Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, May 26th, 2024
Trinity Sunday
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Genesis 47

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verse 3

Genesis 47:3

What is your occupation?


Pharaoh’s question to the brethren of Joseph

Evidently implying THAT EACH OF US HAS, OR IS INTENDED TO HAVE, AN “OCCUPATION.” Now the word “occupation,” in its primary meaning, signifies “employment” or “business”; and the text leads us to infer that each individual amongst us has some such employment or business, for the due discharge of which we are accountable to Him whose Providence has imposed it upon us. Had man been sent into the world with no other object than merely to spend a few days or years in this fleeting scene, and then to pass off the stage of life and cease for ever to exist, the question as to any occupation he might have need never be raised. The more easily and pleasantly such a life could be got over, the better. With regard to the things of the present life, hear what the Scriptures declare: “Seest thou a man,” says Solomon, “diligent in his business, he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men” (Proverbs 22:29). The Apostle Paul, while urging the Romans to “fervency of spirit in the service of God,” enforces the important admonition to be “not slothful in business” Romans 12:11). If from precepts we pass on to examples, we find the duty of “ diligence in business” strikingly set before us in the conduct of the holy men of old, the saints and servants of the Lord. And surely, brethren, with regard to things of infinitely higher moment, it must be needless to remind professing Christians that they have a word entrusted to them, an “occupation” which demands unwearied attention, incessant watchfulness, and fervent prayer. Throughout, by precept as well as by example, we are urged to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12).

To inquire into THE NATURE OF THIS OCCUPATION WITH RESPECT TO DIFFERENT CLASSES OF INDIVIDUALS. Altogether unoccupied we cannot be: if the service of God does not engage our attention, the service of Satan will. But when the question is proposed--“What is your occupation?” from how few, comparatively, have we the comfort of receiving the reply--“I am occupied about my Father’s business!” Now, let us take a briefreview of some of the various occupations in which different individuals are engaged.

1. Look at the man whose whole time is taken up in the accumulation of earthly riches and possessions, and ask him what is his occupation? He will tell you of the labour and fatigue which he has undergone, in search of his much-loved idols, and what reward can such a man expect, in return for all his worldly and selfish schemes? Truly, except he repent, he will find that he has been only “treasuring up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

2. Look, again, at the man whose thoughts and time are engrossed with the pursuit of worldly ambition and consequence; and ask him what is his occupation? He will answer that his great object is to get himself a name upon earth. Truly may they be said to grasp at a shadow, and soon lose the reality. “Them that honour Me,” says God, “I will honour; and they that despise Me”--however high they may stand with the world--“shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Samuel 2:30).

3. Look, once again, at the man whose whole time is devoted to earthly pleasures and sinful enjoyments, and ask him “what is his occupation.” His course of life answers for itself. You see him busied in the frivolous and unprofitable amusements of the world, and eagerly pursuing its vanities and follies. “What fruit have ye in those things whereof ye have cause to be ashamed? for the end of those things is death” (Romans 6:21). But now, go and ask the Christian “what is his occupation.” “This,” he will say, “this is my occupation, and these are the happy fruits of it; I have tried God, and I have not found Him a hard master: I have put His promises to the proof, and not one of them has failed; I now know that He ‘is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that I could ask or think.’ In His blessed service, therefore, through Divine grace, will I be occupied henceforth and for ever.” Let this occupation be yours. (S. Coates, M. A.)

On occupation

Activity is the life of nature. The planets rolling in their orbits, the earth revolving on her axis; the atmosphere purified by winds, the ocean by tides; the vapours rising from the ground and returning in freshening flowers, exhaled from the sea, and poured again by rivers into its bosom, proclaim the universal law. Turn to animated existence. See the air, the land, and the waters in commotion with countless tribes eagerly engaged in attack, in defence, in the construction of habitations, in the chase of prey, in employment suited to their sphere and conducive to their happiness. Is man born an exception to the general rule? Man is born to labour. For labour, man while yet innocent was formed (Genesis 2:15). To that exertion which was ordained to be a source of unmitigated delight, painful contention and overwhelming fatigue, when man apostatised from his God, were superadded (Genesis 3:17-18). In the early years of the world employments now confined to the lowest classes were deemed not unbecoming persons of the most elevated rank. From every individual in his dominions, and from each according to his vocation, Pharaoh looked for diligent exertion. From every, individual among us, as throughout His boundless empire, the supreme Lord of all demands habitual labour in the daily employment of the talents entrusted to our management. Let us then, in the first place, contemplate the motives under the guidance of which we are, each of us, to labour: secondly, some of the general lines of human labour as connected with their attendant temptations; and thirdly, the principal benefits immediately resulting from occupation.

WHATSOEVER YE DO, DO ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD. Behold the universal motive of a Christian! Through the exuberance of the free bounty of God. To whom ought the gift to be consecrated? To Him who bestowed it. For whose glory ought it to be employed? For the glory of the Giver. To live unto Christ is to glorify God. To glorify God through Christ with your body and your spirit, which are His, is the appointed method of attaining the salvation which Christ has purchased.


Consider briefly SOME OF THE BENEFITS RESULTING TO THE INDIVIDUAL FROM OCCUPATION; and you will confess that, if God enjoined labour as a judgment, he enjoined it also in mercy.

1. Labour, in the first place, not only is the medium of acquisition; but naturally tends to improvement. Whether the body is to be strengthened or the mind to be cultivated; by the labour of to-day are augmented the faculties of attaining similar objects to-morrow.

2. Labour is, in the next place, a powerful preservative from sin. The unoccupied hand is a ready instrument of mischief.

3. Occupation, originating in Christian principles and directed to Christian purposes, is essential, not only to the refreshing enjoyment of leisure (for the rest that refreshes is rest after toil); but to the acquisition of genuine composure, of serenity of conscience, of that peace of God which passeth all understanding.


1. Consider with attention proportioned to the importance of the subject the universal obligation to labour. If you wish to withdraw your shoulder from the burden; suspect the soundness of your Christian profession. For those whom you love, even at the desire of those whom you love, you delight to labour. Do you love God, and loiter when He commands you to work for Him?

2. Be frequent in proposing to yourself the inquiry, “What is my occupation?” Satisfy yourself, not merely that you are occupied in employments acceptable to God. To labour in trifles is not Christian occupation. To labour in sin is to labour for the devil. (T. Gisborne, M. A.)


OUR NEED OF AN OCCUPATION. Divine provision implies human need. It also measures and meets it.

1. Economically. Work is to the race an absolute condition of existence. Since the fall the ground yields a full fruit only to labour (Genesis 3:17; Genesis 3:19). Only on condition that he works can man be fed (Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 6:10). Idleness is an anomaly, a blunder, and a sin.

2. Physiologically. The health and growth of our powers depend on it. The body was not made to be still. It requires motion, and craves for it. A mind inert becomes enfeebled, whereas intellectual activity tends to intellectual strength. So also in the spiritual ,department: the spiritual nature grows by exercise, and languishes in inactivity. Opportunities of loving increase the capacity to love.

3. Morally: Idleness is the natural ally of immorality. The laziest lives are notoriously the most vicious. Good, honest work has a double action. It keeps down appetite and it keeps out of temptation’s way.

THE OCCUPATION WE NEED. Occupation, like other good things, may be abused, and so become the occasion of evil. This happens--

1. When our occupation is followed to the point of drudgery. Distinguish work from toil. The one strengthens our powers, the other wastes them.

2. When our occupation is one-sided. A tree that makes much wood makes little fruit. A man who over-works his body neglects his mind. A man absorbed in secular matters neglects and will soon bring atrophy to his moral nature. Activity in one direction cannot be exaggerated but at the expense of neglect in another. We can do only one thing well at a time. The Christian who thrives finds time somehow for spiritual exercises, and the exclusive consideration of spiritual things.

THE PROPER END OF ALL OCCUPATION. There must be not only work and lawful work, but the doing of this with lofty purpose. The true work is work done as service to God--“as to the Lord and not to men.” Application:

1. Recognize the universal obligation to work.

2. Try to find your enjoyment in your work.

3. Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto eternal life. (J. Edgar Henry, M. A.)

Verses 5-6

Genesis 47:5-6

In the best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell

The best gifts of God bestowed on His people


In the first place, GOD GIVETH THE BEST UNTO HIS TRUE ISRAEL. He gives them a land of rest, He gives them a land of safety, He gives them a land of abundance, and He giveth them the best things in that land. He not only pardons them, but His pardon is a costly pardon. He not only gives them righteousness, but He gives them a glorious righteousness. Does He supply their wants? It is all fulness He gives them; even for the supply of the little ones, as you observe in the twenty-fourth verse: “And it shall come to pass, in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth part unto Pharaoh; and four parts shall be your own, for the seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for food for your little ones,” unfolding this great truth--that the supply which is in Christ, is not only for the least, but for the least wants of the least; that there is nothing minute in God’s sight. He has provided for helplessness of body, for nervousness of spirit, for a distracted mind, for strong inward temptations, for outward trials, for domestic afflictions, for everything that concerns us in that straight way, the straightness of which at times no one can enter into but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

But now observe, secondly, WHY IT IS GOD DOES THIS.

1. Wherever God acteth, He acted as God--greatly; what He doeth, He doeth as God, worthy God. You and I act below ourselves; God never can act below Himself. The great God in His forgiveness is great; in His righteousness He is great; in the abundant supplies of His grace He is great; in the freeness of His salvation He is great; in the sympathies of His love He is great; and that because He is God (see Isaiah 55:7-9; Hosea 11:8-9).

2. But there is another reason; that is, the love which He bears towards His Israel. Who can describe what that love is?

3. But there is another reason, and I think, if I were to lose sight of that, I should lose sight of the Gospel itself; every blessing that the Israel of God enjoy, they enjoy for the true Joseph’s sake. It is not for their sakes, but it is for Christ’s sake.


1. Great cause for deep thankfulness.

2. Then there is in the subject that which should lead to great stirring up of desire. We should desire that we may enter into the best of the land.

3. I am sure we have great cause for deep abasement as we think of the subject. God has given us the best; what have we given Him? (J. H.Evans, M. A.)

Verse 7

Genesis 47:7

And Joseph brought in Jacob his father

Joseph and his father



JOSEPH HONOURED HIS FATHER BY SHOWING HIS LOVE FOR HIM. One of our martyr-Presidents never stood higher in the nation’s eyes than when he turned around, after his inauguration, and, before all the assembled thousands, greeted his mother with a filial kiss.

JOSEPH HONOURED HIS FATHER BY HIS PURE AND NOBLE LIFE. Words of respect are comparatively worthless unless they have a life behind them.

JOSEPH HONOURED HIS FATHER BY PRESENTING HIM SO PROMPTLY TO PHARAOH. He shows not a particle of shame of his rusticity, Jacob’s homespun must have contrasted strangely with Pharaoh’s purple; Jacob’s uncouth phrases of country-life with the king’s polished diction. Joseph knew well enough how such people were ordinarily despised at the court, and yet how he omits no chance to show to Pharaoh how much he loved and honoured his father. The story is told of the Dean of Canterbury, afterwards Archbishop Tillotson, that one day after he had attained his churchly honours, an old man from the country, with uncouth manners, called at his door and inquired for John Tillotson. The foot man was about to dismiss him with scorn for presuming to ask in that familiar way for his master, when the Archbishop caught sight of his visitor and flew down the stairs to embrace the old man before all the servants, exclaiming with tones of genuine delight, “It is my beloved father!” We all admire such exhibitions of filial love, which overcomes the fear of the cool conventionalities of the world, and we find from our lesson that Pharaoh was touched by his prime minister’s loyalty to his poor relations, for he gave him this royal token of his pleasure: “The land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and thy brethren to dwell;” &c. (F. E. Clark.)

