Jacob in the Sacred Place of His Fathers

The brothers who once came before their father with the bloody garment now had to explain to the old man that his son was still alive (Gen. 45:21-28). We do not know the details of how the brothers broke the news; surely it was most awkward for them, perhaps more awkward than the first time. That first encounter brought death to his soul; he would go down to his son mourning to Sheol. Now he went numb. Upon seeing the carts laden with the wealth of Egypt, however, Israel revived and said, “let me go down, and I will see him before I die” (cf. Chapter 37:34-35 with 45:25-28). His response was correct both times; he would go down to Sheol, or what amounts to the same thing, to Egypt, to see his son. God will have Israel pass through Egypt before she enters the Promised Land. On a historical level this explains how Israel ended up in Egypt. On a spiritual level this explains how humanity cannot avoid Egypt, that great symbol of the world with all its glamour and danger, and must find its way out.

We see the aged patriarch packing all that he had, along with all his family, and setting off down the dusty roads toward the deserts of the south (Gen. 46:1ff.). Circumstances beyond his control were dragging him away from the land promised to him and his descendants, and we assume his soul was full of turmoil and doubt. He came to Beersheba, the place where his grandfather Abraham planted a grove and called upon the name of the Living God. This place was also holy to his father Isaac for it was here that he encountered God as well (Gen. 21:33, 26:23-25). By now these trees had grown large, gnarled with age. It was evening, and as Jacob approached this sacred place where his great ancestor communed with God, a profound hush fell upon his soul. He knew it! He felt it! God was among the trees waiting for him! After twenty years of silence, his soul began to stir with life. The atmosphere was highly charged. With great solemnity and emotion Jacob put the knife to the ram’s throat on the stone altar at the center of the grove. His sons looked on in silence.

That night God spoke to him in visions. The Almighty said, “Jacob, Jacob!” Ah! This was the Same who stayed the hand of his grandfather as he was about to put the knife to his own son’s throat, and called out “Abraham, Abraham” (Cf. Gen. 22:11 with 46:2)! Instinctively Jacob responded like his great ancestor, “Behold, here I am!” God said,

I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes (Gen. 46:3-4).

God graciously gives Jacob the assurance his soul needed and reaffirms the great family promises to him. We must not miss, however, that this encounter, like the one with Abraham, had to do with the restoration of sons. With Abraham it was Isaac, whom God asked for a sacrifice. Here God restores Joseph, whom He took from Jacob. This encounter places the whole issue of Joseph in a broader context than personal loss or gain for Jacob. It places Joseph in the context of patriarchal promise, where he belonged in the first place. Joseph must be more to Jacob than just a beloved son! He is God’s son who has greater purposes than to make the heart of his earthly father happy. At this point Jacob sees his son for the first time as he should have been seen him all along. Joseph ceases to be his idol.

Armed with this new level of spiritual profundity, Israel moves on from Beersheba to Egypt, a company of 70 males (Gen. 46:27). This number is key in the book of Genesis, for it was the number of the nations after the dispersion at the Tower of Babel, symbolizing the whole world. We have, therefore, a microcosm of humanity in this family. In this little company lie the hopes of all the earth! How strange it is to expose this precious and vulnerable group of souls to the wild world of Egypt, a place that devours and enslaves its victims! Yet this is the way God works! He always works exactly contrary to our natural inclinations. God gives birth to his nation in Egypt, the world; the last place one would expect it, right at Satan’s front door!

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