Jacob Blesses Joseph and His Children

November 12, 2017 Series: Scripture: Genesis 48 by Chris Strevel

Love for Sick and Aged Parents (vv. 1-2)

It is usually the case that those who go to visit the sick receive a greater blessing than the sick. We hope to raise their spirits, and we may a little, but it is our spirits that are raised by contact with those who shall soon be with the Lord of glory.  Joseph heard that his father was sick. A sickness unto death was feared, and Joseph took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, with him. They were likely 18 and 20 years old at this time, and may not have seen their grandfather for several years (v. 8). It is a good thing for older children to respect the wishes of parents and show great respect to grandparents. Children, you would not be here were it not for those whose earthly lives you now watch slipping away. Those leaving this earth should do all in their power to bless and guide those remaining for a while longer, so that one generation will praise God’s name to the next.

We do great injury to young souls by shielding them from death and treating death in such a sterile manner that many now pass through most of their lives having never seen death firsthand. It is good if death leaves an early mark upon the soul – I am sinful, and I too much die. I will stand before God’s judgment seat and must have righteousness there; I will get me to Jesus Christ early and thus avoid wasting my years as most do. Hearing that his son approached, Israel – for he had covenant work to do before he died – strengthened himself upon his bed. Nobility of soul – he was weak and dying, but he would not draw attention and sympathy as much to that as to the covenant promises. When it comes to our dying, it should be our aim not that our dear families and friends hold on to us but to God’s word and covenant through Jesus Christ. Death cannot part us from that which is eternal!

Pointing to the Promises (vv. 3-4)

Jacob’s first words – see the beauty of faith ripening for heaven as it remembers God’s faithfulness on earth! God Almighty, El Shaddai, appeared to me in Luz, the older name of Bethel, God’s house, where the Lord met Jacob when he left Canaan. This glorious God blessed me, and now I will bless you. Jacob rehearsed the promises – Manasseh and Ephraim heard them firsthand from the last of the patriarchs. I will give you this land and make your fruitful. I will give it to you and your seed for an everlasting possession. This promise pertains to Christ more perhaps than our fathers then understood, but they saw Christ’s day (John 8:56). The promise of an everlasting possession in Canaan was but a down payment, a pledge that Abraham was the heir of the world (Rom. 4:13). The covenant was never limited to the Jews’ possession of Canaan, for they were not the ultimate seed of Abraham – Christ was and is (Gal. 3:16). And thus, the promise of the land pertains to him also, except he is now King of kings and Lord of every land. He is both the creator and mediatorial heir of this whole earth, and all should bring their gifts to him, bow before his scepter, kiss him in faith, or feel the back edge of the sword coming out of his mouth. Most nations are feeling this edge today, as we are in a season of great rebellion against Messiah the Prince, but he will prevail over his enemies and continue to drive them forward to destruction. This earth is his; all its nations and peoples must confess that he is Lord (Ps. 2:8).

Ephraim and Manasseh Adopted (vv. 5-6)

We see more of this than Jacob and Joseph could, for the Heir has come and brought life and immorality to light through the gospel (Matt. 21:38; 2 Tim. 1:10)! Yet, Jacob’s faith stretched toward this goal as he prepared to depart this life. Now, what to do about Joseph – he is part of the family, even its savior – and his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, whom Jacob named second in anticipation of the blessing he would soon give? They must have their place in the family of faith – they are half-Egyptian but they are full-Israel by virtue of their father’s faith and now their grandfather’s adoptive act. In grace, Jacob claimed them as his own children. As Reuben and Simeon are to me – full sons – so are Ephraim and Manasseh. This is not a replacement but a declaration of adoptive equality. It was gracious, as God’s adoption of us in Christ is. Perhaps their adoption was something of a type of ours, for we were full-Egyptian, heirs of God’s wrath and curse, but he has brought us into his family so that we are his sons and daughters through faith in Jesus Christ. It can even be said of us that we are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, although Gentiles by birth and cut off from the covenant, so that we are now made heirs of all God’s promises to them (Gal. 3:26-29). Jacob has learned the beauty of God’s grace – that those outside are brought inside by God’s mercy and love. May we also bow before his grace and rejoice in his love for us! “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).

