October 2, 2017

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART IV: JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

 

Topic #E: THE MIGRATION INTO EGYPT. (Gen. 46:1-47:21)                                                   

 

                                 Lesson IV.E.8: He Introduced His Brothers and His Father to Pharaoh. (47:1-12)


Genesis 47:1-12 (KJV)

1 Then Joseph came and told Pharaoh, and said, My father and my brethren, and their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have, are come out of the land of Canaan; and, behold, they are in the land of Goshen.

And he took some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What is your occupation? And they said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers.

They said morever unto Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come; for thy servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen.

And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are come unto thee:

The land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest any men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.

And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.

And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou?

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, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.

10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.

11 And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded.

12 And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families.

 

Introduction

Joseph furnishes a beautiful example of a man who could bear equally well the extremes of prosperity and adversity.  High as he was, he did not forget that he had a superior.  Dearly as he loved his father and anxiously as he desired to provide for the whole family, he would not go into the arrangements he had planned for their stay in Goshen until he had obtained the sanction of his royal master.

 

We are going to find that this is the best chapter in the life of Jacob, so far. Jacob doesn’t appear in a good light when we first meet him in Scripture.  In fact, not until he makes his trip to Egypt do we begin to see that he has become a man of faith.  This chapter, more than any other, reveals that.

 

Commentary

1 Then Joseph came and told Pharaoh, and said, My father and my brethren, and their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have, are come out of the land of Canaan; and, behold, they are in the land of Goshen{4].

 

Joseph is going present his father and his brothers to the Pharaoh of Egypt.  He put them in the land of Goshen before he asked for a place for them.  You can see the strategy in that.  If they were already there, Pharaoh would be more apt to give them that land.  After all, they would already be moved in and have unpacked their goods.

 

Joseph, as a brother, showed respect to his brethren in spite of the heartlessness he had formerly received from them.  Though he was a great man, and they were comparatively poor and despicable, especially in Egypt, yet he loved and cared for them.  This should be a lesson for the rich and great of the world not to overlook or despise poor relatives.  Our Lord Jesus is not ashamed to call us brethren. 

 

In modern terms it might be said that “Joseph” gave Jacob’s family visas for entrance.  But a permit for temporary residence of some years must come from “Pharaoh”{5] himself.  Although Joseph was a “father” to Pharaoh (45:8), it was still necessary for Joseph’s family to be officially presented at court as new “resident aliens” in Egypt; the brother’s appearance at court was a formality, but an important one; important, because he knew the Egyptians were prejudiced against shepherds.  Therefore, Joseph’s emphasis was on the herds of cattle (6) and not the flocks of sheep. However they didn’t lie about their occupation but were honest and aboveboard in all their dealings with Pharaoh.

 

“The land of Goshen”{4] was a fertile area near the mouth of the Nile River and on the border of Egypt in the direction of Palestine.  It was Joseph’s expectation that if the affair was handled properly, Pharaoh would allow them to remain there.  Living on this remote edge of Egypt would enable the Israelites to keep their identity as a people and to make a hasty departure, if necessary, for Palestine.

 

“The land of Goshen” provided the ideal venue within which the family of Jacob could grow into the “great people/nation” God had promised to make them (12:2; 15:5).  In the land of Canaan the patriarchal family was one among a plethora of tribes and peoples (most of them stronger and more numerous) constantly contending for land and resources (13:7; 15:19-21), but in Egypt they were given, at Pharaoh’s order, a privilege place “in the best of the land . . .  the land of Goshen” (6).  Goshen is not mentioned in Egyptian literature, but it was later called “the land of Rameses (11).”  Its fertility and proximity to Joseph makes it likely that Goshen was a fertile area in the Nile Delta.  Here they had the room to expand and grow, free from harassment or famine.  Thus, Joseph fulfilled God’s providential purpose in sending him to Egypt in that he provided “his father, and his brothers, and all his father’s household, with food” (12).  Moreover after 400 years had passed they had “increased greatly and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7).  The people were then numerous enough to spread throughout and fill the land of Canaan, their divine inheritance.

 

2 And he took some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh.

 

Joseph’s ministry to his brethren was successful.  They took the stand before Pharaoh and his court that Joseph had instructed them to take. “And he took some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh.” He selected five of his brothers, not all of his brethren were taken in before Pharaoh.  Five is said to be the number of grace in the Bible.  It was saving grace that led Joseph to forgive and embrace and royally accept all the brothers; it was special grace that enabled some of them to be acknowledged before Pharaoh in a unique way.  It is grace alone that puts us in the family of God, forgives our sins, and makes us accepted in the Beloved.  But, beyond that, some will be acknowledged before the Father and before the angels of heaven in a special and unique sense and will win a special place in the Kingdom.  Positions of great honor and responsibility are to be bestowed in the coming Kingdom age.  Although those posts of splendor are available to all, they will be given only to those who have earned the right to them.

