Genesis 46 – Last Legs

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Today’s PassageGenesis 46

Today’s chapter has a genealogy in the middle of it. After listing the children of each of Jacob’s sons, grouped by mother, it gives the final count of family members as 70. At this time, I don’t think it would be a particularly good use of my time to check the narrator’s math. His point is that these are the people who ended up living in Egypt. After all, this is the chapter that reunites the family and gathers them all in Egypt; this is the home stretch of the story of the patriarchs.

On important occasions, God has been known to say things to Jacob, and he has a thing to say here. He reassures him: “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there” (Genesis 46:3). He literally calls himself “the God,” the singular God, then adds that he’s the elohim (again, the plural noun for “gods” with a singular verb) of Jacob’s father. He is the power over all powers, he is the same power that saw the life of Isaac from start to finish, and that alone is reason not to fear. He will keep his promises to the line of Abraham, and he has a plan.

But he doesn’t tell Jacob what that plan entails after he dies. With the benefit of having the entire Torah to read for ourselves, though, we can look ahead past Jacob’s lifespan. And when I read, “They took their livestock and their property, which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and came to Egypt, Jacob and all his descendants with him” (Genesis 46:6), I can’t help thinking ahead to the Jewish captivity in Egypt. A future pharaoh will attempt to claim all that wealth for his own nation, and for awhile at least he’ll succeed. Of course, after the plagues, the Egyptians of the future will give the Israelites all kinds of wealth just to get them to leave (Exodus 12:35-36), but that’s just to say that generations, like individuals, have ups and downs. The Lord takes away, but on the other hand, the Lord gives (Job 1:21).

But perhaps there are hints that it won’t go so well between the Israelites and the Egyptians. We see a phrase here that we’ve come across once before. When Joseph had a meal prepared for his brothers, before he’d revealed his identity to them, the brothers ate apart from the native Egyptians, because “the Egyptians could not eat bread with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians“ (Genesis 43:32). We see the phrase “abomination to the Egyptians” again here, in 46:34, where we discover that those who keep flocks are considered an abomination in Egypt. There appears to be some latent prejudice which the current pharaoh is willing to see past, as Joseph has saved the kingdom from famine. But might these be hints that the general populace is not especially well-disposed toward the Hebrews?

But I run ahead. Perhaps the crux of the chapter is the point at which Joseph meets Jacob. When he finally sees his father, the two of them fall into a tearful embrace. And Jacob won’t be dead for a long while, but now that his son has been restored to the family, Jacob declares that he can die a happy man.

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