9. Living as Heaven-Bound Pilgrims on Earth (Genesis 46:31-47:31)Related Media
…Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?” “Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.” They also said to him, “We have come to live here for a while, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.” Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?” And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence. So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children. There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace… So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, o from one end of Egypt to the other… Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number. Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.” “I will do as you say,” he said. ”Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
Genesis 46:31-47:31 (NET)
How can we live as heaven-bound pilgrims on earth?
In Genesis 46-47, Jacob relocated his family to Egypt so they could survive the world-wide famine. The region they moved to was Goshen, a fertile area located on the eastern delta of the Nile.1 In Goshen, Joseph, the governor of Egypt, prepped his family to meet Pharaoh (Genesis 46:31-34). Though Joseph was second-in-command over Egypt, he could not give Jacob’s family the land of Goshen without Pharaoh’s permission. Joseph told his family to mention that their occupation was shepherding. Since Egyptians despised shepherds, they would not want shepherds to live in or near their communities. Sending them to live in Goshen would solve this situation, and Pharaoh confirmed and approved Joseph’s request.
Joseph was not only a godly man and wise administrator, but he was also a savvy politician. He understood people and how to use the right words to get things done. He not only understood that Egyptians despised shepherds, but that they also looked down on other nations. Egyptians believed they originated from the gods and other peoples from lesser origins. These two realities (their occupation and ethnicity) would allow Joseph’s family to live separately in Goshen, prosper, and yet keep their identity as Hebrews. If they lived among the Egyptians, they would have assimilated into the culture—taking on many of the bad practices of the Egyptians, such as polytheism. If the Israelites couldn’t keep their identity in Canaan, where they began to practice the sins of the Canaanites, they wouldn’t be able to do it in Egypt, either.
Joseph put together a delegation of five brothers—probably, the most impressive of the eleven—and had them meet Pharaoh. After Pharaoh heard about their occupation, he agreed that they should live in Goshen. He also encouraged Joseph to allow his brothers to oversee the royal flocks if any of them had special ability (47:6).
After the brothers met Pharaoh, Joseph’s father was brought in to meet him. Immediately, Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Then Pharaoh asked Jacob’s age. Jacob replied, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers” (47:9 NIV). Isaac lived to 180 and Abraham lived to 175. Ancient Egyptian literature says that the ideal age was 110.2 Possibly, Pharaoh had never met a man as old as Jacob. After their conversation, Jacob blessed Pharaoh again.
Later we find out that Israel prospered in Egypt—gaining property and bearing many children—while the Egyptians suffered (47:11-27). In return for food, the Egyptians first gave all their money to Pharaoh. Then, in an inevitable domino effect, they sold their animals, property, and finally themselves. In contrast, during the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt, as pilgrims waiting their future land, God blessed them in the midst of the famine.
As we study this narrative, we learn something about our pilgrimage on earth. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we are temporary residents on earth—awaiting our heavenly homeland. In fact, when speaking to Pharaoh, Jacob summarized his life as a pilgrimage (Gen 47:9 NIV), one which seemed to refer to more than Jacob and his family’s earthly nomadic lifestyle. The writer of Hebrews used the same language to describe Abraham and the other patriarchs living in Canaan and yet looking forward to heaven while on earth. Hebrews 11:8-10, 16 says,
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God… But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
The fact that Jacob was ultimately looking forward to heaven is clearly implied at his death. Genesis 49:29 and 33 says,
Then he [Jacob] instructed them, “I am about to go to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite…When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.”
When Jacob referred to going to his people, it meant something other than being buried. ‘Going to his people’ referred to Jacob’s heavenly hope. In heaven, Abraham, Isaac, Rachel, and Leah were all still “alive” and, at death, Jacob knew he would be reunited with them.
Though not having the revelation of Scripture, God made it known to the patriarchs that they were called to a heavenly country. They had a heavenly hope. In fact, Canaan has always symbolized heavenly hope for the Jews. When God gave Moses the description of the tabernacle, it was based on the heavenly tabernacle. Hebrews 8:5 says,
The place where they serve is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, just as Moses was warned by God as he was about to complete the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the design shown to you on the mountain.”
