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The End of the Beginning

Date: Mar. 31, 2019

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 49:29-50:26

Key Verse: Genesis 50:24

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

In just under one month, one of the most anticipated movies of the year will hit theaters, Avengers: Endgame. It is the culmination of 22 movies in the past 11 years. It will mark the conclusion of Marvel’s Infinity Saga. The movie is also direct continuation of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, where we saw Thanos snap half of the universe out of existence. Heroes like Black Panther, Spider-man, and Doctor Strange were turned to dust. The marketing for Endgame has been all about what has been and what has been lost. There hasn’t been a lot of new footage from the movie. And this week, Marvel brought out 32 posters, each with a character from the movies. They are interesting posters. The people that survived are shown in color, while the ones that died were black and white. Half of them are in color and half are black and white, across each of them are the words, “Avenge the Fallen”. They are really making this movie out to be the end of a grand saga. Today, we, too are at the end of a grand saga. This is our last passage from Genesis, and, by the end of it, all of the major characters that we have heard about and studied will have been dusted. Since we have titled our study of Genesis The Beginning, this passage is the end of the beginning.

Throughout Genesis, we have seen many things about God. We saw God create the heavens and the earth. We saw God fill the earth with light, water, land, fish and animals. We saw how God made people from the dust of the earth and place them in a perfect garden. We saw how humanity fell from perfection and how sin entered in the world. Sin spread across the whole earth and into every person until the thoughts of men were evil all the time. God was so angry at humanity that God wanted to destroy every last person on the planet, but instead he chose one man, Noah, and his family to be the survivors of a flood that would wipe out the world. It rained for forty days and forty nights, and the flood was so severe that the tops of mountains were buried underneath the crashing waves. It was over a year before Noah and his family could disembark their ark and return to dry land. But in the remnant of man, there was a remnant of sin and it began to spread again. No matter how much sin humanity found itself in, God was always there guiding, watching and loving.

Eventually, God called a man named Abram to go to a land and become his people. Abram was childless, but God promised him that he would become the father of many nations and renamed him Abraham. At the age of 100, part of God’s promise to Abraham came true when his wife Sarah bore him Isaac. As Abraham died and Isaac grew up, God’s promise of an inherited land passed to Isaac, who then had it pass to his son Jacob. All the while God was watching over this family. They weren’t perfect. In fact, they were far from it. Jacob in particular got swindled into taking two sisters as wives, who then had a baby contest and introduced their personal servants as his concubines. Jacob had twelve sons from these four women, and Rachel, his most beloved wife, died while giving birth to the twelfth son, Benjamin. God then showed Jacob’s second youngest and most favored son, Joseph some prophetic dreams where his brothers were bowing down to him. Because of those dreams and his favored status with their father, the brothers got very jealous and angry at Joseph. While out looking for them one time, the brothers took Joseph and threw him in a cistern and sold him off as a slave to Egypt.

Joseph was a dutiful slave and became in charge of his master’s household, but eventually he was imprisoned for something he did not do and sat in prison for many years. One day, two of the Pharaoh’s high-ranking officials were thrown in prison, too, and Joseph helped them out by interpreting their puzzling dreams. One official was restored to his position, the other was killed. Joseph told that restored official to remember him, but he forgot him for two more years. Then Pharaoh had some troubling dreams that no one could interpret. Then, the official finally remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about his acumen in interpreting dreams. Joseph was brought up and told Pharaoh that God was showing him what is to come, seven years of unrivaled prosperity followed by seven years of unprecedented famine. Pharaoh, next, put Joseph in charge of the whole country to prepare for the famine. Joseph had extra food gathered and stored during the good times to use during the famine. The famine was bad, so bad that people from surrounding areas came to Egypt to buy food, including Joseph’s family. Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize him and couldn’t fathom what had happened to him, so Joseph used the opportunity to test his brothers and find out information from them. He accused them of being spies and they tried to explain. When the mentioned that they were all brothers and there was one more with their father, Joseph demanded that the other brother come. Joseph had one of the ten, Simeon, imprisoned while they go get Benjamin, but he was not heartless. Joseph secretly gave them their money back along with the food they came to purchase.

