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44. The Final Test: Dothan Relived (Genesis 44:1-34)


Thirteen years ago I spent one summer teaching high school courses in a medium security prison. While I had many interesting experiences, one of my colleagues had one encounter with a prisoner which is pertinent to our passage. This teacher was showing a movie to his class, but one student attempted to take advantage of the darkness and catch a nap. On several occasions my friend came upon him sleeping and gave him a little shake. It was useless, for by this time he was deep in sleep and no mere nudge would awaken him. Finally he was shaken somewhat more vigorously. He awakened with a start, shook his fist in the teacher’s face and blurted out, “If you ever do that again, you’re going to get it!”

Now there was always a guard stationed in the hall, and this was certainly the time for his services. My teacher friend gradually worked his way to the door where he signaled the guard, and the hostile student was removed from class and taken to the “hole” where he spent a week in solitary confinement. He, of course, had a great deal of time to consider his threat. When he returned to his class after that week of solitude, he went up to my friend to apologize. “Sir,” he said, “I want you to know that I didn’t really mean what I said to you last week. What I meant to say was, ‘If you ever do that again, you might get it!’”

I hope we all realize that this falls somewhat short of real repentance. As I read the account of Joseph’s dealings with his brothers, I am disturbed by the fact that it took perhaps a year or more before he revealed his identity to them.72 Why did it have to take so long? I believe it was because there was no evidence of genuine repentance until the events of chapter 44. While Joseph’s brothers had come to the point of recognizing the hand of God in their trials during their first journey to Egypt (cf. 42:21-22,28), their response was more one of regret than repentance. It was the genuine repentance of Judah and his brothers in chapter 44 which caused Joseph to disclose his identity and thus turn their sorrow to rejoicing.

The reason this chapter is so vital to us centuries later is that repentance is an indispensable part of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and yet it is seldom discussed and frequently misunderstood. Our Lord’s last words to His disciples speak of the necessity of repentance:

… and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations—beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

Let us approach, then, this final test of Joseph’s brothers to learn more of this matter of repentance.


The noon meal finally finished, Joseph instructed his steward to provide his brothers with as many provisions as they could carry.

Then he commanded his house steward, saying, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack. And put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph had told him (Genesis 44:1-2).

As he did on the first journey to Egypt, Joseph ordered his steward to place in their sacks the money they had given for their grain. In addition to this, the silver cup which belonged to Joseph was placed in the sack of Benjamin, thus setting the scene for the final test of his brothers.

As soon as it was light, the men were sent away, they with their donkeys. They had just gone out of the city, and were not far off, when Joseph said to his house steward, “Up, follow the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and which he indeed uses for divination? You have done wrong in doing this’” (Genesis 44:3-5).

Joseph’s brothers must have spent the night at his house, for they were “sent off” at first light (verse 3). No more had they gotten out of sight than Joseph ordered his steward to pursue them, charging them with theft and bringing back Benjamin, in whose sack the silver cup was sure to be found. The instructions which Joseph gave are cited as a quotation, but surely more detailed orders were given, for what happens is much more complex than what Joseph commanded his steward.

A serious difficulty arises with this silver cup that is hidden in Benjamin’s sack. The servant described it as the cup which his master used for divination (verse 5). And in verse 15 Joseph claimed to have knowledge through divination.73 The difficulty lies in the fact that later revelation strictly forbids divination:

You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying (Leviticus 19:26).

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer (Deuteronomy 18:10).

How could one as spiritual as Joseph be guilty of using a method of gaining knowledge that was an abomination to God?

Some feel that Joseph really did use the method of divination.74 Also, we are reminded that, at this point in time, divination was not clearly condemned by divine revelation.75 Other explanations have also been suggested.76 I am rather strongly inclined to believe that this is just one more element of the carefully constructed disguise of Joseph, who posed as a true Egyptian. Such a godly man as he is unlikely to have employed methods which God would later condemn. Some of the commandments of the Mosaic Law, while recorded later, were known and observed in much earlier times, such as the law of levirate marriage (cf. Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

When speaking to his steward Joseph referred to this cup differently than we would expect: “And put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest …” (Genesis 44:2).

Who, more than his personal steward, would have recognized this silver cup as the divining cup of his master? That is, of course, assuming that Joseph used the cup for divination. But suppose that he never used the cup for divining. How, then, would Joseph have referred to it? Just as he did. He called it “my cup, the silver cup” (verse 2). I contend that Joseph referred to his cup in this way because it reflected the actual use of that cup in such a way as to distinguish it (for his steward’s sake) from any other cup. He wanted a particular cup placed in Benjamin’s sack, and so he distinguished it by its uniqueness; it was Joseph’s cup—his drinking cup—which was silver.

This also explains why Joseph gave very specific instructions to his steward as to how he should refer to this cup when accusing his brothers of theft: “Is not this the one from which my lord drinks, and which he indeed uses for divination?” (Genesis 44:5).

Why did he give his trusted steward such latitude in everything but the specific wording of the accusation? I would suggest that it is precisely because the steward would never have worded his rebuke in this way. Why? Because not only the charge was false, but the impression given was also not true to the facts. If Joseph never used that silver cup for divination, how would his steward ever have conceived to refer to it in that way? He would have spoken of it just as Joseph did to him. He would have called it his master’s silver drinking cup, for no doubt it was used during the noon meal which Joseph shared with his brothers.

But why all this subterfuge? Why would Joseph want his brothers to think that the cup was used for divination when it was not? As for me, the answer is obvious. Joseph wanted to continue to reinforce his disguise as an Egyptian. He also wanted to impress upon his brothers that he knew everything. He had been able to seat his brothers at the table according to their age, an act that astonished and puzzled them (43:33). As Hebrews, they would expect Joseph to seek divine revelation through such means, and they would be drawn away from considering that he might know about them because they were his brothers. Furthermore, it would discourage them from concealing the truth from him since they were inclined to believe he knew everything.

Joseph’s faithful steward now set out to accomplish what his master commanded. Joseph’s brothers had been lulled into a false sense of confidence, one which would lead them to pronounce upon themselves their own sentence.

So he overtook them and spoke these words to them. And they said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing. Behold, the money which we found in the mouth of our sacks we have brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? With whomever of your servants it is found, let him die, and we also will be my lord’s slaves.” So he said, “Now let it also be according to your words; he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and the rest of you shall be innocent. Then they hurried, each man lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest, and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and when each man loaded his donkey, they returned to the city (Genesis 44:6-13).

Overtaking these Hebrew men as they headed back to their father, the steward accused them of stealing the silver “divining” cup. With smug confidence and self-righteousness the brothers assured the steward that such a thing was beyond them. After all, had they not attempted to return the money which they found in their sacks from the first journey? If they would not keep money that was accidentally placed in their sacks, much less would they consider taking as common thieves what was not theirs. Assured of their innocence, they overcompensated by pronouncing their own sentence if found guilty: let the thief, if indeed there was one, be put to death, and let all the rest become slaves. Slavery was what these men had most feared (cf. 43:18), and yet they were willing to risk it because they were certain of their innocence.

Knowing that he would discover the cup and probably knowing the intent of his master in this situation to test them in the matter of family cohesiveness and loyalty, the steward wisely and graciously modified their self-imposed sentence: no, let the one in whose sack the cup is found become Joseph’s slave and all the rest go free.

Each man hastened to take down his sack and open it, for they were certain that their innocence would be proven. While nothing is said of the gold which was placed in each man’s sack (verse 1), the discovery of this money in each of their sacks must have made their hearts sink just as it had before (42:28, 35). Their logic had been, “How could they think of stealing his silver cup if they would not take his money?” And yet for some unknown reason they did have his money. A growing sense of dread must have come over these men as each learned that his money had found its way back to his sack. The basis for their righteous indignation was gone. But the steward makes no mention of their money. All he wished to discover was the thief of the cup. From the oldest to the youngest, the steward made his way down the line until he reached Benjamin, the last. Their world came crashing in upon them all when the cup was discovered.

Here was the first phase of the final test of Joseph’s brothers. While they had initially insisted that the thief die and the others remain as slaves, the steward set the penalty as slavery only for the culprit. The others could go on their way. And yet, all of the brothers tore their clothes as a sign of grief and mourning, and all of them returned to Joseph’s house. Had they acted only in self-interest, they would have renounced Benjamin as a thief, deserted him, and fled from Egypt as quickly as possible. But something different was taking place. These were not the same men that had determined to do away with Joseph at Dothan (cf. Genesis 37:18ff.).

More than twenty years had passed since they had sold Joseph into slavery, and yet it was as though they were reliving the event in the person of Benjamin. Before, they had resented the fact that Joseph had observed their misconduct and reported it to Jacob (37:2). Further, they resented the favoritism Jacob showed to Joseph (37:4) just as Jacob was now partial to Benjamin (cf. 44:27-31). When far from the watchful eye of their father, they found an occasion to get rid of Joseph. First they decided to kill him violently (37:20), then to starve him to death in a pit (37:22), and finally to sell him into slavery for silver (37:26-28).

Now they were faced with a most similar situation. Benjamin, Jacob’s beloved, was in their care, far from Jacob’s protection. He was accused of a terrible crime for which there was no opportunity to establish his innocence. They, without any real guilt, such as they deserved before, could merely choose to walk away and enjoy their liberty at Benjamin’s expense. They could return to their father just as they had done so long ago and break his heart with the news that his other son was “no more.” More than twenty years later, the same temptation faces these men. Will they evidence a change of heart, or will they act in self-interest? That is what Joseph must know. The moment of truth has arrived.

A principle recorded later in Israel’s history surely finds application here:

So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, “Would that it were evening!” And at evening you shall say, “Would that it were morning!” because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see. And the LORD will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, “You will never see it again!” And there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer (Deuteronomy 28:66-68).

God told His people that when they obeyed Him, He would pour out His blessings upon them (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), but disobedience would bring discipline (28:15ff.) Like Joseph’s brothers, those who choose to disobey the will of God bring upon themselves the appearance of being in constant danger of extinction and annihilation. How true this appeared to be at this time in the life of Joseph’s brothers. Their life seemed to hang by a thread, but oh how strong the thread!

Guilt Admitted

The self-confidence of only a few verses previous (verses 7-9) has been completely eroded away by the discovery of the cup. There is now no attempt at making a defense or giving any explanation. Instead, there is an admission of guilt, not just on Benjamin’s part but on the part of all.

When Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, he was still there, and they fell to the ground before him. And Joseph said to them, “What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed practice divination?” So Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.” But he said, “Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father” (Genesis 44:14-17).

On their first visit the brothers had only been impressed with the severity of this Egyptian potentate (cf. 42:7; 43:3-5,18). Here was a man to be feared. But on this second mission they had also gained an appreciation for the generosity and kind intent of the governor. The sumptuous noon meal and the generous provisions and accommodations were not intended to disarm these men, but to assure them of the kindness of Joseph. In effect, they had seen both the “goodness and severity” (cf. Romans 11:22) of Joseph. I believe part of the reason they returned en masse to Joseph was that they had gained an appreciation for his integrity. He was one to whom they could appeal. He was a man of integrity and justice. This, to me, is the best explanation of the events of the last chapter, especially Joseph’s generosity and his hospitality at the noon meal.

Joseph is still at home as the heartbroken party returns. They fall prostrate before him, no longer seeking justice as before (verses 7-9), but mercy. Joseph rebuked them for their wicked deed, again reminding them of his ability to learn (by “divination”) the true facts of the matter. They could not deceive him; he knew all. That is the thrust of his words.

Judah seeks to convey their brokenness. They are without any defense. He does not acknowledge guilt in the matter of the cup, nor does he seek to give an explanation. He does confess that they now see the origin of this disaster. It is God against whom they have sinned (verse 16). It is not for the theft of Joseph’s cup that they are now in trouble, but for their sins of the past. While not stated (how, after all, would this Egyptian know anything of their previous sins?), Judah’s acknowledgment of sin must refer primarily to the sale of Joseph into slavery. As all were guilty of that sin (except Benjamin, interestingly), so they are all guilty before the governor of Egypt, and thus all are his slaves. They will suffer together since they shared in a common act of sin.

But Joseph would not hear of this. Why should all suffer for the sin of one? As a mere Egyptian he could not know of their past sins. He was only intent upon making matters right in regard to the theft of his silver cup. No, all would be sent home to their father except Benjamin, and he would remain as Joseph’s slave (verse 17).

Judah’s Appeal
(44 18-34)

Judah once again assumes the role of spiritual leader among his brothers. It was he, after all, who had offered himself as surety for Benjamin’s safe return. Now that seems a rather remote possibility. Nevertheless, there is something about Joseph which inspires an appeal for mercy. Had he not inquired with great interest about Benjamin and Jacob? And did he not take great interest in the fact of their father’s health and well-being (43:27)? Contrary to Jacob’s preferences and advice (43:6), Judah was determined to tell Joseph the truth with no excuses and to appeal to his graciousness as evidenced at the meal they had shared (43:31-34).

Then Judah approached him, and said, “Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ And we said to my lord, ‘We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes on him.’ But we said to my lord, ‘The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ You said to your servants, however, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall not see my face again.’ Thus it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, ‘Go back, buy us a little food.’ But we said, ‘We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ And your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn in pieces,” and I have not seen him since. And if you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.’ Now, therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, it will come about when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.’ Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest I see the evil that would overtake my father?” (Genesis 44:18-34).

With a humble petition for forbearance, Judah beseeches his brother to give him the opportunity to tell the whole story from beginning to end (verse 18). It was Joseph who had inquired about their father and younger brother (verse 19), and they had responded with the truth. They had also mentioned that Benjamin had a brother who was deceased and that their father was deeply attached to Benjamin because he was the only remaining child of his mother (verse 20). It was Joseph who had insisted upon seeing this brother, although they had attempted to explain how their father would not want him out of his sight (verses 21-22). In spite of their efforts to dissuade him from it, Joseph had demanded to see this brother as proof of their honesty (verse 23). When they returned home, they reported all this to their father Jacob (verse 24). He later asked his sons to return for more grain, but they refused to go without Benjamin, for they took the Egyptian governor’s words seriously (verses 25-26).

Judah now attempts to paint an accurate picture of the pitiful condition of their father by reporting his words as spoken to his sons (verses 27-29). His beloved wife, he had said, had borne him only two sons. When the oldest went out from him and did not return, he was forced to conclude that this son had died, a victim of wild beasts. To take Benjamin, the only other son of Rachel, and not return with him would break his heart. Not only would he enter his grave in sorrow, but he also implied that his death would even be hastened by his grief.

Judah’s predicament is now described (verses 30-32). If Joseph can somehow understand the dilemma in which Judah finds himself, perhaps he will be sympathetic to his petition which concludes his appeal (verses 33-34). The life of this aged man of whom Joseph has inquired is inseparably intertwined with his youngest son, Benjamin (verse 30). To return to Canaan without this son would bring to pass that which Jacob himself had suggested, his untimely and uncomforted death (verse 31). And Judah is most directly related to this situation, for it is he who had assured his father of Benjamin’s safe return, offering himself as surety (verse 32).

The facts have all been laid out. The situation is now seen in the light of what Benjamin’s captivity would do to this patriarch about whom Joseph seemed to show concern. If only Joseph would consent to a substitution, much of this suffering could be averted. Let him remain as Joseph’s prisoner, Judah pled (verse 33), for he could not bear to face his father without Benjamin. He would prefer to remain a slave in Egypt than to be free in Canaan and witness the pain and suffering he had helped to impose upon his father (verse 34).


Everyone knows what happens next. Joseph will identify himself as their brother, and the entire situation is suddenly reversed. But that is the subject of the next chapter. The question which we must concern ourselves with is this: Why did Joseph suddenly reveal his identity now? What caused him to suddenly throw off his disguise?

A casual consideration of this passage might lead us to conclude that Judah had been successful in tugging at Joseph’s heart strings. Joseph disclosed himself because he could stand it no longer. This explanation is not sufficient, and it does not fit the facts. On previous occasions Joseph had also been emotionally touched (42:24; 43:30), but he had always been able to restrain these emotions. It was not that now his emotions finally controlled Joseph, but that Joseph’s purposes had been realized. Judah’s appeal did not change Joseph’s heart so much as it revealed that Judah’s heart had undergone a significant change since the day many years before when he had been instrumental in selling Joseph into slavery. In short, Joseph was now able to reveal his identity because genuine repentance had been evidenced.

Up until this moment there was insufficient evidence of repentance. Previous chapters have indicated that Joseph’s brothers recognized their suffering as the result of their sin, but at best they felt only regret. They wished, I believe, that they had not sold Joseph into slavery. Perhaps they were sorry that their father had to suffer as he did. And they regretted that they had to endure the consequences of their sins. This was a good beginning, but it was not enough. Regret is no more than what we would expect from anyone who is faced with the unpleasant consequences of sin. Every prisoner regrets their crime, or at least the fact that they were caught. But repentance is more than regret.

The regrets of Judah and his brothers had not brought them to the point of confessing their sin to Jacob nor of making any attempt to learn of Joseph’s fate. But now, given the opportunity to repeat their sin, there is a significant change of heart and action on the part of Joseph’s brothers, as exemplified by Judah. They had once determined to do away with Joseph, regardless of its impact upon Jacob, in order to seek revenge and to avoid becoming Joseph’s subordinates. Now, just the opposite was true. Judah was willing to become the slave of Joseph, even though he was declared innocent of the theft of the silver cup. He could not stand the thought of causing any further suffering. That, my friend, is genuine repentance.

That brings us to the point of defining repentance. Repentance is the recognition of our sins which results in the kind of sorrow that brings about a change in our intellect, emotions, and will. In other words, repentance recognizes sin and is genuinely sorry for it, so much so that this sin will be shunned and a new course of action will be sought.77

The principle which underlies the protracted dealings of Joseph in the lives of his brothers is this: there can be no reconciliation without genuine repentance. That is what caused Joseph to delay so long in revealing his identity to his brothers. If there were to be true unity in his family, there must first be true reconciliation. And that reconciliation would not come before his brothers experienced and evidenced biblical repentance.

Let me mention some illustrations of repentance in the New Testament. The prodigal son sinned by demanding his inheritance and squandering it on loose living. He eventually came to suffer the consequences of his sin, feeding swine in a far country and having no food but that which he fed the hogs. His regrets eventually turned to repentance. He realized the foolishness of his sins and yearned for fellowship with his father, even as a hired servant. He came to his senses and returned home to his father, not seeking justice, but mercy, and his father warmly received him (Luke 15:10ff.). That was biblical repentance. Genuine sorrow for sin brought about a change in this son’s thinking and actions. He forsook his sins (cf. Luke 15:18) and returned to his father, who gladly received him back.

The rich young ruler, on the contrary, came to Jesus in order to gain salvation without changing his values, priorities, or lifestyle. He went away sorry, but not repentant or saved, for he could not part with his old way of life (Matthew 19:16-22). Zaccheus, on the other hand, evidenced genuine repentance and conversion when he sought to make right the sins of his past (Luke 19:1-10).

I dare say that you and I would not have gone to such lengths to restore our fallen brothers as did Joseph. And the reason, I fear, is that we have too little appreciation for the biblical doctrine of repentance. We do not think it necessary, nor do we seek to produce it in the lives of others.

In the preaching of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2, etc.), our Lord (Matthew 4:17, etc.), and the apostles (Mark 6:12; Acts 2:38; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20), repentance was an inseparable part of the message of the gospel. Why, then, is it not so important to us? Why do we not make it a part of the gospel we proclaim? Perhaps it is due to a misconception of the grace of God.

I can well remember hearing the teaching which emphasized the word “confess” rather than repentance. We are correctly told that “confess” does not mean “to be sorry,” but “to agree with,” “to say the same thing.”78 While this is undeniable, it is wrong to conclude that because “confess” does not mean “to be sorry,” being sorry is unnecessary. Confession is the evidence of genuine repentance.79 Thus, the “sorry” element is found in the word “repentance,” not in the word “confess.”

I once heard it said that in former years a Roman Catholic would come to the priest for confession saying something to the effect, “Father, I have … and … and I want to confess this to you.” Nowadays it is entirely a different story, which goes more like this: “Dig me daddy, I goofed again.” I fear that we who are Protestants are guilty of much the same mentality toward our sins. To admit guilt, we suppose, is to obtain forgiveness. I do not believe that the Bible anywhere teaches this. Reconciliation is based upon genuine repentance, not just on some kind of glib recital of wrongs committed.

I do not think that this is true only in the realm of spiritual relationships, but in every area of our relationships. I believe that God does heal marriages. I have seen what appeared to be a hopeless marriage marvelously transformed. But genuine reconciliation here requires repentance too. What an offended mate fears most is the kind of situation where their partner admits wrongdoing, pleads for forgiveness, and promises radical changes, but where nothing really changes. In short order, old patterns are resumed, and old problems relived. Repentance does not guarantee that old problems will not recur, but it does assure us that sins are recognized as such and shunned. Repentance does not desire to make sin a habit, and it looks to God for enablement to live in a godly way. In Romans 7 we see the agony of a man who is not living as he should, or even as he desires, but he does not love his sin; he hates it. His agony originates in his hatred of sin and his desire to do right. There is a repentant spirit here which must exist.

As Paul would have us know from the book of Romans, repentance is a great start, but it is not enough. Our recognition of sin and a corresponding desire to reverse our actions is a prerequisite to righteous living, but there is more that is needed. In addition to desiring a new course of action, we must find a new source of ability. The wonderful news of the grace of God is that He has not only made provision for our salvation, but He also has made provision for our sanctification:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 7:24-8:4).

Joseph’s dealings with his brothers have a great deal of application to men today. For those who have never come to faith in Christ, there is an illustration of salvation. God, like Joseph, desires to pour out upon men, whom He loves, the riches which are His to give. But men cannot be blessed until their sins have been dealt with. To Joseph’s brothers, this Egyptian potentate was all-wise and all-powerful, but harsh and to be feared. Yet to us, he was a loving brother whose tears revealed his heart and his earnest desires. In order to bring his brothers to repentance, Joseph had to put them to the test and make their lives appear to be in peril. But when they recognized themselves as sinners deserving any sentence Joseph had to pronounce upon them, repentance was realized, and Joseph was free to reveal himself to be a loving brother, not a vengeful master.

If you have never come to recognize your sin, desire to forsake it, and to confess it before God, then you, like Joseph’s brothers, will look upon God with only dread and fear. The thought of standing before God will be more fearful to you than Joseph’s brothers’ contemplation of returning to stand for sentencing before him. But once you realize your sins and the rightful penalty that should be yours—once you come to God, not to barter and bargain for blessings, but to cast yourself upon His mercy—then you will come to see the other side of God. He is a loving Father, who desires to pour out His blessings upon you. He wants to save you and to enable you to live a life that pleases Him and you.

Regretting your sins and their consequences in your life is not enough. That sorrow for sin must turn to a hatred of sin, a desire to turn from it, and a dependence upon God for forgiveness from sin and freedom from its power. Jesus Christ has come to earth, fully God and fully man. He has taken upon Himself the penalty for your sins. He offers you the kind of righteousness which God requires for salvation and eternal life. If you will acknowledge your sins, turn from them, and trust in the Savior God has provided, then you will be born again. You can be restored to fellowship with God just as Joseph’s brothers could once again have intimacy with their kinsman. But let me assure you, God will not make life easy for you nor pour out His blessings upon you until you have learned the need for and experienced repentance.

For Christians, we must be reminded that repentance is a vital element of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not a popular doctrine, as you know. It is a dimension of the gospel that is often omitted, thinking that it will be easier to save souls if we leave it out. But salvation will not and cannot occur without it.

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).

… solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).

… but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance (Acts 26:20).

As we actively pursue the “ministry of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:18-21), let us not forget that reconciliation cannot occur without repentance.

Once we are saved, the need for repentance is not over. The way salvation is conceived is also the way it is continued:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him (Colossians 2:6).

I believe this to be a part of what Paul meant in the book of Romans when he said,

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

The process which begins at conversion is an ongoing one. As we daily present ourselves to God, we ought to be learning more of His mind and thus become aware of new truths, as well as being convicted of transgressions of which we were previously unaware. John called this “walking in the light as He is in the light” (I John 1:7). We should continually be experiencing the renewal of our mind, which should result in renouncing the ways of darkness and walking in the light which we have been given. Repentance, in this sense, will go on throughout our lives until we have, in His presence, been transformed into full conformity with Him.

Unfortunately, there will come times of willful disobedience. Our feet will slip, and we shall sin in ways of which we know better. In times such as these, repentance must also be found in order for full fellowship and intimacy with God to be appreciated and experienced:

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent (Revelation 2:4-5).

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed, and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me’” (Revelation 3:14-20).

For Christian and non-Christian alike, repentance is a step beyond recognition of sin and regret of its consequences; it is the decision to turn from sin to Him who is sinless and whose way is that of righteousness. It is turning from our sins and our self-effort and relying upon our Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and enablement. How beautifully the Apostle Paul describes this step beyond regret in his epistle to the Corinthians. Let us use it as our guide:

For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you, what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you it was not for the sake of the offender, nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God (II Corinthians 7:8-12).

72 It would appear that the first journey to Egypt for grain occurred in the first year of the famine (cf. 42:1ff.). It would take some time for Joseph’s brothers to travel from Canaan to Egypt and return, plus the fact that Jacob resisted any thought of a second trip to Egypt until all the grain was gone and his sons pressured him to face reality and release Benjamin (cf. 43:2,10). When Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers at the end of their second journey to Egypt, he said that five years of famine remained (45:11), indicating that two of the seven years of famine had elapsed. An estimate of one year, therefore, cannot miss the mark by much.

73 “As far as such practice is concerned, it is said to have been used in several forms. Some poured clear water into a bowl or a cup and then strewed into the water small pieces or particles of gold and of silver or even of precious stones. Some poured oil into the water. Still others observed the manner in which light rays broke on the surface. Usually the resulting designs to be observed in the water, whether from the particles thrown into it or from the oil, were construed after certain rules in order to draw conclusions as to the future.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), II, p. 1081.

74 “It would seem clear from the narrative that Joseph was in the habit of using the art of divination.” W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), p. 418.

75 “Unless this was part of his pose, Joseph here took his colouring from Egypt, in a matter on which no law was as yet in being.” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 205.

76 “There still remains the possibility, as Vilmar points out, that it may actually have pleased God to use some such means in order to convey higher revelation to Joseph.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, II, p. 1081.

“But as Vergote points out, the phrase whereby he certainly divineth could be translated ‘about this he would certainly have divined.’ It is a small difference, but it would give added point to verse 15, where the implication would be: ‘Did you think you could be undetected?’ It also meets the objection, such as it is, that divining by means of a cup is not otherwise clearly attested for the Egypt of this period.” Kidner, Genesis, p. 205.

77 “Repentance, penitence, and conversion are closely linked. Whenever someone gives his thought and life a new direction, it always involves a judgment on his previous views and behaviour. This process is expressed in the NT by three word groups which deal with its various aspects: epistrepho, metamelomai, and metanoeo. The first and third both mean turn round, turn oneself round, and refer to a man’s conversion. This presupposes and includes a complete change under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Metamelomai expresses rather the feeling of repentance for error, debt, failure and sin, and so it looks back. Hence, it does not necessarily cause a man to turn to God. Epistrepho is probably the widest conception, because it always includes faith. We often find pisteuo, believe, expressly used with metanoeo, since faith complements repentance. . . .” Colin Brown, ed., “Conversion, Penitence, Repentance, Proselyte,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), I, pp. 353-354.

Berkhoff distinguished three elements of repentance:

“a. An intellectual element. There is a change of view, a recognition of sin as involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness. It is designated in Scripture as epignosis hamartias (knowledge of sin), Rom. 3:20, cf. 1:32 . . .

“b. An emotional element. There is a change of feeling, manifesting itself in sorrow for sin committed against a holy and just God, Ps. 51:2,10,14. . . .

“c. A volitional element. There is also a volitional element, consisting in a change of purpose, an inward turning away from sin and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing, Ps. 51:5,7,10; Jer. 25:5.” L. Berkhoff, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1941), p. 486.

78 “Homologeo (Soph. onwards) and homologia (Hat. onwards) are compounds of homos, the same, similar, and lego, say, or logos, word, speech. Hence, homologeo means to say the same, i.e., agree in one’s statements, and homologia means agreement, consent.” D. Furst, “Confess,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. I, p. 344.

79 “Confession is a sign of repentance . . . and thus a mark of the new life of faith.” Ibid., p. 346.

45. The Fundamentals of Forgiveness (Genesis 45:1-28)


Near a town in the state of Washington, millions of gallons of radioactive atomic wastes are being stored in huge underground tanks. The tanks have a life expectancy of 20 or 30 years. The wastes within them will remain deadly for about 600 years.80

We live in a society which, like those tanks in Washington, is trying to store up anger that sooner or later is going to break forth, causing pain and misery for many. We are all familiar with the popular bumper sticker in Dallas which reads, “I’m Mad Too, Eddie.” The other day I saw one that said, “I’m Mad At Eddie.” Basically, there are far too many hostile people going around looking for some way to unload their anger. Anger takes a tremendous toll on those about us:

Eighty percent of all murders are committed by people who have some relationship with the victim. Somebody gets angry, there’s a gun or knife handy, and tragedy results. According to hospital records, innumerable parents have inflicted serious injuries upon their small children in fits of temper. One authority estimates that 60,000 children a year in America are beaten to death, that more children under five years of age are killed by their parents than die of disease.81

Besides hurting others, anger is killing us. Suppressed anger and bitterness are eating away at our health and peace of mind:

Research indicates that unprocessed anger can produce all sorts of physical disorders. Dr. Leo Madow in his book, Anger, suggests that these physical problems range all the way from arthritis to asthma, from urinary disorders to the common cold. And we have known for a long time that anger can cause serious emotional disorders when it is not handled effectively.82

All of this should compel us to conclude that anger is one of the great problems of our time.

Dr. Leon Saul, psychiatrist and author, writes, “I believe man’s hostility to man is the central problem in human affairs … that it is a disease to be cured and prevented like cancer, TB, or smallpox, and that its cure will result in healthier, better living—not only for society in general but for each individual in particular.”83

While it is not the solution to every instance of anger,84 forgiveness is the answer to much, if not most, of the anger we experience in life. Unresolved anger leads to bitterness, hostility, and revenge. Forgiveness leads to freedom and reconciliation. No character in the drama of the book of Genesis better illustrates the fundamentals of forgiveness than Joseph, and no chapter more clearly defines and describes the essentials of forgiveness than chapter 45.

Those years which Joseph spent in slavery and prison could have been the occasion for a slow burn that might have ignited into an explosion of anger at the sight of his brothers. How angry Joseph could have been with God for getting him into such a situation. But Joseph recognized that God was with him in his sufferings and that these were from the loving hand of a sovereign God. Most of all, Joseph could have been angry with his brothers, who had callously sold him into slavery.

The high point of Joseph’s relationship with his brothers comes in chapter 45, for it is here that there is a reconciliation brought about between them. This was made possible on the brothers’ part by their genuine repentance, regretting their sin with regard to Joseph, and reversing their actions when a similar situation was presented with regard to Benjamin. But on Joseph’s part, reconciliation was achieved through his sincere and total forgiveness of his brothers for the evil they had committed against him.

Forgiveness is a vital part of the Christian experience. It is necessary in terms of our relationship with God:

For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:14-15).

Forgiveness is also an essential part of our responsibility toward others, both friends and enemies:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31-32).

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you; in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-45).

Let us, then, seek to learn the lessons on forgiveness which this chapter offers us.

A Speech to the Speechless

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, “Have everyone go out from me.” So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it (Genesis 45:1-2).

It may appear at first glance that Joseph simply was overcome by his emotions so that he was compelled to disclose his identity. I have already suggested that this was not the case.85 Even when his emotions did involuntarily emerge, Joseph simply left the presence of his brothers, wept, and returned (cf. 43:30-31). Joseph revealed himself to his brothers because they had evidenced real repentance, which made reconciliation possible.

Now that it was time to reveal himself, Joseph wished this to be done alone. I find several possible reasons for Joseph expelling the Egyptians from his presence before he made himself known to his brothers. First, this was a family matter. It was to be an intimate time, and outsiders would not add anything to that moment. Perhaps also Joseph felt that the full release of his emotions, held in check for years, would cost him the esteem of his servants. Mainly, however, I believe that it was for another reason that Joseph commanded everyone to leave except his brothers: it was in order to deal with the matter of the sin of his brothers in strictest privacy. If Joseph intended for no one but his brothers to observe the outpouring of his emotions, it didn’t work, for “the Egyptians heard it” (verse 2), and this report even reached Pharaoh’s ears (verses 2, 16).

Previously, I have tended to read verses 3-15 from Joseph’s perspective without much attention to how his brothers must have responded, but Moses carefully describes the emotional trauma they underwent:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they come closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. And you shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have. There I will also provide for you, for there are still five years of famine to come, lest you and your household and all that you have be impoverished.”’ And behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth which is speaking to you. Now you must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and all that you have seen; and you must hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept; and Benjamin wept on his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him (Genesis 45:3-15).

Put yourselves in the sandals of these brothers for a moment. They had been treated graciously by Joseph, given the hospitality of his home and his table and bountiful provisions for their families back in Canaan (cf. 43:32-44:1). Then they were stopped and searched, each of them being found with their money in their sack and Benjamin with Joseph’s cup in his possession (44:6-13). Their guilt was acknowledged and all were willing to remain as Joseph’s slaves, but Joseph refused to detain any except Benjamin, the “guilty” party (44:14-17). Judah then made an impassioned appeal for mercy on his aged father, offering himself in place of Benjamin (44:18-34).

It is at this point that chapter 45 begins. Judah and his brothers anxiously await a verdict from Joseph, one that will affect the course of their lives. Without knowing who Joseph is or what he intended to do, the brothers saw this potentate send everyone out of the room. They could perhaps see the tears flowing down his cheeks and his chest heaving with emotion. But what was the source of this great emotion? Was it anger, which would lead to further trouble? How could it be otherwise?

If they thought the worst had come, it had not, at least in their minds, for now this Egyptian blurted out in their own tongue, “I am Joseph!” That was the worst news they could ever have hoped to hear. It brought them no relief, but only new avenues of anxiety. It was bad enough to stand before a powerful Egyptian governor who was angered at the theft of a cup, but to realize that he was their brother whom they had sold into slavery—that was too much! Before, they at least had a hope that this judge would be impartial and that mercy might motivate him to accept their appeal. But now their judge must surely be their enemy, whom they had unjustly condemned. How could they hope for better treatment from him? No wonder they were petrified (cf. verses 3ff.).

Fear and guilt were written on their ashen faces, and their silence confirmed this to Joseph. They had nothing more to say, no more appeals left, no hope for mercy. Every word recorded in the first 15 verses of chapter 45 is spoken by Joseph because his brothers were speechless (verse 3). Not until Joseph had demonstrated that he had forgiven them and loved them did they speak (verse 15).

Joseph’s first words declared his identity, followed quickly by an indication of concern about his father (verse 3). He, like Judah and the others, cared greatly for his elderly father. The thought of Jacob’s grief was unbearable to Joseph as well as to the rest. But he also cared for his brothers. They must have shrunk back from him in horror, but Joseph asked them to draw near (verse 4).

Nowhere in this chapter is the sin of his brothers minimized. At the very outset Joseph identified the treatment they had given him as sinful. Forgiveness, you see, does not seek to minimize sin, but to neutralize it. We must remember, though, that they have already come to the point of recognizing their actions as sin (cf. 42:21) and of repenting of it (chapter 44). Since they have come to recognize the magnitude of their sin, Joseph need not belabor that point. The stress, instead, falls upon the totality of the forgiveness he has given them or, as the song writer has described it, “grace greater than all my sins.”

Joseph’s words are filled with hope and encouragement. Verses 5-8 assure these men that their sin had not thwarted the purposes of God. “You sold me,” Joseph said, “but God sent me” (verse 5). Their purpose was to destroy, but God’s was to save. Men may sin by attempting to do what is unacceptable to God, while at the same time they are accomplishing what God has purposed.

… this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death (Acts 2:23).

The doctrine of the sovereignty of God assures us that while men may do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, God can cause that “evil” to accomplish His good and perfect purposes.

We know that the righteous God hates all sin with a perfect and irreconcilable hatred; but it is his prerogative to bring good out of evil, and no sin can be committed without his knowledge, or in opposition to his holy counsels. Sinners are as really the ministers of his providence as saints, and he glorifies himself by the wickedness which he hates and punishes, as well as by that holiness which he loves and rewards.86

In the words of sacred Scripture, “For the wrath of man shall praise Thee; …” (Psalm 76:10).

Salvation, not destruction, was the purpose of God in what had happened. How, then, could Joseph even consider doing to his brothers what they feared? The famine, now two years long, had five years remaining before it had run its appointed course. Jacob and his sons must come to Egypt where Joseph could provide for them, thus sparing the nation. While God did not sanction their means or their motives, Joseph was destined to go to Egypt where he would be the instrument by which Israel would be spared as a remnant and which would later be kept alive by a “great deliverance” (literally, an “escaped company,” verse 7, margin, NASV).

This prophecy goes beyond the previous revelation given to Abram concerning Israel’s sojourn in Egypt:

And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14).

Abram was not told that the “land that is not theirs” would be Egypt, nor was he told how Israel would come to live there. Neither is it mentioned that their “exodus” would be some kind of escape. The point of all this is that even if Joseph was aware of God’s words to Abram, he could not have known all that he spoke here to his brothers. There may well be, then, an element of prophecy here. God may have revealed to Joseph at some time (such as when he was in prison?) His purposes in allowing him to suffer rejection and persecution.

In the final analysis, it was not his brothers who were responsible for sending Joseph to Egypt, but God, for the purpose of bringing about their salvation. And in the process Joseph was elevated to his position of power and prominence, advisor to Pharaoh87 and ruler over all of Egypt. We have a saying, “All’s well that ends well,” which finds a measure of truth in these words of Joseph. Joseph’s explanation of all that had happened and God’s reason for it is followed by an exhortation to return quickly to the land of Canaan, get their father, their families, and their flocks and return to Egypt (verses 9-13).

Approximately a year had passed since Joseph’s brothers had first arrived in Egypt, but this delay was not due to any apathy or aloofness on Joseph’s part—he simply had to wait patiently until his brothers had evidenced a change of heart and mind (repentance). Now Joseph urges his brothers to quickly bring their father down to Egypt (verse 9) where they would live near him in the land of Goshen. Here, it would seem, his family would be able to pasture their flocks, be relatively close to him, and yet remain somewhat distant from the urban populace of Egypt, who disliked Hebrews (cf. 46:34).88

In these verses there is a noticeable emphasis upon the glory and splendor which Joseph has attained in Egypt. For some this appears to be out of character for Joseph, who has previously been marked by modesty and humility. Why would he now flaunt his position before his brothers? There are several explanations, one or more of which may satisfy our concerns.

First, the glory which Joseph now possesses would serve to encourage his brothers, who are guilt-ridden for the wicked deed they committed against him by selling him as a slave. Joseph would thus be reminding them that his humiliation and suffering were the means to his promotion and exaltation. Look what their sin had brought about in Joseph’s life! Second, it would comfort Jacob and assure him of Joseph’s ability to provide for the entire family during the famine. Finally, it was a glory which Joseph desired to share unselfishly with his brothers. His motive would thus be Christ-like:

These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee, even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I ever had with Thee before the world was, … And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; …” (John 17:1-5, 22).

With this, Joseph fell upon the neck of his closest brother, Benjamin, and wept. Benjamin likewise wept on his neck. Finally, Joseph wept on the rest of his brothers, who, in the end, were relieved sufficiently to begin conversing with him. It would be a long time before these men could fully grasp the grace of forgiveness which was granted by Joseph.

Pharaoh Is Pleased

It is incredible that Joseph’s desire was to save his family rather than to seek revenge. He virtually insisted that his brothers leave quickly and bring down their entire family as soon as possible. But the icing on the cake was the confirmation of Joseph’s hospitality by none other than Pharaoh himself.

Now when the news was heard in Pharaoh’s house that Joseph’s brothers had come, it pleased Pharaoh and his servants. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go to the land of Canaan, and take your father and your households and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you shall eat the fat of the land.’ Now you are ordered, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father and come. And do not concern yourselves with your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours’” (Genesis 45:16-20).

Pharaoh had received the report (if indeed he had not heard Joseph weeping loudly himself, cf. verse 2) that there was a reunion between Joseph and his brothers. We almost expect Pharaoh to be pleased, but such a response would have to be unusual. We know that Hebrews were not well thought of by Egyptians (43:32; 46:34). If Pharaoh knew the specifics of how Joseph had come to Egypt, he would certainly not have any warm feelings toward his brothers.

I can think of only two reasons why Pharaoh should be so pleased to hear of the arrival of Joseph’s brothers. The first reason is obvious: Pharaoh had the greatest respect for Joseph. Joseph had virtually saved his kingdom and would greatly enhance his position in Egypt (cf. 47:13-26). Anything that pleased Joseph would make Pharaoh happy.

There is yet another explanation for the joy of Pharaoh which I believe to be very instructive. It also helps us to better understand why Joseph sent out his Egyptian servants when he revealed his identity to his brothers. It would seem that Joseph never informed Pharaoh of the injustice done to him by his brothers. Joseph did insist to the butler and the baker of the Pharaoh that he was innocent, yet he did not reveal the guilt of his brothers:

Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon (Genesis 40:14-15).

While Joseph maintained his own innocence, he never exposed the guilt of his brothers or of Potiphar’s wife. As a result, Pharaoh did not have to overcome any feelings of anger toward Joseph’s brothers and thus could warmly welcome them as long-lost relatives who had finally found their way to their brother. Silence about the sins of others makes their restoration a much easier process.

Joseph was a very capable administrator, as we have already seen (chapter 41). While it is not stated, Joseph surely had spoken with Pharaoh about his brothers before he asked them to come to Egypt and promised them the land of Goshen (verse 10). It was no coincidence, then, when Pharaoh confirmed Joseph’s offer, extending the offer of Egypt’s finest and commanding them to take wagons on which to bring Jacob and the women and children (verses 17-20). His generosity extended even beyond that which Joseph had indicated. The goodwill of both Joseph and Pharaoh were confirmed. The sooner they returned to Canaan for their families and flocks, the better.

Joseph’s Journey Instructions

Before their departure to Canaan, Joseph gave his brothers provisions for their journey, as commanded by Pharaoh, as well as some last minute instructions.

Then the sons of Israel did so; and Joseph gave them wagons according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. To each of them he gave changes of garments, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of garments. And to his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and sustenance for his father on the journey. So he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the journey” (Genesis 45:21-24).

Provisions for the journey would probably have been as before (42:25), including grain, bread to eat, something to drink, and fodder for their animals. Also, each of the brothers was given a change of clothing This should come as no surprise, for when the silver cup was discovered in Benjamin’s sack, all of the brothers tore their garments as a sign of mourning (44:13).

Benjamin was given five changes of garments and 300 pieces of silver. We have seen partiality before. Isaac preferred Esau above Jacob. Jacob favored Rachel above Leah. In every instance, partiality had disastrous effects. Why, then, did Joseph also show partiality to Benjamin? Of course, Benjamin was the only other son of his mother. And Benjamin did not have a part in the sale of Joseph either. But was this partiality toward him wise?

I believe that Joseph’s actions were deliberate and with good intention. Partiality was one of the factors in Joseph’s rejection by his brethren (cf. 37:3-4). Joseph had shown partiality toward Benjamin just as his father had persistently done, but now his brothers had chosen not to sacrifice him for their own gain. Joseph, I believe, did not avoid showing partiality toward Benjamin because that is the way life is. Some people are better looking than others. Some are good athletes, while others are not. Some are smarter than others. Life is full of distinctions. Joseph did not stop making distinctions because they would always exist, and his brothers would have to learn to live with them. Our Lord seemed to place Peter, James, and John in a privileged position, and John was called “the one whom Jesus loved.” Repentance and conversion do not make our problems go away, but they do give us the strength to deal with our problems.

Joseph sent his father ten donkeys loaded with the best that Egypt had to offer, the “first fruits” of what lie ahead (cf. verse 18). I would imagine that this gift far outclassed the “best of the land” which Jacob had sent by his sons (cf. 43:11). As they parted Joseph gave his brothers one last word of instruction, “Do not quarrel on the journey” (verse 24). As we read this Scripture before preaching on this text, a number of people in the audience laughed. I don’t blame them, because I have to smile each time I read it. Joseph knew his brothers well. I imagine that quarreling was a part of the bad report that he had given his father many years before (37:2). Being sons of four mothers, such rivalry would not be uncommon. Probably the only thing they ever agreed upon completely was doing away with Joseph. They, like the many rival groups in Jesus’ day, could unite when it came to rejecting one who threatened them all.

Joseph had good reason for supposing that his brothers might quarrel on the journey home. Not long before this he had overheard a conversation which they did not think he could understand:

Then they said to one another, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not tell you, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood” (Genesis 42:21-22).

Although they were forgiven, they would face a great temptation to try to assess the precise measure of guilt of each person. The buck would be passed, and a heated argument would no doubt ensue. All of this was profitless since all had been forgiven. Their trip would be a happier one if they focused upon grace and not guilt.

Jacob Rejuvenated

I can visualize what the return of Jacob’s sons must have been like. Jacob, like the father of the prodigal son, must have anxiously waited for any sign of his returning sons. Since Benjamin was among them, his interest was intense. Every passer-by was carefully scrutinized to see if he were one of his sons. Jacob’s fears probably intensified as the days passed. Every conceivable mishap would be considered. Finally the silhouette of the sons appeared on the horizon. Meticulously, each head was counted, and to his great relief, all were present, especially Benjamin. But what of all those extra persons and the carts which accompanied his sons? What did this mean?

Then they went up from Egypt, and come to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, saying, “Joseph is still alive, and indeed he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” But he was stunned, for he did not believe them. When they told him all the words of Joseph that he had spoken to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Then Israel said, “It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die” (Genesis 45:25-28).

The words “Joseph is alive” were impossible to believe. How could this be true? Hadn’t his sons assured him that Joseph had died? Wasn’t the evidence compelling? Now Jacob may have been old, but he was far from senile. Things just did not add up. There had to be some explaining by his sons. Painful though it was, I believe that the whole sordid story was spelled out. I am persuaded that confession was made because it was necessary in order to convince Jacob that Joseph was alive. It also seems to underlie the prophecy Jacob made concerning Joseph:

Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall. The archers bitterly attacked him, And shot at him and harassed him; But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)” (Genesis 49:22-24)

Isn’t it interesting that Joseph is never said to command his brothers to confess to their father, nor is their confession reported by Moses. But why should it be made public? This was a family matter that was dealt with in private. Just as Joseph had asked the Egyptians to leave his presence when he dealt with matters between himself and his brothers, so we are not present for their confession to Jacob. Moses wrote these things for our instruction (I Corinthians 10:11), not to satisfy our curiosity.

All of the evidence led to the conclusion that Joseph was indeed alive. The broken spirit of Jacob was immediately revived. He now yearned to see his son before his death. And lest we think that Jacob was on the verge of death, let us recall that he had yet seventeen years to spend with his son in Egypt (47:28). All that Jacob had feared was going against him suddenly appeared in its true light. It was the hand of God in his life, sparing him from the physical and spiritual death of Canaan by preparing a place for him in Egypt.


If the key word for chapter 44 is repentance, then the key to chapter 45 is forgiveness. These two elements are essential for any genuine and lasting reconciliation: repentance and forgiveness. Let us give careful attention to this matter of forgiveness as it is illustrated in the life of Joseph.

A Definition of Forgiveness

If we are to be a forgiving community, we must first of all know what forgiveness is. While several Greek and Hebrew words are employed to convey forgiveness, essentially forgiveness means to release or set free. It is used of the cancellation of a debt, of release from a legal obligation, and of the termination of marriage by divorce (which frees the divorced party to re-marry, cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4). In general, we can say that forgiveness is a conscious decision on the part of the offended party to release the offender from the penalty and guilt of the offense committed. This release not only frees the offender from guilt and punishment, but it also frees the forgiver of anger and bitterness.

Forgiveness is not leniency or overlooking sin. Only once in the New Testament do we find reference to sin being “passed over”:

… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed, … (Romans 3:23-25).

Here, God “passed over” man’s sins not because He took them lightly, but because He took them so seriously that He shed the blood of His only Son. He “passed over” the sins of the past, knowing that the price would be paid when Christ appeared and was rejected of men and put to death on the cross of Calvary. When we pass over sins, it is because we do not wish to deal with them—ever, now or later.

Forgiveness is not free. Sin must always have a price that is paid. But forgiveness is the decision on the part of the offended to suffer the penalty due the offender. If a banker pardons a loan, it means that the borrower does not have to repay his debt, but it also means that the lender suffers the loss of the money loaned and not repaid. If society pardons a criminal, it means that society suffers the consequences of the criminal’s act, not the criminal. If I go to your house and break a vase and you forgive me for my error, you suffer the loss of the vase, not I.

This definition of forgiveness perfectly describes the pardon which God offers to men through the cross of Jesus Christ. All men have sinned against God and deserve the penalty of eternal destruction (Romans 3:23; 6:23). But God loved us and sent His Son to die for our sins so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16). God did not overlook our sins, but He bore the penalty for them. That is genuine forgiveness. And all who place their trust in Jesus Christ as the One who died for their sins will experience this forgiveness. It is this forgiveness which all men must either accept (resulting in salvation) or reject (resulting in damnation):

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).

Finally, our definition of forgiveness must include the fact that true forgiveness is not earned. If a man commits a crime and he serves out his prison sentence, he is not forgiven; he has simply paid his debt to society. If a man cannot pay back a loan within the time allotted but is forced to pay it out over some more extended period of time, his debt has not been forgiven. If our forgiveness is the kind that demands that the person “pay for it” before we will forgive, then we are not giving forgiveness. That may be justice, but it is not mercy. It may be law, but not grace. Just as we can in no way contribute to the forgiveness and salvation which Christ has accomplished on the cross of Calvary, so no one we forgive can be forgiven and yet forced to pay for their offense against us.

Principles of Forgiveness

Having defined biblical forgiveness, let us seek to lay down some principles of forgiveness which we learn from the example of Joseph in Genesis 45.

(1) Biblical forgiveness should be granted quickly. Joseph could hardly have granted forgiveness to his brothers here in chapter 45. The forgiveness that was expressed for the first time here by Joseph was first experienced here by his brothers, but long before this, Joseph had forgiven these men in his heart. How else could he have walked so closely to his Lord and so cheerfully and faithfully served, regardless of his circumstances? Joseph had experienced the freedom of forgiveness long before his brothers.

In the New Testament, anger is always to be dealt with quickly:

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:26-27).

The sooner forgiveness is granted and reconciliation is achieved, the better it is for all involved:

Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way; in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison (Matthew 5:25).

(2) Biblical forgiveness should be granted privately. I see a great deal of wisdom in Joseph requiring his servants to leave the room while he dealt with the sins of his brothers. It made matters much easier for Pharaoh and the Egyptians to be ignorant of all the injustices these brothers had committed against Joseph. This, too, is according to biblical instruction:

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions (Proverbs 10:12).

A fool’s vexation is known at once, but a prudent man conceals dishonor (Proverbs 12:16).

He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends (Proverbs 17:9).

And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother (Matthew 18:15).

We should always seek restoration and reconciliation on the lowest, most private level so that the fewer there are who are aware of the sin, the easier the offender can be forgiven and forgotten.

(3) Biblical forgiveness must be given freely and unconditionally. Forgiveness is free in that the forgiver willingly accepts the loss or pain personally. In brief, forgiveness is a matter of grace, not works, and grace does not make demands upon the one who receives it. Joseph must have forgiven his brothers long before they had come to repentance. He did not wait to see the anguish of their souls until he forgave them, but he did so freely and without requirement. This suggests also that forgiveness may be refused. As He was dying upon the cross, our Lord said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

That forgiveness accomplished by His death on the cross is rejected by many. Those who perish do not do so because there is no forgiveness, but because they have rejected God’s forgiveness.

(4) Forgiveness that is biblical must be granted sacrificially. The price of Joseph’s forgiveness was more than twenty years of separation from his father, slavery, and even a sentence in prison. Not a small price to pay, but then forgiveness does not come without sacrifice. Because of this, forgiveness is better shown than said. Joseph never actually used the word “forgive,” but his words and actions conveyed it. Just as it is too easy to say, “I’m sorry,” so it is possible to glibly say, “I forgive you.” Genuine forgiveness has a price tag, and few are those who are willing to pay it.

(5) Biblical forgiveness is not provisional, but permanent. Just as conditions cannot be demanded before forgiveness is granted, neither can they be laid down for forgiveness to remain in force. Seventeen years after Joseph assured his brothers they were forgiven, they feared that this grace had terminated at the death of their father (50:15-21). While we will hardly “forget” the transgressions of others against us, we can certainly refuse to call them to remembrance or to dredge them up in the future.

For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:34).

(6) Biblical forgiveness seeks the correction and restoration of the offender. I fear that what has been said might lead to the conclusion that once forgiveness is granted, all need for correction is gone. Not so! I believe that Joseph forgave his brothers years before he saw them, but remember that it was a year or so until he disclosed his identity to them. This was because he needed to be assured that they had changed their attitude toward their sin (repented).

When our children sin we may very well need to spank them as well as to forgive them. We may forgive the thief for stealing our money, which we may never see again, but the law still exacts a punishment for theft. A forgiving spirit dissolves our anger and animosity toward the offender, and it commits our vengeance to God, since He alone knows the extent of the sin (cf. Romans 12:11-21; I Peter 2:21-25).

Forgiveness, as I understand it, deals first of all with our personal animosity and violated rights in such a way that we can deal with sin impartially and lovingly, or we can commit the matter entirely to God where we cannot or should not take matters into our own hands. Forgiveness, like one facet of love, seeks the best interest of another, even at our own expense. But since we do seek the good of the other party, correction may be required (cf. Matthew 18:15ff.; Galatians 6:1).

Perhaps the best analogy comes from the dealing of God in the life of the disobedient saint. Since all the sins of the Christian, past, present, and future, are forgiven at Calvary, God will not punish the saint who is forgiven once for all. But there is still the need for discipline and correction. The forgiveness of our sins assures us that God is rightly related to us, but discipline causes us to draw more closely to him.

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:5-11).

The Basis of Forgiveness

All of us should realize that forgiveness is a mark of godly character and conduct. Our problem is not knowing we should do it, but the doing of it. How can we forgive those who have hurt us so deeply? Let me make several suggestions.

(1) Seriously consider the Scriptures which command us to forgive (cf. Ephesians 4:25-32; Colossians 3:12-17, etc.). Recognize that forgiveness is not an option, but a command.

(2) Consider your own sinfulness and the forgiveness which God has freely given you.

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain money-lender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. Which of them therefore will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more. And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” And turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven” (Luke 7:40-48).

The more we are aware of our own sinfulness and the forgiveness we have received, the easier it is to forgive others.

(3) Meditate upon the sovereignty of God in the offense committed against you. Can you say, like Joseph, “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good …” (Genesis 50:20)? The doctrine of the sovereignty of God means that whatever evil is committed against us has been designed by God to come into our lives for a purpose that is good (Romans 8:28). Job’s suffering at Satan’s hand (and by God’s permission—Job 1, 2) resulted in praise to God, instruction for Satan, and a lesson for Job. In the final analysis, Job was blessed far more than he had been before his trials began (cf. Job 42:10-17). When a messenger of Satan buffeted Paul, it was to produce humility and to teach him that God’s strength comes in our weakness (II Corinthians 12:7-9). Behind our enemy is a loving God, who brings affliction and suffering into our lives for our good and His glory.

(4) Give careful consideration to the matter of servanthood. Usually we find that when others mistreat us we battle with our offended pride, and we struggle because our rights have been violated. Forgiveness originates from a servant-like attitude.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:3-8).

The supreme example of humility is our Lord Himself. He set aside His rights and prerogatives in order to be rejected of men and hanged (innocently) upon a cruel cross. Servanthood for our Lord spelled out suffering and shame for the good of others. Forgiveness is not so difficult for the humble as it is for the haughty. If our sinless Savior was willing to die on the cross for sinners, is it such a great thing for Him to ask us to sacrifice our own interests for those of others?

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (I Peter 2:18-25).

(5) Meditate on the characteristics of biblical love. It is not an emotional feeling, but a decision of the will. Its earmarks are described by Paul for us to contemplate:

Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Have you found the forgiveness of your sins in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary? Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, came to earth and took upon Himself the reproaches of men and the rejection of God. He became sin for us (II Corinthians 5:21) and suffered its painful consequences. You may find forgiveness from your sins by trusting that Jesus Christ died in your place and bore your sins on the cross.

My Christian friend, are you harboring anger and bitterness because of the sins others have committed against you? I pray that you will find the freedom of forgiveness that Joseph experienced which enabled him to be reconciled to his brothers and to minister to them for his own good, the good of his brothers, and the glory of God.

80 Margaret Johnston Hess, “What To Do With Your Anger,” Eternity, April, 1972, p. 15.

81 Ibid., p. 14.

82 Robert C. Larson with Neil C. Warren, “You Can Be Angry and Still Be Good,” Moody Monthly, December, 1974, p. 51.

83 Leon J. Saul, The Hostile Mind (New York: Random, 1956), p. 14, as quoted by David W. Augsburger, The Freedom of Forgiveness: 70 X 7 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1970), p. 59.

84 Sometimes anger is called for, as is expressed by this passage from The Temptation to be Good by A. Powell Davies (p. 119):

“That is one of the truly serious things that has happened to the multitude of so-called ordinary people. They have forgotten how to be indignant. This is not because they are overflowing with human kindness, but because they are morally soft and compliant. When they see evil and injustice, they are pained but not revolted. They mutter and mumble, they never cry out. They commit the sin of not being angry.

“Yet their anger is the one thing above all others that would make them count. If they cannot lead crusades, or initiate reforms, they can at least create the conditions in which crusades can be effectual and reforms successful. The wrath of the multitude could bring back decency and integrity into public life; it could frighten the corrupt demagogue into silence and blast the rumor monger into oblivion. It could give honest leaders a chance to win.” Quoted by Norman V. Hope, “How To Be Good--And Mad,” Christianity Today, July 19, 1968, p. 5.

85 See Lesson 44.

86 George Bush, Notes on Genesis (reprint ea.; Minneapolis: James Family Christian Publishers, 1979), II, p. 335. Bush goes on to add, “Yet for our humiliation let us remember that the nature of sin is not altered by the use that God makes of it. Poison does not cease to be poison, because it may enter into the composition of healing medicines.” Ibid.

87 “The phrase a father to Pharaoh, a recognized title of viziers and high officials, J. Vergote interprets as virtually ‘king’s adviser’ (p. 114f.).” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 207.

88 “It is believed that in these days the Egyptian court was held in Zoan or Tanis, perhaps twenty or twenty-five miles directly north of Goshen.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), II, p. 1095.

“Goshen is a name which remains unattested, so far, in Egyptian remains; but 47:11 gives us the name it bore in later times, ‘the land of Rameses.’ This name, coupled with the fact that the district was fertile (47:6) and near to Joseph at court, suggests that it was in the eastern part of the Nile delta, near Tanis, the seat of the Hyksos kings of the seventeenth century and of the Ramessides of the thirteenth century, the probable periods of Joseph and Moses respectively.” Kidner, Genesis, p. 207.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians

46. Life Begins at 130 (Genesis 46:1-47:12)


An elderly couple, each of whom had reached the ripe old age of 100, went to the divorce court to terminate their marriage of many years. The judge granted their petition, but he could not resist asking them why, after all these years, they had sought a divorce. “Oh, we would have done it long ago,” they replied, “but we were waiting for our children to die.”

No man has ever been so eager for death to come as Jacob. For years now he has spoken of it:

Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him (Genesis 37:35).

But Jacob said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow” (Genesis 42:38).

Then Israel said, “It is enough; my son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die” (Genesis 45:28).

He will speak of death yet again in our Scripture passage:

Then Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive” (Genesis 46:30).

Why would this patriarch be so eager to die? Jacob’s confession to Pharaoh provides us with a clue to his preoccupation with death:

So Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning” (Genesis 47:9).

While Joseph’s brothers had come to repentance in chapter 44 and realized the forgiveness of Joseph in chapter 45, it is not until this time, late in the life of Jacob, that he comes to a significant turning point of his life. While he may well have been saved years before (cf. 28:10ff.), he has not come to grasp the fundamentals of the faith until now. For this reason I have chosen to entitle this message “Life Begins at 130,” for it is at this age that Jacob comes to grasp the essence of knowing God and serving Him. In our lesson we shall attempt to underscore the factors involved in this turnabout in Jacob’s life.

Divine Guidance

Fourteen years ago my wife, our first child, and I left the lush green vegetation of Washington state for Dallas, Texas, where I would attend seminary.

We had already moved a number of times, but never so far away from home. It was a traumatic experience. But can you even conceive of what this move to Egypt must have meant to Jacob?

When my family and I came to Dallas, I was not yet 30 years old. When Jacob arrived in Egypt, he was 130 years old (47:9). He could have been on Social Security for over 65 years. Older people especially are attached to their home and furnishings because it gives them a sense of security. Jacob had to leave all that was familiar to him to go to a foreign land, live among those with a different culture and language, and cope with an attitude that was hostile to Hebrews (43:32; 46:34).

So Israel set out with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes.” Then Jacob arose from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob and their little ones and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. And they took their livestock and their property, which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and came to Egypt, Jacob and all his descendants with him: his sons and his grandsons with him, his daughters and his granddaughters, and all his descendants he brought with him to Egypt (Genesis 46:1-7).

Jacob had hastily packed his belongings, gathered his family, and begun the long trek to Egypt, just as Joseph had urged (45:9). When he had gotten as far as Beersheba, Jacob seemed to feel the full impact of what he was setting out to do. Beersheba was a place rich in the history of his forefathers. Abraham had called upon the name of the Lord here (21:33) and had settled in this place after offering up Isaac on Mt. Moriah (22:19). Here at Beersheba Isaac had been visited by God, and the covenant made with Abraham was reiterated (26:23-25). It would seem that Jacob lived at Beersheba when he deceived his father and obtained his blessing (chapter 27), for it was from this place that he had fled from Esau and departed to Haran (28:10).

Beersheba was also at the southern extremity of the land of Canaan. Later the land of promise would be spoken of as “from Dan to Beersheba” (e.g., Judges 20:1), Dan being at the northern border and Beersheba at the south. Once Jacob left Beersheba, traveling south, he would be leaving the land of promise, which was the land that God had promised Abraham (12:1-3; 15:7,18-21), Isaac (26:2-4), and Jacob (28:13; 35:12). How could Jacob be assured of God’s blessing if he was leaving the land of promise?

More than this, Jacob was leaving Canaan to go to Egypt. Many years before, there had been a famine in Canaan, and Abram had gone to Egypt to survive. This had proven to be a very painful experience, one that seemed to be contrary to God’s word (cf. Genesis 12:10ff.). Later there was yet another famine, and Isaac considered going to Egypt, but God forbade him with these words:

Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham (Genesis 26:2-3).

How, then, could Jacob leave Canaan to enter Egypt without stepping outside the will of God? It is this matter which must have overwhelmed Jacob. I believe that he determined not to go one step further until his doubts were resolved. Consequently, it was at Beersheba that Jacob offered sacrifices to the God of his father (verse 1). The precise expression “offered sacrifices” is employed only once before in Genesis:

Then Jacob offered a sacrifice on the mountain, and called his kinsmen to the meal; and they ate the meal and spent the night on the mountain (Genesis 31:54).

There Jacob offered a sacrifice as a part of a non-aggression pact between himself and Laban. It was an agreement made with God as their witness. If either failed to live up to his commitment, God would serve as his judge.

The expression is used very frequently later on in the Pentateuch for sacrifices of various kinds.89 Only the context clearly indicates the precise nature of the sacrifice. In our passage (46:1) it would seem most natural for Jacob to be seeking divine guidance concerning his journey down to Egypt. God’s response in verses 2-4 supports this conclusion.

By means of a vision which must have come in his sleep (cf. 15:12ff.) God assured Jacob that it was His will for him to depart from Canaan to dwell in Egypt. Three assurances were revealed to confirm God’s approval of the move to Egypt. First, the God of Isaac (and, of course, Abraham, 26:24) promised Jacob that He would go with him to Egypt and in that pagan land would make of him a great nation. Many years before, God had assured Jacob at Bethel that He would be with him as he journeyed north to Haran (28:15). Now He would be with him as he traveled south to Egypt. Strangely, it would be in Egypt, not Canaan, that his offspring would multiply into a great nation (verse 3).

Second, God would bring Jacob back to Canaan, the land of promise. I do not think that Jacob felt he would bodily and personally return to Canaan so quickly, for he knew his death must be imminent. Furthermore, God told Jacob that Joseph would close his eyes, and it was unlikely that Joseph would be leaving Egypt for some time, if ever. It was necessary for the nation of Israel to return to the land of promise, for there all of God’s promises would be fulfilled concerning the land:

And the land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you And I will give the land to your descendants after you (Genesis 35:12).

Third, God would give Jacob comfort in his time of death. After the report of Joseph’s brothers, Jacob drew the conclusion that his favorite son had been killed by a wild beast, just as they had hoped (37:20,31-33). He believed that the loss of Joseph would bring about his premature and painful death:

Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him (Genesis 37:35).

Jacob would, in fact, live nearly forty years longer, and instead of dying without his son to comfort him, Joseph would be there to close his eyes at the moment of his death. God would go with Jacob to Egypt and greatly multiply him there. He would comfort him in his moment of death through the presence of Joseph. And He would bring Israel back to Canaan as a mighty nation. With this, Jacob could enthusiastically proceed to Egypt. The entire family now made their way to Egypt with Jacob the patriarch.

The Genealogy of Jacob

Several observations seem necessary to understand the purpose for including the genealogy of Jacob at this point in the book of Genesis. First, in later genealogical lists slight differences appear, but this is only to be expected and does not in any way affect the reliability of the accounts.90 Second, by-and-large, women are not included in this list. This is not because they are unimportant, but because it does not fit the purpose of the listing. Third, the expression “the sons of Israel” (verse 8) must be taken in the broader sense of “the descendants of Israel,” for more than his sons are named,91 and thus some of those named may not have been born at the time Jacob and his descendants went down to Egypt.92 Fourth, all those named in Numbers 26 as heads of tribes or families are found in this listing of descendants in Genesis 46.93

The explanation for all of these observations is rather simple: Moses here intended not to name every person who went into Egypt, but every leader of family or clan who would come forth from Egypt.94 It was vitally important for those who came forth from Egypt to know their “roots” since the land would be divided according to tribes. In addition to this, tasks were assigned and the nation was administrated by tribal and family divisions. The purpose of Moses in this genealogy, therefore, is selective. It does not intend to name every person coming out of Canaan,95 but to name those who will become tribe and family heads. Thus there is a genealogical continuity throughout the entire sojourn in Egypt.96

Joseph Greets Jacob

More years have been lived away from Joseph than with him. Now, after a separation of nearly 22 years, father and son meet once again in happy reunion:

Now he sent Judah before him to Joseph, to point out the way before him to Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen. And Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time. Then Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive” (Genesis 46:28-30).

Judah had been sent ahead by his father to get directions to Goshen. Israel proceeded ahead, guided by Judah, until their party arrived in Goshen. Joseph traveled there by chariot and met his father. Years of fears, regrets, and bitterness must have flowed from the soul of the patriarch as the tears flooded from his eyes. Much that could have been said of this reunion was not recorded, for it was an intimacy not to be invaded by curious eyes. Jacob, satisfied at the sight of his son, was now ready to die in peace (verse 30), but God still had 17 years of blessing in store for him (47:28).

Getting Goshen

Joseph is known to be a capable and efficient administrator. He is not about to become careless when it comes to settling his family in Egypt. The utmost care is given to seeing that the family is located in the land of Goshen. The meticulous details of Joseph’s instructions are followed exactly by his brothers.

And Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me; and the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock; and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ And it shall come about when Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ that you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.” Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said, “My father and my brothers and their flocks and their herds and all that they have, have come out of the land of Canaan; and behold, they are in the land of Goshen.” And he took five men from among his brothers, and presented them to Pharaoh. Then Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” So they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers.” And they said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, therefore, please let your servants live in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is at your disposal; settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land, let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know any capable men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock” (Genesis 46:31-47:6).

Pharaoh had already promised Joseph’s family the best of Egypt (45:18), but Joseph was careful to see to it that this became reality. His family was sent to Goshen even before he greeted them or they were presented before Pharaoh. Possession may have been nine points of the law in those days also. When Joseph reported the arrival of his family, he knew that Pharaoh would want an interview with them. They were told to stress the fact that they were shepherds and that this was their sole occupation, as it had been for generations. This would assure that they would be given the land of Goshen, not only because it would provide pasture for their flocks, but because it would keep the Hebrews somewhat removed from the Egyptians, who despised shepherds (46:34).

The conversation went as Joseph expected, and the result was that Pharaoh gave Joseph’s family the land of Goshen to dwell in. Furthermore, since Pharaoh owned herds also, some of Joseph’s family could be employed in caring for his livestock (verse 6). I doubt that this was the kind of job many of the Egyptians were willing to accept, disliking shepherds as they did.

But why was getting Goshen such an important objective that so many verses were devoted to the details of its acquisition, while such an emotional moment as the reunion of Jacob and Joseph was so sketchily described? Let me suggest several reasons, beginning with those least important. First, Goshen must have been some of the best land in Egypt. That is what Pharaoh promised (45:18) and what he professed to give (47:6). Second, it was located near enough to Joseph that he could see his family frequently:

And you shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have (Genesis 45:10).

By far the most important reason for settling in the land of Goshen was in order to keep his family isolated and insulated from the culture and religion of Egypt. Joseph was strong enough to survive life in the city and in the palace, but he had already been given an Egyptian wife, the daughter of a priest, and an Egyptian name (41:45). What would become of the nation Israel if they were brought into the city and integrated into Egyptian life? That is why Joseph ordered his brothers to say that their only occupation was that of a shepherd. Joseph saw the disdain for shepherds as a blessing in that it would keep the two cultures from merging. To have lived and worked in the city with the Egyptians would have been disastrous. Joseph, I believe, clearly saw this, and thus he was diligent to have his family settled in Goshen.97

A Patriarch Blesses a Pharaoh

Then Joseph brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many years have you lived?” So Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning.” And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from his presence. So Joseph settled his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had ordered. And Joseph provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to their little ones (Genesis 47:7-12).

The time came for Joseph to present his father to Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s graciousness to Jacob no doubt reveals his respect for this aged man as well as his regard for Joseph. How strange it seems to read that Jacob blessed Pharaoh (47:7,10). While it is possible that this was little more than a greeting,98 I take it in the stronger (and much more common) sense of blessing, such as that in the next chapter (48:15,20). After all, the Abrahamic Covenant contained the promise that Abraham and his offspring would be a blessing to all those who blessed them:

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3).

Is this not what we see taking place in chapter 47? Pharaoh had greatly exalted Joseph and blessed him. Now he is extending that blessing to all of Joseph’s family. Jacob responds by pronouncing a blessing upon Pharaoh. And indeed, Pharaoh was blessed by Israel. Joseph had virtually saved his kingdom, and in the next section he will obtain possession of almost all of Egypt’s wealth, including the people themselves (47:13-26). The presence of Israel in Egypt was a blessing to this emerging nation, but it also greatly blessed the Egyptians. The Abrahamic Covenant is finding partial fulfillment in this sojourn.

The most surprising feature of Jacob’s interview with Pharaoh is Jacob’s appraisal of his life to this point in time:

So Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning” (Genesis 47:9).

This does not fit the contemporary concept of a good testimony. In essence, Jacob has told Pharaoh that his life has been short and sour. That isn’t a very good case for Christianity is it? The thrust of much evangelism today is that trusting Christ and following God makes your life happy, joyful, and free from trials and tribulation. If it hadn’t been for the testimony of Joseph, Pharaoh would have thought very poorly of the God of Israel.

And yet what Jacob said was true. His earthly beginnings were prophetic of his life. He struggled with his brother in the womb (25:21-26). He lived in a home where the parents were divided in their affection for their children (25:28). He gained the blessing of his father by deception and then was alienated from his family because of the hatred of Esau (chapter 27). He spent years in exile, serving his deceitful uncle Laban. He sought one wife and ended up with four (29:18ff.), and the outcome of this was continual competition and strife (29:30ff.). He finally fled from his uncle and eventually had to make a non-aggression pact with him lest further conflict arise (chapter 31). He suffered the loss of the purity of his daughter Dinah at Shechem and feared the reprisal of Canaanite kinsmen when his sons killed the men of the city and took the women, children, and cattle as booty (chapter 34). Rachel, his most beloved wife, died prematurely along the way to Bethlehem (35:16-19). His oldest son lay with one of his concubines (35:22), and his favorite son was tragically lost and presumed dead. Finally, there was the famine which threatened the existence of his family, and the second in command to Pharaoh appeared to be taking even his youngest son away. Jacob, you see, was correct in his evaluation of his life.

There was a significant difference between the suffering which Jacob alluded to and that which Joseph endured. Joseph’s suffering was undeserved; Jacob’s was not. Jacob suffered virtually every painful experience because of his willfulness and foolish choices. He deceived his brother. He chose to live near Shechem rather than to go up to Bethel. He unwisely showed preference for Joseph. The suffering which Jacob experienced was due almost entirely to his sinful decisions and responses.

Jacob did not see the hand of God in his adversity, but Joseph did. Jacob became more fearful and protective, while Joseph was forgiving and eager to serve others, even at his own expense. In his adversity Joseph grew closer to God, while Jacob seemed to drift farther and farther away. In this interview with Pharaoh all of these bitter experiences may have begun to come into focus. He was wrong when he had concluded that “all these things are against me” (42:36). His fears did not conform to the facts.

So Joseph settled his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had ordered. And Joseph provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to their little ones (Genesis 47:11-12).


I see this as the great turning point in Jacob’s life. Just as his sons had to come to the place where they acknowledged their sins and turned from their wicked ways, so Jacob seems to do here. I believe that he saw all of his sorrow as the result of his sin, but now he was beginning to see God in an entirely different light. The things which Jacob tried to withhold and protect (Rachel, Joseph, Benjamin) were the very things that were taken from him. It was only by giving up Benjamin that he gained him. And in giving up Benjamin he preserved not only Benjamin’s life, but that of the entire nation.

I see Jacob’s path of suffering and sorrow as the result of an entirely wrong concept of Christianity (if you prefer, we will call it a relationship with God). In chapter 28 God first outlined his promises to Jacob as the heir of the covenant with Abraham:

And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).

