A Memorable Family Reunion

May 5, 2013 / No. 3670

Dear fellow saints in the church of Jesus Christ,
Last week in our series of messages on the life of Joseph we looked at the passage in which Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, a moving scene of shock on the part of the brothers and compassion and forgiveness on the part of Joseph. Today we move on to the next scene, one in which Joseph’s entire family is reunited in Egypt. We will begin in Genesis chapter 45:16 and go all the way through chapter 46. This passage records what I call a memorable family reunion.
In this section in Genesis there’s a shift in emphasis. For almost nine chapters the focus in Genesis has been on Joseph and his experiences in Egypt. But the story of Joseph is just one small part of a much greater story, the story of God’s covenant people and God’s faithfulness to them. This is the story of God keeping the covenant promise He had made to Abraham that He would make of him a great nation; that He would raise up the promised seed, that is Christ, in his generations; and that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. In the passage we look at today we zoom out from Joseph and God’s care of him, to Jacob and his family, and God’s care of them. Through Joseph, God is saving and preserving His covenant people, His church, in the family of Jacob, and He is doing that so that the promised Messiah may come in their generations.
In the passage we look at we have not only a family reunited, but the church reunited; and in bringing the whole family of Jacob down to Egypt, God is setting the stage for them to become the great nation who will return to and take possession of the promised land of Canaan. Now they live in Canaan as pilgrims and strangers, a small clan with no territory of their own, but they will come back from Egypt as a great nation and take possession of Canaan.
And so, we have a shift in emphasis in this passage. The Holy Spirit, who inspired this sacred narrative, calls attention to that shift by changing the name of Jacob to Israel, partway through this passage. In chapter 45:27-28 we read this: “And Jacob their father revived, and Israel said, It is enough.” We could easily read over that, without noticing it, but that shift is significant. Jacob is his name as an individual, his name when he is working independently and trying by his own strength to attain the promises of God. Israel is the name that God gave to him that identifies him as the patriarch who acts in faith. And now he is given that name again, because he begins, here, to act in faith. Before, when he was acting in unbelief, Jacob said, “All these things are against me.” Now, acting in faith, he sees this bigger picture, and he sees that God is working to save a people and a nation from his family. And I would point out too, that Joseph’s brothers in this passage are now called, “The children of Israel.” You see that in chapter 45:21 and chapter 46 verses 5 and 8.
So this is the story of God bringing His church together as one. There is unity and peace again in the family of Jacob, and that is a unity and peace in God’s church. A memorable family reunion, indeed.
There are three things we want to say about this reunion. The first is that it was satisfying. At the end of chapter 45, Jacob, who is called Israel, says, “It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die.” Jacob means: This makes me truly happy. Now, I am satisfied.
In the verses leading up to this, Jacob’s sons come back from Egypt with the news that Joseph is yet alive, and that he is the governor over all the land of Egypt. When they first tell their father this news, we read in verse 26 that Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not. That means that momentarily his heart stopped. The news was too shocking. He did not believe his sons, even when they told him all the things that Joseph had said.
And why should he believe them? For 22 years now they had been telling him that Joseph was killed by a wild beast. For 22 years he has grieved over the death of Joseph. Why should he suddenly believe that Joseph was alive? Was this something that his sons knew all along? And if it was, were they lying to him? Why should he believe their words now? There is still mistrust here.
But Jacob does believe after he sees the wagons that Joseph sent to carry him and his family down to Egypt. He would not believe his sons, but he will believe Joseph. And once he knows that Joseph is alive, he is satisfied. He says, “It is enough.” As I indicated, Jacob is now speaking in faith, and that’s why he is called Israel.
If you know something of Jacob’s character, you know that he was a man who was always wanting more. Yes, he was a believer, and what he truly wanted was the full experience of God’s promises; but very often Jacob ran ahead of the Lord. He was born the second twin, but held on to his brother Esau’s heel. He ran ahead of the Lord to get the birthright blessing from Esau, first by purchasing it in exchange for a bowl of soup, and then by deceiving his father Isaac. When he worked for Laban, he devised ways to make himself wealthy from Laban’s cattle. He was always saying, it is not enough, I am not satisfied.
And his discontent was with God’s timing. He was not willing to wait on God to fulfill His promises. We see that also in Jacob’s wrestling with the angel of the Lord at Peniel. He fought all night in his own strength to overcome. Now, over the last 22 years, in the misery that has come in his family, Jacob has learned that all these things are out of his hands—that the fulfillment of the promises to him will not come through his strength. He experiences the emptiness of grief, and he sees a spiritual emptiness in his family. These are things that he is powerless to rectify. He complains, even, “All these things are against me.”
