How do we read the Bible? In particular, how do we read in such a way that our hearts change? If we spend any amount of time reading the Bible, sooner or later we will be reading and find ourselves wondering, ‘God what are you saying to me here?’ We might have all the facts straight, we might know all the names, and even sense that we actually understand what is going on in the story, but still wonder, ‘God, what are you saying to me here?’ If you have ever been reading the Bible and found this question rumbling in your heart, you are not alone. I have four main things I do when I am reading the Bible and find myself stuck, find myself wondering just what God is saying to me here in these verses. I want to offer one of them to you this morning as we listen to Genesis 46, in the hope that it will be helpful not just in this chapter, but whenever you are reading the Bible. It is the principle of the Double Love.
I got this principle from Saint Augustine, who got it from Jesus. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus sums up the whole law of God with two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. As Augustine is reflecting on these verses he says that if Jesus tells us that this is what holds the Bible together, then this is what we should expect to find every time we open the Bible. Reading the Bible well should help us grow in loving God and loving our neighbor. Augustine goes so far as to say that even if you read the Bible and get everything about it right, but it has not led you to love God more and love your neighbor more, then – in fact – you are reading it wrong.
So, following Augustine, following Jesus, as we hear Genesis 46 – picking up the story of Joseph as his brothers and father Jacob head down to Egypt – we will be listening to answer two questions: What in this passage leads us to love God more? What in this passage leads us to love our neighbor more?
With those questions in our ears, listen with me to the word of the Lord, but before we do, please pray with me.
Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:
When Israel set out on his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” and he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father, do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes.”
Then Jacob set out from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons Pharaoh had given to carry him. They also took their livestock and the goods that they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and they came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters; all his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.
Now these are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his offspring, who came to Egypt. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the children of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. The children of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohab, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. The children of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merry. The children of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); the children of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. The children of Isaachar: Tola, Puvah, Jashub, and Shimron. The children of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel (these are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah, in all his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three). The children of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. The children of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and their sister Serah. The children of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel (these are the children of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Leah, and these she bore to Jacob – sixteen persons). The children of Jacob’s wife Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. To Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. The children of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard (these are the children of Rachel, who were born to Jacob – fourteen persons in all). The children of Dan: Hashum. The children of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem (these are the children of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel, and these she bore to Jacob – seven persons in all). All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own offspring, not including the wives of his sons, were sixty-six persons in all. The children of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.
Israel send Judah ahead to Joseph to lead the way before him to Goshen. When they came to the land of Goshen, Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. He presented himself to him, fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. Israel said to Joseph, “I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive.” Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherd, for they have been keepers of livestock, and the have brought their flocks, their herds, and all that they have.’ When Pharaoh calls you, and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, we and our ancestors’ – in order that you may settle in the land of Goshen, because all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Perhaps that questions has begun to rumble in your heart, “God, what are you saying to me here?” The plot line of this chapter is fairly straightforward. Jacob heads to Egypt. God appears to him in a vision along the way. Jacob brings his whole family down with him. Jacob and Joseph reunite, and, because they are shepherds, the family settles in the land of Goshen. Great. The facts are clear, but what does this have to do with us?
Following Augustine, who is following Jesus, we are going to let the two great commandments of Scripture cause us to listen to this passage for the answer to two questions: What in this passage leads us to love God more? What in this passage leads us to love our neighbor more?
Let’s try to answer each of the questions in turn and see where God takes us.
Our Lord Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.
What is this passage leads us to love God more?
There are at least two things. The first in in verse 4: I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes. Wherever we go, God goes with us. This promise comes to Jacob in a vision at Beersheba. This is the first time God has spoken directly in the whole story of Joseph and he speaks to Jacob here words of promise: God down to Egypt, I will go with you, and I will bring you up again.
Every time Jacob crosses the boundaries of the Promised Land, heading in or out, God has appeared to him and promised to be with him. When Jacob fled his brother Esau’s wrath and ended up spending twenty years serving in the house of Laban, God appeared to him and promised to be with him. When Jacob finally broke free and went back and was about to meet his brother Esau, God appeared to him in the night, and promised to be with him. Now, Jacob crosses the boundary one last time, and again God appears to him and promises to be with him. God’s promise to be with Jacob has covered the good times and the bad. God was with him during the long years of oppression under Laban. God was with Jacob when – surprise of surprises – Esau embraced him instead of killed him.
