Aside from the obvious reasons, i.e., to ensure that Jacob’s family would not perish during the famine, there were other important reasons that the biblical text does not directly state, but only intimates:
Egypt served to break their family from a long series of family dysfunctions that the narrator has already delineated in the in the lives of Jacob’s children. At this point in time, Abraham’s descendants had pretty much abandoned the spiritual path set out by their ancestral forefather. Early on, Jacob’s children had already begun to assimilate to the ways of the Canaanite population, who were only too happy to intermarry with Jacob’s family. It was evident that besides Joseph and the patriarchs, the rest of the family didn’t seem to have much of a clue what their spiritual calling was.
Aside from the obvious reasons, i.e., in order to escape the dangers of the famine that had gripped much of the ancient Mesopotamian world, there were numerous reasons why God instructed Jacob to relocate in Egypt even beyond the famine years.
Egyptian society acted as a chrysalis for the Israelite clan to grow and develop apart from their hosts. Canaanite society in contrast, was predicated upon syncretism. Had the fourth generation of Abraham’s seed remained in Canaan, it is certain that the next generation would have adopted the local Canaanite gods. Providentially, God moved them to Egypt in order to isolate them. Egyptians were segregationists who shared a mutual disdain toward all foreigners—especially toward foreign shepherds in particular (Gen. 43:32). The hierarchical structure of Egyptian society actually prevented Jacob’s clan from assimilating. In this respect, Egypt posed much less of a problem than Canaanite society, which encouraged syncretism and integration. Egypt thus became the ideal place for Israel to foster a separate and religious identity. Goshen, in effect, becomes the very first Jewish ghetto–by design!
The suffering they would eventually endure in Egypt, served as an ever-fresh reminder of what humankind is capable of degenerating into without the laws of God serving as the moral basis of society. Israel’s Egyptian experience would later teach the Israelites why God makes restrictions on how we treat the disenfranchised and the helpless, for they too were a vulnerable and defenseless people, who were ill-treated by the Egyptians.