Theme: Seeing God’s Sovereignty
This week’s lessons focus on the faithfulness of God, and call us to remember his many mercies toward us and to praise him for them.
Scripture: Psalm 105:1-45
The most interesting part of the historical section of Psalm 105 is the fourth stanza (vv. 16-36), for it tells us about Israel’s time in Egypt and the exodus from it. In telling about Joseph it introduces details that we do not find in Genesis. Genesis emphasizes Joseph’s character and spirit of service. In Psalm 105 the stress is on his cruel treatment.
Of particular interest to us is verse 18: “They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons.” This verse has a fascinating history. What it tells us is that when Joseph was first put into Potiphar’s prison he was chained by his feet and neck, something we are not told in Genesis. But for some reason, when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek (the Septuagint version), the word for “neck” was rendered by the word psyche which means “soul.” That was the first mistake. Then, when Jerome came to do his Latin translation, he inverted the subject and object of the sentence. Instead of saying, “His soul was laid in iron,” he wrote, “Iron entered into his soul.” That expression then passed into the English Prayer Book by Miles Coverdale’s translation of the psalms (1534) and became a proverb.
Well, it was a complete error, as I said. But if there was ever a fortuitous mistranslation, this is it. For the phrase describes how a cruel fetter placed upon the body can in time seem to be placed on the soul, and after that of having entered the soul. You begin by trusting God in some affliction. But after a while, the monotony of the struggle wears you down and you begin to take on some of the rust of the manacle. This is what must have happened to Joseph during the two long years when Genesis records he was forgotten in the prison. He must have begun his imprisonment supposing that it would be for just a short time. After all, God had promised to make him a ruler over princes. But after a while he would have felt forgotten.
Yet he was not forgotten. The psalm tells us that this was only “till what he [that is, God] foretold came to pass” (v. 19). What is more, at the end Joseph looked back and understood it too, for he told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). His last words were: “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Gen. 50:24). Thus Joseph, too, died trusting God and in his covenant with Abraham’s descendants.
One striking characteristic of this psalm is its repeated use of the pronoun “he” to refer to God. It began in the second stanza: “He is the LORD our God” (v. 7), “He remembers” (v. 8) and “He confirmed” (v. 10). It occurred once more in stanza three: “He allowed no one to oppress them” (v. 14). However, in the fourth stanza it is dominant. First, in the story of Joseph: “He called down famine” (v. 16) and “he sent a man before them” (v. 17). Then in the story of the Exodus: “He made them too numerous” (v, 24), “He sent Moses” (v. 26), “He sent darkness” (v. 28), “He turned their waters into blood” (v. 29), “He spoke, and there came swarms of flies” (v. 31), “He turned their rain into hail” (v. 32), “He struck down their vines” (v. 33), “He spoke, and the locusts came (v. 34) and “He struck down all the firstborn in their land” (v. 35). It is hard to imagine a clearer way of teaching the sovereignty of God in human affairs, in this case over Israel and even over their enemies and their plans.
What do we learn about Joseph in Psalm 105 that we don’t learn in Genesis?
What does Joseph’s faith teach us?
Why is the pronoun “he” repeated so often in this psalm?
Application: What can the story of Joseph teach you about how you respond to God? What does Joseph mean when he says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good….”? Have you experienced this?
Observation: Additional details of an event can sometimes be found in other parts of Scripture because each writer has a specific purpose.