Family Reunion

This lesson describes the final episode in Joseph's story where Jacob, Joseph and their families are reunited and settled in Egypt.
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In the previous chapter we witnessed the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers after twenty years of separation, and a long and involved scheme to test their character and repentance.

The Bible also describes Jacob (Israel) as he departs from the land of his birth and promise in order to go to Egypt to be reunited with his son and avoid the destruction that the famine was bringing on the land. God appeared to him and renewed His promise to bless him and bring his family back one day. And so, the entire family goes to Egypt, and the portion of Abraham's history in the land of Canaan is closed for now.

This sets the scene for the final episode in this story – the meeting of Jacob and his long lost son, and the settling of the family in Egypt.

Jacob and Joseph Meet – 46:28-34

28Now he sent Judah before him to Joseph, to point out the way before him to Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen. 29Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time. 30Then Israel said to Joseph, "Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive."
- Genesis 46:28-30

Judah is now the recognized leader of the family and is sent ahead to advise Joseph of his family's arrival. Jacob had been told to go to the land of Goshen (not where Joseph's headquarters were) but he was not sure where in this place he was to settle. When they meet it is a melting away of twenty-two years of sorrow and pain in the joy of seeing each other alive again.

31Joseph said to his brothers and to his father's household, "I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him, 'My brothers and my father's household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me; 32and the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock; and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.' 33When Pharaoh calls you and says, 'What is your occupation?' 34you shall say, 'Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,' that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians."

Now that the reunion has been achieved, the practical matter of where to live needs to be settled. The Pharaoh knew they were coming but the issue of where they would live was not yet confirmed.

Joseph instructs them to stress their occupation as shepherds for two reasons: this will emphasize their need to live in an area that can support their lifestyle; and Goshen was near and similar to Canaan.

The Egyptians hated shepherds and considered themselves superior. By noting this fact there would be an extra effort to isolate them so they would not inter-marry or be assimilated with the Egyptian population. This, of course, would work favorably into Joseph's (God's) plan to keep the family of Jacob separate from the Egyptian race as well.

Jacob and the Pharaoh – Chapter 47

1Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said, "My father and my brothers and their flocks and their herds and all that they have, have come out of the land of Canaan; and behold, they are in the land of Goshen." 2He took five men from among his brothers and presented them to Pharaoh. 3Then Pharaoh said to his brothers, "What is your occupation?" So they said to Pharaoh, "Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers." 4They said to Pharaoh, "We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants' flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, therefore, please let your servants live in the land of Goshen." 5Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Your father and your brothers have come to you. 6The land of Egypt is at your disposal; settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land, let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know any capable men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock."
- Genesis 47:1-6

At first, Joseph brings five of his brothers to make a formal introduction to the Pharaoh. Although he was a high official, he could not give land away to foreigners, the king had to approve any foreigners living in the land. The brothers explain their background and need for grazing land which will suit the Pharaoh well because Goshen was an isolated place and allowed him to grant Joseph's request without compromising Egyptian social standards.

Note that the brothers say that they have only to come to "sojourn" – this means to stay for a little while. The Pharaoh knows the famine is going to last for only a few more years and so the offer of hospitality will only be for a short while from his (and their) perspective. This meeting is agreeable so the king permits Joseph's request that they stay in the land of Goshen.

7Then Joseph brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8Pharaoh said to Jacob, "How many years have you lived?" 9So Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning." 10And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from his presence.

The greatest ruler of the day meets the greatest servant of God of the day and it is interesting to note several things about what little of their conversation was preserved by Joseph:

  • Pharaoh was wealthy and powerful but he recognized Jacob's spiritual superiority in allowing himself to be blessed twice by him.
  • Pharaoh asked his age – such a common and polite question in a meeting of two strangers.
11So Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had ordered. 12Joseph provided his father and his brothers and all his father's household with food, according to their little ones.

They settled in the northeast section away from the bulk of the population which was in the south and west. They were near the Nile and so could eat fish. They also received their ration of food according to their number of children.

