Saturday, November 12, 2011

Jacob’s Last Request - Genesis 47:27-31

Now Israel lived in the land of Egypt, in Goshen, and they acquired property in it and were fruitful and became very numerous.  And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the length of Jacob’s life was one hundred and forty-seven years.  When the time for Israel to die drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “Please, if I have found favor in your sight, place now your hand under my thigh and deal with me in kindness and faithfulness.  Please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.”  And he said, “I will do as you have said.”  And he said, “Swear to me.”  So he swore to him.  Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed.

Based on the majority of the versions of Scripture I have read, the phrase in the New American Standard Bible translated “acquired property in it” refers more to the idea that they were able to amass goods on the property they lived on rather than being able to actually acquire new property in the form of ‘land’.  What the Bible is silent on is whether or not Jacob’s family also had to sell their land to Pharaoh and themselves as slaves.

But we do know they “became very numerous”.  Seventy of them went to Egypt and now they were growing quickly with God’s blessings.  With eleven of Jacob’s sons having families and then those families having families, the number of Israelites in Egypt grew significantly annually as part of God’s grand plan to fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jacob actually lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years to the age of 147 years.  We can now return to our chronological account of the events of Genesis from the beginning of creation.  This time, we start at the year 3,331:

·      3331    Isaac, at age 60, becomes father to Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:26)
·      . . .
·      3451    The death of Isaac at age 180 (Genesis 35:28,29)
·      3461    The meeting of Jacob and Pharaoh when Jacob’s family moved to Egypt (based on Genesis 47:9 and the dates we had arrived at above)(Jacob was 130 years old)
·          Jacob’s death in Egypt at the age of 147 (based on Genesis 47:28,29)

Interestingly enough, it is difficult to assert with total confidence how much time actually passed between verse 28 when we learn of Jacob’s age and verse 29 when the time drew near for him to die.  I would venture to say that any gap was very short, based on the fact that this conversation took place near Jacob’s bed in which he may well have been lying due to some initial illness or his very old age at the time.

Jacob knew his time for passing away was drawing near.  I just recently turned 64.  For some years now, especially since I had a bout with cancer a couple of years back, I have been aware of my earthly mortality and decided there and then I was ready to go whenever God called me.  Since then, I know that every day, week, month, and now years is truly a gift from Him.  I have found most older Christians are usually aware of the fact that one day life here on earth will end for them.  I have also observed that those who often do not know God personally are either caught by surprise or believe they will live forever.  Recognizing that we do have limited time left is no reason however to live each day less fully or active than we otherwise could.  In fact, for the Christian it causes us to focus more on the activities and interests and passions that really matter in life, both now and for eternity.  Thus my involvement with our family and also in missions.

When he realized his days were numbered, Jacob called his son Joseph to his side and talked with him.  It is not surprising that it was Joseph and not one of the others.  Joseph was his beloved son from Rachel.  He had been given up for dead and was found again in Egypt.  He was the one who made it possible for the entire family to survive the great famine of the land.  He had arranged for the family’s settling in Goshen and looked after their welfare in whatever way was necessary.  He had the connections and the means to bring about any request that his father Jacob might make of him.  So calling on him at his time of death is understandable even though he wasn’t the oldest son who might well have felt out of sorts for not being chosen in this regard.

Nevertheless, as parents we have a responsibility to take such action in a wise and caring way.  Even though we may have our reasons for picking one child over another for such a responsibility as the one Jacob shares with Joseph, we still need to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of all our children.  There is never a good time to deliver hurtful messages to anyone, but certainly the time of one’s death is the least opportune occasion for doing so.  While it is our hope we will be remembered for all the good we have done over our life, the fact remains, because of human nature, many of us will be remembered most for what we did and said to others on our last opportunity.  Let us remember that and act accordingly.

