Over the last two weeks, my wife and I had the privilege of vacationing in a place we’ve dreamed of visiting for a long time – the southern alps of New Zealand. The natural scenery was stunning. The food and wine were delightful. We couldn’t have asked for better hospitality. On multiple levels, it represented the best this world has to offer.
But let me tell you something. It was strangely dissatisfying. And one night near the top of Luxmore mountain as I rested my tired feet and watched the sun set on the alps, I was struck by a singular thought – none of this has the power to satisfy my soul.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret taking the trip for a moment. Two weeks away with my bride was a priceless gift. But that night my heart was gripped by the reality that everything around me – all the beauty, all the majesty – it was all designed to point to him, to direct the thoughts of my mind and the affections of my heart back to the One who created it all, who sustains it all, and who displays a faint whisper of his all-satisfying glory through it all.
How quickly we believe the lie that if we only had the vacation of our dreams, the job of our dreams, the spouse of our dreams, the home of our dreams, THEN we would be happy. Friend, you were made for more than this. You weren’t created for this world. You were created to know God and enjoy him forever. And it’s through relationship with him and him alone that your soul will be truly and eternally satisfied. Psalm 84:10, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you know that and are fighting to live accordingly. This world is not our home. We’re exiles. We’re sojourners. Longing to be with the Lord, longing for heaven, but called for a little while to live in this present world. In many ways, we’re like Jacob at the end of Genesis. Canaan was his true home. Canaan was the land God promised to give him and his descendants. Yet for a time, the Lord called him and his entire family to sojourn in Egypt.
Genesis 45:16-46:30 is all about how God brought Jacob to Egypt, which is what makes this part of Genesis so helpful. For the way God led and cared for Jacob and his family at the outset of his exile reflects the way God leads and cares for us during our own exile in the world today. Our exile is no less intentional than his. It’s all part of God’s plan to renew us in his image.
2 Peter 1:3–4, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
The goal of our exile is to become more like God (to become partakers of the divine nature) by learning to trust God’s power and believe God’s promises. But that message isn’t unique to 2 Peter. It’s repeated over and over again throughout the entire Bible. It’s also the main point of Genesis 45-46. We sojourn in the world through faith in the power and promises of God.
It’s what Jacob and his family needed to hear as they entered Egypt. It’s what the original recipients of Genesis (Israelites on the verge of re-entering Canaan) needed to hear after they left Egypt. It’s what we need to hear today in the midst of our own exile. For through these verses, the Lord strengthens and comforts His sojourning people with a vivid demonstration of his power and a clear declaration of his promise.
1) GOD’S POWER – HE IS ABLE TO DO MORE THAN WE ASK OR IMAGINE (Genesis 45:16-28)
Exhibit A: Making unexpected provision
Genesis 45 opens with one of the most poignant moments of family reconciliation in the entire Bible. Compelled by famine, a group of Jacob’s sons travels from Canaan to Egypt to buy grain, only to discover that the young ruler before them (second in authority only to Pharaoh himself) was their brother Joseph whom they had sold into slavery some 20 years earlier!
In the providence of God, Joseph rose from the prison to the palace, oversaw the storage of abundant grain during 7 years of plenty and was now responsible for feeding the Egyptians as well as visitors from the surrounding lands during 7 years of famine. At first, they are (v. 4) “dismayed at his presence,” but then Joseph invites them to approach him and declares (vv. 5-8) in a remarkable demonstration of faith working through love: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Before too long, everyone’s crying and hugging each other. It’s a beautiful example of the kind of forgiveness that’s only grows in the soil of abiding trust in the providence of God. Pharaoh soon hears Joseph’s brothers have come and is understandably thrilled. He sends wagons back to Canaan to transport all of their wives, children, and their aging father, Jacob, to Egypt. And he even tells them to not bother with transporting all of their possessions. Verse 20, “Have no concern for your goods, for the best of the land of Egypt is yours.”
On the heels of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, it’s easy to miss the significance of Pharaoh’s invitation. But just imagine for a moment you’re Jacob. A regional famine is steadily diminishing your ability to feed your extended family. That’s no small task when your household numbers some 70 people, not including servants. What do you think he envisioned as he looked to the future? Starvation? Poverty? Repeated trips to Egypt to buy grain with all the drama that seems to go with it?
You know what I bet he never imagined? That he would receive a personal invitation to dwell in the land of Egypt on Pharaoh’s dime as long as he wished. It wasn’t a meager provision. It wasn’t an enough-to-get-buy provision. It was a lavish, abundant provision for Jacob and his family from a most surprising source – a pagan king of a foreign country. Who would have dreamed?
Unbelief puts God in a box. Unbelief says, “This is what seems likely. This is what’s happened before, so this is what will happen again.” It treats the world as a closed system. Maybe God wound it up, but He’s pretty well left everything alone since then. In a secular culture, unbelief is respected as wise and circumspect. Religious beliefs are ok, but everything in moderation. Unbelief even seems smart. The greater your expectations, the greater your risk of disappointment. Expect little from God and you’ll never have fewer issues with God.
It seems so plausible, so understandable, except for one little problem. That sort of view of the world and God’s activity (or lack thereof) in it is directly contradicted by the entire testimony of His words and acts in Scripture. Consider Ephesians 3:20, to give just one example: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Praise God, friends, that he refuses to reduce himself to the level of our expectations. He delights to shatter our expectations again and again and again. 1 Corinthians 2:9, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” And why is that? Psalm 145:3, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.”
Friend, if your expectations of God are informed by the Word of God than your expectations of God, and especially of his power to provide, cannot be too high. So I ask you. Where in your life have you put God in a box? Where in the quiet of your heart have you concluded his ability to provide is wanting? We serve a God who delights to provide what his children need through the most surprising sources – pagan kings included.
One night in New Zealand we ate at a restaurant that served a buffet of really good Mediterranean food. After filling our plates and walked up to the register to pay, we learned that their credit card machine wasn’t working. I didn’t have single dollar of New Zealand cash on me. I had no idea what to do, I’m in a foreign country, I really want to provide well for my wife, I’m kicking myself for not hitting the ATM earlier, and in that very moment another American in line whom I had never met before overheard our dilemma and said, “I was just talking to my friend, and we’d be glad to pay for your dinner.” I was floored.
And then as we sat down to eat, I thought, “Lord, that’s JUST like you. I don’t deserve such kindness. Why do I ever doubt your ability to provide, not just in the big situations, but in all the little moments?” God didn’t stop demonstrating his power by bringing blessing from a surprising source for Jacob and his family. He also demonstrated his power by the following.
Exhibit B: Repaying evil with good
How did Joseph’s brothers humiliate him 20 years earlier? They stripped him of his costly robe and threw him into a pit. Then they dipped the robe in goat’s blood and took it to Jacob to “convince” him Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal. A change of clothes symbolized all they had stolen.
In verses 21-24 Joseph lavishes costly gifts on his brothers and father, including 300 shekels of silver to his younger brother Benjamin. But notice what he specifically gives to “each and all of them” (verse 22) – a change of clothes. It wasn’t just a powerful expression of forgiveness on Joseph’s part. It was a powerful demonstration on the Lord’s part of his eagerness to repay evil with good in his dealings with his people.
The Lord is eager to do the same for you today, friend. He is a just God who will not leave the guilty unpunished. He is also a merciful God who has born the guilt of our sin on the cross, absorbing in his body the full weight of divine judgment in the stead of all who turn from sin and trust him for salvation. There is no greater demonstration of God’s power to repay evil with good in your life than the cross of Christ. The Lord’s kindness to Joseph’s brothers through Joseph points all of us in Jesus’ direction.
Exhibit C: Bringing life out of death
The third and final evidence of God’s power – His ability to do more than we ask or imagine – is found in verse 25-28 where he brings life out of death. After returning to Jacob in Canaan, Joseph’s brothers tell him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Verse 26, “And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them.”
Would you? Would you believe that the son you had given up for dead 20 years earlier was actually alive? It took Jacob awhile. Only after hearing the words Joseph had spoken and seeing the wagons he sent did he believe the unbelievable. Verse 28, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
What does the fact that God functionally brought Jacob’s beloved son back from the dead tell us? What does the fact that God literally brought his own beloved son back from the dead tell us? It tells us that nothing is too hard for the Lord. Nothing is too difficult. Nothing is impossible.
Have you been shattered like Jacob, heart-broken by sin in your own family? God is able to bring life out of death. Are you discouraged by the sinful attitudes and desires in your own heart that are slow to change even after years of following Jesus? God is able to bring life out of death. Does it seem in the natural that your wayward, spiritually dead child will never discover the treasure of Jesus? God is able to bring life out of death.
The Lord DELIGHTS to surprise us by doing what we would scarcely dare to believe even if we were told. It’s the kind of God He is, friends. He provides blessing from entirely unexpected sources. He repays our evil with good. And he brings life out of death. Behold the power of God. He is able to do immeasurably more than you ask or imagine. But don’t just trust His power in general. Trust His promises in particular!
