Numbers 13: Return of the Nephilim

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Being now so close to Canaan, Moses can’t help but take a little peek. So he chooses 12 scouts – one from each tribe minus Levi because the Levites apparently don’t have to do anything related to the mundane world. The people chosen to be scouts are “all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel” (v.3), though the list doesn’t match the list of leaders presented in Numbers 1.

  • Of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur;
  •  Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori;
  • Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh;
  • Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph;
  • Of the tribe of Joseph – Ephraim branch, Oshea the son of Nun;
  • Of the tribe of Joseph – Manasseh branch, Gaddi the son of Susi;
  • Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu;
  • Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi;
  • Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli;
  • Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael;
  • Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi;
  • Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.

He then specifically calls “Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua” (or, as my Study Bible has it, “Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua”). I would have assumed that this would be the same person as Oshea the son of Nun, but then why is be being called again separately? There’s no indication that he’s to be the leader of the scouts, or that he’s being singled out for any particular purpose. The name is merely repeated (with the alteration to the father’s name). Is he a thirteenth scout? Or does the text just really want to highlight that Joshua is one of the dudes going?

The Scouting

Possible scouting path

Possible scouting path

The 12 scouts head out and seem to make a good tour, visiting such sites as the wilderness of Zin, Rehob, Hamath, the Negeb, Hebron, and the valley of Eshcol.. I found this neat map on the Generation World ministry website that illustrates the path the scouts may have followed.

As a little archeological side note, the text claims that Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. According to my Study Bible: “Zoan or Tanis [was] rebuilt as the Hyksos capital around 1700 B.C.” (p.180).

If we accept the date of the exodus as somewhere around 1450 B.C., that would put Hebron at between 200-300 years old at this point in the narrative.

Numbers 13 - Abraham Schloss bis ZionAnyways, so the scouts find lots of nice things, including a single cluster of grapes so great that they had to carry it “on a pole between two of them” (v.23), as well as pomegranates and figs. They also encounter descendants of Anak: Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai. Though I’m not sure how they know their names unless they approached them, and it seems implausible that they approached them given that they are set up as hostiles.

The whole trip takes 40 days (of course it does). When they return, they can’t stop gushing about how awesome Canaan is. They describe it as “flow[ing] with milk and honey” (v.27), a turn of phrase first used in Exodus 3:8, where God promises to bring  the Israelites out of Egypt and “unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.”

But it’s not all positive. The scouts also report that the people there are strong, and that their cities are large and fortified. Plus, the descendants of Anak are there and, well, you know how they are.

Speaking of the current inhabitants, the scouts report that:

  • The Amalekites are in the Negeb.
  • The Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites are in the hill country.
  • The Canaanites are by the sea and along the Jordan river.

You will remember the Amalekites from their subduing in the battles of Genesis 14, and from their chronologically confused battle with Joshua in Exodus 17.

Getting Antsy

But then Caleb, Judah’s scouting representative, steps in and calls for the Israelites to “go up at once, and occupy it [Canaan]; for we are well able to overcome it” (v.30).

Numbers 13 - Nephilim Skeleton

Note: This was an entry in an image editing contest. No Nephilim skeletons have yet been found.

The other scouts disagree, and they bring “and evil report of the land which they had spied out” (v.32). David Plotz adds the detail that Joshua did not join them, but I’m not seeing anything like that in my text.

The “evil report” is that the land “devours its inhabitants” (v.32), and the people living there (the ones being devoured?) are giants. These giants are Nephilim – the ones we saw way back in Genesis 6:4 and who are now being called the sons of Anak, “who came from the Nephilim” (v.33). In the hyperbole we’re accustomed to seeing in the Bible, these Nephilim are described as so tall that “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (v.33).

Now, the Nephilim in Genesis had been given as an example of the corruption that ran rampant in the antediluvian period, and were one of the reasons why God decided to kill everyone except for Noah and his family. So what are they doing still around?

One blogger read this appearance back into Genesis 6:4 – “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward” (emphasis mine). According to that person, the “also afterward” refers to the period after the flood. It still doesn’t explain how they survived the flood that killed “everything that is on the earth” (Gen. 6:17), but it does seem to suggest that, at least at some point, someone involved in the production of the Bible may have had the same concerns.

