Genesis 49:29-50:21 ~ 20080810 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
8/10 Genesis 49:29-50:21 Funeral and Future
Jacob has dominated the last half of the book of Genesis. The first 11 chapters cover the first two thousand years of human history. Then it focuses on one family and God's dealings with them. God chose Abram out of the middle of nowhere and makes audacious promises to him. Chapters 11-22 focus on God's dealings with Abraham. Then chapters 23-24 look at Isaac. Chapters 25-50 chronicle God's pursuit and conquest of the strong willful man named Jacob. Jacob is now weak and sick and on his death bed. He has blessed Joseph and adopted his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. He has just finished blessing his twelve sons, telling them the hard truth about their character and destiny and pointing them to God who is the Mighty One of Jacob, the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel, the God of your Father, the Almighty who will bless you.. Today we see the final words of this dying man and his hope in the promises of God. And we see Joseph, his son, carry on the legacy of unshakable confidence in his God.
Jacob is to 'be gathered to his people'. Jacob doesn't say 'I'm about to die, keel over, croak, kick the bucket, become food for the worms, tomorrow I'll be pushing up daisies'. He chooses as his metaphor for death a family reunion. He is to be gathered to his people. Jacob does not view death as primarily a separation or a scattering; rather a gathering. Jacob has 'his people'; people who were called out by God to follow him and serve him. People who were chosen to know and enjoy fellowship with the true God. People who were called to be genuine worshipers of the living God. And that fellowship could not be broken. Jacob was not looking back over the years of his life or what he was leaving behind; he had summarized that to Pharaoh as 'few and evil...' (Gen.47:9); instead he was looking forward in hope to what lay ahead. He is to join the 'great cloud of witnesses' (Heb.12:1) who worship around the throne of God. Jacob, in faith, looked forward to better things to come (Heb.11:9-10)
Jacob has explicit instructions for his children on what they were to do with his remains. It was not a request; it was a command. He was not to be buried in Egypt, but in the promised land. He was to be buried in the one piece of land that the patriarchs owned, the cave that Abraham purchased back in Genesis 23 from Ephron the Hittite. That was where Abraham and Sarah were buried; that was where Isaac and Rebekah were buried, and that was where Jacob and Leah were to be buried. Jacob could have chosen to be buried with Rachel, his favorite wife who he buried on the way to Bethlehem, but instead he chose to be buried with his parents and grandparents in the cave of Macphela. This was a significant commitment on the part of his children to bring him up from Egypt to Canaan, but he wanted to make an explicit object lesson for future generations that his hope was in the promises of God and not in the good things in Egypt. He had required an oath from Joseph that he would not bury him in Egypt (Gen.47:29-31), and now he commands all his sons that they would bury him with his fathers.
When Jacob finished giving his final command to his children, pointing them to the promises of God, he drew his feet up into the bed and died. Again it is stated that he 'was gathered to his people'. His body had not yet been brought up to be buried in the promised land at the family burial ground, but he was already said to be 'gathered to his people'. Just as Paul said 'to be away from the body' is to be 'at home with the Lord' (2Cor.5:6-8), and dying means to 'depart and be with Christ' which is 'far better' (Phil.1:21-23)
Joseph had been separated from his father for over 20 years. Now he had had the privilege of caring for his father for the final 17 years leading up to his death. Here he expresses his grief by weeping and kissing his father. Joseph commanded that he be embalmed, primarily for practical reasons. In order to keep his promise to his father and bury him in Egypt, his body would need to be preserved to make the journey. The embalming process took a full 40 days. Then it says 'the Egyptians wept for him seventy days'. That is the period of mourning for the death of a king. Jacob is being given a royal Egyptian funeral.
Joseph, as second in command of all Egypt, still obtains permission for the journey to Canaan. Because of his mourning, he may have been unfit to appear personally in the presence of the Pharaoh, so he sends his request, along with the promise of return to the Pharaoh. His request is granted.
This was a royal procession from Egypt to Canaan. All the important heads of state accompanied the house of Jacob on the journey. Chariots and horsemen accompanied them. Jacob was being treated as a king. It is interesting to compare and contrast this journey with the Exodus from Egypt that would come 400 years later. They both followed roughly the same path to Canaan. Joseph's request to the Pharaoh for permission was granted; Moses' was denied. At the time of Joseph, the Israelites were free, at the time of Moses, they had been enslaved. Moses requested that the women and children and animals accompany them; Joseph left them behind in Egypt. Joseph and his brothers were escorted by the Egyptian army with horses and chariots; under Moses, the horses and chariots of Egypt pursued the children of Israel. The Canaanites commented on the greatness of the mourning of the Egyptians; at the Exodus, the Canaanites observed the greatness of God's deliverance and they were filled with dread. (Ex.15:14-16)
The obedience of the sons of Israel is highlighted. They did what he commanded them to do. They got the right cave. And then they returned to Egypt. The famine was over. They could have taken this opportunity to settle back in Canaan, but they had given their word to Pharaoh, and they had left their children and their livestock behind. But the primary reason for their return to Egypt was the word of God. God had told Abraham that it would be 400 years because 'the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete' (Gen.15:16); and God had told Jacob 'Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.' (Gen.46:3). So in obedience to the word of God they returned to Egypt.
