The Story of Joseph Pt.2 (Genesis ch. 42-50)

Part 2 of the Joseph story in Genesis 42-50 overview with commentary.

In Chapter 42, the famine in Canaan struck the house of Israel. So he sent his 10 older sons down to Egypt to buy grain. Benjamin (who is around 21-22) years old, stayed behind because Israel was afraid something could happen to him. Israel’s son came to Egypt and met with the vizier Zaphenath-paneah (who was actually Joseph). They bowed before him, fulfilling Joseph’s dream 22 years ago, from when he was 17 years old. Joseph recognized them but they didn’t recognize him. He accuses them of being spies, so they tried to convince him of who they are and where they come from. They mentioned their father Israel and youngest brother Benjamin. Joseph throws them in prison for 3 days, then decides to send them home to get the younger brother so he can verify their story, and he kept Simeon in prison as collateral. Joseph overheard them saying that this is all God’s revenge for selling their brother Joseph and they felt great shame, meanwhile Joseph wept because he felt bad about lying to them and wanted to tell them the truth. They didn’t know Joseph could understand them because he was using an interpreter. He sent them home with the grain they came to purchase and told his servant to put their money back in their bags so that they will be afraid of being accused of stealing. On the way home they realize the money was still in their bags along with the grain they were supposed to pay for and they were terrified. They told their father Israel all of this, and he was deeply upset and didn’t want to send Benjamin out of fear. Reuben offered to guarantee his safety and put up his own sons as collateral, suggesting Israel has the right to kill his own sons if Benjamin dies but Israel still refuses.

Comment: Since Joseph was using an interpreter unnecessarily, this suggests he is bilingual (speaking Hebrew and Egyptian) at this point which gives credence to the that he wrote the patriarch narratives before Moses in the Egyptian language. Then Moses who was raised in Pharaoh’s house would have grown up learning Egyptian, as well as the Hebrew language since his own mother was his nanny. Also later while he spent 40 years in Canaan he may have learned the Proto-Sinaitic script from the Midianites which is the alphabet that Semitic languages like Hebrew Aramaic, Arabic, etc. This script is said to have started from a simplification of the Egyptian writing system, so it’s also possible that Joseph or Moses invented it, but it is not necessary. Anyone else connected to Egypt and the Sinai peninsula could have created it. This means that Moses was literate in two languages and knew both Egyptian and Proto-Sinaitic. This would allow him to translate the creation and patriarch histories from Joseph’s Egyptian scripts to the Torah’s version of Genesis in a Semitic language during the post-Exodus wilderness journey.

In Chapter 43 Israel and his sons eat all of the food they got from Egypt, and Israel sends them back to buy more. However, they remind him that the Vizier doesn’t want to see their face unless they bring Benjamin. This time Judah guarantees Benjamin’s safety and tells Israel that he can hate him forever if anything happens to him. Israel finally gives in and agrees to send Benjamin. In addition, he sends them extra money in addition to the money that was refunded to them, to show that they had no intention of stealing. When they return to Egypt they tried to explain to Joseph that they had no intention of stealing, but Joseph said he already had been paid and God must have blessed them and they didn’t owe him anything. Joseph invited them to eat lunch with him and brought Simeon out of prison. Joseph met Benjamin but was triggered because he is his younger brother from the same mother, so Joseph went away to weep. Then he got himself together and came back in time for the food to be served. The brothers sat in order of oldest to youngest and Benjamin got five times the portion of food that everyone else got. There were Egyptians at the lunch as well, but they refused to sit with the “Hebrews” (foreigners) because they looked down on foreigners. Meanwhile, Joseph ate by himself at his own table in front of everyone.

Comment: The Egyptian’s attitudes towards foreigners seem like they could be specifically directed at Canaanites because they presume that since Joseph’s brothers are from Canaan that they are Canaanites. This attitude does not change as later in Exodus chapter 1, the Pharaoh who doesn’t know Joseph decides to enslave the Hebrews and mistreat them. Furthermore out of fear of them joining Egypt’s enemies in a war because of their large numbers, he (or possibly his successor) decides to commit the male infanticide of every baby under two years old around the time Moses is born. The hate for Canaanites may stem from the curse on Canaan back in Genesis 9:24-27, from Noah. Noah said Canaan’s brothers which include Mizraim (Egypt and Libya), Cush (Ethiopia and Babylon through Nimrod/Gilgamesh), and Put (West Africa), will rule over him. In addition, Canaan’s cousins from Shem and Japheth will also rule over him. Of course, this is all conjecture, they could have just been nationalistic and didn’t like any foreigners in Egypt.

