This chapter ties up so closely with the subject of the preceding one as to require no further introduction.
However, we may consider briefly at this point the question of chronology -- in what dynasty or under which of the Pharaohs did this famine take place? We believe that most writers on the subject are guilty of misdating this event as a result of their distrust of the Biblical chronology. The usual assumption, made quite apart from strictly chronological issues, is that Joseph must have had contact with the Hyksos kings, whose rule is commonly dated from 1680-1580 B. C. This assumption builds on the somewhat plausible contention that the Hyksos rulers, themselves shepherd kings, will have been friendly disposed toward Israel and his family -- also shepherd folk. Yet the assumption is gaining ground that "Hyksos" meant "Ruler of Countries."  Besides, we still maintain that the chronology of the Bible points to a date for the Exodus in the fifteenth century -- about 1449 B. C. We also believe that Ex 12:40 is a correct statement -- "the time that the children of Israel dwelt in Egypt was 430 years." This should lead exegetes to look for the famine in the days of Joseph about the year 1880 B. C. If now available historical data of Egyptian history reveal nothing concerning Joseph or the famine or the agrarian policy developed by Joseph, such silence by no means discredits the Mosaic record. It means nothing more than that the available records concerning things Egyptian are incomplete.
1-4. Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh and said: My father and my brethren, together with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan; and, see, they are in the land of Goshen. Now he had taken five men from the total number of his brethren, and he presented them unto Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to his brethren: What is your business? And they said to Pharaoh: Shepherds of flocks thy servants are -- both we and our fathers. They said moreover unto Pharaoh: To sojourn in the land have we come; for there is no pasture for the flocks which thy servants have -- for the famine is heavy in the land of Canaan. May thy servants, pray, settle in the land of Goshen.
Joseph knew the exact situation in reference to all things Egyptian and had coached his brethren how to meet this particular occasion. Yet much would depend on his own approach to Pharaoh. Pharaoh's attitude had been very generous (Ge 45:17 ff). But royalty has been known to speak generously and afterward to forget what it had promised. Besides, though Joseph was overlord over the whole land, he would have laid himself open to criticism had he provided for his own family in so liberal a manner as Pharaoh had suggested. It was the part of wisdom to have Pharaoh confirm publicly what he had originally suggested, and so to let it appear that the settlement of Israel was Pharaoh's work. Consequently, the account does not conflict with the representation of the full power conferred upon Joseph according to the rest of this record. Neither is there anything "naive" about the view that these simple shepherds appeared before the very presence of the great Egyptian king, as Israelites did in the days of David and Solomon. These men were brothers of the grand vizier Joseph. Another diplomatic move on Joseph's part was to settle his brethren in Goshen first and then to tell Pharaoh about it. To settle them and their flocks and herds and all their possessions in Goshen is the simplest way of getting the Pharaoh's confirmation.
2. We can hardly suppose that Joseph would first have reported to Pharaoh that Israel was settled in Goshen, then would have gone out and selected five men, to take them out of the land of Goshen, and then would have presented them at court. No doubt the selection was made in advance, and the five were presented at once. Therefore laqach ranks as a pluperfect (K. S.117). Miqtseh (from min and qatseh) here means from "the whole" (B D B), i. e., "from the total number of his brethren." We are not able to determine whether they were the eldest or the youngest or a mixed group. No doubt, Joseph's wisdom taught him to discern which men were most presentable at court.
3. Joseph had also rightly discerned what question the Pharaoh would put on this occasion. The Egyptian monarch may well have put other questions. One that was bound to arise was: "What is your business?" The full truth is the safest course, undiplomatic as it might appear to be. The brethren do as Joseph had instructed them: they say with unmistakable plainness -- ro'eh first for emphasis -- "shepherds of flocks thy servants are." Ro'eh ("shepherds") stands first in the singular, as the verb often does, though the subject following is plural, "thy servants" (K. S.348 m). To correct the text to ro'ey (plural construct) is unnecessary. With a true pride in an honourable and ancient calling they are ready, for that matter, to inform the Pharaoh that both they and their "fathers" have long followed this calling.
4. The brethren also explain very satisfactorily how they conceive of the dwelling in the land (Ge 46:34). They say, again with emphasis, "to sojourn in the land have we come." It certainly will make Pharaoh still better disposed toward them if they say truthfully that they intend only to "sojourn," i. e., to settle for the time being. They added by way of explanation what Joseph had not told them to say, but what was eminently proper: "for the famine is heavy in the land of Canaan." In other words: they have left their native land only as a matter of utter necessity. To this explanation they then attach the modest request to be allowed to settle in Goshen -- the imperfect yeshebhû is optative -- "may they settle."
5, 6. And Pharaoh said to Joseph: Thy father and thy brethren have come to thee. The land of Egypt is at your disposal; settle thy father and thy brethren in the best part of the land; let them settle in the land of Goshen. And if thou knowest of competent men among them, appoint them to have charge of the stock which belong to me.
Pharaoh's first statement by way of response summarizes the situation, much as we might say: "So I see your father and your brothers have arrived." This is a gracious royal acknowledgment of the fact, and it is not to be regarded as an idle or unlikely statement. From this acknowledgment the Pharaoh proceeds to reiterate what he had promised in advance (Ge 45:18), only here, if anything, he makes his proposition more generous, as though, as far as he is concerned, they might settle wheresoever they pleased. The statement in the original has it: "The land of Egypt is before thy face." That must here mean, "lies open before you" or "is at your disposal" (Meek). He then proceeds to confirm the arrangements toward which Joseph's initial steps pointed, namely, he gave command that Joseph should "cause them to dwell" (hôshebh), i. e., "settle" them "in the best part of the land" -- a noun metabh used to express a superlative (K. S.309 f). By a kind of self-correction or by way of making his statement more specific Pharaoh adds, "let them settle in the land of Goshen" -- just what Joseph had wanted him to grant. Then, by way of a further indication of royal goodwill, he suggests that any "competent men" ('anshey chßyil, i. e., "men of might or capacity") from among their number be appointed "to have charge (i. e., be sarey miqneh -- 'chief of the cattle') of the stock" of Pharaoh.
These two verses fit so excellently into the picture and make such excellent sense and such good sequence of thought that we must confess to be greatly surprised at certain claims advanced by the critics at this point. The critics had expected something different or liked particularly a different sequence of clauses as found in the Septuagint (5a, 6b, 5b, 6 a) and so they claim that "the overlapping of J and P at this point can be proved and corrected from G," i. e. the Greek translation. We venture to assert: nobody can prove anything of the sort; there is no overlapping; criticism is making unwarranted assertions by claims which a straightforward interpretation of the text proves entirely untenable.
7-10. And Joseph brought in Jacob, his father, and set him before Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob: How many are the days of the years of thy life? And Jacob said to Pharaoh: The days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their pilgrimage. And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went forth from Pharaoh's presence.
A fine token of filial respect is given by Joseph when he next presents his father at court. His father always was his best friend, and Joseph, knowing the true worth of character of true saints of God, felt that in character and personality Jacob was more than Pharaoh's equal. The simple old shepherd contrasts very favourably with the Egyptian monarch. In fact, the very report of the incident seeks to convey the impression that Jacob actually stood forth as the greater figure according to a true analysis, for "Jacob blessed Pharaoh." "But without any dispute the less is blessed of the better" (Heb 7:7). Some render waybhßrekh, "and he blessed," very poorly as "greeted" or "paid his respects," The truth of the matter is that these old men of God greeted by blessing, as B D B correctly renders, "greet with an invocation of blessing, (stronger than shalôm)." Conscious that he, a true child of God, has more to offer by his blessing than any earthly monarch can offer him, Jacob here blesses as by an act and a display of true faith. For we should hardly venture to go as far as Luther does in this connection and to suppose that Joseph had converted Pharaoh and the Egyptians to the true and living God. Nor does Ps 105:20-22 allow for so extreme a position. At most Joseph "taught" the "elders wisdom." Nothing is said of their having accepted it.
8. We know not what matters besides may have been discussed by Pharaoh and Jacob. We are loath to believe that no more was said than what we here read. But the answer of Jacob in particular has been handed down to us as a memorable one. The Hebrew idiom, "How many are the days of the years of thy life?" for our simpler question: "How old are you?" lays emphasis on the individual days that go to make up the total of our life.
