Bible study on Genesis: We Should Visit the Place where we had an Encounter with God
Author: Carol Gachiengo 19 Jul 2022
A talk by Fr Joseph Edattu, VC
In this Bible study, we continue to reflect on the life of patriarch Joseph in Genesis. We have covered the reunion of Joseph and his brothers, as he revealed himself to them. In this section, let’s reflect on Jacob’s journey to meet Joseph in Egypt.
“When Israel set out on his journey with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.” (Genesis 46:1).
‘Israel’ means Jacob, which is the name that God gave him. When Jacob and the whole family set out to meet Joseph, they came to Beer-sheba, a place in Canaan near its border with Egypt. Jacob came to Beer-sheba with all his belongings and his family, and offered sacrifices there. Now we have to understand, Why here? Why didn’t he offer the sacrifices at home? Why did he elect to offer them in Beer-sheba? Because Beer-sheba is very important for the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Beer-sheba is the place where they had an encounter with God. Various Bible passages point out to the importance of this place to Abraham’s family.
A Place of Encounter
“So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.” (Genesis 22:19).
Beer-Sheba is one of the ancestral homes of his grandfather Abraham, where he lived along with his family.
“Abraham planted a Tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.” (Genesis 21:33).
In the next chapter, Genesis 22:19, we learn that Abraham stayed in Beer-Sheba and lived there. In Genesis 26:23 we read that Isaac “went up to Beer-Sheba.”
“And that very night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” (Genesis 26:24).
In the same place where Abraham had stayed, where Abraham had a God-encounter, his son Isaac had a God-encounter. And now Jacob comes there and Jacob has a God-encounter when he is leaving the land of Canaan. Jacob had had a God-encounter almost 40 years before at Bethel when he was leaving the land of Canaan for the first time. Now again, for the second time, he’s trying to leave the land of Canaan and he comes to Beer-Sheba where his grandfather had a God-experience, his father had a God-experience, and in this holy place he offered a sacrifice.
God’s Appointed Place
One might wonder, why didn’t Jacob offer the sacrifice at home? Why did he offer it in the same place where his grandfather had a God-experience? The next verse reveals the answer.
“God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 46:2).
In this same place, Jacob is encountering God. What does it mean? It means that a holy place has a very important role in the history of the Bible. In the Old Testament, whenever there is a God-experience in a particular place, such as after the God-experiences of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, each of them would use stones to symbolize the location, and they would say, “truly God is Here.” Afterwards, every time they passed by, they would offer sacrifices in that place. Their descendants for generations would also come to that place and pray.
Re-living God Experiences
This shows that the place which God selects is very important. If you have had a God-experience in a certain place, you should visit that place and pray there again, and you will continue to have tremendous God experiences in your life. That is why we have pilgrimage centres, and it is the reason that people go to Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, the Holy Land, and all the other holy places. We go there because these places have been chosen by God. Similarly, people go for retreats in the retreat centres because that is where God chose them; that is where they had an encounter with God.
Fr. Joseph recalls that when he was stationed at Divine Potta Retreat Centre in India, there were people who came to the centre annually. Even if they were living in different countries, they made it a point to visit the centre every year. Asked why this was so important to them, they said, “This is where we have encountered our God. When we come back, we renew our promise and commitment to God.”
We should go on pilgrimages to the holy places where God has met with human beings and people have had a divine encounter. If any one of your family members has a special attachment to a particular holy place of worship, that Jesus and Mother Mary have chosen, you should visit that same place, and God will do wonders in your life too. That is why we have so many pilgrimage centres, and why the church encourages people to visit them.
Just as we visit pilgrimage centres, we should also visit the places where we have had an encounter with God. Fr. Joseph recalls that when he was a young boy in school, he was walking along a secluded place reciting the rosary. In this remote area, he had a very powerful God experience. Even after he became a priest, he always longed to go back to that place. Much later when he happened to visit that area in passing, Fr Joseph found that the place had changed completely. It was no longer deserted, but had become a bustling residential area with many houses. However, when he went there he had the same feelings, the same anointing, and the same touch of the Holy Spirit, and his eyes were filled with tears.
