49:28All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.
29Then he gave them these instructions: "I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. 31There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. 32The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites."
33When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.
50:1Joseph threw himself upon his father and wept over him and kissed him. 2Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, 3taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.
4When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh's court, "If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, 5`My father made me swear an oath and said, "I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan." Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.'"
6Pharaoh said, "Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do."
7So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh's officials accompanied him--the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt-- 8besides all the members of Joseph's household and his brothers and those belonging to his father's household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. 9Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.
10When they reached the threshing-floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father. 11When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing-floor of Atad, they said, "The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning." That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim.
12So Jacob's sons did as he had commanded them: 13They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. 14After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.
15When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?" 16So they sent word to Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died: 17`This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said.
19But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Jacob, having blessed each of his sons (see Gen 48:15-49:27), now gives them instructions concerning his own burial. "Then he gave them these instructions: `I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and cave in it were bought from the Hittites'" (Gen. 49:29-32). Notice that Jacob gave very specific instructions to his sons for his burial. He didn't just say, "Bury me in the promised land." He told them exactly where. Jacob did not want just an empty promise from his sons. It was very important to Jacob to be buried with his forefathers Abraham and Isaac. The three patriarchs of the nation of Israel--indeed, of the people of God--are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our God is called, many times, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And so, it is fitting that these three patriarchs be buried together. After Jacob's death, these three belonged to the past, and yet, their burial together in the promised land pointed very much to the future. God had directly promised each of them--Abraham (see Gen. 15:!8), Isaac (see Gen. 26:3), and Jacob (see Gen. 28:13)--that their descendants would be given the promised land. And so, Jacob's desire to be buried in the promised land can be seen as Jacob staking a continued claim to the promised land.
"When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people" (49:33). Note that the phrase "gathered to his people" did not refer to the burial of Jacob's body, but the afterlife of his soul. At this point, Jacob had not been buried. However, as soon as he died, he was "gathered to his people". And so, even those in Old Testament times knew that there is an afterlife. Moreover, they saw the afterlife (and the Bible affirms this here) as a time when the godly will be "gathered to [their] people", reunited with their loved ones.
Joseph was greatly saddened by his father's death: "Joseph threw himself upon his father and wept over him and kissed him" (50:1). Joseph always considered himself more a son of Jacob, than a dignitary in Pharaoh's court.
Next, we are given a glimpse of Egyptian burial customs: "Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days" (50:2-3). Joseph himself would see that Jacob's request concerning his burial was fulfilled. He appealed to Pharaoh to allow him and his people to go to Canaan to bury Jacob (see 50:4-5). Pharaoh's love for Joseph is once again apparent. He not only allows the sons of Jacob to go to Canaan, but also, to honor Jacob, he sends "the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt" (50:7). And so, with Pharaoh's full support and help, "Jacob's sons did as [Jacob] had commanded them: They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field" (50:12-13).
Then, "after burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father" (50:14). Significantly, this was the last time the direct sons of Jacob saw the promised land, "and ages of oppression are to roll on before their children see it." As for Joseph himself, he had not been in the promised since he was sold into slavery as a teenager. One can well imagine that there was some desire on Joseph's part to remain in God's promised land. It must have been very difficult for him to return to Egypt. But, return he did: "After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father" (vs. 14). And the sons of Jacob were destined to return to Egypt: God had foretold it. Long before, God had prophesied to Abraham: "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years" (Gen. 15:13).
After the brothers returned from burying their father, something quite amazing happened: "When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, `What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?' So they sent word to Joseph, saying, `Your father left these instructions before he died: "This is what you are to say Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly." Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.'" (vss. 15-17). We see here again the power of the conscience, and the long-lasting sting of guilt. "This sense of guilt after so long a time is very striking. The men were now getting on in years, and yet remained fully conscious of those early sins and were in dread of their consequences." The brothers somehow got the idea that Joseph's restraint in punishing them was solely due to the presence of Jacob. So they invented fictional instructions (certainly these instructions of Jacob were their invention, for we have no record of Jacob ever acknowledging to his sons that he knew that the sons sold Joseph into slavery), ostensibly from Jacob to Joseph, that Joseph forgive the brothers (as if he hadn't already generously demonstrated his forgiveness). It seems they were measuring " Joseph by themselves, and thought that he was harboring resentment and only biding his time." But Joseph's true feelings could be seen in his reaction to their message: "When their message came to him, Joseph wept" (vs. 17). Joseph wept in sympathy for the weight of conscience that his brothers were carrying.
"His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. `We are your slaves,' they said. But Joseph said to them, `Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives'" (vss. 18-19). Note that Joseph gives two bases for his forgiveness: (1) "Am I in the place of God?" - As far as Joseph was concerned, it is God's place to deal with sin; (2) "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" - Joseph saw that God was working (even through their sin) everything for their good. This last basis is worth dwelling upon. Joseph saw the events of his life, not in relation to how they affected him through suffering, but how God's plan was accomplished through him. "Joseph renders his office subservient to the design of God's providence; and this sobriety is always to be cultivated, that everyone may behold, by faith, God from on high holding the helm of the government of the world."
Note well that Joseph's forgiveness did not only consist of withholding revenge, but also consisted of practicing love for them, thus proving he truly forgave them: "[Joseph said to them], `So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them'" (vs. 21). "It was a token of a solid and not a feigned reconciliation, not only to abstain from malice and injury, but also to `overcome evil with good,' as Paul teaches (Rom. 12:21) and truly, he who fails in his duty, when he possesses the power of giving help, and when the occasion demands his assistance, shows, by this very course that he is not forgetful of injury. This requires to be the more diligently observed, because, commonly, the greater part weakly conclude that they forgive offences if they do not retaliate them; as if indeed we were not taking revenge when we withdraw our hands from giving help... Therefore, we shall then only prove our minds to be free from malevolence, when we follow with kindness those enemies by whom we have been ill treated."
22Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father's family. He lived a hundred and ten years 23and saw the third generation of Ephraim's children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph's knees. 24Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." 25And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place." 26So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.
Here we have a summary of the rest of Joseph's life. From all appearances, he lived the last seventy or so years of his life in peace and tranquility... which I am sure was fine with him, given the turmoil of the first forty years of his life! But although Joseph lived in peace and tranquility in Egypt, and although he was a respected and prosperous man in Egypt, yet at the end of his life, he still looked ahead to the time when his people would return to the promised land: "Joseph said to his brothers, `I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob'" (vs. 22). "It is evident from his dying injunction, that he had not allowed himself to be so immersed with the politics, the honours, or the pleasures of a foreign and a heathen capital as to obliterate the memory of, or shake his faith in, the Divine promises to Israel."
Similar to Jacob, Joseph on his death-bed gave his family-members instructions concerning his burial: "And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, `God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place'" (vs. 25). Joseph desired to be buried in the promised land, as did Jacob, but Joseph looked ahead to the time when God would lead His people out of Egypt. It is significant that in Hebrews 11, the great chapter on faith which enumerates the great acts of faith in the Old Testament, Joseph is remembered for these death-bed instructions: "By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones" (Heb. 11:22). Joseph had his eyes on the future, on what God would do for His people in the future, on how God would accomplish His purposes in the future, just as He accomplished His purposes throughout Joseph's life. The presence of Joseph's coffin, with his bones therein, were to be a constant reminder to the children of Israel of God's promises that they would return to the promised land. "Joseph being dead would yet speak, and in the days that were not far ahead of them the coffin would remind them of the glorious future and inspire them with hope and courage amidst present difficulties."
By the way, these instructions of Joseph were carried out, hundreds of years later. When the Israelites left Egypt, "Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, `God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place'" (Ex. 13:19). Then, after they had settled in the promised land, "Joseph's bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem" (Josh. 24:32).
This brings us to the end of our study in the Book of Genesis. I will let W.H. Griffith Thomas summarize this great book: "The value of this book is evident. It is in some respects the foundation of the Biblical revelation of God. It is the germ and explanation of everything that follows in the history of Divine redemption through the seed of the woman. It may almost be said that there is no truth in the Bible that is not found here in germ. Thus the seven great doctrines which form the warp and woof of the Bible are all in this book. (1) The Doctrine of God as Creator, Preserver, Law-Giver, Judge, Redeemer. (2) The Doctrine of Creation as the act and process of the Divine will, wisdom, and power. (3) The Doctrine of Man in his contact both with earth and heaven, a union of flesh and spirit in a twofold nature. (4) The Doctrine of the World as the sphere of the human race in its unity, variety, and divisions. (5) The Doctrine of Human Life, first as individual, then as social and in the family, then as tribal, and at length gradually developing into national life. (6) The Doctrine of Sin as the assertion of man's independence of God, his unwillingness to remain loyal to the Divine will, with the results of evil both negative and positive in the loss of holiness and fellowship with God, and the impossibility of rendering to God the obedience and glory due to His Name. (7) The Doctrine of Redemption, with the universe as its sphere, man as its subject, Divine grace as its source, the Covenant as its method, and the people of Israel as its repository and instrument. Redemption is found in promise and in symbol, and is prepared for by the onward march of Divine providence. When Genesis is carefully studied along these lines we readily see that it contains the promise and potency of that varied, prolonged, and complete development which we find elsehwere in the Bible."
Praise You, God and Father, for the all of the blessings we have received by studying this book. May we meditate and respond to all of the great lessons this book teaches us. Help us to grow by Your Spirit in knowledge of Your Word, so that it overflows into our lives, and makes us into what You would have us be, conformed to the likeness of Your Son Jesus Christ, through whom we pray these things, Amen.
(Next month, we will begin a study of the post-exilic prophets: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.)