Jacob's Blessing: Gen 46-47: McKenzie

                           Westminster Theological Journal 45 (1983) 386-99.

Copyright © 1983 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.   

 

                                            SHORT STUDIES

 

        JACOB'S BLESSING ON PHARAOH:

  AN INTERPRETATION OF GEN 46:31-47:26

 

                            BRIAN ALEXANDER MCKENZIE

 

            Claus Westermann has done a great service for biblical studies by

calling attention to the long-neglected concept of blessing in OT theol-

ogy. Salvation consists of blessing as well as deliverance. God not only

rescues man from oppression, danger, and evil; he also bestows positive

benefits of many kinds.1 Westermann correctly observes that blessing

is an important theme in three of the four major divisions of Genesis.

The primeval history (Genesis 1-11), which begins by introducing the

concept of blessing at the climax of its first chapter (1:28), repeatedly

notes that God continues to bless man.2 The Abrahamic cycle (chaps.

12-26) centers on the promise of blessing and its fulfilment in the birth

of Isaac; the Jacob-Esau cycle (chaps. 27-36) treats the "procedure

of blessing and its consequences."3 Although Westermann is aware

that Genesis concludes with two lengthy blessing passages (chaps. 48

and 49), surprisingly he gives no indication that blessing plays an

important role throughout the Joseph cycle (chaps. 37-50).4

 

   1 Claus Westermann, Blessing: In the Bible and the Life of the Church

(Overtures to Biblical Theology; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978) 15-24 and

26-63.

   2 Gen 5:2 ; 9:1. Westermann (Blessing, 30) suggests that even the gene-

alogies of Genesis 1-11 are related to the theme of blessing since, in light

of Gen 1:28, "blessing . . . signifies fertility." The close relationship between

blessing and fertility is discussed in more detail in Claus Westermann, Die

Verheissungen an die Vater: Studien zur Vdtergeschichte (Gottingen: Van-

denhoeck & Ruprecht, 1976) 119-21 and 141-45.

   3 Westermann, Blessing, 55.

   4 Westermann (Blessing, 29), who identifies shalom as the major motif of

the Joseph narrative, makes only a passing reference to the concept of

 

                                                            386

 



          JACOB'S BLESSING ON PHARAOH                                387

 

            A study of Gen 46:31-47:26 will demonstrate that the theme of

blessing has an important function in the Joseph cycle. This study

will also show how the theme of blessing explains a number of per-

plexing aspects of Gen 46:31-47:26. First, it will explain why the

author of Genesis included a report of Jacob's audience with Pharaoh,

a report which does not contribute to the Joseph story's function of

bridging the gap between Genesis 12-36 (set primarily in Canaan) and

Exodus (which begins with an Egyptian setting).5 Secondly, and per-

haps more importantly, this study will explain why the account of

Joseph's agrarian reforms is included and given great prominence.

Before examining our passage, it is important to be aware of one

aspect of the theme of blessing as it is developed in the long patriarchal

section of Genesis. In the blessing of Abraham (12:1-3), which begins

the patriarchal section, prominent references are made to the blessing

of others besides Abraham and his descendants. Gen 12:3b states that

blessing will extend to all nations through Abraham.6  It is especially

 

blessing in Gen 47:7-10 and no reference to 39:5. Even Westermann's re-

cently completed third volume in his monumental commentary on Genesis

(Genesis 37-50 [BKAT 113; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1982] )

does not grasp the extent and full significance of the blessing theme in the

Joseph cycle in general and in the interpretation of 47:13-26 in particular.

    5 "The Joseph Story is a link between the call. of the patriarchs and the

call out of Egypt . . . answering the main question, how did Jacob's sons

get to Egypt?" writes Donald Redford (A Study of the Biblical Story of

Joseph: Genesis 37-50 [VT Sup 20; Leiden: Brill, 1970] 27). Similarly,

Claus Westermann, Handbook to the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Augs-

burg, 1969) 49 and Martin Noth, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions

(Englewood: Prentice-Hall, 1972) 208-9.

