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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Genesis 46



Verse 1



(1) Israel . . . came to Beer-sheba.—Though Jacob, in the first tumult of his joy, had determined upon hastening to Egypt, yet many second thoughts must have made him hesitate. He would call up to mind the boding prophecy in Genesis 15:13, that the descendants of Abraham were to be reduced to slavery, and suffer affliction in a foreign land for four hundred years. It might even be a sin, involving the loss of the Abrahamic covenant, to quit the land of Canaan, which Abraham had expressly forbidden Isaac to abandon (Genesis 24:8). Isaac, too, when going into Egypt, had been commanded to remain in Palestine (Genesis 26:2). Jacob therefore determines solemnly to consult God before finally taking so important a step, and no place could be more suitable than Beersheba, as both Abraham and Isaac had built altars there for Jehovah’s worship (Genesis 21:33; Genesis 26:25), and, moreover, it lay upon the route from Hebron to Egypt.

Verse 3

(3) I am God, the God of thy father.—Heb., I am the El, the Elohim of thy father. This is the last revelation given to Jacob, nor is any other supernatural event recorded until the vision of the burning bush (Exodus 3:4). It is brief, clear, and decisive, and every clause is weighty. Jacob is to migrate into Egypt, his race is to grow there into a nation, so that the stay there would be long; God’s presence and blessing will accompany and remain with them, and finally will bring them back to the promised land. For himself, too, there is the promise that Joseph will tend his sick bed and be with him at his death.

Verse 4

(4) Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.—Both among the Jews and Greeks it was the duty of those nearest in blood to close the eyes of a deceased relative. The promise conveyed the assurance that Jacob would die peacefully, surrounded by his friends. For the fulfilment see Genesis 1:1.

Verse 6

(6) Their goods.—These are not the vessels spoken of contemptuously by Pharaoh (Genesis 45:20), but their personal property, of which they would naturally have much which they would not be willing to leave behind. Abraham had brought large wealth with him from Haran (Genesis 12:5), some of which may have even come from Ur-Chasdim, and much had been gathered since. The patriarchs would leave their household stuff behind, but all valuables, and the records of their house, and their tôldôth, they would carefully carry with them.

They . . . came into Egypt.—For a full account of the scene depicted on the tomb of Khnum-hotep at Beni-hassan, and which at one time was identified with the arrival of the sons of Jacob, see Tomkins, Times of Abraham, 110-114.

Verse 7

(7) His daughters.—See Note on Genesis 37:35.

Verse 8


(8) These are the names of the children of Israel which came into Egypt.—This document, consisting of Genesis 46:8-27, is one that would be of the highest importance to the Israelites, when taking possession of Canaan, being as it were their title-deed to the land. Accordingly we find that it is drawn up in a legal manner, representing as sons some who were really grandsons, but who took as heads of families the place usually held by sons. We next find that it represents them as all born in Canaan, not in a natural sense, but as the rightful heirs of the country. Technically every head of a family was born in Canaan, and thus the danger was obviated of an objection to the possession of this rank being accorded to one born in Egypt. As a matter of fact Pharez (Genesis 46:12) was an infant when taken down into Egypt. (See Genesis 38:29, and Excursus on Chronology of Jacob’s life.) It is difficult enough to find time sufficient for his birth in the interval between the return from Padan-Aram, and the descent into Egypt; for the birth of his two sons, Hezron and Hamul, there is no space whatsoever. In Genesis 46:21 Benjamin has ten sons assigned him, but he was at most about thirty years of age when he went into Egypt, and some of these sons are expressly said elsewhere to have been his grandsons. Commentators have indeed endeavoured to show that Benjamin might have been a few years older, but they do this by upsetting their own conclusions previously arrived at; and there is no process which so legitimately produces scepticism as the re-statement by commentators of the facts so marshalled on each occasion as to suit the apparent exigencies of the passage before them, but in a manner irreconcilable with previous difficulties.

The genealogical table of the twelve patriarchs is thrice given in Holy Scripture: here, in Numbers 26, and in 1 Chronicles 1-8. See also Exodus 6:14-16, where only Reuben, Simeon, and Levi are given.

Verse 9

(9) Reuben has four sons: Hanoch, Phallu, Hezron, Carmi. In these the genealogies all agree.

Verse 10

Verse 11

(11) Levi has three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

Verse 12

(12) Judan has five sons, of whom Er and Onan die prematurely. The names of the other three are Shelah. Pharez, and Zarah (spelt correctly Zerah in Numbers 26:20; 1 Chronicles 2:4). So also the right spelling is Pherez, and not Pharez. In 1 Chronicles 4:1 Judah has five sons: Pharez, Hezron, Carini, Hur, and Shobal, and Shelah is also mentioned there in Genesis 46:21, but see Note there.

Verse 13

(13) Issachar has four sons:

Numbers 26:23-24. 1 Chronicles 7:1.













Verse 14

Verse 15

(15) All the souls . . . were thirty and three.—That is, six sons, twenty-three grandsons, two great grandsons, Dinah, and Jacob himself. The other daughters and granddaughters are omitted.

Verse 16

Verse 17

Verse 18

(18) Sixteen souls.—That is, Gad and his seven sons, Asher and his four sons, the two grandsons and Serach.

Verse 20

(20) Manasseh and Ephraim.—In these names all the documents agree.

Verse 21

Verse 22

(22) All the souls were fourteen.—Made up of Joseph and two sons, and Benjamin and ten sons.

Verse 23

(23) Dan has one son, Hushim, called Shuham in Numbers 26:42. No genealogy of this tribe is given in Chronicles.

Verse 24

(24) Naphtali has four sons:

Numbers 26:48-49. 1 Chronicles 7:13.













Verse 25

(25) All the souls were seven.—Made up of Dan and one son, and Naphtali and four sons.

Excepting Benjamin, the other genealogies do not offer any great difficulties; for variations in the spelling of names are too common to cause surprise, and names would be omitted whenever in later times the family had ceased to have a representative. Thus, probably, no member of the tribe of Dan returned from the Captivity with an authenticated genealogy, and therefore no mention of them is made in the book of Chronicles. The utter confusion in the genealogy of Benjamin is the natural result of the ruinous war narrated in Judges 20, 21; but when that tribe produced a king, the utmost care would be taken to remedy, as far as possible, the destruction of documents caused by that struggle; and the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 8 is the royal pedigree of King Saul.

Verse 26

(26) All the souls were threescore and six.—This total is obtained by omitting Jacob, Joseph, and Joseph’s two sons. If we include these, the whole number becomes threescore and ten, as in Genesis 46:27. In the LXX. the names of five grandsons are added to Genesis 46:20, and thus the total is made seventy-five, as quoted by St. Stephen in Acts 7:14.

Verse 28


(28) To direct his face unto Goshen.—Joseph does not bring his brethren into the narrow and populous Nile Valley which formed Egypt proper, because they could not have maintained there an isolated mode of life. But this was indispensable for them if they were to multiply into a nation fit to be the guardians and depositories of a growing revelation, until the fulness of the time should come, when the world would be ready to receive the perfect knowledge of God’s will. As the Egyptians were an agricultural people, and hated sheep and shepherds (Genesis 46:34), the Israelites would run no danger of being absorbed by them so long as they continued to devote themselves to their old pursuits. As Goshen was admirably suited for a pastoral life, they would remain there as distinct and separate from the rest of mankind as they had been in Canaan.

Verse 29

(29) He fell on his neck.—Most of the versions and commentators understand this of Joseph throwing himself on Jacob’s neck, but Maimonides says that a son would not take so great a liberty with his father. The Authorised Version seems to understand it of Jacob, and this gives the best and most natural sense. The preceding words literally are, and he appeared unto him: that is, came into his presence; whereupon Jacob fell on his neck, and wept there “again and again.”

Verse 30

(30) Now let me die.—Heb., I would die this time (Genesis 2:23), after I have seen thy face, &c. Calmly will Jacob wait for death now that the great longing of his soul has been satisfied.

Verse 32

(32) The men are shepherds.—As Joseph’s object was to keep his brethren isolated in Goshen, he instructs them not to conceal their occupation, because Pharaoh on knowing it would not wish them to dwell in Egypt itself.

Verse 34

(34) For every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.—This is probably a remark of the narrator, and it is confirmed by the monuments, which generally represent shepherds as unshaven and ill-dressed. Necessarily the Egyptians had sheep and cattle (Genesis 47:16-17), and even Pharaoh had herds (Genesis 47:6); but the care of them was probably left by the peasantry to the women and children, while the men busied themselves with the cultivation of their fields. We need not go far to seek for the cause of this dislike. The word “abomination,” first of all, suggests a religious ground of difference; and not only did shepherds probably kill animals worshipped in different Egyptian districts, but their religion generally was diverse from that of the fixed population. But next, men who lead a settled life always dislike wandering clans, whose cattle are too likely to prey upon their enclosed land (see Note on Genesis 4:8), and who, moving from place to place, are usually not very scrupulous as to the rights of property. Such nomades, too, are generally lower in civilisation, and more rude and rough, than men who have fixed homes. The subjugation of Egypt by the Hyksos was possibly subsequent to the era of Joseph; but we now know from Egyptian sources that there was perpetual war between Egypt and the Hittites, and probably raids were often made upon the rich fields on the banks of the Nile by other Semitic tribes dwelling upon its eastern frontier; and as all these wore regarded as shepherds, there was ground enough for the dislike of all nomades as a class, even though the Egyptians did not disdain to have cattle themselves. But as the land in the Nile Valley was arable, the cattle kept would only be such as were useful for agriculture, whereas they formed the main wealth of the Israelites.


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 46:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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