When they reached home, Jacob was distressed at losing another son and wouldn’t let them take Benjamin to Egypt. When the food they bought ran out, the brothers had to go back to Egypt, but they would never be able to get food without Benjamin. Reluctantly, Jacob let him go and they returned to Egypt. When they arrived in Egypt, the sons of Jacob were greeted with a feast and another deception. While they were returning home, Joseph had his servant secretly place a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. After his brothers left, Joseph sent his servant after them to say someone stole a cup. The brothers were sure of their innocence, but the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, so they all went back to Joseph. Joseph threatened to enslave Benjamin, but Judah offered himself in his place. That act of selflessness broke Joseph and he revealed his identity to his brothers. They were afraid, but Joseph reassured them that God had led him to Egypt. He urged his brothers to get their father and come live in Egypt until the famine was over. So, Jacob learned that Joseph was alive and went to live in Egypt at the age of 130. Jacob lived seventeen years in Egypt and when he was about to die, he adopted Joseph’s two sons Manasseh and Ephraim as his own sons. They would receive an inheritance equal to that of Joseph’s brothers. Jacob, then, blessed each of his sons, giving each son the blessing appropriate to him.

This gets us to our passage, today. Jacob has a few last words for his sons. “Then he gave them these instructions: “‘I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.’” (49:29-32) Jacob knew that his time was coming, and he wanted to be buried where his father and grandfather were buried. It was the only piece of land that his family had ever owned in Canaan and Jacob’s desire to be buried there is a sign that Jacob had faith that his descendants would take possession of the land. He was trusting in God’s promise that had first been made to Abraham, then Isaac and finally Jacob. In fact, before leaving Canaan for Egypt, Jacob buried his wife Leah in the same tomb. His beloved Rachel is in a tomb on the side of the road near Bethlehem, but Leah, his first wife, his unloved wife, earned the honor of being buried among the patriarchs. I find it significant because the Messiah would come from a son of Leah and she was given the appropriate honor even in her death. Jacob must have had a change of heart toward Leah.

The chapter ends, “When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.” (49:33) Here, we have a reminder that Jacob had summoned all his strength to sit up when Joseph arrived, because before his death, Jacob pulled his feet back up on the bed to lie down. Not long afterwards, Jacob breathed his last. Jacob died. He really did use all his strength to sit up. After speaking, he was truly spent and lay down to peacefully die. After Jacob’s death, Joseph threw himself on his father’s body and wept over him and kissed him. There is a lot of emotion going on here. Joseph cared deeply for his father and he was in anguish at the loss of his father.

The passage continues, “Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.” (50:2-3) Joseph had his father mummified. There are only two instances of mummification in the Bible and both occur in this chapter. Hebrews would normally just bury the dead, but Joseph wanted to honor his father by undergoing the Egyptian ritual. Joseph directs the physicians or healers to embalm his father. In Egypt, priests were heavily involved in the embalming of the dead. Perhaps Joseph did not want the spirituality of the Egyptian embalming, just the practice, so he called for the physicians and not the priests. As the passage says, the process of embalming took forty days, this probably included some ceremonial rituals. This is in contrast to later Israelite policy of burying the body within four days. On top of that the nation mourned for Jacob for seventy days. These seventy days probably overlapped with the forty days of the embalming process.

“When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, “My father made me swear an oath and said, ‘I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.’ Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.”’” (50:4-5) I find it interesting that Joseph does not go to Pharaoh directly, but to his court. This might be because Joseph handled his father’s body and there was some taboo about touching the dead that would cause Joseph to be seen as unclean by Pharaoh. Joseph requested that he go and bury his father in the grave that Jacob prepared for himself in Canaan. Joseph mentioned that Jacob made him swear an oath to bury him in Canaan. This was to show Pharaoh the severity of Joseph’s need to go to Canaan, but he promises to return after the burial, lest Pharaoh think Joseph would run away.

Pharaoh responded amicably because they know the importance of respecting someone’s burial requests. Pharaoh allowed Joseph to go, but since he too respected Jacob, Joseph took an entourage with him. The passage says, “So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt—besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.” (50:7-9) It was a very large company. All of Pharaoh’s officials went to bury Jacob. Every prominent person in Egypt traveled to Canaan to bury Jacob. Joseph even had chariots and horsemen go with him. Joseph took an army with him to Canaan. It was an impressive show of force and it was all for Jacob. Joseph never asked for this company to come. They either chose to come on their own or were directed by Pharaoh to join Joseph. Either way, you can see how revered Jacob was in Egypt. He was the father of Egypt’s second in command and therefore worthy of great honor.

This large group of people went to Canaan to bury Jacob. It was unlike anything anyone had seen before. When they reached a certain place near Mamre, the group stopped and lamented and wailed over Jacob. They observed another seven days of mourning before burying Jacob. The Canaanites were dumbfounded at what they saw. “When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, ‘The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.’ That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim.” (50:11) It was like one of those presidential funerals, like there was for President Bush this past year. Here in Canaan were these foreign Egyptians mourning for a man. It must have been pretty surreal. Joseph and his brothers buried their father just like they promised. He was laid to rest next to his wife Leah in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre.

