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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 46

 

 

Verse 1

1. Israel took his journey — “The writer uses here, at the opening, the covenant name, from the sense of the national significance of this journey; yet afterward directs his attention to the personal experiences and movements of Jacob. He came down from Hebron to Beer-sheba, the camping place by the wells in the edge of the desert, where Abraham had called on JEHOVAH, the EVERLASTING GOD and where Isaac his father had sojourned so long; and here, amid the scenes of his childhood, looking down upon the desert, which like a sea separated his new home and new life from the old, he offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac, who there had first taught him the name of that God.” — Newhall.


Verses 1-7

THE JOURNEY TO EGYPT, Genesis 46:1-7.

“Here begins a new stage in the history of the covenant people. The chosen family is to be developed into a chosen nation. A permanent religious state, a great divinely organized commonwealth, with institutions fixed for ages, is to be evolved from the patriarchal nomadism, in order that all nations may be blessed in the seed of Abraham. The sublime revelations and spiritual experiences which distinguished the great patriarchs from all other men were not to vanish with them from the world, but were to be embodied in institutions, in a literature, in a national consciousness, which were to be immortal as the race itself. For more than two centuries Abraham and his children had walked and talked with Jehovah as they moved from one pasture to another between Sychem and Beer-sheba. Amid the hostile and idolatrous Canaanitish tribes there was no opportunity for leisurely national growth, while they were in constant danger of absorption; but in the Egyptian sojourn they had the contact with the world’s highest civilization, which gave culture, and yet the isolation and antagonism which saved their religion and their national life from extinction. Egypt’s fat soil made Israel teem with fruitful generations even under oppression; and her wisdom, art, social and religious institutions, deeply tinged the national character, and even shaped some of the religious rites of Israel. Jacob knew that this period of Egyptian sojourn was to come, for it had been predicted to Abraham, (Genesis 15:13-15,) and so he recognised now the call of Providence. The rhetoric rises in tone at the opening of this chapter, as if the writer felt the inspiration of this crisis.” — Newhall.


Verse 2

2. God spake unto Israel — “Jacob thought himself led by the hand of Providence, yet we may imagine him oppressed by sadness as he turns his back upon the land of promise — the land of his childhood and manhood, the land where were the graves of Abraham, and Isaac, and of his beloved Rachel — and sets his face towards the dreary desert. Is it thus that God is to make Canaan his inheritance? But in his trial God appears to him, as he did to Abraham in a similar crisis, (Genesis 15:1,) and to Isaac, when the same doubt oppressed him, (Genesis 25:24,) and the same cheering words come to Jacob that came to them.” — Newhall.


Verse 3

3. Fear not to go down into Egypt — Abraham’s danger and complications with Pharaoh, (Genesis 12:15-20,) and the prohibition against Isaac going there, (Genesis 26:2,) may have made Jacob loath to go down into that land of idolatry and superstition. Hence some special divine encouragement was needed.


Verse 4

4. I will go down with thee into Egypt — And if God be with us, who can be against us?

And I will also surely bring thee up — “Wonderfully worded promise! Personally, he was then bidding those scenes an everlasting farewell; but in the mediatorial nation which was to spring from him, and with which, as heir of God’s covenant, he was identified, he would return again. In this hope, by faith, he was to be glad though he die in Egypt, for it is added immediately, Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes, to close them in death; the last sad duty of love. Ancient writers of other nations frequently make pathetic allusion to this last ministration of affection. (Compare Homer’s Iliad, 11:453; Odyssey, 11:426; 24:296; Ovid, Heroides, 1:102, etc.”) — Newhall.


Verse 5

5. In the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him — “Instead of transporting them upon camels and asses, as was usual in Palestine. The use of the Egyptian wagons, and the fact that they were sent by Pharaoh himself, evidently made a deep impression, and is emphasized by the writer. See note on Genesis 14:27. On the direct route from Hebron to Beer-sheba the hills are too steep and sharp, and the surface is too rocky, to allow of travel on wheeled vehicles. Artificial wagon roads have never been constructed through that country. But wheels could pass from Beer-sheba east of the direct route, through the great Wady el-Khulil, and thence through the valleys to Hebron. (Robinson, 1:215.)” — Newhall.


Verse 6

6. Came into Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed — At first summarily expressed, yet afterwards (Genesis 46:8-27) details are given.


Verses 8-27

THE MUSTER-ROLL OF ISRAEL, Genesis 46:8-27.

