10. Famous Last Words (Gen. 46:1-50:26)Related Media
Last words can be so memorable and powerful. Joshua said: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). Jesus said seven last words from the cross, including: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”(Lk. 23:24). In this article, we look at the last words of two men of the O.T., a father and a son, and what a contrast between them! This is the tenth and final message in my series on the life of Joseph. Our subject is: “The end of two contrasting lives.” In this study we learn that how our lives end often reflects how we lived.
Finally the day arrives when the restoration of fellowship between Joseph and his brothers is complete and they convince their father, Jacob, to move with them to Egypt (45:27-28). Having recovered from the stunning news that Joseph is alive, Jacob and his entourage leave Canaan for their new life in Egypt. When they come to Beersheba, they offer sacrifices to God (46:1) and, once more, God speaks to Jacob in a dream at night (46:2; cf. Gen. 28:13; 32:27f.). Beersheba is an important place for it was here that Abraham and Isaac had lived years ago. It was here that Abraham had called upon God. It was here that Abraham died. Now God appears here once more – this time to Jacob.
It’s always a faith-boosting experience when, after having made a decision, God confirms it. Here He confirms Jacob’s decision to move to Egypt with this wonderful affirmation of who He is and the trustworthiness of his word.
First, God assures Jacob about going to Egypt. “2 That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: ‘Jacob, Jacob!’ he said. And Jacob replied, ‘Here I am.’ 3 God said, ‘I am God, the God of your father’” (46:2-3a). This reminds us of Jacob’s last personal encounters with God at Bethel (Gen. 28:13) and then at the river Jabbok (32:24-32), doesn’t it? Let there be no mistake about it, this was God speaking, the God of Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac. This same God is Jacob’s God, who now affirms to him the course of action he is about to take.
“Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt” (46:3b). God is saying, “Don’t be nervous about leaving Canaan or about what your sons have told you - it’s the right thing to do.” God assures Jacob that He will fulfill his promise to Abraham: (1) His promise concerning Israel as a nation - “I will make you into a great nation there” (46:3c); and (2) His promise concerning the land of Canaan – “I will go down with you to Egypt and I will also surely bring you back” (46:4a). In other words, God will bring Israel back to Canaan and they will once again occupy the land that He had promised Jacob’s forefathers.
And so the whole family and their possessions move from Canaan to Egypt (46:5-27). You may wonder why God would affirm their move from Canaan to Egypt when Canaan was the land that God had promised to them. Why would they leave it? Well, God says it’s just a temporary move. Eventually He would bring them back again to Canaan. There may be twists and turns in the road, but God always keeps his word - His promises do not fail.
Second, God comforts Jacob that Joseph is alive. “Joseph’s hand shall close your eye” (46:4b). In other words, not only is this divine confirmation that Joseph is alive but, more than that, Joseph himself will personally attend Jacob when he dies. So, there you have it. We have a God who assures and comforts us. We have a God who is absolutely trustworthy – he keeps his promises. We have a God who sees, who hears, and who acts.
So, Jacob’s sons take charge of the move. They carry their father, children and wives in the carts that Joseph had given them, along with their livestock and possessions. And the entire family moves from Canaan to Egypt. No one is left behind (46:8-25) - 70 persons in all (46:27).
When they arrive in Goshen, Joseph is ready for a family reunion. Joseph “fell on (Jacob’s) neck and wept a good while” (46:29). Seeing his father again has been the longing of Joseph’s heart. Seeing his long lost son is beyond Jacob’s wildest dreams. Everything is put in order again – the family is reunited. Now at 130 years old, Jacob is ready to die (46:30). But in fact he lives for 17 more years (47:28), the exact age of Joseph when he disappeared those many years before.
Upon their arrival in Egypt, what a reunion it must have been between Jacob and his favorite son (46:28-34). It had been many years since they had seen each other. No wonder Joseph “fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (46:29). And then, of course, Joseph introduces them to Pharaoh, who not only offers them “the best of the land” (the land of Goshen) to live in, but also offers them employment looking after his flocks (46:3-10). And Joseph settles them in their new home in Goshen (47:11-12).
And so Jacob’s sunset years begin (47:13-50:3). In Egypt the famine had just reached its peak – “there was no bread in all the land” (47:13). So bad was the economy that the people ran out of money and Joseph began to trade their livestock for bread. The next year, the people have no money and no livestock, only their bodies and their land. So, Joseph acquires all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh and in exchange he gives the people seed for them to grow grain, of which they are to give back 20% to Pharaoh. And the people said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh (47:25).