Though the whole discussion may not matter. When the text says that the other scouts gave an “evil report,” does that mean that the report was bad news, or does it mean that they are lying? Are they exaggerating the dangers presented by the inhabitants of Canaan as an argument against Caleb’s gung-ho enthusiasm, or are they merely reminding Caleb of how bloody tall the current occupants of the land are? And if they are lying, what is their motivation?

Exodus 13: Child sacrifice!

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God, not quite satisfied with having killed all the first-born among the Egyptians, now sets his sights on the Hebrews.

Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt by József Molnár

Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt by József Molnár

“Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” (Exod. 13:2). This applies only to the males, of course.

Now, the symbolism here is fairly obvious. In a culture where livelihoods depend on cattle being born, and where worth is determined by the continuation of one’s lineage, sacrificing the first places a great deal of trust in God that he will provide more.

This chapter seems to show a cultural shift from an era in which child sacrifice is the religious norm to one in which it is not. Perhaps this is a different way of perceiving/explaining the same shift fictionalised in the story of Abraham and Isaac. So while the personal story of Abraham and Isaac has the son replaced with an animal, so this corporate story offers the alternative of “redeeming” sons by substituting an animal.

Incidentally, many Jews today perform a ritual called Pidyon ha-Ben, which involves giving a small sum of money to a kohein in lieu of sacrificing a first-born son.

Into the wilderness

God and the Israelites set off towards Canaan. But instead of taking lovely straight route “by way of the land of the Philistines” – where there’s a lot of fighting, so God is worried that the Israelites will get scared and turn back – he takes them “by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea” (Exod. 13:17-18).

The idea that they are trying to avoid the land of the Philistines seems a bit problematic. If we accept the Pharaoh of this section to be Ramses II, that would put the Exodus at around 1213 BCE. But the Philistine civilization wasn’t established until 1175 BCE, a full 40 years later. Does anyone have a plausible explanation for this?

In any case, they are carting around the bones of Joseph, which is a nod back to Genesis 50 where Joseph predicts that God will lead the Israelites out of Egypt and that they will take his bones with them.

“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night a pillar of fire to give them light” (Exod. 13:21). This sounds pretty impressive until you think about it for a moment and realize that this sounds remarkably like some guy at the front holding a brazier. It’s times like these that poetic language really obfuscates.

Exodus 3: The Hero’s Call

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According to Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey begins with a call:

This first stage of the mythological journey – which we have designated the “call to adventure” – signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. The Hero With A Thousand Faces, p.58.

It would be unseemly for our current hero to accept his task too readily. The hero’s task is very great and only a narcissist would feel equal to it. This is why a common component of the call is the refusal. It’s a token act of modesty that makes the hero worthy, in the eyes of the reader, of the task.

On the mountain of God

Moses and the Burning Bush by Sebastien Bourdon, 1642-1645

Moses and the Burning Bush by Sebastien Bourdon, 1642-1645

In this chapter, Moses is taking care of his father-in-law’s flock (who is now named Jethro instead of Reuel) when he accidentally stumbles on Horeb (sometimes called Sinai), the “mountain of God” (Exod. 3:1). The location of Horeb/Sinai is unknown, but my study bible says that “tradition places it in the eastern part of the Sinaitic Peninsula” and theorizes that it “was probably a Midianite sacred place.”

God appears to Moses “in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” and though “the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (Exod. 3:2). Back to Joseph Campbell, he writes in Hero With A Thousand Faces that: “there is an atmosphere of irresistible fascination about the figure that appears suddenly as guide, marking a new period, a new stage, in the biography” (p.55).

Moses is all like “Wuh?!” and takes a good look at this burning-yet-not-burned shrubbery, at which point God calls out to him.

God tells Moses not to approach, but to remove his shoes “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exod. 3:5).This raises the question of what makes a site holy. Is it because God is there? In which case, are all the places he ‘touches down’ holy? This is certainly possible since the patriarchs like Abraham built shrines wherever they talked to God (no mention of any shoe removal, though). Alternatively, did God choose to appear at this site because it was already holy? If this is the case, do the Midianites also worship the God of the Hebrews, or is God respecting another deity’s special turf? Or, to use the Euthyphro phrasing, is the site holy because God is there, or is God there because it is holy?

In any case, Moses hides his face because he’s afraid to look at God.

The Quest

God announces to Moses that he’s “come down to deliver [my people] out of the hand of the Egyptians.” He intends to lead them to “a land flowing with milk and honey” – to the place that currently belongs to “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (Exod. 3:8). But that doesn’t seem so nice, moving the Hebs out of one land belonging to others and into another land belonging to others. Unless…

Oh no…

Leaving this ominous little verse aside for a moment, God gets down to business: “I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exod. 3:10).

The Refusal

Moses: Who am I to tell Pharaoh what to do?

God: I’ll be with you, so you’ll have my cred.

Moses: But if I tell the Hebs that God has sent me, they’ll ask me which god I’m talking about! [A statement that seems to “assume a polytheistic environment; thus he must know the identity of the God who is dealing with him,” according to my study bible.]

God: I am who I am. [Or, YHWH, which may also translate to the third person, or “He causes to be.] Now stop yer winging and go tell the Hebs what I’ve told you. They’ll listen.

God gives further instructions: The elders of the Hebrews should go to Pharaoh and ask for three days off so that they can go into the wilderness and sacrifice to their god. This is after making his intention to lead the Israelites out of Egypt quite clear. In other words, God is telling the Hebrews to lie.

That’s morally iffy enough, but in this case God knows it won’t work anyway: “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand” (Exod. 3:19). So basically, God just feels like making people lie. Just cause…

Not content to end there, God doesn’t want his peeps to start off empty handed. “Each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and of her who sojourns in her house, jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; thus you shall despoil the Egyptians” (Exod. 3:22). If you’re lying anyway, you may as well steal too.

In search of Exodus

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Before I get too far into this book, I wanted to take a brief moment to look at the possible historicity of Exodus. This is a very important chapter as we go on because, as my study bible points out, “there can be no doubt that Israel’s faith rests upon an actual historical occurrence” (Study Bible, p.67).

From the invention of archeology, there have been a great many attempts to prove the historicity of the Old Testament. Noah’s ark is found every couple years, or the tidal patterns of bodies of water that the Hebrews might have crossed are meticulously observed… In 1883, Edouard Naville, acting on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund (since renamed Society), believed that he found Goshen – the land in the Nile delta where Joseph settled his family. He believed that he found the lost city of Pithom (built by the Hebrews according to Exodus 1:11). For an annual subscription fee, the Society agreed to send members “a genuine Hebrew-made mud brick!” (Hobson, World of the Pharaohs, p.40) – a promise that they were not able to keep due to the size of the bricks…

One of the great stumbling blocks in the way of definitively dating (and therefore verifying) the exodus is that the ruling pharaoh is never named. Even so, it’s generally dated to around the time of Ramses II. There are a few reasons for this, such as the destruction of several Canaanite cities around that time that could be attributed to Joshua’s invasion (Study Bible, p.1538), for example. Another common dating marker is the mention in Exodus 1 of the building of Pithom (Per-Atum) and Rameses (Pi-Ramesse). We don’t know when Pithom was built, but Pi-Ramesse can be dated to the reign of Ramses II. But, of course, all this proves is that the accounts were written “at some time after the building of Pi-Ramesse and Per-Atum” (Collins, Hebrew Bible, p.57).

There is also mention of a group called the Apiru in Egypt and some scholars believe that the name may be a corruption of the word for Hebrew. But even this is problematic, because “nowhere is any revolt mentioned; on the contrary, the principal known foreign community of the time – the workmen of the land of Midian (modern Eilath) – were clearly a free group trading with Egypt” (Grimal, History of Ancient Egypt, p.258). The linguistic argument also has its shortcomings or, as Anson Rainey puts it in “Unruly Elements in Late Bronze Canaanite Society”: “The plethora of attempts to find some way to relate [apiru] to the gentilic [ibri] are all nothing but wishful thinking. The two terms never were related, and […] the social status and the activities of the [apiru] bear no valid resemblance to the ancient Hebrews.” It is a “classic example of unbridled imagination totally lacking in linguistic or semantic acumen” (Pomegranates and Golden Bells, p.483). That’s a burn, folks.

