Genesis 46 through 50 - Jacob Settles in Egypt and Dies There

Gen. 46 - At Beer-sheba, God appears to Jacob in a vision and for the last time (at night) repeats the promise of making him a great nation, even though there will be a sojourn in Egypt.  God had previously forbidden Isaac from going down into Egypt during a famine (26:1-2) as he had forbidden him to go back to Haran, but Jacob is permitted these journeys away from the land of Canaan.  All his offspring in the migration are listed.  The total number of offspring Jacob has in Egypt then is 70.  He tells them to tell Pharaoh that they are keepers of livestock—shepherds were “abhorrent” to Egyptians (46:34). The Hyksos were “shepherd kings” who ruled Egypt in the mid-2nd millennium until they were driven out – must have left a bad memory.


Gen. 47 - Joseph presents five of his brothers to Pharaoh, and he agrees to let them settle in Goshen.  The rest of the chapter is taken up with how Joseph manages the years of famine, how he takes first money, then livestock, then their “bodies” and their lands.  So the people are reduced to slavery [or serfdom] all over Egypt—all but the priests who had a fixed allowance from the Pharaoh.  Joseph gives the farmers seed, and in return a fifth of all the harvest goes to Pharaoh.


Jacob lives 17 years in Egypt and makes Joseph promise to return his body to the burial place he has in Canaan.


Gen. 48 - Jacob tells Joseph of the promise God made to him at Luz (another word for Bethel in Canaan) and tells him too that Manassas and Ephraim will be fitted into the scheme along with his own children.  When the two boys come for a blessing from Jacob, like his father before him, cannot see them very well.  Again there is confusion over who the first born of these two is—and again the wrong one, the younger, receives the blessing. But apparently it is not a mistake.  Jacob means to put Ephraim first.  Joseph’s portion is to be Shechem, the land Jacob won from the Amorites.


I am especially moved by Jacob/Israel’s words of blessing to Joseph:


The God in whose ways my fathers . . . walked,

         The God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day –

         The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm – Bless the lads.


These are exactly the ways I have experienced God in my life –

  • as a tradition passed down to me from those in my family and in my life who have lived in relationship with God and been faithful to Him
  • as a shepherd I have felt guiding me and caring for me when I have need Him
  • as an “angel” or divine presence that has “redeemed” all that is inadequate in me


Gen. 49 - All Jacob’s sons are gathered now and he prophesies over them. 

  • He reproaches Reuben for having slept with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah – Reuben’s attribute is “instability”  (Tanakh).
  • Simeon and Levi are called “weapons of violence” for their revenge on the people of Shechem (34:24) – their anger is cursed
  • Judah is raised up—“The scepter shall never depart from Judah. .” (49:10) and he shall be rich in vineyards and wine.
  • Zebulun shall dwell by the sea near Sidon – he shall be a haven for ships.
  • Issachar enjoys the toil of s settled, farming life
  • Dan is associated with the bringing of justice – but it also says he shall be “a serpent by the road, a viper by the path” (49:17).
  • Gad shall raid and be raided
  • Asher will produce dainties
  • Naphtali is a hind, bringing forth lovely fawns
  • Joseph is a wild colt.  Blessings shall flow in him from God, the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, the Mighty one of Jacob, blessings of fertility, food, blossoms, the beauties of nature
  • Benjamin is a “ravenous wolf.” 


Jacob dies after instructing his sons to return his body to the cave in the field of Machpelah where Abraham, Sarah and Rebecca and Leah are all buried.


Gen. 50 -Jacob is embalmed over a period of 40 days and he is mourned for 70 days in Egypt.  Joseph asks permission to go to bury Jacob and is given it. Many Egyptian dignitaries go with him as well as his brothers and his father’s household.  They hold a memorial service beyond the Jordan even though they return to bury him at Hebron.  Then they return to Egypt.  With their father dead, the brothers again become fearful that Joseph will treat them harshly.  So, lying to him, they tell him that before the father’s death, he instructed them to beg Joseph (in the father’s name) to forgive them all.  Again Joseph cries and repeats to his brothers what he has said—that all they did was God’s plan.  Then we are told that Joseph lived 110 years.  He makes them promise that when God leads them all out of Egypt, his bones will be taken as well.


So far we have had Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, et al bringing forward their faith or perhaps more accurately their memory of the original promise to Abraham; but the only land they really own in the promised land is a burial site in Hebron.

Views: 46

Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 30, 2011 at 7:56pm

Taking a lot at face value here... that was probably tribal politics of a much later date.


One rather plausible way of accounting for the Exodus story-- is that it's a legend of the Levites, who ran to Egyptian names, unlike the other tribes. But everyone else gets included here, as a rationale for their union as a kingdom much later.


My Revised Standard Version has it that Joseph does tell  Pharaoh his people are shepards, because he might be reluctant to let them settle in crucial parts of Egypt-- but that Pharaoh doesn't object.


The important detail for me-- is that Joseph's sharp dealing on Pharaoh's behalf reduces the Egyptian people to slavery. Later in the story we get considerable karmic bounce...


I do question the image of God as one who plans out the far future in detail, rather than making creative use of outcomes later on. Not that God doesn't have long term intentions-- but that people have been far too quick to assume that their plans were what God had in mind.

Comment by Irene Lape on 9th mo. 30, 2011 at 8:37pm

It is a little confusing. Joseph says he is going to tell Pharaoh that his father and brothers are shepherds, but then in verse 34, he says to them that if Pharaoh asks them what they do to focus on the livestock care and not say they are shepherds. And what you say about Joseph's effectively reducing the population to a condition of slavery is ironic. For me one of the most interesting parts is that after repeated assurances about the glorious covenant that God is making with Abraham and his heirs and several generations of faithfulness (imperfect in some ways), they have at this point one burial site in the land promised to them. Patience, patience man. It's going to take a little more than 700 years as I calculate it before they have land there. 


Comment by Forrest Curo on 9th mo. 30, 2011 at 10:26pm

Well, in 47, they do tell Pharaoh they are shepherds; and he tells them: "The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land... and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my cattle." He isn't going to make a big deal about them being shepherds; but he would rather have cattle herders...


If giving a particular piece of land to Abraham's children were a major priority to God... it might have been done a lot more simply. This looks like a bait-&-switch sort of offer. They get nothing but trouble from it when they do get it. No doubt what God does have in mind for them (and us) is much better than what they asked for, but then we humans wants what we wants when we wants it. Better if we could settle for what's good for us!


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