Also, Jerusalem was meant to help the Jews think about ‘heavenly Jerusalem,’ as Hebrews 12:22 calls it, which was their eventual eternal home.
Like the patriarchs, David understood this heavenly reality, as he also referred to himself as a pilgrim on earth:
For we are resident foreigners and nomads in your presence, like all our ancestors; our days are like a shadow on the earth, without security.
1 Chronicles 29:15
Hear my prayer, O Lord! Listen to my cry for help! Do not ignore my sobbing! For I am dependent on you, like one residing outside his native land; I am at your mercy, just as all my ancestors were.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David were all pilgrims, even while they lived in the promised land. This was because they were waiting for their eternal abode.
Scripture teaches the same reality about believers: Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” First Peter 2:11 says, “Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul.”
Therefore, as we look at Jacob and his family’s pilgrimage in Egypt, we learn principles about being pilgrims in this world. Our citizenship is in heaven and our sojourn on earth is temporary; therefore, these realities should significantly affect our daily lives and how we prepare for the future.
Big Question: What principles about being faithful, heaven-bound pilgrims on earth can we discern from Israel’s pilgrimage in Egypt?
To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Practice Holiness—Separation from the World
Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.” Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?” “Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.” They also said to him, “We have come to live here for a while, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.”
As mentioned, God’s placement of Israel in Egypt, and specifically Goshen, was strategic. While in Canaan, infant Israel was beginning to conform to the ways of that nation. Jacob’s sons had murdered a village of men. Reuben, the firstborn, had slept with one of Jacob’s wives. Judah impregnated his daughter-in-law. Ten of Jacob’s sons had enslaved Joseph. Two of the sons married Canaanite women (Judah and Simeon; 38:2, 46:10). Such intermarriages would not have happened in Egypt due to the Egyptians’ extreme prejudice towards other nations and particularly towards shepherds. For these reasons, the Israelites were segregated from the Egyptians and allowed to dwell in Goshen. There they would grow into a great nation (Gen 46:3) and cultivate their religious distinctiveness. Egyptian society was built around a plethora of gods, one of whom was Pharaoh himself, but Israel would be built around the one God. Living in Goshen would allow them to be separate—set apart for God.
This is also true about our pilgrimage on earth as Christians. If we are going to live as pilgrims on earth, we must maintain our distinctiveness. We must be “in the world but not of the world” (John 17:15-16 paraphrase). We must never adopt the world’s sinful practices or ideals. We must develop and maintain the ideals and character which accords with our heavenly citizenship.
James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Religion that God accepts is not only merciful but holy—it keeps itself unspotted from the world. That was God’s plan for Israel while they lived in Goshen, and that is God’s plan for us while we are in the world.
Interpretation Question: What does the process of a believer being conformed to this world look like?
According to Scripture, it’s very easy for Christians to lose their distinctiveness and begin to assimilate into the world culture. The process is gradual but has distinct stages: First, they befriend the world—becoming “comfortable” with its relationships, ideals, and practices. James says friendship with the world is enmity with God (Jam 4:4). Because of their friendship with the world, they become stained by the world (Jam 1:27), as they adopt various aspects of the world’s customs that are ungodly—language, clothing, sexual ethics, worldviews. As they immerse themselves more and more into the world, they begin to fall in love with it—enjoying its culture and wealth. First John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in them” (paraphrase). Loving the world and the things of the world continually draws believers away from God and the things of God. Also, it is harder to give things up that we love. Finally, Christians become conformed to the world, where they look just like the world and it’s hard to distinguish whether they are Christians or not. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (paraphrase). For example, Paul called the Corinthian Christians “worldly” and “infants in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1 NIV). It was hard to distinguish them from the world, as they had totally assimilated to the culture: They worshipped their pastors as if they were rock stars (1 Cor 1). They were suing one another (1 Cor 6). They practiced gross sexual immorality including incest and visiting temple prostitutes (1 Cor 5 and 6), and they even started to doubt the resurrection (1 Cor 15). They were very much like some liberal, worldly churches today.
