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13. Jacob’s Burial ( 50:1-13)

The story of Jacob’s burial is told in a rather detailed fashion, more so than is any other burial except Sarah’s in the book of Genesis (chapter 23), because it gives a fine example of faith on the part of the patriarchs. Jacob desired burial in the land of promise, thereby testifying to his faith in the promise. His sons did not treat the father’s request as an unimportant whim but executed it with fine conscientiousness. Besides, the entire material of the chapter is an excellent preparation for the book of Exodus. The sons of Israel had come down into Egypt at the behest of divine providence. They purposed to stay no longer than that same providence ordained. Jacob’s burial testifies that their thoughts and their hopes lay in Canaan. Joseph’s dying injunction points in the same direction.

1-3. And Joseph fell upon his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph gave charge to servants of his, who were physicians, to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel, being occupied in the task a full forty days; for so many are the days used in embalming. And the Egyptians made mourning for him seventy days.

No doubt the other sons were also present at their father’s death, not only Joseph. The closing verses of the last chapter indicate this. They, too, grieved greatly to lose their father; but Joseph’s grief is especially mentioned, because he had all his days stood closer to his father than the other sons, Consequently 2.1205his pain was greater. We must remember, too, that the very close relationship existing between Joseph and his father has stood in the forefront of the narrative especially since Jacob’s coming to Egypt. For that matter, there was also the promise of 46:4 that Joseph would be at hand to close his father’s eyes in death. The fulfilment of that promise deserved to be recorded. First of all "Joseph fell upon his father’s face," ’al peney ‘abhîw, a phrase reminding us of 23:3, where Abraham is said to have arisen after Sarah’s death from ’al peney Sarah. Natural grief usually finds an outlet in tears; so "he wept over him." A last token of the close affection that existed between the two was the parting kiss bestowed upon the dead lips. Enough is reported to indicate the depth and the sincerity of Joseph’s grief. But the manly grief of God’s saints has a certain restraint, for even in the Old Testament there was the sure hope of life eternal.

2. It might have been misunderstood if we had translated literally, "he gave a charge to his servants, the physicians," as though all his servants were physicians. So we have rendered: "to servants of his who were physicians." No doubt, the eminence of Joseph’s position called for a very great retinue. Even a special group of physicians was detailed to watch over his health. These seem to have been particularly adapted to such a task as embalming the dead, perhaps even more so than the professional embalmers. The process of embalming, described already in some detail by Herodotus, involved the removal of the brain through the nose by a hooked instrument as well as the removal of the entrails through an incision in the side made with a sharp stone knife. The entrails were placed in a jar. The cranial cavity was filled with spices, likewise the abdominal cavity; but it as well as the entire body were thoroughly 2.1206treated with saltpetre for seven days. Afterward the whole body was washed with a palm wine. Then it was daubed with pitch or gums, swathed in many folds of white cloth and laid away in its mummy case. Jacob and Joseph are the only two Israelites of whom the Scriptures tell that they were "embalmed," chanat, a verb having close Arabic and Ethiopic parallels and meaning first to "ripen" then to "embalm." In the case of these two Israelites this distinctly Egyptian type of preparation for burial was resorted to in order to make it feasible to transport the mummified remains to Canaan.

3. By way of explanation for later generations Moses relates how much time the entire process entailed. First he tells of their "being occupied with the task a full forty days." The Hebrew idiom is a bit different. It says: "And they made full for him forty days, for thus they fulfil the days of embalming." But the entire mourning extended over a period of "seventy days," including, of course, the forty days during which the embalming took place. Other writers of antiquity assign a period of seventy-two days to the entire process, though that may have been a custom prevalent in another place. The two statements can for all practical purposes be said to agree. But if "Egyptians" (Hebrew: mitsráyim —"Egypt") mourn, that is an indication in what high esteem he was held, both as a prince in his own right as well as the father of Joseph. Luther remarks that there is no burial recorded in the Scriptures quite as honorable as this or with such wealth of detail. The imperfect yimle’û expresses the thing that is customary (G. K. 107 g).

