• Well as always thank you so much for checking out the podcast, I’m Randy Duncan, and I’ve got to be honest, this episode is a little bittersweet for me…because it is the last episode in our study of the book of Genesis, which is one of my favorite books.
• On the other hand, it is a very long book, and we have been at it for a while now. And I am already very much looking forward to what we will be tackling next in the book of Revelation
• But as a quick reminder, in the last episode, we saw Jacob on his deathbed, bless each of his sons, although some of the blessings were not exactly what the sons wanted to hear. And the blessings were also prophecies, not only to the sons, but also to the tribes that would eventually bear their names.
• But in closing out the last chapter, we saw Jacob die, with his sons around him, which is where we now pick up in chapter 50. And we begin with the first three verses, which read…Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So, the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.
• So, we see Joseph is there when Jacob dies. And if you remember, back in chapter 46, God tells Jacob, “I am God. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”
• And here we see that Joseph is indeed there with Jacob, and he begins to make plans to have Jacob brought back up out of Egypt, just as God promised.
• Now it may seem strange to you to hear that Jacob was embalmed. In fact, we’ll read at the end of this chapter that Joseph will also be embalmed. You may have never heard that or remember reading it, because it certainly wasn’t a practice of the Israelites. In fact, after this chapter, it is never again mentioned in the Bible.
• But remember, they are in Egypt. And we’ve all heard about the mummies in Egypt. The Egyptians embalmed their honored dead to assist in their journey in the afterlife. This whole process of embalming and mummification was an elaborate ritual, and it played a very important role in the Egyptian religion, which was sort of bound up in this cult of Osiris and their conception of the afterlife.
• The Egyptians believed in an afterlife, and so it was crucial that they preserved the body from corruption for the right of immortality. But the Israelites didn’t embalm bodies because they didn’t hold that belief.
• The Israelites believed that the body should be treated respectfully, and that the dead rest peacefully until the resurrection of the dead.
• But Joseph embalms Jacob both to give him dignity in Egypt, but probably, and more importantly, to prepare his body for the long journey back to the Promised Land in Canaan. Remember, Jacob made Joseph swear that he would bury him in his own land, where his fathers were buried. And this would have been a long, slow journey.
• And so, the body has to be prepped for obvious reasons. If you recall, when Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead, he was warned that by this time, the body of Lazarus would stink, because he had been dead for four days. His body was decomposing.
• And let’s assume that the journey from Egypt back to Canaan would have been around 250 – 300 miles. That would have taken at least two weeks, assuming you could travel 20 miles per day. If not, it would have taken even longer. So naturally, you are not going to travel with a decomposing body along the way. So, this embalming of Jacob’s body was necessary for the trip back to where he wanted to be buried.
• Now, Egyptians were embalmed by priests, in sort of a religious ritual. But notice Joseph orders his physicians to embalm Jacob. The embalming of Jacob has no religious significance. It is purely a practical measure for the return trip, and so is disconnected from any pagan context.
• But verse three says that the embalming took 40 days, and that the Egyptians mourned for Jacob for 70 days. Now it’s not clear whether these are two separate periods, or if these periods overlap. IOW, did it take 40 days to embalm, and then the 70 days of mourning begin? Or were the seventy days of mourning including the 40 days while the embalming was being performed?
• Most Jewish commentators hold the position that the embalming was 40 days, followed by 30 days of mourning, and that would align with the period of public grief observed for both Aaron and Moses, and actually Jewish law even into modern times calls for a 30-day period of mourning after burying close relatives.
• But we continue with verse 4 – 6 which read, “And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” 6 And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.”
• So, after the period of mourning was over, meaning, the period fixed by tradition, Joseph speaks to Pharaoh’s court. He may not have spoken directly to Pharaoh because those in mourning were considered to be unclean, and so would not be allowed into Pharaoh’s presence
• But Joseph said to them, If I have found favor in your eyes, go tell Pharaoh that I swore to my father on his deathbed that I would bury him back in his home land. So please allow me to go bury my father as I promised, and then I will return.
• And how does Pharaoh respond? By telling Joseph to go, bury your father like he made you swear. Interesting. First, Pharaoh recognizes the need for a person to honor their word. And so, he is telling Joseph to do as he promised.
• But also, notice that Pharaoh doesn’t say, “And then return to me”. Joseph asked Pharaoh to allow him to go and bury Jacob and then he would return. Pharaoh trusts Joseph enough that he doesn’t need to tell him to return. He knows Joseph well enough to know he will honor his word. This is an exchange between two men of honor and mutual respect.
