31 And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his father’s house, I will go up, and shew Pharaoh, and say unto him, My brethren, and my father’s house, which were in the land of Canaan, are come unto me; 32 And the men are shepherds, for their trade hath been to feed cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have. 33 And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What is your occupation? 34 That ye shall say, Thy servants’ trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and also our fathers: that ye may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians.
Pharaoh had already encouraged Joseph to bring his family to Egypt, so this upcoming interview was probably only a formality. Even so, Joseph wanted to prepare the family for how to conduct themselves when they met the ruler.
Once again, we hear how certain practices of the Israelites are abominable to the Egyptians, and some have speculated that the Israelites’ shepherding was offensive because its endpoint was the slaughtering and consuming of animals that the Egyptians might have considered sacred.
But perhaps this cultural rift was a benefit to the Israelites in this situation. It sounds to me in verse 34 that Joseph is instructing his family to actually emphasize this controversial practice, so that Pharaoh will be compelled to divert the family into Goshen by themselves. Rather than being mingled with the pagan nation, they will have to live apart, according to their own faith and customs. Thus, the Israelites will have the benefit of living under the bounty and protection of Egypt, but they won’t be absorbed into its culture.