Of the other details that can be matched up to Egyptian history or culture, Collins says that “these suggest that there is a certain amount of Egyptian ‘local color’ in the story, [but] they fall far short of establishing the historicity of the exodus” (Collins, Hebrew Bible, p.57). There are no Egyptian records of the events (Study Bible, p.67), or even in any ancient non-biblical source. “The Egyptians kept tight control over their eastern border and kept careful records. If a large group of Israelites had departed, we should expect some mention of it” (Collins, Hebrew Bible, p.55).

In conclusion, Exodus is not telling us history, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t telling us something about the ancient Hebrew experience. The large migration described is out of the question, but “some scholars now suppose that the biblical account may have ‘telescoped’ several small exoduses, which took place over centuries’ (Collins, Hebrew Bible, p.57). In other words, Exodus may be an exercise in mythic/experiential history rather than factual history.

And with that out of the way, let’s find out WWMD!

Genesis 50: Jacob/Israel is buried

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Jacob/Israel is embalmed, and “forty days were required for it, for so many are required for embalming” (Gen. 50:3). This is consistent with my own impression, and a quick Google search bears it out.


From the 'Golden Haggadah,' early 14th century

From the ‘Golden Haggadah,’ early 14th century

Joseph asks permission from Pharaoh to bury his father in Machpelah, and this is granted. So Joseph heads out to Canaan along with “all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his fathers’ household; only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen” (Gen. 50:8-7).

This, by the way, would be a huge procession. If the medieval British monarchy is any indication, the ecological impact of this procession would be huge – not to mention the effects on the people who live in the communities the procession passes through. I also can’t help but to wonder what Pharaoh did while all his servants were off at this long distance funeral. Did he cook his own meals? Did he cart away his own gong?

At this point, my study bible mentions that there is an alternative tradition that has Jacob/Israel hew out a “tomb for himself east of the Jordan,” and that he was buried here instead of Machpelah. “This explains why the funeral cortege detoured to Trans-jordan, though a main road led from Egypt along the coast to Beer-sheba.”

Joseph buries his father and then the procession returns to Egypt.


Now that Jacob/Israel is dead, the brothers start to get a bit nervous. I suppose they think that Joseph was being nice to avoid upsetting dad, but that now he has no reason not to “pay us back for all the evil which we did to him” (Gen. 50:15).

So they send a message to Joseph saying, “your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Forgive, I pray you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, we pray you, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” (Gen. 50:16-17).

Even if true, it’s a pretty nasty thing to do. The guy’s just lost his dad and the brothers are getting straight to business. If false (which it may well be, since there’s no indication that Jacob/Israel even knew what his sons did, let alone said anything about it), it’s even worse. On the other hand, Joseph could potentially press all of their children into slavery as revenge, so this is a far cry from the sort of family spat we’re accustomed to today.

Joseph reasserts that the brothers didn’t do anything but slavishly follow God’s plan – which is a horrible way to look at it, by the way. Should we open our jailhouse doors, because they didn’t do anything that wasn’t part of God’s plan? But in this case, the belief allows Joseph to forgive his brothers and he vows to protect them and their children.

Wrap up

Joseph lived to be 110, and to see his son Ephraim’s children of the third generation. We’re also told that Manasseh had a son, Machir.

When he lies dying, Joseph reminds his brothers that God will visit them and bring them out of Egypt, giving them the land that was originally promised to Abraham, then to Isaac, and then to Jacob/Israel.

With his final breath, Joseph “took an oath of the sons of Israel,” which I interpret to mean the people Israel, not Jacob specifically. The oath goes: “God will visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here” (Gen. 50:25). And with that, Joseph dies, is embalmed, and is put into a coffin in Egypt.

And with that we reach the end of Genesis!

Genesis 47: The Pharaoh’s Monopoly

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As was planned out in the last chapter, Joseph introduces his brothers to Pharaoh and they admit to being shepherds. The plan works and not only are the Hebrews settled in Goshen, but they are also put in charge of Pharaoh’s own cattle.

Meeting Pharaoh

Joseph selling wheat to the people by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, 1655

Joseph selling wheat to the people by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, 1655

Jacob/Israel is then brought in to meet Pharaoh, and Pharaoh asks him how old he is. Jacob/Israel responds that he is 130 years old, and that “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning” (Gen. 47:9). This, according to my study bible, “reflects the view that there was an increasing shortening and troubling of man’s life.”

Well, granted that the lifespans are getting shorted, but is it fair to say that they’re more filled with trouble? Abel was murdered, Noah saw the death of everyone outside of his immediate family, and Abraham prostituted his wife twice in supposed fear for his life. As for Jacob/Israel, with the exception of a famine that his family profited from anyway, all his troubles were in some way his own fault.

Big Government

The famine continues and “the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished” (Gen. 47:13). We don’t get an update on what’s going on in the rest of the world, though.

Joseph keeps selling food until no one in either country has any money left. When they come to him begging, he takes all their cattle in exchange for food. The next year, when they come to him again, he makes them trade in their bodies and their land – they are now slaves and all the land in Egypt (except what the priests owned) now belongs to the state. How’s that for Big Government?

Plus, the only reason that the priests were exempt is because they “had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh, and lived on the allowance which Pharaoh gave them” (Gen. 47:22). Sounds like social security! And remember that all of this is part of God’s plan!

Have the Tea Baggers seen this?!

Come over here and grab daddy’s testicles

So the Hebs are “fruitful and multiplied exceedingly” (Gen. 47:27) in Egypt, thanks to Joseph providing for his family “according to the number of their dependents” (Gen. 47:12). This phrase sounds remarkably familiar… Meanwhile, the rest of Egypt starves.

Jacob/Israel goes on another 17 years (that makes 147 years in total). He calls Joseph to him and asks him to “put your hand under my thigh” (Gen. 47:29), which is truly one of the oddest cultural practices I’ve seen to date. He makes Joseph swear to bury him along with his forefathers, and not in Egypt.

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.


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 45: The Great Reunion

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We closed the last chapter with Judah begging Joseph to take him as a slave instead of Benjamin, fearing that their father would die if he lost Favourite Son #2.

Picking up from this, Joseph starts to tear up (presumably at the thought of his dad dying). He asks everyone to leave the room (which apparently applies only to Egyptians…) and begins to sob so loudly that “the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it” (Gen. 45:2).


Joseph recognized by his brothers by Antoine Coypel, 1730-1731

Joseph recognized by his brothers by Antoine Coypel, 1730-1731

Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, describing himself as the one they sold into slavery. But that’s totally cool, ’cause “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). I don’t want to make too much of this, but it’s a recurring theme that I’m not at all comfortable with. God has a plan, he’s going to make himself an omelette, and if eggs get broken, well, that’s just too bad. There’s no respect for people as individuals, only as pawns for God’s use. This seems rather disrespectful. Just as Jacob/Israel loved Joseph and Benjamin while seeing his other children as little more than farmhands, so God seems to favour his plan.

Now, you may argue that preserving life is a fairly laudable goal, and that selling a child into slavery isn’t such a great price to play. But we mustn’t forget that it is God himself who is sending the famine that he then pressed Joseph into slavery to mitigate (Gen. 41:25, 28, 32).

Fetching dad

Joseph sends his brothers back into Canaan to get their families and Jacob/Israel. When they return to Egypt, he will put them in Goshen (this is plausible. My study bible says that: “According to Egyptian sources, it was not unusual for Pharaoh to permit Asiatics to settle in this country in the time of famine”).

He also instructs his brothers to tell Jacob.Israel about “all that my splendor in Egypt” (Gen. 45:13). I’m not sure whether to file this under the Old Testament’s odd habit of listing people’s possessions, or whether it’s just a son who wants to show his dad that he “done good.”

In any case, he then embraces his brothers. Benjy is the only one named and gets the first XOXOs, of course, since the others aren’t really much more than support cast.


Pharaoh hears that Joseph’s brothers are in town and he gets really excited. He promises them the best land in Egypt and gives them wagons to make the return journey a bit more comfortable for their families (although travelling in wagons prior to the invention of suspension springs really wouldn’t have been all that comfortable…). He also tells them not to bother bringing back their possessions because they will be given the very best lands.

In the middle of a famine, the pharaoh tells them to go ahead and enjoy the “fat of the land” (Gen. 45:17-18). In the middle of a famine.

Joseph gives everyone festal garments, except Benjy to whom he gives five festal garments and 300 shekels of silver. It’s absolutely impossible for these people not to constantly remind everyone who the favourites are… I would hope that he at least gave Benjy these additional gifts on the sly, but I suspect that it was done with full pomp in front of the other brothers.

