So now we’ve finally reached the last chapter in the book of Genesis. When we last left off in chapter 49, we saw how, “…Jacob called for his sons and said: ‘Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come'” (Genesis 49:1). Jacob then went on to speak individually about what the future held for the descendants of his sons.
Following this, we were told that when “Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:33). That’s the way Jacob’s life ended- and that’s where we’ll pick things up for the final chapter of this book…
“Joseph threw himself upon his father and wept over him and kissed him” (Genesis 50:1).
So Joseph (who probably around 50 years old at this time) became very emotional at the death of his father and his response to Jacob’s death brings up a good question- is there a “right” way and a “wrong” way to respond when a loved one passes away? This can be an important question, especially in a situation where someone may be concerned that he or she did not respond appropriately to the news of someone’s death.
You see, people react to death in many different ways. Some people become very emotional (like Joseph), while others are quiet and reflective. Some people prefer to be alone while others join together to remember the times they enjoyed with the person who passed away. Although personality differences may often explain the reasons behind someone’s response to the death a loved one, there could be something else well. That “something else” may have to do with someone’s belief about life after death.
For instance, let’s take the example of someone who believes that this life is all there is to human existence. For that person, death means “game over,” right? It means that there is no hope of ever seeing the person who has passed away again. So for those who don’t believe in the existence of an afterlife, a deep emotional response over the death of a loved one may sometimes be caused by the belief that he or she will never see that person again.
However, there’s an alternative for the person who places his or her faith in Jesus. While there may be great emotional pain over the death of a loved one, a Christian possesses a hope that others do not have. We’ll take a look at that hope next.
“And Joseph put his head down on his father’s face, weeping and kissing him” (Genesis 50:1 BBE).
The death of a loved one may often bring feelings of great sorrow and loss, just as it did for Joseph when his father Jacob passed away. But while the death of someone close to us can often bring feelings of grief and sadness, a Christian possesses a hope that others do not have. You see, the Scriptures describe death for a Christian like this…
“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
This passage uses the word “sleep” as a metaphor, or a figure of speech that uses one thing to represent something else. In this instance, sleep is used as a metaphor for death in the sense that death for a Christian is not a permanent condition. In other words, sleep is a transitional state, not a permanent one.
For instance, let’s take the example of someone who follows a typical sleep cycle. This person usually goes to bed at night and then wakes up to a brand new day, right? For most people, the act of going to sleep means a changeover from one day to another. This example helps represent the idea behind the Scriptural passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. For a Christian, death (like sleep) is a kind of transitional state. But instead of changing over from one day to another, death means a transition from one life to another. It means going from this temporary life to an eternal life with God (see 2 Corinthians 5:6-8).
Of course, someone may read this and ask, “Yeah, but how can anyone really know that? How can anyone really know what happens after we die?” This is a great question but the answer may be easier than you think.
You see, when someone wants to travel to a place where he or she has never been before, a smart traveler will often try to find someone who has already visited that destination. Then he or she can talk to that person and find the best route to take, any problems to watch out for, and where to stay after they’ve arrived.
A person who follows Jesus has this same kind of advantage in the sense that Jesus has already been to the other side of death and has come back to tell us about it (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and Revelation 1:18). We’ll talk a little more about this concept and why its important next.
How can anyone really know what happens to someone after he or she dies? Well, a person who follows Jesus has the advantage of knowing Someone who has already been to the other side of death and has come back to tell us about it. For example…
- Jesus Himself has given us the best (actually, the only) route to take when He said, “‘I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me'” (John 14:6 RSV).
- Jesus warned us about some problems that we might expect along the way by saying, “‘…Don’t let anyone mislead you. For many will come announcing themselves to be the Messiah, and saying, ‘The time has come.’ But don’t believe them!'” (Luke 21:8).
- Jesus has also let us know about what we can expect when we arrive at our final destination when He said, “‘Let not your hearts be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me. There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly'” (John 14:1-3).
So Jesus’ death and resurrection provides hope for those who place their faith and trust in Him. But this brings us back to our original question- is there a “right” way and a “wrong” way to respond to the death of a loved one? Is it wrong to become highly emotional when someone we love passes away?
