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The Life of Joseph (Genesis 37:2 to Genesis 50:26 )
In this section we have the life of Joseph from beginning to end. It quite clearly bears within it the stamp of a deep knowledge of Egypt, its customs and its background, and could not have been written by anyone who did not have that deep knowledge, and who was not familiar with things at court. The correct technical terms are used for court officials. And the whole of Joseph’s stay in Egypt is clearly written against an Egyptian background without the artificiality which would appear if it was written by an outsider.
Jacob Goes to Egypt (Genesis 46:1-7 )
‘And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.’
It is probable, although not stated, that Jacob started off from Hebron (Genesis 37:14). The area of Hebron was one often dwelt in by the patriarchs (Genesis 13:18 to Genesis 20:1; Genesis 23:2; Genesis 35:27). Beersheba was another (Genesis 20:1 to Genesis 22:19; Genesis 26:1 to Genesis 28:10). So as Jacob makes his way to see his son he calls in at Beersheba where his father had built an altar to Yahweh (Genesis 26:25).
The famine was severe and was prophesied to continue and the move seemed a sensible one to make, especially as he would see his son. But the fact that he calls in at Beersheba may suggest he is seeking God’s assurance that his move is the right one. It was there that Yahweh had appeared to Isaac. For he ‘offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac’.
‘And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “I am here.” And he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down into Egypt for there I will make of you a great nation. I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will surely bring you up again, and Joseph shall put his hand on your eyes.”
God graciously responds to his prayers. He comes as ‘God, the God of his father’, demonstrating that He knows Jacob’s thoughts. He assures him that the visit to Egypt is not to be shunned and that He will go with him. Indeed there he will become a great nation. But He also confirms that one day he will return. This refers partly to the return of his body to the land, which he considered important (Genesis 50:5), but also to the return of his descendants. The land is his and theirs and he will ‘return’ in them in accordance with the covenant. Egypt is but a temporary resting place.
“And Joseph will put his hand on your eyes.” That is Joseph will close his eyes when he has died. Thus he can be assured that at the time of his death Joseph will be with him to carry out his wishes.
‘And Jacob rose up from Beersheba, and the sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, and their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. And they took their cattle and their goods which they had obtained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his seed with him, his sons and his daughters, and his sons’ daughters and all his seed he brought with him into Egypt.’
So at God’s assurance Jacob now takes all he has into Egypt. It is clear that much of his herds have survived the famine up to this point, probably helped by the corn from Egypt, but water was getting scarcer and they may not have survived much longer. They also took their goods (in spite of what Pharaoh had said, but that was a gesture and was probably not intended to be taken literally). But most importantly his whole family went with him, together with their ‘households’ (Exodus 1:1). Jacob’s wives are not mentioned. It may be that they were all dead.
“His sons and his daughters and his sons” daughters.’ His sons’ sons are not mentioned although we know that Reuben had two sons (Genesis 42:37), but this was because they were considered as included in ‘sons’. Daughters were slightly different as his ‘daughters’ were mainly his daughters-in-law, his sons’ wives, whereas presumably his sons’ daughters were daughters of the blood (although only one is named, but that was because to name more would have taken the number over seventy).
Those Who Went Down Into Egypt (Genesis 46:8-27 ).
There now follows a catalogue of ‘all the souls who came into Egypt.’ At first sight this is rather an understatement. It excludes his sons’ wives (Genesis 46:26) and ignores retainers and camp followers. The number who actually went down into Egypt may well have numbered a few thousand for we have the households of each of the sons as well as Jacob’s household. (And we must remember that from his household Abraham was able to raise three hundred and eighteen fighting men (Genesis 14:14)). The numbers may have diminished because of the effect of the famine making them surplus to requirements, and some may have been left in Canaan for other reasons, but there would still be a goodly number.
But this passage is a good example of the early use of numbers. The ‘seventy’, which is the divine number seven intensified, included everyone by implication and indicated the divine completeness of the number who went down to Egypt. It said in effect that not one was missing. They were ‘seventy’. They were God’s divinely complete band. No early reader would take the number literally. They would know exactly what it indicated.
However, in accordance with ancient practise this number is now applied, and it is done by manipulation of what is known, including or excluding as necessary. This is immediately apparent from the names given. It is very questionable whether the sons of Perez, Hezron and Hamul, could yet have been born (see on Genesis 38:6-10), or even more so that at this stage the young man Benjamin would have ten sons (Genesis 46:21). These were rather seen as going down ‘in the loins’ of their fathers. And the number is made up by including Dinah, but excluding his sons’ daughters, and including the sons of Joseph who were born in Egypt but had ‘gone down to Egypt’ in the loins of their father.
This table of names therefore was written by the writer in Egypt at a later date. He looks at the extended family as it was then and names them in his list. By then these sons had been born and were acknowledged as being part of ‘the seventy’, the divinely complete band. We do not think like this but it is quite in accord with ancient thinking. It is probable that he had a genealogical list and amended it to suit his purpose. This would explain why he mentions Er and Onan, and then excludes them, and brought Jacob and Dinah in to replace them. Also why he introduced Zilpah’s daughter Serah (Genesis 46:17).
The original list had thirty three ‘sons’ of Leah. He specifically excluded Er and Onan and brought in Dinah and Jacob to make up the thirty three, the thirty three signifying a complete number (intensified three, compare Genesis 4:24). The second part of the list included Joseph and his two sons, but he excludes them in making up his sixty six, although retaining them in the text. He also now excludes Jacob and introduces Serah. This was necessary to make up the sixty and six (twice thirty and three) and finally the seventy.
Thus for the purpose of the record the number is split into two main groups, one of thirty and three, (intensified three - compare the contrast of seven with seventy and seven in Genesis 4:24), depicting completeness, and one to make up the number sixty six (but see below). Both these groups are therefore ‘complete’ in themselves, being made up, by inference in the second case, of intensified three. And there were ‘three’ in Egypt, Joseph and his two sons. Together with Jacob they make up seventy. Thus the divine completeness of the whole group is made apparent and emphasised to the ancient mind.
‘And these are the names of the children of Israel who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch and Pallu and Hezron and Carmi.’
We know from Genesis 42:37 that Reuben had two sons at that stage (he would be about 46). Therefore two of these must be recent births, possibly twins, or else they may have ‘gone down to Egypt’ in the loins of their father.
‘And the sons of Simeon: Jemuel and Jamin and Ohad and Jachin and Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. And the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. And the sons of Judah: Er and Onan and Shelah and Perez and Zerah. But Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. And the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.’
Joseph was about eighteen when he was sold into slavery (Genesis 37:2) making Judah about twenty two when he married Shua. He was possibly twenty three when he bore Er and Er grew up and married. If Er married at eighteen that would make Judah forty one. Shelah was too young to marry when Er died. Thus when Shelah came of age Judah was at least forty three. So unless Er married very young Judah must have been at the very least forty four when he bore Perez. Thus Perez could not have two children before he moved to Egypt (when Judah was about forty four - Genesis 41:46 plus seven good years plus two bad years plus say five years older than Joseph).
It is clear therefore that Hezron and Hamul were seen as ‘in the loins of Perez’.
‘And the sons of Issachar: Tola and Puvah and Iob and Shimron. And the sons of Zebulun: Sered and Elon and Jahleel. These are the sons of Leah whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, with his daughter Dinah. All the souls of his sons and his daughters were thirty three.’
A count of ‘the sons and daughters’ produces thirty three if we include Er and Onan, who died in Canaan, and exclude Dinah, but they are clearly intended to be excluded. If we exclude them and include Dinah there are only thirty two. Note that the plural is used for ‘daughters’, but we can compare Genesis 46:23 where ‘sons’ is followed by only one son. They were technical descriptions. To make the thirty third Jacob was counted in. But the important thing for the writer was to reach thirty three to demonstrate completeness. He did not mind too much of what it consisted.
This ‘artificiality’ is confirmed by the fact that the final sixty six includes thirty four names in the second part, making sixty six including Dinah but excluding Jacob. This is to indicate double thirty three. Jacob then comes in with Joseph and his sons to make the seventy.
‘And the sons of Gad: Ziphion and Haggi, Shuni and Ezbon, Eri and Arodi and Areli. And the sons of Asher: Imnah and Ishvah and Ishvi and Beriah, and Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob, even sixteen souls.’
Serah is added in to make the ‘sixteen souls’ although she is not a son.
‘The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife, Joseph and Benjamin. And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, daughter of the priest of On bore to him. And the sons of Benjamin: Bela and Becher and Ashbel, Gera and Naaman, Ehi and Rosh, Muppim and Huppim and Ard. These are the sons of Rachel who were born to Jacob. All the souls were fourteen. And the sons of Dan: Hushim. And the sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel and Guni and Jezer and Shillem. These are the sons of Bilhah whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob. All the souls were seven.
Benjamin has ten sons, but we must question whether he has had all ten by this stage. Certainly the impression we have of him as a ‘young man’ does not tie in with this. They are probably seen as going down to Egypt ‘in his loins’, but by the time of the writer they are there to be seen walking about. The writer is careful to number all the groups. In all there are sixteen plus fourteen plus seven making thirty seven. This with the previous thirty three makes seventy.
‘All the souls who came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, all the souls were sixty and six. And the sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt were two souls. All the souls of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.
The writer is careful with his wording. Having made up thirty and three for the first group by including Jacob, he then says all who came ‘with Jacob’ were sixty and six, because there were thirty four in the second group excluding Joseph and his two sons. But he carefully points out that he has not included the sons’ wives. These would have taken the number above seventy and therefore had to be excluded. Reaching the number seventy was the important thing, not because of some attempt to fit in with other writings but because the number seventy was so significant. It signified that the group was divinely complete. But the group as a whole was actually composed of a much larger number because of their households. And they were included in the divine completeness.
Jacob and His Family Tribe Arrive and Settle in Egypt (Genesis 46:28 to Genesis 47:12 )
‘And he sent Judah before him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen.’
Jacob sent Judah ahead to ask Joseph to meet him to show them where they should settle in Goshen. Judah is now clearly seen as the leader of the brothers. The LXX here has ‘to appear before him’ which requires two further letters in the Hebrew, but it also gives the name of a city and therefore must be considered doubtful.
‘And Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and he presented himself to him and fell on his shoulder (Hebrew ‘neck’) and wept on his shoulder a good while. And Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die since I have seen your face that you are still alive.” ’
Joseph comes up in his chariot. If this is before the Hyksos the chariot would be a rare sight in Egypt and would cause something of a sensation on its way. But he wants to reach his father quickly. And when they meet he weeps on his shoulder for some good long while. We are not told if Joseph is accompanied by his retinue but it seems probable that he would have at least some of his bodyguard with him.
Jacob’s happiness and great joy is brought out by his words. Now that he has seen his son is still alive he can die content.
‘And Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s house, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s house, who were in the land of Canaan have come up to me, and the men are shepherds for they have been keepers of cattle, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ And it shall happen that when Pharaoh shall call you and shall say, ‘What is your occupation?’, you will say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of cattle from our youth, even until now, both we and our fathers’, that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” ’
Joseph is clearly very concerned that they should settle in Goshen. That was his purpose from the beginning (Genesis 45:10). He knows that it will be better for them there. It is good pasture and they will meet their own kind. They might be very miserable elsewhere in Egypt because of the general attitude to shepherds and foreigners. Pharaoh has, however, said that they can live anywhere and he is a little afraid that Pharaoh might, with the best of intentions, insist on somewhere else. So with his knowledge of affairs he briefs them on what to say so as to get his way.
“I will go up and tell Pharaoh.” Pharaoh had told him to bring them to Egypt. Now he must report back on his accomplishment of the task. He knows then that Pharaoh will call them into his presence. This is a great privilege indeed, but it will be because they are his kinsfolk. Then they must know what to say.
“Your servants have been keepers of cattle--.” This will turn Pharaoh’s mind towards Goshen.
“Every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” They were probably looked on as uncivilised and irreligious.
‘Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said, “My father and my brothers, and their flocks and their herds, and all that they have, have come out of the land of Canaan, and behold they are in the land of Goshen.”
“Went in.” Pharaoh lived an isolated life in his palaces as befitted a god. Apart from his high officials entry to him was difficult and all who entered his presence must be suitably clothed, washed and shaved. Joseph would make the usual preparations before entering in his regalia as Vizier. He enters alone. Court etiquette demands that he speak to Pharaoh himself before bringing in his brothers. Pharaoh might decide not to see them.
Astutely he lays the foundation. He stresses their flocks and their herds and that they are now settled temporarily in Goshen. But it is Pharaoh who will have the last word. Meanwhile outside in an antechamber await his brothers and his father.
‘And from among his brothers he selected five men and presented them to Pharaoh.’
Five was the Egyptian number of completeness and thus Pharaoh would see five as suitably representing the whole. They too would need to be washed and shaved, and clothed in suitable clothing. They would enter his presence and abase themselves before him.
‘And Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, both we and our father.” And they said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servant’s flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now therefore we pray you, let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.”
Joseph knew what question they would be asked. He had seen such visitors questioned many times before. And his brothers knew what to reply. They stressed that they were shepherds and needed pasture for their flocks. But they made clear that they were not presuming. They asked only what had been granted many times before to similar Asian shepherds, permission to sojourn in the land of Goshen while the famine is on. The rest is up to Pharaoh.
