Elon, North Carolina
Today, I want to try to cover two chapters of Genesis. Genesis 46 does not seem like an important chapter but it is actually very important. Jacob and his family moved to Egypt and are going to stay there for over four hundred years. This is like the Pilgrims coming to America. Jacob led the Jews into Egypt and Moses one day will lead them out.
Last week, we saw that Jacob just found out Joseph was alive in the last chapter. This week, he makes the trip to Egypt and sees Joseph. Jacob gets to see his favorite son. He gets to see the son he has not seen in over twenty years. He gets to see the son he thought was dead. He thought this meeting was impossible.
Jacob had given up hope seeing him in this life. He thought his best days were over. He was depressed. He was gloomy. He was negative. He was pessimistic about life. He thought that he would grieve and sorrow for Joseph until the day he died. He refused to be comforted.
Why was Jacob so depressed and gloomy? He believed a lie. He believed Joseph was dead. It was a lie but he believed it. He saw a coat of many colors full of blood but he did not ever find Joseph’s body. There is a lesson for us today. Many Christians today are also depressed because they also believe a lie.
They have been told something that is not true and they believed it. They might have even been told it by a preacher. It is very easy for us to believe a lie. Eve believed a lie in the garden. Many bolster their lie with Bible verses.
God does something amazing here. He brought hope in a completely hopeless situation when Jacob had given up hope and he still does that today in individuals, in marriages, in families and in churches. This was not only hopeless, but was impossible. How could Jacob be reunited with Joseph if he is dead, which is what Jacob believed? He thought he not only died, he died a violent death, torn apart by wild animals.
There are impossible situations in our life that we have given up on and may even have stopped praying. The Bible is full of stories of God working in a hopeless situation. God causes the light to shine in darkness. He did that at creation and still does that today. We have seen God do this before in Genesis. He gave Sarah a child in her old age when she had given up all hope of having a child. She thought it was impossible but Abraham was told “With God all things are possible”.
Jacob’s Four Actions
Jacob’s sons came home from Egypt with some unbelievable news. Jacob does four very important things. First, he RECEIVED the message. The message was that Joseph was alive and told him to come to Egypt.
Second, he BELIEVED the message. He did not believe it at first until he saw the wagons. When he went outside, the evidence was undeniable. He did not have to take their word for it. Jacob believed the message, even though it seemed incredible to believe that Joseph was still alive after all of these years. He believed the message, even though he had not seen him himself. He believed it based on the testimony of others.
Third, he ACTED ON this message. It is one thing to believe something intellectually. It is another thing to do something about it. What did he do to act on the message? He packed up his bags and headed to Egypt. This was a major undertaking, especially for an old man. This was a giant step of faith. Jacob did not just go to Egypt. He moved to Egypt. This is not just a vacation, Jacob is moving there but he is not just moving by himself. His entire family is moving there. Jacob has a large family.
We have a list of some of the people who made this trip in Genesis 46. Moses gives us two numbers. “All those who went to Egypt with Jacob—those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives—numbered sixty-six persons” (46:26). If you do the math and add up all the numbers in this chapter (33+14+16+7), you get seventy (46:27) but that includes Joseph, Ephraim, Manasseh and Jacob. If you do not count them, you end up with sixty-six (46:26). Seventy is a symbolic number like the seventy nations in Genesis 10 that represented all the nations from Adam.
There were a lot more than seventy that made this trip to Egypt. There may have been several hundred people on this trip. The list in Genesis only mentions sons. It does not mention any daughters or wives of the men who came.
Four, he WORSHIPED God. “So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (46:1 NIV). He was traveling but when he got to Beersheba, he stopped, not for doughnuts and coffee but to worship. Why does he stop in Beersheba?
It is in southern Israel. It is right on the border with Egypt. If you go any father, you are in Egypt. This is the point of no return. It is the southern- most boundary of the Promised Land. The country goes from “Dan to Beersheba”. Before he leaves Egypt, he worships God. Abraham planted a tree there and called on the name of the Lord. Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. Jacob offers sacrifice there right before leaving the Promise Land.
Why does he do that? The Promise Land was the place where God called them to be. It was the land that God gave the Jews. It was the place God blessed them. Now they are leaving that land. Jacob knows the history of his people. His grandfather Abraham left the Promise Land in a famine. He went to Egypt. You can read about that in Genesis 12 and he got into big trouble. His father Isaac also encountered a famine and wanted to go to Egypt and God told him not to go.
Now there was a famine in the land—besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. (26:1-3 NIV).
This seemed like the right thing to do but Jacob was afraid to go, so he brought God into the situation, which was the right thing to do. When he did this, God spoke to him. When you worship God, you often hear from God. If you want to hear from God, you need to seek God and worship God.
God Speaks to Jacob
And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!” “Here I am,” he replied. “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” What does God tell him? He tells him to go to Egypt and says “Don’t be afraid. I will be with you”. Now this is very strange. God told Isaac one thing and he told Jacob something very different. He told Isaac not to go to Egypt. He told Jacob to go to Egypt. Why did He do this?
There is a very important reason. God leads people differently. He may call one person to do the exact opposite of what he calls someone else to do and the situations may be very similar. God led one man in a famine to do one thing and led someone else in another famine to do the exact opposite. We need to know how God is leading in our own life and not just do what everyone else is doing.
What does God promise Jacob here? He promised that He would be with him in Egypt. He promised He would bless him in Egypt. The Jews would be a great nation in Egypt. They were just a family but would become a nation in Egypt. He also promised him that he would see Joseph in Egypt. Now Jacob has not just heard this from his sons but from God himself. Jacob thought he would die in sorrow without Joseph.
God promised that he would die in Egypt and Joseph would be there when he dies. Finally, he was promised that he would be brought back to Canaan. That was something that Jacob was worried about. Before he died, he wanted to make sure that he was buried back home in Canaan. He planned his burial. He made Joseph swear that he bury him in Canaan.
When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.” “I will do as you say,” he said. “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him (47:29-31). Jacob really liked living in Egypt. It was the most advanced country in the world at the time but he did not want to be buried there and God promised that he would not be.
Does God Speak Audibly Today?
God speaks to Jacob here. There are a lot of books written on the subject of hearing the voice of God. It is an important topic. Right now, our pastor is doing a series on it. Most preachers will tell you that God still speaks to people today and we can hear His voice. He speaks to our thoughts through a still small voice.
All of that is true but God did not speak to Jacob in a still small voice. Jacob had a vision of God, which means he was awake when it happened. God spoke to him, called him by name and Jacob responded and answered him. God spoke audibly to Jacob. He heard God physically in his ear. He called Jacob by name and Jacob spoke back to him and answered him. That raises a lot of questions. Can God still do this today? Does he still do this today? If the answer is yes, then why have none of us heard an audible voice from God?
There is a joke in the secular world. When people talk to God, we call it prayer, but when God talks to people, we call it schizophrenia. When people claim to hear the audible voice of God on a regular basis we think they are mentally imbalanced. They are hearing voices. What is the answer? Several things are true.
First, God can still speak today. No one disputes this. God is completely sovereign. As Greg Koukl says, “God can do anything He wants, any time He wants, any way He wants”. Second, God not only can speak today, He does speak to people today. He does it in a lot of different ways. He does not just speak in one way. He spoke to Joseph through dreams. He spoke to Jacob one way and to Joseph another way through prophetic dreams.
Third, God does still speak audibly today. God hasn’t changed. There are all kinds of stories, especially on the mission field of people coming to faith through a vision of Jesus. Jesus appears to Muslims and speaks to them. He appears to people who do not know him or believe in him and that is how they come to faith. One former Muslim terrorist had a vision of Jesus. He said, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. He said that he had never heard those words before. God does speak audibly today.
Having said that, this is not God’s regular way of communicating with believers. That is why God has given us His Word and His Spirit. In fact, God did not speak audibly to people on a regular basis, even in biblical times (except perhaps to Adam and Eve). This is not something that He used to do and no longer does anymore. It is something that even in Scripture was not done on a regular basis. You say prove it.
God spoke to the patriarchs audibly. He spoke to Abraham. He spoke to Isaac. He spoke to Jacob. He never spoke audibly to any of his sons, as far as we can tell. God never appeared to Simeon or Reuben or Judah, only to their dad Jacob. In fact, the next time that God speaks to anyone audibly is over four hundred years later. The next time God spoke audibly to anyone was to Moses and that was not for another four hundred years.
So they all head to Egypt. When they got close, Jacob sent Judah ahead to get directions (46:28). They did not have a GPS. He did not want to have several hundred people wandering around looking for directions. The fact that Jacob sent Judah out ahead, shows that he is the leader of the family. He was not the firstborn but he is now the leader of the family. Judah will be the one to lead them into Goshen.
This chapter not only describes a RELOCATION, as Jacob moves to Egypt and a REVELATION, as God speaks to Jacob, but a REUNION. We have heard all kinds of real life reunion stories. We have heard stories of long lost brothers reunited or adopted children meeting their biological mother for the first time.
Two verses in the chapter describe the meeting of Jacob and Joseph (46:29-30). It is emotional. It is climactic. Joseph meets him in his chariot. They hug each other and cry for a long time. When it is all over, Jacob says, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive” (46:30).