Well, besides Joseph’s example here in the book of Genesis, we also have another example of an emotional response to the death of a loved one from Jesus’ own life. You see, Jesus once had a friend named Lazarus who passed away. When he died, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus’ response was simple and direct: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
So this should tell us that its OK to show emotion over the death of a loved one. Remember that Jesus was perfect and never once made a mistake. If He thought it was OK to demonstrate his emotional sadness over the death of a loved one then it must be OK. But while it may be OK to mourn or grieve for a loved one who has passed away, it’s also important to think about the reasons behind those feelings. We’ll talk about why next.
In grieving over the death of a loved one, its common to feel sadness over the loss of a friendship or regret the fact that we will no longer be able to enjoy the company of the deceased person. Jacob certainly seemed to feel that way in speaking about the passing of his beloved wife Rachel. However, its also true that Christians shouldn’t feel the same kind of sorrow as those who don’t have any hope of an afterlife.
Remember that its never “goodbye forever” when a loved one in Christ passes away- it’s more like, “see you later.” Its also been said that when a Christian passes away, its not unlike a friend who has left to go on a long trip. While you expect to see your friend again in the future, there can be great sadness over the fact that it may not be for a very long time.
“Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days” (Genesis 50:2-3).
After Joseph finished his emotional farewell, we’re told that, “He commanded the doctors who served him to prepare his father’s body, so the doctors prepared Jacob’s body to be buried” (Genesis 50:2 NCV). While the practice of embalming someone may sound a little creepy, some people actually earned a living by doing this during Joseph’s time.
So what did it actually mean to “embalm” someone? Well, the process would start by washing the body of the person to be embalmed. Following this, most of the internal organs were removed from the deceased person. The body was then treated internally with wine as a purifier and filled with incense. (1)
The embalmers next covered the body with a salt compound and left it to dry for 5-6 weeks. During this time, the family members of the deceased person would collect enough linen to wrap the body as part of the final steps of the embalming process. When the preparations were complete, the embalmers would take the linen collected by the family members and cut it into strips. These strips were then wound around the body with layers of resin to help glue them in place and keep moisture out. (2)
Although there were professional embalmers who typically handled this practice, there was one small detail that was different in Jacob’s case: “Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father” (emphasis added). We’ll see why that detail may be more meaningful than it seems next.
(1) Egyptian Mummification: Embalming http://www.howstuffworks.com/mummy2.htm
(2) Egyptian Mummification: Drying and Wrapping http://science.howstuffworks.com/mummy3.htm
“And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. And the physicians embalmed Israel” (Genesis 50:2 JPS).
This passage contains one small detail that’s important but may be easily overlooked. That detail has to do with the fact that Joseph specifically directed “the physicians” to embalm his father. The question is, why would Joseph turn this responsibility over to a group of doctors instead of the professional embalmers who usually handled this kind of thing?
Well, it turns out that there were certain spiritual practices that were associated with the embalmers of Joseph’s day- practices that were definitely at odds with Jacob’s relationship with God. You see, one source says that,“During this entire process (of embalming), the embalmers uttered spells and laid protective amulets on the body (for protection in the next world), wrapping them up at different layers.” (1)
So its possible that Joseph made this choice in order to prevent his God-honoring father from coming into contact with these occultic religious practices after his death. This would explain why he directed the physicians to handle the embalming process- it effectively kept his Godly father away from any involvement with those who uttered spells or incantations as part of their job. It also enabled Joseph to prepare for his father’s burial in a way that showed respect for God and honored his father’s spiritual legacy as well.
The important thing for us is that Joseph’s decision did more than just honor his father’s memory. You see, Joseph’s response can also be used to help us make other decisions today. Now this doesn’t have anything to do with how to embalm people and turn them into mummies- it has to do with a look at some basic principles that were available for Joseph to use in making this decision.
For example, let’s say that you were faced with one or more of these typical 21st century questions…
- “Is it OK to get involved in martial arts? I’ve heard that certain martial arts instructors emphasize spiritual things that aren’t really Biblical.”
- “Is meditation OK?”
- “Aren’t certain styles of music wrong?”
If you had to make a decision in one or more of these areas, what tools could you use to help make good, God-honoring choices? Well, one possible answer might be found in a look at Joseph’s response here in Genesis 50 and using his example as a guideline. We’ll look at a few ways to accomplish that next.
(1) Egyptian Mummification: Drying and Wrapping http://science.howstuffworks.com/mummy3.htm
“And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel” (Genesis 50:2 KJV).
