Genesis 50 – The Burial of Jacob; the Death of Joseph
A. Jacob is buried in Canaan.
1. (1-3) Jacob is embalmed and mourned.
Then Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him, and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for him, for such are the days required for those who are embalmed; and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.
a. Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him, and kissed him: The passing of Jacob in the presence of his sons was a deeply moving and dramatic scene.
b. The Egyptians mourned him seventy days: Jacob was mourned for 70 days among the whole nation of Egypt. A royal mourning period in Egypt was 72 days. Jacob was obviously a greatly honored man.
2. (4-6) Joseph asks Pharaoh for permission to bury his father in Canaan.
And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the hearing of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am dying; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.” Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come back.’” And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.”
a. Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh: The fact that Joseph made his initial request, not directly to the ruler of Egypt, but spoke to the household of Pharaoh, is the kind of detail that would be noted by true witness of the events, and not made up by a storyteller.
b. My father made me swear: Joseph explained the solemn promise his father required of him, and Pharaoh gave him the liberty to keep the promise and buryIsrael in Canaan.
3. (7-11) Jacob’s body is brought to Canaan.
So Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house. Only their little ones, their flocks, and their herds they left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen, and it was a very great gathering. Then they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and they mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation. He observed seven days of mourning for his father. And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.” Therefore its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.
a. Joseph went up to bury his father: This was a dramatic burial. The entire clan gathered together to pay tribute to the man who was the last link with the patriarchs. The life of this man’s grandfather overlapped with the sons of Noah.
i. “Luther remarks that there is no burial recorded in the Scriptures quite as honorable as this or with such wealth of detail.” (Leupold)
b. They mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation: This was, no doubt, a day of rededication of the sons of Israel to the God of Israel, the God of the great covenant made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their dedication to the God of Israel would be tested over the next many hundred years, but would survive.
4. (12-14) Jacob’s burial in the cave of the field of Machpelah.
So his sons did for him just as he had commanded them. For his sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as property for a burial place. And after he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers and all who went up with him to bury his father.
a. His sons did for him just as he had commanded them: Jacob’s sons had often opposed or disappointed him in life. They were careful to honor him in his death.
b. Buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah: This was the cave purchased by Abraham (Genesis 23:9), the only part of the land of Canaan that Abraham held deed to (Genesis 23:17). This was the burial place of Sarah (Genesis 23:19), of Abraham (Genesis 25:9), and of Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah (Genesis 49:31).
B. Joseph comforts his brothers’ fears.
1. (15) The fears of Joseph’s brothers.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.”
a. Perhaps Joseph will hate us: The brothers feared that perhaps Joseph would turn on them after Jacob’s death. Knowing human nature, this was certainly possible.
b. And may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him: Here, they freely acknowledged all the evil which they did. What they worried about was justice. They feared righteous retribution. Joseph, with his high status and prestige in Egypt, was certainly capable of bringing this retribution.
2. (16-18) The unlikely story of Joseph’s brothers.
So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” ‘ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.”
a. Before your father died he commanded: This story was probably made up. They didn’t feel they had the moral right to ask Joseph for mercy, since they sinned against him so greatly. So they put the request for mercy in the mouth of their honored and dead father.
b. Joseph wept when they spoke to him: Joseph probably wept because it seemed that his brothers thought so little of him and they doubted his character so greatly.
c. Fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants”: They backed up their plea for mercy with a genuine display of humility.
3. (19-21) Joseph comforts his brothers.
Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
a. Am I in the place of God: Joseph first understood he was not in the place of God. It wasn’t his job to bring retribution upon his brothers. If the LORD chose to punish them, He would have to find an instrument other than Joseph.
i. From a human perspective, Joseph had the right and the ability to bring retribution upon his brothers, but he knew God was God and he was not. Such retribution was God’s place, not Joseph’s.
b. As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good: Joseph did not romanticize the wrong his brothers did. He plainly said, “You meant evil against me.” Although this was true, it was not the greatest truth. The greatest truth was “God meant it for good.”
i. Every Christian should be able to see the overarching and overruling hand of God in their life; to know that no matter what evil man brings against us, God can use it for good.
ii. Joseph did not have the text of Romans 8:28, but he had the truth of it: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Sadly, many of us who have the text do not have the truth.
iii. Ultimately, our lives are not in the hands of men, but in the hands of God, who overrules all things for His glory.
iv. There was an old minister who had a unique gift to minister to the distressed and discouraged. In his Bible, he carried an old bookmark woven of silk threads into a motto. The back of it, where the threads were knotted and tied, was a hopeless tangle. He would take the bookmark out and show the troubled person this side of the bookmark and ask them to make sense of it. They never could. Then the pastor would turn it over, and on the front were white letters against a solid background saying, “God is love.” When events in our life seem tangled and meaningless, it is because we can see only one side of the tapestry.
c. To save many people alive: This was the immediate good in the situation. If this large family did not come to Egypt and live, it would have perished in the famine. Had the family barely survived, it would have assimilated into the Canaanite tribes surrounding it. Only by coming to Egypt could they be preserved and grow into a distinct nation.
i. As said before, if Joseph’s brothers never sold him to the Midianites, then Joseph would never have gone to Egypt.
· If Joseph never went to Egypt, he would never have been sold to Potiphar.
· If Joseph was never sold to Potiphar, Potiphar’s wife would never have falsely accused him of rape.
· If Potiphar’s wife never falsely accused Joseph of rape, then Joseph would never have been put in prison.
· If Joseph was never put in prison, he would have never met the baker and butler of Pharaoh.
· If Joseph never met the baker and butler of Pharaoh, he would have never interpreted their dreams.
· If Joseph never interpreted their dreams, he would have never interpreted Pharaoh’s dream.
· If Joseph never interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he never would have become prime minister, second in Egypt only to Pharaoh.
· If Joseph never became prime minister, he never would have wisely prepared for the terrible famine to come.
· If Joseph never wisely prepared for the terrible famine, then his family back in Canaan would have died in the famine.
· If Joseph’s family back in Canaan died in the famine, then the Messiah could not have come from a dead family.
· If the Messiah did not come forth, then Jesus never came.
· If Jesus never came, then we are all dead in our sins and without hope in this world.
· We are grateful for God’s great and wise plan.
d. And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them: Because Joseph trusted the overarching hand of God, even in all the evil that came upon him through his brothers, he showed the love and compassion to them he did.
i. Often, the problem we have in loving others and in freeing ourselves from bitterness we may have towards them is really a problem of not knowing who God is and trusting Him to be who He says He is.
e. I will provide for you and your little ones: Joseph’s love for his brothers was shown not only in feelings and words, but also in practical action. He actually did provide for his brothers and their families.
C. The death of Joseph.
1. (22-24) Joseph is still in Egypt, but his heart is in Canaan.
So Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s household. And Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. Joseph saw Ephraim’s children to the third generation. The children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were also brought up on Joseph’s knees. And Joseph said to his brethren, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
a. Joseph lived one hundred and ten years: His long life was further evidence of God’s blessing on Joseph’s life, as was seeing Ephraim’s children to the third generation. The hardships of his life did not diminish God’s ultimate blessing upon him.
b. God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land to the land which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob: Joseph was the human agent most responsible for bringing this family to Egypt. Yet he knew that because of the covenant God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this would not be their resting place. They were headed – eventually – back to Canaan.
2. (25-26) The death and embalming of Joseph.
Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
a. He was put in a coffin in Egypt: According to this passage and Hebrews 11:22, Joseph was never buried. His coffin laid above ground for the 400 or so years until it was taken back to Canaan. It was a silent witness for all those years that Israel was going back to the Promised Land, just as God said.
i. Joseph lived a life of dramatic faith. Yet in the end, this is how he was remembered in the Hebrews 11 Museum of Faith: By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22).
· This was faith, because it trusted God’s promise to His people.
· This was faith, because it knew where God’s people belonged.
· This was faith, because it looked to the future.
· This was faith, because it proclaimed God’s faithful promise in any way possible – even through a dead man’s bones!
b. You shall carry up my bones from here: This promise was fulfilled some 400 years later, when Israel left Egypt (Exodus 13:19). This command showed that Joseph’s heart was in the Promised Land. It also proved him to be a man of great faith, trusting in things not yet seen (Hebrews 11:22).
i. All during that time, when a child of Israel saw Joseph’s coffin and asked what it was there for and why it was not buried, they could be answered, “Because the great man Joseph did not want to be buried in Egypt, but in the Promised Land God will one day lead us to.”
ii. Some promises of God take a long time to fulfill, and we must persevere in trusting God. George Mueller was a remarkable man of faith who ran orphanages in England. In a sermon preached when he was 75 years old, he said 30,000 times in his 54 years as a Christian he received the answer to prayer on the same day he prayed it. But not all his prayers were answered so quickly. He told of one prayer that he brought to God about 20,000 times over more than 11 years, and he still trusted God for the answer: “I hope in God, I pray on, and look for the answer. Therefore, beloved brethren and sisters, go on waiting upon God, go on praying.”
iii. Joseph died looking forward to God’s unfolding plan of redemption, and that is where the Book of Genesis – the Book of Beginnings – ends. It concludes looking forward to the continuation of God’s eternal, loving, wise plan.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission