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.”
Last Thursday’s Life for Leaders edition was entitled “God’s Mysterious, Marvelous Ways.” In this devotion I focused on Joseph’s claim that God, not his brothers, had sent him to Egypt for God’s own purposes. Today, I want to reflect with you on another dimension of God’s mysterious, marvelous ways.
We read God’s promises in Scripture. We think we know what they mean. But sometimes we are surprised, perhaps even chagrined, by the way God’s promises actually play out in our lives.
In Genesis 45, Joseph’s father Jacob (also known as Israel) received the good news that Joseph was alive and flourishing in Egypt. At first, Jacob could not believe his ears. But when Joseph’s brothers convinced their father that Joseph really was alive, Jacob determined to go to Egypt and see his long, lost son.
Jacob’s first stop on his trip to Egypt was Beer-sheba, where he offered sacrifices to God. In the night, God spoke to Jacob/Israel, saying, “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” (46:3). Until this point, we had not learned that Jacob was afraid, though, given the difficult trip and foreign destination, fear would have been warranted. As God so often does, he reassured Jacob, inviting him not to fear. Why should Jacob be unafraid? Because God himself would go down with Jacob to Egypt (46:4). God’s presence chases away fear.
I’m struck by two lines in this passage that are ironic; we know much more than Jacob in what they mean. One of these lines I’ll examine today, saving the other for tomorrow.
The first line comes in verse 4, where God says, “I will also bring you up again [from Egypt].” I expect that Jacob would have heard this as a promise that he would personally return to Canaan while still alive. He did return to his homeland, in a sense, but only after he had died (Gen 50). It’s also possible that God’s promise, “I will also bring you up again,” points, not to the singular “you” of Jacob, but to the “you” of Jacob’s people, the Israelites. But this return would happen hundreds of years later, in a way that Jacob would never have imagined.
I believe we are often rather like Jacob in this story. We read God’s promises in Scripture. We think we know what they mean. But sometimes we are surprised, perhaps even chagrined, by the way God’s promises actually play out in our lives. For example, we might hear God’s promise of blessing and assume we know what this means. But then we experience severe suffering or loss. Only later can we see how God was indeed blessing us through our struggle in ways we had not anticipated.
What sustains us when life becomes much tougher than we had imagined? The same thing that sustained Jacob, namely, the promise of God’s presence. No matter what happens in our lives, no matter how discouraged or downtrodden we might be in the moment, God is with us, and this makes all the difference.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of times when you “heard” God speak, perhaps through Scripture, and thought you knew what God meant, only to be surprised or even chagrined?
How does God’s presence in our lives “show up”? What helps you to know that God is with you, even in the hard times?
Gracious God, indeed, your ways are mysterious and marvelous, though sometimes we can’t really grasp the marvelous part. There are times when it really feels to us as if you have forgotten to be faithful or, worse yet, you have turned your back on us. Yet, your promise to be with us remains. Help us, we pray, to have confidence in you and your presence, even in the hard times of life. Help us to trust you, to rely on you, to be comforted in you. Amen.