What’s so special about the list of names in Genesis 46:7-27?

Everybody loves to read lists of names, right? Not usually, but it’s different if those names bear a special meaning to us. This list symbolizes Israel’s heritage, their own ancestors whom God rescued from famine and brought to Egypt in a time when Egypt welcomed them.

Following are some thoughts about the list. The list is more interested in the ancestors than in precise chronology. For example, of those recorded as going down to Egypt, the timeline does not easily permit Pharez to be old enough to have already fathered Hezron and Hamul (46:12). But because the narrator has noted the deaths of Er and Onan (46:12), and because Pharez inherits Er’s line via Tamar’s exploitation of levirate custom (38:14, 25-30), Pharez’s first two future sons might count for Judah’s sons the way that Joseph’s first two counted as Jacob’s sons (48:5). (The firstborn always received a double portion of the inheritance.)

The narrator enumerates those who came to Egypt with Jacob. These were far more numerous than the one heir in whom Abraham found the promise fulfilled, yet also a far cry from “As the stars are, so shall your seed be” (15:5; 22:17; cf. 26:4). They remained few in number, but the numbers of those who would leave Egypt generations later would indeed dwarf these figures many times over (even if, as many scholars suggest, they include an element of ancient population hyperbole)—virtually innumerable, as the stars were thought to be (Deut 1:10; 28:62). (Undoubtedly there were also others who came with Jacob besides those in the list, but these are his “direct descendants” [46:26, NASB, NIV; cf. 46:6-8]; other workers may have been assimilated into the tribes at a later time, perhaps during Israel’s enslavement in Egypt.)

How does the narrator calculate? The grandsons listed in 46:8-15 total 25 (of whom two died in Canaan), plus two great-grandsons; to these we may add the six sons, bringing the total to either 31 or 33 (depending on whether one subtracts the two who died in Canaan and thus did not come to Egypt); Dinah is also named along with other daughters who are not named (46:15; cf. 37:35), but the total count remains 33 (46:15). The grandsons listed in 46:16-17 total 13, plus a granddaughter and the two sons, for a total of 16 (46:17). The grandsons listed in 46:20-21 total twelve, plus the two sons, totalling 14 (46:22). The grandsons in 46:23-24 number five, plus the two sons, totalling seven (46:25). The total of the totals yields seventy (46:27), or with Joseph and his two sons subtracted, 66 (46:26). Seventy minus three should be 67; the 66 figure could have subtracted Jacob himself, but he does not figure in the original count. Surely Jacob had other daughters besides the two named in the list; the sons’ wives are also not counted (46:26; we do not hear whether any of Jacob’s own wives remain alive at this point).

All of this suggests either that Genesis’s first audiences were very bad at math or, more likely, that seventy is selected as a rounded number. Why seventy? Recall the seventy nations of Gen 10. God started humanity over with Noah (http://www.craigkeener.com/why-would-god-send-judgment-genesis-6-9/), but promised not to again destroy the earth with a flood; this time he starts humanity over in a new way, through Jacob’s children and the promise that their seed bears for the future. Through them, God would restore the worship of the one true God to humanity, particularly to those who would become part of a new humanity of God’s true followers. Looking back at history, we can marvel as we see how God used Israel as an agent of his purposes for the world—a small people here, but with an immeasurable influence on the destiny of humanity as a whole.

Racial and ethnic reconciliation

Craig was invited to speak on this at Asbury Seminary Chapel some time ago. This seems a good time (right after Martin Luther King Jr. Day) to post it (29 minutes and 59 seconds) (It’s not my picture on the front but it’s me inside during the sermon).


Jacob’s faith renewed—Genesis 46:1-4

In the face of tragedy, we sometimes forget how much God is with us. Jacob didn’t believe that he had seen the great events reported in the stories of his father and grandfather (cf. 47:9), not knowing that subsequent generations would tell his story along with theirs. When we have come through the trials and look back, however, we often can see God’s faithfulness. If we do not recognize it in this life, it will be openly evident in the world to come; but it’s often there for us if we have eyes to see. News of Joseph’s survival and flourishing transforms Jacob. Broken by the loss of his wife and son, Jacob now gets new eyes to see.

Jacob sets out for Egypt, to be reunited with his son before Jacob dies (45:28). When Jacob reaches Beersheba, he sacrifices (46:1). The narrator deems this site important, reiterating it in 46:5; Jacob, his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham had all sojourned there (21:31-33; 22:19; 26:23, 33; 28:10), and both Abraham and Isaac had called the site Beersheba (“Well of the Oath”) because of covenants sworn there (21:31; 26:31-33). (Jacob sacrificed for a different covenant elsewhere, in 31:54.) This was one of the sites where Abraham had called on the Lord’s name (21:33). Of course, Beersheba appears here rather than other sacred sites such as Bethel because Beersheba is in the south, on the way toward Egypt. But it would also mark the southern border of the land of Israel (cf. e.g., 1 Sam 3:20; 1 Kgs 4:25), a place where Jacob’s descendants could also remember God’s works.

In the ancient Near East, people more often expected divine dreams when they slept in sacred places. Whether this is a dream or a vision while awake (cf. 15:1, 12), it is consistent with how God had often spoken through dreams, including to Jacob (28:12; 31:10-11) and to Joseph (37:5-10) and to those whose dreams Joseph interpreted (40:5; 41:1, 5). God here calls Jacob’s name twice (46:2), as he had when calling Abraham (22:11; at the sacrifice of Jacob’s father Isaac); Abraham also appropriately replied, “Here I am” (22:11). “Here I am” was an appropriate response to God or his angel (22:1, 11), and had been Jacob’s response earlier (31:11). (The same pattern holds mostly true in Exod 3:4; 1 Sam 3:10.)

God identifies himself to Jacob as “the God of your father” (Gen 46:3), just as God revealed himsef to Isaac as “the God of your father Abraham” (26:24) and to Jacob as “the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (28:13). God encouraging Jacob not to fear (46:3) also recalls earlier revelations. God had urged Abram not to fear, because God would defend him (15:1); the angel of God warned Hagar not to fear (21:17); in the closest parallel to this passage, when the Lord appears at night to Isaac and assures him that he is the God of his father Abraham, God urges Isaac not to fear, because God is with him and will multiply him (26:24).

Although God had earlier warned Isaac against going down to Egypt (26:2), this time Jacob should not fear to go down to Egypt, because God will be with him (46:4) and will bring him back up (46:4). That Joseph will close his father’s eyes (46:4) assures Jacob of his reunion with Joseph; it also hints that God bringing Jacob back to Canaan does not mean during Jacob’s lifetime. Not all of God’s promises are always fulfilled directly in our individual lives; sometimes they are fulfilled in the legacy that, by God’s grace, we get to leave behind. (That “Jacob” in ancient ideology included Jacob’s family seems implied even in 46:5, where not only Jacob but his sons’ children and wives ride the wagons sent to carry “him,” singular, i.e., Jacob.)

God’s promises are faithful. God is dependable.