You’ve probably heard the phrase “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence”. Today we’re going to look at an encounter between Jacob and Pharaoh that illustrates how easy it is to fall into that mode of thinking. Let’s start with some background.
When Jacob was a young man, his mother talked him into cheating his brother out of the blessing from their father. Genesis 27:41 tells us how his brother felt about that.
Gen. 27:41 ¶ So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
The word “grudge” and the word “kill” tell us that Esau was not very happy. Now this was partly Jacob’s fault because he went along with his mother’s plan; nevertheless, at a young age, Jacob found himself fearing for his life.
Jacob fled to his mother’s homeland to escape his brother. While there, he contracted to marry a young lady named Rachel who he loved very much, but his father in law reneged on the agreement and gave him Leah on his wedding day instead of Rachel. This is what Jacob had to say the next morning.
Gen. 29:25 So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he [Jacob] said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?”
The word “deceived” tells us how Jacob felt about this.
Jacob ended up marrying both Leah and Rachel. Unfortunately, Rachel was not able to bear children while Leah bore several children. This led to conflict.
Gen. 30:1 ¶ Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die.”
The word “jealous” indicates that there was rivalry and conflict between the sisters.
Jacob lived with his father in law for 20 years, but eventually that relationship went sour as indicated by Genesis 31:1-2.
Gen. 31:1 ¶ Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth.”
Gen. 31:2 Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly.
There was a change in Laban’s attitude and Jacob realized it was not a friendly change. Because of this change, Jacob decided to return to his homeland. Gen 31:7 tells us what he said to Leah and Rachel before they left.
Gen. 31:7 “Yet your [Leah & Rachel] father has cheated me [Jacob] and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me.
Jacob specifically mentioned that his father in law cheated him.
After Jacob returned to Canaan, he experienced loss.
Gen. 35:19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).
Remember, Jacob loved Rachel. Her death was a blow to him.
Then Jacob experienced more loss. Jacob’s sons sold Joseph into slavery, but they tricked Jacob into believing that Joseph had been killed.
Gen. 37:33 Then he [Jacob] examined it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!”
Gen. 37:34 So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days.
The word “mourned” and the words “many days” indicate that Joseph’s death was hard on Jacob.
Jacob’s sons went to Egypt to buy food, and Jacob lost another son when Simeon did not return with his brothers.
Gen. 42:36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me.”
Notice Jacob’s exasperation with life. He felt everything was against him.
Eventually Jacob learned that Joseph was still alive and was the governor of Egypt. He decided to go to Egypt and see Joseph. Let’s pick up the story at Gen. 46:28.
Gen. 46:28 ¶ Now he sent Judah before him to Joseph, to point out the way before him to Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen.
Goshen was an area within Egypt. Let’s look at this on a map.
The area in the yellow box is Egypt.
The dominant feature of Egypt is the Nile River which flows toward the north.
The Nile breaks up into distributaries before it flows into the Mediterranean Sea. These distributaries form the Nile Delta.
Notice that the Nile Delta is dark green.
That is in contrast to this area, which has a range of colors. On this map, color indicates elevation above or below sea level. Dark green is close to sea level. Light green is the next level above sea level, and then the browns indicate hills and mountains. The mountain peaks are white.
The solid green of the Nile Delta tells us that this area of land is very flat.
Goshen was an area within the Nile Delta, so Goshen would have been flat. Since it is a delta, Goshen was also a land with plenty of water and rich soil. Let’s continue reading.
Gen. 46:29 Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a long time.
First, let’s look at this phrase: “Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen”. I assume Joseph was living in the capital of Egypt. Joseph had to go up to Goshen because the capital was not in Goshen and this means that Pharaoh was not living in Goshen. This will be important in a few minutes.
Notice this phrase, “wept on his neck”.
Notice the phrase “a long time”. Joseph and Jacob had not seen each other for at least 12 years. For most of those years, they had both assumed they would never see each other again.
Gen. 46:30 Then Israel said to Joseph,
“Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive.”
This phrase “now let me die” indicates how gratified Jacob was to see Joseph and know that he was still alive.
Gen. 46:31 Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household,
“I will go up and tell Pharaoh, and will say to him,
‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me;
Gen. 46:32 and the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock; and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’
Notice that Joseph was planning to emphasize to Pharaoh that his brothers were shepherds/keepers of animals.
Gen. 46:33 “When Pharaoh calls you and says,
‘What is your occupation?’
Gen. 46:34 you shall say,
‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’
Joseph told his brothers to identify themselves as keepers of animals.
that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.”
Notice the word “that”.
The phrase following the word “that” indicates why Joseph told his brothers to identify themselves as shepherds.
The goal was for his family to be able to live in Goshen.
Apparently, the Egyptians loathed shepherds. This meant that they would not want shepherds to live amongst themselves; therefore, if they knew that Joseph’s brothers were shepherds, then they would want Joseph’s brothers to live away from the capital of Egypt and the capital was not in Goshen, so the way for Joseph to get permission for his family to live in Goshen was for the Egyptians to know that Joseph’s brothers were shepherds.
Gen. 47:1 ¶ Then Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, and said,
“My father and my brothers
and their flocks and their herds and all that they have, have come out of the land of Canaan; and behold, they are in the land of Goshen.”
Here we see that Joseph did indeed tell Pharaoh that his brothers were keepers of animals.
Gen. 47:2 He took five men from among his brothers and presented them to Pharaoh.
Gen. 47:3 Then Pharaoh said to his brothers,
“What is your occupation?”
So they said to Pharaoh,
“Your servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers.”
Here we see that Joseph’s brothers did as Joseph told them and told Pharaoh that they were shepherds.
Gen. 47:4 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. Now, therefore, please let your servants live in the land of Goshen.”
Joseph’s brothers mentioned their flocks again.
And they requested permission to live in Goshen.
Gen. 47:5 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph,
“Your father and your brothers have come to you.
Gen. 47:6 “The land of Egypt is
at your disposal; settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land, let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know any capable men among them, then put them in charge of my livestock.”
Here we see that Pharaoh gave Joseph’s brothers the best land.
And we see that Pharaoh did indeed let them live in Goshen.
Gen. 47:7 ¶ Then Joseph brought his father Jacob and presented him to Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.
Here we read that Joseph brought his father to Pharaoh. This is the meeting where we learn how Jacob felt about his life.
Gen. 47:8 Pharaoh said to Jacob,
“How many years have you lived?”
Gen. 47:9 So Jacob said to Pharaoh,
“The years of my sojourning
are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning.”
First, notice that Jacob was 130 years old.
Next, notice Jacob’s assessment of his life. He described his life as unpleasant. We will return to this shortly.
Notice the negative word “nor”.
Jacob told Pharaoh that his life was short compared the the lives of his father and grandfathers.
Gen. 47:10 And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from his presence.
Gen. 47:11 So 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 ordered.
Gen. 47:12 Joseph provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to their little ones.
This is the end of the story. Let’s go back and think some more about Jacob’s assessment of his life.
Jacob described his life as unpleasant. In other words, as he took a broad look at his life, he had a negative view of it. Furthermore, as he compared his life to the life of his fathers, he felt his life was less than their lives because it was shorter.
I understand why Jacob felt this way about his life. Earlier we reviewed his life and he certainly had his share of hurt and disappointment. However, he also had his share of favoritism. Consider the following statement that God made to Jacob’s mother before Jacob was born.
Gen. 25:23 The LORD said to her [Jacob’s mother],
“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob].”
Before Jacob was born, God told his mother that Esau would serve Jacob. Now consider the following promise that God made to Jacob.
Gen. 28:13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.
Gen. 28:14 “Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
God promised to give Jacob some land,
and descendants too numerous to count.
God also promised that all the earth would be blessed by Jacob’s descendants. These were some very significant promises with long term benefits. So while Jacob certainly had his share of problems, he also had his share of blessings, as well as many things to be thankful for.
When Jacob assessed his life as unpleasant and less than the lives of his fathers, to a certain extent he had become so overwhelmed with all the bad experiences of his life, that he lost sight of the fact that some very good things had happened to him, also.
In other words, he fell into the trap of thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
What about us? Do we lose perspective on life? Do we fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else has it better than us? Yes, life can be difficult. But just as Jacob had many things to be thankful for, so too each of us, if we look around, will notice that we each have our own unique advantages in life and we each have many things to be thankful for.
“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”