Israel in Egypt

            Jacob stops in Beersheba, which is on the southern edge of Canaan. Before leaving Canaan, he brings worship before God in the land promised to Abraham. God appears to Jacob and promises to be with his family. One day Jacob's family would return to Canaan as a great nation.

            The country of Egypt was a good place to "grow" a nation. While the Egyptians were idolaters, not believing in the one true God, they were superior to the other nations of the world at that time. Their pride in their own superiority kept them from intermarrying with foreigners, even those who lived within their own boarders. The Egyptian's religious beliefs also gave them a strong dislike for people who kept sheep (Genesis 43:32; 46:34).

            As Israel moves into Egypt, an accounting is made of those who enter the land. Only the direct descendants of Jacob are counted, both the men and women. Wives, slaves, and Jacob himself are not count. There were 6 sons, 23 grandsons, 2 great-grandsons, and 2 daughters who descended from Leah. One of the daughters was Dinah. Leah had 2 other grandsons, Er and Onan, who had died. Zilpah, Leah's maid, had 2 sons, 11 grandsons, 1 granddaughter, and 2 great-grandsons. Rachel had 2 sons and 12 grandsons. This includes Joseph and his sons although they were in Egypt before Israel entered the land. Rachel's maid, Bilhah, had 2 sons and 5 grandsons. This made a total of 70 direct descendants of Jacob who entered the land of Egypt.

            Even though Benjamin was only 23 at this time, he had ten sons. We must conclude that he either married at a very young age, that he had multiple wives, or his wife gave birth to multiple children several times.

            Notice the unusual proportion of male descendants in Jacob's family. It is possible that Jacob had other daughters and granddaughters, but they would have married and not entered Egypt so they were not counted. Depending on your view of when chapter 38 took place, it is possible that some of those numbered were not born at the time when Israel entered Egypt.

            The number 70 is one of those special numbers which repeat through the Scriptures. There were 70 nations created when God scattered the people at Babel (Genesis 10; Deuteronomy 32:8). 70 elders were selected to serve as judges for the nation of Israel (Numbers 11:16). Israel spent 70 years in captivity (II Chronicles 36:21).

            A difficulty that is sometimes brought up is that Stephen mentions 75 people in Acts 7:14. The difference is simply due to a different way of counting who entered Egypt. While the account in Genesis enumerates who entered Egypt; Stephen only gives a total, so we don't know who he included or excluded. Notice that Stephen only says 75 people entered Egypt. They were not necessarily descendants of Jacob.

            Israel moves to the area of Goshen, which is located in northern Egypt. Notice that in Genesis 46:23 Judah is treated as the head of the extended family.

            As Israel entered Goshen, Joseph is finally able to see his father once more. Jacob is also presented to Pharaoh. Joseph carefully instructs his family in what to say to Pharaoh. In particular, Joseph wanted them to emphasize that they were shepherds. This fact would ensure that the Israelites would be given Goshen, which is separate from the rest the Egyptian lands. They also state to Pharaoh that their stay will only be temporary. Pharaoh is pleased that Joseph's family has joined him in Egypt. He gives them permission to settle Goshen and offers to hire some of Jacob's children to care for his own cattle, since Egyptians would despise this task.

            Pharaoh is curious about Jacob's age and he must have been surprised when Jacob states he is 130 years old. To Pharaoh, Jacob is ancient, but Jacob doesn't see his age as significant since he has not lived nearly as long as his father and grandfather. Notice that Jacob refers to himself as a sojourner. He viewed this life as a temporary journey to a greater place (Hebrews 11:13-16).

            The famine still had five years to go according to the dream God had given Pharaoh. In the third year, the people ran out of money to pay for the grain. They gave all their cattle to Joseph in exchange for grain. This served them doubly since they could not afford to feed the cattle anyway.

            In the fourth year, they offered Pharaoh their land, which wasn't producing anyway, and themselves. The only exception was the land owned by the Egyptians priests were retained by the priests. Since the Egyptian religion was officially sanctioned by the government, the priests were fed from the government stores. For the rest of the Egyptians, the repayment for purchasing grain by selling themselves to the government was a lifetime tax of 20% of all produce. Life in Egypt was greatly altered because of the famine.

            By the time the famine had ended, Israel had increased greatly in size. When Israel eventually leaves Egypt, they would grow to a population of about 2 million people. This total growth represents a 5% growth in population per year that they stayed in Egypt.

            During Jacob's last days of life, Jacob makes Joseph swear to bury him with his fathers. Notice that Jacob uses the method of hands placed under the thigh for the vow that Abraham used earlier. Also take note that by this time Jacob is bedridden (Genesis 47:31).

            Jacob also gives a very special blessing to Joseph. Jacob offers to adopt Joseph sons as his own children so that they would directly inherit from him. Therefore, the double portion of Jacob's inheritance went through Joseph to his two sons. Provisions are made that if Joseph has any additional sons, they would share in Manasseh and Ephraim's inheritance. Even though Reuben was the first born, he did not receive the birthright (the double portion) because of his incest with Bilhah (I Chronicles 5:1).

