Once again our attention is focused more emphatically upon Jacob. His son Joseph had been on the foreground in Scripture for many chapters. In these chapters Jacob did appear on the scene briefly. He ordered his sons to go down into Egypt to get food. He objected strenuously when his sons insisted that his youngest son, Benjamin, go along the second time to insure getting another supply of much needed food for the family. He had also rebuked his sons for telling this ruler in Egypt so much about the family; and then, because of the need, he consented to have Benjamin go along. But now he appears more fully on the scene; and even that which we read of Joseph is on the behalf of Jacob his father. He sent wagons for his father to ride in and move from Canaan to Egypt.
He was after all the spiritual leader of the Old Testament Church. Joseph was not. As aged as he was, Jacob was still the patriarch, the church father of the day. And the covenant line ran from Adam and Seth through Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and then not through Joseph but through Judah to David and Christ.
The picture given us of Jacob in Genesis 45 is that of an aged and confused man. For more than ten years he had carried in his soul the grief of believing that his most beloved son, Joseph, was dead. Very recently he had lost another son, Simeon, as a prisoner in Egypt. And what now is his most beloved son, Benjamin, had been taken from his side to go down into Egypt, to face not only the dangers of the way, but this stern ruler in Egypt who had imprisoned Simeon and had spoken so roughly to his sons. Troubles had come thick and fast in his life, especially of late. And he, whose life had slowed down considerably by reason of his age, finds it hard to cope with the fast moving events.
This is his darkest moment. One son is “dead.” One is in prison. The youngest, on whom his heart was so firmly fixed, has gone down to Egypt; and he sat alone at home with not one son—though God had given him twelve of them—there at home with him. Could he be sure that any of them would be able to come back? There was that money in their sacks. Would this stern ruler in Egypt accuse them now of theft as well as of being spies? Would he make slaves of all of them? Years before this, he had said to his brother Esau, “these are the children which God hath graciously given thy servant” (Genesis 33:5). Now he feared that they were all taken away from him. And he was trying to adjust himself to such an eventuality. There were days when for Jacob it seemed as though the bottom had fallen out of his life, days when the sun seemed to be going down very fast. Of late only fears, threatenings of loss and the destruction of all his hopes for his children crowded in upon him.
In the midst of all this, during that dark period of his life, he is greatly confused by the turn of events which, though they brought him some joy, still contained that which upset and disturbed his mind. It is true that the eleven sons returned home safely—and how his spirits must have soared when he counted them as they appeared in the distance and learned that Benjamin was with them!—from their quest for food in Egypt. He counted eleven men riding towards him; and that meant that Simeon was out of prison and Benjamin was allowed to come back with the ten brothers. But what disturbed him was the report which these sons gave that Joseph was yet alive and exalted over all Egypt.
It is interesting to note that these sons said nothing about their deceit years before. They gladly relate that Joseph is alive; but they are not ready to tell Jacob what they did to Joseph and to his princely coat to make him believe that a wild beast had slain him. And the lack of this important element in their message caused Jacob’s heart to faint, as we read. And it explains the statement that his heart fainted because he did not believe them. We read that after they told Jacob that Joseph is yet alive and is governor of all the land of Egypt, “Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not” (Genesis 45:26).
Plainly Jacob did not trust these sons. That is what it means that he believed them not. And note that we do not read that he did not believe it, when they told him that Joseph was alive and such an exalted ruler. No, we read that he believed them not. No doubt he had good reason for not believing them. There is first of all the fact that he had been active in so much deception himself; and the apple does not fall far from the tree. Then too we must remember that these are the same sons who had deceived their father with that blood-stained coat. At that time, it is true, he believed them—that is, believed what they wanted him to believe about Joseph. And yet it cannot be denied that he had some misgivings about the whole thing, and misgivings about the part these sons might have had in that death. He believed Joseph to be dead. But the behavior of these brothers was strange when they brought that coat that was stained with blood. They might have shown some mock sorrow. But Jacob knew how they despised Joseph. And what was missing in their report was that they offered no suggestion as to what else could have happened to their brother. Quite plainly they wanted their father to believe the worst. That already made Jacob uneasy. And it explains his outburst under the strain of being asked to let Benjamin go with them to Egypt: “Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and will ye take Benjamin away?” (Genesis 42:36). He reveals what he had kept secret in his heart all these years, namely, that somehow these brothers were involved in Joseph’s death. He had no proof and could not press the matter any further. But why was that coat torn? If Joseph was in it when the wild beast struck, there would be signs. If he was not in it, how did that blood get on it?
