We're almost at the end of Genesis, and this chapter records for us the death of one of the patriarchs. Nearing the end of his life, we read of 3 blessing sequences in Genesis 47-49. He blesses Pharaoh (Gen 47), Joseph's sons (Gen 48) and his own sons (Gen 49). Before we go on to study today's passage, why is it so important that the book of Genesis ends with the idea of blessing? Following from the idea of the curse in Gen 3, the rest of Genesis proceeds to reverse and undo this curse. Once again, we are reminded that the Bible must be read in context! Like the previous chapters on blessings, therefore, Gen 50 reminds us of the curse of Gen 3, for all man will die now.
(A) Jacob and Death: a life of trusting God for every one of His promises (Gen 49:29-33)
As Jacob is to be “gathered to my people”, he had rather interesting priorities as he lay dying (v.29-33). He was concerned about where he was to be buried -- specifically "with (his) fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite" (Gen 49:29). The description of this cave is not restricted only to verse 29, but spans verse 29 to 32! Much detail was paid to the location of this land, as well as its legitimacy and ownership. This burial ground belonged to Abraham and he bought it legally Gen 49:30). This was also a place with sentimental value -- his fathers and wives where there (Gen 49:31). Jacob remembered that that burial ground was special, because it was the land that God promised. As he lay dying, he still remembered the covenant and thought about his post-death rituals in terms of the promises that have been made to his family by God.
This was a man whose identity was tied up with the covenant. He did not forget, not even at the end! As we read this, it is timely to consider our own identity, or what we think about ourselves today. Often, we are far, far too prone to give away our identity and cling to our work, school, background etc. Jacob reminds us that if we are Christians, we are wrapped up in the identity given by God and God alone. This identity has implications in how we live and think about life, and how we think about death and how we die. For the Christian, Rom 14:7-9 is a great reminder that "none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself." Both life and death belong to the Lord and we are His through and through. What does this mean practically? How do we apply this? Burn this in your heart! Memorise this verse! Dear friends, let us revisit this question every morning and remind ourselves that each new day is given by Him, and we live and die to the Lord! How does this change the way we view death? 1 Thess 4:13-14 reminds us that we need not grieve as if we have no hope.
This was the way Jacob understood everything. This is the way Christians see life and death. Is this the way you view life and death?
(B) Joseph and Death: in the world but not of the world (Gen 50:1-6)
Gen 50:1-13 records for us Joseph's response to his father's death. He expressed his sorrow and mourned his father's death (Gen 50:1), not in a stoic, distant way, but in a real and intimate manner. The people of the Bible, the "heroes of faith"were real people with real emotions. They felt pain, they wept in response to it. The Bible makes it clear that it is perfectly normal to express emotions.
Joseph also embalmed his father (Gen 50:2) and the process took 40 days. He also allowed his father to be mourned in the Egyptian fashion -- mourned for 70 days (Gen 50:3). This was different from the Hebrew tradition of 7 days.It was only after the days of weeping were completed that Joseph asked for permission to take his father back after the long death and mourning process in Egypt (Gen 50:4-5). Pharaoh allows it (Gen 50:6),and Joseph can keep his promise to his father. Joseph's obedience to his father's wishes was not merely an act of filial piety. If we understand the motivations of Jacob's actions, we realise that this was not a picky, superstitious old man that was particular about what he was buried. Heb 11:13-16 reminds us that God's people, people who live by faith lived in the world but saw and desired something beyond this world. Jacob and his Joseph continue to show us what it means to have our identity wrapped up in God's promises. God's promises permeate and seep through and flow into every aspect of life and death.
It is worth for us to pause and soul search at this moment. Are we of the world and happily in it? Can those around us see that we are Christians from the way we live? What would your inner thought life reveal -- your fantasies, fixations, dreams? Is there anyone in your life to indicate that you are what you say you are -- one bought by the precious blood of Christ? Believing and professing Rom 14:17-19 is not something intellectual, nor is it something passive. It should affect and change the way we live. We sing these songs of surrender quite often in church and at our study, but do we live it day after day, even in the mundane simple moments where we have to serve people and die to self? These are things worth considering, repenting of and committing to, not tomorrow, not next week but today and even now.
(C) The 12 Patriarchs and Death: together, united and faithful to their promises (Gen 50:7-14).
A huge company goes up to bury Jacob (v.7-9). It comprised of the servants of Pharaoh, elders of the household of Pharaoh, Joseph's household, Jacob's household and all of Jacob's sons. Only the children, flocks and herds were left behind. There was a certain pomp and circumstance to it, and even the Canannaites recognised this great mourning by Egypt and named a place in memory (Gen 50:11).
Even after crossing the Jordan, the company mourned and lamented (Gen 50:10-11). Remember that this was after the 40 days of embalming and 70 days of mourning in Egypt! Perhaps here, the ancient cultures have something to teach us. They knew how to respect life and death, and saw death as it is and did not shy away from it. They had a time and place and proper avenue to grieve and grieved well. We do not. Look at our glossy magazines that celebrate youth and people in the prime of their physical state. Photoshop, plastic surgery and even instagram filters are tools we turn to to hide away from the reality of decay that befalls all. Our culture really does not know what to do we death, and perhaps, then, we do not know what to do with life either.
Elsewhere in the Bible, Ecc 7:1-4 helps us see that death propels us to wisdom. Mourning forces us to look beyond this life, and contemplate the great ending that everyone has to face. It is only when we look at the end, that everything that lies in between can be viewed with greater clarity. The Bible speaks plainly that the one who considers life only in terms of what is lived here, and enjoys it with great merriment here is a fool. Therefore, we are reminded in today's passage that there is tremendous wisdom in recognizing our own finitude and remembering that someday we will die. Only then we can understand and obey God as we live our lives today.
The chapter ends with Jacob being buried (Gen 50:12-14). We are tempted to read for gist and skim through, but notice the great detailed paid to the process and to the location. We are meant to see the precision and full obedience of his sons, exactly as he said. It is surprising because this is the first and only time that Jacob's sons did something together. This was also what Jacob and Esau did for Isaac and what Ishmael and Isaac did for Abraham. Death brings them together and the sons acted corporately in obedience.
Gen 50 showed us a family coming together because a savior (Joseph) brought them together to the father. Joseph is, in reality, a pale sense of what Jesus achieved! Eph 2:18-21 reminds us that through him, though we were strangers and aliens, now have access in one Spirit to the Father! Genesis has been a continual revelation of the God who does not merely call individuals in isolation, but he brings them into a family, a community. As we ponder the weighty issues of life and death in Gen 50, let us not forget our corporate identity that we affects how we live , and continues to give us hope until we die. We have something even greater than the covenant that Jacob held on to. We have something greater than the promises and blessings given to Jacob's sons. We have the covenant fulfilled, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He joins all who profess and believe in Him together (Eph 2:20-21). He calls us sinful people who were once like Simeon, Levi, Reuben saints and heirs and at the end of our lives, welcomes us into a city and country far better than the one we live behind.
Will you and I, as the covenant people of God, keep our vows? Will we remember who we are, and live according to it today, tomorrow and everyday until our work here on earth is done?
“There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see a matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die
And every longing satisfied
Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul
For I am truly home.”
(Stuart Townend & Mark Edwards)