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Then Joseph threw himself on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. 2Joseph commanded the physicians in his service to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel; 3they spent forty days in doing this, for that is the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.
4 When the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph addressed the household of Pharaoh, “If now I have found favor with you, please speak to Pharaoh as follows: 5My father made me swear an oath; he said, ‘I am about to die. In the tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.’ Now therefore let me go up, so that I may bury my father; then I will return.” 6Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”
7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. 9Both chariots and charioteers went up with him. It was a very great company. 10When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they held there a very great and sorrowful lamentation; and he observed a time of mourning for his father seven days. 11When the Canaanite inhabitants of the land saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning on the part of the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12Thus his sons did for him as he had instructed them. 13They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, the field near Mamre, which Abraham bought as a burial site from Ephron the Hittite. 14After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.
Joseph Forgives His Brothers
15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.
Joseph’s Last Days and Death
22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s household; and Joseph lived one hundred ten years. 23Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation; the children of Machir son of Manasseh were also born on Joseph’s knees.
24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die; but God will surely come to you, and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25So Joseph made the Israelites swear, saying, “When God comes to you, you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.
1. And Joseph fell upon his father’s face. In this chapter, what happened after the death of Jacob, is briefly related. Moses, however, states that Jacob’s death was honored with a double mourning — natural (so to speak) and ceremonial. That Joseph falls upon his father’s face and sheds tears, flows from true and pure affection; that the Egyptians mourn for him seventy days, since it is done for the sake of honor, and in compliance with custom, is more from ostentation and vain pomp, than from true grief: and yet the dead are generally mourned over in this manner, that the last debt due to them may be discharged. Whence also the proverb has originated, that the mourning of the heir is laughter under a mask. And although sometimes minds are penetrated with real grief; yet something is added to it, by the affectation of making a show of pious sorrow, so that they indulge largely in tears in the presence of others, who would weep more sparingly if there were no witnesses of their grief Hence those friends who meet together, under the pretext of administering consolation, often pursue a course so different, that they call forth more abundant weeping. And although the ceremony of mourning over the dead arose from a good principle; namely, that the living should meditate on the curse entailed by sin upon the human race, yet it has always been tarnished by many evils; because it has been neither directed to its true end, nor regulated by due moderation. With respect to the genuine grief which is not unnaturally elicited, but which breaks forth from the depth of our hearts, it is not, in itself, to be censured, if it be kept within due bounds. For Joseph is not here reproved because he manifests his grief by weeping; but his filial piety is rather commended. We have, however, need of the rein, and of self-government, lest, through intemperate grief, we are hurried, by a blind impulse, to murmur against God: for excessive grief always precipitates us into rebellion. Moreover, the mitigation of sorrow is chiefly to be sought for, in the hope of a future life, according to the doctrine of Paul.
2. And Joseph commanded his servants. Although formerly more labor was expended on funerals, and that even without superstition, than has been deemed right subsequently to the proof given of the resurrection exhibited by Christ:218218 Que depuis que Jesus Christ nous a baille claire demonstrance de la resurrection des morts — than since the time that Jesus Christ has given us a clear demonstration of the resurrection of the dead. — French Translation. yet we know that among the Egyptians there was greater expense and pomp than among the Jews. Even the ancient historians record this among the most memorable customs of that nation. Indeed it is not to be doubted (as we have said elsewhere) that the sacred rite of burial descended from the holy fathers, to be a kind of mirror of the future resurrection: but as hypocrites are always more diligent in the performance of ceremonies, than they are, who possess the solid substance of things; it happens that they who have declined from the true faith, assume a far more ostentatious appearance than the faithful, to whom pertain the truth and the right use of the symbol. If we compare the Jews with ourselves, these shadowy ceremonies, in which God required them to be occupied, would, at this time, appear intolerable; though compared with those of other nations, they were moderate and easily to be borne. But the heathen scarcely knew why they incurred so muck labor and expense. Hence we infer how empty and trivial a matter it is, to attend only to external signs, when the pure doctrine which exhibits their true origin and their legitimate end, does not flourish. It is an act of piety to bury the dead. To embalm corpses with aromatic spices, was, in former times, no fault; inasmuch as it was done as a public symbol of future incorruption. For it is not possible but that the sight of a dead man should grievously affect us; as if one common end, without distinction, awaited both us and the beasts that perish. At this day the resurrection of Christ is a sufficient support for us against yielding to this temptation. But the ancients, on whom the full light of day had not yet shone, were aided by figures: they, however, whose minds were not raised to the hope of a better life, did nothing else than trifle, and foolishly imitate the holy fathers. Finally, where faith has not so breathed its odour, as to make men know that something remains for them after death, all embalming will be vapid. Yea, if death is to them the eternal destruction of the body, it would be an impious profanation of a sacred and useful ceremony, to attempt to place what had perished under such costly custody. It is probable that Joseph, in conforming himself to the Egyptians, whose superfluous care was not free from absurdity; acted rather from fear than from judgment, or from approval of their method. Perhaps he improperly imitated the Egyptians, lest the condition of his father might be worse than that of other men. But it would have been better, had he confined himself to the frugal practice of his fathers. Nevertheless though he might be excusable, the same practice is not now lawful for us. For unless we wish to subvert the glory of Christ, we must cultivate greater sobriety.
