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8. Discerning God’s Guidance (Genesis 45:25-46:30)

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So they went up from Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him, “Joseph is still alive and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!” Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them. But when they related to him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, their father Jacob’s spirit revived. Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive! I will go and see him before I die.” So Israel began his journey, taking with him all that he had. When he came to Beer Sheba he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to Israel in a vision during the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” He replied, “Here I am!” He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt and I myself will certainly bring you back from there. Joseph will close your eyes.” Then Jacob started out from Beer Sheba, and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little children, and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent along to transport him. Jacob and all his descendants took their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and they went to Egypt. He brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons, his daughters and granddaughters—all his descendants … All the direct descendants of Jacob who went to Egypt with him were sixty-six in number. (This number does not include the wives of Jacob’s sons.) Counting the two sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt, all the people of the household of Jacob who were in Egypt numbered seventy. Jacob sent Judah before him to Joseph to accompany him to Goshen. So they came to the land of Goshen. Joseph harnessed his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. When he met him, he hugged his neck and wept on his neck for quite some time. Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”

Genesis 45:25-46:30 (NET)

How should we discern God’s guidance? In this narrative, Jacob moves his family from Canaan to Egypt. There had been two years of famine, and there would be five more (Gen 45:11). By the end of the famine, if precautions weren’t taken, Jacob’s family would become impoverished. Through God’s sovereignty, God used the evil works of Jacob’s sons to provide for the family’s future. In Genesis 37, because the brothers were jealous of Joseph, they sold him into slavery. After thirteen years of serving as a slave and prisoner in Egypt, Joseph was exalted to governor of Egypt (Gen 41). God used him to collect great resources during seven years of plenty to provide for Egypt and other nations during seven years of a world-wide famine. In Genesis 45, after subjecting his brothers to two tests, Joseph revealed his identity to them. Joseph then called for his father, Jacob, and the rest of the family to move to Egypt, so they could be well provided for.

Jacob’s family moving to Egypt seemed like a no-brainer—they needed food and Joseph could provide it; however, it wasn’t that easy. God had called for Jacob’s family to become a great nation and to inherit the land of Canaan. If they moved to Egypt, how would God fulfill that promise, which was originally given to Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob? It seems that these realities were troubling Jacob. Though he initially left his home with his family, he stopped in Beer Sheba and offered sacrifices to God. God spoke to Jacob and told him to not be afraid of going down to Egypt (46:3).

Surely, God doesn’t waste words. God told Jacob to not be afraid because he was afraid and for good reasons. (1) Certainly, there were natural factors to consider, such as his advanced age. Moving when one is old and established is a lot harder than moving when one is young. For young people, moving is often an adventure; when older, it’s more of a burden. (2) But more importantly, as mentioned, Jacob must have questioned: “How would God fulfill his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and himself about giving them Canaan as an inheritance?” (3) Furthermore, Jacob’s descendants did not have a good history with Egypt. When Abraham first moved to Canaan, there was a famine. Instead of staying in the promised land, Abraham left for Egypt, which demonstrated a lack of faith in God. In Egypt, Pharaoh took Abraham’s wife, although God eventually delivered her after cursing Pharaoh and his family (Gen 12). In addition, Jacob knew that God appeared to Isaac at a time of great famine and warned him to not go down to Egypt, but to stay in Canaan (Gen 26:1-3). Jacob didn’t want to make the same mistake by going down to Egypt. If God had called for his family to stay in Canaan, God would provide for their welfare, even in a famine. Indeed, in Genesis 26:12, Isaac reaped 100 times what he sowed during that famine. Surely, God could provide for Jacob’s family in the same way. (4) Finally, another possible problem that might have caused Jacob to be afraid was an early prophecy Abraham received. In Genesis 15:13-16, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in a foreign country, be enslaved there for 400 years, God would judge that country, and then Israel would return to Canaan with great wealth. Was Egypt the “foreign country” where Jacob’s descendants would be enslaved? There were significant reasons for Jacob to be afraid.

Jacob was in a quandary: There were logical reasons to go down to Egypt and yet there were logical reasons to stay put. Similarly, for us, many decisions are not clear cut. How can we accurately discern God’s guidance? As we watch Jacob navigate this quandary and discern God’s guidance, we learn principles about discerning God’s guidance for our lives as well—where to go to school, what major to pursue, where to live, who to marry, or what job to take.

