Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

We come now to the end of our tale of Jacob and Joseph, and to the end of Genesis. Joseph was an astute businessman, during the famine he sold the grain he had accumulated in Pharaoh’s stores for a handsome profit, when the Egyptians and Canaanites ran low on funds he traded grain for livestock. When the grain they had purchased ran out the people again approach Joseph for compassion and he bartered to exchange their land and their servitude in exchange for grain and seed. He instructed them to sow the seed in the land and give a fifth of everything to Pharaoh, they would then have the remaining four-fifths for themselves. The only people exempt were the priests, who kept their land but still received grain for their needs. This was extremely shrewd bargaining, Pharaoh’s wealth and influence grew dramatically, his people were saved, and the empire had the labor they needed for the Pharaoh’s projects. Now, indentured servitude eventually leads to anger, uprisings, and eventual revolt, but that would not happen until long after Pharaoh and Joseph had passed, so all was well for them, but both Egypt and Israel would pay the price down the road.

Jacob lived another 17 years in Egypt, safe and content with his family around him, and his wealth growing. Jacob, sensing his passing, has Joseph swear an oath not to bury him in Egypt, but to take his body to lie with his ancestors; Joseph puts his hand on Jacob’s groin and swears to do as Jacob wished. By now you should be familiar with this type of oath, and its meaning.

After a time Jacob has his servants summon Joseph and his sons for the final time. Jacob gives a strange speech to Joseph, he says that Joseph’s two sons, born in Egypt (E’phraim and Manas’seh) belong to Jacob, any other sons that Joseph has will belong to Joseph. This is God’s plan for Jacob (Israel) so that there will be twelve tribes coming from Israel – Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, and the two sons of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh. He tells Joseph that his is because his beloved Rachel died on the trip to Ephrath (Bethlehem), one can only assume that Jacob expected Rachel to deliver one more son, to make twelve, but since she did not he is taking Joseph’s two Egypt-born sons to make the twelve. Interesting that the “lost son” of Jacob was to be born in Bethlehem.

Jacob asks for Joseph’s sons to give them his blessing, Joseph, by tradition, puts E’phraim on Jacob’s left knee and Manas’seh on his right, but Jacob doesn’t go along with it. Jacob puts his right hand on E’phraim and his left on Manas’seh and begins the blessing, at this point Joseph objects. The right hand is to be on the eldest son, but Jacob does not yield, he tells Joseph that while both sons are to be the leaders of great people, E’phraim will be greater than Manas’seh, and so receives the right hand. And history bears that out, for out of E’phraim Joshua would come, and later, when the kingdom splits into north and south, E’phraim would rule the northern kingdoms until the time of the Assyrian invasion.

An odd thing then happens, all of Jacob’s sons are brought before him and we have what appears as a song from Jacob (Israel) with a verse to each son, and not very pleasant for some:

  • To Reuben, the first-born, he informs that he will not receive the blessing because of his pride, temper, and for having slept with one of Jacob’s wives.
  • To Simeon and Levi, for their tempers and wraith (killing of Shechem and his sons) they shall not inherit either. Simeon will all but disappear over the ages, going from a great tribe to almost nothing. Levi is told they will be scattered in Israel, a sign that they will receive no land, and so will be housed throughout the other tribes.
  • Judah receives the blessing, and lordship over the other tribes for his various good qualities. Judah will retain the power until “Shiloh (the Messiah) comes”, indeed, they did hold power until the destruction of the Temple.
  • Zebulun is told he will dwell between the great seas, and his land is between the Mediterranean and Galilee. They will provide the largest military force to David, massive in comparison to the other tribes.
  • Issachar was strong, but lazy, not doing any work. As such he is told that he will become the slave of others. Indeed, the tribe of Issachar becomes the third largest tribe of Israel, but is constantly enslaved by conquering armies.
  • Dan is told that he will be the judge of his brothers, and a serpent to their plans. In the future one of Israel’s greatest judges (Samson) comes from Dan, and the tribe of Dan is the first to adopt idol worship and turns its back on God throughout its history.
  • Gad is told that many will oppress him, but that he will prevail. Many times during its history Gad is overrun by foreign forces, but always comes back.
  • Asher does well, he is told that his tribe will fare well and will live in luxury, clearly the winner in terms of blessings.
  • Naphtali is told that he will hear beautiful words. Indeed, Jesus spent a large portion of His time in the land of Napthali preaching.
  • Joseph is next. Joseph’s blessing is more one of the past than the future, since there is to be no tribe of Joseph. He is told how he survived despite the “archers who shot at him”, a reference to his brothers, yet he was unshaken, standing solid in his faith before God. Joseph has already received far more than Jacob can give him – blessings from God himself.
  • Finally, Benjamin. Benjamin will become the fiercest, and most feared, of the tribes. Their strength and cruelty will become legendary among Israel.

Shortly after Jacob passes, with the request that he be buried with his family, Joseph has Pharaoh embalm Jacob (the journey is a long one, and preservation is necessary), he is then taken and entombed in the caves where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah are buried at Machpelah.

Joseph’s brothers are now afraid, they are fatherless in a land controlled by Joseph, whom they sold into slavery. Obviously they do no believe that he forgave them, and they are now afraid that with Jacob gone he will seek out his vengeance (after all, that is what they would do). They send a fake message to Joseph, purportedly from their father, asking that Joseph not seek revenge, but forgive his brothers. Joseph, however, is not his brothers, and he assures them that not only will he not seek his revenge, but he will see to it that they and their families are cared after.

In due time Joseph also passes, but we are told that he lives long enough to see his great-great-grandchildren. Joseph calls his brothers to him and tells them that God will return to them and see them safely out of Egypt when the time is right. We are told that he asks them to give him a proper burial, and they follow the Egyptian custom and embalm him and bury him somewhere in Egypt.


One last footnote on Joseph. I find many parallels between this Joseph and Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph. Both are kind beyond measure, and care deeply for their families; both end up going into Egypt to seek safety for their families; through the first Joseph, Israel is promised freedom from the slavery of Egypt by God, through the other Joseph freedom from the slavery of sin is promised by Jesus.


This concludes this exegesis of Genesis. I hope is has been helpful and informative, and perhaps given you a different look at the first book of the Bible.

With love,

Mike, The Modern Theologian


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