A rather momentous step for this small nation to transfer its abode to another land! That it is momentous is indicated by the fact that the patriarch does not venture to take it until he has full divine sanction. Yet from the very outset it is borne in mind that God does not intend it to be a permanent settlement. All the promises since Abraham concerning the ultimate possession of Canaan by the Israelites still stand. God's people do not move blindly at such important junctures of their history.
The tendency that we have observed repeatedly before this, to summarize at critical turning points, (Ge 6:9, 10; 10:1-32; 11:27-32) displays itself here again. The heads of clans are mentioned, practically the same persons as those who went down to Egypt with Jacob. Such summaries serve to place very definitely before one's eyes just what the situation was at a given period.
At this point it may be desirable to examine the deeper providential motives that lay behind this momentous step of the migration to Egypt. The one manifest purpose that lay prominently on the surface was, of course, to preserve the nation, small as it was, during the time of famine. Deeper reflection reveals the following additional points that were apparently also involved in the divine plan.
First of all, a distinct and separate consciousness of being a nation by itself was begotten and nourished by being isolated in Egypt. For the Egyptian pride, which led that nation to disdain all foreigners, is well known. Israelites were, therefore, isolated geographically and nationally as long as they were in Egypt. Intermarriage with Israelites was out of the question. Consequently, there was no danger of Israel's amalgamating with the Egyptians as there had been of arealgamating with the Canaanites; cf. Judah's and Simeon's (v.10) Canaanitish wives. In such an amalgamation Israel, the smaller group, would naturally have been absorbed. In Egypt such a misfortune was precluded. At the same time Israel was guarded against falling into the idolatry of its neighbours as a nation. For the strict isolation of the nation as long as it was in Egypt naturally extended also to matters of religion. Safeguarded thus against idolatry, Israel was at the same time outside of the reach of Canaanite immorality and its contaminations, a very real danger as chapter 38 shows. Yet during all this time of isolation from the culture of Canaan, which was of the first order, Israel was, nevertheless, in contact with another type of eminent culture, namely the Egyptian, and so was not in danger of cultural retrogression. For good culture could prove to be a very valuable asset also for the people of God during all the years of its development. At the same time faith and hope were nurtured by having the land of promise in prospect on the basis of clear promises of the God of their fathers. The persecutions in Egypt, however served to make this hope of the possession of the promised land more fervent. (The above summary in general is based upon Hengstenberg's Geschichte des' Reiches Gottes, with certain modifications; especially do we concede the high cultural level of Canaanite civilization of patriarchal days, as it is established by the researches of archaeology).
1-4. And Israel set out and all who belonged to him, and he came to Beersheba and sacrificed to the God of his father Isaac. And God said to Israel in a night vision: Jacob, Jacob! And he said: Here am I. And He said: I am the true God (El), the God (Elohim) of thy father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for a great nation will I make thee there. I myself will go down with thee to Egypt, and I myself will most certainly bring thee up again; and Joseph shall close thy eyes (in death).
Jacob is very appropriately called "Israel" as he starts out; for, strictly speaking, it is not a personal but a national venture. Criticism does not see this simple fact, for according to its critical canons vv.1-5 belong to E, but E always says "Jacob." Consequently the unscientific expedient is resorted to of attributing the presence of "Israel" in v. I to some Redactor, R. By such critical devices almost anything can be proved. So, then, the nation, small as it is, sets out, as is further indicated by the words, "and all who belonged to him." It seems that the point of departure was Hebron (Ge 37:14). The road to Egypt from Hebron runs directly over Beersheba. Here Jacob "sacrificed (Hebrew: sacrificed sacrifices') to the God of his father Isaac." This expression cannot mean that this God was a god different from other gods Jacob had worshipped; but it does strongly remind of the fact that at Beersheba Isaac had offered sacrifices to God Ge 26:25; in fact (Ge 28:13), by this name God had designated Himself over against Jacob. The expression reminds of all the promises given to Isaac. The primary purpose of the sacrifice was to have it embody the petition for guidance and for protection on this journey. Other purposes will have entered in secondarily, such as gratitude for the impending deliverance; praise for the promises given to the nation; renewed consecration to the divine purpose respecting the nation. But raising the question, Why were the sacrifices made here and not in Hebron? we are inclined to view the case as follows: Providential guidance had seemed so clear when Joseph's message came to Hebron that Jacob got under way for Egypt at once. At the southern extremity of the land of promise the momentous character of such a step came home to him with greater clearness. God had not yet spoken directly. Abraham's going to that land had led to his fall into sin (Ge 12:10 ff). Isaac had been forbidden to go to Egypt (Ge 26:2). The prophetic word, Ge 15:13-16, must have been in Jacob's thoughts. Yet the decisive step was not to be taken without clear divine sanction.
