My study today covered Genesis 46 and 47. The story of Joseph and his family continues with Jacob (Israel) and his entire family moving to Egypt in order to see Joseph and in order to be saved from the famine. They begin to head toward Egypt, stopping in Beersheba to offer sacrifices to God. God speaks to Jacob in a dream that night and promises to be with him and to bring him back out again. The chapter continues with a detailed genealogy of Jacob’s sons and grandsons, commenting that all of Jacob’s direct descendants numbered 70 people (Genesis 46:27). Joseph meets his family in Goshen and is reunited with his father Jacob. Chapter 47 describes the meeting between some of Joseph’s brothers, as well as Jacob, and Pharaoh. Then, in the second half of this chapter, it elaborates on the effects of the famine in the land. The people continued to come to Joseph to get their food, but after a while they ran out of money and had to start using their livestock as payment. After their livestock was all given to Pharaoh, the people began to use their land and their own bodies (selling themselves into slavery) as payment for food. The chapter ends with the account of Jacob making Joseph promise that he will take Jacob back to Canaan to be buried with his forefathers when he dies.
Several things stand out from these two chapters. Since everything is not necessarily closely related, I have tried to outline it as best I could below.
God’s slow fulfillment of His promise
Matthew Henry’s commentary on Genesis 46 states that “though the fulfilling of promises is always sure, yet it is often slow.” God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, yet as Henry reminds us “it was now 215 years since God had promised Abraham to make of him a great nation, ch. 12:2; yet that branch of his seed, to which the promise was made sure, had only increased to seventy…” So why was this genealogical account included, do you think? Henry says that it is to show the great power of God. These 70 grow into a much larger number quickly – in Exodus 1:7, after Jacob, Joseph, and all his brothers have died, it says that “…the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land (Egypt) was filled with them.” And it is also good to remember that God’s timing is not always our timing. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” (2 Peter 3:8-9).
Being content with your calling and circumstances
Henry mentions something that I never considered as I read through this account – although shepherds are “detestable” to Egyptians, Joseph made no effort to hide what it was that his family did. He planned from the start to approach Pharaoh and to explain that they tend livestock, and that he would have them settle in Goshen as a way to separate them from most other Egyptians. Henry states that “whatever employment and condition God in his providence has allotted for us, let us suit ourselves to it, satisfy ourselves with it, and not mind high things. It is better to be the credit of a mean post, than the shame of a high one.” This reminded me of a story I heard a while back of how to make a difference in our jobs. The article said:
Take for example, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was once asked if he could explain how a black kid, from New York City, with average grades, could become a four-star general. Powell simply smiled and said, “It’s a great country.” When he was asked about the first time that he experienced discrimination, Powell said that when he was 18 years old he worked a summer job in a factory as a floor sweeper. He noticed that only white employees were machine operators and all the floor sweepers were black. Instead of reacting angrily to this, he made the decision to be the best floor sweeper in the factory. The next year, when he returned to the same factory for a summer job, the manager promoted him to be the first black machine operator. It’s amazing how many doors of opportunity you can open for yourself with good performance and the right attitude.
This life is just a pilgrimage
When Jacob is brought before Pharaoh, Pharaoh asks him his age. Jacob answers him by saying “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.” (Genesis 47:9). This sounds very much like a complaint that he has not lived as long as his forefathers, and that his life has been one difficulty after another. I’m almost certain that it is such a complaint, but Jacob also includes a very interesting word in his response – that his life has been nothing more than a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage, of course, is a journey through a foreign land in order to get to special place. We are told in Hebrews 11:13-16 that those who had great faith in the stories of the Old Testament “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” We should remember that this earth is nothing more than a foreign land for us, and that Jesus is preparing a place for us in heaven.
God is always in control
Sometimes I like to think that if I work hard enough and want something bad enough, I can get it. We are told from when we are young that, if we work hard, there is nothing we cannot do. But I am starting to think this is completely false. In the latter part of Genesis 47, it tells of how the people of Egypt relied on Joseph and the food he had stored up during the years of plenty to survive. At first they gave their money to buy food from him, but later they had to sell their livestock, their land, and even their own bodies into slavery just to buy food to survive. Why did they have to do this? Because there was a famine! No food was growing in the ground, probably because there was no rain. For 7 years! Who has control over the rain? God! These people probably believed just a few years before that they were in great shape – they had money, livestock, land, and freedom. But in less than 7 years they lost it all, just so that they could survive. This tells me that we should remember that no matter what we think we have, it is God who is really in control.