Genesis 46-47 - How God Supports His People

February 10, 2013 Speaker: Series: Genesis

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Genesis 46:1–47:31

[Text: Gen. 46-47] “How God Supports His People”

Scripture Intro: This is the story of Israel’s journey and arrival in Egypt – how God supported them on both the journey as well as when they got there. But this story becomes much more significant as we understand this: when Jacob left Beersheba heading south, it would be the last time an Israelite saw the Promised Land for 400 years. How was God going to support His people through those years?

[Read Genesis 46-47 and pray]

Last week we saw the sovereign hand of God behind and beneath all things. Everything that happened – the brothers’ sin, Joseph’s suffering and rise to power – everything happened because the Sovereign God was rescuing His people.

And while that bare truth is comforting for the people of God, our weakness has always needed more to support us through life. And in this story we see how God has always given His people more support to sustain us.

Jacob needed that support because here, as the people of God left the Promised Land on their way to Egypt, it seems as though there was some anxiety and fear about the move. After all, God promised Abraham that Canaan would be his family’s home. And God once forbade Jacob’s father, Isaac, from going down to Egypt in a time of famine. Why were they going now? Was it right or was it just easy? Was this actually a huge mistake? Jacob needed the support of his God.

And God graciously gave it. God had made a covenant with this family and it was a relationship that depended on God alone. God was always acting out of a concern for this covenant – a covenant that ensured the redemption of His people and creation. Throughout these two chapters we’ll see how God gave Jacob and his family support through three things: (1) His covenant promises, (2) His covenant people and (3) His covenant rescuer. Through these three things, God takes care of Jacob, removing his fear and supporting him in every way he needs during this season in life.

This story would have been an immense comfort to the original audience. As Israel left Egypt some 400 years later, they were being led on a difficult journey – one that was full of fear and questions – and the people once again found themselves in need of support from their God. Where would their food come from? How would they find their way? Would they ever arrive in the Promised Land? This story would have bolstered their faith in their faithful God and helped them recognize how they, too, were being taken care of.

And this story is a comfort for us in our time of the Story, too. You and I live in a day when we need support because life can be hard. Like Jacob we’re on this journey, living in a strange land as aliens and sojourners here. We endure evil days and grieve over sin, both our own and the sins of others that wound us and wound those we love. And as we journey we have questions about the way to go; is this or that decision good and right or just easy? Maybe it’s about too little work or too much work, marriage troubles or failing health, struggles with besetting sins or questions about how to be faithful with what we have; you and I are always people in need of support because we are weak, much too weak to go on this journey alone.

But as God was gracious to Jacob and his people because of the Covenant, God will be gracious to us in the New Covenant as we rest in Christ. Because of God’s grace we have the support (1) of His covenant promises in Christ, (2) the support of His covenant people in the Church and (3) the faithful, eternal support of Jesus himself, our covenant Rescuer.

Let’s see how the covenant promises, people and rescuer were at work here in Genesis, supporting Jacob and his family.

The opening of Genesis 46 is striking as Jacob comes to the southernmost town of Canaan, about to cross out of the Promised Land. Before he leaves, though, he stops to worship the God of his father, Isaac. Jacob seeks out and offers sacrifices to his faithful God who (as he said chapters earlier) “has been with me wherever I have gone.” (Gen. 35:3)

Jacob needed support and he knew where to go. We don’t hear his words here, but we see him approaching his God in worship. That’s a lesson for us in and of itself, of course. So often, when life is confusing, worship is the last thing on my mind. But we can commend Jacob for this: in the face of questions and before a journey like his, he went to his God in worship.

And that night as he slept, God came to Jacob and spoke to him. And in this vision we hear the support God offered Jacob through the covenant promises. God said to Jacob (in v. 3),

“…’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. 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.’” (Genesis 46:3-4 ESV)

When God says, “I am God, the God of your father,” Jacob is being reminded that there is more to consider than just his present circumstances. There is a history that he needs to remember and embrace. This God has been at work in his family for centuries now and has been making promises all along. So even though God makes a fresh promise to Jacob in what follows, there are still other promises that will support Jacob through this journey.

There’s the promise in Eden that there will come one who would be victorious over the evil power of this world; there’s the promise to Abraham that blessing would come to all the families of the earth through him; there’s the promise to Abraham – back in chapter 15 when the covenant was established – that although Israel would go down to Egypt and be enslaved there for 400 years, the LORD would be faithful to bring them back to the Promised Land once again.

Jacob was supported by all the past promises of his God. And now, God again made a promise to Jacob. It, too, was meant to support him and remove fear from Jacob’s mind as he went on this journey down to Egypt. Here God repeated the promise He’d made ages ago to Abraham; God was going to be at work in his family to make them into a great nation – great in number and great in significance. To accomplish that, God was going to be with Jacob in Egypt. And since God had, indeed, promised Canaan (not Egypt) was the Promised Land, God assured Jacob that he would bring Jacob back up to the Land that was his home.