2. The desired answer comes "in a night vision." Hebrew: plural: "visions" marôth "of the night" -- the plural being indicative of the various steps of a process (K. S.261 c) or of the magnitude and the glory of the experience. This was the last of the patriarchal visions. It is given not to the individual as such but to the one who is the father of the nation, to "Israel." He is addressed by his old, personal name "Jacob," perhaps to remind him of what he once was, or to indicate that as long as he doubts and hesitates he is the old Jacob rather than the new Israel. Criticism renders a hasty judgment when it pronounces: this is "a sentence, which no original writer would have penned." The repetition of the name "Jacob" indicates a strength of divine interest in the nation's welfare.
3. First God identifies Himself, recalling his earlier promises by His manner of doing it. He designates Himself first as Ha'el, i. e., "the true God," 'el itself meaning "Strong One." With the article it means: the one who especially deserves the name. Very appropriately he is "the Strong One" here, because His ability to help and to protect is being considered. Then the more general title "God of thy father," 'elohey abhî'kha, reminds Jacob that God will deal as faithfully with him as He did with Isaac. Then the paramount issue is definitely decided: "Do not be afraid to go to Egypt." Jacob's fear must have been primarily a fear of acting contrary to the divine will, less a fear of the dangers otherwise to be encountered there. What Jacob and the nation need to know besides for their guidance during the time of their stay there is that in Egypt they will be made "a great nation." So that is revealed next. When K. C. declares the translation, "I am the true God, the God of thy father," to be wrong, he does this not on grammatical grounds but on dogmatic. He simply does not believe that true monotheism prevailed at so early a date, whereas the true people of God never had any other faith than the monotheistic faith. Redhah, usually rédheth, is infinitive construct of yaradh (G. K.69 m).
4. The promise becomes more intimate and gracious. With emphasis God says that He Himself ("I" 'anokhî -- emphatic by position) will be the one that will go along down to Egypt, as well as the one that will bring Jacob back. By metonomy Jacob, the individual, refers to his descendants as a group. "I will bring thee up again" naturally refers to the return of the whole nation and not to the relatively trivial return of Israel's bones for burial. The emphasis of the divine statement shows that the biggest issues are involved. The absolute infinitive following the verb -- Kal after Hifil (G. K.113 w) -- makes the promise as positive as possible. One purely personal touch is added when Jacob is assured that Joseph shall close his eyes -- Hebrew: "he shall lay his hand upon thy eyes." Many nations of antiquity speak of this special last duty to the dead (cf. Dillmann).
5-7. And Jacob set out from Beersheba, and the children of Israel transported Jacob, their father, and their little ones and their wives in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to transport him. And they took their cattle and their possessions which they had acquired in the land of Canaan and they came to Egypt, Jacob and all his descendants with him -- his sons and his sons' sons with him, his daughters and his sons' daughters, and all his descendants -- he brought them with him to Egypt.
Till now the interest has centred more on the vision which God sent to confirm Jacob's purpose, less on the transmigration as such, because that was still in a sense problematical. After the vision Jacob burns all his bridges behind him, and now the attention centres on the big train that travels to Egypt. A unique feature in that train was found to be the "wagons" Pharaoh had sent up. That is why they are first mentioned here, although they had already served to transport Jacob, the little ones, and the wives from Hebron. Criticism sees in the appearance of the wagons first in v.5 a crude joining together of the sources. Pharaoh's rather generous demand to leave their "utensils" (A. V. "stuff") behind and to be supplied by the rich Egyptian resources can hardly have involved leaving "the cattle" behind. Perhaps the herds had already been much reduced during the time of famine, and they were further reduced by the rigors of the journey to Egypt. However, a true sense of frugality induced Jacob's sons to take along all "their possessions." Perhaps sound common sense taught them to evaluate boastful royal munificence somewhat lightly. More to the point is the consideration that as godly men Jacob's sons regarded their possessions as good gifts of God, which they did not dare to abandon rashly. With unusual fulness of expression, calculated to draw a clearer picture before our eyes of this train that went down to Egypt, we are told that "all his descendants" went with him, and that these included "his sons and his sons' sons, his daughters and his sons' daughters, and (here -- 'namely') all his descendants." And we are again reminded that in the last analysis this was an act for which the old patriarch himself was responsible: "he brought them with him to Egypt." Miqnehem is not a plural noun, for the y represents h of miqneh (G. K.93 ss).
