B'resheet/Genesis 50:22 And Yosef lived in Egypt - he and his father's household - and Yosef lived one hundred and ten years.
Very nearly at the end of the stories of the patriarchs, this verse tells us what happens to Yosef and the Children of Israel in the years after Ya'akov has died and been taken back to the Machpelah cave in Israel for burial. The first verb in the verse, , is the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , to sit or dwell, with a vav-conversive to make it a past-tense sequential narrative verb. The tsere vowel under the yod prefix pronoun tells us that the root is a first-yod verb. RabbiHirsch points out that generally means "quiet, unstrained, care-free living"; the opposite of its near synonym , which means "to stand" but with the idea of standing up for someone, or standing firm as a conqueror (Davidson). The second verb in the verse, , is the Qal 3ms prefix form of the root , to live or to be alive, also with a vav-conversive. In this case, the sh'va under the yod prefix pronoun tells us that the root is a third-hay verb.
The modern commentator Nahum Sarna comments on Yosef's lifespan, given quite deliberately here and then repeated in the last verse - "Yosef died at the age of one hundred and ten years" (B'resheet 50:26, JPS) - "Yosef is singularly blessed with respect to age and progeny. One hundred and ten years were regarded as the ideal life span in ancient Egypt. In Israel it seems to have been 120 years (followingHaShem's early words: 'My breath shall not abide in man forever, since he too is flesh; let the days allowed him be one hundred and twenty years' (6:3, JPS), attained only by Moshe who told the people 'I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active>' (D'varim 31:2, JPS), confirmed in the last chapter of the Torah: 'Moshe was a hundred and twenty years old when he died' (34:7, JPS)."
Yosef's lifespan is also picked up by Gunther Plaut, who explains that one hundred and ten years "has a double meaning: it represents what the Egyptians considered the ideal life span, and it marks Yosef as the spiritual heir of his ancestors. Joshua, who will bring Yosef's bones back to Canaan, will also live 110 years: 'Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the L-RD, died at the age of one hundred and ten years' (Joshua 24:29, JPS)." Plaut then uses mathematics to demonstrate that Yosef's age "pointed to Yosef's subtle relationship to the patriarchs." Compare their ages:
Avraham 175 = 7 x 52
Yitz'khak 180 = 5 x 62
Ya'akov 147 = 3 x 72
Plaut's finale is that "adding the last column (52 + 62 + 72, 25 + 36 + 49) produces 110, showing that Yosef should be seen as the true successor to the patriarchs."
Going back to the start of the verse, the text tells us that Yosef lived in Egypt. The Hebrew word for 'Egypt' is , which means - as we remind ourselves each year at Pesach - 'bondages'. HaShem brought us up from Egypt, out of the house of bondage, releasing us from slavery to Pharaoh. Yosef was barely middle-aged when he stood before Pharaoh - "Yosef was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (B'resheet 41:46, JPS) - and Ya'akov and Yosef's brothers and families came down to Egypt during the seven years of famine (that's the second set of seven years). Ya'akov then "lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt" (47:28, JPS), by which time Yosef must have been approaching sixty and the famine had long gone. Yet, using Hirsch's language above, Yosef had a "quiet, unstrained, care-free living" in Egypt for at least another fifty years. Why? What was he thinking of? Didn't he know that HaShem had told Avraham that his descendants "shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years" (15:13, JPS)? Couldn't Yosef put the pieces together and get the family out of there? A man who was close enough to G-d to be able to tell his brothers, "although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result -- the survival of many people" (50:20, JPS), must have been able to see what was coming. Even if he couldn't leave Pharoah's service, they could have sold their land-holdings in Goshen for a good price and moved back to Canaan before the enslavement started. What, as they say in the trade, gives?
Given Yosef's record of hearing from G-d - interpreting the dreams, governing Egypt, recognising G-d's hand in reconciling the family and bringing them to safety in Egypt - Yosef was used to doing what G-d said. And G-d didn't tell Yosef to move back to the Land, or to send the family back to the Land. His instructions were to stay put. There were at least two good reasons for doing that. Firstly, the Children of Israel needed to stay in Egypt to that G-d's word to Avraham was fulfilled. If they had moved away, then how was that to happen? G-d set Egypt up to make sure that the four hundred years of oppression and slavery would be a force for forming Israel into a nation and make them ready for the next part of the plan. Let's have the next part of what HaShem told Avraham: "I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth" (15:14, JPS). G-d had a plan to judge Egypt, to judge their gods and to set His people free taking plunder from the Egyptians. The plagues, the departure and the Exodus all fulfilled the promise exactly. G-d said and G-d did; exactly!
The second reason was because another of G-d's plans also needed time to mature and come to fruition. Back to what HaShem said to Avraham about his descendants again: "they shall return here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (15:16, JPS). Every dog deserves his day and G-d was not going to judge the nations in the Land until they had had every possible opportunity to acknowledge Him instead of their idols and non-gods and proved themselves worthy of complete destruction. If Israel had returned to the Land earlier, then their witness or their presence would have altered the balance and so affected that process. As it was, Israel's departure from Egypt and crossing of the Reed Sea was such a show of power and a sign to people in the Land that even though they didn't change their behaviour or make any attempt to repent, "we have heard how the L-RD dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds for you when you left Egypt ... When we heard about it, we lost heart, and no man had any more spirit left because of you; for the L-RD your G-d is the only G-d in heaven above and on earth below" (Joshua 2:10-11, JPS).
The Jewish exiles taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar were convinced that they would - one way or the other - be returning to Jerusalem very soon. In their place of exile, south-east of Babylon, where they had been given grants of land and encouraged to settle, they surrounded themselves with people prophesying a speedy return and refused to engage in any settlement activity. Jeremiah wrote to them in HaShem's name: "Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them" (Jeremiah 29:8-9, JPS). Why should this be so? Why would HaShem not gather His people back to the Land right away? Jeremiah himself brought the word that set the time of exile only two three chapters earlier, after the first wave of exile and before Jerusalem fell: "This whole land shall be a desolate ruin. And those nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years" (25:11, JPS)? And once again, Israel is not the only nation affected by G-d's promise, as Jeremiah continues: "When the seventy years are over, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation and the land of the Chaldeans for their sins -- declares the L-RD -- and I will make it a desolation for all time" (v. 12, JPS). That is why Jeremiah's letter to the exiles says, "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place" (29:10, JPS). And, indeed, He did!
We do not always see the full plans and counsel of G-d in our situations. We hear the words, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the L-RD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (v. 11, JPS) and assume that any place of bondage or discomfort in which we now find ourselves must be about to end because G-d's plans are for welfare and our good. We have our plans, but are reluctant to consider than G-d may have different plans that may not involve what we want or think is good. We need to hear G-d's word to us today: "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (v. 13, JPS). That is the way to experience return from exile; when we align ourselves and our hearts with G-d's plans and seek Him unconditionally.
Further Study: Ezra 1:1-4; Daniel 9:1-3; Romans 13:11-14
Application: Whose plans are you trying to follow in your life? Are you truly seeking G-d's plans, or do you have an agenda of your own? It's time to call the Chief Planner and get a download from His planning chest to make sure you are on track and going in the right direction.
© Jonathan Allen, 2017
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