9. Jacob was then 130 years old. He describes his life as a "pilgrimage" (meghûrim, potential plural, indicating the many and the varied episodes involved). The noun is derived from ghûr, "to sojourn" or "dwell as a stranger." The outer circumstances involved are these: in Canaan Jacob had had a fixed possession or property as little as Isaac or Abraham; in Mesopotamia he had dwelled as a stranger twenty years; since his return to Canaan he had dwelled mostly around Hebron but always as a sojourner "having no abiding city." Without a doubt, such an unsettled outward state of life would have served to such a man of God as Jacob was as an excellent type of the spiritual truth that all of a man's life is but a pilgrimage to the eternal home where we no longer stay for the time being as strangers. Therefore Heb 11:13-16 is entirely justified in laying emphasis upon this deeper spiritual meaning and in describing Jacob also as having his hope fixed upon the "heavenly country." Yet Jacob's statement of the case covers the outer and the inner meaning. To translate meghûrim, therefore, as "my life as an immigrant" is far too shallow and superficial. The rest of Jacob's statement regards his life as practically finished, and so he looks back upon it as a unit by way of retrospect. This is but a natural thing for old people to do. They often think that their life is practically ended and then go on to live ten or fifteen years more. In this retrospect Jacob contrasts his life with that of his forefathers -- especially Isaac and Abraham, but also the post-diluvians since Noah -- and finds that his life's days have been "few and evil." For rayim, "evil," we might use "wretched" or "unhappy." Surely, it cannot be denied that not one of his ancestors had so many hardships and disappointments to encounter as he, who was compelled to flee from home, was treated wretchedly and deceived by his father-in-law in a strange land, encountered the hostility of Esau, was grieved by the rape of his daughter Dinah and by the murder perpetrated by his sons, Simeon and Levi, was deeply pained by Reuben's incest, and grieved almost to the point of death by the loss of Joseph and Benjamin, as well as by the death of Rachel. The man can well foretell that his years will not come up to those of Abraham, who became 175 years old, or of Isaac, who reached 180. But that the same spirit animated them as well as him appears from this that he calls their life too a "pilgrimage."
10. Again upon leaving Jacob, the man of God, bestows a blessing upon the king, a blessing by way of a farewell greeting. On the use of the word to "bless" (berekh) we may yet add that the secondary meaning which borders on "greet" so little impresses K. W. as not even to be mentioned.
11, 12. And Joseph settled his father and his brethren, giving them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. And Joseph provided his father and his brethren, and all his father's household with bread according to the number of the children.
Since Pharaoh concurred, Joseph made the settlement of his father and brethren permanent. There must have been unoccupied land in Goshen at the time. This is given them as a "possession" ('achuzzah); therefore they had a more permanent foothold in Egypt than they had had thus far in Canaan. Joseph, knowing the aversion of the Egyptians to foreigners, confirmed this grant so as to make later difficulties less likely for the days when the popularity which he and his family enjoyed should have begun to wane. So well did this guardian, whom God raised up for His people, provide for them in their extremity. Besides, (v.12) the "bread" (by metonomy for "food") needed was provided "according to the number of the children," Hebrew: "according to the mouth of the little ones" -- an unusual phrase whose meaning seems plain enough: he who had many children received just so much more food. The children are mentioned, for they will be the chief concern of parents in days of want. The verb "provide" is followed by a double accusative (G. K.117 cc; K. S.327 r).
The expression "land of Rameses" (Hebrew -- Ra'mses) is used by Moses proleptically to describe more accurately for his contemporaries the region which they in their day knew as Rameses. For the store cities Pithom and Raamses (Ex 1:11), which the children of Israel built, seem to have stood on this site. The other claim, usually made in this connection, that Rameses must have derived its name from Rameses II, their supposed builder, is unsound; for according to Biblical chronology the Exodus took place about 1449 B. C., whereas Rameses II first ruled beginning about 1300 B. C. A city may be named after a king; but so may a king be named after a city, or both king and city after some other person or other object bearing a familiar name. This Rameses is usually located by geographers about midway between Lake Timsah and the Nile. For further location of the land of Goshen we add some facts to which Keil has drawn attention. It must have bordered on the east on Arabia Petraea because the Septuagint translators' term is tesem arabiav. On the west it must have reached to the Nile, because "the Israelites had an abundance of fish" (Nu 11:5). Then, it "must have skirted the Tanitic arm of the Nile, for the fields of Zoan, i. e. Tanis, are said to have been the scene of the mighty acts of God in Egypt" (Ps 78:12,43).