4-6. When the days of weeping for him were passed, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh and said: if now I have found favour in your eyes, speak, pray, in the hearing of Pharaoh and say: 2.1207My father exacted an oath of me, saying: Behold, I am to die; in my grave which I digged for myself in the land of Canaan, there bury me. And let me go up, pray, and let me bury my father; thereafter I shall return. And Pharaoh said: Go up and bury thy father as thou art bound by oath to do.

Joseph asks the "household" (literally—"house," báyith) to present his request to Pharaoh. The reason for this roundabout mode of procedure is not the fact that Joseph was not presentable at court as a mourner, unwashed and unshaven. For we note that he preferred his request to Pharaoh’s household "when the days of weeping for him (Jacob) were passed." It would have been a simple matter to wash and to shave and then to go to Pharaoh. Perhaps, then, some defilement according to the Egyptian conception of death and of mourners may have stood in the way. But more suggestive is the explanation which says that this was a wise tactical move on Joseph’s part to allay suspicion as to Joseph’s perhaps trying to leave Egypt now that his father was dead. In any case, they who had sponsored such a request at court could hardly be the authors of some suspicion concerning Joseph’s purpose. If this explanation be correct, Joseph would have given just one more proof of unusual wisdom in dealing with men. Less to the point is the explanation which works on the supposition that Joseph must have been in disfavour at court just at this time. We also reject the opinion which says that Joseph was careful not to prefer any request in matters pertaining to himself. For he should hardly have hesitated to ask a favour that pertained more to his father than to himself. "If now I have found favour" is an expression of fine courtesy commonly met with in Genesis and not the property of the author of some one source (like J).

2.12085. The preference of the Hebrew for direct quotation appears in this verse—a quotation within a quotation within a quotation. A strong point to win his request for him is that the dying man had "exacted an oath" of him (Hebrew: "he caused me to swear"). Nor was this oath a rash one, for the man Jacob had made preparations for burial during his lifetime, for he had digged his grave in the land of Canaan. It is unwarranted to claim about v. 5 that "on any view, the contradiction to 47:30 remains." What if it was the burying place of the fathers? If they did acquire it, did they dig out of its sides as many separate tombs as the next generations needed? Most probably each man during his lifetime made provisions for himself and his family. So Abraham bought the cave and digged his grave and Sarah’s. Isaac digged his and Rebekah’s. Jacob digged his and Leah’s. So the statements of Scripture are in perfect harmony. It is a reprehensible thing continually to speak of contradictions in Sacred Writ, where a bit of patience could soon have discerned the underlying harmony. Karîthî means "digged" and not "bought." The request is to be presented last, "Let me go up, pray, and let me bury my father." Hardly anybody could deny so proper a request. To set all minds at ease about his purpose Joseph adds the promise, "thereafter I shall return." All the three imperfects used here have the "ah hortative" added (jaqtul elevatum), a common form with the first person imperfect. The words of the oath are here not introduced by the customary ’im or îm lo’ but by le’mor "saying" (K. S. 391 f).

6. Pharaoh graciously gives his royal permission. "Go up" (’alah) here as in v. 5 is naturally used because the mountains of Palestine lie higher than the land of Egypt. On the whole question of Joseph’s asking permission to go and bury his father 2.1209there is one more consideration that carries weight. So important a man as Joseph, ranking second only to the reigning Pharaoh, had to guard himself lest he create the impression that he no longer needed to consult his king. All important steps that could be construed as undue self-assertion had to be covered by a very clear, royal pronouncement. Joseph knew his place also in this respect.

