************ Sermon on Genesis 49:29-50:14; 50:22-26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 28, 2015
Genesis 49:29-50:14; 50:22-26
Genesis 49:29; 50:25
"Bury Me in Canaan"
Your house is on fire. You and your family have time to take only one thing with you before you flee. What would it be? Would it be the toaster? Would it be a pencil sharpener? Would it be a bicycle pump? Would it be a pair of running shoes? Of course NOT! Whatever you save from the flames would be something valuable: a family heirloom, or the computer you didn't backup containing all the family pictures and your quicken file, or a carbon-fiber bicycle, or a Shutterfly photo book filled with pictures of the grandchildren, or a piece of expensive jewelry.
The Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt was like an emergency situation. The death of all Egypt's firstborn had just happened -- the firstborn of Pharaoh, of the prisoner, and of all the livestock as well. So the Egyptians urged the people of Israel "to hurry and leave the country. For otherwise," they said, "we all will die" (Ex 12:33). The Israelites had to leave in a hurry. They weren't even given the time to add yeast to their dough. In this emergency-type situation what would Israel take with them? What would they grab in their hurry to get out of Egypt? Scripture says they plundered the Egyptians; they took silver, gold, and clothing (Ex 12:33-36). Do you know what else they grabbed as they hurried to leave Egypt? They took the bones of Joseph with them (Ex 13:19). They didn't have time to bake their bread; yet, they had time to grab the bones of Joseph. The house is burning down around them and they grabbed a sack of old bones! Why did they do this? Why was it so important to them to grab the bones of Joseph?
I A Command was Given
A Our texts give us an initial answer to our question. 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" (Gen 50:25). Joseph commanded his brothers to take his bones when they left Egypt. As for Jacob, he also gave a command: "Bury me with my father in the cave of Ephron the Hittite" (Gen 49:29; cf Gen 47:29-31). It was the express wish of both Jacob and Joseph to be buried in the Promised Land.
Even today many practicing Jews living outside of Israel ask for their body to be buried in Israel. Burial in Israel is so prized that when it is not possible, the custom is to sprinkle some dirt from Israel into the grave.
B What Jacob asked for was no simple undertaking. Look at what we are told about Jacob's death. First, Joseph asked his personal physicians to embalm Jacob (Gen 50:2) -- a forty-day process in which the internal organs are removed and the body is wrapped with spices. We notice that Joseph did not call upon the professional embalmers of ancient Egypt to preserve his father's body. The most likely reason for not using the professional embalmers is that their embalming would include various magical and pagan rites. During life Jacob served the one only true God; so Joseph made sure that in death the Almighty continued to be served.
Second, we notice seventy days of mourning. This is only two days less than the time period prescribed for a pharaoh's death (Gen 50:3); obviously, the Egyptians held Jacob in high esteem. What happens during the days of mourning? Grief is verbally expressed; Jewish tradition does not advise restraint in expressing grief: "Bewail the dead. Hide not your grief. Do not restrain your mourning." Garments are usually torn. Mourners are exempt from all regular activities including work, social activities, and religious obligations. Traditionally, they do not eat meat, drink wine, or engage in marital relations.
The third thing we are told is that a huge funeral procession took the embalmed body of Jacob the two hundred forty plus miles from Egypt to Mamre. All Pharaoh's officials accompanied Joseph -- 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 (Gen 50:7-9). Like most funeral processions, I suspect it was slow moving.
The fourth thing we see is that the funeral procession stopped at the threshing floor of Atad and observed seven more days of mourning. Even the Canaanites who lived there took note of what was going on (Gen 50:10-11).
Fifth, Scripture tells us Jacob was buried in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre (Gen 50:13).
All in all, what Jacob asked for took close to ninety days to become a reality.
C Similarly, what Joseph asked for was no simple undertaking. As with Jacob, his body was embalmed. But unlike Jacob, his body was not returned to Canaan for burial. Instead, Joseph directs that his body should be placed in an unburied coffin and left in a crypt in Egypt. And, when the children of Israel leave Egypt, they are to take Joseph's bones with them.
As you know, four hundred years later God rescued Israel from Egypt. And, on their last night in Egypt the children of Israel remembered Joseph's bones. The crypt was opened and the box with Joseph's remains was taken out.
From Egypt, Joseph's bones were taken across the Red Sea. They were taken to Mount Sinai. They were taken back and forth through the wilderness for forty years. They were taken across the Jordan River. They were taken through Jericho. It took four hundred and forty plus years, but Joseph's bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were finally buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem (Josh 24:32; cf Gen 33:19).
What a trip for those old bones in order to honor the oath Joseph made the sons of Israel swear!
D We learn a lesson here, congregation, on how to handle the dead. Look at how carefully the bodies of Jacob and Joseph were handled. Think of all the time and effort that was expended. We learn from Jacob and Joseph that the body of the dead is to be handled with respect. Why? Why this care?
Way back at the beginning of Genesis we saw God forming the first man from the dust of the ground and breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7). And, we saw God making the first woman from the rib of man so that she is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh (Gen 2:21-23). Man and woman were formed and fashioned, molded and sculpted, by God. Telling us what? Telling us the body is important. Telling us the body is to be treated with respect. Telling us the body is not to be treated like a piece of garbage or as the prison-house of the soul. God took care with the human body and we should too -- both in life as well as death.
II Faith was Shown
A Now, why did Jacob and Joseph both want their body buried in Canaan? Why did they give commands which involved so much time and trouble and expense?