An interview with royalty

I desire to linger awhile on this thrilling scene. There are wise, good lessons in it.

1. I look upon it first of all and see an attractive picture of venerable old age. “The hoary head is a crown of glory,” says Solomon, “if it he found in the way of righteousness.” Age invests many things with a beauty of its own. An aged oak, wide-spread, gnarled, and weather-warped, stalwart, green, and stately; or an ancient castle, weatherworn and storm-swept, moss-clad and ivy-covered, its grey towers still standing bold and brave to all the winds of heaven; but of all attractive pictures that old time can draw, nothing is more winsome than the silver locks and mellowed features of godly old age. They remind me of some retired Greenwich or Chelsea veteran who can tell the tale of scars and wounds, of hair-breath escapes, of brave comrades, of stirring campaigns, of hard-fought battles; only this has been a holier war, followed by a dearer peace and more sweet reward and victories than ever followed Trafalgar or Waterloo. So with the godly character. It is beautiful in all its stages from youth to manhood; hut surely, fairest of all when age, experience, and grace hath ripened it into saintliness, and something of the heavenly shines outward from the soul within. As I look upon this aged patriarch confronting all the splendours of Pharaoh’s court, I see him standing on the utmost border, waiting to be ushered into the presence of a grand Monarch, into a fairer palace, and among a richer and nobler throng, and where he himself will be the wearer of a richer crown. As I look upon this strange scene in Pharaoh’s palace, I see that there is something grander and more powerful in moral worth than in any kind or amount of material power or possessions. In the epistle to the Hebrews I find this sentence, “Without contradiction, the less is blessed of the greater.” Jacob has something and can procure something which makes the monarch less than he, something which makes him better and greater than the king. It is the blessing of God. It is power with God. It is that influence from heaven and with heaven which belongs to moral goodness and virtue, and especially to aged piety everywhere and at all times. And Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Never forget that righteousness is far away greater than the riches.

2. And once more, as I look upon that striking scene in Pharaoh’s palace and listen to the aged patriarch’s words, I think of his testimony concerning life. He calls it a pilgrimage. Young men! have you ever thought of that? Behind you there is a stern uncompromising power that is always muttering, “Move on! Move on! March through the moments! hurry through the hours! tramp along the days! tread through the mouths! stride along the years! You can’t halt! You can’t step backward. Move on!” Oh, but this is a tremendous view of human life! God help us from this hour to walk aright; to keep the path of duty, the ways of the Lord, lest the later stages of our pilgrimage find us in swamp and quagmire, scorching desert or thorny jungle when our strength is exhausted and the dull night winds blow!

3. I notice, too, that Jacob calls his days evil days. He means by that they had been sorrowful, full of trouble and care. Well, his was a hard life, he had had disappointment and distress beyond the common. If you will read his history you will find that his own conduct had to answer largely for his cares; his sins were the seed of his sorrows; his wrong-doing caused the very most of his rough usage, and nobody knew that better than Jacob did himself. Sin is the mother of sorrow, and its seeds sown in the life are sure to bring a harvest of pain. There is an Australian weapon called the boomerang, which is thrown so as to describe a series of curves and comes back at last to the feet of the thrower. Sin is a boomerang which we throw off into space, but it turns upon its author, and strikes the soul that launched it.

4. Learn another lesson from this striking picture--a lesson of God’s sure faithfulness. Jacob with all his faults had served and trusted God. His troubles and distresses had helped to bring him more fully into pious confidence and patient faith; and his trust in God brought about all things right at last. (J. J. Wray.)

Jacob and Pharaoh

1. The chief value of this narrative is that it affords one of the most impressive of all illustrations of the providential purposes of God.

2. We gain here some insight into the business regulations of a successful government. Pharaoh appears to have been a model king. He managed the state on business principles. The first question he asked these strangers who had come to settle in his kingdom was, “What is your occupation?” Such a government expects its subjects to be men of business. No idlers were wanted there in time of famine; none but men of ability, active habits, prudence, capacity.

3. We find in this scene an example of courtesy. There is a touching simplicity and an air of vivid reality in this picture, which leads to intuitive recognition of its genuineness. Jacob respected Pharaoh’s office, and Pharaoh respected Jacob’s age.

4. We have here also a model for conversation.

5. This scene suggests a sad retrospect. Jacob as a prince had prevailed with God. He had gained the birthright, but he had not escaped the consequences of his own sins. Men do not escape the fruits of sin by receiving honours in the kingdom of God. God’s grace may brighten the future, but nothing else than righteous living can make happy memories; and the shadows of youthful transgression stretch across a long life.

6. We have in this scene a remainder of our eternal relations with God. (A. E. Dunning.)

Jacob and Pharaoh

A STRANGE MEETING. Meetings of historical characters and their results an interesting study (Diogenes and Alexander, Columbus and Ferdinand, Luther and Charles V., Milton and Galileo, &c.). None more remarkable than this.

1. Strange circumstances led to it.

2. A strange introduction given to it. Joseph presented five of his brethren to the king. These probably were the five eldest, who were at this time advanced in life.

3. Strange conversation marked it. Pharaoh, apparently overwhelmed by the venerable aspect of Jacob, inquired his age. Jacob, talking to a much younger man, calls his own life short.

4. Strange consequences flowed from it. Nearly 400 years ago this meeting left its mark on history, never to be effaced. Consequences to Israel and Egypt.

5. After the farewell was spoken they appear to have never seen each other again.


1. A patriarch, and a prince. The one the head of God’s chosen people, now numbering a few souls, to become a nation; the other the head of a mighty people, already a great nation.

2. A servant of God, and a worshipper of idols. The one the head of a people who were to become great and powerful; the other the king of a nation that should afterwards be humbled.

3. An Israelitish shepherd, and an Egyptian monarch. The occupation of the one an abomination to the other.

4. A poor man, and a rich man. The one, through his son, the benefactor and the deliverer of the other.

5. A very aged man, and a man in the prime of life. Age of Pharaoh uncertain, but the age of Jacob 130 years.

A STRANGE COMMENT, i.e., on life.

1. It is a pilgrimage. Not a settled, permanent, certain ,state. A journey from the cradle to the grave. Among strange people, scenes, trials, and joys. Over hills of prosperity and across plains of content, down valleys of sorrow and poverty.

2. Counted by days. The unit of measurement very short. Know not what a day may bring forth.

3. Few. Yet 130 years. How few are our years! Few as compared with eternity; or even with life of many (Methuselah, &c.). Few, compared with hopes, projects, &c.

4. Evil. Full of sin, sorrow, &c. Little done that is good. Man born to trouble. Uncertain. Full of changes.

5. Yet the longest life only a pilgrimage, and reckoned by days. Learn:

1. The best meeting for us is the meeting of the penitent sinner with the merciful Saviour. Arrangements are made for it, good results will inevitably flow from it. The closet is the audience-chamber.

2. The best contrast for us is between the old state of nature and the new state of grace. May we all realize it, and enjoy its blessings.

3. Then our new life, hopes, &c., will be a comment on the Saviour’s power, and on the work of the Holy Spirit (written epistles, &c.). And when this short pilgrimage is over, we shall, in eternity, comment upon the wonderful love of God, and the blessed life in heaven. (J. C. Gray.)

Joseph introduces Jacob and his family to Pharaoh


1. Of Joseph’s brethren. In this appears--

(1) Joseph’s character for fidelity to his promise.

(2) Joseph’s respect for constituted authority.

(3) The straightforwardness of Joseph’s brethren (Genesis 47:3-4).

2. Of Joseph’s father.

(1) The reverence due to age.

(2) The priesthood of age.


1. Of the brethren.

2. Of Jacob. (T. H. Leale.)

Joseph’s filial conduct


1. Approaching the king.

2. Speaking for others.

3. Presented to the king.


1. Kindly inquiry (Genesis 47:3).

2. Truthful statement (Genesis 47:4).

3. Generous permission (Genesis 47:6).


1. The father honoured (Genesis 47:7).

2. A home bestowed (Genesis 47:11).

3. The family nourished (Genesis 47:12). (American Sunday School Times.)

Growth by transplanting

The conduct of Joseph in reference to the settlement in Goshen is an example of THE POSSIBILITY OF UNITING WORLDLY PRUDENCE WITH HIGH RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLE AND GREAT GENEROSITY OF NATURE. He had promised his brothers a home in that fertile Eastern district, which afforded many advantages in its proximity to Canaan, its adaptation to pastoral life, and its vicinity to Joseph when in Zoan, the capital. But he had not consulted Pharaoh, and, however absolute his authority, it scarcely stretched to giving away Egyptian territory without leave. So his first care, when the wanderers arrive, is to manage the confirmation of the grant. He goes about it with considerable astuteness--a hereditary quality, which is redeemed from blame because used for unselfish purposes and unstained by deceit. He does not tell Pharaoh how far he had gone, but simply announces that his family are in Goshen, as if awaiting the monarch’s further pleasure. Then he introduces a deputation, no doubt carefully chosen, of five of his brothers (as if the whole number would have been too formidable), previously instructed how to answer. He knows what Pharaoh is in the habit of asking, or he knows that he can lead him to ask the required question, which will bring out the fact of their being shepherds, and utilize the prejudice against that occupation, to insure separation in Goshen. All goes as he had arranged. Joseph is a saint and a politician. His shrewdness is never craft; sagacity is not alien to consecration. No doubt it has to be carefully watched lest it degenerate; but prudence is as needful as enthusiasm, and he is the complete man who has a burning fire down in his heart to generate the force that drives him, and a steady hand on the helm, and a keen eye on the chart, to guide him. Be ye “wise as serpents,” but also “harmless as doves.”

WE MAY SEE IN JOSEPH’S CONDUCT ALSO AN INSTANCE OF A MAN IN HIGH OFFICE AND NOT ASHAMED OF HIS HUMBLE RELATIONS. It is as if some high official in Paris were to walk in half-a-dozen peasants in blouse and sabots, and present them to the president as “my brothers.” It was a brave thing to do; and it teaches a lesson which many people in America and England, who have made their way in the world, would be nobler and more esteemed if they learned.

The brothers’ word to Pharaoh is another instance of THAT IGNORANT CARRYING OUT OF THE DIVINE PURPOSES WHICH WE HAVE ALREADY HAD TO NOTICE. They thought of five years, and it was to be nearly as many centuries. They thought of temporary shelter and food; God meant an education of them and their descendants. Over all this story the unseen Hand hovers, chastising, guiding, impelling; and the human agents are free and yet fulfilling an eternal purpose, blind and yet accountable, responsible for motives, and mercifully ignorant of consequences. So we all play our little parts. We have no call to be curious as to what will come of our deeds. This end of the action, the motive of it, is our care; the other end, the outcome of it, is God’s business to see to.

We may also observe HOW TRIVIAL INCIDENTS ARE WROUGHT INTO GOD’S SCHEME. The Egyptian hatred of the shepherd class secured one of the prime reasons for the removal from Canaan, the unimpeded growth of a tribe into a nation.


