Genesis 46:28-47:31 ~ 20080720 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
7/20 Genesis 46:28-47:31 Pilgrims and Strangers
We've seen Joseph reconciled to his brothers, and now his brothers have broken the news to their father. Jacob has come to the border of Canaan, and paused to worship God. Jacob put God first, even before reconciliation with his son whom he thought was dead for twenty years. God showed up and encouraged him that he would be with him and bless them in Egypt. God assured him that he was still God, still in control, that he would make this family into a great nation in Egypt, and that Joseph himself would personally care for his aged father.
The reunion of Joseph and his father is emotional and passionate. Joseph is crying again. This is the sixth time he has exhibited his emotions by weeping. It says he wept on his neck a good while. It had been over 20 years since the father and son had seen each other. Joseph was 17 when he left his father. Now he is around 39. Jacob has been talking about death for the last ten chapters (37:35;42:38; 44:29, 31; 45:28) . But until the last chapter, his outlook had been grim and depressed. Now, he continues to talk about death, but it is a welcome thing. He has been given back his hope, and his confidence in God has been restored. The language he uses is the same language that is reserved in the rest of Genesis to describe the appearance of God. To Jacob, who actually had God appear to him in dreams, seeing his son alive and prospering in Egypt is so much evidence of God's favor toward him, it is as if he has seen the face of God smiling on him.
Joseph gives wise instruction to his family. He has learned the social system and the politics of Egypt. He understands that shepherds are an abomination to Egyptians, and at this point his brothers probably understand that too. They had probably been told back in Canaan that the Egyptians don't like shepherds. They may have had some experiences on their previous visits to Egypt that confirmed this dislike. It would have been tempting when they knew they were going to have an interview with the Pharaoh of Egypt to lie or stretch the truth to make themselves look better. Instead, Joseph tells them to be totally up front with their occupation. In fact Joseph encourages them to emphasize the fact that they are shepherds, to their advantage. Joseph understands the pagan idolatrous Egyptian culture and he doesn't want his family settling in the cities and becoming immersed in Egyptian culture. It's interesting that Joseph picks 5 our of his 11 brothers to present to the Pharaoh. I wonder if he picked the five most redneck nose pickin' lite beer drinkin' pickup drivin' missin' teeth socially inept brothers so that the Pharaoh would say 'whoa, let's put them on their own island!' Goshen was not only a good fertile area for raising livestock, but it was also an isolated place so that they could develop as a distinct people without being integrated into the Egyptian culture. Joseph was making a wise political move to provide for the future of his family, the nation of Israel. The Pharaoh was convinced of the wisdom of isolating this family and putting them in the land of Goshen. And not only that, but he gave them jobs taking care of his livestock. They were given government jobs. Things went well with Pharaoh.
Then, probably later, after the family was settled and unpacked in Goshen, Joseph brings Jacob his father in for an interview with Pharaoh. They probably had to carry him in and prop him up in front of Pharaoh. This is great!
Jacob is meeting with the most powerful man in the world, and he is living off the generosity of this man, and he takes complete charge of the conversation. Jacob blesses the Pharaoh. Normally it is the more powerful person that blesses the less powerful:
and here you have the 130 year old homeless guy blessing the king of the world. This is an amazing encounter. I don't know if the Pharaoh was expecting this kind of a meeting. The crazy old man blesses him. Jacob is not intimidated by power and position. He sees through it all to see this man who in his culture is elevated to the position of a god, but he has a God shaped hole in his heart. He has a need for a relationship with the real true God. He knows he has a need in his life; he is the most powerful man in the world, and yet he is not satisfied. So Jacob prays for him. I think Pharaoh is caught off guard. 'This crazy old man just prayed for me!' Egyptians had a desire to live forever, so Pharaoh is impressed with Jacob's age, and he asks 'just how old are you?' Jacob's answer was probably not what he was expecting either. He frames his age in terms of the years of his sojourning. Jacob calls himself a wanderer. His life is defined in terms of someone who is a stranger in a strange land. He is not a permanent resident. That's what the brothers had said when they came before Pharaoh; 'we came to sojourn'. God had promised Abraham the land of Canaan. Jacob had bought the birthright and stole the blessing from his older brother, and then left the land and ran for his life to hang out with his crazy uncle Laban for 20 years. God had brought him back to the land, only to force him out of it with a severe famine. Now he's looking at spending the remaining years of his life in Egypt, but he has his eyes on his inheritance.
And he says my sojourning has been 130 years; and my years have been few and evil. He says 'I'm only 130'. Jacob only lives to be 147. He says 'that's really not very old'. His father Isaac lived to be 180 and his grandfather Abraham lived to be 175; His great great great grandfather Noah lived to be 950, and if we go back further, Methuselah lived to be 969; Adam lived to be 930. In that context, 130 is few. That's 50 years less than his father lived. That's less than one seventh of the age of Noah. That's 800 years less than the first man Adam.
And Jacob evaluates the short time that he has lived as 'evil'. Jacob looks back on his life and he says it's been a rough life. It's been bad. He ripped off his brother and deceived his blind dad and had to run for his life. What goes around comes around - he spent the next 20 years being deceived and ripped off by his uncle who deceived him into marrying the wrong girl. His favorite wife died in childbirth, His daughter was raped, two of his sons, Simeon and Levi, became murderers, Reuben committed incest with his concubine, his favorite son was torn from him for 20 years, two of his grandkids were killed by God because they were evil. Jacob looks back on his life and he says to the most powerful man in the world 'it's been short; only 130 years. And it's been bad. I'm evil and because of the evil things I've done, evil has come back on my own head. This is an interesting answer to give to a man who is spiritually hungry. He's asking Jacob about the hope that he has and how it is that he's lived so long, and he says 'I'm an evil man and my life has been short and hard.' If we were teaching a class on personal evangelism, this is probably not where we would tell you to start with your neighbors. We would be inclined to say 'tell the Pharaoh God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life'. Jacob starts by pointing the Pharaoh to the wickedness of his own heart. 'I'm not a good guy. I'm evil. I am a subject of God's mercy and grace.' Pharaoh is asking 'you look really old, and your blessing me; what's your secret?' and Jacob says 'I drink organic goat's milk and eat nuts and berries and take lots of vitamins and get lots of exercise trying to keep up with four wives.' No, he says 'I'm a wanderer and this is not my home. The time I've lived is short in relation to eternity. There's really nothing good in me. I'm evil and any blessing I have to give does not originate with me. I take full responsibility for the evil consequences of my own actions; I take no credit for any of the blessing that have happened to me. I'm an undeserving sinner who has experienced the grace of a good God.' And Jacob again blesses the Pharaoh and Jacob ends the conversation.
The chosen family is settled in the best of the land and given possession of the land. The family has a more permanent position as sojourners in Egypt than they do in the promised land of Canaan. Joseph was sent ahead to save many lives, and he has saved the Egyptians and now he is providing for his father and all his extended family. Now the narrative turns to describe Joseph's policy with the Egyptians.
Egypt was suffering severely toward the end of the famine. Joseph's plan to store grain for the coming famine was now paying off. He was able to sell grain not only to the Egyptians, but also to those in the land of Canaan. Joseph was faithful in administrating the king's storehouses, but the famine was so severe that it came to the point where all the people's money was used up. Joseph was a man of integrity. The money was not used for his personal gain. It all came in to the royal treasury.
The famine continued in the land. The people had no more money to buy grain, so Joseph suggested that they trade their livestock for food. This would be an advantage to both the crown and the people. The Pharaoh would own the livestock and become responsible for feeding them from the royal granary, so the grain that the people received would not have to be used to feed both themselves and their livestock. During famine, owning livestock would be more of a liability than an asset. So the people gave up their animals. But the famine persisted.
Probably the final year of the seven year famine, the situation was so desperate that the people came to Joseph and offered their land and their freedom in exchange for food. We need to understand that when we talk about slavery in the biblical context, it is something different from the African slave trade of European and American history. Slavery was a form of ancient welfare. If things got desperate enough, or if you managed your resources so poorly that you got yourself into deep financial trouble, someone could take you in as a servant. They would provide for your basic needs in exchange for your labor, and there would be the possibility that you could get your feet back under you and get your finances together and get your freedom back. In this type of system, the recipient retained a sense of dignity. They were not looking for a free handout; they were always giving something in exchange for the help they received. And it was an arrangement entered into voluntarily. No one was forced against their will to become a slave. The people came to Joseph and requested this arrangement as a way for them to survive the famine. The only exception was the land of the priests, who were given an allotment from Pharaoh, they remained free. So the land and the people became the possession of the Pharaoh in exchange for food. The people trusted Joseph, and for good reason.
Joseph outlined the arrangement for their servitude up front so they knew what they were getting in to. As servants of the crown, it became the responsibility of the Pharaoh to see that they were all well fed. Joseph's arrangement with them was generous. He gave them seed to plant in the king's fields, and they were allowed to live on four fifths of the harvest; a flat 20% tax would go to the Pharaoh. Obviously this arrangement benefited the Pharaoh; it was also very acceptable to the people. Notice that the people thanked Joseph. They said 'you have saved our lives!' They were affirming Joseph's theological understanding of why he was in Egypt. He had told his brothers:
God had placed Joseph in a position where he was used to bless his family, and to become a blessing to the world. Jacob had blessed the Pharaoh, and Joseph was used to bring tangible blessing to the Pharaoh. God had given him wisdom and political skill so that he could plan for the future and protect his family. Joseph was faithful to use the gifts God had given him to bless those around him. They are settled in an area where for 430 years, they can prosper as a pilgrim people whose citizenship is in heaven.
Jacob is a true pilgrim. His dying wish is to be buried in the promised land. Just as Abraham made his servant swear to secure an appropriate bride for his son Isaac, now Jacob makes his son swear to bring him up out of Egypt and bury him in hope with his father and grandfather. In the last chapter, God had promised Jacob:
Now Jacob, by faith in God's promise, is making arrangements for that promise to be fulfilled. Jacob was being blessed in Egypt and was prospering greatly in Egypt, but his eyes were firmly fixed on the promises of God. He did not allow his affections to be turned from his God to the attractions of Egypt.
We leave Jacob worshiping God. Bowing in humble praise and adoration of the good God who is faithful to his promises. God is his treasure as he looks forward in hope to the one who would indeed bless the nations; the lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus Christ.