Sunday, February 14, 2021

How Israel Ended up in Egypt: From Abraham to Jacob to Joseph

We start with the historical account of Abraham and Sarah, and the birth of their long hoped for son Isaac. And we know God was working through Abraham and Sarah to found a nation in the midst of a sinful world. So keep that in your mind, God has a bigger story he’s developing.

So Abraham and Sarah raise their new son Isaac. But God also blesses Hagar and her son Ishmael. In fact, tradition tells us that Ishmael went on to found the modern day Arab nations. Very interesting.

But God decides to test Abraham. God is wondering, is Abraham really faithful, and committed to Him completely? Is he worthy of this great task of starting a new nation?

God commands Abraham to take Isaac to the altar and sacrifice him to God. What a shock this is! Sacrifice Isaac? Isaac is the only hope Abraham has of seeing the promise of God come true.

But we know that they set off together, for 3 days, to the altar. And Isaac asked Abraham, we have the wood for the sacrifice but where is the lamb? Normally they would sacrifice a lamb.

And Abraham’s reply is telling, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Abraham trusted God so much, that he believed and knew that God would provide. And indeed God did provide. And what we see here is a picture of what God did for us. We all deserve death and judgment because of our sins, but God provided a sacrifice for us, just like he did for Abraham, for us, Jesus Christ, became the sacrifice for us to wash away our sins and save us from judgment. God makes a way when there is no way.

So the story continues. Abraham and Sarah die, and Isaac is married to a woman named Rebekah. God provided this wife for him. And Isaac and Rebekah had children, twins, which they named Jacob and Esau. 

I love the events of Jacob’s life, it’s just amazing. But we have to go really fast through this. Jacob was a troublemaker you might say. He was a deceiver. And he cheated his brother out of his birth right.

Jacob ended up fleeing from his brother. But God came to Jacob as he fled, and called him to Himself. Jacob wrestled with God, some translations say an angel, all night, what this means we don’t really know. But in a dream Jacob was given a vision from God. 

Genesis 28:10-15 says, “10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it[c] stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 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. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.[d] 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 

So in this vision he saw a ladder leading up to heaven, and angels were descending and ascending up and down the ladder over him. And again in the very first book of the Bible, we’re still in Genesis, we see another picture of the coming of Jesus. We saw a picture of that with God providing the sacrifice in the place of Isaac, just as Jesus would take our place on the cross. And again we see the ladder to heaven. And this is a picture again of Jesus, the way to heaven, and if you recall when Jesus meets Nathaniel, he says to Nathaniel, "Very truly I tell you, you will see 'heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on' the Son of Man." John 1:51

The ladder to heaven is Jesus.

So Jacob, the troublemaker, the deceiver, becomes part of this special line leading from Abraham down toward the beginning of Israel.

Later on Jacob meets Rachel and they are married.

Jacob and Rachel had many children. And one of them was named Joseph. And we’re really focusing in on the historical events surrounding the life of Joseph.

Joseph was the favorite of his parents. And he was given special treatment. Joseph had dreams of the future, and would tell his brothers all about these dreams. But this led to his brothers despising him. And eventually they took him, and sold him into slavery to get rid of him.

This historical series of events involving the life of Joseph is the key to understanding how Israel ended up in Egypt. So keep that in mind.

His brothers sold him to a band of midianites on their way to Egypt. And they took Joseph’s cloak and soaked it in blood from an animal and showed it to Jacob their father and told him Joseph had been killed.

If you’ve ever had trouble in your life, struggles and darkness, tune in for the events of Joseph’s life. He endured horrible things in his life. And he hadn’t done anything to deserve it. Most of us, when we went through hard things in our lives, it was because of the bad decisions we made. And then a lot of us blamed God for it. But it wasn’t God’s fault, it was ours.

In any case, Joseph was taken into slavery. If you think it’s foreign, the idea of slavery, it’s really not. Slavery is alive and well. In fact Michigan is in the top 10 states in the country for the worst rates of human trafficking. Joseph found himself quickly becoming a statistic like so many today.

Yet God was with him in his difficulties. The group of slave traders brought Joseph to Egypt and sold him to a man named Potiphar. From Genesis chapter 39:

“The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. 

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”

8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. 

13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”

So Joseph did everything right. He was a good servant to Potiphar. He didn’t complain or mistreat him, or quietly fight against him. He blessed Potiphar and his whole household. Yet you have this woman, Potiphar’s wife harassing him day and night to sleep with her. And Joseph is a young man. He’s certainly got sexual urges going on inside him. Very strongly I’m sure. Yet he does the right thing. He resists these intense urges within him.

Have you ever been trapped around someone you find very attractive? Like at a job, or a school, or an assignment you have? And day after day you have to resist and keep resisting the temptations? It’s really difficult. I often ask myself if I would’ve done as well as Joseph.

I complain about a lot less in my life. I whine, and complain to God. I too often struggle in unbelief, going by what I see, instead of the unseen. We all need to stop doing that. Stop going by what you see. Go by the unseen. That faith and trust in God that ought to be unshakable. Sometimes we are continuingly shaken, and shaken, in unbelief, with the goal that we will become unshakably faithful in God.

And understand this about Joseph’s story, which is our story, understand that you can do everything right and things can still go wrong. We live in an evil world. Sometimes we do what is right and evil is the result. And that shouldn’t shake your faith. Your faith ought to remain steadfast, strong, unmovable in God.

Yes, you can have that kind of faith in God. It’s not constantly out of your reach. You can have it and live it, as Joseph did.

So Joseph is now sitting in jail, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Yet he becomes a great leader n the jail. So Joseph was in jail with two people who had worked directly for the leader of Egypt, the pharaoh. And he interpreted dreams, by God’s power, for these two individuals. And later they got out of jail, and promised to help Joseph to get out of jail. But one of them was beheaded, and the other actually forgot all about Joseph. So two years later, two years later, wow, pharaoh has a dream. And the dream troubles him.

God uses this situation to bring Joseph out of jail and before the leader of the entire country of Egypt, to interpret this dream for the pharaoh. It was a mysterious dream, but God gave the interpretation to Joseph. 7 years of plenty were coming, lots and lots of food would be available. But then after there would be 7 years of famine in the land.

From Genesis 41:39-43 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”

41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command,[b] and people shouted before him, “Make way[c]!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.”

Joseph was a mere 30 years old when he was placed in charge of the entire country of Egypt. And he was given a wife in marriage named Asenath.

From Genesis 41:53-57: 53 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.”

56 When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57 And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.”

So during this time, Jacob and his sons were also in need of food. So they came to Egypt and sought supplies and were brought before Joseph. Joseph didn’t reveal himself to them until their second visit to purchase grain from Egypt. But eventually he revealed himself to his brothers.

From Genesis 45:3-10 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 

8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’”

And that’s how Israel ended up in in Egypt, flourishing and growing in the land of Goshen, a safe place, where they were protected from the famine across the world.

Realizing Joseph his beloved son was still alive and in Egypt, Jacob went to visit him. On the way there, something amazing happened.

From Genesis 46:2-4 2 And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

3 “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. 4 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.”

So Israel became sheltered by God in the land of Goshen during the wilderness. But as we’ll see next week, new leaders came up in Egypt, who had no respect for joseph, and Israel, and they would be turned to slaves in the land of Egypt. But even that God would raise up a deliverer, to lead them out of Egypt, and toward the promised land.