3. And forty days were fulfilled for him. We have shown already that Moses is speaking of a ceremonial mourning; and therefore he does not prescribe it as a law, or produce it as an example which it is right for us to follow. For, by the laws, certain days were appointed, in order that time might be given for the moderating of grief in some degree; yet something also was conceded to ambition. Another rule, however, for restraining grief is given to us by the Lord. And Joseph stooped, more than he ought, to the perverted manners of the Egyptians; for the world affects to believe that whatever is customary is lawful; so that what generally prevails, carries along everything it meets, like a violent inundation. The seventy days which Moses sets apart to solemn mourning, Herodotus, in his second book, assigns to the embalming. But Diodorus writes that the seasoning of the body was completed in thirty days. Both authors diligently describe the method of embalming. And though I will not deny that, in the course of time, the skill and industry in practicing this art increased, yet it appears to me probable that this method of proceeding was handed down from the fathers.219219 It would appear that the mourning for Jacob was a kind of royal mourning. “On the death of every Egyptian king, a general mourning was instituted throughout the country for seventy-two days.” — Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, by Sir J. G. Wilkinson, vol. 1, p. 255. — Ed.
4. Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh. A brief narration is here inserted of the permission obtained for Joseph, that, with the goodwill and leave of the king, he might convey his father’s remains to the sepulcher of the double cave. Now, though he himself enjoyed no common decree of favor, he yet makes use of the courtiers as his intercessors. Why did he act thus, unless on the ground that the affair was in itself odious to the people? For nothing (as we have said before) was less tolerable to the Egyptians, than that their land, of the sanctity of which they made their especial boast, should be despised. Therefore Joseph, in order to transfer the offense from himself to another, pleads necessity: as if he would say, that the burying of his father was not left to his own choice, because Jacob had laid him under obligation as to the mode of doing it, by the imposition of an oath. Wherefore, we see that he was oppressed by servile fear, so that he did not dare frankly and boldly to profess his own faith; since he is compelled to act a part, in order to transfer to the deceased whatever odium might attend the transaction. Now, whereas a more simple and upright confession of faith is required of the sons of God, let none of us seek refuge under such pretexts: but rather let us learn to ask of the Lord the spirit of fortitude and constancy which shall direct us to bear our testimony to true religion. Yet if men allow us the free profession of religion, let us give thanks for it. Now, seeing that Joseph did not dare to move his foot, except by permission of the king, we infer hence, that he was bound by his splendid fortune, as by golden fetters. And truly, such is the condition of all who are advanced to honor and favor in royal courts; so that there is nothing better for men of sane mind, than to be content with a private condition. Joseph also mitigates the offense which he feared he was giving, by another circumstance, when he says, that the desire to be buried in the land of Canaan was not one which had recently entered into his father’s mind, because he had dug his grave there long before; whence it follows that he had not been induced to do so by any disgust taken against the land of Egypt.
6. And Pharaoh said. We have seen that Joseph adopts a middle course. For he was not willing utterly to fail in his duty; yet, by catching at a pretext founded on the command of his father, he did not conduct himself with sufficient firmness. It is possible that Pharaoh was inclined, by the modesty of his manner, more easily to assent to his requests. Yet this cowardice is not, on this account, so sanctioned that the sons of God are at liberty to indulge themselves in it: for if they intrepidly follow where duty calls, the Lord will give the issue which is desired, beyond all expectation. For, although, humanly speaking, Joseph’s bland submission succeeded prosperously, it is nevertheless certain that the proud mind of the king was influenced by God to concede thus benignantly what had been desired. It is also to be observed, what great respect for an oath prevailed among blind unbelievers. For, though Pharaoh himself had not sworn, he still deemed it unlawful for him to violate, by his own authority, the pledge given by another. But at this day, reverence for God has become so far extinct, that men commonly regard it as a mere trifle to deceive, on one side or another, under the name of God. But such unbridled license, which even Pharaoh himself denounces, shall not escape the judgment of God with impunity.
