March 21, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: The Israelite ancestors migrate to Egypt

John F. Fink(Eleventh in a series of columns)

When Jacob learned, at the end of chapter 42 of Genesis, that the man who gave his sons food demanded that Benjamin be brought to Egypt before he would release Simeon from prison, he refused. But eventually, food ran low again, and he felt compelled to allow it.

This time, the brothers were met graciously, even invited to have dinner with Joseph, although he still concealed his identity. He asked about his aged father, and was so filled with emotion when he saw Benjamin that he had to hurry from the room.

But Joseph wasn’t quite finished punishing his brothers. After loading them up with as much food as they could take back with them, he ordered his steward to put their moneybags with the grain and also to hide a silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag. After they had gone, he sent the steward after them.

When he caught them, he said that, if he found the goblet in one of their bags, that one would die. Of course, he found it in Benjamin’s. All the brothers returned to the city.

Then Judah appealed to Joseph, still not knowing it was Joseph. After a lengthy speech in which he told the story of what had happened, he asked to become the man’s slave and to allow Benjamin to return to his father.

Joseph could restrain himself no longer. He revealed himself to his dumbstruck brothers. He told them that it was God’s plan for saving lives that he sent him ahead of them to Egypt: “It was not really you, but God who had me come here” (Gen 45:8).

He then told them that there were still to be five more years of famine, so it would be best for Jacob to come to Egypt. The brothers returned home, and recounted to Jacob all that had happened. “It is enough,” said Jacob. “My son Joseph is still alive! I must go and see him before I die” (Gen 45:28).

On the way, Jacob stopped at Beersheba. There, God appeared to him in a vision, telling him not to be afraid to go to Egypt. “Not only will I go down to Egypt with you; I will also bring you back here, after Joseph has closed your eyes” (Gen 46:4).

So Jacob, all of his sons and their wives and children migrated to Egypt— 66 persons in all. Adding Joseph, his wife and two sons, who were already in Egypt, this totaled 70 persons in all. Pharaoh told Joseph to settle them in the pick of the land, so they settled in the land of Goshen.

Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years, until his death at age 147. Before his death, he made Joseph promise to take his body back to Canaan and bury it in the cave where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah were already buried. Joseph did so, taking with him Jacob’s family plus all the senior members of Pharaoh’s court.

Joseph returned to Egypt, and lived there until his death at age 110. †

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