This was an unconditional covenant, and the benefits were assured, regardless of Jacob’s actions. (Indeed, we must agree that all of the blessings Jacob has experienced thus far were in spite of his actions rather than because of them.) God’s promise was one of pure grace, but Jacob’s concept was one of works. He thought that God would bless him as he produced and gave God a piece of the action:

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house; and of all that Thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to Thee” (Genesis 28:20-22).

Jacob’s vow was a bargain with God. His obedience and faithfulness to God were conditional. He would serve God only IF God protected him, prospered him, and brought him back to Canaan safely. In this case, Jacob would serve God and would give a tenth to Him. God never took Jacob up on this proposition. Never was the tithe given, nor was it asked for. Jacob was, in our words, a “wheeler-dealer,” and he could not be allowed to bargain with God.

You see, God does not work with men on the basis of works. His grace is not conditioned by our faithfulness, but guaranteed by His. He does not want or need our contributions; He desires only our trust and our worship. Of course there are commands to obey and standards to be kept, but these are not what merit God’s blessings. Instead, these are the proper response to grace. Indeed, these are the evidence of grace working in and through the believer.

As Jacob stood before Pharaoh, he recognized that all of his striving had been for naught. The land which he wrested from the hand of Esau was left behind. So far as I can tell he never enjoyed the fruits of his deceptive labors. The blessings which he did experience were not the result of his activity (such as peeling those poles, 30:31ff.), but of divine grace, sovereignly wrought (32:11-13). Now Jacob was old, and in the face of famine he was helpless and hopeless. As he entered Egypt, he could not rely on his former devices to provide for and protect him and his family. In short, Jacob had to trust in God and not himself.

This was the beginning of a whole new life. It was only 17 years, but it was life lived in the blessings which only grace can give. Those 17 years were the happiest, most fulfilling years of Jacob’s life. He did not live in Canaan, but he had entered into “Canaan rest,” that rest which is obtained only by faith, and it is forfeited by unbelief (cf. Hebrews 3-4).

Many Christians, like Jacob, spend the vast majority of their lives, as the song describes it, “Workin’ like the Devil, Servin’ the Lord.” Foolishly, they think that God’s blessing is obtained as we struggle to get ahead, even at the expense of others and of biblical standards of conduct. Perhaps your life, like Jacob’s, has been largely a disaster. It is not too late. Life for Jacob began at 130. Life for you can begin right now as you learn to rest in Him and to rely upon His promises. There will be striving, but it will be striving to do what is right, not striving to protect your rights.

The life of rest is not the life of ease or of freedom from pain and sorrow. Joseph, like Jacob, suffered much hardship, but Joseph suffered innocently and in a godly way. God does not offer you a life of ease, but a life of learning to rely upon Him, of looking for Him to exalt you in the proper time, rather than your getting ahead at the expense of others.

I find it noteworthy to observe that while the book of Genesis covers a period of thousands of years, almost half of the book is devoted to the life and times of Jacob. Abraham, the great man of faith, spans chapters 11-24; Isaac, chapters 21-35; Joseph, chapters 30-50; but Jacob outspans them all, from chapter 25 through chapter 50. Why is it that Joseph was such a great and godly man, and yet he had no tribe named after him? Why did he not have a son whose heir would be the priestly line? Why did Messiah not come forth from Joseph rather than Judah? I do not know, other than the fact that God chooses to accomplish His purposes through men like Jacob and Judah, and you and me. If Joseph is a type of Christ, then surely Jacob is a type of most Christians. One reason why so much time and space is allotted to Jacob (in my opinion) is that it took this long for him to grasp the matters of salvation and sanctification.

The primary lesson I have learned from the life of Jacob is the greatness of the grace of God. Surely it was nothing else, nothing less than grace which saved and sanctified Jacob. And so it is for you and me. We cannot bargain with God, for we have nothing to offer. We cannot get ahead by striving in our own strength, but only by resting in Him. We must labor to enter into that rest (Hebrews 4:1), but by His strength, not ours. That is the lesson which Jacob learned. And this is the truth which made the last chapter of Jacob’s life the best. I do not know what chapter your life is in. Perhaps you are in one of the early chapters, perhaps the last. But this one thing I know: every chapter of our life can be a blessing if it is marked by humble dependence and grateful obedience.

Perhaps you have not yet come to know God as Jacob did. For you the message of the gospel is clear, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). Recognize that your striving has only led to struggle and suffering. Believe that God’s offer is one of free grace, that it is only He who can give you peace, rest, and the assurance of blessing and salvation. That lesson is a prerequisite for walking with God. May you learn it today.

89 BDB says the Hebrew noun zebach “. . . seems not only to be used for all these special forms but also to include other festal sacrifices not defined in the codes of law. The ritual was the same for the entire class. They were all sacrifices for feasts in which the flesh of the victim was eaten by the offerers, except so far as the officiating priests had certain choice pieces and the blood and fat pieces went to the altar for God.” Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1966), p. 257.

90 “Now at least two parallel lists are available--disregarding the partial list of Exod. 6:14ff.--namely Num. 26 and I Chron. 4-6. A comparison with these indicates that certain of the names found above were in circulation also in another form, usually pretty much like the ones above, sometimes radically different as to form but similar in meaning.” H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), II, p. 1111.

91 “Beney Jisra’el (v. 8) cannot be translated ‘sons of Israel,’ for all that follows indicates that the broader term ‘descendants’ or ‘children of Israel’ is meant.” Ibid.

92 “However, from Numbers 26:38-40 and I Chronicles 7:6ff.; 8:1ff. it appears that some of these names are of grandsons, presumably included by anticipation (cf. Heb. 7:10).” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 209.

93 “In the account of the families of Israel at the time of Moses, which is given there, we find, with slight deviations, all the grandsons and great-grandsons of Jacob whose names occur in this chapter, mentioned as the founders of the families, into which the twelve tribes of Israel were subdivided in Moses’ days.” C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), I, p. 371.

94 “From all this it necessarily follows, that in the list before us grandsons and great-grandsons of Jacob are named who were born afterwards in Egypt, and who, therefore, according to a view which we frequently meet with in the Old Testament, though strange to our modes of thought, came into Egypt in lumbis patrum. That the list is really intended to be so understood, is undoubtedly evident from a comparison of the ‘sons of Israel’ (ver. 8), whose names it gives, with the description given in Num. xxvi. of the whole community of the sons of Israel according to their fathers’ houses, or their tribes and families.” Ibid.

95 “But the text speaks of those who came out of Jacob (v. 26), while many more than these went down to Egypt, forming the nucleus of the ‘Israel people.’ The total of wives is a maximum of fourteen, Joseph’s wife being already in Egypt. A computable minimum of persons who went down to Egypt thus is 1 (Jacob) + 70 + 14 wives = 85. Yet remember that the women and children of Shechem were absorbed into the clan (34:29), some of whom no doubt became wives. Remember also that of the servants or slaves of Isaac’s house some, if not all, came to Jacob, swelling the number of those he already possessed (30:48), so that there may have been 300 or more persons attached to Jacob’s tent.” Harold G. Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 319.

96 “The rule by which the nation descending from the sons of Jacob was divided into tribes and families (mishpachoth) according to the order of birth was this, that as the twelve sons founded the twelve tribes, so their sons, i.e. Jacob’s grandsons, were the founders of the families into which the tribes were subdivided, unless these grandsons died without leaving children, or did not leave a sufficient number of male descendants to form independent families, or the natural rule for the formation of tribes and families was set aside by other events or causes.” Keil and Delitzsch, I, p. 372.

97 “Joseph saw the importance of emphasizing this, to ensure that Pharaoh’s goodwill would be to the family’s real benefit, not to their detriment by drawing them into an alien way of life at the capital.” Kidner, Genesis, p. 210.

98 “In vv. 7 and 10 the word ‘blessed’ does not fit this context; it is doubtful that Jacob would bless Pharaoh. However, there is another sense of barak which makes it more understandable. Since this is an audience, greetings, not blessings, are in order. This word is used, as in 28:1, for the appearance of anyone before another. It may well include the thought of peace as is the custom in Middle East territories, but not blessing in the sense of benediction. In v. 10 the sense would be ‘take one’s leave,’ that is, speak peace again at parting.” Stigers, Genesis, p. 319.

47. A Proper Perspective of Poverty and Prosperity (Genesis 47:13-31)


While I was browsing through a bookstore some time ago I came across a book that had an eye-catching title: Sacred Cows Make Good Hamburger. I did not buy the book, nor have I ever read it, but the subject was fascinating. Unfortunately, while this may be true I do not see many standing in line to grind that hamburger. Some of our strongly held convictions may be good material for hamburger, but the one who challenges our thinking is not going to be very popular. Frankly, I have agonized over the task that is mine in explaining and applying this text in Genesis 47, not because it is unclear, but because it runs counter to the grain of the teaching in many Christian circles.

Many of the Jews of Jesus’ day thought that prosperity and spirituality were inseparable. In our time it is just the opposite. We are frequently told that we can not prosper or have a savings account while there are others who have less than we. Particularly we Americans are on a guilt trip because we are prosperous while much of the world lives in poverty. Some of this guilt may be well founded, but not necessarily all of it.

Joseph’s actions in this chapter do not fit our preconceived notions very well, for he sold grain to starving men. Not only did he accumulate all the money in the land, but he also gathered up all the cattle and the land, and even the people were enslaved. How could a man who, to this point, has a flawless record suddenly be so greedy and insensitive? And if Joseph troubles us, so must the entire nation of Israel, for they greatly prospered while the Egyptians sank deeper and deeper into poverty. It would seem that much of Israel’s affluence was at Egypt’s expense. How can we justify God’s blessing Israel in this way?

As I suggested, some of our ideas may make good hamburger. Let us consider these verses very carefully, for they help us to gain a proper perspective on poverty and prosperity.

Pharaoh’s Prosperity and Egypt’s Poverty

Now there was no food in all the land, because the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine. And Joseph gathered all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan for the grain which they bought, and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food, for why should we die in your presence? For our money is gone.” Then Joseph said, “Give up your livestock, and I will give you food for your livestock, since your money is gone.” So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses and the flocks and the herds and the donkeys; and he fed them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. And when that year was ended, they came to him the next year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent, and the cattle are my lord’s. There is nothing left for my lord except our bodies and our lands. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we and our land will be slaves to Pharaoh. So give us seed, that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate” (Genesis 47:13-19).

For two years now the famine has been severe in Egypt and Canaan (45:5). All private reserves of wheat have been exhausted, and all the money of Egypt and Canaan had been spent in buying government grain from Joseph. And the famine lingered on and on. In desperation the Egyptians approached Joseph, reminding him of their plight. Joseph knew that while their money was gone their wealth was not, for they still possessed many cattle. Had these cattle remained the possession of the Egyptians they would have perished, for there was no grass for pasture and no grain for feed. And who but Pharaoh would want them, for no one could sustain them through these years of drought? In this sense Joseph did the Egyptians a favor to take the cattle off their hands by exchanging them for grain which they must have to survive. Some of these livestock may have been purchased by the Israelites, who were keepers of flocks (46:34) and who were relatively unaffected by the famine (47:27). Many, if not all, of the flocks which Joseph purchased for Pharaoh may have been cared for by Joseph’s brothers (cf. 47:6).

The sale of their livestock enabled the Egyptians to live through another year. As the following year approached, they found themselves once again appealing to Joseph for life-sustaining grain. They did not have either money or cattle, but they still possessed two valuable commodities: land and labor. At their own suggestion, the Egyptians exchanged their land and their labor for grain to survive the famine. Their land would belong to Pharaoh, they said, and they would be his slaves. Joseph also agreed to provide them with grain for seed when the famine ended and planting time came (47:18-19).

So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for every Egyptian sold his field, because the famine was severe upon them. Thus the land became Pharaoh’s. And as for the people, he removed them to the cities from one and of Egypt’s border to the other. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had an allotment from Pharaoh, and they lived off the allotment which Pharaoh gave them. Therefore, they did not sell their land. Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have today bought you and your land for Pharaoh; now, here is seed for you, and you may sow the land. And at the harvest you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own for seed of the field and for your food and for those of your households and as food for your little ones.” So they said, “You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves.” And Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt valid to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh’s (Genesis 47:20-26).

And so the ownership of the land in Egypt changed hands—that is, all the land except that being acquired by the Israelites (verse 27) or maintained by the priests, who were supported (like the Israelites) by Pharaoh (verse 22). The people were brought in from the rural areas to the cities (verse 21). This was probably for a couple of administrative reasons. First of all, the grain was stored in the cities (41:35) and thus could be more efficiently distributed there. Perhaps also, removing the people from their land made the transfer of ownership more tangible and permanent. Once their land was left, the emotional attachment to it would tend to weaken.

The terms of the servitude of the Egyptians were spelled out by Joseph (verses 23-24). Joseph acquired both the people and their land for Pharaoh. When the famine ended, he would provide them with seed for planting. When crops were again harvested, one fifth would be given to Pharaoh. The rest would belong to the people for food, fodder, and seed for the next crop. Moses writes that it was under these conditions that Egypt was found in his own day. What happened during Joseph’s administration continued on until the time when Moses was in the palace of the Pharaoh (verse 26). Who, better than Moses, would know this?

Some find it hard to believe that Joseph could be a party to the acquisition of all the wealth of Egypt, along with the people themselves. Before we are too quick to condemn Joseph, several observations should be considered.

(1) Neither the grain nor the gain belonged to Joseph, but to Pharaoh. That is why I entitled this section “Pharaoh’s Prosperity and Egypt’s Poverty.” Joseph cannot be condemned for selling the grain rather than giving it away because it was not his to give. And all the profit was Pharaoh’s. Joseph’s actions did not bring him personal gain at Egypt’s expense. His duty was to further Pharaoh’s interests, and this he did very well.

(2) The favor which Pharaoh bestowed on Joseph’s relatives was a matter of grace, which he determined to grant the Israelites just as he did the priests. There was a great discrepancy between the good fortune of the Israelites and the economic failure of the Egyptians, but this was not due to Joseph’s choice so much as it was Pharaoh’s.

(3) The “slavery” which the Egyptians submitted to was not the harsh and unfair variety which we know from our own nation’s history. Slavery does not have to be cruel and harsh, although it can be, just as a dictatorship does not have to be harsh and repressive (as when Christ will reign over the world). The slavery of which Joseph spoke was more the arrangement that a “sharecropper” would make with a land owner and could still do in our nation today. Slavery to these Egyptians meant the non-ownership of their lands and a 20% tax on their production. Having just passed April 15th and annual income tax returns and payments, most of us might be inclined to think that the Egyptians got off too easily. Who among us would not settle for a mere 20% tax?

(4) Such “slavery,” even among the Israelites, was not condemned:

And if a countrymen of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. He shall be with you as a hired man, as if he were a sojourner with you, until the year of jubilee. He shall then go out from you, he and his sons with him, and shall go back to his family, that he may return to the property of his forefathers. For they are My servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt; they are not to be sold in a slave sale. You shall not rule over him with severity, but are to revere your God (Leviticus 25:39-43).

Even when a fellow Israelite was overtaken by poverty, he could sell himself as a slave to another. Such slavery was not forbidden, but the slave owner was cautioned to possess this slave in a gentle and gracious way. This is just what we see Joseph doing.

(5) We should not be distressed at the actions of Joseph when the Egyptians praised him and regarded him as their savior:

So they said, “You have saved our lives! Let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s slaves” (Genesis 47:25).

If the Egyptians suggested this arrangement in the first place (verse 19) and then gratefully submitted to it (verse 25), why should we become so upset, unless, of course, we do not like to think such a thing could happen to us? Such an economic condition may be undesirable, but it is not unbiblical.

(6) Much of the dilemma of the Egyptians was of their own making. Joseph created neither the seven years of plenty nor the seven years of famine; he predicted both and proposed a program to deal with them. His plan did cost the Egyptians their fortunes and some of their freedom, but it also saved them from certain death. The dire need of the land of Canaan is readily explainable, but why was there this need in Egypt? I must forewarn you that I am reading between the lines, but it is my contention that the dire poverty of the Egyptians was a dilemma of their own making.

If Joseph was the competent administrator he was portrayed to be, surely he informed the general population of the famine coming after the seven years of plenty. This would secure their cooperation in carrying out the plan Joseph had proposed to alleviate the devastation of the coming years of drought. Furthermore, if Joseph believed “that government governs best which governs least,” he would have endeavored to get the nation to follow his example in saving up for the years of adversity. Joseph accumulated one fifth of the crops of the land during the abundant years. That left four-fifths of a bumper crop for the Egyptians. Should they not have been storing up grain for the famine as well as Joseph? But it would seem that they thought the years of plenty would go on and on. Why not spend some of this excess profit? They seem to no more have expected the famine to come than the people in Noah’s day looked for a flood. The Egyptians, I believe, were informed that hard times were coming, yet they failed to prepare for them. No wonder they did not complain about Joseph’s handling of this matter and heralded him as a savior.

All lines of evidence lead us to the same conclusion: Joseph was just as godly a man here as he had been elsewhere. He wisely had prepared for the future, and his laying up a store of wheat made it possible for him to save his nation from disaster.

Israel’s Prosperity and Egypt’s Poverty

While the Egyptians were fainting under the famine, the Israelites were flourishing. Egypt’s loss, to some degree, was their gain:

Now Israel lived in the land of Egypt, in Goshen, and they acquired property in it and were fruitful and became very numerous (Genesis 47:27).

Israel prospered in spite of the famine and the poverty which Egypt experienced. This small, select group prospered while the mainstream of Egyptian populus were impoverished. It may not be too much to say that the Israelites prospered at Egypt’s expense. For example, the land they acquired was probably purchased at a good price from an Egyptian farmer who knew he would lose his land anyway. The cattle that were obtained were possibly purchased from a farmer who would have otherwise watched them starve to death. What was purchased might have been at ten cents on the dollar.

This raises some questions about the prosperity of the Israelites during the famine. Was it wrong for them to be prosperous while others were doing without? Was it right for them to buy land while others had to give theirs up? Before we become too smug, let me ask you a question. Have you ever gone to a “going out of business” sale? Of course you have. And did you insist that the business sell you its merchandise at full retail price because times were hard? No, you delighted at getting something drastically marked down. That business’ loss was your gain, and you went away proud of the bargains you found.

Lest we lose our sense of perspective, let me also remind you that the prosperity of Israel at this time paved the way for her future persecution. Stigers, in his excellent commentary on Genesis, entitles verses 13-26 “Foundations for oppression.”99 A little lesson in history will help put this section into perspective.

Before Joseph or Jacob entered the land of Egypt, there had been a large influx of Asiatic Semitic slaves into Egypt. They congregated largely in the Delta region of Egypt, the same area where Goshen was located. Over a period of time these Hyksos land owners formed a political coalition which gave them great power in the Delta. At a weak point in Egyptian political power, the Hyksos coalition overthrew the throne, and a Hyksos Pharaoh was installed. It is most likely that the Pharaoh under whom Joseph served was a Hyksos.100 This explains, at least in part, why a Pharaoh would be eager to install a Hebrew slave into such a high office. A fellow Palestinian would be trusted more than a native Egyptian. It also explains why the Pharaoh would encourage the immigration of Hebrews from Canaan. They could enhance his political position and be potential allies if and when the Egyptians attempted to regain power.

Later on, when Joseph had long since died and the Hyksos dynasty had been overthrown, the Egyptians were not inclined to feel favorably toward the Israelites, who had collaborated with the Hyksos and had prospered while they had been impoverished. And if another attempt were made to overthrow the throne of Egypt, the Hebrews might well be expected to become allies in such an effort. No wonder they were disliked, distrusted, and dealt with as a serious threat to Egypt’s security:

And Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply and in the event of war, they also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us, and depart from the land.” So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses (Exodus 1:6-11).

It might not be going too far to suggest that the initial success of the descendants of Jacob and their later persecution provides us with a prototype of later Jewish persecution. I am not a historian, but I believe this to be evident, for example, in Germany before the second world war. Germany’s economy had suffered greatly, and yet it was evident that those who were the successful bankers and financial giants were the Jews. The Jews then became the scapegoat for all the political woes of the nation and were severely persecuted and oppressed by the Nazi regime.

Principles Pertaining to Prosperity and Poverty

From these verses describing the prosperity of Pharaoh and the people of God several principles which help us to more precisely define the relationship between prosperity, poverty, and political freedom are brought into focus.

(1) Freedom is a privilege, not a right. Americans, due to our heritage as a free people, are inclined to look upon freedom as a right rather than a privilege. But history reminds us that most of the people who have ever lived have not had the privilege of freedom as we know it. Paul, in writing to those who were slaves, said,

Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that (I Corinthians 7:21).

It was not wrong to be a slave, nor did it prevent one from having a godly testimony (cf. I Peter 2:18-25). Joseph was able as a slave to effectively serve God and man. But freedom is surely preferable, and if it can be obtained we should take advantage of that opportunity.

What concerns me about this generation of Americans is that by assuming freedom to be a right rather than a privilege to be maintained, we will lose the freedom that others died to obtain and maintain. Rights are taken for granted because we assume that they cannot be taken away. Privileges must be earned, and they can easily be lost if neglected. Many American Christians fail to vote or to involve themselves in the political process, and in so doing they endanger the freedoms that are theirs. It was not wrong for Joseph to “enslave” the Egyptians because freedom is not a right, but a privilege.

Slavery, of course, does have the potential for evil and abuse. The history of slavery in America makes this abundantly clear. Let me hasten to say, however, that not all slave owners were harsh and ungodly. As an institution, slavery cannot be broadly and generally condemned, for the Bible never strictly forbids it. Surely, it is not the most desirable status in life. That is why Paul encouraged those who were able to obtain their liberty. Slavery does afford evil men with the opportunity to misuse people and treat them unfairly. Such treatment must always be condemned and resisted, but this kind of abuse is flagrant in every institution, whether it be government, economics, marriage, or family. Power and authority will always be misused by wicked and cruel men, but that does not mean that all power is therefore to be abolished. The French Revolution underscored this in blood.

(2) Prosperity is not a right, but a privilege and a responsibility. In the Old Testament God promised Israel prosperity if they would faithfully obey Him and keep His commandments:

However, there shall be no poor among you, since the LORD will surely bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the LORD your God, to carefully observe all this commandment which I am commanding you today. For the LORD your God shall bless you as He has promised you, and you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; and you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you” (Deuteronomy 15:4-6).

But God also made it clear that while this was His promise, this ideal would never be fully realized:

For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, “You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

In the book of Proverbs it is oft repeated that prosperity is the result of diligence, while poverty is the result of idleness:

Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich (Proverbs 10:4; cf. 12:27; 13:4; 14:23; etc.).

This is a maxim, however, and not an inviolable promise.

In the New Testament, prosperity is not proof of either piety (Luke 6:24) or carnality (Matthew 27:57), but a matter of calling, toward which the poor and the prosperous must have the right perspective:

But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind, and withers the grass; and its flower falls off, and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away (James 1:9-11).

With either poverty or prosperity we must learn the secret of contentment:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:12-13).

But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment (I Timothy 6:6).

Wealth is to be employed in ministry to others (I Timothy 6:17-19). Poverty does not prohibit a genuine desire to minister (cf. I Kings 17:8-16; Mark 12:41-44; II Corinthians 8:1-5), while prosperity provides greater opportunity and greater responsibility (I Timothy 6:17-19; cf. Matthew 13:12; Luke 12: 47-48).

(3) In the Bible, poverty is not viewed as an intrinsic evil that must be abolished. Just as the institution of slavery was tolerated, so poverty is also. It is not a pleasant state, but neither is it an intolerable one (cf. Philippians 4:12-13). Our Lord became poor so that we might be made rich (II Corinthians 8:9), and so also the apostle Paul experienced poverty (II Corinthians 6:4-5, etc.). Jesus said,

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied (Luke 6:20-21).

He also said, “for the poor you always have with now; …” (John 12:8).

Wealth, actual or desired, is evil when it receives an undue amount of our thought and concern (Matthew 6:24-34), when it is given excess importance (Luke 16:10-11,14), when it is wrongfully gained (Luke 3:13-14), selfishly stored up (Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:13-21), or sinfully squandered (Luke l5:11ff.; James 5:5). It is evil if we find our security in it (Matthew 19:16-22; I Timothy 6:17). But poverty is likewise evil if it is the result of lack of consideration or responsibility (I Timothy 5:8) or lack of diligence (II Thessalonians 3:6-15). Poverty, like prosperity, is neither good nor evil, except as we view it and use it.

(4) The problem of poverty cannot be solved simplistically. The simple solution to the problem of the famine in Egypt, we suppose, would have been for Joseph to open up the granaries of Egypt and give the grain to the Egyptians. The question then becomes, “On what basis should the grain be given out?” How would you feel about the fellow who drove up in his new Rolls Royce and asked you to “fill er up” with grain? Welfare is never quite so simple as it first seems. In some scriptures we are told to give to those in need:

He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor (Proverbs 22:9).

He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses (Proverbs 28:27).

In other scriptures we are told to lend to the poor, but not at interest:

‘Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain (Leviticus 25:35-37).

Elsewhere, in Proverbs 11:26 we are told,

He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.

Another Proverb says,

A worker’s appetite works for him, For his hunger urges him on (Proverbs 16:26).

And still elsewhere Paul instructs us,

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: If anyone will not work, neither let him eat (II Thessalonians 3:10).

We have a wide range of responsibilities to the poor because there are a wide variety of reasons for poverty. To those who are willfully poor, that is, those who will not work, we have no obligation but to rebuke them. We must allow their hunger to prod them into activity. For those who are temporarily without funds, we should loan them money with the expectation of being paid back, but not with interest. Others who are completely helpless should be given what they need with no thought of repayment. And for some of those in Old Testament times, the faithful Israelites were not only to buy their goods, but purchase them as a servant (Leviticus 25:39ff.)

Two primary goals should be fixed in our mind regarding charity that really benefits the recipient: First, it should seek to preserve the dignity of the needy; and second, it should promote the diligence of the needy. In Old Testament times the able-bodied who were in need were provided for by leaving sufficient food for them to glean:

Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest (Leviticus 19:9; cf. 23:22).

Thus we find Ruth gleaning in the field of Boaz (Ruth 2:2ff.). In our time, we are sometimes encouraged to harvest the grain for the poor, thresh and grind it, bake it and deliver it hot and buttered. The dignity of the destitute demands that they be allowed to work for what they get if at all possible. Love must be exercised in “real knowledge and discernment” (Philippians 1:9). Sentimentality may make us feel good at the expense of the poor. Wisdom seeks to help the poor in such a way as to maintain their personal dignity and encourage continued diligence on their part to be released from their economic dependence on others. Those widows in the New Testament who were totally cared for by the church were a very small and select group, while the rest were cared for short term or by their families (I Timothy 5:3-16). Deadbeats deserve only discipline (II Thessalonians 3).

(5) The accumulation of wealth is frequently the means of helping the poor. Lest we come down too hard on Joseph for his actions, let me remind you that if Joseph had not accumulated that large supply of grain, Egypt would have perished. Some Christians feel that it is altogether wrong to accumulate money for any reason. Personally, I do not agree. I understand our Lord to forbid the accumulation of wealth for the purpose of finding in it a false security or for lavishing upon ourselves the luxuries wealth will provide (Matthew 6:19ff.; James 4:3; 5:1-6).

Saving is not always condemned:

In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has (Proverbs 21:20, NIV).

Unfortunately, Acts 4:34-35 has frequently been misunderstood in this regard:

For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.

Some think that all of the houses and lands belonging to the believers in Jerusalem were sold at one time and that the proceeds were pooled in one pot to be distributed by the apostles. Such was not the case. For one thing, this would have caused the property values to plummet, reducing the effectiveness of these gifts. But the verb “would sell” is imperfect, implying that this was done from time to time or whenever serious needs arose. Thus, houses were owned privately until such time as needs arose that were so great someone was led to sell their property and give the proceeds to the apostles to meet these needs.

Don’t you see that it was the ownership of these houses and lands which made possible the charity of the New Testament church? Had these Christians concluded, as some do today, that it is wrong to accumulate wealth in any form, including homes or land, there would have been no means of helping others. This same matter of saving up in order to be able to meet needs is addressed by the apostle Paul:

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come (I Corinthians 16:1-2).

Especially for those who do not have great resources, saving up provides greater opportunity to minister to those in need.

(6) God’s provision for His people does not require times of national economic prosperity. Israel prospered in Egypt’s darkest hours. Israel was provided for in abundance while many others did without. There are and will always be prophets of doom who warn us of financial disaster ahead. (And, frankly, I am inclined to agree with them. I think financial hard times may be around the corner.) But let us not panic at the thought. If God could care for His people in times of famine, He can care for us in times of great disaster, too. God’s ability to provide for His own does not depend upon the Dow-Jones averages. We should prepare to minister to others by setting aside money. Let us be careful to avoid the one extreme of hoarding up and the other of using up everything that comes our way.

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God (II Corinthians 9:10-11).

Jacob Prepares for His Death

Jacob, who seemed to be dying for years, lived longer than he expected. But as he approached his death, we can see that his prosperity in Egypt did not change his priorities:

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the length of Jacob’s life was one hundred and forty-seven years. When the time for Israel to die drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “Please, if I have found favor in your sight, place now your hand under my thigh and deal with me in kindness and faithfulness. Please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.” And he said, “I will do as you have said.” And he said, “Swear to me.” So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed (Genesis 47:28-31).

How easy it would have been for prosperity to rearrange Jacob’s priorities. After living in a land that was irrigated and relatively free from famine, who would wish to return to Canaan where God must supply rain, contingent upon the obedience of His people:

… for the land, into which you are entering to possess it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you came, where you used to sow your seed and water it with your foot like a vegetable garden. But the land into which you are about to cross to possess it, a land of hills and valleys, drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:10-12).

Knowing that the day of his departure drew near, Jacob purposed to make his death a testimony to his faith and a stimulus to the faith and obedience of his descendants. Jacob urged Joseph, his most trusted son, to swear a solemn oath promising that he would not bury his father in Egypt, but in Canaan in the cave of Machpelah with his forefathers. This would serve as a reminder to his descendants that Egypt was not home, but only a place to sojourn until God brought them back “home” to Canaan, the land of promise.

Having been assured of his request, Jacob bowed in worship on the head of his staff.101 It is this incident, coupled with the blessing of Joseph’s sons in chapter 49, which the writer to the Hebrews cites as evidence of the faith of Jacob:

By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff (Hebrews 11:21).

Little wonder, for this is surely the high point of Jacob’s spiritual life. For the first time, Jacob has ceased striving to do something for God and simply stopped to worship and adore Him. I believe that worship is the highest calling of the saint and one of God’s primary purposes for saving men:

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).


Two observations remain. First, we are obliged to protect the rights of the poor:

The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand such concern (Proverbs 29:7).

While neither freedom nor prosperity are the rights of the poor, life is the right of all. Recently the “Right to Life” movement has focused our attention on the rights of the unborn. While we need to seriously consider the rights of the unborn and the matter of abortion, we dare not neglect the right to life of those who are born and who are dying of starvation and neglect. The righteous cannot overlook the dire needs of those who are dying in our world since we as a nation have more than sufficient means to preserve life.

And if there is a right to physical life, how much more should we be concerned about the right to hear the good news of the offer of spiritual life. It is my conviction that some of the material wealth that is ours is given for the purpose of propagating the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who have not yet heard.

Second, I must remind you, as one of our congregation reminded me, that Joseph asked no more of the Egyptians than God has required of those who will be eternally saved. The Egyptians valued their physical salvation so much that they gave up their money, their material goods, and even themselves to Joseph. These are the terms which God has laid down for men to have eternal life: unconditional surrender. We must come to the point of realizing that our condition is terminal, that we are facing death. And we must place our entire future in the hands of Jesus Christ just as the Egyptians trusted in Joseph. We must surrender every element of self-sufficiency, everything of value, and rely solely upon Jesus Christ, who has died upon the cross of Calvary for our salvation. He offers to us all the riches of heaven if we only trust in Him completely. May God enable you to trust in Him for your salvation.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If any one wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).

99 Harold G. Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 320.

100 Cf. Stigers, pp. 39, 291-292, 309-310, also Howard F. Vos, Genesis and Archaeology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), pp. 101-105 for further details on the Hyksos.

101 “The MT has bed (mitta), but the LXX (used in Heb. 11:21) interpreted the same Hebrew consonants to represent matteh, ‘staff.’ While both versions have ‘bed’ at 48:2, the present occasion tells of Jacob before his last illness (cf. 48:1), and ‘staff’ may well be the right meaning. It would be an appropriate object to mention, as the symbol of his pilgrimage (cf. his grateful words in 32:10), worthy of the prominence it receives in the New Testament passage.” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 212.

48. The View From the Graveyard (Genesis 48:1-22)


Several years ago I saw a film that made a deep impression on me. As I recall it, Malcolm Muggeridge was standing in the family cemetery pointing out the tombstones of his ancestors. The movie began with the statement by Muggeridge that he would soon be joining his predecessors in death and that his tombstone would also be found there in the cemetery. The entire film was oriented around Muggeridge’s life as he now looked back at it from that cemetery, knowing that the time of his death was not far away.

The thing that stuck in my memory about Muggeridge was his evaluation of what things were really significant in his lifetime. He said that those things which he had most desired in his youth he now perceived to be of little value when viewed from the graveyard. The things which he had most dreaded in his youth he now deeply valued because they had so enriched his life. One such item would be suffering. He once sought to avoid it at all cost but had since come to accept it as a good thing from the hand of God.

After studying Genesis 48 I have come to appreciate the wisdom of Muggeridge’s words even more in the light of the testimony of Jacob in these verses. Only 17 years earlier Jacob had described his life in the most negative terms:

The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant … (Genesis 47:9).

That was Jacob’s perspective from the palace of the Pharaoh. But now, standing in the proverbial graveyard of his ancestors and facing imminent death, Jacob’s testimony is one of deep faith and joyful gratitude for God’s faithfulness and care through all the days of his life (cf. 48:15-16).

How do we explain this change in Jacob’s attitude? His perspective has radically changed, for he now looks back upon his life, like Muggeridge, from the family plot, viewing life from the end of the path. We need not be at death’s door to view life as Jacob did here. What we must do is grasp the reasons for his changed outlook and apply them to our lives now rather than when we think we are at death’s door. Let us then look very carefully at the final events of Jacob’s life as recorded by Moses in Genesis 48.

The Adoption of Manasseh and Ephraim

The last days of Jacob’s earthly sojourn drew to a close. Sensing this, Joseph was summoned to his father’s side where Jacob pronounced a unique blessing upon him. The death of which Jacob had so frequently spoken and, at one time, desired was now soon to visit him. Joseph took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, along with him to see their grandfather one final time and to bid him farewell. Gathering up his strength, Jacob sat up in bed in order to speak words of vital significance to Joseph. While Jacob’s words were reminiscent of the past, this was no muddled musing as one might expect of an aged man nearing his final hour. Instead, Jacob focused Joseph’s attention upon the two most important events of his life as an explanation for what he was about to do.

Now it came about after these things that Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is sick.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him. When it was told to Jacob, “Behold, your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed. Then Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and He said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.’ And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance” (Genesis 48:1-6).

Twice God had appeared to Jacob at Luz (Bethel, 28:10-17; 35:9-12), and in both appearances God had blessed him, promising him that he would become a great nation and that he would possess the land of Canaan. While it was nowhere recorded that God specifically promised Jacob that the land would be an “everlasting possession” (verse 4), it was told Abram in 17:7. This was probably orally passed on through Isaac.

Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim,102 were born in the land of Egypt. As sons of Joseph their future in Egypt may have seemed very bright. Perhaps they might fill the shoes of their father, taking places of power and influence in Pharaoh’s administration. But their greatest hope lay in a land they had not yet seen, for they were destined to be a part of the “company of peoples” (verse 4) that God had promised Jacob.

Reuben, due to his sin of laying with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine (35:22), would be stripped of his birthright (cf. 49:4). This privilege was conveyed upon Joseph, but in an unusual way. No doubt the normal course would have been to give the birthright to the next son, Simeon, or to the next after him, Levi, but both of these sons were guilty of the mass murder of the Shechemites (34:25ff.). It was Joseph instead who was to receive the rights of the firstborn:

Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph) (I Chronicles 5:1-2).

Jacob achieved his purpose by adopting both of Joseph’s sons as his own, on a par with Reuben and Simeon (verse 5). Now each of them would receive one portion, but in so doing Joseph received a double portion:

And I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow (Genesis 48:22).

The effect, as noted by the chronicler, was to give the birthright to Joseph. Any other sons which might be born to Joseph (but don’t seem to have been) would receive their inheritance as though they were the sons of either Ephraim or Manasseh (verse 6).

The twin appearances of God to Jacob at Bethel (once before he departed from Canaan to seek a wife in Haran (28:10-17) and once after he returned to Canaan from Paddan-aram (35:9-15)) were even more significant in the light of the partial fulfillment of God’s promises to him in these appearances. God had promised Jacob that he would be with him to guide, protect, and provide, and that He would bring him safely back to Canaan. This God had done, in spite of the dangers he had faced and the obstacles that were in his path. Since God’s word had been fulfilled in the short-term promises, surely His more distant promises were assured also.

The primary focus of Jacob in his report to Joseph was the promise of the land of Canaan and the assurance that Jacob would become a numerous people, a company of peoples (verse 4). If God had assured Jacob of becoming a great and numerous people, then surely he was justified in adopting two more sons who would contribute to this proliferation of people.

If the justification for Jacob’s adoption of Joseph’s sons is found in the promise God had made at Bethel, the reason seems to be reported in verse 7:

Now as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, in the land of Canaan on the Journey, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem) (Genesis 48:7).

Joseph was the son of Rachel, Jacob’s chosen wife. His partiality to Joseph significantly contributed to Joseph’s rejection by his brothers and his journey to Egypt (cf. 37:4). A major factor in his preference for Joseph was the fact that he was the first-born of Rachel, his bride by choice. (Leah was his wife “by chance,” Bilhah and Zilpah “by competition.”)

While Rachel was the younger of his wives, she died prematurely on the way to Ephrath (Bethlehem). By inference, had she not died so early in life she would have presented Jacob with many other sons. The adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh provided Jacob with two more sons, technically “through Rachel.” The promise of God at Bethel in combination with the preference of Jacob for Rachel provides the backdrop for the adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh. In addition to this must be mentioned the faithfulness of Joseph to the God of his fathers, even while in a foreign land and in adverse circumstances. He, as the savior of his people, surely was worthy of the favor his father bestowed upon him.

The Blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh

Joseph’s sons had not yet been noticed by Jacob. The adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh was primarily a privilege granted to Joseph rather than an act of partiality toward his sons. Now, whether they are just noticed or they have been brought in after Joseph’s private interview with his father, Jacob seized the opportunity to pronounce a blessing upon Joseph through his two sons:

When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” And Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” So he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” Now the eyes of Israel were so dim from age that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them close to him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face, and behold, God has let me see your children as well.” Then Joseph took them from his knees, and bowed with his face to the ground. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right, and brought them close to him. But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the first-born (Genesis 48:8-14).

Just as his father Isaac had suffered the infirmity of poor eyesight in his later years (27:1), Jacob’s vision was dim with years. Of course he had seen these sons before, but they had grown up, changing greatly as all our children do. Jacob could make them out, but he was unable to specifically identify them. Joseph now presented them to Jacob, who must have drawn them between his knees as he embraced them and kissed them. Jacob, who had concluded that he would never again behold the face of his favorite son, now looks upon his grandsons. God’s goodness to him is not overlooked in this event (verse 11).

Joseph, knowing that his father was about to bless them (verse 9), drew the boys, now near the age of twenty,103 from his father in order to arrange them properly for the blessing. Manasseh, the eldest, he had at his left hand (Jacob’s right), and Ephraim was at Joseph’s right hand (Jacob’s left). This was intended so that Jacob’s right hand would rest upon Manasseh, the oldest. Israel surprised Joseph by crossing his hands and pronouncing this blessing:

And he blessed Joseph, and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; And may my name live on in them, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Genesis 48:15-16).

We must not forget that Jacob’s pronouncement of the blessing on Joseph’s two sons was primarily a blessing upon Joseph, as Moses reminds us in verse 15. The blessing contains the testimony of Jacob, one that is in stark contrast to his words spoken before Pharaoh:

The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning (Genesis 47:9).

First, Jacob’s God is the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, the God who had made His covenant with them and kept them all the days of their lives. Second, Jacob, the shepherd (cf. 30:27ff.), recognized that God had cared for him as his Shepherd. Jacob, in effect, testified, “The Lord is my shepherd …” Third, Jacob’s God was the “Angel” (cf. 32:22-32) who had redeemed him from all evil.

How could there be such a contrast between this testimony to Joseph and that given to Pharaoh? How could Jacob say this with sincerity? Jacob’s life had been one long sequence of sorrows. He had antagonized his brother and deceived his father. He had to leave home, never again to see his mother alive. He was forced to live with an uncle who was nearly as deceptive as he and to take four wives rather than just Rachel, the one of his choice. His wives fought with each other over him, and his children hated one another. His daughter was raped; his oldest son had slept with his concubine, and Judah had slept with what appeared to be a prostitute. He was deprived of his wife and her first son; and Benjamin, the only remaining descendant of Rachel, was in serious jeopardy. Finally, a famine forced him to leave the land of promise. His life had been full of sorrow.

When Jacob testified that the Lord had been his shepherd all along, he did not deny his sufferings. But now he has come to see them in a different light. Just as Joseph had known in the midst of his sufferings that God had been with him, Jacob was assured of God’s presence in all of his sorrows. While our Shepherd “makes us lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2), He also is with us as we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). Jacob has come to see that every event in his life was a part of the will of God for him and that God was guiding him and shaping him through adversity.

And God, the Angel (whom I take to be the pre-incarnate Christ), had redeemed him from all evil. Jacob has not claimed that the Angel kept him from all trouble, for that was not the case. Trouble and evil are synonymous terms, as Jacob has finally come to understand. No saint has ever been promised the absence of trouble. Evil, however, is not facing painful circumstances, but falling short from God’s purposes. God used trials and tribulation to bring Jacob to Egypt and to bring about the salvation which Joseph was sent ahead to provide. All of Jacob’s troubles were a “God-send” in order to bring about God’s purposes, even when Jacob was unaware of them and inclined to resist if he did know.

The immature Christian prays that God will withhold pain and suffering, seeing these things as evil. The mark of a mature Christian is that he can look back on his life and see that God can take the pains and pressures of life and cause them to work together for good in his life and ultimately draw one near to Himself through them. The immature shun suffering. While the mature do not seek it, they come to savor it in the light of how beautifully God uses it to bring us into intimacy with himself. When knowing God is the ultimate good, suffering is not too high a price to pay to obtain it:

… that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; … (Philippians 3:10).

This God, this Shepherd, this Angel, will bless the sons of Joseph in a special way. In them, Jacob’s name (Israel) will live on. The work which God began in Abraham and Isaac and faithfully continued in Jacob, He will carry on in these men. They will grow into a great multitude in fulfillment of God’s promise.

When Joseph saw his father crossing his hands and giving the preeminence to Ephraim, he assumed it was a mistake and attempted to correct it, but he learned from his father that his action was intentional.

When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the first-born. Place your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know; he also shall become a people and he also shall be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” And he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel shall pronounce blessing, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!’” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh (Genesis 48:17-20).

Jacob, after all, was an old man. He tended to dwell upon the past in his conversation. His eyes were unable to make out the identity of his grandsons. Surely, Joseph reasoned, it was an accident that Jacob crossed his hands so as to give preeminence to the younger son. Perhaps he thought that Manasseh was to his left and therefore crossed his hands so as to place his right hand upon him. With a bit of impatience, then, Joseph may have tried to correct his father. It was not out of ignorance or oversight that Jacob acted. He purposed to establish the younger over the older.

The book of Genesis is full of instances in which the younger was chosen over the older. Seth was chosen over Cain; Shem over Japheth; Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau; and now, Ephraim over Manasseh. Of course, it was not always to be so. Jacob had endeavored to choose Rachel over Leah, but Laban was not about to let this happen. In the providence of God, neither was He, for Leah was the first wife of Jacob, the mother of Judah, the head of the messianic line, and Levi, the head of the priestly line. Leah, not Rachel, was given the honor of being buried with Jacob in the cave of Machpelah (49:31).

Jacob had been wrong in choosing Rachel over Leah because he made his decision on the basis of her outward appearance, not her character. Also, his actions in that choice were not illustrative of the principle of divine election because there was a selfish motive in choosing Rachel over Leah. God’s election is without regard to the outcome so that His choice may be free:

And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac, for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger” (Romans 9:10-12).

In the choice of Ephraim above Manasseh the principle of election is clearly illustrated, for Jacob’s choice is not conditioned by selfish motives. Why, then, does Jacob set Ephraim over Manasseh? Personally, I believe that this is Jacob’s method of demonstrating his belated comprehension of and submission to the doctrine of divine selection. Jacob seemed to feel that “God helps those who help themselves,” and he had been helping himself from a very early age. He felt that God’s blessing was based upon his ability to outwit and outmaneuver others, such as his brother and Laban. He must have believed that God chose him over Esau because he could do more for God than his brother could. Now, at last, Jacob has realized that (as Paul wrote in Romans 9) God chose him over Esau simply because He purposed to work through him, not Esau. There was no earthly reason why Ephraim should be placed above Manasseh, but this is why Jacob’s actions had great meaning. While society may have concluded, for practical reasons, to assign privileges according to the order of birth, God is not bound to such conventions. God is not obliged to act “traditionally” or according to our expectations. That is the prerogative of a God who is sovereign. Jacob, at last, has come to see this and has symbolically given testimony to his grasp of the principle of divine selection.

Having given priority to Ephraim, the younger, Jacob now turns again to Joseph to give him yet another blessing before the other sons are called to his bedside:

Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you, and bring you back to the land of your fathers. And I give you one portion more than your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow” (Genesis 48:21-22).

Jacob’s death is imminent, and he will not live to see the return to Canaan. Perhaps, he suggests, Joseph will (verse 20). We know that neither Joseph nor Jacob will return to the land of promise before death overtakes them. Only in a resurrected state will they experience the promises of God. As a special blessing, Joseph is given possession of a particular portion of land, that “which Jacob took with his sword and bow” (verse 22). But what piece of land is this?

The term “portion” is literally Shechem (cf. margin, NASV). Does Jacob give Shechem to Joseph? Joseph’s bones were brought up from Egypt and buried at Shechem:

Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamar the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons (Joshua 24:32).

But here, while Joseph is buried at Shechem, it is referred to as the land “which Jacob had bought,” not the land for which he had fought. Some commentators conclude that Jacob could never have claimed to have taken this land by force when he condemned his sons for their actions in killing the men of the city:

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me, by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, against me and attack me and I shall be destroyed, I and my household” (Genesis 34:30).

Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, And in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel (Genesis 49:5-7).

It must be said that Simeon and Levi were wrong in what they did. They sought revenge, not righteousness; they were motivated more by pride than purity. They acted deceitfully, giving the impression that they would accept the offer of Shechem and his father; but they used circumcision as a trick to physically get the advantage of the men of the city. Jacob, too, was wrong. He was wrong for moving to Shechem in the first place and for courting the Canaanites and compromising with them. He seems to be wrong for not dealing decisively with the sin that was committed.

Jacob may now look back upon this incident as being prophetic of the future possession of Canaan by Israel. That land will not be purchased, but it will be taken by force. The Canaanites are to be driven out and annihilated because of their great wickedness and immorality:

Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, in order that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).

The right thing may have occurred at Shechem, but for the wrong reasons. Jacob might thus look upon the incident now in an entirely different light, for now purity was more important to him then a peace which is obtained at the price of iniquity. The next time the nation comes to Shechem, it will be taken by force, and so the first sacking of Shechem is a type of the last.


Life for Jacob looked considerably different from the perspective of the graveyard. Now, having been able to trace the hand of God in his life, he can see that life was not one long sequence of sorrows, but a chain of events in the sovereign plan of God to accomplish His purposes.

Sorrow and suffering were seen to be friends, not foes, as Jacob had once concluded. Previously, Jacob sought peace and prosperity as his highest goal. With such goals, acquiescence is preferable to adversity. Jacob had preferred to do nothing when his daughter was forcibly taken rather than run the risk of losing his comfort and security. Holiness was not nearly so dear to Jacob as happiness. Men will never be noted for their character when pleasure is of higher priority than purity.

But now, from the graveside, Jacob has come to realize that it was his suffering and trials which were the instruments of God to draw him to the point of submission to the will of God, to Egypt, to worship, and to spiritual intimacy.

Jacob, too, has come to appreciate the doctrine of election. He discerned at last that God had not chosen him because of what he would accomplish for Him. God did not select him because he had more potential than Esau. Jacob’s accomplishments had all been for naught. He never enjoyed the fruits of his manipulations in getting the birthright from Esau or the blessing from Isaac. He never owned the sheep of his father (so far as I can tell). He left the land of Canaan penniless and had to labor in order to pay the dowry for a wife (cf. 32:10). His prosperity came from his sojourn in Paddan-aram, and not from the peeling of poles, but from the promise of God (cf. 31:11-13). Only when Jacob was powerless and forced to leave the land of promise did he cast himself fully upon the goodness of God and not rest in his own devices. The doctrine of election, now comprehended, brought Jacob to humility and worship.

I would like to suggest that our lives will be much happier if we will come to the conclusions Jacob did, but sooner than he. If we can, like Joseph, see the hand of God in our suffering, then we can rejoice in our tribulations, knowing that God is at work maturing us and teaching us endurance (James 1:2-4). And if we can see that God has not chosen us because of our potential but to demonstrate His power, we will not engage in the fruitless efforts of Jacob:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void.

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God (I Corinthians 1:17,26-29).

Isn’t it interesting that God chose Jacob to be Israel, the patriarch. Joseph, who by far, is the most pious of the group is passed over in that no tribe is named after him. He is not the forefather of Messiah, but Judah, who had failed with his sons and who was intending to have an illicit relationship with a Canaanite prostitute, is. Neither was Joseph to be the one through whom the priesthood would be named, but Levi, the brother who had deceived the men of Shechem and slaughtered the men of that city. That, my friend, is election. And that is precisely why we should be encouraged. For God may take material as unlikely and unpromising as you and I and do great and wonderful things through us.

May our view of life, be that of Jacob in his dying moments, the view from the grave:

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (II Corinthians 4:7-11).

102 In verse 5 Jacob referred to Joseph’s sons in reverse order: Ephraim and Manasseh. This foreshadows the reversal of tradition in giving the birthright to Ephraim, the younger, which will follow later. Already it is in Jacob’s mind to do so.

103 Manasseh and Ephraim were born in the seven years of plenty, before the first year of the famine (41:50). Jacob went down to Egypt somewhere around the end of the second year of the famine (45:6) and lived 17 years after he arrived (47:28). Since Jacob is near death, the sons of Joseph must be about 20 years old. They are certainly not toddlers.

49. The Purpose of Prophecy (Genesis 49:1-28)


As a student in my senior year of seminary, I was required to write a thesis. I chose to write on the themes of the Exodus as they were employed in Isaiah 40-55. During my Christmas break I was trying to put all the pieces together and complete the thesis. At one point I became totally lost in the project and, in the midst of all the particulars, lost sight of the purpose of my paper. Only after consulting with Dr. Waltke, the department chairman, did I regain my perspective and complete the thesis.

I find biblical prophecy to be much the same for many Christians. There is a plethora of particulars, a mountain of minutia, which can overwhelm us and cause us to lose sight of the purpose of prophecy. Some Christians immerse themselves in the details of those “things to come” which comprise prophecy. They carefully chart out the future in even the most obscure and sketchy matters (so far as biblical revelation is concerned). And yet, while prophecy is a worthy matter for serious study and investigation, the details become an obsession while the weightier matters of godly living are brushed aside. In effect some Christians strain out eschatological gnats, while swallowing biblical camels.

Few would suppose that Genesis chapter 49 has much to say to the Christian of the 20th century. The prophecies contained in this text are related to the destiny of the descendants of Jacob. There are, of course, messianic prophecies here, and that we find of interest. But in addition to these we are given insight into the purpose of all prophecy as we consider the purpose which these prophecies had for the sons of Jacob and their descendants.

Jacob’s sons, who were the recipients of these prophecies, would die in Egypt. Like their forefathers, they would not live to see the fulfillment of God’s promises in their lifetime. Why, then, did God predict events which were beyond their lifetime? We may be able to grant that these prophecies had meaning to those who first read them from the pen of Moses. After all, these were the descendants of Jacob, who would begin to realize the prophecies of their forefather. But of what value were the words of Jacob to Rueben, Simeon, Levi, and the rest? I would like to suggest that they were of profit to them in precisely the same way that prophecy (yet unfulfilled) is important to us. Let us first learn from the sons of Jacob, and then consider the implications for ourselves.

Questions Which Provide the Key to this Passage

You may not agree with the answers which I find in this text, but I am convinced that none of us will understand the passage without answering a few key questions.

(1) Did every detail of Jacob’s prophecy come to pass? If not, why not?

(2) What purpose does this prophecy serve for the sons of Jacob, since none of them will live to see the fulfillment of them in Canaan?

(3) What reasons did Moses have for recording this conversation between Jacob and his sons?

(4) Why did Reuben, Simeon, and Levi receive a rebuke from their father for their sinful actions, when Judah, just as great a sinner (chapter 38), received the greatest blessing of all the sons, as he would be the forefather of the Messiah?

(5) What can we learn from these prophecies?

Observations Concerning the
Prophecy of Jacob Regarding His Offspring

Before we give our attention to some of the details of the prophecies of this passage, it would benefit us to look at the passage as a whole. Several characteristics can be identified.

First of all, these are the last words of Jacob. The prophecy is literally the final word of Jacob, spoken with his dying breath.

When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people (Genesis 49:33).

The dying words of any man should not be taken lightly, much less those spoken by a patriarch and recorded under the superintendence of the Spirit of God.

Second, this is poetry. We might tend to think that a man’s last words, spoken with great effort, should be disorganized and difficult to follow. A look at this passage in the NASV reveals that we are dealing with Hebrew poetry, for the form is noticeably different from the preceding pages. There are numerous indications that these final words of Jacob were thought out carefully in advance. Jacob’s words are ones that have been carefully planned and probably rehearsed.

Third, this is more than poetry, it is prophecy. While the form is poetry, the substance is prophecy. Jacob’s words reveal “things to come” for his descendants. As a rule,104 the prophecy is general. It is not intended to spell out the future for Jacob’s sons as individuals, but as tribal leaders. The future which is foretold is the future of the nation as manifested in the twelve tribes (cf. verse 28). Normally the prophecy will not speak of a particular place,105 nor of a certain person,106 nor of a specific point in time,107 but of the character and disposition of the various tribes throughout their history. This forewarns us that we must be careful to look for fulfillment which is too specific.

Fourth, the words spoken by Jacob are a blessing:

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him (Genesis 49:28).

All the sons of Jacob were blessed in that they were to be a part of the nation Israel. All would enter into the land of Canaan and have an inheritance there.

Some would certainly receive a greater blessing than others. Even those who were rebuked by Jacob and whose future was portrayed as dismal were blessed, as we shall point out later.

Fifth, the future which is foretold is not independent of the past, but an extension of it. Moses told us that every one of the sons was given “the blessing appropriate to him” (verse 28). As we think our way through these blessings of Jacob we find that each of them was related to the past. The blessings of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, were based upon the sins which they had committed in the past. Joseph, on the other hand, had been bitterly attacked, but had remained faithful (verses 23-24). Others found their blessings related to the name they had been given at their birth. Judah, derived from the Hebrew root, ‘to praise’ (cf. 29:35), is now prophesied to be praised by his brothers (49:8). Dan whose name seems to be the participle meaning ‘to judge’ (cf. 30:6), is foretold that he will “judge his People” (49:16). Prophecy, then, is not detached from history, but an extension of it into the future.


Reuben, by virtue of his position as the first-born of Jacob, should have had pre-eminence over his brothers and the double portion of the inheritance (which was given to Joseph (cf. 48:5,6,22; I Chronicles 5:1-2). But these were taken from Reuben because of his instability:

Reuben, you are my first-born; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it—he went up to my couch (Genesis 49:3-4).

As suggested earlier, I do not think Reuben’s lust was sexual as much as it was political—it was a lust for power. Reuben, like Satan, was not content with his exalted position and wanted more power, more pre-eminence (cf. Isaiah 14:12ff.; Ezekiel 28:12ff.). He therefore took Bilhah, his father’s concubine, not because of her sexual desirability, but because she was symbolic of the right to rule over the family. To possess the harem of the ruler was to usurp the authority of the ruler (cf. I Kings 2:13f.). Since “the last shall be first” (Mark 10:31) and those who serve shall rule in the kingdom of God (Mark 9:35), Reuben had to be rejected from his position of power and pre-eminence. He who would rule must surely first rule himself.

Simeon and Levi

Like Reuben, Simeon and Levi had demonstrated character that was not befitting to godliness:

Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, And in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel (Genesis 49:5-7).

These two brothers of Dinah were greatly angered by the violation of her purity at the hand of Shechem, but it was not righteous indignation. By their submitting to circumcision they had deceived the men of Shechem, letting them believe that a treaty was being ratified. And in their anger they slew the men of the city. The hamstringing of the oxen was a further evidence of their uncontrolled anger, a detail not mentioned in the account of Genesis 34:25-30. Horses were hamstrung because of their military use, pulling chariots (cf. Joshua 11:6), but oxen were used for peaceful purposes. The hamstringing of these oxen evidenced wanton violence and senseless destruction. The alliance of Simeon and Levi was an unholy one, and thus, like those at Babel who joined together in disobedience (Genesis ll:lff.), they would be dispersed.


After learning of Judah’s folly in Genesis 38 we would not expect him to prosper spiritually, but Jacob’s words speak of a bright future for his descendants:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are dull from wine. And his teeth white from milk (Genesis 49:8-12).

The pre-eminence which was taken from Reuben is clearly transferred to his younger brother, Judah (cf. also I Chronicles 5:2). He would not only rule over his brothers in the days to come,108 but he would also prevail over his enemies (verse 8). His military might is compared to the strength of a lion (verse 9). Verse 10 has long been held to be a messianic prophecy by both Jews and Christians, but the precise meaning of “Shiloh” is uncertain. It is either a reference to a place, as it is elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 18:1,8,9; 19;51; I Samuel 1:13, etc.), or it may refer to the person of the Messiah.109

The prosperity of the tribe of Judah is depicted in verses 11 and 12. He will be so blessed in the vineyard that his vines will be strong enough to hold fast a young donkey, and the produce of the vine will be so abundant that he could, so to speak, wash his garments in its wine. In other words, wine will be as abundant as water. The quantity would be sufficient to more than meet a man’s capacity to consume it, thus the reddening of the eyes (verse 12). The cattle will prosper such that milk will also be readily available (verse 12).

The first six sons referred to are the offspring of Jacob and Leah. The next four are the sons of the concubines of Rachel and Leah. The last two sons are the children of Jacob and Rachel, the wife of his preference.

Zebulun and Issachar

The prophecy concerning Zebulun is disturbing, for it has not yet come to pass:

Zebulun shall dwell at the seashore; And he shall be a haven for ships, And his flank shall be toward Sidon (Genesis 49:13).

Kidner comments:

Zebulun’s allotted land in Joshua 19:l0-l6 did not reach the coast, unlike the neighboring Asher’s (cf. Jdg. 5:l7), nor did it closely approach Sidon. But it was near enough to both to be enriched by seaborne trade (to ‘suck the abundance of the seas’, Dt. 33:l9), and the prepositions in the verse could mean ‘towards.’110

In contrast to Judah, who subdued his enemies like a lion, Issachar failed to do so, and as a result, instead submitted to the service of the Canaanites. That which we do not master often tends to become our master.


Our hopes are raised initially, for it seems that the prospects for this tribe are bright, but they are suddenly dashed upon the rocks of reality:

Dan shall judge his people, As one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, A horned snake in the path, That bites the horse’s heels, So that his rider falls backward (Genesis 49:16-17).

Dan was the first child of Rachel, through Bilhah her handmaid (Genesis 30:1-6). Rachel felt that she would be vindicated through this son, and thus his name suggested that God had heard her cries and had judged in her favor. Dan would judge his people, as one of the sons of Israel, but he would eventually serve more destructive purposes. The incident in Judges 18 serves to reflect the bent which this tribe took. In the listing of the tribes of Israel in Revelation 7:5-8, Dan is omitted.

Verse 18 is an unusual outburst of hope and expectation, but it is difficult to relate to its context: “For thy salvation I wait, O Lord (Genesis 49:18).

I understand it to be a reflection of the faith and hope of Israel, in the light of the prophecies spoken. The prognosis for the tribes of Israel thus far has not been particularly good, with the exception of the tribe of Judah. Through David much of the prophecies will be fulfilled, but the ultimate fulfillment is in the Messiah, who is the son of David. Having finished his prophecy concerning Dan, and thus being halfway through his descendants, Jacob bursts out with these words in verse 18. An expression that the hope of the nation does not lie in the sons he has borne, but in the God who has borne him along throughout his sojourn. Salvation surely will not come from his sons, but from God. Salvation will not come from within, but from without. That, I believe, is the substance of Jacob’s words here.

Gad and Asher

As for Gad, raiders shall raid him, But he shall raid at their heels. As for Asher, his food shall be rich, And he shall yield royal dainties (Genesis 49:19-20).

Gad would be continually plagued by his neighbors, but would not be overcome.111 Asher,

With a fertile plain and trade routes to the sea, … would ‘dip his foot in oil’ (Duet. 33:24) and produce a notable annual quota for the palace (cf. I Ki. 4:7).112


Naphtali is a doe let loose, He gives beautiful words (Genesis 49:21).

The portrait of Naphtali’s future is one of unhindered freedom and increase. While the NASV translates verse 21 to read “words” in the second line, it seems preferable to render it more naturally, “fawns,” as in the King James Version. Under Barak, Israel was led to break their bonds (Judges 4-5).


Joseph, we would all have to agree, was most worthy of any blessing which Jacob might pronounce. While he is greatly blessed by God, he does not have the privilege of being the forefather of Messiah, as does Judah.

Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall. The archers bitterly attacked him, And shot at him and harassed him; But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob. (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), From the God of your father who helps you, And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; May they be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers (Genesis 49:22-26).

Joseph’s future is described as one of fruitfulness and abundance. He had been bitterly attacked, yet remained steadfast (verses 23-24). I believe the primary reference here to be to the rejection and persecution he experienced at the hand of his brethren. Joseph remained firm and the God of Jacob sustained him. His blessings are largely material. He will be pre-eminent among his brothers, but not in the same way as Judah. Because of Ephraim’s pride (Judges 8:1; 12:1) and apostasy (Hosea 4:17; 5:3f.), enjoyment of these blessings was not what it could have been.


Jacob described Benjamin as one who would be fierce and aggressive:

Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he devours the prey, And in the evening he divides the spoil (Genesis 49:27).

This side of Benjamin can be seen in Judges 19-21. Moses, in a later pronouncement of blessing, has a more gentle word about Benjamin:

Of Benjamin he said, “May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him, Who shields him all the day, And he dwells between His shoulders” (Deuteronomy 33:12).


Having given a very brief explanation of the prophecies of Jacob concerning each of his sons, we must return to our original questions if we are to gain a grasp of the purposes of prophecy.

(1) Did every detail of Jacob’s prophecy come to pass, as he predicted? I believe we can say with a fair degree of confidence that the answer is no. For example, Zebulun did not dwell at the seashore (verse 13). Also, we must remember that while Levi is rather harshly rebuked by his father here, and he is said to be dispersed among his brethren (verse 7), he is to become the head of the priestly tribe. In this position there is great blessing.

What explanation can we give for the fact that some prophecies are not precisely fulfilled, as we have come to expect? First, let me remind you that God’s purposes for Israel are not yet complete:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” “AND THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS” (Romans 11:25-27).

The promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were never fully realized in Israel’s history, and thus they are still viewed to be future. How can we be surprised, then, that some prophecies are not yet fulfilled?

Secondly (and this will sound like a great heresy) God never intended to fulfill every prophecy. Before you turn me off and tear up this page, let me explain what I am saying. While most prophecies are specific and certain of their fulfillment, not all are so. Some prophecies are God’s warning of what would come to pass if men did not repent and change their attitudes and actions. This is why Jonah had no intention of prophesying impending judgment to the Ninevites:

When God saw their deeds and that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 3:10-4:2).

Some years later, the truth which Jonah knew was clearly stated by the prophet Jeremiah:

At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it, if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it, if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it (Jeremiah 18:7-10).

(2) What purpose does this prophecy serve the sons of Israel, since they will all die before God causes the nation to return to Canaan? For the twelve sons of Jacob, the primary lesson I see is that their character not only affects their own destiny, but also the conduct of future generations and the consequences which that conduct conceives. In other words, the sons of Jacob are reminded of the lesson which Jacob had himself recently learned, that present actions have future results and repercussions. Jacob’s deceptiveness could be seen in his two sons, Simeon and Levi. The prophecies of Jacob remind his sons that what they are tends to shape what the nation will be in years to come. If they live godly lives, this will be a blessing to coming generations. If they are godless, the nation will likewise reap the consequences:

“You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, … Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever! Go, say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess.” So you shall observe to do just as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:9, 29-33).

(3) Why did Moses record the words of Jacob? What did the ancient Israelites learn from them? The lesson for those Israelites was precisely that which Jacob sought to teach his sons, that present actions tend to shape the future. The early chapters of Deuteronomy (such as Deut. 5:9, 29-33, quoted above) record Moses’ attempt to underscore the importance of trusting and obeying God, for present and future blessing.

(4) Why did Reuben, Simeon and Levi receive rebuke from their father for their past sins while Judah is greatly blessed? Genesis 38 surely teaches us that Judah, like his brothers, was guilty of misconduct. But there is a significant difference between Judah and Reuben (for example). We are never told that Reuben repented of his evil, or that he changed his conduct significantly. Judah, when faced with his sin, confessed it and forsook it:

And Judah recognized them, and said, “She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not have relations with her again (Genesis 38:26).

Furthermore, Reuben’s response to their distress in Egypt was to “pass the buck” by telling his brothers, in effect, “I told you so” (42:22). Judah, on the other hand, took full responsibility for the safety of Benjamin (43:8-10) and offered himself as a hostage in place of his youngest brother (48:18ff.).

These observations bring us to the purpose of Jacob’s prophecy, and thus the purpose of all prophecy. Here, we can find the meaning of the many prophecies which are yet to be fulfilled, whether in our day or not.

The Purpose of Prophecy

(1) Prophecy focuses our attention upon future things. Our tendency is to live our lives as though there were no future. Israel’s hope, like ours, was a future hope. The ultimate reality is not in things seen, but in things unseen. Faith focuses upon the future rather than the present:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

While at the moment Jacob and his sons lived comfortably in Egypt, there was a grave danger in placing their hope and trust in what Egypt offered them. Israel’s hope and the fulfillment of God’s promises lay in Canaan, not Egypt. The sons of Jacob must look ahead.

We, too, must not fix our hopes on earthly things, in the momentary, temporal pleasures of this life, but in those things which God has yet in store for us:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (I Peter 1:3-5).

(2) Prophecy focuses not only on the future, however, but on living in the present in the light of the future. The promises of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were to prompt purity in the lives of Israel’s sons, not passivity or complacency. The future blessings (and judgments) which are in store for us are intended to encourage Christians to live in peace and purity:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:10-13).

So it was that Moses was prompted to forego passing pleasures for eternal glory:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).

Prophecy, then, is given not to satisfy our curiosity, but to prompt us to purity. Many Christians have an obsession with prophecy, seeking to fill in their charts and laying out God’s program for the future in minutest detail, as though it were some kind of puzzle to be solved. I fear that it is possible for us to strain eschatological (prophetic) gnats while we swallow biblical camels. While prophecy has future promises, it also contains present implications which are intended to prompt us to purity and piety.

I must make a momentary aside for yet another reason why we must exercise caution in attempting to too precisely plot out all of God’s prophetic program.

We know that while all of the prophecies of our Lord’s first coming were literally and exactly fulfilled, no one, before the fact, could have predicted how it would happen. While the particulars of prophecy were known, the program was not. Dare we suppose that we will see the plan for our Lord’s second coming any more precisely than did those saints of olden days see the first? Let us be careful about a fixation on particulars when the purpose of prophecy is purity.

(3) While we may be certain that specific prophecy (such as the second coming of Christ) will be fulfilled as specifically and literally as were those prophecies of Christ’s first coming, more general prophecies may be given to warn men of the possibility of future things which can be avoided. Judgment did fall upon Ninevah, but it was delayed (from a human point of view) by repentance (Jonah 3:5ff.). And while judgment may fall on others, we may escape through the acceptance of divine grace.

In general we must say that all of the prophecy of Jacob either was fulfilled or will be in the future outworking of God’s plan for Israel. To the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, the prophecy was a warning of the potential for following in the footsteps of their father. As sons of their father, they had the predisposition to sin just as their forefathers. These words of warning were also words of hope for, through the grace which God provided, they need not follow in the steps of their fathers. The warning of sin and its consequences was designed to turn men from their sin to the Messiah, through whom deliverance would come. The sons of Jacob, like Jacob himself, must wait for God’s salvation: “For Thy salvation I wait, O Lord” (verse 18).

We should also add that none of the blessings which Jacob pronounced upon his descendants were realized apart from divine grace. No one could inherit grace from their forefathers, they must accept it personally. This was the error of those in Jesus’ day:

They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:33-36).

Nationally, the prophecies of Jacob were certainties; they were sure to be fulfilled sooner or later in that tribe. But individually one could be the exception to the rule of the consequences of sin, or the participant in the divine promises of blessing, by trusting the Messiah who was to come.

The Scriptures abound in passages which speak of days ahead of suffering and eternal torment, of judgment and condemnation:

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown in to the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-15).

While some will surely face this judgment, you need not. Prophecy such as this is written so that you might turn from sin and judgment to Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers to all who will believe:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him (John 3:16,17).

By acknowledging your sin and the judgment you deserve, by personally trusting in Jesus Christ as Messiah and Savior, you may avoid the judgment to come and may live in purity and expectation of the promise of God of the blessed hope:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

For the unbeliever, the purpose of prophecy is to warn him of the wages of sin. For the Christian, the purpose of prophecy is to motivate him to live in this life in purity and hope, assured that God has even greater blessings in store for those who will trust and obey.

104 “To such an attempt it is important to premise the following remarks: (1) That these blessings or announcements have respect mainly to posterity not to the persons of the twelve sons of Jacob. (2) That, consequently, the materials of a just interpretation are to be sought for in the subsequent history of these tribes. It is only from the documents furnished in the sacred record, that the leading characteristic traits, and the most important events related of each tribe, can be determined, and the appropriateness of the predictions clearly made out. (3) That the fulfillment of these blessings is to be traced not in any one event, or in any single period of time, but in a continuous and progressive series of accomplishments, reaching down to the latest era of the Jewish polity” George Bush, Notes on Genesis (Minneapolis: James Family Christian Publishers, ((Reprint)) 1979), II, p. 385.

105 In the case of Zebulun, he did not and has not, as yet, possess land on the coast.

106 Blessings were prophesied through Messiah in verse 10, but this is still not very specific.

107 Reuben’s loss of the rights of the first-born was immediate, but the pre-eminence of Judah did not occur immediately. It was partially realized under David, and will be fully so under Messiah, when He comes.

108 It was Joseph who had pre-eminence over his brothers for the remainder of his life, not Judah. Only later would Judah rise to the position of preeminence.

109 “On the precise meaning of this clause it is still unsafe to dogmatize. Shiloh (AV, RV) is not elsewhere a biblical title of the Messiah, nor has it any clear meaning as a word. The alternative construction, ‘until he comes to Shiloh,’ corresponds to no Messianic event. But an early variant, revocalizing a shortened spelling of the consonants as selloh, yields either ‘till what is his comes’ (i.e. ‘till Judah’s full heritage appears’; cf. LXX) or ‘until he comes, to whom [it belongs]’ (cf. RSV). The latter, elliptical though it is, seems to be taken up and interpreted by Ezekiel 2l:26f. (MT. 31 f.) in words addressed to the last king of Judah: ‘Remove the mitre, and take off the crown . . . until he comes whose right it is: and I will give it to him.’ Here is the best support for the Messianic content which Jewish and Christian exegesis has found in the saying from earliest times2” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 218.

110 Ibid, p. 219.

111 “Four of the six Hebrew words of this verse consist of God’s name and of word-plays on it. This may indicate that AV was right to translate it ‘a troop’ in 30:11; but puns can go by sound as well as sense (cf. the Hebrew of Is. 10:30: ‘poor Anathoth’).” Ibid, p. 220.

112 Ibid.

Related Topics: Prophecy/Revelation

50. The End of An Era (Genesis 49:29-50:26)


In a day when perhaps 80 percent of Americans die in institutions rather than at home, it is difficult to identify with the scene which took place around the deathbed of Jacob centuries ago. Perhaps these brief paragraphs by Joe Bayly will help us to better appreciate the difference in the way death is dealt with (or perhaps not dealt with) in our culture.

One of my early memories is of being led into my grandmother’s room in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to give her a final kiss. She was dying, I had been told, “so be quiet and behave.”

That scene impresses me today with its Old Testament quality. Grandma, an imposing person, was conscious, slightly raised on a bolster, her white hair braided and carefully arranged on the quilt she had made as a young woman. The bed, a four-poster, was the one in which she had slept for fifty years, in which her four children had been conceived and born.

The wide-boarded floor creaked its familiar creak, the kerosene lamp flickered on the massive bureau, a bouquet of sweet peas from Grandma’s garden made the room faintly fragrant.

The old lady was surrounded by her children and grandchildren. In a few hours she died.

Forty years later my children were with their grandfather when he had his last heart attack. We gave him oxygen, called the doctor, and then the ambulance came. The men put Grandpa on a stretcher, carried him out of the house, and that was the last his grandchildren saw of him. Children are excluded from most hospitals.

In the intensive care unit of the hospital, my wife and I were with him until the visiting hours were over. The mechanics of survival—tubes, needles, oxygen system, electronic pacemaker—were in him and on him and around him.

Grandpa died alone, at night, after visiting hours. His grandsons had no chance to give him a final kiss, to feel the pressure of his hand on their heads.113

Men and women are granted little dignity in death in our cultural and technological age. There are hospital rooms with personnel continuously coming and going, tubes, tests, monitors and life sustaining (or death-prolonging) machines which make it difficult to even tell when one is really gone.

Jacob died in bed, at home, surrounded by those he most loved, and by those who most loved him. While most of us would prefer to die like Jacob, most may not have that choice. The need for very specialized treatment may force us to die in a hospital. And unexpected death may snatch us from those we love without any warning or opportunity to say farewell.

