A Bible Lesson on Genesis 50

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Jacob/Israel has come to Egypt with all his household, making a total of 67 people.  He’s lived there as a sojourner in a land that was not his own from the age of 130 to the age of 147 and has now died.

Gen 50:1  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.

There is a purpose for the embalming in God’s scheme of things.  The body is not going to be buried in Egypt, but rather be carried back to Canaan.  It’s the physicians, not the professional embalmers that do the job, possibly because the embalmers would have been connected with the Egyptian religious scene.  The mourning goes on for 70 days, just 2 short of the 72 days that were prescribed for mourning a dead Pharaoh.  Jacob, as Joseph’s father, was clearly a respected figure in Egypt.

4 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,

Chances are that Joseph is ceremonially unclean from the funeral, not acceptable in Pharaoh’s court and so Joseph sends word to the court asking permission to go bury his father.

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.”

Strictly speaking, the burial place is a cave, and there was probably not all that much hewing that Jacob did.  But the Egyptians were quite elaborate in their personal preparation for death and could be expected to understand digging one’s own grave.  They would be inclined to honor this request, especially as phrased in terms of a respected person’s preparations and wishes.

6 And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.”

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.

So Joseph and the adults of his family and a large entourage of the Egyptians go to Canaan to bury Jacob.  The kids and the livestock are left behind.  On one hand there would be no reason for them to go, and on the other hand, the fact that they don’t serves as a guarantee that the trip is about a burial and not about a permanent return to live in Canaan.

9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company.

This is a procession fit for a real dignitary, involving both military and civilian elements.

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.

“Abel-mizraim” is a play on words and can mean “mourning of the Egyptians.”

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.

The family was well off in Egypt.  But this was reminder to all that Egypt was not home.  The family being in Egypt was a temporary matter.  It was for the saving of the family, but was not their inheritance.  That was Canaan, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried.

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.

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.”

The brothers at least call evil “evil.”  Evil they understand.  What they don’t really grasp is divine forgiveness.  They’ve lived well for 17 years here, but their consciences aren’t really clear.  They aren’t altogether sure that despite 17 years worth of evidence to the contrary, Joseph isn’t going to exact revenge.  They really aren’t sure that they won’t get what they deserve.  They don’t really know or trust him.

16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died,

The brothers try to feel Joseph out without getting close enough to be in danger.  And they appeal to him on the basis of an almost-surely-made-up instruction from Jacob.  It’s pathetic, really.  If you and I can guess this is made-up, don’t they think Joseph is smart enough to see through this if he really is against them?

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.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

Don’t give us justice, because we are your brothers and we go to your church.  The fact that they don’t understand his motives or trust his long-ago-freely-given forgiveness, and grovel in this way is probably a good part of what brings Joseph to tears.  Forgiven people should be grateful people, not be people who repeatedly testify to their skepticism about their forgiven state.

18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

Joseph’s answer to his brothers is as good as it gets in the Old Testament.  It is as thoroughly Christian as an Old Testament saint gets.

19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?

First, the righting of wrongs is to be left to God.  The brothers ought to fear God, but Joseph isn’t going to settle any score.  That’s God’s to do.

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.

Second, you meant evil, but God meant it for good.  Joseph sees (and we’re to see) the providence of God even in man’s malice.  In Chapter 45 (17 years before this time) Joseph said essentially the same thing … “you sold, but God sent.”  This is really first rate applied theology, real understanding of the providence of God, an understanding that has been Joseph’s his whole life, and has given him freedom to see sin for what it is and yet forgive completely.  From the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q:  Christian, how does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?

A:  We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love.  All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move or be moved.

21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

 Joseph returns not only forgiveness but also genuine affection in exchange for evil.  This is no teeth-gritting matter on Joseph’s part.  The “I” is emphatic.  He personally will provide.  The word “comforted” is the same word that God later uses through the prophet Isaiah to promise comfort to Judah in captivity (40:1; 49:13; 51:3;12,19; 61:2).  There is real tenderness here.

 22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years.

Joseph and his family remain in Egypt.  He’s 56 when his father dies and lives another 54 years.  110 years was apparently the ideal or perfect lifespan in the mind of the Egyptians.  That the blessing of God is with Joseph is evident to all, including the pagan Egyptians.

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.

What a deal.  Grandkids, great grandkids, great great grandkids.  This is good, really good.  He lives a full life, and when it’s time to die he’s got things completely in perspective.  Life has been blessed in Egypt, but the fundamental things are God’s presence and the covenant promise.

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.”

There will come a time to leave, and when it comes, Joseph wants his bones carried out.  This is a way of saying clearly and in a permanent tangible way that Egypt is not home.  “In God’s time and in His way, He’s going to bring you out of here.  Keep that before you, and my body will be a reminder that this is coming.  My body goes with you when God brings you home.”

There could have been the kind of grand funeral procession back to Palestine that was given Jacob’s body, but that’s not what Joseph wanted.  It’s a profound fact that in spite of being a thoroughly admirable and Godly character (whose story takes up a large part of Genesis) Joseph is hardly mentioned in the New Testament.  He is mentioned only in Stephen’s summary of the Old Testament and in Hebrews 11 in the hall of fame of faith.  There, it is for these dying words that he’s commended.  It is for his steady gaze at the promise of God.

Heb 11:22  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

What is the most important thing that can be said concerning any human?  It is that the person is looking ahead with firm faith in the promise of God, that he or she has taken Him at His word, that the person is wholly relying upon His gracious covenant and eternal presence.

26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

Joseph dies and his body is preserved.  His embalmed body—in a coffin but apparently not buried—stood as reminder of the promised exodus.  400 years later it’s still around and ready to go.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s