Where Does the Bible First Mention the Land of Goshen?

Contributing Writer
Where Does the Bible First Mention the Land of Goshen?

Where Does the Bible First Mention the Land of Goshen?

The land of Goshen is first mentioned in Genesis 45:10, when Jacob’s son Joseph is second-in-command over the kingdom of Egypt. He has come up in the world since the days that 10 brothers sold Joseph to slave traders and told their father that Joseph was dead (for the full story, read Genesis 37-50). Now, Joseph’s brothers have come to buy food in Egypt due to a famine, and Joseph eventually reveals himself to them. Once Joseph forgives his brothers, Joseph welcomes his entire family to come down to Egypt in the land of Goshen. He knows from interpreting a dream by the Pharoah that five years of famine remain (see Genesis 41) and wants his family to be taken care of.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary explains that Goshen is the district in Egypt where Jacob and his family settled. They continued to live in Goshen after the famine ended, staying for multiple generations until the Exodus (see Genesis 45:10, 46:28, 46:29, and 46:31). 

Crosswalk contributor Dikkon Eberhert observes, “‘Goshen’ means ‘drawing near.’ By positioning Jacob’s family in Goshen, Pharoah allowed them to draw near to Jacob. The land of Goshen was also far enough away from the center of Egyptian cultural life that these immigrant Jews would be unlikely to compete with the Egyptians.” The fact that they were far enough away that it seemed they wouldn’t compete with the Egyptians ironically foreshadows what happened as the Jews flourished in this fertile area of Egypt.

How Long Did the Israelites Live in the Land of Goshen?

“Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years” (Exodus 12:40). This verse seemingly suggests the Israelites lived in the land of Goshen for 430 years. However, the genealogical information in Genesis 46 and Exodus 6 suggests this number is inconsistent.

Exodus 6 gives us a partial genealogy of Jacob’s descendants—of the tribes Reuben, Simeon, and Levi— until the time of Moses. The genealogy shows only two generations between Kohath, who came to Egypt (see Gen 46:11), and Moses, who brought the Israelites out. If we were to add the life spans of Moses’ family, starting with Kohath, who lived 133 years (Exodus 6:18) to Amran, who lived 137 (Exodus 6:20) to Moses, who was 80 at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 7:7) without overlap would come to 350 instead of 430.

Biblical scholars debate whether the 430 years began with when Joseph welcomed his family or when God told Abraham that his descendants would be living as resident aliens (Genesis 15:13). Other scholars suggest that the 430 years refers to the 400-year period between Abraham’s son Isaac being born and the exodus (not that they were physically enslaved for this entire period).

How long the Israelites were in the land of Goshen is also a subject of debate. It is worth noting that in recent years, many archeological sites are starting to show evidence of Canaanite or Syrian people living in the land of Goshen. But we know that God has revealed himself through his preserved word, as well as in history.

I look forward to seeing more of his word being proven true as archeologists continue uncovering new discoveries in Egypt.

Where Was the Land of Goshen that Joshua Conquered?

As Eberhart explains, “the other location called Goshen was part of the Land that Joshua acquired after Moses’ death and his new generalship of the People Israel.” Joshua 11:16 talks about all the lands the Israelites conquered after the fall of Jericho. This list includes an area north of the Negev that the Israelites called Goshen.

We don’t know where the ‘land of Goshen’ in Israel actually is. However, if we think about how the Israelites had been wandering in the desert for 40 years until one generation passed away, we can see how the land of Caanan reminded them of their parent’s stories about Goshen’s fertile lands. Just as many cities around the world bare similar names, we can only assume that the Israelites did the same as a remembrance.

Where Is the Land of Goshen Today?

The Land of Goshen in Egypt. Traditionally, this land of Goshen has been referred to as the eastern Nile Delta, also known as the Waidi Tumlat, that stretches from the eastern arm of the Nile to the Great Bitter Lake. Much evidence that this could be the land of Goshen comes from Genesis 47:11, which mentions the city of Rameses.

The World History Encyclopedia explains the city of Rameses (or Pi-Rameses) was built “as the new capital in the Delta region of ancient Egypt by Ramesses II (known as The Great, 1279-1213 BCE). It was located at the site of the modern town of Qantir in the Eastern Delta and, in its time, was considered the greatest city in Egypt, rivaling even Thebes to the south. The name means, ‘House of Ramesses’ (also given as ‘City of Ramesses’) and was constructed close by the older city of Avaris” during the 18th Dynasty. Avaris is located in the modern site of Tel- el-Dab’a.

While Genesis and Exodus mention the City of Ramses, Egyptologists debate whether enslaved Israelites were present during the time of Ramses the Great or an earlier dynasty. The discovery of a Syrian-style grand palace in the Nile Delta dating to the 12th Dynasty has given reason to question the current Egyptological timeline. Discoveries within the palace show many Syrian influences and references to a powerful ruler similar to the biblical Joseph.

The Land of Goshen in Israel. The Caanan location of Goshen is found in the book of Joshua. “So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon” (Joshua 11:6). This is a list of conquests as Joshua moved northward after the battle at Jericho.

What Can We Learn from the Land of Goshen?

The Israelites lived as aliens in a foreign land, ruled by people who didn’t follow their ways or God. In their slavery, the Israelites called out to God, and then they watched all the Egyptians suffer through the plagues while the land of Goshen did not suffer from the plagues’ effects (Exodus 8:22, 9:4, 9:26).

Once the Israelites were free, they found themselves on the edge of the Red Sea. But soon, Pharaoh’s chariots barreled toward them. What was their reaction? Did they trust the Lord, who had done many miraculous things to free them? No, they complained and grumbled, always wanting to return to the land of Goshen (Exodus 14:11-12). The land of Goshen had become a comfort zone, a safe place even in their slavery. Each time they encountered opposition on their journey to the Promised land, the Israelites wanted to return to Goshen (Exodus 15:22, 16:1-4, 17:1-4, 32:1, Numbers 11:1, 12:1, 14:1-2).

For Christians, when we accept Jesus as savior, we become a member of the kingdom of God. (Ephesians 2:19) We are set free from the bondage of sin, just like the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Jesus even says we will be hated in our world (John15:19).

But it is common for Christians to grumble and struggle to live in this world where our beliefs and principles are often attacked. Remembering God’s mighty things can often be challenging when we focus on the circumstances instead of the one who saved us.

So Christian believers, who are God’s people (1 Peter 2:9), can rest assured that God will provide, but we need to be cautious of desiring Goshen’s comfort and not God’s promises.

Further Reading:

5 Lessons for Hard Times from the Life of Joseph

Moses and the Burning Bush - Bible Story

The Bible Story of Joseph

From Slave to Second-in-Command: 7 Lessons from Joseph’s Life in Egypt

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Anton Aleksenko

Valerie Fentress Salem Web Network Contributing WriterValerie Fentress is the author of An Easter Bunny’s Tale and Beneath the Hood: a retelling woven with biblical truth. She aims to engage believers, especially kids, in the wonder and identity of who God is and who God made them to be. 

You can find out more about Valerie, her books, and her blog at www.valeriefentress.com.