But God Will…

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:22-26 ESV

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:1-7 ESV

The story of the life of Joseph is filled with ups and downs, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, hope and disappointment. It is a story of contrasts and contradictions, including betrayal and forgiveness, curses and blessings, famine and fullness, a powerful Pharaoh and lowly shepherds. But one of the main themes of this fascinating story is that of God’s sovereign hand guiding the affairs of Joseph’s life, from beginning to end. It is the story of the eternal, all-powerful God guiding and directing the details surrounding one man’s life so that His divine plan for the world might be fulfilled. This story is about so much more than Joseph and his rise to power and prominence. There is far more going on than God’s temporal blessings on single individual. Joseph’s promotion to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt is not the point of the story and was never intended to be taken as an example of how God blesses those who are faithful to Him. What happened to Joseph had less to do with him than it did with God’s much greater plan for the people of Israel and, ultimately, for the nations of the world. The story of Joseph must be kept within the context of the overarching story of the Bible. Joseph’s story is a snapshot, a single frame from the film of God’s great redemptive epic. From the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin and fall from grace to the return of the Second Adam and His restoration of all creation and removal of all vestiges of sin from the world, God has been and is accomplishing His grand redemptive plan.

Even Joseph knew that God was not yet done. His life was ending, but God’s plan was far from over. He told his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Genesis 50:24 NLT). Joseph was not dismayed, distraught or disappointed that his life was coming to an end. He had lived a long and eventful life. He knew that his 110-year odyssey on this planet was just a blip on the radar screen of God’s eternal plan. His life, while it mattered, was not ALL that mattered. His life’s accomplishments, while significant, were nothing compared to what God was going to do. His death was not mean to be an epilogue, but simply the closing words of a single chapter in God’s great story of redemption. Joseph was fully expecting God to do more of what He had already done. He lived with the constant expectation that “God will…” He was so confident in God’s promises that he made his brothers swear to take his bones back to the land of Canaan when God did what He had promised to do. They would return one day. He was sure of it. And when Joseph said, “God will…,” he was right, because God did. God did visit eventually visit them and the people of Israel did return to the land of Canaan. And as for Joseph’s desire to be buried in the land of Canaan:

As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. – Joshua 24:32 ESV

If God has said it, He will do it. If He has promised it, He will accomplish it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

The stories of the Bible provide us with glimpses into the character of God. He is faithful and true. He is persistent and unwavering when it comes to His plan and consistent in His  efforts to carry out His promises. Reading the story of Joseph should not leave us amazed at the faith of this unique individual, but it should produce in us an awe at the faithfulness of our God. It should encourage us to trust the One who Joseph trusted and to rest in the promises of the same God who fulfilled all His promises to Joseph. Joseph could confidently say, “God will…” Can you?

Before He ascended back up into heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “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” (John 14:1-3 ESV). And years later, while the apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos, Jesus appeared to him and said:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20 ESV

Jesus has said, “I will come again.” He has promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” And He will. That is the story of the Bible. That is the point of the story of Joseph.

 

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God Meant It For Good.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. – Genesis 50:15-21 ESV

Jacob dies and immediately his sons begin to worry. They fear that Joseph, who they sold into slavery and who now rules over them as the second-most powerful man in Egypt, will take revenge on them now that their father is gone. They assume he was only biding his time until Jacob was out of the picture. They wrongly believe that Joseph, out of love and respect for their father, had been unwilling to give his brothers what they deserved. But now that he was gone, all bets were off. Or so they thought. They even concoct a story saying that, on his deathbed, Jacob had given them a message to give to Joseph. It was Jacob’s dying wish that Joseph forgive his brothers for their sin against them. Nowhere else in the text does Moses record that this conversation ever happened between Jacob and his sons, so we can assume that it was a fabrication, a lie concocted by Joseph’s brothers in an attempt to save their own necks from the hatred they believed Joseph still harbored for them. But they were in for a pleasant surprise.

Joseph, displaying a profound grasp on the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, tells his brothers they have nothing to fear. First of all, Joseph assuages their concerns by letting them know that revenge is the prerogative and purview of God. Even if he was still angry with them, Joseph knew he had no right to enact judgment or to seek revenge on his brothers. In asking the rhetorical question, “am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19 ESV), Joseph reveals his understanding of and respect for God’s rule and reign over any and all. He portrays a humble and quiet confidence in God’s unwavering rule over the affairs of his life. During his forced exile from his family, Joseph had been able to see first-hand the remarkable proof of God’s providence in so many ways. Enough time had passed that any lingering anger against his bothers or desire to seek revenge had been replaced by a peace with his circumstances that came from a growing trust in God’s providence. God was in control. So much so that, in Joseph’s estimation, what his brothers had meant for evil, God had intended for good. This is one of the most powerful statements regarding God’s providence found anywhere in the Scriptures.

“Behind all the events and human plans recounted in the story of Joseph lies the unchanging plan of God. It is the same plan introduced from the very beginning of the book where God looks out at what he has just created for man and sees that ‘it is good’ (tob, 1:4-31). Through his dealings with the patriarchs and Joseph, God had continued to bring about his good plan. He had remained faithful to his purposes, and it is the point of this narrative to show that his people can continue to trust him and to believe that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).” – John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in Genesis-Numbers, vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

With the simple words, “God meant it for good,” Joseph spoke volumes concerning the rule and reign of God over the affairs of men. He does not excuse his brothers’ actions, but instead clearly states that what they had done to him was intended by them for his harm, not his good. Their intentions had been evil. But God, as part of His divine plan, had hijacked their intentions, redeeming their sinful actions to accomplish holy and righteous will. The Hebrew word Moses used is chashab and it carries the idea of a carefully calculated plan or intention. Sick and tired of their Joseph’s favored position with their father and his dreams and visions of superiority, the brothers had “devised” a plan to rid themselves of Joseph once and for all. But God had bigger and better plans. It had been His plan all along that the descendants of Abraham would end up in Egypt. Years earlier He had told Abraham, “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” (Genesis 15:13 ESV). God had intended it all for good. Every bit of it. From Joseph’s undeserved betrayal by his brothers to his false arrest and imprisonment. The events of Joseph’s life were not the result of fate or chance. He had not been the lucky winner of the lottery of life. He had been under the sovereign control of an all-powerful, all-knowing God who had a plan in place long before Joseph or his brothers had been born.

Joseph had developed an expanded vision of the affairs of life. He had learned to look beyond the immediate circumstances and view things from a divine perspective. Which is what led him to say that God had intended, planned, and orchestrated Joseph’s life,  “to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). Joseph knew it was about much more than him. His life had a God-ordained purpose that was far greater and bigger than his own success or failure. This wasn’t about his personal comfort or convenience. It had little to do with Joseph’s position or prominence, except for the fact that God was using Joseph’s rise to power to “preserve the lives of many people.”

As Christians, when we read Paul’s words in Romans, “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV), we tend to have a bit of skepticism about them. We silently doubt whether they are really true. We wonder if ALL things really do work together for good. We question whether we have ever seen Paul’s words proven true in our own lives. But the problem seems to be that we want to define what “good” means. We want to dictate to God what it is we want Him to accomplish in and through our lives. And we demand that any good He brings about must be to our advantage and within our lifetime. It must be according to our terms. But Joseph knew better. He had learned that God’s will was far greater than his own. He had ascertained that the ways of God sometimes entailed difficulty, betrayal, disappointment, awkward moments of seeming abandonment by God and prolonged periods of waiting. But God was always at work. His divine plan was always active and moving towards its ultimate conclusion. All things really do work together for good. But sometimes that good is not what we might expect. It might not always come about when or how we want it to. God’s definition of good was about far more than good things happening in Joseph’s life. Joseph’s rise to power was not about his own comfort and convenience. It had a much more expansive and far-reaching purpose behind it. Joseph understood and accepted his role in God’s sovereign, providential plan. He was content to be used by God, leaving the definition of “good” up to God. He was fully confident that his life was in God’s hands and that anything and everything that had or would happen to him was within the will of God. God had a greater good in mind. He had a bigger plan in place. His will was not limited to the days of Joseph’s life or the land of Egypt. It went well beyond the sons of Jacob and the tribes of Israel. God had a plan to bless all the nations of the earth and to bring salvation from something far more devastating than a famine. God had in mind the sins of mankind and the salvation of the world in mind. And all that He has done or will do is intended for good.

An End and a Beginning.

