Jacob, Jacob
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
preached in PCC Worship Services, Apr 2013 to Feb 2014
Part 1 of 3


We are continuing in our series on the repetition of names in the Bible. The second time that a person’s name is repeated is found in Genesis 46:2, which reads, “And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.” Before we look at the words of this text, it would be helpful to consider its context.

Context

This verse belongs to a larger section in Genesis that stretches from the beginning of chapter 46 all the way to the end of chapter 47. It deals with the relocation and settlement of Jacob in Egypt.

In chapter 45, Joseph reveals his true identity to his eleven brothers and they are finally reunited after all those years of being apart. Joseph explains to them that God had sent him to Egypt for the purpose of preserving their lives and the lives of many others from the terrible famine that had come upon their part of the world.

And with the famine set to continue for another five years, Joseph sends his brothers back to Canaan in order to bring the rest of the family to Egypt. At the end of chapter 45, the brothers arrive at Canaan and they inform their father. Jacob that Joseph is still alive and has become governor over all the land of Egypt.

Jacob struggled to believe that what they said was true. For almost 22 years, he had thought that his favourite son was dead. His sons had told him so, and they even gave him evidence of his death, namely, his blood stained coat. But now, these same sons are telling him that Joseph was alive and not only that, he is the ruler of all Egypt. He must have thought, “Surely this was some sort of cruel prank that his sons were playing on him.”

But eventually, Jacob was persuaded that his sons were telling the truth, especially when he saw the great gifts that Joseph had sent him. Chapter 45 ends with Jacob saying, “It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die.”

This brings us to our text, which I’ll like to consider in three points. First, Jacob’s fears, second, Jacob’s God, and third Jacob’s obedience. We’ll look at the first of these in this article.

Jacob’s Fears

Verse 1 says, “And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac.”

Jacob was probably living in Hebron at that time (see Gen 37:14) and Hebron was about 40 km north east of Beersheba. So after packing up everything and traveling for a day or two, they arrived at Beersheba. Now remember that this was no picnic or camping trip that they were going for. They were leaving the land for good. And it was not just a few of them who were going but his entire household of no less than 70 persons – men, women and children, together with all their flocks and herds and servants. 

This was a very major move for them. The last time that Jacob made such a big move was almost 30 years ago when he and his family left Haran for Canaan. At that time, God, through His providence and His word, guided Jacob to leave Haran, and Jacob was very happy to leave. Laban and his sons were becoming hostile towards him. Furthermore, he himself was very desirous of going home, having been away for almost 20 years. And so, while packing up and relocating several hundred miles away is never an easy thing, at least Jacob was quite happy to do so.

But things are very different when we come to chapter 46. Jacob, while he longed to see Joseph again, was nevertheless filled with fears and anxieties as he prepared to exit the land of Canaan for the land of Egypt. And so when he arrived at Beersheba, which represented the southernmost point of Canaan, Jacob stopped to offer sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac.

He was familiar with Beersheba. His grandfather Abraham had lived there for a time and so did his own immediate family – Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and him. It was there that that very dramatic episode of him deceiving his father and stealing his brothers blessing took place. It was there that he saw his mother Rebekah for the last time. But even more significantly, it was at Beersheba that both Abraham and Isaac worshipped the Lord.

Genesis 21:33, “And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.”

Genesis 26:23-25, “And he (Isaac) went up from thence to Beersheba. And the LORD appeared unto him the same night…And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD…”

Now, Jacob does the same thing that his fathers did before him. He publicly worshipped the Lord at Beersheba. 

We may infer that Jacob was full of fears and anxieties as he stood at the edge of Canaan because in verse 3, the LORD spoke to him that night telling him not to be afraid. But why was Jacob fearful? Let’s consider some of the possible reasons for his fear. I’ve identified four of them.

First, Jacob was an old man by this time. According to chapter 47:9, he was about 130 years old. He would eventually die at the age of 147 so Jacob was approaching the closing stages of his life.

