By their own choice, the family of Israel went into a self-imposed exile, from Canaan to Egypt. We see in verse 3 that God Himself wanted this to occur. He had plans for Israel, and the Israelites had to go through this period of Egypt as part of that plan. They did not realize at the time that this voluntary sojourn in Egypt would lead to their forced slavery. Several generations would pass until the time they would be put under bitter bondage, when the Pharaoh would go so far as to call for all the sons of Israel to be killed after their birth.
It was only by God's mighty power in the Exodus that they were ever able to leave Egypt; they could not have done it on their own. In their minds, they were half-Egyptian by that time, perhaps even more. They really did not want to leave. Sure, they loved the idea of freedom, but as soon as they left Egypt, they wanted to go back.
It is ironic how hard it was for them to return to Canaan because they had forgotten that their real homeland was in the land of Canaan, not in Egypt. They had taken the place of their exile as home. They had become so enmeshed in the culture of Egypt that they considered it their own. We see this when, only a month out, they forced Aaron to bring some of that culture back into their lives in the form of a Golden Calf.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
How to Survive Exile
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 46:1: