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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Genesis 47

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XLVII.

Jacob, and five of his sons, are introduced to Pharaoh, who assigns the land of Goshen to them. The AEgyptians deliver up their fields, their cattle, and themselves for food. Joseph assures Jacob, by an oath, that he will bury him in the sepulchre of his fathers.

Before Christ 1705.


Verse 6

Genesis 47:6. Make them rulers over my cattle These words seem much to strengthen the interpretation of the last verse in the former chapter, which affirms, that shepherds were not held as impious and profane by the AEgyptians, but only as men of a mean and despicable profession: and, indeed, one can hardly conceive, that a man of Joseph's understanding would have introduced his family to Pharaoh, under a character profane and detestable to the AEgyptians. He had good reasons for desiring that they should assume a character, which was rather contemptible, as he wished them to be fixed in Goshen, and to be preserved distinct from all commerce with the AEgyptians. He wanted them not to become courtiers, or to be employed in any concerns of the state: he knew the designs of Providence with respect to them, and therefore chose that they should assume an employment which would continue them in that state of sojourning, whereto the Abrahamic family were destined, till the time appointed for their complete possession of Canaan. Much of the Eastern riches consisted in cattle, and great part of the king's revenue was raised from them; on which account there were some prime officers, to oversee the lower sort of shepherds. Such was Doeg to Saul, 1 Samuel 21:7 and those officers mentioned, 1 Chronicles 27:29; 1 Chronicles 27:34. and such was Tyrrhus to king Latinus, "Tyrrhus, chief master of the royal herd." PITT. "————Cui regia parent Armenta, et lati custodia eredita campi." VIRG. AEn. vii. 485, 486.


Verse 7

Genesis 47:7. Jacob blessed Pharaoh When the word, bless, says Calmet, is applied to God, it signifies to thank, or praise; when to men, it signifies, to wish them health, prosperity, or happiness: in which latter sense it is here used. Jacob blessed Pharaoh, i.e.. wished him health, and a long and happy reign, in gratitude for the protection with which he had honoured him and his family; and probably he did this in the name of the God of his fathers. The common salutation among the Jews, O king, live for ever! was of this same kind.


Verse 9

Genesis 47:9. Of my pilgrimage The life of a believer is no other than a pilgrimage; while distant from his heavenly country, he has no abiding city. This is the beautiful idea, under which the language of sacred Scripture represents life in general. It is peculiarly applicable to the lives of the patriarchs, but to none of them so much as to the life of Jacob. For what could be more truly a pilgrimage, than that of this holy man, always tossed from place to place, in Mesopotamia, in Canaan, in AEgypt, from Succoth, from Sichem, from Beth-el, from Hebron? Their lives were a proof and confession of a future state: thus they declared themselves, pilgrims and strangers on the earth, desiring a better country, that is, an heavenly, Hebrews 11:13; Hebrews 11:40.

An hundred and thirty years We are not to suppose that Moses relates all the conversation which passed between Pharaoh and Jacob: but what he has related, is extremely important to fix the sacred Chronology; for the age of Jacob, when he came into AEgypt, serves to discover the age of each of his sons, and to verify the different capital epochs of the sacred history. Jacob lived seventeen years after his arrival in the land of Goshen, and died, aged one hundred and forty-seven, a life, though long in comparison of ours, yet short, compared with Abraham's, who lived one hundred and seventy-five years, and Isaac's, who lived one hundred and eighty. In this light his days were few and evil, full of toils and griefs, and embittered with many calamities.


Verse 11

Genesis 47:11. In the land of Rameses Some great writers are of opinion, that Rameses is the name of a king, and that the part assigned to the family of Jacob belonged to the royal territories. There was certainly a king of this name among the kings of AEgypt. Others suppose, that this was the name of a province in the land of Goshen, assigned to Joseph's family, and that the city mentioned, Exodus 1:11 was denominated from the province. The former opinion, however, which is Sir John Marsham's, seems most probable; for it appears from the sequel of the chapter, that, at this time, king, priests, and people, had their lands independent of each other; so that it is reasonable to think that this land, where the Israelites were settled, was a part of the king's domains.

REFLECTIONS.—Jacob's family being arrived, Joseph acquaints Pharaoh. Whereupon,

1. We have their introduction to Pharaoh. Joseph was not, like many a great man now-a-days, ashamed of his poor relations: he calls them brethren, and presents them at court. Note; Christ is not ashamed of the meanest of his brethren, nor will refuse to present them before the throne of God, with exceeding great joy.

2. Pharaoh's kind reception of them. He inquires their occupation: and having received their answer, and heard the design of their coming, he appoints them the land of Goshen for their flocks, and bids Joseph prefer any man among them who was active, over the royal herds. Note; (1.) For our Jesus's sake, we shall find favour in the presence of the heavenly King. (2.) Every member of the commonwealth must by his occupation contribute to its welfare: no idle vagrants, no drones should live in the hive. (3.) Activity and ingenuity in our profession, is the way to preferment in it.

3. The particular regard paid to old Jacob. Pharaoh kindly inquires after his age, for hoary locks engage respect. Jacob replies with the submission of an inferior; and with the piety of a patriarch blesses Pharaoh. Note; (1.) Every Christian counts his life a pilgrimage. (2.) The longest age is but a few days compared with eternity; and the happiest life has a great alloy of evil. (3.) Our days are considerably shortened: they are now, compared with those of old, but a span long. (4.) An old man's benediction is to be revered; and the prayers of aged ministers and saints much to be valued.

4. By Joseph's care, they are settled in the best of the land, and supplied abundantly with every necessary. Blessed be God for that better Jesus, who satisfies the souls of his people with plenteousness.


Verse 14

Genesis 47:14. Joseph gathered up all the money As long as the AEgyptians had any money left, they bought corn of Joseph, which supported them all the third, and, it is probable, the fourth and fifth years of the famine. That all the money of the people was expended, is, I think, very evident from the words of this verse, as well as the following, where we are told, that, when money failed, they gave up their cattle, &c.


Verse 16

Genesis 47:16. Joseph said, Give your cattle There was certainly no injustice, as Chandler in his Vindication observes, in making the AEgyptians pay for the corn, which Joseph had bought with Pharaoh's money, and laid up with great care and expence: and in demanding their cattle, he had, most probably, a view to save them; for, as they had not corn for themselves, they could much less have it for their cattle; and therefore this was the only way to preserve the lives of both, and to prevent that waste of the corn which must have been made if they had had the keeping and feeding of the cattle themselves: and it is highly probable, that he returned them their cattle after the famine, when they were fixed again in their several habitations, otherwise it would have been hardly possible for them to support their families, and carry on their business.


Verse 18

Genesis 47:18. When that year was ended The sixth year of the famine; they came the second year, i.e.. the next year after the sale of their cattle, which was the last of the famine, as appears from the next verse, compared with Genesis 47:23.


Verse 19

Genesis 47:19. Wherefore shall we die—we, and our land Land may be said, metaphorically, to die, when it lies uncultivated and desolate: this is agreeable, says Calmet, to the language of the poets, and of the best elastic writers. So Martial says, suburbanus ne moriatur ager.* Seneca, sata et vivere et mori dicimus.† See Job 14:7-8.

* That the land about the city may not die.

We say that the corn-land either lives or dies.

Buy us and our land for bread It is to be observed here, that this is the voluntary offer of the people, not the demand of Joseph. We observed in a former note, that the land was divided among the king, the priests, and the people: but this national calamity, as Bishop Warburton observes, made a great revolution in property, and brought the whole possessions of the people into the king's hands, which must needs make a prodigious accession of power to the crown. But Joseph, in whom the offices of a minister and patriot supported each other, and jointly concurred to the public service, prevented, for some time, the ill effects of this accession, by his farming out the new domain to the old proprietors on very easy conditions. We may well suppose this wise disposition to have continued till that new king arose who knew not Joseph, that is, who would obliterate his memory, as averse to his system of policy. He greatly affected despotic government; to support which, he established a standing militia, and endowed it with lands formerly the people's, who now became a kind of villains to this order.