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah—the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father. – Genesis 49:28-50:14 ESV

Even though Jacob and his family find themselves living in the land of Egypt and Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had been told by God that they would remain there for 400 years (Genesis 15:13-14), the land of Canaan looms large in this narrative. Canaan is the land that God had promised to give Abraham and his descendants. He 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” (Genesis 15:16 NLT). Isaac, the son of Abraham, and Jacob, his grandson, had both received personal assurances from God that they would receive the land of Canaan as part of God’s covenant promise to Abraham. This inheritance from God, which had yet to be realized, had been passed down from generation to generation. The promise of the land was an ever-present reality in their lives. The promise made to Abraham was constantly on their minds.

“This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:7-8 NLT

So when it came time for Jacob to die, he made his sons promise to bury him in the land of Canaan, alongside the remains of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah. In essence, this was the family burial plot. It had been purchased by Abraham from the Hittites many years earlier in order that he might bury Sarah, his wife. Moses records the transaction for us:

Then Abraham bowed low before the Hittites and said, “Since you are willing to help me in this way, be so kind as to ask Ephron son of Zohar to let me buy his cave at Machpelah, down at the end of his field. I will pay the full price in the presence of witnesses, so I will have a permanent burial place for my family.” – Genesis 23:7-9 NLT

Abraham would pay 400 pieces of silver for the cave and the surrounding land.

So Abraham bought the plot of land belonging to Ephron at Machpelah, near Mamre. This included the field itself, the cave that was in it, and all the surrounding trees.  It was transferred to Abraham as his permanent possession in the presence of the Hittite elders at the city gate. Then Abraham buried his wife, Sarah, there in Canaan, in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre (also called Hebron). So the field and the cave were transferred from the Hittites to Abraham for use as a permanent burial place. – Genesis 15:17-20 NLT

Notice the number of times that the reference is made to a permanent burial place. The land, while still occupied by the Hittites, was part of the territory God had promised to give to Abraham and his descendants. While God had not yet fulfilled that part of His promise, Abraham went ahead and bought land because he believed that one day God’s promise would be fulfilled. He knew that it would be a long time before that happened, so in the meantime, he wanted a place where his family could bury their dead. And he wanted that place to be within the land of promise.

So upon Jacob’s request, Joseph and his brothers took the body of their father and headed to “the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 49:30 ESV). And they were accompanied by a large number of Egyptian dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father; all Pharaoh’s officials went with him—the senior courtiers of his household, all the senior officials of the land of Egypt, all Joseph’s household, his brothers, and his father’s household. – Genesis 50:7-8 NLT

There were even Egyptian chariots and horses. It was quite a funeral procession. And there were so many Egyptians in the caravan, that the Hittites just assumed that it was the funeral for an high-ranking Egyptian official.

So Jacob was buried, with much pomp and circumstance. He was placed in the cave, alongside his father and grandfather. But his sons returned to the land of Egypt where they were destined to remain for more than 400 years. And yet Jacob’s death and burial are meant to act as a hopeful reminder of what is to come. His demise was not the end of the story. That trip to Canaan to bury Jacob was a dress rehearsal for another journey that would be taken by his descendants, four generations later – a huge collection of individuals numbering in the millions. When that day finally arrived, Moses tells us:

God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” – Exodus 13:18-19 ESV

Even Joseph would demand that his remains be returned to the land of Canaan, and centuries after his death, that is exactly what would happen. The promise of God would be fulfilled and the people of Israel would be freed from captivity and led by God Himself to the land of Canaan. Abraham’s death had not been the end. Isaac’s death had not derailed God’s intentions. The deaths of Jacob and Joseph had not brought God’s plans to a screeching halt. They were just the beginning. God was far from done. His promises were bigger than one man or a single generation. His blessings were intended span the generations and to impact the nations. What appeared to be the end was simply the beginning of greater things to come. As God would tell the Israelites while they suffered in captivity in Babylon, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). God has plans based on His promises and there is nothing that will stop His plans from taking place and His promises from being fulfilled. And Jesus Himself has promised us, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14 ESV).

 

In the Days To Come.

Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.

“Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob,
    listen to Israel your father.

Reuben, you are my firstborn,
    my might, and the firstfruits of my strength,
    preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence,
    because you went up to your father’s bed;
    then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!

Simeon and Levi are brothers;
    weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
    O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
    and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
    and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
    and scatter them in Israel.

Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
    your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
    your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
    from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
    and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Binding his foal to the vine
    and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
    and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
    and his teeth whiter than milk.

Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea;
    he shall become a haven for ships,
    and his border shall be at Sidon.

Issachar is a strong donkey,
    crouching between the sheepfolds.
He saw that a resting place was good,
    and that the land was pleasant,
so he bowed his shoulder to bear,
    and became a servant at forced labor.

Dan shall judge his people
    as one of the tribes of Israel.
Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
    a viper by the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
    so that his rider falls backward.
I wait for your salvation, O Lord.

Raiders shall raid Gad,
    but he shall raid at their heels.

Asher’s food shall be rich,
    and he shall yield royal delicacies.

Naphtali is a doe let loose
    that bears beautiful fawns.

Joseph is a fruitful bough,
    a fruitful bough by a spring;
    his branches run over the wall.
The archers bitterly attacked him,
    shot at him, and harassed him severely,
yet his bow remained unmoved;
    his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
    (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
by the God of your father who will help you,
    by the Almighty who will bless you
    with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath,
    blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
The blessings of your father
    are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
    up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
    and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.

Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
    in the morning devouring the prey
    and at evening dividing the spoil.” – Genesis 49:1-27 ESV

Jacob was nearing death and he wanted to pronounce a blessing on his 12 sons. This event probably brought back all kinds of memories for the aging patriarch as he recalled the blessing he had received from his own father, Isaac, many years before.

“From the dew of heaven
    and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
    and bountiful new wine.
May many nations become your servants,
    and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
    and all who bless you will be blessed.” – Genesis 27:28-29 NLT

He could not have helped but think about Joseph and how all the nations surrounding Egypt had come to him, bowing down before him and depending upon him for grain in order to survive the famine. He had seen his own sons bow down before Joseph, honoring him as their superior. And even though he and his family had been forced to flee to Egypt to escape the famine, they had been awarded the best land of Egypt, and had no shortage of grain and new wine.

So as Jacob prepared to bless his own sons, he was fully aware that much of what he was going to say would have far-reaching, future-focused ramifications. There would be a prophetic nature to his blessing, impacting future generations of his descendants. His 12 sons would each become 12 tribes – the 12 tribes of Israel. Some, as the blessings will illustrate, will play a more significant role than others. Some will be relegated to relative obscurity, for a variety of reasons. The tribe of Judah, from which the Messiah would come, would be elevated to a place of prominence, past his older siblings, Reuben and Simeon. Jacob’s blessing of Judah sounds eerily similar to what Isaac had said of Jacob himself: “your father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8 ESV). Then Jacob went on to say, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; the nations will obey him” (Genesis 49:10 NLT). Both David and Solomon would be from the tribe of Judah and they represent the glory years of Israel’s political and military might. But Jacob’s words will be ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, when He rules and reign over all the earth in His millennial kingdom.
Jacob’s words to his sons are predictive and prophetic in nature. While somewhat based on each son’s unique personality and characteristics, the blessings uttered by Jacob are God-ordained, providing a glimpse into the future of not only his sons, but their descendants. When Jacob said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come,” he was letting his sons know that his words would need to be viewed from a long-term perspective. Much of what Jacob says did not take place within his sons’ lifetimes. In fact, many of his words have yet to take place. His sons and their descendants would live in the land of Egypt for more than 400 years. Four generations would call Egypt home before they would find themselves redeemed from captivity by God and returned to the land of Canaan. Forty years of wandering in the wilderness would precede their entrance into the land of promise – all because of their own failure to believe God. Their eventual entrance into the land would be marked by disobedience and failure to follow through on God’s commands. And while they would eventually occupy the land and grow into a mighty nation under the leadership of David, they would eventually see their mighty nation split in two because of the moral and spiritual indiscretions of David’s son, Solomon. God would divide the kingdom into two nations: Israel and Judah. And in time, both nations would be conquered and destroyed by pagan nations, with their citizens taken into captivity – all because of their refusal to honor and obey God.
You can see in Jacob’s descriptions of his sons that they represent a range of personalities and character traits. His 12 sons represent the good, the bad and the ugly of Israel’s future. And yet, God will accomplish His divine will through them and in spite of them. His will will be done. Israel would become a great nation. That nation  would eventually be divided. Those two kingdoms would end up in captivity. But God would eventually restore them. He would send His Son to be born as one of them. They would reject Him as their Messiah. He would die at their hands, labeled as a blasphemer and treated like a common criminal. But God would raise Jesus from the dead and restore Him to His rightful place at side. And one day, God will send His Son back to finish what He began.
The book of Revelation records John’s vision of the end times, when Jesus, the Lion of Judah, will finalize God’s plan and usher in His own kingdom.
“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” – Revelation 5:5 NLT
Of the Lion of Judah, it will be sung:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.” – Genesis 5:9-10 NLT

