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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Genesis 47

 

 

Introduction

We shall consider this chapter as embracing ten paragraphs, as follows:

  1. Joseph presents five of his brothers before Pharaoh (Genesis 47:1-4).

  2. Pharaoh confirms the settlement of Israel in Goshen.

  3. Jacob himself had an audience with Pharaoh (Genesis 47:7-10).
  4. Israel's settlement in Goshen was accomplished (Genesis 47:11-12).

  5. Money in Egypt became exhausted (Genesis 47:13-14).

  6. Cattle and herds traded for food (Genesis 47:15-17).

  7. Their lands and their persons bartered for food (Genesis 47:18-20).

  8. All land becomes property of the king, and the people become serfs (Genesis 47:21-26).

  9. The Jews own their land, prospering and multiplying exceedingly (Genesis 47:27-28).

  10. Jacob, approaching death, requires of Joseph that he will be buried in Machpelah (Genesis 47:29-31).

In this chapter, it is currently the style of commentators to express preference for the Septuagint (LXX) version, basing their claim upon the allegation that the errors of the Septuagint (LXX) were smoothed over and harmonized in the Hebrew text of the O.T. upon which our version is based! To paraphrase that opinion, "We prefer the erroneous text, because it is the original!" As Peake put it, "The Septuagint (LXX) has here a more original text, whose discrepancies are smoothed out in the Masoretic Text."[1] Such notions, of course, are merely the result of scholars blindly following one of their self-serving "laws" which critics have imposed upon interpreters. It is the "Lectio Difficilior," the Latin name they have given the silly rule to the effect that the "more difficult readings are to be preferred as original!" Nothing that the schools of criticism have ever done is more fraudulent than this. "More difficult readings possibly result from scribal errors and have little meaning."[2] The application of such rules has butchered some of the passages in this chapter.

Our text makes excellent sense as it stands. "The Septuagint (LXX) flounders helplessly, `He enslaved them into being slaves' (Genesis 47:25) could hardly be called an improvement."[3] Keil also referred to the rendition of the Septuagint (LXX) in Genesis 47:31 as a "false reading,"[4] Keil also added that the quotation (obviously from the LXX) of Genesis 47:31, in Hebrews 11:21 is no proof whatever of the correctness of the LXX.[5] Over and beyond all this, the excellent sense, unity, and design of every word in this chapter are such that all efforts to change any of it must be held suspect.

This chapter is so obviously related to the migration to Egypt that we shall consider it merely as an extension of the theme in the last chapter.


Verses 1-4

"Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said, My father and my brethren, and their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have, are come out of the land of Canaan; and behold, they are in the land of Goshen. And from his brethren, he took five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What is your occupation? And they said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and our fathers. And they said unto Pharaoh, To sojourn in the land we are come; for there is no pasture for thy servants' flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen."

The first two verses here are not to be understood as the original announcement to Pharaoh of the arrival of Israel in Egypt, that being already known, even the place to which they would go having already been determined. On the other hand, this brings to Pharaoh's attention the added information that Israel had not arrived empty-handed, as they had been invited to do, but they had come with baggage, wagons, flocks, herds - everything that they had!

Also, the formal permission of Pharaoh was required, and this interview afforded the occasion for that. Jacob did not appear at this time, probably being of too advanced an age and in a state of health that made it more appropriate for the sons to negotiate with Pharaoh. Note too, that despite his having oversight of all Egypt, Joseph did not undertake this settlement of his folks in Goshen without the formal consent of the ruling monarch. This explains the request of the five brothers to be permitted residence in Goshen, stressing their occupation as Joseph had instructed them, thus making it a virtual certainty that Pharaoh would consent.


Verse 5-6

"And Pharaoh spoke unto Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are come unto thee: the land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and thy brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest any able men among them, then make them rulers over my cattle."

Leupold paraphrased Pharaoh's first statement here, as "So I see your father and brothers have arrived."[6] This is also an acknowledgment of the fact that they were there upon Pharaoh's invitation, as confirmed by his stating again the permission granted along with the invitation for them to live in Egypt. In fact, he even enhanced his permission by saying, in effect: that Joseph's kindred might settle anywhere they liked. It is blind criticism indeed that would make this whole episode a SURPRISE to Pharaoh and the design for Israel's removal to Goshen a result of devious maneuvering by Joseph. Leupold called Pharaoh's words here, "a gracious royal acknowledgment."[7]

Pharaoh here not only granted formal royal permission for the settlement in Goshen, not merely through Joseph, but by direct word in the presence of five representatives of Israel, even throwing in the proposition that, if Joseph approved, it would be good to place his own cattle under their supervision! There could hardly be any doubt that such was done.

