Jacob had lived for 20 years with belief that his beloved son Joseph had been killed by a wild animal while searching for his brothers. But Jacob’s sons had learned that Joseph was still very much alive and serving in a leadership position within the Egyptian government. After bringing this news home to their father Jacob, Genesis chapter 45 ended with his response: “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die” (Genesis 45:28).
This is where we pick up the story in Genesis chapter 46…
“So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1).
Have you ever had to relocate from one place to another? Anyone who has had the experience of moving from a place called “home” knows that this can often be a very difficult thing. For instance, it may involve relocating from an area where the people and places are familiar to another area with new people and places that are unfamiliar. Moving from one place to another may even mean changes in the language, culture, and weather as well.
This was something like the situation that Jacob experienced as he prepared to move from his old home to his new home in Egypt. Jacob was also moving from the land that God had promised to give him to live in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and unfamiliar customs. But moving to Egypt also meant moving to the place where Jacob could be reunited with Joseph and have enough food to live.
So Jacob packed up all his belongings and headed out on the road to Egypt. But while Jacob was surely anxious to see Joseph again, we’re told that he first stopped to do something very significant. He stopped the caravan when they reached the town of Beersheba and “…offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.”
Beersheba was located in the southernmost area of the land that God had promised to give to Abraham’s descendants and it was a place that Jacob was already familiar with. His grandfather Abraham and father Isaac had both lived Beersheba and Jacob himself had previously lived there for a time according to Genesis 28:10
But now Jacob was heading to a foreign country where few, if any people were familiar with the God of his ancestors who had previously appeared to him. So just before he crossed over to begin a new life in Egypt, Jacob first stopped to honor God and worship Him.
“Jacob packed up everything he owned and left for Egypt. On the way he stopped near the town of Beersheba and offered sacrifices to the God his father Isaac had worshiped” (Genesis 46:1 CEV).
Before he left the land of his inheritance on the way to a new life in Egypt, Jacob made certain to stop and do something important- he first made sure to honor God and worship Him first. While this one small act may not seem to carry a lot of meaning for people today, a youth in today’s world may have more in common with Jacob than most people think- and there’s a lot that you may be able to learn from his example.
You see, a person in the 13-17 year old range may also be moving to a new place in life in the not too distant future- just like Jacob. And like Jacob, many youths will also be moving to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and unfamiliar customs as they make plans for their education and careers. When that time comes, it can often be easy for someone to get off track in his or her relationship with God in adapting to those changes.
But its possible to avoid that kind of mistake by following Jacob’s good example and putting God first before moving forward. One way to do that would be to start by praying now and asking for God’s direction for things like college, vocational school training, or what kind of job you should take. Remember that Jacob prayed and worshipped God before starting this new phase in his life and a smart youth can follow his good example by doing the same thing before starting the next phase of his or her life.
So Jacob prayed and worshipped God before leaving home and here’s how God responded…
“And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, ‘Jacob! Jacob!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied.
‘I am God, the God of your father,’ he said. ‘Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes'” (Genesis 46:2-4).
This represents the last time that God will speak to someone in the Bible for about four hundred years. The next time God communicates with someone in the Scriptures, it will be with a man named Moses as a voice speaking from inside a burning bush.
“That night, God spoke to him and said, ‘Jacob! Jacob!’ ‘Here I am,’ Jacob answered. God said, ‘I am God, the same God your father worshiped. Don’t be afraid to go to Egypt. I will give you so many descendants that one day they will become a nation. I will go with you to Egypt, and later I will bring your descendants back here. Your son Joseph will be at your side when you die'” (Genesis 46:2-4 CEV).
So Jacob made sure to honor God before leaving to begin his new life in Egypt and God responded by reassuring him: “Do not be afraid… I will go… with you… I will surely bring you back” (NIV). This example helps to remind us that when we honor God and put Him first in our lives, we also gain a similar opportunity to receive this same kind of reassurance from Him as well.
But God also went on to tell Jacob, “I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again” (Genesis 46:4). This is a clear prediction of the future that came to pass when God brought Moses and the rest of Jacob’s descendants out of Egypt over 400 years later.
Finally, God told Jacob, “Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” This is a reference to Jacob’s eventual death. You see, God provided Jacob with the promise of a peaceful death and the assurance that his beloved son would be with him when he passed away. While that might not seem like much of a comfort to us, it helps to remember that Jacob was very old and the thought of Joseph’s presence at the time of his death was probably a great comfort to him.
“Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. They also took with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan, and Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt. He took with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters — all his offspring” (Genesis 46:5-7).
So this closes out the period of Jacob’s life in the land that God had promised to give him. It was a period of time that began with God’s promise (Genesis 28:10-15) and ended with God’s encouragement. While Jacob’s life in this promised land was filled with many challenges, hardships and difficulties, God was there for Jacob throughout this stage of his life and would continue to be with him in the future.
“These are the names of the sons of Israel (Jacob and his descendants) who went to Egypt…” (Genesis 46:8a)
Genesis 46:8 begins a new section of Genesis chapter 46 that contains a list of the people who left with Jacob to begin a new life in Egypt. This section begins in verses 8-15 with a list of the children that Jacob had with his wife Leah. It also contains a list of the grandchildren of Jacob’s sons through Leah for a total of 33 children in all.
The next section covers verses 16-18 and provides us with a list of Jacob’s descendants through Zilpah, the maid that Leah gave to Jacob as a wife. This portion contains a listing of 16 children. Next comes the section that covers verses 19-22. This part identifies the descendants of Jacob through his wife Rachel and contains the names of 14 sons and grandchildren. Finally, verses 23-25 provide us with a list of Jacob’s sons and grandchildren through Bilhah, the maid that Rachel gave to Jacob as a wife. That list totals 7 people in all.
“All those who went to Egypt with Jacob — those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives — numbered sixty-six persons. With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all. (Genesis 46:26-27).
In Genesis chapter 28, God appeared to Jacob in a dream and said to him, “‘Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south'” (Genesis 28:14). Here in Genesis chapter 46 we see the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise that God had given to Jacob. You see, Jacob and his family entered Egypt with just a few dozen people. But when the people of Israel left Egypt 400 years later, the descendants of Jacob probably numbered close to one million people (see Exodus 12:37).
“Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time” (Genesis 46:28-29).
Judah’s advance work would not only serve as a courtesy to Joseph, but it also helped to keep his family from wandering around in an unfamiliar country while they were out looking for the right place to go.
“Jacob had sent his son Judah ahead of him to ask Joseph to meet them in Goshen. So Joseph got in his chariot and went to meet his father” (Genesis 46:28-29a).
So Joseph went out to meet his father after his family reached the area that he had in mind for them. That meeting led to a long emotional reunion because we’re told, “As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time” (Genesis 46:29b). Even though Jacob once felt as if everything was against him (Genesis 42:36), that certainly wasn’t the case any more. Now Jacob had now been reunited with his beloved son and he was in a place where his entire family could start a new life.
In fact, Jacob felt such fulfillment and satisfaction over this meeting with Joseph that the next verse tells us, “Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive'” (Genesis 46:30). Jacob had labored for two decades under the mistaken belief that his favorite son had been killed and eaten by wild animals. Now the reality of seeing Joseph again was so comforting to him that he actually felt like he could face the end of his life without any regrets.
Jacob’s experience in theses verses also provides us with something good to remember during those times when everything seems to be against us. The lesson to remember is that difficult times don’t last forever and circumstances can often change very quickly- just as they did for Jacob.
It also helps to remember what Jesus said in the New Testament gospel of Matthew: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew: 6:34). Even when the circumstances appear otherwise, remember that God is able to make all things work together for your ultimate benefit if you’re willing to trust Him and give Him the priority in your life.
You see, people who have a relationship with God know that He has a plan for their lives, even when they don’t always understand why things happen the way they do. They can take comfort in the words of Jesus from John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you will have peace of heart and mind. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world.”
For his part, Jacob was so happy to see Joseph again that he said, “…’Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive'” (Genesis 46:30). But even though Jacob felt like he was now OK with dying, what he didn’t know was that he was actually going to live on for another 17 years.
“‘Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, ‘I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’
When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:31-34).
So why did Joseph coach his family on how they should respond to Pharaoh? Well, it seems that Joseph wanted Pharaoh to understand that his family didn’t come to Egypt with a desire to be helped and supported by the Egyptian government. In fact, they brought their jobs with them when they arrived in Egypt. Since Joseph’s family was involved in the ranching business, they really didn’t really need anything from the Egyptians except for some land to pasture their animals.
But Joseph also had another reason for giving his family this information. You see, Joseph wanted his family to know that Pharaoh and the rest of the Egyptians would not be very impressed with their lifestyles. That’s because “…the Egyptians did not like to be around anyone who raised sheep” (Genesis 46:34 CEV). The Egyptians were OK with farming but they didn’t care very much for sheep herding. This, of course, meant that they didn’t think too highly of shepherds either.
So Joseph told his fathers and brothers to make certain that they didn’t try to represent themselves as something other than what they were. Instead, Joseph basically said to them, “Just tell Pharaoh that you’ve been shepherds all your lives and he will set you up in the right place.” That place was the region of Goshen, a place where Joseph’s family would be free to pursue their lives with a minimum of interference from others.