GENESIS-SERIES NR 48
Genesis 50: THE END OF AN ERA
The story of Joseph is the story of the entire Bible. It is the story of glory through suffering. Of elevation through humiliation. From the cross to the crown. It is the story of the Lord Jesus Christ – who was born centuries and centuries later in Bethlehem, and who received the elevation in glory based on His grievous sufferings and death on the cross.
The story of Joseph is not only about how God manages everything in His sovereignty and provision. It is also about God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that gradually had to come into fulfilment because God is absolutely faithful. If it depended upon the Patriarchs and their descendants, not one of the promises would have been fulfilled. But the Lord God keeps His word despite hopeless people.
It seems as if death is the main theme of chapter 50. After all, the death of two people are described in moderate detail – the father and son: Jacob and Joseph. The end of an era. The death of believers is an important matter in the Scriptures, and so it should be for us too. The attitude of a saved person towards death and his/her own death is very important to someone who is in Christ. It is important that we have an opinion about death and dying that is formed by the Scriptures – particularly the death and departure of someone who is in Christ!
Earlier during his life, Jacob had a different approach towards his death than what it was at the end of chapter 49. After the death of Rachel, and again later after Joseph’s “death” and again after he saw Joseph again, he thought he was ready to die. But it was not God’s plan for him at all. After he was reunited with Joseph he lived another 17 years: years of spiritual growth and a walk with God. Yes, the believer must die when it is God’s time and not when MAN thinks it is time.
We are all inclined to think that death is a kind of release. Particularly when our suffering is great or the affliction feels too heavy or even when we – by our own actions – are caught up in sin and darkness. People sometimes think that something like for example suicide is a deliverance, a way out.
What we loose sight of is that – concerning the person who is outside Christ – death is an eternal extension of their misery, not the end. Death is not a deliverer. It perpetuates the misery.
But also concerning the truly saved person in Christ, it is important to die at the time that the LORD has determined, and not to take matters into your own hand.
Although someone who is truly in Christ will never be lost for ever, 1 Cor 3 makes it clear that saved people will either receive or forfeit reward on the Day of Christ.
What it exactly implies, we do not know, but it is clear that it has nothing to do with going to heaven or to hell, but with either praise or discipline from the Lord’s mouth.
It is also true of born-again people that they will give an account on the Great Day about what they – AS CHRISTIANS – have done in the body – whether it was good or bad. It is written just like that in 2 Cor 5:10.
In the case of Christian-believers the Great White Throne is not a place of judgment, but of REVIEW, almost like a prize giving occasion. Every person receives praise, but some forfeit some of the praise – to their own shame and embarrassment.
That is more or less the position of Christian-believers that for example caused their own death in some way by their own hand and did not die according to the Lord’s particular will and time.
However, of Jacob and Joseph it was not true.
Jacob’s last words were not the blessings he pronounced over his sons, but careful instructions about his own funeral at the end of chapter 49. He had to be buried with Abraham and Isaac. Not sentiment, but faith in the God of Abraham and Isaac is the motivation of Jacob’s instructions.
And then, only when he had completed his task and said what he had to say, he drew his feet up into his bed and breathed his last, and was immediately gathered to his people in glory. Nothing of reincarnation or purgatory. Immediately he is gathered to his fathers. Jacob is dying in peace. Meaning: In the Lord.
Of all the brothers, Joseph was perhaps the one closest to his father. He wept bitterly at Jacob’s passing. Not as one who had no hope (1 Thess 4) but as a result of the feeling of loss. The process of embalming the body of Jacob was standard procedure for Egyptian high officials and their families. Particularly for the long journey to Canaan, the body definitely had to be embalmed.
Of course Joseph needed to get permission from the Pharaoh to leave the country for his father’s funeral, and Joseph spoke to Pharaoh by way of the other officials. He does not speak directly to the Pharaoh. Perhaps he unknowingly may have had a defect in his appearance that could give offence – for example the length of his hair or that his voice would be too low or too high or show too much emotion. We do not know because the Bible does not say.
The funeral procession on the way to Canaan was enormous. From the description in the text it almost sounds as if half of Egypt went along. Perhaps a bit of unspoken Godly humour behind that. That the pagans would show so much respect to the man of God – the man out of whom Messiah was to be born.
For some reason the procession travelled along a strange route to reach Canaan. Rather than going north to enter Canaan from the west, they travelled north-east and entered the country from the east – from the opposite side of the Jordan River. It could not be a coincident, because many years later the Israelites would also enter the country by crossing the Jordan – opposite Jericho. Here we are therefore dealing with a prophetic foreshadowing – determined by the Lord’s hand, without any human insight or input.
Near the Jordan River, Joseph stopped the funeral procession for a 7-day period of mourning and lamentation for Jacob. That drew a lot of attention from the Canaanites. Most probably it was to give the Egyptians a last opportunity for mourning before they remain while the family proceeded to the Cave of Machpelah for a private internment. Everything was done exactly as Jacob had instructed before he died.
Up until verse 14 not one word is said about Joseph’s brothers. Jacob has died, Joseph is weeping, the Egyptians are in mourning, but what about the brothers? Verses 15-21 give an indication why it is spoken about Joseph and his brothers separately. It is obvious that they were also in mourning and weeping, but there was also something else: feelings of guilt. Verse 15 > After Jacob’s death, the brothers said: “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” After everything that has happened over a period of 17 years – how Joseph had forgiven them and treated them like royalty, they are still shackled with feelings of guilt. They are still in chains and irons. For 17 years they have experienced nothing except acceptance and mercy from Joseph’s side. And yet they say: “Is Joseph not perhaps now going to revenge himself on us?” This thought consumed them and filled them with fear, and overshadowed their grief for the loss of their father. That is why they sent a specific message to Joseph. Probably, Benjamin was the messenger. And the message was as follows: “Your father left these instructions before he died: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.”
After the message was delivered to Joseph, the brothers came and threw themselves down before him. Once more a fulfilment of the dream that the Lord gave him when he was a young man (Genesis 37). The brothers do precisely what was foretold, but what they were determined not to do at all cost. But because it was foretold by the LORD, it will happen – come what may!
Joseph’s reaction was wonderful. It is an example of how all Christians are supposed to react in a Godly way. Hear what he is saying: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of the LORD? YOU intended to harm me, but the LORD intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children”.
Through the miraculous gracious Providence of God, the sins of Joseph’s brothers were turned into the deliverance of many people. While Joseph was conscious of THAT, how could he keep a grudge or remain bitter? O no, the forgiveness that Joseph gave his brothers while their father was still alive, will continue forever, that is certain!
However, what shocked me with the reading of this passage, is to see what the Holy Spirit wrote here between the lines, namely how tenacious something like feelings of guilt can cling to a person’s heart.
Listen carefully: When Joseph made himself known to his brothers 17 years previously, they were truly reconciled with each other and he forgave them for what they had done. There was a banquet. Then they went to fetch their father and he also came to stay in Egypt. After that Jacob lived another 17 years. And then, after his passing and after all those years, what was it that was still sitting in the hearts of the brothers? A guilty conscience! It sounds impossible, but it is true. And that is the way we all are. Although it is not the Lord’s will for us.
The Lord’s will for His children is the following: That we must TRUST the power of Jesus’s blood that cleanses from ALL sin (1 John:9). And trust is assurance (Heb 11:1). Yes, we must also make restitution with the people against whom we sinned. But then we must put it behind us. Even if the other party is unwilling to forgive.
Genesis 50 is therefore showing us how easily and how seriously feelings of guilt can remain inside. How we can sometimes hold on to it because we secretly think that God will favour us more if we can walk around with it for another couple of months feeling bad and with a sour look upon our faces. No, that is unbelief. It is a motion of no-confidence in God’s promises. We must confess and let go. That is the Lord’s way.
And then Joseph also dies. The period between verse 21 and verse 22 is approximately 50 years. The Holy Spirit desired that the death of Jacob and the death of Joseph should stand next to each other, because it had to convey a particular message to the nation. Both Jacob and Joseph gave instructions before they died about what was to be done with their remains. But there were differences:
JACOB: His body had to be embalmed for the long journey to Canaan to be buried there. It was to remind the nation that they were only sojourners in Egypt, but that God had promised to take them back to the land Canaan – the land where Messiah was to be born.
JOSEPH: His body had to be embalmed to remain in Egypt for a long, long time. Only when the nation (lead by Moses) would leave Egypt for their return to Canaan, Joseph’s remains had to go with them. His body remained for a very long time with the nation in Egypt – during their hard times – to remind them of God’s promise that He would deliver them from Egypt and take them back to Canaan.
Both Jacob and Joseph’s instructions with regard to what was to be done with their remains, was therefore meant to focus the faith-eyes of the Lord’s people on God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the promise of the land and the coming Messiah. JACOB’S funeral in Canaan told the nation: THAT is where your home is. JOSEPH’S remains that would be kept in Egypt and only later to be taken to Canaan told them: Do not loose hope, the Lord SHALL deliver you from Egypt and take you to Canaan.
And so we come to the end of an era and the end of a wonderful book: Genesis. It ends with two coffins: The one in Canaan and the one in Egypt. While it started with the beauty and perfection of paradise. But now it seems as if death is the end.
But NO! Genesis is not God’s complete revelation. Revelation 21-22 is the conclusion. And that ends with the restoration of paradise, the New Jerusalem, the new earth. The end of Genesis is really just an outcry for deliverance. An outcry that God will do what He had promised, to work a restoration. And between the end of Genesis and the end of Revelation, there stands the cross of Christ. While Genesis already spoke and witnessed about the cross in so many places. But it is the cross and resurrection of Christ that guarantee that Revelation does not end with coffins.
How one looks at death makes a huge difference. If you see it as the end of everything, there is no sense in looking forward to the New Earth of Revelation 21, or to make sure that you do not end in the hell of Revelation 20. In that case you may as well eat, drink and live in sin without feeling guilty. Because tomorrow everything ends. The earthly life is merely an incidental combination of circumstances.
But when you realize that death is a BEGINNING and not an end, your perspectives change. And that is exactly what the Bible teaches – that death is a beginning and not an end – and why the conclusion of Genesis and the two coffins have such an important message.
The moment when you discover that death (YOUR death) is a BEGINNING, then you realize that you will enter eternity and that heaven and hell are suddenly of utmost importance.
But how will you ever have assurance that you will NOT be in hell from the second of your death, without any hope to get out of it again? Think of the man in eternal torment of whom Jesus spoke in Luke 16:26! Should you start asking for assurance about that, and you realize that you can go nowhere with your burden of sin and blame, only THEN you will understand why the cross of Calvary is standing large as life in the middle of the Bible and connects the end of Genesis and the end of Revelation, and why THAT cross is your only hope for life after death.
Someone who has crossed over from the coffins of Genesis to the New Earth of Revelation by that cross, is someone who repeats after the Apostle Paul when he says in Philippians 1: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far!”
Translated by Marthie Wilson
Main source: Bob Deffinbauch