New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Gen 46:1 Israel travelled with all that he had- This could be read as disobedience to the commandment of Gen. 45:20 not to take their belongings with them because they would be given everything in Egypt. The power of petty materialism, clinging on to the old and familiar, is very strong, and with Jacob it got no easier with age. See on :6. Again and again in the whole story we see the struggle to accept grace. Although Joseph urged them not to bring their belongings (Gen. 45:20), the record emphasizes that they did bring them (Gen. 46:1,6,7). The record stresses how Jacob and his sons all struggled to believe the good news of Joseph, they resisted grace, just as we do.

And came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac- If these were in gratitude, then they were offered on the basis of faith in the word of Joseph. For he had not yet seen him himself. Jacob is still thinking in terms of God as being his father's God; only in his final blessing of his sons does he freely speak of this God as his personal God. We see therefore that the drive to spiritual maturity can take a lifetime, even a life as long as Jacob's. Those brought up believing in their parents' God may take a lifetime to make it real for themselves.

Gen 46:2 God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob! He said, Here I am- Jacob's old name was used because this was still how Jacob perceived himself- a liar, a twister, a grabber, rather than a ruler with God. And although the inspired commentary mentions his name Israel from God's perspective, he was addressed as Jacob. And with us likewise, God wishes us to believe in and identify with the new name and identity which He by grace has given us. And yet He so seeks relationship with us that He relates to us in more immature terms if that is still where we are, rather like the Lord using the language of demons in order to communicate with people. It's similar to Joseph's acceptance of his brethren despite them not quite getting there in terms of the repentance and spirituality which his plan had potentially enabled.

Gen 46:3- see on Gen. 31:54.

 He said, I am God- This is in response to Jacob's "Here I am" (:2). We see here something of the mutuality between God and man. The human "I am here" is met with the Divine "I am".

The God of your father- Jacob is still thinking in terms of God as being his father's God; only in his final blessing of his sons does he freely speak of this God as his personal God. And yet as noted on :2, God relates to people in the immature terms and at the immature positions they are at. He could have said "I am your personal God, the God of Jacob", but He instead goes along with Jacob's immature perceptions. Or perhaps the idea is that Jacob had offered sacrifices to the God of his father, and God is trying to insist that He, the God of Jacob's father, was also Jacob's God.

Fear not to go down into Egypt, for there I will make of you a great nation- This continues a theme noted throughout Gen. 45- the wonderful good news was almost too good to believe and accept. The brothers were warned not to give in to the temptation to try to remain in Canaan, but to come to Egypt. It seems Jacob too struggled with the degree of grace and even feared it. This is why people disbelieve the good news of the Gospel of grace. It's in a way too good to believe.

 Yet Jacob's nervousness of going down into Egypt was doubtless also due to his recollection of Abraham and Isaac's tales of spiritual woe concerning it. The double repetition of a name ["Jacob, Jacob"] is usually a rebuke; but for what? Possibly for still being influenced in his spirituality by the specter of his forefathers, rather than personally reflecting on the implications of God's word to Abraham, that his seed would have to live in a Gentile land for a period before they could be led into the promised land (Gen. 15:13). He is here assured that the prophetic purpose contained in the Abrahamic covenant was going to come true in the end- even if Jacob left the promised land. But the large seed Jacob would ultimately sire (and the genealogy in this chapter shows it had already had primary fulfilment) would inherit the promised land; they would have to come up out of Egypt. It was apparent that Jacob would not live to see this in his life, and so again he was driven to the hope of bodily resurrection.

Gen 46:4 I will go down with you into Egypt. I will also surely bring you up again- It was an Angel who led Israel back from Egypt, and so it was an Angel who was speaking to Jacob at this point, assuring him that he would go with Jacob into Egypt. But the words may be true of Jacob on a personal level; he was to be taken into Egypt and back up out of it by the Angel. There could also be a hint here at resurrection, a bringing up again, so that the dream of Jacob and Rachel bowing before Joseph could finally be fulfilled. See on:30.

