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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 47

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-12


Genesis 47:2. Five men.] The number five was a favourite number with the Egyptians. (Genesis 41:34; Genesis 42:34; Genesis 45:22; Genesis 47:2).—

Genesis 47:7. Jacob blessed Pharaoh.] This word is sometimes used to denote an ordinary salutation. But the salutations used among the pious Hebrews were real prayers addressed to God for blessings on behalf of the person saluted.—

Genesis 47:11. The land of Rameses.] The land of Rameses is mentioned here only. The city is mentioned in (Exodus 1:11; Exodus 12:37; Numbers 33:3; Numbers 33:5). Herroopolis was afterwards substituted by the LXX as the name in their time.—



I. The introduction.

1. Of Joseph’s brethren. In this appears

(1.) Joseph’s character for fidelity to his promise. He had promised to do this for his father and brethren. And now he does not spend his time in indulgence or festive rejoicing, but takes proper steps to fulfil his word.

(2.) Joseph’s respect for constituted authority. His high position would have warranted him in doing much for them on his own authority. But in this important matter of the settlement of his kindred in the country, he will have the direct authority of Pharaoh. It was only proper that they should remain on the borders until all was settled. Joseph accomplishes his purpose by selecting delegates from among his brethren, which gives to the affair the aspect of a public and political transaction.

(3.) The straightforwardness of Joseph’s brethren. (Genesis 47:3-4). They desire to be taken for what they are. They envy not their brother’s grandeur. The answer which they gave to Pharaoh left them no higher ambition than to be appointed as rulers over cattle. They inform him that they are only come to sojourn in the land. They only require a passing accommodation. The Divine plan was impressed upon their minds, and they wish to regard themselves as strangers even in the midst of a nation which affords them peculiar privileges. They reserve for themselves the right of leaving the country when they please. The reception

2. Of Joseph’s father.

(1.) The reverence due to age. (Genesis 47:7). The father is not introduced for the purpose of business, but by way of respect. He would soon pass away, and these arrangements would be of little moment to him. When the young men were introduced they stood. Jacob, in honour of his years and in compassion for his infirmities, is set before Pharaoh.

(2.) The priesthood of age. “Jacob blessed Pharaoh.” Here was the patriarch and priest of God’s church before the mightiest monarch on earth. In political position and importance Pharaoh was greater than Jacob. But Jacob was greater than he in the kingdom of God. Therefore he thought it not presumption to act upon this consciousness. His blessing was more than a mere privilege of venerable age. He was a son of Abraham, one to whom the promise was made, “I will bless thee, and thou shalt be a blessing.” He was “a prince,” and had “power with God and man, and prevailed.”

II. The reception.

1. Of the brethren. Pharaoh grants their request, and receives them with courtesy and frankness. He does the best possible for them, as they themselves had limited their ambition. But even within this limit he proposes rewards for superior merit. (Genesis 47:6).—The reception,

2. Of Jacob. Pharaoh was struck with his venerable appearance, and enquires his age. This seems to affect him more than the solemnity of the blessing. But it is probable that he felt the influence of Jacob’s spiritual character. His question was natural under the circumstances and drew a tender and pathetic utterance from the venerable patriarch. (Genesis 47:9.) Concerning himself he speaks—

(1) Of the shortness of his life. His days had been “few.” He “had not attained unto the days of the years of the life of his fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” He was now 130 years old; but Abraham lived to 175, and Isaac to 180 years.

(2) Of the sorrow which filled his life. Neither Abraham nor Isaac had so much toil and trouble. Ever since that day when he beguiled his brother of his birthright; all kinds of bitterness seem to have been mingled with his cup. He was a fugitive for his life from his father’s house. He was compelled to serve seven years for a beloved wife, and then was cheated of his recompence by his deceitful father-in-law. He was doomed to serve seven years longer, and to endure the vexation of having his wages changed ten times. He was grieved by the dishonour of his only daughter, and by the conduct of his sons who revenged it with such reckless cruelty. His beloved wife died in childbed. Then a cloud of sorrow settled upon his soul and remained to the end of his life, only to be removed by the light of another world (Genesis 48:7). His son, Reuben had disgraced the honour of the family by a foul crime. He had lost Joseph for twenty-two years. He had endured the present famine, with all its fearful anxieties. Surely he knew from bitter experience the ills of human life!