2) GOD’S PROMISE – WE HAVE BETTER REASONS FOR FAITH THAN FEAR (Genesis 46:1-30)
The end of Genesis 45 features God’s power; the first part of Genesis 46 focuses on his promises. Look at verse 2, “And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, ‘Jacob, Jacob.’ Why would God do that? Why call him Jacob when back in Genesis 35 He renamed him Israel? The Lord calls him Jacob because He’s addressing his weakness, He’s addressing his frailty, He’s addressing what verse 3 reveals – an entirely understandable anxiety about going down to Egypt?
Why is that a big deal? Your beloved son is alive? Get down there and see him! Not so fast. In Genesis 35, God didn’t promise to give Jacob the land of Egypt. He swore to give him the land of Canaan. When his grandfather Abraham went down to Egypt, things didn’t exactly go well for his wife, Sarah. In fact, in Genesis 26, the Lord explicitly told Jacob’s father, Isaac, “Do not go own to Egypt,” despite the presence of a famine in the land.
The end of chapter 45 indicates that part of Jacob really wants to go down to Egypt. But the beginning of chapter 46 reveals that another part of him is reluctant and rightly so. The issue, ultimately, isn’t whether Egypt is inherently good or bad. The issue is whether going to Egypt is an act of obedience or disobedience of the Word of God. Jacob’s concern is commendable and completely on target.
So how does the Lord respond? How does the Lord respond to us in the midst of our own anxieties, uncertainties, and concerns about navigating life as sojourners in the world today? Three things. First, He asserts his divine identity. The most important reality here, Jacob, is not your weakness, it’s my divine identity and power. Verse 3, “I am God.” Our perspective on life as an exile must be informed first and foremost not by our circumstances but by our Creator.
Second, He affirms his past faithfulness. verse 3, “I am…the God of your father.” That’s not a throwaway line. The fact that Jacob offers sacrifices to “the God of his father” and the Lord immediately identifies himself as “the God of your father” is the Lord’s unmistakable way of saying, “I am the God whom you worship, Jacob,” and I haven’t just been faithful to you, pal, I’ve been faithful to your father, and his father before him.
I made covenant promises to your father, Isaac, no less than I made covenant promises to you. I kept my covenant promises to your father, Isaac, and I will not fail to keep my covenant promises to you. I’m not a figment of your imagination. I’m not a religious idea that captured your fancy. I am the Lord of history and I have been working and moving in your family’s history long before you were born. What a comfort it is to know we’re not writing our own story. We’re part of His story!
Third, the Lord specifically tells Jacob to not be afraid verse 3 “to go down to Egypt.” But please notice, as in the rest of Scripture, the Lord never says JUST trust me. He gives Jacob 4 reasons to not be afraid to embrace the life of an exile, the life of sojourner. And what the Lord tells him in the rest of verses 3-4 affords a priceless word of promise to Christians today in the midst of our own exile. What does the Lord say?
Promise #1: God’s unstoppable purpose
“Jacob, you can trust me BECAUSE of my purpose.” Verse 3, “for there I will make you into a great nation.” The promise to make Jacob’s descendants a great nation isn’t new. The Lord covenanted to do as much with Abraham back in Genesis 12:2. What is new is his commitment to accomplish that purpose not just in Canaan, but also in Egypt.
The genealogical record in verses 8-27 confirms that God’s promise was already being fulfilled. From one man, God raised up a company of 70. That’s not an arbitrary number. That’s a symbolic number, and no matter how you reconcile the difference between 70 and 66, the fact that 70 entered Egypt signifies the growing fullness of the multitude of Israelites even at the outset of their exile. The Lord was already well on his way to fulfilling his purpose for his people and would continue to do so even in the land of Egypt.
What’s the application? Our time in this world isn’t a waste. It’s not like God has an immovable new heavens and new earth construction timeline, but he’s had to deal with a lot of rain and a bit of a labor shortage, so we just need to hold on down here a little longer. No. The Lord is even now USING your exile, Christian, USING your time in this world, to mature your character, to make you great in the kingdom of God by teaching you to love and serve him by loving and serving his people, starting with your immediate family.
Our years on earth are not like flying in a holding pattern above the airport in Newark. They might be turbulent, but they are not in vain. James 1:2–4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Our exile has a purpose.
Promise #2: God’s continual presence
In our exile, God has granted us the exceedingly precious gift of His presence. Notice, He doesn’t tell Jacob, “Relax man, I’ve got this.” He deals gently with the aging man. He speaks directly to his point of need, to the reality of his anxiety as a loving father to a trembling child. Verse 4, “[Jacob,] I myself will go down with you to Egypt.” Stop and think about that. The God of the universe promises, “You’re heading into a foreign land, before too long, things are going to get pretty uncomfortable, but I’m not staying in headquarters. I’m going with you. We’re in this together. You’re not alone.”
What’s the application? Praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christian. When we sing, “He will hold me fast,” that’s not some kind of spiritual desire. That’s a spiritual REALITY that GOD HIMSELF (as the 3rd person of the Trinity) abides within you. No matter where you sojourn in this world in obedience to his Word, fear not, God is with you.
Promise #3: God’s sure deliverance
Take note. God’s presence is not a consolation prize amidst inevitable demise. It’s not like God says, “Well Jacob, when things go down the drain, at least you’re not the only one hurting.” NO. When God says He is with someone, it means He is present to bless, present to deliver, present to SAVE. Verse 4, “And I will also bring you up again…” It’s a repetition of the promise he made to Abraham back in Genesis 15:13-14.
Then the LORD said to Abram, “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.”
Translation? Jacob, don’t be afraid because I’m going to bring you back home. Egypt isn’t the end of the line. I’m promised to grant you a home in Canaan and I’m going to give you a home in Canaan. One day, I’ll bring you back to my land, to my dwelling place, where you will live with me forever. It was a promise God fulfilled when Pharaoh allowed Joseph to bury his father back in Canaan. It was a promise God fulfilled in an even greater way when he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt and brought them into their own land.
What’s the application? Take heart, Christian. Jesus will bring you home too. We need to remember that as we all face the inevitable challenges of aging. The day of your physical death may be easy. It may be hard. Either way, it will not be in vain. The God who raised up the Lord Jesus will bring you to himself. He’s led you thus far. He’s not about to stop until he leads you home to heaven.
Promise #4: God’s tender goodness
The final reason the Lord gives Jacob for not being afraid during his years of exile is deeply personal. “Jacob, do not be afraid to go to Egypt.” Why not? Verse 4, “Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
Closing your eyes was a poetic expression for the approaching day of Jacob’s physical death. It was God’s way of promising that at his moment of greatest weakness, the moment of his death, God would provide the human companionship he had longed to know for the last 20 years. Though the years of his life had been filled with relational sorrow, he would die in peace. It was a deeply personal expression of God’s tender goodness.
Friend, God knows our need for human companionship. Sometimes we think He doesn’t. We think, “I guess if Jesus is enough for me like he’s supposed to be, then I won’t care whether I’m widowed or single or lonely.” Nonsense. Of course you’ll care. God created us for relationship with him. He also created us for community with one another.
It’s also a desire He’s eager to fulfill. That doesn’t mean He fills it in every way we expect. He hasn’t promised to provide every human relationship we wish he would provide. But He knows our need and is eager to meet our need. He didn’t say, “Now Jacob, ENOUGH with pining away for Joseph. Isn’t my presence enough for you?” No, He said, “Jacob, I will go down with you, AND Joseph shall close your eyes.” It’s a moving expression of the tender goodness of the Lord.
Unstoppable purpose, continual presence, sure deliverance, and tender goodness – these are the promises that have sustained generations of faithful exiles in every age. Ultimately, they culminate in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who fulfills God’s purpose for us, who ensure God’s presence with us, who accomplishes God’s deliverance in us, and lavishes God’s tender goodness upon us. It’s only by learning to know Jesus more intimately that you will come to trust God’s promises more fully.
At the end of the long journey from Canaan, Jacob’s faith became sight. He finally saw Joseph, who presented himself to his father (verse 29) “and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while.” Then Israel said (verse 30), “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”
If you are a follower of Jesus, then you can look forward to an even more joyful day of restoration and healing, for your Heavenly Father has promised a day when you will see your Savior face to face. One day, either through your physical death or the return of Christ, you will see Jesus. Like Jacob, your faith will become sight. We will behold the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, for there is no one better, more beautiful, or more satisfying than him. Revelation 22:4, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”
Until that day, we remain exiles like Jacob, called to live in a foreign land, sojourning by faith in the power and promises of God. He is able to do more than we can ask or imagine and He has given us better reasons for faith than fear. Keep your eyes on Him, brothers and sisters. King Jesus will surely bring you home.