Faith Down to His Bones

22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.– Hebrews 11:22 ESV

Ever since Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, he had spent the majority of his life living in the land of Egypt. The early portion of his time there had been marked by periods of blessing followed by times of adversity. He experienced both feast and famine, success and failure, but God was always with him. Eventually, he became the second most powerful figure in Egypt, a remarkable turn of events that was not lost on Joseph. Years later, when he was reunited with the men who had sold him into slavery, he confidently told them, “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” (Genesis 50:20 ESV).

Joseph recognized that the sovereign hand of God had been directing his life and accomplishing a far greater and grander purpose than his brothers could have ever imagined when their jealousy drove them to betray him all those years ago. Joseph’s meteoric ascension to the upper echelons of Egyptian power was the work of God. It had all been part of God’s divine plan for fulfilling His promise to his great-grandfather, Abraham.

You have to go all the way back to Genesis 15 to see how all of this fits into God’s grand plan for Joseph’s life and the descendants of Israel. Abraham had just finished giving God a lecture about His promise to produce a great nation from an old man married to a barren wife. As far as Abraham could see, God’s plan had some serious flaws, so he confidently proffered a workaround.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:2-3 ESV

But God attempted to calm Abraham’s fears by taking him outside and telling him, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV).

God wasn’t interested in Abraham’s Plan B approach. He knew all about Abraham’s age and Sarah’s barrenness; neither of which would prove to be a problem for God. Not only would God give Abraham more descendants than there are stars in the sky, but He would provide a land for them to live in, and He confirmed it by a covenant in blood. Then God followed this blood-covenant ceremony with an announcement that must have left Abraham a bit confused and apprehensive.

“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

Now fast-forward to a scene back in the land of Egypt. Seventy of Abraham’s descendants have migrated to Egypt in order to escape a famine in the land of Canaan.  Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, has sought refuge for his small clan in a land that was not theirs because a famine had made the land of Canaan virtually uninhabitable. Because Joseph, the long-lost son of Jacob, had risen to prominence in the Egyptian court, he was able to allocate land to his brothers and their families and provide them with jobs caring for Pharaoh’s vast flocks and herds.

Jacob’s relocation to Egypt had proven to be a boon for his family. They enjoyed their new homeland and were provided with everything they needed by their powerful and influential kinsman. It seems that everyone forgot about Canaan, except Joseph. As the years passed, Joseph came to the realization that he would never see his homeland again. As he grew older, he came to grips with the fact that he would die in the land of Egypt. But he had never given up on the promise that God had made to his great-grandfather, Abraham.

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

Notice what Joseph said. He told his brothers that they were going to return to the land of Canaan. He was confident that God would accomplish exactly what He had promised to do. They would live in the land of Egypt for 400 years, but then God would redeem them from slavery and return them to their land, “with great possessions.” At this point in the story, the people of Israel are not enslaved. They were living in Egypt as the guests of Pharaoh. Their relative, Joseph, was the second-most powerful person in the land. They had land, jobs, houses in which to live, and no reason to complain about their circumstances. But Joseph understood that things would not always remain that way. He remembered what God had said to Abraham; that they would be afflicted for 400 years. But he also recalled that God had promised to return them to the land.

Joseph had been in Egypt a long time and he knew that it would be the place of his death. But he had not given up on God’s promise. He believed that his people would one day return to the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was so confident that he made his brothers swear that they would dig up his embalmed body and take his bones back to the land of Canaan when the time came for them to leave.

The book of Exodus picks up the story from there.

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 1:5-7 ESV

During their 400-year stay in Egypt, their number had increased greatly. What had begun as a small clan of 70 people had turned into a nation that numbered in the millions. And their meteoric growth would expose a spirit of ruthlessness in the heart of the new Pharaoh.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 1Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. – Exodus 1:8-14 ESV

God was setting up the perfect scenario to fulfill His plan. He was going to accomplish His will for them and return them to the land of Canaan. But the only person who seems to have believed that any of this would happen was Joseph. Despite all that had happened to him, he never gave up hope that God would fulfill all that He had predicted and promised to do. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

Joseph had longed for the day when his people would return to their land, and he had a confident assurance that it would happen. He harbored a strong and unshakable conviction in the inevitability of God’s promise being fulfilled. So much so that he gave instructions to have his bones returned to the land when it happened. And Abraham’s bones did make it back to Canaan. After suffering all the plagues and the deaths of their firstborns, the Egyptians finally released the Israelites. And the book of Genesis records that auspicious occasion.

“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 13:19 ESV

Joseph placed his hope in God and God came through. He believed the promises of God and God did not disappoint. Throughout his long life, Joseph maintained a future-focused faith that refused to give up on God even when the circumstances of life seemed to contradict what God had promised. His faith in God was based on an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things that remained unseen and as yet unfulfilled. But he knew that God was not done. His plan was not yet complete. Joseph was willing to give God time and the trust he deserved.

Even when he considered his brothers’ unjust treatment of him, he knew that it had all been part of God’s grand master plan.

“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” – Genesis 45:7 ESV

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.” – Genesis 50:19-20 ESV

Joseph had played his part in God’s plan. Now, he was ready to trust God to accomplish the rest. And he was so confident that God would return his family to the land of Canaan that he made his brothers swear to take his bones with them when they left.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Faith Even In Death

21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. – Hebrews 11:21 ESV

Jacob, the son of Isaac, had lived a full and far-from-boring life. He and his mother had conspired to deceive Isaac in order to receive the blessing reserved for the firstborn son. Even though he and his brother, Esau, were twins, Jacob had been born second, coming out of the womb while hanging on to his brother’s heel. This is how he got his name, Ya`aqob, which means, “he takes by the heel or he cheats.”

Jacob would live up to his name, living a life in self-imposed exile after having cheated his brother out of his blessing. When Jacob left home, his father, Isaac, reiterated his earlier blessing, stating, “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4 ESV).

Even while traveling to the land of Haran where his uncle Laban lived, Jacob had a dream and received a vision and a word from God.

“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 ESV

God reaffirmed the blessing Jacob had received from Isaac. In spite of the deceit and trickery Jacob and Rebekah utilized to get the blessing, God clearly affirmed it. It had been His plan all along, just as He had told Rebekah before the boys were even born.

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

Yet, because of the way he and his mother had chosen to deceive Isaac, Jacob would spend years of his life living in exile in a foreign land far away from his father and mother. During his time in Haran, he continued his pattern of deception and even found himself on the receiving end when his uncle repeatedly deceived him. Part of his uncle’s trickery left Jacob with two wives who each bore him children. Yet, even while in exile, Jacob was blessed by God and grew rich and prosperous. But in time, he became homesick and decided to return to Canaan and face his brother’s anger.

On his way, he had a divine encounter with God. It took the form of a literal wrestling match when God appeared in human form and confronted His wayward servant. During this epic struggle, Jacob demanded that his opponent bless him, but rather than a blessing, Jacob received a new name.

Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 ESV

This scene aptly sums up Jacob’s entire life because, ever since his birth, he had spent his entire life wrestling with God. Rather than trust God with the outcome of his life, Jacob repeatedly tried to do things his way. He desperately wanted his will to be done and was willing to use deceit and trickery to make it happen. Even in his physical struggle with the Almighty, it appears that he won the match because it states that God [the man], “did not prevail against Jacob” (Genesis 32:25 ESV).

But did Jacob really best God? Did he somehow manage to defeat the God of the universe? The text states that Jacob’s wrestling match with God left him with a dislocated hip joint. His struggle was not without pain and consequences. And his newly disabled hip would be accompanied by a new name. God declared that Jacob, who would now be called Israel, had “striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

This was not a concession of defeat on God’s part. He was simply stating that Jacob had yet again managed to survive. The Hebrew word for “prevailed” is yakol and it means “to be able, be able to gain or accomplish, be able to endure, be able to reach.” Jacob had endured his exile. He had survived his own life of deceit. He had even managed to go toe-to-toe with God and live to tell about it. And despite all his deceit and self-empowered efforts to do things his way, he was going to gain all that God had promised. And he was going to learn the painful lesson that every blessing in his life had been God’s doing, not his own.

Jacob would eventually make it safely back to the land of Canaan, receive a surprisingly warm welcome from his brother, Esau, and have yet another visit from God.

God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:9-12 ESV

Jacob would father twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son and his favoritism would eventually cause his other sons to sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph would end up in Egypt where, through an amazing chain of God-ordained events, he would become the second most powerful ruler in the land. In the meantime, Jacob and his remaining sons would find themselves dealing with a terrible famine in the land of Canaan, which would eventually force them to seek out aid in the land of Egypt. This would lead to a surprising reunion with Joseph, who would end up not only forgiving his brothers but providing them with protection and land.

Thus Israel [Jacob] 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. – Genesis 47:27-28 ESV

When the time came for Jacob to die, he asked Joseph to bring in his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, so that he might bless them. In an interesting turn of events, Joseph presented his two sons to Jacob so that the eldest, Manasseh, might receive the blessing of the firstborn. He held Manasseh in his left hand so that Jacob could easily bless him with his right hand. He held Ephraim in his right hand so that he would receive the blessing of the second-born from Jacob’s left hand.

The Scriptures tell us “Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth” (Genesis 48:12 ESV). With his head bowed, he did not see his father, Jacob, switch his hands and place his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger of the two. The passage makes it clear that Jacob’s eyesight was dim from old age and he could not see well. With his hands crossed, Jacob pronounced his blessing.

“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.” – Genesis 48:15-16 ESV

When Joseph saw what had been done, he tried to get his father to correct his apparent mistake. But Jacob refused, saying, “I know, my son, I know. He [Manasseh] 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” (Genesis 48:19 ESV).

You might think that Jacob, because of his poor eyesight, inadvertently and mistakenly gave the blessing of the firstborn to the wrong son. But the mention of Jacob’s poor eyesight is there to indicate that he had to trust God for what he was doing. He had received a divine directive from God to give Ephraim the blessing reserved for the firstborn. Joseph was attempting to ensure that Manasseh received the blessing of the firstborn, but the nearly blind Jacob knew that it was God’s will for Ephraim to receive the blessing. So what Jacob did, he did by faith. He had to trust God with the outcome. He did not fully understand it or know how it would all turn out, but he knew that God was in control. He didn’t need strong eyesight, he simply needed strong faith.

Jacob would die in the land of Egypt, never returning to the land of Canaan, but he trusted that God would bring his people back to the land and fulfill His promise to make them prosperous and to bless them. Jacob blessed his two grandsons, “bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21 ESV). His hope was in God. His assurance was in the promises of God. He had a strong conviction that God knew what He was doing and he willingly obeyed God’s wishes. Jacob might not have always lived his life by faith, but he ended it that way – trusting God for the fate of his family and the future fulfillment of His promises.

Jacob had learned the reality of the statement that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). His eyes were dim but his hope for the future was bright and clear.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Unwavering Faith In An Unfailing God

14 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.

15 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.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘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. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 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. 24 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.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:14-26 ESV

Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt after having buried their father Jacob in Canaan. It must have been difficult to leave behind the land of promise yet again. But for the time being, Egypt had become their home away from home. So, having interred their father’s body in the cave of the field at Machpelah, they made the long journey back to Egypt.

It appears that, along the way, Joseph’s brothers became apprehensive about what might happen upon their return. With their father and protector dead, perhaps Joseph would take advantage of the situation and enact his revenge for their former treatment of him. Their fear of Joseph had never really subsided, despite the many ways he had shown them love and honor. It had been Joseph who had personally subsidized their food allotment all throughout the years of the famine. He had helped arrange their resettlement in Goshen. And yet, deep down inside, his brothers still did not trust him.

Upon their return to Egypt, the brothers held a discussion on the matter and reached a consensus.

“Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said. – Genesis 50:15 NLT

So, they crafted a message and had it delivered to Joseph.

“Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” – Genesis 50:16-17 NLT

His brothers had never really believed that Joseph had forgiven them. And they had always feared that he would one day use his power to repay them for the crime they had committed against him. They wrongly assumed that their father’s death would provide the perfect opportunity for Joseph to seek vengeance.

At the heart of their distrust was disbelief. It wasn’t that they failed to trust Joseph, it was that they lacked trust in the promises and provision of God. Years earlier, when Joseph had revealed his identity to his brothers, he had clearly told them that their actions against him had been part of God’s sovereign plan to preserve their people.

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.” – Genesis 45:4-8 NLT

And yet, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe that their God had been orchestrating every facet of their relationship with Joseph. By this time, they must have realized that Joseph’s dreams, which had infuriated them, had come true. They had lived to experience Joseph’s prediction that they would one day bow down to him. And despite all the ways in which God had miraculously preserved them, they couldn’t seem to believe that He would continue to do so. They saw Joseph’s power as a problem, not a God-ordained proof of divine protection.

Joseph was grieved by their message. What more could he do to prove his love for them? He longed to be restored to a right relationship with all of his brothers and he harbored no ill will toward any of them. So as he read their message, he wept bitterly. But, once again, Joseph took action, calling his brothers into his presence. He refused to allow this divisive wedge to remain between him and his brothers.

The brothers arrived at Joseph’s palace ready to throw themselves at his mercy. In fact, as soon as they entered they threw themselves at his feet, declaring, “Look, we are your slaves!” (Genesis 50:18 NLT). Preferring to face a lifetime of slavery rather than death, they begged Joseph for mercy. But what they got was another powerful reminder of the sovereignty of God.

“Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” – Genesis 50:19-21 NLT

Joseph knew what they had done. Not only that, he knew he would have been fully in his rights to seek revenge against them. He not only had the motive, but he had the power to pull it off. But that is not what Joseph wanted because it was not what God had intended. Their crime against him, while untenable and contemptible, had been part of God’s providential plan for protecting and preserving the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph fully believed in the sovereignty of God and he wanted his brothers to put aside their fears and replace them with faith in the God of their father.

For 25 chapters, Moses has chronicled the life of Jacob and his family. And now, as his history of Jacob’s lineage comes to a close, Moses reminds his readers that Yahweh can and should be trusted at all times – regardless of how dire and desperate the situation may appear. And this was a message they needed to hear. The original readers of Moses’ book had been the Israelites whom he had led out of Egypt to the edge of the promised land. Moses died before the people had ever entered the land, so this historical narrative would have been intended to provide them with impetus and encouragement as they prepared to enter the land without him. Even as Moses faced death and knew he would never enter the land of Canaan, he composed a song for his people to sing. And, in that song, he mentioned the days that Jacob had spent in Egypt.

 “For the people of Israel belong to the Lord;
    Jacob is his special possession.
He found them in a desert land,
    in an empty, howling wasteland.
He surrounded them and watched over them;
    he guarded them as he would guard his own eyes.
Like an eagle that rouses her chicks
    and hovers over her young,
so he spread his wings to take them up
    and carried them safely on his pinions.
The Lord alone guided them;
    they followed no foreign gods.
He let them ride over the highlands
    and feast on the crops of the fields.
He nourished them with honey from the rock
    and olive oil from the stony ground.
He fed them yogurt from the herd
    and milk from the flock,
    together with the fat of lambs.
He gave them choice rams from Bashan, and goats,
    together with the choicest wheat.
You drank the finest wine,
    made from the juice of grapes.” – Deuteronomy 32:9-14 NLT

God had cared for the descendants of Jacob for more than 400 years. He had protected them and provided for all their needs. He had multiplied them in number and miraculously transformed the 12 sons of Jacob into a vast army of more than 600,000 men by the time they left Egypt.

The story of Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers is intended to be a reminder of the sovereign power of the Almighty God. His plan is never thwarted. His will is never overcome. What Joseph’s brothers had done to him had been meant for ill, but God had intended it for good.

Joseph assuaged the fears and guilt of his brothers, assuring them that he had no intentions of bringing them harm. And he lived alongside them in peace until he reached the age of 110. Joseph lived long enough to become a great-great-grandfather, witnessing three generations worth of descendants through his son, Ephraim. But with death closing in, Joseph took one last opportunity to encourage his brothers to maintain their faith in Yahweh.

“Soon I will die,” Joseph told his brothers, “but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” – Genesis 50:24 NLT

Joseph never stopped believing in the promises of God. He had taken his father’s body back to Canaan because he knew that was their true home. Egypt had been nothing but a divinely ordained detour. The day would come when God would restore His people to the land He had promised to them. And Joseph believed his brothers or their descendants would live to see that day. His faith was so strong that he demanded his brothers swear an oath to take his mummified body with them when they returned to Canaan. He, like his father Jacob, had always harbored an intense desire to go home.

It’s interesting to note that the book of Genesis began with a couple who displayed their lack of faith in God by questioning His Word and disobeying His command. Rather than trusting God, they tried to become like him. But the book ends with a man of faith who never stopped believing in the promises of God. In fact, Joseph is mentioned in the great “Hall of Faith” found in the 11th chapter of Hebrews.

It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left. – Hebrews 11:22 NLT

Joseph died in Egypt, but his heart had always been in Canaan. And one day, his faith in God was proven worthy, because his body was returned to the land of promise, just as he had hoped.

Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.”

The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. – Exodus 13:18-21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Beginning, Not the End

1 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. 10 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. 11 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. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 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. – Genesis 50:1-13 ESV

Jacob’s last dying wish was for his body to be taken back to Canaan and placed in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, the land purchased by Abraham as a burial plot for his wife, Sarah (Genesis23:10-20). That land had remained in the possession of Abraham’s descendants and became the official family burial plot, containing the bones of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and his second wife, Leah. His first wife, Rachel, had been buried near Bethlehem, not long after Jacob’s return from Mesopotamia.

Now, it was time for Jacob’s bones to be placed alongside those of his deceased family members. So, Joseph sent news to Pharaoh, informing him of his father’s passing and requesting a  leave of absence from his official administrative duties so that he might return to Canaan and bury his father. Pharaoh graciously agreed to Joseph’s request, but nearly two-and-a-half months would pass before Joseph was ready to make the long journey home.

Joseph ordered his personal physicians to prepare his father’s body for burial, using the traditional Egyptian method of embalmment, which most likely included mummification. The elaborate and laborious process of embalmment took 40 days to complete but would have properly preserved the body of Jacob for its long journey back to Canaan. And Jacob’s return trip back to the land of promise would be radically different than the one he had made 17 years earlier. On that occasion, his small entourage had consisted of only 70 family members, and he had come in fear and trembling, an insignificant Hebrew in hopes of saving his family from famine.

But this trip was marked by pomp and circumstance. In death, Jacob was treated like a king and given a royal funeral procession fitting for a Pharaoh. In fact, the people of Egypt showed their deep respect for Jacob by mourning his death for 70 days, one day less than they would have mourned the death of a Pharaoh. And when the time came to make the journey back to Canaan, Joseph and his brothers were accompanied by a host of Egyptian officials and dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father. He was accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s officials, all the senior members of Pharaoh’s household, and all the senior officers of Egypt. Joseph also took his entire household and his brothers and their households. But they left their little children and flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. A great number of chariots and charioteers accompanied Joseph. – Genesis 50:7-9 NLT

This strange scene seems to foreshadow a number of significant events in Israel’s future, and the original readers of Moses’ book would have made at least one of the connections. The audience to whom Moses addressed his historical narrative were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, at the time they read this chronology of their own history, they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, having been delivered by God from their 400-year captivity in Egypt. And they would have seen the similarities between their exodus from Egypt and that of Jacob’s elaborate funeral procession. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded the day when the people of Israel walked out of Egypt as free men.

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:17-19 NLT

That too had been a funeral procession, but it had also been a celebratory occasion, as the people of Israel walked out a mighty army prepared for battle. Estimates are, that over the four centuries they had been in Egypt, they had multiplied greatly so that when they left, they were probably well over a million in number. Moses indicates that there were “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). And they didn’t go alone.

A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:38 NLT

Not only that, but the Israelites left Egypt loaded down with great wealth, provided to them by the Egyptians, but according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth! – Exodus 12:36 NLT

The funeral procession of Jacob foreshadowed the exodus of the people of Israel, an event that would take place more than four centuries later.

But there is a second event foreshadowed by Jacob’s funeral that Moses’ readers would not have recognized because it had not yet happened. And that will be the future exaltation and reverent treatment that an offspring of Jacob will one day receive. Jesus, as a descendant of Jacob, will also be shown great honor and respect. But it will not be because of His passing, but it will be due to His long-awaited second coming. According to the apostle Paul, even after Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection, He was afforded great honor and glory.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

But the day is coming when Jesus will return and be afforded even greater honor as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul discussed this reality in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” – Romans 14:11 NLT

Jacob was honored in death. But Jesus will be honored in life. As a descendant of Abraham, born through the tribe of Judah (one of the sons of Jacob), Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to produce a king from Jacob’s family tree.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

And that King will one day rule over the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal kingdom which will descend from heaven to earth, and all the nations of the earth will honor the one true King in his never-ending kingdom.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. – Revelation 21:22-27 NLT

So, there is far more to Jacob’s death and funeral than meets the eye. Like the rest of the story of his life, it is a representation of God’s sovereign will and providential provision for His people. Jacob’s death was not the end, but only the beginning of great things yet to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Count Your Blessings

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

14 “Issachar is a strong donkey,
    crouching between the sheepfolds.
15 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.

16 “Dan shall judge his people
    as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 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.
18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord.

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

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

21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose
    that bears beautiful fawns.

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough,
    a fruitful bough by a spring;
    his branches run over the wall.
23 The archers bitterly attacked him,
    shot at him, and harassed him severely,
24 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),
25 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.
26 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.

27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
    in the morning devouring the prey
    and at evening dividing the spoil.”

28 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. 29 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, 30 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. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people. – Genesis 49:13-33 ESV

Having blessed Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Jacob now turned his attention to his remaining eight sons. He continued to work his way through the list moving from oldest to youngest, and providing each son with a specific and personalized blessing. When compared with the blessing Jacob spoke over Judah, these pronouncements appear not only much shorter in length but less impressive in terms of significance. It is not until Jacob reaches his two last sons, Joseph and Benjamin, that his blessings become, once again, lengthier and richer in detail.

It is interesting to note that Zebulun is told that his people will be associated with the sea. Yet, the region they eventually inherited in Canaan would leave them land-locked and far from either the Mediterranean or the Sea of Galilee. But the location of this land put them in touch with Phoenician traders and prove to be a lucrative trade route from the coast to the interior of the country. There is some speculation that Jacob’s prophecy extends all the way to the Millennial Kingdom, when Zebulun’s borders will extend all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The descendants of Issachar would inherit a rich and fertile land just below the Sea of Galilee, leading them to become farmers and sheepherders. An agrarian lifestyle would supplant any aspirations to play a political role in the future of the people of Israel. It seems that the Issacharites would even become willing to enslave themselves to the Canaanites in order to enjoy material prosperity and peace.

The Danites would prove to be a tribe of mighty warriors but they would fail to remove the Canaanites from the land given to them by God as an inheritance.

As for the tribe of Dan, the Amorites forced them back into the hill country and would not let them come down into the plains. – Judges 1:34 NLT

Like a deadly viper, the Danites would bring disaster upon the people of Israel, leading them into idolatry (Judges 18). But from this tribe would come Samson, one of the most renowned and controversial judges in all of Israel.

Next comes Gad. His name in Hebrew means “good fortune,” but it sounds similar to the Hebrew word gûḏ, which means “overcome.” From their location on the eastern borders of Israel, the Gadites would experience constant attacks from their enemies, but they would prove to be fierce raiders who successfully stood their ground.

The descendants of Asher would inherit some of the most fertile land in all of Canaan, located along the Mediterranean coast. From this location they would produce food fit for a king’s table.

It is difficult to understand the exact meaning of Jacob’s prophecy concerning Naphtali. The language of this verse is complicated and its interpretation remains illusive. Scholars have long debated the meaning of this passage and there remains no consensus as to what Jacob was trying to convey. But history reveals that within the land awarded to the tribe of Naphtali, King Jeroboam would eventually set up a golden idol in the city of Dan (1 Kings 12:29-30).

The lengthiest blessing in this section is reserved for Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob who had once been considered dead but was found to be alive and well in Egypt. Jacob had already adopted Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, and the descendants of these two boys would inherit a large section of land in the very heart of Canaan.

Jacob referred to Joseph as “him who was set apart from his brothers” (Genesis 49:26 ESV), a phrase that seems to carry a double meaning. Joseph had been literally “set apart” by his brothers when they sold him into slavery. But God had set him apart by preordaining his role as the savior of his people. While Joseph had been “bitterly attacked” and severely harassed, God had blessed him greatly. And Jacob prayed that God would continue to bless his favored son.

“…may the Almighty bless you
with the blessings of the heavens above,
    and blessings of the watery depths below,
    and blessings of the breasts and womb.” – Genesis 49:25 NLT

Jacob was fully aware that God’s hand had been on his son, Joseph. Had not Joseph been sold into slavery, he would never have become the second-highest-ranking ruler in all the land of Egypt. And had that not happened, Jacob’s family would have died out in Canaan, the victims of the devastating famine that God had brought upon the land. It was because of Joseph that the promises of God concerning Israel would be fulfilled and Jacob was eternally grateful.

Finally, from the tribe of Benjamin would come a host of mighty warriors. This smallest of all the tribes would have a lasting impact on the safety and security of the entire nation of Israel. Yet, the book of Judges reveal that this fierce tribe would fail to follow the command of God by eliminating the Canaanites from their allotted land.

But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:21 ESV

Jacob left no son out. He knew that each of them would have a vital role to play in the future well-being of his descendants. Some would prove more important and vital to the cause than others. But for the promise of God to be fulfilled, each of Jacob’s 12 sons would have to work together to ensure the legacy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As the patriarch of the family, Jacob knew that God was not yet done. The Almighty had much more in store for Jacob’s descendants and it would take place in the land of Canaan, in keeping with His promises. That is why Jacob closed out his blessings to his sons by reiterating his wish to have his body taken back to Canaan for burial. While he would never live to see the promised land again, he was convinced that his people would one day return and he was determined to have his bones interred alongside his wife, Rachel.

Even when facing the prospect of death, Jacob was hopeful and faithful. He was fully convinced that God would accomplish all that He had promised and that the legacy of Abraham would be kept alive through his sons and grandsons. Egypt had been a detour and not a final destination. The people of Israel would one day return to the land of Israel because God was not yet done.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Future Blessings

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?
10 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.
11 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.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
    and his teeth whiter than milk.– Genesis 49:1-12 ESV

Nearing death, Jacob called his 12 sons to him. It was time for him to share his patriarchal blessing on the young men who would carry on the legacy of his name and play vital roles in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jacob understood that his time on earth was over and it was time to pass the baton the next generation of Israelites. It would be through them that God would create a great nation that would eventually return to and fill the land of Canaan.

As Jacob gathered his sons around him, he pronounced a prophetic word concerning each of their futures. This section of Genesis is written in a poetic style, but is no less historical or reliable. In it, the words of Jacob are intended to convey future realities that will be based on the sovereign will of God as it is played out through the personalities and character qualities of each son. His 12 sons, each bearing distinctively different temperaments, will be the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Jacob, under divine inspiration, conveys to each of them the vital, yet divergent, roles they will play in the creation of the Israelite nation. No two sons is alike and the tribes that will emanate from them will end up reflecting their disparate characters.

Beginning with the oldest to the youngest, Jacob delivers a brief, yet powerful prophetic pronouncement concerning each son. And what they heard must have surprised and confused them. It is not clear whether they knew about the blessing he had given to Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph.

“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,
‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” – Genesis 48:20 ESV

Jacob had already made the unexpected decision to adopt Joseph’s two sons, born to him by an Egyptian woman. Jacob had chosen to make his two grandsons heirs to his inheritance, placing them on equal standing with his own sons. He had declared a powerful and irrevocable blessing on both of them.

“…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.” – Genesis 48:16 ESV

And while Jacob had frustrated Joseph by purposefully awarding the blessing of the firstborn to Ephraim, the younger of his two sons, Jacob had also assured that Joseph that Manasseh would not be forgotten.

“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.” – Genesis 48:19 ESV

But now Jacob turned his attention to his own sons, speaking over them a word of blessing and prophecy.

“Each son learned how his branch of the family would benefit from and be a channel of blessing relative to the patriarchal promises. The natural character of each son and the consequences of that character would have their outcome in the future of the Israelites. The choices and consequently the characters of the patriarchs affected their descendants for generations to come, as is usually true.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis

It is unlikely that Jacob understood the full import of his own words. Much of what he had to say to his sons was future-oriented, stretching from the not-so-distant future all the way to the Millennial Age. Jacob did not possess the power of clairvoyance. He could not see into the future or discern with accuracy and confidence the outcome of his words, but he knew that what he was saying was divinely inspired.

Like any loving father, Jacob longed for each of his sons to be successful and to leave a lasting legacy that would positively impact the world in which they lived. So, beginning with Reuben, his firstborn, Jacob delivered a brief, but timeless prediction concerning each of their fates.

Reuben was in for a not-so-pleasant surprise. Because of his ill-fated decision to sleep with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22), he would forfeit his right to the blessing of the firstborn. It must have stung Reuben deeply to hear his father pronounce, “you will be first no longer.
For you went to bed with my wife; you defiled my marriage couch” (Genesis 49:4 NLT). Like his uncle, Esau, Reuben had allowed his physical passions to rule over him and rob him of his rightful place of prominence and power among his brothers. And his decision would have long-lasting effects, determining the fate of his future descendants.

Simeon and Levi were probably also a bit surprised when they heard their father’s pronouncement over them. These two sons had brought shame to the name of Jacob by murdering all the men of Shechem for the rape of their sister, Dinah (Genesis 34). They had chosen to take matters into their own hands and, as a result, had made the Israelites “stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites” (Genesis 34:30 NLT). Now, they were having to pay the consequences for their rash and costly action.

Yet, despite the rather negative nature of Jacob’s words concerning Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, he still declared that they would each enjoy fruitfulness and future blessings from God. Their natural role as leaders over the clan had been forfeited but not their right to enjoy status as heirs of the patriarchal blessing.

At this point, Jacob turns his attention to Judah, and it is to this son that he dedicates the greatest portion of his time and his most positive statements of praise and prophetic revelation. Among all his brothers, Judah was destined to play the most vital role of all. It must have been a rather awkward moment when Jacob declared of Judah in the hearing of all his brothers, “your brothers shall praise youyour father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8 ESV). For each of the sons, this would have brought back the memories of Joseph’s dreams. And while those dreams had already been fulfilled, now they were hearing that they would have to bow before yet another brother.

And while Jacob’s words would have short-term implications, he was really speaking of events that lie in the distant future. The tribe of Judah would become a leading faction among the nation of Israel, but it would not be until the coming of the Messiah that most of these prophecies would be fulfilled.

Jacob declared that “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Genesis 49:10 ESV), and this would eventually be fulfilled through King David and his royal line. But it would ultimately be fulfilled with the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lord, the Messiah of Israel.

All of the imagery used by Jacob points to a future fulfillment that has yet to take place. Even during the days when Moses penned these words, the people of Israel had not yet entered the land of promised, the dynasty of David had not yet come, and the prediction of Judah’s preeminence had not yet taken place. But it would. All of those things would come to pass, just as Jacob predicted. Yet, even today, the scepter has passed from the hand of Judah. There is no king in Israel. No son of David sits on the throne in Jerusalem. But the day is coming when even those prophetic words will be fulfilled.

Jacob declared some rather cryptic words concerning the future of Judah that must have left each of the brothers scratching their heads in confusion.

“He ties his foal to a grapevine,
    the colt of his donkey to a choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine,
    his robes in the blood of grapes.” – Genesis 49:11 NLT

None of this would have made sense to them. This imagery is nonsensical and counterintuitive. No one would tie his foal to a grapevine. To do so would end up damaging the valuable vine. And who in their right mind would wash garments in wine? The result would be far from productive or beneficial.

Yet, Jacob was predicting a future event that would result in the judgment of Israel. Though he did not know it at the time, Jacob was predicting the coming of the seed of Judah who would rule and reign over Israel. Jesus would be the Son of David who would be the foal who was tied to the vine of Israel. God would send His Son to be the relatively innocent looking and unimpressive Rabbi whose very existence would bring judgment upon the God-blessed, but rebellious vine of Israel.

And the day will come when this very same Son of David will return to earth and wash his garments in the blood (wine) of His enemies – all those who refuse to recognize Him as the Messiah and Savior sent from God, including the people of Israel. The book of Revelation describes the day when the King will return to earth a second time and “clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13 13 ESV).

And the apostle John goes on to declare that the Messiah “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:15-16 ESV).

Jacob was speaking of future events both near and distant. And God would see that each and every statement made by the dying patriarch would be fulfilled at just the right time and in perfect keeping with His divine will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Sovereign Switch

1 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).”

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.” 10 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. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 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. 14 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). 15 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,
16 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.”

17 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. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 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.” 20 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. 21 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. 22 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 48:1-22 ESV

As Moses begins to bring the book of Genesis to a close, he also narrates the closing days of Jacob’s life. As the patriarch of his family, Jacob had a responsibility to pass on his blessings to his sons, preparing the way for the future of their clan after his departure from this life. He had lived a long and was ready to pass the mantel of leadership to his 12 sons, allowing them to guide the next generation as they awaited the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to him so many years earlier.

Jacob, while 147-years-old, was far from senile. His eyes were failing but his memory was as sharp ever. He could recall with vivid detail the day when God had ordered him to leave Mesopotamia and return to Canaan. Along the way, God had appeared to him and delivered the following promise:

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 ESV

But now, Jacob and his family were living in the land of Egypt. Because of the devastating famine that had ravaged Canaan, they had been forced to seek refuge in Goshen, taking up residence in the land graciously provided to them by Pharaoh. Due to Joseph’s high rank in the Egyptian administration, they were provided with ample food to meet all their needs, even as their clan continued to grow in number.

Even during their self-imposed exile in Egypt, Jacob and his sons had been fulfilling God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. And while they may not have recognized it, their small clan was slowly evolving into a great nation. When they had arrived in Egypt, they had only been 70 in number, but during the 17 years that Jacob lived in Egypt, “they were fruitful, and their population grew rapidly” (Genesis 47:27 NLT).

God was at work, blessing the offspring of Abraham just as He had promised to do. And while their detour into Egypt may have appeared to them as an unexpected glitch in God’s plan, it had part of the plan all along. While in Egypt, they were sequestered safely in the land of Goshen, protected by the hand of Pharaoh, and amply provided for by Joseph. They were safe, secure, and sovereignly provided for by God Almighty.

Yet, Jacob’s days were numbered. He would not be leaving Egypt or returning to the land of Canaan. And he would not live to see his growing clan transformed by God into a mighty nation. But, as the patriarch, he could do his part to pass on his blessings to those who would carry on after his death.

Joseph, upon hearing that his father’s health was diminishing, brought his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to pay their last respects to their grandfather. These two boys had been born to Joseph and his Egyptian wife, “Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On” (Genesis 41:45 ESV). So, they were half Egyptian and half Hebrew. But Jacob was not phased by this seemingly disqualifying detail. He too had fathered sons from non-Hebrew women. And to illustrate his full acceptance of Joseph’s two sons, he announced that he was adopting them as his own. They would be given equal standing with the rest of his sons and afforded full rights as his descendants.

The scene that Moses describes is somewhat confusing and can leave the impression that Jacob was an old, doddering man who didn’t know what he was doing. As he called for Joseph to bring the two boys forward so that he might bless them, Jacob appears to mistakenly place his hands on the heads of the two boys. Moses is quite precise in his language, stating that Joseph purposefully placed his older son, Manasseh before Jacob’s right hand. It was from Jacob’s right hand that Manasseh would have received the blessing of the firstborn. But at the last second, Jacob switched his hands, placing his right hand on the head of Joseph’s younger son, Ephraim.

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). – Genesis 48:14 ESV

Joseph was unaware of this “slight of hands,” because he had “bowed himself with his face to the earth” (Genesis 48:12 ESV). He did not notice Jacob’s subtle, yet significant change of plans until it was too late.

While the blessing that Jacob uttered seems equitable in nature, his switching of the hands gave greater precedence to the younger son. Jacob asked that God would bless both boys and make them fruitful, but he seems to have intended that Ephraim receive the blessing of the double blessing due to the firstborn.

Under the inspiration of God, Jacob deliberately gave Ephraim the privileged first-born blessing and predicted his preeminence. This was the fourth consecutive generation of Abraham’s descendants in which the normal pattern of the firstborn assuming prominence over the second born was reversed: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben, and Ephraim over Manasseh. – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis

This was a deliberate action on Jacob’s part, not the feeble-minded mistake of an old man. He knew exactly what he was doing. The text does not reveal why Jacob made this decision, but it would seem that he was acting under divine inspiration. This was the will of God. This conclusion is not based on conjecture, but on the words written by the author of Hebrews. In chapter 11, the great “Hall of Faith,” Jacob is included in the long list of Old Testament saints who exhibited faith in the promises of Yahweh. And Jacob’s demonstration of faith is tied to his blessing of the two sons of Joseph.

By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. – Hebrews 11:21 ESV

The switching of his hands and the pronouncement of blessing had been an act of worship. Just had been proven true in his life, God was going to use the younger son to accomplish His will.

But when Joseph realized what was happening, he tried to intervene and correct the mistake by switching his father’s hands. Yet Jacob refused to budge. His decision had been deliberate and was final. He informed Joseph, “I know, my son; I know,…Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 NLT).

The die was cast. The blessings were awarded. And Ephraim would eventually be the name associated with the northern tribe of Israel after the nation was split in two. God would fulfill the blessing and make of Ephraim a great nation.

Moses makes it quite clear that this was a deliberate action on the part of Jacob.

Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. – Genesis 48:20 ESV

And while Joseph was not happy with the results, it was exactly what God had intended all along. His ways are not our ways. His plans do not always align with our own. Every detail of the story was happening according to God’s divine will and the ultimate outcome of each decision would not be fully revealed or realized for centuries. But there were no mistakes in God’s sovereign agenda.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Famine and Fruitfulness

20 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. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 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.

23 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. 24 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.” 25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” 26 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.

27 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. 28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years.

29 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, 30 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.” 31 And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed. – Genesis 47:20-31 ESV

With his family comfortably settled in the land of Goshen, Joseph returned to his duties of stewarding the well-being of Pharaoh’s empire. Throughout the year seven years of famine, he used the grain he had stockpiled during the seven years of plenty to feed the starving citizens of the country. But didn’t set up a welfare state. Instead, he sold the grain to the people. And when their money ran out, he traded grain for livestock. When their supply of livestock was exhausted, the people were allowed to trade in their land holdings for grain, amassing an extensive real estate empire for the state. Then, when the people no longer had any money to spend, livestock to sell, or land to trade, they were left with only one option: To become the indentured servants of Pharaoh. And while this may appear as an egregious example of government overreach, Joseph was actually using the government’s administrative capabilities to protect and preserve the people and the nation.

Joseph allowed the people to continue living on the land, raising crops as they had done before. But he imposed a 20 percent tax on all agricultural production. This levy, while high, would allow Pharaoh’s administration to continue their food assistance program throughout the remaining years of the famine. The people were allowed to keep four-fifths of whatever they harvested, but the remaining one-fifth went into the royal granaries. And the people did not see any of this as a land grab or a form of government-led extortion. They were grateful to be alive.

“You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” – Genesis 47:25 ESV

Yet, it should not be overlooked that, while the people of Egypt were slowly handing over their resources, lands, and freedoms to the state, the people of Israel were enjoying the blessings of God in Goshen.

Meanwhile, the people of Israel settled in the region of Goshen in Egypt. There they acquired property, and they were fruitful, and their population grew rapidly. – Genesis 47:27 NLT

It seems that the Israelites were able to take advantage of the dire situation in Egypt by buying up land that their Egyptian neighbors were being forced to sell. All during the famine, Joseph provided Jacob and the rest of his family with food. Jacob had entered Egypt a very wealthy man, and he used his formidable resources to accumulate a growing real estate portfolio in Egypt. As his family grew, so did his land holdings. God was fulfilling the promise He had made to Jacob years earlier.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply.” – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

At that time, Jacob had no idea that the fruitfulness and multiplication of his family would take place in Egypt and not Canaan. But that had been God’s plan all along. Even Joseph understood that reality. Everything that had happened in his life had been according to the preordained, sovereign will of God Almighty. He would later emphasize that fact to his brothers.

“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.” – Genesis 50:19-21 ESV

So, Jacob’s migration to Egypt had been God’s will. He had planned it, orchestrated it, and was now fulfilling it in real-time. But Jacob would not live long enough to see Canaan again. In fact, none of his sons, including Joseph would ever set foot in the promised land again. Jacob would live an additional 17 years, dying at the ripe old age of 147. But as he looked around him, he could see the signs of God’s blessings everywhere. He had lived to see his long-lost son restored to his side. He was the proud patriarch of a rapidly growing clan living in a fruitful land that God had miraculously provided. And while he had never owned an acre of land in Canaan, he had been able to take title to a large portion of the land in Egypt’s rich Nile delta.

