In verse 31, the Septuagint, a Jewish translation of the Hebrew Torah, reads “staff” rather than “bed”, as recorded in the Masoretic Hebrew text of the Torah. There is no need to argue over which is correct. Both are correct. His staff was at the head of his bed, thus he bowed on the staff and at the head of the bed.
Joseph has carefully orchestrated these events so as to keep his brothers and family separate from the royal court of Egypt and the possibility of assimilation. He has previously placed the idea of Goshen before Pharaoh as a foregone conclusion and Pharaoh is happy to comply with Joseph’s request.
Why only five of his brothers? Some of our Sages suggest that Joseph chose the weakest of the brothers so as to deter Pharaoh from employing them in his court. Others say that he chose the strongest in order to satisfy Pharaoh’s faith in the strength of Joseph and his community, and enlist Joseph’s brothers into the Egyptian military. Five is symbolically seen as half of fullness (10), the first instalment of a work yet to find completion. In a very real sense this is prophetic of what awaits Israel in the years ahead.
It is impossible to know which five brothers were taken before Pharaoh. The Sages’ interpretations range from the weakest to the strongest, and offer various reasons to support their conjectures.
Perhaps the most likely explanation is that Joseph chose brothers from each end of the birth order. This fits with the use of the Hebrew “umik’tzeih” which translates literally as “and from the end”. If this is the correct reading of the Hebrew text then the brothers selected might have included Rueben (Behold a son), Simeon (Heard), Benjamin (Son of my right hand) and Zebulun (Prince, dwelling gloriously, gift), the fifth being either Levi (Joined) or Issachar (reward).
The Targum of Yonatan names the five as, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher; but Yarchi identifies them as, Reuben, Simeon and Levi, Issachar and Benjamin. Neither list can be considered as anything more than conjecture.
What is clear is that Joseph intended to establish his brothers before Pharaoh as being of great value as herders of Egypt’s animals but of little value to the court of the monarchy and to its military. It seems that his goal was to keep the sons of Israel set apart, in order to maintain their culture and more importantly their priestly role before the one true God HaShem, whom they worshipped and represented in the land of idolatry known as Egypt.
Gen 47:3 And Pharaoh said to his (Yosef’s) brothers, “What is your occupation? And they replied to Pharaoh, Your servants are shepherds, both we, and also our fathers.
As discussed in my commentary on the previous chapter, the role of shepherding was both a practical and spiritual role for the Patriarchs and the tribes of Israel. The Pharaoh in question may be one of the Hyksos kings and is therefore interested in the occupation and lineage of this people who have come from the same region as his descendants, who had invaded Egypt many years prior. If on the other hand he is not a Hyksos ruler and these events are taking place at a later date in History, his question is simply a means by which he can assess how the brothers of Joseph might enhance his rule and the betterment of Egypt.
Gen 47:4 They also said to Pharaoh, “It is in order to sojourn (dwell temporarily) in the land that we have come; for your servants have no pasture for their flocks; for the famine/hunger is severe in the land of K’naan (Humility): now therefore, we plead with you, let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen (Draw near).
All this was said to Pharaoh according to the instructions Joseph had given his brothers. What stands out in respect to Israel’s greater story, is the fact that the brothers said, “It is in order to sojourn (dwell temporarily) in the land that we have come.” It’s clear that the entire family of Jacob understood the promises of God concerning Israel and the importance of looking forward to that day when they would leave Egypt and return to the Land of K’naan, which would make up part of the greater area of land promised to Israel. To sojourn is to dwell temporarily, working and living until the time comes to move on to the goal of one’s journey. All who follow Messiah Yeshua are sojourners, awaiting His return and the goal of our journey, to live eternally with Him in the promised Olam Haba (World to come).
It’s important to note that Joseph’s brothers offer no real threat to the security of Egypt as herders of animals, an occupation reserved for the lower classes and or slaves. Therefore, part of the reason for Joseph’s instructions is to ensure that neither his brothers nor his father appear arrogant or entitled before Pharaoh.
Gen 47:5 And Pharaoh (Great House) spoke to Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds), saying, “Your father and your brothers have come to you (singular): Gen 47:6 The land of Mitzrayim (Double straits/distress) Egypt is before your face (singular); in the best of the land make your father and brothers to dwell; in the land of Goshen (Draw near) let them dwell: and if you know of any men of strength among them, then make them shari my princes over my cattle.”
Pharaoh speaks directly to Joseph using the singular “you” and insists that it is Joseph before whom the entire land of Egypt lies. Joseph has shown great respect to Pharaoh in coming to him before allowing his family to make camp in Goshen. Pharaoh continues to trust Joseph’s judgement in all matters and thus he effectively gives the decision back into Joseph’s hands, saying, “Let them dwell”, meaning, ‘Let them dwell where you’ve suggested”. Finally Pharaoh, having seen the prosperity brought about through Joseph’s leadership, requests that he select the strongest of his brothers to care for his herds. This of course gives some credence to the suggestion that Joseph had brought the weaker looking of the brothers before Pharaoh.
Gen 47:7 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) brought in Yaakov (Follows after the heel) his father, and stood him before the face of Pharaoh (Great House), and Yaakov y’vareikh blessed Pharaoh.
What we are reading about here is the meeting of two kings. The king of the people of HaShem (A spiritual king), and the king of a world power.
Hebrews 6:16 reminds us that human beings always swear by one greater than themselves. In the case of the servants of HaShem, that greater One by Whom we swear is God Himself. It is also true that because the Hebrew view understands all blessing to come from God, the person who blesses is always blessing by One greater than himself. In fact, with regard to the Patriarchs and their interactions with other rulers, it can be said that the greater blesses the lesser. In the present case Jacob blesses Pharaoh, there is no mention of Pharaoh blessing Jacob. From the Torah’s perspective Jacob, the servant of God is greater than Pharaoh (Great House). This is why nothing is said of Pharaoh blessing Jacob. God has and will continue to bless Jacob, and through Jacob God pronounces blessing on Pharaoh, for as long as he cares for, protects and facilitates the prosperity of Jacob/Israel.
Gen 47:8 And Pharaoh said unto Yaakov, How old are you?
This question of Pharaoh seems unusual. What might have prompted Pharaoh to ask this?
It seems that in the plain sense Pharaoh is struck by the ancient features of Jacob’s face and his frailty. Though, given what he already knows of Joseph’s father, the opposite may be true. He may be impressed at how fit Jacob looks for a person whom Pharaoh suspects of being much older than himself. It’s possible that Egyptians were not accustomed to seeing people who had lived as long as Jacob had, and that Pharaoh was astounded by Jacob’s obvious old age and wondered how it was possible? Thus he wanted to verify Jacob’s age.
Gen 47:9 And Yaakov said unto Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years: few and raiym (full of) evils have the days of the years of my life been, and my days are not as many as the days of the years of the lives of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.
We know that Jacob dies at the age of 147 years (47:28). Therefore, he spends two seventeen year periods with Joseph: Joseph’s first 17 years and Jacob’s last seventeen years. 17 is the sum of the two numbers of completion and wholeness. 7 is connected to the created order and its completion, while also being representative of the sevenfold Spirit of HaShem and the emanations of His character. Thus 7 is symbolic of spiritual completion, wholeness, fulfilment. 10 is also a number of completion and wholeness, and seems to have the role of symbolizing the earthly fulfilments of the heavenly will. In simple terms HaShem has shown Jacob the end from the beginning and is now showing him the beginning from the end. He has lived to see part of the promise fulfilled and will now begin a new journey in Hashem, the journey into Gan Eden (Paradise). Though Jacob’s days have been full of troubles, he has none the less seen the faithfulness of HaShem manifest throughout his days on earth as a sojourner/pilgrim.
The root for the Hebrew “guray” meaning pilgrimage or sojourn, is “geir”. Thus, in modern terms Jacob was saying, ‘I’ve been living as an immigrant, a geir (alien/stranger) for 130 years”.
Both Rashbam and Rambam read raiym (evils) as “travails”. In this context the Hebrew raiym can denote trouble.
“Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” –Job 14:1
Gen 47:10 And Yaakov (YHVH: Mercy adds) y’varekh blessed Pharaoh (Great House) and went out from before Pharaoh.
Once again Jacob (representing HaShem) blesses Pharaoh. Both these blessings are conditional on Pharaoh’s right treatment of Israel. The Torah has already established that God will bless those who bless Abraham’s descendants and curse those who curse them (Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; 30:27-30; 39:5, 23).
Gen 47:11 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) settled his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Mitzrayim Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the land of Rameses (Child of the Sun), as Pharaoh had commanded.
“The land of Rameses” is the later name, that is, the name used during Moses lifetime, for the region of Goshen (Exodus 1:11).
Gen 47:12 And Yosef nourished his father, and his brothers, and all his father's household, with bread, according to the mouths of their children.
“According to the mouths of their children” is an idiom that means each family was given the appropriate amount of supplies for the number of people in the family. The same principle is applied during the collection of manna many years later, following the exodus.
Gen 47:13 And there was no bread (food) in all the land; for the famine/hunger caused great fainting, so that the land (& those in it) of Mitzrayim Egypt and all the land of K’naan (Lowland) fainted before the face of the famine/hunger.
A stark contrast is shown between the care and provisioning of Israel and the general state of the common people of Egypt and K’naan. The “fainting” described is the natural result of low blood sugar and dehydration and is a metaphorically allusion to despair. The famine made things especially difficult during the extremely hot conditions of the summer months.
