Genesis 46:3-4 - I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again...."

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." (Genesis 46:3-4)

Why was Jacob going to Egypt?

Jacob has been invited to Egypt by his beloved follower Joseph after a famine has gripped the land. Joseph wants Jacob and his family nearby so that he can help protect them and take care of them.

Joseph was sold as a slave to some travelers after his brothers tossed him into a cistern without his clothes. Joseph eventually landed in Egypt where he faced challenges. For one, he was imprisoned. But due to his wisdom and commitment to the Supreme Being, eventually became the Pharaoh's right-hand person - overseeing the grains that Egypt had stored away right before the famine.

Joseph had correctly interpreted the Pharaoh's dream, which predicted seven years of bountiful harvests followed by seven years of famine in the Middle Eastern lands. As to Joseph's ability to interpret dreams, he ascribed this skill to God:
Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." "I cannot do it," Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires." (Genesis 41:15-16)
Earlier Joseph also said the following to two of Pharaoh's officials when they told them they had troubling dreams:
"Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams." (Genesis 40:8)
Joseph did communicate a correct interpretation of all three dreams - of the two Pharaoh officials and Pharaoh.

This means that Joseph was acting as God's representative. He knew this skill only belonged to God, and God was using him to communicate these things.

This is what a representative of God does. He speaks on behalf of God. He speaks what God wants others to understand.

And because both Joseph and his father Jacob had committed their lives to the Supreme Being, God was taking care of them. (Notice that God calls him "Jacob" and not "Israel"

Is this statement referring to Jacob's father?

The statement ascribed to God says that He is the God of Jacob's "father." Why is this important?

Being the God of a person's father simply has no distinction. Why would God even waste His time saying something like this? A son often rejects his father's faith - belief in God is just not a hereditary thing.

God is not speaking of the father of Jacob's physical body. The Hebrew word אב ('ab) can mean father in the sense of family, but it also refers to spiritual leader (e.g., "originator or patron of a class, profession, or art," "head or founder of a household, group, family, or clan" according to the lexicon).

As we discussed earlier, Jacob had accepted a spiritual teacher as he was wrestling or struggling with the notion of committing himself to the Supreme Being.

Being the God of one's spiritual teacher is a matter of distinction because this is the process of how spiritual knowledge is handed down - from teacher to student. Sometimes the student may be the son or daughter of the teacher - but this is not a requirement at all, evidenced throughout the Old Testament.

We see, for example, that Joshua was Moses' follower, Samuel was Eli's follower, and Abraham was Melchizedek's follower. Each of these instances and many others - the Prophets were not necessarily the sons of their teacher.

What kind of "great nation" is God referring to?

The fact that Jacob was being sent to Egypt by God is important because God wanted Jacob to spread the knowledge Jacob had received to others. This is the importance of God's next statement:
"Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there."
Now we know from later verses that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and this precipitated God's guiding Moses out of Egypt with his followers.

So what kind of "nation" can come from one person with 12 sons in a little under a century?

Not much. Even if you figure that each son gave birth to 12 children, you would still only be looking at 144 people. And if these 144 people gave birth to 12, then we're talking 1,728. And even if you stretched it to another generation and assumed that all 1728 people had 12 children, then we'd be talking a little over 20,000 people.

But what would this require? It would require incest. It would mean that Jacob's sons could only sleep with their family members, and then their children would also have to sleep together, or with their cousins.

Is this what the "nation of Israel" is? - An incestual tribe?

Certainly not. And in order to prevent incest what would have to happen? Jacob's family members would have to sleep with Egyptians. They would have to integrate, in other words.

Where does this leave the notion of a "nation" of Jacob or Israel?

The reality is, this statement ascribed to God is not referring to a family tribe ("nation") here. It is referring to followers of Jacob. Those who worship God in the spirit of Jacob. He wants Jacob to teach people about the Supreme Being. He wants him to convert people from being followers of the various gods of Egypt to the being followers of the Supreme Being. This will create not a "nation" of incest, but a "nation" of followers.

And this is precisely what took place. This is confirmed by this verse:
Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number. (Gen. 47:27)
Yet this is to have occurred within the time span of seventeen years, as we find in the next verse:
Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. (Gen. 47:28)
The only way that the Israelites could have "increased greatly in number" within such a short period of time was if Jacob and his followers were effective at converting others outside their clan to the worship of God - thereby becoming Israelites because they followed the teachings of Jacob. And being "fruitful" (Hebrew פרה (parah) - "to branch off") refers not to having children - it is referring to convincing others to worship the Supreme Being.

In other words, being an Israelite - a person who worships God as a follower of Jacob and Abraham - doesn't require being born into a particular family as supposed by those with a racist slant towards scripture. Any person - born of any family - may become a follower of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus, etc. - and thereby become part of the spiritual family of Israel.

This notion that the "nation" of Jacob (Israel) within Egypt were all the product of incest is not only abominable: It is racist. It is saying that God gives favor to a particular race of people, who became the "chosen people."

God is not a racist. God knows the physical body is only a temporary vehicle (because He designed them). God thus accepts anyone who sincerely reaches out to Him. A person who is of a particular family or race does not receive special attention because of the family he was born into.

Does God need to go with Jacob?

What about this last part of God's statement to Jacob? "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."

The text is not saying that God physically traveled to Egypt with Jacob. The Supreme Being is not limited by space and time. He can be anywhere He wants to be at any time.

This statement saying that God says, "I will go down to Egypt with you", is referring to God guiding Jacob. This is the same as saying that Jacob would become God's representative.

What does "back again" mean?

What about "I will surely bring you back again."? What does this mean?

Here the word "back again" is being translated from the Hebrew word יסף (yacaph). This is not referring to God bringing Jacob back to the land of Canaan. Jacob dies (leaves his body) while he is in Egypt.

The word יסף (yacaph) means "to add" "increase" "to join" "join oneself" and "do again" according to the lexicon. This is describing that God will be guiding Jacob back to his original relationship with Him.

This statement is referring to Jacob reuniting with the Supreme Being: Returning to the spiritual realm and returning to his innate relationship with God.

This is confirmed by the fact that the statement says that "and" (better, "after") Joseph will be closing Jacob's eyes. This indicates that God is discussing Jacob's death and the fact that Jacob will be in good hands - his body will die in Egypt with Joseph - who had become one of God's loving servants - in attendance.

This is the nature of God's relationship with His loving servants. He takes care of them. He guides them. And He asks that they share the relationship they have with Him with others.

This is the Supreme Being: The perfect Friend, Protector and Companion. While we in modern life strive to have loving relationships with our family members, dogs or cats or even strangers - all of which ill at some point leave us or die on us if we don't die first - God is there for us all the time. He is waiting for us to reach out to Him. We can love Him now and that relationship will continue after the death of this physical body.

Consider another translation of these verses in Chapter 46 of the New Book of Genesis.