What does Genesis 47:9 mean?Jacob, the patriarch of Israel, is meeting Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. At this point in their history, the Pharaoh is Jacob's benefactor (Genesis 45:16–20). Pharaoh's offer of a place for Jacob's family to settle during the famine will mean the difference between life and death for them (Genesis 47:4–6).
Modern readers can easily miss the contrast between Jacob's interview with Pharaoh and how others interact with the king of Egypt. This conversation is not nearly so formal as others recorded in Genesis. Jacob does not address himself as Pharaoh's servant, as his sons did. He speaks openly, even negatively, about his own life. Pharaoh seems to treat Joseph's aged father with great respect. Given his esteem for Joseph, this comes as no surprise (Genesis 41:44).
Pharaoh has asked Jacob his age. Jacob now responds with the somewhat dramatic negative language that has become characteristic of his later years (Genesis 37:35; 42:36; 43:14). He reports that he has spent his 130 years as a "sojourner." This term implies someone who is wandering, traveling, or never fully settled in any one place (Hebrews 11:13). He describes those years as "few and evil" and much shorter than the lives of his fathers. We all get to decide how we will tell the story of our lives, both to ourselves and to others. Jacob, for now, seem to choose a pessimistic view.
Everything Jacob says is true, of course. He has lived on the road and on the run for most of his life. While clearly guilty of sins of his own (Genesis 25:31; 27:19), he has been cheated, mistreated, and betrayed by his own family (Genesis 29:25; 30:33–36). A daughter was raped (Genesis 34:1–2), a beloved wife died (Genesis 35:19), and her son was thought to have been killed by a wild animal (Genesis 37:31–33). He feels himself on the brink of death, some 50 younger than his own father died. This, apparently, is the story Jacob tells of his life.
He could have given another perspective on the same events. Jacob has also been greatly blessed by the Lord. He escaped the brother who wished to kill him (Genesis 33:4). He became enormously wealthy at the expense of a father-in-law who tried to cheat him (Genesis 30:43). He was given 12 sons and dozens of grandchildren (Genesis 35:23–26). His lost son Joseph was restored to him (Genesis 45:27–28), and his family was saved from the brink of starvation. Above all, he carried the powerful promises of the God of the universe, as his fathers had done before him (Genesis 35:9–12).