47 Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” 2 He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.
3 Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?”
“Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.” 4 They also said to him, “We have come to live here for a while, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.”
5 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, 6 and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.”
7 Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, 8 Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?”
9 And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” 10 Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.
11 So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. 12 Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.
(Genesis 47:1-12 NIV)
As we ended Chapter 46 last time, we saw Jacob and his family arrive in Egypt. Joseph was reunited with his father in a tearful, joyful time for both of them.
Joseph then spent some time instructing his family on what to say when Pharaoh and others asked about their occupation. They were shepherds, keepers of livestock. While this was certainly an honorable profession, it was loathsome in the Egyptians’ eyes. Joseph was not trying to make his family look bad in front of Pharaoh – he was protecting them from the undue influence of Egyptian culture by creating a boundary around them.
In today’s passage, Joseph introduces a few of his brothers and his father to Pharaoh. Joseph knew Pharaoh well, and knew that Pharaoh would ask about their occupation. Right on cue, the brothers answered as Joseph had instructed.
Scholars take two different positions on the selection of 5 brothers to bring before Pharaoh. Some scholars say that Joseph brought the best and brightest of his brothers before Pharaoh. Other scholars (many from Jewish background) suggest the opposite – that Joseph brought the youngest and the least physically desirable of his brothers before Pharaoh so that Pharaoh would not draft them into his army.
Notice how Joseph’s brothers addressed Pharaoh as “your servants”. They showed honor to Pharaoh and willingly put themselves under his authority with their reference. In verses 3-4, they referred to themselves as Pharaoh’s servants 3 times. The brothers don’t thank Pharaoh for his hospitality and invitation to come to Egypt; they humbly admit that they are starving in Canaan and throw themselves on Pharaoh’s mercy, not assuming anything. The brothers’ statements also reflect the permanency of their stay – they were here to settle, not to just wait out the famine.
Pharaoh granted their request, and ordered Joseph to settle them in Goshen, the best of the pasture land in Egypt. Pharaoh also told Joseph to put the best shepherds among his brothers in charge of Pharaoh’s livestock.
After Joseph introduced his brother to Pharaoh, he then introduced his father. Normally the person of lower rank is silent until the person of higher rank speaks to them. In this case, Jacob spoke first, blessing Pharaoh. Moses does not record the specifics of the blessing, only that Jacob blessed him.
Jacob’s blessing may have included a typical Old Testament blessing found elsewhere in Scriptures – something like “O king, live forever” (Nehemiah 2:3, multiple references in the book of Daniel).
After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh only had one question for Jacob – “how old are you?” Moses does not capture the nature of Pharaoh’s question – it may have been because Jacob looked ancient already, or because asking his age was Pharaoh’s way of returning the honor to Jacob.
In any case, Jacob answered Pharaoh’s question, and used the opportunity to provide a brief autobiography of his life. Life had been hard, and Jacob admitted that neither the quality nor the quantity of his years measured up to that of his father or grandfather. Jacob then blessed Pharaoh a second time before leaving.
After the meeting with Pharaoh, Joseph settled his father and brothers in Goshen, deeding them property on which to live and call their own. Joseph also set them up with food rations, according to the number of persons in each family unit.
May we see the meta-narrative in this story – the bigger picture – that of God going ahead of them and providing for them through Joseph – decades in advance. Truly God’s sovereignty, omniscience, and love was at work – summed up in what many people call God’s Providence.
And as we recognize God’s Providence, may we humbly bow in worship, thanking God and giving Him the glory for His provision, protection, and love.