Saturday, April 07, 2012

Joseph Seeks Permission To Leave Egypt To Bury Jacob - Genesis 50:4-6

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.”

There are several interesting thoughts that arise from this section of Scripture.  The first that comes to mind is that Joseph and his brothers had to sit through seventy days of mourning before they actually knew for sure that they could carry out the wishes of their deceased father Jacob, to be buried in Canaan.  I would find it hard living without knowing whether I could carry out my deceased parent’s wishes.  But Joseph and his brothers bided their time and just trusted God for the outcome.

When the seventy days of morning had past, Joseph spoke not to Pharaoh himself, as he had done when his family first came to Egypt and he wanted to settle them in a particular location, but to the “household of Pharaoh”, concerning this matter.  He relied on the fact that he had treated them all well as servants and family of Pharaoh while he himself was second in the land.  Sometimes God puts us in various places of influence and then depending on how well we do there, he allows us to be blessed by the very relationships we develop.  So he implored them to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf and ask him for permission for him to be allowed to go and bury his father in the land of Canaan.

Joseph also told them to tell Pharaoh that he promised to return.  There are times when we ask for a favor that we need to consider the needs of those we ask the favor from with respect to our role or contribution to their lives.  What inconvenience will our request cause them?  I am reminded of those who I supervised over the years.  With respect to asking for favors, all my employees could be divided into two main types.  First, there are those that ask “to leave work early tonight” and then there are those that ask “to leave work early tonight and promise to work the extra time off by shortening my lunch hours” and then do so.   Now, which type of employee would you be more likely to happily grant the time off to?  Clearly, the second type is not trying to take advantage of you but rather is earnestly seeking a favor and is willing to be responsible for minimizing the inconvenience granting such a favor may cause you.  So, it was with Joseph when he asked to bury his father in Canaan – he promised to return to the service of Pharaoh.

The text does not record the conversation between Pharaoh and his household on this matter.  Instead, we simply have Pharaoh’s response to Joseph, “Go and bury your father as he made you promise.”  Joseph waited for seventy days, then he made the appropriate request to his authority, and God granted the desired response.  We do not know what Joseph would have done had Pharaoh said ‘no’.  But we do know that Joseph trusted God with his need and God met it at the right time.

All the parties involved realized the value and significance of an oath made in good faith.  Much of Pharaoh’s response was dependent on that.  Joseph was allowed to go and bury Jacob primarily because he had made that promise to him and Pharaoh knew it.

Every day we get opportunities to make promises.  Sometimes to those we are supposed to love (you know, “until death do us part”), sometimes to our children (“yes, we can go out for a bike ride today”) and sometimes to our boss, our peers, or our subordinates.  But do we keep them all?  We need to think of whether or not we have an almost 100% capability if at all possible of fulfilling any promise, before we make it, and then do so.  This world lacks integrity and promise keeping is one way to regain at least our own integrity.  I have five grandchildren ranging from age six to ten right now.  I make them promises, but sometimes they get a little over-anxious about when they’ll be fulfilled and try to speed the process up.  At that point I ask them, “Excuse me, but ever since you can remember, does pappou (Greek for grandfather) keep his promises?”  The answer is always a “Yes”, albeit reluctantly as they realize they have to be patient a while longer. 

While I am on this topic, let me get something off my chest.  And here I write to those of my brothers and sisters that are in the ministry.  Why is it that many people identify a pastor’s “promise to get back to them” as a common practical weakness among clergy?  Why is it that pastors and ministers cannot live their lives keeping the promises they make?  Surely it is not because they don’t care about people.  Surely it is not because they do not use electronic gadgets and other means to remind them of what is important to them, for many do.  I once had to wait several years for a loaned book to be returned to me from a pastor friend who kept promising to do so every time he phoned me for human resources advice I could provide.  On another occasion, I am still waiting for a pastor friend to take me to a ball game that was promised years ago.  Another pastoral friend called me and asked me if I would do something for him and if so, he would discuss it with his board that night and let me know the next day.  That was months ago.  I finally ran into him at another event and when I challenged him on that, he replied he had thought he would only be doing so if the board agreed to go ahead with what he was proposing.  And more recently, a pastor friend who had put it in his electronic calendar mind you to call and see how the widow of a man who had served as his church’s Chairman of the Board for many years was doing, has still not done so at this point of writing, several months later.  Pastors, none of us are perfect, but let me honestly tell you how your attitude to keeping even small promises to others on simple matters, actually has a deep impact on people, your ministry, your integrity, and the name of Jesus Christ.

It is my prayer we all not make promises we cannot keep and keep the promises we make.

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