 

On what grounds did Joseph make his selection?  We are not told. [One of the most popular theories is that he chose the five eldest brothers; seniority being the most agreeable principle of selection.]  We can be sure, however, that, being Joseph, he did not necessarily choose the handsomest, the strongest, the cleverest, and the wealthiest of his brethren.  Moral and spiritual considerations no doubt played the greatest part in his choice.  One thing is sure, only five of the eleven were selected for that special honor to hear, as it were, Joseph’s “Well done!”

 

Joseph coached them about what to say to Pharaoh, i.e. that they were not looking for jobs or food, that they were herdsmen who had brought their livestock with them and just needed some grazing land, and that they would not be a burden to Egypt.  This approach succeeded brilliantly.  Pharaoh was glad to give them the best grazing land in Egypt and invited them to become royal stockman too. Once again we are expected to recognize the unseen hand of God at work (39:3, 21; 41:37-38{6]).

 

Now, someone will surely ask, “Why didn’t Joseph take all of his brothers with him?  Perhaps he felt the number would alarm the Egyptians at the court—later it actually did.  It is also possible that Joseph was afraid that some of the brothers might say the wrong thing, so he picked the ones who were most discreet.  The situation was potentially explosive.  Joseph had carefully rehearsed his brothers for their behavior at court (46:31-34).  A smaller committee was more likely to act more properly than a larger one.

 

But, why did Joseph bring in the five brothers before he presented Jacob (7)?  Evidently he wanted to put business before pleasure.  Or perhaps he was even afraid that Jacob would try to drive one of his shrewd bargains with Pharaoh and frustrate all of Joseph’s carefully laid plans.  It is good to notice that Joseph was not ashamed of his aged shepherd father, even in the majestic court of Pharaoh.  Nor did Jacob feel an iota inferior to the Egyptian King, who claimed divinity for himself.  It was Jacob who blessed Pharaoh!

 

3 And Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What is your occupation? And they said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers.

 

In answer to his inquiry, “What is your occupation?” the spokesman for the brethren told him that they were shepherds, adding that they had come to reside (4) in the land for a time, while the famine prevailed in Canaan.  Evidently Egypt had developed quite a bureaucracy!  In such a state this question is always one of the first.

 

And then he added, “Both we, and also our fathers.”  This answer was given in order to impress upon Pharaoh that there was little likelihood of their changing occupations.  They not only were shepherds, but they also came from a long line of shepherds.  It was the custom in the ancient world for a son to follow the trade of his father.  This was sensible, for the son could build on what his father had done.

 

4 They said morever unto Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come; for thy servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen.

 

The five brothers selected made the plea that Joseph had coached them to make.  However, they stressed the fact that dire necessity had motivated them to move to Egypt.

 

5 And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are come unto thee:

 

“Pharaoh” knew of the presence of Jacob in the land, but “Joseph” had not yet introduced him to the king.  It is interesting that Pharaoh in both the LXX{7] and the Masoretic Text{8] did not reply directly to the brothers but addressed Joseph instead.

 

6 The land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest any men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.

 

The Pharaoh was impressed and, happily, permission was granted to live in the land of “Goshen.”  Pharaoh also made an unexpected request as he looked over Joseph’s “brethren.”  Jacob’s family was offered employment privileges in the Egyptian economy—If thou knowest any men of activity{1] among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.” Those who had proved themselves could be given places of responsibility in Pharaoh’s Kingdom—they would be made “rulers over my cattle.” Superintendent of the royal flocks and herds would be a position of importance. Our place in the coming Kingdom of Christ will depend on whether we are “men of activity” now. Whatever our profession or employment is, we should aim to excel in it, and to prove ourselves ingenious and industrious.

 

7 And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed{2] Pharaoh.

 

The next step was to introduce “Jacob” to the “Pharaoh,” an incident filled with interesting contrasts.  The Pharaoh was regarded as a divine being, the son of the sun and ruler over a polytheistic nation.  Jacob had personally met the one true God several times and was in a covenant relationship with Him.  The Pharaoh had the power to receive or reject Jacob now, but Jacob had a promise from the true God that He would bring the Israelites back to Canaan again, and no Pharaoh could prevent it.  The Pharaoh was supposed to have power over all aspects of Egypt’s life.  But it was Joseph, Jacobs’s son, who actually ran the country during its time of crisis.  In time the line of Pharaoh was to be destroyed, but Jacob’s descendants and their religious faith are still powerful today.

