Genesis 47-50
(The End of the Beginning)
January 15th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

- Genesis 50:19-21 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

These four chapters bring to a close the book of Genesis and mark the end of a long life on earth for Jacob, father and namesake to the twelve tribes of Israel.

In chapter 47, Joseph requested explicit permission from Pharaoh for the clan of Jacob to remain in Goshen. Pharaoh agreed and Joseph ensured that his family was well supplied. Meanwhile, the people of Egypt became more desperate for food with each passing year. They resorted to selling all their livestock, all their land, and even their own bodies to become slaves to the Pharaoh in return for food. The clan of Jacob avoided this fate thanks to the Providence of God who placed Joseph in charge of the land and supplies in Egypt.

In chapter 48, Jacob gave a blessing to the sons of Joseph, and put the younger brother ahead of Manesseh, declaring that he will be greater than his older brother, " 'and his descendants will become a group of nations’ (Gen 48:19 - NIV)."

Then, in chapter 49, Jacob blessed all of his sons. In giving the blessing he recollected some of the serious sins of their past, such as the time that Simeon and Levi murdered all the men of Shechem in an over-the-top act of vengeance. He prophesized that Judah will be great among the others, and was proven to be correct. Jacob had asked to be brought back to Canaan after his death so that he could be buried with Abraham and Isaac. Joseph obeys, with the permission of the Pharaoh, as described in chapter 50.

The end of chapter 50 reports that Joseph’s brothers were still afraid of retribution, particularly after their father had died, but Joseph reassured them that they were forgiven.

    After Joseph had buried his father he returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all who had gone up with him for the burial of his father. Now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful and thought, “Suppose Joseph has been nursing a grudge against us and now most certainly will pay us back in full for all the wrong we did him!”

    So they sent to Joseph and said: “Before your father died, he gave us these instructions: ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: Please forgive the criminal wrongdoinge of your brothers, who treated you harmfully.’ So now please forgive the crime that we, the servants of the God of your father, committed.” When they said this to him, Joseph broke into tears.

    Then his brothers also proceeded to fling themselves down before him and said, “We are your slaves!”

    But Joseph replied to them: “Do not fear. Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people. So now, do not fear. I will provide for you and for your children.” By thus speaking kindly to them, he reassured them.

    - Genesis 50:14-21 (NAB)

The book ends by acknowledging the long life of Joseph, which ended after 110 years. During his lifetime Joseph had taken on many roles, but he ended his life in the role of grandfather and great-grandfather. Before he died, Joseph assured his brothers that God would return their families to the land of their fathers:

    At the end, Joseph said to his brothers, “I am ready to die. God will most certainly pay you a visit and take you out of this land and back to the land he so solemnly promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

    Then Joseph made the sons of Israel promise under oath, “When God makes his visitation, make sure you take my bones with you as you leave here.”

    - Genesis 50:24-25 (MSG)

The last verse of Genesis reports that Joseph died, was embalmed, and buried in Egypt.

Reflection and Application

The book of Genesis began with the creation of the universe and ends with the passing of the generation that began the nation of Israel. Thus, these chapters represent the end of the first book of the Bible and the end of the first family of Israel.

The image of Joseph in a coffin in Egypt could be considered symbolic of the situation for all of the tribes of Israel. They became trapped in Egypt for many generations after the death of Joseph and no longer lived under the care of an official of Pharaoh. Then, at a time chosen by God, a descendant of Levi, known as Moses, led Israel out of Egypt and a descendant of Joseph, known as Joshua, led them back to Canaan, the land that had been promised to them, despite their shortcomings as rebellious, stiff-necked people. We will read all about this trajectory in future weeks

We have seen God in many roles in the book of Genesis: Creator, Redeemer, Avenger, Provider, and others. There were times when he carried out unrelenting punishment against those who were deep in sin. He flooded the whole world and burned Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes. Yet he showed love and mercy to those who did the following: Listened to him, trusted him, and followed him.

When God talked, the faithful listened while the unbelievers scoffed and perished. When God said to move, the believers moved, and the unbelievers turned back and perished. When God said to sacrifice a son, Father Abraham prepared the sacrifice, and then God did the same for us. When God promised children and land he delivered the goods – albeit at his own pace. God showed mercy and love to Abraham and his family, even though they embodied the imperfections of humanity with their deceitful nature, impatience, jealousy, and other bad traits.

A good understanding of Genesis is the beginning step for us to understand the entire context of the Bible. With this knowledge at hand we will more fully comprehend the next book, Exodus, and all those that follow. In Genesis, we received an introduction to the primary narrative of the Bible: The creation of the universe, the fall of man, the power of sin, and the ultimate redemption through Christ. The narratives in Genesis all support this theme. The propagation of the lineage of Abraham and the rescue of Jacob's family were all part of the master plan to create the nation of Israel, which will be a primary participant in the larger story (1).

We will read many more narratives in the Old Testament as this is the most common form of literature in the Bible, and will spend some time understanding how to best interpret these ancient stories. We just completed one of the longer narratives in the Old Testament, the story of Joseph son of Jacob, which is a redemptive story in itself. In each narrative of the Bible we may find specific applications for ourselves, but the primary purpose of each is to point to the main story (2).

Perhaps one takeaway from Joseph's story is that from these stories we can trust in God to rescue us from situations which appear hopeless, as he did for barren wives and an imprisoned young dreamer. We can learn to accept our humanity and seek to forgive our brothers and ourselves because our future mistakes are inevitable. We can learn to adopt a model of a constant maturing process, so that we allow God to develop improved versions of ourselves, just like he did for Jacob and Joseph, who are recognized, among others, for their faithful obedience when Paul reviews the giants of faith in Hebrews 11. In this passage, Paul explains the meaning of faith, and then illustrates the meaning with anecdotes of our ancestors in the faith, including references to some of the scenes from Genesis that we read today:

    The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

    By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.

    - Hebrews 11:1-3 (MSG)

    By an act of faith, Jacob on his deathbed blessed each of Joseph’s sons in turn, blessing them with God’s blessing, not his own—as he bowed worshipfully upon his staff.

    By an act of faith, Joseph, while dying, prophesied the exodus of Israel, and made arrangements for his own burial.

    - Hebrews 11:21-22 (MSG)

One Biblical commentator noted that the book of Genesis devotes 11 chapters to the explanation of events and 39 chapters to the development of people (3). Given this allocation, which do you think is more important to God, events or people? Joseph’s development into a mature, God-fearing adult helped him to earn the trust and respect of the Egyptians so that he could save his family and the future of the nation. His sacrifice enabled others to be saved. In his mature state, Judah was also willing to sacrifice himself for his brothers to be saved. His descendant, Jesus fulfilled his father's will be allowing himself to be sacrificed for us. As we mature, we draw closer to God, we more closely resemble our Savior, and we encourage others to draw near to him. Let that goal be our new beginning today and our resolution for tomorrow.

As you look back over the 46 chapters of Genesis, what specific words resonate in your heart and mind? A few years ago, a graphic designer by the name of Brad Thomas decided to create a visual representation of the frequency of occurrence of words in each book of the Bible. Thomas uses the 1984 NIV version to identify the top 150 words from each book of the Bible (other than common words and numbers), then creates an image in which words that occur more often appear proportionally larger. These visual representations, referred to as word clouds or infographics, can serve as a useful tool for reviewing and remembering what we have just read. You can see his representation of the Genesis word cloud at the following link:

66 Clouds: Genesis

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions

    1. How do you celebrate the achievements of milestones in your life?
    2. What is the character of God that you found to be most prominent in Genesis?
    3. What do you want version 2.0 of you to look like?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us understand all the aspects of your character and to develop the characteristics that you want to see in us.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Families exiled from their home country who long to return


    (1) Fee, Gordon D., Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 4th Edition, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2014, p. 94-95
    (2) IBID p. 96
    (3) Mendez, Danny, @dannymendez1, 1/11/13

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Exodus (Overview) and Exodus 1-4 (Prince of Egypt)

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