The Journeys of Jacob

This past week I read an essay written by a man who was given the task of choosing a photo for his mother’s obituary. The man had stacks of photos to choose from, but in this essay he explained that what made this whole process so difficult was trying to figure out which stage of his mother’s life should the photo capture? 

Should it be a youthful photo? Or should it be a portrait of her in middle age as a seasoned mother? Or should it be a photo from her last years when she was in the “evening of her life?”

And whichever photo this man would choose, he wondered what that would be saying about her life as a whole. What encompasses her life? What defines her story?

I think these are great questions for us to think about when it comes to our own lives, and these are great questions for our passage today because here in Genesis 46–48 we are coming to the end of Jacob’s life.

Jacob and His Journey

And what makes this really fascinating is that we’ve been able to see every stage of Jacob’s life going all the way back to when he was first conceived. We even have Jacob’s delivery story. That’s in Chapter 25. From a literary perspective we were in the delivery room when Jacob came out — remember he came out holding onto Esau’s heel (see Gen. 25:26). 

So we have seen this man’s entire life and I love the way Jacob talks about his life in Chapter 47. In Chapter 47, verse 8 Pharaoh and Jacob meet, and Pharaoh asks Jacob how old he is, and Jacob answers this way: “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years.” 

Now he could have just said 130, but instead he emphasizes the fact that he has been a sojourner. This man has seen the road. This man is a descendent of men who knew what it meant to journey; he himself knows what it means to journey; and in fact, as he is standing in front of Pharaoh in Genesis 47, Jacob knows he is still on the journey — 130 years still on this journey. 

And so can we learn something from Jacob? That’s the question I’m asking when I look here at the final chapters of Genesis. 

What might God teach us here through this last stage of Jacob’s life?

Three’s: Chapters, Summaries, Lessons

We have three chapters to work through this morning, and that’s a lot, but this is how I want us to do that. The plan is to look at each chapter, and I’ve got a summary of the chapter for you, and then a practical lesson that I want us to takeaway. So it’ll be “Here’s a summary of what’s happening” and then “Here’s what we can learn.” And we’ll do that three times for 46, 47, and 48, but first let’s pray.

Father, it is by your love and in your love that we gather here in worship this morning. And your Word is open before us. And Father, we ask: show us your glory. We ask that you give us more of Jesus. In his name, amen.

Chapter 46: Jacob and His Family Enter Egypt

Look at Chapter 46, verse 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. 2 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” 3 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. 4 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.” 

So Jacob, or Israel, is still on his journey. Just like he did back Chapter 28, Jacob packs his bags and once again leaves the land God had promised his family. In Chapter 28 Jacob left Canaan to flee from his brother Esau, and here in Chapter 46 Jacob leaves Canaan to reunite with his son Joseph — and by this time his family has grown. Jacob is not longer the nimble traveler he was back in Chapter 28 because now Jacob is an old man with grown sons who have their own families and their own possessions, and they all stick together here. Verse 1 tells us that Jacob leaves for Egypt with “all that he had” — and this is an important point.

We need to know that Jacob’s whole family is making this move. The reason for the genealogy in Chapter 46 is because we’re supposed to know that everybody is included here. So we have to imagine that Jacob headed to Egypt meant a whole caravan of people entering Egypt. There are seventy people with all their stuff who are walking into Egypt. 

The Entry into Egypt

You might remember back in Chapter 37 we said that the story of Joseph is really the background story for how the exodus happens. Now the word “Exodus” is the name of the second book of the Bible, but it’s really the word for an event that happened (that’s how I’m using the word). 

The Exodus was the main event for the nation of Israel when God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. It was the great rescue that points to an even greater rescue, but we cannot understand the Old Testament if we don’t understand the Exodus. The Exodus is fundamental to the story of Israel. And Genesis 46 is an important part of the Exodus because Genesis 46 describes the first bookend of when Israel entered Egypt. 

And what we will end up seeing is that Israel’s entry into Egypt parallels but is transcended by Israel’s exit from Egypt. 

There are a couple clues in the text that make this connection. Notice first how God addresses Jacob. God speaks to Jacob in a vision in verse 2 and says: “Jacob, Jacob!” And Jacob says: “Here am I.”

And then God tells Jacob that he is leading Jacob and his house into Egypt. God is going with him. This is part of God’s plan. The people of Israel are called to go into Egypt — just like the people of Israel will be called to go out from Egypt. 

Because in Exodus 3, many years after Jacob, God comes and speaks to another man. This time God says, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses says: “Here am I.” And God tells Moses that he is going to lead Israel out of their captivity.

And just like a whole caravan of people and possessions entered Egypt, and even greater caravan of people and possessions will exit Egypt. Israel will leave Egypt with more people and with more possessions than when they entered — and that’s because God fulfills his promise to Jacob while his family is in Egypt — and this is where we start to see the lesson here.

Why Is Jacob Afraid?

The summary of this chapter is simple — it’s that Jacob and his family enter Egypt  — but it gets dicey in the details because Jacob is afraid to enter Egypt. God has to tell him in verse 3, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.” Now why is that? Why is Jacob afraid of Egypt?

Well it’s because Egypt has always represented danger to the patriarchs. Going back to Abraham in Genesis 12, Egypt has been this looming threat on the promises of God. God told Isaac very plainly in Chapter 26, verse 2: “Do not go down to Egypt.” And now that Jacob is finally back in Canaan, now that he’s finally in the Promised Land, he ends up leaving all over again and he is going to Egypt of all places! 

And so for Jacob this has to be confusing. He has these two things that don’t make sense: 

  • he has the promises of God to bless him and make him into a great nation; 

  • and then he has going to Egypt. 

This doesn’t line up. Being in Egypt seems to be at odds with God’s promise. 

The Place Where God Does

But we’re actually going to see right away in Chapter 47 that God does bless Jacob in Egypt, and by the time we get to the book of Exodus Chapter 1 we’re going to see that the people of Israel have been “fruitful and increased greatly.” They have “multiplied and grew exceedingly strong” (Exodus 1:7) —  which means (here’s the lesson) that God will fulfill his promises even in the most unlikely places. That’s what it means that God blesses Israel in Egypt.

In the most unlikely setting, against all human odds, in the places where we think God can’t God does.

And he works the same way in our lives.

Maybe you’ve been at this place before (or maybe you’re there right now), but you find yourself in this setting that seems to be at odds with what God has promised you:

  • God has said he would supply all your needs (Philippians 4:19); 

  • God has said that he has not destined you for wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9); 

  • God has said he will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5) 

— and yet you find yourself in this place where the needs abound, and harm is directed at you, and God feels far away — and it’s not adding up; and in fact, it’s just confusing, and you think: God, I just don’t see it. God, from where I’m standing it looks like you can’t. But he will.

Brothers and sisters, take heart. God fulfills his promises in the most unlikely places. Watch and see.

Chapter 47: Jacob Blessed Pharaoh and Is Blessed by God

Chapter 47 is meant to show us that God is doing what he told Abraham he would do. Back in Genesis 12, God’s promise to Abraham included two sides of blessing. 

  • First, God told Abraham that he’s going to bless him. “I will bless you and make your name great” (verse 2). 

  • And then second, God blessed Abraham “so that [Abraham] will be a blessing.” God’s plan is to bless others through Abraham. “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (verse 3). 

So God will bless others through Abraham’s family, and God will bless Abraham’s family. Now look at what is happening in Genesis 47: 

God Blesses the Nations Through Abraham

We’ve already read together verses 7–10, but look again at verse 7: 

Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.

Then in verse 10 we see again: 

And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh.

So verses 7 and 10 are showing us that the nations — one of the families of the earth — is being blessed through Abraham, just like God told Abraham in Genesis 12. 

And Jacob doesn’t just speak the blessing over Pharaoh, but the rest of Chapter 47 shows us very practically how Pharaoh is blessed through Jacob’s family. Basically, because of Joseph’s business skills, Pharaoh ends up owning all the land of Egypt. And it happens through an amazing ironic twist. 

This is kind of a side-note, but I want you to see this: The way Pharaoh ends up owning all the land is because Joseph buys the land into slavery. In verse 18, the Egyptians tell Joseph that all their “money” is spent, and that’s when they give their land and themselves to Pharaoh. 

And it’s fascinating because the word for “money” in Hebrew is the same word for “silver.” So back in Genesis 37 Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt for twenty pieces of silver, and here in Genesis 46 Joseph buys into slavery the entirety of Egypt for all the silver in the land. This is amazing. What a reversal.

God Blesses Abraham

Verse 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. 

Pharaoh, then, becomes more prosperous because of Joseph. Pharaoh is blessed through Abraham’s family

But also, look at verse 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.

So not only are the nations blessed through Abraham’s family, but Abraham’s family themselves are blessed —  just like God told Abraham in Genesis 12. 

Abraham’s family, Jacob’s family, is blessed, and the nations are blessed through them. That’s the main idea that’s happening in Chapter 47. But there’s more. This is verse 29.

Jacob Believed God

Although Jacob’s family experiences God’s blessings in Egypt, Jacob still knows that Egypt is not his home. In verse 29 as Jacob is getting closer to his death, he calls Joseph to him, and Jacob tells Joseph: “Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers.”

Jacob knows that the land of the Canaan is his home. That is the land that God promised his family. That’s where Abraham and Isaac are buried, and that’s where Jacob wants to be buried — because he knows that eventually his family is going to be back in that land. And here’s the lesson for us. 

We have to kind of get in Jacob’s skin and think with him for a minute. Here he was, in the last years of his life, and he has experienced the promises of God. God had been with him, and God was making him a great nation. Jacob was able to see these things around him. And yet still, the land piece of God’s promise had not been fulfilled, and Jacob did not forget that. And I think this speaks to the who Jacob knew God to be.

If we were in Jacob’s shoes, we might think: Well, at least I have two of the three promises fulfilled, and I can be okay with that. Two of three is better than none. I don’t want to be pushy. At least I get some of God’s promises.

God Is Not a Piñata

Do you think that way?

See sometimes I’m afraid we treat the promises of God like that we’re swinging at a piñata.

You guys ever been to a birthday party with a piñata? I know you’ve seen it before. The kids and I love to watch funny videos on YouTube every now and then, and the piñata videos are the most predictable. Any time an adult blindfolds a kid and gives them a bat to swing — I mean, come on. 

If you’ve been around piñatas, you know how this goes: you get a whack at the thing and if you’re lucky a few pieces of candy will fall out, and then it’s somebody else’s turn — and you shouldn’t complain because a little bit of candy is better than no candy at all. It’s only the really lucky kids who are able to swing extra hard and crack the whole thing open and all the candy falls out.

And look, if we’re honest, many times we think about God this way. We treat God like a piñata. 

Here we are with this entire book written for us. This entire book is for our encouragement and for our endurance, and it is loaded with the promises of God, and yet so many times we come to God blindfolded, just swinging in the air, hoping that if we’re lucky a promise or two might drop. 

Well, Jacob didn’t do that. Because he knew God. Jacob knew that if God said it then God meant it — and God meant every bit of it. So Jacob didn’t settle for two of the three. He wanted the whole hog, because that’s what God said. 

And so I want to encourage you here: God is good and faithful and strong enough for you to keep believing and asking and organizing your life around him doing what he has said. God is not a piñata. All the promises of God are yours in Christ. 

Chapter 48: Jacob Blesses Ephraim and Manasseh

Chapter 48 is very important for later in the Bible’s storyline, but for the rest of our time I mainly want to focus on one little sentence Jacob says in verse 21.

First let me give you the context. At this point in Chapter 48 we have skipped ahead 17 years; Jacob is now 147 years old and he is sick; Joseph finds out about it, and he goes to see him with his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, because he wants Jacob to bless them. And Jacob does bless them, although it’s not the way Joseph wanted. 

Jacob gives the blessing of the firstborn to the second-born. Manasseh was the older brother, but instead of Jacob giving him the blessing of the older brother, Jacob gives that blessing to his younger brother, Ephraim. Because that’s how God does things. God does things his way, not the ways we expect according to our worldly values. Our status as individuals, whatever that status might be, does not matter in God’s economy — because with God all is grace. God’s blessing is based solely on his grace, and so the little guy gets it. 

And that’s important. We see this over and over again throughout the Bible. 

Reflecting Back, Looking Forward

But it’s verse 21 that really stands out here. It’s a simple sentence from Jacob. It’s not part of the formal blessing. It’s not flashy in any way. Look at verse 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.

Jacob is 147 years old; he’s about to die; and out of all the things he could tell his son — 147 years worth of material — what does he say here? 

And we can’t help but think back to Chapter 28, verse 15. That is when Jacob was leaving Canaan for Haran. He was a young man back then, and he was going into exile, and God told him: 

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.

And then we think of Jacob in Chapter 31. This is twenty years after he started working for Laban, when God tells him to go back to Canaan: Chapter 31, verse 3: 

Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” 

[And then in verse 5 Jacob says:] “The God of my father has been with me.”

And then in Chapter 35 God tells Jacob to go to Bethel to worship him, and Jacob says to his family: 

Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.

And now finally here in Chapter 48, Jacob is talking to Joseph; 147 years old; his sojourning almost complete; and what does he say? What does he tell his son?

God will be with you and God will do what he says.


The Defining Moment

And we might think that this is it. Joseph grab a camera and take a picture of Jacob because this is the photo that should be in his obituary. This is the snapshot that encompasses his life. This is the moment that defines his story. 

But no, it’s not.

The moment that encompasses Jacob’s life — his defining moment — would actually come centuries later when all the promises of God met their ultimate fulfillment. It’s when the God who promised to be with us came to this earth as the God like us. It’s when Jesus put on our human flesh, and walked through this life in our shoes; Jesus knew what it was like to suffer; and he loved us to the uttermost. And in his love Jesus died on the cross for us. He took our sin; he took our shame; he took everything that stood between us and God; and he conquered it. On the third day Jesus rose from the grave. That is the defining moment. 

Jesus risen from the dead — that is the defining moment for Jacob, and for us. When it comes to your life, Christian — when it comes to what encompasses your life, when it comes to what captures your story, it’s when Jesus died and was raised for you. And now the God who is with us is the God who is inside us by his Spirit, and we can never be separated from his love. 

And this Table reminds us of that.

The Table

The bread represents the body of Jesus, and the cup represents his blood, and they are for you. Jesus’s body was broken for you. His blood was shed for you. That is your defining moment, and so Christian, this morning, receive this Table with thanksgiving. If you are here and you trust in Jesus; if you are united to Jesus by faith; if your life is hidden in him, we invite you to eat and drink with us.