“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.” (Genesis 46:3)
Our series is on Joseph and it is a story in two parts: Part 1 is about Joseph, the loved and favored son, who was humiliated and then exalted. Joseph is very much like Jesus. In Part 2, the focus is on the brothers. They grieved the father and they hated the dearly loved son. So we have seen how these brothers are very much like us.
We have followed the story of the great change that God brought about in these brothers, and last week, we got to the marvelous point in the story where Joseph and the brothers are reconciled. This points to the wonderful reconciliation with God that is ours in Jesus Christ.
Joseph says to his brothers, “Come near to me,” and then he says them, “Go, tell my father. Tell him the good news that the loved and favored son is alive, he is exalted, and that he wants you to come and be with him.”
Today we look at the last chapter of Jacob’s life. We will follow Jacob on his undesirable journey, learn from his unshakable foundation, and rejoice in his unexpected blessing.
1. An Undesirable Journey
So Israel took his journey with all that he had… (Gen. 46:1)
Change is never easy, and Jacob was an old man. God had led his grandfather, Abraham, to Canaan, and Isaac had lived there. Jacob spent most of his life there too. Now he must leave everything that is familiar and move into a new life that is completely unknown – not easy.
This is a story for all those times when your life takes an unexpected turn, and God calls you to something new. You leave what is familiar – the church you love, the home you have enjoyed, and the job that you know.
You go to a new school, take a new position, arrive in a new city, and God is opening a new chapter in your life. You are uprooted, and now you are on your way to another place, another life, and you really don’t know what it will be like.
That was Jacob’s position. He was facing a huge transition in his life. The good in it was that he would be with Joseph who he loved. But this was a journey into the unknown and, as Jacob thought about what lay ahead, he was filled with many fears. We know that from verse 3, where God says to him: “Do not be afraid.” Why would God say that? Because fear was Jacob’s experience as he launched out into the unknown.
“Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba” (Gen. 46:1). The significance of Beersheba is that this was the place where God had met with Jacob’s grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac (Gen. 21:33, 26:25).
Jacob goes to Beersheba: “God met with my grandfather, Abraham, there. God met with my father, Isaac, there. Perhaps God will meet with me there.” So he went to Beersheba, where he offered sacrifices to God.
Now you see what is happening here. This man is facing a future he had not planned on. He doesn’t know what lies ahead. Everything is changing for him, and more than ever before, he feels that he needs to meet with God.
2. An Unshakable Foundation
God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.”
And he said, “Here I am.” (Gen. 46:2)
God spoke to Israel. This didn’t happen every day. The last time anything like this happened to Jacob was in Genesis 35:15. Rachel had died giving birth to Benjamin, but more than 20 years had passed since then, and all we know of these years is that Jacob had been absorbed in his sorrows (Gen. 37:35).
But now that his life has taken this unexpected turn, Jacob feels his need for God. He goes to Beersheba, and he worships. Then he goes to sleep and God speaks to him in visions of the night. God may not speak to you in a vision of the night, but here is the principle here for all of us: When you draw near to God, he will draw near to you (Jas. 4:8).
You come in your need to God today, you draw near to God, and here’s the promise: He will draw near to you. God says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).
Notice how God gives this man strength to face the difficult journey that lies ahead of him. In visions of the night, God reveals himself to Jacob, and Jacob finds strength in who God is. So here is what you need to know about God, when everything around you is changing.
1. God is always the same
“I am God, the God of your father.” (Gen. 46:3)
That is the word that God speaks into this vulnerable man’s life, “Jacob, everything is changing for you, but I never change. I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. You are living in a different day and a different time. But I never change. I am the same God.
Jacob, I guarded and kept Abraham, I guarded and kept Isaac, and I will guard and keep you.” Isaiah says, “The Lord is exalted… and he will be the stability of your times” (Isa. 33:5-6).
2. God always keeps his promises
“Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.” (Gen. 46:3)
“I will make you a great nation” was the same promise given to Abraham (Gen. 12:2). That was years ago, and since that time it doesn’t seem like much progress had been made. Abraham had Isaac. Isaac had Jacob and Esau, but Esau despised his birthright. He had no interest in the promises of God. So it was down to Jacob.
If Abraham had had 10 sons and then Isaac and Jacob the same, they would be at a thousand people in 3 generations. But that did not happen. Abraham was one, Isaac was one, and Jacob was one. That’s three generations and zero progress!
Then God appeared to Jacob and gave him the same promise. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body” (Gen. 35:11).
Jacob has 12 sons, so now something is happening. But remember, for 20 years Jacob thought Joseph was dead. Simeon had been in prison, Jacob feared that Benjamin would be abducted, and the rest of the family was in danger of being wiped out by the famine.
Everything is changing. Jacob is leaving the land God has promised. He does not know what the future holds. His fears are many and God says, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (Gen 46:3). “Jacob, I have not forgotten my promise! The journey to Egypt is not what you expected, and not what you wanted, but I will keep my promise to you there, and in Egypt I will fulfill the great purpose for your life.”
That is exactly what happened. God fulfilled his promise for Jacob’s life, not in Canaan, but in Egypt. From this small group of 70 people who came to Egypt, God brought a great nation (Gen. 46:27). Numbers 1:46 tells us there were more than 600,000 men over the age of 20 at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. With woman and children, Israel would have been a nation of more than 2 million people when they came out of Egypt. So, 70 people went in, and around 2 million people came out.
3. God is always with you
“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.” (Gen. 46:4)
God says to Jacob, “I will go down with you to Egypt. I will walk with you into this new and unfamiliar world to which I have called you. My presence will go with you and I will give you rest. I will never leave you and I will never forsake you” (Josh. 1:5, Heb. 13:5).
Then God says, “I will also bring you up again.” That is a remarkable statement because Jacob died in Egypt. So what does God, who knows all things, mean when he says, “I will bring you up?”
It could refer to the fact that after Jacob died, Joseph carried his body back to Canaan and buried him with his fathers. But if the reference was to Canaan, the verse would naturally say, “Joseph will close your eyes, (that’s what happens when a person dies), and then you will be brought up and buried with your fathers.” But the order is different. God says, “I will bring you up” and then he says, “Joseph will close your eyes.”
I believe that what we have here is a marvelous Old Testament glimpse into the experience of a believer at the end of life. What happened to Jacob when he died? What will happen to you when you die? To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.
“Jacob,” God says, “let me tell you what is going to happen… I will go down with you to Egypt. In all that is new and unfamiliar, I will walk with you every step of the way. Then the day will come when, ‘I will bring you up.’ You will be away from the body and at home with me, and when that happens, your son, Joseph, will say, ‘Dad’s gone’ and he will close your eyes.”
“So, Jacob, do not be afraid. In life and in death, I will be with you. I will never leave you and I will never forsake you, and when Joseph closes your eyes in death, don’t be afraid, because at that moment you will already be here with me!”
So here is the unshakable foundation for the whole of your life: God says, “I am always the same. I always keep my promises. I am always with you.” The God who says, “I will go down with you to Egypt and I will bring you up,” has everything about your life, your death, and your eternity completely under control.
3. An Unexpected Blessing
The real surprise in this story is that God had a whole new chapter of life for Jacob. The old man lived for another 17 years in Egypt, and as we will see in greater detail next week, it proved to be the most fruitful season of his life.
Jacob did not expect to have much time in Egypt. He is an old man. His life has been marked by sorrow for more than 20 years. When he leaves Canaan, he says, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die” (Gen. 45:28).
There is a great sadness in these words, “Joseph is alive, but my life is over now. Nothing can bring back the years I have lost. Nothing can replace what I’ve missed. I will go and see Joseph, but after that I’m done. There is no future beyond that for me.”
So the reunion, when it comes, is almost anticlimactic: “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 [Jacob] said to Joseph, ‘Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive’” (Gen. 46:29-30).
Really, dad? Is that the only thing you have to say to your beloved son? What about, “Son, it is so good to be with you at last! Let’s treasure every day that we have together.” No, nothing like that. Just, “Now let me die!”
Scripture says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly,” and Joseph does precisely that. He does not even answer. He says to the brothers, “I will go and tell Pharaoh that you all have arrived.”
God has something better for Jacob than dying on arrival. Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years (Gen. 47:28). Matthew Henry says, “Our times are in God’s hands and not in our own. We live and die at the time that He chooses not at the time when we think we are done.”
We will look at this in more detail next time, but I want you to see why I say that these last years were the most fruitful season in all of Jacob’s life. Jacob gives two descriptions of his life: one when he arrived in Egypt, and the other 17 years later when he blesses his sons and his grandsons, just before his death.
Listen to what Jacob said when he arrived in Egypt. Joseph introduces his father to Pharaoh, (Gen. 47:7): 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” (Gen. 47:8-9).
There’s no hiding the disappointment here: “How old are you?” Jacob says, “130 years, but that’s not much. They are full of regret. Compared with my father and grandfather my years are few. I don’t amount to much beside them. And if I was to pick one word to describe my years, the word would be ‘evil.’ All my life I’ve known sorrow and loss. I wish my life had been different. I wish I had done more with it. It all seems to have passed so quickly. Pharaoh, you ask me about my years. I’d say they were few and evil. That’s my life.”
The old man is full of regret. But to Jacob’s great surprise, God gave him 17 years, and at the end of that time, Jacob gives us another testimony: “And [Jacob] blessed Joseph and said, ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on’” (Gen. 48:15-16).
He comes to Joseph full of regret, “My years have been few and evil.” But now after these 17 years with Joseph, he has a completely different view of his own life, “I now see that God has been my shepherd all through my life, the angel of the Lord has redeemed me from all evil.”
There’s more here than God giving Jacob an extra chapter at the end of his life that was happier than what went before. Through these years Jacob came to see that the good hand of God was on him even in his darkest hours.
So instead of looking back on his years with regret, this man was able to say, “The Lord is my shepherd. He always has been and he always will be. The Lord redeems me from all evil. He always has, and he always will.”
The door of hope
That is a remarkable change, and it surely opens the door of hope for all of us who feel regret in our life. So how does all of this relate to us?
Joseph points us to Jesus. He is the loved and favored Son. He is the Savior who feeds his people through the famine. He is the Lord who has been exalted to the highest place. As a Christian, you can look through the lens of Joseph’s love and care for Jacob and see the love and care of Jesus for you. What Joseph does for Jacob, Jesus does for you.
In these last moments today, I’m going to refer to Joseph as the Savior, because that is what he was for Jacob and the brothers. I want you to look beyond what Joseph did for Jacob and see what Jesus can do for you. The Savior says to you, “Come! Come to me and do not tarry” (Gen. 45:9). “You will be near me” (45:10). “I will provide for you” (45:11).
When you first hear the message, your heart is numb. You do not really believe the Savior is alive. But when you hear all the Savior’s words and see the wagons the Savior has provided to get you to him, you agree to take the journey. You are carried to the Savior, and you arrive in a miserable position. The Savior welcomes you, rejoices with you, and provides for you.
When you come to the Savior, you have many regrets. You look back on your days as few and evil. You feel that your life has been lost, wasted, and that too much of it is gone and you cannot get it back. But living close to the Savior changes you, and over time, you come to see your life with all of its sadness and loss in a completely new light. You begin to say, “God has been my shepherd, and it is God who redeems me from all evil.”
Then when you come to the end of your life, the Savior gives you a solemn oath on which you can rest. It will be the Savior who closes your eyes in death and it will be the Savior who carries you home. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
© Colin S. Smith
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