by Fr. Joe Lawrence
“I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.” Genesis 46:4
Jacob must have been hesitating to go down into Egypt. We know this because God appeared to him in a vision telling him, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.” At this point in the story, Jacob and his sons have discovered that the once-dead Joseph (or so they thought), is now alive and lord over all Egypt, and he’s extending a saving hand to his dying family. Joseph has invited them to come into Egypt to survive the devastations of the famine that had swept through the whole known world. But Jacob hesitates to go down there. I think I can understand why. Even though he was something of a nomad, as were his father, Isaac, and his father’s father, Abraham, nevertheless, he had put down roots there in that land which would be known as “Israel” one day. There is more, however, to Jacob’s hesitation than worry about uprooting his life and his family from the familiar. He would be leaving the Land of Promise—the land God had promised to his people, the land where a tribe of nomads would become a great nation called into existence by the living God—and he’d be heading into Egypt, which we later discover is the land of slavery, the house of bondage.
Without the Land the dream dies. The Land was central to all the promises God had made to his people. And if this is the case, wouldn’t going down into Egypt seem to threaten the promises of God? Why does God ask Jacob to put himself and the promises of God in such a vulnerable, dangerous position? Why does God lead Jacob into Egypt?
For that matter, why did God give Joseph a great dream but then allow him to be sold into slavery by his own brothers? Why would God anoint David to be king and then have Saul chase him down with murderous threats? Why would God put his love on the people of Israel and then have them hauled off into exile? Why would the Shepherd of Psalm 23 send his flock on a walk through the valley of the shadow of death? Why would God lead his faithful to the martyr’s stake? Why would God not preserve us from anxiety or depression or grief or suffering, but allow us to walk right through them? Why would God promise us life (John 11:25-26) and then allow each and every one of us, and each of those we love, to die? Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
We’re not given a perfectly satisfying answer to this (and, yes, it is a single) question in either this passage or anywhere in the Bible. But here is what this passage does say: “I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.” Jacob and the people of God are being beckoned to danger and to suffering, but God will be with them; and their suffering will not be the final word, for God will bring them up again. This may not be completely satisfying, but it’s the (yes, single) answer that is given.
We too are beckoned to suffering in some form or another, and we are beckoned likewise to our death. But God will be with us, and our suffering and death will not be the final word. God will raise us up again. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.
Isn’t it obvious? Doesn’t this verse scream out the name of Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One? Isn’t Jesus the One who has gone down with us into the suffering of death? And isn’t he the One who has taken up life again so that he can bring us up again? Isn’t this verse really, after all, about Jesus, his Cross and his Resurrection?
Indeed, this is God’s answer to that single, all-important question, “Why, God…?”
Well, on second thought, I suppose there is something satisfying about that.
Fr. Joe ministers at Trinity Anglican Church