second bow, and the rest of them followed suit. 
When they straightened again, at last I looked at the youngest of them. “And is this your youngest brother that you told me about?” Benjamin lifted his chin to me, and my voice came out thick. “God be gracious to you, my son.” All I wanted to do was to embrace my only full-blooded brother, but of course I could not do this without revealing myself. So instead, I turned abruptly and left the room. I was sure this confused my brothers, but I barely made it into my sleeping chamber as it was before I broke down and cried. I remained there until I managed to compose myself, probably ten minutes or so. Then I splashed my face with water to hide the evidence of my tears, made my expression as impassive as I could, and returned to the dining room. I felt my brothers’ curious stares, but I could offer no explanation. I glanced at Asenath, whose smile was fixed in place, and announced to the servants, “Serve the meal, please.” 
The servants began to do so, setting places for each of our guests as well as for myself and for the Egyptians in my service. I pulled one of them aside and whispered that the last place should receive a serving five times larger than that of anyone else. If he wondered at this, he did not show it, but nodded once. As the servants set the places, I directed each of my brothers to their places, beginning with Reuben at the head of the table, and then I seated my brothers in descending order of age, setting Benjamin in the last place with the largest serving. I watched them glancing at one another in astonishment at what they took to be a remarkable coincidence, and smiled inwardly. I intended to give them a hint, hoping they might start to piece together the truth on their own. 
The wine flowed, acting as the social lubricant we all needed. Even Simeon, after his long imprisonment, luxurious though I knew it was by prison standards, loosened up and began to tell stories from back home of the years I had missed. I caught Benjamin sneaking curious glances at me more than once. Did he recognize me at all, I wondered? Did he notice that we both had our mother’s eyes, and her cheekbones? 
When the meal ended, my brothers were in no condition to begin their journey home. I urged them to remain the rest of the day and set out in the morning. That night, I sought my steward.
“Fill the men’s bags with food—all they can carry—and replace each one’s money at the top of the bag,” I told him. “Then put my chalice, my silver chalice, in the top of the bag of the youngest, along with the money for his food.”
I caught the steward’s confused look, but he did not question me. He did as I requested. 
When morning dawned, I purposely lingered in bed, though I hardly slept that night. I heard the shuffling in the house of my brothers rising to begin their journeys. I waited until the house was silent, and then waited a little longer still. 
Asenath was awake beside me, too—she propped her head up on her hand, narrowed her pretty dark eyes at me, and demanded, “How long are you going to let this go on before you tell them?”
I met her gaze, and shook my head. “As long as it takes, I suppose.” 
“To achieve what, precisely?” she challenged. “They can’t apologize to you without knowing who you are. You already overheard them lamenting what they did to you. You saw your brother Benjamin. What else are you waiting for?” 
I bit my lip. “I just want to know that they’ve changed.” 
“How do you plan to determine that?” 
The corners of my mouth curled. “Watch.” I rose, and called my steward in to our chamber as Asenath wrapped herself in silks. My steward appeared at the doorway and bowed. 
“Run after the men who just left,” I told him. “When you catch up with them, say, ‘Why did you pay me back evil for good? You stole the chalice my master drinks from; he also uses it for divination. This is outrageous!’”
I again caught the fleeting look of confusion on the steward’s face, but he bowed again, and turned to carry out my orders. I turned back to Asenath with a grin on my face. 
“So you’re just torturing them a little more, is that it?” 
My grin faded. “No,” I protested, a little hurt that she would so misconstrue my motives. “Don’t you see? If my father is still alive, the only reason he would have kept Benjamin at home the first time my brothers made their journey must be because he favors him the way he once favored me. That was why my brothers hated me: they were jealous. Twenty years ago, if I were framed and endangered, my brothers would have abandoned me to the mercy of the Egyptian overlord and saved their own skins in a heartbeat—obviously. They did even worse than that. Now I’ve recreated a similar situation: Benjamin is suddenly the one in peril. Will they abandon him to his fate, too?” 
Asenath searched my face. “What if they do?” she asked quietly. “What will you do then?” 
I sighed. “Never trust them again, certainly. But I haven’t thought that far. I’m still hopeful they will prove to me that they are not the men they were.” 
I splashed my face, dressed, and waited until I heard the commotion outside indicating that my steward had returned with my brothers. I affixed my face with my most stern, imperious look, and went out to meet them. They all came back, that was something. Also, I noted the torn clothing, the haggard expressions, as they fell prostrate before me. 
“How can you have done this?” I demanded of them. “You have to know that a man in my position would have discovered this.” 
My brother Judah spoke first. “What can we say, master? What is there to say? How can we prove our innocence? God is behind this, exposing how bad we are. We stand guilty before you and ready to be your slaves—we’re all in this together, the rest of us as guilty as the one with the chalice.”
I kept my expression impassive, but inwardly my heart leapt. They were all willing to take the fall together—was that not evidence of changed hearts? But I decided to push it further, just to be sure. 
“No, only the one involved with the chalice will be my slave,” I declared. “The rest of you are free to go back to your father.”
My brothers all exchanged another anguished look, and Judah ventured for all of them, “Please, master; can I say just one thing to you? Don’t get angry. Don’t think I’m presumptuous—you’re the same as Pharaoh as far as I’m concerned. You, master, asked us, ‘Do you have a father and a brother?’ And we answered honestly, ‘We have a father who is old and a younger brother who was born to him in his old age. His brother is dead and he is the only son left from that mother. And his father loves him more than anything.’ Then you told us, ‘Bring him down here so I can see him.’ We told you, master, that it was impossible: ‘The boy can’t leave his father; if he leaves, his father will die.’ And then you said, ‘If your youngest brother doesn’t come with you, you won’t be allowed to see me.’ When we returned to our father, we told him everything you said to us. So when our father said, ‘Go back and buy some more food,’ we told him flatly, ‘We can’t. The only way we can go back is if our youngest brother is with us. We aren’t allowed to even see the man if our youngest brother doesn’t come with us.’ Your servant, my father, told us, ‘You know very well that my wife gave me two sons. One turned up missing. I concluded that he’d been ripped to pieces. I’ve never seen him since. If you now go and take this one and something bad happens to him, you’ll put my old gray, grieving head in the grave.’”
My heart dropped to my stomach. This was the first time I had heard what my father believed had happened to me. Of course—I knew they believed that I had died, but they told him I had been devoured by wild animals all those years ago! My poor father…
Judah went on, “And now, if I show up before your servant, my father, without the boy, this son with whom his life is so bound up, the moment he realizes the boy is gone, he’ll die on the spot. He’ll die of grief and we, your servants who are standing here before you, will have killed him. And that’s not all. I got my father to release the boy to show him to you by promising, ‘If I don’t bring him back, I’ll stand condemned before you, Father, all my life.’ So let me stay here as your slave, not this boy. Let the boy go back with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? Oh, don’t make me go back and watch my father die in grief!”
As Judah spoke, my heart swelled as if it might burst out of my chest, until at last I could stand it no more. I turned to my steward and all the curious attending servants, and shouted, “Leave! Clear out—everyone leave!” 
They scurried to do as I asked, and even Asenath gave me a significant look before she too left the room. My brothers looked stunned and terrified; Judah still groveled at my feet. 
“I am Joseph!” I burst out at last, dropping to my knees where Judah lay. “Your brother, Joseph! Is my father really still alive?”
I didn’t know what I expected at this pronouncement, but my words were met with utter silence. No one so much as moved. I remained on my knees, and said, “Come closer to me, please.” It took a moment for them to obey, but at last they shuffled forward. I presented my face for their inspection, insisting, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives. There has been a famine in the land now for two years; the famine will continue for five more years. God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives. So you see, it wasn’t you who sent me here, but God. He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt. Hurry back to my father! Tell him, ‘Your son Joseph says: I’m master of all of Egypt. Come as fast as you can and join me here. I’ll give you a place to live in Goshen where you’ll be close to me—you, your children, your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and anything else you can think of. I’ll take care of you there completely. There are still five more years of famine ahead; I’ll make sure all your needs are taken care of, you and everyone connected with you—you won’t want for a thing.’” 
I could tell they were beginning to believe, and pressed them, “Look at me. You can see for yourselves, and my brother Benjamin can see for himself, that it’s me, my own mouth, telling you all this. Tell my father all about the high position I hold in Egypt, tell him everything you’ve seen here.”
Benjamin’s eyes widened at last, with a look of recognition on his face. 
“Joseph?” he whispered, and for a flash, I saw the little boy of nine I remembered from all those years ago. He reached out a tentative hand toward my face, and that was all the incentive I needed. I reached out and embraced him, and he me, our tears intermingling as they flowed down both our cheeks. I held Benjamin this way a long time, but them I embraced all of my other brothers as well. 
 
For the rest of that day, I delegated grain distribution to other servants so that I could spend time with my brothers, at last with no secrets between us. 
Word reached Pharaoh that my brothers had come to Egypt. I had never told Pharaoh the story of how I had come to be in Egypt, so he held no animosity on my behalf, but was pleased for me. He summoned me to the throne room, and when I appeared and bowed before him, he told me, “Tell your brothers, ‘Load up your pack animals; go to Canaan, get your father and your families and bring them back here. I’ll settle you on the best land in Egypt—you’ll live off the fat of the land.’ Also tell them this: ‘Here’s what I want you to do: Take wagons from Egypt to carry your little ones and your wives and load up your father and come back. Don’t worry about having to leave things behind; the best in all of Egypt will be yours.’”
I grinned at Pharaoh and thanked him profusely for his kindness to my kin, and hurried back to my brothers. I helped them gather provisions for their journey, including a new tunic for each of them, but five for Benjamin, as well as three hundred pieces of silver. Then I loaded up ten additional donkeys with spices and silks, and ten more with grain, bread, and food for their return trip to Egypt. 
 
The complete fulfillment of my second dream did not occur until a little over a month later. My brothers went to Canaan and returned in a large caravan with their families, their belongings—and my father. 
I had imagined that moment so many times. In my mind, each year I aged my father a little more, and so though he looked so much older that I hardly recognized him from my memories, his appearance did not surprise me. I was just so grateful that he was still alive, and that I got to embrace him once more. I held him and he held me, and we wept together for some time. At last he pulled back to gaze at me, taking my face in both of his hands. 
“I am ready to die a happy man,” he whispered, “since I have seen your face. You are still alive!” 
“I am,” I agreed, wiping the tears from my cheeks. “As are you.” I touched my forehead to his, and breathed a contented sigh. 
At long, long last, I understood. What my brothers meant for evil, God used for not only my ultimate blessing, but also to bring about fulfillment of His covenant to our father Abraham—despite the circumstances which otherwise might have destroyed us. 
It would have been nice if You’d told me all that while I was still a slave and a prisoner, I reproached the Lord. 
But then, hadn’t He? Why else would He have given me those dreams so many years ago? He had shown me the end from the beginning. He had shown me this moment all those years ago, and in doing so, it had served as both as the incident that occasioned my long and circuitous journey, and also as the encouragement I needed to cling to hope along the way.
I’d imagine the most difficult time in Joseph’s entire journey came after the baker’s execution, and the butler’s return to the right hand of Pharaoh. Joseph expected the butler to say something on his behalf (Genesis 40:14), which leads me to believe that Joseph hoped this would be the moment of deliverance. But the butler forgot Joseph for two more years (Genesis 40:23, 41:1). Hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12), and this was the first time we have a clear indication that Joseph expected his circumstances to eminently change. It’s one thing to remain faithful while expecting deliverance sometime in the unspecified future; it’s another to expect it every moment, and to suffer continual disappointment. Many would have given up at this point. We’re not told how Joseph dealt with such a blow. Yet God is not a man that He should change His mind (1 Samuel 15:29). He had given Joseph two dreams, not one—and Joseph himself later told Pharaoh that “the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (Genesis 41:32). Joseph must have known that this principle applied to himself also.  
 
When the reversal finally came, it was very sudden, and it did indeed come from the butler, though much later than Joseph had expected. One day Pharaoh simply sent for Joseph. He paused long enough to make himself presentable (Genesis 41:14), and then, within the space of mere hours, he went from the dungeon to the palace. In a few hours more, he was suddenly second in command of all of Egypt! This must have made his head spin—Pharaoh did not even know Joseph, yet he immediately placed him in a position of power second only to himself. What incredible favor (Psalm 5:12)!
 
At this point Joseph was set up to see the fulfillment of his dreams, but it had not yet come to pass. I imagine by this point he had an idea of how it would look, as he gathered and stored grain, and then a few years into the famine, he began to distribute grain to those who came from surrounding nations. It makes sense that Joseph’s brothers would not have recognized him after all this time: for one thing, he was seventeen when they had sold him, and he would have been about thirty-nine when they saw him again. He would have changed quite a bit. For another, he was way out of context—they certainly would not have expected to find him a ruler of Egypt. He also certainly would have spoken Egyptian like a native. They, on the other hand, would not have changed nearly as much as he had, as they were all fully grown men when they had sold him. They were also all together, dressed in their usual attire, and exactly where he would have expected to see them. Joseph had all the advantages. 
If Joseph truly forgave them for their treachery, why didn’t he just reveal his identity to them at once, rather than putting them through such trials beforehand? I suspect there were several reasons. First, when ten brothers appeared before him, he knew this was not yet the fulfillment of his first dream, which had shown all eleven brothers bowing down. Benjamin was still at home. He also longed to see his only full-blooded brother, and the only one who had not been part of the plot against him. In his second dream, the sun and moon also bowed to Joseph, which he had interpreted as his father and mother. Rachel had died before Joseph was ever sold, though, so this must have been Leah, his father’s other wife. Still, when Joseph saw his brothers alone, even once they brought Benjamin, it still was not the complete fulfillment. He’d waited long enough, and he wanted the whole thing. 
But I suspect there was another reason too. While our forgiveness cannot be contingent upon the other person’s repentance, of course Joseph longed to know that they did repent; otherwise there could have been no true restoration of relationship. They would have bowed to him in fear, had he revealed himself to them at once, but Joseph did not want his brothers to fear him (Genesis 50:19); he wanted his family back. I wonder if he also hoped they might guess his identity on their own, when he returned their money to them (Genesis 43:23), and then when he seated them in their birth order, and also ate with them when Egyptians considered it an abomination to eat with Hebrews (Genesis 43:32-34). It also should have been a clue when Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as the rest of the brothers’ at mealtime. Meanwhile, he learned, as he tested them, that they regretted what they had done to him (Genesis 42:21-24), and that they had learned their lesson when they refused to treat his brother Benjamin as they had treated him (Genesis 44:13-34). This was apparently what he waited to learn, as he revealed himself immediately afterwards.  
 
