Summary: God has planned out all the details of our lives and has promised to see us through every tragedy and loss to bring us safely to the Promised Land.
We’re finally to the last chapter of Genesis, and it’s one that at first seems a little sad. Abraham and Isaac are both dead. Jacob died in chapter 49, and now it’s Joseph’s turn. The covenant family doesn’t seem much better off than anyone else on the earth. And so, the questions are raised: what happened to all these promises from God? What difference does it make to be one of his people if you end up in the same grave as those who don’t follow him?
This last chapter shows how God’s people quit this life in unwavering faith; they know his promise extends beyond these things we can see and touch. Death is something we’ll all face, but we can walk through it confidently because God is with us and brings us safely to eternal life.
In the last chapter Jacob blessed his children and commanded them to return his body to Canaan; then he died:
And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him. 2And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel. 3And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed: and the Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days.
The first thing I want to point out is how grief is expressed by those who wait on the promise. Joseph wept and mourned for 70 days because Jacob’s death was truly hurtful to him. Sometimes Christians feel guilty for being sad about someone’s death; I guess maybe they think it’s a sign of unbelief or that people will think we don’t really believe in heaven, but death is the result of sin, and sin is serious business. The consequences actually hurt, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting it. When God spared the life of a close friend, Paul says he was saved from “sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27).
Now, how does this help us wait on the promise? Well, the promise is to rescue us and give us life despite death; it’s to carry us through all the sicknesses and all the pain, but it’s not to keep us from all these things in the meantime.
This is why we need faith. We believe, like David, that sorrow will last through the night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5). You see, it’s by weeping that we appreciate laughter, and by mourning that we value dancing. Sadness is the backdrop that highlights joy, and these painful things give meaning to our song of prayer: “Lord, be thou my helper.”
And so, Joseph weeps and mourns the death of his father, but he finds comfort in the promise:
4And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found grace in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come again. 6And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear. 7And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8And all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father’s house: only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen. 9And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company. 10And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation: and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians: wherefore the name of it was called Abelmizraim, which is beyond Jordan. 12And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them: 13For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre. 14And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.
Joseph gets permission to take his father back, and Pharaoh sends some escorts to make sure they make it safely. They take the long way because it’s easier, and they stop just outside to spend seven final days weeping. It’s such a sad and conspicuous occasion that the locals take note and give the place a new name. At the end of the seven days they cross over into Canaan, Jacob is buried, and Joseph returns to Egypt.