Sermon: Resident Aliens

If you have a Bible with you, feel free to open it with me to Genesis 47. Genesis 47, beginning in verse 1. Genesis is the first book in the Bible. If you don’t have a Bible with you, simply open your ears and your heart to hear God’s Word. 

We are picking up the story of the family of Jacob as they move down into Egypt. The family was broken for twenty years, but God work to knit them together and reconcile them all for the sake of his larger plan of salvation. This week, we begin to approach the end of the book of Genesis as the people of Israel settle in the land as resident aliens. It’s Genesis 47, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear God’s Word, please take a moment to pray with me. 

Prayer

So Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan, they are now in the land of Goshen.” From among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our ancestors were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to reside as aliens in the land; for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, we ask you, let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land; let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know that there are capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”

Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob, and presented him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the years of your life?” Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my earthly sojourn are one hundred thirty; few and hard have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors during their long sojourn.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. Joseph settled his father and his brothers, and granted them a holding in the land of Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had instructed. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents.

Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe. The land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine. Joseph collected all the money to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought; and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. When the money from the land of Egypt and from the land of Canaan was spent, all the Egyptians came to Joseph, and said, “Give us food! Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” And Joseph answered, “Give me your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” So they brought their livestock to Joseph; and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. That year he supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock. When that year was ended, they came to him the following year, and said to him, “We cannot hide from my lord that our money is all spent; and the herds of cattle are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our lands. Shall we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land in exchange for food. We with our land will become slaves to Pharaoh; just give us seed, so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.”

So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. All the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe upon them; and the land became Pharaoh’s. As for the people, he made slaves of them from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy; for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh, and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land. Then Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have this day bought you and your land from Pharaoh, here is seed for you; sow the land. And at the harvests you shall give one-fifth to Pharaoh, and four-fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” They said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be slaves to Pharaoh.” So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stand to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth. The land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s. 

Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; and they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly. Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were one hundred forty-seven years.

When the time of Israel’s death drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor with you, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal loyally and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt. When I lie down with my ancestors, carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself on the head of his bed. 

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

So I am in the process of getting my Permanent Residency Visa here in Canada. At this point, I am technically a visitor with special privileges because I am a pastor. But the Permanent Residency Visa, or PR card, would allow me to stay in Canada on a more permanent basis. I do love it here and am looking forward to the feeling of security that having this visa will give me. I don’t know yet whether I will apply later for citizenship here. It is too early for me to answer that, even though I love it here. 

Yet, the PR Card is both a welcome to me, but also a consistent reminder of my status. I am a resident alien. I am not from here, yet I live here. This is the place where I have been called to live and work, even though I come from another country. 

In our passage this morning, Israel enters Egypt as resident aliens, as permanent residents, as those who live and work in Egypt, but who belong to another land. This will be Israel’s place in Egypt for generations and continues to be a part of the life of God’s people during the exile and the diaspora. They live as resident aliens, as those who live and work in one place, but whose home is another land. 

In the New Testament, this language is applied to the church. We are resident aliens in this world. Paul says in Philippians that “our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20). We live and work in Canada and the States, Haiti and Hong Kong, Nigeria and Nicaragua, but our true home is in heaven. We live as resident aliens, as those who live in this world, but whose true citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven.

For the Christian, all earthly citizenship is at best a PR card. It gives us a place and welcome, but our true citizenship is in heaven, our true loyalty is to our King. 

So what does it look like to live as resident aliens, as landed immigrants in this world (to us a more familiar phrase)? This is the situation of Israel as they enter into Egypt. So what can we learn from Israel’s experience as resident aliens in Egypt that speaks to our experience as resident aliens here in this world?

Four things. First, as resident aliens, we receive the blessings of the nation, but don’t become attached to them. When God brings his people into the land of Egypt, it is almost an ideal situation. There is a Pharaoh in charge who knows and respects Joseph. When five of the brothers are brought before Pharaoh and ask to live in the land as aliens, Pharaoh welcomes them. He allows them to settle in the land of Egypt, inviting them to take the best part of the land, to live as they requested in Goshen. They are welcomed with open arms and blessed to be in Egypt. Even more, Pharaoh invites Joseph to identify the capable shepherds among the people of Israel and appoint them to oversee Pharaoh’s own flocks. This would make them officers of the crown, offering privileges and protections that would not normally be given to foreigners. They are given land, they are given work, they are given food, provided for by Joseph, while the rest of the country has to pay. They are blessed above and beyond the average person upon entering Egypt because of their association with Joseph.

As resident aliens in this world, like Israel, we receive the blessings of the nations. We know that all these blessings ultimately come from the hand of God. The fact that they settle in Goshen, that they are protected from exploitation by their role as Pharaoh’s shepherds, that they have their food provided for them by Joseph, this is no accident, no coincidence, no stroke of good luck. It is the gift and blessing of God. There are times in the life of God’s people and places in the world, where being counted a Christian results in favor or blessing from the nations in which we live. When this is so, give thanks to God. 

