Further In and Deeper Down: God’s Real Presence for our Real Fears (Gen. 46:1-47:27)
Supposedly the Mayans predicted the world was going to end this week on the 21st. So I just wanted to say it was great knowing you and see you on the other side. I don’t know if the world is going to end this week or today or next year, but I do know that for many people, end of the year often means end of the year anxiety. Sometimes it is because in January you told yourself you were supposed to clean out that closet in 2012 and it still has not been cleaned. Perhaps you thought you would be in a better place in life by the end of this year and nothing has really changed. There is disappointment. Others of us are wondering what this next year will hold and there is still so much unknown.
There is fear of the future. There is fear of failure. Some of us may lie awake at night replaying the same video over and over again in our minds about some worry we are facing; perhaps about circumstances or the future. It kills our joy and did you know that it can destroy us physically as well? It kicks God out of the picture. As Michael Pritchard says, “Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed.” In the Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, Screwtape (a picture of Satan) tells Wormwood, his nephew, “There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy.”(The Enemy here represents God). One author says, “Fear is a magnifying glass, enlarging everything you look at. Fear takes a possible threat and blows it way out of proportion, amplifying it so it’s beyond rational thinking and overly emotional.”
The media makes it worse. They exaggerate our fears and make a profit out of it. Look at the news. The most shocking and unusual stories are the top stories of the day to get you to watch. Marketers profit of our fear too. They like to tap into “our major fears of failure, loneliness, sickness, death as well as our minor fears of being shunned, experiencing discomfort, being out of fashion or being overweight or underdeveloped. The list of possible fears is endless, as are the possible remedies – all available to those with money to spend.” Politicians tell us to fear other nations and governments. Media says, “Fear everything around you.” Doctors say, “Take this pill to kill your fear.” But all of those things actually take us further in and deeper down in our fear. God wants to take us further in and deeper down into His heart in the midst of our fears.
We are winding down our series in Genesis and through the life of Joseph. We saw Joseph going further in and deeper down into adversity, but God took Him further in and deeper down into His purposes. We saw the brothers of Joseph going further in and deeper down into hate, cruelty and guilt, but God took them further in and deeper down into His heart of grace. What about Jacob? We did a whole series called “Gripped by Grace” on him. I was done with him, but God isn’t. Jacob was going further in and deeper down into grief and today, we will look at the fear that was crippling him. He’s been traumatized by grief and been through a lot. In his old age of 130, he is still broken. Aren’t you glad that we have a God who does not give up on us, no matter how old we get?
But Jacob is going to get rocked again. He is going to have to move his entire family to another land. For a good part of his life, he was running. He finally settles down, only for God to say, “Time to go. Again.” This goes against everything he has learned all of his life. You can be sure he is full of fear. How is this going to work? God I thought you were leading me one way and now you are changing things around? You know that old people and change don’t mix right God? Lots of unknowns. Lots of fear. Lots of transition. If that is like you today, hear the word of the Lord. Let’s start with this:
I. The anatomy of fear (Gen. 46:1-27)
Last time, we saw that God’s fatherly and loving discipline brings Joseph and his brothers together finally (Gen. 45:1-15). They have reconciled. Joseph knows from his dream that his whole family is to be with him in Egypt. Pharaoh hears about this and promises Joseph and his family a good place to live in Egypt, since the famine is going to plague the area for five more years. So Joseph sends the brothers back to bring back the entire family to Egypt, especially his father (Gen. 45:16-24).
When Jacob, after believing for 22 years that his son was dead, hears that in fact he was alive all this time, he almost has a heart attack. It seems like he didn’t believe them. Every time these brothers leave Egypt and something crazy happens. He doesn’t know who or what to trust anymore (Gen. 45:25-26). But finally he sees that all of this stuff they brought back proved that they were not lying and then all he can think about it is seeing Joseph again (Gen. 45:27-28). He doesn’t know how much longer he will live, so he makes a hasty, impulsive decision to leave.
It seems as though he didn’t think through all the implications of this move just yet. Everyone is told to pack up. This is no picnic. There were at least seventy persons: men, women, and little children, as well as flocks and herds. And they go on this journey. Remember the old Jacob was a grabber. If he wanted something, he would go and take it stepping over anyone who got in his way. But he has matured, because the moment they get to Beersheba, which is the end of the Promised Land, he stops to worship. Why? Well it was the place whee
a) Fear tempts us to take control
This is how you know you have unbelief in your heart. You are a control freak. Fear tells you that you need to take control of the uncontrollable. This is what Jesus meant when he said, ““Which of you by worrying can add a single cubit to his lifespan, a single hour? If you can’t even do a small thing, why are you worrying about the rest?” (Luke 12:25-26). You might try to work out as much as possible and that’s good, but in the end, you can still get sick. You can’t control your health future. You might spend and save wisely as you can and that’s good, but in the end, you cannot control your financial future. You can try to love and invest and pour into your kids or people in your life, but in the end, you cannot control their salvation or a guarantee for their growth. You can try to make your career work and try to advance in it, but in the end, we can’t try to control our job to make it everything we want it to be. We are not smart enough or capable enough to see my career become all we have hoped it will be. We can’t control our church future, either. Anxiety and control are two sides of one coin. We want to control something. Since we can’t control it, we worry about it and fear ends up controlling us.
Throughout Genesis, we saw the same pattern from Abraham on. Abraham’s life is all about faith and surrender. God says, “Go to the land!” Abraham says, “Where?” God responds, “I will show you.” No real explanation. God says, “You’re going to have a son!” Abraham says, “How?” God responds, “I will show you.” Then later, “Kill your son on top of the mountain!” Abraham responds, “Why?” and God says, “I will show you.” And we saw that when Abraham took that first step, God revealed more to him.
Many people don’t like this about God. Most people are like, “God, I will get out if you show me where you are taking me and if it makes sense to me. I’ll go IF I know exactly what I’m getting myself into. Give me the blueprint.” God’s call does not work like that. God’s call means surrendering control of our lives. It’s getting out of the driver’s seat. It’s getting off the throne of our lives. The opposite of faith/trust is unbelief, and unbelief is manifested by our desire to control our lives. We say, “Show me and I will believe.” But Christ says, “Believe me and I will show you.”
Why? I think fear started to hit him. How do I know? Because God says, “Do not be afraid.” In the past, he would scheme his way out of his fears by taking it into his own hands. He stole the birthright that way. He stole the deathbed blessing that way. He tried to do it with Esau that way, until God finally humbled him. He probably looked down at his limp and ran straight to the altar. He is no longer scheming, but surrendering. When you are not surrendering, you are scheming your way out of fear and that is taking the place of God in your life. It’s going to crash. Take note:
b) In the midst of fear, we should never outgrow our need for God
At age 130, he still needs God. He worships here, offering sacrifices, which probably means he is thanking God, searching his own heart and calling on God for help. Why does Jacob need God? Because his fears will consume him otherwise. What we need for our fears is not just positive thinking or reading a book or visualizing success. But we need something to overwhelm our fears or fears will overwhelm us. Remember we said that self-control does not come from suppressing the desire from inside of us, but enhancing the desire for God outside of us. Why? The overmastering passion for the Lord will always suppress the smaller passions. It is the same with fear.
What does Jacob have fear about? I am sure a lot of questions. Lots of unknowns. First of all, he’s old. Old people don’t like change. Why am I doing this at age 130? Second of all, I’m going to go live in a wicked country that I don’t know much about. It was hard enough to keep his family away from the pollution of the Canaanites. What would happen to them in the far more dangerous environment of Egypt? Would they not end up going the way of the ungodly entirely? Third of all, Pharaohs and people of God don’t have a good record in the past. Will this Pharaoh allow them to stay or would he send them right back? If he lets them stay, where would that be exactly?
And most importantly, I am leaving the very land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob himself. He was struggling all his life to get back to the land and now he was leaving it? “Don’t go to Egypt,” God told Isaac in Gen. 26:2. When Abraham went to Egypt during a famine it was bad news. Both times. When Isaac went down to Egypt it was bad news. Jacob thinks, “Am I doing the right thing here? Nothing makes sense.”
In the past, when Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and deathbed blessing and ran away, God in His grace showed up to him in a dream (Gen. 28). When Jacob was running away from Laban, his uncle and knew he had to face his brother Esau again, God showed up in a muscle shirt and wrestled his self-sufficiency away (Gen. 32). So now, instead of waiting for God to manifest himself to him in some new or startling way, Jacob actually sought God. The story tells us that he worshiped by offering “sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Gen. 46:1). Now here Jacob runs to God first. What did he learn over the years?
As you think about this next year, write that down as a prayer request. Lord, may I never outgrow my need of you this year. Let me quicker to pray, quicker to repent, quicker to seek you this year. Let prayer be my steering wheel instead of flat tire. Let it be my first inclination and first resort and not my last. Are you growing in praying your fears?
c) God speaks to fearful people
Here God calls out to Jacob during the night. Be careful when God says your name twice. We have a personal God who knows our name. Why does He not call him Israel? Israel means “prince” but Jacob means, “heel grabber.” Perhaps God is acknowledging his weakness here? We have a God who is not ashamed to come to us when we are fearful. God doesn’t say, “My goodness Jacob, 130 years old and still fearful? Fix that issue and then come talk to me.” Clean yourself up and then come see me. Ask my 2 year old to do that when she’s been playing outside. She has no clue how to clean herself up. She would probably flood the bathroom and drown. God desires us no matter what our hearts look like. As Pastor James Boice says, “God is always more eager to answer than we are to ask, more eager to guide than we are to follow.”
“I am God.” I love when God says that to people. It reminds me that I am not. I don’t have it altogether. I don’t have control of my life, but He does. It reminds me that the waters that seem to be rising over my head are still under His feet. As Oswald Chambers says, “Faith never knows where it is being led, it knows and loves the One Who is leading. It is a life of faith, not of intelligence and reason, but a life of knowing who it is making me “go.” I love that God doesn’t start off with Jacob’s faithfulness or faithlessness, but God starts off with God’s faithfulness. I was the one who was the “God of your father.” I carried him all the way, why can’t I carry you as well? Did I ever forsake him? Have I ever forsaken you? Not for a moment. God reaffirms the covenant here.
d) God knows our fears, do we?
God says, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.” We don’t know if Jacob voiced these fears, but God goes straight to the issue. I love that about God. He understands my heart better than I do. This sounds obvious that God knows my fears, but we have to let that sink in. The real question is: Do you know your fears? Do you own up to your fears? The things that destroy us are the things we can’t see right? So it is easy to have our hearts self-deceived.
How do you know your fears? First of all, what is your greatest nightmare? Secondly, Counselor David Powilson notes,
“Fear and desire are two sides of a single coin. A sinful fear is a craving for something not to happen. If I want money, I fear poverty. If I long to be accepted, I’m terrified of rejection. If I fear pain or hardship, I crave comfort or pleasure. If I crave preeminence, I fear being inferior to others.”
Fear is the reverse of desire. These desires, when you identify them, are God-replacements that rule your life. Idols if you will. One blogger adds, “Looking at it another way, sinful fear is not a lack of confidence. It is misplaced confidence. Fear of failure, for example, says that I’m confident that success will make me happy. Fear of what others will think of me suggests I’m confident that man’s approval will satisfy my heart’s desires.
Too often, I think that the feeling of fear or “fear itself” is the problem and I work to eliminate it. But I will always desire something. As long as my deepest desire rests in something or someone other than God Himself, simply working to eliminate fear serves no good purpose.”
What desires are you greedy for? What life objectives snuff out your awareness of God? What wants make you want to control your world? No one but the God of Scripture—the true and living God, the Father of our Lord Jesus—is powerful enough, good enough, and wise enough to provide for you and guide you. He is a good master, a faithful God, and a secure refuge, incomparably more trustworthy than the substitutes we seek.”
Those God replacements will control me with fear. In fact, there are times I tell people when I had to make a decision, “I’m praying about it…just waiting on the Lord!” But to be honest, my reluctance to make decisions can often be traced to the misguided belief that God has a wonderful plan for my life and I need to discover what it is so that I don’t make decisions that mess it up. Or I don’t want to look like a fool if it fails. We all want the blueprint. Tell me what to do God so there won’t be any problems in my life and everything will go smoothly. What is that? That’s being a coward!
It takes humility to admit that I am a coward. Sometimes when we pray to know the will of God, we are praying a coward’s prayer: ‘Lord, tell me what to do so nothing bad will happen to me and I won’t have to face danger or the unknown.” We want to know everything is going to be fine for us or for those we love. So God understands your fears. Let Him show you what your desires are and confess your cowardice.
d) God alone can quiet our fears with His presence
Why shouldn’t Jacob give into his fear? “For there I will make you into a great nation.” God still wants to use Jacob. He’s not done using this old man. He still has plans that Jacob cannot see at this moment.
Then God gives him the way to quiet his fears: “I myself will go down with you to Egypt.” You’re going to Egypt, but I’m coming too! This is not simply a “I’m going to miss you bro, but I’ll be with you in spirit.” That usually means I’ll be thinking of you if I remember. Here it is literally God stands next to Jacob with His own bags and says, “So when are we leaving?” What does that tell you? That tells you that our ultimate need in the midst of our fear is God Himself. God’s presence is what quiets our fears. Sometimes God calms the storms loved ones, but more often He lets the storm rage and calms His child instead. And how does He do that? He says, “I am with you.” And notice it does not say, “And you will make yourself a great nation,” but, ‘I WILL make you into a great nation.”
Notice how God ends this encouragement: “And Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” Do you know how badly Jacob needed to hear that? God knew all about that hurt. Remember when you said Jacob that everything was against you? And about dying a sorrowful death? (Gen. 42:36-38). I heard you say that, Jacob. What a good God we have? He knows our deepest hurts and longings and knows just how to heal us. And what redemption is this! Young Jacob had taken advantage of his father’s old age and dim sight. He deserved to be left alone for his sins, but in his old age, his son will be right there by his side. What a gracious God! The opposite of fear is love and see God’s perfect love is casting out all of Jacob’s fear!
II. The freeing fruit of trusting God (Gen. 46:5-47:27)
Notice Jacob does not say anything in response to God. Nothing needs to be said. He simply needed to trust and obey. The remaining verses, which I will just summarize, all show us the fruit of trusting God. There are still lots of unknowns. This Pharaoh could be a real jerk. Joseph could have a bad day and retaliate. Egyptians don’t like Jews. Where exactly will they live? What if Egypt goes into famine as well? The first people to be kicked out will be the foreigners! Jacob had tons of questions, but faith is taking a step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.
In Gen. 46:8-27, we see that Jacob led the people. What does he know at that moment? That God was coming with them. And that’s all we need to know. And that is enough. Jacob and his boys are free!
a) Freedom to surrender
The emphasis is on the fact that Jacob brought everything and everybody. The male leaders are all mentioned, except Dinah. It wasn’t like Jacob left some things or people as backup, in case the Egypt thing didn’t work out. Notice the word “all” in Gen. 46:6,7,15 (altogether), 22,24,26 and 27. No scheming anymore, but complete surrender and freedom.
I seem him going with joy. Joy is the supernatural delight in the person and purposes of God. Joy of the Lord has overwhelmed the fears of his heart. He did not see the bigness of his fears, but the bigness of his God. Fears made him a slave. Surrendering himself to the Lord made him free. Remember that not all of his concerns have been addressed, but he seems to focus on the Lord.
b) Freedom to be real
Jacob finally sees Joseph after 22 years and before Jacob used to weep n grief, but God has transformed his tears of sorrow into tears of joy (Gen. 46:28-30). But here comes all the concerns with this family relocation. Egyptians hate the Jews, especially because they are shepherds. It would have been easy here to lie and scheme here. Why? Out of fear! Pharaoh might kick them out and change his mind. But Joseph says, “Actually, it might work out in our favor to tell the truth. Pharaoh will want to Egyptianize you. Telling them you are shepherds will cause him to keep us all together in one area, from the Egyptians.” This will take care of the concern of being corrupted by the Egyptians’ worldview.
And when Joseph and his brothers finally talk to Pharaoh about this in Gen. 47:1-6, we see that they don’t lie or scheme. When we recognize our fears and the idols attached at the root and God’s presence becomes our joy, we find that we are scheming less, trying to prove ourselves less and committing other sins in the process. We can be honest. We don’t have to hide. We can be real and have freedom. I pray our church can continue to be full of fearful people who are constantly finding freedom in God’s quiet love for them, to be honest and real.
c) Freedom to give
Jacob meets Pharaoh in Gen. 47:7-10. The old Jacob would be about securing a blessing from someone important. But instead of getting a blessing, he is a giver. This is a funny moment with Pharaoh. Jacob limps in and blesses him. He is thankful for Pharaoh being so generous to outsiders. Gen. 12:1-2 is partially fulfilled. The Jews have become a blessing to the nations, at least to the nations of Egypt. This blessing is a prayer that God would continue to enrich the life of Pharaoh, especially in light of God’s people being there for a while.
