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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 46

 

 

Verse 1

1.And Israel took his journey. Because the holy man is compelled to leave the land of Canaan and to go elsewhere, he offers, on his departure, a sacrifice to the Lord, for the purpose of testifying that the covenant which God had made with his fathers was confirmed and ratified to himself. For, though he was accustomed to exercise himself in the external worship of God, there was yet a special reason for this sacrifice. And, doubtless, he had then peculiar need of support, lest his faith should fail: for he was about to be deprived of the inheritance promised to him, and of the sight of that land which was the type and the pledge of the heavenly country. Might it not come into his mind that he had hitherto been deluded with a vain hope? Therefore, by renewing the memory of the divine covenant, he applies a suitable remedy against falling from the faith. For this reason, he offers a sacrifice on the very boundaries of that land, as I have just said; that we might know it to be something more than usual. And he presents this worship to the God of his fathers, to testify that, although he is departing from that land, into which Abraham had been called; yet he does not thereby cut himself off from the God in whose worship he had been educated. It was truly a remarkable proof of constancy, that when cast out by famine into another region, so that he might not even be permitted to sojourn in the land of which he was the lawful lord; he yet retains, deeply impressed on his mind, the hope of his hidden right. It was not without subjecting himself to odium that he differed openly from other nations, by worshipping the God of his fathers. But what profit was there in having a religion different from all others? Seeing, then, that he does not repent of having worshipped the God of his fathers, and that he now also perseveres in fear and reverence towards him; we hence infer how deeply he was rooted in true piety. By offering a sacrifice, he both increases his own strength, and makes profession of his faith; because, although piety is not bound to external symbols, yet he will not neglect those helps, the use of which he has found to be, by no means, superfluous.


Verse 2

2.And God spake unto Israel. In this manner, God proves that the sacrifice of Jacob was acceptable to him, and again stretches out his hand to ratify anew his covenant. The vision by night availed for the purpose of giving greater dignity to the oracle. Jacob indeed, inasmuch as he was docile and ready to yield obedience to God, did not need to be impelled by force and terror; yet, because he was a man encompassed with flesh, it was profitable for him that he should be affected as with the glory of a present God, in order that the word might penetrate more effectually into his heart. It is, however, proper to recall to memory what I have said before, that the word was joined with it; because a silent vision would have profited little or nothing. We know that superstition eagerly snatches at mere spectres; by which means it presents God in a form of its own. But since no living image of God can exist without the word, whenever God has appeared to his servants, he has also spoken to them. Wherefore, in all outward signs, let us be ever attentive to his voice, if we would not be deluded by the wiles of Satan. But if those visions, in which the majesty of God shines, require to be animated by the word, then they who obtrude signs, invented at the will of men, upon the Church, exhibit nothing else than the empty pomps of a profane theater. Just as in the Papacy, those things which are called sacraments, are lifeless phantoms which draw away deluded souls from the true God. Let this mutual connection, then, be observed, that the vision which gives greater dignity to the word, precedes it; and that the word follows immediately, as if it were the soul of the vision. And there is no question that this was an appearance of the visible glory of God, which did not leave Jacob in suspense and hesitation; but which, by removing his doubt, firmly sustained him, so that he confidently embraced the oracle.


Verse 3

3.Jacob, Jacob. The design of the repetition was to render him more attentive. For, by thus familiarly addressing him, God more gently insinuates himself into his mind: as, in the Scripture, he kindly allures us, that he may prepare us to become his disciples. The docility of the holy man appears hence, that as soon as he is persuaded that God speaks, he replies that he is ready to receive with reverence whatever may be spoken, to follow wheresoever he may be called, and to undertake whatever may be commanded. Afterwards, a promise is added, by which God confirms and revives the faith of his servant. Whereas, the descent into Egypt was to him a sad event, he is bidden to be of good and cheerful mind; inasmuch as the Lord would always be his keeper, and after having increased him there to a great nation, would bring him back again to the place, whence he now compelled him to depart. And, indeed, Jacob’s chief consolation turned on this point; that he should not perpetually wander up and down as an exile, but should, at length, enjoy the expected inheritance. For, since the possession of the land of Canaan was the token of the Divine favor, of spiritual blessings, and of eternal felicity; if holy Jacob was defrauded of this, it would have availed him little or nothing to have riches, and all kinds of wealth and power heaped upon him, in Egypt. The return promised him is not, however, to be understood of his own person, but refers to his posterity. Now, as Jacob, relying on the promise, is commanded boldly to go down into Egypt; so it is the duty of all the pious, after his example, to derive such strength from the grace of God, that they may gird themselves to obey his commands. The title by which God here distinguishes himself, is attached to the former oracles which Jacob had received by tradition from his fathers. For why does he not rather call himself the Creator of heaven and earth, than the God of Isaac or of Abraham, except for this reason, that the dominion over the land of Canaan depends on the previous covenant, which he now ratifies anew? At the same time also, he encourages his servant by examples drawn from his own family, lest he should cease to proceed with constancy in his calling. For, when he had seen that his father Isaac, and had heard that his grandfather Abraham, though long surrounded by great troubles, never gave way to any temptations, it ill became him to be overcome by weariness in the same course; especially since, in the act of dying, they handed their lamp to their posterity, and took diligent care to leave the light of their faith to survive them in their family. In short, Jacob is taught that he must not seek, in crooked and diverse paths, that God whom he had learned, from his childhood, to regard as the Ruler of the family of Abraham; provided it did not degenerate from his piety. Moreover, we have elsewhere stated how far, in this respect, the authority of the Fathers ought to prevail. For it was not the design of God, either that Jacob should subject himself to men, or should approve, without discrimination, whatever was handed down from his ancestors, — seeing that he so often condemns in the Jews, a foolish imitation of their fathers, — but his design was to keep Jacob in the true knowledge of himself.


Verse 4

4.And Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes. This clause was added for the sake of showing greater indulgence. For though Jacob, in desiring that, when he died, his eyes should be closed by the hand of Joseph, showed that some infirmity of the flesh was involved in the wish; yet God is willing to comply with it, for the sake of moderating the grief of a fresh banishment. Moreover, we know that the custom of closing the eyes was of the greatest antiquity; and that this office was discharged by one most closely connected with the deceased either by blood or affection.


Verse 5

5.And Jacob rose up. By using the words “rose up,” Moses seems to denote that Jacob received new vigor from the vision. For although the former promises were not forgotten, yet the addition of the recent memorial came most opportunely, in order that he, bearing the land of Canaan in his heart, might endure his absence from it with equanimity. When it is said that he took with him all that he had acquired, or possessed in the land of Canaan, it is probable that his servants and handmaids came together with his cattle. (178) But, on his departure, no mention is made of them: nay, a little afterwards, when Moses enumerates the separate heads of each tribe, he says that only seventy souls came with him. Should any one say that Jacob had been compelled to liberate his slaves, on account of the famine, or that he lost them through some misfortune to us unknown, the conjecture is unsatisfactory; for it is most incredible that he, who had been an industrious master of a family, and had abounded in the earthly blessings of God, should have become so entirely destitute, that not even one little servant remained to him. It is more probable that, when the children of Israel were themselves employed in servile works, they were then deprived of their servants in Egypt; or, at least, a sufficient number was not left them, to inspire them with confidence in any enterprise. And although, in the account of their deliverance, Moses is silent respecting their servants, yet it may be easily gathered from other passages, that they did not depart without servants.


Verse 8

8.These are the names of the children of Israel. He recounts the sons and grandsons of Jacob, till he arrives at their full number. The statement that there were but seventy souls, while Stephen (Acts 7:14) adds five more, is made, I doubt not, by an error of the transcribers. For the solution of Augustine is weak, that Stephen, by a prolepsis, enumerates also three who afterwards were born in Egypt; for he must then have formed a far longer catalogue. Again, this interpretation is repugnant to the design of the Holy Spirit, as we shall hereafter see: because the subject here treated of, is not respecting the number of children Jacob left behind him at his death, but respecting the number of his family on the day when he went down into Egypt. He is said to have brought with him, or to have found there, seventy souls born unto him, in order that the comparison of this very small number, with that immense multitude which the Lord afterwards led forth, might the more fully illustrate His wonderful benediction. But that the error is to be imputed to the transcribers, is hence apparent, that with the Greek interpreters, it has crept only into one passage, while, elsewhere, they agree with the Hebrew reckoning. And it was easy when numerals were signified by marks, for one passage to be corrupted. I suspect also that this happened from the following cause, that those who had to deal with the Scripture were generally ignorant of the Hebrew language; so that, conceiving the passage in the Acts to be vitiated, they rashly changed the true number. If any one, however, chooses rather to suppose that Luke in this instance accommodated himself to the rude and illiterate, who were accustomed to the Greek version, I do not contend with them. (179) In the words of Moses there is, indeed, no ambiguity, nor is there any reason why so small a matter, in which there is no absurdity, should give us any trouble; for it is not wonderful, that, in this mode of notation, one letter should have been put in the place of another. It is more to the purpose, to examine wherefore this small number of persons is recorded by Moses. For, the more improbable it appears, that seventy men, in no lengthened space of time, should have grown to such a multitude; so much the more clearly does the grace of God shine forth. And this is also the reason why he so frequently mentions this number. For it was, by no means, according to human apprehension, a likely method of propagating the Church, that Abraham should live childless even to old age; that, after the death of Isaac, Jacob alone should remain; that he, being increased with a moderate family, should be shut up in a corner of Egypt, and that there an incredible number of people should spring up from this dry fountain. (180) When Moses declares that Shaul, one of the sons of Simon, was born of a Canaanitish woman, while he does not even mention the mothers of the other sons, his intention, I doubt not, is to fix a mark of dishonor on his race. For the holy Fathers were on their guard, not to mix in marriage with that nation, from which they were separated by the decree of heaven. When Moses, having put down the names of Leah’s sons, says there were thirty-three souls, whereas he has only mentioned thirty-two; I understand that Jacob himself is to be reckoned the first in order. The statement that he had so many sons or daughters by Leah does not oppose this conclusion. For although, strictly speaking, his discourse is concerning sons, yet he commences with the head of the family. I reject the interpretation of the Hebrews, who suppose Jochebed the mother of Moses to be included, as being overstrained. A question suggests itself concerning the daughters, whether there were more than two. If Dinah alone were named, it might be said that express mention was made of her, because of the notorious fact which had happened to her. But since Moses enumerates another female in the progeny of Aser, I rather conjecture that these had remained unmarried, or single; for no mention is made of those who were wives.


