Introduction: Few would point to Jacob as a role model of the faith. For the first 130 years of his life, he was not a role model of any kind. During this time, he deceived others, he failed to trust God, he failed to pray, he failed to obey, he became a polygamist, he showed favoritism, and he showed no love for three of his wives and 10 of his children. His actions nearly destroyed his family. But, in the last 17 years of his life, he would live as a transformed man. He would give thanks, trust God, obey Him, and bless others. Even if you have wasted a good portion of your life to sin, the patriarch Israel shows that it is never too late to start living for God. From the example of Israel, God reveals seven lessons on living a transformed life for Christ.
First, out of gratitude for Joseph’s survival, the reborn “Israel’s” first act was to offer sacrifices to God. Today, the sacrifices that believers offer do not come from animals. Instead, they come from your time, talent, and treasure. Out of gratitude, Christ wants you to make your life a living sacrifice for Him. Second, based upon the warnings of his father and grandfather, the Jacob of the flesh had many reasons to fear moving his family to Egypt. Yet, in a dream, God reassured him not to fear what he saw or heard. Instead, God called upon Jacob to trust Him in faith. From this, God calls upon you to live by faith and not by sight. Third, Israel, the man of faith, responded in faith to God’s call by immediately moving his family to Egypt. From this, God calls upon you to live in obedience to His Word and His guidance. Fourth, God carefully recorded the number of descendants through each son who went to Egypt. He would later carefully count each member of each tribe and each clan when they left Egypt. Everyone had a place in the body, and there were no lost sheep. From this, God reveals that He wants you to live a transformed life as part of the body of believers where you will be accountable to others. Fifth, there were exactly 70 descendants who left for Egypt. This number corresponded to the 70 first nations, the 70 leaders that Moses appointed and the 70 disciples that Jesus sent out to evangelize. The 70 descendants symbolized Jesus’ plan to evangelize the world. As a transformed believer, you are called upon to live as His light to the world. Sixth, during the trip to Egypt, Israel had Judah (the man who proposed selling Joseph into slavery) lead the way to reunite Israel and Joseph, the victims of his sin. From this, God reveals that you should live as a transformed believer by showing forgiveness and reconciling others hurt by sin. Finally, Joseph told the Jews to seek out a life in Egypt that would leave them isolated from their Egyptian neighbors. From this, God reveals that He wants you to live a life set apart and holy for His use.
God’s call to Jacob to trust Him and move his family to Egypt. When the 11 sons convinced their father that Joseph was alive, “the spirit of their father Jacob revived.” (Gen. 45:27). Israel, the man of faith, was reborn of the Spirit and filled with joy. “Then Israel said, ‘It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”’ (Gen. 45:28). Out of gratitude, his first act was to offer sacrifices to God at Beersheba, the southernmost part of the Promised Land: “1 So Israel set out with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.” (Gen. 46:1). Jacob was the last person in the family to be transformed through God’s testing. Israel responded in gratitude. At the same time, the angels joyfully celebrated his return to the faith: “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk. 15:10).
A life spent away from the Lord is a life of hardship. Jacob returned to Beersheba at age 130. His return symbolized a return to the Lord after a hard life living by the flesh. After deceiving his father for his brother’s birthright, he fled from Beersheba to Haran (Gen. 28:10). “Haran” comes from the root word of “charar.” It means “to glow, to show, or incite passion: to be angry, a burning of anger.” By contract, the name Beersheba means “the well of the oath.” Beersheba was also the place where Abraham settled his conflict with the King Abimelech (Gen. 21:25-34). It is also where Abraham was dwelling before God told Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. After the blessing at Mount Moriah, Abraham returned to dwell at Beersheba (Gen. 22:19). Isaac also made peace with either the son or grandson of King Abimelech at the same place (Gen 26:23-33). The place therefore symbolized the peace that comes from walking with God. You do not lose your salvation because you sin. But God may allow you to experience pain when you sin to draw you back to Him (Hosea 8:7). Jacob had 17 years remaining to enjoy walking with God. His last 17 years were filled with far greater joy than his first 130 years walking in the flesh. If you try to live according to your flesh, you will also find life difficult and painful.
Out of gratitude, make your life a living sacrifice for Christ. Jesus perfected the need for any further physical sacrifices with His death on the cross (Heb. 10:14). But this hopefully did not eliminate your gratitude for your undeserved salvation. Instead of making animal sacrifices, you are called upon to make “spiritual sacrifices” to Him: “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5). This includes praising God in all that you do: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). This also includes presenting your body as a living sacrifice for God: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Ro. 12:1). Out of gratitude for His mercy and grace, are you offering Christ the best of your time, talent and treasure?
God also doesn’t care about your age. Being 130 years old did not disqualify Israel from service. Abram was 75 years old when God called him (Gen. 12:4). Moses was 80 when God called him (Ex. 7:7). Jeremiah also protested against serving because he was young when God called him (Jer. 1:7). Whether you are old or young, God doesn’t care about your age. Have you used your age or any other excuses to ignore His calling?
God’s encouragement to “Jacob” not to fear Egypt. God did not reprimand Israel for wasting 130 years of his life. Instead, He encouraged “Jacob” not to fear moving his family to Egypt: “2 God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, ‘Jacob, Jacob.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 3 He said, ‘I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. 4 I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes.’” (Gen. 46:2-4). Approximately 40 years earlier, God also used a dream to speak with Jacob (Gen. 28:12-17). Jacob had three reasons to fear Egypt. First, Abraham almost lost his wife in Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20). Second, God warned Isaac not to go to Egypt (Gen. 26:2). Third, God previously told Abraham that his descendants would become slaves there. “God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.’” (Gen. 15:13). Thus, Jacob’s fears might seem reasonable. On the other hand, he was more than willing to send his 10 least favorite sons to Egypt to obtain food. His 11 sons had also reassured him that Joseph had power almost equal to Pharaoh. God wanted Jacob to trust that (1) He would turn his descendants into a great nation, (2) He would be with his family in Egypt, (3) Jacob would die in Joseph’s presence, and (4) his descendants would return to the Promised Land.
God is faithful to keep His promises. God later proved that He was faithful to keep His promises to the patriarchs. On seven occasions, He promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation: (1) Gen. 12:3(b); (2) 13:16; (3) 15:5; (4) 16:10; (5) 17:4-5; (6) 18:18; (7) 22:18. He also promised his descendants with an eternal Promised Land (Gen. 13:15). He also confirmed to Abraham that Isaac was the child of the promise (Gen. 21:9-12). In Egypt, God fulfilled His promises: “But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.” (Ex. 1:7; Acts 7:17). “You shall answer and say before the LORD your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation.”’ (Dt. 26:5). He was also faithful to bring the Jews out of Egypt, exactly as He predicted. “So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.” (Ex. 3:8). He even kept his promise that Jacob would die in Joseph’s presence (Gen. 50:1). God proved that He was faithful to the patriarchs and the Jews so that you will trust Him as well. In the Bible, Egypt symbolizes the world. Like Israel’s family, God has sent you into the world. But He also does not want you to fear the world. He will also be with you (Heb. 13:5).
Be responsive to God’s calling in your life. God called to “Israel” as the man of faith. Israel responded “‘Here I am.’” (Gen. 46:2). After spending 20 year in Haran, God previously called to the man of the flesh Jacob. In a moment of faith, Jacob responded “Here, I am.” (Gen. 31:11). Yet, that moment of faith quickly passed. Abraham used the exact same words when he responded in obedience to God’s call not to sacrifice Isaac: “But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” (Gen. 22:11). Israel had finally learned to walk in obedience after God’s second calling. In the book of Job, God lamented through Elihu: “Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet no one notices it.” (Job 33:14). Have you promptly responded to God’s calling? Or, does He need to repeatedly send the same message to you before you respond to Him?
Trust in God and lean not on your own understanding. Unlike the old Jacob of the flesh, Israel trusted God and did not lean upon his own instincts. Believers are also urged to do the same: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (Prov. 28:26). “‘Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’” (Gen. 28:15). Like Israel, do you pray for the Spirit to guide you?
Never fear when God guides you. God also told Israel not to be afraid (Gen. 46:3). In a similar way, He also told his father Isaac not to fear (Gen. 26:24). He also told his grandfather Abraham not to fear (Gen. 15:1). Four hundred years later, He also told the Jews through Moses not to fear (Ex. 14:13; 20:20). The only thing or person that you are to fear is God (Prov. 1:7). And the fear of the Lord is hating evil (Prov. 8:12). “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet . 5:7). The last time you felt fear, had you taken your eyes off Jesus?
God’s Word – the antidote to fear and lacking faith. If your faith is lacking, God calls upon you to build it up reading the Word: “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Ro. 10:17). The next time you fear, recite His promises: “Do not fear for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand . . . Do not fear, I will help you.” (Is. 41:10, 13). “For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11). “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7). Faith is like a muscle. It can atrophy if you don’t read the Word or pray. Are you reading the Word and praying to build up your faith?
Always seek the Lord in prayer. The old Jacob would not have prayed. By contrast, the Israel of faith prayed for guidance. God also wants you to seek His guidance in all that you do. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Ja. 1:5). Are you seeking the Lord in all you do?
Israel’s obedience in responding to God’s call. Reborn in his faith, Israel showed obedience by promptly responding to God’s calling: “5 Then Jacob arose from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob and their little ones and their wives in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 6 They took their livestock and their property, which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and came to Egypt, Jacob and all his descendants with him: 7 his sons and his grandsons with him, his daughters and his granddaughters, and all his descendants he brought with him to Egypt.” (Gen. 46:5-7). God celebrated Abraham’s faith in leaving Ur (Heb. 11:8). He also celebrated Israel’s faith in moving his family from the Promised Land to Egypt (Dt. 26:5; Josh. 24:4; Ps. 105:23; 1 Sam. 12:8; Acts 7:15).
Show that your faith is alive through your obedience. Obedience is a reoccurring theme of the Old Testament (e.g., Dt. 13:4; 6:3-4; 9:1; 20:3; Josh. 1:7). It is also an important theme in the New Testament. It is true that Christians are no longer “under the Law” in the sense that they must comply with it to be saved (Gal. 5:18; Ro. 7:6; 8:3). By “fulfilling” the Law, Christ freed you from the impossible task of trying to obtain salvation through the Law (Matt. 5:17). But Jesus also says that, if you love Him, you will keep His Commandments: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jo. 5:3; 2 Jo. 1:6). Jesus was the “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 3:14; Jo. 8:58). When God commended Abraham, He pointed out that Abraham kept “My commandments, My statutes and My laws.” (Gen. 26:5). Moses, the author of the Torah, carefully used these three terms to refer to the Ten Commandments, the interpretive statutes in the Torah, and interpretive laws prepared by the rabbis. Christ fulfilled all of these things. Yet, He still wants you to observe His Ten Commandments out of love. Thus, the “Commandments” that Jesus in the New Testament referred to were the Ten Commandments. His “disciples” were the “disciplined ones” in keeping His Commandments. As bondservants or freed slaves, they were obedient out of love, not obligation. Whether you follow the Law out of love instead of obligation is also a test for whether you really know Him: “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 Jo. 2:3). Do you follow Jesus’ Commandments and the Spirit out of love and not obligation?
God’s first of many census counts of Israel’s descendants. As the Good Shepherd, God faithfully counted every member of Israel’s flock both before they entered Egypt and after they left. He began by counting the 49 descendants through Leah and her maidservant Zilphah. He then counted the 21 descendants through Rachael and her maidservant Bilhah. In every census count, He counted the descendants in a different order to avoid causing any one group to become prideful. The first census ordered the sons according to their birth mother or surrogate mother. The actual birth order of each son is listed before each name: “8 Now these are the names of the sons of Israel, Jacob and his sons, who went to Egypt:  Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn. 9 The sons of Reuben: Hanoch and Pallu and Hezron and Carmi.  10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel and Jamin and Ohad and Jachin and Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman.  11 The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.  12 The sons of Judah: Er and Onan and Shelah and Perez and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan). And the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.  13 The sons of Issachar: Tola and Puvvah and Iob and Shimron.  14 The sons of Zebulun: Sered and Elon and Jahleel. 15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, with his daughter Dinah; all his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three.  16 The sons of Gad: Ziphion and Haggi, Shuni and Ezbon, Eri and Arodi and Areli.  17 The sons of Asher: Imnah and Ishvah and Ishvi and Beriah and their sister Serah. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. 18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Leah; and she bore to Jacob these sixteen persons. 19 The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.  20 Now to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him.  21 The sons of Benjamin: Bela and Becher and Ashbel, Gera and Naaman, Ehi and Rosh, Muppim and Huppim and Ard. 22 These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob; there were fourteen persons in all.  23 The sons of Dan: Hushim.  24 The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel and Guni and Jezer and Shillem. 25 These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel, and she bore these to Jacob; there were seven persons in all.” (Gen. 46:8-25). With the exception of Dinah who was introduced to explain the events in Shechem, the list includes only men. This was not done out of sexism. Instead, the leaders of each clan under each tribe are listed here to compare their growth and God’s faithfulness after the Jews left Egypt. With the exception of the Levities who were taken out and replaced by Joseph’s sons, these names again appear in Numbers (Nu. 26:4-50; see also, 1 Chr. 7:1-30). At the time of this first census, there were a total of 70 descendants: (1) 33 through Leah (Gen. 46:15), (2) 16 through Zilphah (Gen. 46:18), (3) 14 through Rachel (Gen. 46:22), and (4) seven through Bilhah (Gen. 46:25).
God does not have any lost sheep. After the Jews left Egypt 400 years later, God ordered the Jews three times to count their people. The first of these census counts took place near the end of the building of the Tabernacle (Ex. 30:11-12). The second census took place after the Jews were ready to invade the Promised Land. Yet, that count was limited to the men of fighting age (20 years or older) from the twelve tribes who would fight. Thus, it excluded the Levites (Nu. 1:1-49). After 38 years of wandering in the wilderness, God commanded that the third census again count every man of fighting age who would fight the battle for the Promised Land (Nu. 26:1-62). The Jewish commentator Rashi observed that the census counts show that God loves His people and keeps careful track of them the way a good shepherd keeps track of his sheep. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (Jo. 10:11). He knows every hair on your head (Matt. 10:29, Lk. 12:17). He does not have any lost sheep.
Be accountable to others . God organized the nation of Israel so that everyone was counted and had a place where they could be encouraged and held accountable. Believers are likewise called upon to be part of the larger body of Christ where they can be held accountable. “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25). As a transformed believer, are you accountable to others in the body of Christ?
Each church must keep track of its sheep as well. Jesus has appointed many deputy shepherds to watch over His sheep until He returns. God calls the believers in Christ His royal priesthood (2 Pet. 2:5). As a nation of priests, believers have a collective responsibility to carefully count and keep track of His sheep (Ex. 30:11-12). Yet, it is fashionable today for churches not to keep member lists or count who comes and goes to church. To be seeker friendly, many churches have organized themselves where no one should feel pressure to join, monitored, or counted. People have the freedom to float in and out with no accountability. But this does not follow the example God set for the Church with His multiple census counts. A church cannot care for God’s sheep or free them from bondage, danger, or distress if it does not keep track of them or even know their names.
The 70 descendants of Jacob. The mighty future nation of Israel began as a humble family of 70 people: “26 All the persons belonging to Jacob, who came to Egypt, his direct descendants, not including the wives of Jacob’s sons, were sixty-six persons in all, 27 and the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob, who came to Egypt, were seventy.” (Gen. 46:26-27). “All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt.” (Ex. 1:5). They spent approximately 400 years in captivity (Gen. 15:13- “400”; Ex. 12:40-“430”). After spending two years in the wilderness, the men of fighting age totaled 603,550 (Nu. 1:46). The total population including women and children would have been many times greater than this. Because God was faithful, He fulfilled His covenant by multiplying the Jews to be as numerous as the stars: “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” (Dt. 10:22; Heb. 11:12). He will also be faithful to fulfill His promises to you as well.
Be patient for God to fulfill His prophecies in His time. None of the patriarchs lived to see God’s promises fulfilled. But they had faith that they were true. God’s promises frequently take time to be fulfilled. “Like many great works of God, Israel had a slow beginning. From the time God called Abraham, it took at least 25 years to add one son – Isaac. It took Isaac 60 years to add another son of Israel – Jacob. It took 50 or 60 years for Jacob to add 12 sons and one daughter. But in 430 years, Israel would leave Egypt with 600,000 men. It took this family 215 years to grow from one to 70, but in another 430 years they grew to two million.” (David Guzik on Gen. 46).3
God’s plan for evangelism. After the Flood, God repopulated the world through 70 nations (Gen. 10). God set the number of nations according to the number of Jews who descended from Jacob / Israel: “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.” (Dt. 32:8). The original 70 nations therefore correspond to the 70 descendants who left for Egypt (Gen. 46:27; Ex. 1:5; Dt. 10:22). The 70 nations also correspond to the 70 elders who governed with Moses (Ex. 24:9; Nu. 11:24; Ez. 8:11). The 70 members of Jacob’s household and the 70 leaders of Israel were meant to be a light to the nations: “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations,” (Is. 42:6). The Jews, however, failed to fulfill this calling. Jesus came as the light of the world (Jo. 8:12). His believers are His light to the lost (Matt. 5:14). When He sent out the 70 disciples in pairs, they symbolically represented the need for all believers to bring His light to every nation on Earth: “Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.” (Lk. 10:1). Through these exact numbers and connections, God reveals that believers are to fill the existing nations with believers. “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Jesus again made this point explicit what He gave the disciples the Great Commission to make disciples amongst the nations. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matt. 28:19). Every person has a role in Jesus’ master plan for evangelizing the world. Are you playing your part?
Judah’s leadership in reconciling the victims of his sin. As the future leader of the family, Israel used the redeemed Judah to reconcile the two who were most hurt by his former sins, the father and his lost son: “28 Now he sent Judah before him to Joseph, to point out the way before him to Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen. 29 Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time. 30 Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive.’” (Gen. 46:28-30). In a role reversal of the prodigal son parable, Joseph rushed to greet the prodigal father (Lk. 15:20).
God reunited Jacob with his son Joseph4
Like Israel, live forgiving others. The old Jacob would have had Benjamin lead the way. He then would have excluded the other sons while Benjamin, Joseph, and Jacob embraced. Yet, as a transformed man, Israel forgave Judah for his proposal to sell Joseph into slavery (Gen. 37:25-26). He then let him lead the way. Like Israel, you are called upon to forgive others so that God can forgive you. “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:14-15). “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mk. 11:26). Is there anyone you need to forgive?
Like Judah, live as a source of comfort and reconciliation. Like Judah, you should also be a source of comfort and reconciliation for those who have been hurt by sin. “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18). “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13). Do you comfort those in need?
Joseph’s instructions for the Jews to remain separated from the Egyptians. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Joseph gave instructions to his family that would ensure that the family would remain isolated from the Egyptians: “31 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; 32 and the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock; and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.” (Gen. 46:31-34). Joseph most likely had the right to settle his family anywhere in Egypt. The most valuable places would have been along the Nile or the coastal trading posts. Instead, he picked the land of Goshen. This portion of Egypt was set apart from the main areas where people lived. These instructions ensured their survival as a distinct and separate people. Without these instructions, they would have become Egyptian.
God’s greater purpose in sending the Jews into bondage. The Egyptians placed a higher importance on agriculture over animal flocks. They also considered sheep to be revolting. By emphasizing that Israel’s family were loathsome shepherds, Joseph allowed God to remold the family without them intermarrying with the Egyptians and adopting their ways and customs. For this reason, the Egyptians would not even eat with the Hebrews: “the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is loathsome to the Egyptians.” (Gen. 43:32(b); 46:34). In Egypt, the Jews would not have the same opportunities to sleep with prostitutes and marry the local pagan-worshiping people like Judah did in Canaan. The Jews would not have understood this at the time. But God still expected them to trust Him.
Be holy and set apart for God. Moses later told the Jews to be holy and to draw a distinction between the clean and the unclean because God is holy: “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44; 20:26). The requirement that believers be set apart and holy for God’s use is repeated in the New Testament (1 Pet. 1:16). Part of “pure and undefiled religion” is being “undefiled before God.” (Jam. 1:27). Are you set apart from the world?