The Pilgrim Life

The Pilgrim Life

Once Joseph’s family arrived in Egypt from Canaan and he was at last reunited with his father, having learned the Egyptian culture and practices after living in Egypt for over twenty years, Joseph then took some preparatory measures prior to his family being brought before Pharaoh. As stated in verses 31–32 of Genesis 46, he told his brothers and his father’s household, “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’” He also gave his family specific instructions as to what they ought to say to Pharaoh in order that they might “be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen” (verse 34). When Pharaoh asked their occupation, they were to answer, verse 33, “Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.” The stated reason as to why they should answer in this manner is provided at the end of verse 34, “for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”

So why were all shepherds detestable to Egyptians? Well, as one scholar notes, “The precise reason for the Egyptians’ aversion to shepherds is not known, although it may have a religious dimension related to the offering of sacrifices.”[1] In support of this, a later passage in Scripture, Exodus 8:26–27, is noted: “26 But Moses said, ‘That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as he commands us.’” So we see how Moses, too, later acted in accordance with known Egyptian beliefs and practices.

Not surprisingly, there may have been a providential benefit for Jacob in his family to be found in these cultural differences. As another commentator observes, “Such customs served the divine purpose by isolating the Israelites in the land of Goshen and preventing the assimilation into the pagan Egyptian culture.” What is more, “Their identity as shepherds would assure Pharaoh that they entertained no social or political ambitions under their brother’s auspices, and would help insulate them from intermarriage with the pagan Egyptians.”[2] So we see how something as simple as a shepherding vocation resulted in helping Jacob and his family maintain their walk of faith with God while offering them protection by reassuring the Egyptians that such herdsmen would have no political ambitions or attempt to overtake them.

The opening of Genesis 47 recounts how everything played out as Joseph had planned. After he told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen,” then, as stated in verse 2, “He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.” We don’t know which five brothers these were but when, as Joseph anticipated, Pharaoh asked them their occupation, they replied as Joseph had instructed, stating, verses 3–4, “Your servants are shepherds,…just as our fathers were…. We have come to live here for a while, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.”

Pharaoh conceded to their request, saying to Joseph, verses 5–6, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.” So we further see that Pharaoh not only offered Joseph’s family the best part of the land in Goshen but also sought out their services, asking that in addition to their own livestock they be placed in charge of his as well.

Well these are the nuts and bolts explaining the events that resulted in Joseph’s family settling in the land of Goshen. But the more interesting part of this resettlement story is recounted beginning with verse 7: “Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh” and “Jacob blessed Pharaoh.” Pharaoh then asked Jacob, verse 8, “How old are you?” Concerning this question, one commentator suggests that “Pharaoh’s inquiry about Jacob’s age may have been motivated by the belief that longevity was a sign of divine favor.”[3] If so, then this is an example of yet another cultural belief that God providentially used to protect his servant Jacob and his family. Jacob’s response to Pharaoh is recorded in verse 9: “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” And then, for a second time, verse 10, “Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.” This blessing by Jacob of the most powerful man in Egypt and surrounding regions would have been highly unusual. As one scholar notes, “In this remarkable audience with mighty Pharaoh—the greater typically blesses the lesser….”[4] And yet here we have Jacob—who was merely head over his family and household—blessing the most powerful ruler in Egypt.

The passage ends with a summary statement essentially noting that all was carried out according to agreement. As stated in verse 11, “So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses,[5] as Pharaoh directed.” Additionally, Joseph took it upon himself, verse 12, to provide “his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.”

But I’d like to swing back to the brief exchange that took place between Jacob and Pharaoh and highlight a few points:

First—and perhaps least important—is Jacob’s age. As he said to Pharaoh, recorded in verse 9, Jacob was 130 years old. And yet he refers to these years as having been “few and difficult”—we can certainly attest to the difficult part from our study of Genesis—and as not equaling “the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Now although we can hardly imagine living to such an age—if we could, then at the age of 60, I literally am middle-aged!—Jacob was comparing his age with those of his fathers, that is, with Abraham and Isaac. Compared with them, Jacob’s years had indeed been few for Abraham died at the age of 175[6] and Isaac at the age of 180.[7] Therefore given that Jacob was “only” 130 years old, it’s no wonder that he considered his years on earth to have been but “few.”

A second point worth returning to is the fact that Jacob—who was heir to the LORD’s promise to his grandfather Abraham and father Isaac to one day be a blessing to all nations[8]—blessed Pharoah twice: once upon meeting him (verse 7) and then again when he left his presence (verse 10). Whether or not we understand this as (as I do) as a literal blessing, i.e., as a prayer asking that God’s favor and protection be upon Pharaoh, or as a way of giving a greeting and farewell akin to the Hawaiian, “aloha,” these blessings indicate Jacob’s desire to have a good relationship with Pharaoh—and this despite the fact that they were of different cultures and worshiped different gods. Even so, Jacob blessed this foreign and powerful ruler.

