Today’s message covers 2 chapters. It highlights Jacob’s move to Egypt and the remaining 5 years of famine. As I’ve done previously in this series when covering multiple chapters in a single sermon, I will try to summarize the events that take place and only read portions of the text as time allows.
I. THE HEBREWS MOVE TO EGYPT (Gen. 46:1-27)
Jacob and his family set out from their home, presumably in Hebron, and headed for Egypt. Along the way they stopped in Beersheba, the place where God had spoken to Jacob’s father Isaac many years before (Genesis 26:23-25). The LORD appeared in a vision and encouraged Jacob not to be afraid of moving his family out of the Promised Land. God assured him that someday his descendants return to Canaan and resettle there.
So the Hebrews continued onward toward Egypt in the wagons that Pharaoh had provided for their move. This was a large procession. It included all of Jacob’s livestock and possessions, along with his sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, and many others. The Bible specifically names approximately 70 male family members (a few women are also listed) who made this journey with Jacob to Egypt.
It is worth mentioning that all 12 of Jacob’s sons already had children of their own by this point. The oldest of them, Reuben, was likely in his mid-fifties. These children were born of Canaanite women (or Egyptian in Joseph’s case), as there is no indication that Jacob’s sons sought out Hebrew wives. For context, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all purposefully chose wives from among their own relatives, waited much later to start their families, and therefore had fewer children. Had this new practice of intermarriage and explosive proliferation continued for a few more generations, the unique identity of the Hebrew people would have likely been lost. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why God called them to isolation in Egypt…
II. THEY SETTLE IN GOSHEN (Gen. 46:28-47:12)
Jacob sent Judah to inform Joseph that they had arrived safely in the land of Goshen. Upon receiving the message Joseph hurriedly came to meet them and to see his father. An emotional reunion took place between Jacob and his long-lost son. Joseph told them that he would go and report to Pharaoh that they had come and settled in Goshen. He instructed them to tell Pharaoh that they were shepherds. Bible historians surmise that the Egyptians didn’t eat meat, or at least not mutton. Thus, these Hebrews would be segregated from and not intermingle with people of Egypt.
Joseph took 5 of his brothers to go meet Pharaoh. As expected, Pharaoh asked them what their occupation was and they answered “shepherds”. They described their plight in Canaan that had come as the result of the famine. Pharaoh confirmed his previous decision permitting them to settle in Goshen. He even allowed them to manage some of his own livestock.
Joseph also took his father to meet Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked Jacob how old he was, and Jacob said that he was 130. Jacob went on to say that he’d lived a challenging, difficult life. At the end of their meeting, Jacob blessed Pharaoh. In the months that followed, the Hebrews settled in the region of Goshen, which would later become associated with the city of Rameses that was built there (Exodus 1:11). Joseph provided for their needs as the famine persisted.
III. THE FAMINE RAGES ON (Gen. 47:13-26)
During the final 5 years of the famine, the people of Egypt became increasingly desperate. They quickly spent all of their money to buy grain. When it was completely gone, they began selling their livestock and herds to purchase food. Once they ran out of animals, they began selling their homes and property. When this was exhausted, they sold themselves into slavery in exchange for bread. Within a few short years, Pharaoh and his government gained ownership of virtually everything in Egypt.
All of the land, with the exception of that which was owned by the priests, now belonged to Pharaoh. Having sold everything, many people left their rural homes behind and moved to the cities where the storehouses of grain were readily available. Those who chose to stay in the countryside and grow crops were now actually servants of Pharaoh living and working on his land. They were required to give one-fifth of their produce to Pharaoh.
The political and societal structure of Egypt completely changed as a result of the famine. Individual ownership and control of property all but ceased, as almost everything was acquired by Pharaoh. Governmental power and influence increased dramatically. The people willingly ceded their independence to Pharaoh in exchange for protection and provision. This dramatic shift set the stage for political corruption and the Egyptian captivity that was to come.
IV. JOSEPH MAKES A PROMISE (Gen. 47:27-31)
While much of Egypt suffered and became poor, Jacob and his family prospered in Goshen. They acquired land of their own, were fruitful in it, and became quite numerous. Jacob would reside in the nation of Egypt for 17 more years before his death. He asked his son Joseph not to bury his body in Egypt. Joseph swore that, when the time came, he would carry his father’s body back to Canaan and bury him with his ancestors in the Cave of Machpelah.
God blessed the Hebrews and they enjoyed great success. Their productivity was a stark contrast to the struggles being felt by most Egyptians. Over time, this disparity of fortune would contribute to feelings of resentment and animosity toward the Hebrew people - yet another factor that led to the Egyptian captivity.
God orchestrated all of these events so that the Hebrew people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, would endure as a distinct ethic group. He brought them to Egypt and settled them in their own remote region, in part because He didn’t want them assimilating with the Canaanites. They were regarded as peculiar outsiders by the Egyptian citizens and largely left alone. Thus, they married from among themselves and maintained a unique status as God’s chosen nation.
Furthermore, God was setting the table for the next phase of Jewish history - the Egyptian captivity. Increased governmental power would enable future Pharaohs to enslave the Hebrew people for almost 400 years. During these centuries, they would multiply into a large and populous nation. Eventually, under Moses and Joshua, they would return to Canaan just as God had promised to Jacob at Beersheba.
The Hebrews lived in Egypt, but remained separate from its many influences. They preserved their faith and practices, and did not allow their identity to become diluted by the Egyptian way of life. In similar fashion, we as Christians are called to live “in the world but not of the world”. I fear that many believers have compromised their faith and acquiesced to allures of this fallen world. To a large degree, we have lost our identity as strangers and pilgrims on the earth.