Genesis 46:34
That ye shall say, Thy servants' trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.
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(34) For every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.—This is probably a remark of the narrator, and it is confirmed by the monuments, which generally represent shepherds as unshaven and ill-dressed. Necessarily the Egyptians had sheep and cattle (Genesis 47:16-17), and even Pharaoh had herds (Genesis 47:6); but the care of them was probably left by the peasantry to the women and children, while the men busied themselves with the cultivation of their fields. We need not go far to seek for the cause of this dislike. The word “abomination,” first of all, suggests a religious ground of difference; and not only did shepherds probably kill animals worshipped in different Egyptian districts, but their religion generally was diverse from that of the fixed population. But next, men who lead a settled life always dislike wandering clans, whose cattle are too likely to prey upon their enclosed land (see Note on Genesis 4:8), and who, moving from place to place, are usually not very scrupulous as to the rights of property. Such nomades, too, are generally lower in civilisation, and more rude and rough, than men who have fixed homes. The subjugation of Egypt by the Hyksos was possibly subsequent to the era of Joseph; but we now know from Egyptian sources that there was perpetual war between Egypt and the Hittites, and probably raids were often made upon the rich fields on the banks of the Nile by other Semitic tribes dwelling upon its eastern frontier; and as all these wore regarded as shepherds, there was ground enough for the dislike of all nomades as a class, even though the Egyptians did not disdain to have cattle themselves. But as the land in the Nile Valley was arable, the cattle kept would only be such as were useful for agriculture, whereas they formed the main wealth of the Israelites.

Genesis 46:34. That ye may dwell in the land of Goshen — In this choice, Joseph showed both his prudence and his piety. As he was not ashamed to own himself the brother of shepherds, although they were contemptible among the Egyptians; so he does not seek to advance them higher, which he certainly might have done, but continues them in their employment. And by placing them in Goshen, 1st, He kept them together, which was very much for their convenience in many respects. 2d, He secured them against envy, and, as far as was in his power, from the corruption of their religion and manners which probably would have taken place, had they mixed with the Egyptians. Every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians — Probably because they killed, eat, and offered in sacrifice, those animals which the Egyptians adored. Hence these animal sacrifices are said to be an abomination to the Egyptian. Another probable reason also has been assigned for this, namely, that some Phœnician shepherds had lately made an irruption into Egypt, and had committed great cruelties and depredations, burning divers cities and temples, and barbarously murdering a multitude of people. It is no wonder, therefore, that the employment of shepherds was out of credit with the Egyptians, and odious in their eyes.

46:28-34 It was justice to Pharaoh to let him know that such a family was come to settle in his dominions. If others put confidence in us, we must not be so base as to abuse it by imposing upon them. But how shall Joseph dispose of his brethren? Time was, when they were contriving to be rid of him; now he is contriving to settle them to their advantage; this is rendering good for evil. He would have them live by themselves, in the land of Goshen, which lay nearest to Canaan. Shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians. Yet Joseph would have them not ashamed to own this as their occupation before Pharaoh. He might have procured places for them at court or in the army. But such preferments would have exposed them to the envy of the Egyptians, and might have tempted them to forget Canaan and the promise made unto their fathers. An honest calling is no disgrace, nor ought we to account it so, but rather reckon it a shame to be idle, or to have nothing to do. It is generally best for people to abide in the callings they have been bred to and used to. Whatever employment and condition God in his providence has allotted for us, let us suit ourselves to it, satisfy ourselves with it, and not mind high things. It is better to be the credit of a mean post, than the shame of a high one. If we wish to destroy our souls, or the souls of our children, then let us seek for ourselves, and for them, great things; but if not, it becomes us, having food and raiment, therewith to be content.The settlement in Goshen is now narrated. "Judah he sent before him." We have already seen why the three older sons of Jacob were disqualified for taking the lead in important matters relating to the family. "To lead the way before him into Goshen" - to get the requisite directions from Joseph, and then conduct the immigrants to their destined resting-place. "And went up." Egypt was the valley of the Nile, and therefore, a low country. Goshen was comparatively high, and therefore, at some distance from the Nile and the sea. "And he appeared unto him." A phrase usually applied to the appearance of God to men, and intended to intimate the unexpectedness of the sight, which now came before the eyes of Jacob. "I will go up." In a courtly sense, to approach the residence of the sovereign is to go up. Joseph intends to make the "occupation" of his kindred a prominent part of his communication to Pharaoh, in order to secure their settlement in Goshen. This he considers desirable, on two grounds: first, because Goshen was best suited for pasture; and secondly, because the chosen family would thus be comparatively isolated from Egyptian society.

The two nations were in some important respects mutually repulsive. The idolatrous and superstitious customs of the Egyptians were abhorrent to a worshipper of the true God; and "every shepherd was the abomination of Egypt." The expression here employed is very strong, and rises even to a religious aversion. Herodotus makes the cowherds the third of the seven classes into which the Egyptians were divided (Herodotus ii. 164). Others include them in the lowest class of the community. This, however, is not sufficient to account for the national antipathy. About seventeen or eighteen centuries before the Christian era it is probable that the Hyksos, or shepherd kings, were masters of the southern part of the country, while a native dynasty still prevailed in lower Egypt. The religion of these shepherd intruders was different from that of the Egyptians which they treated with disrespect. They were addicted to the barbarities which are usually incident to a foreign rule. It is not surprising, therefore, that the shepherd became the abomination of Egypt.

- Jacob in Goshen

11. רעמסס ra‛mesês, Ra'meses "son of the sun."

31. מטה mı̂ṭṭāh, "bed." מטה maṭṭeh "staff."

Arrangements are now made for the settlement of Israel in Goshen. The administration of Joseph during the remaining years of the famine is then recorded. For the whole of this period his father and brothers are subject to him, as their political superior, according to the reading of his early dreams. We then approach to the death-bed of Jacob, and hear him binding Joseph by an oath to bury him in the grave of his fathers.

31-34. Joseph said, … I will go up, and show Pharaoh—It was a tribute of respect due to the king to inform him of their arrival. And the instructions which he gave them were worthy of his character alike as an affectionate brother and a religious man. In this design and choice Joseph shows both his prudence and piety. He brings them not to court, where it had been easy for him to have put them all into the best places and offices of the court; and as he is not ashamed to own himself a brother to shepherds, which were contemptible among the Egyptians, so he seeks not to advance them higher, but continues them in their employment, and placeth them in Goshen: whereby,

1. He kept them together, which was very convenient for them in many respects.

2. He secured them both from envy, and, as far as he could, from the corruption of their religion and manners, which was likely to follow their mixture with the Egyptians, and especially their being at the court.

3. He put them into a capacity of returning to Canaan, when God gave them opportunity.

Every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians; either,

1. Because they did both kill and eat those creatures which the Egyptians adored. Or,

2. Because of the fresh remembrance of the horrid cruelties lately committed there by the Phoenician shepherds, who, as some very ancient writers affirm, were seated in Egypt in great numbers, and had arrived to great power, and waged a cruel war with other Egyptians, wherein they wasted divers cities, and burned their temples, and barbarously murdered a multitude of people. And therefore it is no wonder if the calling of shepherds was grown out of use and credit among them. True it is, the Egyptians had some sheep, and other cattle, Genesis 47:6,17 Exo 8:26 9:3, which they kept for delight or profit by their milk, wool, &c., or for sale to others, but they did not use them, as other shepherds generally did, kill and eat them. And it is probable that they committed even the keeping of their sheep and cattle to those strangers which were dispersed among them, and looked upon the employment as too vile and mean for any Egyptian. And though Pharaoh offered it to Joseph’s brethren as a favour to be

rulers over his cattle, Genesis 47:6, that might proceed only from hence, because he saw them firmly resolved upon that course of life, and therefore could not bestow any higher preferment upon them.

That ye shall say, thy servants' trade hath been about cattle,.... Breeding, feeding, and selling them:

from our youth, even until now: this had been their constant employment, they never followed any other:

both we, and also our fathers; their father, grandfather, and great grandfather, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were all of the same occupation:

that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; Joseph instructed his brethren to be very particular in the account of their occupation to Pharaoh, that it might be a direction to him how to dispose of them, and where to settle them, namely, in the land of Goshen; which was a country that abounded with good pasture, and so the fittest place for them to be fixed in: and besides this, Joseph had some other reasons for placing them there, as that they might be near to him, who might dwell at On or Heliopolis, to which place, or province, Goshen belonged; and that being also the nearest part of the land to Canaan, they might the more easily and sooner get away when there was an occasion for it; as well as he was desirous they should not be brought into the heart of the land, lest they should be corrupted with the superstition, and idolatry, and vices of the people; and being afar off, both from the court, and the body of the people, might be less subject to their contempt and insults, since it follows:

for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians; not because shepherds ate of the milk and flesh of the creatures they fed, which the Egyptians abstained from; for the Egyptians in those times did eat the flesh of slain beasts, see Genesis 43:16; nor because they fed, and slew, and ate those creatures, which the Egyptians worshipped as gods, as Jarchi; for it does not appear that the Egyptians were so early worshippers of such creatures; nor is this phrase, "every shepherd", to be understood of any other than foreign shepherds; for one of the three sorts of the people of Egypt, as distinct from, and under the king, priests, and soldiers, according to Diodorus Siculus (d), were shepherds, and were not despised on that account; for, as the same writer says, all the Egyptians were reckoned equally noble and honourable (e); and such it is plain there were in Egypt, in the times of Joseph, see Genesis 47:6; and goat herds were had in esteem and honour by those about Mendes, though swine herds were not (f): wherefore this must be understood of foreign shepherds, the Egyptians having been greatly distressed by such, who either came out of Ethiopia, and lived by plunder and robbery (g), or out of Phoenicia or Arabia; for, according to Manetho (h), it was said that they were Arabians or Phoenicians who entered into Egypt, burnt their cities, &c. and set up kings of their own, called their Hycsi, or pastor kings: and therefore Joseph might the rather fear his brethren and father's family would be the more contemptible in that they came from Canaan, which was near to Arabia and Phoenicia; but Dr. Lightfoot (i) is of opinion, that the Egyptians, being plagued for Abraham's and Sarah's sake, made a law, that for the future none should converse with Hebrews, nor with foreign shepherds, so familiarly as to eat or drink with them.

(d) Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 67. (e) lbid. p. 83. (f) Herodot. Euterpe, sive, l. 2. p. 46, 47. (g) Gaulmin. Not. in Dfore Hayamim, p. 267. (h) Apud Joseph. contr. Apion. l. 1. sect. 14. (i) Works: vol. 1. p. 694.

That ye shall say, Thy servants' trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an {f} abomination unto the Egyptians.

(f) God permits the world to hate his own, so they will forsake the filth of the world, and cling to him.

34. that ye may dwell] Joseph’s purpose is thus somewhat elaborately explained in these verses (31–34), in order to place on record how the Israelites came to occupy the fertile district on the eastern frontier of Egypt, most suitable for their own development, and most favourable to them at the crisis of the Exodus. The shrewdness and wisdom of Joseph are made to account for their occupation of Goshen.

Goshen] LXX ἐν γῇ Γέσεμ Ἀραβίᾳ, as in Genesis 45:10.

every shepherd is an abomination … Egyptians] This statement seems hardly to be justified by what we know of the ancient Egyptians. Probably the word “shepherd” here, as in Genesis 46:32, is used loosely so as to include “herdsman.” Moreover, the strong dislike of the Egyptians for the Asiatic nomads on their eastern frontier may well have contributed to this feeling. The tending of cattle and swine in Egypt was associated with a low class of people dwelling in the swampy northern regions of the Delta. For the word “abomination,” cf. Genesis 43:32 and Exodus 8:26. The writer’s note, contained in this verse, may have been inaccurate, and yet have faithfully recorded his impression as to the cause which would account for the sons of Jacob being assigned to a fertile region on the east of the Delta.

Genesis 46:34At the same time Joseph gave these instructions to his brethren, in case Pharaoh should send for them and inquire about their occupation: "Say, Thy servants have been keepers of cattle from our youth even until now, we like our fathers; that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination of the Egyptians." This last remark formed part of Joseph's words, and contained the reason why his brethren should describe themselves to Pharaoh as shepherds from of old, namely, that they might receive Goshen as their dwelling-place, and that their national and religion independence might not be endangered by too close an intercourse with the Egyptians. The dislike of the Egyptians to shepherds arose from the fact, that the more completely the foundations of the Egyptian state rested upon agriculture with its perfect organization, the more did the Egyptians associate the idea of rudeness and barbarism with the very name of a shepherd. This is not only attested in various ways by the monuments, on which shepherds are constantly depicted as lanky, withered, distorted, emaciated, and sometimes almost ghostly figures (Graul, Reise 2, p. 171), but is confirmed by ancient testimony. According to Herodotus (2, 47), the swine-herds were the most despised; but they were associated with the cow-herds (βουκόλοι) in the seven castes of the Egyptians (Herod. 2, 164), so that Diodorus Siculus (1, 74) includes all herdsmen in one caste; according to which the word βουκόλοι in Herodotus not only denotes cow-herds, but a potiori all herdsmen, just as we find in the herds depicted upon the monuments, sheep, goats, and rams introduced by thousands, along with asses and horned cattle.
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