Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
28 He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. 29 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” 31 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. 32 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.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”
Joseph reunites with his father and then gives his entire family advise on what to say when they meet with Pharaoh.
Starting at verse 28 with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(28) To direct his face unto Goshen.—Joseph does not bring his brethren into the narrow and populous Nile Valley which formed Egypt proper, because they could not have maintained there an isolated mode of life. But this was indispensable for them if they were to multiply into a nation fit to be the guardians and depositories of a growing revelation, until the fulness of the time should come, when the world would be ready to receive the perfect knowledge of God’s will. As the Egyptians were an agricultural people, and hated sheep and shepherds (Genesis 46:34), the Israelites would run no danger of being absorbed by them so long as they continued to devote themselves to their old pursuits. As Goshen was admirably suited for a pastoral life, they would remain there as distinct and separate from the rest of mankind as they had been in Canaan.
The note above explains why Jacob’s family settled in Goshen. There were practical reasons but also divine reasons as well. Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen, and presented himself unto him;—literally, he (i.e. Joseph) appeared (the niph. form of the verb, which is commonly used of the appearance of God or his angels, being here employed to indicate the glory in which Joseph came to meet his father: Keil) unto him, vie; Jacob—and he fell on his neck,—i.e. Joseph fell upon Jacob’s neck (LXX; Vulgate, Calvin, Dathe, Keil, and commentators generally), though Maimonides regards Jacob as the subject of the verb fell—and wept on his neck a good while—in undoubted transports of joy, feeling his soul by those delicious moments abundantly recompensed for all the tears he had shed since he parted from his father in Hebron, upwards of twenty years before.
And Israel (realizing something of the same holy satisfaction as he trembled in his son’s embrace) said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art still alive—literally, I will die this time, after I have seen thy face, that (Keil, Kalisch), or since, thou art still alive; the meaning of the patriarch being that, since with his own eyes he was now assured of Joseph’s happiness, he had nothing more to live for, the last earthly longing of his heart having been completely satisfied, and was perfectly prepared for the last scene of all—ready, whenever God willed, to be gathered to his fathers.
Here we see a father and son reunited. Hugs and tears all around. Continuing:
And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father’s house, I will go up (employed in Genesis 46:29 to describe a journey from the interior of the country to the desert, or Canaan, the verb עָלַה is here used in a courtly sense to signify a visit to a sovereign or superior), and show Pharaoh (literally, relate, or tell, to Pharaoh), and say unto him, My brethren, and my father’s house, which were in the land of Canaan, are come unto me; and the men are shepherds (literally, keepers of flocks), for their trade hath been to feed cattle (literally, they are men of cattle); and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have.
Ellicott adds to verse 32:
(32) The men are shepherds.—As Joseph’s object was to keep his brethren isolated in Goshen, he instructs them not to conceal their occupation, because Pharaoh on knowing it would not wish them to dwell in Egypt itself.
The assertion here is that Joseph intentionally wanted his family to be isolated within Egypt. The text does not tell us this outright, but it makes sense to assume it is true.
The Pulpit Commentaries includes a note, at the end of the chapter, explaining some of the history around the apparent disdain in Egypt for shepherds:
For every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians. These are obviously the words not of Joseph, but of the historian, and their accuracy is strikingly corroborated by Herodotus, who affirms that the swine-herds, one of the seven castes, classes, or guilds into which the Egyptians were divided, were regarded with such abhorrence that they were not allowed to enter a temple or contract marriage with any others of their countrymen; and by existing monuments, which show that though the statement of Josephus (‘Ant.,’ 2.7, 5) is incorrect that “the Egyptians were prohibited from meddling with the keeping of sheep,’ yet those, who tended cattle were greatly despised, Egyptian artists evincing the contempt in which they were held by frequently representing them as either lame or deformed, dirty and unshaven, and sometimes of a most ludicrous appearance. It has been thought that the disrepute in which the shepherd guild was held by the Egyptians was attributable partly to the nature of their occupation, and partly to the feeling excited against them by the domination of the shepherd kings (Wilkinson, Wordsworth, Murphy, and others); but
(1) while this might account for their dislike to foreign shepherds, it would not explain their antipathy to native shepherds;
(2) if, as some think, Joseph’s Pharaoh was one of the shepherd kings, it is not likely that this rooted prejudice against shepherds would then be publicly expressed, however violently it might afterwards explode;
(3) there is good reason for believing that the descent into Egypt occurred at a period much earlier than the shepherd kings. Hence the explanation of this singular antipathy to shepherds or wandering nomads has been sought in the fact that the Egyptians were essentially an agricultural people, who associated ideas of rudeness and barbarism with the very name of a shepherd (Hengstenberg, Keil, Kurtz), perhaps because from a very early period they had been exposed on their Eastern boundary to incursions from such nomadic shepherds (Rosenmüller), and perhaps also because from their occupation shepherds were accustomed to kill the animals held sacred by the other classes of the community (Kalisch).
Continuing on with The Pulpit Commentaries:
And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What is your occupation? Pharaoh’s inquiry was characteristically Egyptian, being rendered necessary by the strict distinction of castes that then prevailed. According to a law promulgated by Amasis, a monarch of the 26th dynasty, every Egyptian was obliged to give a yearly account to the monarch or State governor of how he lived, with the certification that if he failed to show that he possessed an honorable calling (δικαίην ζόην) he should be put to death (Herod; 2.177). That ye shall say, Thy servants’ trade hath been about cattle (literally, men of cattle arc thy servants) from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen. Joseph probably desired his brethren to settle in Goshen for three reasons.
(1) It was suitable for their flocks and herds;
(2) it would secure their isolation from the Egyptians; and
(3) it was contiguous to Canaan, and would be easier vacated when the time arrived for their return.
The rest of the book of Genesis concerns the settling of Jacob’s family in Egypt and his eventual blessings to his sons, and death.