How must it have gone when the brothers had to tell Israel their father that Joseph, whom they had told him died at the hands of a wild animal all those years before, was in fact alive and ruling Egypt? He did not believe them at first (Genesis 45:26). How could they explain without admitting to what they had done?  
 
Even when the brothers accepted Joseph’s identity and his provision for them and their families, they still thought that he secretly longed for revenge and it was only their father that prevented him from harming them (Genesis 50:15-17). I love what Joseph says to them: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). Thousands of years later, Paul would say it this way: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). God certainly did not cause Joseph’s brothers’ hatred. He did not make them sell Joseph into slavery. He did not make Potiphar’s wife falsely accuse Joseph. But He used the free will choices of evil people in order to bring about His good purposes—not just for Joseph, not even just for Joseph’s family and the budding nation of Israel, but for all of the surrounding nations as well.  
 
Joseph understood how all of this fit into the larger context of God’s covenant with Abraham’s descendants. God had told Abraham, “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years, And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions… But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:13-16). Joseph knew the Israelites would one day return to the land of Canaan, and in fact he made their children swear that they would carry his bones with them when they went (Genesis 50:25). With all of Joseph’s faithfulness through the trials of his life, it was this statement that earned him mention in the “faith hall of fame” (Hebrews 11:22). Joseph understood God’s covenant with His people. He knew that just as God had fulfilled His promises to himself, He would certainly do the same for the nation of Israel. 
Oct 29, 2021

Today's podcast comes from this blog post: Health Benefits of Quercetin

Oct 22, 2021

Today's podcast is a meditation on the letters to the seven churches of Revelation 2-3

Oct 15, 2021

Justin Frandson is an Athleticism Performance Coach that has worked with amateur and professional athletes for over the past two decades. He saw his athlete breaking down from the excessive levels of EMF from their SMART watches, wireless earbuds, and electric cars. He has tested hundreds of homes and clients. He sells the Grounding and Faraday Bags at doctor  clinics throughout the country. The Grounding Bags are hand-mined crystals with moisture and magnetic properties to ground and repel EMF, all for a deeper night's sleep. This is Mother Nature's way of protecting us from the excess rollout of man-made radiation, not a man-made device attempting to keep up with the other man-made levels.

To learn more about Justin, see athleticism.com or EMFRocks.com 

Oct 8, 2021
Today's podcast is a meditation and retelling of 1 Samuel 8-10.
 
Introduction
How disappointing for God. He had chosen this nation, and had a special relationship with them, promising nothing but blessings galore (Deuteronomy 28), if only they would obey Him. He always intended to lead them personally, through one judge as His liaison. He knew they wouldn’t be faithful to Him, but I doubt that made it any less heartbreaking when time and time again, the people abandoned Him and worshipped false gods. He was covenant-bound to withdraw from them when this happened, leaving them open to the enemy to steal, kill, and destroy. When they’d had enough finally, the people would cry out and God would send the deliverer who was to be their next judge—whoever was the best option He had at the time.
 
Samuel had been one of the good judges, and perhaps it wouldn’t have ended as it did if his sons had been like him. It is strange that Samuel thought his sons would succeed him though, since God’s judges were never meant to be a dynasty. Presumably Samuel also knew of his son’s shortcomings. 
 
It’s very clear in this story that God didn’t think a king was a good idea, and took it as a personal rejection (Hosea 13:11). Yet He granted what the people wanted anyway. It’s interesting how often in Old Testament stories God gives the people what they demand, even though He knows it isn’t for the best. God chose to make creatures with free will, and because of it, God rarely gets His first choice. I’m thinking of the story of Balaam: God told him not to go with Balak’s messengers the first two times he asked. Balaam should have left it at that, instead of pressing God to give in! But, Balaam wanted financial gain, just as the Israelites wanted to govern themselves rather than having to rely on God. Moses also permitted divorce, even though Jesus said that wasn’t God’s first choice either (Matthew 19:8). God gave the people what they asked for, consequences and all.
 
At the same time, I have to wonder whether the Israelites’ desire for a king was somehow premature. Saul reigned for forty years, Acts 13:21, and David began to rule when he was thirty years old, just after Saul’s death, 2 Samuel 5:4. That means David wasn’t even born until the tenth year of Saul’s reign, though God began to look for a “man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) in the second year of Saul’s reign. Saul’s beginning was certainly less than illustrious, and we can see seeds of the cause of his downfall, insecurity and fear of man, from the very beginning. It almost seems like Saul was just a placeholder, until David was old enough to be anointed and trained up in the “school of hard knocks,” as it were, to become ready for the throne. 
 
That said, it’s interesting how God used natural circumstances (Saul’s father lost his donkeys and had sent him and a servant to look for them) to bring Saul and Samuel together. Samuel’s prophetic insight to set aside the best cut of meat, expecting Saul to show up the next day, surely primed Saul to accept Samuel’s proclamation that he would become king. God knew that a man like Saul wouldn’t just believe such a word; he would need to be convinced. Then Samuel gave him a number of other confirmatory events to look for in the subsequent seven days, so that he would be ready for the big “reveal” of the man God had anointed a week later. Unfortunately, Samuel’s presentation fell flat when their new king was literally hiding among the baggage. Presumably his absurd behavior was why some of the men of Israel despised him. Shortly after this, God used an attack from their enemies as a means to galvanize Israel to fight under Saul’s leadership (1 Samuel 11). Thus Saul redeemed himself, earning a new and better coronation. 
 
Yet only a year later, in the second year of Saul’s reign, Saul disobeyed God for the first time, causing God to proclaim through Samuel that God would take the kingdom away from Saul and give it to a “man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). A decade or so later, after Saul again disobeyed, God formally rejected Saul as king. Saul’s response to this was interesting: he asked Samuel to at least continue to honor him before the people (1 Samuel 15:30), indicating what really mattered to him. He wanted the honor and respect of men, not God (Proverbs 29:25). This was exactly why God chose David instead. 
 
Fictionalized Retelling
 
I couldn’t help wondering, in the quiet of night, whether it was all my fault. 
The Lord had never told me that the position of judge should be hereditary, nor had it ever been so in Israel’s history. Yet I’d had it in my mind since my sons were born that as soon as they were old enough, they could share my load. I suppose I had this idea because Eli had practically raised me, and the priesthood was hereditary. 
Eli’s sons had turned out poorly too, though. I don’t know why I thought that would be a good model to follow. 
Yes, I did know. I had wanted to believe it. 
I wanted the latter part of my life to be easier than the first part had been, but I also had a romanticized ideal of sharing what mattered most to me with Joel and Abijah. I was so focused on this goal that I failed to see—I refused to see—the men my sons had become, just as Eli had done. The elders of Israel all assembled before me one day and shouted their accusations from all directions. 
“Look, you’re an old man, and your sons aren’t following in your footsteps!” one called.
Old? I winced inwardly. I was barely sixty—but I was certainly tired, after forty-eight years of ministry. I felt old. 
“They cheat us!” another of the elders cried. “They’ll rule in favor of whoever bribes them the most!”
These words struck me like a blow. I’d seen this tendency in my sons from their youths. I didn’t think either of them had ever heard from the Lord. Secretly I had worried that they did not truly fear Him, but I’d hidden those fears even from myself. Now, here was the proof.
“Appoint a king to rule us, just like every other nation!” 
I cannot vouch for my expression when I heard this demand. I was not a man given to tears, but after all I had done for them—after devoting forty-eight years to judging these people, delivering them from the Philistines and bringing them back to true worship of the Lord, they had rejected me. Their words felt like a personal betrayal.
“I will bring your request before the Lord,” was all I could manage before I retreated from them, slamming the door to my home in their faces. 
 
I’d continued in prayer from then until now, on my knees in the temple before the Lord. It was now past midnight, but the Lord never spoke according to my timeline. 
“Go ahead and do what they’re asking,” came the Lord’s whisper at last. “They are not rejecting you. They are rejecting Me as their King.” 
I swallowed, somehow both saddened and soothed to hear that the Lord felt exactly as I did. 
“From the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving like this, leaving Me for other gods. And now they’re doing it to you.”
I nodded. “I know they have, Lord,” I murmured, “they are a stubborn people. I don’t know what they think a king is going to do for them that a judge won’t do.” But as soon as I’d said this, I realized I did know. The judge acted in the position of Moses, constantly returning for the Lord’s direction before every decision, both militarily and in government. The king would not be in such communion. He would do as he thought best, without need to consult the Lord. He would be dependent upon human wisdom, though—and because of this, he would probably be even more prone to corruption than my sons were. 
“Let them have their own way,” the Lord said. “But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them what they’re likely to get from a king.” I knew enough of how kings of neighboring nations behaved to be able to guess what He meant, but He gave me a vision of it anyway. 
When the Lord’s vision finished, I rose, feeling desolate. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was now sharing in the Lord’s own heartbreak, or because my own vision for the latter part of my life had been destroyed, or because I had been forced to confront my sons’ corruption. I splashed water on my face and went to my own home, walking the dark, empty streets illuminated only by moonlight. I always imagined that the Lord Himself walked beside me on these moonlit strolls. Tonight, I needed the company. 
The next morning I sent for Joel and Abijah. I told them first what the people had said, so that they could get their own initial outrage out of the way before they encountered the news publicly. It went precisely as I had imagined it would. Joel sulked and turned stony and silent. Abijah threw a fit, shouting, throwing, and breaking things. 
“What are we supposed to do now, then?” he demanded. “You raised us to be Israel’s judges!” 
“That was my own fault,” I sighed heavily. “You both have other skills—Joel, you have some knowledge as a farmer, and Abijah, you can work for your brother—”
“Work for my brother?” Abijah ranted, “it’s his fault the elders of Israel rejected us! He’s the cheater!” 
Joel leapt to his feet, and the boys almost came to blows in a pattern they had repeated hundreds of times since they were children. I always inserted myself between them to force them apart, if I was present at the time. If not, someone got bloody. I played my role again now, but felt too tired to engage with their accusations. 
“The elders will assemble to hear the word of the Lord in one hour,” I told them. “It would be seemly if you were both present and in one piece. If you are not… well. That will be your choice.” Then I turned and walked away, ignoring their shouts and protests. 
My sons did not appear with the elders in front of the temple an hour later, to my sorrow but not to my surprise. To do so would have required a measure of humility I knew they did not possess. If they had, we might not be in this situation in the first place.
“This is the way the kind of king you desire would operate,” I called out to the people in warning once they quieted down. “He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.”
The elders in the front row cried out, “We will have a king to rule us!” Another voice rose above the clamor of agreement, adding, “Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles!”
My heart felt so heavy. Didn’t they know that until now, God had fought their battles for them? Yet they wanted a leader they could see. 
Do as they say, I heard the Lord whisper to me. Make them a king.
I took a deep breath and cried, “The Lord has heard you! Go home, each of you to your own city.”
They dispersed slowly, and I stood there on the temple steps until the last of them had gone. Last of all, I wandered away. 
“Who, Lord?” I asked aloud once I was alone. “What man is there in Israel whom You would trust with such power?”
I heard no response that day, nor the next, nor the day after that. This silence, I knew, and the wait, were the very reasons why the people wanted a king in the first place. Hearing from the Lord was unpredictable. His timing was His own. I knew enough of Him to wait in peace, but the elders tended to fret in the silence, wanting to take matters into their own hands. A king would do just that. 
About a week later, the Lord finally spoke to me. 
“This time tomorrow, I’m sending a man from the land of Benjamin to meet you. You’re to anoint him as commander over my people Israel. He will free my people from Philistine oppression. I have heard their cries for help.”
“Huh,” I replied aloud. “Benjamin?” It was the smallest of the tribes, ever since the concubine incident several generations earlier which had almost wiped them out. I’d have expected the Lord’s anointed to come from any tribe but that one. 
The next day was a local sacrifice in the land of Zuph, where I lived. Tradition held that I should go and bless the people’s sacrifice to the Lord so that they could eat of it. Since the Lord had told me I would meet His anointed before the sacrifice would occur, I told the people to set aside the best portion of the sacrifice and give it the following day to the one I indicated to them. The day of the sacrifice, I went my way up to the high place, and stopped just as I exited the city. Two men approached: one was clearly a servant, and the other was a sight to behold. He was taller than any man of Israel I had ever seen, powerfully built, and had a head of thick dark hair and a full beard. He practically radiated with health and beauty. 
He’s the one, the man I told you about, the Lord said to me. He is the man who will reign over my people
Though I had previously been heartbroken when the people asked for a king, I’d gotten used to the idea in the intervening week of silence from the Lord. Now, the moment I beheld this incredible specimen of a man, I felt a throb of pride, almost as if he were my son. 
The man approached me directly. “Pardon me, but can you tell me where the Seer lives?”
“I’m the Seer,” I told him. “Accompany me to the shrine and eat with me. In the morning I’ll tell you all about what’s on your mind, and send you on your way.” Then in a flash of insight, the Lord revealed to me why they were here and what concerned them. “By the way, your lost donkeys—the ones you’ve been hunting for the last three days—have been found, so don’t worry about them. At this moment, Israel’s future is in your hands.”
The magnificent man looked thunderstruck. “But I’m only a Benjaminite, from the smallest of Israel’s tribes, and from the most insignificant clan in the tribe at that,” he stammered. I was struck by the strange contrast between his looks and his manner. “Why are you talking to me like this?”
I regarded him, but despite the temptation to reveal all now, I obeyed the prompting of the Lord. 
“I will tell you in the morning,” I reiterated, and let the way to the high place for the feast. 
When we arrived and found that all the people were already assembled, I gestured for the man, whose name turned out to be Saul, and his servant to take their seats among the people. I noticed how the people stared at him in awe, yet Saul did not seem to notice. Presumably he’d grown used to the stares over a lifetime. 
I pulled the cook aside and whispered, “Bring the choice cut I pointed out to you, the one I told you to reserve.” 
The cook looked slightly bemused, but did as I had asked, and brought out the thigh, placing it before Saul. 
“This meal was kept aside just for you,” I announced to Saul, loudly enough that all who were assembled could hear. “Eat! It was especially prepared for this time and occasion with these guests.”
Saul looked terribly embarrassed, but after a feeble protest or two, he eventually did as I had bid him. The rest of us took our portions of the sacrifice from what was left. We all ate and drank merrily before the Lord, and then Saul and his servant returned with me back to my house. I prepared a bed for them in the top of the house cooled by the breeze, and slept little that night myself. 
At daybreak I called to Saul, “Get up and I’ll send you off.” I offered them breakfast, and walked with them to the outskirts of the city, but then at last told Saul, “Tell your servant to go on ahead of us. You stay with me for a bit. I have a word of God to give you.”
After my promise the day before, and also my strange behavior at the feast, Saul had evidently been expecting this. He simply nodded to his servant, who sped up while we hung back. 
When the servant was far enough ahead that Saul and I were alone, I withdrew from my cloak a flask of anointing oil, and gestured for Saul to kneel before me. He did so, and I poured the oil over his thick black hair until it ran down his beard. He looked astonished, as I took his face in my hands, kissing him on both cheeks. 
“Do you see what this means?” I proclaimed, “God has anointed you commander over his people. This sign will confirm God’s anointing of you as king over his inheritance: After you leave me today, as you get closer to your home country of Benjamin, you’ll meet two men near Rachel’s Tomb. They’ll say, ‘The donkeys you went to look for are found. Your father has forgotten about the donkeys and is worried about you, wringing his hands—quite beside himself!’ Leaving there, you’ll arrive at the Oak of Tabor. There you’ll meet three men going up to worship God at Bethel. One will be carrying three young goats, another carrying three sacks of bread, and the third a jug of wine. They’ll say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept. Next, you’ll come to Gibeah of God, where there’s a Philistine garrison. As you approach the town, you’ll run into a bunch of prophets coming down from the high place, playing harps and tambourines, flutes and drums. And they’ll be prophesying. Before you know it, the Spirit of God will come on you and you’ll be prophesying right along with them. And you’ll be transformed into a new person! When these confirming signs are accomplished, you’ll know that you’re ready: Whatever job you’re given to do, do it. God is with you! Now, go down to Gilgal and I will follow. I’ll come down and join you in worship by sacrificing burnt offerings and peace offerings. Wait seven days. Then I’ll come and tell you what to do next.” 
Saul stared at me in mute amazement as I said all of this; I could almost see his brain spinning as he tried to process all that I had said. I gestured for Saul to rise to his feet, which he did as if in a daze. I marveled once again, now that he was right next to me, at what a tower of a man he was. Then I patted him on the back to give him the indication to get going and to catch up with his servant. 
Seven days later, I called all the people together at Mizpah. I was excited: today was to be the great day of the Lord’s unveiling of the people’s king. My sons, once again, were conspicuously absent—sulking, no doubt—but I did not let this bother me. I wondered if, after the Spirit of the Lord had come upon Saul, I would even recognize him as the timid man I had met on the road. 
When all the people were assembled, I stood up and spoke to all of them as I had weeks ago spoken to the elders. 
“This is God’s personal message to you: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt. I delivered you from Egyptian oppression—yes, from all the bullying governments that made your life miserable. And now you want nothing to do with your God, the very God who has a history of getting you out of troubles of all sorts. And now you say, ‘No! We want a king; give us a king!’ Well, if that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get! Present yourselves formally before God, ranked in tribes and families.”
I wanted to maximize the impact of this ceremony—not just announce Saul as the king, but to really give the moment the build-up it deserved. When I chose the tribe of Benjamin, I heard the whispers. They were my own reaction, and Saul’s as well. I waited for the whispers to subside, and then announced, “Tribe of Benjamin, now arrange yourselves by families!” They did so, and I frowned—Saul was a head taller than all the men of Israel. I should have been able to spot him easily. Where was he? Yet I felt the Lord lead me to the family of Matri, so I chose them. The men of the family came forward, and I scanned the lot of them, searching for the face I expected. 
“Saul, son of Kish, is the man!” I cried out, with rather less impact than I had hoped. “But where is he?” 
I felt the Lord draw my attention to a pile of baggage brought by their tribe, since they had to come from all over Israel for this ceremony. I heard the Lord say to me, he’s right over there—hidden in that pile of baggage.
I felt a wave of—dread? embarrassment?—but I walked toward the pile of baggage with my head held high, gesturing for some of Saul’s own family to help me move the bags one by one. I uncovered Saul’s chagrined face, which was bright red, as well it should be. 
“Get up,” I hissed. “Fortunately for you, not everyone in Israel has a good view of this ridiculousness!” 
Saul crawled out from under the pile in which he’d been hiding, and brushed himself off. I pulled him up to the raised area from which I had been speaking, and added under my breath, “Head high, and for goodness’ sake, try to look like a king!” Then I cried to the people, trusting that Saul’s extraordinary looks would be the first thing they would notice, “Take a good look at whom God has chosen: the best! No one like him in the whole country!”
“Long live the king!” the people cried out, their voices joining together and rising in a crescendo. “Long live the king!” 
That was a good start. I hoped it meant the story of the baggage wouldn’t spread, but as I left, I overheard the whispers. 
“Deliverer? Don’t make me laugh!” 
“How can this man save us? He hid himself at his own coronation!” 
“What a marvelous leader he must be!” 
I closed my eyes but chose not to rebuke them on Saul’s behalf. He would have to do that himself. 
He was Israel’s leader now, after all—not me. 
Sep 24, 2021

