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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 47

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verses 1-3


1-3. They said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants are shepherds “The Egyptian monuments abundantly illustrate the hatred and contempt which the ruling castes felt towards the shepherds . In those great pictures of Egyptian life painted on the walls of the Theban tombs in the time of the Pharaohs, the shepherds are caricatured in many ways, being represented by figures lank, emaciated, distorted, and sometimes ghostly in form and feature . They are a vivid contemporary comment from Egyptian hands upon the sacred writer’s statement, that ‘shepherds are an abomination to the Egyptians . ’ Sheep are never represented in the Theban tombs as being offered in sacrifice or slaughtered for food; and though in certain districts mutton was used for food, and sheep and goats held sacred, ( Her . , 2: 42,) these cases are regarded by Egyptologists as exceptional . (Knobel . ) Woollen was esteemed unclean by the priests, and their religion forbade them to wear woollen garments into the temples, or to bury the dead in them . ( Her . , 2: 81 . ) This apparent aversion to the sheep is, however, greatly offset by the wide-spread worship of Amun and of Noum as ram-headed gods, as even now illustrated in the paintings of the tombs and in the splendid ruins of Karnak, and gives no sufficient reason for the contempt in which the shepherd was held. Nor is it a sufficient reason, as some have supposed, that the shepherds were accustomed to slaughter for food the ox, which was held sacred by the Egyptians; for the Egyptian worship of the bull was restricted to a single animal at a time, called the Apis, and the sculptures represent the priests as offering bulls in sacrifice, and eating beef and veal. Besides, the nomads rarely kill the ox, and never kill the cow for food. It was not to the shepherd, as such, but to the nomadic shepherd, with his wild, roving, predatory habits, that the civilized Egyptian bore this hatred.

“There was also a special reason found for this hatred in an event which has stamped itself deeply upon Egyptian history; but whether it transpired before the era of Joseph or not is still an unsettled question. About two thousand years before Christ Egypt was invaded by a people from the north-east, of what precise nation is uncertain, who dispossessed the native princes, cast contempt upon the national religion, demolished the temples, slew the sacred animals, and set up at Memphis a foreign government which ran through three dynasties, (the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth of Manetho,) and ruled the greater part of the land for five or six centuries. They are called in history the Hyksos, or shepherd kings. The Theban king Amosis finally rose against them, and expelled them from the land, driving them into the Syrian desert. The name of shepherd became thereafter inseparably associated in the Egyptian mind with this Hyksos subjugation and tyranny, and so was especially hateful. Wilkinson believes that the Egyptian career of Joseph took place in the period just following the expulsion of the Hyksos, and so explains why, at that time especially, a shepherd was ‘an abomination to the Egyptians.’ This is, however, one of the disputed questions of Egyptian chronology whose solution is probably locked up in monuments and papyri yet to be deciphered.

“But, whatever be the explanation of this enmity, the fact is abundantly attested by the monuments; and we have this remarkable manifestation of the meekness and godly wisdom of Joseph, that, so far from attempting to conceal or disguise this unpleasing fact concerning his family, he announced it to Pharaoh at the outset, and instructed his brethren to repeat it to the king at their first introduction. Thus he secured the frontier district of Goshen for the family of Israel, where they might dwell in comparative isolation from the Egyptian idolatry. His family was introduced in such a way as to effectually preclude their political advancement. His great popularity and influence at the Egyptian court could have secured for them political preferment, or at least a total change of worldly condition; yet he is not dazzled by this most natural family ambition, but seeks first the spiritual good of his brothers and his children. In this he is the prototype of Moses, who chose to be a Hebrew exile rather than an Egyptian prince.

“There are two remarkable Egyptian records of the twelfth dynasty (2020-1860 B.C., according to Wilkinson,) which strikingly illustrate the career of Joseph. One is the story of Saneha, written on one of the oldest papyri yet discovered. Saneha was a pastoral nomad, who was received into the service of the reigning Pharaoh, rose to a high rank, was driven into exile, and afterwards restored to favour was made the king’s counsellor, given precedence over all the courtiers, ‘set over the administration of the government of Egypt to develop its resources,’ and finally ‘prepared his sepulchre among the tombs of the princes.’ (Translation by M. Chabas, in Speaker’s Commentary.) There is no proof that Saneha was the Hebrew Joseph, but the parallel is most instructive as illustrating the possibility of a foreigner’s elevation in Egypt.

“The other record, made under the same dynasty, is found in the pictures and inscriptions of the famous sepulchral grottoes of Beni-hassen, which are thirty excavations cut in the limestone along the Nile’s eastern bank. A picture in one of these tombs represents the presentation of a nomad Asiatic chief, with his family and dependents, before an Egyptian prince. Their features, colour, costume, even to the rich ‘tunic of fringe,’ (‘coat of many colours,’) are all Asiatic. There is also an inscription describing a prince who was a favourite of the Pharaoh, which brings Joseph most vividly before us. Lepsius thus translates it: ‘He injured no little child; he oppressed no widow; he detained for his own purpose no fisherman; took from his work no shepherd; no overseer’s men were taken. There was no beggar in his days; no one starved in his time. When years of famine occurred, he ploughed all the lands of the district, producing abundant food; no one was starved in it; he treated the widow as a woman with a husband to protect her.’ (BUNSEN’S Egypt, vol. v: translation by BIRCH.) Neither here is there any proof that this favourite was Joseph; but the high estimate set upon virtues and abilities just such as are shown in Joseph, furnish an instructive comment upon our history.” Newhall.

