The Sons of Israel

Exodus 1:1-7

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: (Exodus 1:1 ESV)

Who are these “sons of Israel” who moved to Egypt, and from where did they move to Egypt?

Israel is the name given by God to Isaac’s son Jacob.

Isaac was the son of Abraham. Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans. Chaldean is another name for Babylonian. Babylonia got its name from the Tower of Babel, which was built on the plains of Shinar, which is where Ur was located.

Genesis 12:1-2 tells us:
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-2 ESV)

God was calling Abraham out from his country and even family to be a separate and distinct nation and people. Abraham took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions and moved, settling in the land of Canaan, which is now called Palestine, and includes Israel, and parts of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Abraham and Sarai were two people, and Lot was a possible heir since Abraham did not have any children. Abraham was 75, which is late for starting a distinct people group.

In Genesis 15, God reiterated His promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham, defining boundaries that have yet to be fully realized. Genesis 15:18 says:
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, (Genesis 15:18 ESV)

In a time of famine, Abraham took his wife and moved to Egypt. (Genesis 12:10, Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.) Perhaps Abraham doubted God’s promise, or maybe he planned to wait out the famine. However, a problem developed. Abraham was afraid of the people of the land. His wife was beautiful, and he feared they would kill him and take her. Because of his fear, Abraham lied saying Sarai was his sister. This ended up with Abraham being asked to leave the country along with his sister/wife. (“Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” Genesis 12:19 ESV) Because of this incident, Abraham ended up back in the land of Canaan.

Finally, in his old age, Abraham had a son, Isaac. Isaac was not much more fruitful than Abraham, having only two sons. During Isaac’s life, there was another famine. However, this time God appeared to Isaac and said: “Do not go down to Egypt.” (Genesis 26:2)

Jacob grew up in a family where he heard that God promised the land to Abraham and his descendants. He also learned that trips down to Egypt did not end well, and God had forbidden his father Isaac from going down to Egypt.

Jacob traveled outside of Canaan. He lied to his father and received the blessing meant for his brother. In response, his brother swore to kill him. So, Jacob fled to Paddan-aram, or toward Haran, and spent over 20 years with his mother’s brother, Laban. While in the area of Paddan-aram, Jacob had a bunch of children. By the time he left Paddan-aram, he had 12 children, 11 boys and one girl. Family troubles with his father-in-law drove him back to Canaan. Jacob was a schemer, which caused a lot of trouble.

For this family, Canaan was the promised land, and Egypt was to be avoided.

Having settled in Canaan, Jacob’s family grew, but they stuck together. They also had a lot of what we might call drama. Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin, was the only son born to Jacob in Canaan. Here is the list of the sons of Jacob, also known as Israel, from Exodus 1.
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. (Exodus 1:2-4 ESV)

This list is interesting for its order. Here is a chart or family tree of Jacob with the birth order listed. 

From this, we get the birth order: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin.

Let’s compare the two lists side by side.


The difference in these two lists is: one is birth order, and the other is the birth order of each particular wife, and as Exodus 1:5 points out, Joseph was already in Egypt. Birth order was not nearly as important as the fact that daddy had favorites, favorite wives and favorite sons.

This family was messed up. That is why Joseph was already down in Egypt. His brothers had planned on killing him but had sold him into slavery as an alternative to murder. Selling your brother as a slave does not represent brotherly love. This list of names brings to mind the dysfunction of this family.

We all are the products of dysfunctional families, and all our families are dysfunctional to some degree. Dysfunction is the result of sin, and not one of us is free of sin. Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Exodus is about God delivering His people out of slavery. The strongest parallel we have in our lives today is God delivering us out of our slavery to sin. However, God does not deliver the one who does not call on Him for deliverance. In other words, we must recognize our slavery before we can be delivered from our slavery. What we are looking at today in Exodus 1 are the sons of Israel before they realized their need for a deliverer.

These people, this family, is very quickly coming to the extinction point. It is about to explode. They all are about to go their separate ways, driven apart by infighting, backbiting, lust, selfishness and sin. In addition, 200 years have passed since God promised Abraham to make them into a great nation, and they only number 70 people. This does not represent significant growth.

