Genesis 26-50

Jacob and Joseph


1. Summary

  • Jacob’s life demonstrated how God would later use Israel as a means of grace to the world
  • God’s covenant promises continued to be passed down through the generations
  • Jacob’s son’s experiences taught Israel loyalty to God and unity with each other

2. Structure

Jacob (Gen. 25:19 – Gen. 37:1)

Joseph (Gen. 37:2 – Gen. 50:26)


I. Jacob (25:19-37:1)

A. General Analysis

a Jacob in the land (Gen. 25:19 – Gen. 27:40)

b Jacob outside the land (Gen. 27:41 – Gen. 33:17)

a’ Jacob back in the land (Gen. 33:18 – Gen. 35:29)[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 53.[/footnote]

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Jacob’s Travels[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

2. Jacob and Isaac

Isaac is like a valley between two mountains. You have the mountain Abraham and the mountain Jacob, and Isaac is a kind of a valley. He doesn’t do too much. He is a fainter copy of his father.
However, the account of Isaac is introduced with two revelations of covenantal promises (Gen. 26:2-6; Gen. 26:23-24). There are also two examples of God’s protective presence. He protects the endangered ancestress (Gen. 26:7-11) and Isaac’s wealth (Gen. 26:8-15; Gen. 26:16-22). At Beersheba the Philistines renewed their peace pact with Isaac.

All of these historical facts informed the Israelites following Moses about important dimensions of their own identity and their reactions to peoples whom they would surely encounter in the land, as they continue to guide all believers in their relations with others.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 54.[/footnote]

Just as God gave blessed Abraham “room” in his controversy with Lot, and just as God provided room for Isaac in the “well controversy” (Gen. 26:22), so the Israelites would be encouraged that God would give them “room” as they took the Promised Land.

3. Jacob and Esau

a. Their Prenatal Struggle[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Genesis to Joshua (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote] The two individuals struggling in the womb (Gen. 25:19-26), represent two nations which will struggle with each other in the world (Gen. 25:23).

And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger (Genesis 25:23).

Jacob represented Israel’s twelve tribes (Gen. 35:16-29) and Esau the Edomites (Gen. 36:1-43). Yahweh’s choice of the younger over the older foreshadowed His choice of the younger nation, Israel, over the older nations of the earth.
b. Their birthright struggle
Where there were numerous sons, the firstborn was entitled to the major portion although the others got something. But where there were only two sons, the firstborn inherited both portions. However, the privilege also brought the responsibility of protecting and leading the family.
For the sake of satisfying his hungry stomach, Esau swore away his rights as firstborn and his entitlement to the patriarchal promises (Gen. 25:33-34). This narrative confirmed to the original readers that they were legally entitled to the land and not the Edomites.
However, the relationship between Jacob and Esau also instructed Israel how to treat the Edomites.

Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land (Deuteronomy 23:7).

Esau thought that the birthright and blessing were separate. He still expected the blessing even though he knew he had lost the birthright. But they could not be separated. Both concerned the firstborn’s rights to property, power, prosperity (Gen. 27:27-29). Esau reneged on his oath. Isaac went against God’s plan knowingly. Rebecca desired the right thing but used wrong methods and Jacob deceived his father. But God overruled everything.
c. Their Marriages
Esau took heathen and Canaanite wives (Gen. 26:34; Gen. 28:6-9), and so is rejected by God and doomed to a servile role.
Jacob is blessed with the inheritance, and, though he flees, he remains separate from Canaanite women (Gen. 28:1-4). He receives the divine promise (Gen. 28:13-15), and recognizes the value of the land (Gen. 28:16-22). God reasserted his commitment to Abraham by promising to give the land to Jacob and to make him the father of a great multitude.

The arrangement of this section serves to highlight two main themes: (1) Yahweh’s gracious protection of Israel’s weak and scheming ancestor, emphasized by the matching of Yahweh’s two gracious appearances to Jacob at Bethel and by Yahweh’s key role in Jacob’s escape at the story’s centre; and (2) the chaos caused by family strife and social disorder (through the repetition of matching stories of strife and disorder).[footnote]D Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 59.[/footnote]

d. Their reconciliation (Gen. 32:1 – Gen. 33:17)
Having previously prevailed by trickery, Jacob now prevails by trust in God (Gen. 32:7-12) and humility before Esau (Gen. 32:20). However, he is careful to separate from Esau (Gen. 33:12-17).
Moses’ Message: Israel, not Edom, has the God-given right to the land, and recognizing God’s gracious choice should behave generously to the Edomites while maintaining separation from them.

4. Jacob and Laban

a. Archaeology
Archaeology has confirmed some of the biblical customs narrated in this section.

It is interesting to observe in the case of Jacob, who had gone to work for Laban in the Mesopotamian area by Padan-aram (Gen. 29:16-30), that there are parallels in the Nuzi documents to the obligation which was laid upon Jacob to work for 7 years in order to earn the right to marry Laban’s daughter. The Nuzi documents record that it was common for a man to work for a specified length of time prior to receiving his wife from her father. Furthermore, it is significant that there is a prohibition laid upon Jacob against marrying outside of the family. Laban says to Jacob in Gen. 31:50 , “If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see God is witness between me and you.” This prohibition, as stated by Laban, is again attested by a similar Nuzi custom in which it was forbidden that a man should take another wife beside the one he originally labored to obtain. Thus we see again that Nuzi documentation of the contemporary customs of the Patriarchal period illustrates the reliability of the biblical record and illumines the practices common to that day.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

b. Hard lessons
God cared for Jacob and taught him some hard lessons about himself from his encounters in the northern regions of Syria.

The Jacob cycle pivots on Genesis 30, in which, in Haran, the barren Rachel becomes fertile and Jacob’s wealth is established. Up to this point the narratives present themes of family alienation, strife, infertility, and bitterness. From this point onward, the tone becomes one of return, reconciliation, abounding fertility, and blessing. In sum, the Jacob cycle underscores blessing for Israel as national fertility and abundance within the Promised Land, acquired only by discipline outside of the land and by due recognition of the source from which the gift of land must come.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 30.[/footnote]

c. Blessing
Just as the Philistine kings had recognized God’s blessing on Abraham (Gen. 21:22) and Isaac (Gen. 26:28-29) so Laban recognized God’s blessing on Jacob (Gen. 30:27). The original audience would have been encouraged to see that outsiders recognized God’s blessing on their patriarchal ancestor.

The predecessors of the 12 tribes retraced Abraham’s journey from Padan Aram, and later from Egypt, accompanied by great wealth, en route to the promised land. Their journey also foreshadowed Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Deut. 26:5-8; Hos. 12:12-13); Jacob and his family departed in response to God’s call (Gen. 31:3) to worship in the land of Canaan (Gen. 31:13; Gen. 31:17) after plundering their enemy of wealth and gods (Gen. 31:17-21). The slow-moving procession was pursued and overtaken by superior forces (Gen. 31:22-23) but delivered by divine intervention (Gen. 31:24). This also prefigures the pilgrimage of all of God’s people to the new heaven and the new earth.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 63.[/footnote]

These details foreshadow the later history of Israel. They point to the difficulty that the twelve tribes will have in occupying the land and suggest that the land will come to Israel only when she, too, has learned the meaning of full submission.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 30.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: God will use chastisement to prepare His people for further blessings in the Promised Land.

5. Jacob and the Lord

The Lord appeared to Jacob and gave him assurances at critical junctures in his life; on his flight from the land (Gen. 31:10-22), in the face of threat from Laban’s sons (Gen. 31:1-3), on his return to confront Esau (Gen. 32:1-2; Gen. 32:22-32), and on his return from the Canaanites (Gen. 35:1-15). He meets with the angel of the Lord on leaving and returning to the Promised Land. The angels are evidence of God keeping his promise to be with Jacob. The angel of the Lord would later accompany Israel from Egypt to Canaan.
a. Promise of Progeny
The covenant promises finally begin to be fulfilled in Jacob’s growing family. These twelve sons became the twelve tribes of the nation Israel. The land promise awaits complete fulfillment but Abraham’s descendants are increasing in number.

The Jacob narratives take up the questions of progeny and land much more thoroughly. Much attention is paid to progeny, stemming primarily from Rebecca and Rachel, and then from Leah. Rebecca and Rachel, like Sarah before them, are both barren, and blessing comes only, as it always must, by divine intervention. God alone will bring the people of the promise into being. The conflict narratives between Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, and Jacob and Laban arise from birth narratives, and thus the ground is laid for the later OT hostility between Israel and the Transjordanian peoples.[footnote]Ibid., 30.[/footnote]

b. Promise of Land
Following the example of his father, Jacob purchased a plot in the land and set up an altar to God (Gen. 33:19-20), so cementing his position as Abraham’s true heir.

6. Covenant Promises and Covenant Blessings

The two threads of covenant promises and covenant blessings hold this narrative together;
a. Covenant Promises

God to Rebecca (Gen. 25:23)
God to Isaac (Gen. 26:2-4).
God to Isaac (Gen. 26:24)
God to Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15)
Jacob pleads promise (Gen. 32:12)
Angel of the Lord to Jacob (Gen. 32:29)
God to Jacob (Gen. 35:11-12)

b. Covenant Blessing

God promises to bless Isaac (Gen. 26:3)
God blesses Isaac with material prosperity (Gen. 26:12)
Abimelech recognizes God’s blessing on Isaac (Gen. 26:16; Gen. 26:28-29)
Isaac gives the Lord’s blessing to Jacob (Gen. 27:27-29)
Isaac prays for Abrahamic blessings on Jacob (Gen. 28:3-4)
God blesses Jacob with 12 sons (Gen. 29:31 – Gen. 30:24)
The Lord blesses Laban because of Jacob (Gen. 30:27-30)
The Lord blesses Jacob despite Laban (Gen. 30:43)
The Lord protects Jacob from Laban (Gen. 31:24).

C. New Testament Analysis

1. God’s sovereign election (Rom. 9:10-13)

In one sense two people could not be more equal. In another sense they could not be more different. What makes the difference?

Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated (Rom. 9:13).


2. Jacob’s ladder

The ladder is a picture, a preview of what God is going to do. Man can never go to heaven by his strength, rather God must come down to where man is, if man is to be dealt with and saved. Jacob’s ladder was the Lord’s answer to the tower of Babel.

And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (John 1:51).


3. Profane Esau

Esau despised his birthright. God hates the man who holds his promises in contempt.

Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears (Heb. 12:16-17).


II. Joseph

A. General Analysis

a The Patriarch’s past disunity (Gen. 37:2 – Gen. 41:57)

b The Patriarchs harmony (Gen. 42:1 – Gen. 47:28)

a’ The Patriarchs united (Gen. 47:29 – Gen. 50:26)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Hyksos or Egyptians?

There has been a lot of debate about who was ruling Egypt at the time of Joseph’s rise to power. One view, based largely on the apparent friendliness between Joseph and Pharaoh, has been that it was a Semitic Hyksos dynasty, who would have been sympathetic to their fellow Semites, Joseph and his family. The Hyksos were a mixed group of invaders from Asia who began infiltrating Northern Egypt about 1900 BC. They eventually captured Memphis in the south and gained overall control by 1730 BC. However, assuming a 1446 BC date for the exodus, the probable date for Jacob entering Egypt during Joseph’s rule was about 1876 BC which was between 90-140 years before the Hyksos obtained central power.
There may well have been friendly sympathy between the Hyksos and the Hebrews because of their Canaanite language and Asiatic origin. However, the Biblical text indicates that the Pharaoh who welcomed Joseph was a native Egyptian and not a Semitic foreigner.
a. The Egyptians treated Joseph’s brothers with nationalistic contempt by making them sit by themselves to eat rather than as guests (Gen. 43:32). The Hyksos would have been more hospitable to other Semitic immigrants.
b. The Egyptian government was strongly averse to shepherds (Gen. 46:34). This is verified by pictures on Egyptian monuments. However, this could never be true of the Hyksos who were actually known as the “Shepherd-Kings.”
The chronology which fits the biblical evidence for an “early” exodus is:
1900 BC Hyksos begin incursions into Northern Egypt
1876 BC Jacob and family enter Egypt
1859 BC Jacob died
1805 BC Joseph died
1730 BC Hyksos take control of Egypt with new Hyksos Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Ex. 1:8)

2. Why Joseph?

Although the Joseph narrative is different in style from that of the patriarchs, it continues the theme of the patriarchal narratives – God overcomes obstacles to the fulfillment of the promise.

In this case, the family of God is threatened by famine that could easily have brought all the promises to a rapid end. Nonetheless, God wonderfully preserved his people through near-miraculous means…. This theme, that God overrules the wicked intentions of men and women in order to save his people, runs throughout the Old Testament, but perhaps nowhere more explicitly than in the Joseph narrative.[footnote]R Dillard & T Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 54.[/footnote]

However, despite the continuity of theme, the account of Joseph is unique among the patriarchal narratives. Unlike Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph is not in the direct line of the covenant promises. The Messiah came through the tribe of Judah. Why then is this narrative included?
The Joseph narrative is included, firstly, because his holy life in the midst of trial and persecution is worthy of emulation. Secondly, the Joseph narrative explains how God’s people came to be in Egypt instead of Palestine.
Also, as the Israelites followed Moses toward the Promised Land their tribal identities came from these brothers. So, the Israelites were encouraged to learn about their responsibility to each other and to God from the events the brothers passed through.
Moses’ Message: Disunity among the tribes led to sin and Egypt.

3. The Lord was with Joseph (Gen. 39:2-3; Gen. 39:21; Gen. 39:32)

This is the link between Joseph and the other patriarchs. Joseph experienced God’s blessing in prison as he continued to have faith in God’s good purposes. This narrative paralleled the imprisonment in Egypt of Moses’ original audience. The Hebrew of 39:21 is the same as that used in the account for the Exodus (Ex. 3:21; Ex. 11:3; Ex. 12:36). “God sent me” is repeated three times and forms the theological heart of the Joseph narrative (Gen. 45:5; Gen. 45:7-8; Gen. 50:19-21; Acts.7:9-10).
Moses’ Message: God is with His faithful people, and has a purpose for them, even in the midst of painful trials.

4. Mingling in the Promised Land

The brothers remained in the Promised Land while Joseph was in Egypt. However, they began to mix with the Canaanites. Judah, the fourth son of Leah, married a Canaanite woman who bore him three sons (Gen. 38).

This marriage outside the clan, particularly to a Canaanite, was reprehensible to patriarchal sensibilities as is clear from the careful efforts of both Abraham and Isaac to secure wives for their sons from among their own kinfolk (Gen. 24:3; Gen. 27:46). The refusal of Jacob and his sons to permit Dinah to marry Shechem, even after he had violated her, also reveals this spirit (Gen. 34:14). There was doubtless a tendency at work for Jacob’s sons to be assimilated to Canaanite culture and religion, an assimilation which would certainly be accelerated by inter-marriage. This must have alarmed Jacob, particularly since something of the Canaanite lifestyle had already been imbibed by his eldest son Reuben, who had violated one of the most cherished of patriarchal taboos, that against incest, by cohabiting with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). But Jacob’s concern was insignificant compared to that of Yahweh, who had called the patriarch and his fathers to be a people set apart from all other nations. That radical uniqueness of Israel was now being threatened by the syncretistic tendencies represented by Judah’s marriage. It is clear, therefore that Joseph was sent to Egypt not as an act of punishment but as a blessing of divine providence for Yahweh was using him to prepare the way for a period of incubation in which the nation of Israel would grow and mature in Egypt and become a suitable servant people. The selling of Joseph, then, should be viewed as a divine reaction to the marriage of Judah.[footnote]E H Merril, Kingdom of Priests (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992), 47.[/footnote]

Twice the narrative emphasizes that the Egyptians held the Israelite shepherds in contempt and so refused social relations with them (Gen. 43:32; Gen. 47:32).

Herein lies the clue to the rationale for the Egyptian sojourn. Whereas the Canaanites were willing to integrate and absorb the sons of Israel, the Egyptians held them in contempt. Judah’s intermarriage with the Canaanites (ch. 38) reflected the danger that the Canaanites presented to the patriarchs. The segregated culture of Egypt guaranteed that the Israelites would develop into a distinct nation within Egypt’s borders.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 84.[/footnote]

Through Joseph’s wisdom God preserved Israel in Goshen both physically (by providing food and land) and spiritually (by providing for the family’s isolation from the Egyptians) until their Exodus.
Moses’ Message: If you mix with the Canaanites, you will be exiled from the Promised Land.

5. Jacob’s blessings on his sons (Gen. 48:1 – Gen. 49:27)

E J Young rather minimizes the meaning, extent, and importance of these blessings:

But Jacob is here set forth in the role of a prophet who beholds the future condition of his sons as grown into tribes. This is the essence of the prophetic character of the blessing, rather than the prediction of particular historical events. There is no utterance in the poem which announces the capture of the promised land, or which points specifically to the time of Joshua.[footnote]E J Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (London: The Tyndale Press, 1953), 65.[/footnote]

However, these blessings closely parallel those of Moses (Deut. 33) that were given near his death, demonstrating that the information here was of great importance to the Israelite readers as they prepared to begin the conquest of Canaan. Jacob bypasses Reuben, Simeon and Levi and addresses his fourth son, Judah as the heir of the promise (Gen. 48:9-12) and the one through whom the promised Seed, the Shiloh (pacifier or peacemaker) will be born. Jacob’s prophecies cover the whole history of Israel, from the conquest and distribution of the land to the consummate reign of Jesus Christ.
Moses’ Message: God will bless Israel through the tribe of Judah.

6. Future of the Tribes

Jacob’s death and burial (Gen. 49:29 – Gen. 50:14)
Joseph’s death and burial (Gen. 50:24-25)[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Genesis to Joshua (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote] As Jacob reached the end of his life, his heart turned back to the Promised Land. He requested that he be buried there (Gen. 47:29-31), predicted his sons’ roles there (Gen. 48:1 – Gen. 49:28), and was eventually laid to rest there (Gen. 49:29 – Gen. 50:14). Both Jacob and Joseph look to the future when their bodies will be taken to Canaan. As he died Joseph encouraged the Israelites not to give up on the land promise.
The theme of the patriarchs was on Joseph’s lips at the time of his death. Aware that the Promised Land was Canaan and not Egypt, Joseph made his brothers promise to carry his bones to Canaan after his death (Gen. 50:25). The book ends looking to the future (“when God comes to you”), anticipating that day when God will fulfill His promises to His people. The era of the patriarchs was over but their hope continued.
Moses’ Message: Keep your heart and mind focused on the Promised Land, even in the face of death.

7. God Overcomes Obstacles

The narrative shows God’s power to bless and protect His people, even in foreign lands, God’s protection of the disadvantaged (Joseph, Tamar), God’s choice of the younger over the older (Joseph over his brothers), and God’s pattern of having his people wait for a long time before helping them or granting their desires (Joseph, Tamar, Jacob), foreshadowing Israel’s sojourn in Egypt.
Moses’ Message: God will bless His people though they be weak and suffer at the hands of the strong.

8. Link to Exodus

The concern of Genesis to bring Israel into human history concludes with one aspect of the Abrahamic promise having been actualized. Israel is a great nation, and is about to emerge on the political horizon. This people, now so numerous as to pose a threat to the Egyptians, needs a land to occupy. The Book of Exodus will show how this already existent people will gain its territory. The land does not result from the mere fact of historical occupancy, but God gives it as the great redemption of the exodus. The rest of the Pentateuch focuses on a theology of prospect for the people of God, showing how the paradise of Eden might be realized in and through Israel.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 31.[/footnote]

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Love the brethren

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (Jn. 13:35).


2. Joseph as hero of faith

By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones (Heb. 11:22).


3. Christ is the fulfillment of Judah’s prophecy

Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes (Gen. 49:8-11).

4. Christ is the fulfillment of Joseph’s type
The Joseph story continues the theme of the patriarchal narratives – God overcomes obstacles to the fulfillment of the promise (Gen. 50:20, Acts 2:22-24, Rom. 8:28).

Joseph prefigured Moses at the founding of Israel and Daniel at the end of Israel’s monarchy. All three were oppressed captives who came to power in a hostile land by pitting God’s wisdom against that of this world. In so doing they each displayed the superiority of God’s wisdom and his rule over the nations. They prefigured Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate Wisdom who was raised from the cross to rule the world.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 79.[/footnote]


III. The Message

Original Message: God has promised Israel (not Canaanites) the land, and so the tribes must act unitedly and humbly, with each fulfilling their own role as they move towards possession
Present Message: God has promised His people the heavenly Canaan and so they must act unitedly and humbly, with each fulfilling their role as they move towards possession.