Genesis 47:1-31: Prosperity in Egypt
Genesis 47:1-31: Prosperity in Egypt
We’ve been working our way passage by passage through the book of Genesis, and today the next passage we come to is Genesis 47:1-31, so I’ll be reading a selection of verses from that passage. It says,
1 So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” 2 And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. 3 Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” 4 They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” 5 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. 6 The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” 7 Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. 8 And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” 9 And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.” 10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. 11 Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents….27 Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. 28 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years. 29 And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” 31 And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed.
May God bless the reading of his Word.
Let’s pray: Father, we’re gathered around this text of Scripture today because we want to hear from you. And we want to hear from you because we want to know you more and love your more and be more conformed to your image. So, please, bless our efforts and glorify your name. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.One of the fastest-growing religious movements in the world is what’s often known as the Prosperity Gospel. It teaches that the rescue God offers us includes rescue not only from sin but also from poverty and illness and other earthly difficulties. That’s because, when Jesus died on the cross, he supposedly purchased healing and prosperity for everyone who will receive these things in faith. Exercising that faith involves replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts and also making positive declarations over our lives. That’s how we tap into the blessings God offers us. We’ve got to claim these blessings in faith. And as long as we do that, these earthly blessings such as health and wealth are guaranteed to us. They’re part of the package of our salvation.
Here's the way it’s described in the words of one Prosperity teacher. He says that “Negative thoughts come to us all. But when you speak them out loud, you give them life. That’s when they become a reality.” So, “when negative thoughts come, the key is to never verbalize them.” He also says, “You shouldn’t talk about the way you are. Talk about the way you want to be.…By faith you have to say, ‘I am blessed. I am successful. I am surrounded by God’s favor.’” “When you declare favor over your life and over your future, God will make things happen that should have never happened. Our attitude should be, I’m coming out of debt, and I’m saying so. This will be my best year, and I’m saying so. I will overcome every obstacle, and I’m saying so. I will accomplish my dreams, and I’m saying so.” ″‘No weapon formed against me will ever prosper. I will live out my days in good health, with a clear mind, with good memory, with clarity of thought. My mind is alert. My senses are sharp. My youth is being renewed.’ You must prophesy health. Prophesy a long, productive life. Your words will become your reality.” “Declare those statements by faith and before long, you will begin to see them [happen].” “It's our faith that activates the power of God.”
So, that’s what the Prosperity Gospel sounds like. It emphasizes positive thoughts and positive declarations and is rooted in the belief that health and wealth and prosperity are God’s will for every believer in this life.
So, what should we think about these ideas? Should we embrace them? Are they biblical? Well, as we look at the Bible, we do see some significant examples of God’s people enjoying immense material prosperity—particularly in the Old Testament. And one of these examples is our main passage this morning of Genesis 47. So, let’s begin just by looking at this passage and seeing what it says.
To remind you of what’s been happening, we’ve been reading about a man named Joseph and how Joseph’s brothers were so jealous of him that they sold him into slavery in Egypt. Yet Joseph eventually rose to become the second-in-command of Egypt. He was then given the task of selling grain from the Egyptian storehouses to people from Egypt and from surrounding nations in the midst of the severe famine that was taking place in that region of the world.
And guess who came to Egypt in order to buy grain? Joseph’s brothers, of course—the very same brothers who sold him into slavery. So, Joseph came up with an elaborate way to test them to see if they’d changed at all since he last knew them. Because if Joseph’s brothers hadn’t changed and he did welcome them with open arms in Egypt, it was very possible that they’d cause significant trouble for him there. So, Joseph had to know their character.
Fortunately, they did pass the test. As a result, Joseph began the process of arranging for his entire family—including his father, Jacob, and all of his brothers and their wives and children, numbering 70 people in all—to move from Canaan to Egypt.
Of course, this involved getting Pharaoh’s permission. Thankfully, though, Pharoah’s initial response to the idea, recorded back in chapter 45, was very positive. He told Joseph to have his family move to Egypt and that he’d give them “the best of the land of Egypt” and that they’d “eat the fat of the land.” So, when it comes to support from Pharaoh, it really doesn’t get much better than that. Pharaoh undoubtedly appreciates Joseph and the remarkable ability Joseph has shown in governing the land and therefore invites Joseph’s family to move to Egypt and enjoy the “best” of all that the land has to offer them. Chapter 46 then records Joseph’s family packing up and making the move—and the tearful reunion between Joseph and his father Jacob.
And that’s where the story picks up in our main passage today of Genesis 47. Even though Pharaoh previously invited Joseph’s family to come to Egypt and seemed very positive about the idea of them coming, nothing specific about where they’ll live or what they’ll do has been decided yet.
We then read in verses 1-4: 1 So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” 2 And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. 3 Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” 4 They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.”
The land of Goshen was a rich pastureland that was highly desirable for those who owned flocks and was also located toward the edges of Egyptian society, which would enable Joseph’s family to maintain their distinct identity.
We then read Pharaoh’s response to their request in verses 5-6: 5 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. 6 The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” And just like that, Joseph’s family has their request granted. They receive what they request of Pharaoh.
Then, moving down to verses 11-12, we read, 11 Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 12 And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents. The “land of Rameses,” by the way, is simply another name for Goshen.
The subsequent verses then record the way in which Joseph continues to demonstrate remarkable wisdom and competence as the Prime Minister of Egypt. He finds a way to preserve the lives of the people of Egypt, even in the midst of a severe famine, and also makes Pharaoh unbelievably wealthy—even wealthier than he had been before. As a result, Joseph is celebrated by the Egyptians as something of a national hero and is also highly regarded by Pharaoh. This means that Joseph’s position is secure and, therefore, that his family is also secure in the land of Goshen. We then read a summary statement in verse 27: “Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly.”
So, the main idea of this chapter is that, in the midst of a severe famine, God blessed Joseph’s family with immense prosperity in Egypt. In the midst of a severe famine, God blessed Joseph’s family with immense prosperity in Egypt. Keep in mind that this famine was so severe that it threatened the lives of people all over that region of the world. People were starving to death. Joseph even stated a couple of chapters ago that his family would have probably starved to death if they had been left to fend for themselves in the land of Canaan.
And even in the mighty nation of Egypt, which was typically insulated to a significant degree from famines by the Nile River that flowed through it and that usually provided reliable water for their crops, this particular famine was still unimaginably severe. You know, not that long ago, our country experienced shortages of a lot of things due to disruptions in the supply chain. I remember that baby formula in particular was one of the things that was in short supply and how that was a real issue for many families. But even that pales in comparison to what things were like in Egypt during this time. The famine eventually became so severe that people across the nation had to sell themselves into slavery to Pharaoh in order to survive. They had spent all of their money on food, sold all of their livestock in exchange for food, and eventually had no choice but to sell their land and even their very selves in order to obtain food. That’s how severe this famine was. Yet in the midst of the throes of this famine, Joseph’s family enjoyed unbelievable prosperity. God caused his people to prosper in a way that was particularly amazing given how bad things were in the nation as a whole.
So, we find ourselves back at the question about whether this is always what God’s people can expect. If we devote ourselves to God, as Joseph and his family did, can we expect God to prosper us as he prospered them? It’s a fair question, and we should be very thoughtful in the way we answer it. The question becomes even more intriguing when we consider the numerous other examples in various places throughout the Old Testament of God blessing his people with incredible earthly prosperity. I think of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Joshua, Boaz, David, Solomon, Daniel, and Esther—just to name a few. Suffice it to say that what we read in Genesis 47 isn’t an isolated incident of God blessing his people with material prosperity. It’s part of a larger pattern of God doing that.
However, it’s also important to recognize that, as we read the Bible, we also find a wide array of verses that should make us think twice before assuming that God promises us material prosperity in this life. For example, in Matthew 8:20, when a scribe tells Jesus he wants to follow him, Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, “I’m homeless, and if you follow me, you may very well find yourself homeless as well.” In addition, Jesus also tells his disciples in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Notice how Jesus doesn’t say, “In the world you will have prosperity.” He says, “In the world you will have tribulation”—hardship, suffering, persecution. And this is actually just one of several occasions on which Jesus predicts this for his disciples.
Then, as we move forward in the New Testament to the Apostle Paul, we see that prediction being fulfilled. We learn in 2 Corinthians 11 that he suffered numerous imprisonments, beatings, and shipwrecks—to the point that he almost died on several occasions. He records that he was also in danger almost constantly and experienced hunger and thirst on a regular basis and on top of that faced what he calls “cold and exposure.” So, to say the least, Paul was—materially speaking—not prosperous at all.
So, just consider those two examples—Jesus and Paul. Can we agree that Jesus and Paul are relatively prominent figures in the New Testament? And can we also agree that they were pretty godly? Yet, strangely enough, neither one of them was materially prosperous at all. So, if it’s true that God guarantees earthly prosperity to everyone who follows him and has enough faith, that would mean Jesus is the greatest imposter in the history of the church, and the Apostle Paul is one of the church’s biggest failures. I’m not sure I’m prepared to accept that.
In addition, nowhere do we find any guarantee that Christians will enjoy material prosperity. On the contrary, we already saw how Jesus tells us to expect “tribulation” in this world. Moreover, the Apostle Peter writes this to believers in 1 Peter 4:12-13: 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings…. So, we shouldn’t be surprised at fiery trials of persecution as though something strange were happening to us. Instead, the clear implication is that we should regard those trials as normal.
On top of all of this, as we read through the New Testament, not only do we find no guarantees of material prosperity in this life, we actually find numerous warnings about the dangers of an excessive focus on material prosperity. These warnings are far too numerous for me to share or even list them all, but just to give an example, Jesus says in Luke 12:15, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” He then tells a parable in verses 16-21: 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
We likewise find Paul issuing a very direct warning about greed in 1 Timothy 6:7-10. He writes, 7 [F]or we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
So, is material prosperity guaranteed to God’s people in this life? Absolutely not—and God actually thinks it important to give us numerous warnings about the dangers of focusing on that as the goal of our lives.
And that’s really the main problem of the so-called Prosperity Gospel. Not only does it promise things that aren’t guaranteed, it also focuses on health and wealth and prosperity in a way that’s nothing short of idolatrous. Instead of worshipping God, people end up worshiping earthly blessings. They become so wrapped up in the gifts that they neglect the Giver. God essentially becomes little more than a magical genie who exists merely to grant us our wishes for earthly blessings. Or you could think of him as a cosmic vending machine. As long as you know the right formula and how to operate the vending machine effectively, you can get what you want out of it. So, the machine is nothing more than a means to an end, right? There’s nothing inherently attractive or desirable about the machine. It just exists to give us what we want. Similarly, it seems that that’s all God is to proponents of the Prosperity Gospel. He’s just a convenient means to a desired end.
And, for that reason, I think we have to say that the so-called Prosperity Gospel is, in reality, no gospel at all. It’s certainly not the biblical gospel. We can be absolutely certain about that because Paul defines for us what the biblical gospel is in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. He writes, 1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Notice, in verse 3, why Paul says Jesus died. Jesus died on the cross not to purchase health and wealth and earthly prosperity for us. He died “for our sins.” That was the problem Jesus came to address. Not sickness or poverty—but sin. Our sins separated us from a holy God and made us deserving of God’s wrath. But Jesus took the punishment our sins deserved as he died on that cross. The wrath of Almighty God was poured out on him so it wouldn’t have to be poured out on us. And the result of Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection from the dead is that everyone who puts their faith in him will be saved from their sins and made right with God and enjoy eternal life one day in heaven. That, according to 1 Corinthains 15, is the biblical gospel. So, any other so-called “gospel” is really no gospel at all. It’s a false gospel that consists of false teaching and offers false hope.
In fact, even though the Prosperity movement is often associated with Christianity, I don’t even think we can consider it to be a Christian movement—because, other than using Christian terminology and an assortment of out-of-context Christian Bible verses, it has nothing in common with biblical Christianity. It’s worshiping an entirely different god—the false god of earthly prosperity rather than the true God of the Bible.
