Certain Of What We Do Not See
Have you ever watched a person turn off a light and then walk in the dark. Even though they know the room well, they walk with caution, fearful that the next step will bring them pain from something that was not there a few minutes ago. They are not at all certain of what they do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 defines faith when it says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” There is much that we do not see. We do not see God. We do not see heaven. We do not see purpose in some things that are happening. In the darkness of this uncertainty we often walk like a person in the dark, but God invites us to walk with hope and confidence in him, being certain of what we do not see. Every once in a while, as we look at Scripture, the veil is pulled back and we have a glimpse of what is really happening, we have a picture of what God is doing and how He is at work. Such glimpses encourage us to live with hope and confidence in God.
Today we come to the final message on Genesis, a series that we started in September. In these last chapters, we have the veil pulled back a little and we see a glimpse of God at work, which gives us hope for what we do not see. We also see into the lives of some who put their hope in God, specifically Jacob and Joseph, and are encouraged to do the same as we think about their example.
I. Hind Sight Is 20/20
We sometimes hear the saying, “hindsight is 20/20.” When we look back, it is easy to see how God has been at work. These final chapters of Genesis give us an opportunity to look back and see the ways in which God has already been at work.
A. God’s Promises To Abraham
Much of Genesis 12-50 is a fulfillment of the promise made by God to Abraham in Genesis 12:2,3. God called Abraham to leave his home and promised him, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
In this promise, there are four major points. 1. That Abraham will become a great nation - an amazing promise when we consider that he was still childless at this time. 2. A nation needs a land and, although it is only implicit here, the promise of a land that would be theirs is included here in the promise of becoming a nation. 3. That God would bless him - a promise given at a time when God was asking him to leave his home and family. 4. The promise that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him.
When Abraham heard these promises, he had no reason to know or believe that they would be fulfilled. Being a childless wanderer would be reason enough to doubt that they would ever come true.
B. Fulfillment To This Point
Yet as we have said, hindsight is 20/20 and as we read these final five chapters of Genesis, we have a number of glimpses into how God has kept these promises.
1. I Will Multiply Your Descendants
The promise to give Abraham many descendants has been fulfilled. The mention in Genesis 46:8ff of the names of those who moved to Egypt and the further mention in Genesis 46:27 that 70 people in all moved from the promised land to Egypt is indication that this promise has begun to be been fulfilled. It was a promise made several time to Abraham who until he was quite old had no children. It was a promise made to Isaac who had only two sons. For many years as both Sarah and Rebekah were barren, it looked as if this promise would not be fulfilled, but now, as we have the hindsight to look at it from the perspective of the end of Genesis, we see that it was indeed fulfilled.
A further indication of the fulfillment of this promise is found in Genesis 47:27. After Jacob and his sons and family - 70 people - moved to Egypt, they settled in the land of Goshen. There we read that “They … were fruitful and increased greatly in number.”
So as we look back, we see that God has fulfilled this promise.
2. I Will Bless You
We also see the fulfillment of the promise that God would bless them. This promise was already fulfilled in the days of Abraham and Isaac. Several stories in this section show us how they prospered wherever they went. But now, during the seven years of famine, all of their prosperity and all their blessings are in jeopardy. They don’t have enough food to eat and their livestock will suffer if they don’t find a better place to live. But, as we saw a few weeks ago, God has been at work. Joseph was sent ahead to provide a place for them to live during the years of famine. Now, as we read in Genesis 46:28-34 we learn that they settled down in the region of Goshen and with all the provisions of Egypt, which Joseph has collected, available to them, they are able to sustain their livelihood. God has blessed them.
We read Genesis 47:27 that God blessed them with many descendants. This same passage also indicates that they experienced God’s blessing in other ways when it says, “they acquired property and were fruitful.” In other words, God blessed them in Egypt and continued to provide for all their needs.
From the perspective of the end of Genesis, the promise of blessing which God had made to Abraham is being fulfilled.
3. All Nations On Earth Will Be Blessed Through You
The third promise from God that is fulfilled is the promise that “all nations on earth will be blessed through you.” There are several indications in the end of Genesis that this happened.
After Jacob moved to Egypt, Joseph set up an appointment for his family to meet Pharaoh. Can you imagine moving to another country and being invited to meet with the president of that country? It must have been a high honor. Of course, it was accorded because of the position that Joseph was in, being the second in the land. Nevertheless, it was a great privilege. What is interesting, however, is that when Jacob and Pharaoh met, we read in Genesis 47:7-10 that it was not Pharaoh who was over Jacob, but Jacob who blessed Pharaoh. Being of a great age and the father of Pharaoh’s second in command put Jacob in a very honoured place. In Hebrews it says that the lesser is blessed by the greater, so when Jacob blessed Pharaoh, it showed that he was greater than Pharaoh. This demonstrates the fulfillment of the promise that “all nations on earth will be blessed through you.” Egypt was blessed because of Jacob.
As we read on in this chapter, we have a description of all the things that Joseph did to preserve the people during the years of famine. It is a little hard for us to understand. In essence, Joseph made the whole country slaves to Pharaoh. But we need to look at it with different eyes than those coloured by the horrible experience of the American slave trade. At that time, if you became too poor to make it, you could sell yourself to pay off your debts with dignity. That is what happened here. The Egyptians first of all exchanged all their money in order to buy food. Then they mortgaged their herds for grain and finally they sold their land and became slaves in order that they could eat. When they had done this, they were not bitter about it, rather, they said to Joseph, as is recorded in Genesis 47:25, “You have saved our lives…” Once again we have a fulfillment of the promise that “all nations on earth will be blessed through you.” Joseph was the instrument of that blessing for his family, but also for the rest of Egypt. If he had not been there, his family and all of Egypt would have been devastated. As it was, they managed to make it through the difficult years.
So at the end of Genesis, we have 20/20 vision about what God has been doing. He has been fulfilling the promises made to Abraham about descendants and blessing. As we see God’s work clearly, we rejoice at what God has done and we are thankful that God has been at work.
II. Now You See It, Now You Don’t
But, of course, the end of Genesis is not the end of the story. Remember there were four promises which God had made, but we have only seen the fulfillment of three of them. The fourth one, the promise of the land, seems to be going backwards. How can God be at work when things look like they are going backwards? In these last chapters God makes other promises that at this point are not seen as fulfilled.
A. God’s Promises At The End Of Genesis
1. Promise Of The Land
We already noted that Jacob had a hard time leaving the promised land in order to go to Egypt. It made a lot of sense from the perspective of having something to eat, but as a man who trusted the promises of God, it did not make any sense. How could he leave the land that God had promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to him? In his mind there was a terrible conflict. In his mind, “go down to Egypt” contradicted with “I will give you this land.”
As he prepared to go, in order to save his family from starvation, God came to him in Genesis 46:1-4 and told him that he should go down to Egypt. We read there that God said, “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”
The contradiction was solved for Jacob as God said that it was OK for him to go. God made some great promises to Jacob and his family. He promised that he would go with them into Egypt, which was an extension of the promise of blessing. He indicated that it would be in Egypt that they would become a great nation, affirming the promise about many descendants. He further indicated that they would return to the promised land. At a time when they were leaving the promised land, it was important that they had God’s promise that they would return.
2. Other Promises
So they lived in Egypt, surviving the remaining 5 years of famine and then continued to live there and prosper. Jacob grew old, but, before he died, he gathered his sons together in order to bless them. His blessings are partly a reflection of what has happened previously, but they are also prophetic of what would happen later.
Reuben was the oldest son, but because he slept with one of Jacob’s wives, the birthright as the oldest son was taken from him. The next two sons are Simeon and Levi. Because of what they did to the men of Shechem after their sister Dinah was raped, they also lost the right as the oldest sons. So the birthright, the right of receiving the best part of the blessing now fell to the fourth son, who is Judah.
The promises made about Judah are amazing. Judah is associated with a lion - “you are a lion’s cub.” It also says in 49:10 that “the sceptre will not depart from Judah.” The blessing speaks of tremendous prosperity for Judah. What Jacob speaks about Judah is longer, more elaborate, and more positive than what he speaks about any of the other sons. They are strong promises about what would happen in the future.
So as we come to the end of Genesis, we see how God’s promises have been fulfilled, but we also observe promises made that are not fulfilled. How difficult it would have been to put your hope in these promises. How would they be fulfilled? How was it possible to inherit the promised land when you were living in Egypt? How could anyone know how the tribes of Israel would fare in the future? Could the people put their hope in God when they could not see?
B. The Fulfillment Of These Promises
Although Jacob and Joseph did not see these promises fulfilled, we have seen them fulfilled! We look at these promises with hindsight and it is amazing to see with 20/20 vision how these promises have been fulfilled by God.
For 400 years Israel was in Egypt, but then God raise up Moses and through Moses the promises which were made that they would return to the promised land were fulfilled. The story of the Exodus is unsurpassed in human history as a story of deliverance. It is amazing that God took an entire slave nation out of another nation, helped them walk through the Red Sea and eventually across the Jordan River into the promised land! They entered the land - a land they had not worked for. They destroyed the people living there and inherited the land just as God had promised.
The promises made about Judah are also amazing. If we look at the promise that “the sceptre will not depart from Judah” we can see the fulfillment of that promise in king David who was the first king from the tribe of Judah. God built on that promise to David by telling him that his family would continue to have a king on the throne forever. That promise is completely fulfilled in Jesus. A further fulfillment of that promise is made in Revelation 5:5 where Jesus is called the “lion of the tribe of Judah.”
So, for us, the veil is pulled back enough to see once again that God has been at work, that God has kept his promises.
But what about now? We said at the beginning that we do not see God, we do not see the promise land, we do not understand some things that are happening today. Can we put our hope in God even though we do not see? Israel lived in anticipation of the inheritance of the promised land. We live in anticipation of the inheritance of an eternal kingdom, but this is a hope which we do not now see.
In Hebrews 11:1, we read that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” How can we hope with such confidence?
Jacob and Joseph can be an encouragement to us. They had seen the fulfillment of many of God’s promises - enough to know that God is a faithful God. Yet at this point, especially as it related to the promise of the land, they did not know what the future held, they could not see, all they had was the promises of God that they would return.
However, both of them demonstrated their hope in those promises as is revealed in their death. In Genesis 50, it says that Jacob passed away. Before he did, however, he gave strict instructions that his body should be taken to the cave in which his father and grandfather were buried, the cave which was in the promised land. What was the reason for this request? It was a sign that he put his hope in the promise of God that they would yet inherit the land. He was confident that God would keep his promise and this request was a symbol of that confidence. His hope was strong in the promises of God, even though he did not see their fulfillment. His sons fulfilled his wishes and gave him the most elaborately described funeral in all of Scripture, returning his body to the promised land.
The same thing was true for Joseph. In the end of Genesis it says that, Joseph also died. Before he did, he also made his descendants promise that they would carry his bones back to the promised land. He reiterated hope in the promise of God in Genesis 50:24, 25 when he said, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” Joseph also held hope in the promises of God.
As we look at these stories We see how God works and we learn to know what kind of a God he is. That is why looking back at these old stories is so important. As we look back we get a glimpse of how God has fulfilled his promises and we are encouraged and discover that He is a God who keeps His promises. As we look forward to the promises which God has given us - promises of forgiveness of our sins, of His presence with us now and particularly of his promise to come back and give us our eternal inheritance, may we, like Jacob and Joseph, live with hope that God keeps his promises.