Several days after leaving Egypt, Joseph’s brothers arrived safely at their father’s home in Canaan. When the people of the household saw the caravan approaching, some of them rode out to meet it. Jacob waited at his tent, hopeful that he would have the strength to bear up if news were brought to him that any of his sons had failed to return.
Suddenly he was aware of an excited group of men approaching his tent. One by one he recognized their faces. There was his beloved youngest, Benjamin! And there was Simeon, free from the Egyptian prison after two years! All eleven sons had returned!
“Thank God for bringing you back!” Jacob exclaimed. “But there is still one of you I shall never see again.”
“You will see him, father!” one of the sons shouted. “Joseph is alive! We found him in Egypt!” Jacob heard the words, but they were too much to believe.
“Don’t make up cruel lies like that,” he frowned. “But it is true,” the other sons chorused. “Our brother, Joseph, is none other than the governor of Egypt, next in power to Pharaoh!”
Jacob gazed unhappily at his sons, disappointed that they would approach him, after their long journey, with such ridiculous tales. But as he looked from one eager face to another, something startled him. He knew his sons, and he began to see now that they were speaking the truth. It was too much for poor old Jacob, and he fell in a faint.
After he felt better, his sons told him all that had happened to them on their trip to Egypt, and how they had brought wagons with which to take Jacob and his family back to Egypt (Gen. 45:27).
“I just can’t believe it,” Jacob said. “It is too much to ask me to believe.”
“Would you believe we are telling the truth about Joseph if we show you the Egyptian carriages?” the sons asked. “I would,” Jacob replied.
They had the brightly painted carriages pulled up before Jacob’s tent. When he saw them, he was almost speechless. To most of the people in those days, something with four wheels was as amazing as a rocket ship would be to people in these last days.
Then, when Jacob saw the bags of precious grain and the gifts sent to him by the king of Egypt, he no longer doubted his sons.
“I want to see my son, Joseph,” he said. “Lets us prepare to go to Egypt.” Jacob was one hundred and thirty years old at the time, but the mere thought of seeing Joseph again, whom he had thought of as dead, renewed his strength.
Before long Jacob and his sons and all their families and their servants and their herds were moving southward. The carriages Pharaoh had sent were of great help. It was much easier for the older people and the children to ride in them than it would have been for them to walk or to perch on the swaying backs of camels.
On the way to Egypt, the caravan came to Beer-Sheba, where Abraham and Isaac had encamped many years before, and where they had been in touch with God. Jacob remembered that God had told Abraham not to go down into Egypt. Therefore Jacob wondered if God would frown on his trip to Egypt. Trusting that he would be shown what to do, Jacob offered sacrifices to God. That night God spoke to Jacob in a vision.
“Don’t be afraid to go into Egypt,” a voice said. “As I promised before, a great nation will come from you. I will protect you on this trip to Egypt. You will meet your son Joseph, and you will be with him for a time. Then I will bring you back to the land of Canaan” (Gen. 46:1-4).
After that, Jacob knew it was right to proceed to Egypt. If God had warned him not to go, probably he would have turned back, even though it might have meant that he never would have seen Joseph again. Also, it would have meant facing great famine in the next five years. But Jacob had learned that the best way, no matter how bad it might look at times, was to obey God.
On entering Egypt, Jacob sent Judah on ahead to announce to Joseph the arrival of the caravan from Canaan. When Joseph heard that his father was approaching, he summoned some of his men and set out in his horse-drawn chariot to meet Jacob’s approaching caravan.
It is not easy to imagine the joy of a father when he meets a favorite son whom he has not seen for many years – especially a son he has given up for dead. It was a tearful meeting, but the tears were of happiness.
“I have at last seen you again,” Jacob told Joseph. “Now my life is so full that I am ready to die.” But Jacob was to live for several more years.
“I shall send word to the king that you are here,” Joseph told his father and his brothers. “Pharaoh will want you to appear before him. When you do, and when he asks you what you do for a living, tell him that you tend cattle and sheep. Most Egyptians do not like those who herd flocks because cattle and sheep are sacred to Egyptians, and shepherds often come from tribes of other lands where men sacrifice these animals.”
Joseph went to Pharaoh to tell the king about the arrival of his father and brothers. Pharaoh had five of the brothers brought before him. When he found that they were herders of cattle and sheep, he told Joseph to let them settle in a good part of the nation known as the land of Goshen. This was just what Joseph hoped would happen. Goshen, by which they had entered Egypt, was in a region where there was ordinarily good pasture land, and where there weren’t many Egyptians who might trouble outsiders who weren’t of their religion.
Joseph later brought his father before Pharaoh, who treated Jacob with royal honor and respect. When Pharaoh asked his age, Jacob replied, “I have been moving about over the land for one hundred and thirty yeas. Even so, I am not old compared to my fathers before me. Their lives were much longer.”
After the meeting with the king, Joseph saw to it that all his people who had come down from Canaan with their servants and all of their flocks were settled in the land of Goshen, which was the rich region of Egypt nearest Canaan.
Meanwhile, the results of the famine became worse. People had to pay for the grain they got from the storehouses, and before long they had no more money. The people had spent all their savings in luxurious living in the seven years of plenty!
Joseph sent out word to the nation that all kinds of farm animals – cattle, horses, goats, sheep, donkeys and camels would be accepted by the king instead of money. Thousands of flocks were brought in to exchange for grain. Then it was up to Pharaoh’s men to take care of the animals, many of which were returned to their owners after the famine.
But before long the people were again begging for grain with which to make bread. This time, they had no way of paying for it except by turning their lands over to Pharaoh or by becoming his slaves. Joseph therefore ordered that all of the lands of the people of Egypt be bought to become the property of Pharaoh. In return, the people were brought to live in the cities where the grain was stored, and were given grain to last them through the lean years. The only land that wasn’t bought was that belonging to the priests of the Egyptian pagan religion.
The problem of food became greater with each passing day. But Joseph believed that each day meant they were that much nearer the end of hard times. At last he made arrangements to return the people to their farms.
“Pharaoh now owns your lands,” Joseph told the people. “But we will give you seed with which to plant those lands. Out of all your crops, you must give the king one fifth. The other four parts will be yours.”
The people were very happy with this plan. They were thankful that they had been saved from starvation, even at the cost of losing all their possessions.
At last the ground was seeded for the crops the people hoped would come up well after seven years of famine. And just as Joseph had foretold, the famine ended in seven years, and in the eighth year abundant rains came to bring on much good grain from the land again.
Jacob lived seventeen years in Egypt. During that time his sons’ families greatly increased in number. These people became known as Israelites, because God had given their forefather Jacob the name Israel.
When it seemed to Jacob that his time had come to die, he called Joseph to him and asked Joseph to promise that he would bury him in Canaan rather than in Egypt. Joseph promised, and this helped Jacob to see that God would carry out His promise that Jacob would return to Canaan.
Joseph’s duties as governor of the land took him from his father. Later, word came to Joseph that Jacob might die at any time. Taking his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph hurried to him.
“I have something very important to tell you before I die,” Jacob told Joseph. “God spoke to me in Canaan long ago. He told me that a great nation would come from me, and that the land of Canaan would be given to those of my family who live after me. I want your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to be included with my sons in the promises God made to me. I want to adopt them to make sure that they remain part of our family instead of mixing with the Egyptians.”
Joseph brought his two sons in before the bed where Jacob lay. But Jacob’s sight was so dim that he didn’t know who the two sons were until Joseph told him.
“Little did I know that I would ever see you again,” Jacob said to Joseph as he fondly hugged his two grandchildren. “But God has treated me with great mercy, and now I am seeing even your children.”
Jacob asked God’s blessing of Joseph. Then he put his left hand of Manasseh’s head and his right hand of Ephraim’s head, and was about to ask God’s blessing on the young men. Thinking that Jacob was too blind to see what he was doing, Joseph removed his father’s left hand from Manasseh’s head.
“Manasseh is the older,” Joseph said, “and it is the custom that the right hand should be upon the first-born.”
“That is ordinarily so,” replied Jacob. “But I am putting my right hand upon the younger one’s head. A great nation will come from Manasseh – the greatest on earth. But a commonwealth of nations will come from Ephraim.”(To learn more about this vital subject, send for our FREE series, The Blessings of Abraham).
Jacob then asked God to bless his grandsons by causing mighty and wealthy nations to come from them – nations that many centuries later would bear the name of Israel (Gen. 48:10-19).
Knowing that his death was near, Jacob called all his sons to him. “I want you to know about the kind of nations each of you is starting,” he told them.
Jacob was inspired by God in what he said, for he told each son a little of what each vast tribe would be like in the far future.
He had the most to say about Joseph, whom he said would spread out into the wealthiest nations in the world. Now, thousands of years later, we learn through the Bible that Joseph was the father of our own English-speaking nations. When we read what is foretold to happen to Ephraim, we know that it means Great Britain. And when we read what is to happen to Manasseh, we know it means our nation, the United States of America! However, these are facts that God hid from us for a long, long time. Only in recent years, just as he said He would do, has He let us understand these things.
Jacob died right after speaking to his sons. Joseph ordered Egyptian physicians to prepare his father’s body for burial by an Egyptian method as embalming. This took many days. Then followed a long period of mourning by the Egyptians.
At last Joseph and his brothers and their families, except their very young children, along with a great number of Egyptian officials, soldiers and servants started off with Jacob’s body for Canaan. It was a trip of three hundred miles, and therefore this must have been one of the greatest funeral processions in history (Gen. 50:7-13).
The Egyptians traveled along with the procession except for the last part of the trip, which was into a mountainous region where the field of Machpelah was. It was here that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah were buried in a cave.
Jacob lived one hundred and forty-seven years. Some might have thought of him as a very plain, unimportant man. But he had a very necessary part in God’s plan to bring into being the great nation of Israel, the nation God chose to help Him in a wonderful plan.
Be watching for our next installment…