James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.Genesis 37:1-47:31
DISPENSATIONAL ASPECT OF JACOB’S HISTORY
Following F.W. Grant in the Numerical Bible, the life of Jacob gives as its lesson the story of that discipline by which the Spirit of God brings us from weakness to power, from nature’s strength to that wholesome weakness in which alone is strength. But for this, natural strength must be crippled, which is provided for in two ways: in allowing us to realize the power of another nature (Esau) and in the direct dealing of God with our souls.
To this also correspond the two names which distinguish to two parts of Jacob’s life, before and after these experiences have done their work. He is Jacob in his methods, however, long after his heart is set upon divine things, and is only Israel when, his human strength broken down, he halts upon his thigh. These two names Jacob and Israel are applied all through the Scriptures in a very beautiful manner to the nation which sprang from him, and of which he is the representative throughout. But of course the effect of God’s discipline upon them cannot be read in their history hitherto, and awaits the fulfillment of prophecy concerning them.
Their past history has been that of Jacob, but it will yet be said of “Jacob and of Israel: What hath God wrought!” (Numbers 23:23).
Jacob’s history divides itself into three parts his early life in Canaan, his stay in Padan-aram, and his life again as restored to Canaan; just as the history of the nation dispensationally divides itself into their first occupation of the land, their present dispersion, and their future and perpetual enjoyment of it when God brings them back again.
We find a kind of parallel between the first part of Jacob’s life and that of the nation in his dream at Bethel when he is just about to leave the land, as we compare that dream with the application which Christ makes of it to Himself (John 1:51). Christ, as the Son of man, secures to Israel the care and ministrations of Jehovah while the nation is outcast from their inheritance, and when they shall with Nathanael’s faith confess Christ as Son of God and King of Israel, they shall have in a more blessed way than ever their “house of God” on earth.
In the same way Jacob’s history at Padan-aram suggests a parallel with the nation as they are now scattered from their land, for during the twenty years of Jacob’s exile he enjoyed no such revelations of God’s presence as he did before. During that time God deals with him as He is now dealing with the nation, as one for whom He has a purpose of blessing only to be reached through disciplinary sorrow. Like his descendants he is multiplied as the dust, while trampled into it. The nation today is enslaved, persecuted and yet preserved in order to merge in the end of the age into that place of wealth and power of which all the prophets speak.
Jacob’s return to his own land, in its application to the nation, brings us into the field of prophecy. For the nation, as well as for him, Peniel must prepare the way to Bethel. That the nation may not fall into the hands of their enemies, God, whose name is yet unknown to them, must take them into His own hand, crippling the human strength with which they contend with Him that in weakness they may hold Him fast for blessing. Thus, broken down in repentance and purged from idolatry, the nation will have their second Bethel when God will reveal to them His name so long hidden, and confirm to them the promise to their father Abraham.
1. What is the great lesson of Jacob’s life?
2. Divide his history in three parts and apply it dispensationally.
3. Quote from memory John 1:51.
4. In what way does the Padan-aram experience foreshadow Israel’s history today?
5. What event in Jacob’s life foreshadows a similar one yet to follow in the history of Israel?
The general familiarity with these chapters warrants the grouping of them in one lesson, especially since little within our present scope requires explanation.
LOVED AND HATED (Genesis 37)
It may seem foolish for Joseph to have made known his dreams to his brethren, and thus increase their enmity against him, but we should consider God’s purpose in the matter, whether Joseph understood it or not. In the outcome it was important that they should know these dreams, which were really prophecies, in advance of their fulfillment for the sake of the moral effect upon them.
In this chapter it will be seen that the merchantmen are called both Ishmaelites and Midianites, both being in the company, perhaps, as their territories were contiguous in Arabia.
SOLD INTO SLAVERY (Genesis 39)
Note the faith and piety of Joseph as indicated in Genesis 39:9, in language unlike anything hitherto recorded of the patriarchs. Note too that according to Genesis 39:20 Potiphar must have doubted the truth of his wife’s charge, or else he would probably have executed Joseph.
FALSELY IMPRISONED (Genesis 40)
This chapter is chiefly notable for the further evidence it gives of Joseph’s intimate acquaintance with and faith in God, and the close dealings of God with him in the revelation of these things.
EXALTED TO THE THRONE (Genesis 41)
Note Pharaoh’s testimony to Joseph’s power with God (Genesis 41:38), not that he himself knew the true God, but that he witnessed to the power Joseph had with the God he (Joseph) served. How does this incident in Joseph’s life illustrate 1 Timothy 4:8, last clause?
The name given Joseph by Pharaoh merits attention despite the difficulty in its interpretation. The Revised Version spells it “Zaphenath-Paneah,” but it is not determined whether it is of Hebrew, Egyptian or Coptic derivation.
If the first, it may mean “Revealer of secrets”; if the second, “Bread of Life”; if the third, “Savior of the world,” all bearing on the same thought and any of them both significant and appropriate.
DEALING WITH HIS BRETHREN (CHAPS. 42-44)
The details of these chapters show the purpose of Joseph to multiply unlooked for events and complicate the situation for his brethren, both to awaken their conviction of wrong-doing in the past and an expectation of something still more mysterious, whether good or bad, in the future thus preparing them for the great revelation soon to be made.
In Genesis 42:17-18 the reference to the three days is important for its bearing on the death and resurrection of Christ. It will be well to note, for example, the vague way of the Hebrews in using the words. According to our usage, had Joseph’s brethren been imprisoned three days it would not have been until the fourth day that he changed his plan, but instead of that they were shut up by two nights and the intermediate day, with parts of the first and third days. This was the time Jesus was in the grave, so that there is no more reason to accuse the Bible of inaccuracy or contradiction in the one case than in the other.
REVEALING HIMSELF TO HIS BRETHREN (Genesis 45)
Why was Pharaoh so pleased to have Jacob and his family settle in Egypt? To show appreciation of Joseph? Yes, and for other reasons. It was not merely sixty-six souls that constituted the whole encampment of Jacob, but between three and four thousand souls, if we count all their dependents, which was a valuable accession to any nation when we consider the character of the people.
And there may have been another reason, if it be true that the reigning dynasty at this time was the Hyksos or Shepherd kings, i.e., Syrians or Asiatics who centuries before had invaded and seized upon the kingdom, and so were unpopular with the native races. It would be a great advantage
to them to have so powerful an accession of Asiatics as Jacob’s tribe represented, not only to increase their riches but to give additional firmness to the throne against the discontent and disturbance of the native races.
SETTLING THE FAMILY IN GOSHEN (CHAPS. 46-48)
Note the suitableness of Goshen as a place of settlement for the Israelites. In the first place, it afforded good pasturage and they were shepherds, but in some parts of it there was excellent tillage as well. In the next place, its location near the Isthmus of Suez made it easy to depart from later on when the necessity was so great. And last, but not least, it was a location where the least offense would be given to the native races, and there was reason for such offense because shepherds were held in abomination by them. Their subjugation by a shepherd race explains this in part, but there was another reason in that the Egyptians for religious reasons did not eat flesh. They worshipped the beasts which the Israelites ate and offered in sacrifice to God.
How long did Jacob live in Egypt (Genesis 47:28)? What solemn promise did he extract from Joseph just prior to his death (v. 29-31)? Do you think this expressed only the natural desire to be buried with his own people, or did it express faith in the divine promise that his seed should ultimately inherit Canaan?
1. What name did Pharaoh give Joseph, and what are its possible meanings?
2. How does this lesson throw light on the period that Christ remained in the grave?
3. What probable dynasty of Pharaoh’s is before us in this lesson?
4. Give some reasons for Pharaoh’s satisfaction in welcoming the Israelites to Egypt.
5. What made Goshen a desirable locality for them?
TYPICAL AND DISPENSATIONAL ASPECTS OF JOSEPH’S HISTORY
The life of Joseph more than any other patriarch suggests that of Christ and shadows forth the history of Israel as a nation.
The first view we have of him he is loved of his father and hated by his brethren, and there are three things for which his brethren hated him, namely: the love of his father for him, his separation from them in a moral sense, and his dreams in which his future supremacy is announced. There were the same things for which Christ was hated by his brethren after the flesh: His Father’s love; His separation from them (John 15:17-25); and the announcement of His future glory (Matthew 27:57-66).
Joseph is conspired against and sold, and it is his love-mission to his brethren, as sent by his father, that gives occasion for this. How like our Savior in His coming unto Israel! Joseph is cast into a pit at first, but instead of putting him to death his brethren sell him to the Ishmaelites. So the Jews, knowing it was not lawful for them to put any man to death, transferred Jesus to the Gentiles.
Joseph is a slave in the house of the Egyptian, but that house is greatly blessed of God because he is in it: a type of Christ’s ministry to the world while He abode therein. And yet Joseph’s goodness to the Egyptian did not avail in the face of false accusation, nor did that of Christ to the world. The former is cast into prison where again all things come under his hand, and so Christ descends into a darker prison-house where He manifests Himself as master of all there (Colossians 2:15; 1 Peter 3:18-22).
Joseph’s humiliation issues in exaltation; the parallel to which in Christ’s case is as we see Him raised from the grave to the throne of glory. “God sent me before you to preserve life,” said Joseph to his brethren, and Jesus at the right hand of God in ministering in the spiritual sense, to His brethren of Israel to whom He is as yet unknown.
But connected with Joseph’s exaltation he enters a new relationship that of marriage with a Gentile woman, suggesting the unique relationship of Christ to His church, compose chiefly of Gentile believers.
Now comes the time of famine which speaks of the period at the end of this age, a literal seven years as indicated by Daniel 9, when the church shall have been translated to meet her Lord in the air, and Israel will be preparing through trial to recognize and receive her rejected Lord.
BENJAMIN BLENDED WITH JOSEPH
At this point Benjamin comes into view as blended with Joseph in the prototypical relation. All at last is made to depend upon Benjamin. No one person could be a full type of Christ, and Benjamin is brought in to supplement what is lacking in Joseph. Benjamin means the son of my right hand, and he represents the Messiah of power for whom the Jews have always been looking. But Benjamin, before he was called by his father the name which means the son of my right hand, was named by his mother Benoni, which means the son of my sorrow. It was necessary for Christ to be the sufferer before He could be the conqueror. Christ, known to us as the rejected One, is now exalted and seated at the right hand of God, and he is the One whom Israel does not know. A Christ triumphant and reigning over the earth is the one for whom they have always looked; the Sufferer for whom they did not look but who must precede the Conqueror they have refused.
But power does not lie with Benjamin for whom his brethren are looking, but with Joseph whom they have refused. As a conquering Messiah Christ has been prophesied to them, and as such He longs to display Himself in their behalf. This he cannot do without atonement for the sin that led them to their refusal of Him. For this they must be brought to repentance, and God sends them into an agony for their ideal Messiah that makes them ready to receive the true one. In the last great sorrow that shall overtake Israel as a nation this shall be accomplished. Before Him whom they do not know they shall plead for the Benjamin who has been lost to them, and in the agony of that hour, while they are still pleading for the ideal conquering Messiah, the heavens shall suddenly open and they shall be overwhelmed by a revelation of the Christ they refused (Zechariah 12:10).