Burial of Jacob, Joseph’s Final Years and His Death
Genesis 50. In this chapter we have the death of Jacob, his funeral in Egypt, the procession to Canaan, and his burial in the cave of Machpelah. The we find the disposition of the brothers toward Joseph, and Joseph’s disposition toward his brethren. At the end of the chapter we have the death of Joseph, and the crowning act of his faith; the commandment concerning his bones!
Joseph Buries Jacob (50:1-13)
1 And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. And the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those who are embalmed. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days. vv.1-3 Jacob’s Egyptian funeral. Although all of Jacob’s sons appear to have been present at his deathbed (Gen. 49:33), here it seems that Joseph remained with his father in a special way until he died. In spite of Joseph’s exalted place in Egypt, he was still a man of affection. He wept for Jacob! Jacob received an Egyptian funeral and embalming. This would allow Jacob’s remains to be preserved for the long journey. There is nothing wrong with burial traditions, as long as they do not run contrary to the Word of God (John 19:40). This was also a sign of honor and respect. A poor, starving shepherd seventeen years earlier, now embalmed in Egypt as if he were a king! The whole of Egypt was moved to mourning on behalf of Joseph, and “the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days”.
4 And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found favour in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5 My father made me swear, saying, Behold, I die; in my grave which I have dug myself in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. And now, let me go up, I pray thee, that I may bury my father; and I will come again. 6 And Pharaoh said, Go up and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear. 7 And Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the bondmen of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8 and all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father’s house; only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and the camp was very great. vv.4-9 Funeral procession to Canaan. Although Jacob received an Egyptian embalming, his bones would not remain long in Egypt. Joseph would be true to his father’s dying request, and fulfill the promise to bury Jacob in Canaan, in the family burying place. Joseph asked leave of his master to accomplish his father’s wish, and the request was granted. A great procession attended this event, including Egyptians as well as Israelites. How wonderful to see the way Jacob was honored! It is interesting that they left their little ones and herds in Egypt. Later on, after the enslavement, Moses would insist that the herds and little ones would leave Egypt with the rest.
10 And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan; and there they lamented with a great and very grievous lamentation; and he made a mourning for his father of seven days. 11 And the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing-floor of Atad, and they said, This is a grievous mourning of the Egyptians. Therefore the name of it was called Abel-Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan. vv.10-11 Mourning at Atad. Atad (“buckthorn”) was a thorn that grew in the land, and a “threshing-floor” is a place where the chaff is beaten out and separated from the wheat. Atad speaks of Jacob’s life; a threshing floor. God had used trials and tribulations to separate the chaff from the wheat. The Canaanites notice the mourning, and named the place Abel-mizraim, which means “mourning of the Egyptians”. The sons of Jacob appear to the natives no different than the Egyptians. But Atad was also a place where the Egyptians were separated from the sons of Israel. The Egyptians only accompanied Israel to Atad, just outside the land; “which is beyond Jordan”. Only the sons of Jacob went into the promised land; that sphere beyond death which speaks of resurrection.
12 And his sons did to him according as he had commanded them; 13 and his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah which Abraham had bought along with the field, for a possession of a sepulchre, of Ephron the Hittite, opposite to Mamre. vv.12-13 The burial of Jacob. It would appear that no Egyptians accompanied the sons into the land (v.13). It speaks of how the world cannot see the other side of death. The earthly side of death is that we are sad. But there is another viewpoint; i.e. that of faith, because we have the hope of resurrection! The world cannot understand this. According to his wish, Jacob was buried in the family sepulchre; “the cave of the field of Machpelah which Abraham had bought along with the field, for a possession of a sepulchre, of Ephron the Hittite, opposite to Mamre”.
Joseph’s Consolation of His Brethren (50:14-21)
14 And, after he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brethren, and all that had gone up with him to bury his father. 15 And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, If now Joseph should be hostile to us, and should indeed requite us all the evil that we did to him! 16 And they sent a messenger to Joseph, saying, Thy father commanded before he died, saying, 17 Thus shall ye speak to Joseph: Oh forgive, I pray thee, the transgression of thy brethren, and their sin! for they did evil to thee. And now, we pray thee, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face, and said, Behold, we are thy bondmen. vv.14-18 The brothers’ fear. It was such a grief to Joseph’s heart that his brothers would question his heart toward them. And to do it by messenger! This caused Joseph to wait for the second time in this very chapter. It was their own troubled consciences that caused them to doubt Joseph’s love. Perhaps they had never made a clear confession to Joseph as they ought to have. So with us, Satan can use our own failures against us to get us to doubt God’s love. But God’s love is because He is love. Joseph already had servants; he desired brethren, whose company he could enjoy.
19 And Joseph said to them, Fear not: am I then in the place of God? 20 Ye indeed meant evil against me: God meant it for good, in order that he might do as it is this day, to save a great people alive. 21 And now, fear not: I will maintain you and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spoke consolingly to them. vv.19-21 Joseph’s comforting reply. When we doubt the Lord’s love, we need to go back to the scriptures, and to the cross. Joseph grasped the sovereignty of God, and he wanted his brethren to understand it as well. There is nothing so comforting, for the one who knows God’s heart, as to trust in the sovereignty of God. God has an overriding purpose in all the He allows, whatever man’s intentions may be. We have Joseph’s word “fear not” used two different ways. In v.19 we have a type of “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1); i.e. no fear of judgment. In v.21 we have “no separation” (Rom. 8:38-39); i.e. assurance of continued love and protection.
The Death of Joseph (50:22-26)
22 And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s house; and Joseph lived a hundred and ten years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation; the sons also of Machir the son of Manasseh were born on Joseph’s knees. vv.22-23 The last days of Joseph. The Spirit of God records that Joseph prospered greatly in Egypt, living a long life of 110 years. He became a great-great-grandfather, seeing the grandchildren of both Ephraim and Manasseh. What a rich reward for his faith!
24 And Joseph said to his brethren, I die; and God will certainly visit you, and bring you up out of this land, into the land that he swore unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 25 And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will certainly visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones hence. vv.24-25 Joseph’s commandment concerning his bones. This is the event the Spirit of God picks up on to encapsulate Joseph’s faith. Although Joseph was prosperous in Egypt, and enjoyed rest and a flourishing family, he never forgot God’s promise. He made his brethren promise to carry up his bones into Canaan; “the land that he swore unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob”. Note that Jacob made a similar request (Gen. 47:29-31), but it was a much greater act of faith for Joseph the governor of Egypt to do this than for Jacob the impoverished shepherd! When the day finally came of God’s deliverance for the children of Israel, Moses did indeed carry up Joseph’s bones; “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him” (Ex. 13:19). It is quite something to think that all through the wilderness on Israel’s journey, not only were the people accompanied by the pillar of cloud and the smitten rock, etc., but also the bones of Joseph. It was an enduring reminder of the faith of their ancestors. In times of doubt, when many in Israel were tempting Jehovah with their murmurings, etc., the faithful could look at that coffin and be encouraged that, many years before, Joseph was convinced of the surety of God’s promises! But those bones were also a symbol of something else; Joseph’s ultimate separation from Egypt. The grandeur of that world had not dimmed his spiritual eyesight! We too live in a world that is constantly trying to drag us down to its level, but faith patiently waits for the promise, and remembers that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Carrying about the bones would also remind us of 2 Cor. 4:10; “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”
26 And Joseph died, a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him; and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. v.26 The death of Joseph. Joseph would not be buried; he was looking forward to the promise. In is amazing to consider how the book of beginnings ends. It began with creation, and it ends with a coffin. We have seen the themes of creation, government, election, promise, and family discipline. Yet it still ends with a coffin. Something more is needed… and this is the theme of the next book: redemption!