Verse 4

4. To sojourn in the land are we come “Not to dwell there, for Canaan was ever their home, the land of promise . Yet this ‘sojourning’ lasted more than two, if not more than four, centuries.” Newhall.

Verse 6

6. The land of Egypt is before thee “Although they belonged to the abominated caste, all Egypt was at their disposal for Joseph’s sake .

In the land of Goshen let them dwell Since this is your petition .

And if thou knowest any men of activity among them Rather, men of ability, namely, for such office.

Make them rulers over my cattle Literally, princes of (the shepherds or herdsmen of) my cattle. Not overseers of his household, (as A. Clarke,) for the word signifies only property in cattle. (Gesenius; Knobel.) Pharaoh would make Joseph’s brethren, as far as they were competent, overseers of his herdsmen and shepherds. So Doeg, the Edomite, was overseer of Saul’s herdsmen. (1 Samuel 21:7. )” Newhall .

“The land where Israel was to dwell is here called Goshen, and in Genesis 47:11, Rameses. In Exodus 12:37, Israel is said to have set out from Rameses. This place was near the seat of government, since Joseph told his father that he would there dwell near him, (Genesis 45:10,) and apparently between Palestine and Joseph’s residence, (Genesis 46:28-29,) which was probably usually at Memphis, although sometimes, perhaps, at Zoan. See note on Exodus 1:8. It was under the government of Egypt, and yet hardly reckoned a part of the country, and appears not to have been occupied to any great extent by the native inhabitants, as the reason assigned for settling the Israelites there is, that they might not come in contact with the Egyptians . Genesis 46:33-34. Every thing thus indicates that Goshen, or Rameses, was the frontier province, nearest to Palestine, lying along the Pelusiac arm of the Nile, and stretching from thence eastward to the desert . The Israelites may have spread eastward as they multiplied, across the Pelusiac to or across the Tanitic arm . This was the best of the land for a pastoral people like Israel, although not so fertile as the country nearer the Nile; yet it was well irrigated from Egypt’s great river . It was traversed by an ancient canal, which, according to Strabo, once carried the Nile water into the Red Sea, and on the banks of which it is probable that the Israelites built the treasure-city Raamses or Rameses. Exodus 1:11. This canal traversed the wadies Tumeylat and Seven Wells, which was the richest portion of Goshen, although the Israelites doubtless drove their flocks up the water-courses into fertile tracts of the desert. The present Sweet-water Canal of M. Lesseps has simply reopened the works of the Pharaohs, carrying the Nile water through these broad wadies to Lake Timsah, and thence south through the Bitter Lakes to the Red Sea at Suez.

“Robinson made careful inquiries concerning the fertility of this province at present, and found that it now ‘bears the highest valuation, yields the largest revenue,’ and that ‘there are here more flocks and herds than anywhere else in Egypt, and also more fishermen.’ Biblical Researches, 1: 54. This country now produces, according to Lane, ( Modern Egyptians, 1: 242,) cucumbers and melons, gourds, onions, leeks, beans, chick-peas and lupins; and the inhabitants also make use of small salted fish for food; a list of productions closely corresponding with that given in Numbers 11:5, where the murmuring Israelites say, ‘We remember the fish that we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.’ The opening of the Suez Canal has increased the fertility of the land since the visits of Robinson and Lane.

“Large heaps of ruins are now found south-west of Belbeis, which are called by the Arabs the hills or graves of the Jews, ( Tel el Jehud, Turbeh el Jehud,) which may be memorials of the Israelitish sojourn. Many traces of ancient sites are scattered along the Wady Tumeylat. The geographical position of Goshen was such that the plagues of hail and darkness might sweep down the Nile valley, and even cover Zoan, while Goshen (on the east) was left untouched.” Newhall.

Verse 11

11. Rameses See notes on Genesis 47:6, and Exodus 1:11.

Verse 12

12. According to their families Hebrews, for the mouth of the little ones; that is, bread for the mouths of these . Thus Joseph became a nourishing father to his aged father’s household, as well as to Pharaoh and all Egypt .

Verse 13


13. Egypt and… Canaan fainted Like an exhausted person, dying of thirst .

Verse 15

15. All the Egyptians came Came by their representatives . Observe the three stages of impoverishment through which they passed in becoming the dependents of Pharaoh . First they used up all their money; then they delivered up all their cattle for bread; and finally they surrendered all title and claim to their lands, and thus became serfs unto Pharaoh .

Verse 18

18. The second year The second year after their money failed .

Verse 20

20. The land became Pharaoh’s He thus became absolute owner of the soil, and this enabled Joseph freely and without opposition to take the measures and enact the law described in Genesis 47:23-26.

Verse 21

21. Removed them to cities For greater convenience in supplying them with food; for he had stored the grain in the cities . Genesis 41:48.

Verse 22

22. Land of the priests bought he not Pharaoh’s reverence for the ministers of religion would not allow an alienation of their land from them .

Their portion which Pharaoh gave them During the years of famine he ordered them to be supplied from the public treasury, without money and without price . This is represented as Pharaoh’s act rather than Joseph’s . The latter, of course, would not interfere . He had married the daughter of one of the priests . But the sacred writer clearly intimates that the reverence shown to the Egyptian priesthood by this measure was for Pharaoh’s sake, not for his own .

Verse 23

23. I have bought you This fact gave him the opportunity to dictate the future policy of the kingdom as to the royal revenue; a policy which the people were probably now prepared to see the wisdom of, and to which they readily acceded . Genesis 47:25.

Verse 26

26. Joseph made it a law It has been thought exorbitant and oppressive that Pharaoh should have the fifth part of the produce of the land. But we should observe, 1) That during the years of plenty the land of Egypt yielded an excessive abundance, (Genesis 41:47; Genesis 41:49,) and the Egyptians had no difficulty in laying up one fifth . 2) The people made no objection to Joseph’s law . 3) The liability of that land to suffer from famine made it a simple matter of wise government to lay up stores of grain for such times of need. This law of Joseph maintained for the king an ample but not oppressive revenue, while at the same time it virtually restored the land to the people, and made the king’s relation to them that of a provident and nourishing father.

“All the main points in the statements of this chapter are confirmed by Herodotus, Diodorus, Strabo, and the monuments. Herodotus (ii, 109) says, that Sesostris divided the soil among the inhabitants, assigning square plots of land of equal size to all, and obtained his revenue from a rent paid annually by the holders. Diodorus (i, 54) says, that Sesoosis divided the whole country into thirty-six nomes, and set nomarchs over each to take care of the royal revenue and administer their respective provinces. Strabo (xvii, p. 787) tells us, that the occupiers of the land held it subject to a rent. Again, Diodorus (i, 73, 74) represents the land as possessed only by the priests, the king, and the warriors, which testimony is confirmed by the sculptures. Wilkinson, i, p. 263. The discrepancy of this from the account in Genesis is apparent in the silence of the latter concerning thelands assigned to the warrior caste. The reservation of their lands to the priests is expressly mentioned in Genesis 47:22; but nothing is said of the warriors. There was, however, a marked difference in the tenure of land by the warriors from that by the priests. Herod. otus (ii, 168) says, that each warrior had assigned to him twelve arurae of land (each arura being a square of one hundred Egyptian cubits;) that is to say, there were no landed possessions vested in the caste, but certain fixed portions assigned to each person; and these, as given by the sovereign’s will, so apparently were liable to be withheld or taken away by the same will; for we find that Sethos, the contemporary of Sennacherib, and therefore of Hezekiah and Isaiah, actually deprived the warriors of those lands which former kings had conceded to them. Herod. 2:141. It is, therefore, as Knobel remarks, highly probable that the original reservation of their lands was only to the priests, and that the warrior caste did not come into possession of their twelve arurae each till after the time of Joseph. In the other important particulars the sacred and profane accounts entirely tally, namely, that by royal appointment the original proprietors of the land became crown tenants, holding their land by payment of a rent or tribute; whilst the priests only were left in full possession of their former lands and revenues. As to the particular king to whom this is attributed by Herodotus and Diodorus, Lepsius ( Chronol. Egypt., i, p. 304) supposes that this was not the Sesostris of Manetho’s twelfth dynasty, (Osirtasen of the Monuments,) but a Sethos or Sethosis of the nineteenth dynasty, whomhe considers to be the Pharaoh of Joseph.

“The nineteenth dynasty is, however, certainly much too late a date for Joseph. It may be a question whether the division of the land into thirty-six nomes and into square plots of equal size by Sesostris, be the same transaction as the purchasing and restoring of the land by Joseph. The people were already in possession of their property when Joseph bought it, and they received it again on condition of paying a fifth of the produce as a rent. But whether or not this act of Sesostris be identified with that of Joseph, (or the Pharaoh of Joseph), the profane historians and the monuments completely bear out the testimony of the author of Genesis as to the condition of land tenure, and its origin in an exercise of the sovereign’s authority.” Speaker’s Commentary.

Verse 28


28. Seventeen years He survived the famine, and lived twelve years thereafter to see the result of the wise administration of Joseph . Yet the spiritually minded patriarch sees something better for his posterity than the land of Egypt .

Verse 29

29. Israel must die The weakness and infirmities of old age admonished him that his end was near at hand . My thigh. See note on Genesis 24:2.

Verse 30

30. I will lie with my fathers Egypt will do to live in for a time, but Jacob would have his dust repose with that of Abraham and Isaac in the land of Canaan . Compare the touching words of Genesis 49:29-32. Such a dying request none would refuse .

Verse 31

31. Upon the bed’s head The Syriac and Sept . , (quoted in Hebrews 11:21,) read, on the head (or top) of his staff . Either meaning is possible, since the Hebrew משׂה means either bed or staff, according as it is punctuated and pronounced.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 47". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-47.html. 1874-1909.
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