Big Question: What principles can we learn about discerning God’s guidance from Jacob’s leaving Canaan and going to Egypt in Genesis 45:25-46:30?

To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider Providential Circumstances

So they went up from Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him, “Joseph is still alive and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!” Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them. But when they related to him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, their father Jacob’s spirit revived. Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive! I will go and see him before I die.”

Genesis 45:25-28

Observation Question: Which providential circumstances would seem to indicate God was calling Jacob’s family to move to Egypt?

Jacob’s process of discerning God’s guidance began when he was confronted with the reality that Joseph was still alive and currently the governor of Egypt. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son, whom he thought was dead for twenty-two years. As Jacob considered his circumstances, there were several facts that seemed to confirm God’s desire for Jacob to relocate his family to Egypt:

  1. The famine would last for five more years. Without God’s miraculous provision, Jacob’s family would become poor, as most of their livestock would die.
  2. Egypt had abundant provisions.
  3. Joseph, Jacob’s son, was the governor of Egypt and he would provide for them.

By looking at God’s providential workings, it would seem clear that God was guiding Jacob into Egypt.

We, too, must consider God’s providential workings when discerning his guidance for our lives. Many times, God’s providential workings are as clear as open and closed doors. Has God opened the door for a specific job or ministry for you? Has God provided finances or some scholarship to meet your needs? If God is calling us somewhere, we should expect him to open and close doors. Closed doors will often be him saying “no” or “not yet,” and open doors will often be his affirmation. (Sometimes God opens many doors, which makes the discernment process a little more challenging.)

God’s providential working is only one factor we must consider when discerning God’s guidance. For Jacob, it seemed as if God was leading them to Egypt because Egypt had provisions during the famine, the famine would last for five more years, and Joseph, as governor over Egypt, would provide for them. How is God guiding you through providential circumstances?

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s guidance through providential circumstances? Does God’s providence mean that we should be inactive in pursuing open doors? Why or why not? In what ways might God be guiding you now through his providence?

To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider the Counsel of Others

So they went up from Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. They told him, “Joseph is still alive and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!” Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them. But when they related to him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, their father Jacob’s spirit revived.

Genesis 45:25-27

After the sons told Jacob that Joseph was still alive, they shared all that “Joseph had said” (45:27). Earlier, in Genesis 45:9-11, Joseph said that the family should move to Egypt and live in Goshen, as the famine would last for five more years, which would surely impoverish them. Certainly, Jacob wanted to see Joseph, but moving the family to Egypt was something he had never considered. However, Joseph’s advice was part of how God guided Jacob, and God often does the same with us.

Scripture says that we are the body of Christ, and as the body, one person may function as the eyes, another the feet, and another the hand. The hand can’t say to the eyes, “I don’t need you” (1 Cor 12). As believers, we are not independent from one another but intricately connected. For that reason, God often gives us grace through other members of the body, including his guidance. We must realize that somebody in the body will often function as eyes for us—for example, giving us direction. Sometimes it will be one person, maybe a mentor or good friend, and at other times, it will be random believers. Proverbs 11:14 says, “When there is no guidance a nation falls, but there is success in the abundance of counselors.” Seeking counsel often leads to victory and success; not seeking counsel can often lead to failure. Who are your abundance of counselors? Who are the people you seek advice from vocationally, relationally, and/or spiritually? Who are you speaking to in order to help guide them in the Lord’s path?             

This a common way in which God guides his people. God called David to be king of Israel through Samuel (1 Sam 16). God called Paul and Barnabas to missions through a group of elders who fasted and listened to God (Acts 13:1-3). For Jacob, God spoke through Joseph’s call for him to move the family to Egypt, and no doubt God confirmed it through his other sons as well.

Application Question: Who are some of the people from whom you seek counsel? Who are the people God wants you to consult—maybe for a specific situation? How can we discern God’s guidance among our many counselors?

To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider Our Desires and Abilities

Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive! I will go and see him before I die.” So Israel began his journey, taking with him all that he had.

Genesis 45:28, 46:1

Jacob had mourned the loss of Joseph for twenty-two years. However, when he found out that Joseph was alive and that he could see him, Jacob immediately declared, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive! I will go and see him before I die!” Here we see the meeting of desire and ability. The son whom Jacob had grieved over for twenty-two years was alive, and he could go see him. Also, Jacob desired to provide for his family, and that would only happen in Egypt.

In our own lives, God often guides us by giving us both the desire for something and the ability to achieve it. For example, Philippians 2:12-13 says, “…continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.” When God is guiding us, he often leads through our “desire” and “effort.” This means God gives us desires for his purposes and the ability to complete them.

Therefore, when one is trying to discern God’s guidance, he must ask, “What is in my heart? What do I want?” But he also must ask, “Has God given me the ability to achieve these things or the potential to do so? Obviously, many people love and enjoy things for which they have no competency, which will often be how they discern God has something else for them. Others have competency and no desire. That may be the method God uses to direct them to other paths.

Again, desire and ability are only part of the way that God guides his people. There will be times he leads us into things, by circumstances and other indicators, wherein we lack a desire and strong ability to accomplish. However, in those cases, we should expect that God’s grace will be made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:7-8). God delights to lead us into these areas. Moses didn’t feel comfortable speaking in public. God listened to him and provided Aaron to speak on his behalf, but also said to him, “Who made the mouth?” God was going to make his power manifest in Moses’ weakness (Ex 3). We must recognize this as well: our desires and abilities should not limit us. Where God chooses to lead us is ultimately about God and his glory and helping others. It’s not just about what we like and what we are able to do. If these are the only things we consider, we will miss God’s guidance.

Another thing we must consider is that Scripture teaches that our hearts are deceitful above all else (Jer 17:9). Because of our fallen nature, “listening” to our hearts can be confusing and can lead us into great sin. For this reason, we must continually guard and test our hearts by asking ourselves questions like, “Are these desires selfish or God-honoring?” “Do my desires match my competency?” More importantly, we must continually abide in God through prayer and studying Scripture, so that God can guide our hearts and protect us from being led by our sin nature, the devil, or the world. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (paraphrase). As we delight in God, our desires will conform to his.

Certainly, God guided Jacob by giving him the desire of his heart—to see Joseph and provide for his family. Often God guides us in the same manner: How is God working in your heart? What are some of the abilities and gifts that God has given you?

Application Question: Are there any special ways God is currently working in your heart to help guide your steps? If so, in what ways? What are some of the unique ways that God has gifted you (which will, no doubt, be part of how he leads you)? What are some practical ways that we can discern our desires and abilities?

To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider God’s Peace (or Our Lack of It)

When he came to Beer Sheba he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to Israel in a vision during the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” He replied, “Here I am!” He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.

Genesis 46:1-3

Jacob had circumstances guiding him: wise counsel, his own personal desires, and the ability to fulfill those desires. With the limited knowledge Jacob had, he moved his family to the most southern part of Canaan—Beer Sheba—on his way to Egypt. Jacob’s family had a rich history there. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had previously lived there. Up to this point, it seems that Jacob was making a wise decision. Many times, God may not make his guidance absolutely clear. We must look at circumstances, seek counsel, discern God’s work in our heart, and then make the best decision we can, all the while trusting that he is guiding us (Rom 8:14). We should not feel immobilized because God hasn’t “spoken”; however, we must, with right hearts, diligently seek God’s guidance. Then we move cautiously—trusting God to confirm our steps, slow us down, or redirect us. It could be said that we cautiously move forward while looking for red lights, green lights, and yellow lights.

In this process, it appears that Jacob perceived something was wrong, as he lacked peace about his decision to transport his entire family to Egypt. How can we discern this? When God appeared to him, God commanded him to not be afraid to go down to Egypt (46:3). God knew that Jacob was hesitant to relocate to Egypt. Though everything seemed perfect, Jacob still lacked peace. It was because of this that Jacob paused their journey to Egypt to offer sacrifices to God at Beer Sheba and seek God’s reassurance.

