Genesis 47

The Word Made Fresh

1Joseph went to Pharaoh and said, “My father and brothers with their livestock and all they own have come from the land of Canaan, and are now in Goshen.” 2He took five of his brothers with him to meet Pharaoh. 3Pharaoh asked them, “What sort of work do you do?” They answered, “Your servants are shepherds,” they said, “as were our fathers. 4We have come to live here as foreigners because the famine has left no pastureland in Canaan. We are here to ask that you let us settle in Goshen.”

5Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, 6and all Egypt is before you. Settle them in the best part of the country. Let them live in Goshen and, if they are good at what they do, put them in charge of my animals, too.”

7Then Joseph brought his father Jacob to greet Pharaoh. 8Pharaoh asked how old he was 9and Jacob said, “I have lived 130 difficult years. I’m not nearly as old as my fathers before me.” 10Then Jacob left, and he wished Pharaoh well. 11Joseph gave his brothers a land grant in the best part of Egypt, in the land of Rameses according to Pharaoh’s orders, 12and provided enough food for his father and brother and all their families.

13The time came, though, when there was no food anywhere in Egypt because of the famine, which remained severe. Egypt and Canaan both withered away in the drought. 14Joseph sold food in Egypt and Canaan until the people were out of funds. He turned the money over to Pharaoh. 15When the people of Egypt and Canaan had no more money the Egyptians came to Joseph begging. “Give us food!” they pleaded. “Why watch us die? We have no money.”

16Joseph said, “If your money is gone, I’ll give you food in exchange for your animals.” 17So that year they brought Joseph all their livestock – horses, flocks, herds and donkeys – and he gave them food in exchange.

18The next year they came to him and said, “As you know, our money is all gone, and our livestock now belongs to you. We have nothing left but ourselves and our land. 19Why should we die before your very eyes, and our land perish as well? Buy us and our land for food to eat. We will be Pharaoh’s slaves. Just give us grain so that we might not perish, and our lands become wastelands.”

20So, Joseph obtained all the land in Egypt because the famine lasted so long, and the land became Pharaoh’s, 21and all the Egyptians from one end of the country to the other became Pharaoh’s slaves. 22The only land he did not buy belonged to the priests. They had an income from Pharaoh and lived on that and didn’t have to sell their land.

23Then Joseph provided the people with seed for sowing the land. 24He told them, “At harvest time you must give Pharaoh one-fifth. The rest is yours to feed yourselves and your little ones, and to use as seed to replant the fields.”

25They said, “You have saved our lives. We will be Pharaoh’s slaves so that we may find favor with our lord.” 26Joseph made it a law in the land that is still in force today, that Pharaoh be paid a fifth of the harvest. All the land became Pharaoh’s except the land belonging to the priests.

27And that is how the children of Israel came to live in Egypt, in the region of Goshen, for they had acquired a portion of the land. They were successful in their labors and their number steadily increased.

28Jacob dwelt in Egypt for seventeen years and lived to be 147 years old. 29Before he died, Israel summoned his son Joseph. He said, “If you have regard for me, place your hand under my thigh and promise you will be loyal and true to me. Don’t bury me in Egypt. 30When I die, carry me out of Egypt and bury me with my fathers.”

“I promise,” Joseph told him.

31“Then swear a solemn oath to me,” Jacob said, and Joseph gave his solemn oath, and Israel settled back on his bed.


1-6: Joseph brings in five of his brothers to meet Pharaoh and carry out the plan to settle them in Goshen. Pharaoh questions them and agrees that they should possess the “best part of the land,” which Goshen is not, but Pharaoh is trying to be nice and make it sound like such a deal. It is grassland, not farmland, so Goshen is not as valuable to the Egyptians; but it is in the north near the border and that will prove to be important later.

7-12: Joseph brings his father Jacob to meet with Pharaoh. Jacob summarizes the years of his life as “few and difficult.” Jacob blesses Pharaoh, although an alternate reading is that he “bade farewell” to Pharaoh. Goshen is now identified as being in the district of Rameses, which will spell trouble for them later on (see Exodus 1:11).

13-19: The severity of the famine grows with each passing year. Joseph collects all the money in the land, then acquires all the livestock. Having nothing left, the people offer to sell themselves and their land to Joseph for food.

20-26: Joseph thus acquires all the land and reduces the people to servitude (alternate texts add that he moves them into the cities where they can be controlled more easily). He does not, however, acquire the lands of the priests because Pharaoh is their benefactor. Joseph offers to give the people seed to plant in return for 20% of the harvest. They agree. The 20% becomes a permanent law in the land of Egypt. Joseph is thus setting in place the policies that will in the future result in the slavery of his own people.

27-31: The Israelites settle in Goshen and prosper. Seventeen years pass, and Jacob realizes that his remaining days are few. He summons Joseph and tells him that he does not wish to be buried in Egypt, but that he wishes to be buried in Canaan “with my fathers.”  Joseph swears to it.


The story seems to be headed for a good conclusion, but anytime a human being is given absolute power, trouble is bound to follow. Joseph is a good man, but the policies he instituted in Egypt lead to incredible suffering for generations. We can be sure, however, that God is never out of the picture.