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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 46

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This is a pivotal chapter in the history of the Chosen People. It relates the transfer of the entire nation into Egypt, fulfilling, in part, the prophecy of God to Abraham:

“Know of a surety that thy seed shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.” (Genesis 15:13-14)

We have already noted the dangers which threatened the destruction of Israel had God permitted them to remain in Canaan. And this entire last section of Genesis, called the [~toledowth] of Jacob, relates in the most thrilling and exciting manner imaginable just how God brought about the removal of Israel to Egypt, where, with an environment providentially prescribed, they would become in time the mighty nation that God had promised Abraham. Of course, the story of Joseph was a primary element in the chain of events culminating right here in the migration of Israel into Egypt.


There is a spiritual glory in the Holy Bible which bears its own witness of truth and inspiration, but it is a profound fact that the carnal man is as blind as an owl at noon to that glorious illumination which radiates the soul of the humblest believer in Christ. As an apostle said, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged” (1 Corinthians 2:14). What does the “natural man” see in this chapter? He sees a hodge-podge of several elements put together haphazardly without any particular design, such various elements being “analyzed” by Simpson as “E, J, EJ, P, R, Jr, Er, Pr, and Rje … !”(F1) Many of the most brilliant scholars of our age have sounded the warning that, “There are no adequate grounds (for supposing multiple sources); there are no essential conflicts or repetitions here, and consequently there is no substantial basis for the assignment of the material to multiple sources.”(F2) Also, Leupold said:

“Critics claim that overlapping of J and P at this point can be proved, but we assert that nobody can prove anything of the sort. There is no overlapping; criticism is making unwarranted assertions which a straightforward interpretation of the text proves entirely untenable.”(F3)

The shining light that always emanates from the Word of God is especially visible in this chapter, in the theophany appearing to Israel at Beersheba, the miracle of God’s protecting the covenant people from death, the provision made for them in Goshen, and in the matter of Judah becoming a forerunner for God’s people upon their entry into Egypt, suggesting the fact that the Great Forerunner, even Jesus Christ our Lord, performs a similar, but far more glorious service for the Greater Israel of which the Old Israel was only a type. “Whither as a forerunner Jesus entered for us” (Hebrews 6:20). These facts, not alleged multiple sources, are the burden of this chapter. Thoses alleged sources do not exist. This chapter (and all the Bible) was preserved by Almighty God and handed down through history, not the alleged “sources.” The Bible exists; they do not. It is absolutely immaterial, incompetent, and irrelevant as to whether or not Moses, the sacred author of Genesis, ever saw or even heard of any of the imaginary documents that so vividly appear in the hallucinations of critics. All such things are of no importance whatever. The Son of God referred to the Holy Scriptures as “The Word of God” (John 10:35). Therefore, as the Word of God, we receive it, and we believe it!

Verses 1-4

“And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac. And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob. And he said, Here am I. And God said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.”

“And came to Beersheba” In a sense, this outpost, was somewhat a “point of no return” on the way to Egypt, lying at the southern extremity of the land of Canaan, being also the place where Isaac, the father of Jacob, had lived, and had erected an altar unto God, possibly the same altar upon which Jacob offered the sacrifices mentioned here. As for the reasons why Jacob should have paused here to offer sacrifices, there are many. He might have remembered the occasion when Abraham went into Egypt fleeing from famine, and the difficulties and disastrous consequences that came as a result. Jacob’s father, Isaac, never dared to go into Egypt. Thus, Jacob might have paused for prayers and sacrifices before doing so. At any rate, God appeared to him in a vision, thus removing all doubt.

“And God spake unto him” As far as the record goes, this was the last appearance of God to Jacob, there being eight appearances in all: (1) Genesis 28:13; (2) Genesis 31:3; (3) Genesis 31:11; (4) Genesis 32:1; (5) Genesis 32:30; (6) Genesis 35:1; (7) Genesis 35:9; (8) Genesis 46:2. It is of interest that the appearance of God to Jacob came not for the personal benefit of the patriarch but upon occasions pertinent to the welfare of the covenant nation. God did not appear to Jacob and comfort him with regard to the fact that Joseph was indeed alive during those years when Jacob thought he was dead.

“And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night and said, Jacob” Note that the terms “Israel” and “Jacob” are here used interchangeably. “In the rest of the Book of Genesis, these names are used indiscriminately and interchangeably.”(F4) As we have repeatedly noticed, there is also good reason to believe that in many instances such names as the Fear of Isaac, [~’Elohiym], Jehovah, etc., are used exactly like people use synonyms today.

