“The sons of Joseph, born to him in Egypt, were two in number. Thus all the people in Jacob’s family who entered Egypt numbered seventy.“-Genesis 46:27
There is something important you need to know about numbers in Hebrew literature.
In the Bible, numbers can be both precise and symbolic.
For example, we are told in Genesis 46 that the number of people from Jacob’s family who entered Egypt totaled 70.
I would argue that this figure is symbolic and NOT precise.
In fact, I’m almost 100% sure this figure is not precise.
In the Bible, genealogies and censuses ONLY count the males in a given population.
There are 66 males mentioned in the genealogy of Genesis 46.
However, there would have been at least as many females but most likely more females than males given the existence of multiple wives and concubines.
Oh and I forgot to mention the foreign slaves that also would have added to the population.
Recall Simeon and Levi killing of the men of Shechem some years earlier.
This slaughter allowed Israel to take many women and children as slaves and concubines.
The general scholarly estimation is that about 200 went down to Egypt, but I bet it was probably a a lot more.
If this is the case, why was the number 70 chosen?
To answer this question, I can do no better than to quote the great Bible scholar Robert Alter on the matter.
“The traditional commentators resort to interpretive acrobatics in order to make the list come out to exactly seventy— debating as to whether Jacob himself should be included in the count, whether Joseph and his two sons are part of the sum, and so forth. In fact, the insistence on seventy at the end of the list vividly illustrates the biblical use of numbers as symbolic approximations rather than as arithmetically precise measures. Seventy is a fullness , a large round number, ten times sacred seven, and its use here indicates that Jacob, once a solitary fugitive, has grown to a grand family, the nucleus of a nation.” – Alter, Robert (2008-10-17). The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (Kindle Location 5895). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Finally, note we are told in verse 28 that Judah was sent ahead to prepare the way for Jacob.
In other words, the son was sent first to prepare the way for the father.
Note also that from the family line of Judah will come Israel’s future Messiah.
I don’t think I need to elaborate on the spiritual significance of this pattern.
Also, the fact that it was Judah who was sent instead of Reuben who was the first born is evidence that Judah had assumed the role of the first born.
Apparently, Judah had bucked tradition and was now considered to be the first-born surpassing Simeon, Levi and Reuben.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“This is the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah,
the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar,”
NEXT TIME WE BEGIN GENESIS CHAPTER 47