What must he now think when these same sons come with such a contradictory claim? Joseph yet alive? Joseph governor of the whole land of Egypt? O, he wanted those words to be true. But his heart fainted because of past experiences which made him wonder not only what all this would lead to, but to fear that more trouble was ahead. These sons seemed very happy to report that Joseph is yet alive, but even that did not seem to ring true. Jacob knows nothing of the conversion of these sons through the ordeal before Joseph. He knows not how strong their love for him is and that it was shown to Joseph.
Note too that his spirit revived when he had the wagons which Joseph had sent explained to him as being sent by Joseph. When he saw them as wagons which Joseph sent his spirit revived. Then he believed the words of his sons that Joseph was yet alive. Those wagons were Egyptian wagons; and the sons had taken money along for food but not to buy such regal wagons. For they were no ordinary wagons. Joseph, with all the resources of the king’s house in Egypt at his command, sent special wagons that spoke of his lofty position in Egypt. We find it difficult to believe that Jacob’s thoughts did not go back to those dreams of Joseph which Jacob at first rejected, and for which he rebuked Joseph but later on “observed the saying.” It all—these words of his sons that Joseph was governor over all the land of Egypt, and those wagons that plainly came from the king’s house—convinced him that the sons were speaking the truth. All would bow down before Joseph was the tenor of those dreams. Well, it fitted in with these words of the sons. He is highly exalted. It is therefore God’s word that convinces Jacob that his sons are to be trusted this time.
One can only wonder, because Jacob was a child of God, whether at once his conscience did not smite him for having uttered those words of unbelief and fatalism just a few months before: “All these things are against me” and “If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” But we can be sure that he confessed his sin and offered up praise and thanksgiving to God because of the truth that Joseph was yet alive, and that the other eleven had all returned home safely from Egypt. It is not recorded of him that he did so, but so a child of God behaves.
Being convinced that Joseph was alive Jacob made plans to go and see him before he died. The wagons revealed Joseph’s desire to see his aged father; and the desire was mutual. After all that grieving for a son whom he thought to be dead, Jacob is more than eager to see this son who has been proven to be alive. And so he gathers all that he has to go to Egypt in order to survive the five years of famine which are still ahead of them.
This was Joseph’s idea and suggestion. And Jacob seizes it, moved by an awareness that the situation in the land of Canaan was critical, especially since they were strangers in it, owned no land in it, and were not in favor with the Canaanites on whose land they had been feeding their cattle all these years. From the Canaanites, who were struggling for their own existence, they could not expect any help and charity. But Jacob and Joseph were also moved by a natural, fleshly love that compelled them to seek to see each other face to face.
Without consulting God as to His will in the matter, Jacob gathered all that he had and went as far as Beer-sheba which was about 20 miles to the southwest. After that one-day journey Jacob’s faith asserted itself, and belatedly he sought God and sacrificed unto Him. And in covenant mercy God answered Jacob in a dream that night. In that dream He promised Jacob a safe journey, protection in Egypt, and a sure return to the promised land.
This return was not to be, we know, until four hundred years later, so that it does seem as though He is slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness. That promise was first given to Abraham. Now his grandson is assured that this promise will be fulfilled. yet it was not fulfilled in his life, nor in the lives of his sons who now moved down into Egypt with him.
He is not slack concerning His promises, however, but fulfills them on time, and, as Peter writes, being “longsuffering to usward, not willing that any (of us) should perish, but that all (of us) should be brought to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). The parentheses are ours because that word usward demands it, and denies us the right to add what is not in the text, namely, that anyman should perish and that all men should come to repentance. In a text as particular as this one, speaking of God being longsuffering to us, we may not deny this truth by making the rest of the text say that He is longsuffering to all men.
Here, too, God is longsuffering so that the large family consisting of 66 souls, and which in Egypt becomes a nation of some three millions of people—600,000 men, each with a wife and two or three children to a family—must have room to grow. This God provides in Egypt. And for that reason He sent Joseph ahead.
The promise stands, and, rather than being forgotten or delayed in its fulfillment, it is being fulfilled by this sojourn in Egypt. The Almighty makes no mistakes but is arranging it so that the abundant seed He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob might come into being as a great nation, and as such might in due time enter the land and possess it. And Judah must live and get seed so that the Lion of Judah’s Tribe, might come and by His cross make it possible that we perish not but come to repentance. Although we may not be able to explain it fully and show it in detail, that sojourn in Egypt was necessary and served the coming of Christ and the salvation we have through His cross.