‘There’s one in every family sire, two in mine in fact, and they always turn up to spoil special occasions’.
We have no way of knowing whether Joseph was a bit ashamed of his family. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was. Egypt was the centre of learning and sophistication, Joseph had spent years navigating the Egyptian corridors of power and now here come his family of nomadic herdsmen. We know he schooled them in what to say and chose only five of his eleven brothers to present to Pharaoh.
“Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (46:34)
Even though Jacob’s family were allowed to settle in the best of the land of Egypt and given many privileges, there remained a distinction between them and the Egyptians. On the one hand it was because the Egyptians were arable farmers rather than caring for livestock. On the other, there is a point being made here. God’s people are associated with caring for sheep right through the Scriptures and God himself is often likened to a shepherd and his people his sheep. It’s a theme picked up by the Lord Jesus himself when he said; ‘I am the good shepherd.’ (John 10:11) The point is, just as the God’s people were to avoid becoming like the Canaanites so here we see they were not to become Egyptians either. They were called to be different. The same goes for believers today. We have a different world view and different goals. If Christians were to behave like everyone else, how will anyone hear the good news about Jesus?
There’s a lot of joy in today’s reading but it is tinged with sadness. Jacob said to Pharaoh;
“My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” (47:9)
The words contrast sharply with the way Abraham’s death is described;
“Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.” (25:8)
And also with Isaac’s death;
“Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years.” (35:29)
Both Abraham and Isaac died in Canaan but Jacob would die in Egypt. He was blessed and he died in a good land but it wasn’t Canaan. The way Jacob had lived led inevitably to consequences. Yes God was faithful to him and he would be buried in Canaan, God’s promises were still fulfilled but as we have seen a number of times; ‘A man reaps what he sows’.
Perhaps the central point here is that Jacob blessed Pharaoh. It must have been a strange sight; an old nomadic herdsman blessing what was probably the most powerful man in the world at that time. It’s a fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham;
“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (12:3)
It’s a promise repeated many times and here we see Joseph and now Jacob being a blessing to the Egyptians. The promise is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus where people from any nation or background can know peace with God through Christ.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Lighten our darkness, breathe on this flame.
Until your justice burns brightly again
Until the nations learn of your ways
Seek your salvation and bring you their praise
(Beauty for Brokenness – Graham Kendrick)