Joseph Series: Facing Death Properly (Gen 49:28-50:26)

June 7, 2019

 

Facing Death Properly

 

These are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He gave each of them an appropriate blessing. Then he instructed them, “I am about to go to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite. It is the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought for a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite. There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah; there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah; and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were acquired from the sons of Heth.” When Jacob finished giving these instructions to his sons, he pulled his feet up onto the bed, breathed his last breath, and went to his people. Then Joseph hugged his father’s face. He wept over him and kissed him. Joseph instructed the physicians in his service to embalm his father, so the physicians embalmed Israel. They took forty days, for that is the full time needed for embalming. The Egyptians mourned for him seventy days. When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s royal court, “If I have found favor in your sight, please say to Pharaoh, ‘My father made me swear an oath. He said, “I am about to die. Bury me in my tomb that I dug for myself there in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go and bury my father; then I will return.’ ” So Pharaoh said, “Go and bury your father, just as he made you swear to do.” So Joseph went up to bury his father; all Pharaoh’s officials went with him—the senior courtiers of his household, all the senior officials of the land of Egypt, all Joseph’s household, his brothers, and his father’s household. But they left their little children and their flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him, so it was a very large entourage. When they came to the threshing floor of Atad on the other side of the Jordan, they mourned there with very great and bitter sorrow. There Joseph observed a seven day period of mourning for his father. When the Canaanites who lived in the land saw them mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a very sad occasion for the Egyptians.” That is why its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan. So the sons of Jacob did for him just as he had instructed them. His sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, near Mamre. This is the field Abraham purchased as a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite. After he buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, along with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to bury his father. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge and wants to repay us in full for all the harm we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave these instructions before he died: ‘Tell Joseph this: Please forgive the sin of your brothers and the wrong they did when they treated you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sin of the servants of the God of your father.” When this message was reported to him, Joseph wept. Then his brothers also came and threw themselves down before him; they said, “Here we are; we are your slaves.” But Joseph answered them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. So now, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.” Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them. Joseph lived in Egypt, along with his father’s family. Joseph lived 110 years. Joseph saw the descendants of Ephraim to the third generation. He also saw the children of Makir the son of Manasseh; they were given special inheritance rights by Joseph. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He said, “God will surely come to you. Then you must carry my bones up from this place.” So Joseph died at the age of 110. After they embalmed him, his body was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Gen 49:28-50:26

 

 

How should we face death properly—in faith?

 

As much as people would like to avoid the reality of death, death is unavoidable. God promised Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden tree, they would surely die (Gen 2:17). And since they disobeyed God, death has continued from generation to generation. Often the hardest chapters to read in the Bible are genealogies. Not only do they commonly detail the lineage of Christ, but they also confirm God’s words to Adam and Eve (Gen 3:19). So and so lived, and then died. So and so lived, and then died. Hebrews 9:27 says, “people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment.”

 

As much as people would like to avoid death and not think about it, everyone dies, and therefore, we are all affected by it directly and indirectly. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to a funeral than a feast. For death is the destiny of every person, and the living should take this to heart.” It’s healthy for us to soberly reflect on death, as it will help us live better lives.

 

We get to do this in Genesis 49 and 50, as there are two deaths—Jacob’s and Joseph’s. Hebrews 11:21-22 mentions both of these deaths saying:

 

By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and worshiped as he leaned on his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, mentioned the exodus of the sons of Israel and gave instructions about his burial.

 

Both Jacob and Joseph responded to their deaths in faith. As we consider these deaths, we learn something about facing death in a proper way. As Christians, we should be more prepared for death than the rest of the world, as our Lord conquered death, set us free from the fear of death, and one day we’ll be resurrected (cf. 2 Tim 1:10, Heb 2:15, 1 Thess 4:16-17). Therefore, for a believer, the sting of death has been removed, and death can even be considered gain (1 Cor 15:55, Phil 1:21).

 

Big Question: What principles can we discern about facing death properly from Jacob’s and Joseph’s deaths in Genesis 49:28-50:26?