It was important to Jacob to secure his entire family within the covenant. The rest of Joseph’s sons would be his, but all those living at Jacob’s death must be legal heirs of God’s promises. It is moving to see Jacob’s faith so lively as he was so near death, but the soul does not weaken as the body does. Where faith is present and we give ourselves to God’s promises, old age and even the deathbed can be seasons of great fruitfulness. But this was not merely spiritual concern for Jacob. He was the leader of God’s church on earth and the main living heir of God’s promises. He must do all within his power to secure all its members. The Lord had shepherded Jacob’s heart and led him through the wilderness, and now he will from his deathbed shepherd God’s lambs through the compromising wilderness of Egypt. He felt keenly the dangers facing his family and knew that only faith in God’s promises could sustain them and bring them home.

Rachel Remembered (v. 7)

Nearing death and exiled from God’s promised land, Jacob’s thoughts turned to Rachel. She had died some forty years earlier, but her memory was very fresh to Jacob. She was the human love of his life. Why did he think of her at this point? Perhaps he was explaining to Joseph that his adoption of her two grandsons was as we would say, In Memoriam. This is the most likely explanation. Joseph had become a great man, but he did not forget his mother. He would be moved to accept this arrangement out of respect for his dying father’s kindness and prophetic arrangement of his family affairs, and also in loving memory of his mother. Approaching death reminds us of what is most important – God’s promises, our beloved family, a future secured by faith, the condition of the church after our departure – did we serve the Lord in our generation and leave his precious Bride holier and happier than we found her? If more of us thought about these things and labored for them throughout our active years, our dying years would be more satisfied with the memory of God’s powerful, energetic grace in our lives. There was nothing wrong with Jacob thinking of Rachel and wanting to do one of her sons a kindness. If our comings and goings today, self-absorbed, distracted lives, makes the dead “out of sight, out of mind,” then it is best if all the electricity and modern conveniences immediately fail and never be restored. This life is not all there is, and our individual lives must be seen in the tapestry of God’s working in his whole people, down through generations in many different parts of his flock, to fulfill his purposes. Our hearts should remain tender toward his broader work and never think that we are the center of life.

The Gift of Blessing (vv. 8-16)

8 And Israel beheld Joseph's sons, and said, Who are these? 9 And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them. 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them. 11 And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed. 12 And Joseph brought them out from between his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near unto him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, 16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

Meaningful Touch (v. 10)

The interchanges recorded here are so natural and unrehearsed that they are an inspired, eye-witness account of this moment. Who are these? Jacob knew who they were, as he has just adopted them, but his eyes were also failing (v. 10). Are these your two sons? He had been part of a blessing obtained by deception and did not want to be deceived. Joseph affirmed that they were his two sons, and Jacob directed that they be brought near to him. Jacob kissed and hugged them. Blessing and securing the next generation requires covenant words and promises (vv. 3-4) and also legitimate, meaningful affection. God does not give us his promises to stuff our heads with knowledge but to fill our hearts with love for him and for each other. Christian parents that are catechetical experts but strangers to heart and physical affection cannot expect to pass a warm, covenant faith to the next generation.  God gives us his truth, draws us to himself, and forgives our sins so that he may dwell with us, walk with us, love and receive our love. Again and again – I love you, he says to us – now love me and stay in my love (John 15:9-11). Love me with all your heart; I love you with my Son as the gift of my love (Rom. 8:32). Ephraim and Manasseh were almost men, but Jacob kissed and embraced them. There ought never to be a time that parents and children and grandchildren greet one another coldly. When it comes time to take our leave of each other in this life, it should be with the deepest emotion and love of shared life, shared faith, and shared destiny. Hard or doubting hearts can often be melted and secured by affection – when words fail. We were created to love God our Savior and one another, and dying times especially must reflect this. Those parting hugs and kisses must last until heaven, so make them meaningful. Seal God’s truth with your affectionate regard for your posterity, and the Lord will use this to seal their hearts for heaven.