 

So, “Joseph” brought his brethren to “Pharaoh.”  Then comes a most enlightening incident; “Jacob” bestowed his blessing on Pharaoh (7-10).  Moreover, he blessed him twice, once as he came into Pharaoh’s presence and once as he left (10).  Jacob was a far greater man than his renowned grandfather, Abraham.  Abraham had been a curse to Pharaoh; Jacob was a blessing.  Jacob was not being showy, nor was he being pompous, for he confessed both his inferiority as compared with his forbearers and his inflictions along the pilgrim way.  In this, Jacob was a good example of how a true believer is to relate to those who are outside the family of God (see 1 Peter 2:11-17).  In spite of his failings, and we all have them, Jacob brought God’s blessing wherever he went.

 

Can you see old Jacob walking slowly down the long line of guards and officials, often hesitating and leaning on his staff?  We see him making his way up to Pharaoh’s throne and there, to the astonishment of all the court, raising himself erect instead of falling prostrate on his face.  We see him raise his sun burned hand in blessing and we hear the benediction fall from his lips.

 

“Without all contradiction, the less is blessed of the better,” says God (Hebrews 7:7).  So, in blessing “Pharaoh,” “Jacob” is saying, “You, my lord, may be a prince among men and have power on earth.  I am a prince with God and have power in heaven.  Therefore, as greater than you, I bless you, Pharaoh, in the name of my God.” [Jacob’s blessing of Pharaoh is unusual in that it implies Jacob is superior, even though Pharaoh is a man of immense worldly power and influence.] Never, except perhaps on his deathbed, did “Jacob” rise higher.  What a lesson for us!  Are we being a blessing?  When we come into the presence of people, do we bring them a blessing from God?  When we leave, do we leave a blessing behind?  Are we princes with God and therefore a blessing to men?  Jacob was!

 

8 And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou?

 

“Pharaoh” noticed that “Jacob” was an old man, whose age was much beyond the life-span of the average Egyptian.  When asked “How old art thou?”  Jacob gave his age but did not boast (9).

 

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, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.

 

Jacob calls his life a “pilgrimage”; the “sojourning” (4) of a stranger in a foreign country, or his journey to his own country.  Since neither Jacob nor his fathers had actually possessed the land of Canaan, describing life as a pilgrimage was a fitting evaluation to give.  The patriarchs were Pilgrims and strangers on the earth (Hebrews 11:13-16{9]), but so are all of God’s people (1 Chronicles 29:15; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11).  We agree with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that this world is not our home.  Our time here is brief and temporary, and we’re eagerly looking for our permanent home, the city of God in heaven. He was not at home upon earth; his habitation, his inheritance, his treasures were in heaven.

 

Men who live a long life have their memories of tragedy. Also, even “an hundred and thirty years” were “few” compared to those of Jacob’s ancestors.  Here was another contrast between the short-lived man-god and the longevity of a man of God.

 

“Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been.” In fact, Jacob, long-lived as he is, will not attain the impressive life span of Abraham (175 years) and Isaac (180 years).  At this point, however, he can scarcely know how much longer he has to live (17 years, as it turns out).  And so his words must reflect that feeling of having one foot in the grave that he has repeatedly expressed before.  One should not exclude the possibility that Jacob is playing up the sense of contradiction in order to make a calculated impression on Pharaoh, in dismissing his own 130 years as “few.” The ideal life-span for the Egyptian was 110.

 

When he said, “Few and evil (not sinful but “difficult”; calamitous, constantly confronted by anger, anguish, distress, and tribulation.) have the days of the years of my life been,” it implies that he has been looking back over his past, and he sees a few bright moments, but they have been eclipsed by a constant series of setbacks, family problems, tragedies, and nightmares.  [Actually, he had brought most of the evil upon himself!]  But in common with Abraham and Isaac he was a stranger in Canaan, his life oriented to a future city of God (Hebrews 11:13{9]); but his alien residency in Canaan was even more troubled and his life-span (as he correctly anticipated, 47:28) briefer than theirs.  Moreover he must die as a sojourner outside the Promised Land, but only after seventeen years of peace and happiness.

 

Again, this audience with Pharaoh is an opportunity for the old man to boast, but notice how changed this man Jacob is.  He doesn’t brag about pulling a trick on his old father.  Instead, he says he doesn’t measure up to his fathers.  I “have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” Isn’t this a changed man?  It doesn’t sound like the old Jacob, does it?  He’s giving Glory to God for his life, and he is making no boast that he has accomplished a great deal.  As a matter of fact, Jacob has no reason to brag—he is just a sinner, saved by the grace of God. 

 

10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.

 

Evidently, “Jacob” was not intimidated by “Pharaoh,” and he “blessed Pharaoh” in verses 7 and 10.  This is amazing in light of Hebrews 7:7—“And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.”

 

11 And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded.

 

Observe first, how “Joseph” dealt with his brethren on the principle of “grace.” We are told of the position he gave them. “And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt.” We know from Genesis 46:34 that he placed them in the land of Goshen. “The land of Rameses” was a title for Goshen (“to draw near”) common at the time when the Pentateuch was written. [It is also called Zoan elsewhere (see Psalm 78:12, 43)]  Medieval and modern commentators agree that this designation is a synonym for Goshen.  The term looks like a chronological error because “Rameses” is the city built later with Israelite slave labor.  Perhaps its use here is intended to foreshadow the future oppression.

 

In any case, his brethren were put in a place where they could have access to him.  The name “Rameses” (“the thunder that destroys”) suggests they were given access to him as the one who spoke with a voice of authority. The scene anticipates the day when Jesus will reign, when the nation of Israel will be given a privileged position in His Kingdom, one having special access to Himself, and when His voice will be like thunder on the earth.  The Jewish people will draw near to Him and will be His viceroys to the ends of the earth, and His edicts will be like thunder.

 

We are told next of the possessions Joseph gave his brethren. “And Joseph … gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded.” The ground included within the boundaries of “the land of Rameses” (“Goshen”) was a rich and fertile extent of natural meadow, and admirably adapted for the purposes of the Hebrew shepherds (49:24; Psalms 34:10). Those brethren of his who had done their worst to him in the bad old days had been forgiven and were now lifted on high by grace.

 

12 And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families.

 

We note also the portion Joseph gave them.  Under “Joseph’s” watchful eye Jacob’s family fared well.  Everything they needed was provided for them. “And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families.” He met their needs and took care of each and every one, right down to the youngest child.  Not a need was overlooked.

 

To teach us His care for us, Jesus said, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?” (Luke 12:6).  “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?  And not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father” (Matthew 10:29).  Two sparrows, one farthing; five sparrows, two farthings.  In other words, for two farthings an extra sparrow was tossed in to make a bargain. The one sparrow had no value at all.  That one sparrow, the sparrow the dealer was willing to toss in just for the sake of a sale—that sparrow does not fall to the ground without the Father’s knowledge.  That is, God attends the funeral of even such a valueless thing as that.  That is how detailed His care is.  THAT IS GRACE.

 

“According to their families” suggests that a rationing system was in operation.

 

Ending Remarks

We can’t help but admire Joseph in the way he handled the relocation of his family and their presentation to Pharaoh. He was surely a gifted administrator. In a land devoted to worshipping numerous gods and goddesses, it was important that Joseph’s family bear witness by their conduct to the true and living God. Peter called this “Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles” (1 Peter 2:12, NKJV).

 

Scripture and Special notes

[1} The word rendered here as “men of activity” is also translated “valiant men” in some translations, and “men of strength” in others. Note, mere activity does not guarantee strength.  The busiest people may waste their strength in little causes; yet a strong man will soon lose his strengths unless he puts it to use.  The ideal is a strong man busy at tasks that require strength.

[2} The precise meaning of the Hebrew verb translated “blessed” is difficult in this passage, because the content of Jacob’s blessing is not given.  The expression could simply mean that he greets Pharaoh, but that seems insufficient.  Jacob probably praises Pharaoh for the verb is used this way for praising God.  It is also possible that he pronounces a formal prayer of blessing asking God to reward Pharaoh for his kindness.

[3} The literal meaning of 47:7 is that Jacob was carried into court and helped to stand before Pharaoh.  Jacob was a pathetic figure, but Pharaoh showed great respect to him, asking about his great age, and was twice blessed by him.  For despite the many sad episodes in his life (9) Jacob was preeminently the man of blessing through whom ‘all peoples on earth will be blessed’ (28:14).

[4} Goshen has been identified as the Wady Tumilat, “a long narrow valley leading straight from the heart of the Delta to a break in the chain of the Bitter Lakes, and therefore marking a weak spot in the natural defenses of Egypt.” The “Bitter Lake” is a saltwater lake in Egypt; today it is connected to the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea via the Suez Canal. Before the canal was built (1869), the site was a dry salt valley or basin.

[5} This Pharaoh is probably Senusert III. We read in Genesis 47:20⸻And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh’s.”Senusert broke the power of the feudal nobility — no one knows how.  If Senusert III was Joseph’s Pharaoh, perhaps Genesis 47:20 explains it.

[6} (Genesis 41:37-38) And the thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?”

[7} The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and used by the early Church.  The Septuagint is also called the translation of the seventy because tradition states that the Septuagint was translated by seventy.  In academia, the Septuagint is often abbreviated as LXX (the Roman numeral for seventy) in honor of this tradition.

[8} The Hebrew text of the Old Testament is called the Masoretic Text because in its present form it is based upon the Masora—the Hebrew, textual tradition of the Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes (or Masorites). The Masoretes were rabbis who made it their special work to correct the faults that had crept into the text of the Old Testament during the Babylonian captivity, and to prevent, for the future, its being corrupted by any alteration. 

[9} (Hebrews 11:13-16) “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

 

 

 

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