Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years.
And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed.
After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).” – Genesis 47:27-48:7 ESV
There is an old spiritual that contains the words:
THO WE WALK THROUGH VALLEYS THO WE CLIMB HIGH MOUNTAINS
WE CANNOT GIVE UP THE FIGHT.
WE MUST BE LIKE MOSES WE MUST KEEP ON GOING.
CANAAN LAND IS JUST IN SIGHT.
As Jacob and his family settled in the land of Egypt, he had to keep his mind set on the promise of God. Egypt was a temporary detour, and not the final destination of the people of Israel. They were there as a result of God’s providence and they would find His provision and protection there, but they were never meant to make themselves at home there. Jacob and his sons experienced the blessings of God while in Egypt – “they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly” (Genesis 47:27 ESV). But Jacob knew that God had something far greater in store for them. He made Joseph swear that, should he die in the land of Egypt, that Joseph would take his body back to Canaan and bury it there. On his deathbed, he recounted to Joseph the promise that God had made to him years earlier.
“God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’” – Genesis 48:3-4 ESV
It was the land of Canaan that God intended to be their everlasting possession, not Egypt. In Jacob’s simple way of thinking, that would require that God would one day restore them back in the land of Canaan. In the meantime, God was blessing and multiplying them while they lived in Egypt. He was preparing them for something better and greater. But even while they remained in Egypt, Canaan was the objective. It had been ever since God had called Abraham out of Ur.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT
God directed Abraham to the land of Canaan, and when he had arrived, God told him, “I will give this land to your descendants” (Genesis 12:7 NLT). But Abraham would ask God, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?” (Genesis 47:8 NLT). He wanted proof. He needed a guarantee. So God instructed Abraham to kill a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Then he was told to divide them in half and lay the pieces side by side with a path between them. After all this work, Abraham fell asleep and God spoke to him in a vision, saying,
“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
Then, in his vision, Abraham watched as God sealed His promise by making a unilateral covenant with him. God, in the form of a smoking firepot and flaming torch, passed between the halves of the sacrificed animals, committing Himself to fulfill all that He had promised to Abraham. That land was his, and Abraham had the guarantee of God to back it up.
Abram saw a smoking firepot and a flaming torch pass between the halves of the carcasses. So the Lord made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River—the land now occupied by the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.” – Genesis 15:17-21 NLT
Two significant things are going to happen while Abraham’s descendants are living in the land of Egypt for 400 years. First of all, as we have already seen, they are going to multiply in number. God is going to bless them and make them fruitful, so that by the time they leave Egypt under the direction of Moses, they will number in the millions. They entered Egypt numbering only 70 and will leave looking more like a massive army. And this is important because of the second point. God had told Abraham, “After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” The 400 years was also going to provide plenty of time for those nations that occupied the land of Canaan to sin to their heart’s content. Much like in the days of Noah, the wickedness would increase exponentially and demand God’s intervention and justice. “The justice of God is apparent. He will wait until the Amorites are fully deserving of judgment before he annihilates them and gives the land to Israel” (The NET Bible study notes). The 400-year long detour and delay in Egypt was going to give Israel time to increase in number and the occupants of the land of Canaan to increase in wickedness. Then God would fulfill His promise.
As we live on this earth, we must always keep “Canaan land” in sight. It is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to us as believers that keeps us going. This earth, like Egypt, is simply a detour and a delay along the way to our final destination. God can and does bless us while we are here. He is increasing our numbers. He is providing for us and protecting us as we live in this land. But as the old hymn reminds us, this earth is not our home.
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore