Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Genesis 47

Verses 16-31

There had been a considerable measure of secrecy in all these dealings between Joseph and his brethren, but now all secrecy was abandoned. Pharaoh and all his court were now fully apprised of what had taken place and it pleased them. Since "every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians," as we are told in the last verse of the next chapter, we might have been surprised at this did we not know, as we before remarked, that at this epoch the ruling powers in Egypt were not true Egyptians but an alien race, closely allied with the nomadic and shepherd folk to which Jacob and his sons belonged. It is quite probable that the Pharaoh of those days looked upon it as a stroke of good business to receive Jacob and his descendants. It would bring under his protection those who would be his natural allies.

Pharaoh therefore instigated the sending of beasts and wagons sufficient in number to effect the transport, and also the sending of the message and invitation, recorded in verses Genesis 45:17-18. Here again we find words which strongly remind us of New Testament language. We quote them: "Come unto me; and I will give you..." Of what does that remind you? We shall all surely answer that it reminds us of Matthew 11:28 Come unto Me... and I will give you rest." Joseph's word was to be, "I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land." But that "good" would involve to them rest from their fears of famine and the wearying search for food during the years of famine; coming to Joseph they would find rest indeed.

There was now bestowed upon them bounty beyond all their thoughts, in the presence of which only one thing became them, and that was the obedience of faith. We read, "And the children of Israel did so." They did exactly as they were commanded. Everything necessary was conferred upon them, as verses Genesis 45:21-23 record. Thus they were dispatched to their father with the injunction, " See that ye fall not out by the way. "There was very rightly a little sting for their consciences in this. They fell out badly over Joseph many years before. As forgiven men they were now to manifest an entirely different spirit.

Back to Jacob they went with tidings of Joseph, astounding and to him almost unbelievable. But there were the wagons sent from Joseph with their full supplies. They were to him a foretaste and earnest of the good things to be found in Joseph's presence, and that wrought conviction and revived Jacob's heart. His nerve returned and he was ready for the journey. The words of Joseph had been supplemented by the firstfruits he sent.

Today, we have not only received the words of One far greater than Joseph, but we have received the firstfruits of His Spirit. Our spirits should indeed be revived and aglow, as we travel to the place where Jesus our Lord is.

The way in which Jacob's new name of Israel is introduced in the record is worthy of note. Jacob's heart had fainted because of unbelief, and then his spirit revived. But when his faith had revived, it is Israel who said, "It is enough." Again, when at the beginning of Genesis 46:1-34 we find the faith of his heart translated into positive action, it is Israel who gathers his possessions together and journeys, stopping at Beer-sheba to sacrifice to the God of his father Isaac. In these things he was acting in a way more worthy of one who was "Prince of God," than of one who was "Supplanter."

Beer-sheba too had been specially identified with his father Isaac, and from that spot the wanderings of Jacob had begun - see Genesis 28:10. Jacob had now come full circuit, if we may so say, and was back at the point of departure. Hence we find God Himself intervening and dealing directly with him. Yet though there had been this response of faith on his part, God knew that the old Jacob nature was still strong in him, and addressed him as such. The repetition of his name added emphasis to the revelation God gave.

In Genesis 26:2, we read of God appearing to Isaac and saying, "Go not down into Egypt." As a result of this command we do not find Egypt in the picture until we find Joseph carried there. Now however the Divine direction is exactly opposite and Jacob was not to be afraid to go. God's word to him was brief, but it contained four distinct promises.

First, that the sojourn in Egypt should be so ordered that there Jacob's family and descendants should increase and be welded into a great nation. Their experience should be that of Psalms 4:1, "In pressure Thou hast enlarged me" (New Trans.). In the tribulations of Egypt, acting like a furnace of iron, they were welded into a nation, that God took for His own. The hour had now come for this trying experience to be theirs, though at the outset all seemed favourable.

But, in the second place, this result would only be achieved because God Himself would go down with them. Had He not done so, they would speedily have been swamped by the abounding evils of that land. As it was, they got infected by them, as their subsequent history showed; but the presence of God with them secured the testimony to Himself in their midst.

