Jacob And His Family Move To Egypt
A Jewish proverb says, “For the ignorant, old age is as winter; but for the learned, it is a harvest.” Jacob was now 130 years old; and during those years, he had learned many important lessons about God, himself, and other people, especially his sons. Some of those lessons in the school of life had been difficult to learn, and Jacob hadn’t always passed every test successfully.
But now, thanks to God’s goodness and Joseph’s faithfulness, Jacob would reap a rich harvest in Egypt during the next seventeen years. His closing years wouldn’t bring winter with its cold and storms. Jacob’s sunset years would be as the autumn, with the warm golden sunshine of peace and the bounties of God’s gracious harvest.
Of course, he was grateful beyond measure that his long lost son was alive, and soon, he would be back together with him. And, he was now certain that his clan, the 12 tribes of Israel, would survive the famine that had gripped the world, due to Joseph’s ability to care for them.
But, Jacob wondered what would be the more long-term result of their migration to Egypt.
Was this about to become the fulfillment of the prophecy about the Hebrews’ fate, given in a dream to his grandfather Abraham, so many years earlier?
Jacob would have known all about this prophecy, and would have heard it from his grandfather’s own mouth, and again from his father Isaac’s; and it disturbed him…. it made him anxious and afraid.
Let’s back up a second and remember those prophetic words of God to Abraham, in Genesis 15:12-16.
As the sun was going down, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a terrifying darkness came down over him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.”
Jacob well knew that if his taking his family to Egypt to survive the fames was the time and fulfillment of what God spoken of to Abraham (and, what else could it be?), that he would die down in Egypt, and that Jacob was in essence removing his family from the promised land for the purpose of their becoming enslaved in Egypt…. for an extended period of time. He knew that 4 centuries would pass before his family would once again be free and move back to the land promised by God to the Hebrews.
By the way, its this same passage in Genesis 15 that makes many a bible scholar convinced that a biblical “generation” is 100 years…because the scripture says here that the Israelites are going to be in Egypt for 400 years, and it also speaks of that time period as being of 4 generations.
And, so, after the Israelites packed up and began their journey down to Egypt… probably beginning from Hebron… they stopped at Be’er Sheva and there Jacob had a vision: and in that vision God addressed the fear and dreaded anticipation of what might lay ahead for Israel and his family.
And, in V3 God tells Jacob not to be afraid to take his family down into Egypt, for it is there that God had prepared a place for the Israelites to grow from a rather smallish group of 70 individuals, into a great nation (and Jacob had no clue just HOW great a nation it would, in time, become).
And, God confirms to Jacob that indeed he will breathe his last there, but that his remains will not forever rest in Egyptian sand. God will see to it that he is brought back to the land of his ancestors.
So Jacob set out for Egypt with all his possessions. And when he came to Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac.
Genesis 46:1 (NLT)
In verse 1 we’re told that Jacob offered sacrifices at Be’er Sheva in preparation for this momentous migration; actually, in Hebrew it says Jacob offered zevahim. Zevah, or its plural zevahim, is a very specific KIND of sacrifice, one of several that we will learn about when we get to the book of Leviticus.
While the Zevah (as are at least a portion of all sacrificial offerings) is laid on the fire of the Great Bronze Altar, this is not “THE” Burnt Offering…a term that is only a general one for all the various kinds of sacrifices that are to be burned up.
And, since sacrifices are never made on the ground in a common fire, it means Jacob would have had to have used an altar. His father, Isaac, had built and used an altar in Be’er Sheva many years earlier, and very probably this was the same one.
In fact, even though the verses do not explicitly say that it was Isaac’s altar that Jacob used, the fact that it says Jacob sacrificed to “the God of his father Isaac” all but assures it. For, altars were always built and dedicated to specific gods, and therefore when an altar was being referred to, it was called by the location it was in, who built it, and the god it honored.
During the night God spoke to him in a vision. “Jacob! Jacob!” he called.
“Here I am,” Jacob replied.
“I am God, the God of your father,” the voice said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make your family into a great nation.
Genesis 46:2-3 (NLT)
But why should Jacob worry about going to Egypt?
Didn’t his son Joseph instruct him to come?
Wasn’t it the wisest thing to do in light of the continued famine in the land?
