Two weeks ago we saw how Jacob adopted and blessed Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. And so, from that time on, they were regarded as sons of Jacob and heirs to all of God’s promises. And we thought about how, through faith in the Lord Jesus, we’re adopted into God’s family so that though by nature we’re sinners who deserve to be condemned by God for our sins, nevertheless by grace we’re regarded as children of God and heirs of all his promises, including the promise of the resurrection and everlasting life in his presence.
And then last week we saw how Jacob gathered his other sons together and he spoke to them about what would happen in the days to come; or what would happen in the last days. Jacob was speaking as a prophet and not only did he speak to them about what would happen to their descendants during the days of the Old Testament, but he spoke as well about the coming of the Lord Jesus from out of the tribe of Judah. And he announced that the Lord Jesus — this Lion from the Tribe of Judah, the final and greatest king — would rule, not only over the Israelites, but over all the nations. And when he comes, it will be a time of great blessing. Judah was announcing the coming of the Lord Jesus, who died and was raised and who ascended to heaven from where he rules over all things as our Great King. And he’s extending his kingdom throughout the nations of the world. And whoever believes in him and is brought into his kingdom receives one blessing after another; one spiritual blessing after another is poured down upon us. And, of course, one day, one day he will return, and when he comes, he will destroy all his enemies, including death, so that all who belong to him will be raised from their graves to live with him for ever and ever. Though he lived so long ago, and though he lived long before any of these things came to be, nevertheless Judah was able to speak as a prophet and he was able to announce the coming of the Lord Jesus; and everything he said about him is true.
And so, we come today to the final part of Genesis. We began to study the book of Genesis in September 2013. Sometimes we took several weeks to study one chapter; and sometimes we were able to cover several chapters in one sermon. And as it turns out, this is our fiftieth sermon and it’s on chapter 50. Or more accurately, it’s on the last few verses of chapter 49 as well as on chapter 50. And today’s passage can be divided neatly into four parts. There’s verses 29 to 33 of chapter 49 which record Jacob’s death. Then there’s verses 1 to 14 of chapter 50 which tell us about Jacob’s burial in the Promised Land. Then there’s verses 15 to 21 which focus on Joseph and his brothers. And then there’s verses 22 to 26 which record Joseph’s death. So, let’s look at those four sections now.
Jacob has finished speaking to his sons about the coming days. And we’re told in verse 29 that he then spoke to them and said:
I am about to be gathered to my people.
That’s an expression we’ve come across before. It was used in chapter 25 with reference to Abraham’s death. There we were told that Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years. And he was gathered to his people. In the same chapter, chapter 25, the same expression is used of Ishmael. Then this expression was used in chapter 32 in reference to Isaac and his death. And now, Jacob uses this expression to refer to his own death.
It’s an expression which tells us that even in those days the people believed that there was more to life than what we can see around us. They understood that there’s this life, and then there’s the life to come. And when they thought about dying, they thought about how they would be re-united with their ancestors who have gone before them.
Well, I mentioned before how the church on earth is sometimes called the church militant, because we’re involved in spiritual warfare against the Devil; and we must stand firm and resist all his wicked schemes to lead us astray. The church on earth is the church militant. But then there’s the church triumphant, and that’s the church in heaven. And whenever a believer dies, his struggle, her struggle, is over, and we’re received into the highest heavens where we’ll join with all believers who have gone before us. And we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest in the presence of the Lord. And so, whereas once we read that Jacob said to the Pharoah that the number of his years had been few and difficult, Jacob nevertheless also believed that when he died, his struggles would be over and he would be gathered with his people and all the church triumphant in heaven.
So, Jacob referred to his imminent death and to how he would be gathered to his people who had gone before him. But he’s concerned about what would happen to his remains, to his body. And in verse 29 he instructed his sons to bury him where his fathers were buried in this cave in the land of Canaan which Abraham once bought from Ephron the Hittite. Do you remember it? We read about it in chapter 23. That’s where Abraham was buried. That’s where Sarah was buried. That’s where Isaac was buried. That’s where Rebekah was buried. Although Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife, was buried elsewhere, it’s where he buried Leah. And it’s where he wanted to be buried as well. And, of course, he wanted to be buried there — in the land of Canaan — because he believed God’s promise. God had promised to give Abraham and his descendants after him the land of Canaan. Egypt was not his true home; Canaan was his true home. And though they owned so little of the land — just a graveyard — nevertheless Abraham and Isaac and Jacob believed that God would do as he had promised and that he would bring the Israelites out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land. And they believed that they wouldn’t live in the land of Canaan as strangers only, but God would give them the land so that it would become theirs. So do you see? Jacob believed everything God had promised them. And so, because he believed that Canaan was his true home, he instructed his sons to take his remains and bury them there.
And then, having once again professed his faith that the Lord Almighty would do all that he promised, Jacob rolled over in bed and breathed his last. While his body remained on the earth, his soul was received into heaven where he was gathered with his people, the church triumphant in heaven. And, of course, this is true for all who share Jacob’s faith, because the Lord gives eternal life to all who trust in him. For those who trust in him, death is not the end, but the doorway into his presence, where there is peace and rest and joy for all the members of his church triumphant.
