Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.
Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. The end of chapter 47 focuses on Jacob’s final days. Earlier in the chapter, we read that
Joseph introduced Pharaoh to Jacob, an encounter the Bible records.
“And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years, so the days of
Jacob, the years of his life, were a hundred and forty-seven years.”
The king beheld an old man who appeared ancient, prompting him to ask the patriarch: “And Pharaoh
said unto Jacob: How many are the days of the years of your life?” To this, Jacob answered that he was
one hundred and thirty years old.
Abravanel poses an obvious question. If when Jacob arrived in Egypt the hoary patriarch was one
hundred and thirty, and then we read the verse quoted above, namely, that Jacob lived in Egypt
seventeen years, why does the Bible bother adding the two sums together to arrive at one hundred and
forty-seven? Simple math.
Abravanel explains. After Jacob heard that Joseph was alive in Egypt, he thought to travel to see his
precious son there, and return home to Canaan immediately. No dallying. But then, Jacob arrived in
Beer-Sheba, where God appeared to him.
The patriarch learned about a change in the schedule. Heaven informed Jacob that he and his family
would spend years in Egypt, and that in Egypt he would eventually die.
Jacob learned more. “And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen.” As for Israel’s sons:
“And they acquired possessions therein, and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly.” Years of good
and plenty. Finally, the patriarch heard God tell him the Hebrews would remain in Egypt until He
redeemed them. In a word, Jacob was schooled in the facts of life: God runs the show. His timetable.
In sum, Jacob had originally surmised that he would visit Joseph and head back home. The Creator had
other plans. “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years.” Concerning Jacob’s family, the
previous verse told of their prodigious success and growth: “And they got them possessions therein, and
were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly.”
The way things turned out, Jacob did not leave Egypt, as he supposed. Instead, he and his family sunk
deep roots in Goshen. When Joseph’s brothers met Pharaoh, they expressed their intent to ride out
Canaan’s famine and immediately go home: “And they said unto Pharaoh: To sojourn in the land are we
Indeed, nothing of the sort transpired. Jacob and family didn’t budge. And it wasn’t because the
patriarch met a sudden death, and didn’t have time to leave. “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt
seventeen years.” There was ample opportunity – seventeen years to be exact – to return. Says
Abravanel, that is the reason the Bible adds the two numbers (130+17). It conveys that God’s counsel,
and not Jacob’s or his sons’ plans to the contrary, hit the mark.