"Then they [the eleven brothers] went up out of Egypt, and came to the land of Canaan to Jacob their father. And they told him, saying, 'Joseph is still alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.' And Jacob's heart stood still, because he did not believe them. But when they told him all the words which Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived. Then Israel said, 'It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die'" (Gen. 45:25-28).
Understandably, Jacob cannot believe what he is hearing initially. He had told himself for the past twenty years that Joseph was dead. Now he learns his favored son is alive and in a position of great authority! What an exciting time this would have been for Israel.
"So Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, 'Jacob, Jacob!' And he said, 'Here I am.' So He said, 'I am God, the God of your father; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes.' Then Jacob arose from Beersheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the carts which Pharaoh had sent to carry him" (Gen. 46:1-5).
Jacob was well aware of the promise that God would give their family the land of Canaan. It seems likely this thought is bothering him as he is in the process of relocating to Egypt. God reassures him, however. The Israelites would become a large nation while in Egypt and they would leave at some point in the future (to claim the Promised Land).
"So they took their livestock and their goods, which they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and went to Egypt, Jacob and all his descendants with him" (Gen. 46:6). The next 20 or so verses contain a list of the names of his descendants in four groupings, based upon the four women he fathered children with.
The first group (Leah) contains 33 names, the second group (Zilpah) contains 16 names, the third group (Rachel) contains 14 names, and the fourth group (Bilhah) contains 7 names. In total, this adds up to 70 people. "And all the persons who went with Jacob to Egypt, who came from his body, besides Jacob's sons wives, were sixty-six persons in all. And the sons of Joseph who were born to him in Egypt were two persons. All the persons of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt were seventy" (Gen. 46:26,27). The 66 figure does not include Jacob, Joseph, Manasseh, or Ephraim, while the 70 figure does, of course. It is impossible to know the status of most of the wives of Jacob and his sons from this passage. The numbers focus primarily on Jacob, his sons, and his grandsons.
Admittedly, when one starts closely analyzing the names, numbers, and chronology recorded in Genesis 46, there are some difficulties. We will consider some of these matters in detail in our next lesson. Although the names and chronology have little direct application to our lives today, there are those who attack the accuracy and inspiration of the Scriptures over such matters. We must look for plausible solutions to the alleged contradictions to silence such critics.