Better Than I Deserve
Chapters 47 and 48 can best be categorized as a story of reunion. Joseph is finally reunited with his entire family. They have come into the land of Egypt and are about to settle and prosper there. The reason for Joseph’s hardships is coming into sharper focus, and his family is taking shape. We know that Egypt is not the final stop for the new nation. Hence, chapters 47 and 48 serve an important purpose in the broader narrative.
Chapter 47 is a study in contrasts. Just like chapter 37 gave us a stark contrast between Joseph and his brothers, this chapter does so with Israel and Egypt. First, there is the contrast between Jacob and Pharaoh. Then we see the contrast between the people of Egypt and the people of Israel. Finally, we see the contrast between the land of Egypt and the Land of Promise. The net result of these contrasts is a reminder that Egypt, though prosperous and powerful, has nothing to offer the people of God, especially compared with the promise for which they wait.
In 47:1-6, there is an echo of Joseph’s words to his brothers in chapter 46: “When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians” (Gen. 46:33-34). His brothers did exactly what he told them to do, and the result was favorable.
However, this passage also creates its own echo. The shepherd theme is prominent in redemptive history. Moses becomes a shepherd in Midian before becoming the shepherd of God’s flock (Exod. 3:1). King David was a shepherd. The prophets referred to Israel’s leaders as their shepherds. The Savior’s birth was announced to shepherds (Luke 2). God refers to himself as a shepherd. And the most cherished image of God in the entire Bible is the image of him as a shepherd in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (v1).
Eventually, the shepherd theme finds its culmination in Christ. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:2, 11-12, 14). Ironically, this shepherd is also “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). Hence, the idea that Israel is set apart because of their role as shepherds is no small thing.
Now, Jacob – a simple shepherd, the leader of a clan of seventy sojourners who just left their homeland for fear of starvation – is standing face-to-face with the “leader of the not-so-free world” of his day. Jacob is standing there as the father of a new nation. Pharaoh would go on to give us pyramids and mummies; Jacob would go on to give us “the commonwealth of Israel… the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12), and God incarnate.
Moreover, the meeting between the two men sets the stage for the contrast to come. As the narrative unfolds, Egypt declines, and Israel prospers. In the coming weeks we will come back to this theme.
Our attention this week, however, will concern Jacob’s response to Pharaoh’s question: “How many are the days of the years of your life?” (47:8). To which Jacob replies: “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning” (v9).
I hope you can join us this week to see some of the ways in which Jacob was profoundly wrong when he said, ‘The days of my sojourning have been few and evil.’ Yet that is not the whole story. Jacob was not completely wrong in his assessment of his life as nasty, brutish, and short. There are some ways in which that characterization was profoundly right, and we will explore these. What about you? How would you describe your life? Do you recognize the grace of God in the blessings? I am eagerly looking forward to being with you worshiping the living God.
In Christ’s love,