The Descendants of Jacob Numbered

Seventy in All

1: 1-7

Parashah 13: Sh’mot (Names) 1:1-6:1
(see my commentary on Deuteronomy Af – Parashah)

    Moshe, the human author, opens the book of Exodus with the Hebrew word and, or waw. This conjunction is not reflected in most English translations. It is, however, important to recognize its existence because it connects the exodus story to the preceding material of Genesis. The first six words of Exodus are the same exact words of Genesis 46:8. And these are the names of the sons of Isra'el who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family (1:1). The names do not appear in order of birth, but according to their respective mothers. The children of Leah and Rachel come first, and then the children of Bilhah and Zilpah. They are listed as: Ruben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher (1:2-4).

    The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all. The Hebrew readers would have immediately noticed that there were only eleven tribes listed above, so the writer now explains that Joseph did not enter the land with Jacob because he was already in Egypt (1:5). But seventy is merely a symbolic figure (see my commentary on Genesis Km - All Who Went to Egypt with Joseph Were Sixty-Six in Number). The daughters-in-law and others were not numbered among the seventy. Thus the number of people who accompanied Jacob to Egypt must have amounted to hundreds, at least.

    These verses bring the reader up to date. Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died (1:6). It appears that there is no real leadership of Isra'el after the deaths of the twelve sons of Jacob. We find no key names between them and the rise of Moses four centuries later. From a human perspective, they seem to be in real danger of being absorbed by the Gentiles and disappearing. Nevertheless, Isra'el remained distinct and multiplied greatly, growing from about two hundred people to approximately two million.

    But the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land of Goshen was filled with them (1:7). All five verbs Moshe uses in this verse remind us of the command to be fruitful and increase in number in Genesis 1:28 and 9:7. He does this to show that ADONAI had blessed the Hebrews in Egypt. God’s promise to Abraham was that He would make his descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky and as the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17). So even though it was many centuries after the promise had been given, God kept His promise to Abraham. He always does His work according to His own timetable.


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