Let’s consider these sons of Israel, starting with Reuben: Guilty of incest, he slept with his father’s concubine, Rachel’s servant Bilhah. (Genesis 35:22) Jacob said he would not put confidence in his firstborn.
"Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!” (Genesis 49:3-4 ESV)

Wow, talk about sexual issues in a family! We do not talk about it, but nearly 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual abuse of some sort. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports:
Nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) and 1 in 10 men (10%) in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner and report a related impact on their functioning.[1]

My point is that this family was facing issues that face our families today. Hopefully, these things are not in your family, but I know better. These things have touched many of our lives.

As we continue through the list of names we will not spend time on everyone but will hit the highlights. Simeon and Levi are worth noting because although they did it in the name of defending their sister’s honor, they were mass murderers. When their sister Dinah was raped, they murdered everyone in the city of Shechem. They killed the rapist, his father, his neighbors and every male in his town. The women and children were spared because they were worth money. Here is what Jacob said about them:
Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. (Genesis 49:5-7 ESV)

Judah had twins by the widow of one of his sons. It is a long story, but his daughter-in-law knew that if she sat out by the road dressed as a prostitute, Judah would be sure to make a stop. Family has a way of knowing our habits. Nowadays Judah would have a pornography addiction.

These people were not that different from people today. We all come from dysfunctional families. Families are all affected by sin.

As we continue with the story of the leader of this family, Jacob, we see that he grew old, which is the way all of us go if we do not die. Now, Jacob thought his favorite son, Joseph, was dead, because of lies his other sons had told him. Then there was a famine. Unlike the famines in Abraham and Isaac’s lives, this famine extended down into Egypt. However, Jacob heard there was food in Egypt, and that is when he learned that his boys had been lying to him and Joseph was still alive.

Israel mourned and wept and complained at different points about his hard lot in life. Now, at the end of his life, he was faced with going down to Egypt.

Have you ever felt like your life is going down the tubes?

I mean, you can almost hear the giant flush as everything falls apart. Not only do you come from a dysfunctional family, but bills, problems and difficulties keep piling up.

Listen to how Jacob talked as he worked through the difficulties leading up to the trip to Egypt. This is taken from Judah’s words to Joseph:
“Then your servant my father said to us, 'You know that my wife bore me two sons. One left me, and I said, "Surely he has been torn to pieces," and I have never seen him since. If you take this one also from me, and harm happens to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in evil to Sheol.'” (Genesis 44:27-29 ESV)

This is Jacob whining. We all whine, some more than others. Jacob felt like his life was falling apart, and that nothing was working out as he had planned. When he gave an account of his life, he said:
Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, (Genesis 47:9 ESV)

Jacob was 130 years old when he said this. The oldest person alive today is a 116 year old woman in Japan. I guess “few” is a relative term.

At the point that Jacob felt like his life was coming apart, God appeared to him and said:
"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." (Genesis 46:3-4 ESV)

Look at how God spoke to Jacob. He comforted him. Poor weak Jacob, “don’t be afraid.”

How many of us are afraid?

All of us are afraid of something. Fear is why we must learn to cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us.

Look again at the promise.  God says, “I myself will go down with you to Egypt.”

In our messed up world, it does not seem like it, but God is with us. He is near to all who call on Him. If you have not called on Him, if you make yourself His enemy, consider changing your course, because you cannot win until you surrender.

So, everything fell apart and what Jacob feared came about. He and his family moved to Egypt. How did it work out?

Exodus 1:7 says:
But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:7 ESV)

God kept His promise, and they became a great nation.

We are going to see this more in the book of Exodus. We understand that God uses all the circumstances of life, both good and evil, to accomplish His purposes.

We see this in the message of Romans 8:28.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Each of us has a vision of what the good should look like, but I want us to consider that what we want is not what God has in mind. He tells us in Romans 8:29 what is good and what he is doing.  He says:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29 ESV)

God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His son, and that is what is going to happen. It may not be what we expect, and it may not be comfortable. It might mean a trip down to Egypt, but God will do what He has promised.

Cast all your anxiety (fear) onto Him, because He cares for you.


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