Grace and Humility (vv. 11-12)

At this moment, Jacob was deeply conscious of God’s grace. By mentioning the Lord’s goodness in allowing him to see Joseph and Joseph’s children, Jacob is deflecting attention away from himself. Are not many elderly bitter or melancholy because the spotlight has passed from them so that they are no longer the center of attention? Jacob forces the spotlight away! God has brought me to this moment. What I do now, I do because of his grace to me. He has given me what I never imagined – I get to die holding my Joseph’s children! God be praised! Joseph was so overwhelmed that he pulled the boys back from where they were standing next to Jacob and bowed down before his father – with his face either near or upon the earth. No amount of greatness drove away Joseph’s humility before God and men. He was undone by God’s goodness and his father’s love. His blessings and his exaltation did not ruin him but make him humbler and quicker to affection. God’s goodness must lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4), or we do not understand either him or ourselves – him in his mighty, condescending love that is full of so many unexpected blessings or ourselves in our unworthiness. The higher and more loving we see our God, the meeker our hearts will be before him. Then, his blessings will not ruin us but fill us with a growing and deeper love for God. His kindness will melt our hearts, drive pride far away, and make us willing and able to serve him in all things.

My God and Redeemer Bless the Lads (vv. 13-16)

Gathering himself, Joseph guided Manasseh, the firstborn, toward Jacob’s right hand, and Ephraim toward his left. Jacob switched his hands, guiding them prudently, for he was led by the Lord to reverse the order of blessing. His blessing upon the boys is a beautiful poem celebrating the presence and faithfulness of God. “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk” – same God, same covenant, the God of our fathers, the God who has drawn near to us in love and mercy. “The God which fed me all my life long unto this day” – Jacob was sustained that moment in Egypt by the faithful God who fed him. Good and necessary it is continually to remind ourselves and all around us that we live at God’s expense and that every morsel of food is a gift of his hand. Strange and sad and horrible that those with far less light than we have were far more conscious of their daily dependence upon God! We must recover a conviction of “Give us this day our daily bread,” else we shall never learn to live gratefully before God or love and obey him for all his goodness to us! Every believer has this same confession, but it is telling that few make it – I have nothing except from God’s faithful hand (1 Cor. 4:7)! Humility, trust, joy, and obedience are the fruits of this sincerely felt confession – let us be quick to make it ours!

Higher yet – the Angel – the Angel of the covenant – who has redeemed me – my “Ga-al,” or Redeemer – from all evil, bless the lads! Jacob in a sense reviewed his entire life in these words: his departure from Canaan on the run from Esau’s wrath, Laban’s mistreatment, his return to Canaan and subsequent peace with Esau, the wrestling with God at Panuel, the years of loss and sorrow after Joseph’s departure. My Redeemer was with me during all these trials. Perhaps I could not see it clearly at the moment or even forgot him, but he was with me and brought me through every adversity. He is God’s Angel and God himself. He will be with you and bless you. Trust him all your days. I am leaving, and you are remaining in Egypt. The temptations will be great – may he redeem you from all evil as he has redeemed me! And let me name be on them – Israel – he who wrestled with God and prevailed – may you prevail with him through praying and yielding to him. May my fathers’ names – Abraham, father of many nations, and Isaac, he laughs – be upon you – heirs of God’s promises and joy in his salvation. May you grow into a multitude of peoples – and they did, as subsequent censuses would reveal.

Perhaps we have grown too big – I actually mean too small – to give such blessings. We think too much in terms of estates we leave behind and end of life comfort and care rather than the only real thing of substance – that we pass on a living faith in the Redeemer. He brings each of his children through so many trials and evils that we should have a long story to pass forward, at least if we are honest and want to magnify him for all his goodness. Even a simple life has much for which to bless him – if nothing else, that in the midst of the flood of evil around us, God has preserved his truth and promises and people. This is a sufficient miracle to which we should direct the attention of each passing generation. Yet, we have many personal testimonies to add of his grace and faithfulness. Store them up in memory so that you can write them upon the souls of your children and grandchildren as you prepare to cross the Jordan. And even if some of the stories make you look bad, remember that God’s grace and mercy shine the more illustriously as we are honest about our sinful stubbornness – all praise to you, O mighty Redeemer! You alone have delivered me from all evil! I have nothing but what you have given me! You have been faithful and true; you have walked with me all my days and kept your word.

The Sovereignty of Grace (vv. 17-22)

17 And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father's hand, to remove it from Ephraim's head unto Manasseh's head. 18 And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head. 19 And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations. 20 And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.