How can Joseph’s example in Genesis 50:2 help us make good decisions today? Well, the first thing we should keep in mind is that Joseph made a promise to place his father to rest in his family’s private gravesite following his death. But in order to keep that promise, Joseph would first have to transport his father’s body to a place that was 250-300 miles (402-483km) away. Since a journey of that distance would take about 2-3 weeks to complete, Joseph really had no other choice but to embalm his father’s body prior to burial.
So there was no question that Jacob’s body would have to complete this embalming process following his death. But notice that Joseph decided to handle this procedure in a way that eliminated anything that might be spiritually inappropriate. Joseph accomplished this by directing his personal physicians to handle this work and not the professional embalmers. Since the physicians weren’t likely to begin uttering spells and incantations as part of embalming process, this well thought out plan enabled Joseph to carry out his father’s request without subjecting him to any practices that dishonored God.
So how might we apply Joseph’s example today? Well, let’s say that you wanted to take some martial arts training but are concerned that your training might include some spiritual teachings that are not in agreement with the Scriptures. In this situation, it would be wise to plan ahead just as Joseph did.
For instance, you could talk to the instructor first and ask for an explanation of the spiritual beliefs that guide and direct his or her teaching. You could ask the instructor if he or she will teach about the existence of a “life energy” or similar spiritual force as part of your training or if he or she will focus only on the development of things like strength, technique, and physical conditioning. These are important questions for anyone, but they are especially important for those who want to lead a God honoring life. Since the spiritual beliefs behind some of the martial arts may be in conflict with God’s Word, it would be wise for someone who follows Jesus to check into them in advance and eliminate those that don’t honor God.
Or how about the idea of “meditation”? Is that something that’s appropriate for Christians? Well, when it comes to the subject of meditation, the right answer depends a lot on how you define this term. We’ll see why next.
Is “meditation” something that’s OK for Christians? Well, as mentioned earlier, the right answer depends on how you define that term. You see, its important to remember that there’s a big difference between the Christian definition of meditation and the New Age or Eastern religion idea of meditation. For example, the Christian’s definition of meditation means to think, consider, and reflect on the subject of God and His Word. This kind of meditation is clearly encouraged by Scriptures such as Psalm 1:1-2…
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God. But they delight in doing everything God wants them to, and day and night are always meditating on his laws and thinking about ways to follow him more closely” (TLB).
The New Testament book of Philippians also has something important to say about the right kind of meditation as well….
“…Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about” (Philippians 4:8 TLB).
This is the kind of meditation that honors God and helps deepen our relationship with Him. On the other hand, the “New Age” or eastern religion idea of meditation often involves “emptying” one’s mind to achieve some sort of physical response or altered state of consciousness. This kind of meditation may involve the use of mantras (a word or syllable that is chanted or sung as a prayer [Hinduism] or as an aid in concentration [Buddhism]), breathing exercises, or specific body postures to help achieve a feeling of spiritual enlightenment.
This helps illustrate why its important to define a general term like “meditation.” One type of meditation acknowledges and honors God while the other one doesn’t. So instead of using meditation techniques to attempt to enter into some sort of transcendent state, the right kind of meditation involves learning about God through His Word and thinking about how that knowledge should affect our lives. This type of meditation is spoken of in the Old Testament book of Joshua where we read this…
“Always remember what is written in the Book of the Teachings. Study it day and night to be sure to obey everything that is written there. If you do this, you will be wise and successful in everything” (Joshua 1:8 NCV).
Well, what about the question of music? Isn’t it true that certain types of music are wrong? We’ll tackle that subject next.
Genesis chapter 50 has provided us with an opportunity to talk about some good ways to apply Biblical principles to 21st century questions. Another subject that could benefit from this approach is the concept of music and whether certain styles of music are inappropriate.
In thinking about this question, it’s important to recognize that music can often be a controversial issue with lots of people. Many people have strongly held beliefs on this issue and it’s important to let the Scritpure shape our thinking when considering this subject. For example, one important Biblical principal is found in 1 Corinthians 10:23…
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful…”
We might apply this principle to our question by saying that while it may be permissible to listen to a certain style of music, that doesn’t necessarily mean that its OK. So how can you know the difference between music that’s OK and music that’s not? Well, try asking some of these questions…
- What does this song/band/performer say?
- What does this song/band/performer mean?
- Is this song/band/performer out of alignment with Jesus’ teachings and/or other Scriptural principles?
If you get some negative answers to these questions then it’s probably not a good idea to listen to that song, band, or performer.
Here why: everyone has a set of core beliefs that govern his or her life. While people may not always be able to explain their core beliefs or even be consciously aware of their existence, they provide direction for our lives and express themselves in our relationships with others. Those beliefs lead to choices that eventually communicate what we believe to others for better or worse. This means that a person with a world view that centers around Jesus Christ has a certain effect upon the people they come in contact with. The same is also true for the person with a world view that is centered around something else.
Most people enjoy a fairly small circle of influence while they interact with others at school, at home, online, or on the job. But there are others who enjoy a huge circle of influence by virtue of their tremendous musical talent. These groups or individuals can influence millions of people and communicate their beliefs through concerts, videos, or radio airplay.
So how much can the music that we listen to influence us? Well, think about it: how often have you gone through the day with a song or lyric that kept playing itself over and over again in your mind? If you’re like most people, you’ve probably had that experience more than once. We’ll see why this is important next.
How much can music actually influence us? Well, there’s a reason why advertisers often use catchy songs to promote their products. Remember that advertisers are often paid big money to influence your opinion in favor of their product- and they know that a song with a nice hook or clever lyrics will effectively help you to remember what they are selling. Of course, this principle is not just limited to commercials- it can also be true for any form of music.
That’s why its important to avoid falling into the trap of saying,“I don’t listen to the words, I only listen to the music” when thinking about what music to listen to. You see, some people claim to be able to listen to music without actually “hearing” the lyrics, but the reality is actually very different.
To illustrate why this is so, just imagine that you are having a conversation with someone in a crowded area. Even though there may be dozens of other conversations going on around you, you don’t “hear” any of them, right? But what if something important (like your name, for instance) is mentioned in one of those other nearby conversations- what then?
Well if you are like most people, you would immediately take notice of the conversation that mentioned your name even though you weren’t actually “listening” to what was being said. You see, while you were engaged in conversation, your mind was also busy monitoring the other nearby conversations to alert you to anything important (like someone speaking your name). This “background processing” effectively helps us to sort out everything we hear even when we don’t realize it or are focused on something else.
In a similar way, our minds process all the music we listen to- even the lyrics. The result is that a constantly repeated song or lyric may eventually become internalized within us over time. This is why people can memorize things like television commercials or advertising songs without ever actually “listening” to them. It also means that music provides a good opportunity for a particular artist to drill his or her world view into your mind for better or worse.
This is why no one can really hear a song over and over without “listening” to the lyrics as some people claim to be able to do. The important questions are, “Does this song/band/performer build my faith or weaken it? Does this song/band/performer support what I believe or try to tear it down?” Or as 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us, “Test everything. Hold on to the good.”
“Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days” (Genesis 50:2-3).
So we learn from Genesis 50:3 that the mourning period for Jacob’s death lasted for seventy days, or ten weeks. Its been said that an Egyptian person in that culture would mourn the death of an important person for up to 72 days, so the fact that Jacob’s mourning period lasted for 70 days tells us a lot about the level of respect that he held among the people of that time.
“When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.'”
Pharaoh said, ‘Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do'” (Genesis 50:4-6).
Did you notice that Joseph didn’t go directly to Pharaoh and ask for permission to attend to his father’s funeral? Instead, we’re told that Joseph spoke to the leaders and other officials who served under Pharaoh and asked them to approach him with this request. The most likely reason for this is that the clothing that Joseph wore to symbolize his grief made it inappropriate for him to stand before the king during this mourning period. So Joseph decided to ask some of Pharaoh’s official representatives to approach the king on his behalf to ask for a leave of absence.
In making this request, Joseph first made sure to tell Pharaoh that he had promised to bury his father in his family’s ancient burial tomb back in Canaan. That would explain why Joseph couldn’t provide a funeral service for his father in Egypt. Then he said, “If the king will give me permission to go, I will come back here” (Genesis 50:5 CEV). That would serve to reassure Pharaoh that Joseph wasn’t planning to return to his family’s former home and then spend the rest of his life there. Instead, Joseph simply planned to fulfill his father’s final request and then return to Egypt.
So Pharaoh accepted Joseph’s appeal and graciously responded by saying, “…Go and bury your father as he made you promise under oath” (MSG).
So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him — the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt — besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.
When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father” (Genesis 50:7-10).
This description of Jacob’s funeral procession tells us that he received the same kind of honor that might be given to a Prime Minister, President, or other head of state today. For instance, every one of Pharaoh’s cabinet members accompanied this funeral procession along with all the other dignitaries in Egypt. We also know that there must have been an honor guard or military escort of some kind because there were chariots and horsemen there as well.
But there must have been many more people in this procession other than those who are listed for us here. For example, there had to be a group of people who were assigned to handle the responsibility of feeding everyone on this trip. There must have been others who were given the task of dealing with the logistics, supplies, and navigation for the journey. Another group had to responsible for the care and feeding of the animals that were part of this caravan. A crew would also be needed to set up camp whenever the procession stopped on this 250-300 mile (402-483 km) journey and then pack everything up again when it was time to move on.
With this in mind, it’s no wonder we’re told that,“It was a very large group” (Genesis 50:9 NCV). In fact, this funeral procession had quite an effect on the people who were living there at the time…
“When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, ‘The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.’ That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim. (Genesis 50:11)
The grief displayed at Jacob’s funeral had such an impact on the local population that they actually began calling that area Abel Mizraim, a name that means “meadow of Egypt.” The ironic thing is that Jacob’s descendants would eventually come back to this area in the future as agents of God’s justice against this very same people group. (1)
(1) As detailed in the book of Joshua
While Jacob’s family was in mourning over his death, it turns out that Joseph’s brothers were actually concerned about something else…
“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?'” (Genesis 50:15).
The good news about this statement is the fact that Joseph’s brothers had reached the point where they finally understood that what they had done to him earlier was wrong. The bad news was their concern that Joseph would be free to punish them now that their father was no longer around to hold him back.
So while Joseph’s brothers were surely saddened by the death of their father, their real worry was actually this: “Now that our father has passed away, there’s no one around to help keep Joseph under control. What if he suddenly decides that it’s time to pay us back for leaving him to die at the bottom of an empty water well and then selling him as a slave to a group of traveling merchants?”
Now this might seem like a legitimate concern, except for one thing- Joseph had treated his brothers very well since their families had been reunited in Egypt. He even provided them with food in the midst of a terrible famine and set them up with a good place to live as well. So why were Joseph’s brothers concerned that he might do something to pay them back now that their father had passed away?
Well, there’s one possible explanation that has to do with basic human nature. For example, have you ever heard someone say, “Well, if I was in your position, I would…” or, “If I were you, I would…”? If you’re like most people, the chances are probably good that you’ve had someone else try and tell you how he or she would handle some particular situation in your life. In fact, it sometimes seems as if that’s all some people ever do.
Here’s the point: its possible that Joseph’s brothers may have been doing much the same thing. In other words, it’s possible that these men knew that they would want revenge on Joseph if they were in his position- and they knew that if the situation had been reversed, each of them would do to Joseph what they were afraid that he might do to them.
This led Joseph’s brothers to send him a message that was designed to prevent him from acting on any possible thoughts of revenge- and we’ll look at that message next.
“After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers said to each other, ‘What if Joseph still hates us and wants to get even with us for all the cruel things we did to him?'” (Genesis 50:15 CEV).
Joseph held the second most powerful position in the world’s most powerful nation- and now that his beloved father was dead, there was little to hold him back from executing any thoughts of revenge against his brothers if that’s what he wanted to do.
So Joseph’s brothers sent him a little message that was designed to help eliminate that possibility…
“So they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father'” (Genesis 50:16-17a).
This message was almost certainly something that Joseph’s brothers thought up on their own. First, if Jacob had really wanted to say something like this, then he would have been sure to mention it to his favorite son Joseph instead of the sons who had lied to him about Joseph’s supposed death for 20 years.
Next, remember that this entire situation was brought about by their fear that Joseph might somehow try to get even with them- and that’s when this previously unmentioned message from Joseph’s father seemingly appeared out of nowhere. So while we can’t totally rule out the possibility that Jacob really did speak to Joseph’s brothers about this subject, it seems highly unlikely that this was something that Jacob actually said.
In any event, here’s how Joseph responded…
“When their message came to him, Joseph wept” (Genesis 50:17b).
