ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT THINGS to grasp is that the God of the Bible is both personal – interacting with other persons – and transcendent (i.e., above space ant time – the domain in which all our personal interactions with God take place). As the transcendent Sovereign, he rules over everything without exception; as the personal Creator, he interacts in personal ways with those who bear his image, disclosing himself to be not only personal but flawlessly good. How to put those elements together is finally beyond us, however frequently they are simply assumed in Scripture.
When Jacob hears that Joseph is alive, he offers sacrifices to God, who graciously discloses himself to Jacob once again: “I am God, the God of your father. 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” (Gen. 46:3-4).
The book of Genesis makes it clear that Jacob knew that God’s covenant with Abraham included the promise that the land where they were now settled would one day be given to him and to his descendants. That is why Jacob needed this direct disclosure from God to induce him to leave the land. Jacob was reassured on three fronts: (a) God would make his descendants multiply into a “great nation” during their sojourn in Egypt; (b) God would eventually bring them out of Egypt; (c) at the personal level, Jacob is comforted to learn that his long-lost son Joseph will attend his father’s death.
All of this provides personal comfort. It also discloses something of the mysteries of God’s providential sovereignty, for readers of the Pentateuch know that this sojourn in Egypt will issue in slavery, that God will then be said to “hear” the cries of his people, that in the course of time he will raise up Moses, who will be God’s agent in the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the granting of the Sinai covenant and the giving of the law, the wilderness wanderings, and the (re) entry into the Promised Land. The sovereign God who brings Joseph down to Egypt to prepare the way for this small community of seventy persons has a lot of complex plans in store. These are designed to bring his people to the next stage of redemptive history, and finally to teach them that God’s words are more important than food (Deut. 8).
One can no more detach God’s sovereign transcendence from his personhood, or vice versa, than one can safely detach one wing from an airplane and still expect it to fly.