What Does the Bible Tell Us about the Land of Goshen?
- Dr. Dikkon Eberhart Author
- 2022 2 May
“Land o’ Goshen, I need to complete this article!”
Peggy, a friend and companion of my grandmother’s during Grandmother’s last decade before her death at 102 (minus two weeks), occasionally would use that phrase. But she would not be talking about finishing this article. She would be talking about how much her feet hurt. “Land o’ Goshen, these feet of mine hurt something awful!”
She would sit down, take off her shoes, and bend over and rub her stockinged feet with her hands. In a little while, she would sit back, exhale a sigh of relief, and let us know what we needed to know. “Land o’ Goshen, that’s so much better!” Then she’d ask me to go out to the kitchen and ask Grandmother’s cook, Aurelia, to make her a cup of tea.
I had no idea what Land o’ Goshen meant, but I loved its sound. It harkened vaguely to something idiomatic, said with great intensity, but without the oath or curse that Peggy would never add to her speech.
Sometimes Grandmother, whose feet never hurt—even when she was clambering around at age 95 on the bold rocks of her Maine coast shoreline—would get up and make her way to Peggy. She would sit and say, “But, Peggy, what does that mean?”
I remember Peggy occasionally answering, “Gretchen, I just don’t know.” She might have added something sweet and comforting (for her, anyway): “My mother used to say it.” Peggy had grown up in the southern Midwest among Bible-believing people. However, she had drifted away from active church participation after she moved to New England, was widowed, and was cursed by her persistent sore feet.
So, I came to believe it myself—“Land o’ Goshen” was straight out of Peggy’s mother’s lexicon. And maybe even that she didn’t know what the phrase meant.
Do we know what other old-fashioned exclamatory phrases of surprise, annoyance, dismay, or exasperation really mean? “For Land’s sakes alive, Dikkon, could you take out the trash once in a while?” My Mom’s already passed, so I won’t have a chance to ask her for her meaning, at least for a while. “Bless me!” “Gee whiz!” “My goodness!” “Just look at the time!”
I hope she’s not impatient already! As my Dad’s pal Robert Frost might say, and I’d need to add myself to his list: “I’ve got miles to go before I sleep.”
But “Land o’ Goshen” must mean something – so make the o’ an of, and get on with it…
Envision a map of the Nile Delta in Lower Egypt, where the greatest of the world’s north-flowing rivers empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The Land of Goshen is thought to have been the fertile expanse of good growth and good pasture on the east side of the delta, bordered on its west by the river itself and on its east by the narrowest part of the Red Sea.
The two parts of the Nile flowed from the high lands of mountainous central East Africa, the White Nile and the Blue Nile eventually merging into one – becoming enormous and being mighty. The Nile, that gargantuan flood cascading down from Upper Egypt to the sea, proceeded with stately grace across 4,132 miles.
The river fed Egypt. The river watered Egypt. The river made seasons in Egypt, three of them—flood, growing, and harvest.
Egypt was the home of Hapi, the god of fertility, who annually deposited rich soil along the river’s banks so human and animal life could continue. The river supported along its banks the trees and the flocks and the herds and the people of Egypt. It grew their food and their cotton. It gave them cliffs that they could carve to honor other gods than Hapi. Fundamentally, the river provided an essential nautical transportation system.
Egypt existed because of the Nile. The Land of Goshen existed because of the Nile.
For 430 years, the enslaved Jews—who existed in their own right, too—thrived because of the Nile’s richness and the rich Land of Goshen.
Why Are There Two Locales in the Bible Called Goshen?
One locale was the Land of Goshen in Egypt. It was Egypt’s most delightful location. It was also next to the Land that Yahweh granted to Abraham long, long ago.
Because of the faithfulness of Jacob in Pharoah’s employ, he loved Jacob. To help his family escape the five-year famine in their home country, Joseph sent his brothers to get their father and return with the old man to Egypt. They did, and Pharoah granted that they live with their flocks in the Land of Goshen, an area of comfort and plenty.
“Goshen” means “drawing near.” By positioning Jacob’s family in Goshen, Pharoah allowed them to draw near 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.
But the Jews prospered and “were fruitful and multiplied greatly.” (Genesis 47:27)
In time, the Egyptians, who had assumed the Jews would remain insignificant in their separate location, grew alarmed and were concerned that the Jews might fight against the Egyptians if an invasion should occur. So, the Egyptians enslaved the Jews to keep them under control. More time passed, and the Jews began to complain about the hard treatment they experienced. Eventually, Yahweh deemed that it was time for the Jews to be freed from their slavery, so he sent Moses as their savior to make it clear to Pharoah that he must “let my people go.”
The other location called Goshen was part of the Land that Joshua acquired after Moses’ death and his new generalship of the People Israel, as reported in Joshua 11:16.
“So, Joshua took all that land, the hill country and the Negeb and the Land of Goshen, and the low land and the Arabah, and the hill country of Israel and its low land ….”
Why Is There A Land of Goshen in Israel?
Remember that the People Israel had been wandering in the desert for 40 years since any of them had seen the original Land of Goshen. People who had been children at the Exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea were now middle-aged adults. Many who had been adults at the Exodus had already passed away.
Someone wrote the Book of Joshua. Someone named part of the Land that Joshua acquired “The Land of Goshen.” Notes in my NLT translation suggest that the book was likely written after Joshua’s death. Still, textual allusions imply that at least some recollections might have been written by Joshua or men under his immediate command. My point is this: could whoever named this area that Joshua acquired “The Land of Goshen” have a deliberate reference in mind?
The People Israel were probably exhausted from their endless wandering. They might (once again) have been longing for Egypt, which their parents or grandparents might have remembered as a land of comfort and plenty (before enslavement).
My grandmother’s family emigrated from the other side of the Atlantic, looked around at the countryside in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Maine, and agreed that it had been well named “New England.” Is it possible that whoever named this portion of the Promised Land “The Land of Goshen” was doing the same thing?
How many Goshens are there in the United States? Land o’ Goshen, there are twenty-six!
Goshen—Easton’s Bible Dictionary
Goshen—KJV Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon
Goshen—Smith’s Bible Dictionary
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Matthew Brosseau
Dr. Dikkon Eberhart lives in the Blue Ridge area of SW Virginia. He and his wife have four grown children and five grandchildren. He has written all his life, both fiction and memoir, and his academic interest is the connection between religion and the arts. His most recent book is the popular memoir The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told (Tyndale House, 2015). He writes memoirs, and he assists those who wish to write memoirs, for the purpose of coming closer to God. Learn more about his interests at www.dikkoneberhart.com.
Photo Credit: © Alexander Rose Photography, LLC