Joseph will close your eyes- The suggestion could be that Jacob would be brought back up again from Egypt to Canaan, and then he would close his eyes in death with Joseph next to him. But this didn't happen- because Israel chose to remain in Egypt, and suffered for it. See on Gen. 45:7; 47:4,15. So often potentials are enabled, but are not realized because of human dysfunction and conservatism. The possibility of restoration from Babylon and the building of a temple complex as outlined in such detail in Ez. 40-48 would be another example. This suggested explanation would give an appropriate flow to the argument- the death of Jacob would then be associated with the Angel leading him back to Canaan, rather than introducing Jacob's death out of context. The LXX here has "Joseph shall put his hands on thine eyes", which was a form of blessing. This would be confirmation of the dream in which Jacob bowed before his son.

Gen 46:5 Jacob rose up from Beersheba, and the sons of Israel carried Jacob, their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him- The impression is that it was Jacob who wanted to make a sacrifice at Beersheba, and when dad was done with his religious ritual, the rest of the family got him back in the wagon. This would be another indication of weakness in the brothers of Joseph, and evidence of their salvation and forgiveness by his grace alone. Perhaps there is significance in the idea that the wagons were sent to "carry him", but the rest of his family were carried in them; as if they were saved as Noah's family were, by association with the faithful, rather than necessarily being themselves very faithful. This impression is confirmed in :7 [see note there].

Their wives and little children, not just their sons but their daughters too, came into Egypt; further reason for thinking that the 66 or 70 counted as going down into Egypt refers to the heads of clans, large families, rather than being an exhaustive list of everyone who went down.

Gen 46:6 They took their livestock, and their goods, which they had gotten in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt--Jacob, and all his seed with him- As noted on :1, they took "their goods" with them, in disobedience to the commandment of Gen. 45:20 not to take their belongings with them because they would be given everything in Egypt. They desperately wanted to cling on to what they "had gotten", rather than accept the grace of all things being given to them.

Gen 46:7 His sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters, and he brought all his seed with him into Egypt- The mention of Jacob's daughters and granddaughters going with them confirms my comment on :26, that the list of 70 or 66 people here is not a total list but rather of those who later founded large family clans within their tribes. As noted on :5, the family were brought by Jacob into Egypt, they were saved by association with him, as Rahab's family were, rather than by their own faithfulness to the covenant. The large company were "all his seed" which had indeed become multitudinous, showing yet again that the promises which form the basis of the new covenant have a primary fulfilment.

Gen 46:8 These are the names of the children of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons: Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn- We wonder why Reuben is still mentioned as the firstborn when it had been given to Joseph (1 Chron. 5:1), who wore the robe of the firstborn, the coat of many colours, which provoked so much jealousy. Perhaps this had been cancelled when Joseph disappeared. I have suggested at several points in this chapter that the list we now have is not of all who came into Egypt (see on :26,27) but of those who became heads of large family clans within the tribes.

Gen 46:9 The sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi- Hanoch [s.w. Enoch] was named after the son of Cain (Gen. 4:17) and means "initiated", rather hinting at unspirituality and paganism. At the time of Gen. 42:37, Reuben only had two sons. He may have produced two sons straight afterwards if he had other women in his life; but probably as noted on :18 and :21, there were unborn children included in this list because they were counted as still being "in the loins of" their ancestors.

Gen 46:10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman- "The sons of Simeon were Nemuel and Jamin... and Shaul" (1 Chron. 4:24); but Gen. 46:10 shows that Shaul was Simeon's son by a wrong, casual relationship. Yet this is not recorded in Chronicles, even though so many other weaknesses are. Surely this is to demonstrate how if God imputes righteousness for a repented of sin, there really is no record of this kept by Him. This and other such lessons from Chronicles only come from digging under the surface. The fact Simeon's relationship with a local Canaanite is mentioned may be because this was the exception rather than the rule amongst Jacob's sons. In this case, we are left to conclude that they like Isaac and Jacob had taken their wives from the monotheists amongst Abraham's distant relatives in Mesopotamia, and the women had been expected to follow Rebekah's example and leave their land and come and live in the land of promise. "Shaul" means 'asked for' and so it could be that Simeon had some particular desire for that son, and for all his failures at Shechem, he had asked God for a child and received it, although through a less than ideal relationship.

