Israel in Egypt
If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Genesis 46 as we continue our study through the book of Genesis and in particular the life of Joseph. The last time we were together, the tension in the story of Joseph reached its crescendo and we exalted in the reconciliation accomplished by the Lord and His good providence amongst Joseph and his brothers. Now all along we have said that the providence of God is at the very heart of the story of Joseph. In particular, two over-arching purposes in God's providence are apparent in the story of Joseph. First of all, we have said, over and over, that the story of Joseph tells us how Israel wound up in Egypt and it also shows us how the promise of God to Abram in Genesis 12:1 and 2 would be fulfilled. That is how God would make this family, great as it was, into a nation. And in particular, this second theme that we have spoken of, the making of Abram's family into a great nation becomes more apparent even in the passage we are going to study tonight. God has a good reason for bringing Israel's family into Egypt. Egypt is to be the matrix in which a godly people is created. That is ironic especially in light of the fact of what Egypt stands for in the Old Testament. That it is to be Egypt where God shall make his godly people. The isolation and the oppression of Egypt is to form the crucible in which God will keep Israel pure, religiously and ethnically, and in which he will teach her to trust in Him alone. So let's turn our attention to Genesis 46. This is God's holy Word.
Our Lord and our God, we thank you for Your word, and we ask now that You would enable us to have seeing eyes and hearing ears to receive in our hearts the truth of Your word, and especially that we would learn the secret of bowing the knee to providence, of embracing your goodness as well as your sovereignty and of walking in trust and obedience to Your word and to your promise. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
The reunion between Joseph and his brothers was just the first stage of God's reunion plan for the family of Jacob. That reunion plan was going to entail Jacob moving, not temporarily, but permanently into the land of Egypt. He would see with his own eyes the glory of his son Joseph and thus the dream of Joseph's youth would be fulfilled as the stars and the sun and moon bowed down to him and saw him in his royal splendor. But even in this story of reunion and this story of migration, again we see the themes of God's disciplining and wise and perfect providence. For as Israel moves to Egypt, God is setting His stage for a greater period in His plan of redemption.
I would like you to see the passage in three parts tonight. If you look at verses 1-7, you’ll see the account of Israel's relatively uneventful journey into Egypt, but a very eventful pause at the southern border of Canaan at Beersheba. The same place where his father and his grandfather had offered sacrifice, there Jacob would worship. And we’ll speak about that for a few moments. And then if you look at verses 8-27, you see this list of the names of the children of Israel. And that list of names, like so many of the Bible lists of names, though it is somewhat obscure to us when we read it at first, is very significant. Not the least of which reason is that this is an illustration of how small was the family of Jacob, when God called her into Egypt, and in contrast when we get to Deuteronomy 7, and the great nation of Israel on the verge of entering into the Promised Land. God is going to draw a parallel between the greatness of their numbers then and the smallness of their numbers in the stage of their journey into Egypt. And we will comment on that as well. When you get to verse 28 and to the end of the chapter, you see the reunion of Joseph and Israel and the preparation for the audience with Pharaoh. And in these three parts I would like to point out a few things to you tonight.
I. Israel enters Egypt.
First of all, let's look at verses 1-7. Israel went to Egypt in obedience and faith, knowing the trials that would come. Israel went to Egypt in obedience and faith, knowing the trial that would come. Israel's journey into Egypt was not a day trip and it wasn't for a short visit. He was going to Egypt to die. He has already told us that in Genesis 45, verse 28. He wanted to go to Egypt to see his son and he knew that there upon he would die. And, of course, in verse 1, of this chapter, we are told that he took all he had. He wasn't leaving anything behind to go back again. This was permanent transfer into the land of Egypt.
And this is a huge step of faith, in light of a number of factors. It is not simply his age, but it is related to God's promises with regard to the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. It is a huge step of faith for Jacob to go down into Egypt in light of the humiliation that his grandfather, Abraham had suffered there. In light of the fact that in Genesis 26:2, Israel, or Isaac had been specifically forbidden by God, to go down into Egypt. Now, however, in response to the revelation of God, in response to the providence of God, Jacob prepares to go down into Egypt. And not only that, this is a man who has sojourned for many years of his youth outside of Canaan at some points despairing of whether he would see his land or his family again. And so everything was against the grain of Jacob's decision to uproot and move to Egypt. It must have been an overwhelming thought for that man to think of dying outside of the land of Canaan. And yet, he went, and he went in response to the word of God. For he knew the word that had been given to his grandfather, that I will take My people into Egypt and there they will dwell for four hundred and thirty years under oppression and I will bring them out a great nation. And He knew the word that God had revealed in the dream of his son, that his son would be made great and he had seen the evidence of that in the wagons of treasure that had been sent up from Egypt. And so in response to God's word and God's providence, he makes his way down into Egypt.
