Bible Commentaries
Genesis 50

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 2


(2) The physicians embalmed Israel.—The command given first by Jacob to Joseph (Genesis 47:29-30), and then urged earnestly upon all his sons, and with the reminder that the cave of Machpelah had been purchased and belonged to him by right (Genesis 49:29-32), made it specially necessary that the patriarch’s body should be prepared for so long a journey. It was also usual at that period to embalm the dead; and during the many centuries while the custom lasted, from B.C. 2000 to A.D. 700, it is calculated that no less than 420,000,000 bodies were thus preserved. For the process, which was very expensive if done in the best manner, see Rawlinson, Egypt, i. 511 ff. The embalmers are not generally called physicians, but probably what is meant is that the embalming of Jacob’s body was superintended by the physicians attached to Joseph’s household. Egypt was famous for its physicians, who were in advance of those of other countries, and were subdivided into classes, which had each the charge of some special disease. (See Rawlinson as above, i. 305 ff.) Mas-pero thinks that their real knowledge was inconsiderable, and that there were specialists only for the eyes, and one or two similar diseases (Hist. Anc. 82). Ophthalmia continues to be one of the most common diseases of Egypt.

Verse 3

(3) Forty days.—Herodotus (ii. 86) describes the process of embalming as occupying seventy days, but he was speaking of what he saw at Thebes, whereas Memphis was the Egyptian capital in Joseph’s time; and the mummies of Thebes are, we are told, far more perfectly preserved than those of Memphis. Diodorus agrees very nearly with the periods mentioned here, saying (i. 91) that the embalming took somewhat more than thirty days, and the mourning for a king seventy-two. The usual period of mourning among the Israelites was thirty days (Numbers 20:29 : Deuteronomy 34:8). Probably, therefore, the forty days spent in the embalming were included in the “threescore and ten days,” during which the Egyptians mourned for Jacob.

Verse 4

(4) Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh.—It may seem at first sight strange that Joseph should make his request through mediators, but probably no one in the attire of mourning might enter the royal presence. (Comp. Esther 4:2.) The dress of a mourner was squalid, his beard unshorn, his hair in disorder, and while these outward signs of grief were maintained, he was also expected to confine himself to his own house.

Verse 9

(9) A very great company.—Heb., camp, the word following immediately upon the mention of the chariots and horsemen which went as the escort of the elders. These were the chief officers of Pharaoh’s household, and also of the districts into which Egypt was divided, of which each had its separate governor. Of the Israelites only the men of rank, Jacob’s own sons, and the officers of his house took part in the funeral procession, while their little ones—Heb., their tafs,” translated here in the LXX. their clans, and signifying the great body of their dependents—remained with their cattle in the land of Goshen.

Verse 10

(10) Threshingfloor of Atad.—Atad means “a thorn-bush,” the rhamnus paliurus of Linnaeus, translated “bramble” in Judges 9:14. As agriculture was only beginning to be practised in Canaan, this threshing. floor would be common property, situated in some place easy of access, and probably a village would grow up near it.

Beyond Jordan.—It is disputed whether this means on the east or on the west of the Jordan. It is certain that the route taken by Joseph lay to the east of the Dead Sea; for Goren-Atad is placed by Jerome at Beth-Hoglah, which lay between the Jordan and Jericho, and Joseph could have gone thither only by travelling through the territories of Moab and Amnion. This may seem a long detour, but, as may be seen in the Excursus on the Expedition of Chedorlaomer, the route through the wilderness of Judah was very difficult; and though the western shore of the Dead Sea was practicable as far as Engedi, it was necessary there to ascend a mountain-path so steep that a few Amorites might have guarded it against any number of invaders; and probably it was absolutely impracticable for chariots. It would have been easy, however, to reach Hebron through the Philistine country; but it is remarkable that we find hostilities going on between the descendants of Joseph and the Philistines (1 Chronicles 7:21); and if raids were of common occurrence between the Semitic clans in Goshen and the Philistines, Joseph would not expose his father’s remains to the danger of an attack. Possibly they may even have refused their consent, and hence the attack upon them by Ephraim’s sons. On the other hand, the sons of Esau would show great respect to the body of their uncle—(Jewish tradition makes even the sons of Ishmael and of Keturah take part in the mourning)—and moreover they had not yet attained to any great power; and we gather from Esau’s march through the lands on the west of the Dead Sea (Genesis 32:6) that the natives there were too few and feeble to resist the chariots and horsemen which formed the escort. While therefore “beyond Jordan” would naturally mean “on the east of Jordan,” it may here express the fact that Joseph had just crossed the Jordan when the lamentation was made. The only other tenable explanation is that Goren-Atad was really on the eastern bank of the Jordan, and that though Beth-Hoglah was the nearest village, the two were not identical. It would be natural to make the solemn seven days’ mourning, either when just about to enter the Canaanite territory or at the tomb.

