To Egypt

Genesis 46

Oftentimes, it is true in the Christian life that someone asks you to do something, and you know it is the right thing to do, only you just don’t want to do it. In the early years of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln became so angered at the inactivity of Union commander George McClellan that the president wrote his commanding general this one-sentence letter: “If you don’t want to use the army, I should like to borrow it for a while. Respectfully, A. Lincoln.” Indeed, as in the case of McClellan, it is often the case that the place where we are required to go is into a place of danger. The danger might not be physical danger; it might be social danger. And yet, God requires us to go when called. That is the situation of Jacob, when he receives the summons to go to Egypt. Egypt is not a safe place for the patriarchs.

You will remember from last time that Jacob had been convinced that his son Joseph was still alive. There were the wagons and gifts from Egypt. And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” However, he surely had some reservations about leaving the Promised Land. Surely that would have been quite hard to do. Here he was, owning some land in the Promised Land, and feeling the comfortable effects of the fulfillment of God’s promise. And now, God wants him to go down to Egypt, to a place of discomfort (spiritually speaking). That is why God spoke to him in visions of the night. Notice that God has to get Jacob’s attention by mentioning his name twice. Another reason God said his name twice was to let Jacob know that it really was God speaking to him. What did God say? He said that Jacob did not need to fear going down into Egypt. Notice that this is quite different from Jacob’s father Isaac and his father Abraham. For them, God had told them not to go down to Egypt. They were not to seek an “Egyptian solution” to their problems, though some of them did it anyway. But now, it is different. Now, God wants them to go down to Egypt.

Why? Why would God send His people down into a land which would later become for them a land symbolic of sin and death? There are several reasons: firstly, so that God would bring them back again, to His own glory. This is something that He says explicitly in verse 4. Secondly, God wants to grow His people into a great nation. But He wants to do that in such a way that the people themselves cannot take credit for the increase. It is God who gives the growth. The third reason is to confirm Jacob in his faith. Going down to Egypt would reunite Jacob with his son Joseph. Then Jacob would see the goodness of the hand of the Lord, however difficult it had been for him before. God promised him that Joseph would close his eyes when he died. This was an important thing for the favorite son to do in those days. Jacob could be reassured that God was going to do all that He promised.

God was repeating His covenant promises to Jacob. He had given them to Abraham and to Isaac. And now he was giving them to Jacob. In effect, God was saying, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”

This convinces Jacob. He leaves Beersheba with all his sons, his wives, his grandchildren, his livestock, everything. Moses then goes on to tell us just how many went down to Egypt with Jacob. Normally, we would think that this was a large number of people. However, it was not. Think of it. It had been a very long time since Abraham had originally received the promise from God that he would be a mighty nation. It was well about two hundred years before Jacob here goes down to Egypt. And seventy people is all! That’s everyone. There are people alive today in their 80’s or 90’s who have more descendants alive within 80 years of their birth than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had in 200 years. In two hundred years, if each son had had a normal number of sons for that time period (which is about 5 or 6), there would have been around a thousand people. But God wanted us to know that His people grow despite all opposition. Even if the church is small, starts small, remains small for a long time, God can still grow that church into a very effective body of Christ.

There are times when a church started out much larger, and has grown smaller, such as our churches have done. This does not mean that God has abandoned us. This does not mean that we as a church will necessarily die out. As God says in Zechariah, “Do not despise the day of small things.” God can use very small things to bring about great changes. We need to be looking for those changes.

Moses gives us the names of all the people who went down to Egypt with Jacob. Again, it looks like a lot of people, but it really is not a lot of people. Compare this with the number of people who left Egypt: approximately 600,000! They increased from 70 to 600,000 in four hundred years. The growth belongs to God, and to God alone be the glory.

After Moses tells us about these 70 people going down to Egypt, he tells us what happened when they got there. Joseph was so excited to meet his father after all these years, that he hitched up his own chariot, not waiting for his father to come to him, and went down to Goshen, and met him there. When Israel met Joseph, then he felt that his life was complete. He would still live another 17 years after this joyful reunion, but he felt that his life was complete. His eyes had seen the salvation of Israel. Another Israelite was to say almost exactly the same thing that Jacob here said. Simeon in Luke 2 meets with the baby Jesus. He knows that he has met the Savior of Israel. These are his words: Luke 2:29-32: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” After thinking that salvation was gone for his people, Jacob finally realized that God had been working all along. That is what Simeon realized also. Are there situations in your life when salvation and God seem to be far away? When will you be able to say what Jacob has said? When will you be prepared to leave this life in peace? Someone has said that no Christian knows how to live well unless he knows how to die well. That is very true. Have you given your life to Jesus? Have you said, “Now my old man may die, because I have seen the salvation of the church?” Put off the old man and put on the new man, as Paul would say.

But how does that happen in everyday life? Well, God must put on the new man for you in new birth. In the course of the Christian life, God then works in you to continually grow in the faith. We don’t ever stop growing just because our salvation is hidden sometimes from our eyes. God gives us those times precisely so that we can grow. Undoubtedly, Jacob grew greatly during the time when he thought that Joseph was dead. So maybe you think that God has left and gone off to some other place. You think that God is dead. Some people have said that in history, you know. God sends us into this Egypt of a world, though, that He might make us grow to full-fledged Christians, able to discern right from wrong, able to witness to the faith of Jesus Christ, able to show Christ’s love, able to love one another. You won’t put on the new man by hating your brother or sister in Christ. Are you growing in your love for the Scriptures? Are you excited about Bible studies? Are you becoming less selfish when you think about the church? Do you put your own personal interests above the interests of the church? Do you settle down comfortably in your circle of friends, not bothering to reach out to anyone else? These are the questions which are diagnostic of our status in Christ. Let us pay close attention to what we have learned.