The birth of a nation in the land of Egypt
It is crucially important that we lay a foundation and build a bridge that will lead us to a greater understanding of Shemot. Therefore, our foundation must begin with two parents, a cruel and paranoid king, and a decree. At some point between the 64 years that spanned the death of Joseph to the birth of Moses, the affliction of Israel began under the unrelenting hand of a persecutor, the King of Egypt.
Exodus 1:8-12 (KJV)
8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.
9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:
10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.
11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.
The first question to ask is one which would produce a theoretical answer. Was it the memory of Joseph that had kept the Israelites safe from harm since his death? In other words, was the hatred towards the Israelites just always underneath the surface, waiting on someone to ignite the racial disdain? This question has quite a bit of merit and the answer may not be as theoretical as imagined.
When we look at the arrival of Jacob and his household on the threshold of Egypt to speak with Pharaoh, Joseph coaches his brethren on what to say when they are asked their occupation. This is another powerful incident that is often overlooked in scriptures. Joseph is slowly manipulating certain events to ensure separation between the Egyptians and Israelites.
Genesis 46:31-34 (KJV)
31 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;
32 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.
33 And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What is your occupation?
34 That ye shall say, Thy servants’ trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.
Joseph first tells them that he alone will tell Pharaoh of the arrival of his family. He will be sure to tell Pharaoh that his brethren are shepherds, for their trade has been to feed cattle. Because of this they have brought their own flocks, herds, and all that they have. In this there are a few subtle things said that provide clarification and purpose for Joseph’s instruction.
First, by letting the king of Egypt know that his brethren have done nothing their entire life but raise flocks and herds, it sends a clear message to Pharaoh that these people are not a threat to your kingdom. Remember, many thousands could have possibly come into Egypt with the household of Jacob. It clarified to Pharaoh that Joseph’s brethren did not have aspirations beyond the simple life of animal husbandry.
Secondly, Joseph knew that the lifestyle his brethren lived was an abomination to the Egyptians and thus the Pharaoh would ensure that this group of Israelites was not allowed to mix with the general population of Egypt. Joseph is showing great ingenuity and foresight. In fact, Joseph already had in mind the perfect place for his brethren and had somehow surmised that Pharaoh would send them to that very place.
One has to wonder how fruitful Goshen was during this time since it was two years into a brutal famine. More than likely, it was one of the only large plots of land that could sustain a large multitude of livestock. Pharaoh himself reveals that he has livestock and would like for some of Joseph’s brethren to take care of them.
It would seem that based upon the key wording of the request given by Joseph and then the follow-up response of his brethren later that the Pharaoh would have latched onto the word “sojourn” and the idea that these were a wandering people. Even when Jacob stood before Pharaoh the sojourning nature of the Israelites was emphasized.
Genesis 47:9 (KJV)
9 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.
We can thus summarize what was probably going through the mind of Pharaoh.
- These are simple shepherds that have no ambition beyond livestock and farming
- They will probably just pass through once the famine is over
- I can keep them away from the general population of Egypt and avoid conflict by putting them in Goshen
- I can utilize them in caring for my livestock which will benefit me
- These people are obviously not a threat to our large and civilized kingdom
Genesis 47:11-12 (KJV)
11 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.
12 And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father’s household, with bread, according to their families.
Here we find another subtle piece of information that is extremely important to the future narrative. The Israelites are placed on the best land, allowed to keep all of their cattle, and are nourished with bread. It is the rest of Egypt that is practically come under a form of slavery to the Pharaoh because of the manipulation of Joseph during the famine.
As the famine raged across the land of Egypt, people by the droves begin to come into Egypt’s center to purchase the bread that is in the barns. Soon though their money runs out and Joseph then allows them to sell their cattle for bread. When their cattle runs our all they have left to trade for bread is their land and bodies. They would become a people owned by the kingdom of Egypt! (Genesis 47:18-19.)
Imagine how the Egyptian people felt at this point about the group of Israelites living in the best land of all of Egypt! They were living for free on borrowed land with cattle, bread, and water. The Israelites were already disliked because of their occupation but how much more did racial tension increase as the years went by? Would this not be the dry kindling just waiting on a spark to ignite it?
With all of Egypt under a form of slavery akin to serfdom, Israel as a nation is doing wonderful. As the year’s progress and near the 17th year since Jacob’s arrival, age has taken its toll and Jacob is on the threshold of death. When Joseph learns of this (obviously there hasn’t been a lot of communication between the household of Jacob and Joseph in Egypt) he rushes his two children to Jacob.
As Joseph stands there with his two children hiding between his legs, Jacob recalled his own experience with God which had begun at the place we know as Bethel. It was there that the Abrahamic covenant had been passed on to Jacob. This is important for the sole purpose of intention. Jacob is telling Joseph that Egypt is not the land promised by God. Just because things are going good in Egypt does not mean this is our home!
Jacob would, at the finality of his speech to all his children, charge his children to bury his body in Canaan, in the parcel of ground where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah were buried. The purpose of this is a reminder to his children that Egypt is not a place to get comfortable. Thankfully this would show up later in the charge of Joseph at the brink of his own death.
So, after the reminder to Joseph of the promise of God and Canaan, Jacob declares: “Now the two children that you had before I arrived in Egypt will be mine.” (See also Heb. 11:21.) The wording of this scripture is extremely important. Essentially what Jacob is doing is claiming that Ephraim and Manasseh are on the same level as Reuben and Simeon. This therefore means that they are not considered as grandchildren but as children!
This is shown more poignantly when Jacob tells Joseph that the children after or through Ephraim and Manasseh, those would be his! (Gen. 48:6.) In other words, Jacob just told Joseph that his two children are no longer his children but Jacob’s. This would be the same as my father telling me that my child was HIS child. In the most technical of terms, Joseph’s two children were elevated to the same position as his brothers!
8 And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these?
There is a similarity between this account the Isaac, Esau and Jacob’s account. Both Isaac and Jacob give the blessing when their vision has failed and both accounts deal with a younger receiving the blessing of the older. Another similarity is the parallel to the question Isaac had asked of Jacob when fearing deceit, “who art thou?” (Gen. 27:18)
Joseph responds to this question by saying, “my sons.” At this point we watch Joseph get on his knees, bow his head toward the ground, and push his sons forward, ensuring that the oldest will meet the right hand of his father. This however does not happen as Joseph desires. Instead Jacob will cross his hands and place his left upon the older and the right upon the younger.
Genesis 48:15-16 (KJV)
15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,
16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
Remember, his hands are on Ephraim and Manasseh, yet it tells us that Jacob blessed Joseph by blessing the lads. There is an equivalent found here between Joseph and his children. The blessing Joseph receives is the blessing the lads receive. Joseph will not show up in the names of the tribes, but his two children will.
Prophecies concerning the future of Jacob’s children
Jacob then calls all of his children together to inform them of what will happen to them in the last days. It is here that we find the birthright blessing being taken from the firstborn, Reuben because he had slept with his step-mother, Bilhah. “Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it” (Gen.49:4).
The birthright was taken from Reuben and split between Joseph and Judah: Joseph received the double portion of the inheritance, and Judah would receive the right of leadership in the family. Interestingly, the statement “you will no longer excel”applied not only to the birthright, but also to the prophetic history of the tribe of Reuben. No judge, king, or prophet in the Bible came from the tribe of Reuben. The tribe of Reuben, rather than enter the promise land with the other tribes would choose to stay on the east side of the Jordan River (Numbers 32:5.)
Jacob had nothing good to say about Simeon and Levi but rebukes them for their anger, fury, and cruelty. There are many commentators that believe Simeon was the ringleader in the persecution of Joseph, since Joseph chose Simeon to remain in prison while his brothers return to get Benjamin (Gen. 42:24.) The punishment for their cruelty is that they would be “scattered in Jacob” and “dispersed in Israel.” At first this does not make sense until we realize in the future that it was actually done!
The tribe of Simeon would be allotted land within the territory of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 19:1), so they were “scattered in Jacob.” The Tribe of Levi was not given any territory but rather they became the priests for the Israelites and were given towns within the territories of all of the tribes (Joshua 21.) Therefore, they were dispersed in Israel. The man Levi’s curse would actually become a blessing to the tribe in later years. It was an honor to be a Levite.
As we had already mentioned, Judah received the leadership portion of the birthright. His name meant “praise” and the prophecy said his tribe would “receive praise.” In all reality, Jacob’s prophecy looked far ahead into the kingship of the tribe of Judah and ultimately the King (Lion) of the Tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5.)
To Zebulun Jacob prophesied they would live by the sea and become a haven for ships whose border would extend towards Sidon. This would come to pass when they were allotted land which bordered the Sea of Galilee. It is interesting that they would be a port of haven and it would be this very region that Joseph and Mary would take refuge in with Jesus (Matt. 2:21-22.)
Issachar receives an interesting blessing. It seems that Issachar would get a pleasant land and in order to remain in the land would be willing to submit to forced labor, rather than fight for it. There are some that see this possibly happening in Judges Chapter 1 when the Canaanites were in battle with Zebulun, Manasseh and Asher over the land. There is no mention of Issachar, even though the territories of the other three surrounded their territory. Quite possibly, they are not mentioned because they submitted themselves to forced labor rather than battle as the surrounding tribes did.
Jacob then told Dan (which means Judge) that his tribe would “provide justice for his people.” One of the most famous of the Judges (Samson) came from the Tribe of Dan (Judges 13.) Jacob then tells Dan he will be a serpent by the roadside, and a viper along the path, that strikes the horse from behind and causes the rider to fall backwards. Perhaps this is an allusion to the fact that Dan would be the first tribe to bring idolatry into Israel (Judges 18:30) which caused “backsliding” to occur.
What is interesting about the tribe of Dan, which was cause the rider to fall back, would become the tribe that was “last” in the marching order (Numbers 2:31.) They would be the “last” to receive a portion of the Promised Land (Joshua 19:40-49) and they would be omitted in the genealogy of 1 Chronicles. Probably most amazing of all, Dan would be excluded from the list of the twelve tribes that make up the 144,000 of Revelation (Rev. 7:4-8.)
Gad is given one of the most enigmatic of them all. The basic gist of the prophecy would be that Gad would be attacked and seemingly overcome but at the last (or at the rear) Gad would attack in return. We do know that Gad was one of the tribes that chose to stay on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead (Numbers 32.) This caused them to be isolated from the vast majority of the other tribes and thus exposed them to more raids beyond their border.
Then we are introduced to the culinary group of the whole bunch. His prophecy deals with his abundance of bread and the fact that he would provide delicacies which would be fit for a king. The area that they would dwell would become known for its wheat, olive oil, wine, milk, and butter.
Naphtali was prophesied to be swift like a deer (doe set free) which probably is an allusion to a swift warrior. Naphtali was one of the tribes that Barak, Deborah’s general, took with him to fight against Sisera’s army in the book of Judges.
The prophecy Jacob spoke of Benjamin was that he would be a fierce and war-like tribe. They would become a nation which would later see numerous times of terrible and bloody encounters, even among their own people. Morning and evening they would be continually on the prowl. This would indeed become true in the years to come.
End of Part 3