Now we know that old people generally do not like to move or have too many changes in their life. When a person is young, he is full of energy and enthusiasm and he can cope with many challenges and changes in life. He can easily move from place to place and not really be bothered too much by that. In fact, he may even find it exciting.

But not so when you’re old. When you’re old, you generally want to settle down and live in a comfortable and familiar and safe environment. You fear changes. Moving house and relocating to a different land and a different culture is never easy and it would have been especially difficult for an old man like Jacob. Leaving the land of Canaan must have been the last thing on his mind. But now, circumstances were driving him out of Canaan and he was very uncomfortable and even fearful about that.

A second possible reason for Jacob’s fears had to do with what Egypt was and what Egypt represented. Yes, Egypt may have been the most highly developed and civilized nation on the earth at that time, but it was also a very pagan and ungodly country. The Egyptians were a very religious people and they worshipped a whole pantheon of gods ranging from Osiris, the god of the underworld and afterlife, to Ra, the god of the Sun. Egypt was not exactly a very conducive environment for the cultivation of true godliness and the worship of the true and living God in his household.

His son, Joseph, may have been able to survive in Egypt in terms of his faith in God all these years, but then again, not all his other sons and his other family members had such strong faith and spiritual maturity as Joseph. What if they went after the gods and idols of the Egyptians, and forsook the living and true God?

Remember how in chapter 31:19 when they left Haran, Rachel stole some of her father’s idols? And then in chapter 35, just before they went to Bethel to worship God, Jacob said to his household and to all that were with him, “Put away thy strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments…” It seems like Jacob’s family and household had a problem with idols and strange gods. What would happen to them in the far more dangerous and tempting environment of Egypt? Would they, in time to come after he had died, end up going the way of paganism and idolatry, and never return to the Lord? 

And then besides the many temptations to be found in Egypt, Jacob probably remembered what happened to Abraham many years ago when he and Sarah left Canaan because of a famine in the land and went down to Egypt. Abraham, the man of great faith, lied to the Egyptians about Sarah and as a result almost lost her to Pharaoh. What a sad and embarrassing episode that was in Abraham’s life!

Then later on during his own father Isaac’s lifetime, another famine occurred in Canaan, and Isaac was headed in the direction of Egypt when the LORD appeared to him and specifically told him not to go down into Egypt but to dwell in the land. And so, based on what Egypt was and what it represented, Jacob’s fears about going there were very real indeed.

But third, Jacob had his own bad memories and experiences about leaving Canaan. He last left home more than 50 years ago to go to Haran, and those two decades that he spent in Haran were like one long and dark night.

In fact, from the perspective of the Genesis narrative, the sun sets just before Jacob leaves Canaan for Haran, and it doesn’t rise again until just before he enters it twenty years later. Jacob suffered many things when he was away from Canaan. He was made to work very hard and he was cruelly deceived and cheated by his very own uncle many times. And as if those things were not enough, he had to endure much strife and rivalry in his own home among his wives and sons. And then at the end of his time away, he had to face the wrath of Laban and the threat of Esau.

Jacob certainly did not want to relive any of those trials and very unpleasant circumstances that he experienced while he was away from home and from the Promised Land. But it was very possible that he might have to face similar or perhaps even worse things when he goes down to Egypt.

This brings us to the fourth possible reason for Jacob’s fears, namely, Jacob knew about the future evils that his people would have to suffer in a strange country.

In Genesis 15:13, the LORD had said to Abraham, “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;”

Perhaps Jacob was beginning to suspect that Egypt would be that strange land where his people would be enslaved and would suffer many things for many years. And for hundreds of years afterward, his descendants would trace back their slavery and sufferings in Egypt to that crucial moment in history when Jacob decided to leave Canaan and bring his whole family there.

And so for at least these four reasons, namely, his old age, what Egypt was and represented, his own bad memories and experiences of leaving Canaan, and divine prophecy about future evil in a strange land, Jacob was fearful and apprehensive about going beyond Beersheba into the wilderness and then beyond that into Egypt.

But the LORD knew the turmoil and anxiety in his heart and so He visited him that very night with a very comforting and assuring word, which we will look at next time.

Linus Chua