Sunday, August 14, 2011

God Reassures Jacob - Genesis 46:2-4

And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.”  He said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there.  I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes.”

Can you imagine having God speak to you in “visions” in the middle of the night?  The text clearly indicates the plurality of these events which occurred during the unlit hours.  I believe these visions were initially a series of dreams that Jacob was having.  We all dream from time to time.  Sometimes some believe they too have heard from God.

I wish I could give you a surefire way to determine whether or not that is actually the case.  But we can note some of the conditions of Jacob’s visions from God.  We note that he was called by name.  There is no question that the message in the vision was directed to him.  We also note that he replied.  Was Jacob awake when he replied or was even the replying, in the dream itself?  Is it possible that while he heard God calling him in a dream, he was actually awakened for his response and God’s continuing words?  Note also that Jacob was clearly eager to serve his God and did not consider it strange that God was calling him.  Had he done so, he likely would not have said, “Here I am” but rather “Who’s calling me?”

The second thing we note is that in visions from God, He seems to state Who He is, reminding us of His greatness and past actions.  Those that walk with Him can easily identify with Him.  Thirdly, if we are His, He always wants to allay our fear, not alarm us.  He comes at a time when He knows the anguish we are experiencing.  This is a theme that often runs throughout scripture when God appears to various individuals.  Examples so far in scripture include Abraham (Genesis 15:1), Hagar (Genesis 21:17 where God sent His angel to comfort her), and Isaac (Genesis 28:15).  There are other times when God appears to those that are not His and warns them or instructs of what should be done.  Examples of this up to this passage in scripture are Abimelech (Genesis 20:3), Laban (Genesis 31:34), as well as the dream of the chief baker and of Pharaoh himself later on.

In Jacob’s particular case, God reaffirmed His promise that He would make Israel a great nation.  It is interesting that he does not elaborate on His promise at this point for Jacob was very familiar with it having heard it time and again from his father.  God simply restates it as a fact, as the actual ‘promise’ had already been made to Abraham and then Isaac.  There are times when we just need to accept the promises that God has made in the past.  The Bible contains many such assurances and declarations from God both with respect to how He will bless us and about the return of His Son, Jesus Christ.  One secret ingredient of the victorious Christian life is to have full knowledge of the fact that God will make good on His promises and to live accordingly.

God promised Jacob He would go down with him into Egypt -- a strange land for Jacob and perhaps for him a dark place as well.  This was not going to be an easy phase of his life, certainly not for those that came after Jacob in Egypt.  Egypt was simply the place the increase of the population of the “great nation” that God promised Abraham and Isaac would take place.

Remember God had renamed Jacob and now he was called “Israel” representing the whole nation that God was building up as He had promised.  So when God says, “and I will also surely bring you up again (from Egypt)”, He was referring to the nation Israel.  God may allow us or even take us through some dark valleys in our lives, but He always promises to bring us “up again”.  He often calls us to get out of our ‘Canaan’ and leave what we are used to for a while and go to our ‘Egypt’ so that ultimately His will would be done and His promise fulfilled.

And God promises us that He will “bring us up again” after the visit to the valley.  For Jacob, it was the nation of Israel that God ultimately brought out of Egypt while he himself died in Egypt as we learn further along in Genesis.  For us the “bringing up again” may well be “everlasting life with Him” or it may be a return to the good life that He intended us to enjoy on earth the rest of our days here.  Either way, He delivers on His promises.  I personally can identify with that feeling as my wife and I have now taken two mission trips to Africa, each with some initial trepidation given the political situations and the conditions there.  We went, however, with the assurance that either we would come back to our family and familiar bountiful surroundings or we would go to our eternal award.  When you move forward with that knowledge of either His protection or His taking us to Himself, you do not go in fear.

As I read this verse, Genesis 46:4, my mind wants to consider the parallel of this verse with our experience of baptism.  We descend into the water (dying to self; giving up what we are comfortable with and accustomed to) and we come out (arise to new life with Him, for Him, and because of Him; all so much better), accompanied by a promise of everlasting life.

I do not know how Israel could possibly have survived its 19th and 20th century history, and its 21st present day experiences had they not been prepared by God for it all through their experiences in dark Egypt.

For the nation of Israel, as for us today, God’s master plan continues.  Those that love God will see “the promised land”.

Finally, in this passage, God says to Jacob that his heart’s desire, his son Joseph from his beloved Rachel, will indeed “touch” his eyes.  What does that mean?  God assures Jacob that Joseph will indeed be with him at the time of his death.  It would be he, his beloved son, that would ‘close his eyes’, extending to Jacob the last act of love, tenderness, comfort, and respect one can offer to a loved one, especially a parent.  It is possible this would have been Jacob’s wish all along for when the time of his death finally arrived.  If so, God was assuring him that He would answer his desire positively -- the reward of a godly man.  Elsewhere in Scripture we read that “You (God) open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (NASB, Psalms 145:16)

Each of us needs to live our life in a way that says, “I know God is capable of satisfying my wishes if He wants to and if they are for my good.  I know that even my death will be a cause of rejoicing for me and that I will depart this world in His presence and either with no pain or only that which I can bear.”  With this promise to Jacob, God was saying “your days of yearning for your lost son are over and until you die, you will have the blessing of his company, now go forward in peace.”  What a blessing that was to Jacob.

So, what’s a key lesson we can take away from all of this?  Simply this: When God asks us to do something big and/or risky and/or dangerous, we can always be assured of His presence to encourage us, to protect us, and to see us through it all.

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