Genesis 47:1-3. That they had an occupation Pharaoh took for granted. God made Leviathan to play in the sea (Psalms 104:26); but none to do so upon earth. To be idle is to be evil; and he shall not but do naughtily that does nothing. We may not make religion a mask for idleness. (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12.)—(Trapp.)

Every Government has a right to require that those who enjoy its protection should not be mere vagrants, but by their industry contribute in some way to the public good.—(Fuller.)

Genesis 47:4. The king’s questions corresponded with what Joseph had anticipated. An instance of Joseph’s sagacity.

They wished only to be accounted as strangers and sojourners in Egypt. They had left the land of their inheritance for a season. In five years more a great part of the cattle of Canaan was likely to perish; yet they would not on any account renounce their final interest in that good land of promise. It was the land which the God of their fathers had spied out for them and given them for an everlasting inheritance; and there were their hearts.—(Bush.)

In our dealings with the children of this world no terms should be made to the injury of our eternal inheritance.

Genesis 47:5-6. The purport of Pharaoh’s reply was this, “As to promoting your brethren, it does not seem to suit their calling or their inclinations. I will therefore leave it to you to make them happy in their own way. If there be one or more of them better qualified for business than the rest, let them be appointed chief of my herdsmen.”—(Bush.)

Genesis 47:7. The sight of a prince who had shown such kindness to him and his, in a time of distress, calls forth the most lively sensations of gratitude, and which he is prompted to express by a solemn blessing! How befitting, and how affecting is this! It was reckoned by the Apostle as a truth “beyond all contradiction, that the less is blessed of the better.”—(Fuller.)

Verse 8. The days that are past may be lost, and worse than lost to us, but they are marked down in a book that shall one day be opened. Have we not lost many of our days? What if they are all lost days? What if all that has hitherto been done by us should be produced against us in the day of trial? What need have we to redeem our time?—(Bush.)

Genesis 47:9. The greatness and the littleness of human life. Jacob speaks sadly of his pilgrimage. He calls his days few, though he had attained to twice the age now appointed to man. He calls them evil, though they were not wholly so; for he had long enjoyed riches and honour, and the far higher blessings which come through the favour of God. He alludes, indeed, to the longer life which his fathers had attained. But this is not the real ground of his complaint. It was not because his life was shorter than theirs that he spake these melancholy words. His real reason was, because his life was well nigh over. For it matters not when time has once gone what length it has been. Nothingness, vanity, emptiness, aimlessness—these are the sad characteristics of our human life looked upon from its earthly side.

I. Contrast this poor vanishing life of ours with the great capabilities of our souls. Our time on earth is too short to develop the great powers which God has given us. Life appears both great and small. It is great, in that it is filled with so much thought, feeling and energy; small, in that it is gone in a moment like a bubble that bursts on the wave. When we look upon human life in its works and effects, we see in it the energy of a spiritual existence—the greatness of a soul. But when we look back upon life, it becomes a memory—a mere lapse of time. Thus it is marked by littleness. Yet it is great, in that one moment of strong and noble life within us is worth all the ages of time. Life is disappointing, because the greatness of our souls has no opportunity for working out itself here. As believers, we have to begin here that which only faith can bring to an end. We are gifted with powers which we know must last beyond this life. These have in them the suggestions of immortality. We are forced upon the thought of another life where we shall have room for the expansion of our powers.

II. Consider some facts of human experience.

1. Consider the case of a good man who dies full of days. He may have lived to old age, still we feel that there were germs of goodness in him that had no chance of ripening. He had in him a marvellous kindness, a nobility of mind and heart; but contracted means and opportunities have repressed them, and hindered their proper issues. We feel as if his life had been a failure, as if his mind had never reached its true scope, as if the blossoms of his generous soul had been nipped. His days have been “few and evil.”

