Read Genesis 50
We have come to the end of this chapter of redemptive-history. God has shown His covenant goodness throughout the life of the great patriarch Jacob. He dies at the age of 147 years (Gen. 47:28), a ripe age by today’s standards, although it is several decades briefer than his father Isaac (180 years) and grandfather Abraham (175 years).
Embalming Jacob and burial in Canaan (50:1–14)
Genesis 49:33 ends that chapter with the notice that Jacob concluded his life in a dignified, almost grand, manner. He has spoken to his sons, noting that he was about “to be gathered to [his] people” (Gen. 49:29). The chapter ends with the words that Jacob had said would happen. He had gathered his sons around him to receive his parting blessing, and now he is gathered to his people in death. Does this suggest that in death he was gathered to the saints of God who had passed out of this life to be with the Lord? After all, the Triune God is the God of the living, not of the dead.
Joseph directs his private physicians to embalm the body of his father Jacob. John Currid (Genesis, 2:389,390) says that embalming had become an involved process during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (ca. 2040–1640 BC). The Egyptians were fascinated with death and the possibilities of life after death. In embalming, the internal organs were removed, stored in jars, and the body cavity was packed with a salt to dry out the body. The skin was also treated with resin and spices, and then the body was wrapped in linen strips, placed in a wooden coffin. The whole process continued to be improved over time in Egypt. Some mummified bodies could be relatively well-kept, as any Egypt section of a museum can attest. The Bible mentions only Jacob and Joseph as children of Abraham who were embalmed. It should also be noted that the Jews did not embalm. When the women were bringing spices to Jesus’ tomb on Resurrection morning, it was to give a pleasant smell to a body that would have begun to decay after death. Once all the flesh had decayed, then the bones of the (wealthy) deceased would have been collected into special boxes.
Jacob in death is buried in Canaan at the cave in the field of Machpelah, east of Mamre. Other patriarchs are buried there in the hope of the promise being realized.
“Now we’re going to get it!” (50:15–21)
With the death of the great patriarch Jacob, the old wounds are activated in the minds of the sons of Jacob. They are now afraid that it is “pay-back time!” Joseph, they fear, may have waited and waited for the moment when his father would die, and then he would strike back in all his fury against his brothers. Esau had plotted just such action in Genesis 27:41. Esau planned to kill Jacob, but he did not want to carry out the foul deed as long as his father Isaac remained alive. Joseph’s brothers suspect that their powerful brother Joseph was secretly planning some kind of retaliation against them once father Jacob was dead and gone.
The brothers send a message to Joseph to tell him of a message that reportedly father Jacob had left before his own death. Did Jacob in fact leave such a message, or is this a “white lie” intended to keep Joseph from carrying out any vengeance that he may have in mind? In any case, they are asking for forgiveness, even if the request is through the intermediary person, father Jacob. This request pains the heart and soul of Joseph, so that again he weeps. In his mind, his brothers had not fully believed his words and actions of forgiveness in Genesis 45 and following.
Here come the brothers again, and they again bow in utter submission to Joseph. His dreams when he was 17 years old continue to come true: the members of his family would bow down be fore him. That bowing stretches from Genesis 37 through Genesis 50. But Joseph basically repeats his earlier message that he gave in Genesis 45: the brothers motives and actions were evil, intended to kill Joseph. But God! That simple phrase is the great turnaround that lies at the heart of the gospel message. But God, who is rich in mercy, is still sovereign over all the motives and actions of people in this world. He worked through their evil to cause many people, Israelites as well as many others, to live. So Joseph has to say twice in verses 19-21, “Don’t be afraid.” That message still echoes today whenever the true gospel is preached, “Don’t be afraid! We are sinners, worthy of death, but Christ has died in our place, and He now lives and reigns in glory. He will provide us with everything we need to live for Him.”
Dying with eyes (of faith) wide open (50:22–26)
Joseph died at the age of 110 years. To the Egyptians, that number was significant because they believed that this was the ideal length of life. This many years of life enabled Joseph to live long enough to see his grandchildren and even his great-grandchildren. Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were adopted by Jacob (with Ephraim designated to become the ‘firstborn’ in rank). Joseph’s grandson Makir is named; he is the ancestor of the important Gileadite branch of the Manasseh tribe (cf. Joshua 17:1; Judges 5:14). Verse 23 says that Makir’s children were “placed on Joseph’s knees,” perhaps a reference to Joseph adopting them as his very own.
Joseph has acted in a royal capacity during much of his time in Egypt. But he also acts as a prophet in that he reminds his brothers of the covenant promises of God. Thus he can ‘see,’ as it were, into the future. He tells his brothers of what God is going to do later on the basis of what God has said earlier. “God will surely come to your aid.”
