Buried in Faith—Genesis 50:1-14

The story of Jacob’s burial, like the story of him blessing his sons regarding the future, is a story of faith. The story of his faith and Joseph’s faith, initially just following God’s leading in their own lives and at God’s initiative, ends up impacting the world around them.

Jacob knows that God will bless his descendants and return them to the promised land (48:21), for God had told him so (46:4). Jacob’s desire to be buried in the promised land (49:29) is thus an act of faith in that promised future (cf. comparable faith in Heb 11:21-22). So significant is his last request that despite the already extensive period mourning for Jacob in Egypt (Gen 50:3), Joseph receives permission to ensure Jacob’s burial in the requested place (50:4-13).

Pharaoh of course grants Joseph a leave of absence to bury his father, recognizing the importance of both filial duty and the duty to which Joseph’s oath to Jacob committed Joseph (50:6). But Pharaoh, who has special regard for his trustworthy right-hand man, does more than than merely grant him permission to take off work for a funeral. Joseph had probably anticipated this, based on his special relationship with this Pharaoh. (Pharaoh regularly lavished favor on Joseph, e.g., 41:41-45; 45:17-20; 47:6-7; whether or not the same Pharaoh is in view here—the Pharaoh’s particular identity does not seem to concern the narrator or his sources—Joseph may ask indirectly [50:4] to avoid dishonorably seeming to directly request too many favors [cf. 46:33-34].)

Many of Egypt’s leaders undertook this journey as well, to honor the holy father of the land’s esteemed wise voice for God, Joseph (50:7; cf. 47:9-10). So great was their mourning for the patriarch that even the local Canaanites took notice (50:11).

Through a man who persevered in serving God through suffering, and most of all through God’s plan for him and for others, God had impacted a nation for a generation. No such impact is permanent—eventually a king arose who did not know Joseph (Exod 1:8; some scholars associate this change with the historical transition from the Hyksos dynasty to those who overthrew it). But making a difference for even one generation makes an eternal difference for the people of that generation. Often God has used just a few people to make a huge difference—for example, consider the impact of three figures from Oxford’s Holy Club (Whitefield and the Wesley brothers) in eighteenth century England and its American colonies. Joseph’s calling didn’t look like any of our traditional ideas of ministry, but he was faithful in hearing God and doing his will. Let us each be faithful to the calling God has given us.

It is not surprising that Israel’s family left their little ones and livestock in Egypt (50:8), since in the short run they planned to return (50:14). The narrator includes this information to notify us that all the other members of the household went to honor their deceased patriarch Jacob (Gen 50:8)—but also because it provides a fitting contrast with a story to come. Generations later Moses will refuse to leave the little ones and livestock behind (Exod 10:9-11) precisely because, as is obvious to that generation’s Pharaoh, Moses does not intend to return.

That “his sons did for him as he had commanded them” (50:12) and carried his body (50:13) was of course honorable filial behavior (cf. Jacob’s obedience to his parents in 27:8; 28:6). Yet it contrasts with the disobedience shown by his sons in earlier years—even to the point of a firstborn defiling their father’s bed (35:22) and most of the others selling his favorite son into slavery (37:26-28).

This new obedience illustrates how God’s grace in a family can bring change, even when that change appears imperceptible in the short term. We may also note that most of the commanding in surrounding chapters has been done by Joseph (42:25; 44:1; 50:2, where his servants include even physicians/embalmers; cf. Pharaoh on Joseph’s behalf in 45:19; 47:11). Now, however, at the end, Joseph’s father who first instilled in Joseph the ways of God is still honored by all his sons, including the one who became Pharaoh’s vizier (Jacob’s command in 49:29, 33; 50:12).

The narrator further reminds his Israelite audience of the burial place in Canaan that Abraham had bought from a Hittite (50:13). Like Shechem (33:19), this was a foothold in the land paid for by their ancestors, footholds that belonged to them even before battles with Canaanites.

This narrative teaches us about faith, through the example of Jacob; about how God can sometimes impact entire cultures through those who live faithful to God; and how God changes families. It also reminds us that even when we do not recognize the foreshadowings in our lives, God is faithful to his long-range promises to us and to his people.

Jacob blesses his sons: some observations—Genesis 49

Jacob has great faith and blesses his sons with confidence in the future that God has for them.

Joseph’s primacy, emphasized already in Gen 48, is further reinforced as Jacob blesses each of his sons in Gen 49. Such blessings were the most important gift that Jacob could pass on to them, greater than dividing the property as in a will. Some of Jacob’s sons, like Judah, will be greatly blessed, but Jacob’s headstrong, firstborn three—Reuben, Simeon and Levi—suffer for their past choices, thereby justifying Jacob’s choice of Joseph over the natural firstborn. In 49:3-4, Jacob emphasizes how Reuben would have had this status but lost it (by going up to his father’s bed, thus trying to seize the status prematurely). Jacob surely recalls that his father’s firstborn Esau lost his status in favor of Jacob.

The blessings show some parallels between Judah and Joseph, the descendants of both of whom will become major tribes in Israel. Judah’s brothers will bow to him (49:8) just as Joseph’s brothers bowed to him (42:6); Judah will also reign (49:10), just as Joseph now was vizier of Egypt. Although Jacob’s special favor rests on Joseph, Judah had shown positive leadership in the more recent part of the Joseph narrative (43:3, 8; 44:14, 16, 18; 46:28) and remains preeminent among Leah’s sons.

Lions were perceived as the most powerful of predators, and the image is here linked with Judah’s future reign (Gen 49:9-10). The phrase “lion’s cub” applied to Judah here in 49:9 applies to Dan in Deut 33:22; but Judah also appears as a full-grown lion or lioness here (like Gad in Deut 33:20). In Num 23:24; 24:9, a lion and lioness become images of a powerful people conquering prey; in antiquity, a lion was an image of strength.

Both Judah and Joseph will also prosper. That Judah can treat wine like rinse water (Gen 49:11) indicates his promised prosperity. (Growing vines and tending milk-producing goats [see 49:12] would not be difficult in the hill country of Judah.)

Yet as in Jacob’s blessings of his sons, Moses’s blessings of the tribes that almost close the final book of the Pentateuch include much prosperity for Joseph (Deut 33:13-17). Joseph will be very fruitful (Gen 49:22; cf. Ps 1:3), a fruitfulness that had already begun in his life when the Lord began exalting him (Gen 41:52: “God has made me fruitful …”). Jacob prays for the blessings of heaven and the deep and of fertility for Joseph (49:25), recalling the blessings of his ancestors (49:26), especially Isaac’s prayer of blessing from heaven and earth for Jacob (27:28). As Isaac blessed Jacob to rule his brothers (27:29), so Jacob blesses Joseph as one special among his brothers (49:26; the term means one consecrated or set apart, perhaps here for rule).

Just as Leah and Rachel gave their children meaningful names in Gen 29:32-35; 30:6-8, 11-13, 18, 20, 24; 35:18, Jacob now puns on some of their names as he blesses them before his death. Judah’s brothers will praise (yuducah) Judah (yehudah; 49:8); Dan will judge (yadin, based on the same root) his people (49:16); raiders (g’dud) will raid (y’gudenu) Gad, but he will also raid (yagud) at their heels (49:19; the verbs are from the root gdd). (Note: I am unfortunately unable to use my Hebrew font here.) Nevertheless, Jacob does not offer all possible plays on names; he does not, for example, call Asher blessed (asher; though this would simply reuse what already appears in Gen 30:13). That both Dan and Gad raid at enemies’ heels (49:17, 19) might recall Jacob’s own prevailing over another’s heel, which earned him his name (25:26).

While blessing his sons, Jacob also praises God in language often developed by his descendants. God is “the rock of Israel” (49:24), perhaps recalling the rock of God’s house in 28:22 but especially emphasizing that God is an unmoving strength and foundation (cf. e.g., 2 Sam 22:2-3, 47; Ps 18:2, 46; 31:3 and passim). “The Mighty One” (Gen 49:24) also becomes a common title for God’s strength (e.g., Josh 22:22), especially in Hebrew poetry (e.g., Ps 50:1; Isa 49:26; 60:16); so also “the shepherd” (Gen 49:24; cf. e.g., 48:15; Ps 23:1; 80:1; Isa 40:11).

All these blessings depend on the recognition that God is the source of blessing and the one who will carry out these blessings. Having lived to see God’s faithfulness, Jacob is bold in his faith for the future. We, too, should recognize God’s faithfulness in our lives, and trust his continued faithfulness in the future. Unlike Jacob here, we often do not know the details the future holds for us; but we do know that God will be with us, and we know the already-promised, ultimate outcome. Whatever our trials in the meantime, God’s faithfulness is the foundation for our hope.

Joseph receives the double portion—Genesis 48:22

As noted earlier, Jacob gives Joseph the double portion allotted to the firstborn son. Because the double portion meant that the first son received twice the share allotted to any other son, Jacob promises Joseph one piece of land more than his brothers (48:22).

Jacob declares that he had taken this land by his sword and bow. This description does not apply to most of Jacob’s sojourn in Canaan, most of which was peaceful. Unless he prophesies the future conquest (cf. 15:16), it apparently applies only to his sons’ unruly conquest of the town of Shechem (34:25-29). Families were viewed as a unit, and this was an action by the family of which Jacob was head and progenitor.

Although Jacob actually disapproved of his sons’ sack of Shechem and initially hurried from that region (34:30; 35:1-5; 49:5-7), this conquered town was in fact part of the future promised land. Jacob had legally bought land there (33:19) and dedicated it to God (33:20); moreover, he eventually came to view the area as safe even for his sons (37:12-14). Even when Joseph disappears after being sent there, his disappearance is (wrongly) attributed to a beast rather than to a vengeful neighbor (37:20, 33). The term sometimes translated “portion,” “ridge,” and so forth in 48:22 can also be translated “Shechem.”

That Shechem ultimately lies in the territory of Ephraim (Josh 20:7; 21:21; 1 Kgs 12:25; 1 Chron 6:67; cf. nearby Manasseh in Josh 17:7), one of Joseph’s sons (Josh 17:7), confirms the likelihood of that meaning or at least that wordplay here. Shechem went not to descendants of the sons who pillaged it (especially Simeon and Levi) but instead to descendants of Joseph, who was likely too young to have participated in that action (Gen 30:21-25; 31:41; 37:2; cf. 29:20, 27).

Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons—Genesis 48:15-16

Jacob passes on a great legacy to Joseph’s sons. He blesses them not only with a physical inheritance, a promise for the future land, but also with a spiritual legacy. His prayer evokes not only his ancestors who walked in God’s ways, but how God has been with him, Jacob, during his life.

Jacob celebrates that Abraham and Isaac “walked before” God (48:15; cf. God’s command to Abram in 17:1), and God had been Jacob’s shepherd all his life (48:15; cf. 49:24). Like sheep oblivious to some ways that their shepherd protected them, Jacob had not always been aware of God’s watchful care; for example, he had long thought Joseph dead yet God had been working in Joseph and would ultimately preserve the entire family through him. Such an illustration was natural for a shepherd such as Jacob (cf. 46:34).

God was not only a shepherd but was identified with the “angel” who redeemed Jacob from evil (48:16). Sometimes God’s angel seems to be identified with him, whether by acting on his behalf or by being a manifestation of God in angelic form (16:11, 13; 22:11-12, 15-18; 31:11-13; cf. 32:24, 30). The angel of God had been with Jacob, protecting him from Laban (31:5, 7, 11), and also protecting him from Esau (32:24-30). He recalls the protection of God who shepherded him, the angel who redeemed him, as an expression of trust in the God on whom he calls to bless also his continued line in Joseph.

We also have a heritage from previous generations of those who served God. Like us, they were imperfect, but we should be conscious of carrying on God’s important work in our own generation. Someday, we too will pass on, if the Lord tarries; may it be said of us that we “served God’s purpose” in our own generation (Acts 13:36). And may we have a vision to pass the torch on to the next generation, since God’s work is not meant to stop with us (cf. e.g., Exod 10:2; 12:26-27; Deut 6:7; 11:19; 32:46; Ps 71:18; 78:4, 6; 102:18; contrast a possible failure of Hezekiah in 2 Kgs 20:19).

Time to pass on his legacy: Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons—Genesis 48:1-11

Having lived to see God’s extraordinary faithfulness in his own life, Jacob looks to the future with confidence in God’s promises that will be fulfilled beyond his own lifetime. Now he is ready to pass on his legacy.

In the previous scene, Jacob made Joseph swear to bury him in Canaan, in expectation of God’s promise. Now, in this next scene, Jacob is apparently on his deathbed (48:1). He responds eagerly to Joseph’s coming (48:2), ready to bless Joseph as Jacob’s father had been ready to bless his favorite son (27:2-4).

