Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.XLVII
JOSEPH PRESENTS HIS FATHER AND BRETHREN TO PHARAOH.
(1) Behold, they are in the land of Goshen.—Though Joseph had all along wished this to be the dwelling-place of his brethren, yet it was necessary to obtain Pharaoh’s permission; and at present Joseph only mentions that they had halted there. In Genesis 47:4 they ask for the necessary consent.
And he took some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh.(2) Even five men.—As the number “five” appears again and again in this narrative (Genesis 43:34; Genesis 45:22), it may have had some special importance among the Egyptians, like the number seven among the Jews.
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) Also our fathers.—Joseph had instructed them to add this (Genesis 46:34), because occupations were hereditary among the Egyptians, and thus Pharaoh would conclude that in their case also no change was possible in their mode of life.
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) To sojourn.—Joseph’s brethren ask for permission only for a temporary stay. Apparently, too, in spite of the famine, there was pasture for cattle in Goshen. They had been able hitherto to keep them alive even in Canaan; and probably the Nile, though it did not overflow, yet on reaching the delta lost itself in swamps, which produced a great quantity of the marsh grass described in Genesis 41:2. We find in this chapter that not only were Pharaoh’s herds intact, but also those of the people.
And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.(7) Jacob blessed Pharaoh.—The presentation of Jacob to Pharaoh seems to have been a much more solemn matter than that of Joseph’s brethren. Pharaoh looks upon them with interest as the brothers of his vizier, grants their request for leave to dwell in Goshen, and even empowers Joseph to make the ablest of them chief herdsmen over the royal cattle. But Jacob had attained to an age which gave him great dignity: for to an Egyptian 120 was the utmost limit of longevity. Jacob was now 130, and Pharaoh treats him with the greatest honour, and twice accepts his blessing. More must be meant by this than the usual salutation, in which each one presented to the king prayed for the prolongation of his life. Pharaoh probably bowed before Jacob as a saintly personage, and received a formal benediction.
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) My pilgrimage.—Heb., my sojournings; and so at end of verse. The idea of a pilgrimage is a modern one. Even in 1Peter 2:11 “pilgrim” means in the Greek a stranger who has settled in a country of which he is not a native. So, too, here Jacob was not a pilgrim, for he was no traveller bound for religious motives to some distant shrine, but he was a sojourner, because Canaan was not the native land of his race.
Few and evil.—Evil certainly: for from the time when he deceived his father, Jacob’s life had been one of great anxiety and care, in addition to his many sorrows. If he had gained wealth in Haran, it had been by great industry and personal toil, aggravated by Laban’s injustice. On his return, there was the double terror of Laban’s pursuit behind and Esau’s menacing attitude in front. He had then long lain ill at Succoth, waiting till time healed his sprained hip. His entry into the promised land had been made miserable by his daughter’s dishonour and the fierce conduct of his sons. And when his home was in sight, he had lost his beloved Rachel; and finally, been compelled to remain at a distance from his father, because Esau was there chief and paramount. His father dies, and Esau goes away; but the ten years between Isaac’s death and the descent into Egypt had been years of mourning for Joseph’s loss. All these troubles had fallen upon him, and made his days evil; but they were few only in comparison with those of his father and grandfather. In Pharaoh’s eyes Jacob had lived beyond the usual span of human existence; but to himself he seemed prematurely old. His end came after seventeen years of peaceful decay spent under Joseph’s loving care.
The land of Rameses.—See Note on Genesis 45:10. Though the LXX. take “land of Rameses” as equivalent to Goshen, it was more probably some special district of it, for, as we have seen, Goshen was a territory of vast extent. Raamses (Exodus 1:11) is the same word, though the Masorites have given it different vowels; but whether such a town already existed, or whether when built it took its name from the district, we cannot tell. If there were such a place, it would at this period be a poor village, consisting of a few shepherds’ huts; but long afterwards, in the days of King Rameses II., “it was the centre of a rich, fertile, and beautiful land, described as the abode of happiness, where all alike, rich and poor, lived in peace and plenty.”—Canon Cook, Excursus on Egyptian Words, p. 487. It deserved therefore its description as “the best of the land.”
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.—Heb., according to the “taf” This, as we have seen above, means “according to the clan or body of dependants possessed by each one.” Dan, with his one child, would have been starved to death if the allowance for himself and his household had depended upon the number of his “little ones,” which is the usual translation of this word in the Authorised Version. (See margin.)
(16) Give your cattle.—As the people were in want of food, and their land incapable of cultivation as long as the Nile ceased to overflow, this was a merciful arrangement, by which the owners were delivered from a burden, and also a portion of the cattle saved for the time when they would be needed again for agricultural purposes. As the charge of so many cattle in time of dearth would be a very serious matter (1Kings 18:5-6), we now see the reason why Pharaoh wished the ablest of Joseph’s brethren to be employed in the task; and probably while there was no food for them in the Nile Valley, there would still be grass in the alluvial soil of the delta, which men used to move about with cattle would be able to find.
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 . . . herds . . . asses.—The mention of horses is a most important fact in settling the much-debated question as to the dynasty under which Joseph became governor of Egypt. When Abram went there, horses do not seem as yet to have been known (see Note on Genesis 12:16), but oxen and asses were common, and the former indigenous in the country (Maspero, Histoire Ancienne, pp. 11, 12). The horse was introduced by the Hyksos, according to Lenormant, Les Prem. Civilisations, i., 306 ff.; Rawlin-son, Egypt, i., 74; and the first representation of one is drawing the war-chariot of the king who expelled them. The “flocks” are expressly said in the. Hebrew to be sheep. This, too, is important; for while goats were indigenous in Egypt, sheep do not appear in the most ancient monuments, though they were introduced at an earlier date than horses.
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) The second year.—Not the second year of the famine, but the year following that in which they had given up their cattle.
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) So the land became Pharaoh’s.—Joseph has been accused of reducing a free people to slavery by his policy. Undoubtedly he did vastly increase the royal power; but from what we read of the vassalage under which the Egyptians lived to a multitude of petty sovereigns, and also to their wives, their priests, and their embalmers, an increase in the power of the king, so as to make it predominant, would be to their advantage. The statement made here that the land in Egypt belonged entirely to the king is confirmed by Herodotus and other Greek authorities. The same is the case in India at this day; only, instead of the rent being a fifth part of the produce, it is in India a fixed annual sum, which is settled at comparatively distant intervals. In Burmah the agriculturists hold their land directly from the Crown.
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 to cities.—Joseph’s object in this measure was most merciful. As the corn was stored up in the cities, the people would be sure of nourishment only if they were in the immediate neighbourhood of the food. As a consequence, possibly, of Joseph’s policy, the number of cities in the Valley of the Nile became so enormous that Herodotus computes them at 20,000. Thus the people would not dwell at any distance from their lands, while it would be impossible for them to reside actually on their plots of ground, as these every year are overflowed by the Nile.
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) The priests had a portion assigned to them of Pharaoh.—Herodotus (ii. 37) mentions that it was still the custom in Egypt for the priests to have a daily allowance of’ cooked food. Very probably this usage began in Joseph’s time; but it is not here ascribed to him, but to the king himself. Being thus supplied with food, they did not sell their lands; and with this, again, the Greek accounts tally, as they represent the king, the priests, and the warriors as the only landholders in Egypt. The last class, however, held their land from the king.
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.(23) Lo, here is seed for you.—As Joseph would give them seed wherewith to sow their fields only when the famine was nearly over, these arrangements seem to have been completed shortly before the end of the seventh year; and then, with seed it would be necessary also to supply them with oxen to plough the soil, and swine wherewith to trample in the seed (Rawlinson, Egypt, i. 76). A fifth part of the produce would be a very moderate rent, especially as there were no rates or taxes to be paid. The whole expenses of the State had to be defrayed from this rent.
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.(25) Thou hast saved our lives.—The people were more than satisfied with Joseph’s regulations; and if he had made them dependent upon the Pharaoh, apparently he had broken the yoke of the smaller lords, the hereditary princes of the districts into which Egypt was parcelled out; and they were more likely to be well-treated by the ruler of the whole land than by men of inferior rank. On these hereditary principalities at the period of the twelfth dynasty, see Maspero, Hist. Anc, p. 121.
(29) The time drew nigh that Israel must die—For seventeen years Jacob lived in Egypt, and saw the growing prosperity of his race under the fostering hand of Joseph. Placed at the entrance of Egypt, on the side of Arabia and Palestine, the clans of his sons would daily grow in number by the addition of Semitic immigrants, by whose aid they would make the vast and fertile region assigned them, and which had previously had but a scanty population, a well-cultivated and thriving land. But at last Jacob feels his end approaching, though apparently he was not as yet in immediate danger of death. But there was a wish over which he had long pondered; and desiring to have his mind set at rest, he sends for Joseph, and makes him promise that he will bury him in the cave at Machpelah. We find him again charging all his sons to grant him this request (Genesis 49:29-32); nor need we seek for any remote reason for it. Jacob’s whole nature was a loving one, and strongly influenced by home and domestic feelings; and at Machpelah his nearest relatives were buried. In the next chapter he dwells upon Rachel’s death, and his burial of her apart from the rest at Ephrath; and this seems to have increased his grief at her loss. At Machpelah, Abraham. whom he had known as a boy, his beloved father and mother, and Leah, who had evidently at last won his affections, all lay; and there, naturally, he too wished to lie among his own.
Put . . . thy hand under my thigh.—See Note on Genesis 24:2.
And he said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed's head.(31) Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.—The LXX., followed by the Epistle to the Hebrews (Genesis 11:21) and the Syriac, read, “on the top of his staff.” The word in the Hebrew, without vowels, may mean either bed or staff, and as we have mentioned above (Genesis 22:14), the points indicating the vowels were added in later times, and while valuable as representing a very ancient tradition, are nevertheless not of final authority. The rendering, however, of the Authorised Version is the most satisfactory. It was scarcely worth mentioning that Jacob bowed before Joseph, leaning on his staff; but the picture of the aged patriarch leaning back upon his bed, content and happy in his son’s promise, and giving thanks to God for the peace of his approaching end, is one full of pathos and dignity.