‘And Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, saying, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen. And if you know any able men among them then make them rulers over my cattle.” ’
Pharaoh gives his response to their request, and it is generous. There is no question of temporary sojourning. They must be given the very best. Joseph can select anywhere he wants for them to settle in, and as they have requested it, let it be in the land of Goshen. What is more, if any are suitable they are to be given high and important positions among those who look after Pharaoh’s own cattle.
Joseph then seeks to introduce his father.
‘And Joseph brought in Jacob his father and set him before Pharaoh. And Jacob blessed Pharaoh.’
Jacob comes in before Pharaoh. We need not doubt that he too behaves with great respect but he takes advantage of the privilege of an old man and a patriarch, in ancient days respected in all societies, and pronounces a blessing on Pharaoh.
‘And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many years are the years of your life.”
Pharaoh can see how old Jacob is, and is clearly impressed. His question is one of respect and courtesy. The full and perfect life in Egypt was seen as one hundred and ten years. But he can see that Jacob is older even than that.
‘And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty years. Few and evil have been the years of the days of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh.’
Jacob cannot prevent himself from a quiet boast in the most respectful manner. He lets Pharaoh know that he is one hundred and thirty years old but that compared with his fathers he is still but a comparatively young man. His words indicate that this is partly due to the great problems and trials he has faced.
“The days of the years of my sojourning --- the days of their sojourning.” This too is a quiet reminder of the transitoriness of life. Men do not belong here, they sojourn. Pharaoh, with his belief that in the afterlife he would live on as Osiris would appreciate that.
Jacob again blesses Pharaoh. We do not know what form the blessing would take but it would possibly be a standard patriarchal blessing, probably in the name of Yahweh.
‘And Joseph placed his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses. And Joseph provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food according to the number of their dependents.’
Joseph gladly obeys Pharaoh. The best of the land would belong to Pharaoh and in his name he is able to take possession of it and allocate it to his family.
“In the land of Rameses.” It would not be called this until much later (when Rameses was Pharaoh in 13th century BC). Moses probably made this change to a name familiar to his own readers and listeners who would remember from whence they had come.
And not only were they settled in the best of the land but they received ample food to feed all their retainers throughout the famine.
Joseph Feeds Egypt During the Famine On Behalf of Pharaoh (Genesis 47:13-26)
We should recognise that what follows is schematised to some extent. Not all silver would run out for everyone at the same time, some would keep their cattle and herds longer than others, the description covers the general picture. But in the end all would succumb for the famine goes on and on. It must be remembered that Egypt looked on the land of Canaan as under her control, sometimes more so, sometimes less so, and therefore recognised some sense of responsibility towards it.
‘And there was no bread in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan wilted by reason of the famine. And Joseph gathered up all the silver that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan for the corn which they bought, and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. And when the silver was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us bread, for why should we die in your presence? For our silver fails.” And Joseph said, “Give your cattle, and I will give you corn for your cattle if your money fails.” And they brought their cattle to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses, and for the flocks, and for the herds and for the asses, and he looked after them with bread in exchange for all their cattle that year.’
The famine continues and conditions get more and more severe. Meanwhile silver pours into Pharaoh’s coffers until the majority of people in Egypt and Canaan have no silver left. Then they begin to trade in their herds and flocks, their horses and their asses, until again they had no more of these, and they all belong to Pharaoh. Many would have only a few. And in the end these too run out. For the Egyptians this would not be quite so bad. They probably do not actually hand the animals over, rather they are assigned to Pharaoh and looked on as his property. Then they act as keepers and shepherds for Pharaoh providing each with part of the revenue (compare Genesis 47:24). The high officials over Pharaoh’s cattle (verse 6) would now have plenty to do in organising it all.
“They brought their cattle.” This may refer to the first movement when some would actually bring their cattle for exchange and the agreement is made. Eventually it would become recognised that they can simply be given in pledge. Alternately it may be that they have to bring them to be valued and listed.
“Their horses.” If these are pre-Hyksos days these would be comparatively rare in Egypt which may be why they are mentioned first. While Canaan is not mentioned in 15b it is probably to be understood to some extent (it was the people of Egypt who would approach Joseph about the matter) and the majority of the horses may have come from Canaan or through Canaan from even further afield.
“And he looked after them.” Literally ‘led them’. The word is usually used of a shepherd leading his flocks. Joseph was a shepherd to them.
But the Jacob family tribe are meanwhile kept well provisioned through the good offices of Joseph, and keep their silver and their cattle.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 46". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany