After Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, he asked them to bring his father, Jacob, and the rest of their family to Egypt. Jacob was stunned and didn’t believe his sons at first. But when he at last accepted their report, he couldn’t wait to see Joseph (Gen. 45:26-28).
His first night on the road, God spoke to Jacob in a vision and said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there” (Gen. 46:2-3). This is a striking thing for God to say. Jacob was going to see the son he thought was dead. His spirit was soaring. Why would he be afraid to go to Egypt?
We have to consider God’s words in light of Israel’s history in Egypt. God told Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years” (Gen. 15:13).
God’s word to Abraham came to pass. Within a generation or two of coming to Egypt, a Pharaoh arose who had no connection to Joseph or his family. This Pharaoh was alarmed by the Hebrew population, which was exploding. So he made them slaves and treated them cruelly (Ex. 1:9-11).
The Lord told Jacob He would make him into a great nation “there.” “There” not only meant Egypt, but a place of hardship and oppression. This might help us understand why God told Jacob not to be afraid.
Throughout our walk with the Lord, we find ourselves “there.” Sometimes God warns us and tells us not to be afraid, sometimes He doesn’t. Either way, we come to a place that is full of hardship. Our misery causes us to cry out to the Lord, just as the Israelites did under their slave masters (Ex. 3:7).
When we are “there,” it is hard to keep the Lord’s purpose in view. God’s purpose wasn’t to destroy Israel; it was to make Israel into a great nation. When we find ourselves “there,” in the midst of oppressive circumstances and suffering, it is hard to hold onto the reason: God is growing us, making His life within greater, increasing our fruitfulness.
Scripture is replete with this reality. James tells us to find joy in trials because they help us mature (Jas 1:2-4). Paul tells us affliction produces proven character (Rom. 5:2-5). Jesus told His disciples God makes us more productive by pruning—cutting away things about us that are unfruitful. Hebrews urges us to endure suffering as divine discipline; this discipline produces a harvest of holiness, righteousness, and peace (Heb. 12:7-11).
Paul observed that “our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). Elsewhere, Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed in us” (Rom.8:18). Because of the loss it entails, Jesus tells us to count the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:26–27). But accepting that cost means profound gain through His life (Mark 10:29-30; Luke 9:24).