February 8, 2018

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART IV: JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

Topic #F: THE LAST DAYS OF JACOB AND OF JOSEPH. (Gen. 47:28-50:26).                    

 

                    Lesson IV.F.6: Jacob Is Embalmed and Buried. (Gen. 50:1-14)                                              

      

Gen. 50:1-14

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him and kissed him. 

2 Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 

3 Now forty days were required for it, for such is the period required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

4 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, 

5 ‘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.’” 

6 Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.”

7 So Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 

8 and all the household of Joseph and his brothers and his father’s household; they left only their little ones and their flocks and their herds in the land of Goshen. 

9 There also went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and it was a very great company. 

10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and sorrowful lamentation; and he observed seven days mourning for his father. 

11 Now when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning for the Egyptians.” Therefore it was named Abel-mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.

Burial at Machpelah

12 Thus his sons did for him as he had charged them; 

13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field for a burial site from Ephron the Hittite. 

14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers, and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.

 

Introduction

This section has two parts:

  • (Vs. 1-6): The Filial [devoteddutifulrespectful] Love. Joseph’s loss was great and deeply felt.  The embalming was true both to Egyptian custom and to Jacob’s instructions.  The act indicated a belief in a future life with the soul reunited to the body.
  • (Vs. 7-14): The Complete Obedience. The great respect paid to Jacob is evident from the funeral procession and the actions of Pharaoh.  The oath of Joseph was fulfilled (47:29, 30), and is a fresh indication of the deep impression made by the divine promises.

The Lesson (Genesis 50:1-14, KJV)

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face, and wept over him and kissed him. 

These three gestures―”fell on his father’s face, wept over him, kissed him”―are strongly associated with Joseph’s character.  Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion.  Casting aside the dignity of his high office, he wept upon the lifeless form of his father.  But he also knew his duty.  In death, Jacob was to have the best.  This is reminiscent of the great recognition scene in chapter 45; there he flings himself on Benjamin’s neck, embraces and kisses him, and then does the same with his 10 half brothers, and before this he wept three times over the encounter with his brothers.  Joseph is at the same time the intellectual, dispassionate interpreter of dreams and central economic planner, and a man of powerful spontaneous feelings.  At his father’s deathbed, he only weeps, he does not speak.

Matthew 27 records a significant event that took place at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection.  “The graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of their graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Is that why the patriarchs coveted burial in Canaan?  Could it be that Jacob had an inkling of that and wanted to be where it would happen?  Did he hope to be part of that wondrous and mysterious occasion; to be snatched from the grave at the great Feast of Firstfruits on Christ’s resurrection morning?  We do not know, but the possibility exists. 

2 Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 

“His servants the physicians.” Although the Hebrew term for “physician” means “healer,” these are obviously experts in the intricate process of mummification [referred to here as embalm and embalmed], and the wording indicates that Joseph had such a specialist on his personal staff.  Mummification would be dictated by Jacob’s status as father of the viceroy of Egypt and also by the practical necessity of carrying the body on the long trek to central Canaan.

Embalming the dead was big business in Egypt.  Embalming and coffin-making, painting and constructing funeral furniture and all the accompanying religious ritual kept whole guilds perpetually busy.  It took about two months to complete the process of embalming a body.  First the brain was drawn out of the skull through the nostrils.  Then, through an incision made in the abdomen, the vital organs were extracted. The body was then cleansed with palm wine and purified with pounded incense. The hollowed-out body was filled with spices and perfumes—pure myrrh and Cassia—and similar items, and soaked in nitron for weeks on end.  After the proper period of saturation, the corpse was washed and wrapped in strips of fine linen, smeared with gum the Egyptians used for glue.  The embalming being completed, the corpse was placed in a wooden case fashioned in human shape and taken to the sepulcher.

3 Now forty days were required for it, for such is the period required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days{2].

Little had Jacob thought in those distant days when he had been bickering with Laban that he would end his days being given a state funeral in Egypt.  Jacob’s death had such an effect on Joseph and through Joseph on all Egypt that the whole land was plunged into mourning.  It gives us some idea of the extent of Joseph’s power and influence in Egypt.  The embalming process required forty days{1], and after that the mourning for Jacob went on for 30 more days, something which had not happened to Abraham or to Isaac.

[1} “Forty full days.”  A prescribed Hebrew number is used rather than the number of days stipulated by Egyptian practice.

[2}“Seventy days.”  Evidently, the Egyptian period of mourning for a royal dignitary, seventy-two days, has been rounded off to the agreed upon Hebrew 70.