The Younger Greater than the Older (vv. 17-20)

Joseph thought his father had made a mistake in blessing Ephraim as the firstborn. He held up his father’s arm to redirect it to Manasseh’s head, but Jacob refused the change. His “I know, I know,” shows that he felt under prophetic necessity to reverse the order of the blessing. Both sons were blessed, but the Lord intended to bless Ephraim more. Again, the younger would outshine the older. This was such a common occurrence in the patriarchal age that it almost became the norm. Why would they not come to expect some display of God’s sovereignty in the bestowal of his grace and blessings? It is still difficult for us to leave to God the disposition of our lives and futures. Birth order blessings have lost their significance in our age – which is tragic and manifests a loss of biblical faith in the having, rearing, and guidance of covenant children, indeed, the whole ordering of our societies and lives has more in common with a factory than with flesh and blood human beings. Yet, we struggle with issues of “fairness” and the expected way of doing things. God, however, gives his gifts according to his will. He is bound by no human expectations of birth order; merit does not enter into the equation at all, for “all we like sheep have gone astray.” In our homes and disposition of property, we do well to remember this – that not all have children and grandchildren may have the same claim upon family property. It depends upon whether or not children are walking in the family faith. Otherwise, they may be passed over in order to remind them that faith has historical consequences and to bless faithful children so that their hearts may be encouraged to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness. 

God Will Bring You Home (vv. 21-22)

Not quite his dying words – not by a long shot! (ch. 49) – but words worthy of the dying man of faith, the man by whom God even called himself – the God of Jacob. “I die, but God shall be with you.” He did not need to say anything else. In the centuries ahead, these words would ring in the souls of the believing Israelites. God will bring us home again. He will never forget his promise. He may wait centuries to fulfill his word – a most necessary reminder to us not to grow impatient – but “not one word of his promise will fall to the ground” (1 Kings 8:56). His word will not return to him empty and ineffectual (Isa. 55:11). His covenant hung upon this promise for four hundred years. The faith of his people hung upon this slenderest of threads – which is really wider than any ocean! I will bring you home. Jacob also gave Joseph an additional portion of his goods – almost as an afterthought – of which Jesus made reference (John 4:5-6). The faithful will be repaid for their troubles and service to the Lord. More important to Joseph than the property was the promise. It sustained him for the next sixty years, when he would die and pass on similar faith to his family. It is also our promise. We must pass through different but no less severe troubles (Acts 14:22). What is our hope in this world but that God will be with us and bring us home? That he will sanctify our troubles and work an eternal weight of glory through our sorrows? Regularly we must call this promise to mind. “I am with you.” It was our Savior’s parting promise. It is the promise that sustains us when we are being chastened and struggle along our pilgrim way (Heb. 13:5). Jesus died and rose to secure this presence for us, to dwell with us by his Spirit until the resurrection morning when he brings all his brothers and sisters home to glory.

Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. What are some reasons that children need to be around the elderly sick and dying?

2. What was Jacob’s main concern as he prepared to die?

3. How is the land promise fulfilled in Christ – see Romans 4:13, Psalm 2:8, and Matthew 5:8.

4. Why did Jacob adopt Joseph’s two sons?

5. Why did he mention Rachel at this point?

6. What is the role of physical affection in God’s covenant down through generations?

7. What does this teach us about love and its centrality in God’s saving purposes – see John 13:1?

8. Are God’s gifts and goodness leading you to repentance or filling you with pride?

9. Why did Joseph bow before his father? Be sure you understand the spiritual pathos of this moment!

10. How did Jacob call attention away from himself to God and his grace?

11. What are the main parts of Jacob’s blessing? Are you walking with your Redeemer so that you may bless your children in his name?