So in the third place, there was the promise that God in His own time would bring them up out of Egypt, so that once more they might be in the land that was theirs according to His word. God never swerves from His declared purpose, though to reach it He may pursue ways that seem to be contradictory to it. So verse Genesis 45:4 is an illustration of the difference between God's purpose and His ways; a difference that we need to bear in mind as to God's dealings with ourselves today. Called with an heavenly calling, we must firmly seize God's purpose for us as members of Christ, and on the other hand not be surprised at, nor stumble over, the ways He may take with us in achieving His purpose.

Lastly, there was a promise personal to Jacob, which inferred that he would not be parted from Joseph until his end. The happy reunion would last until the finish, and when he died Joseph would be at his side.

Thus instructed and encouraged of God, Jacob pursued his way from Beer-sheba into Goshen, the easterly part of the land of Egypt, sending Judah before him to direct their route. We are given a list of sons and grandsons and told their number as 70. If we refer to Exodus 12:37, we shall see the great increase that took place while they were in Egypt, and how God fulfilled His word as to making them a great nation.

In verse 29 we again see Joseph in a very favourable light and as a man of a very tender heart. The splendour of his present position had not spoiled him. He had reached it through sorrow, which has a mellowing and softening effect upon those who go through it with God. Moreover he undertook to be their mediator in regard to Pharaoh and instructed them how to approach him. They were to emphasize that their occupation had been with sheep and cattle. The Pharaohs of that dynasty being of the so-called, "Shepherd Kings," this would ingratiate them with the ruling monarch, and also make the Egyptians content to have them as far away as possible in the land of Goshen, since they detested shepherds.

It is easy to see how this suited the purpose of God, which was to make a nation of them, free from admixture of alien blood. Though under Egyptian jurisdiction, there was to be a line of demarcation from the outset between them and the natives of Egypt. So in the early verses of Genesis 47:1-31 we read how simply and naturally all this came to pass. Pharaoh was most benign in his attitude. He welcomed them, allotting to them the best of the land in Goshen, and offering to them posts of importance as rulers of his cattle. Bearing in mind that Egypt, in common with the rest of the world, was in the midst of a great famine, such favourable treatment was indeed extraordinary, and only to be accounted for by the moving of God's hand behind the scenes.

Then comes the touching scene of old Jacob being presented by Joseph in the presence of Pharaoh. At the age of 130 he must have seemed a very old man in Egyptian eyes, but twice over, in verse Genesis 45:9, do we find him using the word, "pilgrimage." It is true of course that his life had been of a nomadic type, but nevertheless it indicates that these God-fearing patriarchs, as Hebrews 11:1-40 shows, ever had the eyes of their hearts upon the future, and knew that the present life was in view of a destination yet to be realized. If it was thus with them, how much more so should it be thus with us, who are partakers of a heavenly calling?

And moreover, twice in this paragraph, is it stated that Jacob blessed Pharaoh. The one thing cited in Hebrews 11:1-40, as showing his faith is his blessing of the sons of Joseph. That we get presently, but we remember the statement of Hebrews 7:7, "without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better." The patriarch, though at that moment but a displaced person and a refugee in the presence of the great king, was consciously superior to him in his knowledge of the true God. He knew enough of Him to be conscious that to have His pledged presence and guidance was something greater than all the glory that Egypt had to offer. He possessed the better, while Pharaoh for all his outward majesty, possessed the less. In the light of the faith and glory of Christ the position of the Christian is much accentuated. Are we always alive to the favour wherein we stand, and therefore lifted above the favours and allurements of the world?

Joseph's father and brethren being placed in the best of the land and nourished there, we now turn to consider the state of things prevailing among the Egyptians. This occupies verses Genesis 45:13-26. As the dreams had foretold, the famine became progressively worse. The people were fed, but not as those in Goshen. They had to buy their food from Joseph, who acted for Pharaoh. They brought their money, and when that failed their cattle, and when those failed they had to sell their land. The only exception made was in the case of the priests, men who wielded great power because through their idol gods they were in touch with the supernatural.