There are so many places connected to a person’s life in this way. Perhaps, a person encountered God in an ancestral home. It is good to revisit that place, to go back to the roots and start recalling the feeling which the presence of God brought about. And it’s not just about going back to the places, but also about going back in the memories. It’s good to remember one’s past, especially when you had a powerful God-experience. Just re-living that experience, will bring a special anointing, a special cleansing and special purification.
Jacob had a God-experience almost 40 years before, and now when he comes to the same holy place again, he re-encounters God. He hears the voice of God again after 40 years. Therefore, we all have to go back to that time we had felt God’s touch in our lives. We all have a root experience of God. We have to find that place if possible, or to re-live that experience. This will be a powerful experience where we will be able to feel the power of God.
The 3 Reasons why Jacob was afraid to go into Egypt
“Then he said, ‘I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.’” (Genesis 46:3).
Jacob was excited to meet his son Joseph. His sons had already told him that Joseph was the prime minister of Egypt and was in a powerful position. Jacob was eagerly waiting to meet his son, whom he believed to be dead for 22 years. That is why he said, “I must go and see him before I die.”
Yet, there is an indication of fear. In this hurried journey, why did he stop at Beer-Sheba? Why did he stay there and offer a sacrifice to God? His actions show that he was afraid. Something was holding him back from entering into Egypt. Though there were lots of blessings and happy moments waiting for him, something was blocking him. He was afraid to go closer. Therefore, he stayed at Beer-Sheba and cried to God and offered sacrifice.
The first reason was the experience of his grandfather Abraham. Many years ago, due to a famine in Canaan, his ancestors Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt, where they had a negative experience.
Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land. When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live.” (Genesis 12: 10-12).
Abraham lied (or maybe it was a half lie, because Sarah was his cousin) and they had a tough time and eventually they managed to escape from Egypt.
The second reason was that Jacob’s father Isaac also had a negative experience relating to Egypt. Once when he wanted to go to Egypt, God said to him, “Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfil the oath that I swore to your father Abraham” (Genesis 26:3). That Jacob’s father was asked by God not to go to Egypt, but to stay in Canaan is another reason for his uncertainty.
The third reason he was apprehensive about going to Egypt, was because of the terrible prophecy that God spoke to his grandfather Abraham. “Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years’” (Genesis 15:13). The Israelites slavery in Egypt for 430 years was already prophesied by God to Abraham, who passed on the prophecy to Isaac and Isaac to Jacob. So Jacob recalled this, as he prepared to enter Egypt with his family.
These are the three reasons as to why Jacob feared to enter into Egypt, although the country was attractive. That is why he stayed at Beer-sheba and offered sacrifice to God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, after which God gave him the message, “Don’t worry. Go and I’m going to make you a nation.”
Consult God before you Decide
In our lives, we too often face doubts, fears and uncertainties. On whether to go to a particular place, move to a new house, sell a property. There are so many confusing decisions people have to make. What we need to do is go back to our roots. This means to go back your Lord. Pray in the presence of God. Offer sacrifice through the Holy Mass and ask God for directions. God will reveal His secrets to you.
God said “I will go before you and level the mountains; I will break down the gates of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron. will give you the treasures of darkness and the riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by name” (Isaiah 45:2-3). The secret riches, secret messages, will be revealed to you when you ask God. Therefore, before you make any final decision, make sure you make it according to the plan of God.
Jacob, because he had fear of God, made sure to first ask God whether he should go to Egypt. God told him not to be afraid to go to Egypt, that He would make of Jacob a great nation there. After this assurance, Jacob was happy to go there.
God also promised Jacob that “I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:4). That was a great encouragement for Jacob.
“Then Jacob set out from Beer-sheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him” (Genesis 46:5). Father Jacob was an old man, and was unable to walk. His children carried him. Children are supposed to carry their parents in their old age. We should never consider our parents as a burden, but we should carry them and take care of them. In their old age they should be consoled, comforted and blessed. They should be happy to see you carrying them, because once upon a time, they carried you.
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