Genesis 46:2-47:12 – How to Live in the World

Joseph presents Jacob, his Father, to Pharaoh, Gen xlvii 7 and 8
Joseph presents Jacob and his brothers to Pharaoh by French artist James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902)

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.”

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. So, Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan. Jacob brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring.

These are the names of the sons of Israel (Jacob and his descendants) who went to Egypt:

Reuben the firstborn of Jacob.  The sons of Reuben: Hanok, Pallu, Hezron and Karmi.

The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman.

The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari.

The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez and Zerah (but Er and Onan had died in the land of Canaan).

The sons of Perez: Hezron and Hamul.

The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puah, Jashub and Shimron.

The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon and Jahleel.

These were the sons Leah bore to Jacob in Paddan Aram, besides his daughter Dinah. These sons and daughters of his were thirty-three in all.

The sons of Gad: Zephon, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi and Areli.

The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi and Beriah.  Their sister was Serah.  The sons of Beriah: Heber and Malkiel.

These were the children born to Jacob by Zilpah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Leah—sixteen in all.

The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel:

Joseph and Benjamin. In Egypt, Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.

The sons of Benjamin: Bela, Beker, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim and Ard.

These were the sons of Rachel who were born to Jacob—fourteen in all.

The son of Dan: Hushim.

The sons of Naphtali: Jahziel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem.

These were the sons born to Jacob by Bilhah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Rachel—seven 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.

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.

Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”

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.”

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.” He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.

Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?”

“Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.” They also said to him, “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.”

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “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.”

Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?”

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.

So, Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children. (NIV)

Jacob Blesses Pharaoh
Jacob Blesses Pharaoh by Welsh artist Owen Jones, 1869

God likes fulfilling his promises to us – even and especially when we are in Egypt – in the world. Sometimes we work too hard at avoiding the world and creating heaven on earth right now.  God knew what the Israelites would face: four-hundred years of slavery in Egypt. Yet, God sent them anyway. Often, the people of God grow more in times of trial and hardship, than in times of plenty and peace.

The trip to Egypt included everyone in Israel. There is a genealogical list of those who made the journey because God fulfills his promises through people.  These are the folks who would carry on accomplishing the will of God.  Joseph and Jacob, the son, and the father, are reunited. Joseph diplomatically planned where the gang would live and work because Egyptians looked down on shepherds. Much like the ancient Israelites, we must navigate a world that is okay with us being in it yet not okay with us in the middle of things.

In the Old Testament, Egypt represents the world.  It is interesting God sent his people to live there. God seeks to create a people for his Name who are distinct from Egypt, yet, live among the people of the world.  There is a continual tension for God’s people to be holy and unique, not assimilating into the world’s mold; and, yet, at the same time, God wants them to have a constant engagement and interaction with the world. Therefore, two extremes are to be avoided: to focus solely on being a holy people through complete severance from the world as much as possible; and, to seek relevance in the culture through wholesale jettison of distinctiveness so that the sacred and the secular are connected.

God safeguards a distinct people so that they will be a preservative in the world. Godly people are neither to live in a vacuum, cut off from the world altogether, nor to be wed to the world so that the two are indistinguishable.  We live in a fundamentally broken world in need of the peace and grace of spiritual people within it. The Church has had to struggle with how to live in the world for two-thousand years.  We have the advantage of drawing from a rich Christian history. For there is nothing we face now which has not been faced by the church before.

St Augustine

Saint Augustine wrote his seminal work, City of God, in about 413 C.E. The Roman empire had fallen, and pagans were blaming the Church because Christianity had become wed to the state. The people of God were unsure how to proceed.  So, Augustine sought to help Christians think about how to live in a post-Christian society.

Augustine’s work is lengthy and quite in-depth, so, the following is a brief distilling of his main arguments.  For Augustine, there are four essential institutions: two visible institutions; and, two invisible institutions:

  1. The Church – is a divinely established institution, designed to lead people to God.
  2. The State – is a political institution, adhering to political virtues to establish the peace.
  3. The City of Heaven – is made up of those predestined for salvation.
  4. The City of the World – is made up of those destined for eternal damnation.

We must pursue the City of Heaven, which for Augustine, is the pursuit of justice and righteousness. Augustine gave a clarion call for people to choose which city they will pursue, especially because many tended to blur the distinctions between the visible institutions of church and state.

Augustine’s conclusion is that the purpose of history is to show the unfolding of God’s plan. This involves fostering the City of Heaven and filling it with worthy citizens.  Therefore, the fall of Rome, a visible city so important to the people of Augustine’s day, was not near as important to the invisible God.

Maintaining an eternal perspective can help us today. The collapse of jobs, the scourge of a racialized society, the loss of life due to COVID-19, and injustice are significant events and circumstances – important enough to consider deeply how those issues will be handled. Augustine called out the people of his day for ignoring invisible spiritual solutions for the great problems among them.

Returning to the book of Genesis, a question arises: Will the Israelites become a nation through assimilation with Egypt and its institutions, or will they maintain their distinction as God’s people by relying on God’s covenant promises?  There are no easy answers to living in the world. However, it is important we struggle with how to get along in it.

God is the principal actor in the created world. God chooses to use his people as instruments of blessing to it.  Joseph’s wisdom and diplomacy, given by God, turned potentially catastrophic situations into times of prosperity. God, too, will use us as dispensers of wisdom – applying truth to concrete situations for the betterment of all involved.

Joseph handled the delicate situation of his brothers being shepherds while all shepherds were detestable to Egyptians.  Joseph brought the two worlds together through artful negotiation between the interests of both Pharaoh and the Israelites. He created a win/win scenario by setting up his brothers to help Pharaoh with his own needs in caring for livestock. In the end, all parties were satisfied because Joseph maintained a focus on needs instead of only advocating one side.

Rather than getting bogged down in promotion of methods and means, a sage approach is to maintain a focus on needs – which requires careful listening and a stance of empathy. Then, we can work toward prosperity for all instead of hardening into reified positions. A lot of problems in the church, work, society, and family can be turned to blessing if we seek the wisdom that comes from God.

May the Lord bless you and keep you; and, make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. Amen.