Jacob before Pharaoh


1. Picture the old man’s attitude of soul toward God, and death, and the world to come.

2. His retrospect of life, and how he now sees events in their true proportions and bearings.

3. His own subdued passions and amiable spirit.

4. His concern for, and interest in, the rising generation.



1. A natural reflection.

2. It may be a morbid and evil reflection. Better to imitate the Psalmist’s thankful hopefulness (Psalms 23:1-6).


Jacob and Pharaoh




1. The reality of Joseph’s love for his brothers, as well as for his lather, is found in the abundant provision he made for them all.

2. This evidence of Joseph’s forgiveness of his brother’s great wrong to him, and of his care for them, completes the picture of one of the most beautiful characters presented in history.

3. And this perfection of character, combining so many qualities, presents him to us not only as a beautiful model of manliness, of filial and fraternal love, but also as one of the most perfect types of our great exemplar, the Lord Jesus Christ.


1. God’s faithfulness to His people.

2. Notwithstanding the Divine love, God’s people are not exempt from suffering.

3. A good son maketh the heart of his father to rejoice.

4. Let us learn more perfectly the duty of loving one another. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

Verse 8

Genesis 47:8

Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou?


Old year’s theme: “How old art thou?"



1. It is the solemnity of memory.

2. It is the solemnity of responsibility.

3. The question ought to create a solemn gratitude.


HIS LIFE MEASURED. “Days.” It is best not to take life in the lump, but to study it in detail.



1. He compared them with the ages of his fathers, and they seemed few.

2. Perhaps he compared them also with the great age of the world.

3. Compared with the solemn eternity, how short is our mortal career!

HIS LIFE EVIL. A biography whose lines were written in tears.

HIS LIFE A PILGRIMAGE. (Chas. F. Deems, D. D.)

Time reckoned

Life always seems short in the retrospect; and that light of past experience is the only true light. He only who has paced the ground knows it. Life’s true measure is not years, but epochs of progress towards the ideal which the Creator has set before us. As the tree’s chronicles are its rings, so those of the soul are its definite expansions.

Ask yourself, how far am I advanced in my KNOWLEDGE OF TRUTH. Do I know God yet? Do I know Christ and Him crucified? Do I discern spiritual things, or am I yet but a babe “crying for the light”?

How much have I developed in CHARACTER, grown in spiritual size, toward the statue of the perfect man in Christ Jesus?

What RECORD have I made in my Lord’s service? Veteran means old; but the soldier attains the title not by years--rather by the campaigns and battles in which he was found faithful. What noble fights have I made against evil? What service rendered the needy? What comfort brought the sick? What help to discouraged souls? (The Homiletic Review.)

How old art thou?

The wise reckoning of time will be of essential use to us--it may save us from overwhelming and eternal disaster.

How OLD ART THOU, O CHRISTIAN, computed by God’s standard?

1. OLD enough to be brought under infinite obligations to God’s redeeming, converting, and preserving grace.

2. Old enough to have made great attainments in the Divine life.

3. Old enough to have learned the ways of a deceitful heart, and the power of the adversary of God and man.

4. Old enough to have caught the heavenly spirit of the Master, and from the land of Beulah to get now and then a ravishing view of the unutterable glory beyond.


1. Old enough to have run up a fearful account against thy soul in “the book of God’s remembrance.”

2. Old enough to make the work of future repentance extremely bitter and difficult.

3. Old enough to make it well-nigh certain, if you still persist in impenitent sin, that you will never retrace your guilty steps and take hold on life. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)

What is your age?

We do not care to know how old you are by the almanac. You may keep this secret, as some are wont to do. But we would like to know to-day what is your age, by some standard, other than that of time.

ARE YOU MEASURING LIFE BY WEALTH? Longevity is not promised to the rich as such, nor to the poor; but those who observe the law of God, which is life to them that keep it (Proverbs 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:47).

ARE YOU MEASURING LIFE BY REPUTATION? Let it be a name for being and doing good, and do not run after even this, but let it follow you, as it certainly will if you keep such an aim before you, though you may, modestly, not consent to it. Two immortalities are possible to you and me--one in this, and another in the other world.

ARE YOU MEASURING LIFE BY ITS LENGTH? The sum of one’s years who has spent none of them for the service of God is equal to zero. His life is a blank.


1. Reflection. The thoughts he expresses are a good index of one’s age.

2. Moderation.’ It is folly to rush through life at break-neck speed. He who goes softly, goes safely; and he who goes safely, goes far.

3. Religion (Proverbs 4:7). (W. H. Luckenbach.)

Pharaoh’s question to Jacob

Let us consider THE QUESTION PUT BY PHARAOH TO JACOB--“How old art thou?” The propriety of looking back to and of considering the past period of our existence is pointed out in Scripture. Of my younger hearers I might ask, “How old art thou?” They could probably give an accurate reply to the question--“I am seven, eight, ten, or fifteen years old.” Well, then, let me ask, what of that? or rather how much does it imply? What sins and neglect does it not remind you of? What duties does it not suggest? Or, I might speak to persons in middle life, or who are verging on its confines. You may have found prosperity, or at least some measure of comfort and respectability attendant on steadiness, sobriety and industry. Your temporal affairs may have been on the whole prosperous; your children may, like olive-branches, have grown up around you. Then, assuredly there is reason for thankfulness, and ground for acknowledging the goodness and long-suffering of a Father in heaven. There is yet a third and less numerous class, to whom the question in the text ought to be impressive--“How old art thou?” You have witnessed changes in society, almost revolutions of opinion. Many with whom you were once intimate have been removed; the haunts of youth are peopled almost entirely by strangers. All things admonish thee to prepare for meeting God; to set thy house in order; to improve the time that remains.

Let us now turn to JACOB’S REPLY, in answer to Pharaoh’s question.

1. As to its length, life may be spoken of as made up of comparatively few days. Looking forward, half, or even a quarter of a century, may seem a protracted time; looking back, it appears greatly diminished.

2. Jacob’s address to Pharaoh embodied the statement that man’s days upon earth may be considered as not only “few,” but also as “evil.” Nothing, indeed, which God has given to man ought to be viewed as in itself and as essentially evil. Present comfort, length of days, intercourse with society, diligence in business, temperate enjoyment, are all good, all lawful; but sin has interposed. The spiritual eyesight is clouded, and the spiritual energy has become benumbed. Man himself may be truly spoken of as man’s worst foe. (A. R. Bonar, D. D.)

The pilgrim and the king

History presents to us few more striking contrasts than the Hebrew pilgrim and the Egyptian king. “The things seen and temporal, and the things not seen and eternal,” have seldom stood more fairly in front of each other than there. The old shepherd who had no possession on earth but a Divine promise--the king who wielded the sceptre of the most splendid monarchy in the world. But there was something in that old pilgrim which made him a meet companion for kings--a king, too, of an elder and mightier line. From the first dawn ofcivilization there were men moving about the pathways of that eastern world, playing indeed a chief part on its theatre, who had absolutely no right or power but that which their sense of a Divine vocation conferred upon them; and no means of influence, but such as the recognition of their spiritual calling by the princes among whom they lived, bestowed. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, were emphatically, God’s prophets. They had nothing if they had not that seal. The whole secret of their power was the belief that the God of Heaven was with them; that they were the friends and living organs of that supreme and only Lord. These lofty and earnest shepherds seemed to step down from a superior sphere; and some of its lustre streamed round them as they moved on God’s errands around the already darkening pathways of the world. Jacob stood before the Egyptian monarch as the embodiment of that which had faded into a dim tradition in Egypt; it belonged to the glorious golden age of which all peoples had memories, out of which they were beginning to weave for themselves dreams of a paradise restored. The chief prince of the world felt humbled before this lonely, lofty pilgrim; as the representative of a mightier than Pharaoh was troubled by the calm glances of a poorer, sadder, more godlike pilgrim, who stood for judgment helpless before his bar. Spiritual power is the supreme power, and none know it like monarchs of genius.
“Don’t talk to me against the divinity of Christ,” said Napoleon; “I know what man can do, and He was more than man who has done all this.” The men who, like Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Napoleon, stand on the very pinnacle of earthly greatness, are the men who are most perplexed and awe-struck by the sense that there is a power above them which sweeps through their armies as magnetism sweeps through mountains, and has an armoury of words more mighty infinitely than their spears and swords. Something of this spiritual grandeur invested this aged and weary pilgrim, and drew the likeness of a crown around his brow as he stood before the Egyptian king. Aged he was, and bowed, and sad, and weary. He halted, too, as one who had been sore wounded in the battle of life. There were furrows seamed on his brow, and channels worn in his cheeks, which were eloquent of tears and cares. The expression of high intellectual power on his brow must have been dimmed somewhat by the traces of that suffering which made him the “man of sorrows” of his time. There was a promise in his face which his life of schemes and snares, fears and flights, had half broken; and yet there was a look of faith and a glow of hope which seemed to carry on the promise, and to lay it up with God to preserve and to complete. A strange, bewildering man. So sad, so broken; so grand, so powerful. A prince having power with man and with God, and bearing it in his gesture; a man who had prevailed, sore buffeted, in the battle in which Pharaoh and all his people had gone down into the dust. And he stood there before the world’s chief potentate, who knew no superior will upon earth to his own. There was a nobleness of a kind about Pharaoh also. The man who on such a throne had an eye for the dignity of such a pilgrim was no vulgar king. He was a man of far-reaching plans and high achievements; and as he sat there smooth, sleek, royally garbed and tended, at the height of human power and splendour, and gazed on the sad old man before him, a sense of something in the universe to which his mortal might was but as a marsh-fire to a star, stole over him, and he bowed beneath the blessing of a superior hand. And what now of the pilgrim, and what of the king? Where is the state and the splendour of the Pharaohs? Their cities are buried beneath the sands of the desert; the dust of time has settled on their names. Their temples, their palaces, their treasures, are ruins; their wrecks have mingled with the sands of the Lybian waste. Their tombs alone endure, sad sentinels of the desert; sole witnesses that men of such state and splendour once lived in Egypt, and covered its soil with the monuments of their power and pride. And the pilgrim? His name after four thousand years shines more brightly than ever on the roll of earth’s most mighty and illustrious spirits. Ages have but confirmed the title which he won in that long and stern night-wrestle with the angel. His little company who dwelt round him in his tents grew rapidly into a nation, which has exercised in all ages a transcendent influence on the progress of the world. And to this day the noblest and most cultivated in Christendom pore earnestly over his history, and find in the way in which he won his princedom fresh inspirations of courage and of hope. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

The measurement of years

There is a right way and a wrong way of measuring a door, or a wall, or an arch, or a tower; and so there is a right way and a wrong way of measuring our earthly existence. It is with reference to this higher meaning that I confront you, this morning, with the stupendous question of the text, and ask: “How old art thou?”

