Genesis chapter 46 gave us the details of Jacob’s decision to leave the land that God had promised to give to him and his descendants. Jacob was moving now to Egypt, an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and unfamiliar customs. But moving to Egypt also meant moving to the place where Jacob could be reunited with his son Joseph and have enough food to live.
And while Jacob must have been anxious to see his long-lost son Joseph, we also saw that he did something very important before he left- he stopped first to honor God and worship Him before moving forward. We know this because Genesis 46:1 tells us that when Jacob reached the town of Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.
This tells us that Jacob made a conscious decision to put God first and God responded to him with the reassuring message of Genesis 46:2-3: “Do not be afraid… I will go… with you… I will surely bring you back.” The important thing to remember from these verses is that when we honor God and put Him first in our lives, we also have an opportunity to receive this same kind of reassurance from Him as well.
Then we were told that Jacob sent his son Judah on ahead to get directions to the region of Goshen, the area where Joseph wanted them to live. When Joseph heard that his family had arrived, he went out to meet them once they had reached the designated area. That led to an emotional family reunion because, “As soon as Joseph appeared before (Jacob), he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time” (Genesis 46:29).
So now that Joseph’s family had safely completed the 250-300 mile (402-483 km) journey from their old home to their new home in Egypt, it was time to make some introductions…
“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” (Genesis 47:1-2).
Instead of crowding his family together for an audience with the Egyptian leader, Joseph instead chose five representative members of his family (and his father) to go and meet with Pharaoh. And just as Joseph had predicted in the final verse of the previous chapter, Pharaoh asked them what they did for a living. We’ll see how Joseph’s brothers responded to that question next.
We previously saw how Joseph coached his brothers for their meeting with Pharaoh by saying, “‘The king will call you in and ask what you do for a living. When he does, be sure to say, ‘We are shepherds. Our families have always raised sheep.’ If you tell him this, he will let you settle in the region of Goshen. Joseph wanted them to say this to the king, because the Egyptians did not like to be around anyone who raised sheep'” (Genesis 46:33-34 CEV).
Sure enough, Pharaoh met with Joseph’s brothers and responded just as Joseph said he would…
“Pharaoh asked the brothers, ‘What is your occupation?’ ‘Your servants are shepherds,’ they replied to Pharaoh, ‘just as our fathers were'” (Genesis 47:3).
To their credit, Joseph’s brothers answered Pharaoh just the way he told them to. Then they went on to explain the reason for their arrival…
“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'” (Genesis 47:4).
The unspoken message behind their response was this: “We didn’t come to Egypt to live here at your expense and we don’t plan to stay forever. The reason we’re here is that the famine is so bad that there isn’t any pasture left for our cattle to graze in back home.” That response was good enough for Pharaoh and he replied by saying this…
“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'” (Genesis 47:5-6).
Joseph’s work as an agent of the Egyptian government provided him with a good opportunity to learn about the different regional characteristics that existed within that nation. Joseph then drew on that knowledge to identify the region of Goshen as the place that was most suited for his family to live (Genesis 46:34).
Pharaoh evidently agreed with that opinion because he immediately granted permission for Joseph’s family to live there and even offered them a government contract: “‘…if you know any among them that are especially good at their work, put them in charge of my own livestock'” (MSG). Perhaps Pharaoh was hopeful that Joseph’s brothers could watch over his personal property with the same kind of character, skill, integrity, and ability that Joseph had shown.
So far, the meeting between Pharaoh and Joseph’s brothers had gone very well. The accommodations were determined, the business arrangements had been finalized, and now that those issues were settled, it was time for Pharaoh to meet Joseph’s father…
“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” (Genesis 47:7-10).
Before we continue, let’s take a moment to look closely at the wording that Jacob used in his response to Pharaoh. When Pharaoh asked Jacob, “How old are you?” Jacob started his response by saying, “The years of my pilgrimage…” or, “The years of my sojourning…” as it says in some other translations.