Verses 1 to 14
In verses 1 to 14 of chapter 50 we read, first of all, about Joseph’s sorrow. He threw himself upon his father who had died; and he wept over him and kissed him. Sometimes believers think they must not grieve, or the must not show any sorrow when a loved one dies. But such an attitude is not found in the Bible, because throughout the Bible we read of God’s people who weep and are filled with sorrow whenever they have been bereaved. Yes, our loved one, if a believer, has gone to be with the Lord. But for those who are left, it’s heartbreaking. And Joseph’s heart was broken and he wept for his father.
But then he directed the Egyptian physicians to embalm his father’s body. Not every Egyptian who died was embalmed, but those who were embalmed were embalmed in order to assist them in their journey in the afterlife. In other words, the practice of embalmment was associated with lots of pagan religious ideas and superstition. Jacob’s body is embalmed, however, not for a religious purpose, but in order to preserve it for the long journey to Canaan.
The embalming process was a long one — taking forty days. And the Egyptians mourned for Jacob for seventy days. And this is not surprising, because Jacob was the father of Joseph who had saved the whole of Egypt from the famine and he had turned Egypt into the most prosperous nation in the world. Joseph was no doubt loved by the nation; and so the nation joined him in grieving for his father.
After the period of mourning was over, Joseph asked the members of Pharaoh’s court to speak to him on his behalf to see if the Pharaoh will let him go and bury Jacob’s body in Canaan. And we read in verse 6 that the Pharaoh was willing. And so Joseph set off. And we read in verses 7 to 11 of the great number of others who accompanied him: all Pharaoh’s officials, the dignitaries from his court and Empire, all of Joseph’s household and his brothers; and all of Jacob’s household too. The children and their livestock were left at home, but everyone else connected to the families went, as well as chariots and charioteers. As it says at the end of verse 9:
It was a very large company.
And this very large company impressed the Canaanites who saw it, because look at verse 11 where they said:
The Egyptians [they did not realise that many of them were Jews and not Egyptians] are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.
And in verses 12 and 13 we read a summary of how Jacob’s sons did as he commanded them: they carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave which Abraham had bought. And in verse 14 we read that Joseph returned to Egypt along with his brothers and all the others. God had promised to give them the land of Canaan. But now was not the time. Still they had to wait, and trust in the Lord to do all that he had promised in his own good time.
Verses 15 to 21
What happened when they got back to Egypt? Verses 15 to 21 tell us. Joseph’s brothers are anxious. They’re worried. You know, Dad is gone. And now that Dad is gone, who knows what Joseph might do to them? For all they know, Joseph might have been nursing a grudge against them because of what they did to him when he was only 17 years old. With Dad out of the way, perhaps he’ll turn on them and get them back for selling him into slavery all those years ago. And isn’t that what happens in families? Big Sister is picking on Little Sister. And when Dad hears Little Sister crying, he comes in and tells Big Sister off. And perhaps he warns her. Perhaps he punishes her. And when Dad goes out of the room, what does Big Sister do? Well, she looks at Little Sister and spits out the words:
Just you wait!
All the time Jacob was alive, was he thinking, ‘Just you wait’? Was he waiting for his Dad to die so that he could take revenge?
That’s what his brothers were worried about. We see that in verse 15. And so, they came up with a plan. They sent a message to Joseph which said:
Your father left this instructions before he died: forgive your brothers.
And the brothers added:
So now, please forgive us.
And look at Joseph’s reaction. It’s there in at the end of verse 17. We’re told he wept. Why did he weep? Was he upset because: Is what his brothers thought of him? That he had only been pretending to love them all these years. Is that what they thought of him? That he was so deceitful and vindictive and that his goodness to them was only a pretence? We don’t like it when people misunderstand us and when they mistake our motives. So, perhaps that’s what caused Joseph to weep. Or perhaps he wept because he hated the thought that his brothers were still so scared. He wanted to look after them and care for them, but despite all he had tried to do, they were still so scared. Was that why he was weeping?
We don’t really know, but Joseph once again did everything he could to re-assure them. When they came in to see him, and when they offered to become his slaves, he immediately said:
Don’t be afraid.
And he went on to say:
Am I in the place of God?
On Wednesday evenings we’re going through the book of Romans; and in chapter 12, Paul says:
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.
God commands us to love even our enemies. And whether our enemies deserve to be punished or not for what they have done is up to God to determine. It’s not for us to say. And Joseph seems to be thinking the same thing. His brothers had once hated him and mistreated him. But Joseph loves them and will only treat them with kindness. And whether they deserve to be condemned or not for what they had done, that’s up to God to decide, not Joseph.
And then we have this marvellous verse where Joseph said to his brothers:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.