Thus bit by bit everything in Egypt fell into the hands of Pharaoh, and a law made by Joseph was that his proprietorship should be acknowledged by a rent paid in kind — the fifth part of all the produce. This was oppressive legislation indeed, but the sort of thing that was quite ordinary in those days. We can see how in the course of many years it may have helped to provoke that uprising of the ancient Egyptian dynasty, which is recorded in Scripture as, "There arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph." (Exodus 1:8).

Though this action of Joseph strikes us as oppressive, particularly perhaps his removing of the people from one end of the land to another, we cannot but think it has a typical value, setting forth how completely he was "lord of all Egypt," and thus a figure of Christ. Now the Lordship of Christ is absolute, for if He is not Lord of all and of every detail, He is not Lord at all. Moreover as Lord He subdues everything to God and disposes of everything according to the Divine mind. A time will come, "when all things shall be subdued unto Him" (1 Corinthians 15:28), and when as a result, God shall be all in all. But that which the Lord Jesus will bring to pass, though it will involve the execution of judgment, will be for the ultimate blessing of the universe of God.

In the closing verses of our chapter we return to Jacob in the land of Goshen. Seventeen more years rolled over him, so he remained until the dreadful years of famine were only an unpleasant memory. Then the time came that he had to die. Jacob indeed he was, but he spoke as Israel when he extracted from Joseph a vow that he would not bury him in Egypt, but lay his body with those of his fathers in the land which was theirs by promise. Joseph readily acceded for, as we shall see, he too had the same faith. They had received the promises and believed them, and they knew that the promised Seed would be connected with that land.

Verse 29

The patriarchs, being men of faith, viewed Canaan as being the land of Messiah's glory, and though now descending into the grave, they expected to see that glory in a coming day. The closing verses of Hebrews 11:1-40 sum up the situation. Though they believed they did not receive that which was promised.

They were waiting, though they did not know it, for further purposes of God to come to light, and the church was yet to be gathered out of all nations. Hence we read that they — the Old Testament saints — without us — the saints composing the church — "should not be made perfect." In a glorified condition we shall all reach perfection together at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The one event in Jacob's life which is singled out in Hebrews 11:1-40, as exemplifying the faith that was in him, is his blessing of the sons of Joseph. The importance of this act of his is evident here, for the whole of Genesis 48:1-22 is given up to the account of it. Being upon his deathbed, Joseph and his two sons arrived to see him, and it is striking how at once Jacob reverted to the moment when first he was brought into contact with God, as recorded in Genesis 28:1-22. The blessing then granted he remembered and the promises then made he rehearsed in a way that shows that he received them in faith. They were blessings of an earthly sort, but in the sons of Joseph he saw the beginning of their fulfilment.

There appears to be an element of prophecy in verse Genesis 47:5, for in the history of the nation Joseph's two sons were treated just as though they had been sons of Jacob, as Reuben and Simeon were his; each being treated as the head of a tribe, and all Joseph's posterity were ranged under the heads of these two tribes.

Then further, having recalled the original blessing received from God at Bethel, he passed on to recall the greatest sorrow of his life when Rachel, the mother of Joseph, died in the vicinity of Bethlehem. His faith could not embrace the distinction that was yet to come to the place, for centuries had to pass before prophecy indicated that spot as the birthplace of the great Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity. It was to be the place where not only was there to be a mourning for Rachel, but also where there should be a great mourning, "Rachel weeping for her children," according to Matthew 2:18.

When Rachel died Jacob was still in full strength; now his natural strength was gone, his eyes were dim, so that he could not even discern the sons of Joseph. In his days of vigour he had too frequently walked by the sight of his own eyes; now at the close he begins to walk and act by faith and not by sight, and at the same time he realizes the exceeding kindness of God toward him. He had spent weary years thinking that never again would he see the face of his beloved son, and now not only had he seen him but his seed also. Upon the two sons he would now bestow his blessing.