Today's blog review comes from this blog post: Fiber and the Benefits of Butyrate.

Sep 17, 2021

Today's podcast is a meditation on the story of the Israelites' first attempt to take the Promised land from Numbers 13-14, when they finally went in and did it from Joshua 1-6, when Caleb took the mountain in Joshua 14, and the writer of Hebrews' reflection on what this means for us from Hebrews 4. 

Sep 10, 2021

Dr. Eric Zielinski is the author of the bestselling primer on using essential oils for general health, The Healing Power of Essential Oils, which is in 8 languages worldwide. Together, he and Sabrina Ann Zielinski run the top health website devoted to brand-neutral essential oil education Natural Living Family, with more than 4 million users every year. In THE ESSENTIAL OILS APOTHECARY: Soothing Remedies for Anxiety, Pain, High Blood Sugar, Hypertension and Other Chronic Conditions they bring their masterful and authoritative knowledge to the complexities of chronic illness. 

For more on Dr Zielinski, please visit naturallivingfamily.com  or eoapothecary.com.  

Sep 3, 2021
  • Satan has power; he once had authority too (Luke 4:6), but Jesus won it back and gave it to us (Matthew 28:18, Colossians 2:15).
  • Satan still tries to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). He's even more likely to do it if we're standing for God's word or against his plans (Mark 4:17, 2 Timothy 3:12). Now anything he tries to do to us is illegal, but he can still get away with it if we allow it. We must resist him, standing firm in faith (1 Peter 5:8-9, James 4:7).
  • How we resist:
    • Be aware who the real enemy is (Ephesians 6:12).
    • Recognize that our weapons are spiritual and can tear down the enemy's strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).
    • Our armor is God's, not ours--Jesus gave it to us (Ephesians 6:11, 13).
    • Keep the truth (God's word) always buckled around your waist (Ephesians 6:14), or before your eyes, meditating on it consistently (Joshua 1:8). It is not just the truth, but the truth we know, that sets us free (John 8:32).
    • Remember you are righteous through Christ (Ephesians 6:14)--unlike Old Covenant believers where disobedience took them out from under God's protection where Satan could curse (Deuteronomy 28:15), in the New Covenant, Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13) and gave us His righteousness. Now, every promise found in scripture is yes and amen for us (2 Corinthians 1:20).
      • Don't let Satan tell you differently. He's the father of lies (John 8:44). Sin can still give place to the devil to come in and steal from you (Ephesians 4:27), but only because your heart might condemn you for it and rob our confidence in prayer (1 John 3:20-22). We must believe we receive when we pray (Mark 11:24).
      • Unforgiveness is one way in which our own hearts may hinder our prayers (Mark 11:25-26). Remember you wrestle not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Forgive them, so you can fight the real enemy behind them.
    • Stay in peace (Ephesians 6:15). Confidence in prayer requires faith/trust (Philippians 4:4-7, Isaiah 26:3). The opposite of faith is fear (1 John 4:18). Since we have the authority Jesus won back from Satan for us (John 16:33, Matthew 28:18), Satan has to get us to fear him in order for him to get away with stealing from us. We do not have to accept the spirit of fear (Romans 8:15) but remember we have the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
    • "Above all," use faith to extinguish Satan's lies (Eph 6:16). We do this by renewing our minds with God's word (Romans 8:6, 12:2). We have the belt of truth already, but we have to mix the Word of truth with faith, or it profits us nothing (Hebrews 4:2). Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2); we must keep our eyes on Him.
    • The helmet of salvation (Eph 6:17). I assume the significance of this is the fact that it's protecting the mind. The Holy Spirit is the seal that proves we belong to God (2 Cor 1:22, 5:5, Eph 1:13-14, 4:30), and He bears witness that we have salvation and belong to God (Romans 8:16). So Satan can't lie to us and tell us otherwise.
    • The sword of the spirit (Eph 6:17): this is the only offensive weapon. Jesus used the Word as His weapon against Satan (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13). It is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). The word of our testimony of God's goodness likewise has power (Revelation 12:11).
    • Pray with all kinds of prayer (1 Timothy 2:1), including supplication and intercession (Eph 6:18), praise and thanksgiving (Phil 4:7), and agreement (Matthew 18:19-20), with perseverance.
    • When you have done all this, stand your ground (Ephesians 6:13). This is the persistence in faith that achieves results and justice (Luke 18:1-8). Forcefully lay hold of what Christ died to give you (Matthew 11:12)!
  • The end: we will always triumph in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14). We will overcome the world and the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) with our faith (1 John 5:4).
  • Even under the Old Covenant, God fought for His people in the spiritual realms (Exodus 14:13, 23:27; Leviticus 26:5-8; Deuteronomy 1:30, 3:22, 7:22-24, 9:3, 11:22-25, 20:1-4, 23:14, 28:7, 31:6, 33:29, Joshua 1:5, 23:10; Judges 7:22; 1 Samuel 7:10, 14:15-20, 17:47; 2 Samuel 7:9-11, 22:33-37, 48; 2 Kings 17:39, 19:7; 2 Chronicles 18:31-32, 20:15-25; Isaiah 41:10-14, 43:1-2, 45:2-3, 54:17; Jeremiah 1:8, 33:27, 39:18; Esther 4:14; Psalm 6:10, 37:5-9, 59:10; Proverbs 3:21-26, 21:31). How much more will He do so today, when there is no more curse, but all the blessings of Abraham are ours through Christ (Galatians 3:13)!
 
 
 
 
Aug 20, 2021

Music by Ben Sound at www.bensound.com 

Today's meditation comes from Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:14-23, and John 13:1-30

Introduction

I found it rather difficult to synthesize the four versions of the Last Supper in the gospels, and particularly where Judas was, and where Satan was relative to Judas, at any given time. Matthew and Mark’s gospels kept the story simple and short, moving directly from Jesus’ mention that one of them would betray him into communion. There is no mention in those gospels that Judas left at all, or that Satan was present. They also both showed that Jesus started with the bread and then moved to the cup. There was no mention of anything Jesus told them afterwards, either; they just sang a hymn and then Jesus led his three closest disciples down to the Garden of Gethsemene. Judas clearly left at some point, because hours later he arrived in the Garden with soldiers; it just isn’t mentioned when. 
 
Luke went into more detail. He wrote in Luke 22:3 that Satan entered into Judas when he approached the chief priests and made a deal to betray Jesus. There was no mention that Satan departed Judas and entered into him again later, but perhaps he did, since John later makes mention that Satan entered into Judas after Jesus passed him the bread at the table (John 13:27). Also in Luke’s version, the cup came first and then the bread (not that this really matters). Jesus didn’t mention His betrayer until after communion in Luke’s version, suggesting that Judas was there at the time. Perhaps he was, though Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:27 that whoever eats and drinks the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. I suppose this would not be any truer of anyone in history than of Judas that night. 
 
John didn’t actually describe the Last Supper in terms of the bread and the cup at all, but he alone recorded that Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. John 13:2 says that the supper was ended, though apparently the Greek phrase could have also been translated “during supper”—so I interpreted this as meaning they had eaten the Passover lamb and herbs, but Jesus had not yet instituted communion. Jesus’ comment that His betrayer was the one to whom He gave the bread after He had dipped it (John 13:26) is consistent with similar phrasing in Matthew 26:23 and Mark 14:20, just before Jesus institutes communion, suggesting this comment came first. Since John explicitly mentioned that Judas left right afterwards, and he was more specific about Judas’ whereabouts than Luke, his was the interpretation I used in the retelling. 
 
It also makes sense to me that Judas would not have been present for communion, for two reasons. First, Jesus hates hypocrisy (as evidenced by his many run-ins with the religious leaders), and he knew that Judas was not one of His, as He repeatedly said that night. If His betrayer were to take communion right before Him on the very night of His betrayal, it would have been the ultimate hypocrisy. Second, Jesus was always walking the fine line of trying to tell the disciples what was going to happen to Him in enigmas and riddles (Proverbs 1:6), but without spelling it all out until after He had already risen (Luke 24:13-49). There may have been many reasons for this, but one of them was surely that He didn’t want Satan to understand His plan, or else he would never have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). Jesus knew Satan was in the room as long as Judas was. I suspect this was another reason why He didn’t want to explain about the body and the blood until after Judas had gone. 
 
Passover was instituted the night the Israelites left slavery. It was from then on both a ritual of remembrance, and also a prophetic act. The Egyptians painted the blood of their Passover lamb over their door posts, which protected those inside from the destroyer (Exodus 12:23). This was a perfect symbol of the blood of Jesus, God’s Passover Lamb, protecting believers from the destroyer. Here, Jesus took the last Passover meal with His disciples, and then instituted the new feast of communion on the eve of his crucifixion. Christians no longer celebrate the Jewish Passover feast, symbolic of the Old Covenant, but take communion instead, symbolic of the New Covenant. 
 
Communion, too, is both an act of remembrance (Luke 22:19) and also a prophetic act of the marriage supper of the Lamb (Luke 22:18, Revelation 19:9), when Jesus will wed His bride: the Church. That will be its ultimate fulfillment. 
 