• But it is also interesting to think about a later Pharaoh we read about in Exodus, who did not know Joseph. And when asked by Moses to let his people go, unlike this Pharaoh, he would not. That didn’t work out so well for him either.
• But we continue in verses 7-9, which read,” 7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8 as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company.
• So, what we see is a very large funeral procession, or cortege. The funeral entourage includes Joseph of course, but also the leading Egyptian officials, all the senior dignitaries from Pharaoh’s court, as well as a small army of chariots, along with the households of Joseph and Jacob.
• Only the children and the flocks and herds did not go with them. There is also an assumption that women did not go as they likely stayed behind to look after the children.
• But the funeral procession continues in verses 10 &11…10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore, the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan.
• So, it tells us they stopped in Atad, which is between Jericho and the Dead Sea. Now this funeral takes place in two stages. The first is here, where we see that the entire procession stops. And there they mourned for seven days, which is the usual time to express great grief in Israel and the Ancient Near East.
• In fact, the Hebrew word for seven is shiva, the term that is used to describe the seven-day Jewish ritual of mourning for the dead. Jewish law obligates Jews to mourn for seven days following the death of an immediate family member. But this was a great public mourning ceremony, and where the Egyptians could also attend.
• And even the Canaanites who were in the land observed the fact that this was a very great and solemn mourning. This was not simply a ritual, but a time of genuine and passionate grieving.
• But then the second stage is where the immediate family would continue to the Cave at Machpelah, where Jacob’s body would be privately interred.
• And BTW, it tells us that the place was named Abel-Mizraim, Abel means “mourning”, and Mizraim means “Egypt”.
• But we continue with verses 12-14, reading 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.
• And so, we see that Jacob’s sons did as he wanted, burying him in his homeland. Notice once again, that the text specifies where Jacob was buried. And as we have gone through Genesis, have you also noticed that every time this location is mentioned, it provides details, reiterating the fact that it was purchased legally, and from who. You know, it’s almost as if the Bible anticipated that the Jews’ right to this land would be contested.
• And after burying their father, they return to Egypt, Joseph and his brothers, which is where the focus now turns, and we begin reading about that in verses 15-17, which tell us, 15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”
• So, the story now shifts back to the brothers, and the opening theme of the entire Joseph narrative, which is the complicated relations between the brothers. And what we see is that the death of Jacob has now removed the patriarch’s commanding presence from the family. And as we see in life, with the death of great people, oftentimes what follows is great change.
• And when the reality of the situation hits them, the brothers are concerned that with Jacob no longer there to exercise some control over his family, that Joseph will now seek his revenge for the terrible crime they committed against him
• And so, they send Joseph a message through a third party rather than risking a personal confrontation with him. They are acting out of fear of Joseph rather than having faith in Joseph. And they are doing this in spite of Joseph’s earlier assurances to them. They are not acting on Joseph’s behavior, but on their guilty conscience.
• But they send word via a messenger, and they know from experience that Joseph listens to and respects his father’s authority. And so, they have this messenger tell Joseph that before he died, Jacob gave the command for Joseph to forgive his brothers for the evil they committed against him.
• Now, Jacob actually giving this command is almost certainly a lie. There is no mention of it anywhere else, nor is there any mention of it during Jacob’s blessing of his sons. No, Jacob never left such instructions. In fact, there is no reason to believe that Jacob ever even knew what his sons had done to Joseph. If he had, it would surely have been mentioned, if at no other time, then surely during his blessings while on his deathbed. Also, had he known, and this was in fact his wish, Jacob would have asked this of Joseph himself
• Notice also, that the brothers don’t make an appeal to them being brothers as a reason to forgive them. They appeal to Jacob. But notice how they subtly approached even this detail. They don’t say, “our father gave us this command before he died”. No, they say “Your father gave us this command”. IOW, they are appealing to Joseph’s love and respect for his father, trying to personalize it even more.
• So how does Joseph respond to all of this? Versus 18-21 tell us…Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
• So again, how does Joseph react? He wept. He weeps for the second time in this short narrative. The first was for his father Jacob, and now, because of his brothers. But why weep this time? Perhaps it is because after 17 years now of showing kindness and goodwill to them, forgiving them, and providing for them, they still misunderstand him, they still fear him, afraid he will finally take his revenge.
• But after sending the messenger, the brothers actually come to Joseph, and they fall at his feet, saying ‘We are your servants”. And just as predicted in his childhood dreams, the brothers all bow down before him. And how ironic or fitting that we have now come full circle, going all the way back to when Joseph was a young teenager back in chapter 37. Those who sold Joseph into slavery now offer to be his slaves.
• But Joseph says to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive”. Joseph has no interest in seeking revenge. It goes against his theology. He sees the bigger picture. He understands how God has allowed people to exercise their free will, even through evil acts, but has still been able to orchestrate events to bring about His will.
• God can still transform the evil acts of man into ultimate good. Here, God transforms the evil acts of the brothers set on taking a life, and transforms it into saving countless thousands of lives. I mean, think about the ultimate evil, the crucifixion of Jesus. But out of that came the ultimate good, salvation of untold millions. As the saying goes, ‘When all we see is the cross, God sees the empty tomb”.
• But finally, Joseph comforts them, speaks kindly to them, telling them again, Do not fear. I will provide for you and your children. And when the text says that he “spoke kindly to them”, it literally means that he “spoke to their heart”.
• Joseph here is acting as his brothers’ keeper, which if you remember, is exactly the opposite of how Cain responded after killing Abel way back in Genesis chapter 4. When God asks Cain, ‘Where is your brother, Abel”? And Cain arrogantly responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper”?
• But that brings us now to the final 5 verses in the book of Genesis, which ends with the death of Joseph, and read, “22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
• So, Joseph lived to be 110 years old, living to see his great-grandchildren, or possibly his great-great-grandchildren, depending on exactly who the third generation of children is referring to. A special blessing either way. 110 years were regarded as the ideal age in Egypt.
• But regardless, he lives to be 110 years old. Now in a previous episode, I attempted to point out a pattern in the lifespans of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, where, if you remember, there was a clear mathematical pattern to the sum of their ages.
• Abraham’s age of 175 equaled 7×5 squared, Isaac’s 180 years equaled 5×6 squared, and Jacob’s 147 years equaled 3 x 7 squared. Trust me, it is much easier to see if you actually write it down! But now, we have Joseph, who is the successor in the line. The first number in each patriarch shows a decrease by two, 7-5-3, and now Joseph 1. The number that is squared in each patriarch’s lifespan increased by one, 5 squared, 6 squared, and 7 squared. But get this! Joseph’s age is arrived at by adding up the squared numbers of each of the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which again was 5 squared, 6 squared, and 7 squared. Guess what 5 squared plus 6 squared plus 7 squared equals? You guessed it…110! What a coincidence!
• And so, it seems like scripture is suggesting that Joseph is symbolically bringing to a conclusion the age of the patriarchs!
• But before he dies, Joseph says to his brothers “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob”. Now, when it says brothers, it could also mean “relatives”, or the tribes descended from his brothers. After all, Joseph was the second youngest, and he is 110 years old. But if it means “brothers’ in the strict sense, then some or all of his brothers must have outlived him.
• But when he says that God will visit them and bring them up out of the land of Egypt, Joseph is speaking a bit like a prophet here, referring of course to what we would call the Exodus from Egypt. By faith, Joseph spoke about the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and gave instructions about his bones
• And so just like Jacob, he makes them swear to carry up his bones from Egypt. And with that Joseph dies. Also, like Jacob, Joseph is embalmed. Remember, Jacob was embalmed for practical reasons due to the long journey back to Canaan where he was buried.
• But for Joseph, it would be later before he would be taken back to his homeland. In fact, it would be much later. Because this oath that was sworn to Joseph is ultimately filled by a man named Moses! In Exodus 13:19 we read “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.”
• And so with that, we have come to the end of our study through the book of Genesis. We have moved from creation, to a Garden, and ended in a coffin in Egypt.
• But I leave you with this thought…The Hebrew word for “coffin” ‘ārôn (eye-rhone), is the same word for “ark”, as in the ark of the covenant. Joseph was placed in the “’ārôn”, the 10 commandments were placed in the ‘ārôn.
• So, while the Israelites were wandering in the desert after the Exodus, they carried two shrines with them, one in the coffin carrying the bones of Joseph, the other carrying the 10 commandments written by the living God.
• As we have seen, and I have given several examples for, Joseph was a type, or a model, a foreshadowing of Jesus. And some may wonder, why was it that the ark of the dead was even allowed to come next to the ark of the living? Well maybe one possible answer to the question as to why, is that the dead man enshrined in the one ark fulfilled the commandments enshrined in the other.
• Now of course, only Jesus Christ actually did that. Joseph was only a foreshadowing of the one who was to come.
• And it reminds us that Joseph had faith that he would be brought up out of Egypt to his homeland. That God would fulfill his promise.
• My prayer for all of you is that you would have faith in Jesus Christ, so that even though you die, because of your faith and trust in him, like Joseph, God will come to you, and take you up out of this land. That after death, you will also be brought into the place promised you, the city and the Heavenly home God has prepared for you