While the circumstances under which death comes may be beyond our control, our attitude toward death is something which we can determine, even now. I would like to suggest that few decisions are as important as our response to death. And no one chapter in the Old Testament has more to say on the subject of death than the final chapter of the book of Genesis.

One of the most dramatic changes in Jacob’s thinking was his attitude toward death. In the autumn years of his life, he was preoccupied with death. It probably began with the death of his beloved Rachel (Genesis 35:16ff.). The only woman he ever loved was gone. And later her oldest son Joseph appeared to be dead as well. Jacob saw little reason to live. The grave was not an appealing escape from pain, but it was the only one Jacob saw:

Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him (Genesis 37:35).

When Simeon was detained in Egypt and Benjamin was demanded as part of the integrity of Jacob’s sons, once again Jacob became preoccupied with death:

… My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow (Genesis 42:38).

Judah, at least, believed his father (cf. 44:22). When Jacob learned that Joseph was alive and was reunited with him, he felt that now, at last, he was ready to die:

Then Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive” (Genesis 46:30).

While Jacob felt he was ready to die, God did not. It was to be after 17 years of communion with God and with Joseph in Egypt that Jacob was really ready to die. When we see the detail with which Moses recorded the death of Jacob, we begin to appreciate the importance of his death. And when we recognize that the final chapter of Genesis contains the record of two deaths, we cannot ignore the fact that death is the central theme of the passage. Let us, then, turn our attention to this final chapter in Genesis to learn how Jacob’s attitude toward death has changed. And let us seek to gain a godly view of death and dying.

Jacob Chooses His Cemetery Site

So far as I can tell, Jacob’s last words were not the blessing he gave his sons (49:1-28), but his very careful instruction about his burial.

Then he charged them and said to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah—the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth.” When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people (Genesis 49:29-33).

There is no deception about Jacob’s death (verse 29), but its imminence underscores the import of his words. Clear orders are given, but not for the first time (cf. 47:29-31), concerning his burial in Canaan. He was to be taken up to Canaan to the field of Machpelah, and buried in the cave along with his grandfather Abraham, and his father Isaac, and their wives. Leah, too, was buried there, and it would seem that at that time he had hewn out a place in the cave for his own burial (cf. 50:5). A very precise description of the cave, the field, and its location was given so that no mistakes would be made. In that day, contracts were most often (if not always) verbal (cf. 23:3-20), and so this “deed” must be passed on from one generation to the next.

Knowing that he had fulfilled all of his obligations, Jacob drew up his feet into the bed and shortly, if not immediately, died (verse 33). It would seem that death could not claim him until all of his final responsibilities were completed.

The Grief of Joseph and the Egyptians

Moses chose, at this point, to draw our attention to the grief of Joseph and the Egyptians, but without a word concerning his brothers. Their response would be specifically described in later verses (15-21).

Then Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Now forty days were required for it, for such is the period required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days (Genesis 50:1-3).

Joseph was probably closer to Jacob than any of his brothers. He wept over his father and kissed him. Then those whose duty it was to care for Joseph’s medical needs114 were commissioned to embalm Jacob (verse 2). This was a lengthy process of 40 days duration (verse 3):

The process of embalming among the ancient Egyptians is thus described by Herodotus, b. ii., c. 86—8, “The body was given to the embalmers, who first took out the brains and entrails and washed them in palm wine impregnated with strong astringent drugs; after which they began to anoint the body with the oil of cedar, myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia; and this lasted thirty days. They next put it into a solution of nitre (saltpetre) for forty days longer, so that they allowed seventy days to complete the embalming; after which they bound it up in swathes of linen besmeared with gum. Being then able to resist putrefaction, it was delivered to the relatives, inclosed in a wooden or paper case somewhat resembling a coffin, and laid in the catacomb or grave belonging to the family, where it was placed in an upright posture against the wall.”115

As a gesture of respect, love, and sympathy, the Egyptians joined Joseph in mourning Jacob’s death a total of 70 days before the burial plan was put into action.116

The Burial of Jacob

Embalming was the customary Egyptian preparation of dignitaries for burial. For Jacob’s burial this was especially helpful for it was a long way back to Canaan to the cave where Jacob was to be laid to rest. Perhaps it was due to the same logistical problem (without the availability of embalmers) that forced Jacob to bury Rachel along the way rather than to transport her body to the cave of Machpelah (cf. Genesis 35:16-20).

Joseph’s next task was to secure the permission of Pharaoh to leave Egypt, along with all the adult members of the Israelite nation.

And when the days of mourning for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your sight, please speak to Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am about to die; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.”’ Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.” And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear” (Genesis 50:4-6).

Joseph is said to have asked other Egyptian officials to petition Pharaoh to leave the land temporarily. This may be due to some kind of ceremonial defilement that would make Joseph’s personal appearance and appeal offensive to Pharaoh. A report of Jacob’s instructions that were sworn as an oath was included in the petition. Joseph reminded Pharaoh that this was Jacob’s strong desire and that he was sworn to carry through with it. This was to assure that Pharaoh would not take offense to Jacob’s burial in Canaan rather than Egypt. Without reservation, Joseph’s request was granted.

Few funeral processions have been so long or so large:

So Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt, and all the household of Joseph and his brothers and his father’s household; they left only their little ones and their flocks and their herds in the land of Goshen. There also went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and it was a very great company (Genesis 50:7-9).

Joseph was accompanied by a large delegation of high-ranking Egyptian officials, many, if not all of whom, were subordinate to Joseph (cf. 40:40-44). Verse seven seems to indicate that men of various rank and offices went with Joseph to bury Jacob. In addition, all of Jacob’s adult family went along (verse 8). Attached to this large procession was a large company of horsemen and charioteers. Providing transportation and security seems to have been their assignment (cf. verse 9).

Upon reaching Canaan, the ceremony was so awesome it made a profound impression on the inhabitants of the land.

When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and sorrowful lamentation; and he observed seven days mourning for his father. Now when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning for the Egyptians.” Therefore it was named Abel-mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan (Genesis 50:10-11).

For an unknown reason, the procession made its way from Egypt to Canaan by means of an unusual route. Rather than traveling to the north and approaching Canaan from the west, they proceeded northeasterly and entered Canaan from the east, from the other side of the Jordan (cf. verse 10).117 Perhaps it is not coincidental that this route would more closely parallel the entrance of Israel into Canaan after the Exodus.

Shortly after crossing the Jordan into Canaan, the procession halted at a place identified as “the threshing floor of Atad” (verse 10). Here a seven day period of mourning was observed which especially attracted the attention of the Canaanites who lived near (verse 11).

The seven day mourning period may have been primarily for the Egyptians, allowing them one final opportunity to grieve with Joseph and his family. From here it would seem that Jacob’s family proceeded on with the body to the cave of Machpelah where Jacob was buried. This would then have been a more private family matter neither participated in by the Egyptians nor viewed with curiosity by the Canaanites.

Moses reminds us that in so doing the charge of Jacob to his sons was exactingly carried out.

And thus his sons did for him as he had charged them; for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field for a burial site from Ephron the Hittite. And after he had buried his father Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father (Genesis 50:12-14).

Having completed their mission, this large entourage, the Israelites, would then have returned to the threshing floor of Atad, rejoined their retinue of Egyptians, and returned en masse to Egypt.

Not Grief, But Guilt

It is at verse 15 that we see why Moses has described only the grief of Joseph and the Egyptians (cf. 50:1,3). While the death of Jacob undoubtedly occasioned grief on the part of Joseph’s brothers, another emotion seems to have prevailed—guilt.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and pay us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” (Genesis 50:15).

We cannot fully appreciate the feelings of Joseph’s brothers without recalling the past. For a long time feelings of jealousy and hatred had been growing like a cancer in the souls of Jacob’s “other” sons (cf. 37:2-4). More than once they must have considered a plan to eliminate Joseph, but one thing always prevented it—Jacob. Sometime, somehow, an occasion would arise when Jacob would not be present and then they could get rid of Joseph. The golden opportunity came when Jacob sent Joseph to them, many miles from home, far from the protection he had afforded to his favorite son (cf. 37:12ff.)

Now, years later, they were still plagued with guilt about their treatment of Joseph (cf. 42:21-22). They had not yet fathomed Joseph’s forgiveness, even though 17 years had evidenced nothing but grace. But, they reasoned, that was a time when Jacob still lived. Would Joseph not hesitate to retaliate with his father present even as they had waited for an opportune moment away from their father to eliminate Joseph? Now Jacob was gone for good. Joseph was free to do with them as he pleased. That thought consumed them, even more than the loss of their father. This fear prompted a plan which they hoped would soften Joseph’s anger.

So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him (Genesis 50:16-18).

A message was conveyed to Joseph, perhaps through Benjamin. Joseph was told that Jacob had yet another charge not yet made known, to which Joseph was urged to submit. Before his death Jacob had requested that Joseph forgive his other sons for their sins. Having sent this message ahead, perhaps by Benjamin, the brothers appeared before Joseph. Humbly they fell before Joseph pledging their obedience and submission (verse 18). They now volunteered to do the very thing which Joseph had predicted (37:5-9) and which they had sought to avoid (37:19-20).

Joseph’s response is a model for all who would respond in a godly way to ungodly persecution:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-21).

Vengeance belongs to God, not man. Joseph would not consider usurping a prerogative which belonged only to God (cf. Romans 12:19; I Thessalonians 5:15; I Peter 4:19). Furthermore, while their attitudes and actions were evil, the result was intended by God for the good of all (verse 20; cf. 45:5-8; Acts 2:23). How could Joseph be angry when good had come of their sin through God’s providence? Instead, Joseph returned kindness for cruelty (cf. Proverbs 25:21-22; Romans 12:20,21). The kindness Joseph had shown while his father was alive would continue he reassured them.

The Death and Burial of Joseph

More than 50 years elapsed between verses 21 and 22.118 Moses was intent upon placing the deaths of Jacob and Joseph side by side. Irrelevant details are therefore set aside to take us directly to the death bed of Joseph, and thus to parallel the death of Jacob.

Now Joseph stayed in Egypt, he and his father’s household, and Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. And Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim’s sons; also the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph’s knees. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you, and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.” So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt (Genesis 50:22-26).

Joseph’s life was full at the age of 110 (verse 22). He lived long enough to hold his great-great-grandsons on his knee (verse 23). Knowing that the day of his death drew near, Joseph like Jacob, charged his brothers concerning his burial. He did not wish his body to be carried back to Canaan, as Jacob had insisted.

While the burial of Jacob and Joseph are quite different, they are both reflective of the same faith and hope.119 Both believed that Israel’s blessings in the future would be realized in the land of promise. Both were embalmed—Jacob so that his body could be carried on the long journey to Canaan by his sons, Joseph so that his body could wait for the exodus at which time his bones would be returned to Canaan, borne by the Israelites:

And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God shall surely take care of you; and you shall carry my bones from here with you” (Exodus 13:19).

Jacob’s death occasioned a journey to Canaan where the Israelites once again beheld the land of promise to which they (in their offspring) would return at the exodus. The burial of Jacob reminded his descendants of their final home, and that Egypt was only a place of sojourn.

Joseph, on the other hand, was a continual reminder that some day the exodus would occur. Day after day in Egypt, that coffin spoke of Israel’s future and Joseph’s faith. And day after weary day, the Israelites trudged through the wilderness carrying the casket of Joseph. Both men, Jacob and Joseph, determined that their death and burial would be a testimony to their faith and a stimulus to the faith of their offspring.


And so we come to the end of an era and to the end of a magnificent book. But two funerals do not seem to be a very bright ending for a book. Man’s origin began in the garden of perfection and beauty in paradise. It ends in two coffins, one in Canaan, the other in Egypt. What a dismal conclusion. Moses could never make it as a writer in our times.

But wait a moment; that is just the point. Genesis chapter 50 is not the end of the story; it is only the end of the book of Genesis. Moses has yet four books to write, and God has ordained another 61 before the final chapter is written. And in the final chapters of the book of the Revelation we once again return to paradise.

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5).

Death, Moses would have us learn, is not the end. That was what Jacob had foolishly believed for many years. That is why he was so eager for it to come. He looked forward to death as the end of his earthly woes. So do all who choose the way of suicide to cease from suffering. But the tragedy of such death is that it is not the end at all. It is really only a beginning of an irreversible eternity.

Some years ago I was given the task of taking a young man to the hospital who had unsuccessfully attempted to take his life. On the way I asked him what he believed happened after death. He told me that he believed in reincarnation. I shared with him the verse which says, “… it is appointed unto men to die once, and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

He had to admit that if this verse were true, suicide thrust its victim into irreversible judgment. Reincarnation is a tempting thought, for it encourages us to end one life with the hope that a better one may follow.

During those years spent in Egypt, Jacob came to a very different view of death. No longer did he consider death the end of everything. Even if a man were to lose his cherished son, as God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, God could raise him again. There was life after death:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR SEED SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type (Hebrews 11:17-19).

Jacob had come to see that even if God did not resurrect the dead (in the way Abraham expected Him to raise Isaac), there was still life after death.

And Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people (Genesis 25:8).

And Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him (Genesis 35:29).

When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his lost, and was gathered to his people (Genesis 49:33).

The expression, “to be gathered to his people” was no mere euphemism for death; it was an ancient expression of the patriarchs hope of life after death. These men found little comfort in having their bones in close proximity to those of other relatives. They viewed their death as the occasion to be rejoined with those whose death had separated the living from the dead.

When our Lord quoted the statement of God the Father, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Matthew 22:32), He did so to prove there is life after death. For, otherwise, He would have said “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”!

May I suggest to you that the way you view death makes all the difference in the world. If it is the end of everything, then there is not any need to seek heaven or to shun hell. Suicide is a tempting option whenever life doesn’t seem to be going our way. If there is no life after death, the world is right when it says that we should “… eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

But if we view death as a beginning rather than the end, then what lies after death must surely compel us to face eternity squarely, before death. And, once we are rightly related to God by faith in His Son, we need not fear death. We need not avoid talking about it. And, in one sense, we can welcome it, for it promises us a time when we shall be intimately and eternally with God and with those in the faith who have been separated from us by death.

Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3).

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8).

But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better (Philippians 1:23).

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Do you notice how candidly both Jacob and Joseph spoke of their death? That is not so with unbelievers. They avoid the subject with a passion. All kinds of euphemisms are employed so that death’s realities need not be faced. We do not speak of the dead, but of the departed; they are not buried, but interred. People do not die; they pass away. We do not bury the dead in graveyards, but in memorial parks.

Both Jacob and Joseph called their relatives to them, where they unhesitatingly spoke of their death and gave clear instructions regarding their burial. Today we do everything possible to conceal the truth from the dying. When the father of one of my best friends was dying of cancer, he would persistently ask his son, “Are they telling me everything?”

A number of years ago I was asked to visit a woman in the hospital. No one told me she was dying. I just knew it. She and I never avoided the subject of death, and it was obvious to me that she wished to talk about it. When she died, I was asked to conduct her funeral. I shall never forget my surprise at hearing the husband repeat to his wife’s friends and family, “She never knew she was dying.” I never knew she shouldn’t know. Her husband found comfort in concealing the truth from her.

The tragedy with this effort to deny death is that those last few days or hours are spent in deception. Rather than say our farewells and use our dying breath to speak words of lasting import, we dwell on trivia, which seems “safe” and remote from such unpleasant matters as death. And rather than facing the eternity which lies only a breath away, we carefully avoid it.

Most believers should not fall into the trap of denying death or avoiding a frank discussion of it. But there is a way in which we can also lose the joy of those last moments. There are some Christians who would say that sickness and death need not be endured if we would only have the faith to be healed.

Now I want to be quick to say that God can and does heal, and I am grateful for it. But there is no promise of healing or deliverance from suffering for all. I am inclined to believe that such instances are clearly the exception, rather than the rule.

But there are those who would walk into a hospital room and assure the dying that, if they have sufficient faith, God will raise them up and restore them, free from suffering, sickness, and death. Often, the ailing grasp at any hope of deliverance, not out of faith, but out of fear. Often, there is a bold pronouncement of faith and assurance of healing. There may be a period of remission. But often, the disease continues to consume the life of the terminally ill. Now, in the light of the almost certain approach of death, there can be only one conclusion. If one can be healed if he or she has sufficient faith, and they are not being healed, that person must not have sufficient faith.

Now, rather than face death with honesty and acceptance, the ill can only question his faith. And if his faith was inadequate to heal, can it be sufficient to save? The last days are spent in doubt and despair. There is no testimony, no joy, no worship—only despair.

Let us look at death as Jacob and Joseph. Let us see it not as the end, but the beginning. Let us, by faith, look forward to being reunited with those we love (I Thessalonians 4:13-18) and dwelling with our Savior (John 14:1-3), forever in His presence and experiencing the things he has prepared for us.

Finally, Joseph’s brothers, like Jacob (until his final days), felt that death was the end. They believed that God would care for them only so long as Jacob lived. They came to learn that God’s care was certain when neither Jacob nor Joseph were around. God’s program will never be contingent upon the presence of any one man, of any one church or organization. God’s plan and program is as certain as He is sovereign, as enduring as He is eternal.

Is it possible that you are uncomfortable with the subject of this scripture? Is death a matter you would prefer to put off? I felt the same way before I came to know Him who is not only the Way and the Truth, but the Life (John 14:6). I can remember, as a child, passing by a cemetery on the way to my grandparents. I always tried to concentrate on something on the other side of the road, hoping I would not have to be reminded of death. The fear of death is evidence of our uncertainty as to what lies beyond the grave. That fear can be denied, suppressed, or camouflaged. But it cannot be avoided indefinitely. The fear of death is overcome only by the faith of men like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who trusted in the one Who would eventually overcome it.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death (I Corinthians 15:25-26).

“O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (I Corinthians 15:55-58).

And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).

113 Joe Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk About (Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1973), pp. 29-30. This book, formerly titled, The View From A Hearse, is one of the finest books on death and dying on a non-technical level.

114 “Since embalmers and physicians were members of distinct professions, Joseph’s use of the latter has seemed anomalous to some writers. J. Vergote, however, points out that physicians were more than competent to perform the task, and that Joseph might well have wished to avoid the magico-religious rites of the professional embalmers.” Derek Kidner, Genesis An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967).

115 George Bush, Notes on Genesis (Minneapolis: James Family Christian Publishers, 1979 (Reprint), II, p. 419.

116 “The mourning period for Jacob, as Von Rad observes, was, significantly, very little short of the seventy-two days observed for a Pharaoh.” Kidner, Genesis, p. 223.

117 “This site is unknown, but its position implies a detour round the Dead Sea to approach Hebron from the north-east instead of the south-west. Presumably there was political unrest at some point, which the cavalcade’s arrival would have been in danger of aggravating. At the Exodus the direct route would again be impracticable (Ex. 13:17). Ibid.

118 “This last paragraph of Genesis refers to events fifty-four years after the preceding verse.” W, H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), p. 486.

119 The similarity between Jacob and Joseph is that both gave specific instructions concerning their burial arrangements. There is an interesting difference too. Jacob commanded his sons concerning his death (49:29,33), but Joseph charged his brothers (50:24). Thus we see that Joseph was outlived by his older brothers. God wanted to teach these men that He would care for them without Jacob or Joseph.

Jesus and the Twelve

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IBR Jesus Project Paper 2. That Jesus associated himself especially with twelve of his followers is a datum firmly established by good arguments across a broad spectrum of modern Jesus studies. But why Jesus chose the Twelve is in need of serious reconsideration because the standard, eschatological explanation has rarely been examined. A careful examination of the evidence pertaining to the number “twelve” in the Hebrew Bible and in ancient Jewish sources suggests that Jesus chose the Twelve to evoke the twin themes of covenant renewal (a Joshua theme) and eschatological restoration (with the reunification of the twelve tribes implied).

Key Words: Twelve, Historical Jesus, covenant, twelve tribes, eschatology, Qumran

Without overstating the case, we can affirm today that Jesus scholarship has come to this confident conclusion (among others): the number “twelve” signifies a category already in existence during the life of Jesus, and most scholars think that Jesus chose the number “twelve” with fundamental intention. Which intention, or which set of factors shaped this intention, however, has not yet been confidently concluded. It is the purpose of this paper to assess once again the arguments for the historicity of the Twelve and then to suggest why it was that Jesus selected twelve.

The list of the twelve names appears in Mark 3:16–19; Matt 10:2–4; Luke 6:14–16; and Acts 1:13; such a listing of a famous teacher’s pupils is known also in rabbinic Judaism (m. Abot 2:8–14; compare the list of Jesus’ supposed disciples in b. Sanh. 43a).1 Apart

from one irregularity2 and some minor differences in order, which I shall not explore here, the names are solidly consistent and grouped in fours





Simon Peter

Simon Peter

Simon Peter


James b. Zebedee




John b. Zebedee

James b. Zebedee

James b. Zebedee

James b. Zebedee


John b. Zebedee

John b. Zebedee


















James b. Alphaeus

James b. Alphaeus

James b. Alphaeus

James b. Alphaeus



Simon the Zealot

Simon the Zealot

Simon the Cananean

Simon the Cananean

Jude b. James

Jude b. James

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot


Apart from this evidence, the following traditions mention the Twelve: Mark mentions a separate “ordination” (Mark 3:13–15; compare with Luke 6:13); the group is occasionally described as being with Jesus, in whose presence they are instructed (4:10; 9:35; 10:32; 11:11; 14:17); and Judas is designated “one of the Twelve” (14:10, 43; compare with Matt 26:14; Luke 22:3; John 6:71). In addition, the Q tradition underscores the special role that the Twelve will have in the future Kingdom as judges (Matt 19:28 par. Luke 22:30). The later Evangelists confirm these impressions: Matthew paints the Twelve onto his canvas as recipients of Jesus’ instruction (for example, Matt 11:1; 20:17; 26:20), and the same is done by Luke (8:1; 18:31) and John (6:67, 70). John identifies Thomas, alias Didymus, as one of the Twelve (20:24). It is not the purpose of this essay to examine the historicity of each of these traditions but instead to assess the reliability of Jesus’ having a specially designated Twelve and to see if this number provides insight into the mission of Jesus.

1.0. The Historicity of the Twelve in Jesus’ Ministry

The most complete analysis of the historicity of the Twelve is by J. P. Meier, whose study forms a survey of research, a response to the major critical studies,3 as well as a consensus-building programmatic statement.4 One of the first papers I wrote in preparation for a Ph.D. dissertation on Matthew’s presentation of the missionary discourse was a study of the intention of Jesus in the mission of the Twelve. More than a decade later, Meier’s study summarizes the arguments, and these arguments have not changed substantively. In the case of Meier, we encounter characteristic thoroughness and special emphasis given to criteria.5 I shall reexamine these arguments and then add, by way of confirmation, a final explanatory argument for the historicity of the Twelve.

Before I do this, I wish to give a response to the recent conclusion of the Jesus Seminar regarding the viability of a special group called the Twelve during the life of Jesus. Their conclusion is that “there was general agreement among the Fellows that the number ‘twelve’ in connection with an inner circle of disciples is a fiction.”6 Four arguments are advanced: first, sources. The presence of the Twelve in Q is acknowledged but assigned to the later (third) stage of the evolution of Q; the category “twelve” is not found in the Gospel of Thomas, it does not appear in the body of the Didache, and is absent from Clement’s letter to Corinth and Ignatius’s letters. Second, Sachkritik: the Twelve are connected to the “eschatological self-consciousness of the Christian community,” and this eschatological outlook is a later Christian retrojection onto the Jesus traditions. Here we see the role that theology, in particular the noneschatological Jesus, plays in determining what is history. Third, redaction criticism: it is argued that the number “twelve” appears in “Mark’s editorial work rather than in the body of the anecdotes,” and the use of “twelve” including Judas “must also be regarded as a fabrication if the figure of Judas is a fiction, as many scholars think.”7 Fourth, problems with the lists: the inconsistencies in the lists (Mark, Luke, and John’s lists of names) suggest that the category “twelve” is more symbolic than it is historical.

The arguments presented above would require fuller retort than is possible in this amount of space but, because what follows below is a defense of the Twelve during the lifetime of Jesus, I can limit my comments. To begin with, denying an imminent eschatology to Jesus bifurcates Jesus scholarship today, but there is hardly a consensus for a noneschatological Jesus. The most important and eloquent proponent of the noneschatological viewpoint, who also maintains an independent line from the one found in the Funk orientation of the Jesus Seminar, is Marcus Borg.8 On the other hand, the major studies of the present generation have had a decidedly eschatological Jesus— and I think here of B. F. Meyer, E. P. Sanders, J. P. Meier, N. T. Wright, and D. C. Allison.9 The argument of the Jesus Seminar here also wobbles on too confident of a judgment on the supposed layers of the Q tradition for, as many would argue, if we are not able to judge the various stages of evolution in the Q tradition, then the Twelve in Matt 19:28 par. Luke 22:30 may well be at the root of the Q tradition.10 In other words, for starters, if we endorse an eschatological Jesus and think Q is hardly capable of clear and compelling dissection by modern scholarship, then the Twelve may go back to Jesus. The arguments for this theory are noteworthy and encompass the criticisms of the Jesus Seminar, and to these I now turn.

First, multiple attestation suggests that the Twelve emerged in the lifetime of Jesus as special companions and men who were sent out on a mission to extend the ministry of Jesus. As is seen in the lists above, the Twelve are attested in three Gospels and Acts. It is almost certain that Matthew and Luke are dependent on Mark, but two points serve to show independence: (a) the variations of the lists even while dependent; (b) the variation within Luke–Acts. Some have argued from these variations that Matthew and Luke each had access to a pre-Markan tradition list of the Twelve names; Meier contends that Luke 6:14–16 may derive from L. The lists indicate then, at least, a single tradition (Mark) that was picked up with editing by later Evangelists; it is possible that the variations can be explained by a pre-Markan tradition or an L tradition.

More importantly, the term “twelve” is found in various strata of the Jesus traditions as well as different forms (meeting the criteria established in the community of scholarship), indicating at least a historical core to the number, even if the precise names are not clearly identifiable. Mark (3:14; 4:10; 6:7; 9:35; 10:32; 11:11; 14:10, 17, 20, 43), Q (Matt 19:28 par. Luke 22:30),11 perhaps “L” (Luke 8:1–3),12 John (6:67, 70, 71; 20:24), and Paul (1 Cor 15:3–5) all indicate the presence of the Twelve during the life of Jesus. “In addition to multiple attestation of sources,” says Meier, “these texts also give us multiple attestation of forms: the Twelve are mentioned in narrative (Mark, John), sayings (Q, John), a catalogue-like list (Mark, probably L),13 and a creedal formula (1 Cor 15:3–5). In light of this broad spread of both sources and forms, suggestions that the Twelve arose only in the early days of the church must be judged pure conjecture with no real support in the NT texts.”14

Second, using an argument that I consider logic rather than criteriological science,15 I would say that there are elements of tension in the emerging Jesus traditions that suggest the Twelve emerged from the time of Jesus. Meier calls this the “criterion of embarrassment.”16 Judas is called “one of the Twelve” (for example, in Mark 14:43) and, so the argument goes, early Christians would not have made that kind of stuff up! There is no plausible context in the early church for inventing a betrayer if there was not one; and, mutatis mutandis, there is no reason to make the betrayer one of the Twelve if there was not a betrayer.17 Why would someone create trouble for himself if he were making things up? Further, the crucifixion of Jesus and the betrayal by Judas are indissolubly connected and are in fact correlates: see 1 Cor 15:3–5 and John 17:12.18 Since it is clear that the early church most likely would not have invented Judas, a close associate who betrayed Jesus, as a Fundament of the story about Jesus, and since he is included among the Twelve, it is probable that the Twelve emerged from the time of Jesus and Judas.19 In the quotable words of Dom Crossan: “He is too bad to be false.”20

Third, the fluctuating and fading tradition history of the Twelve in the NT suggests an early arrival as well as an early departure of the Twelve.21 Meier states this argument clearly: “If the group of the Twelve had arisen in the early days of the church [rather than during the life of Jesus] and, for whatever reason, reached such prominence that its presence … was massively retrojected into the Gospel traditions, one would have expected that the history of the first Christian generation would be replete with examples of the Twelve’s powerful presence and activity in the church.22 First, we know so little about some of the Twelve that one must question the theory that they were invented wholesale. Why not use other names that are known, and why use persons who seem to have negligible influence? Second, why do the Twelve appear so infrequently in the NT? Apart from the Jesus traditions, they hardly emerge: in the pre-Pauline creedal formula (1 Cor 15:3–5), in Acts not after 6:2,23 and only once in Revelation (21:14). If they were invented as authoritative figures to function at some institutional level, we are led to ask what institution this might have been and why they are not shown meeting this need.

The facts press us to this conclusion: the Twelve emerged in the life of Jesus and then were virtually dropped as a functioning institution. Two considerations support this view: (1) the problems in the lists suggest that the names were either unknown, or the figures were a distant memory (they were names only remembered for “their twelveness,24 leading Sanders to the view of the “historicity of a symbol”25); (2) the expectations established by Jesus for the future role of the Twelve in judging the twelve tribes of Israel, in some form of “restoration” (Matt 19:28 par. Luke 22:28–30), were for interpreters gradually marginalized or at least deemphasized by other views of the future for God’s people. The earthly life of Jesus, then, had a genuine focus on the Twelve; time, changes, social relocations, alternative leadership developments, and the charismatic power of key figures such as Peter and Paul simply eclipsed the institution of the Twelve. At the beginning, there were the Twelve; by the middle of the first century, they were history—but they were indeed just that. And what was this history all about? Why did Jesus choose Twelve? Before we answer this question, one other supporting argument for the Twelve may be offered.

Fourth, the encapsulation theory of conversion suggests that close followers would be historically likely. I do not mean by this that Jesus chose only twelve because of encapsulation theory. Instead, I am suggesting that a close group of associates is likely to have emerged among converts to Jesus and that “twelve,” as a mere symbol for close associates, is thereby suggested—even if the specific number is not implied in the argument. Recent research in conversion, most clearly presented by L. R. Rambo,26 shows that all religious conversions take shape in a pattern that permits individual variations of considerable magnitude. Rambo himself presents a consensus-like report of the following stages: context, crisis, quest, encounter (with an advocate) and interaction, commitment (involving surrender and testimony), and consequences. Our concern here is with the encounter: this is the point at which an encapsulation process takes place, the point at which the potential convert is initiated into and exposed to a new self-contained world of meaning. Encapsulation is the process of shielding in order for conversion to take place effectively; it may involve physical, but certainly involves social and ideological, encapsulation. In this encapsulation process there are four dimensions of influence: relationships, rituals, rhetoric, and roles. A convert’s identity is reshaped through some form of encapsulation.

If this can be assumed, and I believe Rambo’s model of conversion is a compelling presentation of years of research (both clinical research and research into the history of scholarship), a simple conclusion follows: it is highly likely, in fact, nearly certain, that Jesus isolated some of his followers and encapsulated them in order to lead them into a complete conversion. It follows then that there was a special group of Jesus’ followers. That they were called “the Twelve” is not confirmed by encapsulation theory, but that there would have been some close associates is nearly certain. At a general level of religious experience, here thinking of conversion to Jesus’ vision for Israel, it is highly probable that there would have been a few men who were considered the “closest” associates of Jesus, and we have every reason therefore to look for such a group in the earliest Jesus traditions. This conclusion can be confirmed by evidence both in Judaism (John the Baptist had disciples) and in the wider Mediterranean world (see, for example, the Epistle of Socrates and the Socratics).27

Conclusion: It is highly probable, then, that Jesus had a special group of followers, designated during his lifetime as the Twelve. These twelve men are found in a variety of forms scattered throughout the early Jesus traditions; their presence creates tension within the traditions themselves; the history of the early Jesus and Christian traditions reveals an echo of a now-distant institution in the Jesus materials; and, on general religious grounds, it is likely that Jesus had a group of closest associates. What is the significance of such a group of Twelve followers?

2.0. The Twelve in Context


Now that we have established the tradition of the Twelve as reliably going back to the very life of Jesus, it remains for us to ask how the term ”twelve” has been interpreted by scholars who see the tradition as reliable and how it might be interpreted if a wider lens is used to encompass even more ancient Jewish evidence.

Apart from an occasional study or two, the reason for choosing precisely twelve has not been investigated as much as the historicity of the Twelve. In fact, most scholars fight hard to win an argument for the historical reliability of traditions about the Twelve and then simply conclude: historical, therefore eschatological. In the words of Albert Schweitzer, “Primitive theology is simply a theology of the future, with no interest in history!”28 In short, most scholars conclude that the choice of twelve was symbolic29 but had only one motive: to inaugurate the restoration and reunification of the twelve tribes as promised in ancient Jewish traditions, most notably in Isaiah and Ezekiel.30 Jeremias expresses this position well: “That Jesus chose precisely twelve men to serve as messengers indicates that he had a particular programme in mind… . The twelve messengers correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19.28 par. Luke 22.29f); they represent the eschatological community of salvation.”31 Or, in the words of E. P. Sanders, “an eschatological miracle, a decisive act by God to redeem his people.”32

If the majority focus on the number “twelve” as an eschatological image—with some emphasizing a claim on the whole nation33 or emphasizing that Jesus’ vision was for the nation (in contrast to simply individual redemption for the remnant: for example, 1 Kgs 19:18; Isa 7:3, 9; 8:16–20; 10:21; 28:16; 37:31; 42:19; 43:10,12; Jer 3:16; 23:3; 30:8–9; 31:10; Ezek 34:15–16; Mic 4:6–7; 7:18–19; Amos 5:15; Zeph 3:12),34—others, without denying the eschatological dimension, center on the Twelve as a nucleus of the remnant or as leaders of a new movement within Israel. Here the focus becomes more ecclesial, referring to leadership of a new movement shaped by the various quests for holiness within first-century Judaism.35 A combination of the two above views, extending the view of those who emphasize the ecclesial dimension, suggests both a continuity and a discontinuity: the old Israel now fulfilled.36 No one speaks more completely for this view than Jürgen Roloff: “Jesus dokumentiert also in der Berufung der Zwlf seinen Herrscheranspruch über das endzeitliche Israel. Zugleich aber bleibt es nicht beim bloen Anspruch: im Akt der Berufung konzipiert er dieses neue Gottesvolk in einer Weise, die zugleich zeichenhaft und real ist.”37 In this view of the Twelve, we have christology,38 eschatology, ecclesiology, and symbolic action.

Finally, others have suggested that the term “twelve” is to be interpreted more simply: as no more than a claim on the nation as a whole.39 In other words, “twelve” was a symbol,40 a general evocation of all Israel, rather than an embodiment of a specific hope for restoring Israel by reuniting the twelve tribes.41 The only way to arbitrate this disparity of viewpoints is to examine the evidence once again. In studying this issue, I was surprised how frequently influential pieces of research seem not to examine the breadth of data about the concept “twelve” in ancient Judaism. In particular, the almost knee-jerk impulse to favor the eschatological perception of why Jesus’ choice of twelve is in need of serious reconsideration. While it is easy to truck out evidence of an eschatological orientation, a fuller grasp of the evidence permits a broader (and more historically-nuanced) interpretation.42

The Context of the Hebrew Bible

If we follow the biblical story line without attempting to reconstruct a critical history of either the term “twelve” (sne asar and so on) or the term “tribes” (sibte)if we read the story as a first-century Jew probably would have done—the following points are notable. First, the “story” of the Twelve begins not with Jacob but Ishmael, whom Elohim promises that he will make “fertile and exceedingly numerous. He shall be the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation” (Gen 17:20, njpsv; compare 25:12–18). But, as the text reads, “My covenant I will maintain with Isaac” (17:21).

Second, the predominant use of “twelve” is for the sons of Jacob/ Israel (35:22–26; Sir 44:23–45:1). The sense of the “twelve sons of Israel” as heads of the twelve tribes moves from a physical literality (the actual sons of Israel and a real tribal interest; see Gen 42:13, 32; 49:28; Tob 1:4; 4:12; 5:9–14; Add Esth 14:5) to a representation for the descendants (the twelve tribes) and hereditary representatives (twelve tribal princes/chieftains, and so on). So: Moses sets up an altar at the foot of Sinai with twelve pillars “for the twelve tribes of Israel” (Exod 24:4); Moses finds “chieftains” and “heads” (Num 1:5–16) who will help him take a census of the whole house of Israel (see 1:44); Moses sends twelve to reconnoiter the land that was promised to Israel (Deut 1:22–23); and upon entry into the land beyond the Jordan and after its reconstitution, the “twelve” play a major role (see Josh 4:2, 3, 8, 9, 20; 18:24; 19:15; 21:7, 40). Much later Ezra offers twelve goats to purify Israel, the whole of Israel, “according to the number of the tribes of Israel” (Ezra 6:17). The same reference to the twelve tribes is found in the later tradition of 1 Esdras (5:1, 4; 8:54) and, of course, the original tribal structure becomes the foundation for the emergence of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

A feature of this tribal use of “twelve” is the regular use of twelve objects as an embodiment of the twelve tribes of Israel: twelve pillars (Exod 24:4); twelve stones on the breastplate (39:14; compare with Sir 45:11); twelve bowls (Num 7:84); twelve bulls, rams, lambs, goats (7:87; 1 Esdr 7:8; 8:65–66); twelve staffs (Num 17:17[2]); cutting a prostitute into twelve pieces, one for each tribe (Judg 19:29); and Ahijah’s cutting of the robe into twelve pieces, ten for Jeroboam, when the kingdom was split (1 Kgs 11:30–31; see also Jos. Asen. 5:6).