You need to see this as an action of faith. He trusts in God because this isn't what he wants to do and it is an act of obedience. He is obediently responding to the command and the providence of God. When he comes to Beersheba, on the southern border of Canaan, he pauses to worship one last time in the land. Think of it friends, it would be half a millennium, it would be half a millennium before the sons of Israel would again worship in the land. This is the last worship service for something like five hundred years in the land. Derek Kidner says, “The place and the character of Jacob's worship indicate his frame of mind. For Beersheba had been Isaac's chief center in addressing God as the God of his father, and he was acknowledging the family calling and implicitly seeking leave to move out of Canaan.” Israel is worshipping here in response to God's revelation. He has seen the fulfillment of the dream that God had given to his son Joseph, so many years before, and he knew the promise that God had given to Abram in Genesis 15:13. Let me ask you to turn there. In Genesis 15:13, God had said to Abram in the very context in which he confirmed or reconfirmed his covenant commitment to give Abram the land, he had told Abram this in Genesis 15:13. “And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.” Jacob knows now that in God's providence this is His plan. And so, though he looks forward with joy to his reunion with Joseph, there is naturally fear and trepidation. There is a mixture of sorrow even as he takes his little clan down into Egypt.
This is not the route that he would have chosen. But he goes with some fear and trepidation at God's behest. And it is noteworthy friends, that precisely in this time of his need, God reveals Himself to him. He speaks to Israel here, and if you look at verses 3 and 4, of Genesis chapter 46, you’ll see six things that God says to Jacob by way of comfort. First of all, He tells him this: I am God the God of your father. God Himself, is always our greatest comfort. But God identifies Himself to him specifically as the God of his father to remind him and to reinforce the covenant promises that had been to Isaac and to Abraham before him.
Secondly, he says, do not be afraid to go down to Egypt. He is giving him approval. Indeed he is giving him encouragement to take on this journey. There is no forbidding of God here. There is no, 'Jacob, you shouldn't be going there.' Or, there is no silence about the journey. There is an actual approval of God. Don't be afraid to go down to Egypt. This is My providential plan, the Lord is saying to him.
Thirdly He says, for I will make you a great nation there. That is where He will fulfill His promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2. That is where He will make Abraham a great nation.
Fourthly, He says, I will go down with you to Egypt. The greatest blessing and privilege, the greatest comfort that a believer can experience in this life is God's gospel presence. His evangelical presence. His favorable saving presence. And you are reminded when you see God promising to Jacob here to be with him as he goes down into Egypt something that happens many, many hundreds of years later, when David has it set on his heart to build a temple for the Lord, a permanent dwelling place. In II Samuel 7, God comes to David and He reminds him that He has always dwelt with His people in tents. Where they went, He went. And He says never once did I ask for a temple to be built. When My people dwelt in tents, I dwelt in a tent. The tabernacle with them, right in the midst of them. And so that same promise of God's presence, His nearness, His favor is made right here to Jacob. What a tremendous comfort. I am not some sort of territorial God who can handle Canaan, but I can't handle Egypt. In fact, as I go into Egypt, one of my things that I am going to do is I am going to declare and display my glory in Egypt. But I am going to be with you there.
Fifth, He goes on to promise him, and I will surely bring you up again. God is not going to leave Jacob's family in Egypt forever. But in faithfulness to His word, and faithfulness not only to this promise, but to the promise that he had made to Abram in Genesis 15:13 and following, He was going to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt.
And then finally, sixth, He makes a very precious promise. You know we read in the Bible, in Psalm 116, verse 15 that precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones. And He says, I want to tell you something, Jacob, your son, Joseph, is going to close your eyes. You are going to make it to Egypt. You are going to be reunited with your son, Joseph. And when the day comes for me to take you home, to gather you to the bosom of your father, Abraham, it is your son who is going to close your eyes. It is his visage that you are going to see as the last thing before you go home. The one that you thought you would never see again, you are going to see, and it is so precious there to see the care of the Father for an earthly father. For He know his love for his son. For no one has ever loved a son like our heavenly father has loved His son. And so He grants Jacob this blessing, this privilege that it will be Joseph, who closes his eyes.
Now I would like you to note a couple of things even in this passage. First of all, note this interesting phrase. He says to Jacob, I will bring you out of Egypt. Now obviously, Jacob was not coming out of Egypt. He was going to die in Egypt. But there is this interesting mix in the Old Testament, isn't it? Where the federal head of the family stands for the family. And the blessings of the family are as it were, the blessings of the head of the family. So that God can say to Jacob, I am going to bring you out of Egypt and fulfill it with his descendants being brought out of Egypt. We see something here of the way that God uses covenant representatives and they stand in for the blessings which are in fact visited upon their heirs. There is something of this, isn't it, in the servant songs of Isaiah. And ultimately we see this in the blessing which are heaped upon the Lord Jesus Christ as our mediator which become our blessings. So you see a mixture of the individual and the corporate in this saying. I will bring you out of Egypt, meaning I will bring your descendants out of Egypt.