7-10. So Joseph went up to bury his father; and there went up with him all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt; also Joseph’s entire household and his brethren and his father’s household. Only their little children and their flocks and their cattle did they leave behind in the land of Goshen. There also went up with him both chariots as well as horsemen. Their company was a very considerable one. And they came to Goren Atad which is across the Jordan, and there they lamented with great and very heavy lamentation; and he made a seven-day mourning for his father.

One would hardly have expected so numerous a funeral cortege. Several classes felt it incumbent upon them to grace the occasion. The monuments indicate that the Egyptians dearly loved imposing and elaborate funeral processions. Joseph’s position in itself was so influential that these persons who attended were in duty and in courtesy bound to do so. They comprised the following classes: "All the servants of Pharaoh" (’abhadhim here cannot mean "slaves"; all chief courtiers must be meant); "the elders of his household" — a staff of officers who were Pharaoh’s personal attendants; "all the elders of the land of Egypt" —all who held positions of any consequence as leaders. Besides there was "Joseph’s own household" 2.1210— a considerable number apparently—also "his brethren" and lastly "his father’s household." One can only venture to suppose how many hundreds made up this entire retinue. The only ones of Israel left behind were those that were unable to bear the rigors of such a trip —"their little children," "flocks and herds." Since Goshen was practically their own, they could with safety leave these behind in that land.

9. Such a caravan required food and protection. So there went along with it "chariots and horsemen." Somehow the noun rékhebh is usually a collective singular, whereas parashim (with long "a" in the antepenult) is not governed by such usage. Perhaps "wagons" for rékhebh would be the better rendering. Then "wagons" would have carried the provisions, and the "horsemen" would have constituted the military protection. With good reason the narrator summarizes, "their company machaneh —originally "camp," then also "army" or "company" was a very considerable one." The correlative of v. 9 a is the more uncommon gamgam for "both—and," (K. S. 376 b).

10. The place where this funeral train came to a standstill was "Goren Atad." Now góren is a "threshing floor," and ’atadh signifies "bramble or buckthorn." Yet the latter may also have come to be the name of a person. In case it is not, then the "bramble" will have to be regarded as the type of hedge that perhaps enclosed the threshing floor. For the threshing floors were level spaces preferably on hilltops and situated outside of villages, and naturally were not roofed over. This one is located as "across the Jordan." Because of v. 13, which asserts that Jacob’s sons carried their father "into the land of Canaan," we are practically compelled to place Goren Atad on the east bank of the Jordan. For the expression be’ébher hayyarden, "across the Jordan," may signify either side depending on the speaker’s 2.1211standpoint. Here, however, it cannot be urged that the writer must have resided or written in Canaan, because the writer, Moses, may just as well have written this in the land of Egypt, or, what is equally valid, his mental point of view may have been Egypt, the starting point of the caravan. Then the course taken by this long funeral train would have been more to the south than the usual route along the Mediterranean, then past the land of Philistaea, then over toward Hebron. Yet this would not have necessitated a route as far south as that taken later by the Israelites of the Exodus. The reason for this more southerly course may have been the antagonism of certain nations or groups along the northern route. Then, of course, the route will have curved around the southern end of the Dead Sea up to a place like the Plains of Moab (Num. 22:1). A few writers from Jerome to this day contend that "across the Jordan" must mean the west side, assuming that Moses wrote Genesis while Israel was encamped in the plains of Moab, or else supporting what seems the wrong location of Goren Atad. The Egyptian custom of those days apparently required an additional seven days’ lamentation near or at the point of burial. Oriental custom required to make such a lamentation quite demonstrative—"very heavy." Apparently, Joseph himself made the arrangements required. The Israelites are never known to have indulged their grief so profusely. For Moses they mourned but thirty days (Deut. 34:8); also for Aaron (Num. 20:29).

11-14. And the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, beheld the mourning in Goren Atad and they said: Heavy mourning (’e’bhel) is this for the Egyptians. Therefore they called its name meadow (’abhel) of the Egyptians, which is across the Jordan. And his sons did for him even as he had ordered them. And his sons bore him to the land 2.1212of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Macpelah, which field Abraham bought for a burial place of his own possession from Ephron, the Hittite, over against Mamre. Then Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brethren and all who had gone up with him to bury his father, after the burial of his father.