Third, it’s worth noting that Jacob referred to his life as a “pilgrimage”[9]—other translations use the word “sojourning.” This seems an unusual—yet highly accurate!—way of referring to our earthly lives. By definition, a pilgrimage is “a journey to a place associated with someone or something well known or respected.” As we’ve previously seen, the LORD appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, promising them not only that: 1) he would make a great nation of them and; 2) that through them all of the nations of the world would one day be blessed; but also 3) that the land of Canaan, which they didn’t yet possess, would one day be theirs.[10] Therefore, Jacob’s referring to his life as years of “pilgrimage” points to the depth of his faith in the LORD. God had made these promises to him and he had believed, obeyed, and acted upon them. Jacob had never had the opportunity to choose where he wanted to live apart from God’s working. For, as we noted last week, even this current move to Egypt was a result of the LORD’s appearing to him.[11] And now that he had an audience with Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the region, Jacob was fulfilling God’s mandate to bless this foreign nation. Thus we see how the beginning, middle, and end of Jacob’s life journey centered around God who had sent him on this journey in the first place.

Now should we translate verse 9 as “the years of my sojourning”[12] rather than “pilgrimage,” the impact is no less strong for, by definition, a sojourn is “a temporary stay.” Therefore, despite the many years—at least from our perspective—that Jacob had thus far lived, he understood that life on earth was but temporary. Therefore he didn’t place his hope on earth nor did he seek to build a kingdom here. He was but a sojourner. One who was just passing through this earth while on his way to a better place. Therefore, whether we translate this verse as “years of my pilgrimage” or “years of my sojourning,” the point is clear. Jacob rightly understood that our earthly lives aren’t our final destination.

So what do these interactions between Jacob and Pharaoh have to do with us? Well, I think that the same three points noted about Jacob continue to be true for us:

First, even though it’s unlikely that we’ll live to see the 130 “few” years that Jacob had thus far lived—although according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest people in recent history were a woman from France who lived to be 122 and a man from Japan who lived to be 116[13] so you never know!—nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that you and I are eternal beings and that the earthly part of our lives is the “few” part, the short part, when judged from the perspective of eternity. As the psalmist,[14] Isaiah,[15] and Peter all agree, our earthly lives are but like grass, flourishing like a flower of the field that is blown away by the wind. Yet God’s Word endures forever and, as Peter adds, those who have believed in that Word; those who have believed in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, have now been born not of perishable seed, but imperishable.[16] Would that all people would choose to live blissfully for all eternity with our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit he so generously bestows than choose eternal misery apart from him!

A second lesson we can learn from Jacob’s interaction with Pharaoh is that during this earthly part of our sojourn, we should seek to bless not only our leaders as Jacob did but also all those around us. For as we’ve noted, Jacob twice blessed Pharaoh even though they were of different cultures and faiths. Similarly, in 1 Timothy 2:1–4,[17] Paul begins by stating, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” Thus we should follow Paul’s admonition and pray, that is, talk to our heavenly Father about all people by means of 1) petition, an appeal or urgent request; 2) prayer or a solemn request for help; 3) intercession or intervening on others’ behalf in prayer, in conversation with God; and 4) thanksgiving, expressing our gratitude to our kind Lord for those whom he’s placed in our lives.

But in verse 2 Paul specifies that these various types of prayer to our wonderful Lord should be made as well “for kings and all those in authority….”—and it’s perhaps worth noting that the cruel emperor Nero[18] would have been in power at the time at which Paul wrote this letter! And notice the reason Paul gives for such prayer for leaders: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” This Scriptural teaching is the reason why each week, during the Pastoral Prayer part of our worship, we not only pray for our church family but also pray for our leaders. Whereas in these highly politically partisan times in which we live, some would have us believe that a President can bring about either a utopia or the end of civilization as we know it, Scripture teaches otherwise. God’s Word teaches that though he is in charge,[19] we nonetheless ought to pray for “all those in authority”—and for us, this would include our President. This is why we regularly prayed for President Trump when he was in power and we now pray for President Biden as he is in power. For if Paul exhorted fellow followers of Jesus Christ to pray “for kings and all those in authority,” including Emperor Nero; and if Jacob could bless a pagan Egyptian Pharaoh, then surely we can pray for our President—and for members of the House and Senate—and for governors and mayors and local leaders as well. We should pray for them and bless them, even as Jacob did, asking that God’s favor and protection be upon them, and praying for wisdom and justice and truth for them as they lead. We should pray for our leaders in order “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” for praying for others is not only for their good, but for ours as well.

