Genesis 47
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 47

  1–11.  Joseph’s Brethren and Jacob before Pharaoh.

  12–27.  The Famine in Egypt and Joseph’s Policy.

  28–31.  Jacob’s Deathbed.

Then Joseph came and told Pharaoh, and said, My father and my brethren, and their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have, are come out of the land of Canaan; and, behold, they are in the land of Goshen.
1–12. Genesis 47:1-4; Genesis 47:6 b, Genesis 46:12-27 a, Genesis 46:29-31 J; 5, 6a, 7–11, 27b, 28 P

1. Then Joseph went in] Joseph seems to address Pharaoh as if the latter had been unaware of the coming of Joseph’s family. The passage (Genesis 47:1-4) seems to ignore, or to be independent of, Genesis 45:17-20 (E), in which Pharaoh himself offers a home in Egypt to Joseph’s brethren.

the land of Goshen] Cf. Genesis 45:10. Joseph reports of their arrival at Goshen, as if his brothers had reached that place accidentally.

And he took some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh.
2. five men] How the five were selected we are not told. On the number “5” in connexion with Egypt, see note on Genesis 43:34. Cf. Genesis 47:24, Genesis 41:34, Genesis 43:34, Genesis 45:22; Isaiah 19:18.

And Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What is your occupation? And they said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers.
3. And Pharaoh said] Pharaoh’s question and the men’s answer follow the outline given by Joseph in Genesis 46:34, but, instead of saying, “thy servants have been keepers of cattle,” they say, “thy servants are shepherds.”

They said moreover unto Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come; for thy servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen.
4. And they said unto Pharaoh] Joseph’s brethren were the speakers in the last clause of Genesis 47:3 : it is natural to suppose that a question from Pharaoh has dropped out, to which they now give answer. They would hardly make the request in this verse without some invitation.

5, 6 (P). These verses interrupt the sequence of the narrative. They represent the account in P of the occupation of Goshen. The structure of the verses is a little different in LXX, where 5a is followed by 6b. 5a (J) “And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Let them dwell in the land of Goshen, 6b and if thou knowest any able men among them, then make them rulers over my cattle. 5b (P) And Jacob and his sons came into Egypt unto Joseph. And Pharaoh king of Egypt heard of it. And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are come unto thee … to dwell. 7 And Joseph brought in Jacob, &c.” This probably represents an earlier text, combining J and P; and the obvious discrepancy between the accounts was subsequently modified.

And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are come unto thee:
The land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest any men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.
6. in the test] Cf. Exodus 22:4. The land of Goshen was fertile and good for grazing: but only by Oriental courtesy could it be called “the best” land in Egypt.

able men] So LXX ἄνδρες δυνατοί. Cf. Exodus 18:21; Exodus 18:25. R.V. marg. men of activity as Lat. viri industrii.

rulers over my cattle] Pharaoh is ready to confer positions of authority, without further enquiry, upon the most capable of Joseph’s brothers. The mention of the royal herds shews us that the position of herdsmen was fully recognized among the Egyptians: see note on Genesis 46:34.

And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.
7. Jacob blessed Pharaoh] Here and in Genesis 47:10 Jacob is said to “bless” Pharaoh. We should understand by this the solemn and benevolent benediction which is the privilege of aged persons in addressing those of much higher rank. According to another interpretation, the word should be rendered “saluted”; cf. 1 Samuel 13:10; 2 Kings 4:29.

And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou?
And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.
9. pilgrimage] R.V. marg. sojournings. See Genesis 17:8, Genesis 28:4, Genesis 36:7, Genesis 37:1 (P). The two renderings depend upon the metaphorical, or literal, explanation of Jacob’s words. Is it the metaphorical pilgrimage of life? or is it the frequent change of Jacob’s abode to which he makes reference? The latter is perhaps preferable, (1) on account of the allusion to the lives of his fathers, and (2) because this metaphor in the Bible seems to be based on the experience of the patriarchs themselves. Cf. 1 Chronicles 29:15; Psalm 39:12; Psalm 119:19; Psalm 119:54; Hebrews 11:9; Hebrews 11:13.

few] i.e. by comparison with the traditional days of old (Genesis 5:1 ff., Genesis 11:10 ff.) according to P.

evil] Alluding to the flight from home, the hardships of the service in Haran, the loss of Joseph, the death of Rachel, the violence of Simeon and Levi (chap. 34).

they have not attained] Jacob’s life of 130 years at this juncture seemed short in comparison with the 175 years of Abraham (Genesis 25:7) and the 180 years of Isaac (Genesis 35:28).

And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.
And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded.
11. placed] Lit. “caused to dwell”; as we should say, “settled.”

the land of Rameses] This description of the land of Goshen appears only here, and in the LXX of ch. Genesis 46:28. A town named Rameses is mentioned in Exodus 1:11; Exodus 12:37; Numbers 33:3; Numbers 33:5. In Exodus 1:11 Rameses is the name of one of the two store cities built by the children of Israel on the east of the Delta, according to Petrie = Tel er-Reṭabeh. The name given to it was probably that of the Pharaoh of the oppression, Rameses II. If so, the description of this region, where Joseph’s brethren are settled, by the name of “the land of Rameses,” is, strictly speaking, an anachronism, i.e. a chronological anticipation of facts, the country being denoted by a name which it came to bear two centuries later. It is a very natural thing for the Israelite writer to do; and can hardly be regarded in the light of a literary error.

And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families.
12. according to their families] The margin, according to the number of their little ones, gives the literal rendering. Delitzsch comments, “little children being mentioned because they would require much food, and also because people would be less willing to see them in want.” Cf. Genesis 45:11.

And there was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very sore, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine.
13–27a (J (?)). The Famine in Egypt, and Joseph’s Policy

13. in all the land] or “in all the earth.” LXX πάσῃ τῇ γῇ; Lat. in toto orbe. Cf. Genesis 41:54; Genesis 41:57; Acts 11:28, “a great famine over all the world.” “Very sore”: cf. Genesis 12:10, Genesis 41:31; Genesis 41:56, Genesis 43:1.

fainted] A striking metaphor (the Heb. word not occurring again in O.T.) to express the complete collapse of the inhabitants of Egypt and Canaan: LXX ἐξέλιτε. Notice the association of Canaan with Egypt in these three Genesis 47:13-15. Afterwards only Egypt is spoken of.

And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the corn which they bought: and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house.
14. gathered up] Joseph’s policy of State granaries was completely successful. He accumulated vast wealth for his master, the King of Egypt.

Pharaoh’s house] i.e. the royal treasury, “the White House,” as it was known in Egypt. Cf. Genesis 41:40.

And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth.
15. And when the money] The inhabitants of Egypt, finding that their money was expended, voluntarily proposed the surrender, firstly, of their cattle, and secondly, in the following year (Genesis 47:18-19), of their persons and their land. There is no mention of murmuring or uprising among the people. Private ownership, except in the case of the priests (Genesis 47:22), was surrendered. The whole people became Pharaoh’s servants, practically serfs, paying him a land tax of 20 per cent. annually (Genesis 47:26).

And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail.
16. I will give you] The word “bread” is evidently understood; and is found supplied in the Sam., LXX and Vulg. versions.

And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year.
17. horses … flocks, and for the herds] Heb. cattle of the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds. Observe here the mention of horses first in the list, followed by sheep, cattle, and asses. Compare the list of the live stock belonging to the nomad Abraham in Genesis 12:16, “sheep, oxen, he-asses, men-servants, maid-servants, she-asses, camels.” Camels are not mentioned here. Egyptologists inform us that the inscriptions do not record the mention of horses before the New Monarchy, circa 1530 b.c.: see note on Genesis 12:16. The Egyptians owed to the Hyksos the introduction of horses and chariots.

fed them] Heb. led them as a shepherd. The same word as in Genesis 33:14, “lead on softly,” and in Psalm 23:2, “he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and said unto him, We will not hide it from my lord, how that our money is spent; my lord also hath our herds of cattle; there is not ought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands:
18. We will not hide] The LXX μή ποτε ἐκτριβῶμεν = “lest we be utterly ruined,” misunderstood the Hebrew.

our bodies, and our lands] The inhabitants propose that Pharaoh should become the feudal lord of all Egypt, with complete possession of the land and absolute control over the lives of the people. The proposal is represented as emanating from the people themselves. Joseph’s authority is unquestioned; his popularity never in doubt.

Wherefore shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land? buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, that the land be not desolate.
And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh's.
20. Joseph bought all the land] This transaction, by which, at a single stroke of business, Joseph, the Hebrew, was said to have purchased for Pharaoh the whole land of Egypt, and all the people to be Pharaoh’s slaves, as the price of seed corn (cf. 23), probably sounded in the ears of an ancient Oriental people a masterpiece of cleverness. In our days it would rank as an outrageous piece of tyranny, that the king’s Grand Vizier, taking advantage of his own monopoly in corn and of the people’s destitution, should deprive them of the last shreds of their independence.

And as for the people, he removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to the other end thereof.
21. he removed them] Better, as Samar., Sept. and Vulg., he made bondmen of them, from &c. The reading in the text, followed by the R.V., in all probability is due to the recollection of Joseph’s policy of storing the grain in the cities, Genesis 41:35; Genesis 41:48. The reading of R.V. marg., which is that of the versions, differs extremely slightly from that of the Massoretic text. The verb “he removed” only differs from the verb “he enslaved” by one letter; the former having “R” (ר) and the latter “D” (ד); cf. Genesis 10:3-4. The latter gives a distinctly better sense. Genesis 47:20 has already described the sale of the land, and now Genesis 47:21 describes how the people became servants, or serfs, to Pharaoh. Thus Genesis 47:20-21 describe the carrying out of both parts of the people’s proposal in Genesis 47:19.

to the cities] R. V. marg. according to their cities. The rendering “to the cities” agrees with the verb “he removed.” But, with the preferable reading “he made bondmen,” we should here read “for slaves or serfs,” as LXX εἰς παῖδας. The difference in the Hebrew text, between “to the cities” and “for slaves,” is very slight.

There would have been no advantage to be derived from the redistribution of the people in the cities except for convenience in feeding them. They were needed to work the soil which now belonged to Pharaoh.

Only the land of the priests bought he not; for the priests had a portion assigned them of Pharaoh, and did eat their portion which Pharaoh gave them: wherefore they sold not their lands.
22. Only the land of the priests] The priests of Egypt enjoyed special privileges. They were greatly enriched by the kings of the 18th Dynasty (b.c. 1587–1328). It is doubtful whether their position was so favourable under the Hyksos (see Appendix E). But they were not under the necessity of selling their land. Erman quotes an inscription from which it appears that 185,000 sacks of corn were given annually by Rameses III (b.c. 1202–1171) to the Egyptian temples (Life in Ancient Egypt, p. 129).

a portion] Cf. the use of this word in the sense of a fixed rate or “due,” Leviticus 10:13; Proverbs 30:8 (marg.).

Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh: lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land.
And it shall come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth part unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for food for your little ones.
24. a fifth] Cf. Genesis 41:34. This seems an immense impost. But it is said to compare favourably with the ruthless standard of taxation by Oriental governments, in which corruption was rife and liberty did not exist: cf. the letter of King Demetrius, 1Ma 10:30, “the third part of the seed,” “the half of the fruit of the trees which falleth to me to receive.”

And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants.
And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part; except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.
26. a statute] The Israelites preserved this tradition concerning the origin of the system of land-tenure which prevailed in Egypt at a later time. For the expression “unto this day,” cf. Genesis 22:14. Unfortunately it does not supply us with the date at which this section was written.

And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.
27. and they gat them, &c.] This clause concludes P’s narrative of the settlement of Jacob and his sons in Egypt.

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years: so the whole age of Jacob was an hundred forty and seven years.
28. seventeen years] This verse, giving the years of Jacob’s life, comes from P: see Genesis 47:9. Note that 147 = 7 × 7 × 3, sacred numbers.

And the time drew nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt:
29–31 (J). Jacob makes Joseph swear to bury him in Canaan

29. And the time drew near] The description of Jacob’s dying moments may be compared with those of Moses (Deuteronomy 31-34) and of David (1 Kings 2:1).

I have found grace] Cf. Genesis 6:9, Genesis 18:3, Genesis 32:5, Genesis 33:8; Genesis 33:15 (J).

put … thy hand … thigh] See note on Genesis 24:2 (J).

But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their buryingplace. And he said, I will do as thou hast said.
30. when I sleep with my fathers] See note on Genesis 25:8. When his spirit is in Sheôl, his body is to rest at Machpelah.

bury me in their buryingplace] This charge of Jacob that he should be carried out of Egypt and buried in the burying-place of his fathers, viz. in the cave of Machpelah, is repeated in Genesis 49:29-30 (P). See for its execution Genesis 50:13 (P). For the burial of Isaac, see Genesis 35:29 (P); and of Abraham, Genesis 25:9 (P).

In Genesis 50:5 Jacob speaks of the grave he had digged for himself: see note.

And he said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed's head.
31. Israel bowed himself] Cf. 1 Kings 1:47, “and the king (David) bowed himself upon the bed.” Here Jacob “bows himself” upon the bed’s head, presumably in silent thanksgiving to God for the promise made to him by Joseph. So the Lat. adoravit Israel Deum conversus ad lectuli caput. Joseph’s promise was no slight undertaking (see chap. 50). Jacob is full of gratitude.

the bed’s head] The LXX following a different vocalization of the same Hebrew consonants, and reading hammatteh instead of hammittah, gives the rendering followed in Hebrews 11:21, “and worshipped leaning upon the top of his staff,” ἐπὶ τὸ ἄκρον τῆς ῥάβδου αὐτοῦ. The staff would be his own staff, not as some have suggested, Joseph’s staff of office. This reading is found also in the Vetus Itala and in Syr. Pesh. But the reading of the Hebrew text, “upon the bed’s head,” is probably the original one. The obscurity of the words led to the reading of the LXX. How should we explain “upon the bed’s head”? The simplest explanation seems the most probable. The words should be connected closely with the verb “bowed himself.” Ordinarily, the phrase “to bow oneself” was followed by some such expression as “to the ground,” cf. Genesis 18:2, Genesis 24:52, Genesis 33:3, Genesis 42:6, Genesis 43:26. The prostration was then made by those who were standing. Here, Jacob is recumbent. He bows himself in worship; and it was natural to express the inclination of his obeisance by some such word, as in David’s case, “upon the bed” (1 Kings 1:47); or, more picturesquely, as here, “upon the bed’s head.” He was too weak to move much.

The suggestion that a figure of the household god, or Teraphim (cf. Genesis 31:19), was at the bed’s head, and that Jacob in worship turned towards it, has been ingeniously supported from the narrative of 1 Samuel 19:13. But, except as an example of conjectural ingenuity, it can hardly be considered worthy of more than a passing mention.

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