With filial piety Joseph bowed down before his father and then presented them with due respect to their ages, so that Jacob's right hand might rest upon the head of the elder, according to the custom of those days. At that moment it was the faith of Jacob that was prominent — faith which led to his possessing the spirit of prophecy. Consequently he reversed what Joseph had done, and crossing his hands he laid his right hand upon Ephraim and not Manasseh.

Herein we may see a parable that has meaning for us. The name Manasseh means Forgetting, which is negative in its bearing, whereas Ephraim means Fruitful, which definitely bears a positive character. The first man and his race are negative as regards God, the complete negation of all His thoughts. In Christ, the Second Man, is the Yea and Amen to all God's thoughts, and all fruitfulness is found in Him. He is indeed the Man of God's right hand, and it is a great day in the spiritual history of each of us when we heartily endorse the fact that the first man is dispossessed by the Second, and therefore we turn away from self-seeking to find our all in Christ.

Once more then we find a type pointing forward to the word, "He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second" (Hebrews 10:9). When challenged by Joseph, Jacob held his ground, and though Manasseh was definitely blessed, yet Ephraim was given priority. The probation of mankind was running its course at this time and the test was not completed. Hence the time had not come for the conclusive judgment of the first man to be set forth in type, but only the fact that the Second should dispossess the first.

Again in verse Genesis 47:21 we hear the accents of faith. Israel knew that he was about to die, but his eye was lifted from himself to God. He had done much scheming in his time, but now he recognized that the only thing that really mattered was the presence and purpose of God. No matter what he himself had been nor what his sons would prove themselves to be, God would be true to them and to His purpose to give them the land that He had promised. At last, God and His word was the stay of Israel's soul, and we shall be happy if, long before we come to the end of life's journey, we discover that there, and there only, is stability and security to be found. Thereby we shall be spared much of the fruitless and heart-breaking scheming which we have seen characterizing him.

The last verse of the chapter seems to allude to an episode not previously recorded. We read of, "the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph" (John 4:5), and Joshua 24:32 seems also to refer to this gift. If so, we must identify it with the transaction recorded in Genesis 33:19, and that was close to the bad and warlike action of his sons Simeon and Levi, yet no mention is made there as to sword and bow in the hands of Jacob. However, there was the acquisition of a portion in the land as the result of conflict as well as purchase, and it was given to Joseph, who became thereby lord of that little portion of the land as well as lord of all Egypt. It was a kind of foretaste and pledge that ultimately the whole land would be possessed.

In Genesis 49:1-33, we find Jacob still presented to us as a man of faith. He called his sons together that he might pronounce a blessing upon them, and he was conscious that in so doing he was speaking as a prophet and foretelling that which should befall them in the last days. We are on safe ground therefore in interpreting his utterances as referring to "the last days," and not merely to the more immediate future experiences of the tribes.

Reuben was the firstborn and in him more especially the might, the strength, the dignity and the power of Jacob should be seen. The very beginning of Jacob's strength and excellency were to be expressed in him. And what was expressed? Nothing but instability and self-gratification, which was defiling and an outrage on all natural decency. What a disappointment for Jacob to see this evil manifested as the beginning of his strength!

Here surely we have predicted that which marked Israel the nation all through their sad history, and particularly when they were tested under the law. Whether in the wilderness or in the land; whether under Moses or Joshua or the Judges or the Kings; their story is one long record of unstable fluctuations between the worship of Jehovah and of idols. They were defiled by their adulterous connection with false gods. And in contemplating this we must remember that they were the sample nation, selected that the test of man might be carried out in them. In their condemnation all the nations stand condemned; ourselves included as men in the flesh.

Simeon and Levi come next. Their father never forgot their cruel and violent action, as recorded in Genesis 34:1-31, and he dissociated himself from it. They claimed to be avenging the honour of their sister, but with what they did Jacob's honour would not be united, and he denounced it as the fruit of their anger. The allusion here is again to that which was past, and in which their natural character was seen. But to what did it refer prophetically?