Perhaps Jacob was fearful because he remembered that his grandfather Abraham had gotten into serious trouble by going to Egypt (12:10). And when Jacob’s father Isaac started toward Egypt, the Lord stopped him (26:1-2). Egypt could be a dangerous place for one of God’s pilgrims.
But the Lord came to Jacob at night and assured him that it was safe for him and his family to relocate. “Jacob, Jacob!” reminds us of “Abraham, Abraham” (22:11), “Samuel, Samuel” (1 Sam. 3:10), “Martha, Martha” (Luke 10:41), and “Saul, Saul” (Acts 9:4).
It’s encouraging to know that the Lord knows our names and our personal needs (John 10:3,14, 27). Jehovah wanted to remind Jacob that He wasn’t limited to the land of Canaan, for He’s the Lord of all the earth, including Egypt (Josh. 3:11, 13; Ps. 83:18). God would go with Jacob to Egypt and be with him to bless him, just as He had been with Joseph and blessed him (Gen. 39:2, 21). Jacob had nothing to fear, because the Lord would keep the promises He had made to him at Bethel (28:15).
Why did God want Jacob’s family to live in Egypt?
Because in Egypt He would multiply Jacob’s descendants and make them into a great nation (12:2). The Jews would begin their sojourn in Egypt under the protection of Pharaoh, enjoying the best of the land. Centuries later, however, the Jews would be suffering cruel bondage in Egypt and crying out to God for deliverance (Ex. 1; 2:23-25). But God would use their suffering to mold them into a mighty nation under the leadership of Moses.
I will go with you down to Egypt, and I will bring you back again. You will die in Egypt, but Joseph will be with you to close your eyes.”
Genesis 46:4 (NLT)
In verse 4 we have a reminder of the standard Middle Eastern cultural mindset of that era: that gods were territorial. Yes, it was an unquestioned belief that gods observed national borders, and for whatever reason, Jacob and his family still generally thought the same way all the other world cultures did, and Yehoveh had apparently not tried (terribly hard) to enlighten him and explain the reality of that error.
So, naturally, one of Jacob’s fears was that once he crossed the boundary of Canaan and entered Egypt, he would leave behind the influence and protection of his own God, Yehoveh, and now be subject to Egypt’s gods.
God says, therefore, “ I Myself will go down with you to Egypt and I Myself will bring you back”.
In other words, Jacob’s God would take the unusual step of crossing the territorial boundaries and accompanying Israel on his migration.
This was not the usual operating method for a god, but it must have been a welcome surprise for Jacob, even if he did not understand how Yehoveh could just change all the god etiquette that had been established over the centuries.
As we continue in Torah, then eventually leave it and get into the book of Joshua, we’re going to encounter all sorts of interesting comments like this one about God going with Jacob, that are typically brushed aside as but ancient figures of speech. Trust me: these are not at all superfluous figures of speech but rather conversations and oracles about matters that were very real to the minds of those ancient Hebrews.
So Jacob left Beersheba, and his sons took him to Egypt. They carried him and their little ones and their wives in the wagons Pharaoh had provided for them.
Genesis 46:5 (NLT)
Verse 5 tells us that a sufficient number of wagons had been sent for all of Israel to bring their possessions with them. But, of course, the most important possession of Israel was the people; and what is being communicated here is that ALL of Israel’s family moved to Egypt; none stayed behind.
They also took all their livestock and all the personal belongings they had acquired in the land of Canaan. So Jacob and his entire family went to Egypt— 7 sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters—all his descendants.
Genesis 46:6-7 (NLT)
Pharaoh had told them not to bother to bring their possessions since the wealth of all Egypt was at their disposal (45:20), but it would have been cruel to abandon their livestock during a famine, and no doubt they brought some of the personal possessions they treasured. In typical Semitic fashion, the males are named in this list but not the females, except for Jacob’s daughter Dinah (46:15). “Daughters” in verse 7 must refer to daughters-in-law, since we know of no other daughters born to Jacob.
It must have encouraged Jacob to see how God had multiplied his descendants, protected them, provided for them, and kept them together for this important move. Some of the family may not have realized it, but they were a very special people to the Lord because He had important work for them to do in the years ahead. That little band of migrants would eventually bring blessing to the whole world (12:1-3).
To Be Continued…