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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Genesis 47

 

 

Verses 1-12

Jacob"s blessing of Pharaoh ( Genesis 47:7; Genesis 47:10) is unusual since it implies that in one sense (i.e, as one of God"s elect) Jacob was superior to Pharaoh. Pharaoh was a man of immense worldly power and influence. "The lesser is blessed by the greater" ( Hebrews 7:7).

"The least and most faltering of God"s children has the superiority ... in the presence of the most elevated men of the world." [Note: Darby, 1:78.]

Jacob seems to have described his life as a sojourn ( Genesis 47:9) primarily because he had not come into final possession of the Promised Land. He had, of course, also lived in widely separated places during his lifetime: Paddan-aram, Canaan, and now Egypt. His years were fewer than his fathers: 130 compared with Abraham"s175 and Isaac"s180. This comparison also suggests that neither Abraham nor Isaac had experienced the difficulties and distresses that Jacob had during his lifetime.

"When we first encountered Jacob he was struggling inside his mother"s womb with his twin brother. As we come to the end of Jacob"s life, he is struggling for his life in a famine-devastated Canaan. In between these first and last moments of struggle have been many trying experiences for Jacob. His life has had more sorrow than joy." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters18-50 , p612.]

"These words [ Genesis 47:9] appear to be the author"s attempt at a deliberate contrast to the later promise that one who honors his father and mother should "live long and do well upon the land" ( Deuteronomy 5:15 [sic 16]). Jacob, who deceived his father and thereby gained the blessing, must not only die outside the Promised Land but also, we learn here, his years were few and difficult. From his own words, then, we can see a final recompense for Jacob"s actions earlier in the book." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p227.]

The text describes the area where Jacob"s family settled "the land of Rameses" here rather than Goshen ( Genesis 47:11). "The land of Rameses" could have been another name for Goshen, or a larger area encompassing Goshen, or a district within Goshen.

The use of the name "Rameses" here and elsewhere ( Exodus 1:11; Exodus 12:37; Numbers 33:3; Numbers 33:5) has become a kind of "red herring" for many interpreters. It has led them to conclude that these events occurred after one of the Pharaohs named Rameses lived. Rameses I reigned about1347-1320 B.C. However the biblical chronological references ( 1 Kings 6:1; Exodus 12:40; et al.) point to a date for Israel"s move to Egypt near1876 B.C. How can we account for the use of the name Rameses here then?

It is possible that the name Rameses (also spelled Raamses) was in use when Jacob entered Egypt even though extra-biblical references have not confirmed this. [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., pp70-71; and Walter C. Kaiser Jeremiah , A History of Israel, pp74-75.] "Raamses" simply means "Ra [the sun god] has created it." [Note: International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 1939 ed, s.v. "Raamses," by C. R. Conder.] Second, Rameses may have been the name of this district later, in Moses" day, when he wrote Genesis. He could have used the modern name when writing Genesis rather than an older one that was in use in Jacob"s day. A third possibility is that Rameses was the district name even later in history (e.g, after Pharaoh Rameses). A later scribe may have substituted "Rameses" for an older name that was in use when Moses wrote or when Jacob entered Egypt.

Other late names appear in Genesis. For example, the town of Dan ( Genesis 14:14), formerly Laish ( Judges 18:29), received the name "Dan" during the judges period (ca1350-1050 B.C.). Evidently someone after Moses" day substituted the modern name "Dan" for the older name in Genesis 14:14. This may account for references to the Philistines in Genesis too.

"How different is Jacob"s descent to Egypt from his grandfather"s (ch12)! Both seek out the safety of Egypt because of famine. To save himself Abraham engages in deceit. To save his family Jacob engages in blessing. The Pharaoh at Abraham"s visit was only too happy to see Abraham return to his own country. The Pharaoh at Jacob"s visit insists that Jacob stay and settle on some choice land. Abraham retreats from Egypt. For Jacob Egypt is his new home. Abraham leaves Egypt alive (and happy to be so!). Jacob will leave Egypt dead." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters18-50 , p613.]


Verses 13-19

"It was axiomatic in the ancient world that one paid one"s way so long as one had anything to part with-including, in the last resort, one"s liberty." [Note: Kidner, p211.]

"Both Egyptian and Mesopotamian slavery differentiated generally between formerly free people who became debt slaves and foreigners (usually war captives) who were bought and sold as chattel. Mesopotamian laws and contracts indicate that creditors obtained the service of the debt slave until the debt was covered, but chattel slaves belonged to their owners without much chance of release. Although we cannot know from Genesis , there is reason to believe that the voluntary submission of the people assumes that the enslavement was not permanent (cp. the law established by Joseph, Genesis 47:26)." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26 , p851.]

