What is the biblical significance of the land of Goshen?The land of Goshen is the area in Egypt where the Israelites lived for over four hundred years. Joseph, one of Jacob's sons, had been sold by his brothers into slavery and ended up in Egypt where, by God's protection and provision, he rose to become the second in command (Genesis 37:25–28; 39—41). When a famine plagued the area, Jacob (also called Israel) sent some of his sons to Egypt to purchase food, not realizing Joseph was alive and would be the one from whom his family would buy (Genesis 42–44). Eventually, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers and convinced the family to move to Egypt (Genesis 45). When Israel's family arrived, Pharaoh gave them the area east of the Lower Nile, called Goshen, as a place to live and raise their livestock (Genesis 46:28—47:1–6). Its fertile soil was ideal for pasturing animals and Pharaoh entrusted his own royal livestock to the Israelites (Genesis 47:6).
Not only was Goshen a fertile land, but it was on the eastern edge of Egypt in the direction of the land of Canaan from which the Israelites had come, as well as being a distance away from Pharaoh and his seat of power. The occupation of shepherding was detestable to Egyptians so, in this way, Pharaoh could keep these foreign herders away from him and his glory while still ensuring a steady flow of meat and wool (Genesis 46:34).
Goshen became a land where the Israelites prospered. "The people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them" (Exodus 1:7). Many generations later, a new Pharaoh rose to power who "did not know Joseph" (Exodus 1:8). The Egyptians began to fear the Israelites, so they used slavery to oppress them. Eventually, God raised up Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and back to their Promised Land in Canaan. God brought plagues on Egypt as part of the process of liberating His people. Before the fourth plague (of flies), God declared, "But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth" (Exodus 8:22). In this way, Goshen was a place under God's protection, exempt from the plagues of Egypt.
Goshen was the place where Israel's family was reconciled to one another, a land that provided sustenance in a time of famine, and an area where God displayed His protective power. However, the land of Goshen was also a place where the Israelites experienced great suffering, a place from which they needed to be rescued. Unfortunately, Goshen also became a temptation for the Israelites as an idealized place to return to whenever following God felt too demanding (Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:4–6; 14:3–4; 21:4–5; Nehemiah 9:17; Isaiah 30:1–3; Jeremiah 2:17–18; 42:13–17; Acts 7:39). Instead of remembering the land of Goshen as a place where God proved His ability to provide and displayed His trustworthiness to redeem, the people imagined it as a place of prosperity where there was no need to trust God. So when trusting God was difficult, there was a temptation to turn away from the Lord and return to Goshen in Egypt.
There is one other place called "Goshen" in the Bible. It was a city defeated by Joshua and the Israelites on the southern border of Judah in Palestine and given to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 10:41; 11:16; 15:51). Nothing else is said about it.
Readers of the Bible can see the land of Goshen as a place that can teach us of God's trustworthy character and as a warning against allowing past experiences to tempt us away from walking faithfully with the Lord.
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