Jumping the Fence
Jacob Brings His Whole Family to Egypt1
When Israel set out on his journey with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes.”
Then Jacob set out from Beer-sheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and the goods that they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and they came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters; all his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.
Now these are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his offspring, who came to Egypt. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the children of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. The children of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. The children of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The children of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the children of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. The children of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Jashub, and Shimron. The children of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel (these are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; in all his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three). The children of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. The children of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and their sister Serah. The children of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel (these are the children of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Leah; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons). The children of Jacob’s wife Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. To Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. The children of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard (these are the children of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all). The children of Dan: Hashum. The children of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem (these are the children of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to his daughter Rachel, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all). All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own offspring, not including the wives of his sons, were sixty-six persons in all. The children of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.
Jacob Settles in Goshen
Israel sent Judah ahead to Joseph to lead the way before him into Goshen. When they came to the land of Goshen, Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. He presented himself to him, fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while. Israel said to Joseph, “I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive.” Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.’ When Pharaoh calls you, and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our ancestors’—in order that you may settle in the land of Goshen, because all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.”
So Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan; they are now in the land of Goshen.” From among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our ancestors were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to reside as aliens in the land; for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, we ask you, let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land; let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know that there are capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”
Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob, and presented him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the years of your life?” Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my earthly sojourn are one hundred thirty; few and hard have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors during their long sojourn.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. Joseph settled his father and his brothers, and granted them a holding in the land of Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had instructed. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed2
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
The Use of Parables
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
In a world without God, or a life without God, we would be left to our own resources to make it through each day. When we take inventory of the possibilities before us, we instinctively look inward, at our own skills and abilities – the natural gifts God has given us. Even in our more spiritual moments, we still look to the gifts, spiritual gifts though they may be, that we have ourselves. It is part of the inward-focus of human nature. Some of the more politically ambitious of us learn to network and expand our resources by forming relationships with others, usually in a quid pro quo fashion.
Rarely do we ask strangers for help. It takes a place of real desperation before we go looking for resources that are foreign to us, even if they live right next door to us. Robert Frost’s admonition about fences has been rooted into us like scripture so much so that, in my personal experience, even those at the bottom of the economic end in our culture strive to keep up the appearance that they are not getting help from their neighbors.
Well, to be fair, I’m not sure whether it originated with the poor saving dignity or the rich seeking anonymity, but many of our food pantries and financial assistance organizations, although privately and personally funded and stocked, are treated like government programs created by congressmen and therefore anyone should have the right to use their services. Now, I have never come across anyone that literally thought they could come and take whatever they pleased. Rather, it becomes like a game instead. If you know how to present yourself in the right manner, you win the reward of food or money, but if you fill out the form wrong or mention the fact that you just came into some extra money recently, you will miss out. Most people are not malicious about it, and far more people need the help than we are willing to serve, but among all the poor I have ever lived around, no one came knocking on my door looking for help until I became a pastor – and then it wasn’t my personal help they wanted, it was the church’s help. Fences keep us impersonal and keep us from asking for help.
Jacob got over his qualms about asking neighbors for help. Hunger has its own way of humbling us to that point. Truly for him and his sons, it was more than neighbors they were seeking help from. It was a lost son and a black sheep of a brother they were going to, although they did not know it at the time. Jacob, now renamed, Israel (the man himself, the father of the 12 tribes) went on welfare with his whole family for the rest of his life.
In fact, I’ve not counted personally, but I would just about bet that the Jewish people have had way more time living in exile in other nations or under foreign powers than they have ever had in their own Promised Land. I don’t know if this is something to feel sorry about or if it is a lesson God has been teaching them in the long run. Teaching them and us all. Perhaps it is not just that we shouldn’t have fences. It is that we are called to be the people on the other side of the fence.
So it is with the mustard seed… the tiny little thing that grows well beyond its bounds and grows a place for every kind of bird out there. Nobody picks the mustard seed to plant in their landscaping. It does not have the honor of the Ceders of Lebanon. It is the seed that was so small it went unnoticed. In the end though, it is the one that they will all call home.
Sometimes the most important gifts we have in our lives are not the ones we own, they are the ones that lie on the other side of the fence, and no, it is not the property or possessions that our neighbors have… it is our neighbors themselves.
There was once a time when heaven may have been as close as a prayer, like a next door neighbor to us, but there was a fence that kept us out. That was until the day the white picket fence of heaven was painted red and we were asked to help invite everyone in.
Who are your neighbors?
When have they helped you?
What kinds of fences keep you from receiving them as God’s gift to you?