12. Why did God regularly reverse the birth order when it came to blessing children?

13. How is the promise, “I will be with you,” both the covenant heart and sustaining center of salvation in Christ?


God Always Takes Care of His Church

November 5, 2017 Series: Scripture: Genesis 47 by Chris Strevel

This chapter covers most of the 17 years from Jacob’s arrival in Egypt until his death. All that remains to him is to bless Joseph’s sons and then his remaining sons with penetrating and prophetic benedictions. This will close his life and with it the patriarchal age in which God began revealing to the world the way of his salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ. These 17 years are not filled with the drama of the past few months, for Jacob and his family settled and began a new life in Egypt. The drama is all on the heavenly side, for the little that we are given reveals how God took care of his church in the midst of the ongoing famine and also sustained faith in Jacob so that his dying wish was to be buried in the land of promise. This was extremely important for his family to see. They were well provided for in Egypt, but life with God is more than full bellies and safe dwellings. What counts most is his covenant promise, and Jacob’s heart did not grow cold toward it. The last 17 years of his life were by far the most pleasant, and they might have been tempting also. We are fed and safe. My beloved son is the Grand Vizier of this kingdom. We lack nothing for our happiness. But Jacob did not feel this way. He did not want to be buried under Joseph’s scepter and splendor but in a cave in Canaan. In the midst of Egypt’s comforts, he did not forget God’s promise, and the nearer death approached, the more his heart longed for home, for Canaan as a type of heaven and of God’s eternal kingdom. The Lord thus took care of his servant Jacob – O, how the God of Jacob loved Jacob! – and shows us through him that he will always take care of his church. The Egypts of this world will not drive Canaan, heaven and the gospel, from our hearts, if we set our affections on God’s promise and his Son, our blessed Savior.

By Giving Her the Favor of the Egyptians (vv. 1-10)

1 Then Joseph came and told Pharaoh, and said, My father and my brethren, and their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have, are come out of the land of Canaan; and, behold, they are in the land of Goshen. 2 And he took some of his brethren, even five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh. 3 And Pharaoh said unto his brethren, What is your occupation? And they said unto Pharaoh, Thy servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers. 4 They said moreover unto Pharaoh, For to sojourn in the land are we come; for thy servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine is sore in the land of Canaan: now therefore, we pray thee, let thy servants dwell in the land of Goshen. 5 And Pharaoh spake unto Joseph, saying, Thy father and thy brethren are come unto thee: 6 The land of Egypt is before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest any men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle. 7 And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? 9 And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage. 10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.

Five Brothers Presented to Pharaoh (vv. 1-4)

Our Savior sometimes uses the ungodly to take care of his church, especially in matters pertaining to her safety and provision in this life (Prov. 13:22; Luke 16:9). For this reason, we should walk humbly toward all men. Though we are heirs of heaven, we should not expect the world to bow at our feet, and it is absurd to think that we shall or should receive special treatment because we are Christians. The opposite is usually the case. Although Joseph ruled Egypt under Pharaoh, he did not presume upon his sovereign’s generosity but wisely presented five of his brothers whom he believed would make a favorable impression to accomplish his goal – to show the ruler that his family posed no threat and were quiet shepherds. When they stood before Pharaoh, he asked them their occupation. They told him they were shepherds and asked to be allowed to live in Goshen – as Joseph had instructed them to do.  It is no insult to our dignity and royal destiny in Christ to humble ourselves before the great ones of the earth and to take the lowest seat. We should likely make a better impression if we adopted a more Christ-like demeanor, unlike many who walk around as if they already own the place and dare anyone to oppose their will. This undermines our profession of faith and disciple’s way of life, which is not to be served but to serve, not to think highly of ourselves but to prefer others in love. We shall never wear heaven’s crown unless we have learned to carry ourselves with meekness and gentleness (Matt. 5:3).

A Surprisingly Hard Confession (vv. 5-10)

Joseph was present at this and subsequent interviews. The apparent disorder of the text, which critics say is due to multiple sources, is but court formality – Pharaoh speaking to Joseph as if his brothers are not present and approving their plan as his own – since it was his original idea. He was so amenable to Jacob’s family that if Joseph’s brothers included men of ability, he should set them over Pharaoh’s cattle. Whether at that first visit or later after he was settled in Goshen, Joseph brought his father to see Pharaoh. Twice it is said that Jacob blessed Pharaoh – odd since typically the “lesser is blessed of the greater” (Heb. 7:7). Perhaps it was but an older man blessing a younger one – “May you live as long as me!” But God had also promised to Abraham that “in thee all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Jacob must have thought upon these things. In those years, faith needed every crumb to sustain itself upon the promise and word of God – and here was a trickling fulfillment of what continues to this day a rising flood of salvation blessings to the nations through Jacob’s seed, Jesus Christ.

Although Jacob was not nearly as old his father and grandfather had been, he had the appearance of an old man. Trials and tears crease the soul as well as the face. Pharaoh asked how old Jacob was. “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been” (v. 9). “Evil” might be translated bad, unpleasant, miserable, or unhappy, depending upon the context. Whether we lessen the force of the word or retain “evil,” Jacob’s point was clear enough. I look old, I know. I have had a difficult life. I have not attained to the years of my fathers. I do not think that Jacob should be found guilty of giving a poor testimony to God’s grace and goodness. Standing before Pharaoh, Jacob was not asked to preach a sermon but to give his age. His life had been more difficult than Abraham or Isaac’s. Some of the fault was Jacob’s. His trials were also of God’s doing. This is not all that Jacob had confessed – “I am unworthy of the least of thy mercies” (Gen. 32:10). Given that this was a joyful period in Jacob’s life, the circumstances must have called for sobriety rather than giddiness. Remember that Egypt and the entire region were in the midst of a deadly famine, and many had undoubtedly died. Jacob’s family depended upon the goodwill of Pharaoh to survive, and Jacob knew this. It would hardly do for him to have given a light answer to Pharaoh. His life had been short and difficult, comparatively. We should answer honest questions honestly and simply, not to draw attention to ourselves, as some do who cannot sustain a conversation happily unless it centers upon their doings and feelings. Jacob told the truth. If Pharaoh had asked what sustained him through his difficulties, he might have told him. Jacob, however, was not in Egypt as an evangelist but as a pilgrim survivor. The Holy Spirit had not come to him with the fullness that we enjoy, so that in his powerful fellowship a prison can be a gospel pulpit just as easily as the most exalted dais.


By Satisfying Her Soul in Famine (vv. 11-12)

11 And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families.

Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt in the third year of famine. It was a terrible time of hunger and frustrated idleness among the agricultural masses, for they could not sow or reap. One aspect of the Lord’s remarkable providences to Jacob and his family is that they were placed in the best possible position to survive the famine while it lasted and to prosper when it ended. They were near to Joseph, so as to enjoy his fellowship and watch care. As a faithful son and in a remarkable fulfillment of his earlier dreams, his family did bow down to him, but as they bowed low, it was so he could nourish them with the riches of Egypt. He did not rise above them in order to crush them but to serve him. In this, he anticipates the later disciple’s call – “He who would be great among you, let him be your servant” (Matt. 20:26). And although parents should normally lay up for their children, as the apostle told the Corinthians, here we see Joseph laying up for his father and providing him with bread (2 Cor. 12:14). How it must have encouraged his heart to be able to serve his family so well in their hour of great need!

Higher yet, we should never doubt God’s pledge and ability to take care of his church in the worst circumstances. It is true that Satan is an enemy far more terrible than hunger, and a famine of the word is more to be dreaded than a famine of bread (Amos 8:11). Still, we have to live, and God knows this. This is the reason that he promises to keep us alive in famine (Ps. 33:19). We in the West have enjoyed full bellies for so long that a famine approaching anything near what some parts of the world endure would drive us to gnaw off our own fingers. We have no right, however, to expect prosperity at the level we have enjoyed. Much of this is the fruit of covenant faith in previous generations, but that capital to be enduring must be perpetuated by faith in God’s promises and obedience to his commands. We are not seeing such faithfulness nearly as much as in the past, so it is to be expected that our calamities would increase commensurately with our disobedience. Still, we have God’s promise to provide daily bread, provided we do not define that bread as full pantries for months to come and so many blessings that his generosity oozes from every pore. We must praise him for his goodness but also see that if we should be called upon to suffer, he will provide in his own way for his people. Our Savior said that he will build his church (Matt. 16:18), and this includes his faithful care of us with respect to our earthly lives – provided that we are not covetous, serve him joyfully even with less full bellies, and seek first his kingdom and righteousness – his rule and obedience to his law – and then trust that he will provide what earthly goods we need to pursue him wholeheartedly (Matt. 6:19-34).

In Contrast to His Greater Rigor with the World (vv. 13-26)

13 And there was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very sore, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted by reason of the famine. 14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, for the corn which they bought: and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house. 15 And when money failed in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came unto Joseph, and said, Give us bread: for why should we die in thy presence? for the money faileth. 16 And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail. 17 And they brought their cattle unto Joseph: and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year. 18 When that year was ended, they came unto him the second year, and said unto him, We will not hide it from my lord, how that our money is spent; my lord also hath our herds of cattle; there is not ought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands: 19 Wherefore shall we die before thine eyes, both we and our land? buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, that the land be not desolate. 20 And Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh's. 21 And as for the people, he removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Egypt even to the other end thereof. 22 Only the land of the priests bought he not; for the priests had a portion assigned them of Pharaoh, and did eat their portion which Pharaoh gave them: wherefore they sold not their lands. 23 Then Joseph said unto the people, Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh: lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land. 24 And it shall come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth part unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for them of your households, and for food for your little ones. 25 And they said, Thou hast saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants. 26 And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part; except the land of the priests only, which became not Pharaoh's.

Joseph’s Preservative Measures Severe but Necessary

To understand Joseph’s administrative and population relocation decisions, the opening line must be taken seriously – there was no bread in Egypt. Translation: everyone would have been forced to migrate and most would have perished of starvation had Joseph not taken the steps he did. Neighboring lands were similarly suffering. The mention of Canaan indicates that had Jacob remained there, he and his family would surely have starved – but again, God’s remarkable work in raising Joseph to power was not only to preserve his people during the famine but also to prosper them in future years. The measures Joseph took were severe but necessary for the survival of the Egyptians. They were at the same time in marked contrast to God’s treatment of his church, which was settled in Goshen and thus largely escaped the draconian measures Joseph instituted in Egypt proper. This may also explain the reason that the Israelites later prospered and were envied by Egyptian leaders that had forgotten their debt to Joseph.

By the time the third year arrived, the people had run out of whatever they had saved or scrounged. That year, Joseph gathered all the money in Egypt in exchange for the bread. The following year he exchanged cattle for grain. Then, with the exception of the priests’ land, he acquired from the people all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh in exchange for bread. After this, for the last year or two of the famine, he moved all the people into the cities so as to be nearer to the food supplies he had stored. He also did this in order to break the emotional hold of the land upon them, for Pharaoh had purchased their land in exchange for food. Joseph is not an example of social engineering and planned economies; he is an example of taking extreme measures he thought best so that everyone did not die from the famine. The people were thankful for his efforts (v. 25). Since they had nothing left to trade for grain, they agreed to become Pharaoh’s servants. Joseph proposed a solution that would lighten their bondage. Moving forward, one fifth of the produce would be Pharaoh’s, or twenty percent, and the people could keep the remainder. Contemporary and subsequent records indicate that Pharaoh, the priestly castes, and also the military class were the only landowners in Egypt, an arrangement that likely dates from the days of Joseph. In God’s providence, the wealth in Egypt was radically transferred from the people to the Pharaoh. Joseph did it to save lives; the Lord orchestrated it to judge that nation, not for the last time.

If it be asked why Joseph did not simply give the people the grain they needed, the answer is complex. The people might well have followed Joseph’s savings plan and provided for themselves during the famine, and thus kept their lands and avoided slavery. Most, however, will not deny themselves in the day of plenty in order to provide for themselves in a day of want. Undoubtedly most would not have produced sufficient for their survival. It cannot, moreover, be said that the grain belonged to everyone, for everyone did not contribute the same amount. Joseph also had to construct storage cities for the grain and incurred enormous administrative costs in terms of overseeing the food collection, storage, and now distribution. Thus, the payment was just, and in the end, while the lingering tax of twenty percent of grain harvest was high, it was a small price to pay for their lives. As the people were willing to sell themselves into bondage, the percentage seems even smaller. Nothing about Joseph’s actions is normative. He took the steps he did because the famine was severe. Death would otherwise have resulted. To what degree he was specifically led by the Lord in his course, both to save lives and to judge the Egyptians, we cannot say with certainty, but “could not such a man as he divine?” God had even deeper counsels with respect to the Egyptians into which he does not invite us to pass judgment but to stand in wonder and hold our tongues out of respect for his wise government of the nations – including those that he will destroy in but a few hundred years.

By Preserving Her Faith in a Strange Land (vv. 27-31)

27 And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly. 28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years: so the whole age of Jacob was an hundred forty and seven years. 29 And the time drew nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: 30 But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place. And he said, I will do as thou hast said. 31 And he said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself upon the bed's head. 

God’s people settled in Goshen, grew in number, and prospered. This statement undoubtedly covers more years than Jacob lived, but God’s blessing began to appear already in his lifetime. Yet, as he neared the end of his earthly life, the blessings of Egypt did not compare to the blessings God had promised to him. He called Joseph and made his burial wishes clear – not Egypt, but Canaan. God may have preserved him in Egypt, but his heart was with God’s promise. Already he chose as Moses would later do the “reproach of Christ rather than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11:25). If only his descendants had kept such a living faith in God’s promises, perhaps they would not have carried Egypt’s gods up with them out of the land and then been destroyed in the wilderness. But Jacob did keep this living faith. Having his life and family preserved during the famine and watching the rapid growth and blessing after the famine did not make him unmindful of the higher and more lasting covenant of grace. Accordingly, he placed Joseph under a vow to bury him in Canaan. The usual vow involved putting the hand under the thigh, which meaning is uncertain, unless it was a reference to circumcision or to the very life source and future of the one swearing. Joseph willingly made the required vow. Israel bowed or worshipped upon his bed, in thankfulness to God for his mercies and to Joseph for granting him this final wish.

God loves his church. We know very little of the feelings of our fathers in the faith as they experienced these trials and blessings. Accordingly, when we approach a passage like this and find no symphonic drama or angelic choruses, we pass quickly on our way in search of the next “spiritual lesson” or mountain top. But this is a child’s pursuit. Our emotional synapses quickly grow frayed with overuse and abuse, which explains the jaundice of spiritual consumers in our day and their modern-day pilgrimages looking for the next great spiritual show. Let us leave these wandering souls and pray that the Good Shepherd will draw them more securely to himself. What counts most in these lines is that we see God’s glorious care watching over his people during deadly times. We should bow before his goodness and adore his love for his people. “Jacob have I loved.” And Jacob loved him. Because Jacob set his love upon the Lord, the Lord delivered him and set him on high (Ps. 91:14). Jacob was not a perfect saint but he trusted the Lord, and thus our father sets a powerful example to us. No matter what we see, or if hunger is stalking us, or if the world hates us, the Lord will take care of us. He will humble the Egypts of this world, if necessary, in order to provide a place for us (Ps. 105:14). Nations and governments, kings and judges, all are under God’s hand, and our blessed Savior rules over them all for the sake of his church (Eph. 1:19-23).

We can or should see these things more clearly than Jacob and Joseph did. The church of our Savior is not dependent upon the cognizance or largesse of men but upon the life of Christ in her. We are his body; he is our Head and Savior and Husband. He can no more forget us than he can forget himself. He has sealed his love for us with his precious blood, and we are engraved upon his hands. Thus, when the church is under attack and her earthly prosperity and even existence are precarious, let us remember that our Savior is building her. He cannot fail or be disappointed in this work, for he will fulfill all his Father’s counsel and make the farthest nations his devoted servants (Isa. 42:4). What we lack and most generations of the church, quite frankly, lack, is faith to believe this. And yet we have this child’s coloring book and connect-the-dot season to learn this most basic lesson. Our merciful Father will always keep his promises to his church. He will always preserve the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ and his church. He will make a way for her in this world. He will make her the highest mountain, even as he did in Egypt, so that he is the glory of the nations, not because of her, but because of the glory of her God and Savior indwelling her. It is for this hope that we labor and pray. It is this promise that fills us with joy in dark times. And for us, there are not really dark times, for the Light of the world has come. He will never leave us. Now, there is always light and joy sown for us, if we will seek it. In the midst of tears and trials, we can rejoice, for the God of joy indwells us by his Spirit.

Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. What is the main drama of this chapter?

2. Discuss Joseph’s wisdom and humility in negotiating Goshen for his family’s dwelling – and apply to our relations with the unbelieving world.

3. Why did Jacob tell Pharaoh that his days had been “few and evil?”

4. Distinguish God’s promise to feed us during famine and expecting a certain standard of living. How does the failure to make this distinction create unrealistic expectations and a demanding spirit?

5. What is the worse famine we can endure? See Amos 8:11.

6. What is the most likely explanation for diminishing economic prosperity and security in the West?

7. Why did Joseph take such severe measures with the Egyptians?

8. Are his actions normative? To be condemned? How does verse 12 help us? Verse 25?

9. What made Jacob desire to be buried in a cave in Canaan rather than under Joseph’s scepter in Egypt?

10. What does this reveal about Jacob’s heart? And what was the faith/hope of the patriarchs – full bellies and riches or God’s favor and his eternal kingdom? How is such faith nurtured in the world?

11. How did this example powerfully shape Joseph’s life and dying testimony over 60 years later?

12. What promise to the church is contained in this chapter?

13. Why can we not hear enough that God always takes care of his church?