Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mourning for Jacob - Genesis 50:1-3

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.

We come now to the last chapter of the first book of the Bible.  In it, we read of Jacob’s burial and also the death of his favorite son, Joseph.   For now, let us focus on the former.   The relationship between the two is evident in verse one.  When Jacob died, the Bible actually records only Joseph falling on his dead father’s face and weeping and kissing him, although it is likely the others did likewise.  This was indeed a great loss for them.  Joseph in particular had recently got his family back after all those years of living without them in Egypt and now he loses the man who was his strength and godly example.

Matthew Henry writes that just as “it is an honor to die lamented, so it is the duty of survivors to lament the death of those who have been useful in their day, though for some time they may have survived their usefulness. The departed soul is out of the reach of our tears and kisses, but with them it is proper to show our respect to the poor body, of which we look for a glorious and joyful resurrection. Thus Joseph showed his faith in God, and love to his father, by kissing his pale and cold lips, and so giving an affectionate farewell.”  Can you imagine dying as an older person and not being lamented?  Yet it happens every day in this cruel world of sin.  Relationships between spouses, between parents and children, have often broken off long before death and then death is simply something one reads about in the obituaries of the local paper.  No lament; no mourning; no missing of a loved one.  That is not how God intended it.

And though he was mourning, Joseph also realized he had responsibilities.  Taking charge of the situation on behalf of the clan, he commanded the ‘physicians’ or so-called ‘healers’ among his servants to embalm his father.  The embalming process in Egyptian took forty days and the mourning period for great men in Egypt was seventy days.  Joseph did abide by the Egyptian practices and traditions with respect to his father’s burial.  He may have also done so because he knew that the body had to be transported to Canaan a lengthy trip that needed considerable time to be planned and undertaken.  The man was dead and his son did the best he knew for him.  Once a person dies is no time to stand on ceremony as to which burial rites are appropriate and which are not.  It is interesting to note the thinking of commentator Chuck Smith who suggests that if one were to find the cave in the field of Machpelah were Jacob was buried, you would not find the bodies of Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Rebekah, and Leah as they would have long ago decomposed.   But you may well find the mummified body of Jacob who because of his being embalmed, may have been preserved like the Egyptian Pharaohs.  Some of us have seen the mummified body of King Tut in recent exhibits.

Not only did his sons and their families mourn Jacob for the seventy days, but Scripture records that Egyptians did so as well.  Perhaps these were servants of Joseph and others he had come to know.  Perhaps even Pharaoh visited and mourned with them for a while.  I attended a rather large funeral lately.  Most were there because they esteemed the deceased.  Others were there who never knew him, but wanted to pay their respects to his family.  The honor went to the person who was being buried either directly or indirectly through the wonderful family he had raised and left behind.

As we reflect on the loss of Joseph and his brothers, let us also reflect on the losses we have experienced and reconsider whether or not we lamented for those that went before us.  If not, let us do so now.  Perhaps more importantly let us reflect on whether or not we ourselves are living the kind of lives that would be worthy of lament by our children when we die.  If so, let us continue.  If not, let us change.  There is still time.

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