The Famine Continues – vs. 13-26

In verses 13-21, the text continues to describe the effects of the famine:

  • The people ran out of money
  • They traded their livestock for food
  • They eventually trade their land

This set up a feudal system where everything belonged to the king and the people essentially worked for him. Some say that it was out of character for Joseph to enslave the people, but it was the people who came to him with the idea. The alternative would have been mass starvation or anarchy.

Also, Joseph did not profit from this, only the king. It was to the king's advantage to keep the people alive in any way he could.

22Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had an allotment from Pharaoh, and they lived off the allotment which Pharaoh gave them. Therefore, they did not sell their land. 23Then Joseph said to the people, "Behold, I have today bought you and your land for Pharaoh; now, here is seed for you, and you may sow the land. 24At the harvest you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four-fifths shall be your own for seed of the field and for your food and for those of your households and as food for your little ones." 25So they said, "You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's slaves." 26Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt valid to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh's.

Here we read about some details concerning this arrangement between the king and the people:

  • The priests were exempt by order of Pharaoh, not Joseph, from this. Egyptians had a state religion supported by the king.
  • The people deeded over their lands with the condition that they were allowed to keep 80% of the produce.
  • This amounted to a 20% tax which is not unreasonable considering the king provided the seed and food supplies during the famine.

The people were satisfied with the arrangement and it continued this way even into Moses' day 400 years later.

The Last Days of Jacob

Now that the condition of the country has been described, the scene shifts back to Jacob and the events of his last days.

27Now Israel lived in the land of Egypt, in Goshen, and they acquired property in it and were fruitful and became very numerous. 28Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the length of Jacob's life was one hundred and forty-seven years.

29When the time for Israel to die drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, "Please, if I have found favor in your sight, place now your hand under my thigh and deal with me in kindness and faithfulness. Please do not bury me in Egypt, 30but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place." And he said, "I will do as you have said." 31He said, "Swear to me." So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed.

Nearing his death and wanting to settle his affairs, Jacob makes Joseph promise that they will bury him in Canaan, not in Egypt. The hand under the thigh is the same gesture as Abraham's servant made in promising to find a wife for Isaac.

Jacob had been promised that the land of Canaan would be his and against all evidence he continued to believe this and demonstrated it by wanting to be buried with his family there.

Jacob Blesses Joseph's Sons – Chapter 48

Jacob is in his last days and sends for his sons for final instructions to each of them. Joseph is the first he calls (even though the promise will not be carried through his family).

1Now it came about after these things that Joseph was told, "Behold, your father is sick." So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him. 2When it was told to Jacob, "Behold, your son Joseph has come to you," Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed. 3Then Jacob said to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4and He said to me, 'Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.'

Jacob reviews with Joseph and his two sons the essence of his faith and the promise that God made to him. His whole life spent, Jacob recounts to his son what the essence of his life was about. It was about his encounter with God and the results of that encounter.

5Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance. 7Now as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, in the land of Canaan on the journey, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)."

Jacob transfers the "firstborn" privileges from Reuben to Joseph for several reasons:

  1. Reuben was born first chronologically but Jacob had intended to marry Rachel and was tricked into marrying Leah.
    • Had he been allowed to do so then Joseph would have indeed been his first born son.
  2. Reuben had sinned against his father by sleeping with his father's concubine and having a weak character.
    • Joseph displayed spiritual depth and strong leadership ability necessary for a family leader.
  3. God had foretold this event in Joseph's dreams and Jacob was complying with this instruction of God.
    • The first born also had a double portion and so Jacob does this by giving each of Joseph's sons equal ranking among the brothers – just like Judah and Simeon. This would mean that when they returned to the land of Canaan, these two would each receive an equal portion of land (the double portion of the firstborn Joseph).

Jacob says that any other children of his would be assigned to the clans of their brethren (although the Bible says that Joseph didn't have any other children).

8When Israel saw Joseph's sons, he said, "Who are these?" 9Joseph said to his father, "They are my sons, whom God has given me here." So he said, "Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them." 10Now the eyes of Israel were so dim from age that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them close to him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11Israel said to Joseph, "I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well." 12Then Joseph took them from his knees, and bowed with his face to the ground.

Joseph's sons were young men by this time and are made to approach their grandfather for a blessing. Joseph, even though a powerful ruler, gives a tremendous example of love and respect towards his father by bowing down before him in view of his own sons. His dream about his father and mother bowing to him is realized perhaps in the idea that they had to come to him for help.

13Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel's left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel's right, and brought them close to him. 14But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh's head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn. 15He blessed Joseph, and said,
"The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
16The angel who has redeemed me from all evil,
Bless the lads;
And may my name live on in them,
And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;
And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth."

Jacob is almost blind and so Joseph brings his sons closer in order to receive a blessing. Manasseh, since he was older, towards his right hand and Ephraim the younger towards his left. Jacob switches hands to place his right on Ephraim and his left on Manasseh and begins to pronounce his blessing.

  • At first it is a general one on Joseph recalling God's blessings on himself throughout his own life.
  • First time God as "shepherd" or "Redeemer" is mentioned in the Bible.

He prays that they grow and be blessed in the way of their ancestors.

17When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim's head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father's hand to remove it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. 18Joseph said to his father, "Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head." 19But his father refused and said, "I know, my son, I know; he also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations." 20He blessed them that day, saying,
"By you Israel will pronounce blessing, saying,
'May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!'"
Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.

Jacob now pronounces a blessing on the younger son over the older one and Joseph responds. He thinks the old man is confused but Jacob assures him that he knows what he is doing and that indeed the younger one will have pre-eminence in the future.

21Then Israel said to Joseph, "Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers. 22I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow."

An interesting postscript here as Jacob gives to Joseph a special gift in his will. There is no reference to it anywhere else but it seems that Jacob had taken a large piece of land through victory in battle against the Amorites. He tells Joseph that he can have a double portion of this piece of land situated in Canaan. A promise for the future.

In the next section Jacob will pronounce a blessing on each of his other sons.


1. God's ways are not our ways

They came to Egypt thinking they were going to spend a few years, ride out the famine and go home. They remained 4 centuries. Their way seemed logical, convenient, even a way to guarantee God's plan but it was not God's way. Our way is not God's way because we cannot see the "big" picture, how things will fall in the next four centuries. Our way is not His way because our choices are based on self-interest and limited intelligence – His based on perfect love and perfect knowledge. We need to trust God even when it does not make sense because His way is not our way.

2. God can prosper you regardless of the circumstances

Joseph was in prison but God raised him to a high position. Jacob was losing his family and possibly his life and through this God reunited him with his son and allowed him to see his grandsons. God's ability to bless us is not limited by our weaknesses, our sins, difficult circumstances or even the sins of evil men. God blesses because He is good, and because He is able. Do not give up on prayer for a blessing just because the circumstances are against it; faith believes and prays for a "yes" from God, even when all the circumstances seem to be saying "no".

3. God chooses for spiritual reasons

Note how many older sons were passed over by God in favor of younger ones.

  • Isaac over Ishmael
  • Jacob over Esau
  • Joseph over Reuben
  • Ephraim over Manasseh
  • David over all of his brothers (youngest)

God did not choose them for great service because they were young, He did so because they were more spiritually mature than their older brothers. God looks at your heart to judge your value for leadership, responsibility and stewardship, all things that lead to great blessings. In the kingdom, becoming as a child in purity, trust, flexibility, simple joy and willingness to help is necessary for God to appoint you as leader, chief or head of His people.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize the reunion of Jacob and Joseph and answer the following questions:
    • What is the significance of Jacob's statement in verse 30?
    • What is significant about Jacob's family as shepherds in Egypt?
  2. What is significant about the use of the word, "sojourn" in Genesis 47:4?
  3. Summarize the interaction between Jacob and Pharaoh from Genesis 47:7-10 and discuss its significance.
  4. What is significant about how the famine continuing and its impact on the world of the day, and how does this relate to Paul's teachings in Romans 13?
  5. Why would Jacob insist on his body being returned to Canaan?
  6. Summarize Jacob's blessings on his sons from Genesis 48.
  7. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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