The End of An Era (Genesis 49:29-50:26)
In a day when perhaps 80 percent of Americans die in institutions rather than at home, it is difficult to identify with the scene which took place around the deathbed of Jacob centuries ago. Perhaps these brief paragraphs by Joe Bayly will help us to better appreciate the difference in the way death is dealt with (or perhaps not dealt with) in our culture.
One of my early memories is of being led into my grandmother’s room in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to give her a final kiss. She was dying, I had been told, “so be quiet and behave.”
That scene impresses me today with its Old Testament quality. Grandma, an imposing person, was conscious, slightly raised on a bolster, her white hair braided and carefully arranged on the quilt she had made as a young woman. The bed, a four-poster, was the one in which she had slept for fifty years, in which her four children had been conceived and born.
The wide-boarded floor creaked its familiar creak, the kerosene lamp flickered on the massive bureau, a bouquet of sweet peas from Grandma’s garden made the room faintly fragrant.
The old lady was surrounded by her children and grandchildren. In a few hours she died.
Forty years later my children were with their grandfather when he had his last heart attack. We gave him oxygen, called the doctor, and then the ambulance came. The men put Grandpa on a stretcher, carried him out of the house, and that was the last his grandchildren saw of him. Children are excluded from most hospitals.
In the intensive care unit of the hospital, my wife and I were with him until the visiting hours were over. The mechanics of survival—tubes, needles, oxygen system, electronic pacemaker—were in him and on him and around him.
Grandpa died alone, at night, after visiting hours. His grandsons had no chance to give him a final kiss, to feel the pressure of his hand on their heads.113
Men and women are granted little dignity in death in our cultural and technological age. There are hospital rooms with personnel continuously coming and going, tubes, tests, monitors and life sustaining (or death-prolonging) machines which make it difficult to even tell when one is really gone.
Jacob died in bed, at home, surrounded by those he most loved, and by those who most loved him. While most of us would prefer to die like Jacob, most may not have that choice. The need for very specialized treatment may force us to die in a hospital. And unexpected death may snatch us from those we love without any warning or opportunity to say farewell.
While the circumstances under which death comes may be beyond our control, our attitude toward death is something which we can determine, even now. I would like to suggest that few decisions are as important as our response to death. And no one chapter in the Old Testament has more to say on the subject of death than the final chapter of the book of Genesis.
One of the most dramatic changes in Jacob’s thinking was his attitude toward death. In the autumn years of his life, he was preoccupied with death. It probably began with the death of his beloved Rachel (Genesis 35:16ff.). The only woman he ever loved was gone. And later her oldest son Joseph appeared to be dead as well. Jacob saw little reason to live. The grave was not an appealing escape from pain, but it was the only one Jacob saw:
Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him (Genesis 37:35).
When Simeon was detained in Egypt and Benjamin was demanded as part of the integrity of Jacob’s sons, once again Jacob became preoccupied with death:
… My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should befall him on the journey you are taking, then you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow (Genesis 42:38).
Judah, at least, believed his father (cf. 44:22). When Jacob learned that Joseph was alive and was reunited with him, he felt that now, at last, he was ready to die:
Then Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive” (Genesis 46:30).
While Jacob felt he was ready to die, God did not. It was to be after 17 years of communion with God and with Joseph in Egypt that Jacob was really ready to die. When we see the detail with which Moses recorded the death of Jacob, we begin to appreciate the importance of his death. And when we recognize that the final chapter of Genesis contains the record of two deaths, we cannot ignore the fact that death is the central theme of the passage. Let us, then, turn our attention to this final chapter in Genesis to learn how Jacob’s attitude toward death has changed. And let us seek to gain a godly view of death and dying.
Jacob Chooses His Cemetery Site
So far as I can tell, Jacob’s last words were not the blessing he gave his sons (49:1-28), but his very careful instruction about his burial.
Then he charged them and said to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah—the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth.” When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people (Genesis 49:29-33).
There is no deception about Jacob’s death (verse 29), but its imminence underscores the import of his words. Clear orders are given, but not for the first time (cf. 47:29-31), concerning his burial in Canaan. He was to be taken up to Canaan to the field of Machpelah, and buried in the cave along with his grandfather Abraham, and his father Isaac, and their wives. Leah, too, was buried there, and it would seem that at that time he had hewn out a place in the cave for his own burial (cf. 50:5). A very precise description of the cave, the field, and its location was given so that no mistakes would be made. In that day, contracts were most often (if not always) verbal (cf. 23:3-20), and so this “deed” must be passed on from one generation to the next.
