Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Death of Jacob - Genesis 49:28-33

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him. 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.

As I read the first sentence in this portion of Scripture I realize the value in the blessing one bestows on his or her children (the ‘blessees’) is not always found in the words one utters (for Jacob uttered some tough words), but in both the act of blessing a child prior to one’s passing and in the sharing of the truth that lies ahead to the extent it has been revealed by God to the ‘blessor’.   Each of Jacob’s sons, regardless of their history, was blessed with a blessing suitable for them and with a glimpse of what God had in store for their descendants.

What came next was an instruction to all of them.  Jacob told them he was about to die and join his ancestors.  He wanted his sons to bury him in a particular field with his fathers.  This field was purchased many years ago by his grandfather Abraham to bury his beloved wife Sarah.  It was the same field where his father Isaac was buried along with Rebekah his wife, and it was the field that Jacob himself had buried Leah, his first wife.  We note also this was not where Jacob had buried Rachel.  She was buried on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem, near where she had died, because the family was in the midst of a journey.  But Jacob wanted to be buried with his fathers and with Leah.  Perhaps this was yet another indication that as a godly man, he also loved her as he did Rachel.  Given Joseph’s position in the land, Jacob could have been buried in the best of tombs in Egypt, but he did not want to.  He realized he was not an Egyptian, but rather as David Guzik says, “he was a son of the promise, an heir of God’s covenant with Abraham”, and thus he wanted to be buried in the land of promise.  This was a simple instruction, given once to Joseph, now to all the sons, and it was expected that it be carried out.  And then Jacob died.

I will never forget the one simple request made of me by my own father as he lay dying in the hospital in his 91st year of life.  The simple request that I not sell the family property as long as I lived.  I agreed.  It was like a charge at the end of my father’s life to me.  But it was also God’s blessing to my wife and I through my dad.  In order to make it financially feasible to keep my family’s property, a decision was made that both my wife and I and our daughter’s family as well sell our respective homes, and build one together where we could all live.  We are now in our fourth year and while there are always some challenges when the range of the oldest to the youngest in a group of seven spans nearly six decades, the blessings and advantages to all do outweigh them.  We would do well to heed the charges that our godly parents leave us.

There is a possibility that at his great age, Jacob in saying, “I am about to be gathered to my people” was actually indicating his desire, or at least welcoming that ultimate end to physical life.  He had lived long, he had experienced much, and he had been part of God’s plan for him and others, and now it was time to be gathered to his people.  As one rereads the last sentence of verse 33 above, one realizes that it is possible that Jacob actually realized he had completed all he had to do in life.  He then put himself in the ‘yielding to death’ position drawing his feet towards him in the bed as like unto a fetal position.  And thus, he indicated his willingness to take the next step.  And then God took him.  It is a blessed man or woman that can die like that, knowing he or she has done what they were intended to do, and that their death was a natural next step in their deeper ongoing relationship with their God.

And even in his death, or more specifically his burial, he wanted to be sure that by requiring his sons to bury him in the land of Canaan, they would continue to remember that they were not true Egyptians, but really people of the covenant – people of the God of Israel.  They all still had a part to play in fulfilling the promises of God to his people.

It makes me wonder how we will charge our children when it is time for us to go?  Will it be something for the building up of our own memorial; will it be something for their own good; or will it be something that compliments God’s plan for mankind?

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