Third, an important feature of the term “twelve” is its association with covenant establishment and renewal. Whenever “twelve” is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, one naturally thinks of Israel’s sons and their successors. Inasmuch as Israel’s tribes are tied into a sacrificial cult, there will be evidence for the entirety of Israel being represented vicariously in sacrifices (for example, Exod 24:4; Num 7:87). More importantly, when the children of Israel are about to enter into the land, an event that will be in fulfillment of a covenant promise given to Abraham (Genesis 12; 15), a covenant renewal, is enacted and the number “twelve” plays a central role in the renewal. Joshua is instructed by Yhwh to select twelve men, “one from each tribe” (Josh 4:1), who are to pick up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan where the priests are standing and to deposit them where they spend the night (4:3). These stones are to become an iconic catalyst to tell the story of how the waters of the Jordan were cut off by God because of the “Ark of the Lord’s Covenant,” and they are to be a “memorial for all time” (4:7). In addition, Joshua himself sets up a small altar of twelve stones at the feet of the priests who are supporting the Ark of the Covenant, “and they have remained there to this day” (4:9b). When they encamp at Gilgal, Joshua sets up twelve stones as a memorial (4:20). Eventually, the tribes are assigned twelve cities (see, for example, 18:24; 19:15; 21:7, 38). To my knowledge, few have looked to Joshua43 for a background to Jesus’ choice of twelve as I shall do below; entering into this discussion now is what the great American humorist James Thurber called a “flashforwards”!

Fourth, we ought to observe the frequency with which twelve are selected to represent the nation. In Num 1:44 we find that there is one “chieftain” for each ancestral house, twelve total; in 31:5 twelve thousand, one thousand per tribe, are chosen; to reconnoiter the land, one man per tribe is selected (Deut 1:23); later, Joshua is instructed by Yhwh to select one man per tribe on two different occasions (Josh 3:12; 4:2; compare with a similar use in 1 Esdr 5:1, 4; 8:54). When the myth of the translation of (portions of) the Hebrew Bible into Greek is elaborated in the Letter of Aristeas, the tribes and the number “twelve” emerge: six translators from each tribe (35–51).

The Context of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Pseudepigrapha

An important extension of this fourth sense of representatives can be seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ attention to twelve leaders, and here the eschatological nature of the community and its fundamental beliefs enter the picture to give these twelve leaders both an ecclesial and an eschatological function. The evidence is neither unambiguous nor abundant, though a possible historical trajectory has been traced in the insightful article of William Horbury.44 More importantly, in the use of twelve with a leadership role at roughly the time of Jesus, as well as in a particular community with eschatological orientations, we find a significant parallel to the presence of twelve in the vision of Jesus.45 Examples of use of the number at Qumran follow:

1QS 8:1: “In the Community council (there shall be) twelve men and three priests.”46 Their task? To be perfect in the whole revelation, to implement the truth, to practice “unassuming behaviour of one to another” (8:2), to preserve faithful commitment to the Law in the land to atone for sin, and to walk with one another in light of the revelation (8:3). 1Q28a 11–22 (also called 1QSa, or Rule of the Congregation):

At [a ses]sion of the men of renown, [those summoned to] the gathering of the community council, when [God] begets the Messiah with them… . After, [the Mess]iah of Israel shall [enter] and before him shall sit the heads of the th[ousands of Israel, each] one according to his dignity, according to [his] po[sition] in their camps and according to their marches. And all the heads of the cl[ans of the congre]gation with the wise [men … ] shall sit before them.

While the number “twelve” does not appear here, one might suppose that precisely twelve “heads” are in mind for at least one of the above-italicized words. Their “sitting” here refers to a holy convocation of the leadership for judgment or for a meal (see lines 17–22). 4Q159 (Ordinancesa) frgs. 2–4:3–4: “And [… te]n men and two priests, and they shall be judged by these twelve.” These twelve, which include two priests, are assigned judgment over capital offenses (line 5). 1QM (Milhamah, or War Scroll) 2:1–3:

They shall arrange the chiefs (yvar) of the priests behind the High Priest and of his second (in rank), twelve chiefs (<yvar rcu <ynv) to serve in perpetuity before God. And the twenty-six chiefs of the divisions shall serve in their divisions and after them the chiefs of the levites to serve always, twelve, one per tribe. And the chiefs of their divisions shall each serve in his place. The chiefs of the tribes, and after them the fathers of the congregation, shall take their positions in the gates of the sanctuary in perpetuity.

Here we have twelve priests serving before God eternally, twelve (additional?) levites, and twelve (more?) chiefs/tribal princes.47 4Q164 (pIsad) 4–6: “Its interpretation [of ‘I will place all your battlements of rubies’ from Isa. 54:12] concerns the twelve [chiefs of the priests who] illuminate with the judgment of the Urim and Thummim [… without] any from among them missing, like the sun in all its light.”48 This duodecimal “council” (line 2), similar to the council in 1QM 8:1, is composed of priests and laity, and these twelve function along with “heads of the tribes” (line 7; twelve in number, of course). We have here then a council of some sort, composed of twenty-four, a priestly, oracular judicial body (see Ezek 48:31; Rev 21:12–14, 19–21).

We find an even more intriguing piece of evidence in 11Q19 (Templea Scroll) 57:11–14: “And twelve princes (yyvan) of his [the eschatological king] people shall be with him, and twelve priests and twelve levites, who shall sit together with him for judgment and for the law.” With the ideal king, we have here a council of thirty-seven, both priestly and tribal, exercising judgment (see 11Q19 576, 11–12; 11Q13 [Melchizedek]; compare with 1 En. 45:3; 51:3; 61:8; 62:1–2).49 The theme of judgment pervades the scrolls when it comes to the “twelve.”

Outside the scrolls, the interesting prediction of T. Abraham 13:6, a second-century ce text, suggests a Jewish motif of “judgment by twelve”: “And at the second Parousia they will be judged by the twelve tribes of Israel” (OTP, trans. E. P. Sanders). Other texts confirm this: T. Judah 25:1–2: “And after this Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be resurrected to life and I and my brothers will be chiefs (wielding) our scepter in Israel: Levi, the first… .” T. Benj. 10:7: “Then shall we also be raised, each of us over our tribe, and we shall prostrate ourselves before the heavenly king.”

In summary: The number “twelve” in the biblical story denotes the tribes of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, who became Israel. “Twelve” thus defines “biblical” Israel, pre-captivity Israel, as a tribal- based community with its roots in God’s redemptive acts under Abraham, Israel, Moses, and Joshua. Further, the number “twelve” becomes a central feature of the conquest of the land and, in particular, of the crossing of the Jordan and the reestablishment of the covenant in connection with this major act of Yhwh, as he fights for his people in granting the land he has promised. In Israel’s tribal arrangement, twelve men are regularly selected, just as twelve objects are sometimes put forward, to embody the entirety of the nation in some ritual enactment. These twelve function vicariously.

One negative conclusion is immediately noticeable for Jesus studies: I have found no instance of “twelve” functioning eschatologically in the Hebrew Bible, although the term does function eschatologically in the unfolding Jewish tradition. This means that an eschatological connotation will rarely exhaust the intentions of later writers who use the tradition of the number “twelve.”

Eschatology and the Use of the Word “Tribe”

For eschatological connotations we must turn to other evidence, including the term “tribe.” In so doing, I shall present data that envision a regathering of the “tribes” of Israel (combining the lost Northern tribes with the two and one-half tribes extant [Judah, Benjamin, half-Levi]) in an eschatological act of God to reunite the sons of Israel and preserve them from disaster (T. Zeb. 9:1–3; 2 Bar. 1:2; 62:5; 77:19; 78:1). Reunification of the tribes is an “ideal state of affairs.”50

Besides a fairly common use of the word “tribe” (for example, Num 33:54; Deut 1:13; 16:18; 1 Sam 15:17; 1 Kgs 11:31–32; Ps 78:55), there are several eschatological instances, some with a priestly orientation: (1) clearly Isa 11:11–12: “In that day, my Lord will apply his hand again to redeeming the other part of his people from Assyria… . He will hold up a signal to the nations and assemble the banished of Israel and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (compare with 27:13); (2) possibly Isa 49:6: “Is it too little that you should be my servant in that I raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel?”; (3) perhaps Isa 63:17: “Relent for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your very own!”; (4) Jer 3:18; 29:14; 30:3; 31:7–10; 32:36–41: Jeremiah, who at times is absorbed with Ephraim, also clearly expects a reunification of the twelve tribes in the land, a restoring of the fortunes of Israel and Judah, because “Ephraim is my firstborn” (31:9); (5) clearly Ezek 36:8–11; 37:19: “Thus says the Lord God: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in the hand of Ephraim—and of the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I will place the stick of Judah upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in my hand” (see 32:36–41); (6) also Ezek 47:13: “These shall be boundaries of the land that you shall allot to the twelve tribes of Israel” (compare with 47:21; 48:1, 19, 23, 29, 31); (7) at the foundation of this hope for restoration perhaps lies Amos 9:14: “I will restore my people Israel”;51 and, finally, (8) we can note the following texts: Mic 2:12; 4:6–7; Zeph 3:19–20; Zech 10:8–10.

Outside the canonical texts, this notion of a restoration of the twelve tribes, regathering the dispersed from both exiles, finds “widespread”52 expression, most notably in Ben Sira 36 and probably in 48:10; 36:13, 16: “Gather all the tribes of Jacob, and give them their inheritance, as at the beginning.” And these tribes will gather in “Jerusalem” (36:18) and “Zion” (36:19), proving Yhwh’s prophets trustworthy (36:21). One thinks also of the implicit vision of Psalms of Solomon 11 and 17:26–34: here we find the land divided into tribes once more (compare with 8:28–32; 11:2; 17:44). Tob 14:7 anticipates exiled Israelites returning, as do 2 Macc 1:27–28; 2:18; T. Levi 16:6; T. Asher 7:7; T. Benj. 9:2; Jub. 1:15; 2 Bar. 77:5–6; 78, especially v. 7; 1QM; 11Q19 (Temple) 18:14–16; 57:5–6; 59:1–13 (theme of covenant renewal); compare with 4Q252 3:1–14; 4Q504 (DibHama); 4Q508 (Festival Prayersb) frg. 2:2 (“the time of the return,” bwv); Jos. Asen. 5:6.

The vision of a restored twelve tribes occupying the land emerges most explicitly in the Hebrew Bible under the priestly hand of Ezekiel; Isaiah’s words evoke the restoration of the twelve tribes, but his vision hardly focuses on such an image. In short, the expectation of the twelve tribes’ being restored, as in former days, is one significant crystallizing shape of future expectation in the evidence of the Hebrew Bible. Later traditions unfold these formative visions. However, what we do have in the Bible is a covenantal and selectional emphasis on the concept “twelve” when it expresses the ancient establishment of God’s people as heirs to Jacob.

To contend, on the other hand, that “twelve” means “eschatological restoration” is to suggest a higher correlation than the evidence permits. To contend that Jesus must have meant “eschatological reunification of the twelve tribes” because he used twelve disciples may find support in some texts, such as in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Ben Sira 36, but is the evidence so uniformly monodirectional? I think not. When the Jesus traditions are seen in this context, a new appreciation for what Jesus meant in choosing twelve emerges. If these several strands—especially a covenantal emphasis emerging from the Jordan River texts of Joshua with an ecclesial dimension at the front and an eschatological hope in the future of Ezekiel at the back—represent the fuller picture out of which choosing twelve would have emerged and been understood by contemporary Jews, it is only by examining the evidence of the Jesus traditions themselves that we will be permitted a more nuanced grasp of what Jesus meant to evoke when he chose the Twelve.

3.0. Jesus and the Twelve

Above we established that there is solid evidence and there are persuasive arguments for contending that Jesus used “twelve” for a special group of his followers (even if a name or two is not probative). If we could gather a larger cluster of texts around the Twelve, we might establish with more precision the intention of Jesus in choosing twelve. The evidence is not abundant, but there are a few significant segments to analyze: (1) general descriptions of the Twelve, (2) the choosing and sending of the Twelve, and (3) the Q tradition about the Twelve as future “judges” of the twelve tribes.

The Twelve in the Jesus Traditions

First, I consider the following segment to be possible information about the Twelve, harder to prove historical because this kind of evidence is isolated and sometimes fraught with tradition-critical complexities. Nonetheless, it is reasonable because it is coherent with the fact that Jesus did associate himself especially with a group of twelve disciples.53 For instance, when Mark 4:10 tells us that Jesus was alone after telling several parables and that hjrwvtwn aujtoVn oiJ periV aujtoVn suVn toi'" dwvdeka taV" parabolav", we are dealing with narrative information (these are Mark’s words) that is also reasonable and coherent information: that is, if Jesus did gather the Twelve and did tell parables, it is reasonable that the Twelve were with him many times (see 3:14)54 as well as that they asked him the meaning of his parables. Other pieces of evidence, in my judgment, belong in this segment: that the Twelve were urged to make themselves servants (Mark 9:35 D) and to accept the fate of their teacher (10:32–34 par. Matt 20:17–19; Luke 18:31–34; compare with John 6:67); that they Twelve were with him during his last week (Mark 11:11; 14:17–20 par. Matt 26:20–25; Luke 22:14 [ajpovstoloi]; 22:21–23 [omits “twelve”]). If one thinks Jesus actually fed a large multitude miraculously, it is only slightly possible that the twelve baskets remaining reflect this group’s presence (see Mark 6:43 par. Matt 14:20; Luke 9:17; compare with Luke 9:12, where dwvdeka is used).

I consider all this information both possible and reasonable; if Jesus did isolate the Twelve, it is highly likely that they did these kinds of things with Jesus and heard from Jesus about following him. However, what we learn here about the Twelve is negligible: that they heard Jesus’ interpretation of various parables, that they were warned of his fate and that they would have to endure a trial themselves, and that they were with him during the last week and heard his words on those special occasions. This kind of information tells us more about discipleship than it does about why Jesus chose the Twelve. If anything, it tells us that the Twelve were more than a symbol but, instead, an actual part of the outworking of Jesus’ vision of the kingdom, which he believed was presently entering history as his still, small voice.

Second, that Jesus sent out the Twelve opens up another segment of information that intersects with the data about the number “twelve” in ancient Judaism.55 The fundamental texts are found in Mark 3:14; Matt 10:1; Luke 6:13 and Mark 6:7–13, 30; Matt 9:35–11:1; Luke 9:1– 6, 10; 10:1–12; the texts appear to relate a threefold process: an early call and designation; a mission of the Twelve; a subsequent mission of the 70/72.56 It is entirely probable that Matthew has conflated Mark with Q, along with other traditions;57 it is possible that Luke’s mission of the 70 is a conflation of the sources available to him, although others think Jesus may well have sent out disciples more than one time.58 Few have disputed that Jesus sent out some of his followers—probably the Twelve—mostly because the story is found in separate traditions (Mark 6:7–13; Luke 10:1–16; Matt 9:35–11:1 has residual elements from M; some see L traditions in Luke 10:1–16; see also 22:35). The act itself is coherent with the substantive content of why Jesus chose twelve: to evoke the restoration of the twelve tribes not only must there be twelve but they must be its leaders.59 T. W. Manson spoke for many when he said and, like Melchizedek, still speaks: “The mission of the disciples is one of the best-attested facts in the life of Jesus.”60

Without extensive exegesis of each text or a detailing of the tradition history, the following observations are pertinent:

(1) The Twelve are not physical descendants of each of the twelve tribes: they are a symbolic representation of the twelve tribes. Jesus is obviously not using “twelve” in the sense of a literal, physical fulfillment of the prophetic hope of the reunification of the tribes, for this hope has every indication of being physical. His intention here is to embody the hope of either representing Israel in a covenant renewal or representing reunification symbolically in his chosen twelve followers.61 This very action of Jesus is not without significance for his understanding of what he is doing and how he sees Israel’s history coming to its fulfillment.

(2) The Twelve are restricted to a Galilean/Israelite mission and are prevented from extending their mission to either Gentiles or Samaritans (Matt 10:5–6).62 The restriction by Jesus emerges from a complex historical-missionary situation63 and involves several critically-debated Jesus traditions (Mark 7:24–30 par. Matt 15:21–28; Mark 5:1–20 par. Matt 8:28–34; Luke 8:26–39; Mark 11:15–19 par. Matt 21:12–13;64 Luke 19:45–48; Mark 12:1–12 par. Matt 21:33–46; Luke 20:9–10; Mark 13:10 and 14:9 par. Matt 10:18; 24:14; 26:13; Q: Luke 7:1–10 par. Matt 8:5–13; Luke 7:18–23 par. Matt 11:2–6; Luke 14:34–35 par. Matt 5:13–16; Luke 4:16–30; Matt 7:6).

In summary, the following are noteworthy: (1) Jesus had no mission to the Gentiles; his mission was directed toward Israel because his mission was about the restoration of Israel as it realized its covenant expectations and hopes; (2) the eschatology of Jesus leads one to think of his mission as being an urgent call to repentance in light of the coming judgment of God on a disobedient nation;65 (3) Gentile inclusion is by way of exception and permission to enter rather than the direct result of an intentional, inclusive mission; (4) Gentile inclusion is primarily an eschatological phenomenon as a result of God’s direct intervention in history, and this places Gentiles in the final judgment (for example, Mark 12:1–12 pars.);66 (5) along these salvation-historical lines, then, one can argue that Jesus’ universalism is the consequence of his particularism: a mission to Israel embraces an eventual impact for the entire creation.67 Just as Isaiah’s vision begins with Israel and erupts into a universal praise (Isa 61:1–11) and just as Israel is to become a light to the nations (49:4–7), so Jesus restricts his mission to Israel because Israel’s restoration impacts the world. In the words of T. W. Manson, “a transformed Israel would transform the world.”68

(3) The mission of the Twelve was fundamentally the same mission that Jesus had, and this means that the Twelve’s mission was to extend the mission of Jesus into the various villages of Galilee (Israel).69 If the “authorization” of the Twelve is less demonstrable (see Mark 3:15; 6:7 par. Matt 10:1; Luke 9:1), what the Twelve were commissioned to do70 becomes potential information—and, since authorization is typically Jewish, the Twelve become at least ipso facto authorized. And what were they commissioned to do? (a) extend the Kingdom of God and its peace: see the Q tradition in Luke 10:5–6 (peace is perhaps a Lukan redaction); 10:9, 11; (b) the Twelve were “enabled” to perform Kingdom miracles, such as exorcism (Mark 6:7 par. Matt 10:1; Luke 9:1; compare with Mark 3:27; Luke 10:18; 11:20 par. Matt 12:28),71 healing the sick (Matt 10:1 par. Luke 9:1; 10:9),72 and announcing the arrival of the Kingdom73—in short, they were “fishers of men” (Mark 1:16–20 par. Matt 4:18–22); (c) Matthew’s specific instructions betray a redactional hand designed to portray the mission of the Twelve as identical to Jesus’ actions in Matt 8:1–9:34; (d) their means of subsistence was identical to Jesus’: trust in God for provisions through the hospitality of others (see Q: Luke 9:58 par. Matt 8:20; Luke 11:3 par. Matt 6:11; Luke 12:22–31 par. Matt 6:25–34; here Mark 6:8–11 par. Matt 10:9–15; Luke 9:3–5; 10:4–12).74

The implication seems fairly straightforward: they were to be a radical sign75 of the Kingdom’s power by finding support through local sympathizers. This mission of Jesus and its extension through the ministries of his followers now gain support from the recently published Dead Sea Scroll 4Q521 frg. 2, col. 2, as emerging from an existing Jewish hope. Here the messianic ministry, largely realizing the hopes of Isaiah 61, includes the very things early Jesus traditions attribute to Jesus: among other things, the Lord will call the righteous by name, renew the faithful, aid and preach good news to the poor, give an eternal Kingdom to the pious, free prisoners, give sight to the blind, straighten out the twisted, and raise the dead.

A third segment of information emerges from a close scrutiny of the Q tradition in Luke 22:28–30 par. Matt 19:28 that the Twelve will judge the twelve tribes of Israel.76 (1) The tradition-critical history of this logion is notoriously complex, revealing only potential redactional features of each Evangelist,77 though the Matthean context perhaps has more to speak for it.78 The eschatology of this Q logion anchors it into the very life of Jesus, not only because it is indisputably Jewish and uncharacteristic of earliest Christian history (Judas will be judging?), but also because its shape is entirely Jewish and coherent with Jesus’ vision (dissimilar at a substantive level).79 (2) Matthew may duplicate the term dwvdeka but, in so doing, adds no new information; perhaps it is Luke who has omitted the term.80 (3) A secure feature of the early Q tradition is the following: krivnonte" taV" dwvdeka fulaV" tou~ *Israhvl. This clause provides valuable information concerning why Jesus, distinct from the Twelve as the Son of Man in judgment (see Matt 25:31; 26:64; 1 En. 62:5; 69:29), appointed twelve special leaders.81 The term “judging” may mean either determinative judgment in an executive, judicial sense (salvation or damnation; see Dan 7:9, 19–28; 1 En. 95:3; Ps. Sol. 17:28; 1QH 4:22), even in a witnessing sense (Isa 24:23; see also 3:14); or rulership and establishing justice (see Matt 2:6; 20:20–21; Judg 3:10; Ps 2:10; Dan 9:12; 1 Macc 9:73; 11Q19 [Temple] 56:20). For our context, it is not necessary to argue the pros and cons of each. I adhere to the latter meaning largely because of the book of Judges, Psalms (for example, 10:18; 35; 76:9; 82:1–4; 103:6), Isa 42:1; 49:6, and the Qumranic evidence cited above, where we set the Twelve in historical context.82 In each case the Twelve are appointed to a leadership role in the final Kingdom,83 where they will exercise rule/judgment over the twelve tribes of Israel.84 Thus, while in the sending tradition no evidence exists for a fulfillment of the literal expectation for the reunification of the twelve tribes, in this logion we see such an expectation.

The Twelve, Jesus, and the Historical Context

The historical context for the Twelve, if drawn from our previous discussion of the ancient evidence about “twelve,” suggests the following: (1) the Twelve sent by Jesus could conceivably correspond to the ancient custom of twelve representatives; however, in every case of twelve representatives, those who are chosen represent each and every tribe (for example, Num 1:44; Deut 1:23; Josh 3:12; 4:2, 3, 8; 1 Esdr. 5:1, 4; 8:54). What I am suggesting here is that this background for the use of “twelve” by Jesus does not appear to be paramount. Jesus chose the Twelve to embody all of Israel but not to represent each tribe. The parallel to the Qumran community’s leadership is more apposite here: a nonliteral fulfillment of the reunification of the twelve tribes or a simple reutilization of the ancient twelve patriarchal ideal drives the choice of twelve as leaders in these texts and, in the case of Jesus, with no priestly emphasis. In the words of Beda Rigaux:

Alles, was man daraus folgern kann [e.g., the parallel with Qumran], ist, dass in den letzten Jahrhunderten des Judentums ein Klima entstanden war, in dem die Geschichte Israels eine betont theologische und messianische Bedeutung erhielt. Man ging zurück auf Adam, auf Henoch, auf die Patriarchen, um sie zu Offenbarern der Geheimnisse Gottes zu machen. Israel war das Zentrum der gttlichen Sorge.85

(2) The Twelve being sent by Jesus correspond in potentially suggestive ways with the Covenant renewal and the ancient story of crossing the Jordan, entering into and capturing the land by the strong hand of Joshua (see Josh 4:1, 3, 7, 9, 20). Just as tribal representatives of ancient Israelites were to go throughout the land to capture it for Yhwh and then to “rule” over that land, so the Twelve sent by Jesus were to go throughout the land (esp. Galilee and then beyond) and declare the Kingdom so that the nation could be reclaimed for Yhwh’s covenant. Just as twelve tribal leaders formed the ancient leadership, so with Jesus the leadership comprised twelve men. It is possible that the “judging” of the Twelve was originally set in a Covenant reminder context: Luke 22:29–30 connects the two concepts, as has been argued by Heinz Schürmann and Rudolf Otto.86

This connection of the Twelve with the covenant ideal can be strengthened by appealing to the foundational event of Jesus’ mission: the baptism by John in the Jordan.87 The connections I draw here are of varying degrees of probability but, together, are suggestive that the Twelve were connected to covenant renewal. As I have stated in another context,88 this baptism (1) took place in the Jordan, and (2) probably the baptisands entered the water from the other side of the Jordan and, only after the baptism, reentered the land as a symbolic “action” of covenant renewal, purification, and conquest.89 The second observation can be gleaned from the following: John exposed Herod, who was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (Mark 6:8, 17–29; compare with Luke 13:31–33); John was imprisoned in Machaerus (Josephus, Ant. 18.116–119); Jesus’ response to John’s query “Are you the one who is to come, or do we wait for another?” shows serious connections with Qumran (see Matt 11:2–6 and 4Q521, frgs. 2, 4; esp. 2.1, 6–8, 12–13); the Gospel of John connects John’s ministry to Perea (see John 1:28; 3:26; 10:40). Thus, it is indeed plausible that John’s ministry was Transjordanian (Perean) and evoked a symbolic action of entering into the land of Israel from the Transjordan similar to the entry of the generation of Moses and Joshua. When these observations are juxtaposed in the same paragraph, they suggest that the Twelve were at least shaped by Jesus’ knowledge of the covenant renewal traditions of Joshua. We can place somewhere in this mixture the plausible connection of John with Qumran and the role that twelve (see above) played there as a possible genesis for Jesus’ use of “twelve.”90 While this grouping is eschatological, it is equally covenantal. The covenantal, however, shapes the eschatological.

Here then are the suggestive details:

The baptism evoked the entry into the land in ancient history (Josh 3:1–4:18); the use of twelve stones can be plausibly connected to Jesus’ choice of twelve (Josh 4:1–10). When John declared vociferously that God is able “from these stones” (Luke 3:8 par. Matt 3:9) to raise up children for Abraham, this was perhaps what turned Jesus from disciple into prophet. Part of his task was to make the stones declare the glory of God’s covenant with Abraham.

The mission of the Twelve was an attempt to spread the message throughout the land and, if any vision was involved on the part of Jesus, then the hope was to gain the land and its people for the Kingdom of God. This evocational context emerged from the Jewish hope to restore the land, to reunify the tribes, and to reestablish the covenant.

(3) There are solid grounds for contending that Jesus envisioned a reunification of the twelve tribes that would take place in the land of Israel. This is only implied, I am suggesting, in the choice and sending of the Twelve, but it is firmly assumed in the Q tradition in Luke 22:30 par. Matt 19:28 and probably in a text otherwise not studied here— namely, Luke 13:28–30 par. Matt 8:11–12 (compare with Ps 107:2–3; Isa 43:5–6; Ps. Sol. 11:2–3).91

(4) It is implied in all that precedes that Jesus’ choice of the Twelve to embody his covenantal and eschatological vision implies a political vision, a vision for the nation, and this in some ecclesial sense. Jesus thinks the current leadership is in need of replacement; his twelve special followers are to be that new “nation” (Matt 21:43). To embody his vision in these Twelve is heady political stuff. The evidence considered here does not go as far as G. W. Buchanan did, or even as far as R. A. Horsely did, in attempting to reconstruct a political Jesus.92 However, the evidence clearly implies that Jesus had a design for the nation; his vision was not yet the world.

This political design clearly implies negative critique of the establishment. It would take us wide of the mark here to consider whether Jesus’ critique of the leadership in the form of his choice of the Twelve is primarily targeted at the Pharisees or the Sadducees, but the evidence does imply a trenchant dissatisfaction with what is going on in Jerusalem and, no doubt, through Jerusalem, in Galilee. His vision is grand enough to critique the entire leadership. While I am not convinced that this critique of the establishment emerges because Jesus is a Galilean, as was mentioned so suggestively by G. Vermes,93 Jesus’ childhood region certainly does not frown on such grandiose plans for the nation. His critique is solid: anti- Pharisee, anti-Sadducee, and anti-Roman (what else can the disparaging words of Luke 7:24–35 par. Matt 11:7–19 mean?). Jesus envisions a new leadership for the entire nation, and this means that the entire establishment must be swept clean, a veritable coup d’tat, with his Twelve as the new shepherds for those who would then be lost in Israel.


Jesus’ sending out the Twelve shows little parallel with the expectation of the reunification of the twelve tribes. Instead, the connotations of his choice and sending out of the Twelve show more significant parallels with Qumran leadership, T. Judah 25:1–2, and T. Benj. 10:7, and covenant reestablishment as found in Joshua 4. His expectation of the reunification of the twelve tribes in the land does emerge in the Q tradition (Luke 22:30 par. Matt 19:28; Luke 13:28–30 par. Matt 8:11–12), and his Twelve were to function in a leadership rule in that Kingdom. There is significant evidence for us to think that Jesus had in mind a restored Israel—twelve new leaders, the land under control, a pure Temple, and a radically obedient Israel. The two themes of covenant and eschatology that swirl around the number “twelve” form a combined witness to the centrality of Jesus’ vision for Israel: salvation-historical fulfillment—that is, covenant reestablishment—in his mission’s inauguration of the Kingdom and the embodiment of leadership in his twelve special leaders, who will rule and liberate the twelve tribes of Israel in the Kingdom.

1 The intention and emphasis of each text are noteworthy: the mishnaic text elaborates on each in the direction of piety and describes the legacy of each disciple (the good qualities of each disciple of Yohanan b. Zakkai, their response to the meaning of “the straight path” and “the bad road,” and their three memorable sayings); the text of the Babylonian Talmud discredits Jesus, his disciples, and the emerging church by the absence of favorable witness for Jesus and by exegesis, which also confirms execution for each of the named disciples of Jesus (which names are Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni, and Todah), only one or two (Matthai and Todah [Thaddaeus?]) of which appears to be in the Christian list. The lists of the disciples in the earliest Jesus traditions are stark and nearly absent of commentary; their intentions appear to be nothing more than a list in order to know who are the authentic Tradents of the Jesus tradition.

2 The one irregularity is Thaddaeus or Judas ben Jacob (Jude son of James). Most conclude that Simon “the Zealot” and Simon “the Cananean” are the same person. However, E. P. Sanders leads these differences to a different conclusion: see his Historical Figure of Jesus (London: Penguin, 1993) 120–22. His arguments are not without serious merit but will not be the focus of this study. See here N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 300 n. 214.

3 In particular, see P. Vielhauer, “Gottesreich and Menschensohn in der Verkündigung Jesu,” in Aufstze zum Neuen Testament (TBü 31; Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1965) 55– 91; G. Klein, Die zwlf Apostel: Ursprung und Gehalt einer Idee (FRLANT 77; Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1961); W. Schmithals, The Office of Apostle in the Early Church (trans. J. E. Steely; Nashville: Abingdon, 1969) 67–87, 231–88.

4 J. P. Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve: Did It Exist during Jesus’ Public Ministry?” JBL 116 (1997) 635–72; see also E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) 98–106, where he states that the historicity of the Twelve is “the weakest item in the list” of his facts about Jesus (p. 101). For further studies, see J. Dupont, “Le nom d’aptres a-t-il t donn aux douze par Jsus?” OrSyr 1 (1956) 267–90, 425–44 (Jesus established the Twelve but the word “apostle” is later); B. Rigaux, “Die ‘Zwlf’ in Geschichte und Kerygma,” in Der historische Jesus und der kerygmatische Christus: Beitrge zum Christusverstndnis in Forschung und Verkündigung (ed. H. Ristow and K. Matthiae; Berlin: Evangelische, 1960) 468–86; idem, “The Twelve Apostles,” Concilium 34 (1968) 5–15; R. P. Meye, Jesus and the Twelve: Discipleship and Revelation in Mark’s Gospel (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1968) 192–209; W. Trilling, “Zur Entstehung des Zwlferkreises: Eine geschichtskritische berlegung,” in Die Kirche des Anfangs: Für Heinz Schürmann (ed. R. Schnackenburg et al.; Freiburg: Herder, 1977) 201–22 (who opts for pre-Markan, and therefore probably authentic, tradition in Mark 3:14a, 16a and for substance in the inclusion of Judas as well as in the tradition in 1 Cor 15:5 and the term “eleven”; Matt 19:28 is inconclusive); B. F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979) 154 n. 82; J. Becker, Jesus of Nazareth (trans. J. E. Crouch; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1998) 27–28; H. O. Guenther, The Footprints of Jesus’ Twelve in Early Christian Traditions: A Study in the Meaning of Religious Symbolism (AOS 7/7; Berne: Peter Lang, 1985). In what follows I will not catalog views on the historicity, since the arguments and evidence are summarized with exhaustive thoroughness by J. P. Meier.

5 Ancient evidence does not easily submit to the supposedly impartial and scientific criteria established by modern Jesus historians. Any reading of modern scholarship finds a plethora of compelling arguments used to establish solid historical evidence; only sometimes do these arguments follow the lines of the criteria. Three modern examples, each using historical judgment with considerable lan but without being tied to the criteria, are Sanders, Jesus and Judaism; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996); and P. Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (New York: Knopf, 1999). Of the three, it is the latter that shows methodological tension in that Fredriksen uses dissimilarity along with an argument, working backwards, that if Paul and a Jesus tradition both have something there is good reason to believe it is historically probable. Historians have to live with methodological tension, since historiography is not laboratory science. A good bibliographic entry into criteria research can be seen in C. A. Evans, Jesus (IBR Bibliographies 5; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1992) 52–67; see also his more exhaustive volume, Life of Jesus Research: An Annotated Bibliography (2d ed.; NTTS 24; Leiden: Brill, 1996). One example of the complexity of argument and artful skill and judgment needed by a modern historian concerned with reconstructing an ancient, myth-overladen life is J. C. Holt, Robin Hood (London: Thames and Hudson, 1982).Jews (FBBS 9; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955). That the same applies to the restriction from entering Samaritan territory can be found in John 4:4–42.

6 R. W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) 71.

7 Ibid.

8 See Borg, Jesus: A New Vision—Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987); see also his essays, “A Temperate Case for a Non- eschatological Jesus” and “Jesus and Eschatology: Current Reflections,” in his Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship (Valley Forge, Penn.: Trinity, 1994) 47–68, 69–96.

9 My own study fits into the same category; cf. A New Vision for Israel, 120–55.

10 D. C. Allison, for instance, contends that it is possible that Q 22:28–30 ended Q1 as well. See his Jesus Tradition in Q (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity, 1997) 35–36.

11 For the historicity of this text, see the discussion below (pp. 24–26).

12 On this, see J. Nolland, Luke (WBC 35; 3 vols.; Dallas: Word, 1989–93) 1.364, 365–67.

13 Since some of the divergences between Mark and Luke can be explained as Lukan stylistic improvements (e.g., keeping the brothers together in group one of the list or changing Simon “the Cananaean” to “the Zealot”), it is possible that Luke’s list is simply Mark’s with some redaction. However, Luke (varying from the Markan- Matthean tradition) has “Jude ben James” in both his Gospel and the Acts (cf. John 14:22). The differences between Luke’s list and Acts’ can be best explained as Lukan redaction rather than use of sources, though the variations in the second block of names are not easy to unravel. As a result, Meier contends, probably accurately, that Luke had access to an “L” tradition with a list of the disciples (cf. “The Circle of the Twelve,” 650–52).

14 Meier, ibid., 663.

15 I still consider the hermeneutical discussion by Meyer (Aims, 23–110) to be the finest explanation to date of Jesus study criteria (indexes). However, analysis of ancient texts frequently forces historians to transcend or to work outside such categories. In particular, as can be seen in some recent studies of Jesus (including those of E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, J. D. Crossan, P. Fredriksen, as well as my own recent offering), operating from the “mission” or “focus” of the life of Jesus may yield better results than from criteria and sayings. If certain “facts” are established (e.g., that Jesus was put to death on a political charge, that he announced the imminent arrival of the Kingdom, et al.), then how are we to construe Jesus’ life and his intentions? My New Vision for Israel is less concerned with establishing which sayings are authentic than with expounding traditionally-interpreted sayings in light of a reconfiguration of his mission as a mission to Israel. In many cases, the traditional interpretation, considered by some to be inauthentic because of that interpretation (e.g., his perception of his own death), yields to a more accurate historical perception of a particular (and, therefore, becomes as plausibly authentic as it becomes less traditional theologically). Few of my reviewers have seen this.

16 Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve,” 663–70.

17 So W. Klassen, Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 34–38.

18 So Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve,” 65. Meier thinks the traditions develop here: from Mark 15:24 to John 13:18; Matt 27:9–10; and Acts 1:16, 20. He also counters the proposals of Vielhauer, Klein, Schmithals, and Crossan (pp. 667–70).

19 J. D. Crossan, Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), finds treachery on the part of Judas far more likely than the inclusion of Judas in the Twelve or than of his death as described in early Christianity (pp. 71–75).

20 Ibid., 71.

21 See Rigaux, “Twelve Apostles”; J. Roloff, Apostolat-Verkündigung-Kirche: Ursprung, Inhalt und Funktion des kirchlichen Apostelamtes nach Paulus, Lukas und den Pastoralbriefen (Gütersloh: Mohn, 1965) 138–68.

22 Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve,” 670 (italics mine).

23 Even the ultimate cameo appearance of Matthias may suggest the disappearance of a former member (Acts 1:20–26). And, as was asked by members of our discussion, why not Barnabas? or James? or Paul? Why choose someone who is otherwise completely unknown? Such a record may well indicate memory of a transient, unknown figure.

24 See G. B. Caird and L. D. Hurst, New Testament Theology (New York: Oxford, 1994) 382.

25 Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 101. The following is only slightly overstated by Sanders: “The twelve disciples are in one way like the seven hills of Rome: they are a little hard to find, although the idea is very old” (p. 102).

26 Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), here pp. 103–8; see also A. Greil and D. Rudy, “Social Cocoons: Encapsulation and Identity Transformation Organizations,” Sociological Inquiry 54 (1984) 260–78.

27 E.g., Ep. 28.11. Found in A. J. Malherbe, The Cynic Epistles: A Study Edition (SBLSBS 12; Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1977), 292.

28 A. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (trans. W. Montgomery; foreword D. R. Hillers, and F. C. Burkitt; Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998) 344 (an edition that unfortunately fails to mention the translator and lacks the important introduction by J. M. Robinson, which was translated for the German edition!). German edition, p. 394. Further, p. 351 (ET): “Eschatology is simply ‘dogmatic history’—history as moulded by theological beliefs—which breaks in upon the natural course of history and abrogates it” (German, p. 403). In this context, Schweitzer sees the twelve “as those who are destined to hurl the firebrand into the world, and are afterwards . . . to be his associates in ruling and judging it” (p. 371).

29 This has been thoroughly explored by H. Schürmann, “Der Jüngerkreis Jesu als Zeichen für Israel (und als Urbild des kirchlichen Rtestandes),” in his Jesus— Gestalt und Geheimnis: Gesammelte Beitrge (ed. K. Scholtissek; Paderborn: Bonifatius, 1994) 64–84. A study devoted to Jesus is his “Die Symbolhandlungen Jesu als eschatologische Erfüllungszeichen. Eine Rückfrage nach dem irdischen Jesus,” Jesus— Gestalt und Geheimnis, 136–56.

30 J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus (trans. J. Bow- den; New York: Scribner’s, 1971) 234–35 (though the eschatological twelve embodies a universal salvation, pp. 245–47); Meyer (Aims, 153–54), who cites only the evidence given by Jeremias (who refers to his own earlier work); Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 104; J. Gnilka, Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History (trans. S. S. Schatzmann; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1997) 183; Caird and Hurst, New Testament Theology, 173, 382–83 (cf. G. B. Caird, Jesus and the Jewish Nation [Ethel M. Wood Lecture; London: Athlone, 1965] 8–9, 20–21); G. Theissen and A. Merz, Der historische Jesus: Ein Lehrbuch (2d ed.; Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 200–201; Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 300 (who has that deft British “of course”).

31 Jeremias, Proclamation, 234. Inclusion of Gentiles cannot be established on the basis of the number “twelve”; nor does the term “restoration” lead in that direction. Gentile inclusion must be established on the grounds of other evidence. “Twelve” may be a claim on all Israel but not more than Israel.

32 Sanders, Historical Figure, 120; see also p. 185.

33 E.g., ibid., 107 (also idem, Jesus and Judaism, 104).

34 Gnilka, Jesus, 183; see the more complete study of this in G. Theissen, “Gruppenmessianismus: berlegungen zum Ursprung der Kirche in Jüngerkreis Jesu,” Jahrbuch für biblische Theologie 7 (1992) 101–23; B. F. Meyer, “Jesus and the Remnant of Israel,” JBL 84 (1965) 123–30; idem, Aims, 115–28, 132–37, 153–54, 210–19; R. N. Flew, Jesus and His Church: A Study of the Ecclesia in the New Testament (London: Epworth, 1943), 17–98.

35 The heaviest emphasis given to the ecclesial dimension can be seen in A. M. Farrer, “The Ministry in the New Testament,” in The Apostolic Ministry: Essays on the History and the Doctrine of the Episcopacy (ed. K. E. Kirk; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1946) 113–82, esp. pp. 119–33. A good balance can be found in, among others, Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 299–300, 430–31; D. Flusser, “Qumran und die Zwlf,” Judaism and the Origins of Christianity (Jerusalem; Magnes, 1988) 173–85 (originally published in 1965); Roloff, Apostolat, 138–68 (explores “twelve” in the context of the development of the ecclesiological development of the apostolate).

36 See C. F. D. Moule, The Birth of the New Testament (3d ed.; Black’s New Testament Commentaries; London: Adam & Charles Black, 1981) 54; Rigaux, “Die ‘Zwlf,’” 482–86; R. Schnackenburg, God’s Rule and Kingdom (trans. J. Murray; New York: Herder & Herder, 1963) 215–34; Schürmann, “Die Symbolhandlungen Jesu,” 145–46.

37 Roloff, Apostolat, 146.

38 On p. 147 n. 37, Roloff states: “Der Zwlferkreis der Erdentage ist gerade keine heilsmchtige Realitt in sich selbst, sondern ist Gef und Werkzeug für das gegenwrtige Wirken Jesu.”

39 E.g., W. G. Kümmel, “Jesus und die Anfnge der Kirche,” ST 7 (1953) 1–27.

40 The most important recent study on Jesus’ symbolic actions is by M. D. Hooker, The Signs of a Prophet: The Prophetic Actions of Jesus (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity, 1997), here p. 39, where she sees the Twelve as an eschatological embodiment of Jesus’ intention. See also my “Jesus and Prophetic Actions,” BBR 10 (2000) 197–232.

41 Some arguing for historicity are unclear regarding specific intention on the part of Jesus: e.g., C. G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospel (2 vols.; 2d ed.; London: Macmillan, 1927) 1.88. Others see his intention as a broad claim on all Israel: e.g., Becker, Jesus, 28.

42 E. P. Sanders speaks for many: “that ‘twelve’ would necessarily mean ‘restoration’” (Jesus and Judaism, 98).

43 See my “Jesus and Prophetic Actions.”

44 Horbury, “The Twelve and the Phylarchs,” NTS 32 (1986) 503–27.

45 Cf. Flusser, “Qumran und die Zwlf.” Flusser contends that the origins of the Twelve for Jesus can be traced to the Qumran material, which also has a substantive parallel in the book of Revelation.

46 For each citation from the Scrolls, I have used the translation of F. Garca Martnez and E. J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition (2 vols.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997).

47 So Horbury, “Twelve,” 511. See further in 1QM 3:14; 5:1–2.

48 For this text, see esp. J. M. Baumgarten, “The Duodecimal Courts of Qumran, Revelation, and the Sanhedrin,” JBL 95 (1976) 59–78, esp. the restored text on p. 60.

49 Numbers of judges in the Sanhedrin, for instance, were debated; see m. Sanh. 1:6; see also 4:3.

50 Gnilka, Jesus, 183.

51 Cf. F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Amos: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 24A; New York: Doubleday, 1989) 893.

52 Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 96; he cites further evidence on pp. 96–98. On the theme of exile, see now the important edited collection of J. M. Scott, Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Conceptions (JSJSup 56; Leiden: Brill, 1997).

53 In this paper I will not examine the various other terms used for the followers of Jesus, such as apostles and disciples. The issues here are (1) church development and (2) redactional perspective of the Evangelists. Early redaction critics of Mark saw most of these references as Markan redaction; cf, e.g. Trilling, “Zur Entstehung,” 201–10; Roloff, Apostolat, 140–45 (“Mk hat den Zwlferapostolat gekannt,” p. 143); Gnilka, Jesus, 182. For fuller study, compare Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve,” 636–42; F. H. Agnew, “The Origin of the NT Apostle-Concept: A Review of Research,” JBL 105 (1986) 75–96.

54 On which text, see Roloff, Apostolat, 145–48.

55 If the “two-by-two” mission is genuine memory, it is less likely that it was mutual support (cf. Qoh 4:9–12; Gen 2:18) than a form of providing an additional witness (cf. Deut 17:6; 19:15; John 8:17; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19; Heb 10:28; as well as Acts 8:14; 13:2; 15:27, 36–40; 17:14; 19:22; 1 Cor 9:6; cf. also Jos. Asen. 3:2). See J. Jeremias, “Paarweise Sendung im Neuen Testament,” in New Testament Essays: Studies in Memory of Thomas Walter Manson, 1893–1958 (ed. A. J. B. Higgins; Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959) 136–43; D. Daube, “Responsibilities of Master and Disciples in the Gospels,” NTS 19 (1972) 1–15. From another angle, see J. D. Crossan (The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991], 333–37), who proposes a plausible Sitz im Leben for the notion of “healed healers.”

56 For my own study of these texts, see New Shepherds for IsraelMatthew 9:35– 11:1: An Historical and Critical Study of Matthew 9:35–11:1 (Ph.D., diss., University of Nottingham, 1986); subsequent studies include R. Uro, Sheep among Wolves: A Study on the Mission Instructions of Q (Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae: Dissertationes Humanarum Litterarum 47; Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1987; D. J. Weaver, Matthew’s Missionary Discourse: A Literary Critical Analysis (JSNTSup 38; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990); E. C. Park, The Missionary Discourse in Matthew’s Interpretation (WUNT 2/81; Tübingen: Mohr, 1995) 9–31 (a spotty survey of scholarship). These four dissertations are each concerned with the mission at the level of church tradition and redactional theology; they shall be left to the side except when tradition- critical remarks are apposite. See also D. C. Allison Jr., The Jesus Tradition in Q (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity, 1997) 104–19; P. Hoffmann, Studien zur Theologie der Logienquelle (NTAbh n.s. 8; Münster: Aschendorff, 1972) 236–355; H. Schürmann, “Mt 10, 5b–6 und die Vorgeschichte des synoptischen Aussendungsberichtes,” in Neutestamentliche Aufstze: Festschrift für Prof. Josef Schmid zum 70. Geburtstag (ed. J. Blinzler; Regensburg: Pustet, 1963) 270–82 (who contends there was a single messianic mission, found now in the remnants of Luke 10:1; Matt 10:5–6; Luke 10:8–12 [Matt 10:5–6 was originally between Luke 10:7 and 10:8] this mission was “eine letzte groe Anfrage an Israel vor dem Ende”; idem, “Die Symbolhandlungen Jesu,” 146). I am unpersuaded that the mission can be accurately described as a “symbolic action” or even as an “eschatologische Erfüllungszeichen,” though the shaking off of dust can be so designated (cf. Mark 10:11; contra Schürmann, “Die Symbolhandlungen,” 146).

57 E.g., J. Dupont, ”‘Vous n’aurez pas achev les villes d’Isral avant que le Fils de l’homme ne vienne’ (Mat. x, 23),” NovT 2 (1957–58) 228–44, here p. 229; T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus (London: SCM, 1949) 73–74; F. Hahn, Mission in the New Testament (trans. F. Clarke; SBT 47; London: SCM, 1963) 42–43 (but cf. p. 46).

58 On this, see esp. P. Hoffmann, “Lk 10:5–11 in der Instruktionsrede der Logienquelle,” in Evangelisch Katholischer Kommentar: Vorarbeiten (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1971) 3.37–53, here pp. 38–39.

59 Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve,” 657. At some level, then, the notion of sending twelve coheres with the term “apostle,” though recent research has shown the term to be less derived from the Hebrew saliah, even though substantively related: cf. Agnew, “Apostle-Concept.” See also R. W. Herron Jr., “The Origin of the New Testament Apostolate,” WTJ 45 (1983) 101–31. A foundational text, though not often discussed in the literature, remains Isa 61:1–11.

60 Manson, Sayings, 73. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 103: “In particular, apart from what we learn from the symbolic nature of the number twelve, we do not know Jesus’ purpose in calling them. Mark 3.14 says that it was for them ‘to be with him’, and that has recently been taken to be a plain statement of fact. [Here he refers to Eduard Schweizer’s 1968 book on Jesus.] But Mark cannot have known what was in Jesus’mind. ”Two points: (1) Being with Jesus is so obviously historical it cannot be contested—what else do disciples do but accompany their master? Sanders is overly sceptical here. I do not question that some German scholarship has grossly overinterpreted “being with him” into a neat ecclesiological formula. (2) I am unsure what Sanders means by “cannot” when it comes to Mark’s knowledge—does he mean some kind of psychological knowledge? In which case, Sanders’ scepticism is justified. Or does he mean he cannot know Jesus’ intention or another person’s intention? If so, Sanders is again overly sceptical. The ancient tradition of Peter’s connection to Mark may not be that far from historical reality. The actions of Jesus in gathering disciples to be with him and of sending them out (if they were sent out) surely imply that Jesus wanted them with him and that he wanted them to spread the Kingdom. These assertions of Jesus’ intention can be exaggerated in significance; but they need not be. On knowing another’s intentions, the classic study remains G. E. M. Anscombe, Intention (Library of Philosophy and Logic; 2d ed.; Oxford: Blackwell, 1979).

61 While the terms “restoration” and “reunification [of the twelve tribes]” may be properly distinguished, with the former being the more general Jewish expectation and the latter a special dimension of this larger expectation on the part of some, at times the terms are also nearly synonymous: those expecting a reunification of the twelve tribes certainly also had in mind this action of God as part of the larger restoration. “Restoration” is a good term for describing Jewish eschatology as well as the particular slant that Jesus gives to this hope when he uses the term “Kingdom.” N. T. Wright is not alone in being asked why Jesus does not use the term “restoration”; the answer to this question is that Jesus thought the term “Kingdom” was a better term expressing the complex of factors that scholars today call “restoration.” When Jesus uses “Kingdom,” he has in mind the fulfillment of the Jewish expectations that involved the restoration of Israel.

62 This text has only occasionally been questioned with respect to authenticity. The Jesus Seminar, for instance, found a Jesus who was more universal in orientation, so it assigned the saying to a Judaizing branch of earliest Christianity. But, the saying is Matthean neither in style or substance (except for the parallel at 15:24), and it leaves us with a Jesus somewhat incongenial to the Church’s mission. That is, on the basis of criteria, it is fundamentally dissimilar to earliest Christianity. On this, W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison Jr., The Gospel according to Saint Matthew (ICC; 3 vols.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988–97) 2.168–69.

63 On this, see my Light among the Gentiles: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991). That there was some kind of “crisis” in Galilee is rarely held today; cf. F. Muner, “Gab es eine ‘galilische Krise’?” in Orientierung an Jesus: Zur Theologie der Synoptiker (ed. P. Hoffmann et al.; Freiburg: Herder, 1973) 238–52; H. Montefiore, “Revolt in the Desert? (Mark vi. 30ff),” NTS 8 (1962) 135–41.

64 See C. A. Evans, “From ‘House of Prayer’ to ‘Cave of Robbers’: Jesus’ Prophetic Criticism of the Temple Establishment,” in The Quest for Context and Meaning: Studies in Biblical Intertextuality in Honor of James A. Sanders (ed. C. A. Evans and S. Talmon; BibIntSeries; Leiden: Brill, 1997) 417–42.

65 On this, see my New Vision for Israel, 1–15 et passim; Caird and Hurst, New Testament Theology, 361; see also V. Taylor, “The Life and Ministry of Jesus,” in The Interpreter’s Bible (ed. G. A. Buttrick; Nashville: Abingdon, 1951) 7.125–26.

66 On which, see K. Snodgrass, The Parable of the Wicked Tenants: An Inquiry into Parable Interpretation (WUNT 27; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1983).

67 On this, cf. D. Bosch, Die Heidenmission in der Zukunftsschau Jesu (ATANT 36; Zürich: Zwingli, 1959), 132; T. W. Manson, Only to the House of Israel?: Jesus and the Non-

68 Manon, Only to the House of Israel?, 24.

69 See Schürmann, “Der Jüngerkreis Jesu,” 70–72; J. D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 333–37.

70 Cf. here E. Arens, The HLQON-Sayings in the Synoptic Tradition (OBO 10; Freiburg: Universittsverlag / Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1976). Among other things, the bare facts as discerned by Arens show that Jesus had a “vocation-consciousness” (Sendungsbewusstsein) rather than a “self-consciousness” (Selbstbewusstsein) (p. 339).

71 See esp. G. Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993); Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2.398–506; W. Manson, “Principalities and Powers: The Spiritual Background of the Work of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels,” Bulletin for the Society of New Testament Studies 3 (1952) 7–17; McKnight, A New Vision for Israel, 107–10.

72 Cf. Becker, Jesus, 211–33; Goppelt, Theology, 1.139–57; R. H. Fuller, The Mission and Achievement of Jesus: An Examination of the Presuppositions of New Testament Theology (SBT 12; London: SCM, 1954) 35–43; J. Hempel, Heilung als Symbol und Wirklichkeit im biblischen Schrifttum (Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Gttingen 3; Gttingen; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1958) 237–314 (esp. pp. 271–91); M. Brown, Israel’s Divine Healer (Studies in Old Testament Biblical Theology; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995).

73 It is at this juncture that the Tradent role of the Twelve becomes fundamental, even if its later ecclesiological dimensions need to be relinquished. Cf., e.g., Roloff, Apostolat, 166; R. Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer: Eine Untersuchung zum Ursprung der Evangelien-berlieferung (WUNT 2/7; Tübingen: Mohr, 1981) 481–87; Moule (Birth, 225–37), who connects the Twelve to the process of canonization.

74 Details are imprecise (e.g., bag, sandals or no sandals? staff or no staff?) but the general impression is strong that Jesus restricted his missioners’ provisions. In general, see the important study of W. L. Liefeld, The Wandering Preacher as a Social Figure in the Roman Empire (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1967) 245–71; cf. m. Ber. 4:5; m. Ros Has. 2:9.

75 Cf. Perrin, Rediscovering, 142–45.

76 See G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986) 273–77; Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve,” 653–59; J. Friedrich, Gott im Bruder: Eine methodenkritische Untersuchung von Redaktion, berlieferung und Traditionen in Mt 25,31–46 (Calwer Theologische Monographen 7; Stuttgart: Calwer, 1977) 53–56.

77 For example, Paliggenesiva could be Matthean redaction; but the term is hard to count in Matthew’s arsenal, since it is found in the NT only one other time (Titus 3:5).

78 The Lukan context preceding this logion concerns the defection of Judas (Luke 22:21–23); this context is less likely than Matthew’s. See Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3.55, for summary conclusions. It is possible, however, to read Luke’s context as a reaffirmation of Jesus’ authority in spite of betrayal, in which case, the balance is again even. A conspectus of judgments on this logion’s status in Q can be found in J. S. Kloppenborg, Q Parallels: Synopsis, Critical Notes, and Concordance (Sonoma, Calif.: Polebridge, 1988) 202. For a less-confident judgment on the historicity of the logion, see Trilling, “Zur Entstehung,” 213–20; for a more positive assessment, see Rigaux, “Die ‘Zwlf,’” 476–77.

79 So, e.g., Meier, “The Circle of the Twelve,” 657–58. See for the broader picture, my New Vision, 120–55.

80 So Nolland, Luke, 3.1066.

81 That the christology of the twelve judging is Son of Man christology was pointed out long ago. See, e.g., Roloff, Apostolat, 149–50. Paul believed saints would judge the world (1 Cor 6:2–3) and in the Apocalypse the victor is promised a seat with the Son of Man (1:13), on his throne (3:21; 20:4), which is the place of judgment. On this, cf. A. Geyser, “The Twelve Tribes in Revelation: Judean and Judeo-Christian Apocalypticism,” NTS 28 (1982) 388–99. Each of these traditions may well derive from the Q tradition.

82 I. Broer, “Das Ringen der Gemeinde um Israel: Exegetischer Versuch über Mt 19, 28,” in Jesus und der Menschensohn: Für Anton Vgtle (ed. R. Pesch et al.; Freiburg: Herder, 1976) 148–65; W. Trilling, “Zur Entstehung des Zwlferkreises: Eine geschichtskritische berlegung,” in Die Kirche des Anfangs (ed. R. Schnackenburg; Freiburg: Herder, 1978) 201–22; E. J. Kissane, “A Forgotten Interpretation of Mt 19:28,” Irish Theological Quarterly 17 (1921) 359–66; Beasley-Murray, Jesus, 275–76; Nolland, Luke, 3.1067 (ruling); Davies and Allison, Matthew, 3.55–56; Roloff, Apostolat, 149; R. A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987) 201–8. D. Flusser connects judging to the stones of the Urim and Thummim and finds confirmation in Rev 21:14, 19–20 (“Qumran und die Zwlf”). The absence of a priestly emphasis in the Jesus traditions speaks against this theory. His lines of thought continue throughout a presentation of Jesus: see his Jesus (coll. R. Steven Notley; 2d ed.; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1998). See also R. A. Horsley and J. A. Draper, Whoever Hears You Hears Me: Prophets, Performance, and Tradition in Q (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity, 1999) 262–63.

83 The use in Matthew of the Greek term paliggenesiva has generated significant debate: (1) it is possible to find a Semitic foundation for such a Greek term (cf. 1QS 4:25); (2) it seems probable, however, that the term is a Matthean expression; (3) it is entirely reasonable to think Jesus could have said something that gave rise to such a translation; (4) it is remotely possible that Jesus suggested the restoration of the twelve tribes; (5) it is most likely that the term describes an era (cf. Josephus, Ant. 11.66; cf. Beasley-Murray, Jesus, 275 and n. 235). On the term, see F. W. Burnett, “Paliggenesiva in Matt 19:28: A Window on the Matthean Community?” JSNT 17 (1983) 60–72; J. D. M. Derrett, “Palingenesia” JSNT 20 (1984) 51–58; D. Sim, “The Meaning of Paliggenesiva in Matthew 19:28,” JSNT 50 (1993) 3–12.

84 Cf. Jeremias, Proclamation, 272; Broer, “Ringen,” 158–59; contra Kissane, “Forgotten,” 361–66.

85 Rigaux, “Die ‘Zwlf,’” 483.

86 See Beasley-Murray, Jesus, 276–77.

87 See esp. R. L. Webb, “Jesus’ Baptism: Its Historicity and Implications,” BBR 10 (2000) 261–309, idem, “John’s Baptizing Activity in the Context of First-Century Judaism,” Forum 1 (1999) 99–123 (though I would distance myself from use of the view that proselytes were baptized upon conversion in first-century Judaism); idem, “Josephus on John the Baptist: Jewish Antiquities 18.116–119,” Forum 2 (1999) 141–68.

88 S. McKnight, “Jesus’ New Vision within Judaism,”in Who Was Jesus? A Jewish- Christian Dialogue (ed. P. Copan and C. A. Evans; Louisville: WJK, 2001) 73–96.

89 Cf. Webb, John the Baptizer, 360–66 (who sketches this interpretation admirably); C. Brown, “What Was John the Baptist Doing?” BBR 7 (1997) 37–50; see also my essay “Jesus and Prophetic Actions.”

90 H. Schürmann has argued, however, that dimensions of Jesus’ vision were in place prior to the baptism; cf., e.g., “Jesu Aufbruch zum Jordan: Beginn der ureigenen Basileia-Verkündigung Jesu,” in his Jesus—Gestalt und Geheimnis: Gesammelte Beitrge (ed. K. Scholtissek; Paderborn: Bonifatius, 1994) 31–44.

91 See esp. Allison (Jesus Tradition, 176–91) who single-handedly disputes the consensus that this text is speaking of Gentile inclusion in the Kingdom.

92 G. W. Buchanan, Jesus: The King and His Kingdom (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1984); Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence.

93 G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (London: Collins, 1973).

Related Topics: Christology

Starting a Church Library

Related Media

Are you thinking about starting a library in your church? If so, this article sets forth some suggestions, and some preliminary issues that you should consider.

Recommended resource: The Church Librarian’s Handbook, a book by Betty McMichael (Baker Book House, 3rd Edition, 1998). This book is very helpful, and deals in detail with many of the issues discussed in this article. However, it is not currently in print. You can often find used copies at, or try other used book sources. Used copies of even earlier editions will still prove worth having.

1. Determine the specific groups you wish to serve, i.e. young children (pre-readers), beginning readers, older children, pre-teens, teens, marrieds, parents, home-schoolers, church leaders, Sunday School teachers, specific ministries (such as outreach), elderly (large-print books, books on care-giving), etc.

2. Determine the media you wish to have available: books, magazines, audiocassettes, DVDs, videocassettes, CD-rom, etc.

3. Determine whether you wish to begin with donated books, or with donated books plus a budget to acquire new books.

4. Determine the classification system to be used (the Dewey Decimal System is generally recommended for church libraries). If you use Dewey, then you need the three reference books listed below:

      a. Sears List of Subject Headings, 18th Edition, by Minnie Earl Sears, Joseph Miller (ed), 2004 edition H. W. Wilson Co., NY. Available from publisher at, or can usually be obtained from Lifeway Christian Stores ( or Amazon (

      b. Abridged Dewey Decimal Classification and Relative Index, Edition 14 (January, 2004 edition), OCLC Forest Press, Dublin, Ohio, 1,050 pages. Order from ; or may be available from Lifeway or Amazon.

      c. Dewey Decimal Classification, 200 Religion Class: OCLC Forest Press, Dublin, Ohio, 2004 edition. Order from; or may be available from Lifeway or Amazon.

The three preceding books are expensive, but items a and c above (at least) are essential. If you determine that you will classify all of your church library books in the Dewey 200 classification, then you can get by without item b, but if you want to use the wider range of Dewey classifications (for example, the 900 classification for history), then you will need item b as well. Most of the church libraries I consulted before using Dewey used the whole range of Dewey classifications.

The next book is not essential, but is very helpful and not expensive.

      d. A Classification System for Church Libraries (Based on Dewey Decimal Classification System), Revised, Convention Press, 2004 edition. Available from Lifeway. Contains the Dewey classifications used most by church libraries to classify their entire stock.

5. Supplies to process books can be obtained at local bookstores or by mail-order (book pockets, date due slips, checkout cards, labels, label protectors, book jackets for hard-cover books, tape for book jackets, date stampers and ink pads, boxes for checkout cards of books in circulation). Lifeway Christian Stores ( stock all of the items just listed, which can also be mail-ordered from your local Lifeway store or from Nashville (1-800-233-1123). Or they can be obained directly from the supplier, Brodart Co.-Library Supplies Division (1-888-820-4377). Brodart also has a web site at Other supplies that can be purchased at more general locations include:

      a. Clear contact paper to cover paperbacks, if desired (available at grocery stores with shelf papers).

      b. Rubber stamp with church name, if desired (available from office supply stores).

6. Sources for books and videos:

      a. Local seminary bookstore. I am in Dallas, and use Dallas Theological Seminary’s bookroom—see web page with on-line ordering at DTS also has a consignment section for sale of used books by students.

      b. Lifeway Christian Stores ( or other local Christian bookstores (some give discounts for church libraries).

      c. Catalogs/Mail Order

        1) Christian Book Distributors—has a web site at

        2) Cumberland Valley Bible Book Service (specializes in Puritan and Reformed, with many general books as well)—has web site at Phone number is 1-800-656-0231.

        3) Soli Deo Gloria (publisher; reprints of Puritan books). Now affiliated with Ligonier (see #5 below, and Ligonier web page). Their titles can also be purchased from Cumberland or Amazon as well as Ligonier.

        4) Gateway Films (Christian videos) at

        5) Ligonier Ministries (R.C. Sproul; teaching videos, books, etc.) at .

        6) Desiring God Ministries (ministry of John Piper; DVDs, CDs, books) at

        7) Vision Form (videos, audios, videos, books specializing in the Christian family) at

7. Categories of books which you may wish to emphasize:

      a. Commentaries (individual, one-volume, or sets)

      b. Books on systematic theology

      c. Books on various theological topics

      d. Reference books (concordances, Bible dictionaries)

      e. Books on church history

      f. Bible handbooks, guides to Bible study and interpretation

      g. Christian living—popular authors

      h. Books on leadership

      i. Books on specific areas of ministry

      j. Counseling

      k. Apologetics, Bible and science, creationism

      l. Christian biographies

      m. Puritan and other Christian classics

      n. Adult Christian fiction

      o. Books on families, marriage, child rearing

      p. Christian psychology

      q. Christian living, also focusing on men, women, teens

      r. Christianity and culture/current issues

      s. Cults

      t. Missions, including missionary biographies

      u. Books for various age groups of children and youth (Bible stories for various age levels, fiction for various age levels, issues books for teens)

8. Regarding commentaries:

Determine which levels of commentaries are appropriate for your church library:

      a. Good overall series—accessible for beginning students, but challenging enough for advanced students:

        1) Tyndale OT series (published by InterVarsity Press (IVP); now complete))

        2) Tyndale NT series ( published by IVP/Eerdmans)

        3) IVP NT Commentary series (published by IVP; individual volumes—in progress)

        4) Expositors Bible Commentary (published by Zondervan; complete; a 12-volume set)

        5) New American Commentary ( NAC) (Broadman; individual volumes—in progress)

        6) Bible Speaks Today series (published by IVP; individual volumes—in progress)

        7) Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Whole Bible (multi-volume)—Classic

        8) NIV Application Commentary series (published by Zondervan; individual volumes in progress)

      b. Generally for more advanced, or at least well informed laymen, but highly recommended for library:

        1) New International Commentary on the OT (NICOT) (Eerdmans; individual volumes—in progress)

        2) New International Commentary on the NT (NICNT) (Eerdmans; individual volumes—in progress)

        3) Pillar Commentaries (Eerdmans; individual volumes—in progress)

        4) Geneva Series (Banner of Truth; classic Puritan and Reformed; individual volumes)

      c. Advanced, Technical—but still recommended for library.

        1) Baker Exegetical Commentaries (individual volumes—in progress)—excellent; technical, but still usable by most.

        2) Word Biblical Commentaries (individual volumes; in progress)—generally evangelical; but some volumes are less conservative than others.

      d. Good one-volume commentaries:

        1) New Bible Commentary—21st Century Edition, edited by D.A. Carson, Gordon Wenham, et al, InterVarsity Press, 4th edition, 1994.

        2) International Bible Commentary, based on NIV, edited by F.F. Bruce, Zondervan, revised 1999.

        3) Baker Commentary on the Bible, based on NIV (previously Evangelical Commentary on the Bible), edited by Walter Elwell, Baker Academic, 2001.

        4) Bible Knowledge Commentary, 2 volumes, edited by John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, published by Victor, 1985. Contributors are related to Dallas Seminary; Dispensational.

There are a number of books available which review and rate commentaries, describe doctrinal stance as well as level of study, and give lists of “best buys” and “recommended.” Of particular value is the book titled Commentary and Reference Survey: A Comprehensive Guide to Biblical and Theological Resources, by John Glynn (Kregel, 2003). Glynn gives the commentator’s theological stance, classifies commentaries according to how technical they are, mentions worthy commentaries which are in process and not yet published, has a section on building a “must-have” personal reference library, and mentions the several commentaries on each book of the Bible for an “ultimate” commentary collection. He also covers books on church history, reference books, and books on a large number of theological topics.

9. Informing church members of new book titles in library:

      a. Bulletin inserts (our church has them monthly)

      b. Church web site with library section (see our church’s website and library section at ).

10. Define any desired parameters or limitations for doctrinal stance of commentaries and theology books for library.

      a. Reformed? Covenant? Dispensational? Charismatic?

      b. Or is conservative evangelical sufficient?

11. Determine whether you will use a manual card catalog with typed cards for author, title, and subject, OR, a computer based catalog and circulation system. Several years ago our church converted from a DOS-based library program, to Concourse, the windows version of Master Library System (MLS), produced by Book Systems, Inc. ( Concourse gives a fully integrated system with On-line Public Access Catalog (Webrary), Cataloging, Circulation, Inventory, and MARC.

12. Functions to be performed (will relate to staff requirements):

      a. Identify types of books you want to acquire.

      b. Visit bookstores; purchase books (or order from catalogs).

      c. Classify books (use Dewey Decimal and Sears guides).

      d. Process books (prepare and install pockets, date due slip, checkout card, spine label; cover paperbacks with contact paper or add clear book jacket covers to dust jackets of hard-backs).

      e. Prepare catalog cards, or enter data in computer.

      f. Type description of book for “New Book List”.

      g. Someone to handle circulation; monitor past dues; file cards; OR input into computer.

      h. Send notices on past due books.

      i. Process returned books and replace on shelves.

      j. File checkout cards of newly checked out books.

13. If you will have videocassettes, you will need to get a supply of empty plastic boxes to put the videos in, like the ones at Blockbuster in pre-DVD days. The video boxes have clear plastic sleeves, so you can cut up the cardboard box the video came in, and insert into the sleeves for easy identification. The video boxes are available from Brodart ( Most DVDs that you purchase will come in a plastic case in which you can leave the DVD for circulation.

14. It is very important to have full support from pastor and church leaders. They can encourage the members to establish regular reading habits, and can recommend specific books.

      a. Prepare a booklet giving a basic list of recommended reading. There are already several booklets available that you could refer to for ideas, or even use.

15. Visit different church libraries and see how they function.

16. Join a church library association or discussion group.

      a. Evangelical Church Library Association ( ).

      b. The Libraries in Churches Discussion List for Congregational Libraries (the LINC List), found at . This includes an email-based forum for discussions by church librarians. The web site also includes a number of other resources, such as links to church library associations and to other church libraries that are on the web, book review resources, etc.

17. To encourage usage:

      a. Put displays of new or recommended books somewhere outside the library.

      b. Encourage Sunday School teachers to bring in their classes for visits to the library.

      c. Encourage men’s and women’s groups, ministry groups, Bible study groups, etc. to recommend books to their members.

      d. Pastor to occasionally recommend books from the pulpit.

      e. Encourage formation of reading groups, to read and meet to discuss one book each month.

      f. Do book reviews and make them available for library patrons.

      g. When a patron reads a book, and tells you how good it was, type up a card saying “Recommended by John Smith” along with a sentence or two about why. Card can be affixed to book or below it in a plastic sleeve on display shelf.

      h. On our library web page, we maintain a list of accumulated quotes by well known Christian leaders throughout church history on the importance of reading and Christian literature, and the influence particular books have had on their lives.

RDM (original 8/6/99, revised 8/5/05)

Related Topics: Library and Resources

An Argument of the Book of Exodus

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I. LIBERATION--THE ACQUISITION OF A PEOPLE OUT OF EGYPT: Although the descendants of Jacob multiplied in Egypt and were under the oppression of the King of Egypt, the Lord delivered them out of their bondage by raising up a deliverer, Moses, demonstrating His power upon the Egyptians to such an extent that they hurried them to flee the land, delivering them from the Egyptians through the Reed Sea and providing for them through their wilderness wanderings until they arrived at Mount Horeb 1:1--18:27

A. The Setting--Oppression: Although those who came down to Egypt with Jacob were only seventy, they were fruitful and multiplied to such an extent that a new King of Egypt who did not know Joseph became threatened by their number and thus subjected them to hard labor and ordered the murder of their male children 1:1-22

1. Introduction--Continuity of History: Those who came down to Egypt with Jacob and their households were seventy, whereupon they died, but the Israelites were fruitful and filled the land 1:1-7

a. Names of Those Who Came to Egypt: The names of the Israelites who came with their households to Egypt with Jacob were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher 1:1-4

b. Seventy: The tribal offspring of Jacob was seventy persons with Joseph already being in Egypt 1:5

c. Transition: Although Joseph, his brothers and all that generation died, the Israelites were fruitful and prolific multiplying and increasing greatly so that the land was filled with them 1:6-7

2. Israel’s Persecution: Because the Israelites had become so numerous and a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph was fearful that they would become a threat to the Egyptians, he had them oppressed and ordered that their male children be murdered 1:8-22

a. Fear Leads to Oppression: Because the Israelites had become so numerous and a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph was fearful that they would become a threat to the Egyptians, they oppressed them with forced labor, but they increased all the more causing the Egyptians to loath them and oppress them with heavy work 1:8-14

b. Fear Leads to Murder: Because the Israelites were continuing to multiply, Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all of the male children and to let the female children live, but when they did not do this, Pharaoh ordered the Hebrews to throw the boy children into the river, but to let the girls live 1:15-22

B. The Separation of a Deliver unto God--Moses: Moses was separated unto God as a deliverer of the Israelites through a protected birth, experience in the house of Pharaoh until he had to flee for slaying an Egyptian for brutalizing a Hebrew, through a call from YHWH at Mount Sinai where he was tending sheep for his Median Father-in-law, through a return to Egypt where he and Aaron speak for God urging a rebellious Pharaoh to release the Israelites, and through a renewed call from YHWH to speak again to Pharaoh 2:1--7:7

1. The Birth and Protection of Moses: When a man from the house of Levi married the daughter of Levi and gave birth to a son she hid him for three months and then placed him in a basket on the Nile where Pharaoh’s daughter found him and adopted him as her son naming him Moses because she drew him out of the water 2:1-10

a. Birth and Hiding: A man from the house of Levi married the daughter of Levi and they bore a son who was so beautiful that she hid him (in her home?) for three months and then in a basket among the reeds at the bank of the Nile with his sister watching at a distance to see what would happen 2:1-4

b. Adoption: When Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe at the Nile she saw the basket, sent a servant to get it, saw the child crying, and took pity on it recognizing it to be a Hebrew child; whereupon, the child’s sister offered to get a nurse for the child, and Pharaoh’s daughter agreed paying the child’s mother wages until he was grown up and brought to Pharaoh’s daughter who made him her son and named him Moses because he was drawn out of the water 2:5-10

2. Moses Slays an Egyptian and Flees to Midian: Some time after Moses grew up he slew an Egyptian who was beating one of his people, was exposed, fled to Midian where he met and married Zipporah, the daughter of the priest of Midian (Reuel) whom he worked with, and bore a son, after which time Pharaoh died and the cries of Israel were heard by the Covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob 2:11-25

a. Slaying of an Egyptian: Some time after Moses grew up and went out to his kinsmen to look on their toil, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, struck down the Egypt and hid his body in the sand 2:11-12

b. Mediation and Exposure: On the next day when Moses saw two Hebrews struggling together he tried to mediate, but the one in the wrong rebuked him as not being ruler and judge over him and asked if he intended to kill him as he had the Egyptian causing Moses to be afraid that his act was known 2:13-14

c. Flight to Midian: When Pharaoh heard of the matter he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian sitting down beside a well 2:15

d. Acquiring a Wife and Son: At the well Moses met the daughters of the priest of Midian, helped them water their flock, was invited to their house by their father Reuel, agreed to stay with the man and married his daughter Zipporah who bore him a son named Gershom because he said that he has been a stranger in a foreign land 2:16-22

e. Transition--God Saw: A long time after Moses had fled, the king of Egypt died and the Israelites groaned under bondage and cried out for help whereupon God heard and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob 2:23-25

3. The Call of Moses: The Lord appeared to Moses who was tending his father-in-law’s sheep at Horeb, proclaimed His intention to deliver his people out of the oppression of Egypt to the Promised Land as the mighty God of promise who will authenticate Moses’ message with signs and enable Moses (and his brother Aaron) to speak for Him 3:1--4:17

a. The Appearance of God to Moses: While Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep near the Horeb, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob appeared to him in a bush burning with fire warning him not to come closer, proclaiming the land as holy and identifying himself as the covenant God whereupon Moses hid his face out of fear to look at God 3:1-6

b. God’s Intention to Deliver through Moses: The Lord proclaimed that he has seen and heard the oppression of his people in Egypt and has come down to deliver them to a land of blessing (the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites) through Moses and answered Moses’ reticence by assuring him of His presence and promising that they will return to this mountain to worship Him as a sign 3:7-12

c. The Mighty God of Promise: When Moses asked for the character of God (name) which he was to reveal to the Israelites, the Lord proclaims Himself to be the covenant God who sees their oppression, will fulfill His promises (YHWH) and bring the nation back to the Land of Promise by displaying His might to a resistant Pharaoh so that the Egyptians will not only free the Israelites, but allow the Israelites to plunder them of their riches 3:13-22

d. Authenticating Signs: When Moses objected to the Lord’s call insisting that the people will deny that the Lord appeared to them, He gave Moses three signs to authenticate his message (the rod & snake, the leperous hand, and the water to blood) 4:1-9

e. Help with Speech: When Moses objected to the Lord’s call insisting that he had never been good with speech, He reminded Moses that it is He who gives speech to men and exhorted Moses to go reassuring him that He will help Moses with his speech 4:10-12

f. Help through Aaron: When Moses objected to the Lord’s call and asked that He send somebody else the Lord became angry and said that his brother Aaron, who is on his way to meet Moses, would be Moses’ mouthpiece and Moses would play the role of God as the Lord helps both of them to speak and know what to do; the Lord also told Moses to take the rod in his hand with him to perform the signs 4:13-17

4. The Return of Moses to Egypt: After Moses returned to his people in Egypt with the permission of his father-in-law, an exhortation and warning from the Lord, and his brother Aaron, they told the leaders of Israel what God was going to do, and told Pharaoh to let Israel go to worship the Lord three days in the wilderness, but Pharaoh only oppressed the people causing them to curse Moses, but the Lord assured Moses that Pharaoh will soon drive them out of the land when he experiences the Lord’s strong hand 4:18--6:1

a. From Horeb to Egypt: Moses received permission from his Father-in-law to leave for his kinsmen in Egypt, was commissioned by the Lord to exhort Pharaoh to let his first-born son, Israel, go lest He slay Pharaoh’s first-born son, was reminded through the circumcision of his son that the Lord will deal harshly with disobedience, and was joined under God’s providence with Aaron who together reported to Israel God’s intention to deliver them whereupon they worship 4:18-31

1) Moses Leaves for Egypt: Moses returned and received permission from his father-in-law, Jethro, to return to his kinsmen in Egypt, and received confirmation from the Lord to return since all of those who wanted to kill him are dead, whereupon, he took his wife, his sons, and the staff of God and went back to Egypt 4:18-20

2) Exhortation for Pharaoh: The Lord exhorted Moses to perform before Pharaoh all of the marvels which He had placed in Moses’ power and to say to Pharaoh, whose heart God will harden, to let Israel, God’s first-born son go to worship Him or else He will slay Pharaoh’s first-born son 4:21-23

3) The Lord Almost Slays Moses: On the way to Egypt the Lord met Moses and sought to slay him (for not circumcising his son), but Moses’ wife cut off her sons foreskin and through it at Moses’ feet proclaiming him to be a bridegroom of blood, so the Lord let him alone 4:24-26

4) The Message to the Leaders of Israel: The Lord had Aaron go and meet Moses at the mountain where Moses reported al that the Lord had commissioned him along with the signs, whereupon, he and Aaron gathered all the leaders of Israel together and convinced them of the Lord’s intention and they bowed in worship 4:27-31

b. When Moses first met Pharaoh and exhorted him to let Israel go into the wilderness for three days to worship the Lord their God, Pharaoh responded by oppressing them with harsh work so that they would not listen to Moses’ words, the people responded by praying a curse upon Moses, and Moses responded by asking the Lord what He was doing, but the Lord told Moses that soon Pharaoh would drive Israel out of the land because of the Lord’s strong hand 5:1--6:1

1) First Meeting of Pharaoh: After Moses and Aaron met the leaders of the nation they went to Pharaoh and informed him that the Lord, the God of Israel, wanted Pharaoh to let His people go into the wilderness a three day’s journey to worship him, but Pharaoh refused and exhorted the Israelites to return to their jobs since they were more numerous than the native population 5:1-5

2) Result--No Straw: In response to the Lord’s request Pharaoh order the taskmasters to require the Hebrews to continue to meet their quota of bricks without providing them straw so that they will not pay attention to Moses’ words and they did beating them 5:6-14

3) Israelite Response: When the Israelite foremen asked Pharaoh why he was treating his servants so harshly, Pharaoh answered that it was because the people were lazy wanting to go out and sacrifice to the Lord whereupon the foremen left Pharaoh and finding Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them prayed that the Lord would see and punish them for turning Pharaoh against them 5:15-21

4) Moses’ Prayer to the Lord: When Moses prayed to the Lord asking Him why He had brought evil on this people and why He sent him since his speech has made things worse for the people and He has not delivered them, the Lord answered that Moses would soon see what He would do to Pharaoh because he will drive them out of the land because of the Lord’s strong hand 5:22--6:1

5. The Renewed Call of Moses: Moses and Aaron who are historically tied to the generation of promise once again received a call from YHWH proclaiming that He will deliver the Israelites out of bondage to the Egyptians, and exhorting Moses to go to Pharaoh, even though the Israelites are not listening and tell him to let his people go from this land 6:2--7:7

a. The Call: Moses again receives a call from YHWH proclaiming that as YHWH (the One who will fulfill His covenant promises) He will deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians and, make them his people, and lead them to the Promised Land which He will give to them for a possession 6:2-8

b. Israel’s Response: The Israelites would not listen to Moses because they were impatient from their cruel slavery 6:9

c. Go to Pharaoh: Although Moses was hesitant to speak to Pharaoh in view of the Israelites response, God commanded him to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go from his land 6:10-13

d. Genealogy of Levi: Through a genealogy Aaron and Moses who received the revelation and spoke to Pharaoh are demonstrated to be historically tied to the covenant people 6:14-27

1) The Heads of the fathers households from oldest to Levi--Rueben, Simeon, Levi 6:14-16

2) The Sons of Levi--Gershon, Kohath, Merari 6:17-19

a) The Sons of Kohath--Amram, Izhar, Hebron, Uzziel 6:18

b) The Sons of Merari--Mahli and Mushi 6:19a

3) These are the families of the Levites according to generations 6:19b

4) Aaron and Moses from Kohath and Amram--Amram married Jochebed and bore him Aaron and Moses 6:18

5) The Sons of Izhar--Korah, Nepheg and Zichri 6:21

6) The Sons of Uzziel--Mishael, Elzaphan, Sithri 6:22

7) Aaron’s sons--Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar 6:23

8) The Sons of Korah--Assir, Elkanah, Abiasaph--Families of the Korahites 6:24

9) Eleazar’s son--Phinehas 6:25a

10) These are the heads of the father’s of the Levites according to families 6:25b

11) This same Aaron and Moses received the revelation from the Lord and spoke to Pharaoh 6:26-27

e. Go to Pharaoh Again: Again although Moses was hesitant to speak to Pharaoh because he was a halting speaking and Pharaoh would not listen, the Lord told Moses that He will make him as God to Pharaoh and Aaron as his spokesman, and they shall speak to Pharaoh, but YHWH will harden his heart so that He might increase His signs and wonders in the Land of Egypt and thus lead out his people with great acts of judgment; Moses was 80 and Aaron was 83 when they spoke to Pharaoh 6:28--7:7

C. The Demonstration of YHWH’s Sovereignty Over Egypt--The Ten Plagues: The Lord continued to harden Pharaoh’s heart resulting in his unwillingness to let Israel leave Egypt to worship the Lord so that He might demonstrate his sovereign power over Egypt to the world and Israel through a series of ten plagues 7:8--11:10

1. Introduction to the Plagues--Staff to Serpents: When Moses spoke to Pharaoh according to what the Lord had told him he demanded a miracle whereupon Moses threw down his staff and it became a serpent which ultimately swallowed up the sorcerers staffs which also became serpents, yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he did not listen to them as the Lord had said 7:8-13

FIRST CYCLE (Morning/River):

2. First Plague--Water to Blood:1 In the Morning Moses went out to meet Pharaoh at the Nile as YHWH had commanded and ordered him to Let God’s people go, whereupon he turned the Nile and surrounding waters to blood whereupon the magicians did the same, but Pharaoh was unaffected even though the people had to dig for water to drink 7:14-25

3. Second Plague--Frogs:2 Moses came to Pharaoh and ordered him in the name of the Lord to let His people go to serve Him, and then brought frogs upon all of the land, which the magicians duplicated, so that Pharaoh agreed to let them go if they were abated, but when the were, according to Moses’ prayer, Pharaoh saw relief and hardened his heart as the Lord had said 8:1-15

4. Third Plague--Gnats:3 When the LORD brought about gnats from the dust of the earth over all beasts and men, the magicians were not able to reproduce this and identified it as the finger of God, but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he did not listen to them as the Lord had said 8:16-19

SECOND CYCLE (Morning/River):

5. Fourth Plague--Flies:4 Moses came to Pharaoh in the morning with the order to let YHWH’s people go and brought upon all of Egypt, except for the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived, flies whereupon Moses agreed to let the Israelites worship in Egypt, but Moses refused because their worship would offend the Egyptians, whereupon Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go to the wilderness and worship if Moses would pray that the flies would be lifted, but when they were, Pharaoh hardened his heart and did not let the people go 8:20-32

6. Fifth Plague--Animal Pestilence:5 Moses came to Pharaoh and ordered him to Let YHWH’s people go to serve Him, and then ordered pestilence upon all of the livestock of Egypt so that they died, while all of the livestock of the Israelites lived, but when Pharaoh saw this he was hardened and did not let them go 9:1-7

7. Sixth Plague--Boils:6 The Lord had Moses and Aaron take handfuls of soot from a kiln and throw it in the sky whereupon it became fine dust over all the land of Egypt and broke into boils upon all the people and animals--even upon the magicians who could not even appear before Moses because of the sores--but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen to Moses and Aaron 9:8-12


8. Seventh Plague--Hail:7 Moses came and warned Pharaoh and the Egyptians that the Lord could destroy them but was going to bring a severe hail storm upon the nation on the next day so that they would know that He was God, and that they should bring their servants and animals into protection to survive it, and while some followed this word, some did not and the hail storm came causing enormous destruction whereupon Pharaoh said that he had sinned and asked for relief, but when Moses prayed and the storm stopped, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he did not let Israel go just as the Lord had spoken 9:13-35

9. Eighth Plague--Locusts:8 When Moses came to Pharaoh ordering him to let the Israelites go or else the Lord would bring a devastating swarm of locusts upon the land, Pharaoh agreed to let only the men go and worship, whereupon, Moses prayed and the locusts came with the east wind, and Pharaoh “repented” and the Lord took the Locust away with the west wind, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart because he was performing these signs among them that the Israelites would know that He was the Lord and tell their sons and grandsons that He made a mockery of the Egyptians 10:1-20

10. Ninth Plague--Darkness:9 When the Lord brought upon Egypt a darkness which could be felt for three days (except for where the Israelites were) Pharaoh called Moses and offered to let them all go and worship the Lord except for their animals, but Moses insisted upon the need for their animals in order to offer sacrifice to the Lord whereupon the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and Pharaoh and he changed his mind and threatened to kill Moses if he ever saw him again, and Moses proclaimed that he would not see him again--he’ll be gone 10:21-29

11. Tenth Plague Announced--Death of First Born:10 In a context of the Israelites and Moses being revered by the Egyptians Moses’ speech to Pharaoh is proclaimed that the Lord will kill all of the first-born in Egypt (of cattle and mankind) at midnight but there will not even be a disturbance among the Israelites which will cause all of Pharaoh’s servants and people to come and bow themselves before Moses urging them to go out whereupon they will go out 11:1-8

a. Culmination: The last plague culminates all the other plagues in that because of it Pharaoh will let Israel go 11:1

b. Preparation: The Israelites are to prepare for their departure by asking for gold and silver which on the Passover night the Egyptians will be glad to pay for them to leave 11:2 (cf. 12:35-36)

c. Moses: Moses was highly esteemed by the Egyptians 11:3

d. Plague: The last plague will occur at midnight, and all the first-born in Egypt will die and cry out, but no-one in Israel will be harmed in order that Egypt will see YHWH’s distinction between them and Israel, whereupon, the nation of Egypt will desire that Israel leave 11:4-8

12. Conclusion: The Lord explained that Pharaoh will not listen and his heart was hardened so that the Lord’s wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt 11:9-10

D. The Deliverance of a People from Egypt: The Lord delivered the Israelites from Egypt by motivating Pharaoh to let them go through the slaying of the first born, by enabling the people to pass through the Reed Sea while destroying the Israelites in it, and by showing Himself to be their God through providing for them on their journey through the wilderness to Mount Horeb 12:1--18:27

1. The Redemption of a People--Passover and Exodus: Exhorting Israel to keep the Passover as a sacred feast both before and after the event, the Lord killed all of the first born in Egypt, passing over the Israelites, and Pharaoh and the people of Egypt hurried Israel out of their land whereupon they traveled to Succoth 12:1--13:16

a. The Passover: After the Lord instructed Moses and Aaron how to keep the Passover, and they instructed the elders of Israel how to keep the Passover, the Lord passed over Egypt killing all of the first born from Pharaoh to the prisoner to the cattle whereupon Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and exhorted them to leave with their cattle and the people of Egypt out of fear hurried them along so that the Israelites left without putting leven in their bread and with gold, silver and clothes from the Egyptians 12:1-36

1) Instructions to Moses for The Passover: The Lord instructed Moses concerning how to keep this Passover and to set it up as a perpetual feast to remember that the Lord brought them out of Egypt 12:1-20

a) Set Month Aside: As leaders, Moses and Aaron were told to set this month aside as the first month of the year (March/April) to them 12:1-2

b) The Choosing of a Lamb: Each household, or group of households, was to pick a lamb on the tenth of the month according to what they could eat from among the sheep or goats with which was without blemish and was a one year old male and they were to slaughter it on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight and apply its blood to the house and eat all of it 12:3-10

(1) Those to Pick a Lamb: Each household or grouping of households of the community of Israel was to pick a lamb on the tenth of this month according to what it could eat 12:3-4

(2) Description of the Lamb: Each household was to pick a lamb from either the sheep or the goats which was without a blemish, was a male,and was one year old 12:5

(3) Applying the Lamb: On the fourteenth day of this first month the assembled community of Israel was to slaughter the lamb at twilight and then take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and lintel of the houses in which they were to eat the lamb and on that same night they were to eat the lamb--roasted, with unleavened cakes, bitter herbs, not raw or cooked in water, but roasted with its head, legs and entrails not leaving any of it over until morning, or at least burning that which is left over 12:6-10

c) Description of the Passover: Those who are eating the lamb are to do so prepared for their departure--belt fastened, sandals on their feet, staff in their hand, and in a hurry because this is the Lord’s Passover when He will pass through the land of Egypt in the night and strike down every first-born executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt, and the blood on the houses will be a sign that He should pass over them when he comes to destroy the land of Egypt 12:11-13

d) Remembrance: The Lord commanded Moses and Israel that this day was to be a memorial for them which they were to continually celebrate as a feast which included not eating unleavened bread from the fourteenth day to the twenty-first day with a sacred assembly on the first and seventh days when no work may be done as remembrance that the Lord brought them out of Egypt 12:14-20

2) Instructions to the Elders of Israel: Moses and Aaron then instructed all of the elders of Israel about how to keep the Passover in accordance with the instructions which he received, and they worshiped the Lord and did as they were instructed 12:21-28 (cf. 12:1-20)

3) The Passover: In the middle of the night the Lord struck dead all the first-born in the land of Egypt from Pharaoh to the prisoner to the cattle 12:29

4) Responses in Egypt: Pharaoh responded to the plague by exhorting Moses and Aaron to leave Egypt with their people and animals and by the Egyptians fearfully pressuring them to speed up their departure so that the Israelites left without leven in their bowls and the Egyptians gave to them their silver, gold and clothing 12:30-36

a) Pharaoh: Pharaoh’s response to the death of his son on this night was to cry and then summon Moses and Aaron in the night urging them to god serve the Lord and bring a blessing on him too 12:30-32

b) Egyptians: The Egyptians put pressure on the Israelites to speed up their departure out of fear causing the Israelites to leave before their bread was leavened, and resulting in the plunder of the Egyptians who let them have what they wanted to leave 12:33-36

b. The Exodus: After exactly four-hundred and thirty years of captivity and the Lord’s night vigil the Israelites were rushed out of Egypt and the Lord gave to them regulations requiring that they continually celebrate this event among their covenant community on the first month of the year (Abib) through a feast of unleavened bread, and that they consecrate their first born explaining to the next generation the gracious work that the Lord did for them 12:37--13:16

1) The Departure: After exactly four-hundred and thirty years of captivity and through the Lord’s night vigil the Israelites numbering six hundred thousand men plus their dependents11 journeyed from Rameses to Succoth with unleavened bread because they had been rushed out of Egypt without time to prepare food for the journey 12:37-42

2) Regulations for the Passover: The Lord gave regulations for the Passover stating that those who were uncircumcised strangers, foreigners, sojourners, natives, and hired servants may not eat of it, but those who were circumcised may eat of it in a single house without bringing forth any of the flesh outside and without breaking any bone and Israel followed the commands and the Lord brought them out of Egypt 12:43-50

3) Consecration of First Born: The Lord ordered Moses to sanctify for Him the first born among people and animals remembering the deliverance the Lord has brought about and continuing to celebrate this event on the first month (Abib) when they come to the Promised Land with a seven day feast of unleavened bread to be explained to the next generation as a part of the Law 13:1-16

2. The Deliverance at the Sea: After the Lord prepared and then actualized the pursuit of the Egyptians, His deliverance of the Israelites through the Reed Sea, and His destruction of the Egyptians in the Sea, the people worshiped the Lord by praising Him for his mighty deliverance and proclaiming the fear which the people in the Promised Land have of the Lord 13:17--15:21

a. The Deliverance: The Lord lead Israel from Egypt to Succoth to Etham to Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea in front of Baal Zephon where He predicted and actualized the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart so that he would pursue Israel, which caused the people to fear, but Moses order them to trust in the Lord who would fight for them whereupon the Lord predicted and realized His deliverance of the nation through the Reed Sea and destroyed the Egyptians in the sea causing the people to fear the Lord and have faith in Him and His servant Moses 13:17--14:31

1) The Way of Deliverance---Egypt to Succoth to Etham: The Lord who lead Israel (armed with plunder from Egypt and Joseph’s bones) in either a pillar of cloud by day or fire by night, He did not lead them by the Way of the Land to the Philistines lest they face war and return to Egypt, but by the Way of the Wilderness toward the Reed Sea going from Succoth to Etham where they camped 13:17-22

2) Prediction and Realization of Egypt’s Attack: The Lord then told Moses to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea in front of Baal Zephon whereupon He will harden Pharaoh’s heart and he will pursue Israel and the Lord will gain glory through Pharaoh and his army and the Egyptians shall know that he is the Lord; and they obeyed whereupon the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and his military pursued the Israelites 14:1-9

3) Israelite Response: The Israelites responded to the sight of the Egyptians by crying to the Lord and criticizing Moses, but Moses urged them not to be afraid and to stand by and see the deliverance which the Lord will work for them that day because He will fight for them and they will never see the Egyptians again 14:10-14

4) The Predicted and Actual Deliverance of the Israelites and Destruction of the Egyptians: The Lord told Moses to stop crying to Him and predicted His deliverance of the Israelites through the sea and His destruction of the Egyptians in the sea whereupon Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, the Lord drove it back with a strong east wind all night turning it into dry land, the Israelites went across, the Egyptians pursued them, the Lord fought against the Egyptians, returned the water upon them and destroyed them causing the Israelites to fear the Lord and have faith in Him and his servant Moses 14:15-31

b. The Song of the Sea--Praise: After their deliverance from the Egyptians by the Hand of the Lord, Moses the Israelites and Miriam (a prophet, the sister of Aaron) and all the woman sang a song to the Lord praising Him for his great salvation of them from the hand of the Egyptians through the Reed Sea and for causing the nations in the Land of Promise to fear 15:1-21

3. The Bringing of a People to YHWH in the Wilderness: As the Lord moves the Israelites through the wilderness to Mount Horeb He demonstrates Himself to be God for these people by being Healer at the waters of Marah, Provider of food and water, Warrior with the Amalekites, and provider of wisdom (natural skill for living) through Moses’ father-in-law Jethro 15:22--18:27

a. Healer of the Waters of Marah and Israel: When Moses led Israel out into the wilderness of Shur for three day and they were without water and they came upon to Marah (bitter) but were unable to drink the water which was bitter, they murmured against Moses who cried to the Lord and was told to take a tree12 and throw it in the water whereupon it became sweet and the Lord ordered the people to obey Him to overt the infliction which He imposed upon Egypt and to experience Him as their healer (as he healed the water); then they came to Elim and encamped by the water of the twelve springs and seventy palm trees 15:22-27

b. Provider--Manna and Quails: On the fifteenth day of the second month of their journey the Israelites set out from Elim and came to the wilderness of Sin between Elim and Sinai where they murmured against Moses and Aaron for bringing them to the wilderness to starve to death, but the Lord told Moses of his intention to rain bread from heaven for the people who should show their obedience to the Lord by only gather on six days, whereupon Moses informed the Israelites and the Lord appeared and confirmed Moses’ words; then He provided quail in the evening and manna in the morning for forty years and exposed those in Israel who would not obey by resting on the Sabbath, and they kept an omer of Manna for following generations to see 16:1-36

c. Provider--Water at Massah and Meribah: When the Israelites set out from the wilderness of Sin by stages they camped at Rephidim and quarreled with and murmured against Moses because they thirsted whereupon the Lord had Moses, with some of the elders of the people, strike the rock at Horeb with his rod and water poured out so that the people could drink; and they named the place Massah (test) and Meribah (quarrel) because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord questioning whether or not He was among them 17:1-7

d. Warrior--War with the Amalekites:13 At Rephidim Amalek came and fought with Israel, and under Moses’ instruction Joshua took some men and fought with Amalek winning while Moses held up his hand and losing when Moses let his hand down causing Aaron and Hur to support his hand which enabled Joshua to defeat Amalek; then the Lord promised to exterminate the memory of Amalek and Moses built an altar and named it “the Lord will be my banner” proclaiming his enmity with Amalek throughout the generations 17:8-16

e. Wisdom to Moses--The Visit of Jethro: When Moses’ father-in-law heard all that God had done for Moses and the Israelites he came with Moses’ wife and two sons, whereupon Moses greeted him and explained all that God had done; and when Jethro saw how Moses was judging the people he exhorted him to delegate the responsibility for his sake and that of the people whereupon Moses did and his father-in-law departed to his own country 18:1-27

II. COVENANT--THE CONSTITUTION OF A PEOPLE TO BE A NATION:14 When at Mount Sinai all of the people agreed to obey the Lord, He promised to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nations, stated though Moses the stipulations of the covenant, and the people ratified the covenant with blood sacrifices whereupon the Lord displayed the peace which existed between Him and the leaders of the nation and called Moses to receive stone tablets of the law on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights 19:1--24:18

A. The Setting for the Revelation--Theophany at Sinai: On exactly the third month (Sivan/May-June) when Israel had gone out from Egypt and entered the Wilderness of Sinai from Raphidim camping in front of the mountain Moses went up to God who announced that if all the people would obey Him, He would make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nations, whereupon, the people agreed and Moses prepared the people for a Theophany of the Lord who descended with smoke and spoke to Moses in the hearing of the people 19:1-25

1. Israel arrived at Sinai and encamped 19:1-2

2. God announced his covenant with Israel 19:3-9

a. Conditions of the Covenant: 19:3-6

b. Israel’s Response of Acceptance: 19:7-8

c. Moses’ Special Role Defined: 19:9

3. Preparations Prior to the Third Day: 19:10-15

a. Instructions for Purification fro two days 19:10-11

b. Guarding the people from the Mountain: 19:12-13a

c. Commands Executed by Moses 19:14-15

4. Preparations on the Third Day: 19:16-25

a. The Beginning of Signs and the People’s Reactions: 19:16

b. Moses leads the people out to the foot of the mountain 19:17

c. Further Sings Increasing: 19:18

d. Moses Speaking with God: 19:19

e. Moses Summoned for Further Instructions: 19:20-24

f. Instructions Reported to the People: 19:25

B. The Revelation at Sinai--Granting of Covenant: The Lord presented through the mediation of Moses the stipulations of the covenant which were incumbent upon Israel as it bound itself in relationship to the Lord as their Suzerain 20:1--23:33

1. The Negative Law of Love--Proclamation of the Decalogue:15 In the commands which the Lord spoke on the mountain He required of people to love Him and one another by not doing what is evil against Him or one another 20:1-17

a. Introduction: The following are the words that God spoke 20:1


b. No Other Gods: The Lord God who brought Israel out of the land of Egypt ordered them to have no other gods before Him 20:2-3

c. No False Images: The Lord ordered the nation not to make and worship false images because he will bring about judgment upon them as a nation if they do so and will show loyal love to those who love Him and obey Him 20:4-6

d. Don’t Abuse Name: The Lord ordered the nation not to abuse the name of the Lord for He will punish those who do 20:7

e. Do Not Work on Sabbath: The Lord ordered the people to rest on the Sabbath because of his work of creation 20:8-11


f. Honor Parents: The Lord ordered the people to honor their mother and father in order that they may life long in the land 20:12

g. Don’t Kill: The Lord ordered the people not to kill 20:13

h. Don’t Commit Adultery: The Lord ordered the people not to commit adultery 20:14

i. Don’t Steal: The Lord ordered the people not to steal 20:15

j. No False Witness: The Lord ordered the people not to falsely testify against their neighbor 20:16

k. Don’t Covet: The Lord ordered the people not to covet their neighbor’s hours, wife, slave, livestock, or anything that is their neighbor’s 20:17

2. Establishment of Moses’ Covenant Office: Because of the frightful Theophany when the Lord spoke to Moses the people asked Moses to speak (as a mediator) to them from God rather than God Himself speaking to them 20:18-21

3. Further Stipulations of the Covenant: In view of the covenant relationship of Israel with the Lord God, they are required to live in accordance with stipulations regarding sacrificial altars, slaves, personal injury, theft, property damage, dishonesty, immorality, civil and religious matters, sabbaths and feasts, and conquest 20:22--23:33

a. Laws Concerning False Gods: 20:22-23

b. Laws Concerning Sacrificial Altars: 20:24-26

c. Laws Concerning Slaves: 21:1-11

d. Laws Concerning Personal Injury: 21:12-36

e. Laws Concerning Theft: 22:1-4

f. Laws Concerning Property Damage: 22:5-6

g. Laws Concerning Dishonesty: 22:7-15

h. Laws Concerning Immorality: 22:16-17

i. Laws Concerning Civil and Religious Obligations: 22:18--23:9

j. Laws Concerning Sabbaths and Feasts: 23:10-19

k. Laws Relating to Conquest: 23:20-33

C. The Sealing/Ratification of the Covenant: When Moses and the people ratified the covenant through an oath to do all which God had said by sacrificing animals and sprinkling their blood on the altar and on the people, Moses responded to the Lord’s request and he, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel went up the mountain, whereupon, they saw and ate a fellowship dinner with God; then later the Lord invited Moses to come up the mountain where He would give him tablets of stone with the teachings and commandments He had given and he and Joshua went leaving the people with Aaron and Hur and Moses entered into the cloud on the mountain for forty days and forty nights 24:1-18

III. THE PREPARATION OF A PEOPLE FOR THEIR GOD-KING: Although the initial directions for the tabernacle were postponed because Israel’s rebellion threatened their existence as well as the Lord’s willingness to enter the land of promise among this people, Moses interceded on their behalf reminding God of the risk to His reputation by abandoning His people, whereupon the Lord agreed to dwell among His people, the tabernacle was built and erected and the Lord came down upon it and dwelt among His people guiding them towards the Promise Land 25:1--40:38

A. Directions for the Tabernacle and its Service: While Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights the Lord gave him directions for the building of the tabernacle and its service 25:1--31:18

1. Materials for the Tabernacle: 25:1-9

2. The Ark and Mercy Seat: 25:10-22

3. Table for the Bread: 25:23-30

4. The Lampstand: 25:31-40

5. The Curtains: 25:1-14

6. The Boards: 25:15-30

7. The Veils: 26:31-37

8. The Bronze Altar: 27:1-8

9. The Court: 27:9-19

10. The Oil 27:20-21

11. The Priests’ Garments: 28:1-43

12. The Priest’s Consecrations: 29:1-46

13. The Altar of Incense: 30:1-10

14. The Atonement Money: 30:11-16

15. The Laver: 30:17-21

16. The Anointing Oil: 30:22-33

17. The Incense: 30:34-38

18. The Builders: 31:1-11

19. The Sign of the Sabbath: 31:12-18

B. The People’s Rejection of Their God and His Presence Endangered: When Moses was up on the mountain receiving God’s instruction the people rebelled against the Lord and built an image which resulted in the Lord wanting to destroy them, but Moses interceded changing God’s mind for His sake, brought judgment upon them, and again successfully interceded on behalf of the people urging God to remain with them when they enter the land 32:1--33:23

1. The Golden Calf: When Moses was up on the mountain for so long receiving God’s instruction the people thought he was gone so they supplied their gold to Aaron to build a golden calf (or image) of the Lord and worshiped it, but the Lord was aware of their evil and only relented judgment under Moses’ reminder of how others would view His character, whereupon, Moses came down and judged the people (slaying about 3,000 men) and interceded for the nation by offering himself as atonement, but the Lord said that he would punish them in the future and that Moses should now go on and lead the people 32:1-35

2. God’s Presence Endangered: When the Lord told the nation through Moses to go ahead and enter into the Promised Land which He promised to the fathers, but that He would not go with them lest He consume them in their evil, the people went about like mourners not putting on their ornaments (from Egypt?) and met the Lord at the tent of meeting and asked the Lord to go with the people to demonstrate that they are His people and that they have gained God’s favor, whereupon the Lord agreed and confirmed that with a display of His glory (character) to Moses16 33:1-23

C. The Renewal of the Covenant: When the Lord had Moses prepare two stones and bring them on the mountain, He presented Himself as the faithful God to Moses and agreed to go in the midst of the people to give them the land again providing stipulations which they must observe, and after forty days and nights Moses returned with a glow to his face for having been in the presence of the Lord and told the Israelites all that the Lord had said as their mediator 34:1-35

D. Tabernacle Instructions Executed: When Moses provided instructions concerning building the tabernacle all of the people responded abundantly providing more than what was needed, the tabernacle was built and inspected by Moses to be exactly according to the instructions from the Lord and they erected it and consecrated the priests one year from the day that they left Egypt 35:1--40:33

1. The Preparation for the Construction: Moses provided instructions concerning keeping the Sabbath, contributions, laborers, which the people needed to follow as they prepared to construct the tabernacle, and the people responded so abundantly that they had more than enough contributions requiring that they stop receiving them 35:1--36:7

2. The Building of the Tabernacle: All of the elements of the tabernacle were made in accordance with the Lord’s directions to Moses (cf. 25:1--31:18 above) 36:8--39:31

a. The Curtains Made: 36:8-19

b. The Boards Made: 36:20-34

c. The Veil Made: 36:35-38

d. The Ark Made: 37:1-9

e. The Table Made: 37:10-16

f. The Lampstand Made: 37:17-24

g. The Altar of Incense Made: 37:25-29

h. The Brass Altar Made: 38:1-7

i. The Laver Made: 38:8

j. The Court Made: 38:9-20

k. The Materials Used: 38:21-31

l. The Garments of Aaron Made: 39:1-31

3. The Completion of the Tabernacle: After all of the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed the Sons of Israel brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings and Moses examined it, and blessed them because they had done it just as the Lord had commanded, whereupon they erected it and anointed Aaron and consecrated his sons one year after their departure from Egypt (the first day of the first month) 39:32--40:33

E. The Dwelling of Their God-King with His People: When the tabernacle was completed the Lord came down and dwelt among them on the tent of meeting filling the tabernacle, and guided them in their journey as a could by day and fire by night 40:34-38

1 This is an attack on Hapi (also called Apis) the bull god of the Nile, Isis goddess of the Nile, Khnum, ram god and guardian of the Nile and other gods.

2 This is an attack on Heqet the goddess of birth with a frog head. This deity is multiplied in all directions until the people detest them.

3 This was an attack on Set the god of the desert.

4 This was an attack on Re a sun god or the God Uatchit who was possibly represented by the fly.

5 This was an attack on Hathor, the goddess with a cow head, and Apis, the bull god and symbol of fertility.

6 This was an attack on Sekhmet, the goddess with power over disease, Sunu, the pestilence god, and Isis, the goddess of healing.

7 This was an attack on Nut, the sky goddess, Osiris, the god of crops and fertility, and Set, the god of storms.

8 This was an attack on Nut, the sky goddess, Osiris, the god of crops and fertility.

9 This was a plague against the Sun god of Egypt, Ra, Horus, a sun god, Nut, a sky goddess, and Hathor, a sky goddess.. This also foreshadows the ultimate judgment which is about to occur in that the death of the first-born will occur at night. In addition Childs writes, there is also a certain contrast between deathly silence within a darkness which can be touched and the 'great cry' which was soon to break forth (The Book of Exodus, 160).

10 This is a hinge chapter pointing to the climax of the plague narrative and the beginning of the redemption narrative. This is an attack on Min, the god of reproduction; Heqet, the goddess who attended women at childbirth, Isis, goddess who protected children and Pharaoh's first son who was considered to be a god.

Fokkelman writes, The narrator gives much more space to the exceptional tenth plague, the destrctio of the firstborn of Egypt (chaps. 11-13), than to the others and emphasizes its unique nature by interweaving two types of text. Narrative and legislative language alternate and interpenetrate ... (Exodus, in The Literary Guide to the Bible, 56).

11 There may have been more than two million people involved in the exodus. Ryrie writes, The census at Sinai (Num 1) showed 603,000 males 20 years and older. If they represented about one-fourth of the total population, then the Israelites numbered some 2,000,000 people. An annual growth rate of 5% would increase population from 100 to 2,000,000 in only 215 years (See Gen. 46:27; Exod. 12:41) (Ryrie Study Bible, 93, n. 1:17).

12 This may be similar to Moses' use of the rod with the earlier miracles.

13 See Deuteronomy 25:17ff.

14 This entire unit may well fall under the category of a Szerainty-Vassal Treaty Form with the main elements of Preamble (20:2a), Historical Prologue (19:3b-6; 20:2b), The Stipulations (20:3--23:19) Provisions for Deposit in the Temple and Periodic Public Reading (Ex 25:16, 21; 40:20; Dt 10:2) and Invocation of the gods as Witnesses (Dt 32:1; Isa 1:2).

If the Abrahamic covenant is God's binding himself to Abram, than the Mosaic Covenant is Israel's binding of itself to God. The former is unilateral while the latter is bilateral.

15 Elliott Johnson identifes these ten words are moral and spiritual rights which one practices in righteousness--rights which God and others have and respect when one walks in righteousness (1) Right of YHWH to a unique position, (2) right of YHWH to self-revelation, (3) right of YHWH to be honored, (4) right a YHWH to be worshipped, (5) right of parents to honor, (6) right of a person to life, (7) right of a person to sexuality, (8) right of a person to personal property, (9) right of a person to a fair trial, (10) right of a person to be unique as an individual (class notes of student). While one may not agree with all of these interpretations, one can at least say that this list is a negative expression of something that is positive. Perhaps it is really a means of limiting one's self for the good of another and that is love.

16 Childs writes, the theophany to Moses has been worked in to the account of the reiteration of the Law in ch. 34 so as to provide a parallel to the theophany-law sequence of the original covenant. In the same way as once all Israel experienced the thunder and lightening on the mountain before the giving of the Decalogue, so now Moses as the mediator of the restored covenant once again encounters the majesty of God before hearing his will and receiving it on the tablets of the law.

In sum: the final section fo ch. 33 now serves to climax the intercession of Moses for Israel on account of her sin, and forms the bridge to the restoration of the covenant in the succeeding chapter (The Book of Exodus, 597).

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines