When God is Counter-Intuitive?
Occasionally, as we journey through this life, we come to a fork in the road where the proper path doesn’t seem to make sense. At that moment, obedience to the directives of Scripture can seem counterintuitive. In those sorts of moments, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit and being faithful to whatever it is the Lord is calling us to do may even seem illogical.
The Jewish patriarch Jacob faced a moment like this late in his life. The life of Jacob was jam-packed with deceit and manipulation. He was a deceiver and he was also deceived several times by others. But the life of Jacob is also a tale of God’s incredible faithfulness, grace, and perfect providence.
Jacob had been through a wide variety of experiences, but the seemingly most counterintuitive moment would come at the age of 130.
Many years earlier, Jacob had been deceived into believing that his favorite son Joseph had been killed by a wild animal (Gen. 37). The deceivers in that case: Several of his own sons. But now, in his later years, he discovered that Joseph was alive, and not only was Joseph still alive, but he was thriving in Egypt.
Through a unique set of circumstances, Joseph was now the second-in-command of Egypt, the right-hand man to the king, the Pharaoh. And because of God’s grace on Joseph’s life, Egypt was now in a very strong position.
There had been famine in the entire region, and none of the other nations had food. But God had alerted Joseph of the coming famine, several years earlier while Joseph was unjustly imprisoned. Through supernatural events, Joseph was able to warn the Pharaoh of the coming famine, and Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of managing the crisis. Under Joseph’s leadership the Egyptians were able to stockpile an ample supply of food. People from across the region looked to negotiate with Egypt to acquire food.
Jacob and his sons had found themselves in the same precarious position many other nations had found themselves in, lacking food and now seemingly dependent upon their ability to negotiate with the Egyptians. It appeared that starvation could be in their future. But little did they know that God had already been at work. God had already executed a plan that would ensure the safety of Jacob and his family. God had sovereignly brought Joseph to this position of power so that “many people should be kept alive.” (Gen. 50:20 ESV).
Jacob’s sons had reunited with Joseph before Jacob even knew that Joseph was still alive. Then Joseph sent his brothers back to their homeland to retrieve their father and their families.
Those men traveled back to inform Jacob. This was remarkable news for Jacob. Joseph, his favorite son, was still alive. And they now had the opportunity to save the lives of their family from impending starvation. What an amazing relief that must have been.
This seemed all good, right? Yes. Except, there was one catch. Jacob would now have to leave the Promised Land.
Leaving the Promised Land
As God’s providence would have it, Jacob would have to leave the Promised Land. This seems counter-intuitive. The land where Jacob and his family had been living was the land that had been promised to him and his descendants. God had promised that he would create a great nation from Jacob’s family and that they would dwell in this land. The promise had first been made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21) and then confirmed to Jacob’s father, Isaac (Gen. 26:3). Later, this promise was confirmed to Jacob himself (Gen. 28:13). The territory from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates belonged to Jacob and his descendants (Ex. 23:31).
When God first promised the land to Abraham, the region was inhabited by pagan peoples, and this was still true in Jacob’s lifetime. But Jacob knew that by the grace and providence of God, his descendants would eventually govern the entire region.
God had protected Abraham and Isaac through many trials, and God had done the same for Jacob throughout his many life experiences. Now, it made sense that Jacob’s family would continue to grow and eventually dominate the entire region. It would seem to be both counterintuitive and counterproductive for his family to ever leave this land.
They had already set up shop. They were already living in the land. They had already gathered possessions, established alliances, and developed relationships. Why would God now have them pick up their roots and go to Egypt?
To me, this would seem counterproductive in the worst way. From my own vantage point (and in my own folly), I would be tempted to lash out to God. I would probably wonder whether we would ever make it back to the Promised Land? I might think, “Why wouldn’t God just have Joseph send us a stockpile of food so that we could stay in the Promised Land?” I would ask, “Why would God promise us this land, and graciously guide us for all these years, only to then rip us from the land we love?”
Honestly, I might even be brash enough (and dumb enough) to say, “Doesn’t God realize that if we leave this land, it will be trampled upon and taken over by pagans?”
