Good morning! We are nearing the end of the story of Joseph, and the end of the first book of the Bible. Genesis is longer than most other books of the Bible, so well done sticking with it! I hope this has been a good experience, and that you’re looking forward to continuing on together. In today’s reading (Genesis 46-47), Jacob and his descendants settle in Egypt at Pharaoh’s invitation, Joseph exercises his authority as overseer of Egypt to greatly increase the power of Pharaoh, and Jacob nears death.
Jacob and his extended family leave Canaan for Egypt after he receives a nighttime blessing by the God who has visited his dreams throughout life. When they arrive in Egypt, Joseph greets his father tenderly, then coaches his brothers on presenting themselves to Pharaoh. We get a whiff of the broader social milieu in the throwaway line that “all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians” (46:34). Shepherds were widely thought of in ancient times as low-class, shifty people (though ironically the shepherd is a foundational metaphor for Israelite leaders and Jesus’ own ministry). Jacob and his descendants encounter an anti-immigrant sentiment in Egypt, perhaps stirred up by several years of famine and migration. Nevertheless, out of regard for Joseph the Pharaoh settles Jacob and his family in Goshen, a rich delta region of the Nile River. Jacob blesses Pharaoh several times, and its interesting to imagine the conversation between these two very different leaders brought together by their common love for Joseph.
The famine in Egypt worsens, so that people exhaust their cash reserves and their ability to buy food. Here we see the savvy exploitation that Joseph is capable of. He greatly increases Pharaoh’s wealth and influence by extracting cash, livestock, land and service from all the people for grain to live on, eventually turning the Egyptians into share-croppers for Pharaoh. This strikes me as opportunism taken too far, since the only reason he and Pharaoh are in the position to have all this grain is because God freely gave Joseph the proper interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream. Nevertheless, Joseph leverages that “intellectual property” to the point that Egyptians offer their lasting servitude just for a chance to grow their daily bread.
We’ll hear more about Jacob’s final days in tomorrow’s passage (Genesis 48-50). But in closing, note that Genesis 47:27 is perhaps the first time that the name “Israel” is applied to all the people, rather than as an alternate name for Jacob himself. “Israel” quickly becomes the common name for all the tribes descended from the sons of Jacob. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Thanks for reading!