We find the answer in Hebrews 11. Listen to what is said there:
(Heb 11:22) By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.What Joseph did -- and what Jacob did -- was by faith.
B As you know, Hebrews 11 is that great chapter on the heroes of faith. Hero after hero is named as well as the event that showed their faith. So, we are told about Abel and his sacrifice, Enoch and his walk with God, Noah and the building of the ark, Abraham and his journey to the Promised Land, Moses and how he chose to be mistreated along with the people of God. We are told about the faith of the people of Israel as they crossed through the Red Sea. We are told about the faith shown when the walls of Jericho came crashing down. We are told about Rahab, Gideon, David, Daniel and others who did heroic acts of faith.
The author of Hebrews includes Joseph in the company of the great men and women of faith. If I wrote Hebrews I would have mentioned Joseph's prophetic faith in his dreams concerning the future (Gen 37:5-10), or his righteous faith in fleeing from the invitation of Potiphar's wife (Gen 39:7-9), or his persevering faith in interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh and his officials (Gen 40 & 41), or his forgiving faith in reconciling himself with his brothers (Gen 45). But to illustrate a faith that pleases God (Gen 11:6) the author of Hebrews does not choose any of these remarkable events. Rather, he directs us to consider Joseph's end-of-life instruction for his death and burial.
The question we want to answer today: how does this demonstrate noteworthy faith? How does burial in Canaan show Jacob and Joseph to be men of faith?
C First, what is the most prominent feature of the Egyptian landscape? Its pyramids. And, what are the pyramids? They are graves. Even in the ancient world, Egypt was known as the land of the graves (Ex 14:11). But Canaan, on the other hand, as the land of God's presence, is the land of promise and of life. It is in Canaan that God will carry out His Gospel promises to make Abraham a blessing to all the earth. It is in Canaan that the fullness of the Gospel will be carried out so that all those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life. Though Jacob and his sons have enjoyed success in Egypt, they know life is found in the Promised Land. To willingly remain outside the Promised Land is to choose death over life. So, when Jacob and Joseph ask for burial in Canaan, they are choosing a place of life over a place of death.
Hebrews tells us they are showing faith in the promise of the resurrection. Like Abraham, they were "looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb 11:9-10). They were looking forward to the new heaven and new earth in which God will bless all who share Abraham's faith. In other words, Jacob and Joseph understood that their death was not the end of life. Instead, God had a future kingdom prepared, one where the Lord Jesus will reign as King because He suffered, died, arose from the grave, and ascended into heaven where He is seated at God's right hand.
Second, we need to realize that ancient peoples got buried in the land of their fathers. That's where your parents were buried. That's where you expected to be buried. That's where your children someday would be buried. So, by asking for burial in Canaan, Jacob and Joseph were saying this was the land of their fathers. Think about this from the perspective of the children of Israel. They were traveling from Egypt to Canaan. They were in the bleak and forsaken desert. They missed Egypt with its variety of food and water (Num 11:4-6). Moses was telling them they were going to the land where their ancestors lay. They were going back to the land of their fathers. By faith, it was a homecoming to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah. Similarly, Paul says that when we die we are away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). In other words, death for the Christian is a homecoming. We go to be home with the Lord.
Third, Joseph asked to be kept in Egypt until "God comes to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place" (Gen 50:25). Joseph could have asked to be buried in Canaan right after death just like Jacob was. But Joseph commanded Israel to wait for God's aid. What faith in God and His promises. What patience. So, for four hundred years Joseph's body stayed in Egypt.
During those four hundred years the Egyptians forgot. They forgot who Joseph was and what he did for them (Ex 1:8). But the children of Israel did not forget. During their years of slavery, they remembered Joseph and his bones. What did they remember? They remembered that Joseph's bones would remain in Egypt until the time God came to their aid. During the years of bondage, Joseph's bones was a testament that some day God would provide rescue. During the years of oppression, Joseph's bones was a reminder that some day God would take them out of Egypt. During the years of slavery, Joseph's bones spoke of a future deliverance. With the eyes of faith, we see Joseph's bones even speaking of the deliverance that is ours in Christ. So, by faith, Joseph's bones was a testament to God's faithfulness.
Through the pages of Scripture, we get to be observers of Jacob and Joseph as they both approach death. We right away notice that their words are all about the Lord. How instructive for us today!
Do you know what most secular people want to talk about as they lie on their death bed? They want to talk about their sickness -- the treatments, the medicines, the pains, the doctors, the tests, and so on. You go to visit them and it is as though there is nothing else in the universe except their sickness. You read the Bible to them, and they go right back to talking about their sickness. You ask about their family, and they use it as an opportunity to get back to their sickness. You mention something on the news, and they go back to their sickness. But Christians and their believing families ought to be different. So, as you approach death, are your thoughts and words going to be all about yourself or are they going to be about the Lord Jesus?
And, we notice from Scripture that Jacob and Joseph want even their burial to be a testament to the Lord, His promises, and His presence. Again, this is so instructive, isn't it?! And, what a spur this can be for many of us.
Most secular people today are often very concerned to have all the practical details of a funeral worked out -- the casket, the burial plot, the funeral home, the organist, the pall-bearers, the obituary -- but spend very little time thinking about how the funeral service can speak for and of the Lord Jesus. But Christians and their believing families ought to be different. We ought to labor to make funerals a time where the Gospel is preached and God is worshiped. That is what Jacob and Joseph were thinking of on their deathbed. They wanted their death to point their family to God, His promises, and His presence.
Jacob and Joseph finished well. They died well. They died as they lived: in the Lord. Will the same be said for you and me?
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