8-15. And these are the names of the children of Israel that came down to Egypt -- Jacob and his sons: Reuben, Jacob's first-born. And the sons of Reuben: Hanoch and Pallu and Hezron and Carmi. And the sons of Simeon: Jemuel and Jamin and Ohad and Jachin and Zohar and Shaul, the son of the Canaanitish woman. And the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. And the sons of Judah: Er and Onan and Shelah and Perez and Zerah -- now Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan -- and the sons of Perez: Hezron and Hamul. And the sons of Issachar: Tola and Puvah and Job and Shimron. And the sons of Zebulon: Sered and Elon and Jahleel. These are the descendants of Leah whom she bare unto Jacob in Paddan-aram -- and Dinah, her daughter. The total number of his sons and his daughters was thirty-three.
The mental picture becomes a bit clearer if we use the following grouping:
(See figure 1110)
A count of names reveals: Reuben 6, Simeon 7, Levi 4, Judah 8, Issachar 5, Zebulon 4 equals 33. Consequently Dinah, though mentioned, is not counted. For verse 15 also lists a total of 33.
Now at least two parallel lists are available -- disregarding the partial list of Ex 6:14 ff. -- namely Nu 26 and 1Ch 4; 5; 6. A comparison with these indicates that certain of the names found above were in circulation also in another form, usually pretty much like the ones above, sometimes radically different as to form but similar in meaning. For, as the margin of A. R. V. briefly indicates, "Jemuel" v.10 in both Num. and I Chron. appears as "Nemuel." "Jachin" has the parallel form in Chron. of "Jarib." "Zohar" appears as "Zerah." "Gershon" (v.11) has the parallel "Gershom" (I Chron.). "Puvah" (v.13) and "Job" have parallels "Puah" and "Jashub" (I Chron.). These variants need disturb no one. The similarity of forms is usually apparent at a glance. From many instances of the Scriptures we conclude that in every period of Israel's history men had several names which were legitimately theirs.
A few additional facts should be noticed. Beney Jisra'el (v.8) cannot be translated "sons of Israel," for all that follows indicates that the broader term "descendants" or "children of Israel" is meant. Of Simeon it is specifically asserted that Shaul, his son, was begotten of a "Canaanitish woman." Since this is mentioned in this manner, it would appear that it was rather the exceptional thing for Jacob's sons to have taken Canaanitish wives. They must, therefore, have followed the patriarchal example of procuring their wives from Mesopotamia or at least from such racial groups that had kept themselves from. the contamination of Canaanite corruption. Another strange thing is to be observed in the case of Er and Onan, Judah's sons, who died in the land of Canaan (chapter 38). Yet they are listed among those, who are the heads of the clans (mishpachoth) of Israel. Some adjustment must have been made, as a result of which clans nevertheless bore their names. For we can hardly accept the surmise of Procksch that "dead names appear in our list, names of men who had never actually existed" -- a claim which would rob our list of its historical validity. The concluding statement, that here is the total of "his sons and his daughters" from Leah is a bit unusual from our point of view, for Dinah, though mentioned, is not counted -- as we showed above. The remark may, therefore, include the daughters-in-law in so far as they are thought of as the mothers of Jacob's grandsons, and may be thought of as living in their sons.
16-18. And the sons of Gad: Ziphion, and Haggi, Shuni and Ezbon, Eri and Arodi and Areli. And the sons of Asher: Imnah and Ishvah and Ishvi and Beriah; and Serah was their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. These are children of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah, his daughter; and these she bare unto Jacob, sixteen persons.
Rearranged, the names present the following picture:
(See Figure 1112)
This makes a total of 16 names. However, in this instance the name of the sister Serah is counted along with that of the brothers and not passed by like that of Dinah. A few variant forms occur here too. "Ziphion" is listed in Numbers as "Zephon." "Ezbon" becomes "Ozni," and "Arodi" appears as "Arod."
19-22. The sons of Rachel, Jacob's wife: Joseph and Benjamin. And there were born unto Joseph in the land of Egypt (sons), whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him, Manasseh and Ephraim. And the children of Benjamin: Bela and Becher and Ashbel, Gera and Naaman, Ehi and Rosh, Muppim and Huppim and Ard. These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob, all together fourteen persons.