So what did Jacob mean in sayng this to Pharaoh? Well, the root of the term “pilgrimage” is “pilgrim,” a word that means “traveler.” Other synonyms for the word pilgrim would be wayfarer, voyager, or trailblazer.
This tells us that Jacob saw himself as someone who was on a journey. He viewed himself as a traveler or voyager who was on his way to another destination. In other words, the place where Jacob lived was not his permanent home- it was just a place to stay while he was on the way to somewhere else.
So where was Jacob’s real home and where was he headed on this pilgrimage? Well, Jacob knew that his real home with the God who had spoken with him before he entered Egypt (Genesis 46:1-4), the God who had appeared to him in a vision (Genesis 28:10-19), and the God who had once wrestled with him throughout the night (Genesis 32:22-30). Jacob’s destination may have been Goshen, but his future wasn’t there- it was with the God who had protected him, blessed him, and provided for him.
So Jacob saw himself on a journey through life and what was true for Jacob is also true for everyone else as well. You see, our lives are also like roads that we travel. Our journey begins at conception and ends at our physical death, the final destination for everyone. And like Jacob, our lives are like a street, highway, or bridge that takes us to a destination. The question is, where is the road of your life taking you?
“And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years…'” (Genesis 47:9a NKJV).
In his response to Pharaoh, Jacob stated his belief that his life was like a journey on the way to another place. And like Jacob, every human being is on their own pilgrimage as well. In fact, you and everyone you know -your parents, your friends, your teachers- are all travelers on the road of life. The question is, what road are you on and what destination is that road leading to?
For instance, take a look at something that Jesus once said in the New Testament gospel of Matthew…
“Heaven can be entered only through the narrow gate! The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide enough for all the multitudes who choose its easy way. But the Gateway to Life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it'” (Matthew 7:13-14 TLB).
It’s not always easy to travel a road that honors God. Because of this, many people prefer to take the path of least resistance and worry about where that destination goes later on. The problem with that idea is found in the New Testament book of Galatians…
“But when you follow your own wrong inclinations, your lives will produce these evil results: impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, spiritism (that is, encouraging the activity of demons), hatred and fighting, jealousy and anger, constant effort to get the best for yourself, complaints and criticisms, the feeling that everyone else is wrong except those in your own little group– and there will be wrong doctrine, envy, murder, drunkenness, wild parties, and all that sort of thing.
Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 TLB).
Remember that everyone is passing through this life on the way to another place. The road that honors God is not necessarily the easy way, but it’s the road that leads to the right destination. In fact, Jacob seemed to realize this because he also said, “I have lived 130 long, hard years, and I am not nearly as old as many of my ancestors” (TLB).
Jacob’s father Isaac lived to be 180 years old and his grandfather Abraham lived to age 175. So it appears that Jacob realized that he would never be able to live as long as his father and grandfather did- and as we’ll see when we get to Genesis chapter 49, he was right.
“Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence” (Genesis 47:10).
If you read through the account of Jacob’s meeting with Pharaoh in Genesis 47:7-10, you’ll find that Jacob actually blessed Pharaoh twice. This might seem to be somewhat unusual because its natural to assume that Pharaoh would be one to give a blessing and not the other way around. After all, the greater person is usually the one who gives a blessing to a lesser person. Yet Pharaoh accepted the blessing of a man who seemed to be nothing more than an old sheepherder.
This event becomes more unusual when we stop to remember that the Egyptian people considered Pharaoh to be a god. With this in mind, we could ask why “god” would need or accept anyone else’s blessing.
Well, the most likely answer is that Pharaoh held a high level of respect for the God of Joseph and Jacob. You see, Pharaoh must have recognized that Jacob was a man who honored the same God who had warned him about the famine that was now affecting his nation. So Pharaoh didn’t just accept the blessing of an old man- he also accepted the blessing of the God that the old man represented.
“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” (Genesis 47:11-12).