When they all arrived back in Egypt, not all was well in the minds of Joseph’s brothers. “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’” (50:15) Joseph’s brothers were afraid of what he would do to them now that their father was dead. They thought that he was holding some sort of smoldering rage that was kept in check while Jacob was alive. Now that he was gone, they were afraid for their lives. It is reminiscent of the rage Esau had toward Jacob. Esau was waiting for his father’s death before trying to kill his brother. It had been nearly forty years since they sold Joseph into slavery and seventeen years since he forgave them and reassured them of God’s hand in the situation. Yet, they still held onto their fear. Perhaps it was seeing the army accompanying them to the grave of the father that reminded them of Joseph’s power and influence. Maybe they thought that he arranged everything to remind them of who he was in Egypt and they became afraid.

In their fear, the concocted a plan to ensure their safety. “So they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father left these instructions before he died: “This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.” Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.’ When their message came to him, Joseph wept.” (50:16-17) The brothers sent a message to Joseph that they said was from their father, but it really came from them. When Joseph saw the message, he cried. He forgave them so many years before. He took care of his family through the famine, but none of it was enough to allay their fears. Joseph knew that this did not come from their father, but it was his brothers’ own fear that was driving the message.

The brothers, then, came and threw themselves down on the ground before him and called themselves slaves. It was another homage to the prophetic dreams that Joseph had when he was seventeen. “But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (50:19-21) Joseph reassured them that, whatever harm they tried to do, God used it for the saving of many lives. If Joseph were not sent to Egypt, he would never been able to save his family from the famine, let alone entire nations of people. Joseph saw God’s hand in all of it and, therefore, had no reason to be angry with his brothers. It is a very healthy way to look at life. It was a God-centered look at life. Joseph said that he would continue to provide for his brothers and their children. He had taken over the role of providing for them.

Joseph was 56 at this time and lived another 54 years. “Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees.” (50:22-23) Joseph had a very full life which is evidenced by the fact that he saw his great-great-grandchildren. It is rare for five generations of a family to be alive at the same time, but Joseph was able to see it. He even saw the children of Makir son of Manasseh. The passage says that they were place on his knees, which probably means that he adopted them, much like how Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh.

It was a full life, but Joseph never forgot God’s promise to his people. “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’” (50:24) When it says brothers here, there is a possibility that it means his family, since he was the second youngest, but he was also significantly younger than his father and grandfather when they died. Joseph told his family that God would take them to the land he promised. It is interesting that he says that God will come to their aid. The Israelites weren’t in any danger at this time. They were living comfortably in Egypt, but I think that Joseph knew what might be coming. In the future, there would be a Pharaoh that didn’t know about Joseph or care about what Joseph did and he would enslave the Israelites and it would be after years and years of enslavement the Israelites would finally be able to go home. Hundreds of years would pass before this promise would come to fruition.

But that is a lot about what the entire book of Genesis was about. How many times have we heard about God keeping his promises? How many times have we heard about God’s love for his people? God created everything, including us. When we fell away from his perfection, God did not just wipe us all out, but he promised a savior to be born of a woman who would crush the head of the serpent. After the flood, God promise that he would never again kill all things with a flood and provided us with a sign in the sky that we see even to this day. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that the whole earth would be blessed through him. Each of the sons and grandsons of Abraham became a nation and even early on, through Jacob’s family and Joseph, many people were saved from the famine and ultimately the savior of the world would come through Abraham. Jesus was descended from Abraham through Jacob through Judah through David and he promises us a new life. It took hundreds of years for the Israelites to take possession of the land they were promised, but God is always faithful to his promises.

In the thousands of years before his arrival, God gave so many details about the coming of his son to bring salvation and all those details could only point to one man. The odds of fulfilling all the details by some happenstance is astronomical. There would never be enough people to ever have been born until the sun dies out that even one person could randomly fulfill all those details. All those details give proof that God’s promised Messiah is Jesus and what that tells us is that the promises given in his name are true as well. Everything Jesus said was true. He is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the father except through him. Jesus said that we must be born anew by the Holy Spirit to obtain eternal life. We have a living hope in that new life because we become heirs with Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:14-17) It is promised to us that we would become heirs with Christ. When we believe and are changed, we are promised an eternal home in heaven.

We are at the end of Genesis. It is the end of the beginning, but in Jesus our lives in this world are also just the beginning. There is so much more of the Bible that follows Genesis, and there is so much of our lives left after our death. Compared to eternity the years of our earthly life are small and just the prelude. One day, each of us will meet our end, but with faith in Jesus and the salvation that he brings, that end is just the end of the beginning.

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