It is a gross error to read Pharaoh's opening statement as an indicator that the arrival of Israel was a SURPRISE, or that they had just arrived. "This in no way indicates the time of their arrival."[8]


Verses 7-10

"And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How many are the days of the years of thy life? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years: few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage. And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from the presence of Pharaoh."

"And Jacob blessed Pharaoh ..." The word for "blessed," occurring here and in Genesis 47:10, "could be translated `saluted,' but the normal and strongly preferred meaning is blessed."[9] Leupold gave the actual meaning of the word in this passage as, "to bless with an invocation."[10] It is a fad with certain critics to choose the most inappropriate meaning allowed by Biblical terms.

This episode is one of the grand scenes of the Bible. Pharaoh was the autocratic ruler of the mightiest nation on earth; Jacob was the patriarchal head of God's Chosen Race, through whom redemption would come to all mankind. That Jacob was fully conscious of his own status in that situation is evident in what he did. As long as Egypt sheltered and protected the covenant people, that long, God blessed and protected Egypt. But when another king arose who "knew not Joseph," and when Egypt turned viciously upon the Israel of God, the heavenly blessing was withdrawn, and one disaster after another overwhelmed them. One may wonder if Pharaoh appreciated this blessing. To him, Jacob might have seemed to be merely an old man seeking relief from the starvation that threatened to wipe out his family, but the hand of the Almighty was upholding Jacob, and the blessing of God was surely his to bestow.

"The years of my pilgrimage ..." Here is a glimpse of the way Jacob viewed his life. Neither he nor his father ever owned any of the land of promise except the burial place at Machpelah and a few acres around Shechem. "They looked for the city that hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). Jacob's word here is a testimonial to his acceptance of the promise God made to Abraham, and of his absolute belief in the ultimate fulfillment of it. None of the patriarchs viewed the world as their permanent dwelling place, nor the earth as the true home of the soul. The mightiest king on earth had just given him a deed to Goshen, but Jacob was still a "pilgrim." Our English word for "pilgrim" literally means "one who crosses the field," and came into usage during the Crusades, when, upon nearly any given morning, settled residents could see a lonely "wanderer" on the way to the Holy Land, "crossing the field." Montgomery had this:

"A pilgrim is one seeking a country that has not yet been reached. The remembrance of this keeps the life God-ward. Its blessedness consists not in present enjoyment, but in preparation for the life to come."[11]

"Few and evil have been the days ..." Jacob's father and grandfather had attained ages of 175 for Abraham (Genesis 25:7), and 180 for Isaac (Genesis 35:28); and Jacob's words here indicated that he did not expect to live as long a life as his "fathers" had lived. Of course, he lived an additional 17 years after he made this statement, but even at 147, his age when he died, his words remained true.

"Evil ..." This is not a reference to Jacob's wickedness but to the severe and trying experiences which life had brought to him. Not all of the terrible experiences were the result of his own doing, but some were: the preference that his father had for Esau; his purchase of the birthright; the ensuing hatred of Esau; the shameful treatment he received from his father-in-law Laban; the long years of servitude in the outdoors; the unhapppiness of his wives due to internal conditions in his family; the hatred of his sons toward Jacob's favorite, Joseph; their sale of Joseph, represented to Jacob as Joseph's death; rape of Dinah; the shameless massacre of the Shechemites by two of his sons; Reuben's incest with one of Jacob's wives; the bitter famine; the imprisonment of Simeon; Jacob's horror upon learning Benjamin would have to go to Egypt; the following anxiety about him ... all these things left their mark upon the heart of Jacob, hence, his reference to them here.


Verse 11-12

"And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh commanded. And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families."

"The land of Rameses ..." This was authored by Moses, writing long after these events, as an identification of Goshen which his generation would be able to understand. Rameses, a city later built in Goshen, was not constructed until the children of Israel, then enslaved, built it for Pharaoh (Exodus 1:11).

"Give them a possession ..." "This means they were allowed to acquire property."[12] "Joseph deeded a portion of the land of Goshen to them."[13] Later, when all of the Egyptians had to sell their land to Pharaoh, whereas Israel was provided for without such an arrangement, the stage was set for the eventual repudiation of the privileged status enjoyed by Israel.


Verse 13-14

"And there was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very sore, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan also fainted by reason of the famine. And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the grain which they bought: and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house."

This is the first of three stages during the latter years of the famine in which Pharaoh became owner of all the land except that of the priests (Israel perhaps excluded), and the people became serfs on the land. In this stage, Pharaoh got all the money.


Verses 15-17

"And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for our money faileth. And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail. And they brought their cattle unto Joseph; and he gave them bread in exchange for the horses, and for the flocks, and for the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread in exchange for all their cattle for that year."

This was stage two. "That year" as mentioned here is ambiguous, the exact year of the famine not being indicated.


Verse 18-19

"And when that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and said unto him, We will not hide from my lord, how our money is all spent; and the herds of cattle are my lord's; there is naught left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands: wherefore should we die before thine eyes, both we and our land? buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh: and give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land be not desolate."

This was phase three. It came evidently the very last year of the famine, as seems to be indicated by the request for seed. "The second year" is not a reference to the second year of the famine, but to the second year after the flocks and herds had been liquidated for bread. The next seven verses outline the consequences of what happened in these three phases.


Verses 20-26

"So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine was sore upon them: and the land became Pharaoh's. And, as for the people, he removed them to the cities from one end of the border of Egypt even to the other end thereof. Only the land of the priests bought he not: for the priests had a portion from Pharaoh, and did eat their portion which Pharaoh gave them; wherefore they sold not their land. Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh: lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land. And it shall come to pass at the ingatherings, that ye shall give a fifth unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for food for your little ones. And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants. And Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; only the land of the priests alone became not Pharaoh's."

There is no end of debate among scholars concerning this handling of a severe social welfare situation, but we shall not enter into it. We may not even be sure that Joseph agreed with all this, for he was not king; he was deputy. The distinction that Pharaoh "gave to" the priests, whereas Joseph sold to others could indicate Joseph's disagreement with that policy. Certainly, the status of the population as tenants with a 20 percent rental going to Pharaoh was not a harsh arrangement. Our own U. S. government takes about 20 percent of our income. In Turkey during this century, and in Persia, "Peasants must hand over one-half to three-fourths of their production!"[14] Evidently, the people agreed with it; and it was continued until the times of Moses as the standard arrangement.


Verse 27-28

"And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen; and they got them possessions therein, and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years: so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were a hundred and forty and seven years."

If only a hundred went down into Egypt with Jacob, a five percent annual growth rate would have put them over 200 by the time Jacob died. By the time of the Exodus, their number had reached over 2,000,000, with over 600,000 fighting men above the age of twenty (Numbers 1:46)!


Verses 29-31

"And the time drew near that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found favor in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me: bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt; but when I sleep with my fathers, thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their dwelling place. And he said, I will do as thou hast said. And he said, Swear unto me: and he swore unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed's head."

In his death, Jacob would bear witness to his faith in God by requesting burial with Abraham and Isaac in the cave of Machpelah. He had the utmost confidence in the Word of God which had assured him that his posterity would not remain in Egypt. Joseph honored this promise when his father actually died.

We note in passing that the Septuagint (LXX) version of the last phrase here is, "Leaning upon the top of his staff" and is thus quoted in Hebrews 11:21. Scholars point out that there is only the slightest difference between the Hebrew words for "staff" and "bed," indicating perhaps some possible damage to the text in transmission. What is meant is merely that Jacob prayed (or worshipped) leaning either upon the bedstead, or as supported by his staff.

Before leaving this chapter, it should be noted that some scholars believe Joseph restored the lands to the people at the time of imposing the 20 percent levy. Leupold wrote: "Apparently Joseph restored the cattle and livestock, merely charging what was not an exorbitant tax for a fertile land."[15] Josephus supports such a view:

"When the misery (famine) ceased, Joseph came to every city, and gathered together the people belonging thereunto, and gave them back entirely their lands, exhorting them to fall to their husbandry with cheerfulness, and to pay back to the king a fifth part. The men rejoiced at thus becoming unexpectedly the possessors of their lands and cheerfully did what was enjoined them."[16]

We shall close this chapter with the discerning words of Keil:

"The relationship into which the Egyptians were brought to their visible king bore a typical resemblance to the relation in which the Israelites were placed by the Mosaic constitution to Jehovah, their God-King, since they also had to give a double tenth, a fifth of the produce of their lands, and in reality were only farmers of the soil of Canaan ... and they could not sell it."[17]

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 47:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/genesis-47.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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