Chapter 46 picks up where Chapter 45 left off, when Pharaoh extends to Joseph an invitation to bring his family to Egypt to ride out the famine that was well underway at this point. Jacob, after some deliberation, sees that God is at work in all this and agrees to go. In Chapter 46, we see in the opening verses his preparations for travel, and this is of note. When my wife and I travel anywhere, it is a routine necessity that we pray to God before embarking on our trip for traveling mercies. To be honest, it is a good practice to get into, and as we see here it was also modeled for us in Genesis with Jacob's example. Note that before Jacob starts his journey to Egypt, he stops off in Beersheba (Well of the Oath) and offered a sacrifice. Apparently, this was also a stop on the journey, and they put up for the night there as well. Note where this is - the Well of the Oath, the very place his father and grandfather were established in divine covenant too with God. A lot was probably going through Jacob's mind at this point as he prepared the sacrifice, and no doubt it was impacted by the history of this place and the promises he was aware of that were made here and what those symbolized. One thing that had to be crossing his mind was this - So, God made this covenant with Grandad and Dad, yet we are going to Egypt now. Does this mean something has changed? So, as Jacob slept, God used that situation as an opportunity to visit Jacob in what was called a "vision of the night." This vision may not have been a dream, and perhaps Jacob had so much on his mind that he slept light, and therefore God appeared to him. When God does appear, He reassures Jacob first that this is right, and that for some reason he is supposed to go into Egypt for that season. God also tells Jacob that it will be in Egypt where his descendants will be grown into a great nation. This is significant too, as throughout Scripture we see Egypt playing this pivotal role in the chronicle of God's people, even going back to Abraham, and later with the Exodus, and still later entailing both the Ark of the Covenant and Jesus Himself. Part of what God said stipulates that this time in Egypt was for a season only, and that Jacob's descendants would in the future return to the land promised by God to their fathers. A puzzling aspect of this "night vision" was specific to Joseph - God tells Jacob that Joseph will "put his hand on your eyes," and this has a mysterious curiosity for us who read it now. Apparently it also did for the early Fathers of the Church, as many of them had a lot to say about it. St. Ambrose, for instance, proposed in his writings that Jacob, because of advanced age at this point, had either impaired vision or was even totally blind. However, St. Chrysostom proposes something else - Joseph would get to see Jacob before Jacob passed away, and would "close his eyes in death." I would propose that perhaps both of these were true - Jacob's eyesight was failing, but also because of his advanced age he would die in Egypt but would at least get to see his beloved son Joseph before he did so. At any rate, God's encouragement to Jacob was probably what he needed, and there is a lesson in this for us. When we make important decisions, it is important to seek God's counsel on those decisions. As we discussed in the earlier study on the Lord's Prayer, the late Roman Catholic theologian Romano Guardini identified the petition "Thy will be done" as the "gateway petition" to the whole prayer for a reason, and Jacob's example beautifully illustrates that for us. We as Christians fail to do this on many occasions, and that leads me to a bit of soapboxing in lieu of the coming election that is on the horizon as I am typing this (in November 2016).
Recently on social media discussions, I found myself engaged in some heated discussions over who was better to vote for, and often in the United States these days when it comes to elections we tend to settle for a "lesser evil" rather than seeking the higher good. In a recent Moral Theology class assignment at my university, we were required to read selected chapters of a book by Germain Grisez entitled Christian Moral Principles, and if you are familiar with the work, Grisez is writing it in a similar (albeit more readable) style of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologia, and one part I want to focus on in that text is in Chapter 4, Question C, where he is discussing the mistaken theories that are often advanced regarding moral principles. One of those theories he debunks in this section is similar to an idea called proportionalism, which essentially presupposes that one can determine the right course of moral action by weighing the good and evil consequences, and then choosing what is called the "lesser evil." This mentality pretty much summarizes the election that is about to take place at the time I am typing this lesson up, and it is refuted by Grisez on a couple of levels. First, Grisez argues that such a view makes a moral norm subject to validation by personal choice, and that in effect nullifies relying on God's will in the matter, or trying to fit God's will into a preconceived proportionalist box. As Grisez also correctly points out, it also risks ignoring clear standards God has established in natural law, which He Himself created, and it leads to three facts that Grisez lays out for us:
1. Although some duties can be avoided or assumed by choice, it doesn't excuse moral responsibility for those choices.
2. Arguments used to support this variation of proportionalist thought are often based on equivocations, speculations, and the feelings of those supporting it rather than on objective reasoning based on supernatural Revelation and natural law. Decisions therefore are based on bad judgment, and choice is based on bad action.
3. Moral norms can be true yet ignored, while a law can be obeyed and still be immoral.
It is because of these facts that both natural law and supernatural Revelation dictate to us the necessity of submission to God's will in all things, and that is why Jacob sets for us an example here of doing just that. Jacob understood, as we should, that decisions lead to choice, and both the decision and the choice must fall in line with God's will, as much was at stake. Therefore, by seeking God, Jacob aligned his decision and choice to journey to Egypt with God's will for him doing so, and thus he got the "green light" to go.
Jacob was obviously not alone on the journey either, as he had at least 74 other people with him, of which 66 were males, including his other 11 sons. When they arrive, Joseph meets them in the land of Goshen where they would settle thanks to Pharaoh's invitation, and would continue their livelihood as pastoralists. This again substantiates why it stands to reason that the Hyksos regime ruled this part of Egypt at the time, in that the Pharaoh was extremely welcoming and generous concerning Joseph and his folks, which would not have been necessarily the case if a native Egyptian Pharaoh would have been in power (as we see later during the Exodus). Goshen was also chosen as well because shepherds were not looked upon kindly by the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34 states that the Egyptians thought shepherds to be an "abomination," probably due to the Hyksos raids that maybe were carried out against them by marauding nomadic herdsmen). St. Chrysostom also sheds light on another reason - due to the mystical nature of the Egyptian religion and the more practical pursuits of the nomadic herdsmen, the shepherds had no time to mess around with Egyptian mysticism. If that was true, this meant that the Egyptians probably felt as though foreign herdsmen were disrespecting their religious practices, and that was abominable to them too. Like many other areas in the Genesis narrative, it is possible all of this was true simultaneously. Therefore, Joseph and ultimately Pharaoh in their wisdom may have seen Goshen as an appropriate and safe area for Joseph's family to settle, in that few native Egyptians messed around or lived there, and thus, being Jacob was devoted to worshipping the true God, it would have also removed temptation to participate in idolatry from Jacob's family as well (note darbygray.blogspot.com - accessed 10/14/2016).
Although Joseph was able to meet up with his folks, Pharaoh had not yet met them but wanted to, and therefore Joseph advised they had arrived. There is an endearing quality here to Pharaoh's hospitality, and in reading the account in Chapter 47, one thing that stands out is the great reverence and respect Pharaoh displays regarding the elderly Jacob. This also suggests further evidence that this Pharaoh was not a native Egyptian either, as most native Egyptian Pharaohs saw themselves as "gods" as well and would not even associate with their own people, much less foreigners. However, Pharaoh not only shows Jacob a very high regard, but even sits down with him for an informal chat. Pharaoh first of all inquires of their work, and they reply as Joseph coached them to identify as shepherds. Pharaoh then formally welcomes them, and even offers some of the more capable of Jacob's party to be overseers of his own herds in the area, which in itself was a high honor. In verses 7-12, we see Pharaoh sitting down and catching up with Jacob. He asks in casual conversation Jacob's age, which he replies is 130 at that point, and then something interesting happens - Jacob blesses Pharaoh! This is, in my opinion, one of the most down-to-earth passages in the Genesis account, and there is something about it that just resonates personally with me in reading it - the respect that Pharaoh shows Jacob, and the kindness Jacob extends to Pharaoh by blessing him, is just something that warms the heart. There is no trace of formality or royal decorum seen in a casual reading of this passage, but rather it is just an informal conversation between the king of a great country and an old man that has garnered the king's respect as an elder. This too would have been very uncharacteristic of a native Egyptian pharaoh, and in what we see here there is a valuable insight to be seen - God times everything perfect, and the Hyksos ruling this part of Egypt at exactly this time and with these events (namely the famine) shows who really is ordering things. This is one of those Romans 8:28 moments.