It seems fair to assume that all the brothers married Canaanite women. So perhaps this is a reference to some child from a passing sexual encounter with a Canaanite woman, possibly implying she was a prostitute. See on :12. Or it could be that the brothers had all married women from Mesopotamia, repeating the weakness of Isaac and Jacob in refusing to break with Abraham's land of origin. But was that right? Abraham's seed were to separate from Abraham's homeland. Which meant that they should have taken local wives and converted them to Yahweh's ways. Instead, they took wives from pagan Mesopotamia, idolatrous women like Rachel.

Gen 46:11 The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari- "Gershon" means 'expelled', maybe meaning that like Reuben he was expelled from the role of firstborn [he is mentioned first as if he was the firstborn]. This is a theme of the Genesis record. "Merari" means "bitter"; from these rather unpromising beginnings were to arise those who gave their lives to the service of God and His people. And we see similar transformation in the lives of so many.

Gen 46:12 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah; but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan- "Shelah" means 'requested'; as observed with Shaul on :10, prayers for the child's existence were answered through a less than ideal relationship.

Here we have another impression of the kind of weakness discussed on :10, as Judah's sons Er and Onan are mentioned when they were already dead. Yet they are mentioned whilst writing a list of those who went down into Egypt. Seeing they were dead in Canaan (Num. 26:19 is specific about Er and Onan dying in Canaan), why mention them? I suggest it is all to build up an impression that this embryo people of God were indeed sinners saved by grace, at the initiative of God through Joseph. This all supports the argument that Israel needed to go into Egypt and multiply there as a singular people. As otherwise, their tendency to intermarriage and relations with Canaanites would mean they would never become a distinct people.

The sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul- "Hamul" means 'The one who was spared', which rather suggests he too had sinned like Er and Onan, but was spared by grace. Again, we hardly get a very positive spiritual impression of Jacob's family. They were saved by grace. There is a chronological query as to whether Judah was old enough to have had these two grandchildren whilst still in Canaan. I have suggested on :18 and :21 that there were unborn children included in this list because they were counted as still being "in the loins of" their ancestors.

Gen 46:13 The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Iob, and Shimron- "Iob" is LXX "Jashub", as in Num. 26:24.

Gen 46:14 The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel- "Elon" means "oak", and this surely had idolatrous connections. Yet his brother Jahleel means "waiting upon God". So we have here an example of where spirituality can still flourish despite the culture, family and society of origin being unspiritual. Because spirituality is unique and the outcome of our personal relationship with God; we are not doomed to unspirituality because of our background or environment.

Gen 46:15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan Aram, with his daughter Dinah. All the souls of his sons and his daughters were thirty-three- 33 excluding Dinah, which raises the question as to why she is mentioned here at all. Maybe because she went on to have some special significance in the family, despite her sins and faults of youth at Shechem. Perhaps she took over as the matriarch of the family after the deaths of Rachel and Leah.

Gen 46:16 The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli- "Arodi" is "wild ass man", a similar idea to the description of Ishmael in Gen. 16:12, who chose to go away from covenant relationship with God. We simply do not get a great impression of the family; and that is the point.

Gen 46:17 The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and Serah their sister. The sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel- The mention of women in this list is unusual, and I have suggested that the names are of those who became heads of family clans within the tribes. So the mention of Serah would mean that she became a head of family; although rare or unknown in the world around them, this was not totally unheard of in the Jacob family and we see in this the respect of women amongst them.

Gen 46:18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah, his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob, even sixteen souls- Zilpah did not bear 16 children, but rather the grandchildren are counted to her, on the basis that a person is seen as existing "in the loins of their father" even if they have no actual existence at that point; see on :21.

Gen 46:19 The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin- Again we have the fact that Joseph is mentioned in this list of those who came down with Jacob into Egypt, when Joseph was already there in Egypt. See on :20,21,26.

Gen 46:20 To Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him- The LXX adds: "There were sons born to Manasses, whom the Syrian concubine bore to him, even Machir. And Machir begat Galaad. And the sons of Ephraim the brother of Manasses, Sutalaam and Taam. And the sons of Sutalaam, Edom". This explains the LXX figure of 75 in :27 which Stephen quotes in Acts 7:14, so the LXX addition may be correct. However, we are left with the problem of how sons born in Egypt could be counted amongst those who came with Jacob into Egypt. I will suggest on :21 and :26 that we are not reading a literal list of everyone who came, but rather a list of those who developed into clans within the tribes. And some were counted as "in" those who came down into Egypt. This is what it is to be "in" a person; the person is counted as more than themselves personally. And this is the background for the idea of being "in" Christ by baptism into Him. We are counted as Him, and He as us.

Gen 46:21 The sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard- As noted on Gen. 44, Benjamin was hardly a child when the brothers came to buy corn. He was in his 20s, and according to the Hebrew text he had ten sons already, and presumably some daughters; perhaps suggesting that his father's favouritism and obsession with him had not been helpful morally, and had resulted in him having multiple relationships from a young age. However, the LXX lists only three sons, and makes the rest of the list the sons of Bela. And yet Benjamin would not have been old enough to have been a grandfather. So it could be that he had married a woman who had children of her own who became Benjamin's, or that he somehow adopted these children. There would have been a very large extended family around Jacob, and maybe these children were simply under the care of Benjamin. However, the genealogy in Num. 26:40 appears to support the LXX text here, with Ard and Naaman given as grandsons of Benjamin and not sons. We must remember that genealogies, numbers and dates are not used in Semitic languages in the strictly literalistic way in which they are in European languages. Heb. 7:10 can therefore argue that Melchizedek blessed Levi because he blessed Abraham, and Levi was a descendant of Abraham, "yet in the loins of his father". And this establishes Melchizedek as greater than Levi, and in turn, the priests descended from him. That argument may appear very stretched and even technically inaccurate to European ears. But it had absolute validity in Hebrew thought. And so the grandchildren of Benjamin, yet unborn, could be listed as being in existence when Benjamin went into Egypt, and even be numbered amongst the group at that time. This is why the grandchildren of the maids are counted as if they are the direct children of the maids; see on :9 and :18. We likewise read that Jacob brought his twelve sons out of Mesopotamia, including Benjamin (Gen. 35:24,26). But Benjamin was born later, in Canaan. But on this basis of being counted as "in the loins of" an ancestor, Benjamin could also be presented as having come out of Mesopotamia. If this kind of thing were better appreciated by Bible readers, it would be better understood that there was no personal pre-existence of the Lord Jesus in actuality, although He is spoken of as existing prior to His birth.

The simple truth is that Benjamin, the "little one" (Gen. 44:20), has more descendants listed to his name than any of the brothers. Is. 60:22 clearly alludes to this- "a little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation". It is the theme of the patriarchal family; the firstborns are deposed, the elder serves the younger, the weak become strong, the little one becomes mighty.

Benjamin was 16 years younger than Joseph. Benjamin had ten sons when the family moved to Egypt. If by 23, he had 10 sons, he likely had had 10 daughters as well. They would have been from a number of women. So we get the impression that he, the favoured spoilt son of the favourite wife Rachel, with a very wealthy father, became a playboy from a young age. Joseph knew this, or guessed it. For he too had once held the same status with Jacob. What he did to Benjamin was therefore to lead that young man to spiritual maturity. And yet Joseph did it whilst having assured him of his special love, giving him five times larger portions of food. And Benjamin was open to this leading.

The names of his ten sons often reflect his obsession with his absent older brother,  whom Jacob had clearly described to him in heroic terms. The rabbis offer the following definitions of their names in Gen. 46:21: "Ahi, he was my brother; Bela, the one who disappeared,  Rosh, my elder or leader; Becher, the firstborn of his mother (as Joseph was); Ashbel, sent by God to captivity; Gera, dweller in a foreign land; Ard, he went down amongst the nations". This obsession with his unknown, mysteriously disappeared older brother is absolutely psychologically credible. And for me, the psychological credibility of the Biblical record is one of the greatest reasons I believe it to be what it claims to be- the word of God.

Gen 46:22 These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob: all the souls were fourteen- Yet this includes Ephraim, Manasseh and Joseph, who were already in Egypt. This supports my suggestion on :26 that we do not have here a list of every individual who came from Canaan to Egypt, but rather a list of the family clans which would later develop.

Gen 46:23 The son of Dan: Hushim- "Hushim" means "hasty", not a particularly spiritual characteristic. As noted earlier, Hebrew names are not necessarily birth names, but the names by which people came to be known, reflective of their personalities or experiences. However he is called "Shusham" in Num. 26:42, "humble". So maybe his over hasty actions humbled him in due course.

Gen 46:24 The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem- "Jezer" means "image", "Guni" means "painted with colours", both suggestive of idolatry, bearing in mind as noted on :23 that Hebrew names are how the person came to be known according to his personal history.

Gen 46:25 These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel, his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob: all the souls were seven- The Biblical record is very careful to draw a distinction between Jacob's proper wives, and Bilhah and Leah, even though they were understood as his wives even by Rachel and Leah, as well as society (Gen. 30:4,9). Jacob cared for them, had children by them, and had a lifelong relationship with them. But still the inspired record sees a difference between that, and marriage. We need to bear that in mind as we consider what Biblical marriage means in our world.

Gen 46:26 All the souls who came with Jacob into Egypt, who were his direct descendants, besides Jacob’s sons’ wives, all the souls were sixty-six- The manuscripts differ, from 66 to 70 to 75. Some of this can be accounted for by various inclusive or exclusive reckonings of the wives, or the LXX adding in some children of Manasseh to the list in :20, which Stephen quotes in Acts 7:14. However, "all the souls" is clearly not a literal reference to 'all the people' because nearly all of the people mentioned are males, and we know from:7 that Jacob's daughters and granddaughters came with them too. We therefore conclude that those listed are those who went on to have independent families, which in turn became clans within the tribes of Israel. 

"His direct descendants" is literally as AV "who came out of his loins", or his thigh. This is the same word used of how Jacob was touched and wounded in his thigh the night he wrestled with the Angel, and therefore he limped on his thigh (Gen. 32:25,31,32). And here we have the consistent paradox developed in this whole record- out of weakness and inferiority comes blessedness. The blessing of a large seed were fulfilled through many children as it were coming out of his injured loin- a reminder for the rest of his life of God's grace and his weakness. All the attempts to count up the direct descendants of Jacob and make them match 66 are in my view failing to see the more essential point- that they all came from his injured, delicate thigh.

Gen 46:27 The sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two souls. All the souls of the house of Jacob, who came into Egypt, were seventy- See on :20; if the LXX addition in :20 is accepted then we have 75; Stephen in Acts 7:14 and the LXX say 75. This could also be because the 75 includes the wives of Jacob's sons. Judah's wife was dead (Gen. 38:12). Joseph was already in Egypt, making 65 who went into Egypt "besides Jacob's sons' wives" (:26). This plus ten wives would make 75. Again we note that these children of Joseph were not those who came with Jacob into Egypt- for they were born in Egypt. But they appear to be counted within the various figures of 66,70 or 75. Because of the principle of being "in" someone meaning that that person's actions and status were counted to all "in" him. Which is how we are to understand being "in Christ".

The figure of 70 is not, it seems to me, strictly literal. It is to match the 70 Gentile nations of the eretz listed in Gen. 10; their bounds were set according to the number of Israel's children (Dt. 32:8). The potential plan at this time was that they would all die out during the famine, and be replaced by the 70 clans of Jacob's family; who having been miraculously preserved from death in Egypt would then re-enter Canaan and possess it. See on Gen. 45:7,10.

Gen 46:28 He sent Judah before him to Joseph, to show the way before him to Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen- We wonder why this was necessary, seeing that Judah and the brothers had twice made this journey. Why the need to as it were send a herald before him? It rather recalls how Jacob had sent such messengers before him to make peace with Esau. We wonder if Jacob feared meeting Joseph, seeing he had disbelieved his dreams, and insisted he would never bow down to him. Indeed almost his last words to Joseph had been of rebuke concerning his dreams. This unnecessary fear of Joseph is quite a theme of the record; it reflects the difficulty we have in believing in grace, forgiveness and salvation. This is the essential, subconscious reason why people do not believe the Gospel of grace; not because of any real intellectual barriers. Such barriers are but excuses, a making respectable of our inner lack of faith and barrier against grace, our pride in refusing to resign our trust in our strength and works as a basis for salvation.

Gen 46:29 Joseph prepared his chariot, and went up to meet Israel, his father, in Goshen. He presented himself to him, and fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while- We note that Jacob doesn't weep on Joseph's neck, just as the brothers also didn't when Joseph wept upon them. And again we sense the difficulty in believing Joseph's grace. For Jacob's last words to Joseph had been of rebuke for his dreams. But Jacob is never recorded as apologizing to Joseph for this, nor does he bow to Joseph in fulfilment of the dreams as we might like to see; as with the brothers, his repentance is implicit but not explicit, and therefore of a rather low grade. At the end, Jacob as it were had come to repentance. Joseph falls on his neck and weeps for him, just as the Father does to the repentant prodigal. Jacob's neck had once been covered with animal skin in the deceit of his father Isaac (Gen. 27:16), and Esau too had wept on that same neck, the neck which had been used to deceive and rob Esau (Gen. 33:4). And now Joseph weeps upon it too, after Jacob has again sent an ambassage ahead of him to Joseph as he did to Esau (see on :28). These otherwise strange connections with Jacob's neck would have served to show him that through his acceptance of the spiritual seniority of his great son Joseph, he had indeed been forgiven of all this miserable past.

Gen 46:30 Israel said to Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen your face- Jacob's desire to die at that point is rather a denial of the possibility presented in :4 [see note there] that Jacob could survive the famine in Egypt and then return to Canaan to die. Jacob was focused upon Joseph and now he had seen him, he felt prepared to die in peace, rather than from a broken heart as he had imagined he would earlier. His attitudes to death were governed by the status of Joseph. If Joseph was dead or consumed by a wild animal, he would die broken hearted; but if Joseph were alive, as he demonstrably was, he would die in peace. Whether or not his other sons fessed up to him about their sins was not relevant to him, compared to his focus upon the 'resurrection' of Joseph. And our hang ups over whether others have or have not fully repented and set the record straight is utterly obscured by the joy of knowing and seeing the risen Lord Jesus. Jacob at this point and in this sense represents us all. He feels that "I never thought I would see your face, and behold, God has let me see your seed also" (Gen. 48:11). Paul seems to allude here by saying that God does for us  exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think; making Jacob representative of every believer.  

That you are still alive- It may be that Jacob considered Joseph to be the special Messianic seed (which he was, in type), and this would explain his profound joy on seeing Joseph alive and his children, for this would have meant that the promises concerning the seed, as he understood them, had been proved true (46:30; Gen. 48:11). See on Heb. 11:21. There are many echoes  of Christ which seem to have no specific purpose apart from to confirm us in our enthusiasm to constantly see the spirit of Christ in this record (here with Lk. 2:29,30).

The brothers had told Jacob that Joseph was "still alive", but he disbelieved them until he had seen Joseph himself. He clearly doubted their integrity. Joseph likewise had been told by the brothers that their father was still alive, but when he makes himself known to them, he immediately asks as to whether his father really is still alive. Likewise Jacob clearly suspects them of potential foul play with Benjamin, and accuses them of having bereaved him of Joseph. They were known for their lack of integrity- as the massacre at Shechem revealed. This all leads to the significance of our suggestion on :34 that the brothers now devoted themselves to absolute truthfulness. Although at the end, they seem to falsely claim that Jacob had asked Joseph to forgive them and not punish them. Their struggle to be honest was not, therefore, totally won. Basic honesty, with ourselves and others, is a natural outflow of feeling ultimately secure in the knowledge of God's love and our future salvation. 

Gen 46:31 Joseph said to his brothers, and to his father’s house, I will go up, and speak with Pharaoh, and will tell him- "Tell" is better 'to disclose / tell him frankly and openly'; and the information in view was that of :32, that the family were the shepherds whom Egypt despised.

‘My brothers, and my father’s house, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me- "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). There is no record of Jacob bowing to Joseph, although indeed he does "come" to him; perhaps here Jacob didn't do quite as he should have done. Or maybe Joseph's weeping on his neck made it impossible for him to immediately do so. See on Gen. 47:5.

Gen 46:32 These men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have’- As noted on :31, Joseph was advocating absolute honesty about the awkward situation in front of Pharaoh. The shepherds had a reputation for dishonesty and being of the lowest caste, according to Egyptologists. But Joseph thinks that total honesty to Pharaoah personally about this is best. And that was the policy he had sought to elicit from his brothers, through all his questions to them about their family. The Egyptians considered goats and sheep to be divine animals and unfit for sacrifice; hence Moses later says that the Hebrews can't sacrifice sheep within Egypt lest the Egyptians will stone them. Shepherds were an "abomination" to them, a word often used about idolatry. The sheep were seen as symbols of the idols which Egypt worshipped. Yet Jacob's large family were coming with herds of these very things, appearing for all the world some reincarnation of the Hyksos shepherd kings who had entered Egypt by the same route in a previous generation. Shepherds were in any case culturally despised by Egyptians. Again, the Pharaoh was being asked to invert all his former prejudices and religious beliefs, and accept these newcomers. And he does so, to his credit, and even asks these despised people from the lowest Egyptian caste to be the managers of his cattle. It seems Joseph privately told Pharaoh that his brothers were shepherds, but at the formal audience with Pharaoh, where other Egyptians would be present, Joseph advises them to describe themselves more vaguely as 'cattle men'.

Gen 46:33 It will happen, when Pharaoh summons you, and will say, ‘What is your occupation?’- Just as Joseph had fired questions at his brothers when they first came to Egypt, so it would be normal for the king to ask them such questions. The similarity between this and their earlier interviews with Joseph was to give them a chance to demonstrate that they had indeed learnt the lesson- of the need for absolute truthfulness, however much it might seem to risk upsetting our material and secular intentions.

Gen 46:34 That you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we, and our fathers:’ that you may dwell in the land of Goshen- Joseph can see that out of apparent evil, again, good would come. If they were truthful- and the very existence of their flocks of sheep and goats would mean that truth would out in the end anyway- then they would be allowed to live in Goshen, which was somehow separate from the rest of Egypt.

We naturally enquire why the brothers chose to honestly tell Pharaoh that they were herdsmen rather than shepherds. Could it be that they were now so totally devoted to the doctrine of absolute honesty that they chose to disobey him and just tell the truth, rather than play with words as Joseph had suggested they do? Total honesty with ourselves, "speaking the truth in your heart", with others and with God is a litmus test of true spirituality. The Lord Jesus placed radical, total honesty high up in His Kingdom message in Mt. 5:37: "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one". Perhaps the Divine execution of Ananias and Sapphira was in order to emphasize the need for total honesty in spiritual matters. It is this radical honesty which will be so unusual in our world that we thereby commend God's truth to others: "But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor. 4:2-4). Paul seems to argue that indeed "every man is a liar" and only putting on the new man in Christ will empower us to be honest: "Put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Eph. 4:24,25). Such honesty only comes from having put on Christ, who is the ultimate truth: “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have
put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col. 3:9,10). This is why lying is grouped together with what may appear to be more major sins in Rev. 21:8: "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and
all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone". This is why Yahhweh said He would condemn Jerusalem in Jeremiah's time, because He could not find even one person who spoke and lived "truth" (Jer. 5:1). It is a total commitment to the principle of absolute honestly which will guide our life path: "The integrity of the upright guides them" (Prov. 11:3). It is that principle which will automatically mean we come out with truthful words. Hence the otherwise apparently 'obvious' statement of
Prov. 12:17,
“A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies". Someone who is committed to the principle of total honesty will come out with true words. This is what it is, to be a Christian. It is to be real, to be honest about our own position before God, our utter desperation, and to believe, to be true, to the ultimate truth- that we really will be saved. We really are forgiven. This is the ultimate truth to live by.

For every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians- This may have been a reaction against the Hyksos invaders, or shepherd kings, who had come like Jacob from the north and done much damage to Egypt in the previous generation. But shepherds were in any case culturally despised by Egyptians. Seeing one tended to be born and raised in or for a certain occupation, this was a significant factor in how society defined people in the ancient world. People were stereotyped according to occupation. Remember how the sailors asked of Jonah: "What is your occupation? And whence do you come? What is your country? Of what people are you?" (Jonah 1:8). Hence it is recorded that every shepherd was despised by the Egyptians. Silversmiths and tent makers (leather workers?) tended to club together in community (Acts 18:3; 19:24-27). In the first century Mediterranean, shepherds were especially despised- and again, this stereotype was overturned by shepherds being chosen to receive news of the birth of God's Son and being the first to come and offer homage; Jesus describing Himself as the good shepherd, in a society where no shepherd could be "good"; and the leaders of the early church being described as spiritual "shepherds". Pharaoh came to learn this; for he is eventually keen to make these despised "shepherds" the pastors of his own flocks.

The "abomination" of the Hebrews was that they were shepherds; "for all shepherds are an abomination to Egyptians" (Gen. 46:34). And this was why Joseph could not eat together with Hebrews, because they were an abomination to the Egyptians (Gen. 43:32). We find this confirmed in Ex. 8:22, where Moses tells Pharaoh that the Hebrews cannot do as he says and sacrifice in Egypt, because they would be attacked by the Egyptians when they saw the Hebrews offering bulls and calves to Yahweh. For these were symbols of Egyptian gods, and people who ate them were an abomination to them."Abomination" is a word which also means 'idols'. They ate abominations / idols, in that the animals they ate and sacrificed were seen as the gods of Egypt. For the Jacob family to be accepted into the best land of Egypt was therefore grace indeed. Just as is our salvation into God's Kingdom, brought about by Joseph-Jesus. For with reputation as cattle herders ["shepherds"] and bull sacrificers, the Jacob family were going to be last on the list for getting food, let alone being allowed to emigrate to Egypt, let alone to be given land in Goshen, the favoured area. It was all of grace, as it is with us, all the way through.

We note that the Egyptian abomination of Hebrew shepherds is alluded to in the command to Israel: "You should not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land" (Dt. 23:8). It is normal between peoples and individual persons that they treat each other as they were treated by that person or people. Here Yahweh is teaching that His people were to break that cycle. To not abhor those who abhor you. And this is really what the spirit of the Lord Jesus is about, breaking the cycles of human dysfunction and misbehaviour.

The brothers were later made herdsmen over Pharaoh's cattle in Goshen because this was the priestly land, where such cattle were bred and kept only for sacrifice; and the brothers, having experience with those animals, were put in charge of them.