Relocation, Relationships, and Reunion
Topic: Sovereignty of God Passage: Genesis 46:1–46:34
“RELOCATION, RELATIONSHIPS, AND REUNION”
1 So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” 3 Then he said, “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. 4 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.”
5 Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their farther, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 6 They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, 7 his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.
8 Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, 9 and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. 11 The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Mezari. 12 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. 13 The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob,, and Shimron. 14 The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. 15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three.
16 The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezhon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. 17 The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. 18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons.
19 The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. 20 And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, bore to him. 21 And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. 22 These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all.
23 The sons of Dan: Hushim. 24 The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. 25 These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all.
26 All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. 27 And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.
28 He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came to him in the land of Goshen. 29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”
The history of the world is a story of migration. Tracing the movement of people groups from the dawn of civilization to the present day helps us not only to learn our origins and roots, but to better understand the reasons for the “changing face” of contemporary cultures and societies.
Forty ago, Temple Hills Baptist Church was an almost exclusively “White” church. Today, Caucasians make up less than one-fourth of this church’s membership. With the rising number of immigrants coming into our country and into our area, we can expect the changing demographic to continue for at least the next generation. Such awareness raises many questions and concerns, but it also serves to remind us that the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ does not exclusively belong to any single ethnic group.
Whether we agree with it or not, that same reality holds true for every nation on the face of this planet. “Immigration reform” has been one of the leading debates of our time. From the halls of government to casual conversations around the coffee machine at work, everyone seems to have an opinion on the matter. At times those discussions become quite heated and vocal, even among men and women who truly love Jesus and seek to make Him known. Hopefully, these recent lessons in sovereignty from the life of Joseph have reminded us that it is God—and He alone—who determines “allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (cf. Acts 17:26) regarding all people. To reemphasize what we have stressed for several weeks now, God is absolutely sovereign.
We are reminded of that yet again as we arrive at the front door of Genesis 46 this morning. In more ways than one, this is a very “moving” chapter. In the first place, it describes the relocation of Jacob’s entire family from famine-stricken Canaan to the greener pasturelands of Goshen. It is emotionally “moving, as well, as within these verses we have described Jacob’s affirming encounter with God, as well as his tearful reunion with his long-lost son, Joseph. As we walk through this chapter together, we are going to trace the migration of an entire people group from one land to another. The background for this story has been laid for us in previous chapters.
As a teenager, Joseph had been sold into Egyptian bondage by the diabolical act of his deceitful brothers. Through a series of divinely providential circumstances, he had been granted the ability to correctly interpret dreams. Called on to discern the meaning of the nightmares that had troubled Pharaoh, Joseph had understood that seven bountiful years would be followed by another seven years of severe famine. In addition, he proposed a plan to Pharaoh that would not only spare the nation great disaster, but enable it to sell grain to other struggling peoples as well. So taken was Pharaoh with the young man’s wisdom that he elevated Joseph to the second highest position in the land.
In time his brothers were sent into Egypt to purchase grain, and who should meet them face-to-face but the brother who they thought they had rid themselves of twenty years earlier. But they did not recognize him, and Joseph did everything he could to conceal his identity from them. Through a series of “character tests” imposed upon his brothers, each of which they passed, Joseph at last revealed himself to them in the emotional scene we saw last week in chapter 45. Having reconnected with his siblings and with five even more severe years of famine still to come, Joseph urged them to go back to Canaan, gather their father, their families and all their belongings, and return to Egypt where they could settle in the land of Goshen.
Arriving back home, they break the unlikely news to their father, Jacob, who at first did not believe that Joseph was still alive. In time he was persuaded, and the family prepared to commence...
The relocation from Canaan to Goshen (Genesis 46:1-7).
It appears that Jacob’s doubts persisted even after having departed Canaan. There seems to have been reluctance on his part in making such a momentous move without some sort of confirmation from the Lord.
The family had been on the road for perhaps two days when they arrived at Beersheba, a place where both Jacob’s grandfather Abraham (cf. Genesis 21:22-34) and father Isaac (cf. Genesis 26:23-33) had settled for a time. It had also been the place where Jacob had earlier fled in order to escape the anger of his brother Esau (cf. Genesis 28:10). It is at this place where verse 1 says, “Israel...offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.” Here was a father on his way to see his son who paused to worship the God of his own father.
In response to his offering, God met the aging patriarch and “spoke to Israel in visions of the night.” In terms of the journey—and, perhaps, in terms of the personal realization of Jacob’s relationship with God—this event marked “the point of no return.” God called to him, saying, “Jacob, Jacob.” Notice that once again wesee the interplay of the two names...“Jacob” implying his weakness in the flesh, and “Israel” suggesting his strength in the Lord.
Jacob answered, “Here I am.” God then announced, as if to remove all doubt with regard to the relocation that was already under way, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.” Years earlier, the Lord had forbidden Isaac from going to Egypt during a time of famine (cf. Genesis 26:1-5), but this time His call to Isaac’s son was clear: “Go!”
In verses 3 and 4, God gave Jacob three promises: “I will make you a great nation” (a reaffirmation of the covenant first made with Abraham and later confirmed with Isaac), “I...will go down with you to Egypt” (an assurance of God’s presence while there), and “I will also bring you up again” (a promise, as we learn from subsequent Scripture, that would had both personal and national ramifications). That last promise assured that Egypt would not be the permanent home for either Jacob or his descendants. But for now it would be.
This was not Jacob’s initial meeting with God. Years earlier he had wrestled with Him at Piniel and had prevailed. There he had said, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” And it was there that he had first been given the name “Israel” (cf. Genesis 32:22-32). And now the time had come for “Jacob”/“Israel” to fulfill the destiny for which God had for years been preparing him.
It is worth pointing out that God will not again speak directly with anyone until His encounter with Moses at the burning bush more than four hundred years later (cf. Exodus 3:1-4:17). This scene, therefore, must sustain God’s people and be the promise upon which they must lean for the next several centuries. Therefore, this was a pivotal moment in the sovereign plan of God.
There would be no looking back. With renewed resolve, Jacob and his family left Beersheba and traveled onward to Egypt. Verses 6 and 7 provide some description of how the journey was made. They appeared to bring everything they owned with them...“lock, stock, and barrel,” as the saying goes.
Most of us have probably seen the recent videos on the news of large masses of people fleeing their homeland out of desperation in search of hope and freedom elsewhere. It may add reality to the biblical narrative to see Israel’s migration southward in a similar way. They too were desperate. Starvation seemed inevitable had they remained in Canaan. At least for now, Egypt was their only means of survival. And, even more significantly, it was God’s sovereignly-appointed place for His people.
Verses 8 through 27, the greater portion of this chapter, appear at first glance to be an intrusive interruption to the flow of the narrative. In a way it is, but that does not minimize its importance to getting a handle on the larger story being played out by the many characters whose names are found here. While this listing doesn’t make for the most fascinating reading, it does however serve the purpose of introducing us to this deeply-divided family who are about to become “the people of God.”
It is within this parenthetical section that we find...
The relationships of the children of Israel (Genesis 46:8-27).
The material in these verses is actually grouped into four sub-sections with a summary at the end. The four divisions are based upon the sons of Jacob’s four wives. Technically, Jacob had only two “wives”—the two daughters of Laban, Leah and Rachel. But both of them had a handmaid who at times served as “surrogates” to bear children for Jacob when the wives themselves were unable. It was through this strange and often distrustful and bitter series of relationships that the families of Israel would come. The verses before us delineate the names of those who departed Canaan and entered Egypt during the days of Joseph.
Because Leah was by course Jacob’s first wife, the names of her six sons and their sons are listed first. You will find their names given according to their birth order in verses 8 through 15: Reuben (verse 9), Simeon (verse 10), Levi (verse 11), Judah (verse 12), Issachar (verse 13), and Zebulun (verse 14).
The remainder of the list is not chronological, but is placed in the sequence that we find them for the purposes of delineating the various tribes that would arise from each of Jacob’s sons.
When Leah at last became barren, she gave to Jacob her servant Zilpah, who in time bore him bore him two sons named, Gad (verse 16) and Asher (verse 17).
Next in the list are the two sons of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, the one for whom he labored fourteen years to have as his own (cf. Genesis 29:30). The names of her sons were Joseph (verse 20) and Benjamin (verse 21), born last to Jacob. Rachel, you recall, died giving birth to Benjamin (cf. Genesis 35:16-20), which explains Jacob’s careful protection of him.
Rachel had been unable to bear children and had grown jealous of her sister’s ability to conceive. So, before her barrenness was removed, she gave Jacob her handmaid, Zilpah, who also bore him two sons, Dan (verse 23) and Naphtali (verse 24). Four wives and twelve sons...one can only imagine the strained and competitive dynamics of the interpersonal relationships in such a family.
