Summary: Since our burial practices say a lot about human worth and our view of the afterlife, we should think about it more often and make biblical choices.

MULTIMEDIA: Walking Across Egypt: The Casket (00:01:02) [

END CUE: movie title then fades to black

For those who have had to make funeral arrangements, the business of it can seem cold – as in the video clip, Walking Across Egypt. While many funeral directors and cemetery developers are honorable and helpful, there are those who exploit the vulnerability of grieving families.

As a hospital chaplain who is responsible for decedent care, I couldn’t help but think about burial customs when I came to Genesis 49 and 50 during my Bible readings this week.

“Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him…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.’” Genesis 50:2,4-5 (NIV)

It was customary in Egypt to embalm the dead, using an elaborate process of alteration and treatment of the body which ensured that its mummified remains would be preserved almost indefinitely. Joseph had his personal physicians undertake this process with his father’s body, a process which lasted forty days.

It was also customary in Egypt to have approximately a seventy-day period of mourning, especially for a person of national importance, as Jacob had come to be recognized.

After the seventy-day period was over, Joseph and his brothers determined to set about obeying their father’s request that he be buried in Canaan. Becoming highly productive components of the Egyptian economy, Joseph had to get permission to leave for Canaan. Assuring Pharaoh that all the Israelites would return after the burial and appealing to their strong sense of respect for the dead, Pharaoh granted permission. He also gave orders that it should be recognized as an official Egyptian state funeral, with all due honors accorded to the dead. The funeral procession was the object of much attention and discussion by the Canaanites of the area (50:11).

Finally, Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt. God had led them into Egypt, and there they knew they must stay until He told them it was time to return.

Genesis 49:29 – 50 is the first case of an embalmed body and an elaborate funeral in the Bible.


“Then he gave them these instructions: ‘I am about to be gathered to my people.” Genesis 49:29 (NIV)


“A wise person thinks much about death, while the fool thinks only about having a good time now.” Ecclesiastes 7:4 (NLT)

“Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.” Hebrews 9:27 (TEV)



“Then he gave them these instructions: ‘I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.” Genesis 49:29-32 (NIV)


1.TO GIVE TESTIMONY OF FUTURE RESURRECTION. (‘I am about to be gathered to my people.)

2.TO BE TREATED WITH DIGNITY AND HONOR (Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him…)

The treatment of the human body after death is such a sensitive issue for both Christians and Jews hinges on the significance of human life. Human beings are a little lower than the angels ( Psalm 8:4-5 ) but created in the image of God ( Genesis 1:27 ). Today we possess a body that is both a corruptible "shell" ( 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 ) and the temple of the Holy Spirit ( 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19 ) which serves as the medium for the expression of our personal identity in this life. We are destined to live forever in real resurrection bodies that carry over our identity from the one we leave at death ( 1 Corinthians 15:50-55 ).

The Jews usually buried the bodies of their dead within a period of 24 hours ( Deuteronomy 21:23 ; Genesis 23:4 ; John 11:17, 39 ; Matthew 27:57-60 ). Problems relating to sanitation and the rapid onset of decomposition may account for their haste. In Jewish practice, bodies were generally washed ( Acts 9:37 ), anointed with aromatic spices ( 2 Chronicles 16:14 ; Mark 16:1 ), wrapped ( John 11:44 ; Mark 15:26 ), and placed in a tomb.

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Adewale Adebiyi

commented on May 11, 2009

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