 

To Face Death Properly, We Must Trust God’s Promises and Help Others Do the Same

 

Then he instructed them, “I am about to go to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite… When Jacob finished giving these instructions to his sons, he pulled his feet up onto the bed, breathed his last breath, and went to his people… Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He said, “God will surely come to you. Then you must carry my bones up from this place.”

Genesis 49:29, 33, 50:24-25

 

When Jacob died, he spoke of eternity, as he believed that death was not the end of life. In Genesis 49:29, he said, “I am about to go to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite.” Going to his people was different than being buried. Jacob was going to be with Abraham, Isaac, Rachel, and Leah in heaven. In verse 33, it says he “breathed his last breath, and went to his people.” Hebrews 11:9-10, 16 says that the patriarchs, though not having Scripture, believed in heaven:

 

By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God… But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

 

The patriarchs were men of faith—awaiting their heavenly home. As Jacob spoke about eternity with his sons, he reminded them that this life is not it—there was a heavenly home awaiting them. No doubt, these words of faith at the end of Jacob’s life greatly inspired his sons. Therefore, not only did Jacob believe God’s Word, but he also inspired his sons to. They also needed to have faith in God.

 

Jacob not only inspired their faith in God’s promises through his belief in eternity but also through his belief that God would eventually give Israel the land of Canaan. By requesting to be buried in Canaan, Jacob demonstrated his faith in God’s promise and also challenged his sons to believe and therefore not settle in Egypt. God would eventually bring them back to Canaan.

 

Likewise, Joseph also challenged his family to faith in God by his death. When he died at 110 years old, he called for his brothers (and their future children) to carry his bones to Canaan because God would one day restore them to the land (Gen 50:25). Joseph’s body was placed in an Egyptian coffin and that coffin would always remind Israel of God’s promise—one day they would return to Canaan. Eventually, they did return under Moses, and Moses carried Joseph’s bones to Canaan and buried them there (Ex 13:19, Josh 24:32).

 

Therefore, to face death properly even as Jacob and Joseph, we must trust in God’s promises and remind others to trust in them. Romans 10:13 says, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (paraphrase). Christ died for our sins and rose again 2000 years ago. In Scripture, God promises that whoever puts their faith in Christ and follows him shall be saved. As we face death, we must speak about God’s promise of eternal life to others, even as Jacob did.  Jacob and the patriarchs were saved by faith, just as we are (cf. Gen 15:6). To face death properly, we must help others believe God’s promises including that Christ is coming again, he is a just judge who will make all things right on this earth and reward the faithful, and one day we will rule with him.

 

Also, in the same way that Joseph’s bones were a perpetual reminder for generations of God’s promises, Christians should use their funerals in the same way. Funerals should clearly proclaim the gospel, the future resurrection, and that our Savior is coming again (cf. 1 Thess 4:13-18). This helps Christians grow in faith and nonbelievers come to faith. If we are to face death properly, we must trust God’s promises and help others do the same.

 

Application Question: How have you seen Christian funerals proclaim the gospel and hope in God? Why is having a gospel-oriented funeral so important?

 

To Face Death Properly, We Must Mourn the Deceased

 

Then Joseph hugged his father’s face. He wept over him and kissed him. Joseph instructed the physicians in his service to embalm his father, so the physicians embalmed Israel. They took forty days, for that is the full time needed for embalming. The Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

Genesis 50:1-3

 

After Jacob died, Joseph hugged, kissed, and wept over him. Joseph then mourned with the Egyptians for seventy days, which was only two days shorter than the mourning required for a Pharaoh.[1] After carrying Jacob’s body to Canaan, which probably took around three weeks, they mourned another seven days (50:10). Joseph and others mourned over three months for Jacob. Since Jacob believed he would die seventeen years earlier (cf. Gen 45:28, 46:30), the brothers probably had a long time to emotionally prepare for his death. However, often people don’t have that much time to prepare for the death of a loved one. When a child, parent, sibling, or friend dies suddenly, the mourning often last much longer—sometimes for years.

 

As we consider mourning, we must recognize how important it is for us. It is the way that we heal. Jesus mourned when Lazarus died, even though Jesus was about to raise him again (John 11:35). He mourned the effects of sin on the earth and how it hurt people. He mourned the loss of Lazarus and the suffering of his friends and family. Mourning is healthy and biblical. In Ecclesiastes 7:4, Solomon said, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of merrymaking.” While the wise mourn, the fool tries to escape pain and drown it out with pleasure. If we do not mourn properly, we will handle that pain in unhealthy ways (such as developing addictions, anxieties, long-term depression, etc.), which will affects us and others negatively. If Jesus mourned death, then so should we.

 

Application Question: What are the normal stages of grief?

 

The normal stages of grief include:

 

  • Denial and isolation

  • Anger

  • Bargaining (When we have lost control, we naturally want to try to regain it. We may say, “If I did this” or “If I did that…,” or we may try to bargain with God)

  • Depression

  • Acceptance of the loss

 

Now with that said, believers should not mourn in the same way the world does. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul said, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” We grieve, but it is not the grief of hopelessness. We have tremendous hope, even when facing death. We hope because, if they were believers, we will see them again. Even when the deceased were unbelievers, we hope because we know that our God is not only sovereign, but also good and all-wise, even when we don’t understand his ways or reasoning. Yes, we mourn, but we mourn in hope because of God’s faithfulness.

 

Application Question: What does healthy and unhealthy mourning look like? How should we empathize with and encourage those who are mourning?

 

To Face Death Properly, We Must Take Care of Practical Matters Related to Death

 

Joseph instructed the physicians in his service to embalm his father, so the physicians embalmed Israel. They took forty days, for that is the full time needed for embalming. The Egyptians mourned for him seventy days. When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s royal court, “If I have found favor in your sight, please say to Pharaoh, ‘My father made me swear an oath. He said, “I am about to die. Bury me in my tomb that I dug for myself there in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go and bury my father; then I will return.’ ” So Pharaoh said, “Go and bury your father, just as he made you swear to do.” …  His sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, near Mamre. This is the field Abraham purchased as a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite.

Genesis 50:2-6, 13

 

After kissing and weeping over his father, Joseph immediately had his father embalmed, in order to preserve the body for the long trip to Canaan (50:2-3). The seventy-day mourning period probably included the forty days of embalming. After the mourning, Joseph arranged the trip by getting permission from Pharaoh. Then he made the trip and buried his father in his family’s grave site, as Jacob requested.

 

Similarly, when a person dies, there is a host of things that need to be completed—like funerals, taking care of the deceased’s estate including bills and the will. Some when encountering death bottle up and go into a corner—leaving the practical issues of death to others. But, pragmatic issues like burial, finances, and wills, must be addressed. Some have wondered if God, by his grace, allows us to deal with these matters as a way to not be overwhelmed with death. It often helps with grieving and continuing to live after loss.

 

With that said, since we all know we won’t live forever and our family members will be left to care for our estate, it is wise to prepare for death beforehand. When God told Hezekiah that he was going to die, he told him to put his house in order (Is 38:1 NIV). This might include establishing a will and insurance to make it easier for our relatives to take care of practical matters. It also might include down-sizing. People tend to pick up a lot of things during life, which those who are left behind need to take care of after they die. We should not make it hard on our relatives. Like Jacob and Joseph making plans for who will inherit their wealth and also planning for their burials (Gen 49:29, 50:23-24), believers should do the same.

 

Application Question: How have you experienced or witnessed the taking care of practical matters for those who have passed away? What were some of the difficulties of that process? How is God calling you to prepare or consider preparing for the practical matters of death?

 

To Face Death Properly, We Must Support and Encourage the Living

 

So Joseph went up to bury his father; all Pharaoh’s officials went with him—the senior courtiers of his household, all the senior officials of the land of Egypt, all Joseph’s household, his brothers, and his father’s household. But they left their little children and their flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him, so it was a very large entourage. When they came to the threshing floor of Atad on the other side of the Jordan, they mourned there with very great and bitter sorrow. There Joseph observed a seven day period of mourning for his father. When the Canaanites who lived in the land saw them mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a very sad occasion for the Egyptians.” That is why its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.

Genesis 50:7-11

 

As mentioned, after Jacob’s death, Joseph and the Egyptians mourned for seventy days and then a great procession of Egyptians and Jews traveled to Canaan for the burial. The procession included Pharaoh’s officials, Joseph’s family, and Egyptian military (possibly for protection). Some of the Egyptians probably didn’t know Jacob, however, they knew Joseph. As they mourned and traveled to Canaan, they were supporting Joseph and his family.

 

Similarly, one of the ways we face death properly is by supporting the living, including family members, friends, and those hurt by the death. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” In the same way the Egyptians supported and assisted Joseph, we must support and assist those who are grieving the death of loved ones. We may not know what to say, and often times, it’s best to not say much. It’s often best to simply be present with them and empathize with them, even as Job’s friends initially did when Job mourned (Job 2:11-13). It was then that the friends did well. Often times, those mourning will want to share their feelings and memories of the deceased. During those times, we love them by listening. In addition, supporting the living also includes attending funerals. It’s good to remember that funerals are not for the deceased, they are for the living. By being present and mourning with them, even as the Egyptians did with Joseph, we support them during their time of grief. Along with these loving gestures, we should support the grieving in practical ways such as: providing meals, helping with the details of the funeral, financial support, and most importantly prayer. Pharaoh not only gave Joseph permission to bury his father but also sent the military to protect him on his way. We must seek to help the grieving as well.  

 

Application Question: What are some practical ways to support those affected by the death of a loved one?

 

To Face Death Properly, We Must Seek to Maintain (or Restore) Unity with Family Members

 

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge and wants to repay us in full for all the harm we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave these instructions before he died: ‘Tell Joseph this: Please forgive the sin of your brothers and the wrong they did when they treated you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sin of the servants of the God of your father.” When this message was reported to him, Joseph wept. Then his brothers also came and threw themselves down before him; they said, “Here we are; we are your slaves.” But Joseph answered them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. So now, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.” Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them.

Genesis 50:15-21

 

After the burial, Joseph’s brothers realized that Joseph might seek vengeance for their previous enslavement of him. For that reason, they sent a messenger to him, possibly Benjamin or Judah, saying that one of Jacob’s dying requests was for Joseph to forgive the brothers. This caused Joseph to weep (50:17). This is the seventh and final time Joseph’s tears are recorded. No doubt, he was crying because the brothers still doubted his love for them, even after he had provided for them and their families for seventeen years. Then the brothers came and offered themselves as slaves before Joseph.

 

Did Jacob really request that Joseph forgive the brothers? It’s impossible to know for sure. Most likely, he would have told Joseph personally instead of going through the brothers. Either way, we can be sure, as with any father, he desired total reconciliation in his family.

 

Similarly, though one might think that death in a family might bring greater unity among the members, it often doesn’t. Families are messy. As seen with Jacob’s family, there is often discord between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, children and parents. Death not only means these people will often be brought together, but they’ll also often have to work together. If the deceased didn’t prepare clear wills, including instructions for burial and the estate, sometimes fighting is created by this, which only exasperates old wounds and division

 

Application Question: How should families seek to maintain unity when a relative’s death occurs?

 

1. To pursue family unity, we must be willing to confess past failures and offer restitution.

 

This is exactly what Joseph’s brothers did. They recognized their sins and offered restitution. Since they originally made Joseph a slave, they offered to be his slaves. Asking for forgiveness is often not enough for reconciliation. If we stole something, we should ask for forgiveness and restore the stolen object. The brothers tried to do this with Joseph.

 

2. To pursue family unity, often, we must be willing to be an intermediary.

 

If Jacob did actually ask Joseph to forgive, then that was what he was doing. Often when there is family discord, someone has to get involved and help bring reconciliation between the sides. Christ did that for us with God. He paid the penalty for our sins by dying to reconcile humanity with God and invites us to accept this reconciliation.

 

3. To pursue family unity, we must overcome evil with good.

 

In Romans 12:19-21, Paul said:

 

Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

This is exactly what Joseph did. He declared to his brothers, “Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” (50:19). Joseph would not seek vengeance but would instead bless his family. Vengeance was left to God’s discretion. We must do the same. Instead of seeking vengeance, we should find ways to serve those who have hurt us and trust God with justice. Certainly, there is a place for pursuing justice by going to our authorities—that’s why God has given them (Rom 13:1-7). However, often times, God simply calls us to give up those rights. First Peter 4:8 says, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” and Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek when others slap us (Matt 5:39). Often God calls us to humble ourselves and trust him to bring justice. Certainly, this is a wisdom issue that we should seek counsel about, especially when grievous injustices were committed.

 

4. To pursue family unity, we must focus on God’s sovereignty over evil and not the evil actions of others.

 

Joseph declared, “As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day” (Gen 50:20). Instead of focusing on the brothers’ evil act of enslaving him, Joseph focused on God’s purpose through the evil act—God used it to save Joseph’s family and many others during the world-wide famine. Similarly, we must focus on God’s sovereignty over evil and his purpose in using it for our good. When people instead focus on the evil or evil person, they often struggle with forgiveness and bitterness, sometimes for years. God our father is always working things for our good (Rom 8:28); we must focus on that to have peace in our hearts and peace with others.

 

Unfortunately, the death of a family member can often stir up past conflicts (of create new ones). That’s what Joseph’s brothers feared, and therefore, they sought to maintain family unity. We must do the same.

 

Application Question: How have you seen families experience conflict after the death of a relative? Why are families so prone to conflict and discord after someone’s death? How is God calling you to pursue unity in your family or with your friends?

 

To Face Death Properly, We Must Eventually, in Faith, Move On

 

After he buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, along with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to bury his father. … Joseph lived in Egypt, along with his father’s family. Joseph lived 110 years. Joseph saw the descendants of Ephraim to the third generation. He also saw the children of Makir the son of Manasseh; they were given special inheritance rights by Joseph.

Genesis 50:14, 22-23

 

In Genesis 50:14, it says, “After he buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, along with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to bury his father.” Again, Joseph had mourned and took care of practical matters related to Jacob’s death for over three months, including embalming his father, getting permission from Pharaoh, traveling to Canaan, observing another week of mourning, and then burying his father. It was a long process; however, when it was over, Joseph went home and continued living. Joseph was fifty-six when Jacob died. He lived to 110 years old. He saw Ephraim’s kids to the third generation—probably meaning he was a great, great grandfather. He seemingly adopted Makir’s children, who was the son of Manasseh—giving them some type of special inheritance (50:23). Joseph continued to live after the death of Jacob, as God had more things for him to accomplish.

 

Similarly, we must continue to live after the death of a loved one. We will never forget. Our lives will always be richer because of them, and they will always remain in our memories. However, according to Ecclesiastes 3:4, there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” We must not continue to focus on life’s pains when it is time to focus on life’s joys.

 

Unfortunately, many struggle with moving on after the death of a loved one. It’s important to remember that, if they knew Christ, the deceased are more alive than they ever were previously. And if they didn’t know Christ, we must trust that God is still good and that his plans are perfect. We must take comfort in God’s perfect character. We must remember God is just as faithful on the green pastures as in the dark valleys. He will see us through (cf. Psalm 23:2, 4). Job said, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!’” (Job 1:21).

 

In response to death, we must keep on living and encourage others to do the same. As believers, we must remember that we mourn, but not like the world. We mourn in hope because of God’s promise of eternity and the goodness and wisdom of God.

 

Application Question: Why is it so hard to move on after the death of a loved one? How should we encourage those who are in extended, potentially, unhealthy mourning?

 

Conclusion

 

As we consider how Jacob and Joseph faced death, we learn something about facing death properly—with faith (cf. Heb11:21-22).  

  1. To Face Death Properly, We Must Trust God’s Promises and Help Others Do the Same

  2. To Face Death Properly, We Must Mourn the Deceased

  3. To Face Death Properly, We Must Take Care of Practical Matters Related to Death

  4. To Face Death Properly, We Must Support and Encourage the Living

  5. To Face Death Properly, We Must Seek to Maintain (or Restore) Unity with Family Members

  6. To Face Death Properly, We Must Eventually, in Faith, Move On

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: beginning and blessing (p. 566). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

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