13-17. But bread there was none in all the rest of the land, for the famine was extremely severe and the land of Egypt as well as the land of Canaan was exhausted because of the famine. And Joseph took in all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan for the grain which they were buying, and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house. When the money was used up from the land of Egypt and from the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said: Give us food; why should we die before thy very eyes; for the money is all spent. And Joseph said: Give your livestock, and I will supply you for your livestock if your money is all spent. So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food for their horses, for their livestock in sheep, their livestock in cattle and for their asses; and he supplied them with food for all their livestock that year.
By contrast with the unusual provisions made for Israel and his children "the rest of the land" has no bread or food. The Hebrew says, "bread there was none in all the land," meaning: "in all the rest of the land," for we have just been told that the Israelites in Goshen had their wants provided for. The severity of the famine involved "Egypt as well as the land of Canaan." This reference to Canaan may merely have been due to the fact that the two lands primarily affected by this famine actually were Egypt and Canaan. Since it later develops (v.15) that the money from Canaan flowed also into Egypt's coffers, it is quite likely that during this period Canaan was under Egypt's dominion, as happened so often both before and after this time. With this obvious explanation at hand, it seems very strange that critics cannot account for the reference to Canaan and describe it as "quite uncalled for" (ein unberechtigter Seitenblick, K. C.). Several terms make us feel how very severe the famine was; it is said that these lands "were exhausted." Naturally the money is used up first -- késeph is regularly used: "silver" for "money," because of the metal that served as a medium of exchange. Joseph "took in" (laqat -- Piel -- "collect") all this available money both from Egypt and from Canaan, and brought it "into Pharaoh's house" or palace, into the royal treasuries.
15. When their money was used up, the Egyptians come to Joseph, to whom they feel they can appeal with confidence, for he has proved himself the nation's saviour thus far. Apparently no Egyptian in those days mistrusted Joseph's motives or misconstrued them. Though he had their money, they seemed to recognize that the course he was pursuing was the wisest. The emergency of those days called for emergency measures. Nothing so unnerves a nation and breaks down its morale so much and so rapidly as complete support by relief long continued. Unfortunately, some otherwise sober commentators sharply censure Joseph's famine measures, as though they proceeded from sinister motives and were aimed directly at the enslavement of the nation. Yet, apparently, afterward Joseph restored their cattle and livestock and provided the Egyptians with seed grain and merely charged what was not an exorbitant tax for a fertile land. The Scriptures neither commend nor censure Joseph's measures, but these measures are quite readily defended. The objections made are largely the inventions of theorists who cannot realize what stern measures extreme emergencies may call for. There is something pathetically helpless about the plea of the Egyptians: they want food; they have no money; they do not appear ready to make further sacrifices. But Joseph has a workable plan.
16. Joseph has the bold plan of having them pay with their "livestock" (miqneh). It really was a relief for the people in famine days to have the care of their cattle taken off their hands. The resources of the government apparently could carry the cattle through famine days better than individuals could have done. Horses, sheep, cattle, asses are sacrificed. The fact that the people brought them all shows their dire need. Silence on the question whether they protested is no proof that protests were not forthcoming. But protests of individuals are in themselves no gauge of the folly or the wisdom of a course in which they are involved. To expect patient and entirely acquiescent acceptance of Joseph's measures on the part of all is to expect the impossible. The price paid was deemed sufficient to maintain the purchasers for a year. Yet the nation had not lost its self-respect: they were paying for what they got.
One difficulty created by the critics on this section must be alluded to. Some hold since Wellhausen that since the scene is laid neither in Ephraim nor in Judah, therefore neither E nor J can be the source. Nothing points to J. Consequently some entirely foreign source is involved, they claim. Note how the weaknesses of the critical theory demand hypothesis after hypothesis to bolster it up.
