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Mar 07, 2010

Good News, Bad News

Passage: Genesis 46:1-47:31

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Are you hungry?

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: fear, sovereignty, blessing, pagan culture, crisis, trust


Sometimes life is a good news/bad news scenario. Jacob & Sons move to Egypt was just that. But even when all around us is ravaged by some "famine in the land", God has great blessings in mind for his kids. What's your "Egypt" in life right now and how does God want to bless you and make you a blessing in it?


Your Egypt—Feast of Famine?

Genesis 46-47—March 7, 2010


Even pastors have to deal with life’s good-news/bad-news scenarios.  Here are a few no pastor would be terribly surprised to find happening on their watch.


GOOD NEWS: The Women's Missionary Society voted to send you a get-well card.
BAD NEWS: The vote passed by 31-30.

GOOD NEWS: The Deacon's Board accepted your job description the way you wrote it.
BAD NEWS: They were so inspired by it, they also formed a search committee to find somebody capable of filling the position.

GOOD NEWS: Your women's softball team finally won a game.
BAD NEWS: They beat your men's softball team.

GOOD NEWS: The trustees finally voted to add more church parking.
BAD NEWS: They are going to blacktop the front lawn of your parsonage.

GOOD NEWS: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
BAD NEWS: You were on vacation.

GOOD NEWS: Your deacons want to send you to the Holy Land.
BAD NEWS: They are stalling until the next war breaks out.

Sometimes life is like that.  Just when you get a piece of news you think is great, you realize there is a downside that threatens to wipe out all the advances. 


Well, we’re closing in on the end of our study of Genesis.  As we studied last week, God has used Joseph to spare the lives of untold thousands of people by enabling him to interpret Pharaoh’s dream.  He elevated him to the position of 2nd-in-command of Egypt and gave him the wisdom to store up surplus grain during the 7 years of abundance in preparation for the 7 years of famine. 


Famine…sometimes we forget just how ugly real famine is.  (Pics)  It isn’t a minor inconvenience; it’s a horrific disaster.

It doesn’t leave you missing a meal; it leaves you wishing you still had your children.


Jacob & Sons were into the 2nd of what would be 7 years of famine.  They didn’t know that, but God…and Joseph...and Pharaoh did. 

They were just looking for a little extra food to buy to tide them over until next season’s harvest.  What they didn’t know is that there would be no “next season’s harvest”…not next year…or the next (4th)…or the next…or next…or next (7th).  They would run out of food.  They would run out of grassland for their flocks.  They would run out of money to buy food.  They would run out of everything…unless God did something to save them. 


APP:  How many of us know what next month will bring?  Next year?  2012?  2015?  2017?  Things are a bit lean in America right now.  But having been in the city dump in Managua, Nicaragua just a few weeks ago, I don’t think any of us know what “lean” really is.  We have no idea what the future holds. But the God we serve has no problem knowing what the future will be 7…14…or 1400 years from now. 


So why didn’t God just cause it to rain a little more in Canaan?  Why did he make all Egypt go through famine?  Why did he make all Canaan go through famine?  Why did he allow Joseph to spend 20 years separated from his family and Jacob, his father, grieving his presumed death for 20 years? 


Well, there are probably more answers to that than there were people in the Fertile Crescent at the time.  God cares about individuals.  He also cares about families…and cities…and whole nations.  This story makes that abundantly evident.  And in the midst of that “caring”, he cares that people come to know Him and his blessing.  But doing so is often a very “good news/bad news” journey. 


So last week we left Joseph in that rather emotional scene where he has just revealed his identity to his totally stunned 11 brothers.  They are terror stricken. 

      He is weeping. 

Twenty-plus years of guilt, of lies, of deception and of family-fallout has come to an end. 

And real change has happened to everyone.  Real repentance has gripped the hearts of formerly calloused and indifferent brothers.  Real tears have started to flow.  Real sorrow over past wrongs is being felt and shared.


Read Gen. 45:14, 15--Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him


Pharaoh even heard about it…and became the very means by which a time of famine became a thing of blessing. 


Read 45:16-28--When the news reached Pharaoh's palace that Joseph's brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Tell your brothers, 'Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, 18 and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.'

 19 "You are also directed to tell them, 'Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. 20 Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.' "

 21 So the sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them carts, as Pharaoh had commanded, and he also gave them provisions for their journey. 22 To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes. 23 And this is what he sent to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, "Don't quarrel on the way!"

 25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 They told him, "Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt." Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, "I'm convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die."


Jacob has had a bit of a hard life by now, right?  He’s 130 right now.  But he doesn’t think he’s going to live much longer.  He betrays that mindset several times.

  • Genesis 45:28—“And Israel [Jacob] said, “I’m convinced!  My son Joseph is still alive.  I will go and see him before I die.”
  • Genesis 46:30—Upon arriving in Egypt and seeing Joseph for the first time, here is how he reacts:  Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.” 

You can just imagine Joseph looking at him saying, “Come on Dad!  You just got here.  I haven’t seen you for 20+ years.  You may be ready to die…but I’m not ready to have you die!  We’ve got a lot of lost years to make up for.  Pull it together, Dad!” 


But it doesn’t stop there.  Shortly thereafter when Joseph is introducing Jacob to Pharaoh, Jacob does it again.

  • Genesis 47:7-9-- 7 Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, 8 Pharaoh asked him, "How old are you?" 9 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."


How long had his grandfather Abraham lived?  175 years.

How long had his father Isaac lived?  180 years.

This guy had longevity genes in every cell of his body!  Yet he’s acting like he’s already got one foot in the mummy bag! 

Do you know how much longer he would live?  17 more years!  He’d be 147 when he shuffled off this mortal coil! 


Something happened to Jacob back there in those years of sorrow in Canaan.  When he lost Joseph, he seems to have lost the will to look at the future with the hope and promise God had given earlier.  I don’t blame him but I do think he let it rob him of things God never intended for him to give up.


That can happen in life. Life can be brutal.  It can take from us the most precious people and experiences we think we will ever have.  But neither life nor death is in our hands.  And the sooner we can embrace that truth, the freer we will be to grieve the bad and embrace what is still good. 

God is the keeper of our “book of days.”  King David was right in Psalm 139:16 when he spoke of God’s sovereignty over our very lives and miraculous formation of every human being in their mother’s womb.  He said, “…your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” 


I don’t know if you’re here today and you fear death…or you’re here and you hope for death.  But what I do know is that what we often fear…and what we often want…is not what God has “written in his book” for us. 


ILLUST:  My mother’s fear of Dad’s early death.  His mother had died when he was 16, at the age of 40.  His father had died when in his 50s.  His only brother died at age 62.  I remember my mother living out her fear of Dad dying of a heart attack every time he worked hard in the yard…or too many hours at the office.  Dad never seemed to worry about it.  He just took it as it came.  And now he is the oldest living relative on record in the Repsold family line in America!  He’ll be 98 this August, God willing.

           God who made us is also the one who knows exactly how long our life will be.  He who is sovereign over the events of nature and the kingdoms of the world is also sovereign over every day of life…and death. 


Now, look at Genesis 46:1ff.  This is the last recorded encounter we have of Jacob with God on this side of Glory. 

1 So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

 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."


Why would Jacob be afraid to “go down to Egypt”? 

  • There had been the prophetic warning given to Abraham back in Genesis 15:13 that foretold of the time when Abraham’s descendants would be “strangers in a county not their own” and that they would be “enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.”  All this would happen while the sin of the Amorites “reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16). 
  • God had specifically and clearly told Jacob’s father Isaac NOT to go down to Egypt when famine struck Canaan in his day.  In Gen. 26:2 we are told that “The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live.  Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.””  Jacob had good reason to stay in Canaan even with a famine.  If the last word of God to someone in your family was to stay put in a place even when it was difficult, then it’s wisest to stay put.  Jacob had, to date, received no “new orders” or “change of command” until this encounter with God in Genesis 46.  While he had agreed to go to Egypt to see Joseph, there had to be a pretty high degree of uncertainty as to whether or not that move was the right move. 

APP:  Ever wonder whether some change of residence…or change of occupation…or change of church… or change of school or job or ministry is the right move?   Until we receive new marching orders from God, I think it is best to stick with the last word God clearly spoke to youILL:  Even Paul, when discussing marriage verses the single state with the Corinthian Church in I Corinthians 7…a church under pretty difficult times of pressure and persecution…says to them, “Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him” (7:17, 20, 24—3 times!).  What was the last thing God asked you to do?  Then stick with it until he makes it plain he has another plan in mind. 


Other fears Jacob probably had about Egypt:

  • It had been the place where his grandfather Abraham had gone with his household to escape a lesser famine years before.  Unfortunately, it had become for Abraham a place of fear and spiritual compromise as he lied about Sarah, his wife, and put God’s promise of a child through him and Sarah in jeopardy.  Not only had God not told Abraham to go down to Egypt; Abraham, that giant of the faith, had not asked God how He wanted him to live and what relationship he wanted him to have to the Egyptians when he got there.  APP:  When greater, wiser and stronger people than you have failed in some place in life, it’s just plain wise to think that you and those you love may have trouble avoiding the same failures. 
  • Then, too, Egypt was both a very progressive and very pagan country.  As far as “progressive,” it was very “advanced” in its understanding of mathematics, architecture, astronomy, agriculture and medicine.  It was the most highly developed nation on earth at the time.  The Pyramids stand to this day as one of history’s great testaments to Egyptian engineering and architectural achievement. 

APP:  While it’s always very alluring and exciting to be living in the most advanced societies of the day, that is not automatically where God wants hid children to go.  Wealth, glitter and glitz hold their own dangers for the people of God.  Keeping a Kingdom vision and mindset in the midst of a culture that lives for the material is never easy.  Just look at the church today around the world.  Where is it losing ground, losing strength and losing the next generation?  In the wealthy West, the prosperous G-7 or G-20 nations of the world.  We assume wrong when we assume that God always wants us to go for the life options that lead us into greater physical prosperity and advancement. 

So Jacob rightly feared what materialistic Egypt might do to him and his family. 

  • At the same time, Jacob knew that Egypt was also extremely pagan.  It was “spiritual,” but it was a pagan spirituality.  It had its pantheon of gods:  Osiris, Hapimon, and Tauret, who were gods of the Nile; Nu, the god of life in the river; Geb, god of the land.  There were Nephri, the grain god; Anubis, guardian of the fields; Min, deity of the harvest and crops.  There were gods in the form of animals:  Apis, the bull god; Hathor, the cow goddess; Sekhmet, the lion; Khnum, the ram; Sobek, the crocodile; Thorth, the ibis; Horus and Month, the bird gods.  Nut was the dky; Shu, the atmosphere.  Greatest of all was Ra, the sun god, thought to be embodied in the reigning pharaoh. 


That’s a challenging combination:  progressive and pagan; sophisticated and spiritual.  If one allurement doesn’t get you, the other is waiting to gobble you up!  For a man who had enough trouble with the effects on his family of living in less sophisticated Canaan, Egypt must have presented plenty of reasons to fear. 

APPLIC:  It seems to me that God’s people often go to either one extreme or the other.  On the one hand, we have a tendency to meld right into the paganism around us.  The church ends up being  laid waste by the shifting, relativistic and materialistic contemporary culture.  On the other hand, God’s people seem to have a growing fear of even associating with those who worship other gods in our land.  In the process, we seem to be losing God’s loving heart for people still needing Him and the salvation Jesus offers. 


It is happening every day of the week and week of the year to the church in America right now. 

  • Just 9% of Americans have what researchers call a “biblical worldview” (Defined as believing just 6 core Christian beliefs:  1.) that absolute moral truth exists; 2.) that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; 3.) that Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; 4. ) that a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; 5.) that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and 6.) that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.)
  •  The Church:  Every year now in America there are 3,000 fewer churches than the year before.  In proportion to population, there are fewer than half as many churches today as there were a century ago.  Every week, 53,000 parishioners leave the Church, never to return.  Some 70 million American men never darken a church door.  85% of those men once attended church.  If non-Christians in America formed a nation by themselves, it would be the 5th largest national mission field in the world.  80% of U.S. churches are stagnant or dying.  1,400 clergy leave the pastorate every month in America.
  • Reading in my devotions this week in Romans 9 & 10, I was startled to see how unmoved my heart is for the spiritually lost as I read Paul’s words about how deeply gripped and dominated he was with compassion for them.  In both chapters Paul begins his discourse on God’s sovereign work in salvation with a heart-cry for his spiritually lost fellow Jewish. 
  • Rm. 9:1-4I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4the people of Israel. 
  • Rm. 10:1Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.


It is interesting that even though Jacob was fearful about going down to Egypt, when he gets there, he demonstrates the heart of God for pagan peoples.  In Gen. 47:7 & 10, Jacob blesses Pharaoh twice when he is introduced to him by Joseph.  The fact of the matter is, Jacob’s family is already receiving a blessing from Egypt and this pagan Pharaoh by the land he will receive on which to graze his flocks and the food he will have to feed his family. 

      So what “blessing” does a hungry nomad like Jacob have to give the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt?  In terms of what the world values, probably very little.  That’s why I’m pretty sure it was some sort of spiritual blessing.  Perhaps he asked Yahweh to prosper and protect him.  Perhaps he spoke the blessing of God’s presence over his family and nation.  The text simply says he blessed Pharaoh twice…and then left. 


APP:  The fact is, most of us here are, like Jacob, recipients of the generosity and abundance of people who may be spiritually as far from God as Pharaoh was.  They provide us employment, jobs, paychecks, benefits, money with which to buy food and transportation.  They loan us money to buy homes.  They manage apartment in which we live. 