     6 "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (marginal reading

for 12:3b in the RSV). The Niphal form of brk, "to bless," in 12:3b also

allows a reflexive translation as is found in the RSV and NEB. The NEB

interpretation ("All the families on earth will pray to be blessed as you are

blessed") is improbable since in Semitic thought words of blessing release

power or incline God to act. (See J. Scharbert, "brk," TDOT 2.298-99, 304,

and 287. But also see Anthony Thiselton, "Supposed Power of Words in the

Biblical Writings," JTS 25 [1974] 283-99.) The RSV interpretation ("by

you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves") makes v 3b a re-

statement of v 3a. The major argument for interpreting the Niphal form

of brk reflexively in v 3b is that the Hithpael form is used in the parallel

passages of Gen 22:18 and 26:4. However, 0. Allis, "The Blessing of Abra-

ham," Princeton Theological Review 25 (1927) 263-98, cogently argues

that the Hithpael form can have a passive as well as a reflexive meaning

in both Hebrew and other Semitic languages.

 



388     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

important to note a second reference to the blessing of those standing

outside the chosen line. Gen 12:3a states that those who bless Abraham

will be blessed by God: "I will bless those who bless you, and him

who curses you I will curse" (RSV).

            Genesis is not lacking illustrations of this principle. The restoration

of fertility after Abimelech returned Sarah and gave Abraham gifts

is apparently an example of the principle that blessing follows positive

action towards Abraham or his descendants standing within the chosen

line. Gen 20:14 and 17 are best interpreted in this way even though

the term brk "to bless" is not present, since the concept of curse for

curse and blessing for blessing is implicitly present in this chapter.7

A second and more explicit illustration appears in the Joseph cycle,

the more immediate context of the passage to be exegeted. Gen 39:4-5

states that blessing came to Potiphar's household because Potiphar

favoured Joseph and raised him to a place of prominence and authority.

This text clearly indicates that the blessing of individuals in response

to their treatment of Abraham or his descendents is present in the

Joseph cycle as well as in the earlier Abrahamic cycle.

 

                        I. The Structure and Meaning of Gen 46:31-47:6

 

            Gen 46:31-47:6 breaks down into two sections. The preparation of

the brothers for an audience with Pharaoh (46:31-34) is naturally

followed by the account of the audience and its results (47:1-6). Upon

careful examination a more detailed structure is discernible. Gen 47:1-6

subdivides into three sections. The account of the brothers' audience

(vv 2-4) is framed by verses in which the brothers and Jacob are re-

ferred to in the third person (vv 1 and 5-6).8 A related, but less

 

    7 The practice of allowing events to speak for themselves in certain pas-

sages is not restricted to Genesis 37-50. See notes 30 and 2.

   8 Although, the present analysis follows the MT for the order of 47:1-12,

the conclusions reached would still be valid if the LXX order for this

passage (vv 1-5a, 6b, an additional sentence, 5b, 6a, and 7-12) were

original. (A readily accessible translation of the LXX version is given by

JB; a more literal one is found in NAB.) It is not possible to follow E. A.

Speiser, Genesis (AB 1; Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1964) 351,

who adopts the LXX reading because a copyist, he argues, jumped acci-

dentally from the first occurrence of "Pharaoh said to Joseph" (NAB)

to a second appearance at the end of the additional passage in the LXX.

This explanation based on homoioteleuton must be rejected because, if the

scribe had skipped from v 5a to the end of the additional passage, then

 



               JACOB'S BLESSING ON PHARAOH                    389

 

marked distinction occurs between 46:31-32 and 46:33-34. Gen 46:33-

34 and 47:2-4 both focus on the brothers' audience. The remaining

passages concern apparently private audiences of Joseph with Pharaoh.

Gen 46:31-32 anticipates Joseph's audience; 47:1 recounts it. Gen

47:5-6 describes Pharaoh's response given in a second audience and

47:11 presents Joseph's execution of the command given by Pharaoh

in 47:5-6.

            What is the function of this passage? Its primary significance lies

in its contribution to the bridging function of the Joseph story which

links Genesis 12-36 (set primarily in Canaan) and Exodus 1-15 (set

in north-eastern Egypt).9 The account of the audience of Jacob's sons

with Pharaoh informs the reader how Israel came to settle in the sensi-

tive border province of Goshen in the eastern section of the Nile

delta.10 The occupation of Joseph's brothers was repulsive to the

Egyptians.11

 

v 6b would also have been lost along with the additional LXX material.

But v 6b is present in the MT. For other arguments favouring the LXX

version see Lothar Ruppert, Die Jcsephserzahlung der Genesis. Eine Beitrag

zur Theologie der Pentateuchquellen (SANT 11; Miinchen: Kosel-Verlag,

1965) 143 and S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis (5th ed.; Westminster

Commentaries; London: Methuen, [1906]) 370. For the MT version see

Harold Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976)

318, and Westermann, Genesis 37-50, 188.