But let it be particularly noticed what God said to Jacob: He told him not to be afraid, but to go on down into Egypt. He promised to be with Jacob and his posterity in Egypt. He promised to bring them up again out of Egypt. He foretold the death of Jacob in Egypt. Now the unqualified miracle here is the unequivocal truth of what God promised. Such a revelation is totally beyond the power of natural man. God indeed was the source of this promise. How strange it is that the critics have not one word to say about this! Was this glorious revelation actually conveyed to Jacob? Absolutely, YES. Long afterward, when Joseph himself came to die, he spoke of it, and how God would take up the people out of Egypt and deliver them into the land of Canaan, requesting that the children of Israel would carry along his bones when the promise was fulfilled! Oh yes, this is the Word of God!

“And Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes” This is an idiomatic expression which Yates declared has the following meaning. “It is a prophecy that the illustrious son (Joseph) shall perform the last rites at his father’s death.”(F5) The closing of the eyes in death was a rite anciently performed by the hands of a loved one. In colonial America, after loving hands had closed the eyes, coins (usually nickels) were placed upon the eyes until rigor mortis ensued. From this came the proverb for a petty thief: “He would steal a nickel off a dead man’s eyes!”

Verses 5-7

“And Jacob rose up from Beersheba: and the sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, and their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. And they took their cattle, and their goods, which they had gotten in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him: his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters, and all his seed brought he with him into Egypt.”

One purpose in these lines is to show that all of Israel actually went down into Egypt, just as all of them later were delivered. This purpose is also apparent in the list of Jacob’s posterity in the following verses.

It is to be noted that, despite the suggestion by Pharaoh that they would not need to bring their possessions with them, since plenty was available in Egypt, they nevertheless brought all that it was possible to carry. This was obviously for the purpose of not being any greater burden to the Egyptians than was unavoidable. Note also in these verses that nothing whatever is said of the wives of Jacob’s sons and grandsons, nor is there any reference to their servants or employees. From this, it is evident that the company which went down into Egypt was far larger than the list of barely seventy persons next recorded.

Verse 8


Here we shall vary our usual procedure of recording the sacred text and present the list of names in outline form for greater clarity:


REUBENHanoch, Pallu, Hezron and Carmi
SIMEONJemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar and Shaul
LEVIGershon, Kohath and Merari
JUDAHEr, Onan, Shelah, Perez and Zerah
ISSACHARTola, Puvah, Iob (Job) and Shimron
ZEBULUNSered, Elon and Jahleel

Note also that two sons of Pharez, Hezron and Hamul are given in Genesis 46:12. Therefore, we add Heron, Hamul, and Dinah (Genesis 46:15) for a total of 34 names. From these we subtract Er and Onan (who died in Canaan) for a total of 32 names, but the text says the number of Leah’s family totaled 33 names (Genesis 46:15). The total, if Jacob is included, was 33, if Jacob was not included, the other was an unnamed daughter of Leah.

It really makes no difference at all, for this whole list is a “round number” anyway.

Jacob had both a grandson (by Reuben) and a great-grandson (by Pharez) named Hezron, but it was the great-grandson by Pharez who was in the ancestry of Jesus (Luke 3:33). Kohath was in the ancestry of Moses (Exodus 6:16; Exodus 6:20).


GADZiphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi and Areli
ASHERImnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah and Serah (sons of Beriah: Heber, Malchiel)

The total of these names is 16 (Genesis 46:18).


JOSEPHManasseh and Ephraim
BENJAMINBela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim and Ard

The total of these is given as 14 souls in Genesis 46:22.


NAPHTALIJahzeel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem

The total of seven is given in Genesis 46:25. The grand total is SEVENTY.

Several things need to be said about this list. It does not include any of the daughters, except Dinah and Serah, despite the mention of Jacob’s daughters, and his sons’ daughters in Genesis 46:7. The whole list is therefore contrived by the sacred narrator as a round number. It is quite obvious also that some of the names in this list are of persons born AFTER the entry into Egypt, as we may not suppose that Benjamin, described repeatedly as a “lad” at this time, was suddenly a patriarch with ten children before the move to Egypt could be effected. The same appears to be true of Pharez. Thus, this enumeration of “The Seventy” serves the purposes of emphasizing that number considered to be a sacred number by the Jews, and apparently so honored by Jesus himself.

SEVENTY “The number seventy seems to have been associated in a peculiar way with the nation of Israel ever since the time when seventy apparently became the founders of the nation.”(F6)

(1) Seventy nations of the world are listed in Genesis 10.(F7)

(2) Seventy elders are mentioned in Numbers 11:16.

(3) Seventy years of captivity in Babylon were the punishment of Judah (2 Chronicles 36:21).

(4) Seventy weeks were determined for Israel in which to finish the transgression (Daniel 9:24).

(5) Seventy translators produced the Septuagint.

(6) The Sanhedrin was composed of seventy members.

(7) Jesus Christ himself sent out the “seventy” witnesses of his kingdom.

(8) “The days of our years are threescore and ten” (Psalms 90:10).

The great intention, therefore, of this list is to show that there were seventy founders of the nation of Israel who went into Egypt.

