It was on this day that Jacob and his family arrived in Goshen to begin their sojourn in Egypt. It’s recorded in Genesis 46:
“Then Jacob arose from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the carts which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. So they took their livestock and their goods, which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and went to Egypt, Jacob and all his descendants with him. His sons and his sons’ sons, his daughters and his sons’ daughters, and all his descendants he brought with him to Egypt.” (Genesis 46:5-7)
This episode began what certainly would have seemed like an exile but God had already foretold of this when He spoke to Abraham in Genesis 15:
Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” (Genesis 15:13-14)
The Bible makes it very clear that Jacob was apprehensive about making this move and, so, God visited him in a dream and affirmed that His presence would be with Jacob in Egypt. It seems doubtful that neither Jacob nor Abraham could have foreseen that God would actually form the nation of Israel during this exile in Egypt. In fact, Jacob the man (also known as Israel), prospered and multiplied outside of the land of Canaan, in Syria. Jacob, the nation, was also destined to multiply and prosper outside of the land of Canaan, this time in Egypt.
Initially, Egypt provided a safe haven from famine, but not for very long. Eventually, Egypt proved to be, as Moses termed it, a furnace from which Israel would be taken (Deuteronomy 4:20). It would seem that the nation of Israel was purified and forged in the furnace of affliction (Exodus 3:17). Consider that Egypt, in Hebrew, is known as Mitzrayim which stems from a word that means “to be pressed, squeezed.” or “to be under pressure.” It’s in this kind of stressful environment where God’s people truly begin to take shape. God uses these circumstances to squeeze and mold them into the people that He wishes them to be. The prophet Isaiah said:
“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10)
If this process to refine His people was God’s preferred method in times past, then it is most likely His preferred method, today. His people tend to grow closer to Him when in the midst of affliction rather than in abundance and ease. This is true for individuals and for the nation, at large. Perhaps that is, in part, why Messiah counseled the congregation of Laodicea to buy of Him gold that had been “refined in the fire” (Revelation 3:18).
It is important to recognize that God’s people, typically, multiply and grow in the nations and not in the land of promise. It is in the nations where He builds a fire to create the pressure that draws us closer to Him. Think of it this way: a male seed impregnates a mother’s egg and conception occurs. Cells begin to multiply and the baby begins to grow and take shape.
For most of this development, the mother’s womb provides a safe haven where the baby feels warm and comfortable. But as the child continues to grow and mature, what has been very familiar begins to become very uncomfortable. Eventually there will be contractions, the water breaking and the descent into the birth canal. Once in the birth canal, the baby is squeezed and forced to exit the womb. All of this travail is necessary if the baby is going to be the man or woman – or in the case of a nation – the people God has ordained them to be.
So if you feel as if you are being squeezed and pressed, and that you’re in the furnace of affliction, it might be an indication that God is currently shaping and molding you into the person He wishes you to be. The same is true for His people, at large. Therefore, resist the inclination to be discouraged and, rather be encouraged as you are being squeezed. Great things will come as a result of His refining fire.