The immigration debate is everywhere in the news these days, especially during the past few weeks as there is a massive migration of people heading through central America toward the U.S. border just in time for November elections. And where most of the current debate in our day focuses on the issue of how hospitable or welcoming a particular nation should be toward migrants, in Genesis 46 and 47 we see the issue from a different perspective. For as we pick up in verse 5, we find the people of God, Abraham’s offspring, travelling en mass from the land of Canaan toward the border of Egypt. Now, as we noted two Sundays ago, this was no light decision on their part. Famine had initially forced them to seek aid in Egypt, and as God had miraculously preserved them through one of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, they had been invited by Pharaoh the settle in the land. However, even with that invitation, Israel paused to seek the Lord’s will in their migration, as it meant leaving the land of promise to sojourn in a land of idolatry. God meets Israel at the southern border of Canaan and assures him:
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. 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.”
And thus the caravan moved forward into the land of Egypt, where they would sojourn for hundreds of years. And therefore the question lingering over these chapters is, “How is Israel to live during the time of their sojourn?” Here we find two principles for sojourners. The first is:
Having been called to be a holy nation, God’s people must with intention preserve their distinctiveness during their sojourn in a land of idolatry.
the call to be a holy nation: First, God promised to make the house of Israel into a great nation. This is related to the promise that started off this series so many months ago, all the way back in Genesis 12, when God spoke to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, saying, “Gen. 12:2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” As we just read, that promise is reiterated in the opening verses of this chapter. And so God’s intent is to make Israel into a great nation even while they are removed from the land of Canaan to live as migrants sojourning in the nation of Egypt.
Yet they must remain distinct, for this is not just any family migrating to Egypt, and this will not be just any nation. God had selected this family to become a great nation for a specific purpose. This bring’s me to a second point: God’s intent was to preserve his holy name through a people devoted to Himself. The point is not that God simply is to make Israel a great nation - great nations rise and fall. Yet Israel was to be a people devoted to the Lord, a holy nation. Later in the book of Exodus, Israel will be called to be set apart for God as a kingdom of priests, a nation that stands between the Lord and the Gentile nations, proclaiming and mediating God’s salvation. Yet in order to do so, it was imperative that they retain a specific character, to pass on knowledge of the Lord and His ways to their children and to the foreigners who would dwell among them. This is the explicit motive in the Lord’s choosing to reveal to Abraham his plans for Sodom and Gomorra.
Gen 18:17 The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
God is concerned that the children of Abraham would pass on to their children the knowledge of the Lord and his ways. that they may know and trust God as a righteous and just God and so “keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.” They do not do this perfectly, we’ve seen many instances even in these first generations in which they failed, yet they as a family were to remain distinct, set apart for the Lord, even as the Lord unfolds his promise in them to make them into a great nation.
And so, this is the main threat that looms over this migration in Gen. 46:26-27. They are not yet a great nation. They are a family. Notice twice in these two verses, the words “all the persons”, and scholars have pointed out that the numbers are manipulated a little in order to get to the number of 70 members of the household, symbolizing that the author wants us to understand that there is not a single soul left in Canaan. The entirety of the people of the promise a migrating to Egypt, and they are going to be there for a while. And the threatening question is, are they going to be able to retain their distinctiveness as the people of God as they live for generations among the Egyptians?
The intentionality to remain distinct Because there is a call to be a distinct and holy nation, and because the threat looms so large that they will lose their distinctiveness as God’s holy and chosen people as they dwell in Egypt over the course of generations, the steps Joseph takes in this chapter are truly significant and instructive. Joseph has a plan, that he executes with great intentionality, so that Israel might be able to remain distinct even while growing into a great nation.
In an earlier chapter, we saw Joseph’s plan disclosed. At the time Joseph reviled himself to his brothers, we can see that he already had a plan in mind as to where his family should settle upon their arrival in Egypt.
Gen. 45: 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’
Joseph wishes his brothers to settle in the land of Goshen. Goshen is located in the Nile delta plains on the northeast corner of Egypt, the land closest to Canaan. It is now mostly desert, but in ancient times was good grazing land, so it would be a good land for Jakob to tend his flocks. It was a significant distance from Thebes, where the Pharoah’s of the Middle Kingdom kept their capital, meaning that they would be kept a safe distance away from the centre of Egyptian culture. It would be a perfect place for Israel to grow into a nation while remaining distinct from the Egyptian culture around them. The only problem is, Joseph had not yet cleared his plan with the pharaoh.
