1 So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” 3 Then he 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. 4 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.” 5 Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 6 They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, 7 his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt. 8 Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, 9 and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. 11 The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 12 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. 13 The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob, and Shimron. 14 The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. 15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three. 16 The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. 17 The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. 18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons. 19 The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. 20 And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, bore to him. 21 And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. 22 These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all. 23 The son of Dan: Hushim. 24 The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. 25 These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all. 26 All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. 27 And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. 28 He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”
Does this matter? By “this” I mean what we are doing this morning. We have come to church. We are here together. We have sung. We have prayed. Now we have turned our attention to the Word. But does it matter?
In Charles Williams’ novel, War in Heaven, Prester John asks Barbara about going to church.
“Go to church? Yes, if you like. I’m afraid,” she added, blushing rather more deeply as she looked at the stranger again, “that we don’t go as regularly as we should.”
“It is a means,” he answered, “one of the means. But perhaps the best for most, and for some almost the only one. I do not say that it matters greatly, but the means cannot both be and not be. If you do not use it, it is a pity to bother about it; if you do, it is a pity not to use it.”
I find this statement by the character Prester John interesting because it sums up, I think, the way many people view corporate worship as a gathered church: it matters (“It is a means, one of the means.”) but it does not really matter overly much (i.e., “I do not say it matters greatly…”). I suspect if you could get many folks who attend church frequently to be real honest, they might admit to something like this: an appreciation for corporate worship as a gathered church, but not a sense that it is overly important.
But let us note this: in Genesis 46, when Jacob discovers in Canaan that Joseph, his son, is alive in Egypt, he worships! He goes to Beersheba and offers sacrifice. And when He does so, God speaks to Him. And what God reveals to Him sheds light on why the elderly Jacob worships at all! And this light also illuminates our own paths, showing us why we should worship.
I want to argue, contra Prester John, that worship, in fact, does “matter greatly.” It matters because of what we discover when we worship…and what we discover when we worship is also the reason why we worship at all!
We worship because God knows our name.
We begin by noting that worship is undergirded by relationship. I want to say that it is first undergirded by the sovereignty and majesty of God. That is so in a foundational sense, but the reality is that if our great God had not revealed Himself to us then we would not know to worship Him! It is significant, then, that God addresses Jacob by name.
1 So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.”
By calling Jacob by name, God is saying that He is in relationship with Jacob! He knows Jacob and Jacob knows Him. Jacob is not, then, worshiping, some vague, mysterious force. He is worshiping the Lord who knows him and has made Himself known to Him.
Worship must arise out of relationship! Here is the grand equation of worship:
No relationship = no worship. Relationship = worship.
In John 10 we read:
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
“Jacob! Jacob!” God calls. Amos Funkenstein has pointed out that this “is an exact verbal parallel…to the exchange between God and Abraham at the beginning of the story of the binding of Isaac.” This is important, this recurring phenomenon of God calling the names of His children.
He knows your name!
Some years back I clipped the following article because it touched my heart and saddened me.
“Man who died after 9 years in coma unknown”
NEW YORK, Dec. 26 (UPI) — New York police are trying to identify a crime victim who died after nine years in a coma.
Otherwise he will be buried in a potter’s field. Police are urging anyone who might know him to come forward, the New York Post said.
Known only as Henry, the man was savagely beaten in The Bronx near Yankee Stadium in July 1996. Police ruled his death in October a homicide but have little to go on. They aren’t even sure if Henry is his real first name.
He was black, 26 years old, 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds. He was wearing a burgundy, blue and green vertical-striped shirt, red pants and beige and white Adidas sneakers.
A dead man with no name. That is our condition outside of Jesus. But in Christ, we are given a name and, more importantly, we embrace the name we previously did not know: the name of God. We worship because we know one another!
We worship because God is God.
And we worship because the one we know is different than anybody else we know!
3 Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father.”
Only God is worthy of worship! No man is. This helps us understand that fascinating scene from Acts 10.
25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”
No man is worthy of worship! But God is! “I am God,” the Lord says to Jacob, “the God of your father.” “Medieval theologians used the Latin phrase ens perfectissimus to refer to God,” writes R.C. Sproul, “The phrase may be translated by the words ‘the most perfect being.’”
Here we begin to understand a great deal of the modern malaise many exhibit when it comes to worship. A lazy approach to worship among those who profess to be God’s children is always evidence of a deficient view of God! To see God as He is—the ens perfectissimus, “the most perfect being”—is to be drawn into worship!
I ask you: does your view of God inspire worship? Do you know Him as who He is: the great God and King and Lord of heaven and earth, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who spoke all existence into creation, the one upon whom we all depend for every breath we take? Do you know God like this? If you do, you will worship! If you do, you will sing! If you do, you will praise His name!
In Psalm 46, we read:
10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
I will be exalted…I will be exalted! Indeed! He will be and must be and should be now! Church, do not grow lazy in your worship! Our great God is worthy of praise and awe and wonder and worship and rejoicing!