And give us seed This proves that the present was the last year of the famine. The AEgyptians, full of confidence in the predictions of Joseph, offered to sell themselves, and their land, to their king, that they might have seed to sow, in hopes of a crop the next year: for Joseph had told them there would be but seven years of famine; and possibly the Nile, the source of plenty, had begun to overflow the land as usual.


Verse 21

Genesis 47:21. As for the people, he removed them to cities Chandler, in his Vindication, observes well, "that in ch. Genesis 41:48. we are told, that Joseph gathered up the food, and laid it up in the cities; the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same: so that, instead of suffering the people to live in the country, where it would have been difficult to have taken due care of them, he removed them into the cities where the corn was laid up, for the better conveniency of feeding them; an act of the greatest prudence, compassion, and generosity!" which account of Joseph's conduct is so natural, and so consistent with the rest of his character, that it renders equally vain the objections urged against him for thus transplanting the people, and the political and far-fetched reasons urged by many writers for his doing so. The text does not say, nor give the least hint to suppose, that he removed families from one city to another, and transplanted them to places most remote from their former possessions, which would have bred infinite confusion, been attended with great difficulties, and have made Joseph universally detested. We only read that he removed the people TO CITIES, from one end of the borders of AEgypt, even to the other end thereof, i.e.. very plainly, did cause the people throughout all the land of AEgypt to leave the country, and come to the cities where the corn was deposited, where they might more easily be fed, and when their absence from the country would be of no detriment, as tillage was at a stand. See Delaney's Revelation Examined, vol. 3: p. 227.


Verse 22

Genesis 47:22. Only the land of the priests bought he not Lord Shaftesbury has from this circumstance taken occasion to observe, in his usual way, "to what height of power the established priesthood was arrived, since the crown offered not to meddle with the church-lands: and that, in this great revolution, nothing was attempted, so much as by way of purchase or exchange, in prejudice of this landed clergy; the prime minister himself having joined his interest with theirs, and entered, by marriage, into this alliance." But his lordship seems to have forgotten, 1st, That the priesthood, in those days, was confined to the heads of families who were persons of the highest rank and power, almost equal to the king, consulted upon all matters of consequence, and who, upon a vacancy, were often raised to the throne. 2nd, That in consequence of their birth and dignity, and not of their priesthood, this great privilege was founded long before Joseph's time, and not by his indulgence and partiality to them. 3rdly, That out of their estates they defrayed all the charges of the sacrifices, ornaments, utensils, and other religious ceremonies, which were here performed with the highest and most costly splendor. And, 4thly, That they were the king's chief assistant counsellors, ministers, recorders, &c. as well as the professors and teachers of all arts and sciences, and the judges, chief magistrates, and officers of the kingdom; whose estates, therefore, how great soever we suppose them, could hardly exceed the expence necessary to support them in all those offices. So that it could not but have been unjust, as well as imprudent and dangerous, for the king, or his prime minister, to have made such an attempt to have alienated them. Univ. Hist.


Verses 23-25

Genesis 47:23-25. Then Joseph said, &c.— These three verses confirm all that we have said of the wisdom and humanity of Joseph. A wise minister of state, but, at the same time, generous, tender, and compassionate, he acquired for his king all that his subjects possessed; yet, instead of rigorously insisting upon the bargain they had made, he returns them their estates, and only lays a tax upon them for the better support of his prince's crown and government, at the rate of four shillings in the pound, or a fifth part; which he found by trial, from what was taken up in the seven years of plenty, AEgypt could well spare; a favour, which we see the people acknowledge with the utmost gratitude, confessing, that he had been the very saviour of their lives. Thou hast saved our lives; let us find grace in the sight of my lord; we thankfully accept the generous grant, and we will be Pharaoh's servants, i.e.. hold our lands of him, and pay him the fifth part of the produce: which words of the people evidently prove their high satisfaction with Joseph, and sufficiently exculpate him from any of that blame wherewith modern infidelity has laboured to blacken his reputation.