The second thing I would like you to notice in verse 5, is that here the phrase, 'the sons of Israel' is used. Now the phrase, sons of Israel, or, children of Israel has been used in Genesis before, just a few times, maybe three or four times prior to this passage. But it will be used something on the order of six hundred and eighty times in the Bible to stand for the people of God. And beginning in this passage, it becomes a technical phrase for the people of God, the people that He has chosen for Himself. The children of Israel. And so we see the inauguration of the nation, even at this point. Throughout this passage, we are mindful that God is taking Israel into Egypt in order to create a nation. But He will do it in adversity. Now, it is true that it is something of a platitude or a maxim that character is created in adversity. None of us, who have played sports, have ever been able to get through a season without a coach explaining to us that it takes the hard times to make the good times. That is almost a platitude. The Greeks, to switch the metaphor, had another saying that I think it was attributed to Socrates: he said if a man marries a good wife, he will have a happy life; if a man marries a bad wife, he will become a philosopher. Adversity creates character is the idea behind that.
And we see that principle elsewhere too. If you will allow me to indulge myself in a quote from Red Hills In Cotton, Ben Robertson is speaking of the shaping of some of the folks in the Carolina upcountry and he said “It is lost wars that age a people in their country. And we have lost one more than one struggle in South Carolina. We were beaten by the Spaniards in 1702. And by the Indians in 1761. We have lost costly campaigns to the English and have been overwhelmed by the Yankees. Of course, we have won some wars. We have whipped the Frenchmen in our state and we have whipped the Spaniards and Indians and Englishmen, but successful wars are forgotten. They are like other kinds of fulfillment. Once you have accomplished something that you have started to accomplish, it is finished. It is defeat that lives on, and takes years to smother. Of all the people in the world, we in the South should have been forewarned about the Germans.” He is writing this before the II World War. “We should have known what defeat would do to the German nation. We should not have forgotten our successful war of 1918, with its half-defeated peace. We of all people should have known that we should have either demolished the German empire or restored it to glory.” And then he goes on to say this. “My grandmother and many Southerners like her became serene in their old age, because during their days, they had faced every sort of tragedy and desperate trouble and survived. There was no terror left that could try them. They had fought a gigantic devastating war and had lost it. They had seen their country stripped and denuded. They had lived under the unreasoning despotism of soldiers. They had lived under a radical reconstructionist government, almost starving, they had taken the law into their own hands. They had ridden at night and terrorized and they had not hesitated to vote tombstones in elections. They had nullified an amendment to the Constitution. They had reconstructed a state and in their old age, their strength was firm. They were stoic in their repose. Yes, it is a platitude. It is a maxim that adversity creates character.”
But there is something even more specific being said here. Our response to providence is to see actually God's hand preparing to shape our character. It is not some general universal law that adversity creates character. It is God specifically and personally working to shape the character of His people individually and collectively. And that is what Israel and his people would learn in Egypt. Whom the Lord loves, He disciplines. God's plan of providence for the shaping of the nation was the crucible of oppression in Egypt. This operates for the people of God at the corporate and at the individual level. Just a week or so ago, the PCA historical center, published this letter in their monthly newsletter. It says the following letter was located recently among some of the unprocessed papers of Dr. Robert G. Rayburn. In the face of his own battle with cancer, he wrote in 1976, to minister to a young man in his congregation whose faith was under attack. Here is the letter.
“Dear Tom, I have learned from your mother that you feel that God has done something wrong in allowing me to have this serious physical problem which is facing me at the present time. But I want to assure you, Tom, that you are mistaken in feeling this way. The Bible tells us that it is the mercy of God that we are not consumed and certainly when we understand the sinfulness of our own hearts and realize how gracious God has been to us in spite of our sin, we have no grounds for complaining against him. Since this cancer has been discovered in my body, I have felt instead of resentment, a real desire to glorify my Lord in my illness. That isn't easy to do, I know. And the natural inclination to be somewhat bitter do rise up in my heart, but God has given me a wonderful peace about it through such verses as the one in Romans 12, which tells us, whom the Lord loves, He chastens. I am taking this chastening as an evidence of God's love for me. I hope that you will accept it in the same way. The Lord Jesus Christ is a great Savior and He never fails those who put their trust in Him. That is not a bluff, it is reality.
Most Sincerely, Robert G. Rayburn”
The young man to whom he wrote became a minister of the Gospel. But he reminds us here, how God's disciplining providences are to be responded to by His people. And this is precisely what God is going to do corporately in the life of Israel. He is going to manifest His love by creating them in His image through the crucible of adversity. And so, Israel goes into Egypt in obedience and faith knowing the trial that will come.
II. The names of Israel.
And then as you look at verses 8-27, and you review the names of Israel, you see God, by Moses recording these names that they may remember His power in the day in which they are brought out of Egypt. Obviously God is going to have to do a great work to make this little brood into a nation. Now there are difficulties in this list. If you would like to talk about them sometime I would be happy to do so after the service tonight or any time you want to talk about them. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of this passage, we are given a different numbering of the names and there are all sorts of variations that go on here. But the point is quite clear. This relatively small number of people go into the land of Egypt as the household of Israel and they will come out as a multitude. They will come out as millions.
One thing I want to point out particularly in the list is the one mention of the nationality of the mother of Shaul, the son of a Canannite woman we are told. If you will look at verse 10, as the sons of Simeon are listed. Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. This verse singles out the mother of this son of Simeon. Perhaps to make a point. Does this reveal something of the purposes of God, something of His reason for providentially moving Israel into Egypt? Listen to what Calvin says: “The holy fathers were on their guard not to mix in marriage with that nation from which they were separated by the decree of heaven.” Is Moses hinting to us one reason why God would place Israel in relative isolation and certainly separate her from the admixture with the thought and the families of the land of Canaan.
Let me just mention this in connection with that. It is not simply that God is preparing Israel by taking Israel into Egypt. God is also preparing Canaan by taking Israel into Egypt. Because in Genesis 15, it not only says that God would bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, it says that God will bring them into the land of Canaan at the time when the iniquity of the Amorites is complete. And so, as God's common grace is removed, as the family of Abraham is removed from the land of Canaan. So also the way is made clear for the Canaanites to take their sin to its logical consequences and thus to be prepared for the judgment of God in the invasion of Israel. God's providence. Look at God's providence here doing so many things at once with the same action. This is the God we love and serve. This tiny list will stand in stark contrast one day. This tiny list that we have in verses 8-27 will stand in stark contrast one day to the multitude of people that God will bring out of Egypt. And no wonder that God will say to Israel in Deuteronomy 7:7, as they stand on the verge of going into the land of Canaan, “I did not chose you because you were the greatest amongst the people.” You know they could have felt pretty good about themselves coming out of Egypt. They were a pretty big mob coming out of Egypt, and He reminds them, you know there were seventy of you when you started. I did not chose you because you were the greatest. You weren't. You were the least. I chose you because I loved you. And so we see even the love of God manifested in this providence.
III. Reunion of Joseph and Israel.
Finally, if you look at verses 28-34, and look at this reunion of Joseph and Israel, in the preparation for the audience with Pharaoh, we see Israel beholding Joseph's greatness. Joseph is reunited with his father in verses 28-29, and Moses is restrained in his presentation of this touching scene. If this were being made into a movie, it would be three or four chapters on its own. But Moses, just in passing, mentions the deep affection which Joseph has for his father, and the display of that in their reunion. Here, Jacob sees his son and he says, Lord you can take me home now, I have seen the son that I thought that I would never see again.
And then Joseph gives some specific advice to his family in view of their eminent meeting with Pharaoh. He explains to them that the Egyptians can't stand livestock herders and shepherds and so he explains to them that they need to delicately explain this to Pharaoh, but they certainly need to mention it, because it will insure that they are isolated in the land of Egypt, because the Egyptians will not want to be around them. They will be placed in Goshen and they will be left alone. There will be no attempt on the part of Pharaoh to integrate them into the mainstream of Egyptian culture. No. They are shepherds. They are livestock herders and in fact, we have hieroglyphs that confirm the contempt of the Egyptians for livestock herders and indeed again, you see God's hand of providence protecting Israel from admixture with the false gods of Egypt. God is good to His servants. And He blesses them above what they deserve. He prepares the way for Israel to be secluded and protected in Egypt. They will go many years under the protection of Joseph, and after Him, before they face strong oppression and opposition, they will be secluded because of these cultural differences.
And God shows His goodness as well in the reunion of Joseph and Jacob. You remember how pessimistic a man Jacob had become. From Genesis 37, verse 35 on, from the time that he was reported, the apparent death of his son, Joseph, if you look at all the recorded words of Jacob, he almost always is talking about death. He had become a pessimistic man. He had no hope for his future, but God blessed him above his deserving. He proved him wrong. And he proved Himself a good God in His providence as he beheld his son and was reunited with him and saw the fulfillment of God's revelation. God is good and the way we are to respond to His providence is not simply to acquiesce in it, but to look in His providence for what discipline He has for us, to respond in trust and obedience always to follow His word as He has revealed Himself in the Scripture. Let's pray.
Our heavenly Father, we thank you for Your Word. We ask that You would nourish our hearts by it and that more and more we would come to trust You in Your goodness and providence. These things we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.