Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
When Joseph had announced to Pharaoh the arrival of his relations in Goshen, he presented five out of the whole number of his brethren (אחיו מקצה; on קצה see Gen 19:4) to the king.
Pharaoh asked them about their occupation, and according to Joseph's instructions they replied that they were herdsmen (צאן רעה, the singular of the predicate, see Ges. 147c), who had come to sojourn in the land (גּוּר, i.e., to stay for a time), because the pasture for their flocks had failed in the land of Canaan on account of the famine. The king then empowered Joseph to give his father and his brethren a dwelling (הושׁיב) in the best part of the land, in the land of Goshen, and, if he knew any brave men among them, to make them rulers over the royal herds, which were kept, as we may infer, in the land of Goshen, as being the best pasture-land.
Joseph then presented his father to Pharaoh, but not till after the audience of his brothers had been followed by the royal permission to settle, for which the old man, who was bowed down with age, was not in a condition to sue. The patriarch saluted the king with a blessing, and replied to his inquiry as to his age, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are 130 years; few and sorrowful are the days of my life's years, and have not reached (the perfect in the presentiment of his approaching end) the days of the life's years of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage." Jacob called his own life and that of his fathers a pilgrimage (מגוּרים), because they had not come into actual possession of the promised land, but had been obliged all their life long to wander about, unsettled and homeless, in the land promised to them for an inheritance, as in a strange land. This pilgrimage was at the same time a figurative representation of the inconstancy and weariness of the earthly life, in which man does not attain to that true rest of peace with God and blessedness in His fellowship, for which he was created, and for which therefore his soul is continually longing (cf. Psa 39:13; Psa 119:19, Psa 119:54; Ch1 29:15). The apostle, therefore, could justly regard these words as a declaration of the longing of the patriarchs for the eternal rest of their heavenly fatherland (Heb 11:13-16). So also Jacob's life was little (מעט) and evil (i.e., full of toil and trouble) in comparison with the life of his fathers. For Abraham lived to be 175 years old, and Isaac 180; and neither of them had led a life so agitated, so full of distress and dangers, of tribulation and anguish, as Jacob had from his first flight to Haran up to the time of his removal to Egypt.
After this probably short interview, of which, however, only the leading incidents are given, Jacob left the king with a blessing.
Joseph assigned to his father and his brethren, according to Pharaoh's command, a possession (אחזּה) for a dwelling-place in the best part of Egypt, the land of Ramses, and provided them with bread, "according to the mouth of the little ones," i.e., according to the necessities of each family, answering to the larger or smaller number of their children. כּלכּל with a double accusative (Ges. 139). The settlement of the Israelites is called the land of Ramses (רעמסס, in pause רעמסס Exo 1:11), instead of Goshen, either because the province of Goshen (Γεσέμ, lxx) is indicated by the name of its former capital Ramses (i.e., Heroopolis, on the site or in the immediate neighbourhood of the modern Abu Keisheib, in Wady Tumilat (vid., Exo 1:11), or because Israel settled in the vicinity of Ramses. The district of Goshen is to be sought in the modern province of el Sharkiyeh (i.e., the eastern), on the east side of the Nile, towards Arabia, still the most fertile and productive province of Egypt (cf. Robinson, Pal. i. 78, 79). For Goshen was bounded on the east by the desert of Arabia Petraea, which stretches away to Philistia (Exo 13:17, cf. Ch1 7:21) and is called Γεσέμ Ἀραβίας in the Septuagint in consequence (Gen 45:10; Gen 46:34), and must have extended westwards to the Nile, since the Israelites had an abundance of fish (Num 11:5). It probably skirted the Tanitic arm of the Nile, as the fields of Zoan, i.e., Tanis, are said to have been the scene of the mighty acts of God in Egypt (Psa 78:12, Psa 78:43, cf. Num 13:22). In this province Joseph assigned his relations settlements near to himself (Gen 45:10), from which they could quickly and easily communicate with one another (Gen 46:28; Gen 48:1.). Whether he lived at Ramses or not, cannot be determined, just because the residence of the Pharaoh of that time is not known, and the notion that it was at Memphis is only based upon utterly uncertain combinations relating to the Hyksos.
To make the extent of the benefit conferred by Joseph upon his family, in providing them with the necessary supplies during the years of famine, all the more apparent, a description is given of the distress into which the inhabitants of Egypt and Canaan were plunged by the continuance of the famine.
The land of Egypt and the land of Canaan were exhausted with hunger. - ותּלהּ: from להה = לאה, to languish, to be exhausted, only occurring again in Pro 26:18, Hithp. in a secondary sense.
All the money in both countries was paid in to Joseph for the purchase of corn, and deposited by him in Pharaoh's house, i.e., the royal treasury.
When the money was exhausted, the Egyptians all came to Joseph with the petition: "Give us bread, why should we die before thee" (i.e., so that thou shouldst see us die, when in reality thou canst support us)? Joseph then offered to accept their cattle in payment; and they brought him near their herds, in return for which he provided them that year with bread. נהל: Piel to lead, with the secondary meaning, to care for (Psa 23:2; Isa 40:11, etc.); hence the signification here, "to maintain."
When that year had passed (תּתּם, as in Psa 102:28, to denote the termination of the year), they came again "the second year" (i.e., after the money was gone, not the second of the seven years of famine) and said: "We cannot hide it from my lord (אדוני, a title similar to your majesty), but the money is all gone, and the cattle have come to my lord; we have nothing left to offer to my lord but our bodies and our land." אם כּי is an intensified כּי following a negation ("but," as in Gen 32:29, etc.), and is to be understood elliptically; lit., "for if," sc., we would speak openly; not "that because," for the causal signification of אם is not established. תּם with אל is constructio praegnans: "completed to my lord," i.e., completely handed over to my lord. לפני נשׁאר is the same: "left before my lord," i.e., for us to lay before, or offer to my lord. "Why should we die before thine eyes, we and our land! Buy us and our land for bread, that we may be, we and our land, servants (subject) to Pharaoh; and give seed, that we may live and not die, and the land become not desolate." In the first clause נמוּת is transferred per zeugma to the land; in the last, the word תּשׁם is used to describe the destruction of the land. The form תּשׁם is the same as תּקל in Gen 16:4.
Thus Joseph secured the possession of the whole land to Pharaoh by purchase, and "the people he removed to cities, from one end of the land of Egypt to the other." לערים, not from one city to another, but "according to (= κατά) the cities;" so that he distributed the population of the whole land according to the cities in which the corn was housed, placing them partly in the cities themselves, and partly in the immediate neighbourhood.
The lands of the priests Joseph did not buy, "for the priests had an allowance from Pharaoh, and ate their allowance, which Pharaoh gave them; therefore they sold not their lands." חק a fixed allowance of food, as in Pro 30:8; Eze 16:27. This allowance was granted by Pharaoh probably only during the years of famine; in any case it was an arrangement which ceased when the possessions of the priests sufficed for their need, since, according to Diod. Sic. i. 73, the priests provided the sacrifices and the support of both themselves and their servants from the revenue of their lands; and with this Herodotus also agrees (2, 37).
Then Joseph said to the people: "Behold I have bought you this day and your land for Pharaoh; there have ye (הא only found in Eze 16:43 and Dan 2:43) seed, and sow the land; and of the produce ye shall give the fifth for Pharaoh, and four parts (ידת, as in Gen 43:34) shall belong to you for seed, and for the support of yourselves, your families and children." The people agreed to this; and the writer adds (Gen 47:26), it became a law, in existence to this day (his own time), "with regard to the land of Egypt for Pharaoh with reference to the fifth," i.e., that the fifth of the produce of the land should be paid to Pharaoh.
Profane writers have given at least an indirect support to the reality of this political reform of Joseph's. Herodotus, for example (2, 109), states that king Sesostris divided the land among the Egyptians, giving every one a square piece of the same size as his hereditary possession (κλῆρον), and derived his own revenue from a yearly tax upon them. Diod. Sic. (1, 73), again, says that all the land in Egypt belonged either to the priests, to the king, or to the warriors; and Strabo (xvii. p. 787), that the farmers and traders held rateable land, so that the peasants were not landowners. On the monuments, too, the kings, priests, and warriors only are represented as having landed property (cf. Wilkinson, Manners and Customs, i. 263). The biblical account says nothing about the exemption of the warriors from taxation and their possession of land, for that was a later arrangement. According to Herod. 2, 168, every warrior had received from former kings, as an honourable payment, twelve choice fields (ἄρουραι) free from taxation, but they were taken away by the Hephaesto-priest Sethos, a contemporary of Hezekiah, when he ascended the throne (Herod. 2, 141). But when Herodotus and Diodorus Sic. attribute to Sesostris the division of the land into 36 νομοί, and the letting of these for a yearly payment; these comparatively recent accounts simply transfer the arrangement, which was actually made by Joseph, to a half-mythical king, to whom the later legends ascribed all the greater deeds and more important measures of the early Pharaohs. And so far as Joseph's arrangement itself was concerned, not only had he the good of the people and the interests of the king in view, but the people themselves accepted it as a favour, inasmuch as in a land where the produce was regularly thirty-fold, the cession of a fifth could not be an oppressive burden. And it is probable that Joseph not only turned the temporary distress to account by raising the king into the position of sole possessor of the land, with the exception of that of the priests, and bringing the people into a condition of feudal dependence upon him, but had also a still more comprehensive object in view; viz., to secure the population against the danger of starvation in case the crops should fail at any future time, not only by dividing the arable land in equal proportions among the people generally, but, as has been conjectured, by laying the foundation for a system of cultivation regulated by laws and watched over by the state, and possibly also by commencing a system of artificial irrigation by means of canals, for the purpose of conveying the fertilizing water of the Nile as uniformly as possible to all parts of the land. (An explanation of this system is given by Hengstenberg in his Dissertations, from the Correspondance d'Orient par Michaud, etc.) To mention either these or any other plans of a similar kind, did not come within the scope of the book of Genesis, which restricts itself, in accordance with its purely religious intention, to a description of the way in which, during the years of famine, Joseph proved himself to both the king and people of Egypt to be the true support of the land, so that in him Israel already became a saviour of the Gentiles. The measures taken by Joseph are thus circumstantially described, partly because the relation into which the Egyptians were brought to their visible king bore a typical resemblance to the relation in which the Israelites were placed by the Mosaic constitution to Jehovah, their God-King, since they also had to give a double tenth, i.e., the fifth of the produce of their lands, and were in reality only farmers of the soil which Jehovah had given them in Canaan for a possession, so that they could not part with their hereditary possessions in perpetuity (Lev 25:23); and partly also because Joseph's conduct exhibited in type how God entrusts His servants with the good things of this earth, in order that they may use them not only for the preservation of the lives of individuals and nations, but also for the promotion of the purposes of His kingdom. For, as is stated in conclusion in Gen 47:27, not only did Joseph preserve the lives of the Egyptians, for which they expressed their acknowledgements (Gen 47:25), but under his administration the house of Israel was able, without suffering any privations, or being brought into a relation of dependence towards Pharaoh, to dwell in the land of Goshen, to establish itself there (נאחז as in Gen 34:10), and to become fruitful and multiply.
Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years. He then sent for Joseph, as he felt that his death was approaching; and having requested him, as a mark of love and faithfulness, not to bury him in Egypt, but near his fathers in Canaan, he made him assure him on oath (by putting his hand under his hip, vid., p. 164) that his wishes should be fulfilled. When Joseph had taken this oath, "Israel bowed (in worship) upon the bed's head." He had talked with Joseph while sitting upon the bed; and when Joseph had promised to fulfil his wish, he turned towards the head of the bed, so as to lie with his face upon the bed, and thus worshipped God, thanking Him for granting his wish, which sprang from living faith in the promises of God; just as David also worshipped upon his bed (Kg1 1:47-48). The Vulgate rendering is correct: adoravit Deum conversus ad lectuli caput. That of the lxx, on the contrary, is προσεκύνησεν Ἰσραὴλ ἐπὶ τὸ ἄδρον τῆς ῥάβδου αὐτοῦ (i.e., המּטּה); and the Syriac and Itala have the same (cf. Heb 11:21). But no fitting sense can be obtained from this rendering, unless we think of the staff with which Jacob had gone through life, and, taking αὐτου therefore in the sense of αὑτοῦ, assume that Jacob made use of the staff to enable him to sit upright in bed, and so prayed, bent upon or over it, though even then the expression המטה ראשׁ remains a strange one; so that unquestionably this rendering arose from a false reading of המטה, and is not proved to be correct by the quotation in Heb 11:21. "Adduxit enim lxx Interpr. versionem Apostolus, quod ea tum usitata esset, non quod lectionem illam praeferendam judicaret (Calovii Bibl. illustr. ad h. l.).