Genesis 46: Yahweh Appears to Jacob;  Jacob’s “Seventy” Descendants; Joseph and Jacob are Reunited in Egypt

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Hebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Yahweh promises to make Jacob a great nation in Egypt and to return that nation to Canaan. The “seventy” descendants of Jacob who go with him to Egypt are listed. Joseph cries when he meets his father Jacob, who is now ready to die in his old age.

II. Photo

Jacob moves to Egypt: “Then Jacob set out from Beer-sheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him.” (v. 5)

III. Outline

1-4. Jacob’s encounter at Beer Sheba

1. Jacob sets off [from Hebron] and makes sacrifices to Yahweh

3-4. Yahweh tells Jacob he will become a great nation in Egypt and be returned

5-7. Jacob’s family travels in wagons and the people bring their possessions

8-27. Jacob travels to Egypt with “seventy” descendants

8a. Introduction

8b-9. Reuben’s children

10. Simeon’s children

11. Levi’s children

12. Judah’s children

13. Issachar’s children

14. Zebulun’s children

15. Total of Leah’s children, children, and (important) grandchildren, including Dinah: 33

16. Gad’s children

17. Asher’s children

18. Total of Zilpah’s children, grandchildren, and (important) great grandchildren: 16

19. Rachel’s two children

20. Joseph’s children

21. Benjamin’s children

22. Rachel’s children and grandchildren: 14

23. Dan’s child

24. Naphtali’s children

25. Bilhah’s children and grandchildren: 7

26. Jacob’s offspring: 66

27. Explanation: Joseph’s two children were born in Egypt

28-34. Jacob arrives in Egypt

28a. Joseph sends Judah ahead

28b-29. Joseph weeps when he meets his father in Goshen

30. Israel (called such) proclaims he is ready to die

31-34. Joseph prepares his shephard family to ask Pharaoh for land in Goshen because shephards are abominable in Egypt

IV. Select Verses

2-4: God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph’s own hand shall close your eyes.”

8: Now these are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his offspring, who came to Egypt. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn…

26-27: All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own offspring, not including the wives of his sons, were sixty-six persons in all. The children of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.

29: Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. He presented himself to him, fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.

30: Israel said to Joseph, “I can die now, having seen for myself that you are still alive.”


V. Comment

The major difficulty with Genesis 46 concerns the number seventy. According to verse 27, seventy of Jacob’s descendants travelled from Canaan to Egypt. This is repeated in two other verses:

Exodus 1:5: The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt.

Deuteronomy 10:22: Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now Yahweh your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.

Our chapter, which contains a list of seventy men (33 + 16 +14 +7), was presumably the original list of seventy, or at least the first attempt to name the seventy. However, it seems that a later reader/editor was disturbed for two reasons. First, as verse 12 points out, Judah’s sons Er and Onan died in Canaan (see Genesis 38). Second, as verse 27 points out, Joseph’s two sons were born in Egypt. Based on this close reading, the editor likely added verse 26:

All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own offspring, not including the wives of his sons, were sixty-six persons in all.

While the most likely explanation for this verse is that a later editor was grappling with a textual inconsistency, it is surprising that he does not offer any suggestion on how to reconcile the numbers 66 and 70. He simply allows the contradiction to stand. As Wenham points out (Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis, 442-443), later commentators have suggested two possible ways to resolve the contradiction. The first is that seventy is a round number meant to indicate a large group or a large family (see Exodus 24:1, 9; Judges 8:30; 12:14), so it is not meant to be taken literally. The second is that Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh are included, as well as Dinah and Jacob himself. This brings the number to seventy (66 + 2 + 1 +1). However, these two explanations do not actually solve the difficulty. First, this chapter takes numbers very seriously, and even has a list of seventy names, so it is difficult to suggest that seventy is meant to be a round number. Second, women are implicitly and even explicitly excluded (v. 26), so Dinah must be ruled out. Third, Ephraim and Manasseh are excluded (v. 27) and the list is meant to be Jacob’s descendants, so he is excluded too. Genesis 46 therefore seems to include a very early stage of biblical exegesis, one that was actually inserted into the text itself. Although the reader/editor does not provide an answer to his question, he points out that the list of seventy is actually a list of sixty-six.

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

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