So, as you choose the YouTube videos you watch and the books you read and the teachers you listen to, let me encourage you to exercise discernment. There are a lot of teachers out there who say a lot of things that sound really good. They quote Bible verses and mix in a lot of truth with the lies they teach. That’s what makes the lies so believable—because there’s truth mixed in with the lies. So, we have to learn to be discerning. The great nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon once said that “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” You know, a counterfeit $100 bill might look a lot like a genuine $100 bill. It might be “almost right.” But that doesn’t give it value; it actually just makes the counterfeit even more dangerous. And that’s the way it is with the Prosperity Gospel, which makes it critically important for us to have discernment.
Now, of course, we do have those examples in the Old Testament of godly people often enjoying immense material prosperity—such as Joseph’s family in Genesis 47. But one thing we have to take into account, as we look at the Bible as a whole, is something that Bible interpreters call “progressive revelation.” Progressive revelation means that God has revealed theological truths progressively over time—and with increasing specificity. A great example of this is the Trinity. In the Old Testament, we see glimpses of the Trinity. Even in Genesis 1, we see the “Spirit of God” hovering over the waters and God referring to himself with the plural pronouns “us” and “our.” So, there are glimpses of the Trinity in the Old Testament but not enough to form any robust kind of Trinitarian doctrine. It’s not until the New Testament that we’re given a clearer picture of God’s Trinitarian nature and learn about the distinct Persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So, the truth of the Trinity was revealed progressively.
And that’s the way it is with a lot of teachings in the Bible—including the way in which God desires to bless his people. In the Old Testament, the emphasis is on material blessing. But in the New Testament, God reveals that the greatest way he desires to bless us isn’t just with various earthly blessings in this life but with even greater blessings that last for all eternity.
That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21, 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. So, our calling as Christians is to “lay up…treasures in heaven.” That’s a lot different than seeking “your best life now.” We’re also told in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
And look also at what we find written in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. Paul says, 17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. So, some believers will be rich in this present life. Most of us, as Americans, probably fit into that category. And there’s nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything “unspiritual” about possessing wealth. On the contrary, Paul says in verse 17, the wealth that some Christians enjoy is a blessing from God—and it’s a blessing he intends for our enjoyment. However, we see in that same verse that wealth can also be a very dangerous thing. It can cause us to become “haughty”—or proud—and to “set [our] hopes on the uncertainty of riches.”
So, what should we do? Well, verse 18 says we need to use our wealth “to do good,” making sure that we’re “rich” not only in material wealth but also “in good works” such as being “generous and ready to share.” And notice the goal of all of this in verse 19: “thus storing up treasure for [our]selves as a good foundation for the future, so that [we] may take hold of that which is truly life.” So, where should our focus be directed? Not toward temporary riches in this present life but toward eternal riches in the “future.” That’s how we “take hold of that which is truly life,” Paul says. Use any earthly riches you have to store up heavenly riches. Use what’s temporary to gain what’s eternal.
So, let me just ask you this morning: Where’s your heart? What is your heart set on? You know, coming back full circle to our main passage of Genesis 47, even though the patriarch Jacob enjoyed immense material prosperity in Egypt, that’s not where his heart was. Look at Genesis 47:29-30: 29 And when the time drew near that Israel [Jacob] must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” So, even though Jacob was now living in Egypt and enjoying immense prosperity, his heart was in the Promised Land—the land God had promised to give his grandfather Abraham all those years ago. That’s where Jacob wanted to be buried because that was his true home.
Likewise, the Bible teaches that Christians also have a Promised Land to look forward to—not just some plot of ground in the Middle East but an eternal inheritance that God’s promised to his people. And, like Jacob, that’s where our hearts should be.
Now, in the meantime, what can we expect here on earth? What is it that God guarantees to us during our earthly lives? It’s not prosperity, but provision. In Matthew 6:26-33, Jesus tells us, 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
So, if our heavenly Father feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, will he not also take care of his own children? Of course he will. So, we don’t need to be anxious—because we know that God will provide for our needs. He promises to do that. Even though he doesn’t promise prosperity on this side of heaven, he does promise provision.
other sermons in this series