Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 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, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.
Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 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. The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob, and Shimron. The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. 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.
The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons.
The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. 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. And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all.
The son of Dan: Hushim. The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all.
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. 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. – Genesis 46:5-27
Beersheba was a place of significance for Jacob and his family. Years earlier, his grandfather, Abraham had planted a tree there and worshipped Yahweh.
Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he worshiped the Lord, the Eternal God. – Genesis 21:23 NLT
Jacob’s father, Issac, would also meet with God at Beersheba. It was there he dug a well and built an altar to Yahweh.
From there Isaac moved to Beersheba, where the Lord appeared to him on the night of his arrival. “I am the God of your father, Abraham,” he said. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you. I will multiply your descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will do this because of my promise to Abraham, my servant.” Then Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord. He set up his camp at that place, and his servants dug another well. – Genesis 26:23-25 NLT
So when Jacob begins his journey to Egypt, he does so by going first to Beersheba, which was in the southern part of the land of Canaan. “So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1 ESV). And while he was there, Jacob was visited by God.
God spoke to Israel in a vision during the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” He replied, “Here I am!” He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt and I myself will certainly bring you back from there. Joseph will close your eyes.” – Genesis 46:2-4 NLT
It is likely that part of Jacob’s reticence about going to Egypt stemmed from his awareness of a part of God’s promise to Abraham that we rarely talk about. Yes, God had promised to give Abraham the land of Canaan and to make of him a great nation, but there was a second part to the promise that rarely gets discussed. But Jacob would have been aware of it and couldn’t help but fear that his move to Egypt was the beginning of this part of the promise being fulfilled.
Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT
That is why God told Jacob, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.” God was going to go with them. He was still going to make of them a great nation. And four generations later, He would bring them back to the land of Canaan. At just the right time. This was all part of God’s plan. It had always been a part of God’s plan. And it is why Abraham’s attempt to escape famine and flee to Egypt had been premature and not ordained by God. It is why God commanded Isaac not to go to Egypt when he faced yet another famine. God had a perfect timing to His plan. The land of Egypt was going to play a significant role in the salvation and establishment of the nation of Israel. It would be in this foreign land that God would bless Israel and multiply them. The book of Exodus opens with the following words:
These are the names of the sons of Israel (that is, Jacob) who moved to Egypt with their father, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. In all, Jacob had seventy descendants in Egypt, including Joseph, who was already there. In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land. – Exodus 1:1-7 NLT
The estimates are, that by the end of their 400-year stay in Egypt, the Israelites numbered in the millions. They had multiplied significantly. God had blessed them dramatically. But it had all begun with one young man’s betrayal and sale into slavery. It had taken the highly unlikely rise of this young man to the second-most powerful position in the land of Egypt. It had involved a seven-year long famine and the relocation of an entire family from Canaan to Egypt. But God had accomplished it all, exactly as He had planned.
Too often, we mistakenly focus on the outcome of God’s promises, while neglecting to understand that God is free to fulfill His promises in any way He sees fit. Jacob was not excited about the prospect of moving his entire family to Egypt. He was not looking forward to the prospect of 400 years of slavery for his descendants. But to receive the blessings of God sometimes requires that we endure the trials and sufferings that come along the way. Joseph had to be sold into slavery. He had to suffer a false accusation of rape and endure unjustified imprisonment. He had to go through two years in prison while waiting for God’s timing to free him. But when all was said and done, Joseph found himself in the unique and privileged position of being the God-ordained means for saving the people of Israel.
The fulfillment of God’s promises sometimes require what appear to be unnecessary detours and delays. God has promised us eternal life and a permanent place in His Kingdom. But in the meantime, we find ourselves going through our own journeys into Egypt, long periods of seeming enslavement and difficulty, and the painful experience of trials that appear to have no point to them. But God is faithful. His promises are true. His methods are always right. And His presence is guaranteed, whether we are in Canaan or Egypt. “I will go down with you to Egypt and I myself will certainly bring you back from there” (Genesis 46:4 NLT).