Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jacob’s Most Critical Decision for Israel - Genesis 45:25-28

Then they went up out of Egypt, and came to the land of Canaan to Jacob their father.  And they told him, saying, “Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.” And Jacob’s heart stood still, because he did not believe them.  But when they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived.  Then Israel said, “It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

Have you ever lost someone you loved dearly?  Has your heart ached because of their absence from you and your inability to reach out and touch them, speak with them, laugh with them, and face life and the future with them?  I think we can safely assume that Jacob felt just that about the loss of his son Joseph, a son from his beloved Rachel, many years earlier.  And now in the midst of a great famine in the land, his other sons return from Egypt and out of the blue declare to him “Joseph is still alive and prospering!”

How would you react?  What immediate thoughts come to your mind?  I could think of many questions I would ask of myself, my children, Joseph himself, and God.  Questions like, “Why don’t I know this?” “What proof do you have?” “Joseph, why did you not come and find your dad years ago?” and “God, is this possible?”  I am sure there could be hundreds of variations and permutations of these questions depending on all the circumstances and the personalities involved.  But it would well be worth it for you and I to take a moment and think about just what we would say, ask, think, or do if someone came and told us “your long-lost ______ is alive and well.”

The scriptures say, “Jacob’s heart stood still”.  Well, I can understand that part.  I think mine would as well, especially in the case of a child.  But the text goes on to say, “because he did not believe them.”  That is a little more difficult for me to comprehend.  If you came to me and told me, “Ken, your mom (or your dad) is alive and well” and I dismissed your comment as a lie, I am not sure my heart would stop.  Unless of course, just unless I had never actually seen my mom and dad dead and buried, I had just lost them and assumed they were dead from what others told me, and in my heart there was always this hope, this yearning, this strong desire, that it was all a mistake, that they were not dead, but that there was a possibility that indeed they were “alive and well”.  That is the only way I can explain these two phrases together as I look at them.  Other commentators have suggested that Jacob’s heart stopped because he was ever so tired of his life – without Rachel, without Joseph, and now without food and that perhaps this final words from his sons, words that appeared to him as a “sick joke”, were indeed enough to cause him great stress.  I think we all agree that he did not die.  At best, his words may have conveyed the following, “my sons, do not toy with me for I am old and tired and very down.”

It was time to bring out the evidence and the brothers started telling their father Jacob exactly what Joseph had said and started showing him what he had sent for the family, for him, and for the trip back to Egypt.  I am reminded here, and I hope you will pardon me for this, of the 1996 movie called Jerry Maguire and starring Tom Cruise.  In there, we hear the now famous line used over and over by so many, “Show me the money!”  Words are not enough it seems for many human beings.  We often need to see proof of things that otherwise seem quite improbable.  Of course, there often is an upside to such a position (when what we are told is indeed far-fetched), but sometimes we can also miss out on what is good and true and necessary.

With the flame of hope still burning ever so slightly in his heart, with the words of his sons and of Joseph himself even though second-hand, and with the evidence of the gifts the brothers had brought back, the Bible says “Jacob’s spirit was revived.”  He grasped the hope within him; he believed the words; and he accepted the material goods provided for him.  But he still needed to declare his most critical decision with his own mouth.

In verse 28, the last verse of this chapter, Jacob proclaims his choice.  He avows he has seen enough evidence and affirms (perhaps more to himself as well as to others) that indeed “my son Joseph is still alive.”  And then he realizes that it is his turn now to take action when he says, “I will go and see him before I die.”  The decision was twofold.  First that he did believe what he was told and secondly, that he would do his part.  The last three words of his statement, “before I die” adds the essence of urgency for we know that Jacob was an old man who had lived many years and his time was running out.

There are so many thoughts and ideas for us in these few verses.  When we have to share something that is not easily believable by others, yet we know it to be true (something like our faith), do we give thought to how and when we do it?  Besides our words, can we support what we are saying from Scripture, God’s Word?  Besides our words and those of Scripture, is there sufficient evidence in our own lives and in our own experience of the truth we are trying to proclaim so that others will indeed believe it?  I pray that by God’s doing, someone we are witnessing to could find his or her way to say, “It is enough.  I am convinced.  I will believe – now.”

As we end this chapter of Genesis, let us not miss the significance of this critical decision for God’s people.  God had planned that Israel should be nurtured, for a while, in Egypt which was the most advanced civilization of that day.  Sometimes God takes us to a place we would never go on our own because that is the best place, at that particular point in our lives and journey, for us to be “nurtured” in the best way possible, if not physically, certainly spiritually.  I pray we will be willing and trusting enough to let Him do just that. 

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