As Christians conform to the world, they not only open the door to the devil but lose God’s blessing in the process. Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV) says,
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. He is like a tree planted by flowing streams; it yields its fruit at the proper time, and its leaves never fall off. He succeeds in everything he attempts.
God blesses those who separate from the world and continually draw near God and the things of God. He blesses them—in fact, prospering everything they do.
Like any good parent, God can’t bless his children as he would like to when they are living in sin. To bless them in that state would just harden them further into sin. Instead, he disciplines them so they can become holy. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” He disciplines believers so we can share in his holiness. Since God had a great plan for Israel—they would be the stewards of God’s Word, God’s temple, and the messiah would come through them—they had to be separate and holy. They had to be vessels fit for him to use.
Certainly, this is also true for believers today. We are God’s workmanship created in Christ for good works, which he prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10). Like Israel, God desires to bless us and draw the world to himself through us. Therefore, as pilgrims on this earth, we must be holy—set apart from the world and sin and separated to righteousness.
Are you practicing holiness—separating from the world, its practices and worldviews? Are you drawing near God through his Word, prayer, and growing in righteousness so God can use you greatly?
Application Question: How do we see many Christians (including churches and denominations) adopting the world—its ideals and practices? Why is this so common? How can Christians be in the world and not of it?
To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Practice Blessing Others
Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob and presented him before Pharaoh. Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How long have you lived?” Jacob said to Pharaoh, “All the years of my travels are 130. All the years of my life have been few and painful; the years of my travels are not as long as those of my ancestors.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.
After Joseph’s brothers met with Pharaoh and asked to live in the land of Goshen, Jacob was introduced to Pharaoh. It appears that Jacob walked into the room with hands raised and immediately began to pray over Pharaoh. No doubt, he was thankful for how God used Pharaoh to save them from the famine, but he also wanted Pharaoh to know the blessing of the true God. As Jacob blessed him, he was operating in God’s promise to his family. Through Abraham and his descendants, all nations of the earth would be blessed.
What’s interesting about this is that Pharaoh was the most powerful man in the world at that time. He was considered the incarnation of Ra, the sun god.3 However, Pharaoh’s worldly preeminence didn’t stop Jacob from blessing him. After a short conversation, Jacob prayed again for Pharaoh. The man whom God chose to bless the world prayed for the most powerful man in the world. Jacob was not shocked or humbled by the greatness of Pharaoh, for Jacob knew whom he represented.
Steve Cole tells a story about Pastor Peter Cartwright’s comments when he found out the U.S. President, Andrew Jackson, was attending his service.
On one occasion a man named Peter Cartwright was about to preach when his deacons informed him that President Andrew Jackson had unexpectedly showed up. They asked him to be careful what he said. He stood up to preach and began, “I understand that Andrew Jackson is with us today, and I have been asked to be guarded in my remarks. Andrew Jackson will go to hell as quickly as any other man if he does not repent!” The congregation was shocked, wondering how the President would react. At the close of the meeting, President Jackson shook Cartwright’s hand and said, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could whip the world.”4
Perhaps, Pastor Cartwright went a little overboard; however, the basis of his comments were correct. As a preacher, he spoke for God, and he knew that all people needed God’s blessing, including the U.S. President.
God has called all believers to be agents of his blessing on the earth. Christ called believers the salt and light of the world (Matt 5:13-14). As salt, we keep society from moral decay and ultimate judgment by living godly lives and challenging immoral practices. As light, we are maintainers of the truth. As society becomes darker, moral principles are lost, even such principles as the marriage between a man and a woman or the value of life (including infants, those with disabilities, or the elderly). God has called us to positively influence the world. The greatest way that we bless the world is obviously by sharing the gospel with them. Christ died for our sins and rose again. If we believe in him and follow him as Lord and Savior, God will save us from eternal damnation and give us eternal life. This is the blessing we should share with great and small. We are pilgrims with great blessings to offer the world.
Obviously, our Christian influence in the world will not be without cost. Since people prefer to continue in sin, they will become angry with us, perhaps even leading to our persecution. This is what happened to Christ—culminating in his crucifixion—and persecution will eventually happen to us in various ways. John 3:19-20 says:
the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed.
Likewise, Peter wrote this to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith throughout the Roman empire: “and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears” (1 Pet 2:12). Though these unbelievers persecuted Christians, many of them will ultimately glorify God on the day Christ appears, because at some point they became believers through the Christian witness. We don’t know if Pharaoh ever became a believer, but God blessed him through Joseph and Jacob for that purpose. When Nebuchadnezzar was ruling the world from Babylon, God used Daniel to help bring about his conversion (Dan 4). That is God’s plan for us as pilgrims on this earth as well. We are called to show people the love of God and consistently point them to the land we’re waiting for—a heavenly land.
Application Question: What are some ways that Christians can be a blessing to unbelievers? In what ways is God calling you to be salt and light to those around you that don’t know Christ? In what ways is persecution towards Christians growing around the world?
To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Recognize the Brevity of Life
Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How long have you lived?” Jacob said to Pharaoh, “All the years of my travels are 130. All the years of my life have been few and painful; the years of my travels are not as long as those of my ancestors.”
As mentioned, after Pharaoh was initially blessed by Jacob, he asked for Jacob’s age. Pharaoh could tell Jacob was old. After Jacob replied that he was 130, he described his years as “few” and “painful” (v. 9). They were few in comparison to his fathers’ years, Isaac and Abraham, who lived to 180 and 175. However, Jacob probably also was considering his life in comparison to eternity. It’s clear that Jacob believed he would die soon. He mentioned it in Genesis 45, 46, and at the end of 47, as he prepared for his burial (47:28-31).
Recognizing the brevity of life is crucial for pilgrims. God has given us all a limited time on the earth, and how we live our lives will affect our lives in eternity. As believers, how we live is not about going to heaven or hell, as we are saved by faith in Christ’s work for us (Eph 2:8-9). However, the manner in which we live affects our lives in eternity and, specifically, our rewards in eternity. Second Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” First Corinthians 3:12-15 says,
If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
Believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to be evaluated for rewards; unbelievers will go before the Great White Throne of Judgment, where their works will reveal that they never accepted Christ and determine the quality of their eternal judgment (Rev 20). At the Judgment Seat of Christ, believers will receive rewards for faithfulness and lose rewards for unfaithfulness. Christ said those who practice his commands and teach others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven, and those who break his commands and teach others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:19).
How we use our time on earth matters! Life is like a vapor—it is here briefly and then gone (Jam 4:14). Psalm 90:10 and 12 (NIV) says:
Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away... Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
The Psalmist essentially says that if we don’t realize how short our time on earth is, we risk living unwisely. Christ intimated something similar in a parable about a master who left his servant at home in Luke 12:45-46. He said,
But if that slave should say to himself, ‘My master is delayed in returning,’ and he begins to beat the other slaves, both men and women, and to eat, drink, and get drunk then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the unfaithful.
Since the servant thought his master was delaying his return (or wasn’t coming at all), he ceased to be a good steward. He lived in discord, waste, and drunkenness—he didn’t live a wise life because he wrongly evaluated his time. We probably would live wiser lives if we knew that Christ was returning soon or that we would die soon. Understanding the brevity of life is important to living as pilgrims. It helps us live wisely—in a way that honors God.
In Genesis 45:28, after Jacob’s sons told him that Joseph was still alive, he said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” Then in Genesis 46:30, when he met Joseph he said, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.” As mentioned previously, Jacob thought he was about to die soon; however, he lived for seventeen more years (Gen 47:28). This is important to consider because we don’t know the time of our deaths. For those who think they will live many more years, death may come quite quickly. For others, God might grant them many years of life. For others still, Christ may return in their lifetime, and they may never taste death. Whatever our futures hold, as servants of our heavenly King, he will hold us accountable for the instructions, talents, and time he gave us (cf. Matt 25:14-30).
