After Jacob leaves, the brothers told Pharaoh they were sojourners in the land (47.4). But Joseph gives them ancestral holdings (47.11). The word for “possession” there is “achuzah” in Hebrew and it means “ancestral” possessions. It is the same word used in Num 32.32 when it describes Israels’ possession of Canaan. Joseph is giving this kind of possession to his family because he wants them to feel like they belong there. Not ice he makes the move after he hears his father talk to Pharaoh and how he has been a sojourner. Joseph wants his family near him (meaning of Goshen), but he wants them to feel like they belong there. So, they take possession of the land and they prosper.
In Gen 47.27 it says they took hold of they land they were given. It is a play on words in Hebrew with the word “achuzah” (ancestral land). Making Jacob and the family “holders” of land should be a good thing, but Jacob knows this is not the overall plan of God for the family. He knows at some point they will be going back to Canaan. There is going to be something that will come back to bite them in all this he fears. It is not known at this point how long they will be in Egypt and how they will get back to Canaan. Will the land be a snare? The family grows from seventy people to hundreds and eventually thousands. They became very wealthy in Egypt and the children are growing up in Egypt and have never laid eyes on Canaan. He fears that the ways of Egypt is all they will know know.
This is the background for Jacob’s talk with Joseph 17 years after he arrived in Egypt. As Jacob approaches death he has this talk and says what is needed. Now it is up to Joseph to do what he is going to do. Will he stay with Pharaoh as far as his loyalty, or keep his word to his father Jacob. Jacob does not want to be buried in Egypt, he wants Joseph to take an oath! Joseph, as we have seen, was like the first born son (bikur) to two men. He has a biological father, one who gave him life, and a “God” father, so to speak, who God brought into his life. There would be be no problems with this unless there comes a conflict of interest. It is at this point the interests of Pharaoh and Jacob take the fork in the road.
Now, who is Jacob to the Egyptians? He is the father of the man who saved all of them and that makes him important. When he dies, all of Egypt will mourn for him for 70 days, as if someone in the royal family had died. How would Pharaoh and the Egyptian people feel about Jacob being buried in Canaan? Are they going to be offended? This kind of thing just doesn’t happen, but Joseph swears to his father that he will make sure that he is buried in Canaan. The Midrash by Rashi from Sitrei Va’etchanan 31 and Sitrei Ha Azeinu 334 says that Jacob bowed toward the bed in gratitude in 47.31.
Jacob now realizes, at this moment, his son is righteous, after 17 years. Providing for his family did not put a strain on his relationship to Pharaoh, but a state funeral in Canaan would come at a price and Jacob knew it when he made Joseph swear to do it. This was not going to be easy. In reality, Joseph was choosing between Jacob and Pharaoh. It is like he is saying, “Look, my son, this place is called Egypt and it is nice and Pharaoh has been nothing but kind to us, but it isn’t our home, Canaan is. That is the land God will give to our people, not Egypt. That is our ancestral land, not Egypt.” The Israelites were not destined to be landowners in Egypt, their destiny lies in the land of Canaan. What Jacob wants to know is whether Joseph is on board with that or not. Are his affections towards another homeland? His answer to Jacob tells him that his son is on board with the destiny that lies in Canaan and with the family, and Jacob believes him.
In Gen 48.1-4, Joseph comes back later for another visit to his father and this time he brings his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob tells him about a promise God made to him about Canaan. God told Jacob that he would multiply his descendants and make him into a great multitude, giving him Canaan as ancestral holdings. In other words, Jacob is telling the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. This is why he wants to be buried in Canaan. Jacob says that the two children of Joseph are “mine” in 48.5. Jacob is telling Joseph that he considers Ephraim and Manasseh as if they were his own sons. Now he will get even more specific and imply that this is more than a nice sentiment from a grandfather. He says, “And now your two sons, which were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine as Reuben and Simeon are.” Why would he say “who were born to you before I came to Egypt?” Joseph already knew that and he knew when they were born. Jacob is alluding to something else. He is acknowledging and redeeming something very painful in the life of Joseph, symbolized by the birth and the names of these two sons.
Who were these boys and what did their birth mean? They were born to Joseph at the height of his power, and when it seemed that Joseph was out of the family and making a new one. At the time he couldn’t go back and redo the past with a family that didn’t care and really didn’t exist to him anymore to him. Pharaoh had become a father to him now, even renaming Joseph and giving him a wife. That wife gave him those two sons, and they were named for the pain he had gone through. It is possible that these names bothered Jacob every time he said them, knowing why they were named that way. They represented Egypt before Jacob, before they both knew the truth. Jacob wanted Joseph to know that he had accepted Joseph’s children and that they were no longer symbols of Joseph’s pain and alienation. Jacob would hold them as dear to him as his own children. What is the implication of all this?
He was not just accepting them, he was giving them special status. He was making them on the same level as Reuben and Simeon and the others. In other words, they would become tribes with their own territory in Canaan. Israel’s tribes do not include Joseph because Ephraim and Manasseh were elevated to represent their father. Joseph will account for two tribes in Israel, but all the other brothers will only account for one. This alludes to the “double portion” that belongs to the “bikur” or first-born (Deut 21.16-17). Jacob was saying that Ephraim and Manasseh constituted an acknowledgment of the status of first-born upon Joseph. Joseph was not only the first-born as far as Jacob was concerned, but he acted like a first-born as Jacob was on his deathbed. Joseph advanced the family interest by taking care of the burial request of his father. He is on board with the destiny that God gave to his father and to the best interests of the family.
The final verses of Genesis (50.24-26) tell us about Joseph’s request concerning his burial. He says God will “redeem you” and this is a powerful word. Why would they need to be redeemed in this great land, with so many things going for them. Did he forget they were landowners! But, Joseph knew that his family and people will need to be redeemed at some point. Joseph and the family can’t leave right now, it has become a prison of success. However, in the future, that prison will be replaced by another prison. Jacob makes Joseph swear to bury him in Canaan, now Joseph makes his brothers swear to bury him there, even if it is many years later. His heart was with the destiny of his people according to the promises that God gave to his father.
In Part 24, we will pick with much more about the death and burial procession of Jacob, and how it will relate to the Exodus.