Genesis 46-50 Chiasm

Joseph rules

Chiasms are everywhere in the Bible, yet “chiasm” is a word I had never heard before the age of 40. What’s up with Bible teachers? So, if you’re like I was, and totally unaware of these cool things, a chiasm is an occurrence of literary symmetry. Not only are these the way the entire Bible is constructed, you’ll always find them working at multiple levels. And they are not merely cool: they show us the shape of the work of God.1For an introduction to chiasms in the Bible, see Reading the Bible in 3D.

Here’s the chiastic structure of Genesis 46-50 according to my friend Eric Greene. It makes me think that there are six similar structures which precede it. How would Genesis then be chiastic? Well, it begins and ends with a young man who is put in charge of the food, doesn’t it? Thus, part of the significance of Joseph is his submission to God, his faithfulness as a better Adam who humbled himself and was exalted that he might be a blessing to all nations. The “multiple levels” thingy should be dawning on you right about now. The Bible is amazing.

A. God’s promise: Jacob will go down and up from Egypt 46:1-4
B. Jacob’s seed/possessions going to Egypt 46:5-27
C. Jacob welcomes death (v.30) – he sees Joseph 46:28-34
D. Joseph before Pharaoh – request for pasture land 47:1-6
E. Jacob (at 130 yrs old), blesses Pharaoh 47:7-10
F. Joseph provides land and bread for his seed 47:11-12
G. Bread money failed for Egypt 47:13-15
H. Joseph “gives seed” for life (see v.16,19) 47:16-19
G’ Land monopoly for Pharaoh 47:20-22
F’ Joseph provides land and bread for the people 47:23-26
E’ Jacob (lived 147 years), greatly blessed 47:27-28
D’ Joseph before Jacob – request for burial land 47:29-31
C’ Rachel’s death recounted (v.7) – she saw Joseph not 48:1-7
B’ Jacob’s blessings upon his seed and his last words 48:8-49:33
A’ Jacob goes up to Canaan (for burial) 49:29-50:11

You might also notice that the structure of this journey of Jacob (Israel the man) is a microcosm of Israel the nation’s journey from Canaan to Egypt and back again. Moreoever, we can see the subject matter of the first seven books of the Bible recapitulated (or pre-capitulated) as deep structure:

Genesis: God’s promise (Sabbath)
Exodus: Israel’s journey (Passover)
Leviticus: Priesthood of Israel (Firstfruits)
Numbers: God provides and sustains in the Wilderness (Pentecost)
Deuteronomy: Moses’ succession arrangements (Trumpets)
Joshua: Covenant oath and blessings (Atonement)
Judges: Israel’s rest and rule in the Land (Booths)


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1. For an introduction to chiasms in the Bible, see Reading the Bible in 3D.

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