But it was not so among the Israelites in Goshen. There, they had food, possessions, and lots of children. Despite the desperate economic conditions and famine in Egypt and Canaan (47:13-26), Israel prospered - “Israel gained possessions in it and were fruitful and multiplied greatly” (47:27). How faithful is our God to his word and his people!
In this protected and prosperous community, Jacob’s life ends. Never had he dreamed that he would see his favorite son again. And yet, not only does he spend 17 more years with him, but he also gets to see Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
The section we are studying breaks down into two parts each dealing with the last words and deaths of these two great men. First...
I. Jacob’s Last Words And Death (47:28-50:21)
Jacob’s deathbed scene is very touching and instructive. Last words are important for they often affect subsequent generations.
1. Jacob Secures His Burial Site (47:29-31)
Jacob makes Joseph promise to not bury him in Egypt but to bury him with his forefathers in Canaan (47:29-31). This was the land which once again would be the permanent home of the Israelites as promised to them by God and Jacob would return there for his final resting place. This was the same place where Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebekah were buried and where Jacob had buried his wife, Leah (cf. 49:29-32). Though he despised Leah during her lifetime, he chose to be buried beside her in his death. We can understand why he wanted to be buried on the family burial ground – but why specifically where he buried Leah? Perhaps he now regretted how he had treated Leah and perhaps he wanted to honor her as his first wife.
Unrestored relationships can cause so much regret. Isn’t it often the case that after someone has died, we regret the way we treated them when they were alive? So many people live with regrets saying, “If only .... If only I had known, I would have gone and seen them and put things right. If only we had had one more chance to talk.” Some children and parents are divided and never reconcile, ending up sometimes living a lifetime of regret. Friends sometimes squabble and fall out over something and never make things right. Some Christians fight over differences (often minor) and never speak to one another again. These broken relationships leave scars that sometimes never heal because they’re never put right. Perhaps that was Jacob’s motivation here. Perhaps he finally realized that Leah was not to blame – she had done nothing wrong. She hadn’t deceived him, Laban had. She hadn’t forced him to marry her. She had been embarrassed just as much as Jacob. She was just as much the subject of Laban’s scheming and deception as Jacob was.
So often, we make decisions we later regret. We treat people badly and never put it right. We act in unloving ways towards them. We shun them while showing favoritism to others. That is so hurtful and so wrong. Let’s make sure that if we have perpetrated a broken relationship that we go and get right with the other person. And even if we are the one who has been ill-treated, let’s make sure that we act like Joseph and bend over backwards to reconcile with those who have wronged us.
2. Jacob Utters His Last Words (48:1-49:27)
This scene is reminiscent of years before when Jacob came to his old, blind father’s side (27:18-29). When he hears that his father is ill, Joseph hurries to his bedside, taking with him his two sons (48:1). Evidently, Joseph wanted his sons to connect with their grandfather one last time and to receive his all-important blessing. Energized by their presence and the imminence of his death, Jacob utters last words that will have an impact on the twelve tribes long after his demise.
a) Jacob repeats God’s promise to Joseph (48:1-4) that “I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land (Canaan) to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession” (48:3-4). This is the same promise that God had made previously to Abraham and Isaac (cf. 12:1-3; 15:18-21; 26:2-4) and to Jacob (cf. 28:10-19; 35:6-13). God does not go back on his word nor fail to carry it out.
b) Jacob blesses Joseph’s two sons (48:5-20). “Your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh...are mine, as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine” (48:5). This is a surprising twist at the end of this story, one that is loaded with pathos, a touching scene by all accounts.
First, Jacob effectively adopts Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons on an equal basis with his own two oldest sons, Reuben and Simeon (48:5). Thus, Jacob’s next-to-youngest son, Joseph, receives a greater share of the estate than his eldest son, Reuben, as the custom of the day required.
Second, Jacob blesses Ephraim, Joseph’s younger son, with a larger portion than Manasseh, the older son (48:8-20), pointing to a day in the future when the tribe of Ephraim would be the dominant tribe in the northern kingdom of Israel (cf. 48:19).
It’s touching, isn’t it, how Jacob’s thoughts go back to Rachel who died in Canaan (48:7). Rachel was the love of his life and Joseph was her firstborn son. Because of that, Joseph’s two sons would receive the same inheritance as a firstborn son and, by so doing, Joseph would received a double portion.
Third, in this scene, Jacob tenderly says to Joseph, “I never thought I would see your face again; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring” (48:11).
c) Jacob blesses Joseph himself (48:21-22). First, he blesses Joseph with God’s presence and God’s promise: “God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your father” (48:21). Then, he blesses Joseph, “as one above his brothers” with an extra portion of land, the land of Shechem (48:22).
d) Finally, Jacob utters his last words to his others sons (49:1-27), whom he gathers around him in order to “tell you what shall happen to you in days to come” (49:1). Here Jacob conducts a comprehensive and final assessment of each son’s life, uttering words of blessing, assigning appropriate rewards, and, where necessary rebuking them.