    9 See note 5.

   10 It is generally agreed that Palestinian sojourners would not normally

have been allowed to settle in Goshen (or the land of Rameses [47:11] as

it became known in the Nineteenth Dynasty, at the end of the thirteenth

century B.C.). See Robert Davidson, Genesis 12-50 (Cambridge Bible Com-

mentary; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1979) 283, and Gerhard von

Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Old Testament Library; Philadelphia: West-

minster, 1961) 399. But see Speiser (Genesis, 446) who claims that Asiatics

"frequently" settled in Goshen in the northeastern Nile delta.

     11 Contra John Skinner (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Gen-

esis [ICC; 2nd ed.; Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1930] 496) who contrasts

"shepherds" and "keepers of cattle." These terms are used synonymously in

this passage. For Joseph's instructions (46:34) to make sense, this must be

the case. It would be counterproductive for Joseph, who wants to convince

the king that his brothers should settle in Goshen, to instruct them to rep-

resent themselves 'as keepers of cattle rather than as shepherds. Franz

Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis (Clark's Foreign Theological

Library New Series; Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1894) 2.343 correctly

reads all of v 34 as part of Joseph's speech. This is a more natural read-

ing of the passage than the hypothesis that "every shepherd is an abomina-

 



390     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

            A second purpose of this passage can also be identified. A minor

theme in the patriarchal section of Genesis is that the Israelites have

always been a separate people. In the Abrahamic and Jacob cycles

attention is given to the fact that Israel's ancestors avoided marital

relationships with the inhabitants of Canaan (24:3; 26:34-35; 27:46-

28:1). In the Joseph cycle Gen 46:34 (and also 43:32) reminds the

Israelite reader that because of their "detestable" occupation they

could not and did not mix with the Egyptians even when they lived

in Egypt.12 Thus this passage contributes to one of the minor themes

of Genesis, a theme which would be of sociological and hence theo-

logical importance for every period of Israel's history after it settled

in Palestine and especially when it found itself in exile in Babylon.

            This passage is significant in a third way for the concerns of Genesis.

It contributes to the theme that blessing comes as a result of positive

action towards the chosen line. Pharaoh has just issued the benevolent

command to settle Jacob and his sons in "the best of the land" (47:6

and 11). This raises the reader's expectation that blessing will come

to Pharaoh as it did to Potiphar in Gen 39:5. As will now be seen,

this expectation is heightened by the account of Jacob's audience with

Pharaoh before the blessing upon Pharaoh is described.

 

                        II. Gen 47:7-10: Jacob's Audience with Pharaoh

 

            The account of Jacob's audience with Pharaoh contrasts in many

ways with the description of his son's audience in Gen 47:1-6. First,

47:7-10 possesses a formal conclusion in v 10 in contrast to the abrupt

ending of vv 2-4. Secondly, although his sons were relatively passive,

speaking only after they had been addressed, Jacob appears quite

active, taking the initiative at the beginning of the audience (v 7b).

 

tion to the Egyptians" is an editorial gloss. Cf. von Rad (Genesis, 399), who

attributes this to the narrator, and Skinner (Genesis, 496), who sees it as

an "interpolation." Delitzsch (Genesis 2.343-44) gives a more comprehensive

account than most commentators of the historical data relevant to Gen

46:33. Driver (Genesis, 370) provides a concise account: "There is inde-

pendent evidence that swine-herds (Hdt. II. 47) and cow-herds were

looked down upon by the Egyptians, but not that shepherds were. The

cow-herds, in particular, from living with their herds in reed cottages on

the marshes, were called 'marshmen'; they are represented on the monu-

ments as dirty, unshaven, and poorly-clad, and were regarded as pariahs."

   12 This theme also reappears in the plague narratives of Exodus 7-15.

Joseph's acceptance of an Egyptian wife (Gen 41:45) is not, strictly speak-

ing, an exception to the rule of marital exclusiveness, since the prohibition

was only against marriage with Canaanites.