Knowing that he had fulfilled all of his obligations, Jacob drew up his feet into the bed and shortly, if not immediately, died (verse 33). It would seem that death could not claim him until all of his final responsibilities were completed.
The Grief of Joseph and the Egyptians
Moses chose, at this point, to draw our attention to the grief of Joseph and the Egyptians, but without a word concerning his brothers. Their response would be specifically described in later verses (15-21).
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. Now forty days were required for it, for such is the period required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days (Genesis 50:1-3).
Joseph was probably closer to Jacob than any of his brothers. He wept over his father and kissed him. Then those whose duty it was to care for Joseph’s medical needs114 were commissioned to embalm Jacob (verse 2). This was a lengthy process of 40 days duration (verse 3):
The process of embalming among the ancient Egyptians is thus described by Herodotus, b. ii., c. 86—8, “The body was given to the embalmers, who first took out the brains and entrails and washed them in palm wine impregnated with strong astringent drugs; after which they began to anoint the body with the oil of cedar, myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia; and this lasted thirty days. They next put it into a solution of nitre (saltpetre) for forty days longer, so that they allowed seventy days to complete the embalming; after which they bound it up in swathes of linen besmeared with gum. Being then able to resist putrefaction, it was delivered to the relatives, inclosed in a wooden or paper case somewhat resembling a coffin, and laid in the catacomb or grave belonging to the family, where it was placed in an upright posture against the wall.”115
As a gesture of respect, love, and sympathy, the Egyptians joined Joseph in mourning Jacob’s death a total of 70 days before the burial plan was put into action.116
The Burial of Jacob
Embalming was the customary Egyptian preparation of dignitaries for burial. For Jacob’s burial this was especially helpful for it was a long way back to Canaan to the cave where Jacob was to be laid to rest. Perhaps it was due to the same logistical problem (without the availability of embalmers) that forced Jacob to bury Rachel along the way rather than to transport her body to the cave of Machpelah (cf. Genesis 35:16-20).
Joseph’s next task was to secure the permission of Pharaoh to leave Egypt, along with all the adult members of the Israelite nation.
And when the days of mourning for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your sight, please speak to Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am about to die; 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; then I will return.” And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear” (Genesis 50:4-6).
Joseph is said to have asked other Egyptian officials to petition Pharaoh to leave the land temporarily. This may be due to some kind of ceremonial defilement that would make Joseph’s personal appearance and appeal offensive to Pharaoh. A report of Jacob’s instructions that were sworn as an oath was included in the petition. Joseph reminded Pharaoh that this was Jacob’s strong desire and that he was sworn to carry through with it. This was to assure that Pharaoh would not take offense to Jacob’s burial in Canaan rather than Egypt. Without reservation, Joseph’s request was granted.
Few funeral processions have been so long or so large:
So Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt, and all the household of Joseph and his brothers and his father’s household; they left only their little ones and their flocks and their herds in the land of Goshen. There also went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and it was a very great company (Genesis 50:7-9).
Joseph was accompanied by a large delegation of high-ranking Egyptian officials, many, if not all of whom, were subordinate to Joseph (cf. 40:40-44). Verse seven seems to indicate that men of various rank and offices went with Joseph to bury Jacob. In addition, all of Jacob’s adult family went along (verse 8). Attached to this large procession was a large company of horsemen and charioteers. Providing transportation and security seems to have been their assignment (cf. verse 9).
Upon reaching Canaan, the ceremony was so awesome it made a profound impression on the inhabitants of the land.
When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and sorrowful lamentation; and he observed seven days mourning for his father. Now when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning for the Egyptians.” Therefore it was named Abel-mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan (Genesis 50:10-11).
For an unknown reason, the procession made its way from Egypt to Canaan by means of an unusual route. Rather than traveling to the north and approaching Canaan from the west, they proceeded northeasterly and entered Canaan from the east, from the other side of the Jordan (cf. verse 10).117 Perhaps it is not coincidental that this route would more closely parallel the entrance of Israel into Canaan after the Exodus.