So unusual was the display of mourning on the part of an assembly largely Egyptian, perhaps by this time entirely Egyptian as to appearance, that the natives who witnessed it, called "the inhabitants (yoshebh —singular collective) of the land" and "the Canaanites," the general name for all who dwelt in those parts, remarked about it, calling it a "heavy mourning." ’Ebhel signifies "mourning"; mispedh signifies "lamentation," the public and usually vocal display of the inner mourning, assuming rather extravagant forms in oriental countries, at least if judged by our standards. Therefore the thing that the Canaanites noticed was that the inner grief really appeared to be heavy. As a result of this observation they gave a name to the meadow on which this Egyptian assembly encamped for at least a week, calling it "the meadow of the Egyptians." This name involved a slight play on words that we cannot reproduce but which made this new name suggestive. "Mourning" is ’ébhel;" meadow" is ’abhel. Naturally the latter term suggested the former. This explanation follows the pointing of the Hebrew text which appears to us to follow a very reliable tradition. Because even though the two words have the same consonants in the unprinted original text, it is yet far more likely that a place will be called a "meadow" rather than a mourning, even though some renderings obliterate this distinction. The Septuagint renders ’abhel as penuov = ’ébhel; Luther says der Aegypter Klage.

2.121312. After this notable display was ended, Jacob’s sons become the chief actors in the scene. They take in hand very properly the more intimate part of the burial service, the actual laying of the patriarch in his last resting place. Whether the Egyptians stayed behind or followed along as persons of secondary importance is of so little moment to the writer that he says nothing about them. The part of the sons must be mentioned because their father had laid a strict charge upon them and the author wishes to describe them as dutiful sons. They personally "bore him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Macpelah." Then follows a description of the field and an account of the manner of its purchase agreeing almost verbatim with the charge given by the dying Jacob (49:29, 30). That, then, is another way of stating the fact that his behest was carried out to the very letter. Critics cannot believe Moses capable of using such flexibility of style, involving a formal repetition, so they assign these two verses (50:12, 13) to P, who is supposed to have written all things that savour of formal statement. Then to bolster up their contention more firmly they claim that these two verses also fail to agree with the rest of the account, for the preceding verses, it is claimed, make the Egyptians the chief actors, whereas these two put Jacob’s sons in the forefront, as if both could not be true and in perfect harmony with one another. J is said to have written the rest of v. 50:1-14.

14. To leave no doubt in any man’s mind whether Joseph actually returned to Egypt as he had promised (v. 5) the writer informs us of his own return as well as of that of his brethren and of that of all the rest who "had gone" (ha’olîm —participle referring to past time as 43:18) up with him. As the group was a unit in its going up, so it apparently 2.1214continued as a unit in its return, a still further testimony to the honored memory of Jacob; for out of courtesy to Joseph and to Jacob’s memory they did not scatter on the homeward way.

15-17. When the brethren of Joseph realized that their father was dead they said: What if Joseph should turn against us and should actually pay back all the evil which we did him! So they sent a message unto Joseph saying: Thy father gave a commandment before his death, saying: Thus shall ye say to Joseph: Pray, do forgive the crime of thy brethren and their sin, for they have done thee wrong. And now do forgive the crime of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept at the message that they sent to him.

The Hebrew says "they saw" that their father was dead. This here means they "realized" it and began to see that the restraining influence that the father may have exercised upon Joseph was now at an end. They all seem to feel about the same, except perhaps Benjamin, who naturally was excluded; for they express but one sentiment—apprehension: "What if ( introducing a conditional clause, more vivid) Joseph should turn against us (shatam —"antagonize") and should actually pay back (verb with an absolute infinitive) all the evil which we did him". The apodosis is not stated—aposiopesis. This silence makes their apprehension appear all the more vivid: there was no end of possibilities that their excited imagination conjured up before them. So they "sent a message" —tsiwwah means this in the Piel—to Joseph, perhaps through the person who would meet with the favour of both parties— Benjamin.

17. The best aid to the understanding of the entire situation is to use the approach set forth with greatest emphasis by Luther, who pictures graphically 2.1215the message that they sent to him" —literally, "at their speaking to him"; but above we noted that they spoke through a messenger. There is a measure of mistrust revealed by the brethren. But it was ungrounded. Joseph’s forgiveness had been without condition or proviso. To have sincere motives questioned is painful.

18-21. Then came the brethren themselves and fell down before him and said: Here we are ready to be thy slaves. And Joseph said to them: Do not be afraid; for am I in God’s place? Ye on your part did devise evil against me. God devised it for good, in order that he might do as has this day actually happened, namely keep alive a great multitude. And now do not be afraid. I myself will provide for you and for your little ones. So he consoled them and spoke comforting words.

Their sorrow is so genuine and their repentance so genuine that these brethren come on the heels of their messenger and offer themselves to Joseph as his slaves. Their words run thus, "Behold us to thee for slaves." That must mean, "Here we are ready to be thy slaves." Joseph seems to understand by this time why his father had ordered his brethren to take this step and reassures them very effectually. His way of doing it is to point primarily to a rare token of divine providence which was immediately before their eyes: God had used their evil deed and turned it for good. All that so openly declares that God has the case in hand that Joseph may well ask, What could I do to interfere with God’s plans even if I desired to do so? This is the meaning of the question, "Am I in God’s place?" Delitzsch has very correctly pointed out that the same thought is found in 30:2, where it means: have I the power to interfere in God’s doings? Here, however, its meaning is: have I the right to do so? Joseph explains 2.1217this by saying that the proof of God’s control of the situation lies in the fact that where they on their part did devise evil against him, God devised it for good—a remarkable example of God’s concurrence, overriding the evil consequence of the wicked deed to bring about results remarkably blessed. For on God’s part it was all planned in order "to keep alive a great multitude" — a result which is clearly in evidence. For the expression "as of this day" means as it "has this day actually happened" (cf. K. S. 402 u). It surely is one of the most astounding examples of God’s control of all things to see a group like Israel’s descendants and household preserved in famine as an indirect result of the treachery of men who thought only in terms of bloody vengeance.

A second time Joseph reassures his brethren, "do not be afraid," and promises to use his best endeavours in providing for them and their little ones. This does not imply that the famine was still in progress. But it does suggest that as strangers in Egypt, Jacob’s sons could well use an influential person like Joseph to guard their interests and represent fair play. To this Joseph adds words calculated to comfort and reassure them, and he "spoke comforting words," for which the expressive Hebrew says: "he spoke to their hearts."

22, 23. And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s household and he lived a hundred and ten years. And he saw in reference to Ephraim children of the third generation. Also the children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born upon Joseph’s knees.

Joseph’s story is briefly concluded. So important a character cannot be dismissed without some report as to how his life ended. He "dwelt" —we would prefer to say "lived" —in Egypt all his days. All involved understood from chapter 15 that the time 2.1218involved in their stay in Egypt was not yet concluded. So did also the rest of his father’s household continue to reside there. The age to which Joseph attained shows still more clearly how the span of human life was slowly shortening—Isaac 180, Jacob 147, Joseph 110. During these years Joseph enjoyed the blessing of seeing three generations after him develop and expand in normal growth. For the expression "children of the third generation" (beney shilleshîm) means grandchildren, for in the expression "third generation" the original father, here Joseph, is counted along. K. W. rightly contends that Exod. 20:5; Deut. 5:9 settle the case; for if there shilleshîm meant great-grandchildren, then these two passages would strangely have omitted the grandchildren. In Manasseh’s line the same development occurred during Joseph’s lifetime, with the exception that it appeared only in the line of Machir. The expression "were born upon Joseph’s knees" is without a sufficient number of parallels to allow us to decide exactly what it means. 48:12 does not belong here. The only other occurrence of the expression is 30:3. There are two possibilities. Either these words describe some rite of adoption, a meaning suitable in 30:3 but not in our passage. Or else they are a concise way of expressing the double thought that Joseph lived till they were born and he on his part was able to take them upon his knees. This appeals to us as the more reasonable.

Genesis 50:24-26

24-26. And Joseph said to his brethren: I am about to die, but God will most assuredly visit you and bring you up from this land to the land which he promised by oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph imposed an oath upon the children of Israel saying: When God does finally visit you, then ye shall bring up my bones from here. And Joseph died at the age of one hundred and 2.1219ten years, and they embalmed him and put him in a mummy case in Egypt.

When Joseph felt his end approach, he spoke these last words and made this last provision. The participle meth describes an act which takes its beginning in the present and runs on into the future (K. S. 237 d). The pronoun "I" (’anokhî) is emphatic by the contrast involved: "I die, but God will visit." The statement implies that during Joseph’s lifetime Israel’s sons derived much comfort from the fact that Joseph sponsored their best interests. Now he, indeed, must die. Joseph emphasizes that they will have a Greater than himself to provide for them. In giving assurance of positive divine deliverance Joseph is not uttering a prediction which came to him by divine revelation. He is merely perpetuating a truth revealed already in Abraham’s time (15:16), a truth of which Israel will stand in need more and more as the stay in Egypt grows protracted. "Assuredly visit" is expressed by the strong construction of a verb reinforced by an absolute infinitive. God’s promise to the patriarchs justly looms up as of fundamental importance from these times onward especially. So much for the momentous word of encouragement from the lips of the dying Joseph.

25. In addition he has a solemn word of request to make, to which he binds the Israelites by oath, namely that they are ultimately to bring his bones up to the land of promise, that is to say at the time when they are themselves brought up by God, an act here again rightly described as a "visiting" (paqodh), a term descriptive of every act of divine intervention in the lives of men. Joseph does not expect his brethren to execute this commission at once. The circumstances are so different at his death from what they were when Jacob died. Then an immediate granting of the request was feasible because of 2.1220Joseph’s influential position. After Joseph’s death there was no man of Israel influential enough to make the needed arrangements. It would be misconstruing Joseph’s purpose to regard the oath imposed as little more than an act designed for the gratification of a cherished hope. By laying it upon his people he gave eloquent testimony to his faith in God’s promises, and by leaving his body in their midst he gave them a continual reminder of that gracious promise.

26. The initial step in the keeping of that promise is recorded. When Joseph dies—the age being repeated in the more solemn style of narrative, as is common in epic poetry also—they embalm him and put him into an ’arôn, a word whose primary significance is "box," used also of the ark of the covenant. Here the term might mean: "coffin," but the type of box or coffin used for mummies is the familiar painted wooden "mummy case."

With this close, which eloquently calls for the continuation provided by Exodus, Genesis comes to a conclusion, which betrays that it, like the others of the five books of Moses, from the very outset constituted a finished literary product designed to be complete in itself but also to be an integral part of a greater work.


May one not use v. 1-14 as a text suggesting what the Christian or Biblical concept of burial is? The display connected with Jacob’s burial, the pomp and the ceremony, emanated from the heathen Egyptians. For believers true grief, honest lamentation, proper entombment all have a place. Even in the death of a saint of God his faith may be commemorated. Or he himself may make provision that in some natural way or other he may testify as to his faith. Then v. 15-21 furnish an illustration of what is involved in displaying a forgiving spirit. Or in an effort to touch upon both sides of the question one might treat the general theme "True Reconciliation."

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