But now, he says something quite different. It is enough. I am satisfied. But what exactly is it that satisfies Jacob? What is it that he as Israel, the patriarch, finds pleasing?
There are several things. The first, and most obvious, is that Joseph is alive. He is going to see his long lost son again. He will not only see him, but he will hold him, he will live with him again, he will enjoy his company. What a thrill to the heart of this old man. This my son, which I thought was dead, is alive.
But, Israel’s joy goes beyond this. If it were merely Joseph that he was interested in, then that would be quite selfish and he would not be speaking in faith as Israel. No, Jacob’s true joy here is that now he sees the faithfulness of God to him and to his family.
He sees that first in the provision that God gives to his family in this famine. Joseph, and Pharaoh, had sent back supplies and wagons to carry his entire family down to Egypt where there was food. Not only did Joseph invite Jacob to come and live in Egypt, but Pharaoh himself, the ruler of the most powerful kingdom of the earth, Pharaoh himself, said to Jacob’s sons,
Take your father and your households and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. Now thou art commanded, this do ye; take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father and come. Also, regard not your stuff, for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours.
What an invitation. The famine will last five more years, but Jacob and his family will be well cared for. Jacob sees the truth of what Joseph said to the brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” When everything seemed against him, God was in fact working to save his covenant people.
This is Jacob’s joy. That comes out in the next chapter when the whole family goes down to Egypt. Chapter 46 lists for us the names of all Jacob’s descendants who went down to Egypt, and verse 26 says, “All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, all the souls were threescore and six.” That’s 66. And then verse 27 continues, “And the sons of Joseph, which were born him in Egypt were two souls: all the souls of the house of Jacob which came into Egypt were threescore and ten,” that is, 70 in all. Here, Joseph and his wife and two sons are added to the 66 to make up the 70. And the point is that God in His faithfulness has brought this entire family back together, in peace, in one place. This is Jacob’s joy. He delights in the covenant mercy of God toward him. He delights to know that God has worked to save his entire family. His joy is that God has brought salvation to his entire household.
And in that, Jacob is able to see God preserving His church, and keeping the line of the promised Messiah alive. How hopeless that had looked before. How wretchedly wicked his sons had been. How broken and torn apart with strife this family, this church, was. But now there has been repentance and reconciliation and salvation. His sons, who were spiritually dead, are now spiritually alive.
In the book of Third John, the apostle says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” This is the satisfaction that now overwhelms Jacob as the covenant father.
And I must ask you, dear radio listener, what is your greatest desire and joy? When will you finally be happy? What is it that will make you say, I am satisfied, God has been faithful, He has given me all I could ask or want? You see, too often we are like the earlier Jacob, and not the later Israel. We want wealth and material comfort for our families. We want popularity and achievement for our children. And we pursue these things, too often, at the expense of the souls of our home. Oh, that Jacob’s longing for and satisfaction in the salvation of his family might be ours, and that it might govern all our desire and living in this world. It is enough. I am satisfied that God has been faithful and that He has saved our family. You cannot want anything better than this for your children.
The second thing we want to notice about this family reunion is that, from Jacob’s point of view, it was an intimidating reunion. What do we mean by that? We mean that, as Jacob contemplated it, he still had many fears and anxieties. In the beginning of chapter 46 we read that Jacob and his family began the journey to Egypt, and when they came to Beersheba, on the southern border of Canaan, Jacob made a sacrifice to God. And then, while he was sleeping that night, God came to him in a vision and told him not to be afraid.
Why does Jacob, at the border of Canaan, make a sacrifice to God? And why does God come to him and say, “Fear not”? Well, the obvious reason is that Jacob was afraid.
Of what?
Well, first, he was afraid to leave the promised land of Canaan. There was a history here in his family of going down to Egypt. Abraham had done it without permission from the Lord, and God had chastened him for that. When there was famine in Canaan during his father Isaac’s life, God had made it very explicit that Isaac should not go down to Egypt. And so when Jacob comes to the edge of the promised land, doubts enter his mind. Should he be leaving the promised land of Canaan?
Why would he be afraid of this? Well, it was because he was afraid that the blessing of God would not go with him if he left the land of promise. When we walk in a way of disobedience, God’s blessing does not rest on us. And if there was one thing Jacob had learned through his life, it was this, that he needed the presence and blessing of God. Much earlier in his life, when Jacob was fleeing from Esau to Laban, God had said to Jacob, “I am with thee and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” God kept His word, and brought him back to the land of Canaan, full. But now, if he leaves again, will God go with him?
Another fear for Jacob would have been the spiritual well-being of his family in their generations. How would things go for them living in the wicked and idolatrous culture of Egypt? Would God’s people lose their identity and be swallowed up in Egypt? Would this be a good environment for his children and grandchildren?
These were Jacob’s concerns.
And so God comes to him and says, “Jacob, Jacob.” He repeats his name. There are 15 times in the Bible that someone is addressed that way, and every time it indicates intimacy. God comes in tenderness to a fearful Jacob and He begins to give him reasons not to fear.
He reminds him, “I am God.” That is, Jacob, all these things are in My hands. Is that not an important reminder for us when we’re afraid? And then God reassures him of His covenant promises. “I am the God of thy father.” He is saying, I will not forget the promises that I made to Abraham and to Isaac. Then He reiterates His Word, “I will make of thee a great nation.” You see, God’s promises and His Word are reliable. The problem with fear is that we do not know, or we are not trusting God’s promises. And then God assures him, “I will go down with thee into Egypt, and will also surely bring thee up again.” So, God is saying, “Don’t worry Jacob, I’m leading you and My people to Egypt, and I will be with you there, and I will remain with you in order to lead you back again.” And, in fact, we know, God has already been down in Egypt for 22 years with Joseph. Then God adds to His promises a personal touch. God promises that Joseph will put his hand on Jacob’s eyes, meaning that when it comes time for Jacob to close his eyes for the last time in death, Joseph will be there. His loved ones will surround him.
Strengthened thus by the promises of God, Jacob and his entire family went on to Egypt. And God went with them.
There is a reminder here for us, when we are fearful about the future, especially when we are afraid for our children and their future. If we think forward, there are so many uncertainties. We too live in the midst of a very wicked world and can wonder how our children will remain pure and strong. The wickedness of our society is not just around us in a culture, but it begins to influence national and local policies and laws, and that will mean persecution in the end for God’s people. And if we think too much about that, without thinking on God’s promises, we do begin to fear for the future of God’s church and people in this world. And then God comes to us and says, “My people, My people, don’t be afraid. I am God over all these things. I will be faithful to you in the future just as I have in the past. I will be with you, and I will lead you through the fiery furnace of persecution or whatever it is that lies ahead of you, and I will bring you the promised land of Canaan. Don’t be afraid.” God’s word, here, is intended to strengthen us in our fears. As Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
When finally Jacob and his family make it to Egypt, Jacob sends Judah ahead to alert Joseph of his coming. Joseph, the governor of Egypt, readies his chariot, and goes out to meet his father. It is an emotional reunion. Joseph presented himself to his father and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. And then Jacob says, “Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive.”
All of us, I think, understand the emotion of a reunion like this. There has been a long separation, and a period of uncertainty, or perhaps some near escape from death, and then loved ones are with each other again, in each other’s arms. Recently I’ve been reading a book about the ordeal of the American Prisoners of War in North Vietnam from 1966 to 1973. In prison, there was severe torture and starvation and disease, and prisoners were not allowed to write or receive letters. Back home, parents and wives and children of the POWs did not know if their loved one was dead or alive. And then, finally, after years of separation, they are reunited. There is emotion.
That is something like the meeting of Jacob and Joseph here after so many years of grief and not knowing. But I think there is more here, because the joy is the joy of God’s people coming together again, and seeing together the hand of God that has kept them and had a purpose for them. It makes me think of what must happen in heaven when one of God’s saints here on the earth dies, and his soul is immediately taken into the presence of God, and he is reunited with loved ones who have gone before. Some day in the future, all of us, all of God’s people who are now going through trials and sufferings, will all be together in one place with Christ our Savior, and with each other. What a day of satisfaction that will be. Then what we see now darkly will become clear. Then we will see our Savior face to face. Then we will see the faithfulness and purposes of God in our lives. Then the peace and fullness and joy that Jacob and Joseph experienced here will be ours. Oh what a glorious day that will be.
Let us pray.
Father, fill us with Thy joy. Satisfy us with Thy presence. In Thy presence is fullness of joy, at Thy right hand are pleasures ever more. Oh may we always find our fullness in Thee. And so keep us from the pleasures and fears that are so present with us in this world. We ask it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.