The covenant promises of God supported Jacob and freed him to leave the Land in peace, trusting that no matter what happened and no matter how long he and his family stayed there – even if he died there – the faithfulness of God would bring them home again. So, Jacob goes down and the emphasis of the next verses is that no one stayed behind. 70 people went down to Egypt.

When you and I gather together, like Jacob with his family, to worship this God who has been making and keeping promises since the beginning, we gather to hear from His Word those same promises again. But we have more promises to look back on because of the time in the Story in which we live. And more importantly, we can look back to the fulfillment of those promises in the person of Jesus Christ.

So even this morning as you come to worship your God, bringing your fears and doubts about your journey with you, listen again to the promises that God made. Believe them, directing your faith toward Jesus alone, and let the covenant promises fulfilled in Jesus support you:

Because of Jesus, we Gentiles – the families of the earth who were lost for so long – have found the blessing promised to Abraham.

Because of Jesus’ death, our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

Because of Jesus, we are held securely by the Father and no one and nothing can snatch us out of His hand (John 10).

Because of Jesus, we have been given new hearts (Ezekiel 36) that have been cleansed (1 John 1:9) and we have been declared righteous in the sight of God (Romans 5) so that not only is condemnation impossible for we who believe (Romans 8:1), but we have been given eternal life that has already begun (John 6:47).

And there are still other promises made to us that that have not yet come true. But, like Jacob, they still support us and give us hope and help us to walk forward in this journey on which the LORD is leading us. We have the promise of the resurrection (2 Cor. 4:14), with Jesus as the down-payment and guarantee (1 Cor. 15). We have the promise of the new heavens and the new earth of which Jesus said were certain to come because He who promised them is faithful and true (Revelation 21).

All these promises are for us and for our children, said Peter (in Acts 2). And they are meant to support us – even carry us – along our journey.

So, God gives His people covenant promises to support us. In this story, the promises were made and re-affirmed to Jacob but the promises weren’t just for Jacob – they were for his family, too. So, the entire family of Jacob goes down to Egypt together and in this “family trip” we see the second way God supports his people. He supports them through His covenant people.

46:5-27 shows a picture of a family supporting each other on their way to see their brother (who would support all of them). Verse 5 says, “(t)he sons carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives…” as they went down to Egypt. What a grace of God to save His people as a people and not just a collection of individuals who have to fend for themselves.

We can’t take it for granted that God works through His people, especially through families! In Exodus 34, He is the God who keeps steadfast love down through thousands of generations of His people and gives the signs and seals of the covenant not only to those who profess faith in Christ, but to their children as well – first in circumcision and now (after Christ) in baptism. And it is through His people now in the New Testament church that He has given gifts of grace for the building up of the Body of Christ.

That means there should be no such thing as a “private Christian.” Okay, there are elements of our faith that we practice in private, but we are members of one another and that is a grace of God. He means to take care of us and strengthen us and equip us for ministry in His service through us exercising our gifts. Of course, it is all for His glory – but it is also for our good. It’s ONE of the reasons why we’ve gathered together today. It’s why we make our professions of faith in front of each other. It’s why we baptize believers and their children as a church family. It’s why we study the Scriptures together and eat together and cry together and pray together and give our time and money to take care of each other. It’s why we repent together and preach the gospel to each other; we were made for this kind of community.

So, I would urge you more and more to take hold of the grace God has given you for your journey. God has given you His covenant promises and covenant people to support you.

The last thing we see God gave to support Jacob is the one Jacob needed most of all. He needed a rescuer and in the covenant God gave him Joseph.

Once Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt, they were met by Joseph who presented himself to his father – a word hinting that this was Joseph in full royal splendor – and wept on Jacob’s neck for a long time. Joseph was God’s means of supporting the covenant people. Through his suffering, he had become their rescuer.

And as their covenant rescuer, Joseph gets to work. At the end of 46 through the opening of 47, we see Joseph supporting his brothers and guiding them in what they should say to Pharaoh. His goal, from what we see in 46:34, is to secure the region of Goshen (also called Rameses in chapter 47) for his family. And from what happens at the opening of chapter 47 we see that he was even more successful than he’d hoped. Not only does Israel gain the land of Goshen, which was fertile pasture land for their animals, but they also are given charge of Pharaoh’s animals. Why on earth is Goshen so important?

The text makes it no secret that the Egyptians didn’t think much of the Hebrews or their occupation. But for the people of God, that position of humility was actually a good thing. Remember that they were a people set apart by their God. They were supposed to maintain purity of worship and part of that was keeping themselves free from intermarriage with other peoples and from the many false gods of those peoples. So, Joseph was again supporting his family, protecting true religion during their long stay in Egypt by keeping them as a separate people.

In 47:11-12, we again see Joseph supporting his family by providing for their needs. It says, “he provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents.”

Contrast that with what follows in 47:13-26. Where Joseph’s family is well provided for, the Egyptians give their money, their livestock and, eventually, their land to Pharaoh in exchange for food and seed to survive the famine. This is worthy of more time than we have because there are some beautiful layers here. But Moses wants us to see the difference between the people of God and Egypt. While Egypt languishes and is thankful to become slaves of Pharaoh, we see Israel in vv. 27 gaining possession of land, and being fruitful and multiplying greatly. Their God, through the covenant rescuer, was supporting them so well that their experience even in the years of famine was an echo of how things were supposed to be in the beginning when God spoke in creation saying, “Be fruitful and multiply….” They went from a family of 70 to (in the opening of Exodus) filling the land.

Just as God supported Israel through Joseph in the covenant, God supports us through the work of our Covenant Rescuer, Jesus.

He embraces us and rejoices when we come to him, rejoicing over repentant sinners. Through his suffering on the cross, he rescued us and through his resurrection he is alive to support and guide us through this world. He provides for us all that we need – giving us righteousness and peace and even a portion of the good things of this world as we have need. He sets us apart in holiness so that we can be in the world but not of the world. He tells us not to be anxious for food and clothing because our Father in heaven knows what we need and He will himself support us (even if it is through His people, the Church). He gives his Word and his Holy Spirit to teach us, as he taught the disciples, how to speak (Matthew 10) to make his name and gospel known. Through our covenant Rescuer, Jesus, God still supports his people and will support us to the end.

Through His covenant promises, the covenant people and the covenant rescuer, God was supporting Jacob and his family. And in the final scene of chapter 47 there is a powerful confluence of all these means of support.

When Israel knew that his death was approaching (17 years later than he had expected), he called Joseph and made him swear to carry Jacob’s body back to the Promised Land where his fathers were buried. He said, “Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” When Joseph swore that he would, Jacob bowed in a position of worship.

As Jacob bowed his head, translators of the Hebrew disagree on whether he bowed himself upon the head of his “bed” or the head of his “staff.” The consonants are the same in Hebrew and there is only a slight difference in the vowels between “bed” and “staff.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament, however, the translation seems to be settled. In Hebrews 11:21, it says Jacob bowed his head over his staff in worship. But why am I making a big deal about this?

I confess I cannot say with absolute certainty whether Jacob bowed his head over his bed or over his staff, but IF it was his staff, a motif from Genesis 35 comes into view.

Jacob had once before crossed out of the Promised Land. It was back when he was on the run from Esau. In chapter 35, Jacob says he’d left the Land with only his staff in his hand. On that first journey away from the Land, God had made promises to him. God said, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” That staff traveled out of the land for 20 years as he went to Laban’s and came home, protected and supported by his God. Then, as he left the Promised Land this second time, YHWH had promised to be with him and, though he died in a strange land, to bring him back to the Promised Land to rest in death until the fullness of redemption should come. When Jacob hears his son swear to take him home, he counts all the promises God has made to him as kept. Because of the covenant and this rescuer his bones will rest in Canaan until the world is made new.

So, as he bows his head over his staff in worship of his faithful God, it may just be that the staff itself has come to have a sacramental significance to it. I don’t mean that the staff is a sacrament. But it is sacramental in the way that this physical thing (that has been with him for over a century through fear and pain and exile and death and sin and restoration) has come to represent the support his God has given him through His promises, his people and the rescuer who stood before him. So he rests his head in peace on the staff and finishes his journey in the same way it had begun – in worship.

As you remember your baptism and when you eat the Lord’s Supper, take hold of these true sacraments that God has given to you to assure you His covenant promises are sure and guaranteed because Jesus, our Rescuer, has come and died and rose again.

Lean on them in worship, remembering that although you die here in this strange land, your Rescuer swears to you that he will carry you home.

Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 ESV)

So, worship in peace, people of God. And walk in faith during your journey here, following your Lord and Rescuer and resting in the support he gives to you. Christ died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. And he promises, “Surely, I am coming soon.”

[Pray – Great God and Father, we praise you that throughout the ages you have supported your Church so that we do not fall beyond the long reach of your grace. Thank you for the gifts of your promises, people and Son. Through Jesus we rest in your promises as fulfilled and through Jesus we rejoice in each other as your people. Help us, we pray to live as becomes followers of Christ and to respond with true worship both in our hearts and with our very lives, presenting ourselves to you as living sacrifices because you have made us holy and pleasing in your sight. In the name of your Son, Jesus, we pray. Amen.]


[Benediction – “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”] (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV)

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