There are many stories of God’s people suffering throughout the Bible. I don’t know that any of them suffered any more than Jacob. Oh sure, Job’s suffering was far more intense. But it was over a far shorter period of time (at least that’s always been my impression, anyway — feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). Prophets were persecuted; many were even killed for proclaiming God’s word. But at least God was speaking to them. Jacob on the other hand…
This passage in Genesis 46 strikes me for one major reason. It was great that God told Jacob, “Go down to Egypt. I’ll be with you. And Joseph himself will close your eyes.” But where was God the previous 20 years or so? Where were his words of comfort that Joseph was still alive during those 20 years?
After Joseph was sold into slavery, 13 years passed before he became an official of Egypt. Seven more years passed where there was an abundance of food in Egypt. It was only after that, during the famine, that Jacob would find out his son was still alive, give or take a few years. Why didn’t God say anything?
When Jacob was deceived by his sons into thinking Joseph was dead, the Bible says he mourned many days and would not be comforted. He said, “In mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” Genesis 37:35
The years didn’t dull his pain either. Twenty years later, he was still making decisions based on the death of Joseph. He refused to send Benjamin (the only other son he had by his beloved wife Rachel) with his brothers to Egypt on their first trip because he feared something might happen to him. And when the brothers said that the lord of the land had commanded that they bring back Benjamin to prove they were not spies, Jacob refused to let him go. He said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.” Genesis 42:38.
It was only when things got desperate, that he finally relented, saying, “If I am bereaved, I’m bereaved.” Genesis 43:14.
Yet throughout this whole time of suffering, God said…nothing.
There are times when we go through suffering, and yet despite it all, God seems near. We sense his presence. We sense his comfort. And we still sense his voice in our lives. And because of that, even though we’re struggling, our trials are a little easier to bear.
But there are times when God is silent. When our prayers just seem to bounce back off the ceiling. When there are no answers to our questions. And when God seems a mile away. Jacob went through that for 20 years.
And yet sight unseen, God was working. God had a plan to save Jacob and his family that Jacob could not see. It wasn’t that God didn’t care through this time of silence. He was working in Jacob’s family throughout each of those 20 years. He was working in Joseph. He was working in the hearts of Joseph’s brothers. And yes, he was working even in Jacob. Jacob just couldn’t see it. But when he did, all the years of sorrow fell off like a weight. And joy was restored once again.
Maybe you’re going through a hard time right now. And God seems distant. It seems like he doesn’t care. It seems as though he’s abandoned you. God didn’t abandon Jacob in those 20 years. He hasn’t abandoned you. He’s still working. He’s still listening to your cries. And he still has a plan for your life. So hang on to him. It may be one month, it might be one year, it might be 20 years. It might even be…tomorrow. But you will see God’s work in your life once again. So hold on. Don’t give up.
As the apostle Paul once wrote,
3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:3-5