Read Genesis 46:28 – 47:12
Introduction: all Israel moves
The book of Exodus tells the story of how God brings His people out of Egypt and sets them on the journey toward the Promised Land. The stories in these chapters of Genesis, on the other hand, tell us how Israel comes to dwell in Egypt in the first place. The Joseph – Judah stories in Genesis 37-50 serve as a kind of narrative bridge that carries us over from Canaan to Egypt. Canaan is indeed the Promised Land, but to survive physically, Israel must go down to Egypt for a period of time. God was working in the midst of the sinful actions of Joseph’s brothers to prepare the way for Israel to move his entire household to the best part of Egypt, the land of Goshen.
This move was specifically and enthusiastically endorsed by Pharaoh himself. The ruler of Egypt wants Joseph to send for his father and all that belongs to Joseph’s family. Joseph puts the services and resources of Egypt to work so that Israel, his entire family (children and grandchildren), and all his possessions might move to Egypt. God will even come to Jacob in a vision of the night (Gen. 46:2-4), and He assures the aging patriarch that this move has heaven’s approval. Many things are looking up, one might say.
We get a long list of names in which the inspired text of Genesis 46 tells us who went down to Egypt. The division of family units here is by each wife and her maidservant, Leah with Zilpah, then Rachel with Bilhah. The text tells us that 70 people went into Egypt, i.e., “all Israel” (cf. Deut. 10:22). There are some Biblical critics who say that only some of Israel went to Egypt, only some came out later, and some never left Canaan at all! But such a view is not in agreement with the biblical text. Furthermore, the Greek translation of Exodus 1:5 gives us the number of 75, not 70. Apparently Stephen quotes this when his words are recorded in Acts 7:14. Some scholars suggest that this figure may include five more descendants of Joseph (see the NIV Study Bible note for Acts 7:14).
In any case, the number 70 may represent a complete population. Some suggest that the number of peoples recorded in Genesis 10 comes to 70 nations. Shem, Ham, and Japheth are the ancestors of the world’s population after the Flood. Admittedly, one can be a little too imaginative at times about the use of numbers in the Bible. Yet consider this: Leah’s and Zilpah’s descendants together are forty-nine (7 x 7), and Rachel’s and Bilhah’s descendants together are twenty-one (3 x 7). So this deliberate use of the number 70 (10 x 7) may very well point in the direction of saying that the family of Jacob is the seedbed of a new world population. We may not be there yet in redemptive-history, but God is delivering the family of Jacob, the people of Israel, so that the Redeemer may come later through their generational ranks. Through Israel there is the route to a new community that is (called to be) joined to the living God, as God’s grace joins His elect to Christ, God’s Son.
Joseph meets and prepares Israel (46:28–34)
Jacob appoints his fourth son Judah to go ahead to Joseph in order that the final parts of the move might go well. The rise of Judah to that of the leader among Jacob’s sons is nearly complete (see Gen. 43:3,8- 10; 44:11-34). Jacob is clearly leaning upon this son Judah and not upon the other older sons of Leah (Reuben, Simeon, and Levi). Judah had given the speech that had melted the heart of Joseph such that he had revealed himself to his brothers earlier in Genesis 45. But here is an irony: Judah had been a son that was responsible for actions that had brought Joseph to Egypt. Now he is the son who is made responsible for bringing Israel and his entire household into Egypt. Judah sees to it that there is a smooth transition into the good land of Goshen.
It is noted by scholars that the name Goshen has not been identified as Egyptian, and its precise location in Egypt is not certain. It is likely a Semitic name, and the probable location is in the northeast portion of the Nile River delta. If this is so, then these were certainly excellent areas for raising cattle that could graze in the area. This area was very close to the frontier border of Egypt in the northeast, and it probably was not that far distant from where Joseph lived in the royal court (see Gen. 45:10 and 47:1ff.).
When Joseph finally sees his aged father again, we read again of a very touching and emotional scene of embracing and prolonged weeping. Father Jacob had loved Joseph more than his other sons, and Jacob had provided his favorite son with a special coat that suggested royal appointment. Joseph knew that his father loved him, and both of them are deeply moved at the moment of meeting again after so many years of separation. God’s goodness is seen here in that a divine plan works to unite this family again for greater purposes in God’s Kingdom. These have been very difficult years, and the moral choices of Jacob’s sons have not been stellar. Yet in Christ things will work out for the good of God’s people in the end. This is our Christian faith, our confession, because this is what God reveals to us (see Rom. 8:28-39).
Israel says that he is ready to die because he has seen his son alive. Again, our thoughts are drawn to the New Testament’s revelation where we read of Simeon who can now leave this life in peace because his eyes have actually seen the Lord’s Christ (see Luke 2:29-32).
Joseph now prepares his family so that they are properly rehearsed when he presents them to Pharaoh. They are told to indicate that their occupation is that of caring for livestock, since the Egyptians abhor shepherds (verse 34; cf. Gen. 43:32). Such abhorrence about shepherds would not remain only something that afflicted the Egyptians. Later on in history the Jews would also look down on shepherds. In the first century A.D. we are told that shepherds could not give testimony in the courts of the land since their word was not viewed as trustworthy. Yet it is to lowly shepherds that angels come in Luke 2:8ff. to announce the birth of Christ the Lord. For He is the Savior of His people, all His people, and such people can be found in every area of society, in every economic class, in every culture and tribe, and in every corner of the world. This is good news! In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). Therefore, God’s people do not look down on anyone as unclean or unworthy of receiving the good news.
Joseph presents his family to Pharaoh (47:1–6)
The moment arrives, and the family of Joseph comes before the great king of Egypt. Pharaoh is told that everyone and everything has come to Goshen. It is interesting to note that Joseph had said that he would tell Pharaoh what line of work his family was engaged in, but he leaves that all somewhat vague in his actual remarks to Pharaoh. He is somewhat indirect when he says that his family, their “flocks and herds” are here. Thus Pharaoh asks them what their occupation is, and they respond, “We are shepherds and always have been. Now, may we live in Goshen?” Pharaoh not only agrees, but he even asks them for help with his own royal livestock!
Jacob blesses Pharaoh (47:7–10)
There are some Old Testament scholars who see the idea of blessing as one of the key themes that runs throughout the book of Genesis. In the beginning God blesses the creatures that He has made as well as mankind whom He makes in His image. Blessing is something that Abram is promised, and through him all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). Blessing is something that comes to God’s people from God in order that they in turn might be a blessing to others. The LORD is our light and salvation (Ps. 27:1), and Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12), but we in turn are called, in union with Christ, to be the light of this world (Matt. 5:14).
Jacob “blesses” Pharaoh when he meets him and as he leaves him (verses 7 and 10). To be sure, the word in the original can have the meaning of “greet.” But that action of Jacob has a powerful sound to us who read it. This aged man is blessing the man whom the Egyptians revered as a living god! This is amazing.
Jacob is 130 years old. He would live another seventeen years in the land of Egypt before the Lord calls him from this life. We are struck by his description of his age as being a “few days” (verse 9). His grandfather Abraham died at age 175 years, and his father Isaac died at age 180 years. Jacob seems to say that by comparison, he has lived only a “few days” when he considers the life spans of his father and grandfather. Today, however, people who live to be 130 years old would make the headlines! When such long-lived folks pass away, there is usually a notice of such passing in the news. Psalm 90:10 says that our days are normally 70 or maybe 80 years.
But Jacob adds another descriptive term to describe his “few days.” He says that they have been “difficult.” The term in the original can mean “miserable, troubled, evil.” Jacob has often talked about dying, about going down to Sheol, the realm of the dead (see Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 44:29-31). One gets the impression that life has become a great burden to Jacob, and he would sooner leave this life and its miseries. In fact, now that his eyes have actually beheld his beloved Joseph, he can die and leave this “vale of tears.”
Joseph provides land and bread (47:11,12)
These two verses give us a summary of Joseph carrying out the command of Pharaoh. Pharaoh wants Joseph’s family to have the best of the land. Joseph’s family settles in the choice district of “Rameses,” called the “best of the land” (verses 6 and 11). This name has provoked much discussion since the first known Pharaoh with the name Rameses comes later than the time of Joseph. Some explain that it is an anachronistic explanation to help the later readers understand where the region is, since the Rameses-side dynasty began its rule in 1319 B.C. There is now some evidence to suggest that the name “Rameses” is earlier than the dynasty so-named. Future discoveries may throw more light on the use of the name Rameses. In any case, Israel is now in Egypt, there to experience God’s providence in both goodness and affliction later on in this foreign land.
Rev. Mark Vander Hart is the Associate Professor of Old Testament at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana.
Lesson 16: Points to ponder and discuss
1. Speculate just a little bit. Is it likely that Jacob’s family (the people of Israel) knew of the story of Abram and Sarai being expelled earlier (see Gen. 12:10-20)? Could they be aware that Isaac was told not to go to Egypt (see Gen. 26:2)? Hasn’t God been communicating to them that it is best to stay out of Egypt? Why does Joseph (and Pharaoh) want Jacob and his family to come to Egypt so strongly? Why not just send a steady supply of food to Canaan until the famine is over?
2. The Egyptians detested shepherds, and yet the angel of the Lord and a heavenly choir announced Christ’s birth to shepherds. Why do some people, or some cultures, look down on some occupations? Is some work “below our dignity,” something we leave for cheap labor to perform? If an occupation is legitimate in God’s sight, can it serve in some way in the Kingdom of God? Or, is our work done Monday through Saturday just “a job” in the “secular world?”
3. God’s people will always hear these words when they read this story, “Jacob blessed Pharaoh.” If it is true that the greater blesses the lesser (Hebr. 7:6,7; cf. Gen. 14.19), what does this story suggest about Jacob and Pharaoh? How has Joseph already been a blessing to Egypt? Do God’s people bring (more) blessings to Egypt and the Egyptian people? Today, how can God’s people bring blessings to those who rule us? How is Christ alone the source of blessing to all rulers and to all the peoples of the earth?
4. Paul tells the Philippian Christians that to live is Christ, but to die is gain (Phil. 1:21ff.). Jacob feels ready to die, having sojourned on this earth in the land of Canaan. Christians are pilgrims in this world. Describe the Christian attitude to this life and this world, and the attitude toward leaving this life and world to be with Christ. How do we keep a proper balance?
5. Jacob describes his years as “few and difficult.” Is not his age—130 years—a testimony to the faithfulness of God? The older we get, the faster the years seem to go by: “time flies.” Why is that? As Christians, we are brought by Christ into the age to come, even while we live in the present. What does it mean that we are to redeem the time, for the days are evil (see Eph. 5:15)?