            While Jacob was blessing Joseph's children, Joseph noticed Jacob's hands were reversed. Manasseh, as the eldest child, was supposed to be under the right hand. Joseph tried to correct what appeared to be a mistake on Jacob's part, but Jacob rebukes Joseph, saying he knew what he was doing. Manasseh would become a great people (in number), but Ephraim would become the greater tribe. Ephraim eventually becomes the chief tribe of the northern kingdom of Israel (I Kings 12:19, 25). At this time, Joseph is specifically given Jacob's land near Shechem (John 4:5).

            We also have a record of Jacob's final blessings to his children. These blessings were also prophecies concerning each tribe's future.

            Reuben, as Jacob's firstborn, is referred to as the beginning of Jacob's strength. This is a common view (Deuteronomy 21:17; Psalm 78:51). However, Reuben did not live up to his father's expectations. He was unstable and adulterous. Later, the tribe of Reuben never produced a leader within the nation of Israel. They chose to settle before Israel entered the land of promise (Numbers 32). The tribe was involved in erecting unauthorized places of worship (Joshua 22:10-34). When a call came from Deborah and Barak to repeal invaders, the tribe of Reuben failed to respond (Judges 5:15-16). Truly, the tribe was as unstable as their founder.

            Simeon and Levi were notorious for their anger and cruelty. They had endangered the safety of the family when they destroyed the town of Shechem. Jacob prophesied that the tribes who would descend from them would be scattered among the other tribes. Even though the tribe of Simeon received an inheritance, it fell within the boundaries of the inheritance of Judah (Joshua 19:1). Eventually, the tribe of Simeon fades from existence. It was assimilated into the tribe of Judah. The tribe of Levi only received cities scattered among the other tribes of Israel (Joshua 21:1-3). Even though they were scattered, the tribe of Levi did eventually redeem itself in the eyes of God by standing against the idolatry of the other tribes (Exodus 32:26-28).

            Judah's name meant praise and he became the object of praise among his brethren. He would be the leader of Jacob's family and his descendants would lead the nation of Israel. Starting with David, all the kings of Israel came from the tribe of Judah. Their rule would continue until Shiloh comes. The word "Shiloh" means "unto him the peoples shall gather"  a reference to the Messiah. In Revelation 5:5, Jesus is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah. It was from Judah that peace would come (Micah 5:2-5). Jacob also prophesies that the tribe of Judah would become prosperous. Eventually the descendants of Israel are known as Jews, which is a derivation of the name of Judah.

            Jacob states the tribe of Zebulun, whose name means "dwell," would settle near the sea. In Joshua 19:11, they were given territory up towards the Phoencian city of Zidon.

            Of Issachar, Jacob says he is strong, but lazy and docile. Issachar's name means "day laborer," if you recall. Good land was assigned to the tribe of Issachar. Their territory included the valley of Jezreel, which was the bread basket of Israel. However, their rich land made them a prime target for the invaders of Israel. They spent much of their time serving other nations.

            Dan, the "judge," was a snake in the midst of Israel. It was the tribe of Dan which introduced idol worship into Israel (Judges 18:30-31). When the nation of Israel divided into two countries, one of the two centers of idol worship in the northern country was in Dan's territory (I Kings 12:28-30). Notice that Dan is not listed among the tribes in Revelation 7:4-8.

            The name Gad meant "troop." Jacob predicted that Gad would be invaded, but it would be able to repel the attack (I Chronicles 5:18; 12:8).

            Asher, whose name meant "lucky," also gained rich lands in the promise land (Joshua 19:24-31).

            Naphtali would be known for swiftness and fine compositions. Barak who lead the army for Deborah was from this tribe (Judges 4:6, 10, 15; 5:18).

            Joseph's descendants would be strong and numerous. God's favor would be upon them; He would nourish and protect those who descended from Joseph. They would receive the blessings of heaven, the seas (the deep, which is a male noun in Hebrew), and the womb. In other words, they would be blessed with numerous children.

            Benjamin would be successful in warfare, but would also be known as cruel and voracious (Judges 20). The first king of Israel, Saul, was of the tribe of Benjamin.

            Jacob dies in the land of Egypt shortly after giving these prophecies. Joseph has his body prepared for burial and his body was carried back to Canaan for burial. A traditional 70-day period of mourning was observed at Jacob's death. This showed Egypt's respect for Jacob, but even more it shows their respect for Joseph. The entire family, except for those watching the herds, along with an escort of Egyptians for protection traveled to Canaan for the burial.

            After Jacob died, Joseph's brothers once again feared that Joseph would take revenge upon them for things they had done in the past. They feared that Joseph only held off out of respect for Jacob. They approached Joseph with a story that Jacob had asked, just before he died, that Joseph would forgive his brothers. The brothers once again offer to become Joseph's servants. However, Joseph assured his brothers that he fully forgave them. God had turned their wrath into good (Psalms 76:10; Romans 12:19).

            Jacob died when Joseph was 56. Joseph lived to the ripe old age of 110. He lived to see some of his great-grandchildren. Prior to his death, he, too, asks to be buried in Canaan when God sends them back. This oath was fulfilled (see Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32). Since Joseph was not immediately buried in Canaan, we can suppose that the slavery of Israel had already began.