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Deeper Commentary

Gen 47:1 Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said, My father and my brothers, with their flocks, their herds, and all that they own, have come out of the land of Canaan; and behold, they are in the land of Goshen- Joseph was clearly setting things up so that Israel remained just over the border of Canaan, in Goshen. This worked well for everyone. They were shepherds with herds of sheep, which were abomination to the Egyptians; so it was a good thing that they were located in a limited area. This would also keep them more spiritually separate from Egypt, if they just lived alone. Joseph would have supported the idea of Israel returning to Canaan as soon as the famine was over, having been amazingly blessed by God during the famine years with fertility and increase (see on Gen. 45:7). As Goshen was just across the border, this was the best place for them to be. And it happened, under God's providence, that Goshen was the best land in Egypt.

Gen 47:2 From among his brothers he took five men, and presented them to Pharaoh- We think of the Lord Jesus presenting us faultless before the presence of God's glory (Jude 24). But "presented" can be translated 'left with' (Gen. 33:15; Ex. 10:24), and carries the idea of establishing or setting up. Egypt was governed by a politburo of five ministers. So it could be that Pharaoh wanted to replace his five top ministers with Joseph's brothers- men who were shepherds, of the lowest caste, and foreigners. Pharaoh was indeed inverting all the expectations and norms of Egypt, realizing that it was by doing so that they had all been saved. This makes good sense of why Joseph took five of his brothers; otherwise the number seems arbitrary, and we wonder why the other brothers were not also presented. I suggest this verse is a summary of what happened, and now :3-6 will explain how it came about, leading to the point in :6 when Pharaoh asks: "If you know any able men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock". This is what led to the situation of the five viziers or leaders of Egypt being Joseph's brothers.


Gen 47:3 Pharaoh said to his brothers, What is your occupation? They said to Pharaoh, Your servants are shepherds, both we, and our fathers- They had been warned by Joseph to be totally honest in saying who they were, just as he had tried to teach them this lesson when they first came to Egypt. He had warned them that shepherds are abominable to Egyptians, and yet encouraged them to accept they were in one sense the lowest of the low, to not hide the fact nor place some more acceptable gloss upon it; see on Gen. 46:32-34. And they were hugely blessed for this by Pharaoh exalting them; see on :2 and :6.


Gen 47:4 They said to Pharaoh, We have come to live as foreigners in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks. For the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now therefore, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen- They applied to "sojourn", "to live as foreigners", temporarily. This was in line with God's intended plan that Israel stay in Egypt until the famine was over, and then return to Canaan along with Jacob, who would die there (see on Gen. 46:4) and experience further fulfilment of the promises to Abraham there. I explained on Gen. 45:7 that this plan was set up to come true potentially, but as with Judah in Babylon, they preferred the soft life of Egypt, the kingdom now, and remained in Egypt, with Jacob dying there rather than back in Canaan as intended. Even if their words here in :4 mean that they wanted to live permanently in Goshen, which bordered Canaan and was arguably part of the eretz promised to Abraham, we note that they saw even permanent dwelling as 'sojourning', living "as foreigners", just passing through- which should be the spirit of our lives, even if we live in the same house or location all our days.


Gen 47:5 Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, saying, Your father and your brothers have come to you- This may appear to be stating the obvious. But the significance is in the phrase "come to you". I noted on Gen. 46:31 that "Come [to me]" is the same word used by Jacob in objecting to the interpretation of Joseph's dream as meaning that he must "come" to his son and bow before him (Gen. 37:10). Perhaps Joseph had shared his dreams with Pharaoh, who now perceived their wonderful fulfilment, and may well have come very close to Israel's God himself.


Gen 47:6 The land of Egypt is before you. Make your father and your brothers dwell in the best of the land. Let them dwell in the land of Goshen. If you know any able men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock- I suggested on :2 that :3-6 are an explanation of how the situation in :2 came about, that five of the brothers became senior officials in Egypt. The climax of :3-6 is therefore this invitation to Joseph's brothers to become managers of Pharaoh's own cattle. The interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams was a radical affront to the Egyptian belief system, as I noted many times on Gen. 40 and 41. But Pharaoh had the humility to accept this. And he is being tested again here; his whole culture was geared to despise shepherds, to consider sheep and goats as unworthy even to be sacrificed, and to stereotype shepherds as the lowest of the low. There is no lack of evidence for this provided by Egyptologists. But faced with an influx of people who would have reminded him and his people of the hated Hyksos shepherd kings, he welcomes them, and their flocks, and gives them the best of his land. And his humility and rejection of stereotypes is displayed yet more profoundly in that he invites those whom he once despised to be in charge of his own cattle, which presumably meant replacing his local staff with these despised Hebrew shepherds.


Gen 47:7 Joseph brought in Jacob, his father, and set him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh- He does so again in :10. Pharaoh had learnt from his own double dream that a think happening twice meant that God really intended it. Again, the promises had a primary fulfilment, in that Abraham's seed were a blessing to the Gentile world.


Gen 47:8 Pharaoh said to Jacob, How many are the days of the years of your life?- The idea is that every day had been significant. It was a question of how many days had been lived; and so it is for us too, even though there are periods of life when it seems every day is the same old scene.


Gen 47:9 Jacob said to Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred thirty years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers- At 130, Jacob seems to have felt that the fact he had not lived as long as his father and grandfather had, indicated that he had not received so much blessing as they had; he saw length of years in this life as being significant, rather than allowing the prospect of future eternity make present longevity fade into insignificance. And yet in his final 17 years, he grew quickly; he was not spiritually idle in those last 17 years of retirement. For at the very end he could say that his blessings had exceeded "the blessings of my progenitors" (Gen. 49:26).

In the days of their pilgrimage- At the close of his life, Jacob was still emotionally attached, consciously and unconsciously, to his father and grandfather (consider the way he unconsciously imitates his father by feeling he is about to die years before he does, Gen. 47:9 cp. 28 cp. 27:2 cp. 35:28). But he had made their faith his own.

Jacob speaks of his life as a "pilgrimage", using the same word used about Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 17:8; 28:4; 36:7; 37:1). Thus he showed his connection with them; they became in spiritual not just emotional terms the centre of his thinking. See on Gen. 49:31. Jacob speaking of how his life had been a "pilgrimage" shows that he realized that this life was only a series of temporary abodes. The same word is translated "stranger" with reference to the patriarchs' separation from the tribes around them (Gen. 17:8; 28:4; 36:7; 37:1). Jacob's attitude that the things of this life were only temporary, that we are only passing through, is identified in Heb. 11:10-16 as an indicator that Jacob shared the faith of Abraham and Isaac. The commentary of Heb. 11:14 upon this word of Jacob's is clear: “Now they who say such things declare plainly that they seek a country—that they long for a better country".


Gen 47:10 Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from the presence of Pharaoh- Again, the promises had a primary fulfilment, in that Abraham's seed were a blessing to the Gentile world. We must be on the look out for such primary fulfilments in our lives too.


Gen 47:11 Joseph placed his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Raamses, as Pharaoh had commanded- Raamses was built later, by the Hebrews when they were enslaved (Ex. 1:11). But Moses is reporting this history well after the event, and is seeking to explain to Israel the historical background to their experiences in Egypt. It was "the best of the land", the same word used when God had earlier promised Jacob that quite simply, "I will do you good", literally, 'the best' (Gen. 32:12). As Jacob lay friendless and ashamed with a stone for his pillow in the desert scrub near Bethel that lonely night, he would have had no idea how extensively this promise was going to be fulfilled even in his lifetime. He was going to live in Goshen, the best of the land of opulent Egypt, at a time when the rest of Canaan and Egypt was on their knees facing starvation. Truly God knows the plans He has for us, to bless us and do us good at our latter end.