 



                  JACOB'S BLESSING ON PHARAOH                    391

 

            Thirdly, this passage makes no contribution to the role of the Joseph

story as a bridge between Genesis 12-36 and Exodus. The favourable

impression that a man of Jacob's age--20 years more than the age

Egyptians hoped and longed to attain13 --would have made on Pharaoh

cannot be seen as an additional factor in the decision to let Jacob and

his sons settle in Egypt. This decision had already been made before

Jacob's audience began (47:5-6).14 What then is the purpose of re-

counting Jacob's audience?15

            Since any determination of the function or meaning of a text should

begin with a grasp of points stressed in that text, it is appropriate to

carefully examine Gen 47:7-10. There is evidence of chiasmus in this

text which breaks down into five symmetrically arranged parts. Verses

7a and 10b introduce and conclude the account. The central section

of the passage, which presents Jacob's great age (vv 8-9), is both

preceded and followed by the statement "Jacob blessed [brk] Pharaoh"

(vv 7b and 10a). Thus two points are emphasized in this passage,

namely Jacob's age (since it occupies over half the passage and is

found at its center) and the fact that Jacob brk Pharaoh (since it

appears twice).

            The true significance of brk in this passage has often been missed.

It has, for instance, been translated as "paid respects" and "took his

leave" in vv 7 and 10 respectively.16 Similarly, Roland de Vaux states

that in this passage brk "ne signifie pas plus que 'presenta ses compli-

ments' comme dans I Sam. 13,10; 2 Reg. 4,29."17 These are just two

examples of a significant modern trend.18

 

   13 J. Vergote, Joseph en Egypte: Genese chap. 37-50 a la lumiere des

etudes egyptologiques recentes (Orientalia et Biblica Lovaniensia 3; Louvain:

Publications Universitaires, 1959) 200-201, reports there are "27 temoignages

oil it est dit qu'un personnage a atteint Page de cent dix ans ou dans lesquels

le voeu est exprime de vivre cent dix ans sur terre. On est donc en droit de

conclure que les cent dix ans etaient consideres comme Page ideal par les

Egyptiens."

   14 Similarly, Ruppert, Josephserzahlung, 149.

   15 It is not sufficient to appeal to the fact that Jacob's audience would

naturally be associated with the audience of his sons. This association would

influence the location of the passage once the decision was made to include

it, but it does not explain why this decision was made.

   16 Speiser, Genesis, 348-49.

   17 Roland de Vaux, La Genese (SBJ 1; Paris: Editions du Cerfs, 1953)

204.

   18 Similarly, Driver (Genesis, 371) interprets brk as "saluted" and Bruce

Vawter, On Genesis: A New Reading (Garden City: Doubleday, 1977) 446,

 



392     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

            Although this position is willing to grant that Jacob offered an an-

cient counterpart to "God save the king" at the beginning and end of

the audience, it holds that this was nothing more than a formal cour-

tesy. The basis of this interpretation appears to be the assumption

that no writer would depict Jacob, the father of a lowly band of

shepherds, as having the presumption to bless the visibly superior king

of Egypt.19

            This interpretation has not gone without challenge, however. Joseph

Scharbert, for instance, asserts,

            The pattern A (inferior) brk B (superior) appears relatively rarely. Ac-

            cording to Gen. 47:7, 10 (E), Jacob "blesses" Pharaoh at the beginning

            and at the end of their interview. Here, "to bless" certainly has in mind

            a wish for blessing directed to God.20

 

Although Scharbert does not give any supporting argumentation, this

can be supplied, in part, by Clyde Francisco

            Verses 7-12 have the characteristic style and vocabulary of the Priestly

            account. . . . Although Speiser contends that to bless may, like the word

            shalom, mean either to greet or to bid farewell (cf. 2 Kings 4:29), it is

            doubtful that it carries such a meaning in a Priestly context. The verb

            barak usually means to bless and certainly carries this significance here.21

 

The observation that brk usually means to bless is correct and of some

significance, but by itself this would not be conclusive. The second

argument, being based on the assumption that vv 7-10 come from the

P document, will not settle the issue since other scholars, such as

Scharbert (see the above quotation), attribute them to E.22 Further-

more, Francisco's argument is not cogent for the growing number of

 

is content with "paid respects" while Stigers (Genesis, 319) will allow brk

at most to carry the idea of peace but not of "blessing with the sense of

benediction." Similarly the NAB, SBJ, and NIV (margin), but not the RSV,

NASB, or NEB.

     19 Although supporters of the "greeting" interpretation generally do not

reveal the reasoning behind their position, this is likely the most significant

consideration. For instance, J. Blenkinsopp, "Genesis 12-50," in The

Pentateuch (ed. L. Bright; London: Sheed and Ward, 1971) 130, writes,

"Jacob's audience with Pharaoh rings true enough, though we may doubt

whether he would have blessed the divine monarch, source of life, blessing

and every good to his subjects."

    20 Scharbert, "brk," 291.

    21 Clyde T. Francisco, "Genesis," Broadman Bible Commentary, (rev. ed.;

ed. C. J. Allen et al.; Nashville: Broadman, 1973) 1.275.

    22 Similarly, Noth, Pentateuchal Traditions, 36.

 



                JACOB'S BLESSING ON PHARAOH                    393

 

scholars who hold that the Joseph story is not the product of a com-

pilation of various source documents.23

            Fortunately, there are considerations which can resolve the issue of

the meaning of brk in 47:7-10. First of all, since this term usually

means "to bless,"24 it is slightly more probable than not that brk

carries this meaning in vv 7 and 10. Secondly, it is not necessary to

choose between "to bless" and "to greet" since brk can carry both

senses25 and thus be translated as "to greet with a blessing" or "to

bless in greeting." Thirdly, given the protocol of ancient Near Eastern

society, it is unlikely that Jacob's sons would have entered Pharaoh's

presence without offering some sort of formal greeting.26 The fact that

 

    23 This position is ably presented by George W. Coats, From Canaan to

Egypt Structure and Theological Context for the Joseph Story (CBQMS 4;

Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1976) 2, 4, and 77.

A similar conclusion is suggested by R. N. Whybray, "The Joseph Story and

Pentateuchal Criticism," VT 18 (1968) 522-28. Cf. Redford (Biblical Story

of Joseph, 250-53), whose detailed study upholds a multiple source theory

for the Joseph story, and Westermann (Genesis 37-50, 6-14) for a compre-

hensive treatment of the question.

    24 Speiser (Genesis, 203) acknowledges this fact even though he prefers

to interpret brk as "to greet" in 47:7-10.

    25 Similarly Westermann, Genesis 37-50, 189. Westermann (p. 190) pre-

sents a second argument based on the observation that brk always carries

the meaning of blessing in situations involving death or extended temporal

separation: "Fur Jakob ist es, auch wenn er hier dem Pharao zum erstenmal

begegnet, die Situation des Abschieds. Er stedt vor seinem Tod; an dem

Segen, den der aus dem Leben Scheidende weiterzugeben hat, erhalt auch

der Pharao des agyptischen Reiches Anteil." This argument, however, is not

cogent since the larger context indicates Jacob was 17 years away from his

death at the time of this audience (47:28a) and since the immediate con-

text provided by 47:9 need not be interpreted as an expectation of impend-

ing death as will be seen in the last third of note 29.

    26 The present argument does not require that the formal greeting of the

sons be in the form of an explicit blessing. The el-Amarna letters (c. 1400-

1360 B.C.) usually begin with a formal greeting although not necessarily in

the form of a blessing. Note, for instance, the beginning and ending of

letter 288: "To the king, my lord, my Sun-god, say: Thus says Abdiheha,

thy servant. At the feet of the king, my lord, seven times and seven times

I fall. . . . [To] the scribe of the king, my lord, [Thus] says Abdiheha, the

servant. . . . Take in very (?) clear words to the king . . . " (D. Winton

Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times [New York: Harper

and Row, 19611 43-44). This letter indicates that it was important to offer

greetings even in proxy audiences with Pharaoh. Cf. 1 Sam 25:24 and 2

Kgs 4:37. Also see Thomas, Documents, 39, 214-16, 251, and 262.





394                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

the author of the Joseph story includes Jacob's greeting of blessing

cannot thus be attributed to a desire for completeness. Since it is

impossible to identify any reason why the narrative would emphasize

that Jacob "paid respects" at the beginning and end of the audience,

brk should be interpreted as "to bless" or "to greet with a blessing"

in our text.27

            The import of Jacob's audience with Pharaoh can now be easily

grasped. Verses 7 and 10 assert that Jacob blessed Pharaoh. The refer-

ence to Jacob's age apparently serves to heighten the significance of

this blessing.28 A man whose closeness to God and favour in God's eyes

is attested by his attainment of an age greater than any Egyptian dared

to hope for blesses Pharaoh.29 Gen 47:7-10 is thus designed to teach

that Pharaoh received a powerful blessing through Jacob.

 

    27 This argument should also be cogent for those holding a multiple-

source theory for the Joseph story. No matter what sources vv 2-4 and

7-10 are attributed to, it must be granted that the redactor probably made a

conscious decision to include the references to blessing in vv 7 and 10.