However, we receive the blessings of the nations, but don’t become attached to them. Right now, at this point in the story, Pharaoh and Egypt are pleasantly disposed toward the people of God. But that doesn’t last. The tides turn between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. In fact, far more often in Scripture do we find the nations hostile to the people of God. A Pharaoh arises in Egypt who does not know Joseph and favor turns to oppression and slavery. 

The blessings of the nations are fickle and fleeting. So we receive them when they come, but do not get attached to them. Whether we are loved today or hated tomorrow, our call to faithfulness to God does not change. In fact, for much of the church, the lowly position of despised often creates greater strength and growth in the church. 

As Christians in the West, we have long enjoyed the favor and blessings of the nations in which we have lived. But that is changing. In different ways in different places, but the privileged place of the church in society and in the country is fading. We are like Israel in the long years between the entry into Egypt and the arrival of the Exodus. We still enjoy some privileges and some power, but we increasingly live in places where there are leaders who do not remember Joseph. The blessings that we see here in the opening verses of Genesis 47 seem a distant past. 

Yet as resident aliens, we receive the blessings of the nations when they come, but we do not become attached to them. They are fickle and fleeting. The response to our situation is neither a triumphal march on Ottawa, nor a resigned hiding waiting for it all to be over, but the recognition that we have been here before. We have walked the road where favor fades and cracks begin to form. Yet for us in Egypt, as now, the blessings and favor of the world change with the winds, but the promise and power of God is a sure and certain foundation.

So the first thing we learn from Israel’s entry into Egypt as resident aliens is that, as the church, we receive the blessings of the nations when they come, but do not become attached to them. They will fade, they will change, but the promise of our God will not. 

The second thing we learn is to bless the nation where we live and seek the flourishing of the church. We see this in Jacob. After receiving Pharaoh’s blessing to settle his family in Goshen, Joseph brings Jacob before Pharaoh. And Jacob blesses Pharaoh. Twice – at the beginning and at the end of their conversation. Jacob begins and ends his engagement with the King of Egypt with blessing. In part, this is a fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 12, where those who bless the people of God will be blessed by God and Jacob is blessed to be a blessing to others.

This blessing from Jacob was not a blanket endorsement of everything Egypt did. It was not a stamp of approval or a church leader saying that God blesses Egypt. It was not Jacob saying to Egypt, ‘you have my blessing.’ Instead, it was the hard and powerful work of blessing that we will see a bit more of when Jacob blesses his own children in the next chapter. It is more akin to what Jesus is saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’ or Romans 12 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (v.14, 21) or the word of the LORD through Jeremiah to the exiles, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prospers” (29:7). 

Jacob blesses Pharaoh and we are not told the words of his blessing. Yet, we too are called to bless the cities and nations where God has called us. We do this not by condoning each and everything thing our society says, but by loving our neighbor and enemy, blessing even those who persecute us, and seeking the good of our community. This is why we partner with so many local missions here at Bethel. We bless Pharaoh when we care for the vulnerable pregnant women and their unborn children through the Pregnancy Centre. We bless Pharaoh when we drop food in the basket for WhyNot or the Food Bank, when we open our homes to those in need, and when we pray for our leaders – even those who do not know Christ. We bless our community by sharing the ultimate blessing of the good news of Jesus Christ. The blessing and favor of the nations are fickle and fleeting, but the call and power of the people of God to bless and bless, even under duress, does not change. 

And in this exile, in this time as resident aliens, God grows his church. The people of Israel were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly in soil that we might not have thought hospitable. Yet such is the power of God. 

So the first thing we learn from Israel’s journey to Egypt is to receive the blessings of the nations when they come, but not to grow attached to them. Put not your trust in princes, in mortal men in whom there is no salvation. Whether we are loved like Israel here, or hated like Israel later, we can bless those around us, like Jacob blessed Pharaoh through our prayers and acts of love and service. 

There is a third thing we can learn here. We must be mindful of the systems in place in the land (even the ones we put in place). This is a hard one for us. As evangelicals, we rightly pay close attention to the call for everyone personally to know and have faith in Christ. We have our ears tuned to the need for personal responsibility for each of us will stand before the judgment throne of God. We see the benefits of this in our life with God as well as in the world. All this is right and good. However, at times this can make it hard for us to see the wider systems that impact our world for good or ill. 

Some of the challenges around the conversations in the church and society about racism, police brutality, and economic injustice are made more difficult by the fact that we, myself included, find it much easier to think as individuals and not in larger systems. 

But we are confronted with a system in our passage this morning. A system put in place by Joseph, a man of God, that strengthened the power of Pharaoh while ultimately leaving most of Egypt without land, property, or freedom. And it should trouble us far more than it does. 

The famine that struck the world is so severe that there is no food anywhere but what Joseph has stored up. Everyone spends all their money to buy grain, putting all sorts of resources in the coffers of Pharaoh. That works for one year, but there is still no food the next year. When the people cry out, Joseph offers a deal. Livestock for food. The people take it, hoping to avoid starvation, and they eat, and Pharaoh now owns all the livestock. Again, that is good for a year, but there is still no food the next year. The people have nothing left but their land and their own bodies, so they sell them both to Pharaoh. The people eat, they survive the famine. Through this, Joseph rescues Egypt from starvation. 

Yet as Joseph saves Egypt, he also enslaves them. This is what is so troubling about the system Joseph sets up. Almost every part of it makes sense at the time. But the end result is slavery. As for the people, he made slaves of them from one end of Egypt to the other. By the end of the famine, Pharaoh has all the money, all the livestock, all the land, and owns all the people. All because of the system that Joseph set up, all because of how efficient an administrator of agriculture and finance Joseph turns out to be. 

This is the troubling and mixed legacy of Joseph and why, as resident alients, we must be mindful of the systems in place in the land where we live (even in the ones we put in place). Joseph works to save Egypt. I have nothing but confidence in the goodness of his motives. And with Joseph as administrator, this system of land slavery only amounts to a 20% taxation. Joseph is good and kind, working for the best of the people even when he sets up this system. Yet, it still ends in slavery. And when someone unlike Joseph will come into place, the same system – the same power that Joseph gave to Pharaoh – will be used to enslave Joseph’s people. 

We must be mindful of the system in place in the land (even the ones we put in place) because every system is tainted by sin because every system is set up by a sinner. And every system set up by human hands can be twisted to enslave. Joseph himself was sold into slavery in Egypt and ends up with all of Egypt in slavery to Pharaoh. Joseph manages to protect his own people – the Israelites have their food provided for them and are not selling their land, livestock, and bodies to Pharaoh, but that special treatment won’t last. 

So the church should never become too wed to any system of economics, government, or social order. We can rightly seek good systems for the sake of the city, to improve systems, or even to overthrow systems that do the work of Satan, but there will be no perfect systems – parliament, capitalism, socialism, metropolitanism, democracy or monarchy – until the day when the New Jerusalem shall descend. All fall short and all can be twisted toward sinful injustice, even those set up by Christians. We see this in Joseph, who saved Egypt and also enslaved it. 

But we should also be mindful of the systems in place around us because it is easy to be blind to them when they do not hurt us. The people of Israel were not hurt by the system of slavery and land consolidation. They had their food provided for them, they had the best land in Egypt. 

Right now, we look at the enslavement of the Egyptians and easily pass it over because it isn’t happening to our people, just the Egyptians. We can say nice things like ‘at least they were being fed’ or ‘look, they praised Joseph  and did it willingly’ or ‘these are the consequences of their actions. Take responsibility.’ But soon enough, it will be us. We don’t turn a blind eye when the opening of Exodus tells of slavery, of oppression, and of genocide. We rightly lament and gasp at the horrors. But what about now? Do we see the destitute Egyptians selling themselves and have no compassion, simply turn to the next page, because it is not our people, not our problem, because they do not belong to the covenant people of God? And at this point in the story, the people of God are being blessed while the Egyptians sell themselves as slaves. We are being given the best land in Egypt while the people of Egypt are selling all their land just to eat. 

In seeing the system Joseph put in place, we – as resident aliens – are invited to open our eyes to the systems around us in our society and to look with eyes for those who are being hurt by them, especially when it is not us. So Christians can be people who act with compassion for the poor, the weak, and the marginalized, but also be the people who ask hard questions about employment, housing, addiction, health care, family structures, and education. So Christians can be people who fight for the rights of the unborn while also asking what is happening that makes abortion seem like a good choice for women. So Christians can be people support those seeking to exit their additions while also asking what is happening to cause such a rise in addiction in the first place. 

What does it look like to live like Israel, to live as resident aliens in this world? It means receiving the blessings of the world without growing attached to them, because they might be gone tomorrow. It means seeking to bless the place God has placed us. And it means having our eyes open to the systems in place around us, how they are tainted by sin, and how they hurt others, so that we can work for the sake of the lost, the poor, and the broken. 

But lastly, we see in Israel here that living as resident aliens means remembering where we truly belong. The chapter ends with Jacob near death. As he feels death approaching, he calls for Joseph and makes him swear an oath not to bury him in Egypt, but in the promised land. After seventeen years in Egypt, Jacob – Israel – remembers his homeland. He remembers where he truly belongs. He will die in Egypt, but he wants his body to rest in the land of promise. He lives in Egypt, but he belongs to the Lord.

His request was a symbol of his identity, of knowing where he truly belonged. 

That is to be our posture during all our years as resident aliens in this world. We live here, but we belong to the LORD. As we live, there may be times where the church is blessed and embraced by society – and praise the LORD – but there may be many more times where the favor fades and there are leaders who do not know Joseph, who do not know the LORD. In those times, as always, we bless, we keep our eyes open to the systems around us for the sake of the lost and hurting, and we remember where we truly belong. 

I honestly hope my process of getting a PR card is swift and I have it soon. I do love being here. But the truth is, for all of us who belong to Christ, we are all only permanent resident, resident aliens, in this world. Let’s learn to live like it. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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