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Genesis 47: Aliens in a Foreign Land
given 24 May 2003 by Bob Mendelsohn, at Beth Messiah, Sydney, Jews for Jesus Australia

Introduction

We spoke last week about traveling, and this week is no different. The purpose of travel for most who watch Getaway TV shows is to holiday and to experience pleasure in foreign or other domestic parts. Right now our family is reading brochures about Europe as we are planning our first major holiday in 5 years and our first trip together to that continent. Nate and Anne have never seen Europe.

But when we go and when you travel to France or Singapore or even New Zealand, you feel a bit out of sorts. You might feel like Jacob and sons did in Egypt, like a resident alien. You know some words in the foreign language, having listened to a Berlitz cassette tape for 6 weeks, but you really don't know what is happening. Now most of the time, that doesn't matter, but when you meet the governor of the region, that would matter a lot.

Today we read about Pharaoh meeting Jacob and the distribution of the land of Goshen to the Jacob family. We read about the brothers' description of their profession and Jacob's description of his life. And we see the comparison of the situation for the Egyptians and for the family of Joseph.

All the while remember this key idea from chapter 15 in the words of God to Abraham
"And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” (13-16)

Abraham knew that the Jewish people, his seed, would follow God and yet would be living as aliens in a foreign land for 400 years. Pilgrims they were to be. Yet from there they would return. Jacob, Abraham's grandson in our story, would recall this 'word from God' today and in his final disposition later.

The writer of Hebrews says,
" By faith Abraham lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (11.9-10)

Let's learn today about being foreigners, about being aliens and strangers in a land that is not ours.

The brothers and Pharoah

In the story of Lot and the sodomites, the people of Sodom yelled about Lot's intrusion saying, "this one came as an alien and already he is acting the judge" (19.9) Compare this reaction to the humble words of the brothers to the request of Pharaoh in verse 3-4 here

Then Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” So they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers.” And they said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, therefore, please let your servants live in the land of Goshen.”

Joseph had told them in last week's episode to identify themselves as cattlemen and not as shepherds. But the brothers decided that lying didn't befit them anymore and they would be ruthlessly honest. They decided to be straight with Pharaoh and hope for the best. Their admission of humble servitude and not to being grand men of the land served them well. A landowner and cattleman, a rancher is a powerful man; a shepherd is a low life and the Egyptians themselves held shepherds in low esteem.

Pharaoh heard their words as reflective of something that wasn't to worry him. Joseph had been a great viceroy and a worthy 2ic. Joseph's family is not seeking great things; they are simple men of the fields and will not try to dominate his state government. They are safe. They are only 70 all up, so what's it going to hurt if he gives them some land, even some good land to honor Joseph. They won't grow that far. They are controllable and I can feed them with a little bit of investment. That's what the 'shepherd' word communicated to Pharaoh.

The five brothers are a major discussion for the rabbis. Was it the weakest 5 so as to exude humility or was it the strongest 5 to demonstrate power? I'll leave that to others who want to deal with such trivialities. I say trivia since the Bible does not make it clear and thus relegates it to unnecessary. Let this be an advisement to some of you who want to learn the mysteries of the Scriptures. If the Bible is silent, you would do well to follow suit. If the Bible clarifies something, great then learn it and mark it and inwardly digest it. But so many letters I get each week are filled with scriptures about Iraq or about Australia and prophecies about end times all saying things of determined reality that is neither consistent with Holy Writ nor is it at all in view. Paul wrote about those who wrangle about endless genealogies, etc. (Titus 3.9) for they are worthless!

Back to the brothers. Verse 4 says 'we have come to sojourn.' That means we are not here permanently. We are planning to be temporary residents. We have a home and will not be a permanent burden to you Pharaoh. Good word. And good for them to have learned this message from their patriarch Abraham. We are not permanently resident on this earth are we? We are only passing through. And yet so many people work so hard to make this earth their home. Let me explain.

1 Peter 2.11 says "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul."

If we are permanently earthlings and earthbound, we must make the most of our earthen-stay. This would include doing earthly or as Peter says "fleshly' things. But our permanence is heavenly and thus we have a soul and thus we should act differently than the earth-bound. I'm not against comforts and love to sit in a comfortable chair reading a comfortable book and listening to comfortable music on my stereo. What I'm referencing is a worldview and a set of values that war against our alien nature.

When Patty and I were readying to move to Australia some years ago, we had all our goods packed up and picked up. Our plane was scheduled to leave in 48 hours and we went for a walk in New York City where we lived. We passed a fete near our neighborhood and walked right in the middle of the street. Things were for sale on both sides, with stalls of many goods we might ordinarily have visited. But not on this day. We made our way through the midst, unscathed by the attacks of Vanity Fair, unsullied by the need to purchase anything else, for we had no more room. Our bags were full and packed. Our decision was made for us; we were aliens and passing through.

The writer of Hebrews continues Abraham and Sarah's story with

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (11.13)

What makes us able to follow God unhindered, unfettered, is a reality check that we are aliens and we are just passing through. The brothers knew that Egypt was not their home, although they might visit there for a long while.

Where is your permanence? Where is your home? What makes you eternally happy? In the Matrix thinking, is it the reality of the blue pill or the red pill?

Jacob's blessing on Pharoah

The scene shifts to the visit of Pharaoh and Jacob, the patriarch. Let's think back to something earlier. What is the key word in the promise of the covenant in chapter 12 with our father Abraham? Blessing indeed. And here we see Jacob giving that blessing to a foreign leader, twice in one conversation, extending the kingdom of God to the nations as was promised to Abraham.

Jacob meets the ruler in Egypt and is asked his age. Odd, eh? Perhaps Jacob looked old and Pharaoh was trying to sort out how such an old man had such a virile son as Joseph. Perhaps he was just making conversation. But Jacob's answer is telling.

The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning.”

Few and evil. Few and wicked. Few and bad.... It's been a tough life, oh Pharaoh. Now, wait a minute Jacob, you might say. You are 130 years old. How is that 'few'? Some argue that it's related to the amount of days of real living. He only existed and in a few days he lived. But he clarifies in the next phrase saying by comparison to his father Isaac who lived to 180 or his grandfather who lived to 175, 130 is nothing. I'm barely middle aged, he says.

Yet in verse 7 and 10, Jacob blesses Pharaoh. Is this a conversational opener like "How are you my blessed king." Or is it more than that? I believe it's more in that the method of conversation would simply have been repeated. But Moses makes a big point of the dual blessing and in light of what I said earlier in Bible interpretation, this should stand out and speak loudly. Abraham was charged to bless the nations (12.3) and here this is put into practice. Even though Jacob is not the best representative, it's done in the right place and at the right time. Some rabbis, in fact most Jewish interpreters make this blessing so strong that it ended the famine. I think that's unnecessary to conclude, but it's clear that Pharaoh receives the Abrahamic blessing.

Then the word 'ra'im'. Wicked or evil or bad. He says he has had some really rotten times. Of course some of that he brought on himself, didn't he? Lying and deceiving his father and brother. His uncle has issues with Jacob. His wife and handmaidens all know he loved Rachel better than any other woman and his sons learned firsthand the problems associated with favoritism in family relationships.

How sad to characterize one's life as wicked or bad. What will be the word you will use to identify and characterize your life in 30 years? What will you say to the ruler who asks you 'how's it going?' Was Jacob complaining? No, he was speaking from his heart. He said it was the days of his sojourning. He said he had no permanent home. He was a gar, a stranger, so he had that part right. But let's make sure we are doing the things as strangers that will make our days full and meaningful, rich and deep. Let's serve others and thus bring pleasure to them and the identity of God to them. Then we will not complain about how evil our days are. We will be like the believers in Ephesus of whom we read

Through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household. We have been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Jesus Himself being the corner stone. In Him the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord and in Him you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (2.18-22)

The Egyptians and the Pharoah

Compare the situation of the Jews with that of the Egyptians who had to sell their property, their livestock and finally themselves to get food. They were moved from the country into the city and had to give 20% of their goods each year to the government. In contrast the family of Jacob had a simple life free from observation and free from politics. They lived to themselves and continued their sojourn. It made their growth into Abrahamic proportions available. It made their separation from the 2000 idols and gods of Egypt possible. It made them free from the Canaanite idolatry as well. What a perfect situation it was for the sons of Abraham. God well knows what we need if we will but trust Him. Amen?

Summary

Here are some things I see as we conclude, and you can add your thoughts to your own list.

  1. Aliens have no real rights or entitlements, but are often treated well by foreign sovereigns
  2. Honesty is still the best policy
  3. Blessing those outside the covenant is God's purpose for those of us inside it

Dear friends, we have eternal life due to the Saviour Y'shua, due to His love and forgiveness. His Resurrection has proven His new covenant. His teaching is great, and yet it goes well beyond that to His life and death. No amount of good works will give us enough information to help us overcome evil. No amount of information will help us overcome our own evil inclination. Only the messiah can repair our relationship with God, which will in turn give us pleasure with Him.

If you have never experienced this eternal and new life about which we are speaking, if you are yet outside the relationship with God, then pray with me. If you haven't yet been restored into fellowship with Him, do so today. Won't you pray this prayer and ask God to forgive you of your sins, whatever they might be, and come home to pleasure with God? Lord forgive me in the name of the Messiah, the Serpent Bruiser, Y'shua himself. Forgive me for all my sins, and make me clean again. Give me eternal life in the name of Y'shua and make me born again. I trust you.

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