7. And Joseph went up. Moses gives a full account of the burial. What he relates concerning the renewed mourning of Joseph and his brethren, as well as of the Egyptians, ought by no means to be established as a rule among ourselves. For we know, that since our flesh has no self government, men commonly exceed bounds both in sorrowing and in rejoicing. The tumultuous glamour, which the inhabitants of the place admired, cannot be excused. And although Joseph had a right end in view, when he fixed the mourning to last through seven successive days, yet this excess was not free from blame. Nevertheless, it was not without reason that the Lord caused this funeral to be thus honorably celebrated: for it was of great consequence that a kind of sublime trophy should be raised, which might transmit to posterity the memory of Jacob’s faith. If he had been buried privately, and in a common manner, his fame would soon have been extinguished; but now, unless men willfully blind themselves, they have continually before their eyes a noble example, which may cherish the hope of the promised inheritance: they perceive, as it were, the standard of that deliverance erected, Which shall take place in the fullness of time. Wherefore, we are not here to consider the honor of the deceased so much as the benefit of the living. Even the Egyptians, not knowing what they do, bear a torch before the Israelites, to teach them to keep the course of their divine calling: the Canaanites do the same, when they distinguish the place by a new name; for hence it came to pass that the knowledge of the covenant of the Lord flourished afresh.220220 Calvin, in his criticism on Joseph’s conduct with reference to his father’s funeral, seems to bear hard upon the motives of the patriarch. As there is nothing in Joseph’s previous history which is derogatory either to his moral courage or his integrity, it is scarcely justifiable to impute a want of firmness and of straightforwardness to him on this occasion. Is not the concluding portion of Calvin’s remarks a sufficient answer to all that has gone before? And may we not conclude, that the whole of the circumstances of Jacob’s funeral were divinely ordered to perpetuate his memory? — Ed.
14. And Joseph returned. Although Joseph and the rest had left so many pledges in Egypt, that it would be necessary for them to return; it is yet probable that they were rather drawn back thither by the oracle of God. For God never permitted them to choose an abode at their own will; but as he had before led Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob in their journeying, so he held their sons shut up in the land of Goshen, as within barriers. And there is no doubt that the holy fathers left that oracle which we have in the fifteenth chapter and the thirteenth verse, Genesis 15:13 to their sons, to be kept in faithful custody as a precious treasure.221221
“And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years.”
They return, therefore, into Egypt, not only because they were compelled by present necessity, but because it was not lawful for them to shake off with the hand, the yoke which God had put upon their necks. But if the Lord does not hold all men bound by voluntary obedience to himself, he nevertheless holds their minds by his secret rein, that they may not withdraw themselves from his government; nor can we form any other conjecture than that they were restrained by his fear, so that even when admonished of the tyrannical oppression which was coming upon them, they did not attempt to make their escape. We know that their disposition was not so mild as to prevent them from rebelling against lighter burdens. Wherefore, on this point, a special sense of religious obligation subdued them, so that they prepared themselves quietly and silently to endure the hardest servitude.
