Within the narrative of Genesis to this point, the land of Canaan was a fulcrum for understanding the development of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21). Abraham was staunchly opposed to Isaac leaving the land of Canaan when the time came for Isaac to take a wife (Gen 24:6-7). As a grown man, Isaac received the promise that his descendants would inherit the Promised Land (Gen 26:1-3). Jacob received multiple manifestations of God—in each, God promised him an allotment in the land of Canaan (Gen 28:10-22; 31:1-3; 35:1).
God’s word to Jacob at the beginning of Genesis 46 thus met the patriarch in a crisis. Even though the famine was severe—and Joseph had a position of prominence in prosperous Egypt—Jacob was concerned about leaving Canaan. The text emphasizes that God would take Jacob down to Egypt, cause him to prosper, and bring him back—for His own interests (Gen 46:3-4). By His word of promise, God emphatically bolstered Jacob’s faith, stating His personal stake in the events of the patriarchal family.
The bulk of Genesis 46-47 details the degree to which God’s word reassured Jacob in a time of crisis. Jacob and his family stepped out in faith away from Canaan. Genesis 46:8-27 is the record of the faithful ones who trusted that God would bless them outside of the covenant land as they headed to Egypt. The genealogy in Numbers 26 compliments this list, recording those who left Egypt to take back the land. Genesis 47 presents contrasting portraits of Jacob’s descendants and all other people experiencing famine. God was faithful to His word and the patriarchal family prospered in Goshen. They “acquired property in it and became fruitful and very numerous” (Gen 47:27), while even the natives of Egypt placed themselves in servitude to Pharaoh.
God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants shapes the storyline of Old Testament Scripture. The Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day sought to maintain their control of the land originally promised to Canaan even as their control was mediated by the Roman authorities. This is one of the reasons they opposed Jesus. He came to solidify God’s promises to all nations, not maintain Jewish distinction within Rome at all costs. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead—which increased Jesus’ popularity among the nations—John records that “The chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, ‘What are we going to do since this man does many signs? If we let Him continue in this way, everybody will believe in Him! Then the Romans will come and remove both our place and our nation’” (John 11:47-48). The paradigm of Judaism cannot be separated from the inheritance of Canaan. How different is this focus on the land from Jesus’ post-resurrection words to His disciples when He commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:18-20).