For Jacob, leaving the land must have been counter-intuitive. It must have felt odd, and maybe even seemed illogical to some extent.
But, this was not the first time that Jacob would’ve heard this. In fact, God had told Jacob’s grandfather that these people would go down to Egypt, they would be oppressed, and eventually turned into slaves for 400 years (Gen. 15:13; Act. 7:6).
If I were Jacob, I might be asking, “Lord, is this the moment? Is this the moment where my people are lead into slavery for four centuries? And will I be the man to lead them directly into that horror?”
While Jacob must have been ecstatic to see his beloved son Joseph, and overwhelmingly relieved to be able to save the lives of his family, there must have been a part of him that was concerned for his descendants too; knowing that this could be the journey to four centuries of anguish.
Can you imagine the emotions going through Jacob?
Can you imagine what it felt like to consider that maybe you are the person that God has elected to lead God’s own people into suffering? I cannot imagine that it felt good.
When God Doesn’t Make Sense
Why would God approve of this? Why would God guide his own people from the land that he promised them, just to lead them to a place where they would be slaves? Meanwhile, the Egyptians, who were saved by Joseph, would eventually respond by oppressing and enslaving Joseph’s descendants?
The Egyptians benefited greatly from God’s grace on Joseph’s life. Why then would God orchestrate the events in this manner? It just does not make sense to the typical human mind. It seems counter-productive, and counter-intuitive.
As we examine the Scriptures we can put the pieces together. From where we sit today, nearly four millennia later, we have a far better understanding as to what God was doing. We know the end of the story. But Jacob did not.
Jacob didn’t know that God would raise up Moses, and then later Joshua. Jacob did not know that God would graciously and gloriously give them the Law. Neither did he know that God would victoriously lead the Hebrew people back into the Promised Land.
Jacob did not know how or when God would establish the nation, he could not foresee that God would give them judges, kings, and prophets, and Jacob did not know that this nation would be used to eventually bring forth the Messiah. Jacob did not have the benefit of hindsight.
So, what did Jacob do? He did the counter-intuitive thing. Jacob packed up his family, with all their belongings, and he went to Egypt.
On his journey he stopped at Beersheba to make sacrifices in worship to God (Gen. 46:1). Beersheba was the southernmost outpost of Canaan. It could be viewed as the last city within the Promised Land on the way to Egypt.
Jacob had already packed up shop. He had already begun the long journey of migrating his family across the region into the land of Egypt. But it seems as if Jacob did not want to leave the Promised Land without having one last a heart-to-heart moment with the Lord, within the borders of the Promised Land.
And the Lord graciously spoke to Jacob in this moment, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” (Gen. 46:3-4 ESV). Interesting to note, God spoke to Jacob after they were already on the move, not before. God confirms that Jacob is doing the right thing, no matter how counteractive or counterproductive it may have seemed.
Jacob leads his family to Egypt and reunites with Joseph (Gen. 46:28-34). What a wonderful and joyous moment that must have been for Jacob.
Jacob’s family settled in the region of Goshen (Gen. 47) and they are given the best treatment by Pharaoh. Jacob meets Pharaoh and blesses him (Gen. 47:10). He also meets his grandchildren, Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. On his deathbed he blesses Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48), granting them an inheritance alongside of Joseph’s brothers.
Jacob lived 17 years in Egypt and when he died Joseph took Jacob’s body back to the Promised Land to buried alongside Jacob’s grandparents, Jacob’s parents, and Jacob’s first wife, Leah.
By some standards, Jacob lived a tumultuous life. In his early years, he manipulated and deceived as the means to control situations. But as the years went on, Jacob seemed to come to understand and trust that God was in control.
Even in the moments that seem to be the most counter-intuitive and even in the moments where we do not understand why God is guiding us into potential dangers, we can trust that he is working on our behalf. God is in control. We can trust him. Nearly two thousand years after Jacob’s death, one of Jacob’s descendants boldly proclaimed this truth, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28 ESV). Praise be to God!