The picture is the following:
(See Figure 1113)
A few of these have different forms of names which were also in circulation. "Eli" (v.21) appears as "Ahiram" in Numbers, "Muppim" as "Shephupham," but in I Chron. as "Shuppim." "Huppim" appears as "Hupham" in Numbers only. Already above (v.16) "Arodi" was a clan or race name. Here appear two more, namely as plurals "Muppim" and "Huppim." This confirms what we must allude to again: The individuals as such are not so much under consideration; rather the clans derived from them.
In the case of Benjamin a new factor comes up for consideration. Till now Benjamin has been regarded as comparatively young. A sober computation could hardly rate him higher than twenty-three years old. Ten sons at that age is virtually an impossibility. The Septuagint translation, following, it would seem, a reliable tradition, has given us a statement of the case which may be more literally correct. It regroups Benjamin's descendants. It gives him three sons: Bela, Becher and Ashbel. To Bela it gives six sons: Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim and Huppim. But to Gera it ascribes one son: Ard. We shall draw upon this fact in a moment in making our final conclusions as to the object of this entire list.
One sees the difficulty of the critical approach to verse 19 (Dillmann). Had the writer followed strictly the pattern previously used in the chapter, he would have said: "The sons of Joseph: Manasseh and Ephraim." Instead we find: "The sons of Rachel, Jacob's wife." The critic does not deem the Biblical writer capable of so much originality and ascribes the words to a reviser. What wooden fellows some of these ancient Biblical writers would have been had they not even been able to depart from a form they had begun to use! Critical verdicts on such points are so purely subjective and unscientific as to be worthless. Apparently Moses varied his style at this point to remind us that Rachel actually counts as Jacob's wife.
23-25. And the sons of Dan: Hushim. And the sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, and Guni, and Jezer, and Shillem. These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave unto Rachel, his daughter, and these she bore unto Jacob; all persons were seven.
According to our previous arrangement:
Bilhah' s Sons
Dan Naphtali Hushim Jahzeel
Variant forms are: for "Hushim" "Shuham"; for "Jahzeel" "Jahziel"; for "Shillem" "Shallum."
It must be very apparent that the opening verse in this catalogue of names (v. Ge 46:8) uses the statement in a very loose sense when it says: "these are the names of the children of Israel that came down to Egypt." It means: shortly after the children of Israel had come to Egypt there were to be found those seventy fathers from whom were derived the seventy clans that were the prevailing clans throughout Israel's early history. Some seem to treat the author as though he had sought to deceive his readers by exaggerating or by misrepresenting. Others charge him with being confused a bit himself. Yet even upon the first reading of the list of names one is struck with the fact that Benjamin cannot have had ten sons, and so it becomes clear in what sense this list is meant.
Now a word as to the different totals. In v. Ge 46:26 the count is sixty-six; in v.27 we have seventy. Ac 7:14 creates an added problem by offering the total seventy-five. A few difficulties of a minor character appear insoluble. The major facts are clear enough. The four lists we presented above give totals as follows: Leah's sons -- 33; Zilpah's -- 16; Rachel's 14; Bilhah's -- 7. Now 33 plus 16 plus 14 plus 7 equals 70. Here the difficulty is that Jacob is not counted in. Yet, perhaps, he may be counted in on the first group of thirty-three. For if the two who died in CanaanEr and Onan -- be dropped and Dinah recounted along as is Serah, the sister, in the second group and Jacob's name be added, the requisite thirty-three is arrived at. This seems to be the simplest solution. Then the sixty-six of v.26 would quite naturally omit Jacob and Joseph and his two sons, for the latter already were in Egypt. For there the statement is meant literally: "all the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt."
But how about the New Testament statement Ac 7:14: "Jacob -- and all his kindred, three -- score and fifteen souls"? It must be that Luke in writing the Book of Acts followed the Septuagint translation, which gives five grandsons of Joseph. For Manasseh's son Machir and his son Gilead ate there listed as well as two sons of Ephraim, Soutalaam and Taam, and also one son of Soutalaam, namely Edem. This Septuagint list may also be strictly historical. These five descendants of Joseph may actually have become heads of clans in later years. These clans may not have endured as long as some others or may have been counted in with the two Josephite clans: Ephraim and Manasseh. So, then, from one point of view there were seventy clans, according to another count seventy-five -- all depending on a man's point of view.
But Moses emphasized that seventy clans were in existence in their clan fathers at this early date, for the number "seventy" has symbolical significance. Being composed of "seven" times "ten" -seven is the number which marks a divine covenant work; ten is the number of completeness -- this number then signifies that at this point God had done a complete divine work upon Israel and had made a substantial people, which was able to weather the storms which were only too soon to break upon their head. The Greek translators had less of the Jewish viewpoint. For them the round number seventy-five was more significant than the symbolical number seventy. Seven also is the covenant number: this involves that God's covenant was to hold in the land of Egypt.
26, 27. The total number of persons belonging to Jacob that came to Egypt, his direct descendants, apart from the wives of Jacob's sons, all these persons numbered sixty-six. And the sons of Joseph, which were born to him in Egypt, were two persons. All the persons of the house of Jacob that came to Egypt were seventy.
The main issue of these verses regarding the numbers involved was settled above. The le before ya'aqobh is the dative of the possessor; it does not mean "with." Yotse ey yerekhô, "going out of his loins," is well covered by Meek's rendering: "his direct descendants." In v.26 habba'ßh is the participle with the article agreeing with néphesh. In v.27 habbß'ah is a verb form with the article, in which case the article serves as a relative pronoun.
28-30. And he sent Judah on before him to Joseph to point out before him (the way) to Goshen. And they came to the land of Goshen. And Joseph hitched up his chariot and came up to meet Israel, his father, to Goshen. And he appeared unto him and fell upon his neck and wept long upon his neck. And Israel said to Joseph: Now I can die after I have seen thy face and that thou still art alive.
Goshen may have been available for settlement. But that does not mean that the children of Israel might have settled anywhere in that land. No doubt, Joseph knew best where Israel should settle. So Israel send Judah, the energetic and competent son, who now had the father's confidence in fullest measure, to inquire of Joseph what his plans were and then to come back and to guide Israel's family to the most suitable part of Goshen. Though the pronouns are not all expressed, as we might express them, there can be no doubt about it that this is the simple meaning of the verse. Critics like to make things hard for themselves in an effort to discredit the present text and they say: "The Hebrew here gives no tolerable sense."
29. As soon as it is certain that Israel has arrived, Joseph rides by chariot -- "his chariot" implying some splendid state chariot -- and comes up to Goshen to meet his father; the verb used here is very unusual, as we have tried to show by our translation, "he (Joseph) appeared unto him," wayyera' -- a verb usually used for a divine appearance. This indicates that it was an experience like unto having the Lord appear, or better, an appearing in which at least the hand of the Lord was manifest. Joseph falls upon his father's neck and weeps there a long time. Overcharged emotion long pent up seeks a natural outlet. Not a word is spoken. There is no need of words. Words cannot utter the deep feelings of this hour.
30. Finally the father voices his reaction. We do not feel that he desires death and actually says: "Now let me die," as A. V. translated, but 'amûthah is rather potential: "Now I can die," implying: whenever my hour comes, I can die at ease, which is practically Luther's rendering: Ich will nun gerne sterben. Father and son must have loved one another very dearly and been deeply attached to one another.
31-34. And Joseph said to his brethren and to his father's house: I shall go up and tell Pharaoh and I shall say to him: My brethren and my father's house, who were in the land of Canaan, have come down to me. And the men are shepherds, for they are men who have dealt in livestock; and they have brought with them their flocks and their herds and all that they possess. And it shall be if Pharaoh summons you and shall say: What is your business? Then ye shall say: Thy servants have been dealing in livestock from our youth up to this day, both we and our fathers, in order that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen. For every shepherd of flocks is an abomination to the Egyptians.