Fictionalized Retelling
I felt an almost physical oppression in my chest as I climbed the steps to that upper room. My legs felt like wood, resisting My every step. 
This time tomorrow… but I stopped the thought right there. I had much yet to do between now and then. 
John approached and touched My elbow as I crossed the threshold of the upper room. I turned to see him searching My face with a concerned expression. I gave him a tight smile that did not quite reach My eyes, and a tiny nod that I was all right—relatively speaking. The servants came in and began to set the evening meal on the low table: the Passover lamb, the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, and the wine. 
I could not stop staring at the lamb. 
I settled on to a cushion at the head of the table. John sat beside me, still glancing often at My face. The other disciples chatted amongst themselves, though the atmosphere felt strained. It had already been an intense week, even for them. They all knew the religious leaders wanted Me dead, and feared that by extension, their lives were in danger too. I knew they also wondered why we were celebrating the Passover a day early, on the thirteenth instead of the fourteenth day of Nissan. I’d told them repeatedly as plainly as I could, but they still hadn’t understood. Tonight I would be still more explicit. But not yet. 
I watched Judas, who fidgeted in his seat constantly. I needed him out of the room before I spoke plainly. The disciples still wouldn’t understand what I said until afterwards, but Satan might, if he heard it. If that happened, all would be lost. 
When they had finished all but the last loaf of unleavened bread, I rose from the table, wordlessly laying aside My outer garment and tucking a towel around My waist. An empty basin sat by the threshold along with a pitcher of water. I poured the water into the basin and carried it to Matthew, who sat nearest Me. I set it down beside his cushion and gestured to him to swivel around and remove his sandals. He stared back at Me in astonishment. 
“Master?” 
I nodded and beckoned again with My fingers. Slowly he obeyed, though I could sense his acute embarrassment. The rest of the disciples watched in silence as I washed Matthew’s feet, and then used the towel about My waist to dry them. Next I moved to Bartholomew beside him, who obeyed more readily now that he’d seen the precedent. None of them knew what to make of this. 
Next I came to Judas. He removed his sandals and placed his feet in the basin at once, but he winced just slightly as his eyes met Mine. Up close, I could see his dilated pupils. He was nervous, not sure if I knew, or if I would publicly confront him for his treachery. As I washed his feet, I thought of Solomon’s proverb, You will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you
Without a word, I moved on to James, and then to Peter, who recoiled from Me. 
“Lord, are You washing my feet?” 
“What I am doing, you do not realize right now, but you will understand later,” I assured him. 
“Never shall You wash my feet!”
If it were any other night, I might have smiled. Tonight, though, I just said wearily, “If I do not wash you, you have no place with Me.”
Peter blinked as he absorbed this. Then he plunged his feet in the basin, leaning forward and spluttering, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!”
This wrung a short laugh out of Me, even tonight. Good old Peter. 
“He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet; otherwise he is completely clean,” I answered. Then I said to the rest of them, “And you are clean—but not all of you.” I glanced at Judas as I said this, whose eyes shifted this way and that. Now he knew that I knew. He was itching to leave already, probably trying to think of an excuse. 
When I’d finished washing all of the disciples’ feet, I placed the basin back by the door, removed the towel and replaced My outer tunic before settling back at the head of the table. They all watched Me uncertainly, not sure what to do or say. 
“Do you know what I have done for you?” I looked at each of them in turn, pausing to see if they had any reply. When they did not, I went on, “You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’; and you are correct, for so I am. So if I, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example, so that you also would do just as I did for you. Truly I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the One who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking about all of you,” I added, with a sidelong glance at Judas. “I know the ones whom I have chosen; but this is happening so that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’” Judas squirmed again. How much more direct would I need to be? “From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it does happen, you may believe that I am He. Truly I say to you, the one who receives anyone I send, receives Me; and the one who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”
Still no one spoke, and still Judas remained at the table. The oppression in My chest grew.  I needed him to leave before I did what needed to be done next. Time to just come right out and say it. “One of you is going to betray me.” 
Shock rippled around the table, and the disciples began to murmur amongst themselves—all except Judas, whose eyes darted this way and that, his breathing short and shallow. But the other disciples were so focused on themselves that they did not even notice. 
“It isn’t me, is it?” asked Peter first, loudly. Before I could reply, James cut in, “Surely, not I?” at the same time Philip and Bartholomew talked over each other. “Is it me, Master?” 
Instead of replying, I rose and took the last loaf of unleavened bread in My hands. I saw Peter make eye contact with John, and gesture at Me with his head in silent communication. When I sat back down again, John reclined against Me with his head on My chest and whispered, “Lord, who is it?” 
“It is he to whom I give this bread once I have dipped it.” I broke a piece of bread from the end of the loaf, and rose again to dip the bread in the dish of oil. Then I handed it across the table to Judas, and our eyes locked. The others at last noticed this, looking from Judas to me. 
“It isn’t me, is it, Rabbi?” Judas asked at last, his voice even. 
“You have said it yourself,” I replied.
The others looked at one another, their expressions a mixture of alarm and confusion. Judas took the bread from Me, and put it in his mouth. At that moment, though I did not see it with My natural eyes, I knew that Satan had entered into him. I could sense it. 
“What you do, do quickly,” I told him in a low tone. 
Judas rose from the table as soon as I said this and sped out of the room without looking back. As I watched him go, I felt an unexpected pang of pity for the suffering I knew he would yet endure. Once Satan had used him for his own purposes, I knew that Judas would come back to himself and would despair for what he was about to do to Me. He would be dead before I was. But he had made his choice long ago, and was beyond My help. There was nothing more I could do for him.
“Is… he going to make a purchase for the meal?” asked Peter, suspicious. Judas was our treasurer and had often gone on such errands in the past. “Or to offer alms to the poor, perhaps?” 
I met Peter’s questioning gaze, but did not answer. He would understand all too soon, and I had more important business to attend to at the moment. I took what remained of the last loaf of unleavened bread, and poured some wine into the simple chalice before me. Then I looked up to Heaven.
“Thank You, Father, for Your provision,” I prayed, “of this bread and wine, and also of the Passover Lamb it represents.” I saw the look of confusion that passed among the disciples at this. Surely, they were thinking, the Passover lamb we just ate represented itself? I went on, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then I took the loaf and broke it right down the middle, flinching only a little. I passed half to John on one side, and to James on My other. 
“Take and eat; this is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” 
James gingerly held the half loaf I’d handed him, a look of horror on his face. But John broke himself a piece and passed it to Philip on his other side without comment. James finally followed his lead and did the same. They were all now remembering the comment I had made which had lost me some ninety percent of my disciples early in My ministry. I had announced that My followers must eat My flesh and drink My blood, or else they would have no life in them. This had so confused and revolted them that the vast majority had left, and I never had explained Myself to those who remained. How could I? None of them dared disobey Me now, though I knew they still did not understand. 
Once they had all solemnly taken and eaten their piece of the bread, I passed around My chalice of wine. 
“Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it with you, new, in My Father’s kingdom.” 
Each man took a sip and passed the cup around in silence. When James finally handed it back to Me, I took the last swallow, savoring it in My mouth. Then I looked around the table, My heart burning as I looked into each man’s eyes one by one. I saw not the fearful, uncertain men before Me now, but the firebrands they would become when they had received the Holy Spirit. I saw some of them as old men; others, I knew, would not live long enough to see old age. The Holy Spirit gave Me just a flash of their futures—glorious ones, all. I swallowed the lump in My throat before I could speak again. 
“I am giving you a new commandment,” I managed, “that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.” 
I had so much I wanted to tell them, and these were My last few hours in which to do so. I prayed silently for guidance. I knew they would understand none of it now—and because they did not understand, they would have three days of utter hell ahead of them. If they could just hang on through those three days which would look like the end of all their hopes… 
“Let not your hearts be troubled!” I almost begged them, praying as I said it that they would be able to hold onto My words in the the coming days, when they would need them most. “You believe in God; believe also in Me!” 
I told them all I could that night: of the coming Holy Spirit, of peace, of their direct path through Me to the Father, of the tremendous power of prayer, and of their sorrow turning to joy. I could tell from the heaviness of their expressions that all they heard was goodbye. They did not understand the manner in which it would come, but they felt the significance of My speech. 
I felt the same heaviness Myself. When I had finished, I ended the meal with a hymn: one of David’s psalms set to music. The others joined in with Me, and all of our voices merged together in a beautiful, if halfhearted, cacophony. The noise of it had always made me smile, though today the finality of it wrung tears from My eyes. 
I felt the pull in My spirit now. I desperately needed to withdraw and talk to My Father. I hadn’t much time left. 
 
Aug 13, 2021

This week's podcast comes from this blog post: Are Nightshades Inflammatory? 

Our sponsor: trylgc.com/cnh, and enter the coupon code CNH20 for 20% off your order. 

Aug 6, 2021
Today's podcast is a retelling a meditation on Numbers 22-25:1-3, Numbers 31:16, 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 11, Revelation 2:14
 
Introduction
 
What an incredible illustration of the power of words! This Old Testament Seer, who was not even one of the Israelites, nevertheless was sought by princes and kings to bless and curse their enemies—and he was paid handsomely for it. Was there anything special about Balaam’s words versus anyone else’s? I don’t think so—stories of blessings and cursings abound in Genesis especially (consider the power of Isaac’s blessing stolen by Jacob to set
off a twenty year feud). Names also seemed to hold the power of prophecy (consider the power of Abraham’s and Sarah’s new names to foretell their destinies, and of Jacob’s “heel grabber” later turned to “Israel”). Solomon later had much to say about the power of words to shape a life (Proverbs 12:14, 13:2, 13:3, 14:3, 18:7, 18:20-21, 21:23). I suspect what made Balaam different from others was his faith in the power of his words to come to pass, whereas others might waver if the effects were not immediate. As Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” It’s the 'believing before you see it'
part that trips most people up. In this story, I imagined that Balaam didn’t struggle with this because he had a rare gift of seeing into the spiritual realm from time to time. If he could see the effects of his words before they were manifest into the physical, he’d certainly have had an easier time believing in their power. 
 
This is also an interesting story because Balaam wasn’t an Israelite, nor was his heart pure—yet still, God spoke to him. He had no covenant to cling to, but he clearly understood covenant, and he knew how to manipulate it to his own ends. The story in Numbers doesn’t actually show Balaam explaining to Balak how to get the Israelites to curse themselves; it cuts straight from Balaam’s oracles of blessing over the Israelites in Numbers 22-24, to the Israelites’ harlotry with the Moabite women and worship of Baal in Numbers 25. But we know that this was Balaam’s doing from Numbers 31:16, Jude 11, and Revelation 2:14. 2 Peter 2:15 reveals that Balaam’s motivation for this was financial gain. 
 
I used to think it was very strange that God gave Balaam permission to go with the Moabites and then sent an angel to kill him along the way because he went. That certainly seems contradictory. But God did tell Balaam no
the first time, which should have settled the matter. (Maybe there’s a lesson here: if God says no the first time, probably don’t keep asking?) The fact that Balaam asked again perhaps indicated that he was likely to do it regardless of what God said. Perhaps it wasn’t God’s best for Balaam to go, but He allowed it as a concession, knowing there was a potential danger in this loose cannon with impure motives. God’s concession, though, was for Balaam to wait until the men came to call him again in the morning; if they did, then he could go with them. There’s no indication that he did wait—Balaam just rose, saddled his donkey, and went. The fact that Balaam did not exactly follow the Lord’s instructions was a harbinger of what was to come. Balaam’s words had great power, and while God could use him to bless the Israelites, He could not afford to let this man say or do anything God did not explicitly authorize—hence the avenging angel.  
 
Once Balaam was sufficiently terrified into submission, God let him live and continue on his way. And indeed, he did bless Israel only... but he still wanted Balak’s money. So he found a loophole in God’s instructions, which he exploited to his own benefit.  
 
Fortunately for us today, we are now no longer under the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13-14), and we cannot curse ourselves with bad behavior as the Israelites could. Even so, we can still disqualify ourselves from receiving all the blessings God wants for us, if we do not mix His promises with faith (Hebrews 4:2).   
 
Fictionalized Retelling
 
I am what my people of Amau call a Seer. Most people perceive with their physical senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. So I suppose I must have been born with a gift, though I’ve never known anything different. I am as aware of the spiritual world as I am of the physical, though I cannot always perceive it with my eyes. Because of this, I learned from childhood that the spirit realm affects the physical—that in fact, it is the greater reality of the two. And yet, I could affect the spirit realm by my words. My words influenced the unseen, and then the unseen influenced and changed what was seen. 
There were some limits to this, though. The primary limit was that there was a Power in the unseen realm much greater than I. I knew a few details about Him: that He is One, not many, like so many other cultures seemed to believe. That He is righteous, balancing mercy with justice. He does not let the wicked go unpunished. This instilled in me a healthy fear of Him: I did not want to end up on the wrong side of that equation. I also understood that while my words had power to influence the physical realm through the spiritual, He did not always authorize me to use them. I wasn’t totally sure what might happen if I tried to speak that which He explicitly forbade, but I did not wish to find out. 
By rumor, as I grew, I also learned that He had favorites. In fact, He had one favorite people group in particular: the people of Israel. All the surrounding nations heard the stories of how the Lord delivered this band of former slaves from their captives in Egypt, and led them across the Red Sea. They had even plundered their former masters before they went. I heard how they had driven back the Amalekites, and defeated the Amorites. Now they were camped in the plains of Moab, on the other side of the Jordan from Jericho. I dwelt near the Euphrates with my own people, but even we felt the tension in the air. 
So when the messengers from Balak, king of Moab came to me, I knew why they had come before they spoke. But a young man I recognized from the king’s court drew near and bowed low before me. 
“I have come to you in the name of King Balak of Moab. Thus says the king to my lord, Balaam the Diviner: A people went out from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they dwell next to me. And now, please come curse this people for me because they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I will prevail, and we will defeat them, and I will drive them out of the land because I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
I glanced behind the messenger who had spoken, to another who held a small leather pouch in his hand, which jingled just a little as he moved. A little shiver of anticipation ran down my spine. If that pouch was filled with gold pieces, it represented a fortune! Little wonder: Moab was surely sick with dread of the Israelites. They knew that the Israelites’ strength came from the spirit realm, and that was the realm of my influence. No fee would be too high. I resisted the urge to ask to see the coins right then. 
“Lodge here tonight,” I told them, “and I will bring you word again, as the Lord will speak to me.”
They did as I asked, and I withdrew at sunset to inquire of the Lord. 
It usually took longer for Him to respond to me, but that night, He spoke at once. Whether the words were aloud such that other human ears could have perceived it, I do not know, but to me, it was audible. 
“Who are these men with you?” He said. 
I was pretty sure He knew the answer; He was just starting the conversation. I told Him, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me, saying, ‘A people went out of Egypt who covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I will be able to battle them and drive them out.’” Please, please, please… I thought, my imagination filled with what I could do with the gold in that pouch. What a great man that would make me!
The Lord said, “You will not go with them. You will not curse the people because they are blessed.”
I deflated. “But… God…” I bit my lip. “Surely there’s some minor curse I could pronounce against them?” 
He said nothing more. I knew from experience that this meant the conversation was over. My father used to do that when I was young: he’d lay down the law, and then give me the silent treatment as I wheedled, begged, and threw tantrums, until I finally accepted that he meant what he’d said. I sighed. 
In the morning I returned to the men of Moab, and told them with great reluctance, “Go to your land. The Lord refuses to let me to go with you.” 
The messengers exchanged a look of consternation with one another. 
“Are… you sure?” one ventured, holding up the pouch and deliberately jingling it before my eyes. “The king will pay you handsomely for this service of yours.” 
I let out an involuntary groan and averted my eyes from the pouch. “Would that it were up to me,” I told them. “But it is not.” 
At last they returned the way they had come. When they had gone, I looked up at the sky and shouted, “Why?” When He still gave me the silent treatment, I added, “What is so special about this people of Yours? What makes them any better than Moab, or the Amalekites, or the Amorites, or the Amauites for that matter? Why do You bless them, and You won’t bless me?” 
Silence again, though I felt His reproach. He had blessed me. I had a great gift that apparently was quite rare. I’d often wondered if there was anything special about my words, or if anybody else’s words might have the same effect as mine—it was just that, since I could see into the spirit realm where they had an effect, I did not waver once I’d spoken them, nor contradict them by speaking only what I saw already manifested in the physical realm, thus negating the effect in the spirit. Because of this ability, I was already prosperous: I’d used the words of my mouth to bless my own flocks and herds, crops and home, and I had quite literally eaten the fruit of my lips. If that weren’t enough, I used this same ability on behalf of others, and was paid handsomely for my troubles. I did not get my hands on that delicious little sack of gold, though… I whimpered at the thought, and huffed, crossing my arms over my chest and glaring at nothing in particular. 
“You’re unfair,” I accused the Lord. “You play favorites. That’s inherently unfair!” 
Silence still. I heaved another put-upon sigh, and went about my business for the day, saddling my donkey and taking her into the marketplace. 
Late that day, just before sunset, I saw a large company on the horizon riding to my home. As they drew near, I saw their splendor: these were princes and warriors of Moab, not the messengers I had seen the day before. My eyes widened and my heart pounded with anticipation. Balak was not giving up then! 
One of the princes dismounted and bowed down low before me. I pasted on a smile as I scrutinized his fine clothing, imagining what it might look like upon me. 
“My lord Balaam,” the prince said by way of greeting. I could get used to being called ‘my lord.’ He went on, “This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.”
An involuntary groan escaped my lips at this. How could I continue to refuse? But I managed, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.” 
The men agreed, and I withdrew from them and fell prostrate before the Lord. 
“‘I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say’?” I quoted Balak to the Lord. “How can You expect me to refuse such an offer? I cannot! Let me go with them, I beg You!” 
There was silence at first. But then the Lord replied, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only say what I tell you to say.” 
“Ha ha!” I cried, triumphant. 
I could barely sleep that night. I rose at first light and saddled my donkey. My conscience pricked at me that the Lord had told me to wait for the princes to call me, but hadn’t they essentially already done that by coming the day before? I ignored this detail and went to rouse them. 
“The Lord gave me permission to go with you,” I told them breathlessly. “Take me to your king!” 
The princes seemed as glad to hear my response as I was glad to give it. They readied themselves quickly, and I mounted my donkey and followed them. 
At first we traveled in one company, but soon my donkey began acting strangely. She fell behind the others, and then even strayed from the path they were following, ignoring my tug upon her reins and venturing into one of the fields. 
“What are you doing?” I cried impatiently, tugging harder. She utterly ignored me, which both confused and infuriated me. I’d never seen her act like this before, and I needed to catch up to the others. From one of my saddlebags I dug out a switch, and used it to beat her flanks. She let out a sharp bray that made me wince. 
“Well, if you don’t want more of that, do what I tell you!” I retorted. 
At last, she returned to the road. I dug my heels into her flanks to try to get her to speed up to catch up with the company, but she refused—in fact, it felt like she was fighting me with every step. Presently the road narrowed, as a wall on either side delineated vineyards of different owners. Suddenly my donkey veered sharply toward one wall—but there was nowhere to go, so she just pressed against it and stopped altogether, crushing my foot against the wall in the process. I let out a roar and beat her harder. 
“What is wrong with you?” I shouted, gritting my teeth against her sharp bray of pain. “Come on!” 
She shuddered under me, and hesitatingly moved forward again, still hugging one wall but not so closely that she crushed my foot. Presently the lane narrowed so that she could no longer do even this: there was nowhere for her to turn aside. So she literally lay down under me, right there in the path.
“Why you worthless ass—!” I beat her as hard as I could, and she yelped and shuddered, but refused to budge. The third time I struck her, she half turned her head so that she could see me from one of her eyes. 
“What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” 
I blinked, and my hand froze in midair. I could see into the spirit realm from time to time, and I had spoken to God, but this was a new one. Still, the sensible thing to do would be to answer her. 
“Because you have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now!”
“Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” I had to admit. 
Suddenly I perceived that she and I were not alone. A brilliantly glowing man stood directly in front of the path, barring our way, sword drawn. My mouth dropped open, and I slid off of my donkey’s back and fell to the ground before him. 
“Why have you beaten your donkey these three times?” the angel demanded. “I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.”
I caught my breath, as a wave of terror passed through me. “I have sinned,” I admitted. I meant in beating my donkey, but as I said it, I realized that I’d also sinned in not waiting for the men to call me in the morning, as the Lord had instructed. “I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”
The angel sheathed his sword, and stood to one side, making a very narrow path for us. “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.”
I swallowed hard, understanding the emphasis. I had not explicitly obeyed the Lord’s instructions before. I was given safe passage now only on condition that I do better in the future. 
My donkey got to her feet and picked up her pace to catch up with the company of princes. I was rattled, and she probably was too. She never spoke to me again. 
When I arrived in Moab, King Balak hurried out to meet me. 
“Did I not send you an urgent summons?” he scolded by way of greeting. “Why didn’t you come to me? Am I not able to reward you?”
I had best disabuse him of any false expectations he had now, I realized, not much caring to face the avenging angel again. 
“Well, I have come to you now,” I told him. “But I warn you, I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” 
Balak smirked. “I am sure God will see fit to allow you to speak whatever is in your own best interest.” 
Before I could protest again, he turned and said, “Come. We will sacrifice to your God to appease him.” He led the way, along with the company of princes he had sent to collect me, to a place called Kirjath Huzoth. There he offered oxen and sheep to the Lord, and he provided me and his princes with sheep to offer likewise. I considered telling him that if his intent was to ‘butter up’ the Lord to get Him to do what he wanted, that he was wasting his time. But Balak would learn that soon enough. 
The following morning, Balak beckoned me alone, and took me to the high places where their people sacrificed to Baal. I saw this, and knew what the Lord would think of it—there was no Baal, He was the only God, and this was precisely why He wasn’t likely to bless Moab—but I chose not to comment on it. There was no point; Balak wouldn’t listen, and that wasn’t why we were here. The king pointed down into the plains, and I blinked, taken aback by the sheer number of the Israelites. 
These are my enemies,” Balak told me unnecessarily. “Now, curse them for me!” 
I took a deep breath. Then I said, “Build seven altars for me here, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” I was kind of stalling for time, and kind of doing the very thing I’d mentally mocked Balak for the day before: trying to butter God up. Seven was a special number to Him, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. It was a number of completion. I also knew, as every nation knew intuitively, that He required blood sacrifices. I again considered telling Balak to tear down the altars to Baal while we were at it, but dismissed this. I doubted he would take kindly to this suggestion. 
Balak had the animals I requested brought to us, and while he built the altars, I prepared the animals for slaughter. Then the two of us offered one bull and one ram on each of the altars, and set fire to them. Then I told the king, “Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the Lord will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.”
I ventured alone to a desolate hill connected to the one on which we had built the altars, and prayed to the Lord. 
“Oh Lord, may it please you to curse the enemies of Balak!” 
The Lord’s reply, I knew, was not one that would please the king. When He had finished, He said, “Return to Balak, and tell him what I have said.” 
I trudged back to the king with a heavy heart, and to my dismay, I saw that in the interim, the princes of Moab had also joined him. I groaned inwardly, but when I was near enough, I called out, “Thus the Lord has bid me speak: From Aram Balak has brought me, Moab’s king from the mountains of the East, ‘Come curse Jacob for me, And come, denounce Israel!’ How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced? As I see him from the top of the rocks, And I look at him from the hills; Behold, a people who dwells apart, And will not be reckoned among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, And let my end be like his!” 
As I spoke, I had my back turned to Balak and his princes, but I could sense their gnashing of teeth. Sure enough, when I turned around, I saw Balak’s dark countenance. 
“What have you done to me?” he demanded. “I took you to curse my enemies, but you have actually blessed them!”
I felt miserable. But what could I do? I imagined the avenging angel, sword drawn, standing right beside me, ready to strike me down should I misspeak. “Must I not be careful to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” 
The king huffed, and then turned and conferred with his noblemen. In the interim, I looked up to heaven and shook my head at the Lord in annoyance. 
“Will you let me say nothing that pleases him?” I complained.
Balak turned back to me, his expression smoothed as if with renewed determination. “Please come with me to another place from where you may see them, although you will only see the extreme end of them and will not see all of them; and curse them for me from there.”  
I felt my hopes rise too, irrational though I knew it was. After all, God had changed His mind from forbidding me to go with the men from Balak the second time I approached and asked Him, had He not? True, He’d given me permission and then sent an angel to slay me along the way, but I think that was due to a technicality… 
At any rate, I went with Balak and his men, across the ridges of the adjoining hills, across the field of Zophim to the top of Pisgah. There, Balak and some of the princes built seven more altars, and the remaining men went to retrieve seven more bulls and seven more rams. We again offered burnt sacrifices to the Lord, though I also noticed and ignored the altars to other gods nearby. Again I told Balak and the princes to stay by the offerings while I went to consult the Lord.
No sooner had I wandered ashrimp inway from the group, the Lord told me, “Go back to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” It was no better than before. Feeling a little sick to my stomach, I turned around and trudged back to them.
“So soon?” Balak asked eagerly, eyebrows raised. “Come now, what did He give you to say?” 
I sighed. “Thus says the Lord: Arise, O Balak, and hear; Give ear to me, O son of Zippor! God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it. He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; Nor has He seen trouble in Israel; The Lord his God is with him, And the shout of a king is among them. God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox. For there is no omen against Jacob, Nor is there any divination against Israel; At the proper time it shall be said to Jacob And to Israel, what God has done! Behold, a people rises like a lioness, And as a lion it lifts itself; It will not lie down until it devours the prey, And drinks the blood of the slain.” 
I watched as the lines of Balak’s face deepened into a scowl as I spoke. I could hardly blame him. When I had finished, he shouted, “Do not curse them at all nor bless them at all!” 
I felt utterly wretched. “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the Lord speaks, that I must do’?”
Balak turned his back on me with a snort of disgust, and went to confer with his nobles once more. At this point, I just wanted the encounter to be over. 
He returned, his expression implacable. “Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will be agreeable with God that you curse them for me from there.” 
Why he still thought location would make any difference at all, I did not know, but I went with him without comment. Balak and his nobles led me to the top of Peor, a mountain which overlooked a wasteland. As before, I instructed Balak, “Build seven altars for me here and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.” The Moabites followed my instructions, and offered their sacrifices. 
Even so, I did not bother to withdraw to pray to the Lord this time and ask Him to let me curse the people of Israel. He would not. I could say only what He gave me to say. And yet… as I turned to look at the altars of Baal behind the altars the Moabites had just built to the Lord, the germ of an idea began in my mind. 
I turned my back upon them again for now, though, and turned to look out over the wilderness. I gave over my tongue to the Lord and uttered His prophecy as it came to me: “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; The oracle of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens beside the river, Like aloes planted by the Lord, Like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from his buckets, And his seed will be by many waters, And his king shall be higher than Agag, And his kingdom shall be exalted. God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, And will crush their bones in pieces, And shatter them with his arrows. He crouches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, And cursed is everyone who curses you.” 
Balak fairly shook with fury as he listened to this oracle. As if needing to lash out physically somehow, he clapped his hands together forcefully. Then he jabbed a finger in my direction and accused, “I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! Flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but the Lord has held you back from honor!” 
I shook my head. “Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, ‘Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the Lord, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the Lord speaks, that I will speak’? I will go back to my people; but come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.” The germ of what I intended to do had grown in my mind, but I had decided that I would first stoke Balak’s fear of the Israelites before I gave him my recommendation. That way, he might yet be disposed to honor me, though I could not do what he had summoned me to do. 
I turned back out to the wilderness where we could see Moab in the distance, and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, The oracle of him who hears the words of God, And knows the knowledge of the Most High, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly. One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.” Then I turned in the direction of Amalek, and pronounced, “Amalek was the first of the nations, But his end shall be destruction.” I turned in the direction of the Kenites, and declared, “Your dwelling place is enduring, And your nest is set in the cliff. Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; How long will Asshur keep you captive?” I opened my arms to encompass all these nations, and cried in a loud voice, “Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, And they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber; So they also will come to destruction.”
I turned and beheld the stunned horror on the faces of Balak and all of his princes. I smiled. “Here is the end of the matter,” I said. “The Lord has blessed Israel; neither I nor you nor anyone on earth can curse those whom the Lord has blessed. But I will tell you what you can do instead.” I pointed at the altars of Baal. I saw confusion cross their faces as they turned to look where I pointed. “No one outside of Israel may curse them, but they can curse themselves.” 
King Balak whipped around to face me again, eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?” he demanded. “Why would they do such a thing?” 
“Simple,” I shrugged. “They are in covenant with the Lord, but it is not an unconditional covenant. If they violate their end of the agreement, they bring themselves out from under His protection. They will be as weak and susceptible as any other nation. In fact, the covenant itself enumerates the curses that will come upon them, should they cease to follow the Lord their God only.” 
Balak’s eyes widened, and his mouth fell open. He was practically salivating.
“What are these rules that they must keep?” he demanded. “And how can we entice the Israelites to break them?” 
“Your land is a land of beautiful women, is it not?” I asked casually. Balak and the princes nodded eagerly, and I went on, “And harlotry is included as one of the rituals of your worship to Baal, is it not?” 
“Yes!” Balak cried, the beginnings of understanding dawning on his face. 
I nodded. “Very good. The Israelites’ first two commandments given them by the prophet who led them out of Israel were these: ‘you shall have no other gods before Me,’ and ‘you shall not make for yourself a carved image; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.’” I left out the part I had heard about His blessings to the thousandth generation of those who love Him. “So you see? I do not believe you could directly entice them to sacrifice to Baal, unless you gave them an incentive. But if your beautiful Moabite women were to entice the Israelite men into sexual encounters, provided it is in the context of Baal worship…” I opened my hands with a casual flourish, and Balak and the princes now shared my smile. “The people will curse themselves.” 
Balak’s grin hardened into a snarl. I kept my hand open before him and let it hang there, until he finally glanced at it and took my meaning. He smirked, and gestured to one of the princes beside him, “Pay the man. He has given us what we wished, after all.” 
Jul 30, 2021

This week's podcast comes from this blog post, Fat Burner Shots.

Jul 23, 2021

Today's meditation comes from Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13.

Introduction

For the first thirty years of Jesus’ life, He did nothing that the gospel writers saw fit to record, save for the one episode where He remained behind in the temple at twelve years of age, listening at the teachers’ feet and astounding them with His wisdom (Luke 2:41-52). He otherwise appeared to be a normal young man, until He was anointed by the Holy Spirit and received power from on high. This marked the beginning of His ministry. He had the power to do miracles at this point, but He had never yet performed one. Strangely, the first thing the Holy Spirit did was lead Him into the wilderness, to be tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1). The Holy Spirit actually intended for the temptations to occur. Yet we know God never leads us into temptation (Matthew 6:13, James 1:13); Jesus was a special case, for this too. Why? 
In my retelling, Jesus recited to Himself the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, believing that His own time in the wilderness was a parallel of theirs. They left Egypt (the life they knew), just as He left His old life of obscurity behind. They had never before known power, and then suddenly they were delivered with great signs and wonders. Then the Lord drove them into the wilderness, where they confronted daily needs, and with them, temptations to doubt the Lord’s goodness and provision. The story in the Old Testament does not record that it was Satan stirring up the people against the Lord, but then, the Old Testament had (almost) no doctrine of Satan. Presumably he was there, though, and the Israelites gave right in, every time. In order for Jesus to be our perfect sacrifice and substitute, He needed to be tempted in all ways as we were, and yet remain without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So the first temptation, according to both versions of this story in Matthew and Luke, was turning stone into bread. This parallels the temptations of the Israelites in the wilderness: much of their grumblings against the Lord had to do with lack of food and water. Notice that Satan waited to offer this temptation to Jesus until he’d been fasting for forty days, and was literally beginning to starve. Bread was not a luxury, but a legitimate need at this point. Yet would He trust in the Father to provide, or take matters into His own hands? If He did the latter, it would demonstrate potentially two things: lack of trust in God’s provision, and also doubt in His own identity. 
It’s interesting that Satan begins two of his temptations with “If You are the Son of God.” These would not have been temptations if Jesus had no inclination to doubt who He was. Yet after thirty years of doing nothing remarkable, how could He not? Giving in to this doubt would have been sin, though, as “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23), and the root of all sin is unbelief (John 16:9). 
The order of the second and third temptations varies in the two accounts in Matthew and Luke, though the content was the same. According to 1 John 2:16, there are only three areas in which Satan tempts us: the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The temptation to turn stone to bread was lust of the flesh: putting the needs of His body above following God. He responded to this temptation by comparing God’s Word to bread: no doubt this was exactly what the original manna in the wilderness was meant to represent. 
Pride of life would have been showing off by jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple, just to prove to the Jews (and to Himself) that He had the power to call angels to His assistance. Satan even tried to twist scripture to convince Jesus to fall for this one, adding to and omitting portions of Psalm 91 to suit his purposes. Satan’s version of Psalm 91 made it sound as though God had promised carte blanche: complete protection under any and all circumstances. But Jesus understood that His power was not to be spent upon His own lusts (James 4:3)—and indeed, He did not benefit personally from any of the miracles He performed (unless you count taking His portion from the food He multiplied when feeding the 5000 and the 4000). Here too, Jesus responds to the temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy, as He does with all three. As Paul tells us, the Word is a sword, our only offensive weapon against the enemy (Ephesians 6:17).
The last temptation according to Matthew’s account was the lust of the eyes, as He beheld all the glittering kingdoms of the world. Luke’s gospel records Satan’s assertion, “this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Luke 4:6). Notice that Jesus didn’t contradict this: the earth and all its kingdoms were Satan’s, and they both knew it. Jesus had come to earth, in part, to regain the authority that Adam had lost. Here, Satan offered it to Him freely. I doubt Satan realized that the alternative was the cross, since Paul tells us that if he had understood this, he would never have crucified Him (1 Corinthians 2:8). But Jesus knew it, which presumably made the offer all the more enticing. Yet even if Satan had kept his end of the bargain (which is doubtful), regaining authority for Himself only was never Jesus’ goal. He wanted us back, and there was only one way to get us. If Jesus had sinned, He could not have become the perfect Lamb of God, our substitutionary sacrifice. He could not have ushered in the New Covenant. 
 

Fictionalized Retelling (from Jesus' POV)

It was time. 
I had, from time to time over the last six months, lingered some distance away from the Jordan River as my cousin John baptized the hoards of Israel who came to him seeking repentance. I watched smiling, laughing, and sometimes weeping as the prodigals came home. 
“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few,” I murmured aloud on more than one occasion, bursting with pride in my cousin. But I had never revealed my presence to him over the past six months. His fame grew, though I remained in obscurity. 
Until now. 
My heart hammered in my chest in a blend of excitement and anticipation as I made my way right down to the banks of the Jordan this time. John was waist deep in the river, helping a middle aged man plunge beneath the waters and come back up again, his nose plugged and eyes closed while everyone around him cheered. Grinning, John released him. 
“Bear fruit worthy of repentance, friend!” John shouted after the man as he waded toward his friends, arms thrust into the air in victory and face streaming with water.
John turned to see who was next, and our eyes locked. His smile froze while mine widened. Understanding struck him. 
“Of course it’s you.” He was too far away and the rushing water was too loud for me to hear him, but I saw his lips form the words and his eyes fill with tears. Then he started laughing, even as the tears spilled over onto his cheeks. Answering tears pricked in my own eyes. I had always imagined this moment: how John would react when he realized that I was the Messiah. The reality was better. 
“Behold!” John bellowed to everyone around him, making a grand sweeping gesture to me with one hand as he wiped his cheeks with the other. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
My chest felt like it might burst with love for My cousin. I waded up to him as he spoke, positioning Myself to be baptized as the others before Me had done. His expression changed from awestruck to appalled, and he held up his hands in protest. 
“I need to be baptized by You,” he protested, “and are You coming to me?” 
“Let it be so now, for it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” I told him.
He shook his head, but in wonder, not refusal. I knelt down, plugged My nose, and closed My eyes, as My cousin took hold of my shoulders and lowered Me below the chilly rushing waters. He lifted Me out again, and I shook My hair and beard, water streaming from My face as I wiped it away. The sky above us was cloudless that day, but even so, it seemed to part like a pair of blue curtains. Beyond it, I saw the scene Ezekiel had described: a still sapphire sea, and a throne surrounded by an emerald rainbow. The One on the throne was all flame and rainbow, more glorious than the sun. 
“Father,” I whispered. It was the first time I had ever seen Him with My human eyes. 
He rose to His feet, and threw something in the air. As it descended through the parted sky, I could make out the form of a gleaming white dove. It landed on My shoulder.
“Holy Spirit!” I breathed, like embracing an old friend. He burned Me, but without pain, as Moses’ bush had burned without being consumed.
“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” My Father declared. 
With that, the sky rolled back across the heavenly scene like a scroll. The dove too had vanished, and the burning faded—but He was upon Me still, just like He had come upon the prophets of old in power. I knew He would be with Me from now on, until My mission here was complete. 
I turned to John, curious whether he had seen and heard what I had, or whether that had just been for Me. His awestruck expression, still turned toward the sky, told Me all I needed to know. Then he looked back at Me. 
“How long have You known?” he murmured. 
I smiled back at him. “As far back as I can remember.” 
“And yet You never told me!” It was an accusation, but then he held up a hand and said, “No no, I understand. It was better this way. I’d have asked far too many questions, though by all rights I should have guessed.” He shook his head and added to himself, “I must have been intentionally blinded until now; it’s the most obvious thing in the world—Jesus! where are You going?”  
I was wading back to the banks, and already the crowds had parted to make way for Me. I pointed up to the heavens. “The Spirit compels Me away from here just as surely as if He tugged Me by the hand. I must go.” 
“Where?” John called after me. “I’ll come with You!” 
“Into the wilderness, and I must go alone,” I called, giving him an apologetic glance. “You, meanwhile, still have work to do here.” I cast him one more grin, and made my way through the crowds gazing at Me with amazement on the banks, My robes streaming with water and gathering mud at the hems.
 
I walked out into the lonely places of Israel, as the chatter of the crowds grew distant behind Me. My clothing dried and stiffened with the sediment from the Jordan as the day progressed. Wild animals heard my footsteps and fled as I drew near. The Holy Spirit pulled me deeper and deeper into the wilderness. 
Yet there was another presence here too, besides Him and Me. I felt, though I did not see him yet. His hatred pulsed all around Me, like the heat radiating from the sun. It was almost tangible. 
I made camp that first night after the sun went down, and lay My head upon a flat stone for a pillow. I closed My eyes. It was then that I heard the first whispers. 
You imagined it all, Satan taunted. There was no open heaven, no Father, no Holy Spirit. You suffer from delusions of grandeur. What are You but a poor dead carpenter’s son?
I huffed and turned over. “It just happened today,” I said aloud. “At least have the decency to wait a few days before you try to make Me doubt it.” 
He fell silent for perhaps an hour. Then when I hovered in that space between sleep and waking, he whispered, You’re not the Messiah. You’ve never done any miracles in your life. John is greater than You are! 
I groaned, mostly annoyed to be disturbed out of slumber. Aloud, I countered in a voice thick with sleep, “Born in Bethlehem, of a virgin, from the tribe of Judah and of the line of David. I was called out of Egypt, while Herod massacred the children two and under at the time of my birth. My cousin, also born of a miracle, came in the spirit and power of Elijah and has been my forerunner for six months…” I kept quoting prophecies I had fulfilled already until I sensed that Satan had given up for the night. Then I breathed a sigh of relief, and drifted off at last.
Day and night, this cycle repeated—intensely for the first three days, when I was hungriest. By the third day, my hunger receded, and so did the whispers. After that, Satan’s daily temptations seemed almost halfhearted, and he gave up easily.
“Isn’t that just like you,” I panted to him aloud as I crested a hill with a large tree where I could rest in the shade. “Not one to waste your efforts in a battle you know you cannot win!” 
I knew I would not feel hunger again for the most part until I literally began to starve, which would happen around day forty. I did not know how long the Holy Spirit intended for me to spend out in the wilderness, though I guessed forty days and nights—that number recurred throughout scripture. The hardest battle would come near the end, when I was at my weakest, both physically and emotionally. 
Until then, I walked, I rested, and just when I could stand my thirst no more, I came across streams and springs where I slaked my parched tongue. I quoted the Pentateuch to Myself aloud. I sang the Psalms, inventing melodies for some of them that had never been set to music in My day. I talked to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, though I got no more audible or miraculous responses as I had in the Jordan. 
What are You doing out here? What is the point? Satan whispered several weeks in. 
“Symbolism,” I informed him, as much for My benefit as for his. “The Israelites left their old life in Egypt, were ‘baptized’ as they passed through the Red Sea, and entered the wilderness, where they learned trust and dependence upon God day by day, despite constant opportunities to doubt. Forty years for them; forty days for Me. Then they entered the Promised Land, through the Jordan at flood stage. Jordan means ‘destroyer,’ which symbolizes you, of course. The waters of the ‘destroyer’ parted and were cut off all the way back to the city called Adam. It was, for them, as if the fall had never happened, as long as they remained on the right side of the covenant. You had no power over them anymore. Only then did they began their work of taking territory and slaying giants. In the same way, after I defeat you in the wilderness, then My ministry will begin. Then I will take down your ‘giants’ of sickness, death, and disease, set the captives free, and proclaim the good news of the kingdom.” 
If this is Your wilderness experience like what the Israelites experienced, then where is your manna? Satan sneered. God fed the Israelites, but He’s happy to let You starve. You know why? You’re not really His son. He’ll let You die out here like the blasphemer You are.
I rolled My eyes at this attempt, though in truth, My stomach responded differently. It growled at the thought of manna. 
The awakened hunger persisted after that. At first upon is return, it gnawed here and there and then quieted for the rest of the day. It was worse on the days when I did not come upon a stream. A belly heavy with water could soothe the ravenous beast for awhile. 
By day forty, though, the hunger was constant and nearly unbearable. I hardly felt the Holy Spirit’s presence at all, but Satan’s whispers seemed always just behind Me. 
I squinted against the glare of the midday sun, not sure if My eyes were playing tricks on Me. But surely if I were to see a mirage, the shriveled, misshapen being before Me is not what I would have conjured. 
“Satan,” I greeted the creature. I had never seen him before with My human eyes, yet I recognized him at once. I looked him up and down, noting the leathery skin like that of a bat, the emaciated features, the beady flashing red eyes. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” I commented. My human eyes had never beheld him in his pre-fall glory either, but I knew the story from Isaiah. 
His lip curled at this, returning the inspection. “I could say the same of You, if You truly were who You claimed to be. But You and I both know You’re not. At least I once glowed brighter than the morning star. You, on the other hand…” he gave a wheezy laugh. “A delusional carpenter whom God will permit to die of starvation in the wilderness, whose carcass will be picked clean by the vultures.” 
“How well-named you are,” I retorted. Satan meant accuser. 
If You are the Son of God,” he returned, circling Me like one of the vultures he had referenced, “command that these stones become bread.” He gestured at a large boulder at my feet. 
Immediately My stomach gave a loud, painful growl. Unbidden, I saw the hot loaf in My mind’s eye, dripping with butter, sweetened with honey. My mouth flooded with saliva I could ill afford to spare: I was dehydrated enough. 
But I had not quoted the Pentateuch for forty days and nights for nothing. I knew the stories: God gave Moses the rod that he used in power to deliver the Israelites from every one of their challenges, and yet he was only to use it as God had prescribed. He could not bring water out of any rock, nor could he do it by any method he chose. When he forgot this, he had forfeited his own right to enter the Promised Land. In the same way, the power of the Holy Spirit was Mine, but I could not use it when and how I pleased—lest I forfeit My Promised Land. 
“It is written,” I panted back, swallowing back the saliva, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Satan knew the reference as I did: it was from Deuteronomy. His beady eyes flashed, but he tried to control his expression. I should have felt a flash of triumph, but all I felt was hungry. 
Satan circled Me, and fastened his reptilian hands upon My wrists. In a whirl of wind and the blink of an eye, he spirited us together to the pinnacle of the temple of Jerusalem. My eyes widened and I took a step back from the ledge, as down below I saw the bustle of the crowd of worshippers, or priests bearing lambs or goats they had just bought and washed for sacrifice. They did not seem to see us—yet. 
“Prince of the power of the air,” I murmured to Myself, amazed. It was an impressive trick. 
He smirked at me, and gave an exaggerated little bow. Then his proud expression hardened and he took a step closer to me—too close. “If You are the Son of God,” he hissed, and gestured at the ledge casually, “throw Yourself down.” His words again conjured a clear picture in my mind: the gasps, the cheers, the crowds flocking to Me in amazement. What a spectacular way to announce My ministry! Satan shrugged and added, “For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
I gnashed My teeth together. That was a misquote of Psalm 91. Technically it was correct, but it was completely out of context. It angered Me how subtle his lies were, though less for Myself, and more for all those precious ones whom I knew he would lead astray with exactly this kind of deceit throughout the ages. I retorted, “It is also written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God!’” This was also from Deuteronomy. “Don’t play this game with Me, Satan. You think you know the word better than I do? I am the Word. You cannot win.” 
“Oh, can’t I?” he whispered back, clutching My wrists in his fists once again. I did not know where he planned to take Me now, but I knew he would choose a different tactic this time. He couldn’t make Me doubt My identity, so—
I caught My breath. We were at the top of a snow-capped mountain, well above the clouds, though I did not feel cold. This was a vision, I realized. I looked down, and all around me I saw—time. All of it. From the beginning to the end, every glittering kingdom of earth merged with one another, their rising and falling, their wealth and their greatness. But even more than this, I saw the people in those kingdoms: great and small, young and old, good and evil. My heart ached. They were why I had come. I longed for them, so desperately—My sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, all lost and hopeless and hurting without Me!
Satan leaned so close to My ear that I could feel his breath upon My neck. 
“All this authority I will give you, and their glory. It has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. If You will fall down and worship me, all will be Yours.” 
I whirled on him, horrified at the longing I felt. Adam gave the authority of all the earth to him, and he offered it back to Me now. It was precisely what I had come to reclaim, and he now offered Me a shortcut—without the sacrifice. 
Without the cross. 
“Away with you, Satan!” I snapped. “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve!’”
His expression sank into a deep scowl, and he bared his pointed yellowed teeth at Me. Then in a whirlwind, he was gone. I found Myself alone in the wilderness once again, on My hands and knees, panting. 
Then I felt a hand on My shoulder. I jerked back, expecting to see Satan once again, but I softened when I saw a beautiful face I somehow also recognized. 
“Gabriel?”
He smiled at me tenderly, and gestured behind him. There, I saw a cake sizzling upon a stone, and a jug of water. My stomach gave an answering, painful growl. I thought at once of the story of Elijah in the wilderness as he fled to Mount Sinai, and an angel met him along the way with just such refreshment as this. 
Gabriel hovered just behind me as I wolfed down the repast, closing My eyes in bliss as I savored the flavors. The cake was smaller than I would have liked, but I also knew better than to break such a long fast with a large meal. Nevertheless, had I had the option, it would have been hard to resist. 
When I had finished, I turned back to Gabriel. 
“I wonder that I have never met him before,” I said, meaning Satan. “But then, I’ve never drawn attention to Myself before.” 
The angel nodded, and pointed at the sky with a slight smirk. “That got his attention, I think.” 
I laughed, and then grew thoughtful. “Yes. But I needed it, too.” Of course, I literally needed the power of the Spirit to begin My ministry—but what I meant was that I had emotionally needed the open vision and the Father’s voice, too. After thirty years of obscurity, I had not doubted My identity per se, but the overt confirmation had certainly been a relief. Gabriel understood this.  
“That has always been the struggle,” Gabriel agreed. “Physical manifestations of power alert Satan to where the battle is.” Then he added, “He gave up for now, but he’ll be back, whenever he thinks You’re at Your most vulnerable. He’s like the Amalekites in that way.” 
I gave a short laugh, catching the reference to the tribe that had first attacked the Israelites in the wilderness by picking off the weak and stragglers among them. “Of course he is. The Amalekites got that strategy from him.” I sighed and mused to Myself, “I’ll have to be careful. Anything I say plainly or do in the natural realm is double-edged: he can see or hear it just as surely as those for whom it is intended. Which is why so many of the prophets spoke in mysteries and dark sayings.” 
Gabriel sank down to the ground beside Me, mimicking My posture with his arms around his knees. “He never understood any of the prophecies about You until it was too late,” the angel agreed. “Oh, he knew vaguely of course: Seed of Eve, line of Abraham, and that kind of thing—so he did his best to corrupt the earth, keep Abraham’s line barren until there were too many of them to bother with that strategy, and then kill or corrupt the Jews in general. But if he could have narrowed it down to Your exact line…” He shook his head. “Even at the time of Your birth, the best he could do was inspire Herod to kill all the babies two and under in Israel. He didn’t understand that—”
“‘Out of Egypt I have called My Son,’” I finished, quoting from Hosea. 
Gabriel nodded. “Right. He was looking for you in the wrong country. The truth was written in black and white—”
“But in a dark saying,” I agreed, and bit My lip. I thought of David’s seemingly superfluous musical gift of the harp, which turned out to be his ticket into Saul’s palace. I, likewise, had a gift for story telling. Now I understood why. I looked up at Gabriel. 
“I am to teach the people in parables,” I realized. “So that ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding’…” 
“Except for those whose hearts have been prepared to perceive and to understand,” Gabriel agreed. 
“By My cousin.” I gave a short laugh, and then sighed. “Even then, I’ll have to be careful what I say. He’ll be watching Me very closely from now on.” 
Gabriel stood and brushed himself off, which was also My cue that it was time to head back to Capernaum. 
“Yes,” he said, “I daresay Satan won’t take his eyes off of You for a second, from this moment on.” 
Jul 16, 2021

San Diego-based Joy Stephenson-Laws is a wellness warrior!  She is the founder of LA-based Proactive Health Labs (pH Labs), a national nonprofit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. She is also author of Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, and founding and managing partner of Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman (SAC), the health care industry’s premier litigation law firm established in 1989. pH Labs’ includes a diverse team of health care professionals who are experts in making complex health and health-related topics easy-to-understand and easy to apply to your daily lives. 

To learn more about Joy, see her website: pHlabs.org 

Jul 9, 2021

Krzysztof Czeczot is a Polish actor, director, and producer. Krzysztof has produced over 400 hours of dramatized audiobooks, among others: Game of Thrones, The Godfather and Blade Runner.  He is a winner of The Best European Audio Play and the founder and director of the Audio Bible Super Production, a one of a kind ecumenical project. It’s the world's largest 3D radio drama with Hollywood A-list artists, including some of the most famous names in business, has its own dedicated music and background sounds recorded in the Holy Land, and will be available on a modern mobile app. To top it all off, anyone has a chance to participate and share their voice. Apart from professional actors, they invite people from different walks of life to take part in the production. 

For more about the Audio Bible Super Production, visit audiobiblesuperproduction.com 

Jul 2, 2021

Jane Wenning is a certified Medical Technologist with a degree in Clinical Laboratory Science.  She is an Athletic Trainer, and Health Mentor who has been helping women improve their mental and physical health for over 20 years.  During high school and college, she was overweight, struggled with eating disorders, had low self-esteem and brain fog.  Obtaining a degree in Clinical Laboratory Science and working with athletes, Jane merged these two worlds together to create a structured wellness plan focused on four pillars – Recovery, Emotional Energy, Nutrition, and Movement.   Outside of her degree she has spent hundreds of hours learning about nutrition, longevity, brain health, sleep, interval training, fasting, epigenetics and estrogenics.   With daily reading of the bible she finds confirmation in God’s word that He wants us to live abundant, healthy lives.  Jane now equips women (and some men) with the tools to transform into healthier and stronger versions of themselves to live life with vitality.  

Jane's Contact Info:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/jane.wenning.165

LinkedIn:  www.linkedin.com/in/jane-wenning-4-pillarshealth

Website:  https://www.4-pillarshealth.com

Jun 25, 2021

Today's podcast is a meditation on and retelling of John 2:1-11.

This retelling comes from Messiah: Biblical Retellings. The second book in this series is Daughters of Zion: Biblical Retellings

Introduction
    Why was this Jesus’ first public miracle?
    It’s clear he didn’t actually intend it to be. He tried to tell Mary no, and that his time had not yet come, but Mary insisted. Presumably these were close friends of hers, and she was embarrassed for the host that they had run out of wine. She also knew Jesus could help, which is remarkable in itself. Up until this point, Jesus had been baptized by John in power, but he had not yet done any miracles. Mary surely knew that he could do miracles as the Messiah, but it’s remarkable that she had the faith that he would, even after he told her no and he never had before. It was her faith that made this one happen: she actually ignored his ‘no’ and told the servants to go ahead and do whatever Jesus said to do. What must they have thought, when they knew they’d filled up the vessels with just water, and then brought them to the master of ceremonies to taste? Were they snickering amongst themselves? Were they wondering what they would say as explanation?
    After Jesus was baptized by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit, he had the powerto do miracles. Satan tempted him in the wilderness to do miraculous signs to prove who he was to himself, since he had never yet performed any miracles. Satan wanted Jesus to doubt his identity. So when Jesus was beginning to literally starve after 40 days with no food, and Satan tempted him to turn a stone into bread, a necessity for himself—and he resisted. Yet now, when Mary wants him to turn water into wine—a luxury for others, he does it. Not only does he do it, he makes up to 180 gallons of it! It takes 5 normal sized bottles of wine to make a gallon, so this is 900 bottles of apparently exquisite wine. No matter how big this wedding, that’s way more than they could ever drink, even with a marriage celebration that went on for days. He continues this theme of abundance throughout his ministry: in the feeding of both the 5000 and the 4000, there was far more left over than he started with. When Jesus told Peter and his partners to cast their nets on the other sides of the boat, there were so many fish that the boats began to sink. He is a God of more than enough.
    Moses’ first miracle under the Covenant of Law was to turn a rod into a serpent (a symbol of sin). Jesus’ first miracle as the bringer of the New Covenant of Grace is to produce an excess of wine (a symbol of joy) for a celebration. This reminds me of the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut 16:9-15): in both cases, the people are to take a portion of what he has blessed them with and enjoy it themselves—all God asks is that they invite Him to the party. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).
 
Fictionalized Retelling: from Mary's POV
 
Deborah had been one of my dearest friends since the earliest days of my marriage to Joseph. She and her husband Zev had thought they were barren for many years, before the birth of their daughter Yasmin. Later they had two boys too, but Yasmin was the princess of the family. I watched her grow up with my own children, and loved her like one of my own. When Joseph passed away, her family and ours grew even closer. Zev cared for me like I was one of his own sisters, though my sons were old enough to take care of me then.
    Alas for Yasmin, though, her parents were too poor for much of a dowry, and she was never a beauty. When she reached eighteen with no marriage prospects, Deborah privately cried with me that perhaps Yasmin would never marry. What would she do in her old age, once her parents were not around to provide for her anymore?
    “Her brothers will no doubt provide for her,” I soothed my friend, though inwardly my heart broke for Yasmin, too. Yasmin did not let on, but I knew how it must hurt her not to be chosen, and how she must fear growing old without a family of her own.
    So when she met Tobias, a poor merchant’s son who seemed to see in her what all of us saw, we held our breaths… until the day finally came, when Tobias approached Zev for the Shiddukin, or commitment. When Zev asked Yasmin privately if she would consent to become Tobias’s wife, Deborah told me that Yasmin had burst into happy tears on the spot, choking out her yes with so much emotion that they could hardly understand her.
    I had been present for Yasmin’s Erusin, or betrothal ceremony to Tobias. I thought my face might split, I was grinning so hard as she and Tobias traded the wine goblet under the huppah. Betrothals typically lasted a year, and Tobias would need that long to prepare a place for his bride. From nine months after that day on, Yasmin kept her oil lamps burning in the house twenty-four seven, in case Tobias sounded the shofar and led the bridal procession to collect her in the night. I knew that Deborah and Zev privately fretted about this, since they could not really afford that much oil. But they dared not deny their girl this little luxury, after all she had suffered.
    The oil became a problem when nine months turned into a year, and twelve months became fifteen. Zev finally told Yasmin they could not afford to continue burning the oil lamps. Deborah told me of the tears that followed, and I understood why. Yasmin was not crying because she was denied the oil for the lamps. The oil lamps symbolized her hope that Tobias would ever return, and her hope was dwindling. Had he changed his mind? Would he return at all?
    So when the shofar sounded in the streets of Cana after a seventeen month betrothal, the entire town turned up to celebrate the Nissuin. We all loved Yasmin, Deborah, and Zev. I was relieved that Jesus had just returned home in time, as well: he had been baptized in the river Jordan and then went off into the wilderness for forty days, though I did not know how long he would be gone. He had made it clear to me that he would not necessarily share with me all the details of where and when he would be going from this point forward. I understood the significance of what he was saying. Since his very unusual birth, I had anticipated the day he would step into his role as the Messiah. I wanted to ask him what had happened in the wilderness, but he happened to arrive on day three of the Nissuin, at which point there was such hubbub and commotion that I could hardly ask him anything. He also arrived with a group of several men I had never seen before, orienting themselves around him like disciples. I beamed at my son and waved at him across the way when Deborah intercepted me, all aflutter.
    My face fell as I focused on my friend, and for one wild second, I thought, what crisis now?
    “We are out of wine!” she gasped. “It’s only the third day, and we are out of wine!”
    I understood what she meant immediately. It was considered shameful to run out of wine at all, let alone on day three. Although wedding guests typically helped to pay for the seven day wedding feast of Nissuin, none of our friends were wealthy people. There was no one to whom they could appeal for help.
    “This is because of the excess of oil burning all those months?” I guessed, and Deborah gave me a tearful nod.
    I bit my lip, and looked back at Jesus, then at Deborah again.
    “Leave it to me,” I whispered with determination, and crossed the room.
    I grinned and hugged my son, but when I got close enough to his ear I whispered pointedly, “They have no more wine.”
    When Jesus released me, I saw that he scrutinized my face with a slight frown. “What does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
    I narrowed my eyes at him. “I know about the dove from heaven,” I whispered back, referencing the rumors I had heard about the voice that had declared Jesus’ identity when John baptized him in the river. “You’ve stepped into your ministry now. You even have disciples. If Elijah and Elisha could both multiply oil and flour, I know you can do this! Besides, it’s Yasmin!” I insisted. “She’s practically your sister…”
    I saw that Jesus was about to protest again, so I turned away before I could hear it, gesturing at the servants nearby. I pointed them to Jesus.
    “Whatever he says to you, do it,” I instructed them, turning back to Jesus. I might have worn a slightly triumphant expression. He returned a mock glare, but the corners of his mouth turned upward. I knew I’d won.
    With a slight sigh, Jesus turned to the servants and pointed at six enormous empty waterpots used for ritual purification. “Go and fill the waterpots with water,” he instructed.
    I saw the servants frown at each other skeptically, but I reminded them, “Do it!”
    They shrugged, and went to do as they were told. It took two men to carry each filled pot back to Jesus, since they held about thirty gallons each, sloshing water over the edges as they carried them.
    When they returned, Jesus nodded at them and said, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.”
    The servants at first did nothing. One finally echoed, “Take him some… water.”
    Jesus returned the look I knew so well: that unblinking quiet confidence that said he meant just what he said, and wasn’t going to change his mind.
    The servant shrugged and said, “Well, okay then…” and dipped a goblet into the water. Then he looked down into the goblet and started. He looked back up at Jesus, then down at the goblet, then up at Jesus again. Jesus’ expression had not changed, though there might have been just a twinge more amusement.
    I smiled at Jesus with gratitude, but hurried after the two servants. They brought the goblet to Tobias’s father Uri, acting master of the feast. Uri was tipsy already, and gave a loud and cheerful “Hey!” when he saw that the servants had brought him another goblet of wine. He raised it to his lips, though his attention was elsewhere. All three of us watching eagerly for his reaction. He raised his eyebrows, lifted the goblet to his nose, sniffed it, and swirled it before bringing it to his lips again. Then he looked first to the servants, then to Deborah in amazement. He beckoned his son to him across the room, and Tobias came trotting over.
    “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” he cried out, clapping the boy on his back and drinking a long draught from the goblet. “Well done!”
    Tobias turned to us, looking confused. I giggled, and gestured to the servant.
    “Bring the bridegroom a goblet too!” I told them. “Bring me one as well!”
    They did so, whispering excitedly among themselves. Many of the guests turned to Jesus after they had no doubt heard the story, with expressions ranging from skepticism to amazement. Tobias shared his goblet with Yasmin, who went to Jesus to thank him. In minutes, the story had traversed the room, and the people swarmed Jesus, wanting to know if it was true. I could just see him through the crowd that now surrounded him, and I raised my goblet in the air to him in a silent toast.
    “To my son,” I whispered to myself. “The Messiah.”
Jun 18, 2021

Barbara Samuels is an international speaker, transformational wellness coach, CEO, and life strategist. She operates a successful lifestyle coaching company  "Living All Alive", that empowers individuals to take control of their health and reverse type 2 diabetes, and she is the author of the book, Reverse Type 2 Diabetes Naturally.

Barbara has over 27 years’ experience working in the field of nursing as a registered nurse. Her experience in this field spanned on two continents. She has worked in England, Jamaica, and the United states. During her time as a nurse, she was deeply grieved as she witnessed the pain/suffering and untimely death of her patients from type 2 diabetes complications. 

She knew there must be more that she could do. She wanted to have a greater impact, and so she decided to become actively engaged in improving the health of others through education and wellness coaching. She left the hospital setting and has been making a major impact in helping to restore the lives of individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Barbara is married with 3 children. She is passionate about sharing the gospel, through avenues of health and wellness. Barbara’s mission is to help others live and experience the abundant life that they were created to have, enjoying all the blessings that God has for them.

For more about Barbara, see her website, Living All Alive, or find her on Instagram @LivingAllAlive.

For more on our sponsor, Let's Get Checked. go to trylgc.com/cnh, and enter the coupon code CNH20 for 20% off your order. 

 

Jun 11, 2021
Introduction
Shinar was in what is now modern day Iraq. The land of Babylon got its name from the Tower of Babel, so named because the Hebrew word Bāḇel means confusion. Presumably the etymology of the English word babble comes from its Hebrew equivalent.
It’s interesting what is not in the text in this story. The people of the earth built a fortified city and a tower, intending for it to reach up to heaven. We know from God’s reaction that what they did was somehow evil, but there’s nothing inherently evil in building a city or a tower. What was the problem? 
I think the clue is in the phrase, “…a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Remember that this was only one hundred (and one) years after the flood—Noah and his sons were still alive. Could the point have been that their descendants were trying to protect themselves against a future act of God, even though He had already promised He would never again send a flood upon the earth? Was the problem that they were trusting in their own might and seeking their own glory, leaning on “their own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5-6)? Did the tower up to the heavens imply that they saw themselves as equal with God? 
Ultimately I think the issue was pride—and the fact that, left unchecked, the people might actually achieve their ends. God had to intervene once more; He had to make sure that the people of the earth did not once again become corrupted beyond redemption, beyond the point where He could bring forth a savior. The fact that He went about it by confusing their language is profound, though. He said, “the people are one and they have one language, and… now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:6-7). What a powerful statement about the power both of the tongue (Proverbs 12:14), and of agreement of vision and purpose! The Hebrew word for “nothing they propose to do” is zāmam, translated elsewhere as devise, imagine, or plot. We do nothing without first imagining or considering it, conceiving it in our minds. In the same way, the writer of Proverbs tells us to guard our hearts (or our minds or imaginations), “for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23), and “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). First comes the thought; then comes the word, and this translates into the deed or the action itself. We are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), and God spoke the world into being (Genesis 1:3). In the same way, our words have great power (Proverbs 18:21). When God saw that the descendants of Noah used this power to pursue their own ends and to forget Him, He dealt with it by confusing their language. He could not change their thoughts without violating their free will, so He intervened at a later stage in the process. Their words, lacking understanding, also lost the power of the unity of vision. Even with the loss of a huge percentage of his workers, Nimrod son of Cush, the son of Ham still went on to found Babylon, Assyria, and Nineveh, as well as many other cities (Genesis 10:8-12). Imagine what he could have done had they maintained the unity of language! In the same way, think of all the seemingly impossible advances in knowledge, understanding, and technology that have occurred even within our own lifetimes. All of these began as an idea, an imagination, a vision—which were subsequently communicated to others who caught the vision and could then add their own skills in pursuit of a common purpose. God Himself said of this process, “now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them” (Genesis 11:6). What a statement! What incredible power He has given to mankind, to use for good or ill. 
I also find it interesting that while this initial incident of producing different tongues divided and scattered mankind across the globe, Pentecost had the exact opposite effect: the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church united those who had been divided by language in a common purpose and vision (Acts 2:1-12). The Lord brought men together with the supernatural understanding of one another’s languages, and as a result, the church swelled from one hundred and twenty people (Acts 1:15) to over three thousand in a single day (Acts 2:41). 
What struck me most about this story was that Noah was still alive at the time—in fact, he lived for another 150 years after this (Genesis 9:28). I’d never thought of that before. Everyone on earth at the time would have been family to him: his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. How did the patriarch let this happen? How did his descendants go astray only one century after the flood? And how awful for him to essentially lose much of his family when they could no longer communicate with one another. It wasn’t like they could just pick up the Rosetta Stone and learn; this was the advent of all the new languages of the earth. Even if there existed a written alphabet for the original language they all spoke, there certainly wasn’t one yet for any of the new languages. So those who shared a language in common presumably migrated together to found new nations with their new tongues (Genesis 11:8). 
 
Fictionalized Retelling: Preincarnate Jesus' Perspective
I looked down at the earth and frowned. 
It was desolate, compared to the lush world before the flood one hundred years earlier. The earth had given forth its fruit and prospered in the last hundred years, but it was nothing to what it had been before. The temperate climate I had intended, and the tropical forests and glades spanning the globe had now become predominately ocean, desert nearer the equator, and tundra toward the poles. Still, My intention was for Noah’s descendants to repopulate the inhabitable portions of the earth, such as it was. That was not what they were doing.     
There were just over ten thousand of them now. I had kept my covenant with Noah simple. I needed a nation of those whose hearts would follow Me before going into detail about morality, to both teach them that they needed the Seed of Eve to come and redeem them, and to keep them pure enough that He could come at all. They weren’t there yet. In fact to start, I needed one man whose heart toward me was pure. 
That was why I frowned upon the earth now. I had given my vow to Noah that never again would I wipe out the earth’s entire population, and yet here they were only a century later, already challenging that resolution. 
“We told them to fill the earth and subdue it,” the Father observed to Me. “Yet they have all settled in Shinar, and the rest of the earth remains uninhabited.” 
“Yes, and see what they are doing,” the Spirit growled. “They are building a great city, with a temple to reach to heaven. Nimrod thinks he is God.”
“Satan heard the covenant too, that we would never again destroy the earth in a flood,” I murmured. “He thinks that means if he corrupts mankind again, there will be nothing We can do to stop him.” 
The Father sighed. “If mankind can only get past this stage without complete corruption, and give Us something to work with—”
“Where is Noah?” I groaned. I knew the answer, but expressed my frustration. Noah was their patriarch, the eldest man of the earth and the father of them all, at over seven hundred years of age. Yet he had said nothing to hinder the rebellion of his descendants, or to remind them of Us. He had grown complacent. He had Our promise, repeated several times per year in the heavens after each rainfall, that We would never again destroy the earth in that way again. We had not explained to him Our ultimate purpose. We had not explained that he and all mankind had an enemy that longed to keep Us from bringing the Seed that would ultimately redeem them. He would not have understood if We had. So he watched as his grandchildren and great-grandchildren grew ambitious for their own legacy upon the earth, and forgot Us. He was actually even proud of their accomplishments. He did not think to warn them. He too was blinded.
We would have to get involved once again, since We lacked a man upon the earth to do it for Us. Yet We would need to do it without destruction, abiding by the rules of Our own covenant with Noah. 
“I will go,” I announced, “and see this city and tower which the children of men have built.”
So I descended from heaven to the land of Shinar, deliberately obscuring My radiance so that they would not know Me. I walked about the city incognito, like a stranger to those parts, dismayed at what I saw. Under the direction of Nimrod, son of Cush, all of the men of the land worked together toward Nimrod’s common vision. They had developed bricks and mortar, just like men had done before the flood, and had used them to create a sprawling city. At its center was a ziggurat, built with successive layers and a tower at the center which reached halfway to the sky. With an intricate system of pulleys, the people of Shinar continued to pile layer upon layer to the tower, with a spiral staircase on the inside so that they could still climb to the top. They worked well together. Too well. 
“In and of itself, the tower is not evil,” I murmured to the Spirit, who was with Me, but invisible to the men around us. 
“No,” He agreed, “but what is the motive for building it?”
This was rhetorical, but I answered anyway. “The people have become great in their own eyes, convinced they can accomplish anything they wish, without Us.” 
“To a large degree they are correct,” He replied, pensive. “They are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they have started to do, and now nothing which they plan to do will be impossible for them.”
I sighed, and made My way to the center of the ziggurat beside the tower, where Nimrod and his family lived. From there, he gave orders to all of his sons and nephews and cousins who built the tower with him. I frowned, listening and observing, until he had a moment of reprieve between the giving of orders. 
“You are in charge of this land?” I asked him. 
Nimrod looked at Me, narrowed his eyes, and sniffed with disdain. “Whose son are you? I do not recall.” 
“God’s son,” I told him. 
He gave Me an odd look followed by a little sneer. “Mmm, aren’t we all.” 
“Yes, though it seems you have forgotten it,” I said. “What is the purpose of this great city and the tower you have built?”  
He regarded Me again, as if deciding whether or not to dismiss Me. But, not willing to give up an opportunity to boast, he replied, “My grandfather, and probably Your great-grandfather, saw the earth destroyed in a great flood. This was only possible because the people had not fortified themselves against such disaster. We shall not make such a mistake.” 
I arched a brow at him. “You think that your ziggurat would save you against the hand of God, should He decide to destroy this generation?” 
Nimrod puffed out his chest. “Yes,” he declared. “My grandfather Ham told me that the flood waters rose above the peaks of the highest mountain of the earth. My tower shall reach higher than that, up to the very heavens themselves!” 
I considered telling Nimrod to ask Ham, or Noah, how it really was when the fountains of the deep broke open. The very idea that this ziggurat or its tower would have survived that was laughable. But it did not matter; Nimrod would not hear it, and the point was moot anyway. 
“You do recall the Lord’s covenant with Noah that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood,” I said. “Why fortify yourself against a disaster which shall never recur?” 
“Ah,” Nimrod’s mouth curled at the edges. “Perhaps not a flood, but there are other kinds of disasters, are there not? This fortress would withstand a cyclone, or an earthquake, or a volcano, or a rebellion—whatever disaster may befall, my great name shall live on in the earth. My descendants shall still speak of me for thousands of generations to come.” 
“So your goal is your own glory, then,” I concluded. 
He shrugged. “Mine and that of my children after me. My glory is their glory. Why am I still talking to You? Get back to work!” 
I regarded him, and then murmured, “You have fortified yourself and your children against physical destruction, yes. But there is a kind of disaster that you cannot guard against, which shall destroy your best laid plans and bring them all to nothing.” 
He sneered. “‘Awh nem, wama hdha?” He blinked, confused, and then suddenly frightened. He clapped a hand over his mouth. “Madha faealt bi?” he demanded. 
“I have confused your language,” I informed him, though I knew he would no longer understand Me. “And not yours only. All around, you will find that your workers no longer understand one another. A few will share each tongue, and those few shall become tribes unto themselves, and will scatter together across the globe—”
“Madha faealt bi?” Nimrod wailed, lunging at Me. I casually raised a hand as if to deflect him, and lifted the veil from his eyes so that he could behold My true form. His eyes widened, and he collapsed to the ground in terror as My glory radiated all around him. 
I left him like that, groveling on the ground, as I strolled down the stairs of the ziggurat, joined by the Spirit as the cacophony of new tongues erupted all around Us. They shouted at one another now, as if that would help. 
Halfway down the ziggurat, We caught sight of the seven hundred year old Noah, and his son Japheth. I felt a pang of sorrow as Japheth shouted at his father, “Miért nem tudsz megérteni engem?” Noah shook his hoary head with dismay, as he at last realized that this was no joke. 
“I’ve lost my children,” he moaned to himself. “I’ve lost them forever—” He raised his eyes to Me then, and though I had again resumed My cloaked appearance, he knew Me. “We have forgotten You,” he whispered. “So you’ve made their language like the babbling of a baby to me.” 
“This is a mercy, not a punishment,” I told him gently. “Just as it was when We expelled Adam and Eve from the garden so that they could not take of the tree and live forever in their fallen state. Left unchecked, Nimrod and all your family in unity against Me would have corrupted the earth, just as surely as did the Nephilim.”
“Have you left me anyone at all?” Noah choked. 
“Shem, Arphaxad, and his children retain your language,” I murmured, laying a hand on his shoulder. “You will journey together with them to the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, together with their wives and children.” 
“What of Nimrod?” he asked me. “And Shinar?” 
“Nimrod will remain here, of course, along with all those who share his language. But he now has less than a tenth of the men he had before. He will continue to build here, and then will move on to construct the beginnings of other mighty nations. Your great-grandson will yet be great upon the earth, though not the absolute ruler he had imagined himself.” 
Noah covered his face with his hands, and I allowed him to fall into step beside Us. He looked back at the ziggurat once we had descended to the earth with one last look of sorrow, the unintelligible shouts mingling together in an angry, distant din. 
“Nimrod had called it the Tower of Shinar,” he murmured. “But hereafter I will call it the Tower of Babel.” 
 
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