Verse 28

28.And he sent Judah before him unto Joseph. Because Goshen (181) had been selected by Joseph as the abode of his father and his brethren, Jacob now desires, that, on his coming, he may find the place prepared for him: for the expression which Moses uses, implies, not that he requires a house to be built and furnished for him, but only that he may be permitted there to pitch his tent without molestation. For it was necessary that some unoccupied place should be assigned him; lest, by taking possession of the pastures or fields of the inhabitants, he might give them an occasion for exciting a tumult.

In the meeting of Jacob with his son Joseph, Moses describes their vehement feeling of joy, to show that the holy Fathers were not destitute of natural affection. It must, however, be remembered that, although the affections spring from good principles, yet they always contract some evil, from the corrupt propensity of the flesh; and have chiefly this fault, that they always exceed their bounds: whence it follows, that they do not need to be eradicated, but to be kept within due bounds.

The land of Goshen appears as the eastern border-land of Egypt; for on this side Jacob’s family entered, see Genesis 46:28.

It appears as lying near the chief city of Egypt, (see Genesis 45:10.) What that city was, may be inferred from Numbers 13:22, which points to Zoan or Tanis. This implies, that Zoan was one of the oldest cities of Egypt, and that it held the first rank. God is said to have performed his “wonders in the field of Zoan,” (Psalms 78:12,) alluding to the plagues of Egypt.

The land of Goshen is described as pasture land, and, As one of the most fruitful regions of Egypt.

“All these circumstances harmonize, and the different points, discrepant as they may seem, find their application, when we fix upon the land of Goshen as the region east of the Tanitic arm of the Nile, as far as the isthmus of Suez, or the border of the Arabian desert.” — See Egypt and the Books of Moses, pp. 43-45. — Ed.


Verse 31

31.I will go up and show Pharaoh. After Joseph had gone forth to meet his father for the purpose of doing him honor, he also provides what will be useful for him. On this account, he advises Jacob to declare that he and all his family were keepers of cattle, to the end that he might obtain, from the king, a dwelling-place for them, in the land of Goshen. Now although his moderation deserves commendation on the ground, that he usurps no authority to himself, but that, as one of the common people, he waits the pleasure of the king: he yet may be thought craftily to have devised a pretext, by which he might circumvent the king. We see what he desired. Seeing that the land of Goshen was fertile, and celebrated for its rich pastures; this advantage so allured his mind, that he wished to fix his father there: but then, keeping out of Pharaoh’s sight the richness of the land, he puts forth another reason; namely, that Jacob with his sons, were men held in abomination, and that, therefore, he was seeking a place of seclusion, in which they might dwell apart from the Egyptians. It is not, however, very difficult to untie this knot. The fertility of the land of Goshen was so fully known to the king, that no room was left for fraud or calming, (though kings are often too profuse, and foolishly waste much, because they know not what they grant,) yea, Pharaoh, of his own accord, had offered them, unsolicited, the best and choicest place in the kingdom. Therefore this bounty of his was not elicited from him by stratagem; because he was free to form his own judgment respecting what he would give. And truly Joseph, in order that he might act modestly, felt it necessary to seek a habitation in Goshen, on this pretext. For it would have been absurd, or at least inconsiderate, for men who were obscure and strangers, to desire an abode in the best and most convenient place for themselves, as if they possessed a right to choose for themselves. Joseph, therefore, having regard to his own modesty and that of his father, adduces another cause, which was yet a true one. For seeing that the Egyptians held the occupation of shepherds in abhorrence, (182) he explains to the king that this would be a suitable retreat for his brethren. Herein was no dissimulation, because, in no other place, was a quiet habitation accessible to them. Nevertheless, though it was hard for the holy Fathers to be thus opprobriously rejected, and, as it were, to be loathed by a whole nation; yet this ignominy with which they were branded, was most profitable to themselves. For, had they been mingled with the Egyptians, they might have been scattered far and wide; but now, seeing that they are objects of detestation, and are thought unworthy to be admitted to common society, they learn, in this state of separation from others, to cherish more fervently mutual union between themselves; and thus the body of the Church, which God had set apart from the whole world, is not dispersed. So the Lord often permits us to be despised or rejected by the world, that being liberated and cleansed from its pollution, we may cultivate holiness. Finally, he does not suffer us to be bound by chains to the earth, in order that we may be borne upward to heaven.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Genesis 46:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/genesis-46.html. 1840-57.

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