“He Knows the Future”
Genesis 46:28 - 47:31
November 9, 2008
You can trust a God who sees the future to provide what is needed in the present.
I. Jacob’s family receives the fat of the land in preparation for marvelous growth and miserable slavery. (Genesis 46:28 - 47:12).
II. The Egyptians gradually lose all that they have but receive all that they really need. (Genesis 47:13-26).
III. Therefore trust the God who knows the future. (Genesis 47:27-31)
There have been several times recently when knowing the future would have been nice. It would have been nice for those whose houses were going to flood in the hurricane to see it in advance and prepare. It would’ve been nice for those with investments to have been able to move them out of the stock market in September. It would have been nice for all of us to know the outcome of the election in advance.
But you know, there’s another way of approaching this almost as good, maybe better. That’s to know someone who knows the future and to trust their counsel. I’m not a prophet, but I’m pretty good at reading weather maps, and when, before Ike, I said to Gail, ‘go’, she trusted me and went. When I said to her ‘don’t come back unless you bring a generator’ she trusted me and scrounged - and the generator she borrowed served us well for ten days and another family beyond that.
Even better than knowing the future yourself is knowing someone who does and trusting him. Of course the only person who really fits that criteria is God. And for most of us the problem is not whether or not he knows the future, the problem is trusting him now, after the hurricane, after the financial crisis, after the election, before he reveals how all these things work together to accomplish his good purposes. It’s the present uncertainty that bothers us. But our text in Genesis reminds us you can trust a God who sees the future to provide what is needed in the present. You can trust a God who holds the future to provide what is needed in the present.
I. Jacob’s family receives the fat of the land in preparation for marvelous growth and miserable slavery. (Genesis 46:28 - 47:12).
We begin in Genesis 46, where Jacob’s family receives the fat of the land in preparation for marvelous growth and miserable slavery. Let’s begin with verses 28 to 30: Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, 29Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time. 30Israel said to Joseph, "Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive."
Obviously these verses are a climactic moment in this book. The separation between Jacob and Joseph which began nearly a quarter of a century earlier is now ended. The separations of time, distance, slavery, the brother’s enmity, the father’s hopeless mourning, of fortune and famine, of distrust and test have now all been bridged, and the son can now fall on the father’s neck and weep for joy, the father on the son’s neck and weep for fulfillment. It’s hard to say who had suffered more, Jacob or Joseph, but now the suffering is healed and the family is together.
But the future is still uncertain; they’ve come to a foreign country in the midst of a famine: only the goodwill of Pharaoh and the reputation of Joseph makes survival possible.
But God is preparing their future by providing in the present. Verse 31: Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father's household, "I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, 'My brothers and my father's household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.' 33When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, 'What is your occupation?' 34you should answer, 'Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.' Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians."
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Joseph has a plan. He wants to insure that his father and brothers receive the portion of Egypt he’s mentioned, the land of Goshen. This seems to have been a little used part of Egypt, in the Nile delta, a plain well suited for grazing flocks, which is something that the river-centered Egyptians were not mostly willing to do. So Joseph says: “Look, my brothers are shepherds; we’ve got these pasture lands, let’s let them have Goshen, and see if they can make something out of it.” It’s a little like the situation in the U.S. after the 1862 Homestead act: they gave you 160 acres of frontier if you could just work it five years in a row.
Having made the plan, Joseph does not hesitate to pursue it. Genesis 47:1-6 Joseph went and told Pharaoh, "My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen." 2He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh. 3Pharaoh asked the brothers, "What is your occupation?" "Your servants are shepherds," they replied to Pharaoh, "just as our fathers were." 4They also said to him, "We have come to live here awhile, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants' flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen."
5Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Your father and your brothers have come to you, 6and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock."
Remember, Pharaoh was still the absolute ruler of Egypt. It’s true that these middle kingdom pharaohs probably weren’t as paranoid as later pharaohs about foreigners. But we’ve already seen back in chapter 40 that this Pharaoh can be arbitrary enough to raise one servant up and cut off the head of the other. Joseph is rightfully cautious and respectful as he approaches his boss with this proposal.
He selects five brothers, probably the most well spoken, and they have the first interview with Pharaoh. As expected, Pharaoh asks what they do for a living. The under-current here may be that Egypt doesn’t have room for more farmers. All the farms are barren; all the farmers are already hungry. And the brothers respond wisely: "Your servants are shepherds," they replied to Pharaoh, "just as our fathers were."
They also said to him, "We have come to live here awhile, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants' flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen." They emphasize the temporary nature of the request they are making, and the fact that they are willing to do what Egyptians were not.
Pharaoh, apparently, kept his own flocks in Goshen, where it may have been hard to find good people to care for them. He agrees, and adds “If you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock." Pharaoh doesn’t seem to share the prejudice the rest of the Egyptians had against caring for animals: he sees flocks as a valuable asset and wants to make use of Jacob’s expertise.
Only after these preliminaries are finished does Joseph introduce Pharaoh to his father. Verses 7-12: Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, 8Pharaoh asked him, "How old are you?" 9And 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." 10Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence. 11So 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. 12Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father's household with food, according to the number of their children
Probably the most amazing thing in these verses is that twice Jacob blesses Pharaoh. In one sense this is natural, because Jacob is the elder and Pharaoh the younger. On the other hand, Pharaoh has all the power and all the opportunity to provide; Jacob has next to nothing and is completely dependant: yet he pronounces the blessing. Scripture is very comfortable with the idea that the most helpless person doing God’s will stands above even the most powerful of national leaders.
Pharaoh seems very respectful of Jacob’s age. Jacob makes light of it, correctly pointing out that he hasn’t attained the age of his fathers. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt says that “Average life expectancy has been estimated at 30-36 years. . . The ideal Egyptian life span was 110 years, as recorded in popular wishes and literature,” found in surviving papyrus records. Joseph live to the ideal age, 110. But Jacob is older, which may be why Pharaoh lets him bring this blessing.
So the way is clear for Joseph to settle his father and brothers in Egypt, and to give them property and food in the best part of the land for shepherding. Verse 11 calls this the district of Rameses, which is what it was called during the Exodus. Since Moses was almost certainly the author/compiler of Genesis, this usage is reasonable. It also reminds us that eventually the Egyptians recognized the value of that region.
But let’s pause for a second and consider what we’re seeing. Our big idea is that you can trust a God who sees the future to provide what is needed in the present.
Isn’t that exactly what’s happening here? Jacob’s family receives, really, the fat of the land in preparation for marvelous growth - which we’ll see before the end of the chapter - and for miserable slavery - which is not far off, in Exodus chapter 1. God knows the future; Joseph knows a bit of the future; so the family is provided for.
Do we ever see this kind of preparation in our own lives? I think we do. My favorite story from my own life is the way God provided for me to change careers. Most of you have heard this before, so I won’t give great detail: It started when I worked as a mechanical engineer at Exxon Chemical in Baytown. But in 1986 Exxon offered a separation package - they’d pay you to leave, and help you find a job. That’s when I got the idea of starting my own company to do pressure vessel software and consulting. I left in 1986 and started selling ‘Codecalc’.
God prospered the business, but also gave me some opportunities to preach, and I loved that. I soon realized that the only people who get to preach every week are pastors, so I started considering seminary. I thought to take the business with me, to run it from suburban Chicago, but some of my competitors got wind of it and made me offers. So I sold CodeCalc, lock, stock and copyright to one of them, and that paid all my tuition and fees at seminary. Then I went to work for that competitor, which paid living expenses all through seminary and the first years of planting Trinity.
So in my life it’s clear God uses the present to prepare for the future. He used Exxon to prepare me for CodeCalc, and CodeCalc to prepare me for seminary and ministry. I can trust a God who sees the future to provide what I really need in the present.
II. Jacob’s family receives the fat of the land in preparation for marvelous growth and miserable slavery. (Genesis 46:28 - 47:12).
Even the Egyptians, who were not believers in Israel’s God, could experience that. Chapter 47, verses 13 to 26 show how the Egyptians gradually lose all that they have but receive all that they really need. God sometimes works this way. Verse 13: There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. 14Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh's palace.
This is the first stage in a gradual decline of the Egyptians. For the first few years of the famine the Egyptians were able to pay for the grain, just as the sons of Jacob had, theoretically at least, paid for their grain to take back to Canaan.
But that didn’t last. Verse 15: When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, "Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is used up." 16"Then bring your livestock," said Joseph. "I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone."
17So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.
When the money ran out, Joseph began to trade grain for livestock. This was actually good for the people: collecting the livestock reduced their food needs. Joseph could then save the best livestock in Goshen, which he may have done, or he could slaughter the livestock for food. So another year is survived. Notice how the author mentions Canaan. Jacob and his sons would not have survived long in Canaan after this point.
But it got worse for the Egyptians, even as Joseph, who had seen the future, was providing for their needs. Verse 18: When that year was over, they came to him the following year and said, "We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19Why should we perish before your eyes--we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate."
20So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh's, 21and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other. 22However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.
Apparently up to this time, in Egypt, there was a great deal of personal land-ownership. But this famine hastens what was probably an inevitable transition to ownership of the land by the state, really by the Pharaoh. As a result there were only two free classes left in Egypt: priests and Israelites.
So at the beginning of the sojourn in Egypt it is the Egyptians who are the slaves and the nation of Israel free, in contrast to the book of Exodus where the Israelites had become the slaves.
Verse 23: Joseph said to the people, "Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. 24But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children." 25"You have saved our lives," they said. "May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh." 26So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt--still in force today--that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh's.
