Commentary on Genesis 46

Last updated: December 15, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

1So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here am I.” 3Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. 4I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

5Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 6They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, 7his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.

8Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, 9and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. 10The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. 11The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 12The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. 13The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob, and Shimron. 14The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. 15These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three.

16The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. 17The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. 18These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons.

19The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. 20And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, bore to him. 21And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. 22These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all.

23The sons of Dan: Hushim. 24The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. 25These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all.

26All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. 27And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.

28He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 29Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ 33When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

Notes

1 So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

The use of the name Israel highlights the national significance of this journey. It is not said why he stops at Beersheba. Was he afraid to leave the promised land? Was he afraid that his descendants were destined for slavery and oppression in a foreign land (15:13)? He offers the type of sacrifices (zevahim) where a small part was burned on the altar and the major part of the slaughtered animal was eaten at a communal meal. The sacrifices may have been offered in thanks to God that Joseph was alive.1 It is appropriate that Isaac is mentioned since he built the altar at Beersheba (26:25).

3-4 Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Jacob’s inner anxieties are known to God. Jacob will be brought back for burial in the grave of his fathers (50:5-13) and his descendants will return from Egypt to possess the promised land.

6-7 They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.

The all-inclusive language points to the national significance of this migration.

8-9 Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.

Reuben’s sons are also listed in Exodus 6:14, Numbers 25:5-6, and 1 Chronicles 5:3.

10 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman.

Jemuel is also listed in Exodus 6:15 while Nemuel is listed in Numbers 26:12 and 1 Chronicles 4:24. This difference may be due to a difference in dialect. Ohad is not listed in Numbers 26:12 and 1 Chronicles 4:24, perhaps because the clan disappeared in later times. Zohar is also listed in Exodus 6:15 while Zerah is listed in Numbers 26:13 and 1 Chronicles 4:24, though both names mean “shining, brightness.” Shaul is listed in Exodus 6:15 but not in Numbers 26:13 or 1 Chronicles 4:24, perhaps because his mother was a Canaanite.

12 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.

Though Er and Onan died in Canaan, the two sons of Perez legally replaced them.

13 The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob, and Shimron.

In 1 Chronicles 7:1, Puvah is called Puah. In Numbers 26:24 and 1 Chronicles 7:1, Yob is called Jashub.

15 These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three.

The number thirty-three includes Er and Onan, who died in Canaan, as well as Hezron and Hamul, the sons of Perez, while omitting Dinah.

That the plural “daughters” occurs, although only one daughter (Dinah) is named, may indicate that the expression “sons and daughters” is a stylistic echo of the Sethite and Shemite genealogies (e.g., 5:4; 11:11). It is reasonable to assume that other, unnamed daughters were born to Jacob. Inclusion of Dinah brings to mind the trials that Leah’s sons created for Jacob in Canaan (chap. 34; cf. 30:21).2

16 The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.

Ziphion appears as Zephon in Numbers 26:15. In Numbers 26:16 the fourth son is Ozni, not Ezbon.

17 The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel.

Ishvah is omitted from the list in Numbers 26:44. Considering that women are not normally mentioned in the genealogies of Genesis, Serah must have been included in this list (and Numbers 26:46 and 1 Chronicles 7:30) for an important reason, now lost to us.

18 These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons.

It has been sometime in the Genesis narrative since Laban was present (see ch. 31). Why does the narrator remind us at this point of Laban? It is most unlikely he is writing to a people who will be in the dark about Zilpah and Bilhah without further clarification. The resurrection of Laban’s name momentarily throws us into the past. It takes us back from a Jacob with seventy kin to a Jacob with no kin. It recalls the similar crisis Jacob faced there. In ch. 31 Jacob was preparing to leave Paddan-aram for Canaan under less than happy circumstances. Here Jacob is preparing to leave Canaan for Egypt under equally unsettling circumstances. In ch. 31 he had to deal with Laban. In ch. 46 he has to deal with a famine. In ch. 31 he fled with is family. In ch. 46 he moves with his family.3

21 And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.

The genealogy of Benjamin presents special problems. Ten sons are listed here, whereas Numbers 26:38-40 records five sons (and two grandsons), 1 Chronicles 7:6 has three sons, and 1 Chronicles 8:1ff. has five sons. Moreover, the names and the order of seniority differ in the various lists. Most likely, the divergences reflect different periods in biblical history as well as variant textual and historical traditions.4

23 The sons of Dan: Hushim.

The plural “sons” is used even though there is only one son in order to keep the stereotyped formulaic pattern (cf. Numbers 26:8, 42f., 1 Chronicles 1:41; 2:8; Bava Batra 143b). The consonants in the name Hushim are inverted in Numbers 26:42 to form Shuham.

24 The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.

In 1 Chronicles 7:13, Jahzeel appears as Jahziel and Shillem as Shallum.

26 All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all.

Since this is not a typological or symbolic number in the Bible, it must therefore represent a genuine calculation based on the data just recorded. The key phrase is “who came to Egypt.” Accordingly, Er and Onan must be omitted because they died in Canaan. Verse 27 indicates that Manasseh and Ephraim are not included among the 66. They were born in Egypt and cannot be said to have come there. The computation would then be: Leah 31 + Zilpah 16 + Rachel 12 + Bilhah 7 = 66.5

27 And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.

It is not clear how this number is obtained, but the aggregate of the summations given for each matriarch is 70. However, this computation does not include only “those who came to Egypt.” It might be assumed to refer to Jacob and 69 progeny – excluding Er and Onan but including Dinah. However, Exodus 1:5 repeats the number 70 tradition in reference to the totality of “Jacob’s issue”; it does not include Jacob in the calculation. On the other hand, Deuteronomy 10:22 states, “Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons in all,” apparently including Jacob in that number. Furthermore, it must be remembered that the total of 70 excludes Jacob’s daughters-in-law and granddaughters, so that it is obviously not intended to be an exact census of the Israelites at this period.

There is no way of satisfactorily solving the problem and reconciling the differences unless 70 is understood here to be a typological rather than a literal number. It is here used, as elsewhere in biblical literature, to express the idea of totality. Thus it reiterates, in another way, the point made in verses 1 and 6-7, emphasizing the comprehensive nature of the descent to Egypt because this event is seen as the fulfillment of Genesis 15:13.6

28 He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen.

The NIV’s “to get directions” [“to show the way”] (hiph., lehorot) loosely translates a difficult construction. The word typically means “to teach, instruct” someone or something; the absence of an object here makes the text suspect. Ancient and modern versions strived to improve the text so as to make better sense, influenced by v. 29, but the Hebrew (MT) though unusual is not too difficult to accept. The text probably means that Judah was sent ahead to notify Joseph of their imminent arrival in Goshen (cf. REB, “to advise him,” i.e., Joseph); thus Joseph responded to the news by immediately departing for Goshen to welcome his father (v. 29).7

Goshen is a Semitic term most likely referring to the delta region of Lower (=northern) Egypt in the area of the Wadi Tumilat (from the eastern arm of the Nile River to the Great Bitter Lake). Egyptian texts from the Hyksos period (ca. 1750-1550 B.C.) refer to Semites in this region, and it is an area that provides excellent pasturage for herds, which is what Jacob and his sons need. In 47:11 it is referred to anachronistically as the “district of Rameses.”8

29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while.

The word “appeared” (wayyera, v. 29) describes divine theophany in Genesis (e.g., 12:7; 17:1; 26:2, 24; 35:9; cf. Exod 3:2). It is one of several expressions in the verse that conveys subtly the presence of God in this meeting. “And [Joseph] went [up] to Goshen” describes the topographical ascent of Joseph that commonly depicts the geographical return of the patriarchs from Egypt to Canaan (e.g., 13:1; 50:7). Yet the same word “went up” (wayya’al) also describes the ascent of God following a theophanic message (17:22; 35:13). Moreover, “since I have seen your face” (not in NIV) in v. 30 recalls the vision of the Lord at Peniel (32:31[30]), to which the patriarch alludes when he meets Esau, saying, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” (33:10). This reunion with Joseph bears for Jacob the same divine significance as his reunion with Esau.9

31-34 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

Joseph’s instructions to his brothers concerning their occupation (46:31-34) and their subsequent conversation with Pharaoh (47:1-4) highlight the low opinion of shepherds in Egypt (46:34). Yet it is not easy to detect any cultural bias against shepherds in Egyptian records of the period. Consequently, perhaps Joseph’s advice concerns a more subtle issue of terminology. Toward the end of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt (as early as the middle of the eighteenth century), large numbers of Semitic peoples began infiltrating Egypt. These people became known as the Hyksos, and they eventually gained a ruling position in much of Egypt that lasted until the middle of the sixteenth century B.C., when they were driven out by the native Egyptian rulers of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

The designation Hyksos reflects Egyptian terminology that refers to them as “chieftains of foreign lands” (beqa khoswe). This terminology occurs as a reference to Bedouin princes of the Levant as early as the nineteenth century B.C. What is important to our present discussion is that the Egyptian historian Manetho (writing in the third century B.C.) calls these despised rulers “shepherds” rather than kings, and Josephus, purporting to quote from Manetho, refers to them as king-shepherds. He offers a folk etymology in which hyk means king and sos means shepherd. The Hyksos center of power was in the delta region, not far from Goshen.

If indeed Manetho has preserved an ancient association between the Hyksos and shepherds (apart from the fanciful etymology offered by Josephus), it becomes easier to understand Joseph’s instructions. “Shepherds” may be ambiguous, referring not only to a vocation that was legitimate and acceptable (since there is no indication of dishonor attached to the profession in Egypt), but also to a group of people who were already infiltrating the land and, as a group, were despised. Joseph would want to ensure that his family was classified in the former category rather than the latter.

Immigrants can easily be stereotyped by their vocation, with that vocation then being adopted as a derogatory designation for the group. In American history, for example, we may recall the designation of the Irish immigrants as potato farmers. The potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century brought a massive migration of starving Irish families to America. They knew only potato farming. People who despised the Irish immigrants could speak scornfully about the potato farmers, though there would have been no objection to the farming of potatoes per se.10

Bibliography

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament 1B. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. The New American Commentary Volume 1B. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Sarna, Nahum M. JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. 1st ed. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989.

Walton, John H. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

1Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 312.

2Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 832.

3Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 597.

4Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 316.

5Ibid., 317.

6Ibid.

7Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 841-842.

8Walton, Genesis, 686.

9Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 842.

10Walton, Genesis, 686-687.

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