2. Consider the case of a good man who dies before his time. That is as we count such. There are some Christian men who in a single moment of their lives have shewn a height and majesty of mind which it would take ages fully to develop. Yet they are suddenly taken away. Surely they are reserved for higher things elsewhere. Such have given tokens of their immortality. There is something in the goodness and graces of the Christian life for which this world affords not sufficient room. Such men have not half showed themselves here, nor half put forth their strength.

3. Consider the case of the death-beds of some of the saints. We expect then to see the power of religion manifested, the signs of a hope full of immortality. We listen for a triumphant testimony of the supporting power of God’s grace amidst the awful terrors of death. We look for great and noble words. But how often are we disappointed! Illustrating the preacher’s words, “How dieth the wise man? As the fool.” King Josiah, the zealous servant of the living God, died the death of wicked Ahab, the worshipper of Baal. Death in all its awful forms comes to believers as to other men. By a sudden accident, amidst strangers, in battle, insensible, or seized with raging madness. Thus the golden opportunity is thrown away. The manifestation of the sons of God is hereafter. “It doth not yet appear.”

III. Our duty in the presence of these facts.

1. Seek eternal life. Like our natural life this is also the gift of God’s quickening Spirit. Christ is “the Life.” “He that hath the Son hath Life.” Without the consciousness of this eternal life, human existence is futile, empty of all solid food. No advance in science, and the arts of civilization can reconcile us to the loss of God and the hope of immortality. If there is no living God who is to reward us hereafter, if this present world is the be-all and the end-all of man, then “vanity of vanities” is the epitaph of life, and the universe is but a gigantic sepulchre.

2. Look forwards to the compensations of another world. In the heavenly world, the purposes of our life shall be accomplished, its shortcomings completed, its visions realized, its sorrows compensated.

Genesis 47:10-12. The patriarch could not take leave of the king without again pronouncing a solemn blessing. We discover in this the signs of a hope which reaches beyond all the evils of his life. There is a lasting blessing of the Most High which can swallow up all evil.

Joseph continued to nourish and cherish them “as a little child is nourished.” And thus he is made, more than at the birth of Manasseh, to forget all his toil, and all the distresses which he had met with in his father’s house.

Verses 13-26


Genesis 47:21. He removed them to cities.] Heb.—According to the cities. “Thus he distributed the population of the land in and around the cities according to the cities in which the grain was stored, so as to produce the easiest distribution of the supplies among them.” (Jacobus.)—

Genesis 47:22. Only the land of the priests bought he not.] “The Egyptian priesthood was already placed by Pharaoh upon an independent and separate basis. Wilkinson shows from the monuments that only the kings and priests and the military (who held lands of the king) are represented as landowners. Heeren finds in his researches that a greater, perhaps the greatest and best, part of the land was in the possession of the priests.” (Jacobus.)—A portion assigned them of Pharaoh.] They had daily rations from the king. Thus they had no occasion to sell their land, though it was rendered useless by the famine.—

Genesis 47:24. The fifth part unto Pharaoh.] “The royalty here proposed for the occupiers of the land to pay does not, says Knobel, appear exorbitant. The tenth of the produce of the soil, and also of the flocks, seems to have been a common royal tribute (1 Samuel 8:15; 1 Samuel 8:17; Leviticus 27:30). The kings of Syria received from the conquered Jews (1Ma. 10:3) a third part of the seed, (i.e. cereal crops), and half the fruit of the trees.” (Alford.)—

Genesis 47:26. Except the land of the priests only which became not Pharaoh’s.] “Knobel remarks, that this account is confirmed by history. Diodorus Siculus relates that the only possessors of land in Egypt were the king, the priestly and the warrior-caste: from these the occupiers rented the land” (Alford.)

Genesis 47:31. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.] “On receiving the solemn promise of Joseph, he turns towards the head of the bed, and assumes the posture of adoration, rendering, no doubt, thanks to God for all the mercies of his past life, and for this closing token of filial duty and affection. The LXX has the rendering, ‘on the top of his staff,’ which is given in Hebrews 11:21. This is obtained by a mere change in the vowel pointing of the last word.” (Murphy.)



I. He introduced a great political and social revolution. The famine was sore in the land. The private supplies of the people being exhausted, they were obliged to purchase. Joseph’s foresight had filled the granaries with corn, and therefore to him the people applied. The inhabitants, with the nations around, first parted with their money, for the necessaries of life must be had. This enriched the king’s treasury; and without injustice, for the corn which was stored up was bought with his own private money. When the people’s money failed they brought their cattle. (Genesis 47:17.) And when they had parted with these, they brought their land; and, lastly, their persons. (Genesis 47:20-23.) The effect of all this was, that everything became the property of the state. “The land became Pharaoh’s.” On behalf of Pharaoh Joseph could say, “I have bought you.” But thereby they did not become bondsmen. The term signifies rather, “I have acquired you.” Nothing is said concerning servitude. There is simply to be a fixed income tax. They are not to be subject to arbitrary enactions, but to pay a fixed rent.

II. His conduct therein admits of justification. Joseph has been charged with being the tool of an ambitious and despotic ruler, using his foresight and skill in order to reduce a free people to poverty and slavery. But the following considerations may be urged in justification of the course he pursued.

1. He bought the corn by the king’s command and not as ordered of the people. He paid full price for the corn during the plentiful years. The purchase-money came out of the king’s private purse.

2. If the people had believed the word of God as the king did, they might have laid by grain for themselves. The straits to which they were put partook of the nature of a punishment. They had the same opportunity as the king, and they might have laid by for the years of famine. But they paid no regard to Joseph’s prophetic dreams. Even the years of plenty did not convince them. They mostly used it for purposes of luxury.

3. It was expedient that the people’s wants should be supplied, not by gifts, but by sale. Otherwise idleness would be encouraged, and the public peace endangered. Joseph’s policy promoted industry and loyalty.

4. This measure actually preserved the people from starvation, and provided them with securities for their future prosperity. They were hereby saved from famine. They had a regular tax to pay, and so were preserved from any arbitrary rule. They were, in every sense, a free people; for taxes do not make people slaves. Land, property, and labour must be protected by public authority and laws. For these necessary and beneficial purposes the people pay taxes. By means of Joseph’s measure the people were placed under the protection of a statute law. They knew the utmost extent of their liability.

5. The people were satisfied with Joseph’s administration. “Thou hast saved our lives.” (Genesis 47:25.) Such was the people’s verdict in favour of Joseph’s policy. They, who could best understand all the circumstances of the case, pronounce this favourable opinion. They were willing to render the required service to the king.


Genesis 47:13-26. From this time every man held his property and his life in fiefship to the king. This suggests to us two parallel cases, the constitution of ancient Israel and of modern England. In ancient Israel we find something parallel. When the destroying angel passed over the houses of the Egyptians, the firstborn of the Israelites were spared. It was then held that every Israelite was bought with blood, and the firstborn of every family offered sacrifice for himself. Afterwards, one tribe was substituted for the firstborn of Israel, consecrated to be priests. If we remember that the tribe of Levi represented the whole nation of Israel, we shall then understand the tenure upon which each man was in covenant with God. He was touched with blood, and thus every power was consecrated to Jehovah’s service. We also find this principle in the constitution of England. The king is the supreme lord of all property; against the king every crime that is committed is considered to be done. This principle, in three different nations, rests on a separate historical fact. In the case of Egypt, it rested on the preserving the people from famine; in that of Israel, in passing over the first born, and in that of England, on the conquest of the country by one of its ancient kings. That which Joseph meant to teach was the right of monarchy and the duty of the people to their king. In the case of Israel, that which was to be taught was that God was their sovereign, representing to them the majesty of the law. And our loyalty we give to the sovereigns, not because they are the representatives of the majority of the people, but because they are the chosen symbols of that which assuredly came from no people’s will, the eternal law of God, the law of right and wrong.—(Robertson.)

Verses 27-28



I. Their quiet possession of the land.

1. They had the means and appliances of prosperity. They were saved from great privations, and they dwelt in a fertile land, most favourably suited to their industry.

2. They enjoyed their freedom by a firm and honourable tenure. They were hampered by no relations of dependence upon Pharaoh that would be irksome to them.

II. Their prosperity. By the peculiar blessing of God, this people grew into the promise of a great nation. Several things contributed to this. They had a definite territory exactly suited to their calling. They were free from moral contamination by intermarriages with an idolatrous nation. But above all, God bestowed upon them the blessing of an extraordinary fruitfulness. Old Jacob lived with them for seventeen years, and saw the commencement of this wonderful history. Thus he survived the famine by twelve years, and saw prosperity with his children.


Genesis 47:27-28. It is a remarkable circumstance that until now we read of only two daughters in the family of Jacob. The brothers could not marry their sisters, and it was not desirable that the females should form affinity with the heathen, as they had in general to follow the faith of their husbands.—(Murphy.)

Seventeen years. So long he had nourished Joseph; and so long Joseph nourished him. These were the sweetest days that ever Jacob saw. God reserved his best to the last. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for”—be his beginning, and his middle never so troublesome—“the end of that man is peace.” (Psalms 37:37). A Goshen he shall have, either here or in heaven.—(Trapp.)

Verses 29-31



Jacob felt that the inevitable hour was drawing nigh. “The time drew nigh that Israel must die,”—even this man who had “power over the angel and prevailed.” He calmly prepares for the end of his earthly pilgrimage:—

I. By an act of faith. He engages Joseph by a solemn oath not to bury him in Egypt, but in the sepulchre of his fathers in Canaan. There was in this request the expression of a natural feeling. Men naturally desire to have at last with their kindred some kind of union in the grave. But with Jacob, there was a desire beyond this; a desire born of strong faith in God. Like Joseph, afterwards, he “by faith gave commandment concerning his bones.” He believed in God’s promise, and remembered His holy covenant. And as a sign of his faith, he desired that his body should take a previous possession of the promised land.

II. By an act of adoration. “Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.” In Hebrews 11:21, it is said that “he worshipped leaning on the top of his staff.” He adored the power and the goodness of God. He expressed the gratitude of his heart for past mercies, for God’s appearances to him in the time of trouble, for his faith often in darkness, but still patient to wait for the light; for the assurance of the truth of the Divine promise that his seed should inherit the land, and for the prospect before him of seeing God’s salvation, which he had so long waited for. He would also thank God for the closing token of filial duty rendered by his beloved son. The staff by which he crossed the Jordan, and which was with him through all his weary pilgrimage would, by the power of association, aid him to remember all the way which the Lord, his God, had led him.


Genesis 47:29-30. This he requested, partly to testify his faith concerning the Promised Land, heaven, and the resurrection; partly to confirm his family in the same faith; and that they might not be glued to the pleasures of Egypt, but wait for their return to Canaan; and partly also to declare his love to his ancestors, together with the felicity he took in the communion of saints.—(Trapp).

Although we know that we can have no converse with our kindred in that house of silence, yet it gives us some pleasure while we yet live to think that our dust shall mingle with the dust of those whom we love. But the Apostle acquaints us with the secret of his injunction. (Hebrews 11:22). By having his dead body conveyed to that land, he published to his seed and to the world that he believed and embraced the promise, and that he was well satisfied both with the country and with the security given him for the possession of it. In this emphatic declaration of his faith he had in view also the benefit of survivors.—(Bush).

Genesis 47:31. He could not go to an altar built for sacrifices of praise; but he exerted all the vigour left him, with the help of his staff, on which he leaned, and performed his devotions in such a posture as showed his reverence and joy.—(Bush).

The venerable man, however, is not yet at the point of death, but is desirous of setting things in order, that when he comes to die he may have nothing else to think about.—(Fuller).

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 47". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/genesis-47.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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