Henry H. Halley said it in his Bible Handbook. God took one man, Jacob, and from that one man came a family, the twelve sons or twelve tribes of Israel. From that family came a nation, the nation of Israel (the Old Testament kingdom). From that nation came a family, the family of King David and his descendants. From that family came one man, Jesus, who fulfilled God’s plan of redemption. The Old Testament covers many subjects, but this design to raise up a nation and family that would give birth to the savior is, to me, the most important message of the Old Testament.
As Genesis nears completion we are given an accounting of Jacob’s children and grandchildren that adds up to a very complete number of 70 persons. God brings them to the spiritually dark land of Egypt so that they can survive the famine, and over the next 400 years their numbers will swell to more than a million. They are twelve families now, but soon they will be twelve large tribes. As their fathers are each different men with varying characters, so the tribes will take on unique characteristics. Yet most importantly, they will not assimilate into the Egyptian culture but will retain a unified identity as Hebrews, God’s chosen people. How do they maintain this Hebrew identity despite spending four centuries in a foreign land?
Part of the answer lies in their location. Joseph maneuvers to allow his family to settle in Goshen, an area supposedly good for livestock, but also located away from the Egyptian cities. Physical isolation is one way that the family identity will be preserved. The Egyptians also contribute by becoming adversaries of the Hebrews. Pharaoh loves Joseph now, but Pharaohs to come will not know Joseph and will enslave his descendants.
One day the Jews will be a people of the book, the Torah. But for now there is no book, no law, and no personal God, only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet they remain unified. What do you think is the answer to this mystery?