In the days to come. We are prone to live with a present-focused perspective. Even our concept of the future is restricted to our own lifetimes. We have a hard time seeing past the present and our own presence. And yet, God is future-focused. His plan is based on what is to come. What is and what has been both find their meaning in the what will be that God has prepared for His people. The best is yet to come.

Not This Way!

When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). And he blessed Joseph and said,

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
    the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;
    and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
    and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” So he blessed them that day, saying,

“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’”

Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.” – Genesis 48:8-22 ESV

God’s ways are not our ways. He does not operate according to and is not restricted by our human notions of fair play, social etiquette, customs or traditions. God does not have to do things the way we think they should be done. He is not afraid to offend our sense of decorum or proper procedures. His will is greater than our wishes. His divine plan is far more important than our need for maintaining the status quo.

Jacob had just told Joseph that he was going to adopt his two sons and make them his heirs. “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” (Genesis 48:5 ESV). So when Joseph brought his two sons to their grandfather to receive their official adoption and blessing, he had certain expectations about how things were going to go down. The placement of the two boys on the knees of Jacob was part of the Ancient Near Eastern adoption ceremony. Joseph was transferring his two sons to the care of Jacob and officially making them his father’s heirs. Then things got interesting and a bit off-script for Joseph. When he brought his two sons to stand before Jacob to receive their blessings, he had them positioned so that Jacob’s right hand would be on Manasseh, the first-born, and his left hand on Ephraim, the second-born. But when Jacob reached out his hands, he crossed his arms and placed his right hand on the head of Ephraim and his left hand on the head of Manasseh. Joseph was appalled. This was not according to protocol. It was not how things were supposed to happen. Jacob had screwed up. And Joseph was not happy.

When Joseph saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him. So he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.” – Genesis 48:17-18 NLT

Joseph most likely blamed his father’s gaff on old age and diminished eyesight. Verse ten tells us that Jacob’s eyes were “dim with age.” So Joseph attempted to switch his father’s hand and correct what was an obvious oversight. But Jacob refused, saying, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a nation and he too will become great. In spite of this, his younger brother will be even greater and his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 NLT). Jacob’s crossed hands had not been the result of poor eyesight or age-induced dementia. It had been the will of God. This was yet another example of God choosing the younger over the elder.

Abraham had two sons. His firstborn was Ishmael, born to him by his wife’s handmaiden. But when Abraham asked God to fulfill His promise through Ishmael, God said:

“No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will be confirmed with Isaac, who will be born to you and Sarah about this time next year.” – Genesis 17:19-21 NLT

When Isaac’s wife, Rachel, was pregnant with twin sons, God told her:

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:23 NLT

Esau, the eldest of the two, would serve Jacob, the younger.Even in Jacob’s own family, he had elevated Joseph ahead of all his brothers, showing him special favor. It was this favoritism that ended up causing Joseph’s brothers to hate him and sell him into slavery. Then Jacob simply replaced Joseph with Benjamin, the son born to him in his old age.

God doesn’t explain Himself. He doesn’t provide us with an explanation of His actions. While cultural protocol called for the blessing to fall on the firstborn, God was choosing to do things differently. He had a different agenda and was using out-of-the-ordinary means to accomplish His divine will. God would have us remember: “

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

Look, God is greater than we can understand. – Job 36:26 NLT

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

The ways of God may be incomprehensible at times, but they are always reliable. His methodology may leave us perplexed, but never disappointed. He may appear to be suffering from poor eyesight or early onset dementia, but in time, we will discover that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours. His hands were crossed for a reason. His blessing only appeared to be off target. God knows what He is doing – all the time and in every circumstance.

