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.”
Sometimes God’s “mysterious, marvelous ways” exceed all of our expectations in their obvious goodness. Sometimes, however, God’s ways are mysterious in the opposite direction. It can be hard to catch the marvelous quality.
We can look back at the Exodus and see how God’s mysterious ways unfolded marvelously. But, for those who experienced slavery in Egypt, the mystery would have been far greater but the marvel far more difficult to grasp.
Take, for example, God’s promise to Jacob/Israel in Genesis 46:3: “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.” Now, we have often heard a promise rather like this in Genesis. Several times God promised to make Abraham a “great nation” (for example, Gen 12:2). Now this same promise is delivered to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. Yet, the surprise in this promise is the location: Egypt. Nothing God promised to Abraham would have suggested that Egypt would be the location for his progeny to increase in number. This is sure another example of God’s mysterious ways.
For those of us who know the story of Israel in Egypt, we get the irony in God’s promise. Yes, indeed, God did make Israel great in Egypt. As it says in Exodus 1:7, “But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.” Yet this turned out to be the source of great suffering for God’s people, when Pharaoh, fearful of the greatness of the Israelites, oppressed them, turning them into slaves and making their life bitter.
If I had been in Jacob’s shoes, I would have heard God’s promise of greatness as something altogether good. I would have thought, “My progeny will grow in number and power.” I would not have thought, “And then they will be oppressed and enslaved.” Nor would I have imagined, “And then God will deliver them with wondrous signs and bring them back to the land of promise.” No, if I were Jacob, I would have envisioned only goodness.
We can look back at the Exodus and see how God’s mysterious ways unfolded marvelously. But, for those who experienced slavery in Egypt, the mystery would have been far greater but the marvel far more difficult to grasp. Thus, as we read Genesis 46 in the context of the larger biblical story, we are reminded once more that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8). We receive with gladness God’s promises, even as we recognize that things may not turn out how we prefer. But, in the end, we trust that God’s ways are always best. When we can’t understand them, we hold on ever more tightly to God who is always with us.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of times in your life when things did not turn out as you had hoped, perhaps even times when you doubted God? As you look back on those times, can you see God’s presence and grace at work?
What helps us to trust God when life is much more complex and difficult than we would have imagined?
Gracious God, as we face things in life that are unexpected and unwelcome, help us to trust you, to sense your presence, to rely on your grace. Give us confidence, we pray, that you are working in all things for good. Amen.