Egypt: home of the Jews
Jacob meets Pharaoh1 Joseph went to see Pharaoh. He told the king, “My family, with my father and my brothers, have come from the land of Canaan. They brought their livestock with them and they are now in Goshen.” 2 Joseph brought five of his brothers with him and introduced them to Pharaoh. 3 Pharaoh asked the men, “What kind of work do you do?” They told Pharaoh, “We are your servants and we are shepherds, just like our ancestors were.” 4 The men kept talking: “We are your servants. We came here to live in the land for a while because there’s no grazing pasture left for our livestock in Canaan. The drought hit especially hard there. Please let us settle in Goshen.” 5 Pharaoh answered them by talking to Joseph: “Your father and your brothers have come to be with you. 6 The entire land of Egypt is at your disposal. Let your father and brothers settle in the best land we have for grazing. Let them live in Goshen. If any of them are especially good at taking care of livestock, put them in charge of my livestock." 7 Joseph brought his father Jacob in and introduced him to Pharaoh. Jacob spoke a blessing to Pharaoh. 8 Pharaoh asked Jacob, “How old are you?” 9 Jacob told Pharaoh, “I have lived on this earth for 130 hard years. But that’s just a short time compared to how long my ancestors lived.” 10 Before Jacob left, he once again spoke words of blessing to Pharaoh.
Joseph’s family gets primo grasslands11 Just as Pharaoh commanded, Joseph gave his family the best grazing land in Egypt. He assigned them an area of Goshen near the city of Rameses. 12 Joseph gave his family enough grain to keep them all well fed, including the children. 13 At that time, there was no food left in Egypt or Canaan, aside from the grain Joseph had stockpiled. People were starving. 14 When Joseph sold the grain to the people, he stored the money at the treasury in Pharaoh’s palace.
Joseph’s deal with hungry people makes king richer than ever15 People in Egypt as well as Canaan eventually ran out of money to buy grain. The Egyptians went to Joseph and begged for food. They said, “Our money is gone. Give us food. Are you going to let us starve to death right here in front of you?” 16 Joseph said, “Since you don’t have any more money, you can pay me with your livestock.” 17 That’s what they did. They brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for horses, sheep, goats, and donkeys. Joseph did this for the entire year. 18 A year later they went back to Joseph and said, “We have spent all of our money. All of our livestock now belongs to you, too. We have nothing left to give you except our land and our service as slaves. 19 Do you want us to starve to death right here in front of you? In exchange for the grain we need to stay alive, please take our land and our service in slavery to Pharaoh. Please give us the grain so we can stay alive and so Egypt does not become a nation of ghost towns.” 20 Joseph agreed. He took all of the land of Egypt and gave it to Pharaoh. The drought was so severe that everyone gave up their land in exchange for grain. All of Egypt belonged to Pharaoh. 21 All of the people belonged to Pharaoh, too. Joseph made slaves of them all, from cities at one end of Egypt to the other. 22 The only exception was the land owned by the priests. Joseph didn’t buy that land. The government supported religion; priests lived off an allowance from Pharaoh. They didn’t need to sell their land.
Joseph turns Egyptians into slave sharecroppers23 Joseph told the people, “Now that I, on behalf of Pharaoh, have bought you and your land, let me tell you what is going to happen. I am giving you seed. I want you to plant it. 24 When you harvest your crop, I will let you keep most of it: four-fifths. The other one fifth, which is 20 percent, belongs to Pharaoh. You can use your share as food for yourself and your children, and as seed for planting crops next year." 25 The people told Joseph, “You have saved our lives. We will gladly serve Pharaoh as his slaves.” 26 Joseph declared it law throughout all of Egypt—a law that stands to this very day: Egyptians give Pharaoh one-fifth of everything they grow. Only the land that priests owned were exempt, and only because the priests didn’t sell their land. 27 The Hebrew people settled in the part of Egypt known as Goshen. While they lived there they became prosperous. They experienced a population explosion, too. 28 Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years before he finally died at the age of 147. 29 When Israel knew he was about to die, he asked Joseph to make him a promise. “If you love me, I want you to take an oath. Put your hand under my thigh. Now promise me that you will not bury me in Egypt. 30 When I die, I want you to carry me out of Egypt and bury me with my ancestors.” Joseph told his father, “I promise to do that for you.” 31 Jacob said, “Swear to me that you will do this.” Joseph swore to him that he would honor his father’s request. Israel bowed his head.
Israel and Palestinian territories.
“Hebrew” is the ancient name for the Jewish people. The word “Jew” comes from “Judah,” the name of Abraham’s great-grandson, whose extended family grew to become the tribe of Judah.
Jacob’s new name, given by God (Genesis 32:28).
See note with 24:2.
Until now the king of Egypt seems incredibly gracious toward Joseph and his family. But there are possibly slight hints of a change when Joseph presents five of his brothers to the Pharaoh. For one, his brothers seem compelled to request, “Please let us settle in Goshen” (47:4). When the king agrees, he addresses Joseph instead of talking directly to the brothers. What do you think is going on in this conversation?
Joseph worked his plan to get Egypt through the drought. And he did it in a way that made Pharaoh come out the only winner. During the drought, people used up their money to buy grain. When they ran out of money they sold their livestock. When they ran out of livestock they sold their land and they sold themselves into slavery. What do you think of the plan that Joseph cooked up?
The Egyptians ended up turning over everything to the king. They didn’t even own their land anymore. It belonged to the king. They had to give him 20% of their harvest every year for the right to continue living on the land. Some would say, “In one sense, their slavery sounds a little like jobs and mortgages today.” Agree or disagree?
This is a touchy question, literally and figuratively. What do you think of the ritual Joseph used when he promised he would bury his father in the family tomb at Hebron: “Put your hand under my thigh” (47:29)? Bible experts call that phrase a euphemism because “under my thigh” refers to genitals.
Nomads offered their services to Pharaoh during a drought that took place in 1847 BC, around the time many say Joseph lived. The nomads told soldiers at a fort, “The desert is dying of hunger.” The nomads asked if they could “serve the Great House,” the dynasty of Amenemhet III (reigned 1860-1814 BC). Do you think ancient accounts like this help verify the Bible stories? Or do you think it’s a stretch to link them to the Bible?
LIFE APPLICATION. Pharaoh asked Joseph to put the expertise of his family of herders to work “in charge of my livestock” (47:6). Ancient Egyptian records confirm that pharaohs sometimes hired foreigners to do the dirty work of herding, a job that Egyptians didn’t seem eager to do. Does that sound familiar? Also, does that sound fair?