Often times that will be how God guides us as well. He guides us through his peace or lack of it. We see this truth throughout Scripture. Colossians 3:15 says, “Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful.” The word “control” can also be translated “rule” or “decide.” It was an athletic word used of an umpire. The umpire says, “Winner!” or “Disqualified!” In 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, we get a good picture of how God guided Paul through a lack of peace. It says:

Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me, I had no relief in my spirit, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and set out for Macedonia.

While Paul was at Troas, he had an open door to proclaim the gospel. Paul lived for open doors! However, he couldn’t find his co-worker, Titus, and therefore had “no relief” in his spirit. Since he lacked peace, he left Troas for Macedonia. Often Christians are led and controlled by fear instead of peace. “No one will ever marry me, so I’m going to settle for ‘Mr. Here Now’ instead of ‘Mr. Right!’” “If I choose this major, though I feel God guiding that way, I will never make enough money!” Fear rules instead of God’s peace.

Experiencing God’s peace is an important guide in our life. Satan wants to rule us by fear; God wants to rule us by peace. That’s why Paul says, “Let the peace of Christ rule [or have control] in our hearts” (Col 3:15 paraphrase). Also, we’re commanded in Philippians 4:6-7 to “Be anxious for nothing but in everything, through prayer, thanksgiving, with supplication, to make our requests known to God, so his peace can guard our hearts” (paraphrase). God wants us to have peace. Christ said, “My peace I give to you and not the peace that the world gives” (John 14:27 paraphrase). Are you being guided by peace or by fear and anxiety?

Now with that said, peace (or lack of peace) is subjective. Again, it is just one of the factors that we should consider. For Jacob, everything seemed to line up, circumstances, counsel, his heart and ability, yet he was struggling with fear instead of peace, so he stopped to seek God in a deeper manner by offering sacrifices. Jacob’s actions at Beer Sheba introduce our next principle.

Application Question: In what ways has God guided you through peace or a lack of it? Why is only considering our peace (or lack of it) for guidance unreliable? How should we test our peace?

To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Pray and Wait

When he came to Beer Sheba he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

Genesis 46:1

Jacob’s fear about leaving Canaan led him to seek the Lord’s presence by offering sacrifices at Beer Sheba. Certainly, when he offered sacrifices, he was giving God thanks that Joseph was alive and that they would be provided for during the famine. However, just as important as giving thanks, Joseph needed God’s guidance. Therefore, he sought the Lord’s guidance through prayer. This shows tremendous spiritual growth in Jacob’s life. At other crucial junctures in Jacob’s life, prayer seemed to be absent. When in his father’s home, instead of praying and trusting God to provide him with the inheritance, Jacob deceived his father. When deceived into marrying the wrong sister by his uncle Laban, Jacob didn’t pray or seek the Lord. He just decided to marry both sisters—bringing great conflict into his home. At many crucial junctures, prayer was absent.

At times God appeared to Jacob; however, those appearances came from God’s initiative, not Jacob’s. When Jacob ran for his life from his father’s home, God appeared to him in a dream and said that he would be with him and bring him back to his father’s home (Gen 28). When the sons of Laban were cross with Jacob, God told Jacob to leave Laban’s home (Gen 31). When Jacob was afraid that Esau might kill him after leaving Haran, God appeared as an angel and wrestled with Jacob (Gen 32). Previously at crucial points, Jacob habitually neglected God or God took the initiative; however, this time, when Jacob was afraid, he sought the Lord and God appeared to him.

We must do the same by seeking God through prayer. Unfortunately, we often act based on our circumstances, counsel, and/or heart desires alone without stopping to seek the Lord. With major decisions we should spend even greater time in prayer. Before Christ began his ministry, he spent forty days fasting (Matt 4). When Christ chose his twelve apostles, he spent the night in prayer before that decision (Lk 6:12-13). James 1:5 says, “But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.” James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” Literally, this can be translated “Ask and keep asking… seek and keep seeking…, knock and keep knocking…” We must ask the Lord and wait for his guidance, especially at critical junctures in our life.

Now, again, we don’t want to become paralyzed in the process of making decisions. Most times, God will not reveal himself in a vision, dream, or speak with audible words. But in situations like Jacob’s, where we lack peace, it’s often wise to stop, lay down our altar (as Jacob did), and seek the Lord until he gives us peace and further guidance.

Application Question: Why is prayer so important in seeking God’s guidance? In what ways have you experienced clear answers to prayers for guidance? How important is waiting in prayer and why is it so difficult?

To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider God’s Word

God spoke to Israel in a vision during the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” He replied, “Here I am!” He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt and I myself will certainly bring you back from there. Joseph will close your eyes.”

Genesis 46:2-4

After Jacob sought the Lord through offering sacrifices, God appeared to him in a vision. God spoke to Jacob and called him by name, “Jacob, Jacob!” God knew his name, as he had a personal relationship with him. Certainly, the same is true for us. Christ calls himself the good shepherd and describes how good shepherds know each lamb by name (John 10:3, 14). God knows us as well—our worries, fears, passions, and the way he made us. After calling Jacob, God relayed promises which would calm Jacob’s fears about moving to Egypt:

  1. God was going to make Jacob into a great nation there (v. 3). When Jacob moved to Egypt with his family, there were only sixty-nine men, as it appears Dinah was included in the list of seventy (Gen 46:8-26).1 It took this family 215 years to grow from one man (Abraham) to 69, but in another 430 years they grew to 600,000 men (Ex 12:37)—around two million people, when estimating for their families.2 Egypt was going to be the incubator where Israel would grow into a great nation. They would become so numerous that the Egyptians would become afraid of them and enslave them.
  2. God would go with Jacob to Egypt and bring him back to Canaan (v. 4). That was the same promise that God had given Jacob when he left Canaan for Haran in search of a wife (Gen 28). God would be with him and bring him back. The return was partially fulfilled when his bones were brought back to Canaan, where he was buried in the cave with the other patriarchs (Gen 50); however, it would be ultimately fulfilled in the nation of Israel after more than 400 years in Egypt, as God promised Abraham (Gen 15:13-16).
  3. God would give him a proper burial, as Joseph would “shut his eyes” (v. 4). The son for whom he had grieved for twenty-two years would be with him when he died.

When Jacob was fearful about going down to Egypt, God guided and comforted him through promises. God may at times choose to speak audibly, but that is not the prevailing way God guides us today. Instead, God has provided us with his completed Word, something Jacob didn’t have. There were no portions of Scripture during that time, so God primarily communicated in supernatural ways. Today, God’s primary method of speaking to us and guiding us is through his written Word.

In Scripture, God either tells us what to do or gives us principles to guide us. As we consider circumstances, the counsel of others, the desires of our heart, and God’s peace or lack of it, we can be sure that God will never lead us in contradiction to his Word. This is how we test all the other factors. God’s Word will guide us clearly on moral issues. We shouldn’t do anything that would be immoral. On other issues, we have principles to help guide us into what’s best, even as we are considering in this study—circumstances, the counsel of others, God’s work in our hearts, and God’s peace.

With that said, we must understand that if we are weak in God’s Word, it will be hard to discern God’s guidance. In Psalm 119:105, David said, “Your word is a lamp to walk by, and a light to illumine my path.” When we are not faithfully abiding in God’s Word, it’s as if we are walking in the dark. We should expect to go the wrong direction, which inevitably leads to hurting ourselves and others.

Are you abiding in God’s Word? It guides us into what is moral and what is best. As we read and meditate on it, we commune with God and can then better discern his guidance. Psalm 25:14 (NIV) says, “The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.”

Application Question: In what ways does God guide us through his Word? How have you experienced a lack of intimacy with God and therefore direction when not faithfully being in God’s Word—communing with him? What are your favorite promises in the Bible and why?

To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider Others

Then Jacob started out from Beer Sheba, and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little children, and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent along to transport him. Jacob and all his descendants took their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and they went to Egypt. He brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons, his daughters and granddaughters—all his descendants … All the direct descendants of Jacob who went to Egypt with him were sixty-six in number. (This number does not include the wives of Jacob’s sons.) Counting the two sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt, all the people of the household of Jacob who were in Egypt numbered seventy. Jacob sent Judah before him to Joseph to accompany him to Goshen. So they came to the land of Goshen. Joseph harnessed his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. When he met him, he hugged his neck and wept on his neck for quite some time. Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”

Genesis 46:5-30

In Genesis 46:7, it says that Jacob carried with him “all his descendants” (v. 7). Then we find a list of primarily his sons. Like most Hebrew genealogies, women were not included, with the exception of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah (46:15). The narrator also mentions other “daughters” of Jacob (v. 7). It’s possible that Jacob had daughters other than Dinah; however, many commentators believe the mentioning of daughters is referring to daughters-in-laws—the wives of his sons. The list includes seventy names—only sixty-six of these came down to Egypt, as Joseph and his sons were already there.

Why is this list included in the narrative? For many, genealogies can be boring to read. However, genealogies were very important to the Jews: they represented their family members. Ancestry affected one’s land rights, and it affected one’s occupation (such as, only sons of Aaron could be priests). Ultimately, the lists showed the ancestry of Christ. This genealogy traces Christ’s lineage from Judah, down through Perez, and then to Hezron (46:12, cf. Lk 3:33-34).

However, the list also shows that Jacob’s decision to move to Egypt was not just about him; it affected the infant nation of Israel—probably a couple hundred people. As mentioned, to the Jews, family was very important and therefore any decisions always took into consideration the entire family. In western nations, the primary concern is often one’s own desires—how it affects him or her individually. But, when God spoke to Jacob, he called himself the “God of your father”—representing his family line (46:3). In Revelation 2 and 3, Christ spoke to local churches—either commending them or calling them to repent. And in Luke 10:13, he called the nations of Chorazin and Bethsaida to repent.

God knows us as individuals, but he also knows us as part of a corporate reality. God sees us individually and corporately, as part of a family, a church, and a nation. Therefore, we too should consider this corporate reality when making decisions. We must ask ourselves how our decisions will affect our family, friends, church, and nation.

Paul demonstrates this principle in Romans 14:21, as he said: It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Though eating meat and drinking wine were not sin—as they passed the biblical test—in some situations, it would not be loving to eat and drink them. Therefore, Paul taught his listeners to be considerate of others when making decisions. In 1 Corinthians 8:13, Paul said: “For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them to sin.” God’s guidance often becomes clear when we consider the effects of our decisions on others: “Will making this decision help more people grow in Christ?” “Will choosing to take this freedom potentially cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble?”

Certainly, this should apply to our families. Many people accept jobs based on the fact that they will make more money but commonly give no thought to how the new job will impact their family life. If they take that job or pursue that career, will it mean less time with one’s spouse or children? There are many children growing up without parental presence and guidance because of their parents’ vocational decisions.

We should, additionally, consider our spiritual family. God has made the church to be a body, which, though having individual parts, depends upon one another. This means we must evaluate how our decisions affect our local church. It is not uncommon for people to leave a healthy church where they are growing and serving, in order to take a better job elsewhere and, then upon arriving, experience years of spiritual dryness. It is challenging to find a good church and often hard to get connected after finding it. If the church is a body, as Scripture teaches, then we must give great thought to how our decisions affect her (and us, as part of her). This will often be how God guides. He will guide us by teaching us to love others more than ourselves, including our family, church, and nation. When Jacob considered leaving Canaan, no doubt, a significant part of his consideration was its effect on his large family, including Joseph.

After gaining confirmation from God, Jacob journeyed to Egypt. When he met Joseph he declared, “Now let me die since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive” (46:30). Essentially, seeing Joseph filled Jacob with joy; when it was time for him to die, he could die in peace. Family was a major factor in Jacob’s move to Egypt, and God will often use relational considerations to direct us as well.

Application Question: How has God led you by considering others’ needs before your own? How do we discern the balance of caring for others and ourselves?

Conclusion

How should we discern God’s guidance? We can learn a great deal from how God guided Jacob’s move to Egypt. Again, none of these principles alone should be our guide; we must use each of them, if possible, in discerning God’s guidance.

  1. To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider Providential Circumstances
  2. To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider the Counsel of Others
  3. To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider Our Desires and Abilities
  4. To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider God’s Peace (or Our Lack of It)
  5. To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Pray and Wait
  6. To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider God’s Word
  7. To Discern God’s Guidance, We Must Consider Others

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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1 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: beginning and blessing (p. 528). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 Guzik, D. (2013). Genesis (Ge 46:5–27). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

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