"The idea of slavery is not attractive to the modern mind, but in the ancient world it was the primary way of dealing with the poor and destitute. If people became slaves of Pharaoh, it was Pharaoh"s responsibility to feed them and care for them. It was the best way for them to survive the famine." [Note: The NET Bible note on47:19.]

This is the first mention of horses in the Bible, the primary beast of burden and military mechine at this time ( Genesis 47:17). Egypt was an important source of horses in Solomon"s day (cf. 1 Kings 10:28-29).


Verses 13-27

God"s provision of land and food for Pharaoh47:13-27

This section demonstrates the fulfillment of Jacob"s blessing on Pharaoh ( Genesis 46:31 to Genesis 47:6 and Genesis 47:7-10). Joseph was able to save Egypt and its neighbors from a very severe famine and to alleviate the desperate plight of the Egyptians. Pharaoh received money from Egypt and Canaan ( Genesis 47:13-14), livestock ( Genesis 47:15-17), land and slaves ( Genesis 47:18-21; Genesis 47:23; Genesis 47:25), and20 percent of future harvests ( Genesis 47:23-26). Such a tax was not out of line with what was common in that day in the ancient Near East. Really it was small since the average was33and one third percent. [Note: Waltke, Genesis , p591; Thomas, pp451-52. See Brian Alexander McKenzie, "Jacob"s Blessing of Pharaoh: An Interpretation of Genesis 46:31-47:26 ," Westminster Theological Journal45 (Fall1983):386-99.] God blessed Pharaoh because he had blessed the Israelites with the best of Egypt. Later, in Moses" time, God cursed another Pharaoh because he had dealt harshly with the Israelites (cf. Genesis 12:3).

"This entire situation informs the meaning of Exodus 1:8-11, which states that a new king came to power who did not know Joseph. Consequently-and ironically-that king began to enslave the Israelites to work in his projects. Had he remembered Joseph, he would have realized how loyal and faithful Israel could be in their sojourn in the land. Because this Pharaoh treated Israel well, they flourished, and he became powerful and wealthy; but because that new king treated Israel harshly, he would have none of the blessing of God, nor would he be able to hinder the prosperity of the people of God. From the beginning to the end of the Egyptian sojourn, prosperity and growth came from God"s blessing. Those who acknowledged it shared in it." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p687. Cf12:3.]


Verses 20-26

Early Greek writers, as well as monument evidence, seem to confirm Joseph"s political reforms and redistribution of land in Egypt. [Note: Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Strabo. See Keil and Delitzsch, 1:379 , and Cambridge Ancient History, 1:306-310.] In a very real sense Joseph became a savior of the Gentiles as well as the Jews. [Note: See Frankfort, pp36-43.] His20 percent tax was generous compared to what is known elsewhere in the ancient Near East. [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26 , pp851 , 860; Sarna, Understanding Genesis , p322; and1Maccabees10:29.]

"We might also add that the exception made to temple lands ( Genesis 47:22; Genesis 47:26) shows that Joseph"s action was not a crass land grab without regard for Egyptian tradition and society"s welfare." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26 , p852.]


Verse 27

Under Joseph"s administration Israel prospered, in contrast to Egypt, and increased in number without suffering deprivation or loss of independence. The fulfillment of God"s promise to increase the seed of the patriarchs was advancing under Joseph"s rule.

A wise leader knows that prosperity comes only from God, so he makes decisions in harmony with what God has revealed about how He has promised to bless.


Verse 28

13. Jacob"s worship in Egypt47:28-48:22

Jacob demonstrated his faith in God"s promises by demanding that his sons bury him in the Promised Land. He also showed he had learned that God will bless those He chooses to bless by blessing the younger Ephraim over the older Manasseh.


Verses 28-31

Jacob"s request to be buried in Canaan47:28-31

Jacob lived17 years in the care of Joseph who, ironically, had spent the first17 years of his life in Jacob"s care ( Genesis 37:2). As Jacob"s death seemed to be approaching, he called for Joseph and made him swear to bury him in the Promised Land rather than in Egypt (cf. Genesis 24:2-3). As the father of such a person as Joseph, Jacob could have had a very fine burial in Egypt. Notwithstanding, his request demonstrated his preference for the promise of God rather than the acclaim of the world (cf. Moses, Hebrews 11:24-25).

Placing the hand under the "thigh" was a ritual connected with making a solemn promise (cf. Genesis 24:2-3). Jacob worshipped God for granting his wish. He evidently prostrated himself on his bed in thanksgiving to Yahweh and or out of respect for Joseph (cf. Genesis 37:9-10). He may have been too weak to bow down on the ground (cf. Genesis 48:12; 1 Kings 1:47).

"Jacob, in life too often the cunning schemer who trusted his own wiliness to achieve his ends, now in the face of death shows that his ultimate hope is the promise of God." [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50 , p452.]

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 47:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/genesis-47.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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