Monday, April 4, 2011

Genesis 46:1-7 All aboard!

"So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.  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.'  (Genesis 46:1-4 NIV)
Jacob began the journey which would take him to Egypt.  At Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to God.  Both Abraham and Isaac had called upon the Lord there.  (Genesis 21:33, Genesis 26:23-25)  In his day, Abraham had remained in the land of the Philistines a long time, while Isaac had been told to remain in Gerar (about halfway between Beersheba and Gaza) rather than go down to Egypt.  Perhaps Jacob was still seeking guidance as to whether he really should go to Egypt.

However, God soon reassured Jacob in a vision.  He promised to accompany Jacob to Egypt and make a great nation out of him there.  He told Jacob that he would bring him back to Canaan, the promised land.  God also told Jacob that Joseph's hand would close his eyes (that is, when he dies), so Jacob knows that he will indeed see his beloved son again.

I wonder if Jacob realized that this trip to Egypt might be the start of the prophecy which God had spoken to Abraham back in Genesis 15, about how Abraham's descendants would be "...strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years...and afterward they will come out with great possessions." (Genesis 15:13-14)  I am sure that Abraham would have conveyed this information to Isaac, and Isaac to Jacob, at some point in the past, because as spiritual leaders of the family, they would have to understand these things as well.

However, since God had not specified a certain country, Jacob would not have known for sure that their time in Egypt would be longer than the five years remaining in the seven-year-long famine in Egypt. (Genesis 45:6,11)  It is possible, though, that these matters were on his mind and making him somewhat fearful as he contemplated the trip to Egypt.  Or, Jacob could have just been an old man wondering if he would really be able to make such a long trip.  Either way, God graciously reminds Jacob that he will not be going anywhere alone, for God would be with him.

This was a reminder of the covenant which God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and with Jacob himself, back when he was fleeing from his brother Esau's wrath.  The same God who had protected him in the past was going with Jacob and his family to Egypt.

"Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel's sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him.  They also took with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan, and Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt.  He took with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and grandaughters -- all his offspring."  (Genesis 46:5-7 NIV)

I see that these verses emphasize that Jacob took every one of his offspring with him.  This is truly a momentous journey.  Can you imagine going to another nation with all your relatives and all your possessions?  What thoughts and feelings would be going through your mind at such a time?

I just thought of something.  Jacob's twin brother Esau (and Esau's descendants) did not go with them to Egypt.  He had already been living apart from Jacob, due to their abundant possessions.  So this is a parting in another way, too...from a twin brother and, on Esau's part, a very distinct separation from the people of God.  It is one thing to live some distance away so that there is room for flocks to graze.  It is entirely another to watch the people of God leave for another country, while you choose to remain behind. 

I wonder if Esau survived the time of famine.  At least some of his descendants did, for Edomites are alive to confront the Israelites four hundred years later when they return from Egypt.  However, I am getting ahead of myself.  Right now, we are still with Jacob as he leaves on his journey to Egypt! 

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