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Thriving Through God

Date: Mar. 10, 2019

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 46:26-47:31

Key Verse: Genesis 47:12

Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.

It is March now and it is finally starting to feel more and more like spring. We just had the polar vortex come in with a cold snap at the beginning of the week where we woke up to sub-zero temperatures again, but that cold snap paled in comparison to what we saw at the end of January when the polar vortex descended into the area. It was just revealed this week that that polar vortex resulted in the lowest temperature ever recorded in Illinois at -38 degrees Fahrenheit (-38.9 degrees Celsius) in Mt Carroll, Illinois, which is west of here near the Iowa border. We, in Chicago, however, only saw -25 degrees Fahrenheit. On days like that, you just want to stay indoors, hunker down and hide under a blanket until it is all over. You just want to survive the bitter cold and hope for spring and summer to come. Have you ever noticed the people out there that really enjoy the cold? They are out there living it up and loving every minute of it. They are not trying to survive the cold, but are thriving in it, and minus 25-degree weather will not stop them. It encourages them. They are the type of people who participate regularly in the polar plunge. Two people can be in the same situation. One can hope to survive, while the other thrives and grows. Humanity has an amazing capacity to thrive in unbearable situations. We are the only creature on the planet that occupies all seven continents and various islands and thrives. Even with our unique capacity for adaptability, there are many times where we just are struggling to get by. Fortunately, God is there to help. He takes care of his children and helps them to thrive even in impossible situations.

In our study of Genesis, we have been building to the reconciliation of Jacob’s family. Joseph’s brothers were, at one time, jealous of the affection and favoritism that their father showed him. So, they did the logical thing and sold him off as a slave, but made their father assume he was dead. They never said anything directly about it. They merely brought back Joseph’s bloody robe and Jacob assumed that Joseph was torn to pieces by a wild animal. The brothers felt guilt for years and Jacob was destroyed by despair at the loss of his son. The family order was shattered as the oldest brothers had no authority. During the time of a great famine, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy food because the Egyptians had planned for this famine. They went to buy food and, little did they know, Joseph was the one in charge of Egypt and distributing the stored grain. They didn’t recognize him, but he recognized them and wanted to see the type of people they were now. It had been over twenty years since they sold him into slavery and a lot had changed. Joseph put them through a series of tests leading up to planting evidence in the sack of his full brother Benjamin. Benjamin was seemingly guilty of theft from an Egyptian lord, but Judah, of all people, pleaded that he be detained instead of Benjamin, because if Benjamin would not return, their father would be broken unto death. With that act of selflessness from the brother who suggested selling Joseph, Joseph was overcome with emotion and finally revealed his identity to his brothers. They were afraid, but Joseph reassured them and had them go get their father and the entire household and come to him in Egypt where they would stay while the famine went on. Last week, we saw God assuring Jacob to go to Egypt and see Joseph. God would watch over them in a foreign land.

Our passage today begins as the journey nears its end. “Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen.” (46:28) Since Judah was so responsible with Benjamin and had taken a position of leadership among the brothers, his father noticed and had Judah go ahead of him to Joseph to find out where exactly Goshen was. Then, came the reunion twenty-two years in the making.“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.” (46:28-29) Joseph had been asking about his father since he first recognized his brothers and, now, they were standing before each other. Joseph never had a chance to say goodbye to his father. When Jacob sent Joseph out to find his brothers, it was the last they saw of each other until this point. As soon as they saw each other, Joseph threw his arms around Jacob and just wept for joy and relief for a long time. There is so much emotion in this reunion as father and son embrace. It’s not all coming from Joseph either. Jacob is moved, too, although he is 130 years old. “Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.’” (46:30) For all those years, Jacob had no peace in his heart because he thought Joseph had died violently, but now, here was Joseph, right in front of him. Jacob or Israel finally had peace. His greatest wish was fulfilled, and he was satisfied.

Afterwards, Joseph told his family his plan. “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.” (46:31-34) Pharaoh had already mentioned that Joseph’s family could settle in the best part of Egypt, but now it was time to make introductions and solidify the Pharaoh’s leading in this matter. There were legal matters that needed to be settled, as well as allaying any fears Pharaoh and the Egyptians had with this family of Hebrews moving into the land. They needed Pharaoh’s approval to make sure everything was on the up and up. They didn’t want to come in and look like invaders, lest Joseph’s original accusation against his brothers, that they were spies trying to find a way to invade, seem true.

Our passage continues, “Joseph went and told Pharaoh, ‘My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.’” (47:1) Joseph began to carry out his plan and went to Pharaoh and told him that his brothers and father had arrived and are waiting in Goshen. Joseph, then, took five of his brothers to meet Pharaoh. Perhaps, Joseph didn’t want Pharaoh to become alarmed if all the brothers came, so he just took five of them. Maybe he took the best brothers to impress Pharaoh, or maybe he took the biggest fools to show Pharaoh that his family was no threat. Sure enough, when Joseph’s brothers met Pharaoh, he asked them their occupation, just like Joseph predicted. Joseph’s brothers replied, “Your servants are shepherds, just as our fathers were.” (47:3) They added, “We have come to live here for a while, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.” (47:4) The brothers were very respectful in answering Pharaoh. They called themselves servants, putting themselves in Pharaoh’s mercy. The entire time, they showed that they were not a threat to Pharaoh or the Egyptians, and they simply request to stay in Goshen. They did everything that Joseph told them to do.

Pharaoh responded to their request, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.” (47:5-6) Pharaoh approved of their request and allowed Joseph’s family to settle in Goshen. Now, it might seem strange that even though there is a famine in all the land, Goshen is still rich, lush and green. If Goshen were that way, then why didn’t the Egyptians just plant some crops there? Goshen was located in the north of Egypt in the Nile delta region. The area around the delta was suitable for grass, but it was not suitable for crops. It was perfect for livestock to graze, which was perfect for Joseph’s family. Pharaoh thought that if any of Joseph’s brothers were as good at being a shepherd as Joseph was at being an administrator, then he wanted them to be in charge of his own livestock. Pharaoh honored them by trusting them to settle in Goshen.

After Joseph’s brothers talked to Pharaoh, Jacob came to meet him. “Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, ‘How old are you?’” (47:7-8) The first thing that Pharaoh asked Jacob was his age. Egyptians held the elderly in high honor. At one hundred thirty, Jacob would have been quite advanced in years and deserving of great respect from even Pharaoh. When Jacob arrived in Pharaoh’s presence, he blessed Pharaoh. Jacob’s demeanor is different than that of his sons. The five brothers that stood before Pharaoh kept referring themselves as servants, but Jacob doesn’t even use that word once. Instead, Jacob blesses Pharaoh. It is a greeting and a blessing at the same time. It wasn’t just a formal greeting, but it held strong religious significance. When Abraham and Isaac endured hostilities while in foreign lands, but Jacob was welcomed and respected. This shows God’s hand with Jacob as he was in Egypt. With Abraham and Isaac, they ventured in foreign lands without a blessing from God, but Jacob was different. The Lord spoke to Jacob and told him to not be afraid to go down to Egypt. He would be there with Jacob and this encounter with Pharaoh was proof that God was indeed with Jacob and his family.

Although Jacob never referred to himself as Pharaoh’s servant, he was still very respectful to the ruler of Egypt. “And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.’ Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.” (47:9-10) Jacob told Pharaoh his age but reiterated that he is not quite as old as his father and grandfather were when they died. It was a short exchange and Jacob blessed Pharaoh again before leaving. The two blessings form bookends to his encounter with Pharaoh.

Afterwards, Jacob and his family settled in the land of Goshen, or as it is also referred to the region of Rameses. This second name might be a later name that is recorded for the audience of Genesis, since it was written during the exodus, possibly by Moses. It may have been a name that the intended reader would have known about and understood. While in Goshen, Jacob and his family were well taken care of. “Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.” (47:12) Since Joseph was lord over the land, he made sure that his family was taken care of. He provided food for them and they were never in need.

Once Joseph’s family was settled in Goshen, he had to go back to work because there were still five more years of famine. “There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace.” (47:13-14) Nobody was able to grow food in either Egypt or Canaan, and everybody came to him to buy food, but eventually all the money was gone, but there were still years left of the famine. The people had nothing to buy food with, so they came to Joseph to plead with him. “When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, ‘Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is all gone.’” (47:15) It was a really hard time and the people were very concerned about dying. It was a real threat that the people faced.

Joseph had an idea. I don’t think that he was able to just give away food from the storehouses, so he had to come up with a way for the people to get food. “‘Then bring your livestock,’ said Joseph. ‘I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.’ So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.” (47:16-17) Joseph had the people bring their livestock and he traded food for their horses, sheep, goats, cattle and donkeys. From the people’s perspective, they were also unable to feed those animals. They would probably waste away and die as well. Plus, if they didn’t have livestock, the food they would have would go further. The people sold their livestock little by little until there was no livestock left to be traded and that took about a year.

When the next year came, the people had no money and they had no livestock, but the famine was still going strong. The people were still not able to produce food even just for themselves. They had nothing to buy food with. “When that year was over, they came to him the following year and said, ‘We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. Why should we perish before your eyes—we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.’” (47:18-19) The people had nothing else in their possession except their land and themselves. In their eyes, it was better to live as a slave than to die from hunger. They offered themselves and their land in bondage to Pharaoh. It was their idea, and they weren’t being forced into slavery except by the severity of the famine.

Joseph agreed with them. As the passage shows, “So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other.” (47:20-12) Everybody in all of Egypt became Pharaoh’s servants and all the land became his. The famine had hit rich and poor alike and now both were reduced to selling their land and themselves. The only exclusion was the priests. The priest received food from Pharaoh and that was enough for them. They were never in enough need to sell their land or themselves. Joseph gave the now indentured people some seed so that they could plant. There are two thoughts to this. It was still the famine, but this might have been the last year of the famine and the following year would see a return to being able to sow and reap crops. Also, during a famine, people would still plant. They might not see a crop come from their planting, but by planting and something growing, it would protect the soil from erosion, and it wouldn’t blow away in the wind. Since the people now belonged to Pharaoh, Joseph, being the administrator, was the one who made sure the people could do their jobs.

It is funny that Joseph, himself, was once a slave, but now all the Egyptians except the priests were in bondage to Pharaoh because of Joseph’s actions. The terms of their service were actually very favorable. They didn’t have to relocate. They could stay on the land that was once theirs and still work it like they used to. They were even allowed to keep four-fifths of the crop for themselves. Joseph only required the people to provide a fifth of the crop to Pharaoh, just like Joseph directed during the time before the famine. Even though the people were in bondage to Pharaoh, they were grateful at their situation because it was better than death. “‘You have saved our lives,’ they said. ‘May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.’” (47:25)

The people of Egypt were doing anything and everything to survive, including selling their land and themselves, but the Israelites fare differently, “Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.” (47:27) The Israelites were flourishing in Egypt. Now this verse, verse 26 may refer to the time after the famine, but there is still a stark difference in the quality of life between Egyptians and the Israelites. The Egyptians had to sell their land in order to survive and the Israelites were able to acquire land in Egypt. It was the opposite. The Israelites were thriving in Egypt, but they had an advantage over the Egyptians. If we go back up in the passage to verse 12, we see that Joseph provided for Jacob and his family. Joseph gave food to his family according to the number of their children. Joseph made sure that his family was taken care of. You might be thinking that they thrived because of an unfair advantage. Joseph gave them everything they needed. He was in charge of Egypt and showed favoritism to his family. Of course, they didn’t need to sell themselves to Pharaoh. It is nepotism at its finest, right? Not quite.

When Joseph shared his identity with his brothers, he revealed something else to them. Joseph realized that it was God who sent him there to make sure his family would survive the famine. He said to his brothers, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:7-8) Joseph saw that God was in charge and wanted to make sure that his people would survive, but more than just surviving, God put Joseph into his position to make sure that the Israelites would thrive. It wasn’t Joseph who was providing for his family, it was God who was watching out for the Israelites.

What we see in our lives is the promise that God is there for his people. He loves his children and wants the best for them. He has plans for those who are his and God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Jeremiah wrote this in a letter to the Israelites during a time of great distress, but it was never God’s plan to destroy his people, but to save them. It is not God’s plan to merely have us survive; he wants us to prosper. It can be tough to remember this in hard and uncertain times. Almost exactly ten years ago, I lost my job during the Great Recession. I was months away from getting married and I wasn’t sure how I was going to make ends meet at all. Should I postpone my wedding? Should I even stay in Chicago anymore? Obviously, I decided to stay in Chicago and get married as planned, but God had a plan through it all. He wanted me to prosper and thrive in less than ideal conditions. For years, we had many financial struggles. We had one income, while Viola was in pharmacy school, and there were many times that we wondered how we were going to make it. And yet, time and time again, God provided for us with a promotion at just the right time or something similar. We were never in need, all because of God’s provision. I have a beautiful wife and three of the smartest, cutest kids you have ever seen, all because of God’s provision.

Now, I am not going to say how God will provide during your lives. My life still has hardship and struggle. It is not perfect, but what life is perfect? God may not give you millions of dollars, but he provides for you richly. He wants for you to prosper and thrive. He gives us assurance and peace because we know of the love that he has for us. No matter what pain or hardship, no matter what struggles we may have. He protects us and saves us. God wants for us to trust in him and know that he is God. On our own, we can only go so far, but with God on our side, we are unstoppable. I want to end with part of the passage the makes up our key verse for the year, Romans 8:31-39.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

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