So Jacob first ensures that he has indeed found favor in Joseph’s eyes.  What’s that all about?  I believe that as we grow old, we want to make sure that somehow we have done something right when it comes to our children, and as is true in my case, when it comes to our grandchildren.  Sometimes one of them will, in the course of their playing, get something stuck under their skin that now is bothering them and they come running to us.  They see us maybe grabbing a pair of tweezers or scissors to help dislodge the alien object from their body.  It is at that point they begin to wail.  And they usually yell out, “Grandpa.  Grandpa.  Please don’t do that.”  (Of course, that reaction in itself is another illustration for another topic.)  Here, suffice it to say that I simply stop and then ask, “Naomi (or any other of our grandchildren), has pappou (grandpa in Greek) ever intentionally hurt you before?”  Well, of course, the answer is ‘No’ and then I make my follow-up comment, “Then why would I want to do so now?  I just want to help you get this thing out so you can go back and play.”

What I am doing in that exchange is basically the thing that Jacob is doing with his comment.  “If I have found favor in your sight, then . . ..”   Of course, for Jacob it is much broader than that.  As parents we want to make sure that we have guided them well, we have been true to our beliefs, we have loved their mother (or father in the case of a woman), we have provided for their shelter and nourishment and taught them in the ways of the Lord.  “Did I do that and much more?” is what Jacob was asking his son Joseph as the former neared the end of his life.

“And if I did, then. . . ” Jacob tells Joseph to place his hand under Jacob’s thigh and to “deal with me in kindness and faithfulness.”  That is one of the most touching human requests from a parent to a child that you will find, not only in the Bible, but in other literature as well.  This is basically the same style of oath that Abraham demanded of Eliezer, his chief servant, in Genesis 24:2, when he sent him to Haran to get a bride for his son Isaac.  When you agree to an oath like this, you have a solemn obligation to fulfill whatever it is you have promised to do, at any cost.  So what exactly was Jacob asking of Joseph?

For starters, he wanted to be dealt with “in kindness and faithfulness”.  We must realize that this is the main desire of all seniors, especially parents, that they be treated with kindness and faithfulness.  In their old age, what they fear most is that they would not be, that they would be left alone to suffer in their last days.  Regardless of who we were or are, when we get to our last days, we become, once again, so dependent on others, just as when we were born.  And if we’re the younger ones, we must never lose sight of the fact that soon we will be there ourselves.  We must always remember that what goes around, comes around.  How our children see us treating our parents today is a good indicator of how we ourselves will be treated.  I do not believe that Jacob had anything to fear in that regard.

Secondly, he asked Joseph to make sure that when he died (the text says, “when I lie down with my fathers”), Joseph would see to it that he was carried out of Egypt and buried in the land and place where his ancestors were buried.  He wanted to be buried in Canaan.  It had been seventeen years since he had left the land of his fathers to come to Egypt.  A trip back there with a deceased person was no small feat in those days and yet Jacob felt comfortable enough to ask that of his son, Joseph, for it was within his means to do so.

And Joseph tells his beloved father, “I will do as you have said.”  Jacob simply wants him to swear that he will, and Joseph obliges him and does so. Have you made a solemn oath to anyone?  Have you made a solemn oath to God?  Have you kept it?  If so, you realize the impact of a personal promise like that upon one’s life.  You cannot rest until you carry through and keep that promise.  If you have made such a promise and reneged on it, in many cases, there is still time to carry it out.  In some cases, you’ll need to apologize and make things right as soon as possible.  In many others, you simply need to do what you promised.  When the promise you made is fulfilled, a big load will be lifted from upon you.

Having received this promise, Jacob then “bowed in worship at the head of the bed.”  By this act, Israel is in essence yielding himself to the arrival of death for him and in a state of worship, thanks God for His mercy and grace upon him, even to the point of his last desire.  What a way for us to die -- with our children promising to grant us our last wish, and then giving thanks to our Creator for all He has done for us.

What remains for us is to remember how then we should die when we are ready to “lie down” with those that went before us.

 [Are you looking for a speaker at your church, your club, school, or organization? Ken is available to preach, teach, challenge, and/or motivate. Please contact us.]

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