As the end of the famine approaches Joseph begins to give the Egyptians not only flour, but also seed grain. This was essential to their future: they had to have seed in order to start over when the drought ended, which in Egypt would come quickly with the rising of the Nile. Of course the great temptation was to eat your seed grain. Missionary Del Tarr, who served 14 years West Africa, graphically illustrates this:
“I was always perplexed by Psalm 126:6, ‘He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.’ Then I went to the Sahel, that vast savanna of sub-Saharan Africa. All the moisture comes in a four month period, from May to August. After that, not a drop of rain for eight months.
“The year’s food, of course, must be grown in those four months. People grow sorghum or milo in small fields. October and November are beautiful: the harvest has come; people sing and dance. They eat two meals a day. December comes, and the stores recede. Many families omit the morning meal. By January not one family in fifty is still eating two meals a day. In February, the evening meal diminishes.
“During March children succumb to sickness, but April is the month that haunts my memory: it’s when you hear the babies crying in the twilight; most days there is only an single cup of gruel. Then, inevitably, it happens. A 6 or 7 year old runs to his father: “Daddy! Daddy! We’ve got grain!” “Son, you know we haven’t had grain for weeks.” “Yes, we have!” the boy insists. “Out in the hut there’s a leather sack on the wall; I reached up and put my hand in; Daddy, there’s grain! Give it to Mommy so she can make flour; tonight our tummies can sleep!”
The father stands motionless. “Son, we can’t do that,” he softly explains. “That’s next year’s seed grain. It’s the only thing between us and starvation. We’re waiting for the rains, and then we must use it.” The rains finally arrive in May, and when they do the young boy watches as his father takes the sack from the wall and does the most unreasonable thing imaginable. Instead of feeding his desperate family, he goes to the field and with tears streaming down his face, takes the precious seed and throws it away, scatters it in the dirt! Why? Because he believes in the harvest.” And we trust that the God who knows the future is providing exactly what we need in the present even in those moments when our heavenly Father sows in tears.
III. Therefore trust the God who knows the future. (Genesis 47:27-31)
Clearly, God was calling his people to trust him in Egypt as he prepared their future. Chapter 47:27-31: Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number. 28Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. 29When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried." "I will do as you say," he said. 31"Swear to me," he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
Notice that while the Egyptians were giving up their property along the Nile, the Hebrews were acquiring property suitable for flocks. As a result, after the famine, they were fruitful and greatly increased in number. By the time of the Exodus, 400 years later, they had increased from seventy to nearly six hundred thousand adult males.
God, who had promised they would become a great nation, was blessing them with that growth. So Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years. It’s fascinating that Joseph was under Jacob’s care the first seventeen years of his life and Jacob was under Joseph’s care the last seventeen.
And when the time came for Jacob to die, he was still trusting in the promises of God, specifically the promise that God would bring him back to Canaan. He calls Joseph to his deathbed and asks him to swear on oath - with his hand under his thigh - that he will take his father’s body to Canaan and bury him with his fathers Abraham and Isaac. Joseph promises on oath to do so. Then Jacob, wonderfully, worships God while leaning on his staff. This is a moment of praise and thanksgiving for Jacob, thanksgiving to a God who has miraculously provided for the present needs of his family; praise to a God who will be faithful to his promises for the future.
If we know the God who holds the future, we can trust in our present circumstances. He does hold our future - and no election, no market meltdown, no hurricane can occur outside of his sovereign providence. Let me give you a great example as we close:
The leaders of Galveston Bible Church have been praying for years that God would move the congregation out of its building and into the lives of those around them on the Island. During those same years two of the elders of Galveston Bible Church have acquired relatively strange pieces of property. One bought a warehouse, about a block from the church. He used a few machine tools there, but mostly it was empty.
The other actually bought a church building, an empty Lutheran church, which he hoped could some day be used to augment Galveston Bible Church’s facilities.
Then came Hurricane Ike. All three facilities were flooded. Mark Lewis arrived with EFCA Crisis Response, and immediately began encouraging Galveston Bible Church to take this huge set back as a ministry opportunity. All who could began to gut and clean the main church building. But it didn’t stop there. If Crisis Response was to do long term relief it would need storage for supplies, a storefront for distributing food, and a dormitory for housing relief teams.
One elder offered the warehouse. One end had lost the roof, but it was a solid building and easily put back into marginal shape. Soon it was being used as a food distribution point, and as warehousing for all the gutting and rebuilding supplies needed by the team. Then there was the church. The manse was transformed into housing for staff and female helpers. The sanctuary was cleaned and a team came in and built 40 bunk beds in one day. Now Galveston Bible Church has a fully operative ministry center: not just a church building, but three buildings dedicated to reaching the people of Galveston for Jesus, through compassion and proclamation.
You can trust a God who sees the future to provide what is needed. You can trust a God who holds your future to provide what is needed in the present.