Joseph has lived most of his life in Egypt, and most of those years (after his imprisonment) were lived in a position of power and relative comfort. He had become one of the highest officials in the land of Egypt! His wife was an Egyptian from an important section of society. Humanly speaking, Joseph had it made! But that did not count for a great deal to Joseph. He had come to know the promise of God, and he embraced that promise so that when his earthly journey would end, his bones (his body) would rest in Egypt, but only for a time. Joseph also believed that the day would come when the church, the community of people that were gathered by the Word of the LORD, would leave the land of Egypt, and this family of faith would journey back to Canaan. Egypt may have many physical pleasures, but it is not “home.” With all of its advantages, pleasures and power, Egypt is still an alien land to those whose lives are gripped by the word of God’s promise. By faith Joseph also wants his bones to rest (until the resurrection) not in Egypt but in Canaan (see Hebr. 11:22). God’s Word always in forms our faith, and then our spiritual eyes are directed to look where they should look. This present world is not our permanent home. We await the new creation in the firm resolve of faith.
What is the significance of this man Joseph in the history of re demption? On the historical road back to the face of God, on the way back to Paradise, the people of God had again been detoured to Egypt. The reason is again famine (cf. Gen 12:10–20). But before the clan of Jacob goes down to Egypt, one of the family goes ahead of the others. He is sold, sent away (in the ten brothers’ minds) to death. But in God’s plan, Joseph goes to prepare a place for them. He came on the command of the father to check on their welfare (their shalom), but they hated him and plotted against him. “He came unto his own, but his own would not re ceive him.” How many things in Joseph’s life anticipate the Lord Jesus Christ! Joseph was “attacked” by his brothers but also by Potiphar’s wife (betrayed by a Gentile).
Truly there is much in the person, life, and ministry of Joseph that is analogous to, even typical of, the person, life, and ministry of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Commentators frequently note this. All of this is an unfolding of God’s plan for delivering His people alive, always in the midst of threats. The Satanic dragonlion is always trying to attack the mother who is great with Child in the old covenant era, as Revelation 12 reminds us. But God always provides a way of escape. This is what Joseph sees and understands, and his revelation provides not only a perspective on events, even evil events, it contributes to the attitude of forgiveness and acceptance on the part of the one who is wronged. Joseph sees God’s hand in all these things. He can forgive his brothers all the evil that they have plotted.
Joseph’s life work in Egypt has several different points of focus:
1. He reveals God’s will to both the church (community of faith) and the world. Here is the pattern: dreams come from God (revelation), he interprets them (e.g., Gen. 41:39–40), which in turn leads to exaltation (eventually), power and honor.
2. He is able to feed God’s people but also the “whole earth.” Thus blessing is coming to many nations through the seed of Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:3). This is the first real instance of this thing on a somewhat large scale. This looks ahead to what Psalm 72 will say about the Messianic king: when the needy look to Him, He will feed them.
3. Joseph sifts the church by searching out the hearts and motives of his brothers. If he had hated them and sought strict justice, he could have had his brothers killed at the first meeting. Had he been only indulgent, he might have revealed himself right away at the first meeting, told them “all is forgiven,” and invited them to come on down (“cheap grace”). He does not do either. Rather he engages in a kind of “cat and mouse” game with them to see what really lived in their hearts after all those years. It is in this back and forth struggle that Judah emerges as preeminent among his brothers.
4. There is a focal point of separation. This is perhaps more subtle, but it appears to be present. This has already been seen in the life-partners chosen for the patriarchs Isaac (Rebekah) and Jacob (Leah and Rachel). Esau had married two Hittites and an Ishmaelite, while Judah married a Canaanite (Gen. 38). Jacob and his clan will live separated lives in Egypt. Joseph, in faith, will separate his bones in death so that they may some day rest in the Promised Land of Canaan.
Dr. G. Van Groningen (Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament, p. 166) points out four similar things about Joseph:
1. As the firstborn (of the beloved Rachel), he wears the royal robe. He is the chief, a prince, the one who stands out. This pictures the firstborn preeminence of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29b and Col. 1:15,18).
2. Joseph “experienced the depths of humiliation and the heights of exaltation.” He was nearly “cut off from the land of the living.” This also outlines the states of Christ, in His humiliation and exaltation (Isa. 53:8b and Phil 2:8-9).
3. Joseph foreshadows Christ’s ministry in many ways: he reveals the divine will, delivers his people from death, and separates them from the world.
4. Joseph is “truly a messianic type.” He is considered a royal protector and provider.
Rev. Mark Vander Hart is professor of Old Testament at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana.
Lesson 17: Points to ponder and discuss
1.In what ways did the LORD God mature Jacob and strengthen his faith over the years?
2.Review briefly the life of Joseph. How did the LORD God mature him and sanctify him in his life?
3.Why do the brothers find it so hard to believe that Joseph has really forgiven them? Do some Christians today also have a difficult time believing that God is truly gracious to us in Christ?
4.When Joseph tells his brothers about the future, it is not on the basis of some vision or dream. He simply reminds them of what God has promised to do. What can Christians today say, on the basis of God’s Word, about the future? What is going to happen in the future in history and at the end of history? What is going to happen to the church communally and to all believers personally?
5.Genesis 50:26, the last verse of the book of Genesis, names Joseph, his age at death, the embalming of his body, and his placement in a coffin. This is a rather sober, almost chilly, ending to the story. Yet why is this not the last word to the story? How is death never the last word for God’s people in Jesus Christ?
6. Joseph served in the court of a foreign king and contributed to the benefit of God’s people. How would Daniel and Esther later on do similar kinds of things in the court of the Babylonian and Persian kings?