15. And when, Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead. Moses here relates, that the sons of Jacob, after the death of their father, were apprehensive lest Joseph should take vengeance for the injury they had done him. And whence this fear, but because they form their judgment of him according to their own disposition? That they had found him so placable they do not attribute to true piety towards God, nor do they account it a special gift of the Spirit: but rather, they imagine that, out of respect to his father alone, he had hitherto been so far restrained, as barely to postpone his revenge. But, by such perverse judgment, they do a great injury to one who, by the liberality of his treatment, had borne them witness that his mind was free from all hatred and malevolence. Part of the injurious surmise reflected even upon God, whose special grace had shone forth in the moderation of Joseph. Hence, however, we gather, that guilty consciences are so disturbed by blind and unreasonable fears, that they stumble in broad day-light. Joseph had absolved his brethren from the crime they had committed against him; but they are so agitated by guilty compunctions, that they voluntarily become their own tormentors. And they have not themselves to thank, that they did not bring down upon themselves the very punishment which had been remitted; because the mind of Joseph might well have been wounded by their distrust. For, what could they mean by still malignantly suspecting him to whose compassion they had again and again owed their lives? Yet I do not doubt, that long ago they had repented of their wickedness, but, perhaps, because they had not yet been sufficiently purified, the Lord suffered them to be tortured with anxiety and trouble: first, to make them a proof to others, that an evil conscience is its own tormentor, and, then, to humble them under a renewed sense of their own guilt; for, when they regard themselves as obnoxious to their brother’s judgment, they cannot forget, unless they are worse than senseless, the celestial tribunal of God. What Solomon says, we see daily fulfilled, that the wicked flee when no man pursueth; (Proverbs 28:1;) but, in this way, God compels the fugitives to give up their account. They would desire, in their supine torpor, to deceive both God and men; and they bring upon their minds, as far as they are able, the callousness of obstinacy: in the mean time, whether they will or no, they are made to tremble at the sound of a falling leaf, lest their carnal security should obliterate their sense of the judgment of God. (Leviticus 26:36.) Nothing is more desirable than a tranquil mind. While God deprives the wicked of this singular benefit, which is desired by all, he invites us to cultivate integrity. But especially, seeing that the patriarchs, who were already affected with penitence for their wickedness, are yet thus severely awakened, a long time afterwards, let none of us yield to self-indulgence; but let each diligently examine himself, lest hypocrisy should inwardly cherish the secret stings of the wrath of God; and may that happy peace, which can find no place in a double heart, shine within our thoroughly purified breasts. For this due reward of their neglect remains for all those who do not draw nigh to God sincerely and with all their heart, that they are compelled to stand before the judgment-seat of mortal man. Wherefore, there is no other method which can free us from disquietude, but that of returning into favor with God. Whosoever shall despise this remedy, shall be afraid not only of man, but also of a shadow, or a breath of wind.
16. And they sent a messenger. Because they are ashamed themselves to speak, they engage messengers of peace, in whom Joseph might have greater confidence. But here also we perceive that they who have an accusing conscience are destitute of counsel and of reason. For if Jacob had been solicitous on this point, why did he not effect reconciliation between the son who was so obedient unto himself, and his brethren? Besides, for what reason should they attempt to do that through mediators, which they could do so much better in their own persons? The Lord, therefore, suffers them to act like children; that we, being instructed by their example, may look for no advantage from the use of frivolous inventions. But it may be asked, where the sons of Jacob found men to whom they could venture to commit such a message; for it was no light thing to make known their execrable crime to strangers? And it would have been folly to subject themselves to this infamy among the Egyptians. The most probable conjecture is, that some domestic witnesses were chosen from the number of their own servants; for though Moses makes no mention of such, when he relates that Jacob departed into Egypt; yet that some were brought with him, may easily be gathered from certain considerations.
17. Forgive, I pray thee now. They do not dissemble the fact that they had grievously sinned; and they are so far from extenuating their fault, that they freely heap up words in charging themselves with guilt. They do not, therefore, ask that pardon should be granted them as if the offense were light: but they place in opposition to the atrocity of their crime, first, the authority of their father, and then the sacred name of God. Their confession would have been worthy of commendation, had they proceeded directly, and without tortuous contrivances, to appease their brother. Now, since they have drawn from the fountain of piety the instruction that it is right for sin to be remitted to the servants of God; we may receive it as a common exhortation, that if we have been injured by the members of the Church, we must not be too rigid and immovable in pardoning the offense. This humanity indeed is generally enjoined upon us towards all men: but when the bond of religion is superadded, we are harder than iron, if we are not inclined to the exercise of compassion. And we must observe, that they expressly mention the God of Jacob: because the peculiar faith and worship by which they were distinguished from the rest of the nations, ought to unite them with each other in a closer bond: as if God, who had adopted that family, stood forth in the midst of them as engaged to produce reconciliation.
And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. It cannot be ascertained with certainty from the words of Moses, whether the brethren of Joseph were present, and were speaking, at the time he wept. Some interpreters imagine that a part was here acted designedly; so that when the mind of Joseph had been sounded by others, the brethren, soon afterwards, came in, during the discourse. I rather incline to a different opinion; namely, that, when he knew, from the messengers, that their minds were tormented, and they were troubling themselves in vain, he was moved with sympathy towards them. Then, having sent for them, he set them free from all care and fear; and their speech, when they themselves were deprecating his anger, drew forth his tears. Moreover, by thus affectionately weeping over the sorrow and anxiety of his brethren, he affords us a remarkable example of compassion. But if we have an arduous conflict with the impetuosity of an angry temper, or the obstinacy of a disposition to hatred, we must pray to the Lord for a spirit of meekness, the force of which manifests itself not less effectually, at this day, in the members of Christ, than formerly in Joseph.
19. Am I in the place of God? Some think that, in these words, he was rejecting the honor paid him: as if he would say, that it was unjustly offered to him, because it was due to God alone. But this interpretation is destitute of probability, since he often permitted himself to be addressed in this manner, and knew that the minds of his brethren were utterly averse to transfer the worship of God to mortal man. And I equally disapprove another meaning given to the passage, which makes Joseph refuse to exact punishment, because he is not God: for he does not restrain himself from retaliating the injury, in the hope that God will prove his avenger. Others adduce a third signification; namely, that the whole affair was conducted by the counsel of God, and not by his own: which though I do not entirely reject, because it approaches the truth, yet I do not embrace the interpretation as true. For the word תחת(tachat) sometimes signifies instead of, sometimes it means subjection. Therefore if the note of interrogation were not in the way, it might well be rendered, “Because I am under God;” and then the sense would be, “Fear not, for I am under God;” so that Joseph would teach them, that because he is subject to the authority of God, it is not his business to lead the way, but to follow. But, whereas ה(he,) the note of interrogation, is prefixed to the word, it cannot be otherwise expounded than to mean that it would be wrong for him, a mortal man, to presume to thwart the counsel of God. But as to the sum of the matter, there is no ambiguity. For seeing that Joseph considers the design of divine providence, he restrains his feelings as with a bridle, lest they should carry him to excess. He was indeed of a mild and humane disposition; but nothing is better or more suitable to assuage his anger, than to submit himself to be governed by God. When, therefore, the desire of revenge urges us, let all our feelings be subjected to the same authority. Moreover, since he desires his brethren to be tranquil and secure, from the consideration, that he, ascribing due honor to God, willingly submits to obey the Divine command; let us learn, hence, that it is most to our advantage to deal with men of moderation, who set God before them as their leader, and who not only submit to his will, but also cheerfully obey him. For if any one is impotently carried away by the lust of the flesh, we must fear a thousand deaths from him, unless God should forcibly break his fury. Now as it is the one remedy for assuaging our anger, to acknowledge what we ourselves are, and what right God has over us; so, on the other hand, when this thought has taken full possession of our minds, there is no ardor, however furious, which it will not suffice to mitigate.
20. Ye thought evil against me. Joseph well considers (as we have said) the providence of God; so that he imposes it on himself as a compulsory law, not only to grant pardon, but also to exercise beneficence. And although we have treated at large on this subject, in Genesis 45:1, yet it will be useful also to repeat something on it now. In the first place, we must notice this difference in his language: for whereas, in the former passage, Joseph, desiring to soothe the grief, and to alleviate the fear of his brethren, would cover their wickedness by every means which ingenuity could suggest; he now corrects them a little more openly and freely; perhaps because he is offended with their disingenousness. Yet he holds to the same principle as before. Seeing that, by the secret counsel of God, he was led into Egypt, for the purpose of preserving the life of his brethren, he must devote himself to this object, lest he should resist God. He says, in fact, by his action, “Since God has deposited your life with me, I should be engaged in war against him, if I were not to be the faithful dispenser of the grace which he had committed to my hands.” Meanwhile, he skillfully distinguishes between the wicked counsels of men, and the admirable justice of God, by so ascribing the government of all things to God, as to preserve the divine administration free from contracting any stain from the vices of men. The selling of Joseph was a crime detestable for its cruelty and perfidy; yet he was not sold except by the decree of heaven. For neither did God merely remain at rest, and by conniving for a time, let loose the reins of human malice, in order that afterwards he might make use of this occasion; but, at his own will, he appointed the order of acting which he intended to be fixed and certain. Thus we may say with truth and propriety, that Joseph was sold by the wicked consent of his brethren, and by the secret providence of God. Yet it was not a work common to both, in such a sense that God sanctioned anything connected with or relating to their wicked cupidity: because while they are contriving the destruction of their brother, God is effecting their deliverance from on high. Whence also we conclude, that there are various methods of governing the world. This truly must be generally agreed, that nothing is done without his will; because he both governs the counsels of men, and sways their wills and turns their efforts at his pleasure, and regulates all events: but if men undertake anything right and just, he so actuates and moves them inwardly by his Spirit, that whatever is good in them, may justly be said to be received from him: but if Satan and ungodly men rage, he acts by their hands in such an inexpressible manner, that the wickedness of the deed belongs to them, and the blame of it is imputed to them. For they are not induced to sin, as the faithful are to act aright, by the impulse of the Spirit, but they are the authors of their own evil, and follow Satan as their leader. Thus we see that the justice of God shines brightly in the midst of the darkness of our iniquity. For as God is never without a just cause for his actions, so men are held in the chains of guilt by their own perverse will. When we hear that God frustrates the wicked expectations, and the injurious desires of men, we derive hence no common consolation. Let the impious busy themselves as they please, let them rage, let them mingle heaven and earth; yet they shall gain nothing by their ardor; and not only shall their impetuosity prove ineffectual, but shall be turned to an issue the reverse of that which they intended, so that they shall promote our salvation, though they do it reluctantly. So that whatever poison Satan produces, God turns it into medicine for his elect. And although in this place God is said to have “meant it unto good,” because contrary to expectation, he had educed a joyful issue out of beginnings fraught with death: yet, with perfect rectitude and justice, he turns the food of reprobates into poison, their light into darkness, their table into a snare, and, in short, their life into death. If human minds cannot reach these depths, let them rather suppliantly adore the mysteries they do not comprehend, than, as vessels of clay, proudly exalt themselves against their Maker.
To save much people alive. Joseph renders his office subservient to the design of God’s providence; and this sobriety is always to be cultivated, that every one may behold, by faith, God from on high holding the helm of the government of the world, and may keep himself within the bounds of his vocation; and even, being admonished by the secret judgments of God, may descend into himself, and exhort himself to the discharge of his duty: and if the reason of this does not immediately appear, we must still take care that we do not fly in confused and erratic circuits, as fanatical men are wont to do. What Joseph says respecting his being divinely chosen “to save much people alive,” some extend to the Egyptians. Without condemning such an extension, I would rather restrict the application of the words to the family of Jacob; for Joseph amplifies the goodness of God by this circumstance, that the seed of the Church would be rescued from destruction by his labor. And truly, from these few men, whose seed would otherwise have been extinct before their descendants had been multiplied, that vast multitude sprang into being, which God soon afterwards raised up.
21. I will nourish you. It was a token of a solid and not a feigned reconciliation, not only to abstain from malice and injury, but also to “overcome evil with good,” as Paul teaches, (Romans 12:21:) and truly, he who fails in his duty, when he possesses the power of giving help, and when the occasion demands his assistance, shows, by this very course, that he is not forgetful of injury. This requires to be the more diligently observed, because, commonly, the greater part weakly conclude that they forgive offenses if they do not retaliate them; as if indeed we were not taking revenge when we withdraw our hands from giving help. You would assist your brother if you thought him worthy: he implores your aid in necessity; you desert him because he has done you some unkindness; what hinders you from helping him but hatred? Therefore, we shall then only prove our minds to be free from malevolence, when we follow with kindness those enemies by whom we have been ill treated. Joseph is said to have spoken “to the heart of his brethren,” because, by addressing them with suavity and kindness, he removed all their scruples; as we have before seen, that Shechem spoke to the heart of Dinah, when he attempted to console her with allurements, in order that, forgetting the dishonor he had done her, she might consent to marry him.
