Genesis 46:28-47:27 Jacob and the Fat Land

Judah leader… drawing near… wept… plan… loathsome heritage?… father… unscripted… great age… dismissive… blessing benefactor… works as intended… trading commodities… demographic rearrangement… piece of the action…

Genesis 46:28-47:27

And he sent Judah before him unto Joseph, to direct his face unto Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen.

Interesting how Judah is emerging as the de facto leader, even in Jacob’s eyes. They follow Joseph’s directions to Goshen (Goshen, drawing near), where he seems to really want them to settle.

And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.

I can barely imagine Joseph’s joy after twenty or so years of separation. And I can’t even imagine Jacob’s:

And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou [art] yet alive.

The emotional bit out of the way, Joseph (as usual) has a plan. He goes through what he will say:

And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father’s house, I will go up, and shew Pharaoh, and say unto him, My brethren, and my father’s house, which [were] in the land of Canaan, are come unto me; And the men [are] shepherds, for their trade hath been to feed cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.

then what Pharaoh will say:

And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What [is] your occupation?

and finally what his brothers should say:

That ye shall say, Thy servants’ trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, [and] also our fathers:

The purpose being:

that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd [is] an abomination unto the Egyptians.

Interesting. Why go out of their way to make themselves loathsome (tow`ebah) by highlighting their heritage as shepherds (ra`ah)? Perhaps Joseph is afraid Pharaoh might insist on his family living in the city, which would be unpleasant for them (and maybe awkward for him!).

Perhaps to ensure things go smoothly, Joseph is careful about whom he brings before Pharaoh:

And he took some of his brethren, [even] five men, and presented them unto Pharaoh.

Part of me wonders whether he had them rehearse their lines before he picked (laqach) them, and whether he picked the ones who were most presentable — or most rustic!

Regardless of the level of machination, the plan certainly works:

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.

Pharaoh’s not stupid: if there’s a second Joseph-level leader among the bunch, he wants that one also working for him! Perhaps even more significantly, he trusts Joseph to choose based on ability (chayil), not nepotism.

And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.

Unlike his brothers, Pharaoh’s interaction with his father appears unscripted. Pharaoh appears astonished at Jacob’s great age:

And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old [art] thou?

In which case he must be even more impressed by his dismissive reply:

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.

I can only imagine the depth of feeling Jacob must’ve put into blessing (barak) his son’s benefactor:

And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.

Anyway, everything works out as Joseph intended:

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.

so Joseph is able to provide for them:

And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father’s household, with bread, according to [their] families.

Which is a good thing, as the famine (ra`ab) is still ravaging the rest of the land (‘erets):

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.

Joseph, who had wisely bought surplus grain in a falling market, now makes a killing trading those same commodities in a rising market. First he gets all the money (keceph):

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.

Then the cattle (miqneh):

And Joseph said, Give your cattle; and I will give you for your cattle, if money fail.

And finally all the people (g@viyah) and their fields (sadeh):

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.

It sounds like he did a little demographic rearrangement as well, perhaps to simplify food distribution:

And as for the people, he removed them to cities from [one] end of the borders of Egypt even to the [other] end thereof.

I must admit, when I first read this I felt the whole situation a bit harsh. Why not just give the grain away? Now, though, I see wisdom in Joseph’s approach: people don’t value what is given for free. If it was just a handout, the people might well have grown angry, even violent, over whether they were getting their fair share. Instead, they are all by all accounts grateful about being able to buy anything, despite the price.

Plus, Joseph appears to give them back their independence:

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.

Though retaining a piece of the action :

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.

I’m sure archaeologists have a hard time crediting Joseph with inventing property tax, not to mention the tax-exemption for non-profits. Still, in terms of the story it does fit with and illuminate his character. Joseph had seen firsthand the benefits of a strong central authority in coping with disasters like a famine, and could probably imagine lots of good the government could do with that money. Though I suspect enormous tombs for royalty were not part of that vision…

Whether or not his actions were ideal, he did save Egypt, as well as his family:

And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions therein, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.

Of course prosperity (parah) carries its own risks, as we’ll see soon enough.


God, I desire to not just a man of God and a family man — though those are the most important — but also a man of the world. I want to understand the loving, just, and humble use of wealth and power. I want to be an agent of redemption, not of enslavement. Grant me the wisdom of Joseph, and the heart of Jesus Christ, that my family, my co-workers, and my customers may all bless me — as I bless them. Amen.

About the Title:

I rarely watched Jake and the Fat Man, but for some reason I always found the title euphonious. The show itself was primarily noteworthy as the swan song of William Conrad and the birthplace of Dick Van Dyke‘s Diagnosis: Murder.