In Chapter 44 after the lunch is over, Joseph sends them on their way and gives them the grain they need. However, Joseph has his servant put one of his silver cups into Benjamin’s pack, and then as they leave the servant goes out to accuse them of stealing the master’s divining cup. This is all a part of Joseph’s plan. They all swear they haven’t stolen a thing but the cup is found in Benjamin’s pack. They are brought back to Egypt and because Benjamin “stole” Joseph’s “divining” cup, he wants to make Benjamin his slave as a repercussion, and he says the other brothers can go home. However, Judah speaks up and says he promised to bring the boy back to their father because the boy is all his father has left of his favorite wife. His older brother is believed to be dead, so his father would be grieved to death if something happened to Benjamin. Judah further explained how difficult it was to get their father to part with Benjamin out of fear of losing him.

In Chapter 45 while Joseph’s brother is trying to convince him to let Benjamin go, Joseph loses control of his emotions and tells all the Egyptians to leave the room. Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers while weeping aloud. He told them that it was God that planned all of this and placed him in this position in Egypt to preserve the house of Israel during this famine. Joseph explains that the 7-year famine was prophesied to the Pharaoh in a dream and that God gave Joseph the interpretation. He said they still had five years left of the famine and that God orchestrated his coming to Egypt to preserve the house of Israel in this famine. Joseph told his brothers to bring their father so they could all live together in Goshen with him. When Pharaoh heard about this, he told Joseph to bring the whole family and they will get the best land and will be favored. Pharaoh gave them wagons to bring the women and children, and gifts like new clothes, food, etc. Joseph’s brothers returned and told Israel everything, but he didn’t believe it until he saw the wagons and Pharaoh’s gifts and wanted to go immediately to see Joseph.

In Chapter 46, Israel worships God at Beersheba and God says to him that he is with Israel and that his descendants will return to Canaan long after he dies. Israel and his whole family all came down to Egypt on the wagons that Pharaoh gave them. Then there is a genealogy list. There are 70 people of the House of Israel, 33 descendants from Leah, 16 from Zilpah, 14 from Rachel, and 7 from Bilhah. 66 of them, plus Israel himself came to Egypt, and the last three are Joseph and his 2 sons. This list does not include Israel’s daughters-in-law since they are not related to him, and the only daughter mentioned by name is Dinah. Israel’s other daughters and granddaughters are unnamed but counted toward the total sum. Of course, it’s also possible some of Israel’s other daughters were married off. (Dinah’s status as a rape victim could have made her unwanted, so she was possibly unmarried and childless at this time.) Then Judah leads the family on their immigration to Goshen, and Israel reunites with Joseph. Joseph tells them to tell Pharaoh they are shepherds, and he will give them permission to live in Goshen because Egyptians hate foreigners and shepherds.

Comment: How many children did Jacob have? The numbers don’t seem to add up, how did Leah have 33 children but only 23 descendants are listed by name? We know later on that Jacob has more than one daughter because he was comforted by them and the rest of his family in Gen 37:35 after Joseph was sold off. Daughters in the bible typically aren’t mentioned in patriarchal lineages, Dinah was only mentioned because of her rape in Genesis 34. In addition, in Genesis 46 there are 67 people of the House of Israel that go to Egypt, however, the number of grandsons that Jacob has does not add up to the total sums of descendants he has from each of his wives. For example, Jacob has 33 descendants from Leah (Gen 46:15), but only 6 sons, one daughter, 23 grandsons, and two great-grandsons’ names are mentioned, which means that two of them are unnamed daughters, granddaughters, or great-granddaughters. For Rachel, there is Benjamin and his 10 sons, but the total is 14 (Gen 46:22), so there are 3 unnamed daughters, granddaughters, or great-granddaughters. Rachel’s descendants do not include Joseph and his two sons because they are already in Egypt, moreover, the three of them add to the 67 total of the house of Israel in migration making a final total of 70 descendants of Israel/Jacob (Gen 46:26-27). Zilpah has two sons, 11 grandsons, two great-grandsons, and one granddaughter named Serah. Since the total of 16 (Gen 46:18) is equal to all the names mentioned, the granddaughter is likely named because there was only one. Lastly, Bilha has exactly two sons and five grandsons making a total of 7 (Gen 46:25), so no daughters or granddaughters. There were 67 descendants that migrated with Jacob which included his great/grandsons, great/granddaughters, sons, and daughters. This doesn’t include his wives who are still alive or his son’s wives, however, according to Gen 46:26.

In Chapter 47 Joseph’s brothers tell the Pharaoh that they are shepherds, and Pharaoh gives them his permission to live here and even asks Joseph to let them work on the Pharaoh’s livestock if they have the skills. Israel meets and blesses Pharaoh, and Pharaoh tells Joseph that his family can have any part of Egypt they want. So Joseph assigns his family the best land in Goshen and provides all of their needs. Joseph makes Pharaoh very rich over the next five years of the famine. He collects all the money in Egypt so the people have to pay for grain with livestock, then when they ran out of livestock, they gave up their land to Pharaoh. At this point, the people of Egypt were now all slaves to the Pharaoh. Then Joseph provided them seeds to plant and they now owed Pharaoh 20% of all of their yield, and only the priests were exempt. The house of Israel was wealthy through Joseph and multiplied in Goshen. Israel lived another 17 years and died at 147. Israel made Joseph promise to bury them in the cave of the patriarchs (his father and grandfather) in Hebron before dying.

In Chapter 48 Israel first blessed Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. He blessed them as if they were his own sons so they would get their own allotments in Canaan. Israel was half-blind so Joseph had to position his sons near Israel’s hands. Israel crosses his hands to bless Ephraim the younger with a greater blessing (right hand), and Manasseh the firstborn with the lesser blessing (left hand). Joseph was upset but, Israel did it on purpose. Israel also promised to give Joseph’s descendants an extra portion of the land he took from the Amorites in Shechem.

In Chapter 49 Israel gives a final speech to all of his sons. Reuben loses his status as firstborn because he slept with Bilhah Rachel’s maid (one of Israel’s concubines) after Rachel died. He scolded Simeon and Levi for their violent tendencies (like their revenge on Shechem for Dinah’s rape in Gen ch. 34). He exalts Judah as a “young lion” and says “his brothers will praise him, and that his descendants will be rulers until the coming of the Shiloh, the one who will unite the people” (messianic prophecy?). Zebulun will “settle by the shore in Sidon and will have territory for shipping”. Issachar is “like a stubborn donkey, and when he sees how good the land is he will be broken and submit to hard labor”. Dan will be “a harsh judge like a viper that bites the heels of a horse to attack its rider”. Gad will be “attacked by troops but will return the attack and send them fleeing”. Asher will be “rich with food and provide for kings”. Naphtali is like a “doe set free who bears beautiful fawns”. Joseph is given the greatest blessing, to “prosper against all enemies and be greater than his brothers”. He is “like a fruitful tree, when attacked he will stand his ground with the help of God”. Benjamin is “like a wolf, devouring the prey and dividing the spoils from morning to evening”. He reminds them to bury him with Abraham and dies at 147 when Joseph was 56.

In Chapter 50 Israel is embalmed by the Egyptians and Joseph asked permission from Pharaoh to keep his promise to Israel and bury him in Hebron and Pharaoh approved. Israel’s body was taken to Hebron to be buried with his wife (Leah), father, and grandfather. Joseph’s brothers feared him, since his father died, they thought he would get revenge. He reassured them that all is forgiven and they lived in peace together in Goshen. 54 years later Joseph dies at the age of 110. Joseph asks his brothers before he died to make sure their descendants would take him out of Egypt when they leave, and they promised to enforce that oath. The Egyptians embalmed him, and his body was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Comment: Jacob died at 147(Gen 47:28), 17 years after the family reunion. Joseph would have been 56, Benjamin would have been 39 at the most, and the other brothers would have been between 57 and 62. Then Joseph dies at 110 (Gen 50:26). Benjamin would have been no older than 93 when Joseph died and the other brothers would have ranged from 111 to 116. Joseph asks his brothers before he died to make sure their descendants would take him out of Egypt when they leave (Gen 50:24-26). This indicates that some if not all of his brothers outlived Joseph. The only other brother we have a death date for is Levi who died at 137 (Ex 6:16). Levi would have been around 114 when Joseph died, so he outlived Joseph by 23 years. 

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