Jacob is not saying that he wants to die. In fact, he is going to live another seventeen years before he dies. He is simply saying that now he is ready to die. He had one thing on his bucket list. There was one thing he wanted to do before he died and that was to see Joseph. Now he has done that. That was all he wanted to do before he died. It is like what Simeon said in the NT. There is an OT Simeon and a NT Simeon. Both were Jews but they lived at different times.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32).
In the rest of the chapter, Joseph says that he will talk to Pharaoh and gives them instructions on how to talk to Pharaoh and let’s look briefly at the next chapter. In Genesis 46, Jacob sees Joseph. In Genesis 47, Jacob sees Pharaoh. There are two interviews with Pharaoh in this chapter. Pharaoh loves Joseph and now his family is in town. He wants to meet them.
Who was Joseph’s Pharaoh?
We do not know for sure. Most conservative scholars believe that the Twelfth Dynasty ruled at the time of Joseph. There were eight Pharaohs in this period. Joseph lived to be 110, so he worked under several of the Pharaohs. The Pharaoh who may have been on the throne at the time of the famine was either Senusret III or his son Amenemhat III. Senusret (sen-us-ret) ruled from 1878-1860 BC. He was the fifth ruler in the dynasty. Amenemhat (amen-em-hat) was the sixth ruler. He ruled from 1860 BC-1814 BC.
First, Pharaoh interviews five of Joseph’s brothers (47:1-6). Joseph picks five of them to talk to Pharaoh. The Bible does not say who he chose but I have a pretty good idea. He probably chose Benjamin, Reuben, Judah, Dan and Gad. He picked one from each of the four mothers (usually the firstborn, except in the case of Benjamin), along with Judah (the new leader of the family).
Pharaoh asks them about their occupation. They say that they are shepherds and are just here for a while because of the severe famine. They ask to live in Goshen, like Joseph told them to say. It is close to where he lives (45:10) and has some of the best pasture land in Egypt. Not only does he allow them to live in Goshen, he offers some of them a job (47:6).
Second, Pharaoh interviews Jacob. The Pharaoh and the Patriarch meet but something unusual happens when they meet. Pharaoh hosted the meeting. You would expect him to bless Jacob. You expect the greater to bless the lesser. Instead, Jacob blesses Pharaoh (47:7). An aged grey bearded shepherd blesses the most powerful man in the world at that time.
He asked him how old he was. You don’t ask someone who is middle age how old they are but when someone is really old, their age is an accomplishment. They are glad to talk about it. Notice his response. “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers” (47:9).
Jacob calls his life a pilgrimage. The NT describes Christians as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (I Peter 2:11). Jacob was one hundred and thirty but Jacob says that his days were “few”. Compared to his father and grandfather, it was few. He also said that he has not had an easy life. Some of those problems, though, he brought on himself.
Joseph’s Economic Plan
The second half of the chapter deals with Joseph’s economic policy. We see how he manages an economic crisis. There were seven good years and then seven bad years. Extra food was storied in the good years and now people were running out of money. When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is all gone (47:15).
Joseph was the Food Czar and here we see his agricultural policy. Some have called it “The Joseph Plan”. How did he manage this food crisis? It was a four step process. First, money (silver) was taken for food (47:14-15). Second, livestock was taken for food (47:16-17) when there was no money left. Third, land was taken for food (47:18-20). Four, freedom was taken for food (47:21-25). Then Joseph instituted a new farming and taxation system (vs.20-24). It was a flat tax (20%).
Joseph does some extreme things. This is crisis economics. It resembled the feudal system in Europe during the Middle Ages. Notice what Joseph did not do here. He also did NOT borrow money to solve the problem. That is what we would have done in America. He also did NOT give people food for free. There were no food stamps. People had to pay for food in this famine. Even starving people had to buy food. There were no hand-outs.
Some have criticized Joseph here. Some have said that he exploits people. He saves the Egyptians but he also enslaves them. In fact, he did not exploit anyone. He did not get rich from this scheme. Everything went to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the one who took care of Joseph’s family and gave them a place to live in a time of famine. He gave them land. In fact, the only one whose land was not taken was the priests and Jacob’s family. The Pharaoh took care of Joseph’s family and Joseph, not only spared the nation from starvation, he helped makes the Pharaoh rich.
Furthermore, the slavery was voluntary. Notice what the people said. We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. Why should we perish before your eyes—we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate (47:18-19). This is indentured servitude. There was no revolution or protest when it took place. The people did not look at Joseph as a tyrant but as a savior.