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Spared from famine
Genesis Chapter 47, verses 1-5
Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.
Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?”
“Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.” They also said to him, “We have come to live here awhile, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.”
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.”
After making sure that his family was temporarily settled, Joseph went to the palace, to have the arrangement ratified. “My father and brothers are in Goshen with their flocks [sheep and goats] and herds [cattle, oxen, donkeys]. They’re awaiting further instructions on where you want them to settle,” he announced to Pharaoh. He had chosen five of his brothers and now presented them to Pharaoh.
Speaking through an interpreter, the king asked, “What is your occupation?” They replied just as Joseph had instructed them: “We’re shepherds, from a long line of shepherds.” This was the straightforward answer Joseph hoped would persuade Pharaoh that a location separate from the Egyptian populace would be preferable. The fact that the brothers even dared to suggest “We would be perfectly happy to stay where we are in Goshen” leads one to conclude that Joseph may have previously suggested that to Pharaoh.
The brothers made it clear that they expected to be only temporary residents. “We have come to live here awhile.” There was no way they could have known that the Lord of the calendar was going to stretch their temporary stay of half a dozen years—just until the famine was over—into a period of time that stretched over four hundred years.
The brothers were delighted to hear Pharaoh say, “Very well; stay in Goshen.” By giving his consent, Pharaoh showed the high respect he had for Joseph. He granted Joseph’s family land and food in his country, and even in a border area that was strategic to the defense of Egypt.
Genesis Chapter 47, verses 7-12
Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?”
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.
So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.
At Pharaoh’s invitation, Jacob himself had a separate audience with the king. The visit began and ended with Jacob pronouncing a blessing on Pharaoh. Since Jacob spoke as the patriarch who had received the messianic blessing, his words were more than just a pious wish. He actually conferred God’s blessing on the king and his country, since they had been God’s chosen instruments for blessing his covenant people. We can see evidence of God’s blessing too, as king and country grew powerful and wealthy under Joseph’s wise administration.
In response to Pharaoh’s question of “How old are you?” the patriarch responded: “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult.” Although 130 does not seem like “few” to us, Jacob felt sure he would not live to be as old as his grandfather Abraham and his father, Isaac, who had reached the ages of 175 and 180, respectively.
And his years had been “difficult.” As a young man, he had to leave home to escape the anger of his twin brother. For 20 years he’d been cheated by his father-in-law. He’d seen his own family torn apart by immorality, bloodthirst, and lovelessness. And now, when he might have hoped to spend his declining years in the comfort of familiar surroundings, famine had forced him to pull up roots and move to a strange land. The years had taken their toll on Jacob. Life for him had indeed been difficult.
Does that sound familiar? Life for God’s people is often difficult. Characters are shaped through trials of faith, and people are remodeled so that more and more they resemble what God originally had in mind when he designed the human race.
For a period of 17 years, Joseph had lived in his father’s home before being sold into slavery. Now God gave him the opportunity to provide a home for his father for that same period of time (Chapter 47, verse 28). And by providing his brothers with food, each according to his family’s need, Joseph repaid evil with good.
Genesis Chapter 47, verses 13-17
There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is used up.”
“Then bring your livestock,” said Joseph. “I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.” So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.
It was a very special miracle of God that the family of Jacob had all its needs provided for at a time when all the other people living in Egypt were under severe economic stress. The people of Egypt had bought grain, as long as their money lasted. When that was gone, Joseph declared he would accept their cattle as payment for food.
By accepting their livestock as payment, Joseph enabled the people to make it through another year of famine. He could, of course, have given them food after he saw that their money was gone. But with years of famine still ahead, the nation’s food supply might not have lasted. Joseph also realized that complete subsidy by the government could easily have undermined the nation’s morale.
Genesis Chapter 47, verses 18-26
When that year was over, they came to him the following year and said, “We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. Why should we perish before your eyes—we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.”
So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other. However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.
Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourself and your households and your children.”
“You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.
The following year all that the people had left to offer in exchange for food was their land and their bodies. “Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh.” Moses makes it clear that Joseph bought the land for Pharaoh; Joseph himself did not benefit from these transactions. Joseph resisted the temptation to lay his hands on some
of the enormous wealth that was flowing into the national treasury.
More than one writer has called Joseph’s action “enslavement of Egyptian peasants” and “shocking proof of Joseph’s inhumanity.” It is well to remember that it was the people who had suggested, “Buy us and our land” (verse 19). Joseph accepted that suggestion, although it was not his idea.
The people could continue to live on their farms as renters of state-owned land, with the right to keep 80 percent of what meager crops would grow during the famine. To ask a tenant farmer to pay 20 percent to the landlord does not seem an exorbitant demand. The people of Egypt did not consider Joseph ruthless. They understood his motive and praised him for bringing them through a crisis, which could have been a national catastrophe.
Genesis Chapter 47, verses 27-31
Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.
Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”
“I will do as you say,” he said.
“Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
Through Joseph’s wise leadership, God so guided affairs in Egypt that Jacob’s family managed not only to survive but to flourish. “They were fruitful and increased greatly in number.” Remember that this was one of the purposes for which God had led the family of Jacob to Egypt.
Seventeen years had now passed since Jacob and his family had moved to Egypt. We’re not told that God informed Jacob that his life was nearing its end. It’s more likely that the hard life he had lived and the grief his sons had caused him had taken their toll on the patriarch, and his health began to fail. He felt his strength slipping and realized that the time had come for him to make some final arrangements.
The first of these dealt with choosing the site where he would be buried. Jacob specified the family plot Abraham had purchased in Hebron, in the land of Canaan. The significance of the patriarch’s request, “Put your hand under my thigh,” has been treated in connection with Genesis Chapter 24, verse 2. As he prepared for his death, Jacob knew that God’s promises regarding the possession of Canaan were certain. He clung to those promises and wanted to be buried in the land he knew his descendants would one day own. Even Jacob’s burial was to give evidence of his faith in God’s promises.
It should be emphasized that Jacob’s faith held on to all of God’s promises—not only the promise of a homeland for his descendants but chiefly the promise of that famous descendant through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed. God’s promise of the Savior was the heart of all the promises he gave to the patriarchs. This is why God considered their faith in any part of that cluster of promises to be saving faith (Chapter 15, verse 6).
After securing his son’s oath to bury him in the Promised Land, “Israel worshiped.” The matter of coming to the end of his earthly life was something the patriarch wanted to share with God, as was the matter of preparing to enter a new life in the presence of God. The epistle to the Hebrews gives us this interesting commentary on this attitude of the patriarchs:
These people were still living by faith when
they died. They did not receive the things
promised; they only saw them and welcomed
them from a distance. And they admitted that
they were aliens and strangers on earth. People
who say such things show that they are
looking for a country of their own. . . . They
were longing for a better country—a heavenly
one. Therefore God is not ashamed to
be called their God.
(Hebrews Chapter 11, verses 13,14,and 16)
Apparently too weak to prostrate himself on the ground, Jacob bowed his head on his staff in praise and thanksgiving to God. There were now several important matters involving his sons that needed his attention, and the next two chapters will deal with those.
Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh
The tenth and final account of Genesis, the account of Jacob, is rapidly drawing to a close. In sharp contrast to the note of violence, treachery, and immorality on which this account opened, it closes with two scenes that are full of tenderness and beauty. The first of those is in chapter 48.
Genesis Chapter 48, verses 1 and 2
Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.
Jacob himself may have suspected that this was his last illness and sent a messenger to notify Joseph. The fact that Joseph took his two sons along leads one to think the patriarch had probably informed Joseph previously that he intended to adopt two of his grandchildren as his own sons. It seems highly unlikely that the important transaction recorded here was an idea that occurred to Jacob on the spur of the moment.
The fact that Joseph brought his two sons to be adopted as coheirs with Jacob’s other sons says something about Joseph’s sense of values. His sons could probably have expected positions of honor and influence in the Egyptian government. Joseph, however, renounced these, preferring that his sons think of their future in terms of the people of God.
With what little strength he had left, the aged patriarch sat up as his son and grandsons approached his bed. He wanted to perform the important ceremony that lay just ahead with appropriate dignity.
Genesis Chapter 48, verses 3-7
Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’
“Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from phrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).
As he began to speak, Jacob reviewed some familiar history. Years earlier, when Jacob was fleeing from his brother, God Almighty had appeared to him at Luz (better known as Bethel). At that time God had promised to make the lonely fugitive into a great nation, which would one day own the land presently occupied by a number of Canaanite tribes. Jacob used an appropriate name for this God. He is El Shaddai, the God of awesome power, who can compel even nature to obey him.
Through a weak and dying man, the Lord of nations announced some of his future plans for the nation of Israel. He who marches through history in judgment and in mercy would dispossess the present inhabitants of Canaan because of their persistent wickedness. And by an act of pure grace, he would give their land to the descendants of Jacob as a homeland.
Joseph’s two sons, perhaps in their 20s, now heard their grandfather call them by name. These two sons, born before Jacob had moved to Egypt, would from now on be counted as Jacob’s sons, of equal rank with Reuben and Simeon, Jacob’s oldest sons. That meant that Joseph would now be represented among the 12 tribes of Israel not by a single tribe bearing his name but by Ephraim and Manasseh being separate tribes, each receiving a separate portion of the Promised Land. Joseph would thus receive the double share that usually went to the firstborn son.
The historical records in the opening chapters of 1 Chronicles substantiate this: Reuben’s “rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph” (1 Chronicles Chapter 5, verse 1). Any other children born to Joseph after this would not be considered separate tribes but would receive their inheritance through Ephraim and Manasseh.
We don’t know why Jacob suddenly introduced Rachel into the conversation. Perhaps the fact that he was now facing death reminded him of her untimely death as Jacob’s household was en route from Paddan Aram to Canaan. Or perhaps the provisions he was making for Rachel’s two grandsons led him to think of her. She had never lived to see her son exalted to be ruler of Egypt and savior of his family. Rachel’s memory was now to be honored as her two grandsons were placed on a par with Reuben and Simeon, Leah’s firstborn. Now three tribes of Israel (Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin) would trace their ancestry to Rachel, although she had borne only two sons.
Genesis Chapter 48, verses 8-14
When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”
“They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father.
Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”
Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.
Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”
Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.
Joseph now brought his sons to the bedside, so that they stood directly in front of their grandfather, facing him. Jacob embraced his grandsons and kissed them, marveling at the grace of God that he had experienced. He had never expected to see Joseph again, and now God had even let him see Joseph’s children.
Joseph bowed to the ground before his father, as a token of respect and an expression of his appreciation for the privilege the patriarch was conferring on these two grandsons, who then knelt to receive Jacob’s blessing. Joseph had so arranged it that Manasseh, his older son, was at Jacob’s right hand, since the right hand was thought to typify a greater share of the patriarch’s blessing. Ephraim, the younger son, was on the left. Joseph thought it was appropriate that the older son receive the greater blessing.
But as the patriarch pronounced the blessing, he crossed his arms, placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head. By crossing his arms, Jacob intentionally and prophetically placed the younger son ahead of the older. Here, for the first time in the Bible, we meet the custom of laying on of hands, to symbolize that the Holy Spirit was conferring a special gift on these two young men, a gift they would otherwise not have had.
Genesis Chapter 48, verses 15-20
Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
upon the earth.”
When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”
But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He
too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless,
his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants
will become a group of nations.” He blessed them that day and said,
“In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing:
‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”
So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.
The phrase Jacob “blessed Joseph” is to be understood in the sense that Joseph was receiving a blessing not directly but indirectly through his sons. In Jacob’s words of blessing it is good to note that his memories of his earlier life were not bitter ones but memories of the gentleness and goodness of God. The “Angel” of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, had appeared to Jacob in human form, guiding him, protecting him, assuring him, redeeming him from all evil.
When Joseph suspected that his father was mistakenly going to give the larger blessing to the wrong son, he took his father’s hand to interrupt him. But Jacob’s action was not an oversight. “I know, my son, I know.” Jacob’s crossing his arms to give a special blessing to the younger son was not the funny idea of an old man with failing eyesight. Jacob was a patriarch, and as he here transmitted the Lord’s blessing, he acted with prophetic insight. God had told him to bless the younger over the older. Centuries later, after the division of the kingdom, Ephraim assumed the leadership of the northern ten tribes. Next to the tribe of Judah, Ephraim was the most powerful tribe in Israel. As a matter of fact, it became so dominant that the Old Testament prophets often refer to the northern ten tribes as Ephraim.
“So [Jacob] put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.” In this patriarchal blessing God reversed the natural order, just as he had done in the case of Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons before they were ever born (Chapter 25, verse 23). In years to come, when the Israelites would want to pronounce a blessing on someone, they would use this proverbial expression: “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!”
Genesis Chapter 48, verses 21 and 22
Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. And to you, as one who is over your brothers, I give the ridge of land I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.”
Jacob concluded his blessing with the reminder that Canaan, not Egypt, would be the permanent home of the Israelites. In this way God would make even the wickedness of the Canaanites serve his glory, although they would be completely unaware of it. When their cup of sin was full, God would step into their history with a condemning judgment, using their sin as the occasion to
keep his promise to Abraham: “Your descendants will inherit this land.”
Finally Jacob had a special gift for Joseph: “. . . the ridge of land I took from the Amorites.” The words are not easy to explain. There are two possibilities.
The first understands the verb “I took” in a historical sense. In an event not recorded in the Scripture, Jacob had captured a special piece of land from the original inhabitants of Canaan.
Some scholars, however, have seen in the Hebrew verb translated “I took” an instance of the “prophetic perfect,” in which a future action is seen as already achieved. According to this view, Jacob, through his posterity, would seize the land from the Amorites.
What a beautiful picture this chapter gives us of a believing child of God approaching the end of his life! Instead of being filled with bitterness as he looked back over a life that had had its share of disappointments, Jacob
preferred to focus his attention on the grace of God. He not only had gotten from God more than he deserved; Jacob knew he had gotten the very opposite of what he deserved:
• God’s blessing instead of his condemnation.
• God’s promise instead of his curse.
• God’s constant guidance instead of his punishment.
It’s a blessing to live as a child of God. It’s an even greater blessing to die as a child of God.
Jacob blesses his sons,
Jacob was now 147, and that was to be the full measure of years God allotted to him. He therefore gathered his 12 sons about his deathbed and spoke words that are at the same time blessings and predictions. What would happen to the 12 tribes of Israel in the future—for better or for worse—was not the result of chance. Jacob was aware that he was speaking prophetically, moved by the Spirit of God. Each son heard what the patriarch said to all the others. These last words of Jacob to his sons also became part of Israel’s Old Testament Scriptures, so that later generations of tribal members would also know what their ancestor Jacob had predicted for them.