One by one Jacob addresses his twelve sons. It’s sad, isn’t it, that Jacob cannot unreservedly bless them all. It’s sad that he has such bad memories.
For Reuben, his firstborn son who should have been his father’s delight, the one he had hoped would carry on his legacy, turned out to have a serious character flaw - he was “unstable as water” (49:4a). He was unpredictable, undisciplined, erratic. In addition, Reuben had a serious moral failure: “You went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it” (49:4b), when he committed incest with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid and Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). Because of his character flaw and moral failure, Reuben would not “excel / have preeminence” (49:4a). Reuben was soundly disqualified for a position of leadership.
For Simeon and Levi he has words of condemnation for their murder of the men of Shechem (cf. 34:26) and for their self-will (49:5-7).
For Judah he has words of praise. Evidently, Judah had repented of the wrongs he had done in his life and put things right. Thus, Jacob sees Judah’s life marked by kingship: “The scepter shall not depart out of Judah… until Shiloh comes (49:10). Here, Jacob not only foresees the rise of Judah to kingship in Israel, but also (1) the rise of the Davidic kingship, and (2) the ultimate advent of the King of kings, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Messiah himself, great David’s greater Son (49:11-12).
After reviewing Zebulun (49:13), Issachar, (49:14-15), Dan (49:16-18), Gad (49:19), Asher (49:20), and Naphtali (49:21), for Joseph he has words of prosperity and blessing, “a fruitful bow by a well whose branches run over the wall” (49:22-26). And finally, Benjamin (49:27).
3. Jacob Dies (49:28-50:14)
“When Jacob had finished giving charges to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people. Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him” (49:33-50:1). He was “gathered to his people,” a wonderful inference that for believers, death is not the end: for believers, we are united with our loved ones at death, at home with the Lord.
As the attentive son, Joseph weeps over his dead father (50:1). Undoubtedly, these were tears of grief over his father’s death. Undoubtedly, they were tears of respect, borne out of his deep love and reverence for his father. And undoubtedly, they were also tears of joy, that though he had been separated from his father at the young age of 17 he now had spent another 17 years with him before he died – another double blessing, one he had never anticipated. In effect, the years that the locust had eaten (Joel 2:25) were restored.
Joseph takes care of all the funeral arrangements (50:2-13). He has Jacob’s body embalmed and then carries out his father’s last request to be buried in Canaan. Such was Pharaoh’s respect for Joseph, that he grants Joseph’s father a royal send off, accompanied by “a very great gathering” of Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, together with all of Jacob’s household (except the little ones and their livestock) who carried Jacob’s body back to Canaan and buried him in the cave of Machpelah “which Abraham bought…as a burying place” (50:4-13).
What a royal send off for Jacob! How this must have made Joseph feel proud of his dear old dad. And what a testimony to Joseph’s faithfulness, abilities, and success that Pharaoh displayed. So great was this funeral procession that even the Canaanites marveled (50:11).
So ends the life of a great patriarch, one in whose life God overruled to ultimately bring good out of evil. Then...
II. Joseph’s Last Words And Death (50:15-26)
1. His Last Words Of Forgiveness And Promise To His Brothers (50:15-21)
While Joseph mourns for his father (50:10b) his brothers are thinking about their own future (50:15-17a). With their father dead, they fear that perhaps now Joseph would “repay (them) for all the evil they did to him” (50:15). Even though reconciliation had taken place, their guilt remains. Though Joseph had bent over backwards to show his genuine love and forgiveness and had provided for them wonderfully in Goshen, yet they still feared reprisal now that Jacob was dead. They must have thought that while Jacob was alive, Joseph held back his revenge just waiting until the old man was dead.
Memory can be absolutely tormenting, can’t it? Though we have been fully forgiven by Christ, the memory of sins we have committed still can haunt us. Sometimes I think that we just don't grasp the reality and the extent of God’s grace and forgiveness. Somehow we don't believe that it is really true, that we are fully forgiven and restored. In our relationships with other people, even though we may have been reconciled with someone we have wronged, yet we still think there is a barrier and we walk on eggshells every time we’re around them.
Joseph’s brothers just couldn’t accept the fact that Joseph could and had fully and genuinely forgiven them. Such love was beyond their comprehension. They evidently interpreted everything that Joseph had done for them as something he had done for his father from which they derived the benefit as long as their father was alive. But now that Jacob was dead, their protective shield was gone.