Gen 47:12 Joseph nourished his father, his brothers, and all of his father’s household, with bread, according to their families- I suggested throughout Gen. 46 that the list of those who came with Jacob are in fact those who were heads of families. This was how they were organized, and "bread" would have been given to them on a family basis. The idea of nourishing suggests that Joseph was a fatherly figure to the rest of his family, although they were older than him. This was all implied in his dreams.


Gen 47:13 There was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine- The fact Joseph gave them bread (:12) therefore points up the fact he was literally their saviour. Without his grace, the seed of Abraham would have died out in their current form, and God would have made the promises to Abraham come true through the seed of Joseph. Joseph must have thought about this possibility but rejected it; for after all, his brothers were worthy to die for what they had done, and were in any case not wholly committed to Yahweh. Moses was placed in a similar position, when God wished to destroy Israel and make of him a new nation, and thereby fulfil the Abrahamic promises through him as the channel chosen. But Moses had learnt the grace of Joseph, and refused this scenario. God accepted Joseph's grace toward his brothers, and therefore promised them that "I will there make of you a great nation" (Gen. 46:3). He says the same words to Moses: "I [will] consume them, and make of you [Moses] a great nation" (Ex. 32:10; Num. 14:12; Dt. 9:14). And Moses is effectively asking God to treat Israel with the same grace Joseph had done, and make of them and not him personally "a great nation". This was just as Joseph had wished and enabled to happen, rather than the great nation being made just from him.

Joseph's policies with regard to the famine would have not been without their critics. The obvious objection of the Egyptian people would have been: 'This is our grain. We stored it. If we give or sell it to foreigners, there will be none left for us! Who knows how many years this famine will continue!'. Joseph was operating according to a policy which expected there to be seven years of famine, and then a planting of seed, and then a harvest. But this was structured according to faith in the dreams, in God's prophetic word. Like us, he was surrounded by secular people who only saw the immediate and reasoned from selfish motives.


Gen 47:14 Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the grain which they bought: and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house- "Money" is literally "silver". Egyptians had bought Joseph for pieces of silver, and now all the silver in the land was being given to Joseph, who with integrity gave it to Pharaoh, who turned his own personal house into the bank vault. Joseph "gathered" it up, the word for gleaning grain after the harvest (s.w. Lev. 19:9; 23:22). They got the grain, and all their money was just as the gleaning of it. The play of ideas is to demonstrate how little money was worth compared to corn. It was merely the few dropped grains compared to the full harvest. All those in Canaan gave Joseph their money, as well as all the Egyptians, until nobody in Canaan had any money left, it "failed" or 'was ended' (:16). And Joseph then gave it to Pharaoh. Jacob and his sons had worried about money, and I suggested that there was a strong financial motive in wanting to sell Joseph into Egypt. But now, in this situation which clearly points forward to the things of the Lord Jesus, money was no longer significant; all that was important was the bread of life given by Joseph. Even Pharaoh could do little with the silver, because nobody had much left to sell any more.


Gen 47:15 When the money was all spent in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph, and said, Give us bread, for why should we die in your presence? For our money fails- As explained on :14, in this situation, money lost its meaning, and they had none left now (:16). What was all important for the Canaanites was the bread of life given by Joseph. They would have heard the story, surely; the descendants of the Shechemites whose men had been massacred, the Canaanites who were aware of how Judah slept with their prostitutes... would now coming bowing to Joseph, throwing themselves upon his grace in order to live. For the bread of life was all important now, and not money. They were desperate; they felt they would die in his presence if he didn't give them food. Their money was finished (:16) and had lost meaning anyway. The whole situation was potentially set up for the Canaanites to praise Israel's God for the grace and saving wisdom of his wonderful son. If Israel had returned to Canaan once the famine ended, they could have set up something similar to the Kingdom of God on earth. See on :18 and Gen. 45:7.


Gen 47:16 Joseph said, Give me your livestock; and I will give you food for your livestock, if your money is gone- The animals may have remained with the people; the idea was that they had no legal title to them any more. "Give me your livestock" is an example of Joseph speaking on behalf of Pharaoh, very intensely manifesting him, and functioning as him. This is all valid insight into the relationship between the Father and Son.


Gen 47:17 They brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses, and for the flocks, and for the herds, and for the donkeys; and he fed them with bread in exchange for all their livestock for that year- There was a progressive surrender of self and all wealth to Joseph and Pharaoh, just as there is for all those who accept the bread of life from the Lord Jesus. Even if they as it were maintained the usage of the things they had, such as their land, animals and bodies, they recognized that they owned nothing now, all was Joseph's. And this is exactly the picture of how we should be before the Lord Jesus.


Gen 47:18 When that year was ended, they came to him the second year, and said to him, We will not hide from my lord how our money is all spent, and the herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands- Remember that the people in view are those of Canaan as well as Egypt. They were totally open before him, hiding nothing, which is how Joseph had wished his brothers to be before him. They openly admitted their desperation. And this is what is so necessary for us too if we are to partake in that great deliverance / salvation which is in the Lord. The Canaanites were willing to give their lands to Joseph, and to give him their bodies as slaves. If Israel had returned to Canaan after the famine as God intended (see on Gen. 45:7), the whole land could have been theirs. But they were too short term in their vision, and preferred the soft life of Egypt which they had become familiar with. This is the awful power of conservatism in human nature.


Gen 47:19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants to Pharaoh. Give us seed, that we may live, and not die, and that the land won’t be desolate- Death before Joseph's eyes meant that if he didn't feed them, then they would die there and then. Joseph had been trained for this by having his brothers equally desperate before him, knowing they were facing the death sentence, desperate for his grace. Likewise he had been trained by the experiences of running things in Potiphar's household and then in the prison, in order to manage the affairs of all Egypt and Canaan. "That we may live and not die" was precisely the attitude of Israel in Canaan as they faced the implications of the famine (Gen. 42:2; 43:8). Now all the peoples of Canaan and Egypt were being led through that same process, to the end that potentially they too might throw themselves upon Israel's God. The only occurrence of the Hebrew phrase here translated "the land [soil]... desolate" is in Ez. 12:19, where the land / soil of Israel is to be desolate "because of the violence of all them that dwell in it". In God's complex ecology, the land of Canaan was made desolate because of the violence of the brothers against their brother, against Shechem and perhaps others too. Ezekiel's word for "violence" is that used about what the brothers did to Shechem (Gen. 49:5).


Gen 47:20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for every man of the Egyptians sold his field, because the famine was severe on them, and the land became Pharaoh’s- The desperate people coming before Joseph were from Canaan as well as Egypt (:14,15). Yet here we read that Joseph only bought the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. Did he accept the offer of the Canaanites for himself? This would have meant that he as Abraham's seed ended up effectively inheriting the land of Canaan. This is why Israel ought to have returned from Egypt after the famine to the land which the Canaanites had already deeded over to Joseph; see on Gen. 45:7. All this was great encouragement for the wilderness generation to focus upon going into Canaan with faith, believing that likewise it had all been providentially arranged for them to inherit it.


Gen 47:21 As for the people, he moved them to the cities from one end of the border of Egypt even to the other end of it- These cities were the store cities where Joseph had stored the grain. The population was moved to be in those areas so that they could be fed. They had to abandon their land for the sake of being near the bread of life.


Gen 47:22 Only he didn’t buy the land of the priests, for the priests had a portion from Pharaoh, and ate their portion which Pharaoh gave them. That is why they didn’t sell their land- The fact Joseph was married to the daughter of a priest may have been relevant to this decision. The people were given their portion of food by Joseph, and yet he acts on Pharaoh's behalf, functioning as him. And we have here an insight into the way the Lord Jesus functions as God without being God Himself in a Trinitarian sense. See on :23.


Gen 47:23 Then Joseph said to the people, Behold, I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh. Behold, here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land- Joseph like the Lord Jesus bought / redeemed the people so that they might go forth and sow the seed (cp. the Gospel; Gen. 47:23 cp. 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:19).  If we are properly responding to our great salvation, we will be playing our part in bringing forth the next generation of harvest. As noted on :22, Joseph does everything "for Pharaoh", functioning as him without being him personally; exactly as the Lord Jesus is functionally as God, without being God. Function and essential nature or identity are different ideas. Joseph and now all Egypt were confident that the dreams of Pharaoh really were of God and would come true; therefore in this last year of the famine, when the stored grain was depleted, they did what was counter-instinctive because of their faith in the prophetic word: they sowed seed in the parched ground which had not seen water for seven years. This would have been the harder to do knowing that their grain stocks were seriously depleted.

Gen 47:24 It will happen at the harvests, that you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four parts will be your own, for seed of the field, for your food, for them of your households, and for food for your little ones- A fifth is a double tithe. It was usual to give a tenth to the ruler, but the Egyptians were to be doubly generous to Pharaoh over the subsequent generations, in memory of how he through Joseph had saved their lives. And this should be a motivation for our generosity too. Joseph speaks again with calm confidence that "harvests" would be coming regularly. The Egyptians likely felt that the end of their world had come, and probably came up with all kinds of paganic explanations for this within their cosmology; and as in every primitive society, there would have been all manner of conspiracy theories as to who was to blame for the catastrophe, and what rituals should be performed to end it. But the Divine prophetic word took them far above such speculations. Harvests would surely come; and Joseph was so sure of this that he even commands them how to manage their domestic affairs once the harvests come, explaining how they were to use a fifth of their harvest for future planting, etc.


Gen 47:25 They said, You have saved our lives! Let us find favour in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s servants- To be servants of such a King was felt to be grace or favour. Their desire to be servants was motivated by the reality of personal salvation. Because he had saved their lives, they eagerly agreed to be servants. Our response to the great salvation / deliverance in the Lord Jesus is to be the same; motivation for true servanthood arises from gratitude for salvation, and not because we think so lowly of ourselves that we consider servanthood is all we are worthy of.


Gen 47:26 Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth. Only the land of the priests alone didn’t become Pharaoh’s- "To this day" would refer to when Moses wrote Genesis. The wilderness generation had lived in Egypt, and would have been aware of the social structure and taxation system there; and Moses was now explaining to them so that they understood, perhaps for the first time, how it had originated. The Mosaic law was to teach that Yahweh's priests had no land inheritance and that they must tithe what was given to them; which was in sharp contrast to the cushy life of the Egyptian priests, who kept their land as their own and apparently didn't have to pay a fifth of their harvest to Pharaoh.

Gen 47:27 Israel lived in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen; and they got themselves possessions therein, and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly- The birth rate amongst the general population would have dropped sharply after years of this kind of intense famine. But the promises to Abraham and Jacob of a multitudinous seed surged forward in their primary fulfilment, in the face of every reason to think that they could not. The promise to make Israel a great nation was fulfilled during the famine; it was the Divine intention that once the famine was over, they should return to Canaan (see on Gen. 45:7. But they wanted their kingdom in Egypt rather than Canaan, and not to be disturbed from what they had become accustomed to. This power of conservatism is so dominant in the human psyche. It is only careful and sensitive attention to the implications of the promises that can make us rise above it.


Gen 47:28 Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were one hundred forty-seven years- Israel were intended to return to Canaan once the famine ended. There were five years of famine after they entered, and during those five years they increased greatly and Joseph was given the property deeds to the land of Canaan (see on :18,20; Gen. 45:7). So the final 12 years of Jacob's life were intended to be lived back in Canaan. But as so often happens, although believers will be ultimately saved, they don't actualize in this life the potentials possible for them.


Gen 47:29 The time drew near that Israel must die, and he called his son Joseph, and said to him, If now I have found favour in your sight- The way Jacob recognizes the greatness of Joseph (as representative of the future Messianic seed, the Lord Jesus Christ) reflects a maturing of attitude since the day when he refused to accept that he would ever bow down to Joseph (Gen. 37:10). The way he speaks to Joseph at the end shows his deeper respect of him: "If now I have found favour / grace in your sight" was the same way in which he had addressed Esau, when crawling before him in Gen. 33:8,10,15. His appreciation of the greatness of Joseph reflected his appreciation of the greatness of the future Christ, and his salvation by grace.

Please put your hand under my thigh- This was the thigh which had been wounded by the Angel and was so weak, the thigh upon which Jacob limped, the reminder to him of his salvation by God's grace (Gen. 32:25 s.w.). In response to that grace, Jacob didn't want to be buried in Egypt but to identify with the things of the Kingdom and the hope of resurrection.

And deal kindly and truly with me- The phrase often refers to the promises to Abraham and the fathers; "mercy and truth" is to be performed to Abraham and Jacob at the resurrection (Mic. 7:20). The implication of them was that Jacob didn't want to be identified with Egypt but with the patriarchs and the things of God's Kingdom. So the receipt of this "truth", the true promises, elicited action in practice. Truth is not therefore merely a set of doctrines; it refers to an obedient and responsive life. The LXX uses the phrase 'to do truth', which John uses in the New Testament, in passages like Is. 26:10 and 2 Chron. 31:20 (about Hezekiah's obedience to commandments), or here in Gen. 47:29 to describe arranging a burial in faith. The fact truth must be done indicates it is not merely correct academic interpretation of doctrine. To commit violence to others' persons is to live a lie (Hos. 12:1), and 'to truth' is to live in love to others.

Please don’t bury me in Egypt- Despite the opulence and easy life, Jacob wanted to use even his own death to demonstrate that this was not to be the resting place for God's true people.

Gen 47:30 But when I sleep with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place. He said, I will do as you have said- Jacob's heart was in the land of promise, despite living in Egypt in opulence compared to his tent dwelling, cattle rancher life. Our hearts too must be in the things of the Kingdom rather than in the passing comforts of this life. Jacob's desire to be buried with his fathers may well imply his hope of resurrection, although burial place is irrelevant to experience of resurrection. God had promised Jacob that he would come up out of Egypt (Gen. 46:4), and he seems to have never quite lost his tendency to try to bring about God's promises by his own device; for he asks Joseph to ensure that he is carried up from Egypt when he dies. God had promised Jacob that "I will bring you up", but Jacob wanted to as it were ensure this would happen within his own strength. More generously to Jacob, it could be argued that the promises of salvation do require us to play our part in them.


Gen 47:31 He said, Swear to me, and he swore to him-
As explained on :30, God had promised or sworn to Jacob that He would bring up Jacob from Egypt  (Gen. 46:4). Jacob making Joseph swear to do this is therefore somewhat lacking in faith in God's swearing to him. Even at the end of our lives, we like Jacob will not have developed spiritually as we might have done, and yet even though we die in spiritual weakness, we shall be raised in power by His grace (see on 1 Cor. 15:43).

Israel bowed himself on the bed’s head- LXX: "And Israel worshipped leaning on the top of his staff", which is how the New Testament quotes it in Heb. 11:21. "Staff" and "bed" are the same consonants, and would easily have been confused before vowel points were added in Hebrew. This is one of many reasons to reject the "King James only" school; the translators simply do not always have it right, as the New Testament quotations from the LXX make clear. Heb. 11:21 is part of the wider argument in Hebrews 11, which appeals for Hebrew faith in Jesus and the Kingdom because all the Old Testament heroes had this same faith in Jesus and the Kingdom. So we are invited to imagine Jacob praising God for the things of the Lord Jesus, his future seed so strongly typified in Joseph; and the things of the Kingdom.