Shortly after crossing the Jordan into Canaan, the procession halted at a place identified as “the threshing floor of Atad” (verse 10). Here a seven day period of mourning was observed which especially attracted the attention of the Canaanites who lived near (verse 11).
The seven day mourning period may have been primarily for the Egyptians, allowing them one final opportunity to grieve with Joseph and his family. From here it would seem that Jacob’s family proceeded on with the body to the cave of Machpelah where Jacob was buried. This would then have been a more private family matter neither participated in by the Egyptians nor viewed with curiosity by the Canaanites.
Moses reminds us that in so doing the charge of Jacob to his sons was exactingly carried out.
And thus his sons did for him as he had charged 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 had bought along with the field for a burial site from Ephron the Hittite. And after he had buried his father Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father (Genesis 50:12-14).
Having completed their mission, this large entourage, the Israelites, would then have returned to the threshing floor of Atad, rejoined their retinue of Egyptians, and returned en masse to Egypt.
Not Grief, But Guilt
It is at verse 15 that we see why Moses has described only the grief of Joseph and the Egyptians (cf. 50:1,3). While the death of Jacob undoubtedly occasioned grief on the part of Joseph’s brothers, another emotion seems to have prevailed—guilt.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and pay us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!” (Genesis 50:15).
We cannot fully appreciate the feelings of Joseph’s brothers without recalling the past. For a long time feelings of jealousy and hatred had been growing like a cancer in the souls of Jacob’s “other” sons (cf. 37:2-4). More than once they must have considered a plan to eliminate Joseph, but one thing always prevented it—Jacob. Sometime, somehow, an occasion would arise when Jacob would not be present and then they could get rid of Joseph. The golden opportunity came when Jacob sent Joseph to them, many miles from home, far from the protection he had afforded to his favorite son (cf. 37:12ff.)
Now, years later, they were still plagued with guilt about their treatment of Joseph (cf. 42:21-22). They had not yet fathomed Joseph’s forgiveness, even though 17 years had evidenced nothing but grace. But, they reasoned, that was a time when Jacob still lived. Would Joseph not hesitate to retaliate with his father present even as they had waited for an opportune moment away from their father to eliminate Joseph? Now Jacob was gone for good. Joseph was free to do with them as he pleased. That thought consumed them, even more than the loss of their father. This fear prompted a plan which they hoped would soften Joseph’s anger.
So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him (Genesis 50:16-18).
A message was conveyed to Joseph, perhaps through Benjamin. Joseph was told that Jacob had yet another charge not yet made known, to which Joseph was urged to submit. Before his death Jacob had requested that Joseph forgive his other sons for their sins. Having sent this message ahead, perhaps by Benjamin, the brothers appeared before Joseph. Humbly they fell before Joseph pledging their obedience and submission (verse 18). They now volunteered to do the very thing which Joseph had predicted (37:5-9) and which they had sought to avoid (37:19-20).
Joseph’s response is a model for all who would respond in a godly way to ungodly persecution:
But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-21).
Vengeance belongs to God, not man. Joseph would not consider usurping a prerogative which belonged only to God (cf. Romans 12:19; I Thessalonians 5:15; I Peter 4:19). Furthermore, while their attitudes and actions were evil, the result was intended by God for the good of all (verse 20; cf. 45:5-8; Acts 2:23). How could Joseph be angry when good had come of their sin through God’s providence? Instead, Joseph returned kindness for cruelty (cf. Proverbs 25:21-22; Romans 12:20,21). The kindness Joseph had shown while his father was alive would continue he reassured them.
The Death and Burial of Joseph
More than 50 years elapsed between verses 21 and 22.118 Moses was intent upon placing the deaths of Jacob and Joseph side by side. Irrelevant details are therefore set aside to take us directly to the death bed of Joseph, and thus to parallel the death of Jacob.
Now Joseph stayed in Egypt, he and his father’s household, and Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. And Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim’s sons; also the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph’s knees. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you, and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.” So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt (Genesis 50:22-26).
Joseph’s life was full at the age of 110 (verse 22). He lived long enough to hold his great-great-grandsons on his knee (verse 23). Knowing that the day of his death drew near, Joseph like Jacob, charged his brothers concerning his burial. He did not wish his body to be carried back to Canaan, as Jacob had insisted.
While the burial of Jacob and Joseph are quite different, they are both reflective of the same faith and hope.119 Both believed that Israel’s blessings in the future would be realized in the land of promise. Both were embalmed—Jacob so that his body could be carried on the long journey to Canaan by his sons, Joseph so that his body could wait for the exodus at which time his bones would be returned to Canaan, borne by the Israelites:
And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God shall surely take care of you; and you shall carry my bones from here with you” (Exodus 13:19).
Jacob’s death occasioned a journey to Canaan where the Israelites once again beheld the land of promise to which they (in their offspring) would return at the exodus. The burial of Jacob reminded his descendants of their final home, and that Egypt was only a place of sojourn.
Joseph, on the other hand, was a continual reminder that some day the exodus would occur. Day after day in Egypt, that coffin spoke of Israel’s future and Joseph’s faith. And day after weary day, the Israelites trudged through the wilderness carrying the casket of Joseph. Both men, Jacob and Joseph, determined that their death and burial would be a testimony to their faith and a stimulus to the faith of their offspring.
And so we come to the end of an era and to the end of a magnificent book. But two funerals do not seem to be a very bright ending for a book. Man’s origin began in the garden of perfection and beauty in paradise. It ends in two coffins, one in Canaan, the other in Egypt. What a dismal conclusion. Moses could never make it as a writer in our times.
But wait a moment; that is just the point. Genesis chapter 50 is not the end of the story; it is only the end of the book of Genesis. Moses has yet four books to write, and God has ordained another 61 before the final chapter is written. And in the final chapters of the book of the Revelation we once again return to paradise.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).
And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5).
Death, Moses would have us learn, is not the end. That was what Jacob had foolishly believed for many years. That is why he was so eager for it to come. He looked forward to death as the end of his earthly woes. So do all who choose the way of suicide to cease from suffering. But the tragedy of such death is that it is not the end at all. It is really only a beginning of an irreversible eternity.
Some years ago I was given the task of taking a young man to the hospital who had unsuccessfully attempted to take his life. On the way I asked him what he believed happened after death. He told me that he believed in reincarnation. I shared with him the verse which says, “… it is appointed unto men to die once, and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
He had to admit that if this verse were true, suicide thrust its victim into irreversible judgment. Reincarnation is a tempting thought, for it encourages us to end one life with the hope that a better one may follow.
During those years spent in Egypt, Jacob came to a very different view of death. No longer did he consider death the end of everything. Even if a man were to lose his cherished son, as God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, God could raise him again. There was life after death:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR SEED SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Jacob had come to see that even if God did not resurrect the dead (in the way Abraham expected Him to raise Isaac), there was still life after death.
And Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people (Genesis 25:8).
And Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him (Genesis 35:29).
When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his lost, and was gathered to his people (Genesis 49:33).
The expression, “to be gathered to his people” was no mere euphemism for death; it was an ancient expression of the patriarchs hope of life after death. These men found little comfort in having their bones in close proximity to those of other relatives. They viewed their death as the occasion to be rejoined with those whose death had separated the living from the dead.
When our Lord quoted the statement of God the Father, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Matthew 22:32), He did so to prove there is life after death. For, otherwise, He would have said “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”!
May I suggest to you that the way you view death makes all the difference in the world. If it is the end of everything, then there is not any need to seek heaven or to shun hell. Suicide is a tempting option whenever life doesn’t seem to be going our way. If there is no life after death, the world is right when it says that we should “… eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
But if we view death as a beginning rather than the end, then what lies after death must surely compel us to face eternity squarely, before death. And, once we are rightly related to God by faith in His Son, we need not fear death. We need not avoid talking about it. And, in one sense, we can welcome it, for it promises us a time when we shall be intimately and eternally with God and with those in the faith who have been separated from us by death.
Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3).
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:6-8).
But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better (Philippians 1:23).
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Do you notice how candidly both Jacob and Joseph spoke of their death? That is not so with unbelievers. They avoid the subject with a passion. All kinds of euphemisms are employed so that death’s realities need not be faced. We do not speak of the dead, but of the departed; they are not buried, but interred. People do not die; they pass away. We do not bury the dead in graveyards, but in memorial parks.
Both Jacob and Joseph called their relatives to them, where they unhesitatingly spoke of their death and gave clear instructions regarding their burial. Today we do everything possible to conceal the truth from the dying. When the father of one of my best friends was dying of cancer, he would persistently ask his son, “Are they telling me everything?”
A number of years ago I was asked to visit a woman in the hospital. No one told me she was dying. I just knew it. She and I never avoided the subject of death, and it was obvious to me that she wished to talk about it. When she died, I was asked to conduct her funeral. I shall never forget my surprise at hearing the husband repeat to his wife’s friends and family, “She never knew she was dying.” I never knew she shouldn’t know. Her husband found comfort in concealing the truth from her.
The tragedy with this effort to deny death is that those last few days or hours are spent in deception. Rather than say our farewells and use our dying breath to speak words of lasting import, we dwell on trivia, which seems “safe” and remote from such unpleasant matters as death. And rather than facing the eternity which lies only a breath away, we carefully avoid it.
Most believers should not fall into the trap of denying death or avoiding a frank discussion of it. But there is a way in which we can also lose the joy of those last moments. There are some Christians who would say that sickness and death need not be endured if we would only have the faith to be healed.
Now I want to be quick to say that God can and does heal, and I am grateful for it. But there is no promise of healing or deliverance from suffering for all. I am inclined to believe that such instances are clearly the exception, rather than the rule.
But there are those who would walk into a hospital room and assure the dying that, if they have sufficient faith, God will raise them up and restore them, free from suffering, sickness, and death. Often, the ailing grasp at any hope of deliverance, not out of faith, but out of fear. Often, there is a bold pronouncement of faith and assurance of healing. There may be a period of remission. But often, the disease continues to consume the life of the terminally ill. Now, in the light of the almost certain approach of death, there can be only one conclusion. If one can be healed if he or she has sufficient faith, and they are not being healed, that person must not have sufficient faith.
Now, rather than face death with honesty and acceptance, the ill can only question his faith. And if his faith was inadequate to heal, can it be sufficient to save? The last days are spent in doubt and despair. There is no testimony, no joy, no worship—only despair.
Let us look at death as Jacob and Joseph. Let us see it not as the end, but the beginning. Let us, by faith, look forward to being reunited with those we love (I Thessalonians 4:13-18) and dwelling with our Savior (John 14:1-3), forever in His presence and experiencing the things he has prepared for us.
Finally, Joseph’s brothers, like Jacob (until his final days), felt that death was the end. They believed that God would care for them only so long as Jacob lived. They came to learn that God’s care was certain when neither Jacob nor Joseph were around. God’s program will never be contingent upon the presence of any one man, of any one church or organization. God’s plan and program is as certain as He is sovereign, as enduring as He is eternal.
Is it possible that you are uncomfortable with the subject of this scripture? Is death a matter you would prefer to put off? I felt the same way before I came to know Him who is not only the Way and the Truth, but the Life (John 14:6). I can remember, as a child, passing by a cemetery on the way to my grandparents. I always tried to concentrate on something on the other side of the road, hoping I would not have to be reminded of death. The fear of death is evidence of our uncertainty as to what lies beyond the grave. That fear can be denied, suppressed, or camouflaged. But it cannot be avoided indefinitely. The fear of death is overcome only by the faith of men like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who trusted in the one Who would eventually overcome it.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death (I Corinthians 15:25-26).
“O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (I Corinthians 15:55-58).
And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).
113 Joe Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk About (Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1973), pp. 29-30. This book, formerly titled, The View From A Hearse, is one of the finest books on death and dying on a non-technical level.
114 “Since embalmers and physicians were members of distinct professions, Joseph’s use of the latter has seemed anomalous to some writers. J. Vergote, however, points out that physicians were more than competent to perform the task, and that Joseph might well have wished to avoid the magico-religious rites of the professional embalmers.” Derek Kidner, Genesis An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967).
117 “This site is unknown, but its position implies a detour round the Dead Sea to approach Hebron from the north-east instead of the south-west. Presumably there was political unrest at some point, which the cavalcade’s arrival would have been in danger of aggravating. At the Exodus the direct route would again be impracticable (Ex. 13:17). Ibid.
118 “This last paragraph of Genesis refers to events fifty-four years after the preceding verse.” W, H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), p. 486.
119 The similarity between Jacob and Joseph is that both gave specific instructions concerning their burial arrangements. There is an interesting difference too. Jacob commanded his sons concerning his death (49:29,33), but Joseph charged his brothers (50:24). Thus we see that Joseph was outlived by his older brothers. God wanted to teach these men that He would care for them without Jacob or Joseph.