Admittedly, some questions have been raised by biblical scholars regarding the accuracies and consistencies found in this list of names. Most can be explained by human error in transmission and translation of the text from Hebrew to English and from one generation to the next. For example when we compare Genesis 46 with Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:14, the number increases from “seventy” to “seventy five.” There are other plausible explanations, but none affect the interpretation of the text before us.
The end of verse 27 tells us by way of summary that “All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.” When you add the brothers’ wives to that number, the total would have been considerably more. Whatever the actual number may have been, it would have represented a large family, but small a “nation.” It was a people group that would virtually explode over the next four centuries, however, so that the “seventy” men would increase to more than six hundred thousand (cf. Exodus 12:37). And that excludes women and children. Adding women and children to that total would increase the population total to two to two-and-a-half million, conservatively speaking.
Taking all of this into consideration, we can see how this section serves to prepare us for the unfolding events that will subsequently take place in the ongoing narrative of Israel’s history. What’s more, it sets us up for the...
The reunion of Joseph and Jacob (Genesis 46:28-34).
Verse 28 tells us that Jacob appointed Judah—not Reuben, the oldest, nor any of his other sons—to go “ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen.” The irony of the moment has been pointed out that Judah is selected to play the lead role in being the mediator in the forthcoming reunion of father and son when earlier he had been a principle player in separating them (cf. Genesis 37:26-27). But as we have seen, it is this son—Judah—who has risen to leadership among the brothers. We have witnessed the grace of God in this man’s life and have begun to get a sense why it would be from his descendants that the Christ would come. Although it was Joseph who was responsible for the preservation of the children of Israel in Egypt, it was Judah who “show(ed) the way.”
Upon Judah’s arrival, Joseph “prepared his chariot and went up to meet his father in Goshen.” We are told in verse 29 that “He presented himself to him and (as we might imagine the emotion to have been) “fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while.” Then, in their first exchange of words in what was now twenty-two years, “Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”
Almost all of Jacob’s recorded words since chapter 37 have been about death, and will continue to be so. But after this reunion with the son he believed to have been dead for years, bitterness and hopelessness were largely replaced by a sense of fulfillment and hope. That is what an ever-increasing vision of God’s sovereignty will do!
Jacob would not soon die. He would live to enjoy the revived relationship with his beloved son for seventeen more years (cf. Genesis 47:28). You may recall that Joseph had been but seventeen years of age when he was sold into slavery (cf. Genesis 37:2). In between had been more than two decades of questions and doubts. Had they been in vain and for no purpose? Providence and eternity say “no.”
And neither have the years you may have spent without answers and resolutions to your questions, doubts, and perhaps even fears. God is in control, remember. He was then, and He is now. So, Christian, whatever it is that you may be going through which now seems so meaningless, know that the Lord has purpose that one day will be revealed. And when it is, it will be shown to have been a necessary part of His plan for your good and His glory.
Turning to and addressing the entire family—many of whom may have only recently learned of their lost-lost relative living in Egypt—Joseph announced that he would inform Pharaoh that his family—all of them—had escaped the famine in Canaan and had arrived in Egypt. In addition, he would inform Pharaoh that his family were “keepers of livestock, and (had) brought their flocks and herds” with them. Revealing this was critical.
Joseph was aware that Pharaoh would inquire of them as to their occupation. Therefore, they were to say, “Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers.” The reason that they were to respond in that matter is explained by the purpose clause in verse 34: “in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen,” the most fertile land in Egypt, and apparently one that had until then managed to escape the worst ravages of the famine. For Joseph’s sake, Pharaoh was willing to set aside the best of the land for his family. We will actually find that stated in chapter 47, verse 6. It was a magnificent gesture on Pharaoh’s part, but one well deserved. After all, where would the people of Egypt have been apart from Joseph’s brilliant proposal to plan ahead for the coming years of famine?
It is the last phrase of verse 34 that has generated a great deal of confusion on the part of interpreters. Some have suggested that Joseph instructed his brothers to de-emphasize the fact that they were shepherds because “every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” In other words, “play it down,” because “if Pharaoh found out how into shepherding you really were, he wouldn’t treat you very well.” According to this view, Joseph was suggesting that the brothers be less than honest with Pharaoh.
Such an interpretation not only misses the point, but casts dispersions on Joseph’s character. I propose, instead, that Joseph’s counsel to his family was actually another stroke of genius. It may have been that not “every shepherd (was) an abomination to the Egyptians”...only foreign ones. I get this from Genesis 43:32, where we earlier learned that eating with Hebrews was “an abomination to the Egyptians.” It’s the same word (“toeba”), and it seems to carry a religious connotation. To put it succinctly, for religious reasons the Egyptians wanted nothing to do with foreign shepherds.
Today we might accuse the Egyptians of being “xenophobic.” “Xenophobia” is “the irrational fear and distrust of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.” Well aware that foreign shepherds were “taboo” to the Egyptians, Joseph was actually telling his family members to be absolutely honest with Pharaoh regarding their occupation. They were “shepherds, and their family had always been “shepherds.” We will see this conversation transpiring when we get to chapter 47 next Sunday.
But why was it so necessary that the children of Israel identify as “shepherds”? I submit to you, it was to assure that the Israelites would remain separated from mainstream Egyptian culture and its polytheistic religion. The Lord did not want His chosen people to assimilate with a pagan culture in that day any more than he wants them to today.
Brothers and sisters, the face of the Church of Jesus Christ is the face of sinners. To refine that statement a little more, the church is the society of redeemed sinners who must diligently and daily strive to maintain their identity in Him alone. To do and to be less is to do and be less than the Church. We must maintain our distinct identity as the chosen people of the living God. Never are we to assimilate with the world, and yet in many places it is often difficult to distinguish the church from the world. Although we are in the world, we are not to be of it.
As far back as Genesis 15:13, the Lord had said in the covenant made with Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted four hundred years.” Now the family of Jacob was about to enter into not only a strange land, but also into an extended season that would result in the fulfillment of that prophecy. The fulfillment of God’s sovereign plan often takes strange twists and turns.
The warm and friendly welcome into the land would in time be turned into anger and resentment on the part of the Egyptians following the death of Joseph. Exodus 1:8 records that “There arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph.” This new Pharaoh had either not been a student of history or had willfully chosen to ignore it. Either way, the children of Israel would become a hated and afflicted lot, even as its population and presence in the land swelled.
The New Testament very clearly explains how the history of Israel in times past parallels the experience of the Church in the present age (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). Theologically speaking, the Church is the sovereignly chosen people of God in every generation. Romans 9(:6-8) reveals that the covenant promises made to Abraham and his seed are fulfilled directly in Jesus Christ and indirectly—by way of imputation—to those who are His by faith.
The God who so carefully orchestrated the destiny of His people in that day is the same God who is actively working within, among, and through His people today. Therefore, let us keep in mind that the Old Testament and the New Testament are not two separate stories written for two different people. The whole Bible is the Word of God. It is one unified narrative that tells the story of God’s sovereign dealing with His chosen people throughout the ages. It remains relevant for us today.
Shakespeare’s oft-quoted line that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” speaks to the fact that the Lord has a plan that was set in motion from before the foundation of the world. None of us entered this world by our own volition ...we are here by sovereign decree. We had no part in the assignment of our race, gender, or other circumstances of life into which we entered. And while we clearly have freedom of choice in a number of areas, we all must invariably admit that our “freedom” is limited. It is simply not true that we can be or can do anything and everything we set our hearts to. God oversees our choices.
God has a plan...for Himself and His people. And it is those who are willing to humble themselves by submitting their plans to His plan who find their place and their purpose in this life. No one other than you knows where you truly stand in your relationship with the Lord today, but one thing is certain...we were made and exist for God’s good pleasure. In the words of Augustine, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
Joseph’s family was just beginning to enter into that rest and to discover its place in the grand and all-encompassing plan of God. If you are not yet there, then let me encourage you to recognize that “The LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3). “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name” (Psalm 95:8).
Don’t wait twenty-plus years, as these brothers did, to humble yourself before Him and to ask Him to forgive your rebellion against Him and your resistance to His plan. Recognize that by the providential decree of a sovereign God, Jesus Christ “was delivered up for our trespasses (when He died upon the cross) and (that He was) “raised for our justification” (cf. Romans 4:25).
“We appeal to you,” the Scripture says to us all, “to not receive the grace of God in vain...Behold now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1 and 3). “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). “Repent and believe...the gospel” (Mark 1:15).