Imagine being offered everything you’ve ever wished for. The family you’ve always wished for. The career you’ve prepared for and always desired. Possessions beyond your dreams. Prosperity. Peace. We’ve seen a lot in the Patriarchs, especially Joseph, of how they handled suffering, yet how one deals with prosperity can be just as great, or even more difficult a test. and this is a test that it is just as important for us Christians in the West to work through our worldview, because, although hardly any of us will suffer like Joseph (like, being sold into slavery by murderous brothers and falsely accused and imprisoned), most of us in the West live daily in the most safe, comfortable, wealthy, well-fed culture - the greatest property that the world has ever known. And that’s what is set in front of Israel in Egypt. Prosperity.
Joseph’s Brothers Return to Jacob With a Promise of Prosperity
This section begins with Pharaoh learning about Joseph’s family and offering the best of the land to Joseph’s father and brother.
Gen. 45:16 When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. 17 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go back to the land of Canaan, 18 and take your father and your households, and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ 19 And you, Joseph, are commanded to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20 Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’”
Joseph is to convey the message to his father that when he comes to Egypt, he needs not have any concern for any of his goods, and that he will be extremely well cared for all his days. Thus, Israel is invited into Egypt with a promise of prosperity. The Pharaoh is recorded as extremely generous, which may have been a shock to Moses’ audience, fleeing as they were from the harsh Pharaohs that they had known, the Pharaohs of their enslavement. Would that original audience at this point be suspect of Pharaoh and the prosperity of Egypt, knowing what would come of it?
In any case, Joseph sends the equivalent of a moving van, a bunch of wagons, to his father along with donkeys loaded with food and resources, and this caravan heads northeast to Canaan. Now remember, this is in the midst of a severe famine, people are dying, and so imagine the sight of this loaded caravan, sent by Pharaoh himself, making its way into Canaan, the wealth of Egypt literally paraded before the nations. Imagine Jacob seeing the caravan off in the distance and then his amazement when he sees his sons at the lead. But that’s not the lead story. While Jacob must have marvelled at the gifts his sons had brought back from Egypt, nothing could prepare him for what he heard next.
Gen. 45:25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. 26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
The spirit of their father Jacob revived. It’s not the wealth or the possessions, the camel or the cart that concern’s Jacob. The unbelievable has happen. His son, long left for dead, is alive and well in Egypt. And so Jacob sets out for Egypt. Now think about what awaits Jacob in Egypt. Isn’t it every thing he has ever dreamed about? Going from broken hearted to being reunited with his son. Going from famine to dwelling in the best of the land, living of the excess of the land. Poverty is in the rearview mirror and prosperity awaits ahead of him.
Now if that is you or me, don’t we just almost without thinking pursue prosperity? A promotion is set in front of us, we take it. A job opens up closer to home, or is in the field that we always wanted to get into to, or with an employer we’ve desired, we pursue it. Yet if we are honest with ourselves, that which looks good to us, we don’t know the end, we don’t know if it is indeed good or what will come of it.
Before Rushing Headlong into Prosperity, Jacob Pauses To Discern’s God’s Approval
On the way to Egypt, Jacob does a super important thing. He stops in Beersheba and makes sacrifice to the God of his father Isaac.
Gen. 46:1 So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.
Beersheba is Jacob’s hometown, where he was raised up until he fled from Esau, so it’s significant place for him, knowing it might be the last time he sees his hometown, and showing his family where he grew up. Notice that he doesn’t build an alter before offering sacrifices, for Isaac his father had already built an alter to the Lord and worshipped him after the Lord had revealed himself to him there. So it’s likely that Jacob understands Beersheba as having familial and spiritual significance.
That’s not the only reason Beersheba is significant. Its the last major city in Canaan before entering the wilderness leading to Egypt. Later the land of promise would be spoken of as “from Dan to Beersheba” (e.g., Judges 20:1). Once Jacob left Beersheba, traveling south, he would be leaving the land of promise. Remember, geography is significant here in Genesis. God had promised Jacob’s grandfather a land, telling him to leave his home in Ur to settle in Canaan. And ever since that call, there has been a recurring theme in Genesis that tied obedience and blessing and faith into the land of promise, and similarly, departure from the land is tied to disobedience or lack of faith, or lack of blessing. How could Jacob be assured of God’s blessing if he was leaving the land of promise?
More than this, Jacob was leaving Canaan to go to Egypt. Many years before, there had been a famine in Canaan, and Abram had gone to Egypt to survive. This had proven to be a very painful experience, one that seemed to be contrary to God’s word. Later there was yet another famine, and Isaac considered going to Egypt, but God forbade him in Genesis Genesis 26:2-3:
Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham
How, then, could Jacob leave Canaan to enter Egypt without stepping outside the will of God?This is the significance that Jacob pauses in Beersheba before leaving Canaan for Egypt. He needs to hear from God, to pause and seek his will. He is not going to Egypt out of disobedience or lack of faith, but has learned to set God first. Jacob’s pause here reminds me of the prayer of Moses in the wilderness, recorded in Exodus 33 when he said to the Lord:
Ex. 33:14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
“If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.” In other words, I am not going anywhere God, unless it is at your direction and with your presence. I’m happy to wander in this wilderness if I am with you. I’m happy to leave Joseph in Egypt with all its abundance, as long as you’re here with me. And God in his grace speaks to Jacob and tells him:
2 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” 3 Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. 4 I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
God tells Jacob to not be afraid to proceed to Egypt, and that he will be with him in Egypt. He tells him, and through Moses’ record, tells the Israelites yet again, that their sojourn in Egypt is not a mistake, not a wrong turn, not outside of God’s will or God’s plan, but that it will be part of God’s ongoing program for Israel, and it will be in Egypt that Israel will become not merely a family but a great nation. That the Lord no only allows Jacob to go to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph, but that He will be there in Egypt wth Jacob and Joesph, until the end of Jacob’s life.
And so, having paused before rushing headlong into prosperity to discern the Lord’s will and seek the Lord’s presence, Jacob moves on with the confirmation from the Lord, bringing his entire family with him down to Egypt. Now, were going to take the next few weeks to consider Israel’s dwelling in Egypt as immigrants, but I want to pause here to think more of this pause that Jacob took, and consider some things that we may be wise to pause and ponder before pursuing prosperity.
Things to Ponder in the Pause Before Pursuing Prosperity
We are warned by Jesus that not all that appears to be prosperity is the kingdom, and that the pursuit of earthly prosperity can in fact be spiritually dangerous. However, neither are we required to immediately shun all prosperity, but we are called to pause and consider a number of things about prosperity that will put it in the proper perspective.
The first thing Jesus teaches us to consider about Prosperity is its Permanence
Matt. 6:19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
The prosperity the world offers is fleeting. The nice Pharaoh of today might become the cruel taskmaster of tomorrow. So what is your treasure? What are you investing in? What are you rejoicing in?
1Tim. 6:17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
The second thing Jesus teaches us to consider about Prosperity is its Pull
21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matt. 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matt. 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Basically Jesus is teaching us that we should carefully consider what our yes are fixed on. Having our eyes fixed on earthly prosperity, comfort, reveals much about the state of our heart. Ultimately, prosperity is often a battle for the allegiance of our heart. And we are not to be ignorant about this, the prosperity of this world exerts a spiritual pull on our hearts. Having our eyes fixed on earthly prosperity, comfort, reveals much about the state of our heart.
The third thing Jesus teaches us to consider about Prosperity is Peace
Matt. 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
The main thing Jesus teaches us to consider about Prosperity is Priority
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Prov. 30:7 Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
2Cor. 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.