There are many who measure their life by mere WORLDLY GRATIFICATION. When Lord Dundas was wished a happy new year, he said: “It will have to be a happier year than the past, for I hadn’t one happy moment in all the twelve months that have gone.” But that has not been the experience of most of us. We have found that though the world is blighted with sin, it is a very bright and beautiful place to reside in. We have had joys innumerable. There is no hostility between the Gospel and the merriments and the festivities of life. If there is any one who has a right to the enjoyments of the world, it is the Christian, for God has given him a lease to everything in the promise: “ All are yours.” But I have to tell you that a man who measures his life on earth by mere worldly gratification is a most unwise man. Our life is not to be a game of chess. It is not a dance in lighted hall, to quick music. It is not the froth of an ale pitcher. It is not the settings of a wine cup. It is not a banquet with intoxication and roystering. It is the first step on a ladder that mounts into the skies, or the first step on a road that plunges in a horrible abyss. So that in this world we are only keying up the harp of eternal rapture, or forging the chain of an eternal bondage.

Again: I remark that there are many who measure their life on earth by THEIR SORROWS AND THEIR MISFORTUNES. Through a great many of your lives the ploughshare hath gone very deep, turning up a terrible furrow. The brightest life must have its shadows, and the smoothest path its thorns. On the happiest brood the hawk pounces. No escape from trouble of some kind. Misfortune, trial, vexation, for almost every one. Pope, applauded of all the world, has a stoop in the shoulder that annoys him so much that he has a tunnel dug, so that he may go unobserved from garden to grotto, and from grotto to garden. Canno, the famous Spanish artist, is disgusted with the crucifix that the priest holds before him, because it is such a poor specimen of sculpture. And yet it is unfair to measure a man’s life by his misfortunes, because where there is one stalk of nightshade, there are fifty marigolds and harebells; where there is one cloud thunder-charged, there are hundreds that stray across the heavens, the glory of land and sky asleep in their bosom.

Again: I remark that there are many people who measure their life on earth by the AMOUNT OF MONEY THEY HAVE ACCUMULATED. They say: “The year 1847, 1857, 1867, was wasted.” Why? Made no money. Now, it is all cant and insincerity to talk against money as though it had no value. It is refinement, and education, and ten thousand blessed surroundings. It is the spreading of the table that feeds your children’s hunger. It is the lighting of the furnace that keeps you warm. Bonds, and mortgages, and leases have their use, but they make a poor yardstick with which to measure life.

But I remark: there are many who measure their life by their MORAL AND SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT. It is not sinful egotism for a Christian man to say: “I am purer than I used to be. I am more consecrated to Christ than I used to be. I have got over a great many of the bad habits in which I used to indulge. I am a great deal better man than I used to be.” It is not base egotism for a soldier to say: “I know more about military tactics than I used to before I took a musket in my hand, and learned to ‘present arms,’ and when I was a pest to the drill-officer.” It is not base egotism for a sailor to say: “I know how better to ‘pull’ the windlass and clue down the mizzen topsail than I used to before I had ever seen a ship.” And there is no sinful egotism when a Christian man, fighting the battles of the Lord, or, if you will have it, voyaging towards a haven of eternal rest, says: “I know more about spiritual tactics, and about voyaging towards heaven, than I used to.”

I remark again: there are many who are measuring life by the AMOUNT OF GOOD THEY CAN DO. John Bradford said he counted that day nothing at all in which he had not, by pen or tongue, done some good. Contrast the death scene of a man who has measured life by the worldly standard with the death scene of a man who has measured life by the Christian standard. Quin, the actor, in his last moments said: “I hope this tragic scene will soon be over, and I hope to keep my dignity to the last.” Malherbe said, in his last moments, to the confessor; “Hold your tongue I your miserable style puts me out of conceit of heaven.” Lord Chesterfield, in his last moments, when he ought to have been praying for his soul, bothered himself about the proprieties of the sick-room, and said: “Give Dayboles a chair.” Godfrey Kneller spent his last hours on earth in drawing a diagram of his own monument. Compare the silly and horrible departure of such men with the seraphic glow on the face of Edward Payson, as he said in his last moment: “The breezes of heaven fan me. I float in a sea of glory.” This is a good day in which to begin a new style of measurement. How old art thou? You see the Christian way of measuring life and the worldly way of measuring it. I leave it to you to say which is the wisest and best way. (Dr. Talmage.)

How old art thou?

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN CONVERSANT WITH LIFE’S SUFFERINGS? Take even the life of a believer. A devout pastor, closing tranquilly a prosperous career, intermingled with words of faith and hope the significant declaration, “It is a fight to be born, a fight to live, and a fight to die.” And what do such facts teach us? They forbid idolatry of pleasures so disappointing and so piercing. They direct us for happiness to God and glory. They commend to our aspiration a better country, which is a heavenly--a country where possessions are unimperilled, bliss embittered, and sorrows are forgotten as the stream of brooks that pass away.

How LONG HAVE YOU BEEN CONVERSANT WITH SIN? Who can look back on his past course and not be ashamed in the retrospect? What shortcomings--excesses--follies I What time lost l What privileges perverted! What cleavings to the dust! It is well to mourn over our trespasses. If this sorrow be sincere, it will be salutary.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN CONVERSANT WITH LIFE’S MERCIES? God was merciful to Jacob; and what have been His mercies to you? They have not been few nor small. He has clothed you, fed you, sheltered you. When you have been sick, He has healed you; when you have been imperilled, He has rescued you. In the review of your past life every stage of it demands the acknowledgment, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped me.”

I trust that many of you have not only been born, BUT BORN AGAIN--“born not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, by the Word of God which liveth and abideth for ever.” In that case we have to ask concerning a new life--a divine life, “How old art thou?” How LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN CHRIST? Since when have you turned from idols--idolized sins and pleasures--to serve the living and the true God? But whether or not you have this mercy in possession, know assuredly that you have it in offer. (D. King, LL. D.)

Two ways of measuring life

There was a very old man--eighty-three years of age--and somebody said to the old man, “How old are you?” He said, “I am three years old.” “Three years old?” was the reply. “Why, you are eighty-thee!” “No,” he said. “My body is eighty-three years old, but my soul is only three years old. My old life is eighty years old, but my new life is three years old. I did not begin to live till three years ago. So my soul is only three years old.” A person was asked, “Where were you born--in Brighton?” The man said, “I was born in London, and I was born in Liverpool!” “How can you be born in two places? “ was the reply. “If you were born in London, you could not be born in Liverpool.” “I was,” said the man; “and I will let you see how that was. My body was born in London, but my soul was born in Liverpool. It was not till I lived in Liverpool that I cared about my soul!” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Good deeds healthy

Ancient Grecian and Roman ladies used to reckon their age from the date of their marriage. Many wise persons have reckoned their years from the time that they really began to live as they ought. Mere existence can hardly be said to be living.

“We live in deeds, not years--in thoughts, not breaths,

In feelings, not in figures on a dial:

We should count time by heart-throbs: he lives most

Who feels most, thinks the noblest, acts the best.”

A good man was once told he might live six years if he gave up working, but he would die in two or three years if he continued to work. He replied he had much rather spend the shorter time on earth in trying to do good. But hard work seldom shortens life. John Wesley was an indefatigable worker, and when he was seventy-three years old he said he was better and stronger than he was at twenty-three years of age; and he attributed this, under God, to his early rising, his activity, his undisturbed sleep, and his even temper. Said he, “I feel and grieve, but I fret at nothing.” Some, however, who do not observe and obey the laws of health, are cut off in the midst of their days. Young people should feel, “It is time to seek the Lord,” for religion alone prepares for a really happy and profitable existence; then it ever becomes more and more difficult to turn to God and to live aright the longer these duties are neglected; moreover, no one should give to the world and to Satan the best of their days and energies, and then hope to give to God and to their spiritual and eternal duties and interests, the paltry and miserable residue of their existence. When Care was old, he said his greatest pleasure arose from the remembrance of the good deeds he had done (see also, Proverbs 16:31; Leviticus 19:32).

Knowing the time of life

When Mr. Moggridge (universally known as Old Humphrey) was a lad, his father taught him how to know what o’clock it was. When the boy could tell the time, his father said, “I have taught you to know the time of the day; I must now teach you how to find out the time of your life. The Bible describes the years of man to be threescore and ten or fourscore years. Now, life is very uncertain, and you may not live a single day longer; but if we divide the fourscore years of an old man’s life into twelve parts, like the dial of the clock, it will allow almost seven years for every figure. When a boy is seven years old, then it is one o’clock in his life; and this is the case with you: when you arrive at fourteen years, it will be two o’clock with you; and when at twenty-one, it will be three o’clock, should it please God thus to spare your life. In this manner you may always know the time of your life, and looking at the clock may perhaps remind you of it. My great grandfather, according to this calculation, died at twelve o’clock; my grandfather at eleven, and my father at ten. At what hour you and I shall die, Humphrey, is only known to Him to whom all things are known.”

How old art thou?

A venerable lady was once asked her age. “Ninety-three,” was the reply. “The Judge of all the earth does not mean that I shaft have any excuse for not being prepared to meet Him.”

Verse 9

Genesis 47:9

And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been

A pensive retrospect


LIFE HAS BEEN TO HIM A PILGRIMAGE. He thinks of all his wanderings from that far-off day when at Bethel he received the promise of God’s presence “in all places whither thou goest,” till this last happy and yet disturbing change. But he is thinking not only, perhaps not chiefly, of the circumstances, but of the spirit, of his life. This is, no doubt, the confession “that they were strangers and pilgrims” referred to in the Epistle to the Hebrews. He was a pilgrim, not because he had often changed his place of abode, but because he sought the city which had foundations, and therefore, could not be at home here. The goal of his life lay in the far future; and whether he looked for the promises to be fulfilled on earth, or had the unformulated consciousness of immortality, and saluted the dimly descried coast from afar while tossing on life’s restless ocean, he was effectually detached from the present, and felt himself an alien in the existing order. We have to live by the same hope, and to let it work the same estrangement, if we would live noble lives. Not because all life is change, nor because it all marches steadily on to the grave, but because our true home--the community to which we really belong, the metropolis, the mother city of our souls--is above, are we to feel ourselves strangers upon earth. They who only take into account the transiency of life are made sad, or sometimes desperate, by the unwelcome thought. But they whose pilgrimage is a journey home may look that transiency full in the face, and be as glad because of it as colonists on their voyage to the old country which they call “home,” though they were born on the other side of the world and have never seen its green fields.

To JACOB’S EYES HIS DAYS SEEM FEW. Abraham’s one hundred and seventy-five years, Isaac’s one hundred and eighty, were in his mind. But more than these was in his mind. The law of the moral perspective is other than that of the physicial. The days in front, seen through the glass of anticipation, are drawn out; the days behind, viewed through the telescope of memory, are crowded together. What a moment looked all the long years of his struggling life--shorter now than even had once seemed the seven years of service for his Rachel, that love had made to fly past on such swift wings! That happy wedded life, how short it looked! A bright light for a moment, and

“Ere a man could say ‘ Behold!’

The jaws of darkness did devour it up.”

It is well to lay the coolness of this thought on our fevered hearts, and, whether they be torn by sorrows or gladdened with bliss, to remember “this also will pass” and the longest stretch of dreary days be seen in retrospect, in their due relation to eternity, as but a moment. That will not paralyze effort nor abate sweetness, but it will teach preparation, and deliver from the illusions of this solid-seeming shadow which we call life.

THE PENSIVE RETROSPECT DARKENS, AS THE OLD MAN’S MEMORY DWELLS UPON THE PAST. His days have not only been few--that could be borne--but they have been “evil,” by which I understand not unfortunate so much as faulty. We have seen in former lessons the slow process by which the crafty Jacob had his sins purged out of him, and became “God’s wrestler.” Here we learn that old wrong-doing, even when forgiven--or, rather, when and because for-given--leaves regretful memories life-long. The early treachery had been long ago repented of and pardoned by God and man. The nature which hatched it had been renewed. But here it starts up again, a ghost from the grave, and the memory of it is full of bitterness. No lapse of time deprives a sin of its power to sting. As in the old story of the man who was killed by a rattlesnake’s poison fang imbedded in a boot which had lain forgotten for years, we may be wounded by suddenly coming against it long after it is forgiven by God and almost forgotten by ourselves. Many a good man, although he knows that Christ’s blood has washed away his guilt, is made to possess the iniquities of his youth. “Thou shalt be ashamed and confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done.”

BUT THIS SHADED RETROSPECT IS ONE-SIDED. It is true, and in some moods seems all the truth; but Jacob saw more distinctly, and his name was rightly Israel, when, laying his trembling hands on the heads of Joseph’s sons, he laid there the blessing of “the God which fed me all my life long, . . . the Angel which redeemed me from all evil.” That was his last thought about his life as it began to be seen in the breaking light of eternal day. Pensive and penitent memory may call the years few and evil, but grateful faith even here, and still more the cleared vision of heaven, will discern more truly that they have been a long miracle of loving care, and that all their seeming evil has “been transmuted into good. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The nothingness of life

The patriarch called his days few and evil, not because his life was shorter than his father’s, but because it was nearly over. When life is past, it is all one whether it has lasted two hundred years or fifty. And it is the fact that life is mortal which makes it under all circumstances equally feeble and despicable.

THIS SENSE OF THE NOTHINGNESS OF LIFE IS MUCH DEEPENED WHEN WE CONTRAST IT WITH THE CAPABILITIES OF US WHO LIVE IT. Our earthly life gives promise of what it does not accomplish. It promises immortality, yet it is mortal; it contains life in death and eternity in time, and it attracts us by beginnings which faith alone brings to an end.

Such being the unprofitableness of this life viewed in itself, IT IS PLAIN HOW WE SHOULD REGARD IT WHILE WE GO THROUGH IT. We should remember that it is scarcely more than an accident of our being--that it is no part of ourselves, who are immortal. The regenerate soul is taken into communion with saints and angels, and its “life is hid with Christ in God.” It looks at this world as a spectator might look at some show or pageant, except when called upon from time to time to take a part. (J. H.Newman, D. D.)

Jacob’s retrospect

Jacob looked back on his life and saw but three things--God, love, grief. These were all he had to speak of. They were a trinity of the past; they dwarfed everything else.

“GOD appeared unto me at LUZ.” This one first and great appearance of God was memorable in all his life, because it was the first. It stamped itself upon his life; even in old age the memory of it was not obscured, effaced, or weakened, but was with him in the valley of the shadow of death.

Less august, but even more affecting, was the second of his three experiences--LOVE. Of all whom he had known, only two names remained to him in the twilight between this life and the other--God and Rachel. The simple mention of Rachel’s name by the side of that of God is itself a monument to her.

The third of these experiences was that RACHEL WAS BURIED. When Rachel died, the whole world had but one man in it, and he was solitary, and his name was Jacob. Application:

1. See how perfectly we are in unity with the life of this, one of the earliest men. How perfectly we understand him! How the simplest experiences touch us to the quick!

2. The filling up of life, however important in its day, is in retrospect very insignificant.

3. The significance of events is not to be judged by their outward productive force, but by their productiveness in the inward life.

4. In looking back through the events of life, though they are innumerable, yet those that remain j last are very few--not because all the others have perished, but because they group themselves and assume moral unity in the distance. (H. W. Beecher.)

The retrospect

1. The character given of human life. He considers this life as a pilgrimage.

2. The estimate of its worth. He counted the days of the years of his life to be few and evil.

3. The consequent necessity of provision for its ultimate result.

We are to consider this life under the figure which the text sets before us. It is a pilgrimage. Let us dwell for a short time on the practical view of life which is taken by the true believer.

1. He does not regard this world as his home. There are many who live in it as if they were permanently fixed in it. But the Christian pilgrim is conscious that he has a home to which he is travelling. “There remaineth a rest for the people of God.”

We notice the estimate which true wisdom gives us of the real worth of this life, regarded in itself. “Few and evil,” said the patriarch, “have the days of the years of my life been.” Life is short. And oh! how short!--how limited! “The days of our years are threescore years and ten”; sometimes with difficulty they reach to fourscore years. But how few of our race reach even the nearer limit! But the wise estimate of human life is not only that it is short in its duration, but that it is evil in its nature. It is evil, as it is the scene of continual trial and affliction, as it is chequered by calamities of various kinds, which bow down the spirit, and gradually render the end of life desirable. But we observe, again, that life is full of evil, because it is full of sin. Jacob knew his own heart well, and the contemplation of his own history could afford him no self-satisfaction. Let the votary of this world make a fair estimate of his days. “They are few and evil.” Can you make better of them? The cutting conviction of your heart, when you look within, is that they are so. You have no means of lengthening their duration. You cannot dismiss their oppressive sorrows.

We notice, then, the absolute need of a provision for the ultimate result of life. In conclusion, the subject suggests to us a few practical remarks.

1. It becomes all those who make a Christian profession diligently to examine their own ground of hope for a better world.

2. Again, we are called upon by our professed principles to take care that we are not bound down by an improper attachment to the perishing goods of this world.

3. We are called upon by our principles, as pilgrims towards another and a better world, to do our utmost as faithful stewards of the gifts of God in alleviating the sufferings and the sorrows of our fellow-creatures.

4. There is a duty incumbent on us also to use every fair opportunity of inculcating on our fellow-men the consideration of the true character of this life and its speedy termination. (E. Craig.)

The greatness and the littleness of human life



1. Consider the case of a man who dies full of days,

2. Consider the case of a man who dies before his time.

3. Consider the ease of the death-beds of some of the saints.


1. Seek eternal life.

2. Look forward to the compensations of another world. (T. H.Leale.)

Jacob before Pharaoh


1. The changes of life often bring us nearer to the changeless God.

2. Bereavements teach us to set our affections on things above.

3. The heavy trials of life often remind of past sin and cause despondency, and yet reveal the wisdom and love of God.


1. Life is long in anticipation, but short in retrospect.

2. Life is bright in anticipation, and sad in retrospect.

3. Life as a pilgrimage is an incentive to effort (Hebrews 11:13 - 1 Peter 2:11-25).

4. Life as a pilgrimage is an encouragement to endurance.


1. What cause we have for gratitude, trust, hope!

2. To what are you looking forward?

3. What effect has your hope upon your life (1 John 3:3)?

4. Who is your guide? Self, Satan, or God? (A. F. Joscelyne, B. A.)

Human life in retrospect


1. Unsettled.

2. Brief. The shorter perhaps the better.

3. Evil. Because--

(1) Never to be recalled.

(2) Memory of moral imperfections more or less distressing.

IT STANDS IN CONTRAST WITH IT IN PROSPECT. Hope makes life to the young a settled, lengthened, and joyous thing.

IT SUGGESTS THE IDEA OF A BETTER EXISTENCE. Underlying this wail of the old patriarch, there was an impression of a life settled, long, and blessed. This impression was the standard by which he measured the ever-changing, brief, and unblessed past. Truly, a belief in a future life is almost necessary to reconcile us to the present. (Homilist.)

Man’s life on earth a pilgrimage




1. Is this a pilgrimage state? Then why should we be so much attached to or affected with anything here--a country where we are pilgrims?

2. Are our days few? Then let us make haste, for we have a great work to do.

3. Are they evil? Then why are we in love with them? Why unwilling to go where days are evil no more?

4. Has God provided a cure? Then let us take care we do not reject it. (J. Benson.)



1. It is evil. This may be understood as including two things--sin and affliction. Sin is evil and only evil, and that continually. This is man’s true misery, and the only way to save man from misery is to save him from sin. Affliction is not misery; it may not have the sting of moral guilt in it, and therefore, although in itself an evil, by God’s merciful guidance it may become the means of great good to us.

2. This leads us to remark that another feature in man’s natural life is that it is met by the great redemption of Christ Jesus the Lord. The man who uttered the words of my text spoke also of the Divine Messenger who redeemed him from all evil.

3. Life may become a pilgrimage to heaven. You may travel through the wilderness to Canaan; you may now set out for a city which hath foundations, whose Maker and Builder is God. Will you?


1. What a contrast between the time when the patriarch lived and our own!

2. And what is its state?

3. It is a time of great discovery and rapid and well-nigh universal communication.

4. The missionary work of the Church has only been preparatory; soon it will break forth in its proper strength.

5. The Church is being tried as silver is tried; every man’s work is being tried of what sort it is.

6. There is a yearning in the Church of God for union; this we hail with delight!


1. Consider your life as a gift from God with its consequent responsibilities.

2. Your life as the time of your salvation.

3. But, again, let me remind you that your life is the opportunity for Christian activity.


1. Its shortness. It is not only a vanity, but a short-lived vanity.

2. But think for a moment of its swiftness. Have you ever seen a shadow run along the ground, darkening the places beautified by the beams of the sun, but quickly disappearing? Such is man’s life; “for he fleeth as it were a shadow, and continueth not.” A weaver’s shuttle is very swift in its motion; in a moment it is thrown from one side of the web to the other; yet our days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. “My days are swifter than a post,” says one; “they flee away as the eagle that hasteth to the prey”; the eagle flying, not with his ordinary flight, for that is not sufficient to represent the swiftness of our days, but as when he flies upon his prey, which is with an extraordinary swiftness. (T. E. Thoresby.)

Life: its duration, shortness, and uncertainty

The general life of man was in ancient times, that is, in the first ages of the world, MUCH LONGER THAN AT PRESENT. AS old as Methuselah has passed into a proverb. He lived 969 years. Adam lived 930 years. Noah lived longer than Adam by 20 years. He died at the age of 950. Lamech lived 777 years. But, after the flood, we scarcely read of one who lived up to even 200. And it is thought by some that, when God brought about the flood, He at the same time, by a Divine decree, shortened man’s life. The three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, little surpassed this age; and we know that many of those connected with them sank into their graves at a very much earlier age.

THE LIFE OF MAN NOW IS NOT ONLY SHORT, BUT UNCERTAIN. The death that happens, happens frequently in a place when we least expect it. Those who we think are going to die many times earlier, and those who we think have years of life before them drop unexpectedly into the grave.

THE LIFE OF MAN IS CHEQUERED WITH EVIL. “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.” All people have their troubles. To use the expressive language of Scripture, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” As Christians we are expressly warned to be prepared for trouble. “In the world,” says our Lord to His then immediate disciples, and doubtless He meant the same truth to be conveyed to us, “in the world,” says He, ye shall have tribulation.” And, again, intimating the same truth, He says, “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” But I need not accumulate texts on a truth so evident, and so fully verified by experience. Who is there without trouble? Who has not heavy cares on his mind? Who can, with joyous mind, say that his fond expectations have not been disappointed? (W. Lupton, M. A.)

The shortness of life






1. The shortness of life is a consoling reflection to the Christian.

2. The shortness of life should admonish those who are impenitent immediately to enter on the work of their salvation. (I. Foot, D. D.)

Two views of life


1. It appears so when we consider the disparity between the good it affords and the good we desire. “The earth hath He given to the children of men,” and it is a goodly inheritance. Its sights and sounds are dear to our hearts; we love it as our first home--the only home we have hitherto known. But, like Jacob and his fathers when they sojourned in the promised land, we seek a better country; this world, with all its beauty, glory, and grandeur, does not satisfy our hearts. Our spiritual instincts make it impossible for us to find here perfect rest; they point us to the future, and are a prophecy of the world that shall be revealed.

2. Life may appear evil when we compare what it is with what in many cases it might be. Men spoil their own lives, and then complain that life is evil; they mar and rend the picture, and murmur because its beauty has disappeared; they run the ship upon the rocks, and weep to find her a wreck; they crush the flower with a rude hand, and are disappointed because it withers.

But the words of Jacob do not exhaust the subject; IN THE HIGHEST, TRUEST SENSE LIFE IS GOOD AND NOT EVIL.

1. It is the gift of God. He thought it right, and wise, and kind that we should be. Our existence appeared to Him a good and desirable thing; and what is good in His sight is and must be so in reality, for He sees things as they are, and not as they seem.

2. Our life is under His control. Let us then trust His perfect love. Seeing that He is with us in the ship, we will not fear the voyage, stormy though it be.

3. Our present life is connected with an endless future. (T. Jones.)

The days of our pilgrimage

Pilgrimage is the broad condition of every life-course that passes upward, as well as onward, and has its bourne in God. Pharaoh speaks of years of life, Jacob of pilgrimage. Pharaoh measured existence by days of power and pleasure, by banquets, triumphs, and festivals of the gods. Jacob by the stages where, after stern battle, he had left a lust, a vice, a weakness buried; by the waning of the stars which lit his night of sorrow, and the rosy flush in the east which was already brightening, breaking into the morning of his everlasting day. It is a very wonderful fact that God’s elect, His friends, in the early dawn of history, were men who lived upon promises, and who possessed absolutely not one clod of the land which God called their own, except the cave where they buried their dead. Very splendid, very wealthy, was their inheritance Genesis 13:14-17). But the cave which they bought of Ephron (Genesis 23:1-20.)was their only possession in the land which yet was all their own. Pilgrimage of the hardest, sternest character was their portion; and the wonder is that they never made a moan over it, and never reproach the justice and fidelity of the Lord. Bravely they accepted their lot as pilgrims; and they blessed the angel who had guided their pilgrimage when their heads were bowed in death. What had they then which was a richer possession than those graves? Well, they had the land; all its beauty and splendour, morning pomp and golden evening mists, moonlight that silvered its ridges, shadows that slept in its hollows, stars that watched its wolds through the dewy night, and the myriad gems that glittered a laughing welcome to the rising day. They had that; it was all their own. They lived with Nature as God’s children alone can live with her, and were filled with her blessing. Yes! they had the land, as we may all have the land, as no lustful heathen could have the land; and with hearts bursting with joy and thankfulness they praised His name, whose bounty and tenderness had laid all this wealth of beauty and splendour at their feet. Yes! they had the land, and they held it by the tenure of praise. And the things which were seen were prophets to them of the things which were not seen. Through the vestibule they looked into the temple; they had vision of fairer homes, of brighter suns, in the world to which they had the mysterious entrance; where, too, they had seen the white-winged troops of angels gleaming in the celestial sunlight, and whence they had heard the voice of the Invisible King. The pilgrims held in fee two worlds. They had the promise of the life that now is (compare Lot and Abraham), and of the life that is to come. And bravely Jacob bears witness before Pharaoh of his pilgrim life and lot. To Pharaoh earth was the home; men were pilgrims in the shades. Here the sunlight, the sun warmth, the joy of a home; there, behind the veil, the king could see only a rout of shivering, shuddering ghosts. Jacob had his pilgrimage here; his home, his kingdom, in eternity. Some sense of this perhaps flashed on the king as he gazed. It was a strange puzzle to him. Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Pilate, Felix, were all perplexed by it in their times. These pilgrims, landless, penniless, powerless, were after all heaven’s priests and kings. But there is something special in the experience which this pilgrim confesses before the king. “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.” A sad and weary old man. Would faithful Abraham or pious Isaac have borne this testimony? The life of the one was nobler, purer, grander, than Jacob’s; the life of the other more simple and serene. The old age of either would have been fairer and brighter to look upon. Jacob’s experience, on the other hand, has much to do with the habit of his nature and the sins and follies of his life. It is one of the most profoundly interesting biographies in history; because of the breadth of human experience it covers, the heights and the depths through which this princely pilgrim passed. He had a keen and subtle intellect, easily tempted to display itself in cunning, but with a lordly power in its compass when set on its noblest use. While he had a craving, grasping appetite for riches, and intense power of acquisition, joined with a grand faculty of spiritual insight and constant vision of the realities of the unseen world. A power at once to grope and to soar; now the huckster, now the seer. Two powerful natures struggling within for the mastery; the spirit wresting the victory from the flesh through bitter anguish and wasting pain. This false brother, this crafty steward, this scheming chief, this foolish father, had terrible lessons to learn at the hand of the Angel who was redeeming him from all evil; and it is the glory of the man that he had patience, courage, and faith to learn them, and to bless the Angel who had redeemed him as he bowed on his bed’s head in death. He was such a pilgrim as most of us may be, with the double nature strongly developed. He might have made a successful venture of this life, as men count success, if God would have let him. But God endowed him with a nature which marred his prosperity, which would be aiming at unseen blessings, far-off fruits of birthright, and everlasting results. It is the battle of the two natures, both so strong and in such high development, which makes the striking interest of the patriarch’s history. Few and evil were his days compared with his fathers, for his heart was rent by contending passions, his home was torn by hostile factions. The patriarch had won his freedom when he stood before Pharaoh; but the marks of the struggle, the dim eye, the furrowed brow, the sad lip, were on him. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Disappointment in life

A recent writer, who spent some years on the banks of the Nile and on its waters, and who mixed freely with the inhabitants of Egypt, says: “‘Old Jacob’s speech to Pharaoh really made me laugh, because it is so exactly like what a Fellah says to a Pacha, ‘Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been,’ Jacob being a most prosperous man, but it is manners to say all that.” But Eastern manners need scarcely be called in to explain a sentiment which we find repeated by one who is generally esteemed the most self-sufficing of Europeans. “I have ever been esteemed,” Goethe says, “one of Fortune’s chiefest favourites; nor will I complain or find fault with the course my life has taken. Yet, truly, there has been nothing but toil and care; and I may say that, in all my seventy-five years, I have never had a month of genuine comfort. It has been the perpetual rolling of a stone, which I have always had to raise anew.” Jacob’s life had been almost ceaseless disquiet and disappointment. A man who had fled his country, who had been cheated into a marriage, who had been compelled by his own relative to live like a slave, who was only by flight able to save himself from a perpetual injustice, whose sons made his life bitter--one of them by the foulest outrage a father could suffer, two of them by making him, as he himself said, to stink in the nostrils of the inhabitants of the land he was trying to settle in, and all of them by conspiring to deprive him of the child he most dearly loved--a man who at last, when he seemed to have had experience of every form of human calamity, was compelled by famine to relinquish the land for the sake of which he had endured all and spent all, might surely be forgiven a little plaintiveness in looking back upon his past. The wonder is to find Jacob to the end unbroken, dignified, and clear-seeing, capable and commanding, loving and full of faith. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Jacob’s pilgrimage

It was very true of the past of Jacob’s life that it had been a pilgrimage, for he had been twenty-one years a stranger in the land of Padan-aram, and even after his return to Canaan he had not dwelt continuously in one place. For years, indeed, he had been at Hebron, near the Machpelah cave, where the ashes of his fathers were entombed; but now again he was away from the only spots of earth in Shechem and in Hebron which legally he could call his own. So with literal exactness he could say that his life had been a pilgrimage. But the expression had a forward as well as a backward look. It told that he was seeking a home beyond the grave, that he was desiring the better country, “even the heavenly,” and that his hopes were anchored there. It indicated that his feelings regarding his fathers were not so distinct and definite indeed, but of the same kind as those of Baxter when he wrote concerning a venerable relative who died at the age of a hundred years: “She is gone after many of my choicest friends, and I am following even at the door. Had I been to enjoy them only here, it would have been but a short comfort mixed with many troubles which all our failings and sins, and some degree of unsuitableness between the nearest and dearest, cause. But I am going after them, to that blessed society where life and light and love, and therefore harmony, concord, and joy are perfect and everlasting.” Thrice happy they who can look forward to such an end of their pilgrimage! (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The shortness of life

Remember that life at the longest is very short. Therefore, do at once that which you feel you ought to do at all. Yea, do first that which is most important. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Young man, do not leave it to a future day, but do it now, that all your life may be one of usefulness and enjoyment. Men of middle-age, you have a vivid sense of the rapidity with which your years have gone, but they will go just as rapidly in the future as in the past, and you will be on your death-bed before you know it; therefore, “what thy hands find to do, do it with thy might.” Men of old-age, you have to make haste, for you have no time to lose. The ancient law said kindly as to the sale of an estate, “according to the number of the years thou shalt diminish the price”; the nearer they were to the Jubilee, the cheaper were they to sell their land. So the nearer you come to the end of your days, you ought to hold earthly things more loosely, and prize heavenly things more highly. When your business day is drawing to a close, you hasten to finish your work, and sometimes you do more in the last hour than in all that went before. As your paper becomes more filled you write more closely, to get all in that you want to say. And in the same way, the older you grow, you should become the more earnest in the service of your God in Christ. And if you have not yet begun to serve Him, I beseech you to begin now! When Napoleon came on the field of Marengo, it was late in the afternoon, and he saw that the battle was really lost. But looking at the western sun, he said, “There is just time to recover the day! “ and giving out his orders with that rapid energy for which, combined with quick perception of what an emergency needed, he was so remarkable, he turned a defeat into a victory. So your sun is nearing its setting, but there is time, in the present opportunity, to “recover the day.” Avail yourself of it, therefore, at once, lest your life should end in utter blank, eternal failure. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

A backward look

A backward look is very different from a forward look in life. A quarter of a century, or a half-century, would seem a long way ahead to a young person; but how short it seems when it is remembered by those who have passed it! And our estimates of value vary as much as our estimates of time, in looking forward or backward. It is not those things which we thought most of while we were striving for them, that seem of highest worth when we have them, or when we remember how they missed us. Among the memories of Jacob, his pleasantest, we may be sure, were not his cheating Esau, or his deceiving his father, or his getting the advantage of Laban. Nor was it saddest to him to remember his disappointment in the loss of Joseph. There can be no doubt that the one-tenth which Jacob gave to the Lord was more of a treasure to him in memory than the nine-tenths he held on to; and that his being lamed at Penuel was a pleasanter recollection than his standing up so firmly to lie to Isaac at Beer-sheba. The days of the years of our lives will seem few enough at the best when we come to their close. Whether they are then to seem evil, or not, will depend on the use we now make of them. No day spent in the Lord’s service, no self-denial or generous act for others, will ever be counted evil in its memory. Now is the time to make ready for a pleasant old age--if our lives should be long spared. (H. C. Trumbull.)

Jacob’s confession

We have a comment upon this answer, in Hebrews 11:13-14, where it is called a “confession,” and its implication is insisted on: “They that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.” We may see in it a charming example of spirituality, and how such a state of mind will find a way of introducing religion, even in answer to the most simple and common questions. We go into the company of a great man, and come away without once thinking of introducing religion: nay, it would seem to us almost rude to attempt it. But wherefore? Because of our want of spiritual-mindedness. If our spirits were imbued with a sense of Divine things, we should think of the most common concerns of life in a religious way; and so thinking of them, it would be natural to speak of them. Jacob, in answer to this simple question, introduces several important truths, and that without any force or awkwardness. He insinuates to Pharaoh that he and his fathers before him were strangers and pilgrims upon the earth--that their portion was not in this world, but in another--that the life of man, though it extended to a hundred and thirty years, was but a few days--that those few days were mixed With evil; all which, if the king properly reflected on it, would lead him to set light by the earthly glory with which he was loaded, and to seek a crown which fadeth not away. (A. Fuller.)

Reflections on life

When I look back to the earlier and middle periods of my life, and now, in my old age, think how few are left of those who were young with me, I always think of a summer residence at a bathing-place. When you arrive, you make acquaintance and friends of those who have already been there some time, and who leave in a few weeks. The loss is painful. Then you turn to the second generation, with which you live a good while and become most intimate. But this goes also, and leaves us alone with the third, which comes just as we are going away, and with which we have nothing to do. I have been esteemed one of Fortune’s chiefest favourites; nor will I complain or find fault with the course my life has taken. Yet, truly there has been nothing but toil and care; and I may say that in all my seventy-five years I have never had a month of genuine comfort. It has been the perpetual rolling of a stone, which I have always had to raise anew. (Goethe.)

Life a pilgrimage

If men have been termed pilgrims and life a journey, then we may add that the Christian pilgrimage far surpasses all others in the following important particulars: in the goodness of the road, in the beauty of the prospects, in the excellence of the company, and in the vast superiority of the accomodation provided for the Christian traveller when he has finished his course. (H. G. Salter.)

Theodore Monod said he would like the epitaph on his tombstone to be “Here Endeth the First Lesson.” (S. Smiles.)

The true indication of old age

“Old age,” remarks Bishop Patrick, “is not to be known by a withered face, but by a mortified spirit; not by the decays of the natural body, but by the weakness of the body of sin; not by the good we have enjoyed, but by the good we have done; and if we be prepared for death, we have lived long enough; if our life be a death, then no death can be untimely to us.”

The course of a Christless life

The whole course of a man’s life out of Christ is nothing but a continual trading in vanity, running a circle of toil and labour, and reaping no profit at all. (Archbishop Leighton.)

Home after the journey of life

Mr Hughes tells a characteristic anecdote of starting one winter’s night with his friend, Charles Kingsley, to walk down to Chelsea, and of their being caught in a dense fog before they had reached Hyde Park Corner. “Both of us,” Mr. Hughes adds, “knew the way well, but we lost it half-a-dozen times, and Kingsley’s spirit seemed to rise as the fog thickened!” “Isn’t this like life?” he said, after one of our blunders; “a deep yellow fog all round, with a dim light here and there shining through. You grope your way on from one lamp to another, and you go up wrong streets and back again. But you get home at last--there’s always light enough for that.” (Clerical Library.)

Verse 12

Genesis 47:12

And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father’s household, with bread

Types of the Holy Eucharist


WHO WAS THIS THAT FED HIS BRETHREN IN THE TIME OF DEARTH? Acts 7:11). Joseph, “separate from his brethren” (Genesis 49:26), “sold to be a bond servant” (Psalms 105:17), tried, afflicted, and imprisoned, so that “the iron entered into his soul” (Psalms 105:18), was a true type of Jesus our Lord, Who became a “stranger unto His brethren, an alien unto His mother’s children” (Psalms 69:8; Psalms 88:7; Psalms 88:18), Who took upon Him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7), was afflicted and smitten (Isaiah 53:4-5, and cf. Psalms 88:8). Then, too, as Joseph brought out of prison (Psalms 105:19-20). set over all the land of Egypt (Genesis 41:41; Genesis 41:43; Psalms 105:21), saluted as Zaphnath-pasneah (Genesis 41:45), “the Saviour of the world” (Neals), sustained the life of all nations by miraculous supplies of bread (Genesis 41:57): even so Jesus our Lord, the true Joseph, “taken from prison and from judgment” (Isaiah 53:8), entrusted with all power (Mt Ephesians 1:20-23), “exalted to the right hand of God to be a Prince and a Saviour” (Acts 5:31), now feeds countless thousands throughout all the world, with Himself, the Living Bread, in the Holy Eucharist.


1. All countries--for “all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn: because that the famine was so sore in all lands” (Genesis 41:57). So in one sense our True Joseph “giveth food to all flesh” (Psalms 136:25), and “openeth His hand, and filleth all things living with plenteousness” (Psalms 145:16; Psalms 104:27; Psalms 28:1-9).

2. Joseph fed his people, the Egyptians, for “when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread: and Pharaoh said unto all the Egyptians, Go unto Joseph; what he saith unto you, do . . . And Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold unto the Egyptians” Genesis 41:55-56). “And when money failed . . . all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread . . . And Joseph gave them bread” Genesis 47:15; Genesis 47:17). So now Jesus our Lord, the True Joseph, prepares a table in the wilderness of this world, at which He feeds His people, not with common food, but with spiritual good things, help, benedictions, knowledge, grace, “to deliver their soul from death and to feed them in the time of dearth” (Psalms 33:18), so that they may eat and crave for that still greater food, the Holy Eucharist, of which He spake (Psalms 81:11), “open thy mouth,” &c.

3. But Joseph specially cared for his brethren--his kinsfolk according to the flesh--for he brought them into his house and feasted them Genesis 43:17; Genesis 43:34), he gave them provision for the way (Genesis 42:25). So now our own Joseph, Jesus our Lord, hath special care for His elect (Wis 3:9), the saints of the Most High whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren (Hebrews 2:11), He brings them into His house, He makes them to sit down to meat, at His table in His kingdom, He comes forth and serves them, saying, “Come, eat of My bread and drink of the wine that I have mingled” (Proverbs 9:5), “for My flesh is meat indeed and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55). Thus do the poor eat andare satisfied. They are full, yet hungry still.


1. “When the dearth was in all lands,” “and the famine was over all the face of the earth,” and was “sore in all lands” (Genesis 41:54; Genesis 41:56-57), “and there was no bread in all the land: for the famine was very sore, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine” Genesis 47:13), then “Joseph nourished his father and his brethren and all his father’s household, with bread.” So now, “in the time of dearth,” when there is a sore and grievous famine in the weary land of this world and multitudes are perishing with hunger, because they cannot satisfy the cravings of their immortal spirit with the husks that the swine do eat Luke 15:16), our True Joseph feedeth the hungry, satisfieth the fainting soul with Himself, the bread of God, and saith to every soul that is hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5:6), “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalms 81:11.)

2. After he had “made himself strange unto them” (Genesis 42:7-8), he nourishes them with bread. So now Jesus our Lord appears “in another form,” and makes Himself strange as it were unto us by veiling His beauty and His brightness under the veils of bread and wine, as it is written, “Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour” Isaiah 45:15).

3. When his brethren had repented of their wickedness and fault, and were sorry for their sin--for they said, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” So now it is when we have confessed our wickedness, and are sorry for our sins (Psalms 38:18; Psalms 51:3), when we have examined ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28; 1 Corinthians 11:31-32), when we “do truly and earnestly repent us of our sins . . . and have made our humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling upon our knees”; then is it that our dear Lord vouchsafes to feed and nourish us with that True Wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and that True Bread that strengtheneth man’s heart, in the Holy Communion.


1. He fed and feasted them in his house, at his princely table, albeit sitting apart from them (Genesis 43:16-17; Genesis 43:32); whereas the Greater One than Joseph, even Jesus our King, receiveth sinners and eateth with them Luke 15:2) at His own royal table of Sacred Communion (Luke 22:30), in His house the Church (1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:6).

2. Also Joseph gave his brethren provision for the way (Genesis 42:25; Genesis 45:21): so our Blessed Lord invites us to draw nigh unto the altar of God, and “strengthen ourselves with the Bread of Life” now, whilst we are in the way, saying, “Arise and eat” of My Flesh and drink of My Blood, “because the journey is too great for thee” (1 Kings 19:7).

3. He fed and nourished them in Goshen (Genesis 46:28; Genesis 47:1; Genesis 47:4; Genesis 47:27; Genesis 50:8; Genesis 50:22); so it is in the true Goshen that Jesus our King Eternal feeds His brethren at the marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:1-21.), and reveals Himself to them face to face.


1. He fed his brethren at no expense to themselves--for “Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man’s money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way; and thus did he unto Genesis 42:25, and cf Genesis 43:12; Genesis 43:21-24; Genesis 45:20-24; Genesis 47:11-12; Genesis 47:27; Genesis 50:21 not once nor twice. So Jesus our Saviour feeds us with His own most Blessed Body and Blood, and satisfies our mouth with good things, “without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1-2), again and yetagain throughout our earthly pilgrimage.

2. He nourished them with corn (Genesis 42:19; Genesis 50:25), and wine Genesis 43:34), and bread (Genesis 47:12), and so “saved their lives by a great deliverance”; and yet the food which Joseph provided was perishable in its nature, and they who partook of it died at their appointed time. Whereas our True Joseph--Who is the Corn of Wheat (John 12:24), the Wine that cheereth God and man (Judges 9:13), and theBread of God which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the John 6:33)--gives us Food which is incorruptible, and is the seed of immortality, seeing that “This is the Bread which cometh down from heaven that a man may eat thereof, and not die,” “if any man eat of this Bread he shall live for ever.” (W. F. Shaw, B. D.)

Verses 13-26

Genesis 47:13-26

Joseph gathered up all the money 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

The morality of Joseph’s administration

The significance of the transaction is obvious; it brought men back to first principles; made them feel, in a very practical way, their absolute dependence on God, and on that one man through whom God was pleased to deal with them.

But what are we to think about its morality? Was Joseph right in buying men? The following considerations, are, to my own mind, satisfactory.

1. Joseph was acting under Divine guidance in an extraordinary emergency. It was not his own wisdom that foresaw the plenty and the famine, and which devised the plan he was raised up to carry out. It was God who gave him the message to Pharaoh, and it was God more than Pharaoh who exalted him to absolute power.

2. It is unreasonable to impute mean motives or cruelty to a man whose character, before this time and after it, was so singularly noble and good.

3. The people themselves proposed this arrangement, and they accepted it with gratitude. “And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s servants.”

4. Left to themselves, where would they have been? Even supposing that every farmer from the cataracts to the seaboard had been as fully persuaded that famine was coming as men generally are that they must soon die, yet greed and the craving for present indulgence would have got the better of their prudence during the years of plenty; and long before the fourth year of continuous famine, Egypt would have become one grave. As it was, Joseph saved their lives, and saved them also from the utter moral ruin into which years of indolent pauperism would have sunk them. “As for the people, he removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt, even to the other end.” I understand this to mean, not that Joseph transported the population of the Delta to the vicinity of the Cataracts, and vice versa, but that he brought them in from the fields, where they could do nothing, and provided them some form of work in the towns. The fact is recorded to the honour of Joseph. When our own government has had to deal with famine, it has exhausted its ingenuity in making work for the relieved. “So far, then, is Joseph’s plan of selling instead of giving the corn to the people, from being a matter of reprehension, that we ought to be astonished at a course of proceeding which anticipated the discoveries of the nineteenth century after Christ, and at the strength of mind which enabled the minister of the Egyptian crown to forego the vulgar popularity which profuse but unreasonable bounty can always secure.”

5. The arrangement, as described by the sacred narrative, was a highly beneficent one. The record is very brief and subordinate, but its meaning becomes sufficiently clear on candid examination. (A. M.Symington, D. D.)

Joseph’s policy vindicated

1. The believer in the divine inspiration of the Scriptures is not bound to vindicate the policy of Joseph in every particular.

2. It would be manifestly unfair to judge Joseph’s policy by the principles of modern political economy or by those of New Testament enforcement and obligation. We must put him in the environment of his age, and we have no right to expect from him conformity to a standard which was not at that time in existence.

3. The policy itself was approved by those who had the best means of judging of its character, and who, as being directly and immediately concerned, would have felt its hardships if there had been any in the case. But, so far from regarding him as an oppressor, the people hailed him as a benefactor.

4. It must not be forgotten that Egypt is an exceptional country, and that, from the constant dependence of the people on the irrigation of their fields, and the continual changes made in the surface of the country by the annual inundation of the river, in the way of obliterating landmarks, and removing part of the soil from the one side of the Nile to the other, the holding of all the lands by the crown would have special public advantages which could not well be either enjoyed or appreciated by the inhabitants of other territories. In conversation upon this subject the other day with the venerable author of “The Land and the Book,” I discovered that he was inclined to find the explanation of Joseph’s settlement with the people for their lands in the unusual character of the country itself; and from what he then said I gathered that he would fully agree with Bishop Browne, when, in the “Speaker’s Commentary,” he alleges, “The peculiar nature of the land, its dependence on the overflow of the Nile, and the unthrifty habits of the cultivators, made it desirable to establish a system of centralization, perhaps to introduce some general principle of irrigation, in modern phraseology, to promote the prosperity of the country by great government works, in preference to leaving all to the uncertainty of individual enterprise. If this were so, then the saying ‘Thou hast saved our lives’ was no language of Eastern adulation, but the verdict of a grateful people.”

5. For the rest, this policy of Joseph’s did not create a scarcity for the advantage either of himself or of the monarch, but it provided the means of meeting a scarcity; it did not withhold corn, and so earn the curse of the people, but it frankly brought it out as it was required, and sold it at a price that was mutually agreed upon; it did not insist on everything in the bond, no matter what hardship might be thereby occasioned, for, so far as appears, Joseph not only gave the people seed for their fields, but also gave them back their cattle, which he had meanwhile preserved to them; above all, it neither bought what was not in existence, nor sold what was not in actual possession, and so it had in it nothing which makes it in any respect a parallel case to those speculative combinations among ourselves with which some have sought to classify it. True, it left the government owners of the land, but, as we have seen, that was the most convenient settlement both for the carrying out of systematic works for the prevention of similar national calamities in the future, and for the stoppage of all litigation over matters of boundary; and one-fifth part of the produce, considering the fertility of the soil, was not an exorbitant rental, especially if it included all government imposts of every sort. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Joseph’s conduct

This part of Joseph’s conduct has been thought by some very exceptionable, as tending to reduce a nation to poverty and slavery. I am not sure that it was entirely right, though the parties concerned appear to have cast no reflection upon him. If it were not, it only proves that Joseph, though a good and great man, yet was not perfect. The following remarks, if they do not wholly exculpate him from blame, may at least serve greatly to extenuate the evil of his conduct:

(1) He does not appear to have been employed by the country, but by the king only, and that for himself. He did not buy up corn during the plentiful years, at the public expense, but at that of the king, paying the people the full price for their commodities, and as it would seem out of the king’s private purse.

(2) In supplying their wants, it was absolutely necessary to distribute the provisions, not by gift, but by sale; and that, according to what we should call the market price; otherwise the whole would have been consumed in half(the time, and the country have perished.

(3) The slavery to which they were reduced was merely that of being tenants to the king, and who accepted of one-fifth of the produce for his rent. Indeed it was scarcely possible for a whole nation to be greatly oppressed, without being driven to redress themselves; and, probably, what they paid in aftertimes as a rent, was much the same thing as we pay in taxes, enabling the king to maintain his state, and support his government, without any other burdens. There is no mention, I believe, in history of this event producing any ill effects upon the country. Finally: Whatever he did, it was not for himself, or his kindred, but for the king, by whom he was employed. The utmost therefore that can be made of it to his disadvantage, does not affect the disinterestedness of his character. (A. Fuller.)

Verses 27-28

Genesis 47:27-28

And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen

The children of Israel in Goshen



1. They had the means and appliances of prosperity,

2. They enjoyed their freedom by a firm and honourable tenure.


Verses 29-30

Genesis 47:29-30

Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt

Lessons -


Approaching death should make men put their houses in order, and prepare for the grave.

2. The best of sons are best trusted with the interring of parents.

3. Favour, benevolence, and fidelity dying parents may beg of surviving children.

4. Parents may bind children not to bury them in places inconvenient (Genesis 47:29).

5. The law of nature may appoint burial with fathers, much more the law of faith.

6. The faith of the Patriarchs did work as to the place of burial to appoint it.

7. The testamental word of parents, though hard, yet should be sacred with good sons (Genesis 47:30).

8. Holy worship of God is meet from dying saints, for His gracious disposal to the grave. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Prepared for death

Montmorency, constable of France, having been mortally wounded at an engagement, was exhorted by those who stood around him to die like a good Christian, and with the same courage which he had shown in his lifetime. To this he most nobly replied in the following manner:--“Gentlemen and fellow-soldiers, I thank you all very kindly for your anxious care and concern about me; but the man who has been enabled to endeavour to live well for fourscore years past can never need to seek now how to die well for a quarter of an hour.” (Dictionary of Religious Anecdote.)

Ready for death

At the time when His Majesty, George the Third, desirous that himself and family should repose in a less public sepulchre than that of Westminster Abbey, had ordered a royal tomb to be constructed at Windsor, Mr. Wyatt, his architect, waited upon him with a detailed report and plan of the building, and of the manner in which “he proposed to arrange its various recesses.” The king minutely examined the whole, and when finished, Mr. Wyatt, in thanking His Majesty said he had ventured to occupy so much of His Majesty’s time and attention with these details in order that it might not be necessary to bring so painful a subject again under his notice. To this the good king replied, “Mr. Wyatt, I request that you will bring the subject before me whenever you please. I shall attend with as much pleasure to the building of a tomb to receive me when I am dead as I would to the decoration of a drawing-room to hold me while living, for, Mr. Wyatt, if it please God that I shall live to be ninety or a hundred years old I am willing to stay; but if it please God to take me this night I am ready to obey the summons.” (Dictionary of Religious Anecdote.)

Love of home in death

It is almost the universal custom in America, and seems to be growing in favour here, for great men to be buried in the place where they have mostly lived, and among their own kith and kin. Washington lies at Mount Vernon; Lincoln at Springfield; Emerson and Hawthorne under the pines of New England; Irving on the banks of the Hudson; Clay in Kentucky. They are laid to rest not in some central city or great structure, but where they have lived, and where their families and neighbours may accompany them in their long sleep. (One Thousand New Illustrations.)

Preparation for death

This may suggest to those who have family arrangements to make, that they should not defer the making of them until they come to be in the article of death, but should settle their affairs while yet they are in full health, in the possession of a sound mind, and in calm, unbiassed spirit. If, for example, a will has to be made by a man--and every man, if he have anything to leave, both for his own sake and for the sake of those who are most nearly related to him, should make a will--why should he postpone the making of it until he come to die? It will not bring death any sooner if he should make it at once, and it may prevent many evils if it is made now. Then, if God should greatly prosper him in future years, and should thus alter his circumstances, let him destroy the former will and make another, lest terrible injustice and hardship be done to the survivors by putting them back into a scale of living to which they have not for long been accustomed, and leaving them with a pitiful provision instead of an ample sustenance such as could easily have been provided. I have known cases of great suffering just from this cause. Let every man keep his affairs well in hand, so that those around him shall have to mourn only his departure when he dies, and shall have no cause to blame him for want of thought for his nearest and his dearest relations. If there is anything that you feel you ought to do in the way of settling your affairs, so as to secure peace and comfort among the members of your family when you die, do it at once, for the uncertainty of life is proverbial, and you know not what a day may bring forth. You cannot read the newspapers for a week together without discovering that many unseemly squabbles over the division of property might have been prevented if those who in business were so energetic in the making of money had possessed only the foresight to arrange calmly, and in circumstances in which there could be no ground for the insinuation either of undue influence on the part of ethers, or of incompetence on their own, for its division. If there is anything you feel impelled to say or do before you die, then say or do it now, and the older you are, let the now be only the more emphatic. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Jacob’s request to be buried in Canaan

This request was rooted in something deeper than the merely natural desire of a man to have his body laid beside those of his nearest kindred. Under the New Testament dispensation, indeed, we have learned that it makes no matter where our bodies are buried, for by His brief occupancy of the tomb of Joseph the Lord Jesus Christ has consecrated the whole earth as a cemetery for His people; and by His resurrection from the grave He has given us the assurance that they that sleep in Him, wheresoever their resting-places are, shall hear His voice at the last great day, and shall come forth in spiritual and incorruptible forms to meet Him in the skies. The mere locality of our grave, therefore, is of comparatively small importance, whether we are laid away under the arctic snows, like the brave explorers who accompanied the dauntless Franklin, or beneath the shade of tropical shrubs on the rim of the Dark Continent, like those missionary martyrs who by their sepulchres have taken possession of the Machpelah in that new Land of Promise, or in the dark, unfathomed caves of ocean, with the white foam of the waves for our shroud, and the whistling of the winds for our requiem. It is all one to the Christian where his body is laid. And yet even the Christian has the natural desire to be laid beside his kindred; so that in all our cemeteries we have family lots, and in many of our old country homesteads we come yet upon the quiet and secluded enclosure where the ashes of the first settlers and those of their successors lie. But Jacob’s desire that his body should be laid in Machpelah had a deeper root than nature. The land of Canaan was his by God’s covenant. He had not yet obtained it. For aught that he could see, he was to die without entering on its possession; but even in his death he would show that he still believed that his children would have its ownership, and therefore he made Joseph swear that he would bury him in the sepulchre of his fathers. Nor was this all. He wanted his sons and his descendants to know that Egypt was not their rest. He desired to fix their minds on Canaan, and to fan in their hearts the desire to return thither when God should open up the way. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

Buried where born

The inclination to return in old age to the place which is endeared by the recollections of infancy is very general. It is mentioned by Goldsmith, with that finished delicacy of description which scarcely admits of improvement, and by Chalien, in some of the most beautiful lines in the French language. It is thus described in some of the practical prose of Chateaubriand: “After having wandered over the globe, man, by an affecting species of instinct, likes to return and die on the spot which gave him birth, and to sit for a moment, on the border of the grave, under the same tree which overshadowed his cradle.” As John Leyden lay dying in India, whither he had gone to make his fortune, his heart dwelt on its child-memories, and his last words were about the little rural hamlet where he was born..

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 47". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-47.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Ads FreeProfile