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50. Death of Jacob and Joseph

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. 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.

15And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him. 16And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, 17So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. 18And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. 19And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. 21Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

22And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father’s house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years. 23And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph’s knees. 24And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 25And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. 26So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put 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.


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