Here Jacob recounts God’s promise and call to him at Bethel (48:3-4; cf. 28:12-15), and expects that calling to be fulfilled partly in Joseph’s sons (48:5). Jacob says that Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh are now Jacob’s sons, just as his first sons Reuben and Simeon are his (48:5). He is not stealing Joseph’s sons away from him, but conferring on Joseph the right of the firstborn—the double portion. The firstborn son would normally receive twice as many shares of the inheritance as any other son; Jacob thus adopts Joseph’s two sons to give Joseph’s line the double inheritance.

Because one might well favor the son of a more loved wife over the son of the less loved wife, later Israelite law specifically prohibited giving this portion to later-born son of a favorite wife over the genuine firstborn (Deut 21:17). Rachel was clearly Jacob’s favorite wife, a favor that thus extends to her firstborn son Joseph (cf. in this context Gen 48:7). Jacob was not under later Israelite law, but how would this favoritism sound to Genesis’s audience once they knew the law?

Genesis, however, explains Jacob’s choice. It involves more than an arbitrary favoritism. Genesis elaborates how Reuben lost the birthright (Gen 35:22; 49:3-4; cf. 1 Chron 5:1); indeed, Genesis recounts the sins of Joseph’s brothers against Joseph without explicitly specifying whether Jacob learned of these sins (though cf. Gen 50:16-17).

This chapter, Genesis 48, is necessary to explain how Ephraim and Manasseh became tribes in Israel—Joseph received the double portion, so each of his first two sons was reckoned among the twelve (now thirteen) tribes of Israel. Any children born to Joseph after these two would be reckoned among these two tribes (48:6). (Lest we be concerned about how they would be divided, many peoples in antiquity, including Romans, had tribal divisions that later absorbed other members into their tribes.)

Joseph apparently had enough advance information to anticipate Jacob’s decision, and is ready to respond to his father’s question. When Jacob sees Joseph’s sons, he asks, “Who are these?” (48:8)—just as his brother Esau had once asked about Jacob’s own family (33:5). Joseph himself had been present at that incident, with his mother Rachel (33:7), but he had probably been too young to remember it (30:25). Nevertheless, he would have often heard the story, and thus responds appropriately in a way that would touch his father’s heart. When Esau asked Jacob, “Who are these who are with you?” Jacob responded, “The children with whom God has graced your servant” (33:5). Now Joseph responds in a manner similar to the way his father had once responded: “These are the sons whom God has given me here” (48:9).

Jacob now was ready to bless the sons of Joseph as his firstborn (48:9) the way that Isaac had once blessed Jacob with the blessing of the firstborn (27:27-29). (Jacob had not needed for Esau to bless him in Gen 33:5 because Jacob already had the blessing from his father.) Lest we miss the connection, Jacob’s eyes were heavy from age (48:10), just as Isaac’s had been (27:1). Isaac’s blindness had rendered him more vulnerable to deception, so that when he asked who was there (27:18, 24) Jacob had deceived him (27:19, 24). But Jacob was not completely blind, so he saw those with Jacob and asked who they were (48:8; cf. 48:11); Joseph, of course, told him the truth (48:9).

But Jacob also had spiritual insight that enabled him to know which son would be the greatest, subverting even Joseph’s own expectations (48:13-14, 17). As in the earlier cases of Jacob and Esau and of Joseph and his brothers (and in some sense Isaac and Ishmael), God subverted the expected right of the firstborn. God frequently subverts social conventions and human expectations, to which he is not beholden. He often exalts the lowly in the eyes of people and brings down the proud. This fits a pattern in Scripture of God using the weaker to show his own power, a pattern the New Testament writers find climaxing in the cross of Christ. (Jesus was, of course, a firstborn son; as a firstborn myself, I take comfort that there is nothing intrinsically bad about being firstborn!)

I will comment more about the blessing and Joseph’s dismay in the next post. Suffice it for now to say that many of us, too, have lessons learned that we can pass on to the next generation, whether they are our natural or spiritual heirs. Many of us, too, have much wisdom, spiritual insight and blessing that we can receive from those who have gone before us, and we should take advantage of that opportunity while we can.

Jacob’s faith for the future—Genesis 47:28-31

The future beyond us

Sometimes God’s promises are for the future, even beyond our own lifetimes. We can trust, however, in his reliability.