Now, as Jacob enters Egypt, God will go down with him. This time, Jacob will die there. It will be hundreds of years, generations, before God will bring Israel’s children up again. Yet all the while, God will be with them. At no point in all those years of struggle was God far from them, had he left them in the dark. Instead, God had gone down with them into Egypt and promised to bring them up again.
The same promise that God spoke to Jacob in the vision of the night, Jesus spoke to us. Matthew 28: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Wherever we go, God is with us. Like with Jacob, this covers the good times and the bad. When we head down, when life enters the pit, when we enter our personal Egypts, God goes down with us. He does not leave us alone in the darkness. Jesus says, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. And when we are brought up again, when we are lifted up out of our sorrows and mourning, when our cries are answered and we rejoice again, that too is the hand of the Lord. For God promised, I will also bring you up again.
So what in this passage leads us to love God more? Wherever we go, God goes with us. That’s the first place.
The second is in verses 8 through 27. The genealogy of the seventy descendants of Israel who go down into Egypt. What in this passage leads us to love God more? God cares for both individuals and families.
God is at work redeeming individuals, but also redeeming families.
This is the last genealogy in the book of Genesis, a book filled with genealogies. Yet, this is not exactly where we expected to find it. Genesis 36 was the long genealogy of the children of Esau, then Genesis 37 starts out this way: Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. Cue genealogy listing all the sons and daughters of Jacob. That is how it has usually worked in Genesis. But no. Instead, we have this twenty year saga where the brothers hated Joseph, stripped him, sold him, and tore their family apart. Yet God was with Joseph and twenty years later, he knits the family back together. Only then, only now, do we get the list of the children of Jacob. All these children had already been born, but we get them at the end, because God cares about the family.
It is only when the family is whole again that we hear about the coming generations. God is at work redeeming individuals, but also redeeming families. These seventy names we have in these nineteen verses are concrete individuals with with own stories and struggles, but they are also a family. God’s promises, God’s redemption, God’s salvation plan in this world is for both individuals and families. God is concerned for Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi and the whole family of Israel.
We see this double concern for families and individuals through the Scriptures. God calls Abraham the individual and promises to give him a family. God rescues the whole family of Israel from Egypt through the individuals he called – Moses and Aaron. God calls individuals to faith and trust in him, yet called them to circumcise their children, to mark them as part of the family of God and raise them to know and love the Lord. We see it all down the line – individual judges, prophets, and kings, yet working for the redemption of the whole family of God. And we see it in the church, where Jesus called the disciples one by one, and yet called them into the family of God and called Christians to raise up children in the faith, marking them with the waters and promises of baptism, so that they too would confess faith in Jesus Christ.
Later this morning, we will see a vivid example of just what it means that God cares for individuals and families, what we see in this detailed genealogy of the family of Jacob. Later this morning, Joanna Vellenga will make her public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Seventeen years ago, her parents brought her to the font to be baptized, and heard the promises of God spoken over her – to forgive her sins, to adopt her in the body of Christ, the church, to send the Holy Spirit daily to renew and cleanse her, and to resurrect her to eternal life. In some ways, Joanna standing up before us in a few minutes is God keeping his promises made to this family all those years ago. A baptized child of the faith standing up and proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ shows that God cares about families. Yet, Joanna will also stand there as an individual, as one who herself has heard the gospel and responded in faith. She will stand as one who believes not just because it was taught to her or it is what her family believes, but because she herself believes in Jesus Christ – heart and soul. A baptized child of the faith standing up and proclaiming faith in Jesus Christ shows that God cares about individuals. She matters to God, you matter to God, all people matter to God, not because of what family they are born into, what advantages or disadvantages they have received, but because of the good news of the gospel, that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins. She has a name and it is by her name that God has called her to faith in Christ.
