Genesis 46: Jacob and His Family Move to Egypt
With the desire to be near Joseph and with confirmation from God, Jacob, his sons, and their families make the journey to continue their life outside the promised land.
Have you ever had to make a decision which you knew would change the trajectory of your life?
In Genesis 46, Jacob has to come to terms with God’s call to leave Canaan.
vv. 1–4 - It is likely that Jacob has been in Hebron since he last laid eyes on Joseph (Gen. 37:14). As he makes his journey to Egypt, he stops in Beersheba, about 25 miles south. This is a place where Abraham and Isaac had called on God (Gen. 21:33; 26:23–25). This sense of historic and covenantal connection is deepened further by the fact that he “offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac.” God’s Word to Jacob implies a sense of fear that was in Jacob’s heart. While God had told Abraham in Genesis 15, that his descendants would serve under another nation before leaving with great substance, nevertheless, throughout the patriarchal record, Egypt has been a dangerous place. Abraham learned a hard lesson in Genesis 12, and in Genesis 26, Isaac had been commanded to not go to Egypt. Both experiences were in a famine. And now Jacob, finding himself in the same position, questions the journey. Wisely, Jacob, standing in the place of all his posterity, seeks divine confirmation regarding this move and God alleviates his fear by telling him, “fear not to go down into Egypt.” What a word, not just to Jacob, but to the generation first reading this. Their experience of slavery under Pharaoh came about because God commanded Jacob to move everyone to Egypt. Five further things are added. First, God will fulfill His word to Abraham to create a great nation from his family. Second, God clarifies that it will be in Egypt that He will build the family into a nation. Third, God assures the patriarch of His presence with them all. Fourth, God promises that He will bring the family back to Canaan. Fifth, God comforts Jacob with the knowledge that he will not be separated from Joseph until his death.
vv. 5–27 - Following Jacob’s encounter with God, we’re told that the family immediately makes their way to Egypt. We are also given a genealogy which details the 70 which make up Jacob’s entire family in Egypt. Some details are not clear, such as in v. 10, where we’re told of “Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman.” Was this a concubine of Simeon, or did he take a Canaanite to wife, perhaps after the passing of his first wife? We don’t know for sure.
vv. 28–34 - As Jacob and the family approach Egypt, Judah is sent to represent the family on their arrival. Once again, we have a moving scene when Jacob and Joseph reunite after over 20 years. Joseph then prepares the family by expressing the importance of them representing themselves in the right way. First, they are servants before Pharaoh. Second, they are multi-generational shepherds. Egyptian custom would require them to live apart from the Egyptians. Third, that they have brought their livestock communicates the permanence of their intentions. This is not a visit, this is a move. It also shows that they are not there to be a burden to the nation, but they will work on the land.
No decision should contradict God’s revealed will. Jacob had good reason to be cautious before making his way to Egypt. So he sought God on the grounds of a substitutionary sacrifice. We should learn from him. There are many decisions we make without consulting God directly and receiving an explicit scriptural response, but none of them should fly in the face of God’s Word. In such times where there is no explicit command from God to direct me, I will get before the Lord and tell him that I am too dumb to know what to do, and I’ll ask Him to close every door but the door I’m meant to walk through. If you seek God in the shadow of the cross as Jacob did, you will learn, as Jacob learned, that God is a good shepherd and He will guide His flock.
The growth of God’s kingdom is slow but sure. Over 200 years had passed since God promised Abraham that He would make of him a great nation. In the passing of that time, they had not yet reached even 100 souls. Yet, in the next 400 years, they are going to grow to 600,000 men, possibly around 2 million in total. Such is kingdom work. Dear Christian, do not value your work based on its smallness. All kingdom work is important work. Leave the growth to God.
God’s people must remain humble regardless of their worldly success. Joseph has become one of the most powerful men in the world, and yet there is no aloof spirit reflected in him. He embraces his father as a humble son. And the same is true for Jacob. Many a parent has not respected their child’s achievements and have been critical of them despite what they have accomplished. But Jacob reflects none of that.
All who meet with Jesus are ready to die. If we take Joseph to reflect something of the Lord Jesus, then the feeling which gripped Jacob is one we can understand when he says, “Now let me die.” It’s not that he wanted to die, but that he was ready to die. Simeon felt this way when he laid eyes on the infant Christ. Do you have this readiness? As an ambassador for Christ, I call you now to repent and believe the gospel. Only then can you say with Paul, “to die is gain.”
Believers must be willing to be what the world despises. Scholarly papers have been written on the detail that shepherds are an abomination to the Egyptians. Both Jewish commentators and modern scholars have failed to sufficiently prove precisely why this was. Regardless, the fact that Egyptian culture despised shepherds is a reminder that God’s people must embrace their peculiarity in the world and be willing to be hated. Children, at some point in your life, you will have a choice to make. Either you will try to fit in with the world, or you will prove your loyalty to Jesus Christ.
There is a meeting for which all men must prepare. Joseph, knowing Pharaoh’s mind and expectations, prepares his family so they can tactfully approach the king and dwell in Goshen. In a similar fashion, our greater Joseph prepares His people to stand before God.
“Herein is wisdom. In commencing a new era, let there be new devotion. It is well to begin everything with God, who is the Beginner of all things. When young people begin housekeeping, they should consecrate an altar as soon as ever they have set up a tent; when you begin business, this thought should be upon you—“Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” Therefore, wait upon Him for guidance and help.” — Charles Spurgeon