Two sets of seventeen years frame Jacob’s relationship with Joseph: the Joseph narrative opens when Joseph had lived with his father for seventeen years (Gen 36:2), and Jacob lived in Egypt after being restored to Joseph for seventeen years (47:28). In that time, Joseph has gone from being a beloved son dependent on his father to being a respected figure on whom his father depends.

Jacob thus prefaces a request to his son with language that might be considered odd for a father, but not so much when we remember the great rank in society that Joseph now held: “If I find favor in your eyes” (47:29). This is the language that Jacob had once used for Esau (32:5; 33:8, 10); this language has appeared in Genesis most recently as voiced by Egypt’s people toward Joseph (47:25).

As Jacob is preparing to die at the age of 147 (47:28), he makes Joseph swear to him in the same sort of solemn way that Abraham had once made his servant swear to him. In 24:2-9, aged Abraham made his servant swear to get a wife for Isaac from Mesopotamia rather than Canaan, and not to take Isaac back there. God had brought Abraham and Isaac to the land of promise, and there was no going back. Here the aged Jacob makes Joseph swear to bury him in Canaan, the land where his fathers Isaac and Abraham were buried (47:29-31). Like Abraham, Jacob looks to the future, recalling God’s promise that the land of Canaan would one day belong to his descendants.

That this request is an expression of faith in God’s future promise seems clear from Joseph’s own dying request, narrated after the events following Jacob’s burial. Joseph makes his people swear to bury him in the promised land someday, when God would bring his people back to the land of promise (50:24-25). As the author of Hebrews recognizes, this was an act of faith expressing his confidence in God’s promise (Heb 11:22).

How important is this matter to Jacob? “Swear to me,” he demands, and Joseph swears to him (Gen 47:31). But this is not the first time in Genesis that Jacob demanded that someone swear to him. In his youth (well over a century earlier, by Genesis’s chronology), Jacob made Esau swear to him to give him the birthright (25:33). When Jacob sought the birthright, he was looking to the future, considering God’s promise to the household of Abraham and Isaac. Toward the end of his life, Jacob again makes someone swear, honoring the expectation of the future that God had promised.

Joseph secures the people’s land—Genesis 47:18-26

This passage tells us a lot about Joseph. Joseph worked on behalf of both Pharaoh, his boss, and the people, selling them grain when they needed it and faithfully delivering all the profits to Pharaoh. He also exempted the Egyptian priests, following Pharaoh’s expectations. Joseph offers a positive model here. First, he is a worker with integrity, on whom his boss could depend. Second and third, he also is able to help the people in the time of need—and able to do so because he walked with God and understood what God was communicating in Pharaoh’s dreams. Fourth, God cares about feeding hungry people, and Joseph’s role as a public manager was no less important or God-led than more direct preaching ministries would be. And fifth, we see that Joseph also could work respectfully with those who held views different from himself.

Some of these points have come up before, so I will look at just a couple points here. First, what should we make of Joseph allowing the people and their land to belong to Pharaoh? Second, in multicultural and multifaith societies, we can learn from the honorable way that Joseph treats Egypt’s priests.

When Joseph bought the people’s land for Pharaoh (at their desperate request, 47:19), in practice he allowed the people to keep four-fifths of the produce, taking only one fifth for Pharaoh (47:24). Although a tenth was probably more common in that milieu (cf. 14:20; 28:22; 1 Sam 8:15, 17), Joseph had already been exacting a fifth in the time of prosperity, when it was little compared to the abundance (41:34); much of this grain might likewise be invested in their future. (Even today, most Western nations do not consider excessive a 20 percent taxation rate.)

In their own words, Joseph was to buy them and their land so that they and their land would not die (Gen 47:19); they are grateful for their lives being rescued (47:25). The taxation on their yield would not yet take effect anyway, however, since there would be no yield in the short run; Joseph instead gathered the people to the centers where food could be distributed efficiently during the remainder of the famine (47:21).

Today we might view Joseph’s accumulation of wealth for and loyalty to Pharaoh as harmful for later generations of Egyptians, but Joseph had access only to his own generation. He would not have known the long-range behavior of later Pharaohs, and we cannot control what subsequent generations do to our legacy. (Our forebears in many denominations and many nations would be horrified to see what has become of their legacy!) In fact, scholars often argue that Joseph entered Egypt during the Hyksos dynasty; a change in peoples ruling Egypt would obliterate the memory of how Joseph saved the people. Whether Joseph arrived in the Hyksos era or not, Scripture is clear that a ruler arose who did not know Joseph (Exod 1:8). Of course, in light of Christ we would hope for better things than subjecting a nation to Pharaoh; but overall, Joseph’s contribution was probably the most positive one possible in his situation. Had he not preserved the people, there would not have been descendants to oppress.

Joseph’s respectful relationship with the priests (47:22), the daughter of one of whom he had married (41:45; 46:20), offers a noteworthy model for God’s people working in a pluralistic society that welcomes us but includes a range of religious views. Moses married the daughter of a Midianite priest (Exod 2:16, 21; 3:1), in that case with perhaps even more concrete religious results! What God did for Israel ultimately convinced Moses’s already-wise father-in-law that YHWH was the greatest of gods (Exod 18:8-11). (Melchizedek, too, honored the highest God; Gen 14:18.)

Such examples are not limited to the Pentateuch. Daniel, trained in all the learning of the Chaldeans (Dan 1:4) served in a pagan court alongside pagan diviners (2:27-28; 4:7-8). Paul had friends (possibly sponsors) who were Asiarchs (Acts 19:31), members of the same class that produced priests of the imperial cult in Asia Minor. Scripture is clear that believers must not compromise with idolatry (1 Cor 10:7, 14-21; Rev 2:14, 20), even under duress (Dan 3:18; cf. 1:8; 6:10). But this does not mean that we should not associate with nonbelievers who practice it (1 Cor 5:9-10). As he illustrated perhaps most eloquently in the story of the Good Samaritan, our Lord Jesus calls us to love all our neighbors, not just those who agree with us.

Part of our witness as Christians is not just what we say (important as that is), but how we perform our work and serve the people around us.

Joseph’s further exaltation—Genesis 47:1-20

Now that Joseph’s family is reunited in Egypt, God blesses all of Joseph’s family through him. Pharaoh’s favor for Joseph’s family (47:1-6) continues the favor that God has given Joseph. Joseph himself bridges the Hebrew and Egyptian cultures, but it is good for these Hebrew herders to settle apart from the Egyptians. Otherwise, they would have become assimilated over the following generations, making an exodus back to the promised land inconceivable.

I treat the next scene—Jacob’s remarkable blessing of Pharaoh—in http://www.craigkeener.com/blessing-pharaoh-genesis-47/. That Jacob is 130 years old (47:9) would surely impress Pharaoh: age was respected, and in Egypt 110 (50:22, 26; Josh 24:29; Judg 2:8) was counted an extraordinarily ripe old age. That Jacob regards his lifespan as brief compared to that of Isaac and Abraham (Gen 47:9) would be even more impressive. Pharaoh respected this exotic family that had produced the gifted Joseph, but now he is impressed even further. Thus Jacob is permitted to bless the region’s most powerful ruler (47:10), even though the greater in status normally blesses the lesser (Heb 7:7).

God also further exalts Joseph himself in the eyes of the people. Administratively gifted Joseph, who had been sold for twenty pieces of silver, now gathers all the silver in Egypt and Canaan (47:14)! Moreover, the text emphasizes that he brought all the money to Pharaoh’s house (47:14). This emphasis recognizes that Joseph, unlike many of his contemporaries, was completely honest and avoided corruption. Pharaoh was right to trust him so thoroughly.

Why was Joseph able to make so much profit? Because of God’s plan and Joseph’s relationship with him, Joseph alone was able to see ahead, recognizing what God would do. But while he was making money and centralizing economic power for his boss, Pharaoh, he was also preserving alive people who would have otherwise starved. The next year they sell him their livestock (47:16-17), again strengthening Pharaoh while preserving the people.

Still, Joseph’s complete faithfulness to Pharaoh was preserving the people’s lives could raise a question about justice. Did Joseph actually seize all their livestock? It seems unlikely that he could have used everyone’s livestock; indeed, in that case he would have to provide grain for the animals even more directly and would need a new and massive infrastructure to house them. Much more likely, Pharaoh owned the livestock in principle but allowed the people continued use of the livestock, as with the land in the following year (47:24), a matter discussed further in the next lesson.

Joseph was loyal to his employer and also helped the people. This is not possible in every line of work; a hit man, for example, would have to quit his or her job when turning to follow God. But if Joseph quit his job, people could starve; corrupt officials could steal or hoard grain. (And as with a hit man, getting out of the job would not be a simple matter anyway.) Joseph acted prudently, saving the lives of many (50:20).

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.

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.