      Is it not right that we should leave blessings with them?  Should we not pray for them and with them?  Should we not speak to God on their behalf and ask God to bless them with strength, wisdom, health and protection?  And should we not bless them with the greatest blessing of all—the gospel of Christ in word and deed? 

PRAYER:  “Oh God, help us be people of blessing to those among whom we live and work.  Remind us often to leave them with a blessing and to bring them a blessing from You whenever we can.  Please make us bold to share life’s most important blessing—eternal life through knowing Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”


Now let’s look at one more rather surprising truth from this passage.

Jacob was fearful about what going down to Egypt would mean.  He had reason to be concerned about what living at the mercy of godless people might do to him, his family and the call God had put on his life to live in Canaan

      But it is precisely in this kind of mixed setting where God can surprise us.  It is right in the midst of life’s periods of greatest needs that God often gives his greatest blessings


The amazing thing about Genesis 47 is that it is a chapter of incredible contrast between what happens to the people of Egypt and the people of God, Israel’s family. 


Jacob & Sons plus their families and herds arrived in Egypt in chapter 46.  Joseph met them in the region called Goshen which was some of the best agriculture and grazing land in Egypt.  Joseph gets them temporarily settled there until they can meet Pharaoh and receive permission to settle there permanently. 

      In chapter 47, the first half showcases how God gave them favor in the eyes of Pharaoh and how they were blessed in the midst of a time of great need.  Look at 47:11-12

11) 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. 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’s like they won the lottery…without even buying the ticket!  They arrive nomads and immediately become land owners…of “the best part of the land.”  They arrive with empty food bags and before they know it all of them are receiving regular shipments of food for every person in the family.  It’s like winning free groceries for 5 years! 


But notice the contrast Genesis makes with what is happening to the very Egyptians whose land they are now living in.  47:13ff—“There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine.”  Then Moses goes on to explain what was happening to the Egyptians in the midst of this famine. 

  • First the Egyptians spend all the money they had buying food from Joseph and Pharaoh.
  • When the money ran out, Joseph took their livestock .
  • When the livestock ran out, Joseph took their land in return for food.
  • And when the land ran out, he made an agreement with the Egyptians for “food-futures.”  He obligated them to give 20% of all their future harvests to Pharaoh in return for grain to plant a new season’s crops. 
  • The Egyptians even sold themselves into slavery to Pharaoh just to have enough to eat. 

You think the economy is bad in America right now?  We haven’t seen anything. 


BUT, look what Moses says at the end of chapter 47, vs. 27:

“Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.”

While everybody else in Egypt is getting poorer, God’s kids were getting richer.  While Egyptians were losing their livestock and their property, Jacob & Sons were getting property and growing their herds.

      Is this something any of them had expected when they left Canaan and went to Egypt?  I think not.  But it is just what God had promised…and more.  In Genesis 46:3 God had promised, "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.”


It had taken nearly 215 years for the patriarchs living in Canaan to grow to roughly 100.  Yet in the next 430 years in Egypt, they would multiply at a 6% annual rate that would bring them to be a nation of nearly 2 million by the time they returned to Canaan


God is able to prosper his kids when everyone else around them is struggling to survive. 

ILLUST:  This IS the good news in the midst of the spiritual decline we’re seeing all around us today.  We have only to look back 60 years to see that this is precisely what God has done in our lifetime in a way never before dreamed of or even seen in Church history.

In the 1950s when the Chinese Communists took over China, there were approximately 840,000 Chinese Christians.  Since then the Chinese church has experienced some of the most intense persecution of any church in our lifetime.  Atheism has been the official dogma of the state-run educational system for half a century.

      Yet three years ago the Chinese government released a survey done by East China Normal University which estimated that 31.4 percent of Chinese 16 or older are religious.  That puts the number of “religious believers” (of all religions) at roughly 400 million.  Estimates of Christians range from 60-100 million, making China one of the nations with the largest “Christian” populations in the world.  


So, what’s your EgyptHas God sent you into some place, some job, some school, some family where your natural response is to be a bit fearful and wonder, “How can this possibly be where God wants to grow and prosper me?” 

      Is God telling you the same thing he told Jacob that day, “Don’t be afraid to go there, for I will bless you right there.  I will grow you right there.  I will challenge you but I will also prosper you.  When everyone else may be sinking down, I will hold you up.  When everyone else is in decline, I’ll grow you.  And I’ll take care of you until the end.” 


Call to trust Christ.

The only way you can have this kind of confidence and hope in life is if you belong to God’s family.  And the only way you can become a child of God is through personal faith in Jesus Christ.