Genesis 46: Hebrew moving day!

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The meeting of Jacob and Joseph in Egypt by William Brassey Hole

The meeting of Jacob and Joseph in Egypt by William Brassey Hole

Before heading into Egypt, Jacob/Israel makes a quick pit stop in Beersheba to chat with God. “Jacob, Jacob,” begins God, apparently forgetting all about Genesis 35:10 and 32:28.

God tells Jacob/Israel not to worry about going into Egypt, for “I will also bring you up again” (Gen. 46:4). Spoiler alert: He doesn’t. My study bible tries to explain away the lie by saying that Jacob/Israel technically lives on in his descendants, who are then brought out of Egypt. But let’s get real – would an old man concerned about a big move really interpret God’s statement in that way?

The sons of Jacob/Israel

And now we get another genealogy. At least this time, they did try to make it fit with the story by positioning it as a list of dudes who are entering Egypt (making me feel something like a border guard, honestly).

Jacob/Israel’s descendants by Leah:

  • Reuben’s sons: Hanoch, Phallu, Hezron, and Carmi.
  • Simeon’s sons: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul (this later being the son of a Canaanite woman).
  • Levi’s sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
  • Judah’s sons: Shelah, Pharez, and Zerah (plus Er and Onan, who have died). The sons of Pharez are: Hezron and Hamul.
  • Issachar’s sons: Tola, Phuvah, Job, and Shimron.
  • Zebulun’s sons: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel.

Zebulun, by the way, always makes me think of Zabulon, the leader of the Day Watch in Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch series. Just sayin’.

Jacob/Israel’s sons by Zilpah:

  • Gad’s sons: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.
  • Asher’s kids: Jimnah, Ishuah, Ishni, Beriah, and a daughter named Serah. Beriah’s sons: Heber and Malchiel.

Jacob/Israel’s sons by Rachel:

  • Joseph’s sons: Manasseh and Ephraim.
  • Benjamin’s sons: Belah, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard.

Jacob/Israel’s sons by Bilhah:

  • Dan’s son: Hushim.
  • Naphtali’s sons: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem.

We’re also given a bit of math. We’re told how many people are in each of Jacob/Israel’s wives’ parties, so of course I had to double check!

  • Leah’s party: Bible says 33 (including Dinah). My count is also 33. So far so good!
  • Zilpah’s party: Bible says 16, but I count 17. The only way I get the same number as the Bible is if I discount Serah, who is female. But then, shouldn’t we have discounted Dinah as well?
  • Rachel’s party: Bible says 14. The only way I get the right number is if I discount Rachel (for being dead), but then I would have to ignore Genesis 46:27 that says that we’re to tack Joseph and his sons on to the very end.
  • Bilhah’s party: Bible says 7. I get 8.

At the end of this, we’re told that we should come out with 66 people. We add to this Jacob/Israel himself, and then Joseph&Sons who will be met with in Egypt, and we should come out to a nice auspicious 70.

Unfortunately, both the Bible’s numbers and mine add up to 70 before I ever add the four additional people! So what we end up with is a decidedly inauspicious 74.

Abominations

Judah rides out ahead to fetch Joseph so that he can meet them on the road. When Joseph and Jacob/Israel see each other, they embrace and weep. Jacob/Israel announces that he can die now that he’s seen his son.

This next bit is a bit confusing, even with the study bible’s help. Joseph tells his family to say that they are shepherds, “for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians” (Gen. 46:34). Now, when I am relying on someone’s hospitality, I try to avoid making them think that I’m an abomination…

The study bible explanation is that Joseph wants them to settle in Goshen, which would put them near him. Convincing the Egyptians that they are abominations would make them more likely to settle the Hebrews “apart in the land of Goshen.” I can’t figure out if that means that the land of Goshen is otherwise uninhabited and that settling them there would make them apart, or if this is a trick to get them a spot of land all to themselves within Goshen.

Now, granted, the Hebrews are shepherds, and I’m sure that the Egyptians would have found out about it eventually. So it makes good sense to state it right up front. But the way it’s phrased is really awkward for this interpretation.

Genesis 41: Joseph rises once again

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We ended the last chapter with the butler forgetting his promise to speak well of Joseph once he is freed. Two years go by, and then the Pharaoh has two dreams:

  1. He is standing by the Nile when seven fat cows come up out of the river. Seven more cows come out, but these are gaunt and thin. The thin cows eat the fat cows.
  2. There are seven plump ears of grain growing on a single stalk. Then, seven diseased ears grow and eat the good ones.

When Pharaoh (used as a personal name, which is rather awkward) wakes up, he called for all the magicians and wise men in Egypt to come and try to interpret his dreams, but none of them can do it. Then the chief butler, springing into action a mere two years late, announces that he met a pretty nifty dream interpreter while he was in prison.

Joseph Overseer of the Pharaoh's Granaries by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874

Joseph Overseer of the Pharaoh’s Granaries by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1874

The Pharaoh sends for Joseph. After making sure to tell everyone that he is merely channelling God and not doing any magic on his own (a lovely contrast to the ‘false’ magicians of pagan Egypt mentioned earlier), he interprets the dreams. Both mean that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and that the duplication of the theme means that God really really means it. To get through the years of famine, Pharaoh should get himself a man who is “discreet and wise” and “set him over the land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:33) to store up food during the seven years of plenty. Surprise surprise, Pharaoh picks Joseph, saying: “you shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command’ only as regards the throne will I be greater than you” (Gen. 41:40).

Joseph gets renamed Zaphnath-Paaneah and is married to Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of On (and presumably a different person from the Potiphar who originally bought Joseph). He and Asenath have two sons, named Manasseh and Ephraim.

As promised, Joseph works diligently during the years of plenty to put food away so that Egypt lives through the years of starvation comfortably. And since, “when all the land of Egypt was famished” and the people are crying for bread, Joseph “opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians” (Gen. 41:55-56), so it seems like he made a nice profit, too.

“Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth” (Gen. 41:57). This must have been quite the canoe trip for the native peoples in the Americas.

Speaking of which, this famine was sent by God (Gen. 41:25, 28, 32). It seems that this was done for no other purpose than to make Joseph successful. I don’t care how much he’s put away, he can’t feed the whole world (especially if he is selling it to farmers who are presumably making no income whatsoever for seven years). People are dying the world over from starvation just so that Joseph can get some garments of fine linen and a gold chain to wear around his neck (Gen. 41:42).

Incidentally, there are no records of a Joseph or a Zaphnath-Paaneah who saved the whole wide world from a famine; at least not that I’ve ever heard of. This seems like the kind of thing the historians would mention…