Joseph said these words "to his brethren and to his father's house" or household. Naturally, his "brethren" are a part of "his father's house." But such combinations are rather common in Hebrew and are always to be construed in the sense of: "to his brethren" in particular, and generally speaking also "to his father's household." In these verses the issue is not, and cannot be, to convey information to Pharaoh chiefly concerning the arrival of Israel in Egypt. Pharaoh had anticipated that and practically arranged for it. Naturally, courtesy demanded that he be informed of the arrival. But Joseph has wisely chosen Goshen as the prospective dwelling place of his kindred, and now he desires to secure Pharaoh's free and hearty approval. To that intent he conveys the information that had not come to Pharaoh heretofore, namely, that these men are all shepherds. Joseph informs his brethren in advance that he purposes to do this. For Joseph is dealing with a somewhat delicate situation, the key to which is given in the second half of v.34 in an explanatory remark of the author of the book to the effect that "every shepherd of flocks is an abomination to the Egyptians." The brethren must have known this fact, for they were now coming down to Egypt for the third time; in fact, they may have heard of it in Canaan, which was a country bordering on Egypt. Now this situation required delicate handling from two points of view. Joseph dare not offend his brethren by making them feel that he, perhaps, had adopted the Egyptian attitude merely to please the Egyptians and was treating his brethren as social inferiors. So perfect frankness in the whole matter and securing for them a position of comparative isolation geographically was the happiest solution of the problem. On the other hand, the situation was delicate in reference to Pharaoh. For as king he was bound by Egyptian customs and prejudice. He would, however, not want to offend Joseph or his brethren. To have the matter disposed of practically in advance by the geographical isolation of Israel, which practically required only his stamp of approval -- all this was a very wise adjustment on Joseph's part. So he personally first informs Pharaoh (v.32) that they are shepherds; that they have always dealt in livestock; that they have brought their flocks and herds with them. "He also coaches his brethren as to what they are to say, should Pharaoh put the question: "What is your business?" i. e., ma'aseh, originally "deed" or "work." They are to speak frankly and unashamed as men who feel that no stigma is attached to their calling, but at the same time very deferentially ("thy servants"), and are to make it plain that they have always followed this occupation. The hayû is interesting: they "have been" -- implying: should it please Pharaoh to decree otherwise, they would desist from this work. Joseph's discrete handling of the whole situation is usually not evaluated as highly as it deserves. He discerns quite clearly that the easiest course for Pharaoh will be to confirm the whole arrangement and let them stay in Egypt. For Pharaoh's original suggestions had left this question as to exactly where they should settle open; cf. Ge 45:16-20. It was Joseph who made the selection of Goshen, a fertile country, known as such from antiquity and well adapted to the keeping of cattle. Whitelaw summarizes well the advantages of this land for Israel: (1) It was suitable for their flocks and herds; (2) it would secure their isolation from the Egyptians; (3) it was contiguous to Canaan, and would be easier vacated when the time arrived for their return." In v.34 tô'abhath, though construct before a definite noun, does not acquire definiteness, "the abomination," as the general rule requires. Exceptions are allowable (K. S.304 a) when the sense demands it: here plainly other abominations of the Egyptians must be allowed for. Therefore: "an abomination."
The statement, "every shepherd of flocks is an abomination to the Egyptians," has provoked much discussion. This explanation is applicable not only to foreign shepherds but, as Keil has shown, to natives as well, who are represented on monuments in a way calculated to express the fact that they were of a low and despised caste, for they "are constantly depicted as lanky, withered, distorted, emaciated, and sometimes almost ghostly figures." Herodotus confirms this in words that appear to be applicable to all shepherds (Keil). The Hyksos domination will have served to establish this natural aversion. Quite naturally such a feeling will have been displayed still more strongly toward foreigners.
References made to the Israelites in this connection, as though they came down to Egypt as a strictly nomad group, are quite misleading. In reality they were only half-nomadic in their habits. Isaac already had sowed and reaped (Ge 26:12). Jacob continued in a settled life. Goshen, having abundant pasturage, would discourage nomadic wanderings and make them unnecessary. Being a fertile land, it would encourage agriculture. So Israel came in as a seminomadic group and became a predominantly agricultural group in very short order.
Only a few critical problems can be treated by way of samples. K. C. feels that he must concede that the words, "for "they are men who have dealt in livestock" (v.32), are a gloss, for they seem to say the same thing as the preceding words, "the men are shepherds." As our explanation indicates, the verse marks a threefold progression of thought: (1) they are shepherds; (2) they have always been shepherds; (3) they have brought their flocks along. Consequently: the best thing would be to let them settle in Goshen. Gunkel holds that Joseph Coached his brothers to tell a lie" for they were not strictly shepherds. They, however, who are half-nomads and half-agriculturalists may with perfect honesty refer to their experience as shepherds as Joseph's brethren did; they are only describing their experience along one particular line. There was no attempt at deception.
The critical source analysis presents the usual problems, weaknesses and lack of agreement among the critics.
The first seven verses of the chapter furnish a good basis for a sermon on the theme "Thy will be done." A godly man's concern about having certainty in the matter of a momentous decision in life, even where the decision seems to involve only his advantage -- such concern, we say, should teach men to let God's will be paramount in all decisions, great or small.