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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 50

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-6


Verses 1-6:

Joseph likely fulfilled the promise God had made to Jacob, that he would close the eyes of his father (Ge 46:4). He demonstrated his intense love and deep sorrow, bending over the lifeless form of his father and pouring out his grief in tears. This expression of grief shows that sorrow and weeping are not forbidden to God’s people, in the death of a loved one. God’s children may weep for the dead, but not as those who have no hope (1Th 4:13). Jesus Himself wept at the death of a beloved friend (Joh 11:35).

Joseph ordered that the court physicians embalm Jacob’s body to prepare for burial. Physicians were held in high regard in Egypt. They belonged to the sacredotal order. Herodotus records that there were many physicians in Egypt, each being qualified to treat only a specific disorder. Both sacred and secular history refer to the extensive medical knowledge they had acquired. This knowledge enabled them to attain a high degree of skill in the embalming process. This process required a minimum of forty days and by the standards of that day was very expensive. The internal organs were removed from the body, and the cavity packed with various spices and preservatives. The corpse was then steeped in natrum or subcarbonate of soda for a period of about seventy days. Finally, the body was washed carefully, and wrapped with linen bandages which were coated with gum, then decorated with various amulets, covered with a linen shroud, then placed in a mummy case.

"Forty days" refers to one stage in the embalming process; "seventy days" refers to the complete process. This entire period was observed as a time of mourning by relatives and friends. The Scripture narrative coincides with secular history in this.

Following the period of mourning, Joseph requested permission from Pharaoh to transport his father’s body to the ancestral burial grounds in Canaan. Joseph did not come directly before Pharaoh with his request, but instead asked certain members of the court to make this request on his behalf. Various explanations may be offered for this. (1) Joseph deferred to the funeral process, including the burial. In this way he would observe proper court protocol and not alienate the powerful priestly caste. (2) Joseph may have followed Egyptian custom to let his hair grow during the time of mourning, and thus could not enter Pharaoh’s presence without shaving his beard and cutting his hair.

Joseph appealed to Pharaoh on the basis of the oath his father made him take. This would influence Pharaoh, because of the great respect of the ancients for the ancestors. Joseph further assured Pharaoh of his full intention to return to Egypt, and not remain in Canaan. When Pharaoh heard this request, he readily gave permission for Joseph to fulfill his father’s instructions.

Verses 7-13

Verses 7-13:

Various monuments and carvings picture the elaborate funeral processions, which honored the royal dead of Egypt. These give some indication of the procession which accompanied the hearse bearing Jacob’s body to its final resting place in Canaan. It was perhaps the longest funeral procession ever made, a distance of some 300 miles.

The text does not give the route taken from Egypt by the funeral train. The procession arrived in Canaan, stopping first on the east of Jordan at the threshing-floor of Atad (lit. buckthorn). The threshing-floor was a large, flat area situated on a hill-top. The exact site indicated in this text is unknown today. Its name was derived either from the owner’s name, Atad; or from an abundant growth of buckthorn nearby. The site was ideal for the large party from Egypt to set up camp.

The party remained at Atad for seven days, which were spent in deep mourning for Jacob. History affirms that the Egyptians were noted for their vehement and public lamentations for the dead. Expressions of grief included loud wailing, chanting funeral dirges, repeating the name of the dead, rending of garments, smiting themselves upon the breast, and tossing dirt and mud on their heads.

The Canaanite inhabitants of the area watched with interest this demonstration of mourning. So impressive was it that they re­named the site Abel-Mizraim (or ebal-mizraim), meaning "the mourning of the Egyptians".

The funeral train left this temporary camp and proceeded onward to the burial site. There Joseph and his brothers laid their father to rest as he had instructed, in the cemetery where Leah, Isaac, Rebekah, Abraham, and Sarah were buried.

Verses 14-21

Verses 14-21:

See 2Co 1:3, 4. Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt, following the burial of Jacob. A dark suspicion crossed the minds of the brothers. Now that their father was dead, what if Joseph were at last to avenge the wrong they had done him long ago. They sent a message to Joseph, reminding him that their father before his death had asked Joseph to forgive them. There is no record of this request in the Scriptures, but it is not unlikely that Jacob did indeed make it.

Joseph manifested a true spirit of Divine love toward his brothers. The wrong was completely forgiven. And Joseph viewed the brothers’ treatment of him as the plan of God, to preserve alive the Chosen People. Joseph promised to provide for his brothers and their families.

The memory of sin, even though it is forgiven, lingers long. It had been almost five decades (50 years) since Joseph’s brothers had sold him to slavery. Still the memory was vivid to them. Joseph had long since forgiven them, but they were unable to forgive themselves. This final demonstration of Joseph’s love and forgiveness was their assurance that all was indeed well in their relationship, Ga 6:1.

The brother’s doubts and fears served only to fill them with anxiety. This principle applies in every age. Unwillingness to accept forgiveness produces anxiety and harmful stress.

Verses 22-26

Verses 22-26:

Joseph lived eighty years following his elevation as Egypt’s second in command. The Record does not say if he served in this capacity all this time. However, it is likely that he did - at least so long as his health permitted.

Joseph enjoyed a fruitful, happy life. He saw Ephraim’s children "of the third generation." Ephraim must have been born before Joseph’s thirty-seventh year, for he was presented to Jacob on his arrival in Egypt. Thus, at least 63 years intervened before Joseph’s death. This would allow for as much as four generations, if Ephraim married by age eighteen.

Manasseh’s grandsons were adopted into Joseph’s family, as well. At the age of 110, Joseph felt death approaching. He gathered his brethren about him for final instructions. Joseph had lived a long, fruitful life. He had received Egypt’s high honors. But his last. act was to renounce Egypt, and remain identified with the Chosen Nation. By faith he knew God would return Israel to the Land He had promised their ancestors. He wanted to be identified with Land and the People, even in death. He could have enjoyed a place of honor in Egyptian history. As befitted royalty he could have been buried in an impressive tomb with monuments erected in his honor. But he chose instead to renounce earthly honors for heavenly gain.

Israel’s elders must promise to carry with them Joseph’s bones when they left Egypt for the Land of Promise. When this solemn promise was ratified, Joseph died peacefully. His body was embalmed, but not buried. The coffin remained readily available for removal to the Land of Promise. Over three hundred years later, the mummy case bearing Joseph’s remains were carried to Canaan, where they were solemnly buried in the tomb in Shechem (Jos 24:32).

The closing words of Genesis reflect the "horror of great darkness" which fell upon Israel, as Abraham saw in the prophetic vision of his seed (Ge 15:12). Centuries of silence fell, as the Chosen Family matured into a nation in Egypt. Though God was silent, He was not idle during this time. And in His own good time, He moved to restore the Nation to their Land.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 50". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-50.html. 1985.
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