Now that Jacob was dead and gone, the brothers began to contemplate the implications. They still retained a feeling of guilt for their crime against their brother, and they feared retaliation. Esau was going to wait until his father Isaac had died before avenging himself on his brother Jacob. Now they feared that Joseph nursed a similar plan for revenge. He had acted benevolently out of respect for his father, but now that Jacob was gone, Joseph had both the motive and the means to pay them back for what they had done to him. And the brothers for the first time confess to Joseph their sin against him. They acknowledge that they sinned against him and what they did deserved to be punished. They had said to each other in the hearing of Joseph that they were guilty before God and that God was paying them back (Gen.42:21); but now they send a message to Joseph himself and confess their guilt and plead for forgiveness. They call what they had done 'transgression', 'sin', and 'evil' and they request forgiveness. They refer to themselves as 'the servants of the God of your father' referencing both God and their father Israel in hopes that the memory of both God and their father would restrain the vengeance of Joseph. They apparently fabricate this as a message from dying Jacob to give their request authority. Joseph's response to this message is weeping. For the seventh time in Genesis, Joseph weeps. He wept over the death of his father. He wept when he saw his brother Benjamin. He wept at the reunion with his father and with Benjamin. He wept when he perceived that God had been at work to change the hearts of his brothers. Now he wept that his brothers had not received the forgiveness he had freely offered and retained a sense of fear that he would retaliate. That the brothers would doubt his character was deep blow to Joseph.
This is what Joseph had dreamed back in Canaan, that his brothers would bow before him. They had retaliated by selling him as a slave in Egypt. Now, in Egypt, they offer to become slaves to him. Joseph speaks peace to them. 'Do not be afraid'; and he again points them to God: 'am I in the place of God?' Joseph doesn't say 'I forgive you'; he had already forgiven them. He said in Gen.45:5 'And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.' He doesn't repeat that here. Instead he points to their relationship with God as the source of their guilty conscience. Their transgression, their sin, their evil was primarily against God. Joseph had pointed to this truth in his refusal of Potiphar's wife “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen.39:9). Joseph is owning his place under God. God is God and although I am the second most powerful man in the world, I am not God. God is the uncreated creator of all that exists and I am a created being. God is the omnipotent ruler and I am with you as one who is governed by him. God is the righteous judge and I am with you as one who will be judged by him. God is perfectly holy and I am with you as one who has offended him and is in need of his mercy and forgiveness.'Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?'
This is one of the most profound theological statements in the book of Genesis. Joseph looks back over his own experience and the intentions of his brothers, and he makes this observation. 'As for you, you meant evil against me.' He doesn't say 'you were well intentioned but misguided. You had a rough childhood and listened to too much rock music. You have a good heart underneath it all and can't be blamed for your actions.' No. He says 'you are evil and what you did was evil. He doesn't try to make them feel better about themselves. He tells it like it is. You are evil, your intentions were evil, and your actions were evil. What you did was wrong, and you did it because your heart was sick and twisted. You did evil because that's what you wanted to do. You meant evil against me. You deserve to be punished. And after a dramatic pause to let this truth sink in, he says 'but God'. Those are the two greatest words in the bible. 'But God'. Things are awful and there is no hope 'but God'. Things are desperate and will turn out badly 'but God'.
When there is no hope, God bursts onto the scene in all his glorious grace and changes everything! 'But God meant it for good'. Note he doesn't say 'you meant evil against me, but God used it for good'. He doesn't say 'you intended evil against me, but God changed it into good'. He says 'you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good'. Joseph uses the same word for the evil purpose of his brothers and for the good purposes of God. In the same way that they had plotted and planned to bring about events to harm him, God had plotted and planned to bring about events for a bigger good purpose. Joseph had gone so far as to say ' So it was not you who sent me here, but God' (Gen.45:8). Joseph is pointing his brothers to God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. We freely make plans and do things and we are responsible for the consequences of our actions. But God freely plans and brings about his sovereign good purposes, even using the evil actions of evil men to bring about his will. We see the climax of this interplay between God's sovereign plan and man's moral responsibility at the cross of Jesus, where it says in Acts:
The Jewish leaders, the Romans, and the people were carrying out the most heinous crime the world has seen They executed an innocent man on false charges. They crucified the incarnate Son of God! And they were guilty of their sin. But in doing so, they were doing 'whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place'. They meant evil against him, but God meant it for good, to save many people. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. God is never thwarted in his plans. God is unstoppable in his purposes. God conquers evil with good. When Joseph's brothers were doubting and afraid, he comforted them with the strong theology of a sovereign God who even uses the evil plans of wicked men to accomplish his gracious purposes. With a God like this, we can be confident that
Our God is unstoppable, and because he is, we are inseparable from him! What he has planned, he brings about. And he has purposed good for us. Of course, only those who believe in Jesus, and all those who believe will be saved. But God is able to overcome a stony heart of unbelief and conquer us with his love and bring us to trust in him – just like he did for Jacob. God is for us! Take courage, church! Do not lose heart, and do not be afraid!