But Jacob never saw Egypt as his home. To the end of his life, he still retained his love and longing for the land of Canaan. He had not forgotten God’s promise to provide the land of Canaan as his inheritance. And, while he knew he would never make it back there alive, he made Joseph swear that his body would be returned to Canaan for burial, in the very same plot of land that Abraham had bought to bury Sarah. Even in death, he wanted to be associated with the land of promise. And Joseph swore an oath to fulfill his father’s dying wish.

For Jacob, Egypt was simply a temporary, but necessary diversion in the journey toward God’s fulfillment of the promise. Whether or not he knew the details that God had shared with his grandfather, Abraham, is unclear. In Genesis 15:13, Moses records God’s announcement to Abraham that his descendants would spend 400 years in a foreign land. But at the end of that end lengthy period of time, they would return to the land of Canaan. And whether Jacob had a four-century delay in mind, he knew that the day would come when God returned His people to their land.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

28 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. 29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” 

1 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

As Jacob approached the land of Egypt, he pulled a page out of his long and storied playbook. Almost as if he was reliving his long-delayed reunion with his brother, Esau (Genesis 32:3), Jacob sent Judah ahead of the caravan, with instructions to find Joseph and request his assistance in finding the land granted to them by Pharaoh. Perhaps Jacob harbored suspicions and was attempting to ensure that the entire family was not walking into a trap set for them by the Egyptians. But Judah did as his father suggested and soon returned with Joseph, riding in his royal chariot. This scene must have the aged Jacob staggering from unbelief and overwhelmed by joy. There, standing right in front of him was the son that he had long thought to be dead. It was like witnessing a miracle, a veritable resurrection.

Joseph had grown up and was not wearing the familiar multicolored robe that Jacob had given him, but even in his old age and with failing eyesight, Jacob had no problem recognizing his boy. And their reunion was an emotional affair. Both men wept as they clung to one another in joy and disbelief. Neither had ever expected to see the other again. But God had graciously made it happen.

Having been given the unexpected blessing of seeing his son again, Jacob expressed his gratitude to God by stating that his long and adventure-filled life was now complete. He had lived to witness the impossible and was now ready to be with God.

“Now I am ready to die, since I have seen your face again and know you are still alive.” – Genesis 46:30 NLT

He could now die in peace, knowing that Joseph was alive, but also that his family had been preserved from certain death had they stayed in Canaan. All of his sons were together again and his family was under the watchful eye of Joseph and the gracious protection of Pharaoh.

Jacob and his sons were primarily sheepherders. It had been while he was living in Haran with his inlaws, that Jacob had been blessed by God with great wealth in the form of herds and flocks.

Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys. – Genesis 30:43 ESV

But eventually, Jacob made the fateful decision to return home to Canaan, the land that had been promised to his father and grandfather by God.

So Jacob arose and set his sons and his wives on camels. He drove away all his livestock, all his property that he had gained, the livestock in his possession that he had acquired in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac. – Genesis 31:17-18 ESV

And, once Jacob returned to Canaan, his assets had continued to increase. It had been while pasturing their father’s flocks in Dothan, that the brothers of Joseph had made the decision to turn against Joseph, eventually selling him into slavery. But now, years later, these very same shepherds and their vast flocks would find employment in the most unlikely of places. Joseph informed his father and brothers that he was going to request permission from Pharaoh that they be allowed to settle in the land of Goshen with their flocks. This was an ingenious plan on the part of Joseph because he knew that the  Egyptians held shepherds in great disdain. If he could convince Pharaoh to let his family settle in the fertile land of Goshen, he knew the Egyptians would give them wide berth, avoiding them at all costs “for everyone who takes care of sheep is disgusting to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:28 NET).

Unsurprisingly, Pharaoh agreed with Joseph’s plan, decreeing that Jacob and his sons should settle in the land of Goshen. And in addition, he hired Joseph’s brothers to tend his herds and flocks as well. In other words, he guaranteed the Israelites a steady income for as long as they lived in the land.

“Now that your father and brothers have joined you here, choose any place in the entire land of Egypt for them to live. Give them the best land of Egypt. Let them live in the region of Goshen. And if any of them have special skills, put them in charge of my livestock, too.” – Genesis 47:5-6 NLT

In a sense, Jacob’s family was set for life. They had gone from facing a famine in Canaan to a land of fruitfulness where their flocks could thrive and their clan could survive. It was all almost too good to be true. But it was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Abraham.

“I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you…” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

And this was the very same promise that God had reiterated to Jacob when he had returned to Canaan from his time in Haran.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 ESV

Little did Jacob know at the time that this promise would require a not-so-brief detour to the land of Egypt. But it would be in Egypt that God would greatly increase the number of Jacob’s descendants. As they made themselves at home in the land of Canaan, they found themselves unharassed by enemies and able to enjoy relative peace and prosperity in their new home.

In the book of Exodus, Moses reveals what transpired while the Israelites lived in the land of Egypt. They had entered Egypt, few in number, but they did not stay that way.

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 1:5-7 ESV

God was behind this entire transition from Canaan to Egypt. It had all been for a much greater purpose than anyone realized at the time. Pharaoh had been generous and Joseph showed his gratitude by conveying a blessing on him. In keeping with the promise of God, the descendants of Abraham were proving to be a blessing to the nations. Because of Joseph, Pharaoh and his countrymen had been spared the effects of a seven-year famine. He was now more rich and powerful than he had ever been, thanks to Joseph’s ingenuity and foresight.  And God would use the once-despised, falsely accused, and unjustly imprisoned Joseph to bless the family of Israel.

So Joseph assigned the best land of Egypt—the region of Rameses—to his father and his brothers, and he settled them there, just as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided food for his father and his brothers in amounts appropriate to the number of their dependents, including the smallest children. – Genesis 47:11-12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

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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