We may not understand God’s ways right now, but we will in time. We may not appreciate His methods for the moment, but He will be proven right and righteous. Our sense of fair play may get offended, but He will be proven just and good. Saying, “Not this way!” to God is not only presumptuous, it’s dangerous.

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

May we learn to say as Jesus did, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV).

Canaan Land Is Just In Sight.

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

Food For Thought.

Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.”

So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.

Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s. – Genesis 47:13-26 ESV

God had originally told Abraham, “through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 NLT). While that promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ through His message of salvation for all people, we see it partially fulfilled in the life of Joseph, Abraham’s great-grandson. As the seven-year famine took its toll on the surrounding lands, the people found themselves forced to come to Egypt for grain. During the preceding seven years, when the land was still fruitful, Joseph had set in place a program to store up as much grain as possible, in preparation for the coming famine.

During the seven years of abundance the land produced large, bountiful harvests. Joseph collected all the excess food in the land of Egypt during the seven years and stored it in the cities. In every city he put the food gathered from the fields around it. Joseph stored up a vast amount of grain, like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it because it was impossible to measure. – Genesis 41:47-49 NLT

In time, the people found that they had exhausted all their money buying grain from Pharaoh’s storehouses, but the famine was far from over. So they resorted to exchanging their land and their freedom for food. Eventually, Joseph would provide seed to the people, but enforce a 20 percent tax on all food produced in the land. And when all was said and done, the people would actually thank Joseph for what he had done. “You have saved our lives! You are showing us favor, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves” (Genesis 47:25 NLT).

There is no mention of Jacob and his family in these verses. They were living in the land of Goshen – “the best of all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:20 ESV). And it is important to remember that, because they were shepherds, Pharaoh had put them in charge of his own flocks and herds. He had told Joseph, “Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock” (Genesis 47:6 ESV). So as the famine increased, the people were forced to trade in their livestock in exchange for grain. “So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for their horses, the livestock of their flocks and herds, and their donkeys. He got them through that year by giving them food in exchange for livestock.” (Genesis 47:17 NLT). The sons of Jacob found themselves extremely busy. They were the official shepherds of Pharaoh and he would have been paying them well to care for his growing menagerie of animals. So while it seems that Pharaoh is the one receiving all the benefits of Joseph’s famine-relief plan, his own family was being sustained and blessed at the same time. The opening lines of the book of Exodus tells us, “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 1:6-7 NLT). The very famine that had forced them to flee from Canaan had resulted in the extraordinary expansion of their numbers. As the people of Egypt were exhausting all their money and possessions buying grain from Pharaoh, the Israelites “were fruitful and multiplied greatly” (Genesis 47:27 ESV). They were being blessed by God.

All of this should make us stop and consider the ways of God. If we would have been alive during that day and part of the family of Jacob, it is likely that we would have doubted God’s goodness by questioning His allowance of the famine. We might have complained about having to be upended and relocated to a foreign land. We most likely would have found reason to gripe about how much work we were having to do because of all the livestock being put under our care. And we might have even felt a tinge of jealousy as we watched Pharaoh AND Joseph get inordinately wealthy as the people of the land suffered. But in doing so, we would have have missed the point. We would have failed to see the mysterious ways of God in the seeming difficulties of life.

The family of Jacob was being blessed by God – in the midst of a famine. They were expanding in numbers as the Egyptians were selling off all they had and offering themselves as slaves to Pharaoh. This was the sovereign hand of God at work. It was the will of God being worked out in real life as He fulfilled His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And through all the difficulties surrounding the famine, God was setting up the perfect scenario to bring about His plan to make of Abraham a great nation and to give him the land of Canaan as his possession. God’s ways are not our ways and they never will be, and that should always be food for thought.

Gloom, Despair and Agony On Me.

Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. – Genesis 47:7-12 ESV

I have a difficult time reading this passage without thinking of the old song by Buck Owens and Roy Clark that gained fame on the TV show, Hee Haw. The song was entitled, “Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me.” The opening stanza reads:

Gloom, despair and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

That seems to be the very sentiment of Jacob as he and the Pharaoh meet for the first time. When asked how old he is, Jacob states, “All the years of my travels are 130. All the years of my life have been few and painful; the years of my travels are not as long as those of my ancestors” (Genesis 47:9 NLT). The English Standard Version translates the Hebrew word, ra` as “evil”, but it can actually refer to pain, difficulty, and sorrow, which makes more sense given the context. The New Living Translation provides what would appear to be a much better rendering of Jacob’s thoughts. First of all, it’s interesting to note that Jacob viewed 130 years of life as a short time. But he was comparing it to his grandfather, Abraham, who had lived to be 175-years old. His own father, Isaac had lived to be 180. So Jacob considered himself to be a young man. But he described the years of his life as anything but enjoyable. They had been full of gloom, despair and agony. Jacob seemed to see his life as having been full of deep, dark depression and excessive misery. Which is sad  to realize when you look at how God had been a part of his life all along the way. There is no doubt that Jacob had experienced difficult times in his life. He had seen his fair share of sorrow and gone experienced more than a few setbacks and disappointments, but in general, he had lived a blessed life. He had a large family made up of many wives and sons. He had large flocks and more than enough wealth to live comfortably. Yes, he had been cheated by his uncle and forced to work for him in order to gain the hand of his daughter, Rachel. But God had blessed Jacob and he was able to leave his uncle’s employment a wealthy man. He was also able to return home to Canaan and be welcomed with open arms by the brother he had cheated many years before. Their relationship was healed and Jacob’s place in the family was restored. And while Jacob had endured the loss of his youngest son, Joseph, he had just recently experienced the joy of finding him alive and well in Egypt. Not only that, his son was the second-most powerful person in Egypt and had arranged the relocation of Jacob’s entire family to the fertile land of Goshen.

But all Jacob could see was the negative. His life had been short on years and long on misery. He was an unhappy camper. Even when Jacob had received news that Joseph was still alive, all he could muster in response was, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive! I will go and see him before I die” (Genesis 45:9 NLT). And when the two of them were reunited, Jacob greeted Joseph with the cheerful words, “Now let me die since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive” (Genesis 46:30 NLT).

To say that Jacob was a negative person would be an understatement. Here he was seeing his long-lost son for the first time in decades and all he could muster by way of response was, “Now let me die!” He had been given safe passage to Egypt and escape from the famine in the land of Canaan. He had been awarded prime pasture land in Egypt to care for his flocks and family. He had been welcomed with open arms by Pharaoh himself and had a son who was powerful and influential. Nowhere in any of this does Jacob express gratitude for God’s goodness. He does not offer God any thanks for His providential hand in his life and the gracious return of the son he had long thought dead.

The text records:

So Joseph settled his father and his brothers. He gave them territory in the land of Egypt, in the best region of the land, the land of Rameses, just as Pharaoh had commanded. Joseph also provided food for his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household, according to the number of their little children. – Genesis 47:11-12 NLT

This was all the result of the sovereign, merciful, gracious work of God Almighty. Jacob and his family were smack-dab in the center of the will of God. They were right where they were supposed to be. But rather than focus on the goodness of God, Jacob seemed to be fixated on what he believed to be the difficulties of his own life. Life on this planet will always be marked by peaks and valleys, ups and downs, joys and sorrows. The great king, David, had to endure years of pain and suffering as he ran from the anger of Saul. He had been anointed king of Israel, but would have to wait years before the throne was actually his. David wrote Psalm 59 during the time of his life when Saul had sent soldiers to watch his house in order that they might kill him. And while this was a difficult time for David, he was able to write:

But as for me, I will sing about your power. Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety when I am in distress. O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love. – Psalm 59:16-17 NLT

How easy it is to view our lives through a lens clouded by doubt, despair and a fixation on difficulty. How many times have we expressed words similar to those of Buck Owens and Roy Clark?

Gloom, despair and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

But the goodness and greatness of God should overshadow our gloom, despair and agony. The unfailing love of God should outweigh our excessive misery. And the providential care of God should be more than enough to replace our need for any kind of luck, good or bad.

Pharaoh, Flocks and Famine.

He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 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. Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 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. 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.’ When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 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.”

