November 18, 2018 | The God Who Keeps Promises | Genesis 46:1-34

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In the 1930s a young lumber yard worker in California was taught basic principles of Christian discipleship by a good friend.

He took those principles to heart and devoted his life to sharing those principles with others. He started with just a few high school students and eventually expanded his life-on-life discipleship method to some local sailors.

Eventually, 125 men on their ship, the U.S.S. West Virginia, were growing in Christ and actively sharing their faith. By the end of World War II, thousands of men on ships and bases around the world were learning the principles of spiritual multiplication by the person-to-person teaching of God’s word.

The organization that grew from this discipleship process is known as the Navigators—a ministry that now spreads the gospel in over 100 countries. Their founder, a man named Dawson Trotman, died in 1956. In one of his last messages to Navigators’ staff said this:

Let me tell you what I believe the need of the hour is. . . I believe it is an army of soldiers, dedicated to Jesus Christ, who believe not only that He is God, but that He can fulfill every promise He has ever made, and that there isn’t anything too hard for Him. It is the only way we can accomplish the thing that is on His heart - getting the Gospel to every creature.

He can fulfill every promise He has ever made. Do we really believe that?

How much?

The title of the sermon series we’ve been in since September is Joseph: Providence & Promises. Over the past several weeks we have seen how the hand of God acting in His providence-and by providence I mean God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose—has been working to reunite a family that was torn apart by sin.

But we’ve also seen that His purpose is much, much bigger than that. God is at work to build a nation through which He will save nations in the book of Genesis and in the chapter we are studying today that purpose really takes shape as the family of Israel will enter into the land of Egypt at Josephs invitation.

We are going to read together Genesis 46:1-34. It unfolds in three vignettes and all three are significant for different reasons. I’ll point them out as we go. The first is in verses 1-7:

46 Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: “Jacob, Jacob!” he said.

And Jacob replied, “Here I am.”

3 God said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.”

5 Jacob left Beer-sheba. The sons of Israel took their father Jacob in the wagons Pharaoh had sent to carry him, along with their dependents and their wives. 6 They also took their cattle and possessions they had acquired in the land of Canaan. Then Jacob and all his offspring with him came to Egypt. 7 His sons and grandsons, his daughters and granddaughters, indeed all his offspring, he brought with him to Egypt.

And in verses 8-27 Moses records for us the members of the family of Israel who made the journey to Egypt with him:

8 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt—Jacob and his sons:

Jacob’s firstborn: Reuben.

9 Reuben’s sons: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.

10 Simeon’s sons: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman.

11 Levi’s sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

12 Judah’s sons: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah; but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan.

The sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.

13 Issachar’s sons: Tola, Puvah, Jashub, and Shimron.

14 Zebulun’s sons: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel.

15 These were Leah’s sons born to Jacob in Paddan-aram, as well as his daughter Dinah. The total number of persons: thirty-three.

16 Gad’s sons: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.

17 Asher’s sons: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and their sister Serah.

Beriah’s sons were Heber and Malchiel.

18 These were the sons of Zilpah—whom Laban gave to his daughter Leah—that she bore to Jacob: sixteen persons.

19 The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.

20 Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph in the land of Egypt. They were born to him by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, a priest at On.

21 Benjamin’s sons: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.

22 These were Rachel’s sons who were born to Jacob: fourteen persons.

23 Dan’s son: Hushim.

24 Naphtali’s sons: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.

25 These were the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel. She bore to Jacob: seven persons.

26 The total number of persons belonging to Jacob—his direct descendants, not including the wives of Jacob’s sons—who came to Egypt: sixty-six.

27 And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt: two persons.

All those of Jacob’s household who came to Egypt: seventy persons.

And finally we have the reunion between Jacob and his son Joseph; whom the thought was dead starting in verse 28:

28 Now Jacob had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to prepare for his arrival at Goshen. When they came to the land of Goshen, 29 Joseph hitched the horses to his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel. Joseph presented himself to him, threw his arms around him, and wept for a long time.

30 Then Israel said to Joseph, “I’m ready to die now because I have seen your face and you are still alive!”

31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s family, “I will go up and inform Pharaoh, telling him, ‘My brothers and my father’s family, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 The men are shepherds; they also raise livestock. They have brought their flocks and herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh addresses you and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you are to say, ‘Your servants, both we and our fathers, have raised livestock from our youth until now.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the land of Goshen, since all shepherds are detestable to Egyptians.”

The three scenes in this chapter illustrate two truths for us about God’s promises. The first is that God’s Promises Reveal His Character.

Moses starts chapter 46 by telling us Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beer-Sheba. The names Israel and Jacob both refer to the same man and appear to be used interchangeably by the author in the latter part of Genesis. But I suspect here that Moses uses Israel to refer to Jacob intentionally in two of the verses we just read (verse 1 and verse 8—the first verse of the first two scenes).

By saying Israel set out—using the name God had given Jacob in Genesis 32—Moses is making a larger point. This is the name by which the nation would be known and it draws our attention to how momentous this occasion really was in the history of God’s people.

Listen to the last part of the promise God made to Abraham—Jacob’s grandfather—in Genesis 15:

18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I give this land to your offspring, from the Brook of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River: 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hethites, Perizzites, Rephaim, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.”

God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring. Here’s the thing: Jacob was living in that land. It wasn’t his, but he resided in the region. And on his way from Canaan to Egypt, the last place through which he would pass is Beer-Sheba.

It was no accident that Jacob camped there. Both his father Isaac in Genesis 26 and his grandfather Abraham in Genesis 21 had built altars there. It was a significant site. As he is literally on the edge of the promised land, Jacob stops to worship.

Now, because many of us know the end of Jacob’s story we may not think as much of this but the fact that he was now leaving this land that was promised by God to his family seems like the last thing you’d want to do.

In fact, listen to what God told Jacob’s father back in Genesis 26:

There was another famine in the land in addition to the one that had occurred in Abraham’s time. And Isaac went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, at Gerar. 2 The Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land that I tell you about; 3 stay in this land as an alien, and I will be with you and bless you. For I will give all these lands to you and your offspring, and I will confirm the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, 5 because Abraham listened to me and kept my mandate, my commands, my statutes, and my instructions.”

Jacob would probably have known that God commanded his father not to go into Egypt. But we know that God engineered circumstances in Jacob’s life that have led him to uproot his entire extended family and relocate to Egypt—the only place during this most recent and most severe famine that still had food. And God uses this quiet moment at Beer-Sheba near the beginning of Jacob’s long journey to reinforce the promises He had already made to him. Look back at verse 2:

2 That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: “Jacob, Jacob!” he said.

And Jacob replied, “Here I am.”

3 God said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.”

What God does here is echo the promises that He has made not just to Jacob but to both Abraham and Isaac. The beginning of Genesis 15 tells that

After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield;

your reward will be very great.

And in Genesis 26 we see this exchange between God and Isaac:

23 From there he went up to Beer-sheba, 24 and the Lord appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of my servant Abraham.”

God makes it clear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob over and over again that He is going to care for them. He will deliver on His promises even when it seems like He’s absent. Here, as Jacob is departing the promised land God promises him six things in verses 3-4. These six things give Jacob the assurance He needs to follow through with his plan to go to Egypt:

First, I am God the God of your father. This God who Jacob worships has been come through over and over again in the history of this family. There’s no legitimate reason for Jacob to doubt this time will be any different.

In fact, if Jacob was to place his trust in literally anything else it was 100% sure to let him down. Anything you substitute for God will eventually fail.

Secondly, he says, do not be afraid to go down to Egypt. There was great reason to fear for Jacob. He was laying his life in the hands of these Egyptians. He had been told his son awaited him there, but hadn’t yet seen him with his own eyes. There were many unknowns, but God lays those fears to rest.

Third He says I will make you a great nation there. We’ll cover the last three promises shortly but I want us to camp here for a minute. It is in Egypt that God’s promise to turn the family of Abraham into a great nation will be fulfilled. A couple of scholars have pointed out a number of similarities between Israel’s entry into Egypt with the family of Noah entering the ark earlier in Genesis.

I’m not altogether convinced that’s what Moses has in mind here, but I do think the imagery fits beautifully, doesn’t it? The family God has chosen enters into what at first appears to be a very uncertain place of safety during a time of great natural disaster only to see God—in His providence—secure their deliverance. Egypt is the ark in which the family of Jacob becomes the nation of Israel.

Verses 8-27, the bulk of this whole chapter, list the name of Jacob’s extended family. And it’s from those 70 people that God will, within the safe confines of Egypt’s borders, allow them to grow into a people group so vast that it causes a Pharaoh a few generations down the line to fear they could rise up and overthrow him.

That’s recorded in the opening of the Exodus. Exodus 1:6ff:

Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation eventually died. 7 But the Israelites were fruitful, increased rapidly, multiplied, and became extremely numerous so that the land was filled with them. (And then we have the most terrifying words in the Old Testament up to this point)

8 A new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt.

This new Pharaoh did not know Joseph as the one who saved Israel during the famine. He viewed these people as a nuisance. And the Egyptians treatment of the Israelites quickly grows brutal.

The Israelites cry out to the Lord over this brutality and in His providence, He rescues them. You find that story in the first part of the book of Exodus. Moses engages Pharaoh and the Lord sends plagues onto the Egyptians culminating in the Passover.

We’ve seen the 70 journey into Egypt and Exodus 12:35 and following show us what this little family had become:

35 The Israelites acted on Moses’s word and asked the Egyptians for silver and gold items and for clothing. 36 And the Lord gave the people such favor with the Egyptians that they gave them what they requested. In this way they plundered the Egyptians.

37 The Israelites traveled from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand able-bodied men on foot, besides their families. 38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, along with a huge number of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 The people baked the dough they had brought out of Egypt into unleavened loaves, since it had no yeast; for when they were driven out of Egypt, they could not delay and had not prepared provisions for themselves.

40 The time that the Israelites lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of 430 years, on that same day, all the Lord’s military divisions went out from the land of Egypt.

God’s promise to Abraham—affirmed to Isaac and to Jacob—came to fruition some 430 years after the events of Genesis 46. Israel becomes a nation in Egypt. But on the front end, just going there would have been extremely difficult for Jacob. That’s why God offers up three final promises in verse 4:

The fourth promise: I will go down with you to Egypt. Then, He goes on to promise him, and I will bring you up again. And finally, your son, Joseph, is going to close your eyes. You are going to make it to Egypt. You are going to be reunited with your son, Joseph. And when the day comes for me to take you home, it is your son who is going to close your eyes.

Jacob had been in a state of mourning ever since Joseph had died. When he sent 10 of his remaining sons to Egypt to buy food earlier in this story it became clear that keeping his family together was one of the few remaining priorities in his life. But God had something greater in mind. And as we see that unfold we are convinced that:

God’s Promises Reveal His Character. And we find a final truth toward the end of the chapter. In verses 28-34 we see Joseph and Jacob finally reunited and learn that Joseph is hard at work to prepare a place for his family to thrive in Egypt.

Not only do God’s promises reveal His character, but God’s promises secure His people. If the story of Jacob and Joseph and the other 11 brothers was a movie this would be the most emotional scene of all! This is the reunion of a father with his most beloved son after over 20 years of separation.

Jacob proclaims that he can finally die in peace now. Joseph’s response, though, is not about death but about life. He immediately begins preparing the family for an audience with Pharaoh. God had worked in His providence to put Joseph in a place where he would have the influence to secure God’s promises for this family. He wasn’t just securing good land here, and Goshen was good land. He was setting His people apart from the Egyptians. If they were going to be a distinct nation, they had to remain separate from the Egyptians so as to not absorb their idolatrous religion. If you’re familiar with Israel’s history you know this was something they struggled with over and over again. Placing them in Goshen was a way God physically set them apart so that they would remain spiritually set apart—which is the true meaning of holiness. To be holy means simply to be set apart.

God’s promise to make Israel a great nation secured for them safety and security in the best of the Egyptian land.

So what does this mean for us, separated by thousands of years and just as many miles from the events that took place in Egypt?

God’s promises reveal His character and God’s promises secure His people. There are a number of ways this is true but for the sake of time we are going to examine only three here today. Three New Testament promises the reveal God’s character and work to secure His people.

The first is that God promises punishment for unrighteousness. Paul devotes much of the first three chapters of Romans to teach us this truth. Let’s look at 1:18-19

For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them.

Because God is good, He is fully committed to punishing injustice. Paul writes that His wrath is revealed—present tense. Not will be revealed at the end of time, but God’s wrath is right now is kindled against unrighteousness. We serve a God of reconciliation who seeks to save those who are against Him—and if you’re not redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ you’re against God. There is no neutral ground. You either belong to Jesus Christ or you’re an object of wrath. Why? Because in His goodness God cannot allow evil to go unpunished.

But we have seen over and over again as we’ve studied Genesis the great lengths God goes to so that He can bring about confession and repentance. That’s, ultimately, what the whole story is about.

In the beginning mankind was in a face-to-face relationship with God. But our sin separated us from Him. And so from the moment in Genesis 3:15 when God first promised the Gospel—the Messiah who would right the wrong of Eden—He has been at work to redeem a people for His glory.

So the promise for you today if you belong to God is that you ARE saved. Every day you wake up you have a reason for joy, a reason for celebration no matter what else is going on in your life. And if you don’t belong to God, the promise awaiting you is judgment. But there is good news, because that promise no longer has to be true. You can be reconciled to God today.

The second promise, and we’ll move quickly here, is that God promises perseverance for His children.

Philippians 1:6 I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It’s natural to have doubt. That may even be why Jacob stopped at Beer Sheba in the first place. But because we weren’t saved by our actions or our goodness, or our works—we are not sustained by those things either.

We sing a song here from time-to-time that I love dearly. The words were written over 100 years ago by Ada Habershon. The tune is more modern but I love the honesty of the opening verse:

“When I fear my faith will fail

Christ will hold me fast

When the tempter would prevail

He will hold me fast

I could never keep my hold

Through life’s fearful path

For my love is often cold

He must hold me fast

God has began a good work in you and He will not leave it unfinished. If you’re here and you know you belong to God you can stand firm on that promise.

Finally, and this is a promise we’ve looked at several times in the past three months. God promises your circumstances ultimately bring about goodness.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Jacob never fully saw the good that came from the circumstances of his life. Neither did Joseph. And you may not either. But you can rest in knowing this promise remains true. Let’s pray.