Perhaps we should also notice the quibble often raised regarding the statement of Stephen in Acts 7:14, that “Seventy-five souls went down into Egypt.” As a matter of fact, the total number probably ran well over a hundred or so. Just how Stephen figured it, we do not know, but it is generally thought that he was merely quoting from the LXX, which gives five sons of Joseph not mentioned in our version. He might have been counting the wives, or the wives who consented to go to Egypt, or some of the unmentioned daughters. The quibble is inconsequential. What is intended by the use of the number “seventy” in this passage is to show that, “God had done a complete divine work upon Israel, in taking them down into Egypt.”(F8)

Verse 28

“And he sent Judah before him unto Joseph, to show the way before him into Goshen.”

Judah, in this “going before Israel” is a type of Jesus Christ our “forerunner” (Hebrews 6:20). And this verse does not stand in the sacred text at this particular place, exactly upon the occasion of Jacob’s entry into Egypt, by the carelessness or caprice of some nameless “redactor.” It appears exactly at this place by the inspiration of God!

Verse 29

“And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, to Goshen; and he presented himself unto him, and fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a great while. And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, that thou art yet alive.”

What a remarkable picture the procession of Joseph in the Second Chariot of Egypt must have provided as Joseph with full honors of the nation went up to greet his father and welcome him into the land of Goshen!

“To Goshen” It was not accidental that Israel came to Goshen; from the very first, Joseph had foreseen that Goshen was the correct place for his father’s people. It was primarily pasture land with scant, if any population. And it provided exactly the isolation that the Hebrews needed if conflict with the populations of Egypt was to be avoided. Joseph had already cleared this with Pharaoh, even before he had finished testing his brothers, and Pharaoh had already confirmed the place as the location of Israel, but Joseph apparently feared that after Pharaoh’s meeting with Joseph, Pharaoh might, as a special favor to Joseph’s father, locate his posterity in what the Egyptians might consider a more favorable location. Joseph knew that if the matter of the occupation of his kindred was clearly understood by Pharaoh, such a change in the plans would not occur. That accounts for what is next related here.

“And wept on his neck a great while” This tearful reunion between Jacob and Joseph was intensely emotional. It is not recorded that either of them said anything for a long time. The long and tearful embrace lasted, and lasted. It was Jacob who broke the posture with words:

“Now let me die, since I have seen thy face” Jacob may indeed have thought that his death was near, but God spared him for many more years to behold the glory of his son Joseph, and to see his posterity settled in Goshen.

Verse 31

“And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father’s house, I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say unto him, My brethren, and my father’s house, who were in the land of Canaan, are come unto me; and the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have. And it shall come to pass when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What is your occupation? that ye shall say, Thy servants have been keepers of cattle from our youth, even until now, both we and our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.”

“I will go and tell Pharaoh” This cannot mean that the coming of Israel was in any manner news to Pharaoh. What was new lay in the fact of their having brought all their properties, consisting largely of great flocks and herds of cattle. That indeed was a new development, for Pharaoh had invited them to come without regard to possessions left behind (Genesis 45:20). Joseph also knew that by stressing their occupation as SHEPHERDS, there would be eliminated the possibility that Pharaoh might seek an amalgamation of the people with the Egyptians by settling them in the cities. The incompetent manner in which some of the critics try to make this some kind of trick by which Joseph secured the favored land of Goshen for his brethren is totally unacceptable!

“Thy servants have been keepers of cattle” (Genesis 46:34). This should be rendered, “Thy servants are shepherds,” for that is what the expression “keepers of cattle” meant. The Good News Bible and other translations have so rendered it. Besides, in Joseph’s projection of what he would do (Genesis 46:32), Pharaoh would already have been informed by Joseph himself that his brethren were shepherds. What Joseph guarded against here was any move on the part of his brethren to hide or soften this fact. Joseph himself was certainly not ashamed of it, but he might have feared that some of his brethren might be timid because of it.


“Every shepherd is an abomination unto Egyptians” This is a sad comment upon their civilization, that those who produced the principle supply of their food should have been despised. There indeed must be discovered one of the reasons why their highly sophisticated and proud civilization eventually perished from the earth. Our Lord Jesus Christ was an apprentice carpenter. Even Jesus’ church is reminded that, “We are workers …!” In the next chapter, the old shepherd, Israel, blessed the monarch himself, a blessing which was to perpetuate that society for nearly a millennium into the future. And it was only after they reversed their policies and began their oppression of Israel that the blessing of God was withdrawn and their nation was eventually destroyed. “Although this disdain for cattle-raisers is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible, it is described vividly in Egyptian literature.”(F9) This matter of the Hebrews being unacceptable to Egyptians socially, due to their occupation, must be seen as precisely one of the reasons why God moved them into that situation. Simeon and Judah, perhaps others, of the Twelve Sons had already broken over the boundary in the marriage of Canaanite wives (pagans). And God’s answer to that was simply the placement of them in a situation where intermarriage with the Egyptians would have been very difficult.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 46". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/genesis-46.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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