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Making a Great Nation

*Genesis 46:1-34
May 7, 2017
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

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The sermon starts at 18:30 in the audio file.

Or, The Start of Israel’s Sojourn in Egypt

Genesis 46 is about Israel, the man and the nation. From the start of Genesis 37 we’ve mostly been following the story of Joseph, but even though Genesis 46 wouldn’t happen without Joseph, Joseph is not the main character.

Israel, the name God gave to Jacob, has been around for more than half of the book of Genesis. He is one of the patriarchs, the father of the twelve Tribes of Israel, one who had been away from the Promised Land with his uncle Laban, then made it back into the Promised Land without too much hassle from his brother Esau. Now he is leaving the Promised Land, never to see it again. But his descendants, some of whom we meet in this chapter, will make it back to Canaan. This is just the start of Israel’s—as a nation—long sojourn in Egypt.

It could be argued that Genesis 46:1 through Genesis 47:12 should be taken as one section. The first twelve verses of chapter 47 do connect with Joseph’s instructions at the end of chapter 46, but we’ll stick with the chapter divisions for sake of covering a more equal amount of verses.

I said Joseph is not the main character here but he is the main motivation. Israel moved because of Joseph’s position. Israel moved because Joseph was still alive and because Joseph graciously forgave his brothers and invited the whole family to Egypt where he could take care of them. God tells Israel, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (verse 5). Yet this is only possible because God sent Joseph before them to preserve life (Genesis 45:5). Joseph recognized and told his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (Genesis 45:7). It was this perspective, born out of humble submission to the sovereign God, that caused Joseph to receive his brothers even after their hatred of him so many years ago.

Chapter 44 showed repentance. Chapter 45 showed reconciliation. Chapter 46 shows not just Israel’s relocation, but God’s grace in starting to make this small, sinful family into a great nation. We’ll see Israel’s journey as part of God’s plan to make a great nation (verses 1-7), Israel’s descendants when he came into Egypt from which the great nation came (verses 8-27), and Israel’s reunion with his son Joseph (verses 28-34).

Israel’s Journey (verses 1-7)

It took Jacob 20 years to get back to Canaan. After he had deceived his father and brother he left for Paddan-aram. He worked for 14 years to get two wives, with two more he didn’t bargain for, and then another 6 years for a flock of his own. He narrowly escaped Laban and Esau, surviving stupid sons (think Levi and Simeon after Dinah, as well as Judah and Tamar, etc.) and the loss of a son (or so he thought). Canaan was his inheritance, a hard fought for land he’d lived in for now for almost three decades. And he moves out. So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, the southern-most location before heading into the barren stretch of land on the way to Egypt.

Before leaving Canaan entirely he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. He stops to worship. He’s thankful, and expresses his faith in the LORD. He doesn’t worship after the LORD appears, the LORD appears after he worships. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here am I.” We’ve seen this pattern before, though God hasn’t spoken since chapter 35 to Jacob when he entered back into Canaan and won’t again until in the burning bush to Moses (Exodus 3).

”I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” God appeared to Jacob at Bethel and promised something similar. God’s presence is the best thing to have, though it wasn’t as if God hadn’t been with him in Canaan. Going to Egypt was different. God prohibited his father Isaac from going, and things didn’t go so well when his grandfather Abraham went down. Jacob may not have been fearful about Egypt and Pharaoh; his sons had made it sound like Joseph really could provide. But what would God think? Now he knows.

Like before God promises to bring Jacob home again, but this won’t be exactly the same. That Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes means Jacob will be die and Joseph will be there for the final moments. Jacob is remarkably obedient since he will never again see the land God promised to him. He probably didn’t think that this was the way it would turn out.

Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. That Jacob “rose up” is unnecessary except to emphasize his trust in and obedience to God. Verses 5-7 explain that Israel and his sons took it all. No part of the family stayed back to keep a foot in the land, no livestock or goods were sold to make traveling easier. They had the U-Haul wagons that Joseph sent and they used them. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.

Israel’s Descendents (verses 8-27)

“Came into Egypt” frames this section, found in verse 8 and in verse 27.

This is the last genealogy in Genesis. It is repeated, in shorted form, in Exodus and in 1 Chronicles. It is interesting that we’ve already met Jacob’s wives and all his sons before, so really we only learn some names of his children’s children and a few great-grandsons.

The genealogy is ordered by wives, Leah (verses 8-15) and then her handmaid, Zilpah (verses 16-18). Rachel is next (verses 19-22) followed by her handmaid, Bilhah (verses 23-25). Verses 26-27 do some final math.

These are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt. There are, as usual, doubts from scholars about the names and the math. They don’t believe that all these people came into Egypt, but that some of them had to be born in Egypt. But if we’re not supposed to believe the words, why did Moses write it that way?

The first group are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram. Reuben is the firstborn, and he has four sons. Simeon is second and his six sons, including one with a Canaanite woman. Levi is third with his three sons. Judah is fourth with five sons, but two didn’t make the trip because the LORD killed them (Genesis 38), though two of Levi’s grandsons through Perez are mentioned. Issachar is fifth with four sons. And Zebulun is sixth with three sons. Altogether, including Dinah, named because of her story in chapter 34, along with other daughters totaled thirty-three.

The second group are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter. The mention of Laban here is interesting, and reminds us of how precarious it was that Jacob had any wives and offspring and that they were with him. Gad was Zilpah’s first son, and he had seven sons. Asher was second with five sons and two grandsons. All together there were sixteen persons.

The third group are the sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife. Unlike with Leah and Zilpah, Rachel is mentioned first in the paragraph as well as at the end, and she is specially called his wife. Through her came Joseph and Benjamin. Joseph’s sons were not brought into Egypt, they were born in Egypt. Benjamin had ten sons, more than any other of Jacob’s sons. Fourteen persons in all are counted through her.

The final group are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter. She bore Dan who had one son and Naphtali who had four sons, seven persons in all.

Verses 26-27 sum up the numbers. Just counting Jacob’s descendants, not his daughters-in-law, or Er and Onan or Joseph or Joseph’s sons, there were sixty-six persons in all. When Joseph and his sons who were born to him in Egypt are counted, along with Jacob himself,All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy: 12 sons, 52 grandsons, 4 great-grandsons, and 2 daughters.

This is a small group, though it is a larger group than he had when he met Laban. This is the group from which God promises to make a great nation. It will take 430 some years, but God blesses Israel’s family into a large people born and raised in Egypt.

Israel’s Reunion (verses 28-34)

The journey is resumed after the list. Jacob sent waves of gifts to Esau, now he sends Judah to find Joseph so that Joseph can show them where to go as they come into Egypt. Judah is the leader, though we don’t read anything more about him through in the rest of the paragraph.

Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. Joseph won’t wait for his father to get to him. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. That first phrase, he presented himself, is used six other times in the book of Genesis and all of them are God showing Himself to men. Joseph has great glory, “honor” just as he told his brothers to tell his father. Israel sees his son’s glory for himself, and the glad tears flow between father and so .

Israel’s response is one of satisfaction. ”Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” Israel lives another seventeen years, but this is such a good thing that he doesn’t need anything else.

The rest of the reunion regards Joseph’s instructions to his brothers about their new address. Joseph said…, “I will go up to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 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.’” He actually does this at the start of chapter 47. For now he’s telling them the plan, and catechizes them with an answer for Pharaoh. They were to explain that they were shepherds, that they had always been shepherds, and that they wanted to live in Egypt but not be a bother.

Joseph gives the reason, in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians. He doesn’t say why Egyptians don’t like shepherds. It may be as simple as the fact that the Egyptians were more focused on farming than shepherding. Shepherds had a reputation for wandering, for taking from others, so they were not easily trusted, even so in Herodotus (2.47) they are in the lowest caste. In Goshen they would have adequate property for feeding their livestock and not be encroaching on Egyptian lands.


God is making a great nation, and there are at least a couple key pieces to it.

First, God is making a great nation through Joseph’s humbling sojourn. Joseph recognized God’s hand in getting him into place. He knew that God sent him (Genesis 45:5, 7; 50:20). The years of slavery in Potiphar’s house, the years of imprisonment, these humbled him and prepared him for his position to preserve his family.

Second, God is making a great nation through Israel’s sojourn of separation, growth, and deliverance. No patriarch lives in the Promised Land again, though their future descendants will. Goshen was outside of Egyptian mainstream. Israel’s family would not be tempted to intermarry, as Judah did and Reuben’s son Shaul did with Canaanite women.

God will make a great nation from a small family in an unlikely place. This is His glory, and it is reason for us to trust His sovereign power.


We are not all shepherds despised by the Egyptians, but we are all under the Chief Shepherd, who was despised by men. He laid down His life for us, He purchased us, we are not our own. So glorify God in your body, stand with Him, follow Him, trust Him to provide what you need for pleasing Him no matter who else that makes un-pleased.


Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20–21, ESV)