Gen 47:14 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) gathered up all the silver that was found in the land of Mitzrayim Egypt, and in the land of K’naan, (as the price) for the grain which they (the people of Egypt and K’naan) bought: and Yosef brought the silver into Pharaoh's house.
Although Joseph had authority over all these things he showed his great integrity by making himself fiscally accountable to Pharaoh.
Gen 47:15 And when the silver ran out in the land of Mitzrayim Egypt, and in the land of K’naan, all the Mitzrayim Egyptians came to Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds), and said, “Give us bread (food): for why should we die in front of you? Now that the silver is gone. Gen 47:16 And Yosef said, “Give your cattle; and I will give you food in exchange for your cattle, if the silver is gone.” Gen 47:17 And they brought their cattle to Yosef: and Yosef gave them bread (food) in exchange for horses, and for the flocks, and for the cattle of the herds, and for the asses: and he fed them with bread for all their cattle for that year.
We note that it is “bread/food” that is given rather than grain. These events must be taking place in the latter part of the fifth year or the beginning of the sixth year of the famine/hunger, since we read of a second or following year, when seed rather than bread was given to them for the purpose of sowing the land. This means the drought was coming to an end, making the second of these two years the seventh and final year of the famine.
Gen 47:18 When that year was ended, they came to him again the second year, and said to him, “We can’t hide it from my lord, our silver is spent; my lord also has our herds of cattle; there nothing left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands: Gen 47:19 As a result, should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for bread (food), and we and our land will be servants to Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, and so that the land will not be desolate.
In the ancient world it was common for people devoid of any other means of payment to offer their liberty as payment and become indentured servants to those from whom they purchased goods. The irony of the enslavement of the common people of Egypt is not lost on the Hebrew writer of this text. Moses is recording these words in retrospect at Sinai and must surely see the rhythms of God at work as he collates the oral and revealed history and laws of Israel.
Gen 47:20 And Yosef bought all the land of Mitzrayim Egypt for Pharaoh; for every Mitzrayim Egyptian sold his field, because the famine/hunger prevailed over them: so the land became Pharaoh's.
It seems unlikely that those in Pharaoh’s court and those of higher social standing were required to sell their freedom. Along with the priests, the elite were probably exempt due to the stipends they received from Pharaoh.
Gen 47:21 And as for the people, he removed them to cities from one end of the borders of Mitzrayim Egypt even to the other end.
This was probably done in order to sever generational ties to those parts of the land that had been sold. Thus those who had sold ancestral lands in one location were moved to another so that they would not become reattached to the idea of owning what they might later consider to be their rightful possession. That is, the land they had sold.
Gen 47:22 Only the adamat ground of ha-coheniym the priests was not purchased; for the priests had a portion assigned them by Pharaoh, and ate their portion of food which Pharaoh gave them: this is why they didn’t sell their ad’maat ground.
The priests of Egypt received their stipend in much the same way as the priests of Israel would one day receive their living from the people for the service offered before HaShem.
It’s interesting to note that if it is the case that only the priests of Egypt were in this privileged position, then one might consider the people of Israel, who were also allowed to maintain their land in Goshen (and buy more land) and received a regular allotment of food from Joseph, to be a nation of priests. In fact, this has been the case since the first priest Abraham chose to lead his children in the paths of Hashem, and is still the case today.
“’So as for you, you will be to Me a kingdom of kohaniym and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you are to speak to Bnei-Yisrael (Children of Israel).” –Exodus 19:6
Gen 47:23 Then Yosef said to the people, “Behold, I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh: so, here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land.
This happened in the last year of the famine, or else sowing seed would have been pointless.
Gen 47:24 And it shall come to pass in the increase, that you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, for seed of the field, and for your food, and for those of your households, and for food for your little ones. Gen 47:25 And they said, “You have saved our lives: let us find grace in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh's servants.” Gen 47:26 And Yosef made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should receive a fifth; with the exception of the land of the priests, which didn’t become Pharaoh's.
Joseph acts generously in Pharaoh’s name. The land owner (Pharaoh) was entitled to take the majority of the land’s produce. Another ruler of the period might have taken four fifths of the produce and left those who worked the land with only a fifth from which to divide up food and seed for replanting. What Joseph agrees to is the opposite of this. Pharaoh will take the lesser portion and the greater portion will remain in the hands of the farmers. This is why the people respond by saying, “You have saved us”. They gladly offer themselves in service of a ruler who will deal with them righteously.
There is a wonderful foreshadowing of the Messiah and His kingdom in this interaction. The Olam Haba (World to come), will be a kingdom owned entirely by the most generous King of all time, God Himself. Those who sell all they have to become His servants in this life are delighted to receive the generous portion of eternal life that God affords those who work in His harvest field. He gives enough for our needs and overflows our cup that we might bless others. When His Son Yeshua (Joseph being the type for Messiah) offers us the opportunity to be set free from certain death in the famine and hunger of this sin affected world, we gladly give up that which we cannot hold on to for that which we will never lose.