So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” – Genesis 46:28-47:6 ESV

Sometimes the stories of the Bible become so familiar to us that they lose their significance and we lose our sense of awe at the display of God’s power found in them. The story of Joseph is a case in point. We have already seen so many examples of God’s sovereign, providential hand at work, predestining Joseph for his role as the savior of God’s people. Time and time again, God has displayed His power and undeniable control over the affairs of men and even the realm of nature. The seven year famine was part of God’s plan, just as much as Joseph’s rise to the second most-powerful position in the land of Egypt. Each and every event connected with this story reveals yet another example of God’s sovereign control over everything and everyone.

As Jacob, his sons and their families arrive in Egypt, and are reunited with Joseph, we are provided with yet another example of God’s providence. Jacob was a shepherd by trade. So were his sons. When Jacob had gone through his self-imposed exile in Paddam-aram, he had been a shepherd, tending the flocks of his uncle, Laban. And he had been good at his job, at one point telling his uncle, “You know how hard I’ve worked for you, and how your flocks and herds have grown under my care. You had little indeed before I came, but your wealth has increased enormously. The Lord has blessed you through everything I’ve done” (Genesis 30:29-30 NLT). Jacob eventually left Laban’s employment, but not before he had a few choice words for his uncle and former boss:

“For twenty years I have been with you, caring for your flocks. In all that time your sheep and goats never miscarried. In all those years I never used a single ram of yours for food. If any were attacked and killed by wild animals, I never showed you the carcass and asked you to reduce the count of your flock. No, I took the loss myself! You made me pay for every stolen animal, whether it was taken in broad daylight or in the dark of night.

“I worked for you through the scorching heat of the day and through cold and sleepless nights. Yes, for twenty years I slaved in your house! I worked for fourteen years earning your two daughters, and then six more years for your flock. And you changed my wages ten times! In fact, if the God of my father had not been on my side—the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac—you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen your abuse and my hard work. – Genesis 31:38-42 NLT

It had been God who protected Jacob and who increased his wealth – in spite of the efforts of Laban. And it was Jacob who passed on his knowledge of shepherding to his sons. And they too became the owners of great flocks and herds. But then the famine came. Famine and flocks do not go well together. So Jacob and his sons were forced to look for another source of food to provide for their flocks and families. That is what had led them to Egypt in the first place. And now they were returning to Egypt to live, bringing all their flocks and families with them, because there were five more years of famine yet to come. Once again, this had all been a part of God’s divine plan for His people. It had been God who had blessed Jacob with flocks. It had been God who had brought about the famine that had threatened the well-being of Jacob’s flocks. And it was God who had moved the heart of Pharaoh to willingly and graciously accept Jacob and his family and flocks into Egypt, providing for them the best of his land as their possession.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and go to the land of Canaan! Get your father and your households and come to me! Then I will give you the best land in Egypt and you will eat the best of the land.’ You are also commanded to say, ‘Do this: Take for yourselves wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives. Bring your father and come. Don’t worry about your belongings, for the best of all the land of Egypt will be yours.’” – Genesis 45:17-20 NLT

And when they arrived, that is exactly what happened. They came before Pharaoh, explained their plight and pleaded for his help. Verse four of chapter 47 sums it all up.

Then they said to Pharaoh, “We have come to live as temporary residents in the land. There is no pasture for your servants’ flocks because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. So now, please let your servants live in the land of Goshen.” – Genesis 47:4 NLT

What is truly amazing about this is that Pharaoh, as an Egyptian, hated shepherds. Joseph had even told his brothers to say to Pharaoh, “Your servants have taken care of cattle from our youth until now, both we and our fathers,” and warned them that, “everyone who takes care of sheep is disgusting to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34 NLT). And yet here were Hebrew shepherds coming before one of the most powerful men in the world, asking him to provide them with land to care for their flocks. And what did Pharaoh do? He gave them the land of Goshen, the best land in Egypt. Not only that, he employed some of the brothers to care for his own flocks and herds. These events should create in us a sense of awe and wonder at the providential care of God. This had all been His doing. The book of Proverbs reminds us, “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:12 NLT). Pharaoh’s generous offer had been part of God’s plan, just as much as the famine had been. The unlikely and implausible blend of Pharaoh, flocks and famine was God’s doing. As William Cowper stated so well, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.” An Egyptian Pharaoh, a seven-year famine, and the famished flocks of the people of Israel. What a strange combination. And what a wonderful example of God’s mysterious providence. Which is why Cowper goes on to remind us:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

Divine Detours and Delays.

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).