Are we using our time wisely? Are we living as pilgrims, realizing that our time on earth may be short? God has prepared a heavenly city for us, and how we live here affects our eternal life there. In the Parable of the Talents, the person with one talent who didn’t use his gift or time well received God’s discipline instead of God’s commendation and reward (cf. Matt 25:24-30).
How are you using your time? Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV) says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” To live faithfully as pilgrims, we must recognize the brevity of life in order to use our time well.
Application Question: Why is recognizing the brevity of life so important to being a faithful pilgrim? What are some helpful principles or disciplines that can help us use our time better for the Lord? How can we recognize the brevity of life and yet not become fatalistic?
To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Expect Difficulties in Life
Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How long have you lived?” Jacob said to Pharaoh, “All the years of my travels are 130. All the years of my life have been few and painful; the years of my travels are not as long as those of my ancestors.”
Jacob not only mentioned the brevity of life but also the difficulty of it. Jacob had experienced a challenging life: He ran from his father’s home out of fear for his life, as his brother, Esau, wanted to kill him. He was deceived by his father-in-law, Laban, into marrying the wrong sister, leading him to marry both sisters. Because of that polygamist marriage, there was constant friction in his family between the wives and sons. Soon after Jacob left his uncle Laban’s house, Jacob’s sons murdered all the men in a village. His oldest son, Reuben, slept with Jacob’s wife in a power grab. His sons sold Joseph into slavery, whom he believed was dead for twenty-two years. He indeed had a difficult life. Much of the difficulty was not only a direct result of his own sins, but also stemmed from the sins of others and living in a world under God’s curse.
The difficulty of life is also important for us to recognize if we are going to live as faithful pilgrims on earth. For many, they are under the illusion that life becomes easier once we become Christians. Some might even believe the error of the prosperity gospel—that believers are promised health and wealth here on earth. However, that is not the true gospel message, and believing so can often cause great discouragement when people do not experience the “promised” prosperity. Job said: “people are born to trouble, as surely as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).
We are always negatively affected by our sin, the sin of others, and the consequences of sin to the earth. These realities are true for everybody; however, Christians will often experience more difficulties because of their faith. In 1 Peter 4:12, Peter said this to Christians who were being persecuted for the faith, “Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Following Christ often will cause more difficulties in our lives, including our fight against sin in our flesh and the world, spiritual warfare, and persecution from those antagonistic towards Christ. Nonetheless, in the midst of those difficulties, there is certainly grace and, most importantly, God’s presence to carry us through them.
Christ indirectly described the importance of understanding the difficulties that come from following him in the Parable of the Sowers. In Matthew 13:20-21, he described the shallow ground which received the seed of God’s Word:
The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.
When trouble or persecution happened, the person with shallow faith turned away from God. Maybe he was disappointed with God because he expected God to protect, heal, or prosper him. Or, he simply didn’t understand the costs that came with following Christ (sometimes loss of family, friends, or career). The parable implies that such a person fell away from God and apparently never returned.
The life of a Christian includes difficulties, some of which are common to all people, others experienced only by believers. As Christians, we are uniquely subjected to temptations from the flesh, Satan, and the world. We experience a mourning over sin that the world doesn’t (Matt 5:4) and a groaning for our heavenly home (Rom 8:23). This is the pilgrim’s life as we await our true home.
For Jacob, his years of pilgrimage were both few and difficult, and we should expect the same. But even more importantly than those difficulties, we should understand the greater glory that trials bring in our life. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Paul said:
Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
Though we experience many difficulties in this pilgrim life, God uses all difficulties to help renew our spiritual life—creating perseverance in us, character, and hope in God (Rom 5:3-4). Difficulties are necessary, as they help remind us that earth and these bodies are not our permanent home—we were made for something else. Difficulties help us not hold the temporary things of life so tightly and help us cling more to eternity. Difficulties also prepare us for a greater glory in heaven as we persevere in faith. James 1:12 says, “Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.”
How are you responding to your difficulties? Do you realize that they are par the course for pilgrims in a world that is not ours? Our home is in heaven, and one day we will be with Jesus there. When Christ returns to the earth, he will renew the heaven and the earth, and they will be our eternal home (Rev 21).
Application Question: Why is it important for believers to recognize and expect difficulties (cf. Jam 1:2)? In what ways have you experienced how difficulties help us cling less to the temporary and cling more to the eternal? What specific difficulties is God currently using in your life to help change your character and help you cling more to him and your ultimate home?
To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Live by Faith, Both in Good and Bad Times
So Joseph settled his father and his brothers. He gave them territory in the land of Egypt, in the best region of the land, the land of Rameses, just as Pharaoh had commanded. Joseph also provided food for his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household, according to the number of their little children. But there was no food in all the land because the famine was very severe; the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan wasted away because of the famine. Joseph collected all the money that could be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan as payment for the grain they were buying. Then Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s palace. When the money from the lands of Egypt and Canaan was used up, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food! Why should we die before your very eyes because our money has run out?” Then Joseph said, “If your money is gone, bring your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock.” So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for their horses, the livestock of their flocks and herds, and their donkeys. He got them through that year by giving them food in exchange for livestock. When that year was over, they came to him the next year and said to him, “We cannot hide from our lord that the money is used up and the livestock and the animals belong to our lord. Nothing remains before our lord except our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your very eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we, with our land, will become Pharaoh’s slaves. Give us seed that we may live and not die. Then the land will not become desolate.” So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. Each of the Egyptians sold his field, for the famine was severe. So the land became Pharaoh’s. Joseph made all the people slaves from one end of Egypt’s border to the other end of it. But he did not purchase the land of the priests because the priests had an allotment from Pharaoh and they ate from their allotment that Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land. Joseph said to the people, “Since I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you. Cultivate the land. When you gather in the crop, give one-fifth of it to Pharaoh, and the rest will be yours for seed for the fields and for you to eat, including those in your households and your little children.” They replied, “You have saved our lives! You are showing us favor, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.” So Joseph made it a statute, which is in effect to this day throughout the land of Egypt: One-fifth belongs to Pharaoh. Only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh’s. Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and they owned land there. They were fruitful and increased rapidly in number.
Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; the years of Jacob’s life were 147 in all. The time for Israel to die approached, so he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.” Joseph said, “I will do as you say.” Jacob said, “Swear to me that you will do so.” So Joseph gave him his word. Then Israel bowed down at the head of his bed.
The narrator, Moses, contrasts the blessing and favor over the Israelites with the hardship that the Egyptians endured. Statements of God’s provision for Israel bracket the impoverishment of the Egyptians in Genesis 47:11-12, 27-29. Joseph gave his family property and food (47:11-12), and eventually the Israelites increased greatly in number and acquired even more property (47:27-29). However, the Egyptians were so impoverished in the final five years of famine, they first gave all their money to Pharaoh, then sold their animals, and finally themselves and their land (47:13-26). Some struggle with understanding Joseph’s enslavement of the Egyptians. However, it is important when studying the Bible to take off our cultural lenses and read it according to the lens of that particular ancient culture. In Genesis 47:19, because the people did not want to perish, they asked Pharaoh to take their lands and enslave them. That was how they would survive. This was not uncommon in the ancient world, where people often struggled with extreme poverty. For many, slavery was a preferred institution. Compare slavery to the day worker: the day worker got paid at end of a day’s work, and it was usually only enough to buy food for that day—it did not pay for housing, medical, clothing, or other expenses. For slaves, their costs for housing, food, clothing, and medical needs were all covered by their master. Often slaves and masters had good relationships. For instance, Abraham’s chief servant would have received Abraham’s inheritance if Abraham never had a child (Gen 15:2-3). Instead of looking at their slavery as a negative experience, the Egyptians praised Joseph for saving their lives and giving them a reasonable deal (Gen 47:25). They only had to pay twenty percent of their harvest to Pharaoh, which was cheap for a tenant farmer in those days. Forty percent was not uncommon in Mesopotamia and some ancient documents show people paying as much as sixty percent.5 Again, this compelled the people to praise Joseph for saving them.