Isn’t that marvellous? The way God is able to overrule the wicked plans and schemes of his enemies. Joseph’s brothers intended to do him evil. They hated him and wanted to get rid of him. But Almighty God, who rules over all, was able to bring good out of their wicked plan, because he was working in the background to bring Joseph to Egypt so that Joseph was in the right place at the right time to save many lives from perishing because of the famine.
Many years later, Judas Iscariot intended to do evil when he agreed to betray the Lord Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. And the religious leaders intended to do evil when they plotted together how to get rid of the Lord Jesus. And the Roman soldiers intended to do evil when they took the Lord and crucified him. They all intended to do evil. But Almighty God intended it for good, because by the suffering and death of his Son he was working out our salvation.
This verse is one that we should learn by heart and bring to mind every day, because every day people will do things to harm us or to hurt us; or every day it will seem that life is against us and there are troubles and trials wherever we look. And we wonder what is going on? And why has God allowed this evil to happen to me? And so, we need to remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord; and he’s able to use the wicked plans of our enemies and the troubles of this life to accomplish his own good purposes. All we see is the evil around us; but we forget that behind the scenes, the Lord is at work, to bring about his own perfect plans.
And so, Joseph once again said to his brothers:
Don’t be afraid.
And he re-assured them: instead of punishing them, he promised to provide for them. And so, we too ought to pray for faith to trust in God to work out his purposes. And we ought to pray to the Lord to give us the same meekness and kindness we see in Joseph, who loved his brothers and forgave them their sins.
Verses 22 to 26
In the final section, verses 22 to 26, we read of Joseph’s death. His body was embalmed and placed in a coffin. But before he died, he too spoke to his brothers. And like his father before him, Joseph was able to speak as a prophet and to announce to his brothers that God will surely come to their aid and take them up out of the land of Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land in fulfilment of his promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And so, like his father before him, Joseph asked his brothers to swear that they would carry his bones up from this place. Joseph, like his father before him, believed all of God’s promises and he knew that Egypt was not his true home, because the land of Canaan was his true home. It was his true home, because God has promised to give it to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob and to all their descendants after them. So, he asked his brothers to swear it. And in due course, in Exodus 13, we read that Moses took the bones of Joseph with him when they left the land of Egypt. And in Joshua 24 we read that Joseph’s bones were buried at Shechem which was the piece of land which Jacob asssigned to him before he died.
Joseph was speaking as a prophet. And he announced that one day the Lord would come to their aid and take them up out of Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land.
And sure enough, in the days of Moses, the Lord heard the cries of his people who had become slaves in Egypt. And he saw their misery, because the Egyptians were mistreating them and had made their lives bitter with hard labour.
The Lord saw their misery and he heard their cries and he was determined to save his people. And so, he sent them Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. And when the Pharaoh stood in their way, the Lord stretched out his mighty arm and sent one plague after another to display his great power and to break the power of the Pharaoh. And on the night when they sacrificed the Passover Lamb, the people were able to leave the land of Egypt, and pass through the Red Sea on dry land. And so they began their pilgrimage to the land of Canaan.
Joseph spoke as a prophet and he announced that the day was coming when God would come to their aid and deliver them from out of Pharaoh’s grip and from out of their slavery in Egypt.
And, of course, the Exodus from Egypt is a picture by which God revealed to his people his intention to deliver us from our sin and misery and to bring us to the Promised Land of Eternal Life. He saw our misery, that we were in bondage to sin and Satan and death. He saw that we were held fast and there was nothing we could do to save ourselves. And the Lord saw our misery; and even before we asked for his help, he sent his one and only Son into the world to deliver us from our sin and misery.
When the time was right, the Lord Jesus came into the world to save us by offering himself on the cross as the true Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. He died, and he was raised and now he rules over all. And from his throne in heaven, he frees his people from our bondage to sin; and he delivers us from the tyranny of the Devil; and he rescues us from this present evil age. And throughout the rest of our lives on this earth, he leads us as his pilgrim people through every danger and trial and snare; and he will keep us to the end, showing us the way we should go, defending us from Satan’s wicked schemes, enabling us to stand firm against temptation, supplying our every need just as he provided for the Israelites in the wilderness. And he will keep leading us until, at last, death — the last enemy — will be destroyed; and we will come in body and soul into the true Promised Land, the new heavens and the new earth where all of God’s people will live forever. And the true Promised Land is far, far, far greater than the Promised Land of Canaan, because in the true Promised Land there will be perfect peace and rest for all of God’s people.
Joseph was a prophet who announced how God would come and deliver his people from Egypt. And the Exodus is a picture by which God revealed his intention to deliver his believing people from our sin and misery and to raise us up to glory. And whenever all things have been made new, and we’ll be standing in the presence of the Lord, we’ll know that the reason we are there is because of Almighty God our Father and his kindness to sinners like us, for he saw our sin and misery and he sent his Son to redeem us and to deliver us from sin and Satan and death. And we’ll join our voices together to worship Almighty God and the Lamb who was slain, but who is alive forevermore, and we’ll give thanks to them for ever and for ever.