It refers, we believe, to that terrible outbreak of anger and cruelty in the nation, which reached its climax in the rejection and death of Christ. Stephen speaks of Him as "the Just One," in contrast to the sinful men that were slain by Simeon and Levi, and he added, "of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). Strikingly enough Simeon and Levi achieved their murderous intent by a preliminary act of betrayal.

The last clause of verse Genesis 47:6 is obscure, inasmuch as the reading is not certain. But taking it as it stands, "they digged down a wall," we may apply to the fact that in murdering their Messiah and Deliverer, they destroyed their own separated position, and digged down by so doing the wall of protection that had been theirs. They are still in a very full sense the scattered nation, and that in spite of a partial return to their own land.

Consequently there rests upon them nationally the curse of which Jacob spoke in verse Genesis 47:7. Indeed, as we know, they took the curse upon themselves in the presence of Pilate, the representative of the ruling Gentile power. Verse Genesis 47:7 is still being fulfilled before our eyes to this day, though early in their history a fulfilment of it began. Simeon was soon much weakened and relegated to an unimportant place among the tribes, whilst Levi was separated from them. But that was because after several centuries Levi was zealous not for his own honour but for God's honour, and used his sword to vindicate God's holiness.

We see, then, in verses Genesis 47:5-7, a prophetic reference to the death of their Messiah at the hands of the nation, resulting in the curse and scattering being their portion, as to this day. This is a national matter and does not conflict with the action of God's grace in still calling out from among them a remnant according to His election.

In the blessing of Judah an entirely different note is struck. In verses Genesis 47:8-12, we turn to a prophecy which refers to Christ, who though rejected and slain, as we have just seen, emerges triumphant both in grace and in judgment. There is a play upon Judah's name, for it means "Praise," and Christ is to be the Object of universal praise, as we see in Revelation 5:1-14; praise which shall fill both heaven and earth and go far beyond anything foreseen by Jacob. Two classes are seen in verse Genesis 47:8 — his brethren and his enemies. His brethren are to sound out his praise, and his enemies are to feel the power of his hand in subjugation; and how these things, spoken of Judah, point on to Christ, it is easy to see. Here his father's children are to bow down before Judah, as representing Christ, just as previously they were to bow down before Joseph, since he represented Christ.

In verse Genesis 47:9 Judah is compared to a lion, as a king among beasts. Here we see an allusion to Christ acting in judgment. Genesis is the seed-plot of the Bible. We pass to Revelation where everything reaches fruition and finality, and in Revelation 5:1-14 we find "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" about to take the book of judgment and break its seals. And the universe is filled with His praises. The connection is too plain for us to miss. In this way old Jacob must have rejoiced to see the day of Christ, though doubtless not so fully as Abraham did.

Verse Genesis 47:10 contains a striking prophecy, indicating that Judah would be the tribe out of whom should come the kingly line, culminating in "Shiloh," a term which is taken to refer to Christ as the Prince of peace. And of course we know that our Lord, as concerning the flesh, sprang out of Judah, as we are reminded in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Out of that kingly line He sprang, as is shown by the two genealogies recorded by Matthew and Luke. But at the end of that verse another striking fact is alluded to, for the word, "people," is more correctly, "peoples;" that is, it refers to the nations generally and not merely to the nation of Israel. And the coming of Shiloh has resulted in His becoming, by reason of His rejection and death, the Centre of gathering for a multitude out of all nations; and in the coming age He will be visibly the Centre not only of Israel but of the nations also.

The prophetic allusions of verses Genesis 47:11-12 are not so clear, especially as the language is highly poetic and figurative. We cannot miss the words, "His foal," and "His ass's colt," which at once carry our thoughts to Zechariah's prophecy and its fulfilment as our Lord presented Himself to Jerusalem, as is shown in Matthew 21:5. It looks therefore as if the words relate to His first advent rather than to His second, and thus refer to His sufferings and to the grace which is proffered as the result of them.

In Isaiah 55:1 the Gentiles are in view for the call goes forth to "every one" that thirsts. "Wine and milk" are free for all. Our verses would indicate the reason. They are free because procured as the result of what He has done.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Genesis 47". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbh/genesis-47.html. 1947.