“There is a painstaking minuteness in the dates and statistics of this history, which stands in wonderful contrast with the round numbers and vague statements of mythical narratives. The numerical and statistical difficulties so much dwelt on by Colenso and others, mostly arise from an ignorant or perverse misapprehension of the antique style of the author, which must present real difficulties even to candour and learning. This list of names is not a full census of the whole family of Israel, since none of the wives are mentioned anywhere; nor of Israel’s descendants, since only two female descendants occur in it; nor is it intended to give simply all the grandsons of Jacob who were born in Canaan, for, as his sons migrated in the prime of life, it is wholly improbable that no children were born to them in Egypt, where it is said that Israel was ‘fruitful and increased abundantly;’ while the list of Numbers xxvi, gives us no new names. This is simply a list of the heads of tribes, and of the grandsons and great-grandsons who became heads of independent tribal families, whether born in Canaan or in Egypt. Five of the grandsons here mentioned are missing from the list in Numbers, probably because their families became extinct; two of the grandsons of this list appear there as great-grandsons, an unimportant variation, when it is seen that they appear only as heads of families, and not in their personal relation; while the two women had some special historical importance — Dinah, as Jacob’s daughter who was connected with the slaughter of the Shechemites, (Genesis 34,) although he may have had other daughters, (Genesis 46:9,) and Sarah, or Serah, daughter of Asher, as historically conspicuous alone among all the granddaughters, for reasons that are unrecorded. Only the two sons of Joseph who became heads of tribes are mentioned, although he probably had other children. Genesis 48:5-6. The sacred number seventy was thus made up from sixty-seven male descendants, who were heads of tribes and of tribal families, two female descendants, and Jacob himself. The author groups them in four lists: thirty-two descendants of Leah, to whom he adds Jacob himself, without mentioning it, (although implied in the expression of Genesis 46:8, ‘Jacob and his sons,’) making thirty-three; fourteen descendants of Rachel; sixteen of Zilpah; and seven of Bilhah — making seventy in all. They are again grouped as sixty-six of the Canaan family, three of the Egyptian, and Jacob himself. Genesis 46:26-27. Yet inattention to the Hebrew idiom will lead the careless or captious reader to suspect discrepancies in the narrative, as when it is said (Genesis 46:27) that ‘all the souls of the house of Jacob, which came into Egypt,’ were threescore and ten, although Joseph and his two sons had just been mentioned as necessary to complete the number. See the same statement in Deuteronomy 10:22. Also it is said in Genesis 46:15, ‘all the souls of his sons and his daughters,’ although only one daughter is mentioned, and Jacob himself must be included with the descendants of Leah to make the number thirty-three. So it is no discrepancy when it is made probable from the ages of Joseph and Benjamin, that some of their sons were born after the descent into Egypt. St. Stephen, following the Septuagint Old Testament, calls the number seventy-five, which number the Septuagint makes up by reckoning in five other heads of families not mentioned in the Hebrew.” — Newhall.

A comparison of this family record of Jacob and his sons with that of the census in the time of Moses (Numbers 26) will help illustrate the peculiarities of Hebrew genealogies. For the convenience of the reader, we present these lists in parallel columns, and also select from the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 2-8 the corresponding names, so far as they appear there. For convenience of reference, we have placed the corresponding names opposite each other, but the student will note the different order in which the names stand in the different lists as they appear in the several chapters.

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Verse 12

12. Hezron and Hamul — The probable reason for reckoning these among the seventy (Genesis 46:27) was, that they were adopted by Judah in place of the deceased Er and Onan, who died in the land of Canaan. This appears from the fact that in the later registers (Numbers xxvi and 1 Chronicles ii) they appear as permanent heads of families in Judah. Heber and Malchiel, grandsons of Asher, (Genesis 46:17,) are also reckoned among the seventy, and probably for the reason that they were born before the migration into Egypt. They also appear in the later lists as heads of families in Israel.


Verse 21

21. Naaman… Ard — In Numbers 26:40, these appear as sons of Bela. The most probable explanation of this discrepancy is, the Naaman and Ard here mentioned as sons of Benjamin died in Egypt without issue, and two of their brother Bela’s sons were named after them and substituted in their place, according to levirate law, to perpetuate intact the families of Benjamin.


Verse 27

27. All the souls… threescore and ten — It accorded with Hebrew spirit and custom to so frame a register of honoured names as to have them sum up a definite and significant number. So Matthew’s genealogy of our Lord is arranged into three groups of fourteen names each, (Matthew 1:17,) and yet this could be done only by omitting several important names. The compiler of this list of Jacob’s sons might, by another process equally correct, have made it number sixty-nine by omitting Jacob himself, or a lesser number by omitting some of the grandchildren, or have made it exceed seventy by adding the names of Jacob’s wives: he purposely arranged it so as to make it number seventy souls. The descendants of Noah, as registered in chap. 10, amount to seventy. The seventy elders of Israel (Numbers 11:16) and the seventy disciples chosen by Jesus (Luke 10:1) show a peculiar regard for this mystic number. It is not improbable that the arrangement of genealogical lists was made up to round numbers, and, where possible, to a sacred number, that the whole might be the more easily and correctly transmitted by oral tradition.


Verse 28

ISRAEL IN EGYPT, Genesis 46:28-34.

28. And he sent Judah before him — “Judah appears as a leader among his brethren, having taken the responsibility for the return of Benjamin, and having conducted the negotiation with Joseph (chap. xliv) with such pathetic eloquence as to bring matters at once to a crisis, and compel Joseph to throw off his disguise.” — Newhall.


Verse 32

32. The men are shepherds — “In spite of the fact that shepherds were ‘an abomination to the Egyptians,’ Joseph introduces his brethren as shepherds; yea, for that reason he does so. This fact would secure them the isolation demanded by their providential mission. Compare the note at the beginning of this chapter, and see note on Genesis 47:3.” — Newhall.


Verse 34

34. Land of Goshen — Concerning its admirable adaptation to the Israelitish colony, see note on Genesis 47:6.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 46:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/genesis-46.html. 1874-1909.

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