Now, I’ve done a lot of travelling in my short young life and I must say that one of the key strategies is to pack as lightly as possible. Joseph doesn’t subscribe to this philosophy, so he sends the brothers home with a ton of gifts for dad – gifts that dad is going to have to lug right back into Egypt.

When Jacob/Israel hears that Joseph is still alive, his “heart fainted” (Gen. 45:26), and only the sight of the wagons that have been sent for him are able to revive him.

Genesis 43: Benjamin goes into Egypt

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The famine continues and Jacob/Israel (who gets to be called Israel again) & sons eat up all the grain they had bought from Joseph. This is enough for Jacob/Israel to decide to send his sons back into Egypt – something that Simeon’s captivity did not do. Or, as my study bible puts it: “Simeon, left as a hostage in Egypt, is apparently forgotten, for the brothers return only when more grain is needed.” Well, he’s no Joseph or Benjamin.

We saw this Abraham, we saw this with Isaac, we certainly saw it with Noah… It’s the idea that some kids are one’s real kids and all the others are just expendable. Nice to have as herders, perhaps, but not worth getting all emotional over. God does the same thing to Cain and Abel. Are these “biblical family values” the religious right keeps trying to push?

The refusal

Joseph accuses his brothers of being spies by the unknown illustrator of Lillie A. Faris's 'Standard Bible Story Readers,' 1925-1928

Joseph accuses his brothers of being spies by the unknown illustrator of Lillie A. Faris’s ‘Standard Bible Story Readers,’ 1925-1928

Despite starvation and the urging of his father, Judah refuses to go. He reminds Jacob/Israel that Egypt’s governor had told them that they won’t get to see him unless they bring Benjamin along. And, since Joseph is personally handling the distribution of grain to every single nation of the world (American aborigines included), that leaves Judah and family grainless.

Jacob/Israel says: “Why did you treat me so ill as to tell the man that you had another brother?” (Gen. 43:6). Another, better brother. A brother who isn’t expendable.

Judah responds that the man had asked pointed questions, asking specifically about their father and whether they had another brother. Besides, how could they have known that the governor or Egypt would want to see some unremarkable Hebrew kid?

Judah then appeals to his father, begging him to let Benjamin go “that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones” (Gen. 43:8). See, this is how a real father would act. None of this “and also our little ones – except George. He can die for all I care” business. He gives his word that he will keep Benjy safe.

Jacob/Israel finally agrees, and tells his sons to take some additional gifts, as well as the money they had been sent home with just in case it was an oversight that they were able to keep it.

Treasure returned

Joseph sees his brothers approaching with Benjamin, so he tells his steward to slaughter an animal for dinner and to show the men in. This, of course, terrifies the brothers. They assume that they are being brought to their doom because of the money that they took out of Egypt. They are afraid that Joseph means to make them slaves to to “seize our asses” (Gen. 43:18). Just what kind of slaves are we talking about here?

They go to the steward and explain to him that they don’t know how the money got into their sacks, but that they’ve brought it back. The steward tells them not to worry, that their God must have put the money in their sacks for them as he did receive the payment for the last batch of grain. Then he brought Simeon out to them.

Dinner is served

When Joseph gets home, the brothers present him with all the gifts they brought for him. Joseph asks them about their father, and whether he’s still alive. When he sees Benjamin, he has to run out of the room to weep before he can return and call for dinner to be served. (Hilariously, the KJV has it that he had to run out of the room “for his bowels did yearn upon his brother” – Gen. 43:30.)

Interestingly, the Egyptians and the Hebrews eat separately because the Egyptians “might not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians” (Gen. 43:32). I found it rather interesting that it’s the Egyptians who are set apart in this story for their laws of ritual purity, rather than the Hebrews. I guess that comes later, as they leave Egypt. Funny how God would give them commandments that would make them more like their former captors…

Joseph, like his father, makes his favouritism clear. He serves Benjamin portions that are five times as large as what the other brothers get.

Genesis 42: The Revenge Begins

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If your High School days were anything like mine, you probably spent a good deal of time fantasizing about some future scenario in which you’ve somehow become wildly successful. Perhaps you’re a movie star, or you suddenly discover that you have magic powers, or you invent some new operating system that makes you a billionaire several times over. The method is unimportant – what matters is that you get to come back to your school and see all the people who used to treat you badly grovel at your feet.

Genesis 42 marks the beginning of some Jewish scribe’s High School fantasy.

Back in Canaan

Canaan is suffering the same starvation that is afflicting the rest of the world, and Jacob (who isn’t called Israel a single time in this whole chapter, despite Genesis 35:10) finds out that there’s food over in Egypt. He sends ten of his sons over to buy some grain, withholding Benjamin, fearing “that harm might befall him” (Gen. 42:4). We can let it slide this time since Benjy is the baby of the family.

But the rest of the boys pack up and head off to Egypt to buy grain.

Confrontation in Egypt

Joseph's brothers come to ask for grain by the unknown illustrator of Lillie A. Faris's 'Standard Bible Story Readers,' 1925-1928

Joseph’s brothers come to ask for grain by the unknown illustrator of Lillie A. Faris’s ‘Standard Bible Story Readers,’ 1925-1928

This is where the High School fantasy begins. The brothers arrive in Egypt and come to the governor (who, for some reason, appears to be overseeing all cases of grain exchange for a country in which everyone in the whole world is coming for grain). They prostrate themselves, not knowing that the governor is actually Joseph and that they are unwittingly fulfilling his dream/prophecy.

By this time, Joseph has learned to speak Egyptian and he’s using a translator to talk to his brothers. He recognizes them, but they do not recognize him. It’s all very Shakespearian in its silliness.

The brothers explain that they want to buy grain for their family back in Canaan, but Joseph keeps insisting that they’re actually spies come to Egypt to scope out any weaknesses (a legitimate concern, says my study bible, for the Egyptian frontier faced Canaan and was vulnerable to attack). The brothers insist that they are just there to buy grain. Joseph insists that they are spies. This argument continues for longer than is rhetorically necessary.

To prove that they aren’t in fact spies, the brothers explain that they are on a mission for their father and that they are ten of twelve sons. One son remained with dad and one son has died. Joseph holds Simeon hostage and sends the rest of the brothers back to get Benjamin. Bringing Benjamin would confirm their story. I’m really not sure how this would work – why would someone lie about having a brother? Couldn’t they just as easily be ten spies with a brother at home as ten traders with a brother at home?

But the brothers really aren’t in a position to contradict Joseph.

Here’s where it gets rather quirky. The brothers see some similarities between selling their one sibling to the Egyptians and leaving their second sibling as a hostage with the self-same people. They talk amongst themselves about this, wondering if this is punishment for their behaviour towards Joseph all those years ago. Reuben, who had nay-sayed at the time, takes the opportunity to land an “I told you so.” Unbeknownst to them, the Egyptian governor is Joseph and can understand their Hebrew perfectly.

The brothers return to Canaan

Joseph sells the grain to the brothers and sends them on their way, along with provisions for their journey and, secretly, all the money they had come with for grain-buying.

On the way home, one of the brothers opens a sack of grain to feed his ass (*immature giggle*) and finds his money bag intact. He tells the others and “at this their hearts failed them” (Gen. 42:28).

When they get to Canaan, they get to tell their father some bad news for a second time. The penning scribe, in all his rhetorical wisdom, chooses at this point to quote the brothers explaining the whole situation to their father. Had I been an editor at the time, I could have easily whittled this door-stop of a book down to a fraction of its current size. Just saying.

“As they emptied their sacks, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw their bundles of money, they were dismayed” (Gen. 42:35). Yeah, except that this already happened in Genesis 42:37-38. So did it happen at a lodging place during travel, or did it happen once they get home?

Jacob gets pretty upset that he’s lost Joseph and then Simeon and now may lost Benjamin as well. Reuben tries to convince him to take Joseph at his word, offering the lives of his own two sons if he should fail to return Simeon and Benjamin (Gen. 42:37). One might argue that his sons’ lives are not his to bargain with, but that would be a decidedly un-Biblical view.

But even the prospect of possibly slaying two children isn’t enough to entice Jacob. “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he only is left” (Gen. 42:38). To which his ten other sons surely respond: “What are we? Chop suey?”

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