The Jewish people are known by many names throughout Scripture, but perhaps the most common is “Israel,” or “the children of Israel.” We see the latter title for the first time in today’s Scripture passage, describing Jacob’s descendants who go down with him into Egypt.
Please read Genesis 46:5-27.
Honestly, I have a tendency to zone out a bit when I read lists of names or genealogies in Scripture. So I had to force myself to reread this one with a little more focus. When I did, there were a couple of things that I noticed:
First, the sons of Israel are still divided based on their birth mothers. We have already seen how Joseph cared more for Benjamin than his other brothers, because they are both the sons of Rachel. This is a trend that will continue throughout Scripture. For instance, Dan and Naphtali are regularly paired together in nearly every later list. We are reminded here that it is because they are the two sons of Bilhah.
Second, the number 70 is regularly used as a number of perfection in Hebrew literature. Perhaps that derives from the number of people here who originally went to Egypt. But was it 70 people? Skeptics challenge this number and say that Christians are just bad at math.
Here’s a quick recap: all the male descendants from Leah total 33, all the male descendants from Zilpah total 15, all the male descendants of Rachel total 14, all the male descendants from Bilhah total 7. Add them up and you get 69, with Jacob being the 70th.
In verse 26, Moses excludes Jacob as the Patriarch, and Joseph, Ephraim, and Manasseh because they are already in Egypt, in order to say 66 “persons belonging to Jacob,” “came into Egypt.” He then adds these men back in to get to the total of 70.
But skeptics will point to Acts 7:14, where Steven says that there were “seventy-five persons in all” who went to Egypt. Why is this different? Is it a contradiction in Scripture?
No. We are later told that Ephraim had two sons and a grandson, and Manasseh had two sons while Jacob was still alive. Steven apparently counts these 5 extra male descendants of Israel because they were born during his lifetime, but Moses is only listing those who traveled down to Egypt.
I point all of this out to say that there are some passages of scripture that Christians tend to skip over (myself included!). And these are the passages that skeptics will attack, saying, “see the Bible says 70 people here, 66 people there, and 75 people there. It’s just full of contradictions and can’t be trusted!”
Obviously, we don’t need to give credence to every lazy objection that comes against Scripture. Every one of them has been proven false! But, if we as believers would just take a little more time in studying these passages of Scripture that we tend to skip over, then we would be better prepared to give an answer to skeptics who try to challenge the veracity of our faith.