So Joseph provided his family with an area of land along with some property rights in the best part of town. We’re also told that “Joseph provided food for his father, his brothers, and all the rest of his father’s family, including the very youngest” (Genesis 47:12 GNB). In a time when food was scare and people had difficulty maintaining a basic existence, God blessed Jacob and his family through Joseph by providing them with a good place to live and food to eat.
But things were not so good everywhere else…
“There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine” (Genesis 47:13).
It’s easy for people to have a false sense of security when things are going well. This seems to be especially true when it comes to things like money and finances. But the reality is that all the money in the world could not stop people from starving if it suddenly stopped raining everywhere for seven years as it did in Jacob’s day. This helps to illustrate just how much everyone depends on God without even realizing it.
“The famine was so severe that there was no food anywhere, and the people of Egypt and Canaan became weak with hunger” (Genesis 47:13 GNB).
The conditions that we read about here in Genesis chapter 47 should help us to remember just how many things people often take for granted.
For example, think about the person who eats and drinks each day without so much as a second thought. Or consider how many people wake up at sunrise and go about their daily business in the light of the daytime without thinking about it. Most people simply assume that the sun is always going to rise as usual because that’s the way it’s always been.
Then there is the climate. The seasons, the weather, and the temperature may change but they each generally stay within the range necessary for human survival- and few people ever give these things a second thought, except perhaps when they’ve been inconvenienced in some way. These are all examples of things that many people simply take for granted.
The chances are probably good that most people don’t think very much about things like air and water and sunlight- until those things are gone. The reality is that people can live for a few minutes without air, a few days without water, and a few weeks without food- yet many people presume that these things will simply continue on in an unending supply and never stop to thank the God who graciously provides them for us.
In fact, there are many critical things that people often take for granted in this world. Things like fresh air, sunshine, food to eat, water to drink, and a place to live. Each of these things represent a blessing from God and it would be a mistake to take them for granted. Unfortunately, many people cruise through life without giving much thought to the God who provides us with these basic necessities, but what do we have that God has not allowed us to have?
Instead of carelessly taking those things we need for granted, the Old Testament book of Psalms shows us what our attitude should be…
“Honor the LORD! You are his special people. No one who honors the LORD will ever be in need. Young lions may go hungry or even starve, but if you trust the LORD, you will never miss out on anything good” (Psalm 34:9-10 CEV).
When we stop to consider just how easily the things we need could disappear (just as the crops began to disappear in Jacob’s time), the more appreciation we should have for the God who provides us with those things.
The people of Egypt and the surrounding areas had been devastated by the famine that Joseph had warned about almost 10 years earlier. However, the nation’s leadership (represented by Pharaoh, king of Egypt) wisely chose to listen to God’s warning through Joseph and prepare for the famine that would eventually arrive.
Pharaoh decided to promote Joseph and put him in charge of a response plan that set aside 20% of the nation’s agricultural production in the seven years preceding the famine. The result was that the Egyptian government collected so much food in the seven years prior to the famine that it became impossible to keep track of it all.
This turned out to be important because it meant that food was available in storage once the famine began. Unfortunately, the food shortage among the citizens of Egypt eventually became so critical (Genesis 47:13) that Joseph was forced to execute a new plan of action. The first step in that plan called for the people to spend whatever money they could to buy enough to eat…
“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” (Genesis 47:14).
This plan tells us something important about Joseph’s character and attitude that one scholar-type explains like this…
“The people are caught in a vise-like grip of starvation and desperation. Joseph has the power to tighten that grip or loosen it since he carries the key to the granaries. It would be so easy for him to take advantage of the people. Yet he chooses to demonstrate a third characteristic… He arranged for survival with personal integrity. Joseph brings all the money into Pharaoh’s house (v. 14). He doesn’t pilfer, falsify any records, or extort a little extra on the side for himself. He turns it all in. That’s integrity.” (1)
Joseph also demonstrated his character in another way. You see, Joseph didn’t humiliate or insult the people of Egypt in their time of desperate need. He didn’t dehumanize them by making a show of his “generosity” in giving them food or by regarding his actions as favors to be bestowed upon the ordinary people.
Instead, Joseph engaged in simple business transactions that helped the people uphold their dignity as citizens. So Joseph acted with honor and integrity in his dealings with Pharaoh during this famine but Joseph he also acted with character and courtesy in his dealings with the people as well.
Unfortunately, the famine lasted so long that everyone had to start selling off his or her possessions next…
(1) Joseph From Pit To Pinnacle Bible Study Guide Charles R. Swindoll pg 104
The people of Egypt had spent all of their money to purchase enough food to live through the famine that was devastating their land. But one year had turned into another and still the famine continued…
“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” (Genesis 47:15-17).
While it must have been a difficult decision for everyone to sell their farm animals, we should remember that if the people didn’t have enough to feed themselves, they certainly didn’t have enough to feed their livestock either. So if these people had not gone to Joseph to sell their animals, the people and their livestock would have eventually starved to death.
These sales helped provide enough food for everyone to live throughout the remainder of that year. But the calendar soon continued into the following year- and so did the famine. Since there was no money left and nothing else available to sell, the people of Egypt made the decision to do the last thing they could…
“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'” (Genesis 47:18-19).
When faced with a choice between freedom or death by starvation, the people chose to offer their land and their lives in exchange for the food they needed to live. This choice wasn’t something that Joseph forced upon the people of Egypt- it was the option they chose based on the belief that it presented the best opportunity for survival.
But why would the citizens of Egypt feel this way? Well, we’ll look at one possible explanation next.
“Then the people came to (Joseph) and said: ‘Sir, there’s no way we can hide the truth from you. We are broke, and we don’t have any more animals. We have nothing left except ourselves and our land. Don’t let us starve and our land be ruined. If you’ll give us grain to eat and seed to plant, we’ll sell ourselves and our land to the king. We’ll become his slaves'” (Genesis 47:18-19 CEV).
Why would the citizens of Egypt make a choice like this? Well, here’s one possible explanation…
“The idea of slavery is not attractive to the modern mind, but in the ancient world it was the primary way of dealing with the poor and destitute. If the people became slaves of Pharaoh, it was Pharaoh’s responsibility to feed them and care for them. It was the best way for them to survive the famine.” (1)
In fact, we’re about to see how the people of Egypt expressed their sincere gratitude to Joseph for his willingness to take them up on this offer. But first, there were some business arrangements to be completed before their agreement could be finalized…
“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 yourselves 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” (Genesis 47:20-26)
So if the people were thankful for their slavery and were also willing to pay a 20% tax as well, then you know that things must have been really, really bad.
(1) NET Bible NET Notes, Genesis 47:19 http://net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Gen&chapter=47&verse=19
“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” (Genesis 47:27-28).
So even though everyone else in Egypt had to sell their property, these verses tell us that Jacob’s family actually gained the ability to purchase some land of their own. This was just another example of the way that God had blessed Jacob and his family during this time.
But from here, the scene will now shift seventeen years into the future. The famine had long since ended and Jacob was now facing the final days of his life in a land that was far from home…
“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” (Genesis 47:29-31).
Now that Jacob was in the final phase of his life, notice that he no longer chose to order his sons around as he did when they were younger (see Genesis 42:1-2). Instead, he decided to call Joseph and ask him for a favor.
Jacob began his request by asking Joseph to “put your hand under my thigh…” This was an ancient ritual that was followed whenever a serious promise was involved. The promise that Jacob wanted his son to make was this: “…Do not bury me in Egypt. When I die, please take my body out of Egypt and bury me with my ancestors” (NCV).
So even though he had lived in Egypt for 17 years, its clear that Jacob (or Israel, as he was also known) realized that Egypt was not his real home. In other words, he knew that Israel the man, had to go back to Israel, the place. But instead of scheming to accomplish this goal as he often did when he was younger, Jacob demonstrated his growth as a man of God by asking for help and then worshiping God.