   28 Ruppert, Josephserzahlung, 149-50, mistakenly views 47:9 as asserting

the shortness of Jacob's life and thus sees a contrast between it and 47:28

which presents Jacob's long life. This tension leads Ruppert to conclude

that v 9 (and thus vv 8 and 10 also) must be attributed to a different

author (PS) than v 28 (P).

   29 The work of Gustave Lefebvre, "L'age de 110 ans et la vieillesse chez

les Egyptiens," Comptes Rendus de l'Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-

Lettres [Paris] (1944) 107-19, provides examples indicating an intimate

connection between advanced age and divine favour in Egyptian thought.

During the reign of Ramses II (New Kingdom), Bakenkhonsou (died c.

1233 B.c. according to Gustave Lefebvre, Histoire des Grand Pretres d'Amon

de Karnak [Paris: Libraire Orientaliste de Paul Geuther, 1929] 134) sought

the aid of Amon-Re to reach 110 (p. 110). Bakenkhonsou's successor also

prayed to Amon for this privilege (p. 111). In the 5th dynasty (Old

Kingdom), one of Pharaoh's officials wrote, "j'ai passe 110 annees de vie

que m'a donnees le roi" (p. 108). Since the idea that the Pharaoh was the

divine son of the sun god had developed by the 5th dynasty (Kenneth A.

Kitchen, "Land of Egypt," Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible

[ed. M. Tenney; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975] 2.234), this text suggests

the link between longevity and divine favour was firmly rooted in Egyptian

thought. (This conclusion is not invalidated by the research of George

Posener, De la divinite du Pharaon [Cahiers de la Societe Asiatique; Paris:

Imprimerie Nationale, 1960] 22, who presents a nuanced interpretation in

which the pharaoh was not actually divine in his own right but rather

the earthy representative, "l'image vivante, le fils, le substitut, etc." of the

god.) Lefebvre's examples do not indicate whether a blessing from a man of

110 years or more was seen as being especially significant. Jacob's reference

 



               JACOB'S BLESSING ON PHARAOH                    395

 

A powerful blessing should have a significant effect. The reader of

Genesis does not have long to wait before this blessing bears fruit.

Within three verses of the conclusion of the report of Jacob's blessing

of Pharaoh, there is an extensive account of Joseph's agrarian reforms.

 

                        III. Gen 47:13-26: Joseph's Agrarian Reforms

 

            This passage breaks down into four sections of increasing length,

each of which describes one aspect of the blessing which came to

Pharaoh through the work of Joseph, one of Jacob's sons. In 47:13-14

Joseph collected all the money of Egypt and Canaan and brought it

"into Pharaoh's house." In the next section (vv 15-17), all the live-

stock of the Egyptians was traded for food. Although it is not ex-

plicitly stated, it is clearly implied that Pharaoh was again the bene-

ficiary.

            In the much larger third section (vv 18-21), Pharaoh gains both

land and slaves through Joseph's management. In this section three

explicit references (vv 19, 20a, 20c) emphasize that the land became

Pharaoh's. Verse 22, an appendage to the third section, indicates that

only the priestly land was exempt from this process of royal acquisition.

            In the final section (vv 23-26), Joseph sets up an arrangement

whereby Pharaoh received one-fifth of future harvests. This additional

benefit is stressed by its twofold repetition (vv 24 and 26). This final

section, which also reinforces the fact that the land became Pharaoh's

and the people his slaves (vv 23 and 25), ends as did the third sec-

tion by noting that the priestly lands did not come under Pharaoh's

control.

            Gen 47:13-26 should be interpreted as the fulfillment of the blessing

on Pharaoh anticipated by both Gen 46:31-47:6 and 47:7-10. The

absence of the term "blessing" in Gen 47:13-26 does not imply that

the concept is also absent. As Redford has noted, the narrative of

the Joseph story is often allowed to convey its meaning without the

 

to the shortness of his life compared with his ancestors likely indicates that

he expected to live for a number of additional years, thereby heightening

the impression that a great degree of divine favour rests on him. The refer-

ences to the shortness, trouble, and sojourning of Jacob's life (47:9) only

pertain to his life before coming to Egypt where his sorrow at the loss of

Joseph is healed (46:30), his sojourning is replaced by land possession

(47:11), and he can expect to live for a number of additional years. Gen

47:28 notes Jacob continued to live for seventeen additional years in Egypt.

 



396     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

addition of explicit editorial comments.30 Since Gen 47:13-26 imme-

diately follows two passages which raise the reader's expectation of a

blessing for Pharaoh, it would appear that the author (or, if one

wishes, the final redactor) thought that the full meaning of the agrarian

reforms, which place the stress on Pharaoh's gains, would be sufficiently

clear.

            There are two other considerations which confirm the validity of

this interpretation of Gen 47:13-26. First, this passage appears to be

the third in a series of blessings which came to various Egyptians

through Joseph. After coming to Egypt, Joseph worked for three dif-

ferent individuals, namely Potiphar, the keeper of the prison, and

Pharaoh. Gen 39:1-6, which begins this series, sets the pattern by

explicitly stating that Potiphar received a blessing upon his house be-

cause he showed favour to Joseph. Although the term brk is not present

in Gen 39:19-23, this passage indicates that the keeper of the prison

relieved himself of numerous administrative burdens by placing Joseph

in a position of authority. There is no reason why the pattern estab-

lished in Gen 39:1-6 to illustrate Gen 12:3a should fail when Joseph

is elevated to the highest authority by Pharaoh (41:39-45). If this

consideration is valid, the blessing upon Pharaoh in 47:13-26 is antici-

pated by three events in the Joseph cycle, namely Pharaoh's elevation

of Joseph, Pharaoh's favour to Jacob and his other eleven sons, and

Jacob's verbal blessing of Pharaoh.

            Secondly, there is no other adequate explanation for the inclusion

of an extensive account of Joseph's land reforms.31 This passage does

not contribute to the bridging function of the Joseph story.32 It is

 

    30 Redford (Biblical Story of Joseph, 247) notes that the author of

Genesis 37-50 "lets the story convey his message without trying to ram

it down the readers' throats at every turn of the plot." Cf. note 7.

    31 Many commentators, overlooking the key provided by the emphasis

placed on Jacob's blessing of Pharaoh in 47:7-10, have either offered no

explanation for 47:13-26 or have ventured into speculative interpretations

which bear little relationship to the themes and concerns of Genesis. For

instance, Davidson (Genesis 12-50, 287) writes, "But why trace this system

of land tenure back to Joseph? It could be that to the writer this is but

another illustration of Joseph's wisdom and political skill. It is also possible,

however, that he is taking an ironic delight in tracing to Joseph a system

which made slaves of the Egyptians in a land in which the Hebrews them-

selves were to be slaves."

    32 A favorite explanation of the function of Gen 47:13-26 during the

past century was to see this passage as a contribution to the bridging func-



                JACOB'S BLESSING ON PHARAOH                    397

 

not possible to follow Coats who, seeing no theological import in this

passage, suggests that it was included for aetiological reasons.33 Al-

though the formula "until this day" is present in the final verse of

the passage, Childs has demonstrated that throughout the OT

the biblical formula, "until this day," seldom has an aetiological function

of justifying an existing phenomenon but in the great majority of cases

is a formula of personal testimony added to, and confirming a received

tradition.34

            Gen 47:13-26 is not an exception to this general rule. The basic aspects

of the story are not presented from an aetiological perspective. In

addition, "until this day" only appears as a secondary element in the

final verse of the passage. Apparently its function is to confirm the

factuality of the story concerning the agrarian reforms. The only visible

 

tion of the Joseph story. For example, R. S. Candlish, The Book of Genesis

(3rd ed.; Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1884) 550-52, writes, "The

account of Joseph's conduct [in Gen 47:13-26], as ruler in Egypt, is an

altogether irrelevant, not to say impertinent, interruption, unless we hold

that it is brought in with a view to its bearing on the fortunes of Israel.

... It concentrated authority in one royal head. And so it made it easier

for the Pharaoh who was Joseph's friend to secure the peaceful settlement

of the family in Goshen; while it also made it easier, long afterwards, for

the Pharaoh `who knew not Joseph' to enslave and oppress the nation into

which the family was then fast growing." Similar explanations are presented

by M. M. Kalisch, Genesis (Historical and Critical Commentary on the Old

Testament 1; London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Robert,

1858) 699-704, and W. H. Griffith-Thomas, Genesis XXXVII-L: A Devo-

tional Commentary (London: Religous Tract Society, 1909) 142-43 and

147-48. Three considerations are against this interpretation. First, it does

not explain why 47:13-26 does not immediately follow chapter 41. Secondly,

this view assumes Pharaoh was relatively powerless before the reforms took

place. However, a king who could exact a tax of one-fifth of the harvests

for seven years (41:34, 48) would likely have the power to settle a band of

70 shepherds and their flocks in Egypt. Thirdly, 47:13-26 gives the impres-

sion that Pharaoh only got control of the land during the seventh year of

the famine. (The fact that it is only at the time of the sale of the land that

there is any concern for seed to plant [47:19 and 23] suggests this event

took place in the final year of the famine.) Thus, the settlement of Jacob

and his household in Goshen, which took place during the famine (47:12),

apparently occurred before Pharaoh had gained control of the land and peo-

ple of Egypt.

    33 Coats, Canaan to Egypt, 53. Similarly, Westerrnann, Genesis 37-50, 192

and 198 and von Rad, Genesis, 410-11.

    34 Brevard S. Childs, “A Study of the Formula ‘Until this Day,’” JBL 82

(1963) 292.



398                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

explanation for the inclusion of the story of Joseph's agrarian reforms

is that it was intended to fulfill a theological role by demonstrating

that substantial blessing came to Pharaoh.

It is thus best to interpret Gen 47:13-26 as a blessing upon

Pharaoh.35 If this interpretation is rejected, then Jacob's blessing of

Pharaoh is left unfulfilled, a major pattern in the Joseph story is

broken, and Gen 47:13-26 remains without an adequate explanation.

 

                                                Conclusion

 

            A brief exposition of the meaning of Gen 46:31-47:26 will serve as

an appropriate conclusion to this study. A major function of this pas-

sage is to contribute to the bridging function of the Joseph story. It

explains how, through Joseph's skillful use of the fact that his brothers

were shepherds by occupation, Jacob and his sons came to settle in

Goshen, a north-eastern border province that would not normally have

been available to them. In this way the passage contributes to the

transition from the patriarchal stories to the account of the exodus.

A second function is served by this passage. The account of the

brothers' audience places additional stress on the fact that Israel was

separated from the Egyptians by her occupation. This makes a con-

 

     35 Of all the works consulted for this paper only three showed any aware-

ness of the theological meaning of Gen 47:13-26. Commendation must be

extended to M. Kline, "Genesis," The New Bible Commentary: Revised

(ed. by D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer; 3rd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1970) 112, who entitles 46:28-47:27 as "Israel, Blessed and Blessing." Kline

supports his interpretation with the observation that "the economic measures

instituted by Joseph were viewed by the Egyptians themselves as a favour,

indeed, as their salvation (cf. v. 25) in the desperate famine emergency." He

does not, however, note that Pharaoh is seen as the primary recipient of

blessing in vv 13-26 or that this is in response to Jacob's blessing in the

first half of the chapter. Although W. L. Humphrey (“The Joseph Story,”

IDBSup, 490) approaches this interpretation, he does not grasp it firmly:

"Israel is seen functioning as a source of blessing for the nations (cf 12:1-3).

This narrative [the Joseph story] is remarkably open to the possibility of

creative interaction with the Egyptians; it is in Egypt that the sons of

Israel find sustenance, it is for the pharaoh (47:13-26) that Joseph works, and

the patriarch Jacob himself blesses the Egyptian ruler." Finally, P. Ellis

(The Yahwist: The Bible's First Theologian [Notre Dame: Fides, 1968] 48)

identifies 47:13-26 as a contribution to the "Blessing on the Nations" motif.

Unfortunately, Ellis does not expand on this suggestive note nor does he

offer any support for its validity.

 



               JACOB'S BLESSING ON PHARAOH                    399

 

tribution to one of the minor themes of Genesis, the distinctiveness

of the Israelite line.

            Thirdly, the passage illustrates the principle set forth in Gen 12:3a.

Nations and individuals bring blessing upon themselves by their re-

sponse to the chosen line. Pharaoh's twice recounted command to settle

Jacob and his sons in the best of the land (47:6 and 11) awakens the

reader's expectation that a significant blessing will fall on Pharaoh.

The account of Jacob's audience, which stressed that Jacob blessed

Pharaoh, provides further preparation for the reader's proper inter-

pretation of Joseph's agrarian reforms as a divine blessing upon

Pharaoh.

            The concluding chapters of Genesis are thus highlighted by three,

not just two, major blessing passages. The blessing of Pharaoh by

Israel (47:7-10 and 13-26) precedes the blessing of Ephraim and

Manasseh (48:8-22) and the blessing of the twelve tribes (49:1-27).

 

 

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This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Westminster Theological Seminary

            2960 W. Church Rd.

            Glenside, PA  19038

www.wts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu