Joseph in Egypt
His story continues
3 Jacob joins his son - a migration
"God hath made me lord of all Egypt" (45.9). That was the message Joseph charged his brothers to take back to his father. It must have been with a thrill of pride that Joseph uttered those words. It was eminently proper pride, for he acknowledged the hand of God in his exaltation to power. God had made him a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his house, a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. The allusion is in the sense of a protector to Pharaoh, inasmuch as Joseph had saved the nation.
In all this the character of Joseph remained unspoiled; he was still the same genuine, artless young man who had won the hearts of his jailors in the prison and later on impressed Pharaoh with his open sincerity and candour. Now that his brothers were before him and in his power, there is no hint of malice or of revenge, not even reproach or recrimination for their dastardly deed of the past. Even that dark happening he attributed to the over-ruling power of God, bringing good out of evil. "Be not grieved or angry with yourselves that ye sold me thither, for God did send me before you to preserve life" (45.15). Joseph was large-hearted enough and clear-thinking enough to realise and admit that the consequences of his brethren's jealousy and hate had, under God, resulted in the salvation of a people from starvation and the preservation of his father's family. To what extent Joseph knew of the Divine intention to develop from Jacob's family a great nation whilst in Egypt, we do not know. It was one that has profoundly affected human history ever since, but there is not much doubt that he well knew of God's promise to Abraham respecting the going down of his seed into Egypt and their coming out again, "in the fourth generation". (Gen. 15.16) That Joseph firmly believed this is evidenced by his own dying injunction, one that concludes the Book of Genesis. He reiterated his faith in God's covenant with Abraham and enjoined his fellows to embalm his body that it might be taken to Canaan for burial when the promised return to that land should take place.
An interesting digression in ch.45 tells how Pharaoh himself intervened to assure Joseph of the welcome he was pleased to extend to Jacob and his dependants. "Take your father and your households, and come unto me; and 1 will give you the good land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land" (45.18). That the ruling monarch of Egypt should take such notice of one Canaanite family is noteworthy in itself. Obviously the fact that the family involved was that of his own Chief Minister had something to do with it, but there could also be an element of policy in his attitude. If this Pharaoh was, as seems likely, one of the Semitic Hyksos rulers, he would clearly be more than amenable to the idea of a family of fellow-countrymen coming to settle in his domains and to that extent assist in the consolidation of Semitic rule over the native Egyptians. The land of Goshen, to which the immigrants were directed, was in the vicinity of Tanis the Hyksos capital. Perhaps Pharaoh prudently saw in this an opportunity of surrounding himself with a few more friends and supporters of his own race.
For the third time the band of brothers made their way back to Canaan, but this time without any overhanging cloud. Benjamin was with them; there was no reluctance to appear before their father on his account. True, there was an explanation to be made regarding Joseph. Although the Genesis record says nothing about it, there is every probability that in the ensuing explanations every bit of the sorry story came out and for the first time Jacob was made aware of what really happened fifteen years earlier in Dothan. At first the old man could not take it all in and at an hundred and thirty years of age that is not surprising. The chronicler says "Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not". The story that his long-lost son, whom he last saw as a raw youth of seventeen, was governor over all the land of Egypt, seemed so utterly incredible that he probably thought his sons were romancing. But outside his tent stood the Egyptian wagons that Pharaoh had sent for his transport. There was no romancing about them; they were real and solid enough. So Jacob was convinced. "It is enough" he said "Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die".
It is noteworthy that before setting out on this momentous journey the old man stopped first at Beer‑sheba, the place made sacred by Abraham when he instituted a place where God might be worshipped. There he sought by sacrifice and supplication to know whether what he was doing had the approval of God. Jacob had come a long way since first he had fled the land of Canaan for fear of Esau his brother, but he had remained faithful to his vow made those many years ago. He had vowed "If God will be with me and will keep me in this way I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God" (Gen.28.20).
God had kept his word and Jacob had kept his. Now at the end of a long and arduous life he refused to leave the promised land of Canaan, promised by covenant to his seed for ever, until he knew that what he did was in line with God's will for him. This was so even though famine stared him in the face and all the food and luxuries of Egypt were his for the taking,. So he came to Beer‑sheba and put his case before the Lord. "Fear not to go down into Egypt" came the answer (46.3) "for I will there make of thee a great nation. I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again". Here is reiterated the word of the Lord to Abraham his grandfather nearly two centuries earlier, "thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, . . and afterwards shall they come out with great substance . . . and in the fourth generation they shall come hither again".' (Gen.15. 13). One of the great happenings of history was that descent of a Hebrew tribe into Egypt, and its emergence four centuries later as a nation, a nation which has suffered perhaps more than any other nation in all ages since, a nation which has clung desperately to its promised inheritance and refused to give up hope even when forcibly parted from that land for nearly two thousand years. The rapidity with which the members of the present generation of Jacob's descendants have assimilated themselves to the homeland they have at length recovered, is an evidence of the mystic link which binds that particular people to that particular land. It is a link that because it was forged in the first place by God himself and certified by his covenant, can never be broken though all the nations of the earth be ranged against the people of the promise.
Reassured, Jacob took the journey into Egypt; he and his sons, his sons' wives, his daughters and without doubt their husbands, his grandchildren, and all that he had. That would most certainly include his cattlemen and shepherds, and their families too, and his household servants, in all a larger company than the seventy souls enumerated in Genesis 46, as accompanying him. That account is intended only to preserve the genealogy, to record the names of his sons and his sons' sons for the sake of posterity and to keep alive the constant watch for the Messiah who should come through the line of one of the sons. Jacob had more to say about this when giving his dying blessing to his twelve sons, directed as he then was by the prophetic vision which for the last time illumined his mind and showed him the outline of things to come. He was not at that stage yet; now he was in Egypt and in process of adjusting himself to this new turn of affairs in what must surely have been one of the most varied and colourful lives on record.
Joseph went in his chariot to meet his father, and directed the whole company into the territory they were to occupy, the fertile land of Goshen, between the eastern arm of the Nile delta and the present town of Ismailia. Here, under the immediate surveillance of the friendly Pharaoh in his palace not far away, inhabiting a district adjacent to the frontier with Canaan and therefore with native Egyptians in contact with them only on their southern and western borders, the children of Israel lived and increased and became a nation. Whilst Jacob lived, they constituted nothing more than a Hebrew tribe, a family clan of which the patriarch himself was the titular head but probably long past taking any part in the active direction of affairs. Joseph, in his official position, could hardly be expected to have very much to do with his brothers. Jacob's eleven sons administered the affairs of the community,. His grandsons, something like forty or more, did most of the work, assisted of course by a probably quite numerous contingent of field servants and household servants, with their own womenfolk, who had come down into Egypt with them. This was the true commencement of the nation of Israel even although the people were probably hardly conscious of nationality until Moses led them out into the wilderness and onward into the Promised Land.
One more evidence of the favour with which the ruling Pharaoh regarded these Semitic kinsmen of his valued Chief Minister is offered in ch.47.6. Joseph had presented five of his brothers before Pharaoh. In consequence of that audience Pharaoh reiterated his wish that they should dwell in the coveted land of Goshen, and moreover that any of them whom Joseph considered suitable should be put in positions of responsibility on Pharaoh's own stock farms. Following his sons, Jacob himself came before Pharaoh and invoked the Divine blessing upon him. Thereafter the family of Israel dropped out of official notice so far as the Genesis record is concerned. Most of ch.47 is concerned with the manner in which Joseph administered his public responsibilities during the remainder of the years of famine, five years in all. It was not long before the Egyptians, impoverished because of the continual failure of their crops ‑ for the whole national economy of Egypt in those days was based on agriculture ‑ had spent all their money with Joseph for the purchase of corn. The famine continued, and Joseph took what was left of their cattle; finally they yielded up their land, all they had left, in exchange for the means of life. By the end of the famine all the population were the virtual tenants of Pharaoh. They were given seed for sowing each year and repaid Pharaoh on the scale of twenty per cent of their harvests. Joseph has sometimes been criticised and accused of virtual slave-owning, but the true position is that he set up an organised administration which gave every peasant in the land the help necessary to earn an adequate living and contribute his quota to the establishment of a well governed community. So far as can be discerned, Joseph was the original inventor of the Welfare State, and the inhabitants of Egypt knew greater security and a higher standard of living under his administration than for many years either before or since.
Here the story of Joseph, the Chief Minister of Pharaoh, the First Citizen of the land of Egypt, comes to an end. Nothing more is said of Joseph's official duties or his position after the end of the famine, although he lived another sixty-six years. During that time he served under at least three Pharaohs ‑ the Egyptian records of the period are confused and he might well have seen the reigns of five successive Hyksos Pharaohs before he died. Apparently he remained an honoured and trusted highly placed Minister of State at least until Jacob's death seventeen years after his coming into Egypt, for the Egyptians themselves conferred great honours upon the funeral cortege of the deceased Jacob. But the Bible gives no details whatever of affairs in Egypt once it has achieved its purpose of relating the circumstances in which the Israel nation obtained its first lodgement in the land. After that, and until the end of the Book of Genesis, the narrative is concerned only with the relation of Joseph to his own father and his own brethren, not with his official position in the court of Pharaoh.
And now the long story is drawing near its close. The chronicler has but to tell of the death, first of Jacob and then, half a century later, his son Joseph.
To be concluded