Jacob stepped into the next life surrounded by his family and was gathered to the family that had gone before him. The loss of Israel takes a tremendous toll on Joseph, but after weeping and kissing his father, he assumes the responsibility of making the final arrangements. Joseph commands his servants and physicians to embalm Israel. This method of treatment is an Egyptian practice, not a Hebrew one. It took forty days to complete the process, and Jacob was mourned for seventy days by the Egyptians. When the days of mourning were complete, Joseph seeks to fulfill the wishes of his father concerning his burial. The indirect approach to Pharaoh seems a bit odd and unexpected. Perhaps Joseph’s direct access to Pharaoh earlier in the story should not be the expected norm. Maybe it reflects the fact that this is a personal and private matter as opposed to a piece of official state business. Whatever the reason, Joseph requests permission from Pharaoh’s court to fulfill his oath and go up to Canaan to bury his father. Joseph explains to Pharaoh that he had sworn an oath to his father and asks for Pharaoh's favor in allowing him to fulfill his father's wishes. Pharaoh graciously sends Joseph on his way with a large contingent if servants and leaders. This assembly of dignitaries and family members began to make its way northward with chariots and horsemen providing security. The company traveled around the Dead Sea and up the east side of the Jordan and paused for seven days at a threshing floor near the Jordan. There Joseph observed another week of mourning for his father. The local Canaanites recognized that this display of grief was severe and gave the spot the name Abel Mizraim, “mourning of the Egyptians.” Finally, the solemn agreement was completed, and Jacob was laid to rest by his sons. The Egyptian dignitaries left this final rite to the family alone, and after the burial was complete, the entire group returned to Egypt.
Fear And Loathing
Despite the seventeen years of their sojourn in Egypt, the relationship between Joseph and his brothers remains precarious at best. With Jacob dead, the brothers fear that Joseph will take his revenge. They fear that it has only been out of reverence for Jacob that Joseph has treated them graciously, so they decide to approach Joseph and seek his full and final forgiveness. They don't contact Joseph directly. Instead, they send him a message and try to manipulate him by leveraging their dead father. It's heartbreaking when they relate their father’s wish to their brother calling Jacob "Your father" and not "our father." This plea seems loaded with all the baggage of Jacob’s favoritism towards Joseph, and it brings him to tears. His brothers come into his presence, and they bow (another fulfillment of Joseph’s youthful dream) and offer themselves as his slaves. However, their offer prompts Joseph to make one of the most mature, moving, and godly speeches found in this story. Joseph refuses to judge his brothers or to exact vengeance, and he affirms the providence of God concerning the past and the present. He confronts the fact that they may have done what they did to harm him but underlines that beyond their malicious purpose was the benevolent purpose of God. Joseph even guarantees his support for them in the future. Joseph comes across as magnanimous, compassionate and tender. Joseph’s trust in God’s good purpose for his life is not a naïve, unrealistic, romantic assumption of ease and prosperity. It is a claim that the enmity of others was turned by God, not just into a blessing for Joseph, but so that Joseph might be a blessing to others and his people would be saved. God worked good, not just through the evil that was done to Joseph, but also through Joseph’s weaknesses and failings.
God Will Surely Visit You
Joseph remained in Egypt and lived to be one hundred ten years old. He saw his great-great-grandchildren. Joseph calls his brothers, and his last words are touching. Joseph tells his brothers that God would visit them and bring them up out of the land of Egypt. Abraham and Isaac at least lived as sojourners in Canaan, but never possessed it. Jacob lived in Canaan but had to leave it. Joseph lived most of his days in Egypt, not Canaan. Joseph dies with the hope that God will come to his people. It is for this reason that he pleads with his brothers and the Israelites for his bones to be taken up out of Egypt at the time of God’s coming. Later, Moses will ensure that the bones of his ancestor were not left in Egypt.
Things To Consider:
- What does this teach us about grief?
- What does this teach us about honoring our parents?
- Why do you think Joseph embalms his father in an Egyptian manner?
- How should one grieve? Why?
- Do you think the family was tempted to stay when they buried Israel?
- How difficult is it to move past family dysfunction?
- What do we learn from the way Joseph handles the encounter with his brothers?
- How can God use evil?
- How can we comfort those who have failed us?
- Why is hope so important?