In contrast, the Israelites had a very different experience: They received property while the Egyptians sold theirs. They were fruitful and increased greatly in number (47:27). God blessed them even during a famine. Certainly, this was common throughout the patriarchs’ narrative: While Abraham visited Egypt, even though he lied about his wife and almost lost her to Pharaoh, he left Egypt with great wealth (Gen 12). When he went to war with just a few hundred men against four armies, he conquered them (Gen 14). When his wife was barren, God gave her a miracle child named Isaac in their old age (Gen 21). When Isaac experienced a famine, instead of going to Egypt, he sowed seed and God gave him a 100-fold harvest (Gen 26). While Laban kept mistreating Jacob, God prospered Jacob and made him wealthier than Laban (Gen 30). When Joseph was sold into slavery and then put in prison, he prospered in both institutions (Gen 39-40) and then was promoted to governor of Egypt (Gen 41). In bad situations, God continually used evil and difficulties to bless his people. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said this to his brothers, “What you meant for bad, God meant for good” (paraphrase). The same thing was happening to Israel while they dwelt in Egypt. During the famine, God prospered them while others suffered. Therefore, God’s favor over his people while in Egypt and throughout the patriarchs’ story reminds us to have faith in God, both in hard times and good times.
We see the need for faith clearly demonstrated with Jacob when he was about to die: He approached Joseph and asked that his body be buried back in his parents’ cave in Canaan (47:29-31). Jacob’s seventeen years in Egypt were probably his most peaceful and prosperous years. He had his entire family together; they were growing, living in peace, and prospering. It would have been easy for Jacob to settle down in Egypt, accept his lot there, and forget about Canaan. However, Jacob remembered God’s promise: Jacob’s family would possess Canaan. Therefore, being moved there after his death was a step of faith—one that his family would remember. Jacob and the Israelites were not polytheistic Egyptians! They were worshipers of the true God, who were temporarily residing in Egypt. Their home was past the border of Egypt, in Canaan. They were only pilgrims in Egypt.
Similarly, as pilgrims on this earth, we must live by faith both in bad times and good times. With trials come a temptation to doubt God’s goodness. In those times, we must remember God works all things to the good of those who love the Lord (Rom 8:28). Just as God provided for Israel in the famine and ultimately prospered them, God will do the same with us, in various ways. However, in times of prosperity, there is the temptation to forget God and live for this world. Many believers have done so. With Demas, a former apostolic associate, Paul said this about him, “For Demas deserted me, since he loved the present age, and he went to Thessalonica” (2 Tim 4:10). Unfortunately, many, instead of living by faith, fall in love with ‘Egypt,’ making their home there and becoming ‘Egyptianized.’ Instead of storing their riches and ultimate dreams in heaven, they store them on earth, which makes their hearts worldly (Matt 6:19-21).
If we are going to be faithful pilgrims on earth, we must live by faith. We must set our minds on things above instead of earthly things (Col 3:2). We must live by faith, as only those who live by faith on this earth will be rewarded by God. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Are you living by faith in God’s promises or by sight—focusing all your hopes and dreams on this earth? We are saved by faith and we live by faith (Rom 1:17). This is the life of a pilgrim—a life of faith in God.
Application Question: Why is it so hard to keep our eyes on the promises of God including heaven, eternal reward, and ultimately seeing and knowing God eternally? How is God calling you to trust him more either in a time of hardship or prosperity?
How can we faithfully live as pilgrims on the earth—citizens of heaven?
- To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Practice Holiness—Separation from the World
- To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Practice Blessing Others
- To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Recognize the Brevity of Life
- To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Expect Difficulties in Life
- To Live as Pilgrims, We Must Live by Faith, Both in Good and Bad Times
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be authentic (p. 136). Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub.
2 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: beginning and blessing (pp. 532–533). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
3 Guzik, D. (2013). Genesis (Ge 47:7–10). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.
4 Accessed May 10, 2019 from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-78-prosperity-counts-genesis-4631-4731
5 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: beginning and blessing (p. 535). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Related Topics: Christian Life