The fifth given to Pharaoh, even up until the day of the writing down of the Torah, is symbolic of Egypt’s failure to be complete in its spiritual journey. The tithe of Abraham and subsequently of the priesthood, is a lesser portion practically speaking (A fifth is greater than a tenth), but a greater portion spiritually speaking.
Gen 47:27 And Yisrael (Overcomes in God) dwelt in the land of Mitzrayim Egypt, in the country of Goshen (Draw near); and they acquired property in it, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly.
The priests of Egypt maintained their property, but the priestly nation of Israel extended their land holdings. Israel the man, and “they”, Israel the people, dwelt in Egypt and prospered.
Vayechiy (And He lived)
This parashat is distinct in that unlike others, there is no gap in the Torah text to indicate its division. It may seem ironic that the portion that describes Jacob’s death should be headed “And he lived”. However, this is exactly the right way to describe the deaths of the children of God. As Yeshua has said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: He is not the God of the dead but of the living!” (Matthew 22:32). For Jacob, now Israel, death is the doorway to the Messiah and Gan Eden (Paradise), and subsequently “He lives, eternally”.
Gen 47:28 And Yaakov (Follows after the heel) lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years: so the total number of Yaakov’s years was one hundred forty seven.
Yaakov the follower, the pilgrim, completes his earthly journey with the knowledge that as Yisrael the overcomer he will enter into Gan Eden (Paradise, Abraham’s bosom).
Gen 47:29 And the time drew nigh that Yisrael (Overcome in God) must die: and he called his son Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) and said to him, “If now I have found grace in your sight, I plead with you, put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; I plead with you, do not inter me in Egypt:
Israel, who has overcome in God now calls upon HaShem Who adds mercy, asking for confirmation of the hope he has held in his heart for so many years. He asks to be interred above ground (not buried).
The act of placing the hand under the thigh next to the male sexual organ is symbolic of an oath which binds one to the generations past and future (Gen 24:2). In effect, Joseph is making an oath that will also be incumbent on his progeny. This is why all of Jacob’s sons go up to inter him at Machpelah in Hebron (Gen. 50:8, 12-13).
Gen 47:30 But I will lie with my fathers, and you shall carry me out of Mitzrayim Egypt (Double straits, distress), and inter me in their place of interment.” And he (Joseph) said, “I will do as you have said”. Gen 47:31 And he (Jacob) said, “Swear to me.” And he (Joseph) swore to him. And Yisrael prostrated himself toward the head of the bed (bowed himself on the head of his staff).
“In trusting Yaakov (follower), as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and he bowed in worship while leaning on the top of his staff.” –Hebrews 11:21
In verse 31, the Septuagint, a Jewish translation of the Hebrew Torah, reads “staff” rather than “bed”, as recorded in the Masoretic Hebrew text of the Torah.
There is no need to argue over which is correct. Both are correct. His staff was at the head of his bed, thus he bowed on the staff and at the head of the bed.
With this established we are free to expound the meaning of the head of the bed and the bedrock of the staff, both being significant symbols.
The second of Joseph’s dreams has not yet been fulfilled to completion. His brothers have bowed down to him but his father has not. As Jacob seeks Joseph’s oath, Joseph stands close to the top of his bed. After making the oath upon Jacob’s thigh, Jacob bows to Joseph at the head of his bed and upon his staff. Thus he completes that part of Joseph’s second dream that can be completed and leaves the final fulfilment of it (When both Jacob and Rachel will bow to the Messiah ben Joseph [Yeshua]) until that great day when the Messiah returns and the dead rise.
The head of the bed is the chief place of rest and denotes a final transition of peace. Jacob is bowing to HaShem in the knowledge of his son’s oath, assured that he will be interred in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron (Gen. 23:9-19; 25:9; 49:30; 50:13), along with his forefathers, there to await the resurrection and the life everlasting in the land promised to him by HaShem.
The staff is a sign of Jacob’s authority over all his sons, the tribes of Israel. This is why the name Israel is used in verse 29 prior to the oath and prior to his bowing to Joseph at the head of his bed and upon the staff. This staff of authority is being passed on, not to Judah, but to Joseph, from whom the sons of promise (Ephraim and Menashe) have come forth. This staff is given to Joseph in a figurative representation of the future Messiah, Who will rule over all the tribes of Jacob/Israel, and indeed, over all nations.
“ So Yaakov’s sons did for him just as he commanded them. His sons carried him to the land of K’naan and interred him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, the field that Avraham bought as a property for burial from Ephron the Chitti, next to Mamre.” –Genesis 50:12-13
© Yaakov Brown 2017