This is part of the beauty and power of this genealogy here in Genesis 46. There are names. Lots of them. Most of them we know nothing about other than that they are here. Yet, the Holy Spirit consider each and every one of them important enough to be included in Scripture. We know nothing about Muppim, Huppim, and Ard, but God does. It was his will that their names be included here, that when the roll call of the family of God is called, they would be included. We know nothing about Eri, Arodi, and Areli, but God does. Each individual named in this genealogy is a life that matters to God, even if we know nothing about it.
So if you feel insignificant, like you are nothing but a name on a page, swallowed up by your family or lost in the shuffle, God knows you. Even if no one else does. Even if no one else will remember your name or your story in fifty years, God knows you, just as he knows Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul.
In the inclusion of this genealogy here, we see God’s passion for families and we see God’s passion for each and every individual. What in this passage leads us to love God more? God cares about families, even yours, and God cares about individuals, even you.
There are at least two places in this chapter that lead us to love God more. The first is God’s promise to go with Jacob down to Egypt and bring him up again, reiterated in Jesus’ promise to be with us always to the very end of the age. Wherever we go, God goes with us. The second is found in the genealogy, where God concern for the whole family of Israel and each individual is brought together. So your family and you matter to God.
But what about our second question? What in this passage leads us to love our neighbor more?
I’ll admit this one is a bit harder to see in this passage. However, briefly, there are at least two places that push us forward in loving our neighbor. The first is again in the genealogy. God loves individuals and families. He is passionate about it. We see this throughout the Bible, but it is highlighted here in this catalogue of the family of God. If God is so concerned about families and individuals, we should be too. If God worked twenty years to take what the brothers had torn apart and knit it back together, in fact better than when it started, then Christians should be concerned to strengthen, heal, and knit together families. If God cares about the broken family of Jacob, about the hatred, the lies, and the guilt that threaten to bury them – to the point that he would do all that work through Joseph in Egypt – then we – as followers of Christ – should care for the broken families in our communities, for the hatred, lies, and guilt that threaten to bury them as well. God cares about individuals and families, and if God is so concerned, so should we be.
If God cares for the forgotten names and lives of Ziphion, Haggi, and Shuni, then we should be caring for the nameless and forgotten in our community, house who feel unloved and uncared for as individuals. Learn the names of your neighbors, learn their stories. Just last week I learned the story of a strong little girl who lives just by the church. I don’t know her name yet, but I know some of her story now, I know that God knows her, and I’ve been trying to pray for her.
So that’s the first place in this passage that leads us to love our neighbor more: God’s concern for families and individuals should lead us to do the same.
The second is found right at the end, verses 31 to 34. One of the ways we love our neighbor is being distinct as the people of God. The people of Israel are shepherds. Though Joseph wants them to come to Egypt, to be fed and settled, he does not tell them to hide their calling and occupation. Instead, they are to upfront about it, even though it will make them abhorrent to the Egyptians. I’ve wondered if Joseph does this intentionally or if it is just divine providence, but being honest about their calling as shepherds means the Israelites will live with the Egyptians, but also separate from them. They live among the Egyptians, but never as one of them. This witness of life and word, of the power and calling of God, will be powerful over the generations they are in Egypt, so that when they are finally brought out, though Pharaoh and the powers of Egypt hate and fear them, some of the Egyptians will leave and go with the Israelites to the promised land.
One of the ways we love our neighbor is being distinct as the people of God. We are shepherds. We have been called to a different way than the way of the world. We have been called to follow Jesus – loving enemies, turning the other cheek, forgiving seventy-seven times, rooting out lust, not worshipping money. We have been called to live differently. Like the sons of Israel, that will mean living in the Egypt, but never belonging to Egypt, living in the world but never belonging to it. Yet living for Christ, even if it is abhorrent to the world, is one of the best ways we love our neighbors.
How do we read the Bible? What do we do when we get all the facts straight and understand just what is happening, yet wonder, “God what are you saying to me here?” I offered you one way of listening well to the Word this morning: Augustine’s way of Double Love. If all the law and the prophets hang on the commands to love God and love neighbor, then when we listen to Scripture eager to grow in our love, then we know we are moving toward the truth. So as we heard the passage and listened for what leads us to love God and neighbor more, I guess the question for each of us is: were we listening?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.