We worship because we know that God is with us.
And to think that this great God who is worthy of worship is with us! He is with us! He next says to Jacob:
3 Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. 4 I myself will go down with you to Egypt.
You do not go down to Egypt alone, Jacob! Do not fear the journey. Do not fear your old age. Do not fear the destination. “I myself will go down with you to Egypt!”
We come to the altar of worship because God is not distant from us. He is with us!
Stanley Hauerwas once rather shockingly prayed:
Zealous God, we confess, like your people Israel, that we tire of being “the chosen.” Could you not just leave us alone every once in a while? Sometimes this “Christian stuff” gets a bit much. Life goes on and we have lives to live. Yet, unrelenting, you refuse to leave us alone.
He then later prayed:
Dear God, we confess that often we find your unrelenting presence tiresome. It is so hard to live seemingly caught between what it seems you want us to be and what we know we are. Help us to realize that our very pretensions of unworthiness are unworthy. Make us glad to be your people, gathered into your church, celebrating the victory that is ours. Amen.
Well. I get that Hauerwas was trying to be provocative, but we should be careful with this. Or perhaps my discomfort with this is that he is absolutely correct: perhaps sometimes, if we are honest, in our selfishness and stupidity we dofind God’s presence to be unnerving and unsettling. But church, this ought not be! If you have such thoughts, consider this: do you really want to do life without God? What would happen if your selfish desire for autonomy was granted and you actually were left alone? What would happen if God left us to our own devices?
The thought is terrifying! No, the presence of God ought to lift our minds and hearts to heights of praise and joy! The fact that God is with us should drive our worship! We are not worshiping out of some frenzied hope that maybe God will show up. We worship out of a confident and awesome awareness that He already has!
Want to know what should make us worship? The last words of the book of Matthew, found in Matthew 28. Jesus said these words. Here they are:
20 And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We sing and bring praise to God for precisely this reason! Jesus is with us! Jesus is here! Jesus is not absent! Jesus has not “left the building” or our lives!
We worship because God is true to His word.
Furthermore, God is true to His word! We worship because God is faithful and His word endures forever!
3 Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.
“A great nation.” Where have we heard this before? We heard it in God’s call to Abram from Genesis 12.
2 And I will make of you a great nation
We heard it in the words of God from Genesis 18.
18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
And we heard it every time the covenant promises have been voiced by God throughout Genesis. Its significance here therefore lies in the fact that God is assuring Jacob that His Word will come to pass, will come to be! He is true to His word! In Matthew 24, Jesus said:
35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Our worship should be as passionate as Jesus’ Word is certain!
We worship because God knows the numbering of our days.
And we worship because our days are numbered and God knows that number! We worship because we will stand before the Lord.
4 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.”
God reveals to Jacob that he knows when he will die: “Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” And God “will also bring you up again.”
Yes, the reality of our own mortality and of God’s sovereignty drives us to worship. Death approaches for us all…but we have given ourselves to the God who is stronger than death! He “will also bring [us] up again.” He will not abandon us to Egypt.
I am moved by the words of the penitent thief on the cross in Luke 23 whenever I read them. I am more moved by the response of Jesus.
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Yes, God knows the names of His children, the timing of our last breath, and what will happen when we die. And what will happen when the children of God die is this: we will be with Jesus.
There is indeed a beautiful reunion at the end of our chapter, the reunion of Jacob and Joseph.
29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”
How wonderful! How touching! But God, in His words to Jacob, is telling him of a greater union to come: the union of Jacob and God in glory.
We worship because we wish to prepare for the day when we will stand before the God who is worthy of worship! We worship so that our transition into glory will be seamless: what we were already doing here we will continue doing there!
We worship because God is great and worthy to be praised!
But what of the chaos of our current experience? Can we worship when it seems like the world is nothing but chaos and disorder? Dare we believe that God is still accomplishing His grand purposes in the midst of this disorder? Yes! Even now, especially now, we must worship! Dan Crawford writes:
Once, in the city of Antwerp, a traveler watched Belgian peasants weaving a tapestry. Though he searched carefully, he saw nothing but a dark and meaningless mass. There was not a single clue as to what was being fashioned. Seeing that he was perplexed, one of the weavers stopped work and led him to the other side. There he stood spellbound as he looked upon a beautiful design coming to completion, thread by thread, strand by strand.
We worship because we know that on the other side of the chaos there is beauty and that, in point of fact, God is bringing all of the chaotic strands together into a tapestry of praise to His own name! We worship especially in these dark days because we know that God is at work and is accomplishing His perfect will!
 Williams, Charles. War in Heaven: A Novel. (pp. 249-250). Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy. Kindle Edition.
 Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses. The Hebrew Bible. vol. 1 (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2019), p.181n2.
 R.C. Sproul, Holiness. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), p.158-159.
 Stanley Hauerwas, Prayers Plainly Spoken. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p.44.
 Ibid, p.58.
 Dan R. Crawford, The Prayer-Shaped Disciple. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), p.35.