Saturday, April 28, 2012

Joseph’s Death & the End of Genesis - Genesis 50:24-26

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.

With this passage we come to the end of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.  In it, we find Joseph himself, in a manner similar to what his father experienced, being aware he was about to die.  I believe more of us know when our time is just about up than we may want to admit.  There are those who die suddenly in an accident or via a heart attack, of course, but more of us seem to get some warning, than those that do not.  Assuming you and I may get such a warning, the question arises as to whether or not we will be able to handle it as well as both Jacob, and later Joseph, did.

Joseph’s biggest concern as death approached him was the welfare of his brothers and their families.  He wanted to assure them that God would indeed take care of them.  He wanted to remind them that the goal was for God to lead them up from the land of Egypt to the land the Almighty had promised their father Jacob, their grandfather Isaac, and their great-grandfather Abraham.  This was an “oath” of God – a promise that would be kept not only because it was a promise, but also because it was God Who made it.  With this statement and his subsequent request to his brothers, Joseph is showing the depth of his faith in the God of his fathers.  And with it, an understanding that even he who had risen to the position he had in Egypt realized he was just a “wayfarer” there and not a citizen.  His real home was the land that God had promised his people.  That is the understanding that all of us need to have, exhibit, and share with those that come after us.  As true believers, we realize we are only journeying through life on earth, and our destination is the home that our Heavenly Father has prepared for us.  If you are a Christian and reading this, and don’t feel that way – may I humbly suggest that something is out of kilter and you need to find out what it is.

In Joseph’s days, promises were very serious things.  Once made, people did all they had to in order to deliver them.  Would that we would take our ‘promises’ to others and to God as seriously.  Would that we would go out of our way, to any extent necessary, to keep our oaths.  To be a disciple of Jesus or to be like Jesus, to be like His Father, keeping promises made becomes one of the highest priorities.  And that goes from keeping a promise that simply says, “I’ll call you,” to one that says, “Until death do us part.”

Sometimes promises are requested from us.  In this case, Joseph asked his brothers to promise to carry his bones with them to the land God was going to give them when they went – whenever that would be.  And that was it; no more was said.  Given how well the people of God honored oaths and promises, we could be certain that Joseph’s brothers would both accept and deliver their promise to him.

My dad, in his 91st year, and as he was knew his remaining days were very few due to his advanced cancer, asked a favor of me.  His one desire was that I, being an only child, would not sell the home he and mom had bought in 1953 – the home from which I was married, the home from which mom died, the home his three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren loved to visit, and the home from which he died.  He did not care if we rented it, used it, or left it empty – but he just did not want it sold until I had died.  He realized the generation after me would likely not value it for its historic or sentimental value.  He never posed it as a promise I had to make, but I knew that doing so would make him happy.  I, on the other hand, chose to ‘promise’ him that I would keep his request.  And so I did.  When dad died, we wondered what we would do with the house.  It turned out God had His plans already lined up; we just had to come in line with them as He brought His desire, and something that would have made my dad so pleased, to our minds and then, our pursuit.

My wife and second daughter spent the first year after dad’s death working with an architect to design a home that would allow three generations (my wife and I, my daughter and her husband, and their three children) to enjoy as one family.  And what a home they designed.  They hired a contractor and we watched as dad and mom’s home bought almost six decades ago was taken down, a new larger foundation was built, and a new house was erected.   As I pen this we have all enjoyed the benefits of living together (and yes, dealt with and still face some of the challenges) for close to four years already.  We all know we are in God’s will -- for us at least -- and we have all been able to keep the promise I made to my father.

I was not emotionally attached to the land my father had bought when I was five years old.  But I treasured it for what it meant to our family since my youth.  And when I saw it still had a role to play in the rest of my life and then in the life of one of my children and some of my grandchildren, I learned to really love it.  And I know I will love that way it until my own dying day.  Bible commentator Chuck Smith suggests the love the Jews have for Israel even today was not something that they latched onto in recent years, it was there from the time of Abraham forward, even before they possessed it the first time.

Joseph made his request of his brothers and then he died after having lived one hundred and ten years.  The Scriptures say he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.  There is no evidence that he was ever buried.   He lay in a coffin in probably some austere room for all the years between his death and when God took the Israelites out of Egypt.  Some commentators say that was 300 years, others say it was over 400 years.  It all depends when we start counting.  Either way, it was a long time.  And in that coffin, he lay above ground as, according to David Guzik, “a silent witness for all those years that Israel was going back to the Promised Land, just as God said.”  When a Jewish child would see the coffin and would ask why the corpse in it was not buried, the parent had an incredible opportunity to tell him/her about the Promised Land.

We do not know if Joseph had any indication from God as to how long it would be before the Jews were to leave Israel, but his faith in what God had promised could last as long as it took.  That is what real faith is all about.   It does not have a “limited time application” sticker on it.  If I believe in God and what He said, time is not an issue.  It will happen.

Joseph died, and even though the Egyptians whom he served so well would have wanted him buried in Egypt, he was likely given a royal funeral but then preserved in a coffin as per his wish, until he could be carried to the land God was giving his people.  While we focus on the hope that such a coffin would bring to the generation of Jewish people for the next 400 or so years, we must also be aware of the fact that its exposure was a thorn in the flesh to many Egyptian rulers that followed between Joseph’s death and the Exodus.  The idea of loosing all that population and later slaves was not an easy one to accept.

Matthew Henry points out “Joseph died looking forward to God’s unfolding plan of redemption”.  What a fitting ending for Genesis, the Book of Beginnings.  Henry writes, “It (Genesis) concludes looking forward to the continuation of God’s eternal, loving, wise plan.”  Are you in it?

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