For the week of December 15, 2007 / 6 Tevet 5768
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 44:18 - 47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
The Power of Hunger
And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. (Bereshit / Genesis 45:3; ESV)
Near the end of Moses' life he recounted to the people of Israel the significant details of their years living in the wilderness. According to Moses, one of the lessons that God sought to teach them during that time was that they needed to rely upon God for everything. In order to learn that lesson God had to humble them by leading them into a most desperate situation in which they had no food. Moses said to them:
This is one of the most important lessons that human beings must learn. While God has created us to be innovative and resourceful, and while he expects us to provide for ourselves and others, we are not to rely on ourselves, but upon him for all things. Whatever we do must be under his guidance along with a sincere acknowledgement that all we have comes from him.
This is a difficult lesson for us to learn. God has endowed us with great ability, but it is not our ability that is the real problem. The real problem is that we all come into the world with a messed up perspective on life. Our sinful human nature with its natural rebellious bent warps our understanding of who we really are in relationship to God, to others, and to ourselves. Humbly relying on God is a great challenge for us.
That is why the people of Israel had to be driven to such depths. It was only by being without food for a considerable amount of time that they had any hope whatsoever of learning so crucial a lesson.
Perhaps this sounds cruel to you, but God in his love can be pretty harsh sometimes. It is not because he finds pleasure in making life difficult for us, but rather he does what he must so that we will learn what we need to learn.
Hunger is a great motivator. We also see this in the story of Joseph and his brothers. Remember that Joseph's brothers hated him to the point of wanting to kill him. Their jealously of him prevented them from accepting the special role for which God was preparing him. They had no idea that after so many years he would be a high official of Egypt and be the one used by God to administer food throughout that part of the world during the severe famine.
It was their hunger that drove them to Egypt in search of food. It was ongoing hunger that took them there the second time even though they feared what Joseph (although they didn't know it was him yet) might do to them. But it was this same hunger that was driving them to be reconciled with their brother who would provide for them in the long term. If the famine had not been so severe, they likely never would have gone.
About a billion people in the world today are undernourished. I expect that most of the people reading (or listening to) this are not in that category. The type of hunger experienced by Joseph's brothers and the people of Israel is not something that most people have ever known. But there are other types of hunger besides hunger for food that God uses to lead us to the point of desperation.
At times God uses our desperation to provide us the opportunity to make radical adjustments in our lives, specifically to bring about a change of heart towards him. Sadly, not everyone who gets this opportunity makes the right choices. It doesn't help if we think that our times of hunger are simply challenges that we need to resolve ourselves. Instead, let us learn to rely on God to meet us in our place of need.
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