September 7, 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.7: Joseph Comes to Meet His Father. (Gen. 46:28-34)

Genesis 46:28-34 (KJV)

 

28 And he sent Judah before him unto Joseph, to direct his face unto Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen.

29 And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.

30 And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive.

31 And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father's house, I will go up, and shew Pharaoh, and say unto him, My brethren, and my father's house, which were in the land of Canaan, are come unto me;

32 And the men are shepherds, for their trade hath been to feed cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.

33 And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What is your occupation?

34 That ye shall say, Thy servants' trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.

 

Commentary

28 And he sent Judah before him unto Joseph, to direct his face unto Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen.

 

Having talked about Jacob’s family in the five preceding chapters, the narrative draws our attention to Jacob’s favorites (46:28-30), telling us how “Judah” came to “Joseph” and how “Joseph” came to “Jacob.”  Thus the two great names of Judah and Joseph are brought significantly together.  Judah and Joseph were the giants among the children of Israel.  The tribes of Judah and Ephraim dominate Old Testament history.  There was always a measure of Ephraimite tribal jealousy toward Judah but that sad development lay in the future.  Here we simply see Judah as he hurried ahead of the others, to appraise Joseph of the soon arrival of the rest of the Clan.  The fact that Jacob sent Judah, the new leader of the brethren, on ahead to work out the details of the settlement in Egypt and to arrange for the best possible location for the reunion of father and son indicates that he trusts his son, which suggests that the men had told their father everything and were in his good graces again.  Now Jacob can see the hand of God in all that has happened.  In spite of his past failures, Judah now proves he is faithful, and his descendants are eventually named the royal tribe (49:8-12).

 

29 And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.

 

The specification of the vehicle, “his chariot,” is another strategic reminder of Joseph’s high position within the Egyptian government. He makes use of the chariot as he hurries to meet his father, who comes from a world where there are neither chariots nor wagons.  Realistically, made ready his chariot” simply means, as many commentators have noted, he gave orders to harness a horse to “his chariot.”

 

What a scene it must have been when Jacob and Joseph, father and son, finally met.  Can you detect in that scene a picture of the even greater reunion that took place in heaven, when the heavenly Joseph was reunited with His Father after His years of suffering on earth?  We can tune into the feelings that ran so deep between Joseph and Jacob as they were reunited.  So, in some measure, we can enter into the joy which Father and Son felt when they met together after the work of redemption was done. Jacob and Joseph, God the Father and God the Son; these loving reunions are among the most beautiful in Scripture.

 

The absence of reciprocal weeping on the part of Jacob can scarcely be attributed to abbreviating the narrative or inadvertent narrative omission, for in the identically worded report of Joseph’s falling on Benjamin’s neck and weeping, we are told “and Benjamin wept on his neck” (45:14).  We are invited to imagine, then, a sobbing Joseph who embraces his father while the old man stands dry-eyed, perhaps even rigid, too overcome with feeling to know how to respond, or to be able to respond spontaneously, until finally he speaks, once more invoking his own death, but now with a sense of contentment: “Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive” (30). The aged “Israel” (Jacob) was ready to die, as though the entire goal of his life had just been achieved.  His son who was lost had been found.

 

30 And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive.

 

The reunion between Jacob and Joseph brings to mind Jacob’s former meeting with Esau (32:3).  In both situations, after a long period of separation, Jacob sends a party ahead to meet the relative.  Previously, Jacob had said that the loss of his sons would bring him to his grave in mourning (37:35{3]; 42:38).  But finding Joseph alive enables his father to find a measure of peace.

 

31 And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father's house, I will go up, and shew Pharaoh, and say unto him, My brethren, and my father's house, which were in the land of Canaan, are come unto me;

 

Joseph was now going to arrange for his brethren to settle in Egypt.  The matter was of great importance, for where they settled would have a lasting influence on them.  It was important they be situated so that although IN Egypt they would not be OF Egypt. To accomplish this, Joseph’s plans were marked by principles and prudence.  He must get Pharaoh’s consent, and he would avoid any contact to which the Egyptians would object.  Besides it was right for him to inform Pharaoh that such a colony was coming to settle in his kingdom.

 

First we see Joseph as the successful mediator, appearing before Pharaoh on behalf of his brethren. “And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive. And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father's house, I will go up, and shew Pharaoh, and say unto him, My brethren, and my father's house, which were in the land of Canaan, are come unto me” (30-31).  He was not ashamed to call them “brethren.”  Just as our Lord first ascended into heaven and appeared in the presence of God for us, before all the hosts of heaven to own us for His own and to urge our interests before the throne, so Joseph did for his brethren in Egypt.

 

32 And the men are shepherds, for their trade hath been to feed cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.

 

“The men are shepherds, for their trade hath been to feed cattle,” he said to Pharaoh, “and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.” It was Joseph’s intention to prepare Pharaoh for the meeting with his brethren, just as a little later, he was going to prepare his brethren for the meeting with Pharaoh.  The distance between a divine Pharaoh and a rough and ready farmer was vast indeed.  Joseph had to be the mediator to bridge that great gulf.  As Joseph, born and brought up in the family of Jacob in the land of Canaan, he was one with them, knew their way of life, their natures, strengths, weaknesses, needs.  He could put one hand upon them, as Zaphnath-Paaneah, seated at the right hand of Pharaoh, at home amid the pomp and splendor of the court, and he could place his other hand upon the Pharaoh.  He understood his thoughts and ways.  Joseph was a perfect mediator.  Without Joseph, the brothers would have had no access to that throne, no means of approaching it, and no hope of making a successful appeal to Pharaoh.  Without Joseph they had nothing; with him they had everything.  In all this, there is a direct parallel between Joseph and his brethren, and us and our mediator.  The Lord Jesus, both God and man, brings us to the throne and negotiates for us in a way we never could.

 

33 And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What is your occupation?

 

We are next shown Joseph as the successful minister (33-34).  Because he had intimate knowledge of royal procedures in Egypt, Joseph gave detailed instructions concerning how to approach Pharaoh.  He began by explaining to his brethren something of his work at Pharaoh’s right hand, and explained its practical significance to them.  They must cooperate with him; there could be no self-seeking, no independent action; they must do exactly as he told them.  He had their future good in mind and knew, far better than they, what pitfalls lay ahead for them in Egypt.  He could see the things they could not see, and his wisdom was far greater than theirs.  He was their mediator before the throne so that he might be their minister in their daily lives.  Again, the parallel between Joseph and Jesus is inescapable.

 

34 That ye shall say, Thy servants' trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd{1] is an abomination unto the Egyptians.

 

We note Joseph’s plain instructions to his brethren: “And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, what is your occupation? that ye shall say, thy servants' trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers” (33-34a). In other words, the brethren were to be completely honest with Pharaoh and confess to him their “shepherd” character.  They were to confess it before him and all his grand court.  The situation was delicate because “the Egyptians’” rated shepherds as people of low social status and it must be made clear that their visit would be temporary.  The feeling of the Egyptians about shepherds was probably due to the domination of the intruding Shepherd Kings{2].  Or else it was because of feeling that shepherds were of an impure and inferior cast. Unlike the Egyptians who were a settled, agricultural people, shepherds were a nomadic, migratory people, ever on the move, never sending their roots down deeply into any one spot.  That was of vital importance. Unless the brethren held onto their shepherd character, and their pilgrim character, all would be lost.  The Lord would also have us be Pilgrims and strangers on the earth and take our stand before the throne above in that character.

 

We note also Joseph’s clear intention for his brethren: “That ye may dwell in the land of Goshen,” he explained, “for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians” (34b).  That is what he was after.  He wanted to keep a clear line of demarcation between the chosen family and the Egyptians.  “Goshen” would secure their separation from Egypt even though they must live in that land.  Goshen was on the Canaan side of the land, so settling there would make it that much easier for them to leave Egypt when the time came.

 

Moreover, the Egyptians despised shepherds, one of the seven casts, or guilds, into which the Egyptians were divided.  They were held in such contempt by other Egyptians that they were not allowed to enter the Temples or to marry any other Egyptian outside their cast.  The Egyptians’ aversion for “shepherds” is perhaps an aspect of their aversion to foreigners (Genesis 43:28 refers to their dislike of eating with foreigners).  As shepherds, Jacob’s family was not a settled people, and unsettled people often make settled people feel uneasy.  Like other immigrant communities, the family members end up living together rather than living among their host community, but that may facilitate their staying together and not losing their identity.  The Egyptian records show that this was not the first time people from Canaan had come to Egypt in famine years.  But probably no other group had had as high representation before Pharaoh as did Jacob’s family.

 

Joseph’s intentions, therefore, in insisting that his brethren confess their shepherd character was obvious.  He did not want them to get involved with the Egyptians either in the matter of worship or marriage; spiritually and socially they were to be separate from the Egyptians.  Intermarriage would inevitably lead to spiritual compromise and the worship of the false gods of the Egyptians.

 

His concern illustrates what the Lord expects of His people in the world today.  The world’s attractions are not for us; its religious systems are anathema to us.  This world is NOT our home.

 

As we review Jacob’s life in the light of these events, we see: (1) The greatness of God’s purpose.  God kept Jacob’s family long after the famine was over, using the circumstances of their need to further His wider plans.  “Thy judgments are a great deep.” (2) The reality of God’s guidance.  Step by step Jacob and Joseph were led, whether they knew it or not.  (3) And the wisdom of God’s love.  In spite of all the difficulties, Jacob could at length see the love that had been with him.

 

Scripture and Special notes

[1} Every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians” is a puzzling claim because there is an indication in the next chapter that Pharaoh had his own flocks (see 47:6), and there is no extrabiblical evidence that shepherding was a taboo profession among the Egyptians, as the categorical language of the last sentence here appears to suggest.  The least complicated explanation is that the Egyptians, who were by and large sedentary agriculturists and who had large urban centers, considered the seminomadic herdsmen from the north as inferiors (an attitude actually reflected in Egyptian sources) and so preferred to keep them segregated in the pasture region of the Nile Delta not far from the Sinai border.

[2} Shepherd Kings. The shepherd kings (the Hyksos), i.e., leaders of sheep and cattle herders from the Land of Canaan who took control of Egypt or at least shared power with local Egyptian rulers who interacted with them culturally.  Ancient historians record that the Shepherd kings ruled with great tyranny for more than 200 years. There is reason to believe that the non-Egyptian element amongst the Hyksos were Israelites.  It is also considered that the Israelites were an abomination to the Egyptians’, because they sacrificed oxen and sheep, which the Egyptians’ worshipped.

[3} “And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.” (Genesis 37:35)

 

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