What was it about this message that made Joseph so upset? Well, one reason is that this message demonstrated that Joseph’s brothers had still not addressed their feelings of guilt over what they had done to him so many years earlier. In fact, their guilt was apparently so strong that they felt the need to send a “message” from Joseph’s late father in order to protect themselves.
This message also told Joseph that his brothers believed that he had been carrying an ulterior motive during the years that they had been reunited in Egypt. It demonstrated their belief that the kindness and generosity that Joseph had shown them in Egypt was really just a show for his father’s benefit. If that were true, then it meant that Joseph’s brothers believed that he was a phony who only wanted to set them up for revenge.
“‘Before he died, your father instructed us to tell you to forgive us for the great evil we did to you. We servants of the God of your father beg you to forgive us.’ When Joseph read the message, he broke down and cried” (Genesis 50:16b-17 TLB).
This message from Joseph’s brothers revealed a lot about the way they felt towards him. Perhaps the most important thing this message demonstrated was that Joseph’s brothers had no real faith or trust in him. This was a real problem because any good family relationship must have a foundation of mutual trust. If you don’t trust another family member, you will never be able to make a real emotional investment in that person- and this was something that prevented Joseph’s brothers from establishing a strong family relationship with him.
So Joseph decided to take it upon himself to make things right…
“His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said. But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?'” (Genesis 50:18-19).
Although Joseph’s brothers were willing to accept a master-slave relationship with him, that wasn’t the kind of family relationship that Joseph wanted to have with his brothers. And even though Joseph was one of the most powerful men in the country, he still knew that he had to answer to God for his choices; that’s why he reminded them, “‘Don’t be afraid; I can’t put myself in the place of God'” (Genesis 50:19 NLT).
Now don’t miss what happens next because Joseph is about to introduce an important spiritual truth…
“‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives'” (Genesis 50:20).
It seems that Joseph knew something that God would later inspire the Apostle Paul to write about in the New Testament book of Romans where we read this…
“My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written: ‘I will punish those who do wrong; I will repay them,’ says the Lord. But you should do this: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. Doing this will be like pouring burning coals on his head.’ Do not let evil defeat you, but defeat evil by doing good” (Romans 12:19-21 NCV).
“‘You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened. You have nothing to fear. I will take care of you and your children.’ So he reassured them with kind words that touched their hearts” (Genesis 50:20-21 GNB).
Many popular movies feature an “action hero” character who is not afraid to take the law into his own hands. These characters are usually portrayed as powerful and uncompromising men of action who are quick to solve their problems with their fists, guns, or other weapons as they execute their own personal version of justice.
Although he had the power and ability to execute a similar brand of action-hero justice if he had chosen to do so, Joseph didn’t view himself as a one-man judge, jury, and executioner. Instead, Joseph chose to leave those decisions up to God. His explanation for making that choice can be found in the Scripture quoted above: “‘You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people…'” (Genesis 50:21 NCV).
Notice also that Joseph didn’t lie to his brothers about what they had done. He didn’t try to make excuses for their behavior or act like nothing ever happened. Instead, he was plainspoken and honest in his judgment by saying, “‘You intended to harm me…'” but that God had brought something good from their actions.
And with that, we now come to the final few verses of the last chapter of the book of Genesis:
“Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees” (Genesis 50:22-23).
50 years have now gone by as we make the transition from verse 21 to verse 22. We know that Joseph had become a great-great-grandfather by this time because we’re told that he “…saw the third generation of (his son) Ephraim’s children.” So this same man who once faced the realistic possibility of spending the rest of his life in a foreign prison had gone on to become a high-ranking official in the Egyptian government and a great-great-grandfather as well.
So Joseph was convinced that God had a plan for his life. In fact, Joseph was so sure about God’s plan that his final recorded words indicated how just certain he really was.
“Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.
So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:24-26).
Even though Joseph was the man that God used to save his family by bringing them all into Egypt, he also knew that his family wouldn’t be staying in Egypt forever. You see, Joseph was aware of the promises that God had made to his father Jacob, his grandfather Isaac, and his great-grandfather Abraham. He also knew that their descendants would eventually return to the place where he was born- the land that his father had left to join him in Egypt.
So Joseph predicted that his father’s descendants would leave Egypt one day to return to the land that God had promised to give them. When that return occurred (as he knew it surely would), Joseph wanted to make sure that he was a part of it. That’s why, “…Joseph made his brothers promise with an oath that they would take his body back with them when they returned to Canaan” (Genesis 50:25 TLB).
Even though Joseph had lived for decades among the highest ranking people in Egyptian society, he never lost track of where he came from. And although his life journey had taken him far away to a foreign land, Joseph always knew where he really belonged.
So what does Joseph’s example mean for a Christian youth today? Well, if the statistics are accurate, many Christian teens will eventually turn away from Christianity before leaving college. Some will give in to peer pressure. Some will be unable to stand up to the challenges of an aggressively anti-Christian professor or a college culture that believes that Jesus is irrelevant. Some will be fooled into believing of their need to grow out of a supposedly primitive idea like a belief in God. Others will be influenced through a relationship with someone who doesn’t really believe in Jesus and eventually move so far away from genuine Christianity that there will be nothing left to distinguish him or her from anyone else.
Should that time ever arrive, the message behind Joseph’s final words will be there to show the way back home for those who have wandered away- and we’ll look at that message next.
Some four thousand years ago, a dying man made a final request. This request (and the reason behind it) has served as a kind of signal from the ancient past, quietly transmitting the coordinates that guide the way back for those who have journeyed far from home…
“’Soon I will die,’ Joseph told his brothers, ‘but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath, and he said, ‘When God comes to help you and lead you back, you must take my bones with you’” (Genesis 50:24-25 NLT).
Perhaps you will awake one day in the future and realize that your life no longer has any real meaning, purpose, or direction. Perhaps you will achieve everything you ever wanted- and realize that it isn’t enough. Perhaps you will give up your life to pursue a career only to later find out that you were never regarded as anything more than just a number.
Perhaps you will see the wreckage that has become the lives of your family members or your friends. Or maybe you simply expected to navigate through the ocean of life only to find that you spent more time bailing water than piloting the ship.
If you ever should reach that point in your life, take a minute to listen to the message that has been quietly broadcasting to you through the words of Genesis 50:24-25. That message is simple: return home. You see, Joseph was a long way from where he started. He was far from the place where God had spoken to his ancestors. He had been immersed in a busy, active culture that had no use for the Biblical God. But Joseph never forgot where he came from and the message behind his final request was a desire to return home.
If the journey of life takes you far away from Jesus, don’t forget where you came from. Maybe you’ve traveled to a place where you shouldn’t have gone. Perhaps your destination didn’t turn out to be what thought it would be. You may be far from the place where you once knew God- but like Joseph, you can go home again.
Joseph knew where he belonged- he belonged among the people who believed in and followed the one true God. That’s where you belong as well.
The final verse of the book of Genesis ends by saying this…
“So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26).
Unlike his father Jacob, Joseph’s body wasn’t returned to his family’s ancient burial site following his death. So why didn’t Joseph receive a funeral service back home? Well, one possibility is that Joseph had become such an honored and respected person in Egypt that the Egyptian people didn’t want to part with him following his death.
Remember that Joseph was the person that God used to rescue the nation of Egypt in their time of need. After all, if it hadn’t been for Joseph, Egypt might not only have ceased to exist as a major world power- it might have also ceased to exist as a nation. This was a debt that could never be fully repaid and it may be that the Egyptian people sought to honor Joseph’s memory by insisting that his remains stay with them in Egypt. Unfortunately, the Egyptians’ attitude towards Joseph and his people eventually changed- but that story is covered in the Biblical book that follows Genesis.
Anyway, it turned out that Joseph’s coffin remained in Egypt for the next four centuries. So what eventually happened to his remains? Well, the Old Testament book of Exodus tells us this…
“And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you’” (Exodus 13:19).
Later on, we find out a little more about Joseph’s final resting place…
“When the people of Israel left Egypt, they brought the bones of Joseph along with them. They took the bones to the town of Shechem and buried them in the field that Jacob had bought for one hundred pieces of silver from Hamor, the founder of Shechem. The town and the field both became part of the land belonging to the descendants of Joseph” (Joshua 24:32 CEV).
So all during the time that Joseph’s coffin remained in Egypt, his final act of faith served as a reminder to God’s people that He would eventually bring them back to the land that He promised to give to their ancestors.
The book of Genesis then ends by saying, “And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26b). While this might seem to be a strange way to end the book of Genesis, just remember that this is not the end of God’s message through the Scriptures- it only represents the end of “in the beginning.”