Christ Covenant Church
Series — Joseph: Stories of God’s Providence for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Text – Genesis 46:1-7, 26-34; 47:7-12
May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
As you know we have been doing a series on the life of Joseph called Stories of God’s Providence for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Last week we saw how Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, reconciled with them, made restitution for their sins, and they returned to their father to tell him the good news about Joseph. This week we will see how Jacob leads his family on a reverse exodus and reunites with Joseph after twenty-two years.
Genesis 46:1-3 — So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
Beersheba was a sacred place to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Beersheba is the place where Abraham planted a tamarisk tree and called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God (Gen 21:33); and the place where he lived after he sacrificed Isaac on the mount (Gen 22:19).
Beersheba is the place where Isaac dwelled after he married Rebekah, and the place where he dug wells and called on the name of the Lord Gen 26:23
Beersheba is the place where Jacob was blessed by his father Isaac many years earlier (Gen 28:1,10). As he makes his way down to Egypt Beersheba is the sacred place where camps and offers sacrifices to the Lord one more time (Gen 46:1ff).
And he Lord God spoke to Israel in night visions.
This is not the first time God ever spoke to Jacob like this. But it is the first time in a very long time that he has done so.
The first time God spoke to him was at Bethel when Jacob saw a stairway to heaven (Gen 28:12ff). The next time the angels of God met him before he met up with his brother Esau (Gen 32:1). Soon after Jacob wrestled with a god-man in the mud of the Jabbok. That’s when God changed his name from Jacob to Israel, from cheater to wrestler (Gen 32:24-30). Not long after that, God spoke to him again and sent him away from his enemies (Gen 35:1ff). The last time God appeared to him was at Bethel and renewed his covenant promises with him (Gen 35:9-15).
Now, at last, in his old age, God spoke to him again at Beersheba.
As was his custom, God spoke to him many times at night. He calls him by his old name Jacob and wakes him from sleep. He reminds him of who he is and what he will do and why it matters.
“I am God — Do not be afraid.’
Although God had promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants, he is sending them from a wasteland to a paradise, out of Canaan down to Egypt.
God promises to go down with them, and to come up with them. Why? Because Israel must learn to walk in the rhythm of dying and rising, of descending and ascending, with God his savior.
Like a grain of wheat, Israel must go down into Egypt and die in order to bear much fruit. And when Israel bears much fruit he will be lifted up and sent out to his own land. Like the Son of God, Israel must be humiliated in death before he can be exalted in life, he must be shamed before he can be glorified (See John 12:23-26).
Genesis 46:4-7 — So, Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.
The point here is that all of Jacob’s descendents from the eldest to the youngest were led by God on a reverse exodus journey from Canaan to Egypt. Why?
Because, as we were reminded last week during the baptismal service, God is deeply concerned about multiple generations of his people – his covenant promises are for you, and your children, and your children’s children, for a thousand generations of those who love him.
Again, when Joseph called his father and brothers and their households to come to him, he was calling them from a wasteland to a paradise, from famine to bread, from drought to water, from danger to safety, from death to life. His purpose and intent was not only to pardon them, but also to provide for them, and protect them.
As Joseph called his brothers to draw near to him along with their wives and children, so Jesus calls us to draw near to him along with our households — and for the same reasons!
Genesis 46:26-27 — All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.
I want to point out that God’s covenant people started out in the weakest, smallest, poorest, and craziest way.
All in all there were seventy members of the covenant community — which was actually nothing more than a large extended family.
But notice that the Spirit did not say, “There were only seventy people.” He said, “They were seventy.” This not a lament, but a praise and a boast.
They were seventy! Each and every member of the covenant family counted. All together they were seventy counting men, women, and children.
Some of the members of that covenant community were cheaters, idolaters, murderers, betrayers, slave-traders, liars, adulterers, and more. Some were saints.
They were seventy sinner-saints. Just like us.
Seventy is few, but it is many more than two, which is what they numbered when God called Abram and promised him and Sarah a son. Seventy is more than two, yet still not quite as many as the stars in the sky or the sand on the shore.
But, according to the promise and power of God, those seventy were going to increase and multiply and fill the land. They didn’t know it, but four hundred years after going down to Egypt, they were going number more than 1.5 million people counting men, women, and children!
But for now, all the members of Jacob’s household were seventy.
Genesis 46:28-30 — Jacob had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”
Judah has changed for the better so much that his father Jacob now identifies him as the leader among the brothers. Judah is the son who will lead the covenant family when Jacob dies. This is a deeply significant turn of events. We will come back and deal with this point in a couple of weeks.
For now let’s focus our attention on the reunion of Jacob and Joseph.
Joseph offered to settle his kinsmen in the best of the land of Egypt in a place called Goshen. Goshen means drawing near, and it echoes Joseph’s words to his brothers גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי (Geshu-nah elay) — “Draw near to me.”
Joseph’s father and brothers and their wives and children will live in the land of drawing near, drawing near to their brother, their savior, their lord.
And one day we will do the same when we draw near to Jesus in the new heavens anew earth!
The reunion of Jacob and Joseph is totally understated by the author of the story. We can experience far more emotional drama in a Hollywood popcorn flick! But the author is more discreet and better mannered. He shows us a glimpse of the tearful embrace of father and son, but then he steers us away so that they can have a moment together.
After a good while Jacob says the strangest thing: after twenty two years of thinking his son was dead, but now seeing that he is alive, Jacob says, “Now let me die!” Why?
It’s just an expression that we use when we have experienced something that is so special and so significant to us.
Not long ago a friend told me after an evensong service at his church that he had met Bono (U2) and he had served the communion chalice to Dr J.I. Packer so now he was ready to die.
To be clear: “Now let me die” is not the same as “Kill me now.” Kill me now is more like this is unbelievable ridiculous and I can’t stand it anymore. Now let me die is more like this is unbelievable spectacular and I don’t want it to ever end.
Jacob embraced his “once dead but now alive” son Joseph and he felt like nothing could ever top that moment. He did not want the euphoria he felt in that moment to ever fade away.
More than likely you have had some “now let me die” moments like in your life.
But none will ever top the “now let me die” moment you will have in the life to come. For then you will meet Jesus, the true and better Joseph, in the land of drawing near; you will see Jesus, the one who dead but now is alive, face to face, and he will wipe away all your tears, and you will know that your savior lives. And since he lives, you will will never die!
And in that moment all your light and momentary afflictions will fade away in the light of his glory and grace.
Genesis 47:7-10 — Now, after the father and son were reunited, Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh.
Jacob was not doing what some elderly folks do when they tell about their life. He was not groveling, whining, or complaining about the few and evil years of his life.
He was simply expressing a self-deprecating fact to Pharaoh: “I am nothing and nobody.”
To our ears this sounds sad and depressing, but we must keep in mind that Jacob did not intend to tell his whole life story to Pharaoh. Some things are best kept between you and the Lord.
(As my wife counsels me about preaching, “You don’t have to tell everything you know every time you preach.”)
What Jacob did not tell Pharaoh is that in those few and evil years of pilgrimage and wandering, the Lord God appeared to him several times and in several places. Wherever he roamed, the Lord promised him land, and the Lord prospered him with livestock, and the Lord protected him from enemies, and the Lord provided for his family.
So there is a lot more going on in this meeting than meets the eye.
As one commentator explains, “In this scene the Lord of Egypt and the father of promise stand face to face. They represent two distinct ways of life: one embodies what is secure, royal, and condescending; the other a way that is precarious, unstable, and perhaps supplicating (=begging).
One has everything; the other has next-to-nothing.
Pharaoh has land — he feels safe, settled, and prosperous. Jacob has nothing but the promise of God. And he believes the promise beyond any Egyptian realities.” (W. Brueggemann, pp, 354-355)
Let me pause here and speak a word to you who are getting older: You can do one of two things every day. You can focus on the aches and pains in your body, the hardships of your past, the heartbreak and losses you have felt; or you can focus on the promises of God. One requires you to walk by sight; the other to walk by faith.
Jacob walked by faith in God’s promises all the way to end of his life an beyond. And I want to urge you to do the same.
What was the promise of God that he believed?
At Bethel it was, “Behold, the LORD stood above the stairway and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:13-15)
At Beersheba it was repeated, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
What about you? What impresses you and motivates you and sustains you?
Is it all the stuff you can see and feel like big numbers, big money, big church? Is it all the power and glory of ‘Murica? Or is it the things that you cannot see and feel like love, joy, and peace? Is it the promises and grace of God in Christ?
What is your only comfort in life and in death? Is it that all the little pharaohs in your world recognize you and reward you? Or is it that you are not your own, but belong body and soul to your faithful savior Jesus Christ?
By faith in God’s promises Jacob went down to Egypt.
By faith Jacob stood before Pharaoh.
By faith Jacob blessed Pharaoh.
Though Jacob knew that Pharaoh was greater than him on earth, he also believed that Yahweh was greater than Pharaoh in heaven and earth.
So, when Jacob blessed Pharaoh, he was not putting on a show. He was acting according to the covenant promises. For God had said, “I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the familiesof the earth will bless one another by your name.” (Gen 12:3)
God had already blessed Egypt and the families of the earth through Joseph. And now God will continue to bless Egypt and the families of the world through Jacob and his household, and then through Judah and his tribe.
Even now, at this very moment, God is blessing us through Jesus who is the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the lion of the tribe of Judah.
Genesis 47:11-12 — Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents.
They were seventy. And we are seventy.
What I am about to say is not the main point of the story at all, but it is related by virtue of covenant promises and power, even if only remotely.
All things considered, over the past few years I have heard my fair share of complaints and criticisms about our church community. (Why are you so small? Why don’t you grow more? Why aren’t you more fruitful?) Ironically, most of that has come from people who were doing their part to reduce our numbers either by driving folks away or by leaving us themselves. Go figure!
I have given this much thought, and here’s one way we might answer those criticisms and complaints.
God is Sovereign over all things, including the shape and size of this church. We are seventy, and if he wants us to be more than seventy, we will be more than seventy, by his grace and power, not our own.
If nothing else, we will know that any children or converts born to us are born by the promise and power of God alone, and not by the power of the flesh.
In the mean time, what should we do? We should love and serve and adopt as many people as the Lord puts into our hands and hearts.
If we are faithful with little, we will be faithful with much.
For now, we are seventy. We are weak, small, poor, and crazy. And that’s okay. For it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, but the size of the God in the faithful.
We are seventy! That’s not a lament, but a boast in the Lord.
We are few right now, but give us about 400 years of affliction in exile, and we could flourish and number over a million! Just imagine, a covenant community of six hundred thousand men, besides women and children (Exodus 12:37–38 cp Gen 28:3-4, 13-15).
By the grace of God, we are seventy. We are exiles and strangers in the world — a long way from home; we are citizens of heaven — looking for the City of God, longing for our Savior to come.
In the mean time, let us rejoice and be glad, for we have endured hardship, conflict, and famine, and the Lord has preserved a remnant of survivors, and we are seventy.
God can do a lot with a little — in fact, he can do far more than we can ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us!
At the end of the day, all that matters is that the triune God, the God of our forefathers is with us, and that we decided to do all the good we could do with the grace we were given.
So, do not be afraid to go up or down, for God will do great things for us for his name’s sake.
We are seventy shepherds and sheep.
The Lord Jesus is our Shepherd. He makes us lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside still waters. He restores our soul. He leads us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake in the land of drawing near.
Even if we walk down to the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for he is with us; and his cross comforts us. (Psalm 23:1-4)
He give us eternal life, and we will never perish, and no one will snatch us out of his hand. (John 10:28)
He is our God and we are his people.
He himself will go down with us, and he will also bring us up again.
He will never leave you or forsake you.
So, let us draw near to our Shepherd in the valleys and on the mountains of the strange land of Goshen. Let us follow Christ, in the story of going down and coming up, in the movement of descending and ascending, in the rhythm of dying and rising with him.