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Genesis 50:4-10 (ESV)

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father's household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days.

Why is Joseph speaking to the household of Pharaoh? Shouldn’t he be speaking directly with Pharaoh himself?

Well, it’s unlikely that the original Pharaoh who promoted Joseph to power is still alive. That Pharaoh dreamed of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Two years into the famine, Jacob moved to Egypt and then lived another 17 years. So, this is 26 years after the dream.

Each Pharaoh rules for a generation – specifically, however long he (the firstborn son) outlives his father. In ancient Egypt, that would normally be less than 26 years. And even if the Pharaoh who promoted Joseph ruled for more than 26 years, his dream didn’t necessarily occur at the beginning of his reign. He has to live 26 years after the dream to still be around. That’s unlikely.

So, the current Pharaoh probably was a kid growing in the royal household while Joseph was running things. He knows Joseph and respects him, but the spiritual connection isn’t there. Things are still pretty good; he lets them go home to bury Israel and sends a nice entourage with them.

But the relationship is starting to fade.

As we’ll soon see in Exodus, Jacob’s descendants are destined to be brutally abused by the people who once respected, even treasured them. That’s how it is in a world of sin.

Keeping promises isn’t a lost art; it never was an art. People keep promises until it’s no longer in their interest to keep them. Then they make excuses. That’s the ugly truth behind the quip, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

We don’t know if Pharaoh made a written law protecting Jacob’s family. If so, their freedom would have been harder to take. Still, a Pharaoh has absolute power; he can rewrite any law he doesn’t like.

Their enslavement was virtually inevitable.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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