4 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, 

“Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh.”  It is a little puzzling that Joseph, as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, is compelled to approach him through intermediaries.  Some commentators have explained this by invoking Joseph’s condition as mourner, which, it is claimed, would prohibit him from coming directly into Pharaoh’s presence.  A more reliable key to his decision to use go-betweens may be provided by the language of sincere respect with which he introduces his message to Pharaoh—“If now I have found favor in your sight, please speak to Pharaoh, saying. . .” Joseph is aware that he is requesting something extraordinary in asking permission to go up to Canaan with his entire Clan, for Pharaoh might be apprehensive that the real aim was repatriation, which would cost him his indispensable viceroy and a whole guild of valuable shepherds.  Joseph consequently decides to send his petition through the channel of Pharaoh’s trusted nobles, some of which were his friends, to whom he turns in typical court language.

5 ‘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.’” 

Joseph was a born diplomat.  He knew he was indispensable to Pharaoh even though the years of famine were a thing of the past.  If he and all his kin would have left for Canaan it would have alarmed the Egyptians and prompted restrictive measures.  He needed permission to leave.  Should he approach Pharaoh himself?  Joseph knew enough about the whims of autocrats not to risk that. He therefore urged his friends to make the first approach for him and he admonished them to mention his promise to return.  He told them of the vow to which Jacob had committed him and asked them to seek permission to perform the vow.

“Then I will return.” This announcement is, of course, a crucial consideration for Pharaoh.

6 Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.”

That was enough for Pharaoh.  There was not a soul in Egypt, highborn or low, who did not know the value of Joseph’s word; it was worth millions.  What a testimony Joseph had.

7 So Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 

“And with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt.” This vast entourage of Egyptian dignitaries gives a picture of Pharaoh’s desire to confer royal honors on Jacob.  The presence of chariots and horsemen (v. 9) might also serve as protection against hostile Canaanites, but the whole grand Egyptian procession is surely an effective means of ensuring that Joseph and his father’s clan will return to Egypt.  By “the elders of the land of Egypt” was probably meant the high officials of the court who went along to represent Pharaoh at the funeral.

Nowhere else in Scripture do we have such a full description of a funeral.

8 and all the household of Joseph and his brothers and his father’s household; they left only their little ones and their flocks and their herds in the land of Goshen. 

Joseph was there, the other brother and their households were there—all except the little childrenand their flocks and their herds”who were left behind either as proof of Joseph’s good faith—a guarantee of the adults return―or because their presence would have been a hindrance.

9 There also went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and it was a very great company. 

They must have received a great deal of attention as they passed by homes and villages along the route, for the party included a supply of wagons and chariots and servants and sufficient cavalry to discourage attack.

Jacob was buried with full military honors as though he had been commander-in-chief of Egypt’s armed forces instead of a nomadic shepherd who had wandered into the land late in life.

10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and sorrowful lamentation; and he observed seven days mourning for his father. 

“When they came to the threshing floor of Atad.” The name of the place means “threshing-floor of the bramble.” There the whole great host camped for seven days, during which was enacted a ceremonial mourning for Jacob.

“Across the Jordon.”  The logical route from Egypt would be along the Mediterranean coast, which would necessitate seeing this phrase from the perspective of someone standing to the east of the Jordon. That, however, is implausible because “across the Jordon” in Biblical usage generally means just what we mean by trans-Jordon in modern language—the territory east of the Jordon.  Perhaps a roundabout route through the Sinai to the east and then back across the Jordon is intended to foreshadow the itinerary of the future exodus and return to Canaan.  Perhaps local traditions of a place named Abel-mizraim in trans-Jordon led to the suggestion of this unlikely route

11 Now when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning for the Egyptians.” Therefore it was named Abel-mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.

The local people were astonished.  “When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, ‘This is a grievous mourning for the Egyptians.’” And Moses adds the note: “Wherefore the name of it was called Abel-mizraim (“the meadow of the Egyptians”), with a play on the word for “mourning.” The Egyptians were a very demonstrative people and almost fanatical in their public expressions of grief for the dead.  They tore their clothes, smote their breasts, threw dust and mud on their heads, called on the deceased by name, and chanted funeral dirges to the sound of the Tambourine.  The local peoples concluded that it was the burial of a very high Egyptian official and could not understand why it should take place so far from Egypt.

“Therefore it was named [renamed] Abel-mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.” This is taken to mean “mourning of Egypt,” though “Abel” is actually a waterway.

12 Thus his sons did for him as he had charged them; 

13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field for a burial site from Ephron the Hittite. 

Once the ceremonies were over, Joseph and his brothers carried Jacob’s mummy over Jordon and on to the field of Machpelah in accordance with their father’s command. 

14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers, and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.

When the ceremonies were completed, they rejoined the waiting escort and returned, as promised, to Egypt. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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