22. And Joseph dwelt in Egypt. It is not without reason that Moses relates how long Joseph lived, because the length of the time shows the more clearly his unfailing constancy: for although he is raised to great honor and power among she Egyptians, he still is closely united with his father’s house. Hence it is easy to conjecture, that he gradually took his leave of the treasures of the court, because he thought there was nothing better for him to do than to hold them in contempt, lest earthly dignity should separate him from the kingdom of God. He had before spurned all the allurements which might have occupied his mind in Egypt: he now counts it necessary to proceed further, that, laying aside his honor, he may descend to an ignoble condition, and wean his own sons from the hope of succeeding to his worldly rank. We know how anxiously others labor, both that they themselves may not be reduced in circumstances, and that they may leave their fortune entire to their posterity: but Joseph, during sixty years, employed all his efforts to bring himself and his children into a state of submission, lest his earthly greatness should alienate them from the little flock of the Lord. In short, he imitated the serpents, who cast off their exuviae, that, being stripped of their old age, they may gather new strength. He sees the children of his own grandchildren; why does not his solicitude to provide for them increase, as his children increase? Yet he has so little regard for worldly rank or opulence, that he would rather see them devoted to a pastoral life, and be despised by the Egyptians, if only they might be reckoned in the family of Israel. Besides, in a numerous offspring during his own life, the Lord afforded him some taste of his benediction, from which he might conceive the hope of future deliverance: for, among so many temptations, it was necessary for him to be encouraged and sustained, lest he should sink under them.
24. And Joseph said unto his brethren. It is uncertain whether Joseph died the first or the last of the brethren, or whether a part of them survived him. Here indeed Moses includes, under the name of brethren, not only those who were really so, but other relations. I think, however, that certain of the chiefs of each family were called at his command, from whom the whole of the people might receive information: and although it is probable that the other patriarchs also gave the same command respecting themselves, since the bones of them all were, in like manner, conveyed into the land of Canaan; yet special mention is made of Joseph alone, for two reasons. First, since the eyes of them all were fixed upon him, on account of his high authority, it was his duty to lead their way, and cautiously to beware lest the splendor of his dignity should cast a stumbling block before any of them. Secondly, it was of great consequence, as an example, that it should be known to all the people, that he who held the second place in the kingdom of Egypt, regardless of so great an honor, was contented with his own coalition, which was only that of the heir of a bare promise.
I die. This expression has the force of a command to his brethren to be of good courage after his death, because the truth of God is immortal; for he does not wish them to depend upon his life or that of another man, so as to cause them to prescribe a limit to the power of God; but he would have them patiently to rest till the suitable time should arrive. But whence had he this great certainty, that he should be a witness and a surety of future redemption, except from his having been so taught by his father? For we do not read that God had appeared unto him, or that an oracle had been brought to him by an angel from heaven; but because he was certainly persuaded that Jacob was a divinely appointed teacher and prophet, who should transmit to his sons the covenant of salvation deposited with him; Joseph relies upon his testimony not less securely than if some vision had been presented to him, or he had seen angels descending to him from heaven: for unless the hearing of the word is sufficient for our faith, we deserve not that God, whom we then defraud of his honor, should condescend to deal with us: not that faith relies on human authority, but because it hears God speaking through the mouth of men, and by their external voice is drawn upwards; for what God pronounces through men, he seals on our hearts by his Spirit. Thus faith is built on no other foundation than God himself; and yet the preaching of men is not wanting in its claim of authority and reverence. This restraint is put upon the rash curiosity of those men, who, eagerly desiring visions, despise the ordinary ministry of the Church; as if it were absurd that God, who formerly showed himself to the fathers out of heaven, should send forth his voice out of the earth. But if they would reflect how gloriously he once descended to us in the person of his only-begotten Son, they would not so importunately desire that heaven should daily be opened unto them. But, not to insist upon these things; when the brethren saw that Joseph, — who in this respect was inferior to his fathers, as having been partaker of no oracle, — had been imbued by them with the doctrine of piety, so that he contended with a faith similar to theirs; they would at once be most ungrateful and malignant, if they rejected the participation of his grace.
25. God will surely visit you. By these words he intimates that they would be buried as in oblivion, so long as they remained in Egypt: and truly that exile was as if God had turned his back on them for a season. Nevertheless, Joseph does not cease to fix the eyes of his mind on God; as it is written in the Prophet,
“I will wait upon the Lord that hideth his face
from the house of Jacob.” (Isaiah 8:17.)
This passage also clearly teaches what was the design of this anxious choice of his sepulcher, namely, that it might be a seal of redemption: for after he has asserted that God was faithful, and would, in his own time, grant what he had promised, he immediately adjures his brethren to carry away his bones. These were useful relics, the sight of which plainly signified that, by the death of men, the eternal covenant in which Joseph commands his posterity safely to rest, had by no means become extinct; for he deems it sufficient to adduce the oath of God, to remove all their doubts respecting their deliverance.
End of the Commentaries on the first book of Moses called Genesis.