a reunion to remember

Have you ever been to a reunion for family or school? I have been to a few. There is usually some anxiety at first, since you have not seen these faces for eons and time hasn’t made you younger, flashier, or skinnier. Usually within minutes the awkwardness fades through the laughs and retelling of old memories.

The reunion of Joseph and his father is one of the most memorable of Scripture. However, at a quick glance what we do not catch is that this story is more about Jacob remembering His God and reunited with His promises.

REUNITED WITH THE GOD WHO CARES [Genesis 46]

Jacob is now an old man. He probably has some wrinkles and walks with a bowed leg. He has a few less hairs and it is clear from his eyes that he’s weathered life. He’s been asked to do something rather challenging even for someone half his age or tenth his age. In faith he is leaving his home, farm of his youth, and comforts. Like his great grandfather Abraham before him, in faith he’s trusting God to bless him in a new land.

Along the way Jacob stops to worship God in Beersheba. It’s a landmark site for his family. This was the same place where his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham, also worshiped God [21:33, 26:23-25]. There, God speaks to Jacob and gives him a command and promise. The command is the most common command in the Bible, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you in a great nation there.” [Genesis 46:3] Hear this sampling of other occasions throughout the Bible when God says the same 4-words:

  • Abraham. “The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” [Genesis 15:1]
  • Isaac. “That night the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” [Genesis 26:24]
  • Moses.Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land.” [Numbers 21:34]
  • Elijah. “Go down with him. Do not be afraid of him.” [2 Kings 1:15]
  • Jehoshaphat. “Listen King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” [2 Chronicles 20:15]
  • Isaiah. “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid.” [Isaiah 7:4] “Do not be afraid, O worm of Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” [Isaiah 41:14; 44:8; 54:4]
  • Jeremiah.Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.” [Jeremiah 1:8]
  • Daniel.Do not be afraid Daniel. From the first day that you set your mind to fain understanding and to humble yourself before you God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” [Daniel 10:12]
  • Jesus to followers.Do not be afraid, I am with you.” [Matthew 28:10, 19-20; 10:28; 14:27; John 14:27]

When God says, do not be afraid. It is nothing like if I were to say the same thing. When I say, “Do not fear,” it sounds generic, even uncaring. God never says anything He doesn’t mean. He doesn’t say anything to get you off His back. Fears are not trivial to God. The sheer number of times He speaks to your fears is proof enough that He cares much more than you know.

Many wonder if God really cares. Past hurts still have a hold on you. You feel like you’ve been fooled once and you won’t be fooled again, so you trust no one but yourself. Or you believe that what God says is too good to be true. You feel unworthy of His care. In the midst of doubt God reveals more of Himself to you.

God is repetitive. He is happy to do so. Repetitive is supposed to aid learning. Ask the oral speaking Hebrews and they’d agree. Think of God repeating Himself like a parent daily telling His children, “Take your vitamins,” or “I love you.” God follows His command, “Do not be afraid” with one of the most precious promises of the Bible, 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.”

When God ask you to do something He’s not going to leave you hanging. He has given you good reason to not be afraid. He will be with you no matter how difficult. I am certain Jacob remembers the stories from his childhood of God’s presence with Adam in the Garden [Genesis 2], with Noah in the Ark [Genesis 6-9], with Abraham [12:1-3], and with his father Isaac [26:24]. The ruler of the universe will accompany Jacob to a strange land. He promises his son Joseph will be there when he breathes his last breath. And God will see to it that he is buried back in the Promised Land.

When God says He will be with you He means it. You have all proof in the span of Scripture. Just look at the stories of Moses [Exodus 33:12-17; Deuteronomy 31:6], David [Psalm 23:4; 118:6-7], Isaiah [49:14-15], Haggai [2:4-5], Paul the apostle [Philippians 4:5-6], and Jesus and the Spirit [John 17:20-24; Matthew 29:19-20]. Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” [John 14:16-18]

Despite fears, Jacob obeys God in faith and moves to Egypt with his family. And, in one of the most touching occasions in the entire Bible, Joseph reunites with his father Jacob. The two men embrace and weep for a long time. It’s a reunion to remember.

REUNITED WITH THE GOD WHO REIGNS [Genesis 47:1-12]

Up to this point, Joseph has not asked for any sympathy, apologizes, or favors from his brothers. Even from a high position of authority in Egypt, he has the power to snap his finger or whisper a quick word and his brothers would instantly be lynched, enslaved, or tried for their dodgy past. But Joseph did none of it. Instead he demonstrates divine grace and unforgettable forgiveness.

Joseph takes five of his brothers before the Pharaoh to ask a favor on their behalf. As anticipated Pharaoh inquires about the kind of work his brothers did back home. They reply, “Shepherds.” To be a shepherd was like being a garbage man or burger flipper. It was a lower class job, especially to an Egyptians. Remarkably Pharaoh blesses them as Joseph’s brothers, and gives them the best grazing land amidst the famine. God uses the ruler of the known world to be a blessing. God holds the heart of the king in His hand.

Then, Joseph brings his 130-year old gray-haired father to meet the mighty Pharaoh. Jacob opens his mouth before the king. You never know what an old guy might say. But He doesn’t say anything brash or embarrassing. He gives Pharaoh two patriarchal blessings (47:7,10). In other words, he stands before the king and gives glory to the King of kings.

God ultimately sits on the throne and rules. He places those who reign over peoples and nation. God even uses unregenerate Pharaoh to carry out His purposes in preserving His people. Proverbs 8:15, God’s wisdom declares, “By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice.” This gives me a lot of comfort around election time. No matter who is in office or soon to be God is still on the throne. He is in control.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last. You see this without a doubt in Joseph’s story, which seems more like a rollercoaster ride than smooth sailing in a convertible Cadillac. Through it all, Joseph maintains an attitude of servanthood. He goes from favored son to slave to favored house servant to jail chains to second in command of the most powerful nation on earth. That just doesn’t happen. God makes it happen with his humble servant. God orchestrates these events because he reigns over humans, nations, and history.

REUNITED WITH THE GOD WHO KEEPS HIS WORD [Genesis 47:13-31]

Why Egypt? Aren’t Jacob’s people supposed to live in the Promised Land? Why would God take them from the land and bring them to a place where they would soon be slaves? Does God not remember His word to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 to bless him with a nation and land?

Earlier in Genesis God clearly gave Isaac the command to not leave the land. Here God clearly gives Jacob the command to leave the land. Is God playing games? Does he like to move his people around for fun? God is not a jester or monster. He has a loving purpose behind everything He does.

What we fail to see is that God is blessing Jacob and is keeping his word. The blessing comes from his obedience to God’s commands. It is not uncommon for people to reduce their faith to a series of rules and steps by which they live. Therefore, the Bible often confuses such people. They are prone to not recognize the difference between universal and particular commands.

The universal commands are applicable to everyone everywhere at all times, such as the command for us to love people and love God.  However, the particular commands are applicable to a particular person or group of people in a particular place at a particular time in history, such as God’s command for Noah to enter the Ark with his family.

In Genesis 47:13-31, we see the results of both God’s blessing upon Pharaoh and Egypt because of Joseph. Joseph’s wise business dealings made the Pharaoh really rich during the seven years of famine. In this we see that God blesses His covenant people and blesses those who bless them.

Also during the time Joseph is in Egypt, Jacob’s family is growing to seventy people. This too is God’s covenant blessing of many children. The stage is now set by God’s providential hand to fulfill the prophecy God had given to Abraham. In Genesis 15:12-14, God had promised Abraham that his descendants would spend four hundred years enslaved in Egypt before God liberated them as a great nation. All of the prophecies given by God to Abraham are in the process of being fulfilled. In His unique ways, God is protecting and preserving His people. His providence in the matter will be clearer in the days of Moses [cf. Exodus 12:40].

God got the family to Egypt through Joseph and the famine. And, this small family will become a nation of a few million people some four hundred years when God crushes the Pharaoh in that day for mistreating His covenant people in accordance with His promise to Abraham to not only bless those who blessed His people but also curse those who cursed them.

Jacob remembered what God said to his grandfather Abraham. Therefore he calls his son Joseph to his side. And he makes Joseph promise not to leave his bones in Egypt, but carry them back to the land God had promised and bury him there together with Abraham and Isaac [47:29-31]. What we see is an amazing transformation in the life of Jacob. He was once the young trickster, but now he is an old God-fearer. As he looks back on his life he has seen and heard how the word of the Lord has come to pass. Keep has first hand proof that God keeps His word.

What a wonderful reunion this is for Jacob. Do not wait until you are old before you realize that God cares, reigns and keeps His word. Treasure these promises from our youth and may they spare you from many messes and uneasy days ahead. If you are having a hard time believing God look at His Son. All roads in Scripture lead to Jesus. And all of God’s promises and guarantees are fulfilled in Jesus [Hebrews 7:22; 2 Corinthians 1:20].

Jesus cares. He has compassion for all including the sick and sinner [Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34; Luke 7:13]. “Cast all your cares upon Him because He cares for you” [1 Peter 5:7; cf. Matthew 6:25]. The greatest proof of Jesus care is shown on the cross, which paved the way toward the forgiveness of your sin [Hebrews 8:12].

Jesus reigns. He sits at the right hand of His Father. It is a seat of authority. What is He doing from the throne? He is interceding on behalf of His brothers [Mark 14:62; 16:19; Acts 7:55; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 12:2].

Jesus keeps His word. He is the Word that became flesh [John 1:1-17; Revelation 22:6-21]. His words are trustworthy and true. He is the Word. He is the truth.

Jacob’s Dream

The story of Jacob’s ladder is well known by many who do not know the Bible. Jacob is depicted in song lyrics from Led Zeppelin to U2 to Rush to Huey Lewis and the News. Jacob is also a topic for motivational speakers communicating ones ability to climb the ladder of personal success because “the skies the limit”. The story of Jacob’s ladder has taken on varying shades of meaning and interpretation, which are a stretch from its original biblical context.

The story of Jacob’s ladder dream appears at the beginning of Jacob’s narrative. Jacob had just deceived his twin brother Esau by ripping off his birthright and lying to get his father’s deathbed blessing. Therefore Esau is out to get Jacob’s head and see him dead. So Jacob flees the Promised Land and the momma’s boy who once loved staying home was now driven from his home. He becomes a fugitive from his family fearing his brother’s ferocious rage.

The tension in the story rises as Jacob comes to a certain place at the sunsets. He spends the night out in the elements alone. Without protection in an unknown place Jacob finds a sandy spot to sleep with a rock for his pillow. The tension continues to rises as he nods off to sleep and dreams a strange dream about a ladder that the angels of God ascend and descend upon. God comes to Jacob in a dramatic dream in the middle of the night. For the first time in his life, Jacob encounters God.

How in the world is God going work with this guy?

At this point in Genesis, the covenant promises of God have been applied to the less than perfect people—from Abraham to Isaac to sinfully deceptive Jacob who stole both the birthright and blessing from his older brother Esau. Jacob possesses the covenant blessing, but lacks faith-driven relationship with God like that of Isaac and Abraham. Jacob is not a God-pursuer [worshiper, believer]; he is a man-pleaser and self-gratifier. For the first time, Jacob is not living under the faith of his parents, but begins his own relationship with God.

So how does he go from Jacob to Israel? From trickster and deceiver to a worshiper of God? From a total goober to a godly guy? Jacob is probably in his 70s, still living with his parents, mom still washes his whitie-tighties, and has her pack his lunch box with PB & J. He’s totally a late bloomer with no wife, no job, allowed to underachieve, enjoys being spoiled, and has inconstant God-following parents.

The story climaxes as Jacob sees God in his dream. And no, it wasn’t a dose of spicy chili the night before. God speaks to him and promises to be everything that He was to Jacob’s dad [26:3-4] and grand-dad [12:2-3; 15:1-6]. The God of Abraham and Isaac will also be known as the God of Jacob. The Lord not only extends patriarchal promises [i.e. land, descendants, and blessing] but also adds a special promise—His presence—that the Lord will always be with him [and Israel] wherever he goes. The symbol of His presence is the ladder in his dream, which connects heaven with earth.

If I were Jacob, I would have wet my pants seeing God, especially after his sinful escapade. Jacob should have been cursed for all his sin, however God has grace on him and blesses him. In holy fear, Jacob awakes from his dream awed by the Lord. The change in Jacob’s heart turning toward God arises in his commitment to tithe to God as an act of worship to God [cf. 26:25]. Above all it is God who seeks out a covenant relationship with Jacob, which is the pattern continued for all believers throughout human history.

How do we get from Jacob to Jesus?

As Jacob leaves the Promised Land, God promise to be with Jacob wherever he goes. This is an important redemptive theme that progresses throughout the history of Israel to those who follow Jesus.

As Moses is called out of Egypt—leading the Hebrew people to the Promised Land—God promises His presence [Exodus 3:12; Deuteronomy 31:6]. He proves His presence with a pillar of clouds by day, a pillar of fire by night, and His glory in the tabernacle. As Joshua carries the torch of Moses and enters the Promised Land, God assures His presence [Joshua 1:5]. God promises His presence with Israelites kings [1 Kings 8:57]. And when Israel is cast int0 exile God promises His presence with His people [Isaiah 43:2; 41:10].

The culmination of the promise of God’s presence came when He was born as a babe with human skin and walked among His people. His name is Jesus. He is also known by the name, “Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” [Matthew 1:23; John 14:9-10; Colossians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 7:14]. After Jesus rises from the dead He promises His presence with His followers [Matthew 28:20; Hebrew 13:5] and His Spirit dwells in His people [Acts 2:33; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19]. On the last day, when Jesus comes again, He promises to dwell with His people forever in the divine Promised Land of His eternal presence [Revelation 21:3].

The promise give to Jacob by God was fulfilled when God brings him back to Canaan, when God returns the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, and when God returns the remnant from exile in Babylon, but promise is ultimately fulfilled through Jesus Christ the Son of God. The ladder Jacob sees in his dream is a picture of God promise “to be with you.” God is not absent from His creation or His covenant people. He is intimately connected with His creation. The ladder represents His mediation between heaven and earth. Jesus even makes this correlation between the ladder and Himself [John 1:49-51]. Jesus is the mediator between heaven and earth—God and man [1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6]. Jesus is the ladder; He is the connection between heaven and earth.

The purpose of Jacob’s strange ladder dream was to get his attention. Once God got his attention, He promised to be with Him always wherever he would go. That promise would ripple to His holy people [Israel] and also in the Scripture later to His church. The promise of God’s presence is one of the most precious and assuring promises of the Scripture. This promise is meant to be a source of comfort for all His followers. God knows that His people sometimes feel forsaken. However, remember as Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20]