Whereas 4:1-12 contrasted works of the Law with faith, in showing how Abraham had no basis to boast before God as well as how he is the father of all who believe regardless of circumcision, 4:13-25 makes a slight shift. The basic point, however, is still the same: justification is through faith and Abraham is the father of all who believe. Now, the new twist that is being added is a contrast between law and promise. Promise is the term that pulls 4:13-25 together (vv. 13, 14, 16, 20, and 21), as it still stresses that Abraham was justified through faith.
This propitiatory, redemptive work to justify believing sinners was necessary to “show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (3:25). Throughout the Old Covenant, God did not truly punish sins with the full severity that He promised. And yet, He also promised forgiveness. The blood of bulls and goats were not adequate sacrifices to commend either the faithfulness or justice of God’s character. In mercy, God overlooked sin with much patience. And yet, to show that He is in fact upright, God needed to, at some point, truly respond to sin with an appropriate response of wrath. Christ’s punishment at the Cross was that moment in all its finality and decisiveness. The sacrifice of Jesus displayed “his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26). In Christ Jesus, God not only upholds His own standard of justice (all who commit sin must die), but He can now accept sinners as righteous (through His declaration). In Christ, God condemned sin by substituting Christ for sinners. That is, as Paul once again underscores, any sinner “who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).
The reason why the Jews are no better off is their shared condition: “both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (3:9). Mankind certainly is guilty before God due to their sinful choices. But Paul means something more than choices by the phrase “under sin.” It certainly includes sins or sinful actions and choices, but Paul is saying that sin is a condition-through and through-shared by all mankind. Sin is a hostile power whose dominion has its grips on all. Paul had said in chapter 1-on three occasions (1:24,26, 28)-that God had given mankind over. As a part of His present judgment for mankind’s rebellion against Him, God has given mankind over to a condition of bondage to sinfulness. It is a just consequence of unbelief toward God.
The top advantage that circumcised Jews possessed was their Scriptures. The Scriptures were a treasury of Words from God which provided them with the instructions, directives, warnings, promises and assurances that they were God’s special people called to be His special representatives before all the nations by how they lived in relationship with God through loving obedience (see Exodus 19:5-6). But while they had the Written Word, they did not truly believe in it. The chief problem with the Gentiles started with their commitment to “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). The general revelation that God gave to them through the created world was aggressively ignored and actively hidden. Such suppression of the truth meant that the Gentiles were “without excuse” (1:20). The Jews had a further level of revelation from God, which was in written form as it came together to become the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings. These Scriptures provided Israel with deeper revelation concerning God’s character, His promises for their present and future, His past and present work on their behalf, the covenant stipulations of being in relationship with Him and their calling before the nations. But sadly, the Jews had their own expression of suppressing the truth, which Paul, for now, alludes to by simply stating: “What if some were unfaithful?” (3:3).
But Paul now moves to expose the sinful condition of the Jews: “For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (2:1b). The standard that the Jews used to affirm the condemnation of the Gentiles turns out to be the very standard that the Jews themselves violated. While they had received the standard in written form, they faired little better in obeying it. The very criteria that established Gentile condemnation over failure to comply also condemned the Jews. On one level, a distinction can be made between the Gentiles, who disregarded obedience to God’s Law and even openly encouraged such disobedience, and the Jews, who clearly spoke against disregarding God’s Law. But in the final analysis, the actual compliance of the Jews in regard to obeying God’s Law was largely just a matter of pretending. Paul rhetorically asks: “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (2:3). It certainly is a good thing to verbally agree with God’s Law, but the real test is actual obedience. Paul exposed the pretending hearts of his fellow Jews.
With the fact established that God’s wrath is presently being revealed, Romans 1:24-32 builds on this further and explains the particular way that God has set His judgment upon mankind. As we look more carefully at this segment, we can best detect the manner of God’s wrath being presently expressed by noticing a phrase that is repeated three times in 1:24-32. Three times it is stated “God gave them over” (1:24, 26, 28). In response to mankind’s posture against Him, God remands him over or consigns him to destructive consequences. While a final day of judgment is still to come (2:5), a preliminary judgment is already put in operation. By an act of God, mankind is shackled “in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” (1:24), “to dishonorable passions” (1:26), and “to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (1:28). God has presently handed mankind over to a sinful course that will result in them dishonoring their bodies and debasing their minds.
Romans 1:18-23 states that God’s wrath is earned, while Romans 1:24-32 will show how God’s wrath, at present, is expressed. Romans 1:18 opens with a major shift from the introductory matters that Paul has expressed in the first seventeen verses. Paul announces: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (1:18). Speaking of the Gospel, Paul had just said that, “in it the righteousness of God is revealed” (1:17). But now the righteousness of God that is revealed in the Gospel is being contrasted with the wrath of God that is also presently being revealed. Before more details about the good news of the Gospel is provided, Paul interrupts with some dire and devastating news about God’s wrath against sinners.
As the ten brothers arrive in Egypt, they are ushered into Joseph’s presence where they will petition for the acquisition of food. Reminiscent of Joseph’s earlier dream (37:5-11), the brothers “bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground” (42:6). Joseph remembers his earlier dream concerning his brothers bowing to him as well as recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him: “he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them” (42:7). Twenty-two years earlier, the brothers treated Joseph worse than a stranger, now he is treating them as strangers. Joseph does not appear to be vengeful toward them, but neither does he seem to trust them. So Joseph tests his brothers: “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land” (42:9). The brothers deny Joseph’s charges explaining, “we, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more” (42:13). Ironically, they allude to Joseph himself as a deceased brother as part of the proof that they were honest men. But Joseph keeps pressing them with the appearance that he disbelieved their story. In fact, with the charge that they were spies, Joseph “put them all together in custody for three days” (42:17).
Genesis 39 picks up right where Genesis 37 left off. His brothers had sold off Joseph to Ishmaelites who, in turn, took him to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar. Potiphar was one of Pharaoh’s officers, captain of his guard. Joseph is far away from his father and brothers, and yet this kidnapped slave living in Egypt, is right where God has ordained him to be. Moreover, the Lord is very present with Joseph. We are starting to see something of the mysterious promise that God had made earlier to Joseph’s great-grandfather, Abraham: “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years” (15:13). Of course, it will still be a while before all that God said to Abraham gets played out, but for now, it is worthy to note that God is unfolding His plans and is near to His people as He does so. Egypt will serve as something of an incubator for the Lord’s covenant people, not only in the immediacy of how God will use Joseph to preserve his family, but also over a longer time frame as a small family is developed into a large nation who will witness God’s gracious deliverance on their behalf.
Thus far in Genesis, we have covered some shocking passages. But the events recorded in Genesis 38 move us even further up the scale of sin and shock. Genesis 38 takes us on an abrupt break in the unfolding events of Joseph’s life in order to fill us in on what is happening in Judah’s life. Genesis 38 is a condensed narrative that probably covers a twenty-year time span. In other words, when we pick up the narrative of Joseph once again in Genesis 39, the events of Genesis 38 are most likely happening concurrently. In fact, what is happening in Judah’s life as recorded in Genesis 38 is covering the same time as the entire time that Joseph is down in Egypt, before his brothers go down in Egypt in Genesis 42. While the Lord is preparing Joseph for what He is going to do through him, Judah must also undergo preparation. Specifically, the strong exemplary leadership of Judah shown in Genesis 43-44, will be hard to believe as the events of Genesis 38 unfold. What the Lord did in Judah’s life to bring about such a transformation of character is the question that gets answered in this chapter.
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