Down and Back (Genesis 46 - Exodus 15)
Down and Back
Reading through the whole Bible. Chapter by chapter. Story after story. What a great opportunity to open our minds to the whole epic storyline of these sacred writings. Too often we limit our view of scripture to that of a children's book, isolating a single story and quickly discerning a moral lesson. The story of the Bible is much more sophisticated and nuanced. Much of the truth, wisdom, and discernment it offers comes from seeing the whole story, the big picture. And that picture emerges from reading, reflecting, and meditating on how the pieces of the story fit into an intricately woven whole.
Pay attention to how this section of scripture begins.
Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: "Jacob, Jacob!" he said.
And Jacob replied, "Here I am."
God said, "I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die."
Jacob, referred to initially by his covenant name "Israel", is moving his family to Egypt. No doubt moving to Egypt weighed heavy on him. As one commentator notes:
At first the prospect of paying a personal visit to Joseph had been viewed with unmingled joy. But, on calmer consideration, many difficulties appeared to lie in the way. He may have remembered the prophecy to Abraham that his posterity was to be afflicted in Egypt and also that his father had been expressly told not to go [Ge 15:13; 26:2]; he may have feared the contamination of idolatry to his family and their forgetfulness of the land of promise. 1
On the way he stops at Beersheba, a favorite place of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. There both Abraham and Isaac dug wells and entered peace treaties. The site where Isaac built an altar (Genesis 26.23-33), where Jacob fled to escape Esau (Genesis 28.10), and nearby Jacob dreamed about a stairway portal to heaven.
So, it was at Beersheba that Jacob "offered sacrifices to the God of his father" and it was then and there that God spoke to Jacob.
"Jacob, Jacob!", God said. And Jacob replied, "Here I am."
This passage is surely intended to echo God's announcement of Abraham's testing in Genesis 22.1.
"Abraham!" God said. And Abraham said, "Here I am."
Both encounters forebode testing. To both he repeats his promises. And both stories contain God's last words to a patriarch. (Genesis 22.15-18; 46.3-4). For Jacob, God's last words went like this.
"I will make you into a great nation"
"I will go down with you to Egypt"
"I will also bring you back."
"Joseph will close your eyes when you die."
Immediately after these promises, the biblical author identifies Jacob's family members by name. All 70 of them. The number 70 echoes in scripture. It's 70 nations that are dispersed over the face of the earth at Babel. As another commentator notes,
While 70 nations are listed in Gen 10, here 70 people related to Israel (Jacob) are listed, suggesting that the nation of Israel functions as a new beginning for humanity. 2
So, God went down with Joseph to Egypt. Eventually, Joseph closed Jacob's eyes and a few years later Joseph's eyes were closed too.
Fast forward 400 years. The family of seventy is a group of slaves numbering in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. They were slaves facing unthinkable conditions. Multiple attempts at genocide, beginning with their children. Harsh cruel work conditions intended to grind them into oblivion. But true to his promises, God miraculously saves them.
Our readings this week conclude with Exodus 15, the first song in the Bible. A beautiful poetic rendition of God's salvation of Jacob's people, God's people, from Egypt. I won't spoil Exodus 15 for you. Read it as the story unfolds. I will share another poetic retelling of events leading to that song.
He saved them for his name's sake,
that he might make known his mighty power.
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
and he led them through the deep as through a desert.
So he saved them from the hand of the foe
and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.
And the waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them was left.
Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise.
Unfortunately, the next sentence in Psalm 106 reminds us, "They soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel."
So, what is going to happen. Will God bring Jacob's family back to the land He promised? Will Israel's people be a great nation?
Keep reading. This epic story has barely begun.
1 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 45). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
2 Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ge 46:8–27). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.