Genesis 15:13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end, they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.)”
I’ve been reading in the Old Testament and the connection between the story-line of Joseph and the statement made to Abraham about his descendants being in captivity for 400 years has me reeling.
Some backstory, Joseph was Abraham’s great-great-grandson. Abraham and Sarah had Isaac, Isaac and Rebekah had Jacob, Jacob and Rachel had Joseph. Granted, there were a bazillion other children in that same mix but I’m focusing on Joseph so stay with me.
Abraham & Sarah àIsaac (and Rebekah) à Jacob (and Rachel) à Joseph
Chew on this: Abraham and his family go on to have lots and lots of babies. The whole time, Abraham fully knows that his descendants will be slaves in captivity at some point. By the time his family ends up going to another land (Egypt), there are four generations established.
Do you think that in the back of his mind, Abraham always had this looming thought of the guaranteed captivity for his family?
At the end of the story of Joseph we see that all his brothers and their very large families, come to Egypt so that Joseph can help take care of them during the famine. Genesis 46 tells us that Jacob set out for Egypt with all his possessions and family.
Before Jacob agrees to go to Egypt, however, we see God himself call out to Jacob and say, “I am God, the God of your father,” the voice said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make your family into a great nation. I will go with you down to Egypt, and I will bring you back again. You will die in Egypt, but Joseph will be with you to close your eyes.” Remember, Jacob was Abraham's grandson, and Joseph's father.
Jacob went based upon the promise of God. He also went because he desperately wanted to see his son Joseph again, whom he thought was dead.
Fast forward and we see that Joseph lived for 17 years after bringing his entire family to Egypt. In the scheme of how long people lived in Biblical times, this was a blink. He only had 17 years with the family that he missed for most of his life and still it was a gift.
We all know Joseph as the dreamer. He wore the colorful coat, had a dream that made his older brothers jealous, was sold into slavery, went to prison, and then eventually went to Egypt and helped millions of people. He helped these people because of his ability to dream and trust God. His life was blessed in every season, including being a slave and being jailed.
The last request that was made by Joseph was this, “When God comes to help you and lead you back, you must take my bones with you.” The tradition of sharing history has me convinced that Jacob had told Joseph about the "someday" captivity. I imagine that after seeing all the Egyptian people become slaves to Pharoah during the famine, Joseph could see the writing on the wall for his people before he died.
Let’s agree that Joseph was well aware of this guaranteed captivity for his people at some point.
Do you think that made him question the value of his dream?
Do you think it made him question the legitimacy of all the good he had done in the process of saving Egypt during a famine? I dare say, it didn’t.
Let’s talk about Jacob, Joseph’s father. He wanted to see his son again before he died. I think he also was aware of the captivity that his descendants would face.
Did it take away the joy in being reunited with his son even though it was in a different place than he expected? I don’t think so.
All day today I’ve been wondering why I couldn’t get this thought out of my head, but what about the upcoming captivity? They had to see it coming!
And I’ve finally just realized it.
DESPITE circumstances not always pointing to the best outcome, they still pursued reconciliation.
DESPITE facing captivity, they still lived life.
DESPITE knowing that moving from the land of their ancestors would be painful and dangerous, they pursued survival.
DESPITE being jailed, Joseph kept dreaming.
DESPITE thinking his son was dead, Jacob held hope.
What is keeping you from dreaming?
What is keeping you from reconciliation?
What is keeping you from living loved in this current moment of your life?
How do you need to fill in the blank?
Despite _________________, I am going to continue dreaming/living/hoping.
If God’s people, only two to three generations removed from the promises made to Abraham could move forward in pursuing God’s will, continue to dream despite looming captivity, and move to unknown and foreign lands because God was with them, what is it that you need to have faith to do right now?
Do you need the faith to stay where you are? Even if it feels like jail.
Do you need the faith to go? Even if it feels scary.
We cannot discontinue living our life, seeking joy, doing good, or discounting our value, all because we don’t know how it will all work out. Instead, we need to cling to the words that God told Jacob, “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will bring you back again.”
And finally, let's highlight 11 very important words that immediately followed the warning about captivity, "...and in the end, they will come away with great wealth."
In my head, the part guaranteeing captivity for 400 years sounds like a fog-horn. Maybe, though, after all this time thinking about this story, I've got it all wrong. And just like in a game of telephone, the most important part sticks. Maybe instead of emphasizing the captivity, they emphasized the promise!
Instead of focusing on the hard parts - focus on the promises!
If God takes you to Egypt, he will bring you back again. Don’t stop dreaming.