Little Is Much When God Is In It

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. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” 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. 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.”

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. 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 Merari. 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, Ezbon, 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 son 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. – Genesis 46:1-27 ESV

As Jacob and his family began their journey from Canaan to Egypt, it must have been a bitter-sweet moment for this aging patriarch. While he must have been ecstatic at the thought of seeing his long-lost son, Joseph, it could not have been easy for him to leave behind the land that had been promised by God to his father and grandfather. The land of Canaan was supposed to be his inheritance and that of his children. But it had been devastated by a famine and was no longer capable of sustaining Jacob’s growing family. He really had no other choice but to leave Canaan behind and accept Pharaoh’s generous, yet unexpected, offer. So, motivated by the promise of good land and the prospect of being reunited with Joseph, Jacob and his family set out.

But Jacob made one last stop before crossing the southern border of Canaan and entering the wilderness of the Negev. He instructed his son to lead the caravan to Beersheba, a region that held special significance to Jacob and his family. It was there that Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, had purchased a well from Abimelech, for the prices of seven yew lambs. The name Beersheba means “well of seven,” and it was there that “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree…and called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God” (Genesis 21:33 ESV).

Years later, Isaac, Jacob’s father, would return to Beersheba and receive a vision from God, telling him, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Genesis 26:24 ESV). And Isaac “built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 26:25 ESV).

Jacob returned to this familiar spot, likely in the hopes of receiving a word from God that might confirm his relocation to Egypt. Jacob was understandably reluctant to leave the land that God had promised to give him as an inheritance. What would happen in his absence? Would they ever return? Would the promise every be fulfilled? This was a watershed moment for Jacob and he sought assurances from God. And God did not disappoint.

After offering sacrifices to God on one of the altars that his grandfather or father had constructed, Jacob went to sleep. And during his sleep, God visited him in a dream and delivered a much-needed word of assurance.

“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

Jacob had the permission he had been seeking. God had sensed Jacob’s reticence and provided him with divine permission to relocated his family to Egypt. And not only did Jacob have permission to go, he was given the assurance of God’s presence as he did so. Then God upped the ante by reconfirming his promise to turn the clan of Jacob into a mighty nation. This was familiar refrain that had been heard for three generations but had yet to happen. God had told Abraham:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:2 ESV

And God had informed Abraham how this transformation would take place.

“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 for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Even when Abraham was 99-years-old and still fatherless, God had reconfirmed his promise to make of him a great nation.

I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.” – Genesis 17:6 ESV

And as Abraham anxiously waited for a son, God continued to reiterate His promise.

“Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” – Genesis 18:18 ESV

Now, years later, Jacob and his family were on their way to the very land where God had said the offspring of Abraham would “sojourn.” This trip had been God-ordained and had been part of the divine plan all along, just as Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers and the famine had been.

Having received confirmation from God, Jacob and his family continued their journey. And Moses uses verses 8-25 to give a detailed description of all the “sons” of Jacob. This list contains all the male descendants who had been born to Jacob while he lived in the land of Canaan. And while the list seems lengthy, it all adds up to a far-from-impressive number.

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. – Genesis 46:26 ESV

Riding in the wagons that Pharaoh had provided and eating the provisions he had sent, this little ragtag band of Israelites made their way to Egypt. They were small in number and facing an uncertain future in a foreign land where they would be in the minority and little more than aliens. But that had always been their lot. At no time in Canaan had Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob enjoyed the benefit of overwhelming numbers or superior strength. They had always been outsiders, living in a land that was occupied by others. They owned little land, occupied no cities, and garnered little respect. And now they were moving to a country where nothing was familiar and there hopes of inheriting the land of Canaan was a quickly fading memory.

Even if you add in Joseph, his wife, and two sons, the total number of Jacob’s family was a mere 70 individuals. But God was not phased by this seemingly insignificant and insufficient head count. As the creation account revealed, God is fully capable of creating something from nothing. And the entrance of 70 people into the land of Canaan was about to prove true the words of the old hymn, “Little Is Much When God Is In It.”

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