18, 19. When that year was ended, they came to him in the next year and said to him: We will not hide from my lord that if the money and the livestock owned is all spent, for my lord's disposal there is nothing left before my lord except our body and our land. Why should we die before thy very eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for bread, then we on our part and our land shall belong the Pharaoh; then give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.
The Hebrew says "second year" (hashshanah hashshenîth) but it means the year after the cattle had been purchased and not the second year of the famine. So we translate "next year" to avoid confusion. The people approach Joseph, for he on his part had to make his hoard of grain stretch as far as possible, and so naturally he would not approach them but would wait till their need drove them to him. They on their part cannot forget the loss of their money and their cattle; so they mention it in their plea, although Joseph well knows that both are gone. Consequently, all they have left is their body and their land. We must translate kî im as we did above "that if," for it does not mean "how that" (A. V.). Perhaps for: "we will not hide" (nekhachchedh) we should translate the verb as a potential, "we could not hide" (K. C.). "My lord" for "our lord," a natural irregularity, because it is a stereotyped expression.
19. The people speak of their land as dying by a kind of zeugma, for the land deteriorates if it be not worked, and here their plea is for seed. Now this may bring us in point of time to the last year of the famine where they may justly reckon with the idea of again working their lands; or this may mean that a bit of sowing was attempted annually in a few portions where this might yield slight returns. But, in any case, the plan to sell themselves and their land for bread emanated from the people; it was not a scheme of Joseph's to enslave them, as some seem to imply. Besides, this plan shows that the people are learning a lesson from Joseph's approach to the problem. Outright donations have no place in his relief measures. So they compute very correctly that the next step is to sell themselves and their lands. The price paid is not too high, for the thing at stake is their very life ("that we may live and not die"). Namûth -- "should we die" -- the potential imperfect (K. S.187). Léchem, "bread," has the article to express the idea: the bread needed under these circumstances (K. S.298 b).
20-22. So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine was very severe on them. So the land came into Pharaoh's possession. And as for the people, he removed them to the cities from one end of Egypt to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for there was an allowance of food for the priests by Pharaoh's command, and they lived off the allowance which Pharaoh gave to them. Therefore they did not sell their land.
Pharaoh was the one whose power and influence were greatly enhanced by Joseph's acquisition of land, another one of the wise and considerate features of Joseph's plan, whereby both king and people were led to trust him the more. The added statement, "the Egyptians sold every man his field," shows how entirely universal was the situation that prevailed. Moses is recording a thing of special historic interest for those times, for it is the explanation of a peculiar situation which actually prevailed in Egypt. Therefore Moses says very distinctly: "So the land came into Pharaoh's possession."
21. Now another famine measure -- how about the people after Pharaoh had them on his hands? Joseph simplifies the matter of food administration by "removing them to the cities from one end of Egypt to the other." Food could be distributed far more readily to groups collected in and about the cities. Again the completeness of Joseph's plans is indicated: they cover the situation "from one end of Egypt to the other" -- half-measures had no place in Joseph's administration. Changes in the text to make it conform with the Septuagint are not indicated by any worth-while consideration. The Hebrew text makes such good sense; the Septuagint text flounders helplessly: "he enslaved them into being slaves" could hardly be called an improvement. Procksch produces a rare gem of critical results when he modifies the text to the point where it reads: "He made the people pass in review before him by cities from one end of Egypt to the other." What an idea to stage parades, all the population of the cities, the famishing multitudes! That would have been about the last thing Joseph would have done.
22. One exception was made when the land passed into Pharaoh's hands -- the land of the priests was not bought. This was a concession either to the respect they enjoyed or to their strong influence in the nation, or to both. Instead, a choq, "a portion" or "an allowance of food," (B D B) was designated for their use "by Pharaoh's command," me'eth par'oh, literally -- "from Pharaoh."
23-26. And Joseph said to the people: See, I have bought you and your land for Pharaoh; lo, here is seed for you that ye may sow your land. It shall be at the time of your harvest then ye shall give a fifth part to Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own for seed for your fields and for your food, and for those who are in your households, and for food for your little ones. And they said: Thou hast saved our lives; may we find favour in my lord's sight and we will be Pharaoh's servants. And Joseph made it an ordinance concerning the land of Egypt unto this day for Pharaoh in the matter of the fifth part. Only the land of the priests belonged to them alone; it did not become Pharaoh's.