Verse 26

Genesis 47:26. Joseph made it a law Chandler remarks, that Joseph, to his honour, was so far from enslaving the country, that, with the consent of king and people, he settled both the rights of the crown and of the subject upon the foundation of an irrepealable law, and was the first who limited the power of their princes. This circumstance seems confirmed by Diodorus, who, among other instances of the good government of AEgypt, mentions this, b. 1: "That the people were not oppressed with taxes; and that the husbandmen rented their lands, at a small price, of the king, the priests, and the soldiers:" a happiness which they seem to have derived from Joseph's constitution.

Except the land of the priests only i.e.. Except the fifth part of the land of the priests only, their land not becoming subject to the payment of any taxes.

REFLECTIONS.—Business must interrupt the pleasing intercourse of friends: now Jacob is settled, Joseph returns to his employment. The famine was severe; the years of plenty had been neglected by the improvident people, and now they are ready to die for want: their money, their stock, their land, are first parted with; and, rather than perish, they offer themselves for meat: better live servants, they thought, than die of famine. Learn from the whole, (1.) How suddenly all our worldly comforts may leave us. If God withholds but the dew of heaven from us, all we possess cannot keep us from starving. (2.) To defraud the ministry, or render it despicable by want, was regarded even by the heathens as impious. Let those remember, who possess the revenues of churches where the minister scarcely eats bread from the altar which he serves, and they who pay a scandalous pittance for the service, while themselves live on the fleeces of the sheep they never feed, that even the AEgyptian Pharaoh shall rise up in judgment to condemn them.


Verse 29

Genesis 47:29. Put—thy hand under my thigh See note on ch. Genesis 24:2.


Verse 30

Genesis 47:30. I will lie with my fathers Jacob's desire to be buried with his fathers is easily accounted for, both from that natural inclination which men have to be buried with their ancestors, and from his faith in the Divine promise that his posterity should inherit the land.


Verse 31

Genesis 47:31. Bowed himself upon the bed's head The Septuagint and Syriac versions render this, Israel worshipped upon the top of his staff; and I see no sort of reason why the Hebrew should not have been rendered exactly the same in our version of the Bible; for, literally, it is, and Israel bowed himself upon the head of his staff, המטה עלאּראשׁ al rosh hammittah; מטה matteh, signifies, a rod, staff, or stick, or any thing upon which men are inclined, or lean; and in this view there is no contradiction between the passage, Hebrews 11:21 and the present: here it is only a mistake in our translation of the Bible, which has too exactly copied the Vulgate. The bowing himself was probably an act of religious worship; and Hallett remarks, that the leaning on his staff, is pertinently mentioned to intimate, that, feeble as he was, he would worship God in the best manner he was able. He thought it so great a privilege to be buried in the land of Canaan, that he bowed his head, in token of thankfulness for it. The bowing of David, mentioned 1 Kings 1:47-48. was an act of religious worship. See Judges 7:15. Exodus 4:31; Exodus 12:27.

REFLECTIONS.—While others pined with want, Jacob and his family lived in plenty. His old age passed on as peaceful and serene, as his former days had been tempestuous. Note; It is a peculiar blessing to age, to have ease and rest, because it is most unfit for toil and labour. And now the time of Israel's death approached: this is the certain end of the longest life: happy they who see the approaches of death, and prepare for it accordingly. One great concern now engaged the patriarch's heart, and that was the disposal of his corpse. He desires to lie in the land of promise, as a confirmation to his posterity of their possession of it, and as a token of his own hope in that better rest which remained for the people of God. Joseph at his desire visits him, and swears to fulfil this his dying command; then Israel is satisfied, and bows in acknowledgment of the mercy. Note; When we can with confidence trust the Divine promise, and rest on the Divine oath, we shall with pleasure say, Now let thy servant depart in peace.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 47:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/genesis-47.html. 1801-1803.

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