So, in the name of their father they send a message to Joseph through mediators (50:16a), begging Joseph to forgive them (50:16b-17a), making up a story that before his death their father had requested that Joseph do so.
Joseph had absolutely no thought of retaliation (50:17b-18). In fact, so far was it from his mind that “Joseph wept when they spoke to him” (50:17b). It is incomprehensible to him how they could even think that. That was then and this is now. The old has passed and the new has come as far as Joseph is concerned. He doesn’t want to go back over the past again nor does he want his brothers to continue living with this unwarranted fear.
As soon as they are assured that Joseph’s previous forgiveness was genuine and unconditional, his brothers come to him face to face and “fell down before his face and said, ‘Behold we are your servants’” (50:18). This was the farthest thing from Joseph’s mind. Had he not treated them beyond anything they could ask or think? Apparently, they wanted to try to repay him by serving him.
This is the way so many Christians think and act. After they have committed sin and been forgiven and reconciled to God, they live under this canopy of servitude that somehow they have to regain God’s favor. But God’s forgiveness is rooted in his sovereign grace, not in our works or merit. We cannot earn his forgiveness, not when we are first saved and not when we sin as Christians – it’s all of grace. We can’t somehow pay God back for the wrong we have done, to try to do so is evidence that we never really understood God’s grace to start with.
Now notice the nature of Joseph’s last words...
Joseph’s last recorded words are comforting words (50:19). “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?” (50:19). These must have been comforting words to his brothers. Joseph’s attitude hasn’t changed. Revenge is not part of his thinking or character. He would not judge them – that is God’s sovereign work. Nor are they his servants to worship him as God. They are his brothers. They have nothing to fear. “Don’t be afraid” must be some of the most comforting words anyone could ever hear, especially Joseph’s brothers. Joseph’s last words are comforting words. And…
Joseph’s last words are spiritual words (50:20). “But as for you, you meant it for 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” (50:20). Joseph’s attitude hasn’t changed nor has his theology. All that had happened was according to God’s providence. God had overruled in all his circumstances to ensure that the Egyptians and his own family would be preserved throughout the massive famine to fulfill the vision Joseph had had those many years before - dreams do come true. God had been true to his word, albeit in ways that Joseph had never anticipated. Joseph stood firm in the understanding that all that had happened was under God’s providential care and control.
What do we mean by the term providence? My definition is that the word “providence” means taking care of something in advance, making provision for something beforehand. God’s providence, then, refers to his sovereign preservation and sustenance of all things with a view to achieving his divine purposes. Divine providence is that aspect of the sovereignty of God which has to do with his care and control of all things, which, of course, is possible because God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
Joseph had told his brothers before about God’s providence, that all that had happened was under God’s providential care and control (45:5-8), and he repeats it again to them now. Back then, he hadn’t mentioned their part, that “you meant evil against me,” only that “God meant it for good.” But now, it appears that Joseph knew that his brothers needed their sin to be named so that it was all out in the open and so that it could be put aside once and for all. That’s a principle of forgiveness and reconciliation - the sin needs to be named and confessed. And though his brothers didn't seem able to do it themselves, Joseph knew that that was what they needed.
So, Joseph’s last words are comforting words and spiritual words and…
Joseph’s last words are kind words (50:21). “So, do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (50:21). His brothers words to him and about him those many years before had been words of vindictiveness and contempt and hatred. But Joseph’s last words to them are words of comfort and kindness. They did not need to be afraid of him or of the consequences of how that had treated him. No, in return Joseph would take care of them – their younger brother becomes their guardian and caregiver.
Surely, this is a reflection of the heart of God. This is the teaching of Jesus being lived out before them – to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you (Matt. 3:44; Lk. 6:27).
Lastly, Joseph’s last words are assuring words (50:24-26). “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” (50:24). The promise of God stands firm and Joseph passes it on to his brothers. They will inhabit once more the land that God had promised to Abraham. And just as Jacob made Joseph vow to bury him in Canaan, so Joseph makes his brothers vow to bury him there as well (50:25). “So, Joseph died, being 110 years old, They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” (50:26). Thus ends the life of a great man of God.
What a contrast between Joseph’s life and his father Jacob’s. What a difference in their last words. On the one hand, Jacob’s last words are words of blessing mixed with words of regret, sorrow, and bad memories. But Joseph’s last words are gracious, kind, and full of hope.
Joseph is a beautiful type our Lord Jesus Christ. Some people don’t think Joseph is a type of Christ because nowhere does the Bible explicitly state that. But neither does it explicitly state that David was a type of Christ. Yes, I understand that technically a “type” is an event, thing or person that points forward to something to come, and that often the Bible states that such event or person is, in fact, a type. But surely, when we say that someone, like Joseph or David is a type, we are merely saying that they are typical of Christ in character and / or conduct. Surely, when you read that Joseph was his father’s beloved son, who was rejected by his brothers, cast into a pit and sold for 20 pieces of silver, who was falsely accused and unjustly condemned, and who was ultimately raised to the supreme position over all the land - surely, when you read that, it doesn’t take a PhD to figure out what the writer is trying to tell us – Joseph is a type of Christ. In all his rejection and false accusations and imprisonment not once is there a hint of malice, or revenge against his enemies. Is this not a beautiful reflection of the One who “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23)?
Joseph is an example to us of to how to live for God, even under appallingly adverse circumstances both at home and at work. He is the example of one who fully understood and trusted the providence of God. Remember: Joseph’s God is our God, a God who is absolutely trustworthy and a God who works providentially in our lives to bring good out of evil. Joseph knew that truth and he lived it. Despite and out of all the cruelty and discouragements Joseph had suffered in his lifetime, God had providentially worked all things together for good.
This story does not explain evil and unjust suffering. It explains how to respond to evil and unjust suffering, (1) by seeing it from God’s perspective and submitting to God’s purposes in it; (2) by demonstrating the grace of God to those who have wronged us – grace that is beyond human comprehension; (3) by drawing others to the God of grace for forgiveness. Seeing things from this perspective helps us to endure. When we look around us at ground level all we see are the circumstances and the evil and we begin to get all tied up with ourselves. But when we see it from God’s overall plan (not just for our lives but for the blessing of others), then it helps us to endure it.
Gene Getz tells the story of Dr. Victor Frankl when he was taken prisoner by the Nazis and confined to a concentration camp. Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist. Because he was in good health, rather than being ushered off to the gas chamber he had to work long hours in the field. People working alongside Frankl were dying everyday. By his own confession, he too was rapidly losing hope. His body grew weaker day by day and his ability to cope deteriorated rapidly. One morning when the guards came to arouse all the prisoners, he could hardly drag himself from his cot. Once on the edge of his bed, he tied his clothes on with bits of wire and tied his shoes on his feet with string. His guards gave him a crust of bread as he joined the other prisoners and plodded across the frozen ground, heading for the mine fields. As he walked, Frankl felt he was going to fall over and die. During that dark moment that seemed like hours, he mustered enough mental and emotional energy to think about his approach to helping others cope with suffering.
Over the years, Frankl had developed a philosophy of counselling that he called “logotherapy.” This therapy was designed by Frankl to help others “see meaning” in pain and suffering. But, what meaning could Frankl possibly see in what was happening to him? As they trudged along, struggling between life and death, he pictured himself lecturing in an auditorium filled with people. In his mind, he was speaking on the subject of logotherapy and how he had survived a Nazi concentration camp by practicing the principles embodied in this approach to enduring incredible weakness and pain and by not giving up when every fiber in your mind and body is crying out to do so! The only meaning he could think of that time was to be able to stand before this crowd of people and share with them that his therapy worked. By processing in his mind this possibility Frankl gained enough courage and strength to make it through the day. He then made it through another day and another until the war was over and he was released.
Getz goes on to say, “I love to tell the rest of the story. A number of years ago, my wife and I attended a lecture at the University of Dallas. The guest speaker was none other than Victor Frankl. Though I had read the account of his experience earlier in one of his books, what a moment of awe to hear him share the story from his own lips. What he had seen in his mind’s eye – which gave him strength to endure the suffering – was being lived out before our very eyes. There he stood, lecturing on the subject of how he endured the ravages of a Nazi concentration camp by seeing this particular meaning in his suffering – the opportunity to tell us about it. As I sat and listened to Dr. Frankl, my heart was deeply moved. Here was a man who at the dark moment in his life did not claim to embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ – that He was Messiah. However, he discovered a very important principle that Jesus taught – a principle that worked even for him. He was able to believe that “good” could come from this terrible experience precipitated by the very embodiment of evil – Hitler himself” (Gene Getz, “Joseph” in Men of Character, 194-195).
Victor Frankl did not have a divine perspective and yet he survived by practicing the principle that what others intended for evil could somehow be turned to good ends. How much better that we have a divine perspective, not manipulating our minds in order to survive the adversities of life but trusting God that he is in control and that in the end, though we may not understand how, he can use evil circumstances for good.
Remember our thesis: How our lives end often reflects how we lived.