Joseph's words on the day that these new land regulations went into effect are here reported. They embody the regulations that were to prevail as laws covering taxes. Joseph tells the people plainly that what he has done profits him nothing; the land was bought together with the people for Pharaoh. Indeed, that involves the setting up of a kind of feudal relationship, a thing apparently unavoidable under the circumstances. In return Joseph at once gives them the seed they were bargaining for. He also defines for them very clearly what their obligations will be in the future. "At the time of harvest" (battebhû'oth -- "in the harvest" -- be being temporal rather than partitive) they are to make five parts, give one to Pharaoh and keep the remaining four. Twenty per cent is a high tax rate but quite moderate for the Orient where one third and one half have been demanded (cf.1Ma 10:30 w Luther v.29). Our tax-ridden age ought not find reason for objection here. These four parts remaining were thought sufficient by Joseph for "seed," and "food," both for their entire "households" as well as particularly for their "little ones," who here, as in v. Ge 47:12 (taph), are a matter of special concern. La'asher expresses a genitive relationship: "for (or of) those who are in your households," for le often serves to express the genitive (K. S.281 b).
25. The Egyptians understand Joseph's motive and appreciate what he actually did for them. They admit: "Thou hast saved our lives" (Hifil from chayah). All they desire is that Joseph's goodwill may continue to rest upon them -- "may we find favour in my lord's (for: our lord's) sight." Though they recognize that they will have lost their liberty, yet so long as Joseph is kindly minded, they know their lot will not be an unpleasant one: "we will be Pharaoh's servants." So the whole thing is published as an ordinance which prevailed till the Mosaic age -- "unto this day" -- lephar'oh la (ch) chómesh, literally, "in reference to Pharaoh in reference to the fifth" -- two datives of reference. Only the land of the priests was exempt.
12. Jacob's Preparations for His End (47:28-49:32)
(a) Provisions for His Burial (47:28-31)
28-31. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. And the days of Jacob, that is the years of his life, were one hundred and fortyseven years. And the days of Israel came near to the point of death; and he called for his son Joseph and said to him: If now I have found favour in thy sight, place thy hand under my thigh, that thou wilt show kindness and faithfulness toward me: do not, I pray thee, bury me in Egypt; but I would lie with my fathers, and do thou take me away from Egypt and do thou bury me in their grave. And he answered: I for my part will do according to thy word. And he said: Give me thy oath. And he gave him his oath. Then Israel bowed down in prayer upon the head of the bed.
There is little more of theocratic interest to be reported in the life of Jacob than his last words. So we are informed that though he thought death was near at the time when he stood before Pharaoh, yet he lived a total of seventeen years more near his beloved son in the land of Egypt, bringing his total age (i. e. "the days of Jacob" or, as the appositional statement has it: "the years of his life") up to 147 years. When it became apparent that the end was inevitable, Jacob felt the necessity of seeing Joseph for one last time. He has a special request to make of Joseph. He prefaces it with a respectful statement used in addressing a person of some consequence. By these words Jacob expresses his respect for one who occupies an eminent and responsible position. "Honour to whom honour is due." The words are: "If now I have found favour in thy sight." The gesture used in connection with the oath administered is to "place the hand under the thigh," which gesture we showed in connection with Ge 24:2 to refer to the descendants, in particular to the most prominent descendant hoped for, namely the Christ. The oath, therefore, means: "I adjure thee by the Christ in whom is embodied our dearest hope." Executing the oath is both "kindness and faithfulness:" Jacob makes his entreaty very solemn by all these means, for the thing he asks for is a token of a fine faith in God's promises. The eagerness of the petition finds further expression in the na'," I pray." Upon first hearing the petition one is inclined to regard it as relatively trivial. Why should it be a matter of such moment to ask for burial in Canaan not in Egypt? It is not merely a matter of sentiment when he says besides: "I would lie with my fathers." With men of strong faith, such as the patriarchs had, such petitions would have a deep and worthy motivation. Heb 11:21 gives the right direction to all investigation, telling us that this was done "by faith." Jacob believed God's promises in reference to Israel, the land of Canaan, and the blessing of all the nations of the world through the Saviour to come. His deepest hopes were tied up with these promises of the Word of God. Jacob wanted even his burial to give testimony to this faith. But the only suitable land the patriarchs owned was the cave at Machpelah where Abraham and Isaac lay buried. Therefore he requests that he be laid to rest there. This may all agree very well with the statement of Ge 50:5 that he had dug the grave for himself, for the cave still required that each new grave be separately dug within its confines.
30. "To sleep with one's fathers" does not refer to being buried but to falling asleep. Therefore this verse cannot be translated: "But when I sleep with my fathers, thou shalt carry me out of Egypt." (A. R. V.). It must be rendered: "But I would lie with my fathers, and do thou take me away from Egypt" (converted perfects!). Joseph promises: "I for my part will do according to thy words." The emphasis on the initial 'anokhî, "I," means, Joseph will do what lies in his power. That an oath was intended by the gesture used (v.29) is made unmistakably clear by Jacob's next demand: "Give me your oath," (Hebrew: "swear to me"). Joseph readily grants this favour. Jacob is so well pleased with the assurance, for the whole matter was one of greatest importance to his faith, that he proceeds at once to worship. Yishtachû does mean "bow down in reverence," and it might mean a gesture of respect to Joseph, which, however, in this case is hardly seemly. Meek translates, "he settled back on the head of his bed" -- unnatural; a weary old man would settle down on the entire bed. The whole setting indicates that an important need of faith had been met. That would most naturally suggest that Jacob "bowed down in prayer," thanking God that He had granted him this deep satisfaction. The added phrase, "upon the head of the bed," conveys the sense that the head end (ro'sh), being a bit elevated, would offer a natural point upon which more comfortably to bow his head in prayer.
A point occasioning some confusion in this connection is the fact that the words "head of the bed" are rendered "top of his staff" (Heb 11:21), this translation being based upon the Greek version which says: epi to acron thv rabdou. The Masoretic Hebrew text has mittah, "bed." The Greek translators pointed the text matteh, "staff." This is manifestly a wrong translation, but the author of the letter to the Hebrews used the Greek version because no vital point was involved.
One naturally raises the question in connection with this chapter, whether the agrarian reforms ascribed to Joseph can be traced in other available records of a secular character. Keil takes the sanest view of the whole subject. He points out that Diodorus Siculus (I, 37) reports that all land in Egypt belonged either to the priests, to the king, or to the warriors. Strabo (21 -- 60 A. D.) tells that farmers and traders held taxable lands, but that the peasants were not landowners. Again Herodotus, the old Greek traveller, (425 B. C.), on the one hand tells how Sesostris had once divided the land among all Egyptians, giving every man a square piece, and had derived his revenue from an annual tax on them (2, 109). But later he reports (2, 168) that the warriors had received, every man of them, twelve sections of land exempt from taxation. These various accounts point to the fact that a situation such as Joseph created must have prevailed in Egypt, except that Joseph knows of no tax-free lands for warriors. But at a later date, when the original arrangement had already undergone extensive modification, except as far as the priests were concerned, the memory of how it all had originated was already lost, and so some attributed it to "the half-mythical king" Sesostris. In the last analysis this, then, is the situation: Egyptian sources do not happen to reveal these agrarian measures that the Biblical records have preserved; modification of Joseph's policies in the course of years is to be expected; what later Egyptian sources describe suggests policies of earlier days like those inaugurated by Joseph.
We feel that the only portion of this chapter suitable as a text for a sermon is the section v. Ge 47:1-12. It seems to us that the part v. Ge 47:13-26 is too definitely involved in a specifically Egyptian situation which cannot be duplicated anywhere at any time. Regarding the last paragraph, v. Ge 47:27-31, we feel that it corresponds too closely with situations in Abraham's life to afford anything new. But for v.1-12 we have always felt that the focal point lay in v. Ge 47:10, and we regard the whole as an excellent portrayal of the supreme worth of the character of God's saints: God's saints are kings, kings by a higher right than the kings of this earth can claim. This, of course, involves nothing derogatory to civil authorities.
 George A. Barton. Archaeology and the Bible (1937) p. 18.