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 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).

My Friend the Refugee

Others are better qualified than I to comment on security matters, and this is an older post, but now seems a valuable time to recount the story of two refugees’ experiences. Neither of these two constituted a security threat: they are the stories of my wife and my son.

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 (, 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).