In genesis 46:28 and on we see Joseph’s plan developed. He travels north to meet them in Goshen he travels north to meet his family in Goshen, before they can travel any further into Egypt. It’s likely that Joseph knows that if they are already settled in Goshen, it will be easier to persuade Pharaoh to give them that land. Something like “possession is 9/10 of the law.
And as emotional as the reunion with his father is Moses quickly moves on to record phase 2 of Joseph‘s plan. Joseph tell his family that when he goes and speaks the pharaoh, they are to stress their occupation, highlighting the fact that they are shepherds. I think the first number of times I read the book of Genesis I didn’t understand what Joseph is doing here. I thought it was strange - why would Joseph tell them to say that, knowing that the Egyptians did not like Shepherd’s? It doesn’t seem to be a great way to introduce your family. But then I realized what Joseph is doing. He Is counting on the fact that the Egyptians won’t want to live near them, so that they themselves may offer to the Israelites the land of Goshen, keeping him at a acceptable distance. See Joseph is doing everything with intention, taking every precaution that his family may be kept distinct from the Egyptians. They’ll be happy to keep them at arms length in Goshen. It’s all about Goshen!
So that when we get to chapter 47 we see Joseph’s plan executed. Look at verse one, and notice the subtlety in which Joseph plants the seed in pharaohs head that his family should remain in Goshen. And then his brothers come in, and they present themselves to faro, and then make mention of the fact that they are shepherds and that they really would enjoy settling in the land of Goshen. In verse six, pharaoh is more than pleased to give them that land, and also to employ them as keepers of his own flocks. And this Joseph’s plan has been executed. His family will be kept distinct, his family will be able to keep their own identity, following the Lord and trusting in his promises until he makes them into a great nation.
Thus we have two main points today, Israel was to be a distinct and holy nation. And make no mistake, they will be a distinct and holy nation because God’s purposes and plans cannot fail. However, the second main observations is that Joseph is intentional to continue to pursue distinctiveness to be intentional and regards to settling in the land of their sojourn. And is this principle that I want to take and reflect on a little bit this morning. For the New Testament teaches, those who believe in Jesus Christ are the true Israel of God, set apart to be a holy people, dwelling for the time of our sojourn on earth in a land that is not the promised land.
See, here is the story of the Bible in a nutshell: God created mankind to know and be known by himself, to serve and represent him on earth as a people created in his own image, displaying his own character, loving and worshipping him together as one. However, in our sin and rebellion, we repeatedly turned away from God, descending into selfishness, isolation, violence, division, and all the rest of the chaos we observe in the world around us everyday. However, even as we stubbornly rejected him and ran headlong into sin and death, he revealed to us his rescue mission, that he would send into the world a deliver, a messiah, a saviour, who would crush our rebellion once and for all, in the most unique way. Instead of punishing us for our rebellion, he himself would take upon himself all of God’s just wrath upon sin, the punishment upon evil that we so readily deserved, in love offering forgiveness of sins in his name. God gave these promises through the nation of Israel, until the appropriate time to send this saviour into the world, Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus was not only the saviour of Israel, but of all, Jew and Gentile alike, all who call upon the name of the Lord and put their hope and trust in his salvation.That is the good news that we proclaim to you today - that you are lost without christ, cut off from God and others without Christ, condemned in your guilt without Christ, sentenced to eternity in hell for your rebellion without Christ, powerless to change without Christ, yet Christ has come to love you, forgive you, renew you. We would implore you to place your hope in him, turn to him, follow him. God raised Jesus from the dead, declaring with great power and authority that He indeed is the deliverer, and after raising him to heaven he poured out his Spirit upon the church, which continues his mission to redeem the world as we preach the good news of God’s salvation as we await his return to establish his kingdom.
Therefore, as a people sojourning in a world of idolatry while we await a kingdom, the sojourning principle of Genesis 46 applies to us. “Having been called to be a holy nation, God’s people must with intention preserve their distinctiveness during their sojourn in a land of idolatry.”
Peter, for example, makes this explicit, applying this sojourning principle to the church, in 1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. It seems clear that he is speaking to the whole church, not just the Jewish Christians, for in verse 10 he says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” And so according to Peter, we who follow Jesus have received a call to be a distinct and holy people. Yet look at what Peter says next, because we have a call to be a holy nation, a people for his own possession, we are to with intentionality consider how we are to preserve our distinctiveness and pursue holiness as we well among the nations in the time of our sojourn
1Pet. 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
And so I want to consider this morning what this word means to a church full of immigrants such as many of us are. Many of us, or if not us, our parents, have personal experience as foreigners and aliens settling into a new country. We know what it is to leave a homeland, and settle into a strange new land with a strange new people with their strange customs and ways of thinking. We know what it is to miss our home, our families, the sounds and the sights and the smells and the weather. We fret over our children, will they remember their heritage? Will they forget their roots? Will they not be able to speak to their grandparents? So what does this mean to us as an immigrant church?
First a Warning: As An Immigrant Church, We Will At Times Be Tempted to Set the Retention of Our Cultural Distinctiveness before our Gospel Distinctiveness.
At the Gospel Coalition conference a few weeks ago I attended a session given by a Filipino Pastor in which he really did a good job describing the plight of an immigrant and why we particularly as immigrant are attracted to worshipping within ethnic churches. He described it as being about more than simply the language issues. He was saying that when you come to a Filipino Church (or in our case a Chinese Church) its like a piece of home. The background noise sounds like home, the faces look like home, the food smells like home. And you can relax, let your guard down, you’re away from home, but you’re with your family, your people.
Yet we must remember that we are a community formed around Jesus, not around our cultural heritage. Jesus does not erase our heritage, or set it aside, but our heritage is no longer central to our identity, Jesus is, and thus we are not primarily Chinese, or American, or Canadian, or Filipino, or Columbian, or Swazi, or Japanese, or Indian, we are Christian. Our heritage does not define our family, Jesus does, and he says our family is the body of Christ made up of many nations. Our heritage is not the most important thing we are to pass on to our kids, Jesus is. Let me ask you, is it more important to send your kids to Chinese School or Sunday School? What is more important to you - that your kids know the history of your homeland and your people, or is your one concern that your kids know the history of God’s redemption and the identity of His people? And if you say the latter is more important, how are you intentionally passing on that legacy to your children? And that brings me to the positive application:
As An Sojourning People, We Must With Intentionality Retain Our Gospel Distinctiveness and Pursue Holiness. And this is an area in which I’d ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind some things to you, and with his gentile yet firm prodding point out some areas to you in which you might with greater intentionality retain your distinctiveness and pursue holiness.
What are some areas of intentionality as you seek holiness in the land of your sojourn?
Popular Culture and Social Media: We must remember that we live in a land of idolatry, a land with values and virtue hostile to the way of Christ. These values “wage war against our soul”. And yet so many of us, instead of thinking through with intention our consumption of popular culture and social media, are content to simply absorb as much of it as we can. We wouldn’t want to be left out of the office conversations or seem to be uncool, would we? and so I think we all could use a bit more intentionality as to what messages we absorb into our souls each day, when we put in our headphones, and turn to our screens.
Who you marry: Who you marry will make the single most important impact on your effectiveness in living as exiles and leaving a legacy of faith to pass on through generations. The Old Testament had strict laws requiring the children of Israel to not intermarry with the nations surrounding them, and the New Testament as well instructs us to not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
Shepherding Your Kids: I am going to be honest here, and maybe step on some toes, and some of you will get angry with me. But in my experience as a parent, and I speak as much out of failure as faithfulness, but we need to be much more intentional about raising our kids as exiles and sojourners in this land of idolatry. Instead of retaining our distinctiveness and pursuing holiness as exiles, we are giving our kids over to Egypt. We literally send them out of our households as early as we can to be instructed in a system in which we know has as its intent and purpose the ideological formation of our young people. The school board is not hiding its intentionality in this. If you think you are merely sending your kids to school to be instructed in math and science, you are naive. I was naive. And I say this because my kids are a bit older than yours, and we have have to do a great deal of course correction in our approach to schooling our children. We must be at least as intentional as they are in the education of our children. This means seriously considering alternative education strategies for your children. This means seriously cathecising them, bringing them up in the faith. This means severely limiting screen time and the age of social media. And again I say, I am speaking as much out of failure as faithfulness, but I really want you younger parents to hear this - i was naive, and i don’t want you to be, so please, begin to be intentional about the moral education of your children, and the best time is when your children are little, rather than course correcting when they are teens. Remember: grace
Discipleship: Discipleship - personal, but remember we are a holy nation, together, community, thus discipleship is not just an individual pursuit, but something we pursue together. Cultivating Habits of the Heart next weekend.