Verse 11

(11) Abel-mizraim.—There is here an example of that play upon words that is always dear to Orientals. The word for “mourning” is êbel, while abel means a meadow, and is often found prefixed to the names of towns. When the Versions were made no vowel points were as yet affixed to the Hebrew consonants, and they all read Ebel-mizraim, the mourning of Egypt. The Hebrew text alone, as at present pointed, has Abel-mizraim, the meadow of Egypt.

Verse 15

(15) Joseph will peradventure . . . —Heb., What if Joseph should hate us, &c. They had not seen any change in his treatment of him, but if it were the case that he cherished feelings of revenge, they felt that they were now in his power.

Verses 16-17

(16, 17) Thy father did command . . . —Many Jewish expositors consider that this was untrue, and that Jacob was never made aware of the fact that his brethren had sold Joseph into slavery. It is, however, probable, from Genesis 49:6, that Jacob not only knew of it, but saw in Simeon and Levi the chief offenders. But besides the father’s authority the message brings a twofold influence to bear upon Joseph: for first it reminds him that they were his brethren, and next, that they shared the same religious faith—no slight band of union in a country where the religion was so unlike their own.

Verse 19

(19) Am I in the place of God?—That is, am I to act as judge, and punish? Judges are sometimes in Hebrew even called God (as in Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8-9; 1 Samuel 2:25), as exercising His authority.

Verse 20

(20) Ye thought . . . God meant.—The verb in the Heb. is the same, and contrasts man’s purpose with God’s purpose. In Genesis 45:7 Joseph had already pointed out that the Divine providence had overruled the evil intentions of his brethren for good. At the end of the verse “much people,” or a great people, means the Egyptians.

Verse 21

(21) Your little ones.—Heb., your tafs” rendered in the LXX., “your households,” and in the Syriac, “your families,” your dependents—its usual translation in that Version.

Verse 23

(23) The third generation.—These would be Joseph’s great-grandchildren. Thus Eran, son of Shuthelah, son of Ephraim, was to be born in Joseph’s lifetime (Numbers 26:35-36).

Were brought up . . . —Heb., were born upon Joseph’s knees, that is, were adopted by him. (See Note on Genesis 30:3.) They would not form tribes, as this prerogative was reserved for the sons of Jacob (Genesis 48:5), but they would count as Joseph’s sons (Genesis 48:6), and form “families.”

Verse 24

(24) God will . . . bring you out of this land.—This is, first, a proof of Joseph’s faith, commended in Hebrews 11:22; and, secondly, it is a preparation for the next book (Exodus). Joseph’s faith thus unites the two books together.

Verse 26

(26) A coffin.—The word means a case or chest of wood. The mummy-cases were generally of sycamore-wood. As it would not be possible for the Israelites, now that their great protector was no more, to go with a military escort to Hebron to bury him, Joseph orders that his embalmed body should be placed in some part of Goshen, whence it would be easy to remove it when the time of deliverance had arrived. And his wish was fulfilled; for “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him” (Exodus 13:19), and Joshua buried them in Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had given to him (Joshua 24:32).

With the death of Joseph ends the preparation for the formation of a chosen race. Summoned from a remote city upon the Persian Gulf to Palestine, Abraham had wandered there as a stranger, and Isaac and Jacob had followed in his steps. But in Palestine the race could never have multiplied largely; for there were races already there too powerful to permit of their rapid increase. Abraham and Lot, Esau and Jacob had been compelled to separate; but now, under Joseph, they had been placed in a large, fertile, and well-nigh uninhabited region. The few who dwelt there were, as far as we can judge, of the Semitic stock, and whatever immigrants came from time to time were also of the same race, and were soon enrolled in the “taf” of some noble or chief. And thus all was ready for their growth into a nation; and when we next read of them they had multiplied into a people so vast that Egypt was afraid of them.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 50". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.