Pharaoh then asks a simple question: “How old are you?” If you ever had a grandfather or grandmother like this, then you would know that simple questions suddenly become a longwinded answer. “How old am I? Thanks for asking. Let me tell you my whole life story.” Jacob talks about how hard life has been and that he hasn’t lived as long as his forefathers. This initially looks like a bad witness. He could have said so much more and better words! But I think first of all Jacob is still processing everything. In the next chapter, 17 years later, in Gen. 48:15-16, he will have a different perspective. Secondly, the fact that he blesses Pharaoh twice shows that Jacob is grateful for all that God has done through his pagan King to preserve God’s people despite Jacob and his family’s foolishness over the years.
d) Freedom to trust God for the details
Lastly, the famine gets really bad in Egypt. Once again, this is a reason for fear with Jacob and his family. The Egyptians finally offer themselves as servants to Joseph, which was normal in that day when things got rough and Joseph saves their lives (Gen. 47:25). Now the Egyptians are fearful of dying. Lots of details here of things seemingly going out of control, but totally in God’s control. God uses Joseph to save everyone’s lives.
God’s promise was true. He was with His people. How do we know? Freedom. They had freedom to surrender, freedom to be real, freedom to give and freedom to trust God with every single detail of the rest of their lives.
Well, God did these good things for Jacob. But what about me? I’m disappointed with God, you say. I want something and I am not getting it, so my fears so far are coming true. I was encouraged by an article I read this week:
Steve Fuller writes,
Maybe you have longed for healing, a job, a baby, a wife. You have faithfully and earnestly prayed for weeks, months, even years. But you are still sick. Still unemployed. Still childless. Still single. And you are disappointed. Disappointed by God. I can relate, for many years my wife and I longed for pregnancy. We longed and prayed. And longed and prayed some more. Couples we knew got pregnant, but we did not. And we felt deep disappointment.
But God’s Word calls us to live by faith. And faith means trusting all that God promises to be to us in Christ Jesus. So what does God promise when we are disappointed? One promise that’s helped me over the years is Psalm 34:10 –“The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” This promise is for those who seek the Lord, those who are saved by faith in Christ and are seeking to know God. And God promises that those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing. Which means that if something is good, God will give it to you. That’s hard to swallow. After all, you are still sick, unemployed, childless, or single. So how is God fulfilling that promise?
What helped me understand this was to ask: What is the greatest good? Here’s what David said –“I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” Psalm 16:2.
So the greatest good is God Himself — knowing God in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is not just knowing about God. This is actually knowing God, feeling His glory, sensing His love, experiencing His presence. When we experience God in this way, we are so full that we desire nothing else. Which is why God is the greatest good. So what does God mean when He promises we will lack no good thing?
Healing can be good, but so can lack of healing.
If God is our greatest good, then what makes something good is whether it brings us more of God. So being healed of a sickness can be good, since it can bring us more of God by showing us His power, mercy, and goodness. But not being healed can also be good, since it, too, can bring us more of God by bringing us even more nearness to Him.
So if God chooses not to heal me, it’s because sickness will bring me even more of His all-satisfying presence than healing would have brought me. In that case, even though I’m lacking healing, I’m not lacking any good thing — because the sickness is how I will experience the most joy in God.
Since God is my all-satisfying Treasure, then what makes something good is whether it brings me more of God. So when God promises that we will lack no good thing, He means we will lack nothing that would bring us more of God and we will have everything that would bring us more of God.
So if you lack healing, or a job, or children, or a wife — you are not lacking any good thing. Because God has ordained this to bring you even more of Himself. When I feel disappointed by God it’s because at that moment there’s something I’m longing for — healing, employment, a child, a wife — more than Him. But as good as healing, employment, children, and marriage are — none of them will come close to satisfying me as much as He Himself will. So when I’m disappointed by God there’s a problem in my faith, I’m not trusting that God Himself is my all-satisfying Treasure.”
How do you see Christ as your all-satisfying treasure? You go to the cross. A greater Jacob has come. He faced the ultimate nightmare of having to stand before God and answer for all of our cowardice. This is the nightmare of all nightmares for all fearful cowards. Jesus came knowing what He would face so that you and I would have the grace to face what we didn’t know that we would face. He didn’t come just to offer sacrifices, but He Himself was the sacrifice, paying for our sins. He faced all of that because we were His treasure. When we see that He made us His treasure, we can make Him ours. When we make Him ours, our fears will be stilled, our striving will cease and joy will flood our soul because God would have filled it with Himself.