Now the reason we’re to cultivate this posture of praying for others, for “all people” including “those in authority,” is provided in verses 3–4, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Praying for others is something that our good God who, after bringing the entire creation into being declared it to be “very good,”[20] has similarly declared to be “good” and pleasing to him. Of course such prayer would be pleasing to him for he made everyone who exists in his very image[21] and cares for them. Therefore, he wants us to care for all people as well. For who knows if, by our prayers, our good God might allow us the great privilege of seeing others come to faith as they are ushered into his heavenly Kingdom and into “a knowledge of the truth” that he’s given by his Son—who declared he is the way, truth, and life[22]—and by the truthful and Holy Word he’s left us.[23]

The final lesson we can learn from Jacob’s interaction with Pharaoh is related to the first, namely, since our earthly lives are short, we—as did Jacob—should view them as but a sojourn, a temporary stay, temporary journeys given us by God until we arrive at our final destination with him. In other words, we should develop a pilgrim attitude towards our earthly lives. According to the author of the book of Hebrews, this is precisely what the Old Testament patriarchs did. As stated in Hebrews 11, verses 8 and 9, “8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” And notice the reason provided in verse 10 as to why they obeyed the LORD and chose to live their earthly lives like strangers living “in a foreign country”: “For [they were] looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” In other words, they were looking forward to their eternal lives in heaven with God. And so should we be. For as stated at the end of this hall-of-fame faith chapter concerning the selective list of Old Testament saints that have been highlighted, “39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”[24] God had something better planned for them; God has something better planned for us.

Therefore dear sisters and brothers, my fellow pilgrims whose life’s journeys, in accordance with God’s goodness, greatness, and providence currently overlap,

Let us remember that whether we die today or live to be 130, the earthly part of our existence is but short;

Therefore during our lives, let us ever seek to bless those around us. Let us ask that our gracious and kind Lord’s favor and protection be upon all we meet as we pray for them and thank God for them. And let us ask the same for our leaders in order that we might please our God and Savior who wants all people—from the least to the most powerful—to be saved and come to a knowledge of his truth;

And let us never forget that for all who know and love and seek to serve God and are called according to his purpose,[25] this earthly life is but a sojourn, a temporary stay, as we walk by faith[26] for a short time and look forward to walking by sight in his awesome presence for all eternity.[27]

Let us ever keep before us the fact that, from beginning to end, our earthly life as a part of God’s greater creation is in keeping with his greater plans for that creation. Hallelujah!

Let us pray.

Benediction: Jude 24–25 24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

[1] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 46:31–34. The Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 43:32 is in agreement with this view in observing, “As Palestinian shepherds, the Hebrews followed different dietary practices and slaughtered for food animals that were sacred to the Egyptians.”

[2] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 46:32.

[3] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 46:7–10.

[4] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 47:7–10.

[5] As noted in the Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 47:11, “Assuming an early date for the Exodus from Egypt…, this designation of the land of Goshen, after Pharaoh Rameses II (c. 1304-1236 B.C.) indicates that the place-name was updated after the time of Moses.” The Crossway ESV Study Bible similarly notes concerning Genesis 47:11–12, “The name ‘Rameses’ is most often associated with the great thirteenth-century B.C. Egyptian king Rameses II. While it is possible that the actual name ‘Rameses’ goes back to the time of Joseph, this may be an example of a later term’s being substituted for an earlier name.”

[6] Genesis 25:7-10: 7 Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. 8 Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, 10 the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah.

[7] Genesis 35:28-29: 28 Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. 29 Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

[8] See footnote #10 below.

[9] In addition to the NIV being used here, this translation is also found in the American Standard Version: And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years; and the King James Version: And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years.

[10] See, e.g., Abraham: Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 13:14–17: 14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”; Isaac: Genesis 26:2–5: 2 The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”; Jacob: Genesis 35:9–15:After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him. 14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

[11] Genesis 46:1–7: 1 So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!” “Here I am,” he replied. “I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. So Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan. Jacob brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring

[12] As do, e.g., the English Standard Version: And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years.; New American Standard: So Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; Revised Standard Version: And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty years.

[13] The woman’s name was Jeanne Calment and the man’s was Jiroemon Kimura

[14] Psalm 103:15–16: 15 The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

[15] Isaiah 40:6–8: A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”

[16] 1 Peter 1:23–25 (quoting Isaiah): 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

[17] See sermon preached on September 28, 2016, Prayer and the Gospel, on 1 Timothy 2:1–7.

[18] He was Roman emperor from A.D. 54–68. As my desktop dictionary notes, “Infamous for his cruelty, he ordered the murder of his mother Agrippina in 59 and wantonly executed leading Romans. His reign witnessed a fire that destroyed the half of Rome in 64. A wave of uprisings in 68 led to his flight from Rome and his eventual suicide.”

[19] See, for example, Isaiah 45:5–7: I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.; Lamentations 3:37–40: 37 Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? 39 Why should the living complain when punished for their sins? 40 Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.; 1 Chronicles 29:11–12: 11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 12 Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.

[20] Genesis 1:31: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

[21] Genesis 1:27–28: 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

[22] John 14:6.

[23] John 17:17 (part of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer to the Father): Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

[24] Hebrews 11:39–40. Emphasis added.

[25] Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

[26] 2 Corinthians 5:7:  For we live by faith, not by sight.

[27] 1 Corinthians 13:12: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.