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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Genesis 50

Verse 1

And Joseph fell upon his father's face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.

Joseph fell upon his father's face ... On him, as the principal member of the family, devolved the duty of closing the eyes of his venerable parent (Genesis 40:4), and imprinting on his forehead the farewell kiss.

Verse 2

And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.

Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. In ancient Egypt, where the state of civilization was so greatly advanced, the medical profession was subdivided into a variety of departments, almost every disease being under the care of a separate class of practitioners, as in western Europe. They were as the sacerdotal order, and a number of them were attached to every high family, such as Joseph's was (Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses,' p. 67). The embalmers were in later times a class by themselves, who performed the double office of apothecaries and undertakers. [ haaropª'iym (H7495), the physicians, is often confounded with rªpaa'iym (H7497), 'giants,' 'the dead.'] There were three different ways of embalming, according to the rank and resources of the family ordering it; and as in the case of Jacob, who was connected with the most distinguished personage in the kingdom, it would be performed on the most sumptuous scale, we shall confine our account to this highest mode.

The first step in the process was the extraction of the brain, through the nostrils, by means of a curved iron probe, and the substitution of various drugs into the emptied head; then an incision was made in the side with a sharp Ethiopian flint, in order that the intestines might be drawn out, and the cavity filled with myrrh, cassia, and spices of almost every sort (Genesis 37:25), except frankincense. After sewing it up again, they kept the body in natrum (alkali) for 70 days, and then wrapped it up entirely with bands of fine linen, smeared with gum, and laid it in a wooden case, made in the shape of a man, which they placed upright against the wall. This was the first class, 'the Osiris style' of embalming. It cost one talent = 250 British pounds; the second type cost twenty-two minae = 60 British pounds; and the third type cost a very trifling expense. The operation, on all these scales, was performed by a particular class of professional persons; and at Thebes, in later times, there was one quarter of the city wholly devoted to the preparation of the necessary implements. One of the most curious parts of the performance was, that the paraschistes, or dissector, whose duty it was to make an incision in the body, ran away as soon as it was done, amid the bitter execration of those present, who pelted him with stones, in testimony of their abhorrence of one who could inflict injury on the person of a human creature, either alive or dead.

Verse 3

And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed: and the Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days.

Forty days were fulfilled for him. Diodorus says, generally 'upwards of thirty days were allotted for the completion of the process.'

The Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days. This included the whole period of embalming. Both 70 and 72 days are mentioned as the full number, the first being ten weeks of seven days, or seven decades; the other, 12 + 6 = 72, the duodecimal calculation being also used in Egypt. The manner of their mourning was this-`The family mourned at home, singing the funeral dirge, very much as is now done in Egypt; and during this time they abstained from the bath, wine, delicacies of the table, and rich clothing. On the death in any house of a person of consequence, immediately the women plaster their heads, and sometimes even their faces, with mud, and sally forth, wandering through the city, with their dress fastened by a band, and their bosoms bare, beating themselves as they walk. The men, similarly dressed, beat their breasts separately.' In the case of Jacob, it was made a period of public mourning as on the death of a royal personage (Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' book 2:, chapter 86:; Hengstenberg's 'Egypt and Books of Moses').

Verses 4-5

And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found grace in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying,

Joseph spake, ... Care was taken to let it be known that the family grave was provided, before leaving Canaan, and that an oath bound his family to convey the remains there. Besides, Joseph deemed it right to apply for a special leave of absence; and, being unfit as a mourner to appear in the royal presence, as well as from regard to the priestly statutes, he made the request through the medium of others.

Verse 6

And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 7

And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,

And Joseph went up to bury his father ... It was a journey of 300 miles. The funeral cavalcade, composed of a large attendance of the nobility and military with their horse-drawn carriages and servants, would exhibit an imposing appearance.

The elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt. The one were the attaches of the court, and the others the officers of state. This distinction, so characteristic of Egyptian usage, is noticed by classical authors. The court of the king was composed of the sons of the most distinguished priests; while the state officers were taken from other orders of society ('Heeren Ideen,' sec. 37).

Verses 8-9

And all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father's house: only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 10

And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation: and he made a mourning for his father seven days.

They came to the threshing-floor of Atad. "Atad" may be taken as a common noun, signifying 'the plain of the thorn bushes.' It was on the border between Egypt and Canaan; and as the last opportunity of indulging grief was always the most violent, the Egyptians made a prolonged halt at this spot, while the family of Jacob proceeded by themselves to the place of sepulture. 'The route taken by Jacob's funeral precession was evidently along the usual caravan road between the Delta and Hebron.' Some have thought, from the expression "beyond Jordan" being applied to Atad, or Abel-mizraim (that is, mourning of the Egyptians), that they crossed the river. Indeed, Jerome ('Onomastican') locates Atad near Jericho: on that supposition, see Relandi, 'Palaestina,' 523. But compare Deuteronomy 3:25. The Egyptian attendants waited somewhere in the neighbourhood of Beer-sheba, while the Hebrews went alone through the winding passes up to the ancestral sepulchre at Hebron (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' p. 38). Others, however, as Dean Stanley, think that the procession really went by the Jordan ('Jewish Church,' p.

74). 'They came (so the narrative seems to imply) not by the direct road which the Patriarchs had hitherto traversed on their way to Egypt by El-Arish, but around the long circuit by which Moses afterward led their descendants, until they arrived on the banks of the Jordan. Further than this the Egyptian escort came not. But the valley of the Jordan resounded with the loud, shrill lamentations peculiar to their ceremonial of mourning, and with the funeral games with which then, as now, the Arabs encircle the tomb of a departed chief. From this double tradition the spot was known in after-times as the "meadow," or "the mourning" of the Egyptians, Atel-mizraim; and as Beth-hogla "the house of the circling-dance."' The phrase [ bª`eeber (H5676) ha-Yardeen (H3383)], the country beyond Jordan, is used sometimes to designate the region east of the Jordan; in others, the country west of the Jordan. (See Joshua 12:1-7, where it is used in both senses.) Colenso fastens upon this phrase as a proof that Moses was not the author of this book. But the expression is too indefinite to ground so grave an objection upon.

And he made a mourning for his father seven days - the time ordinarily spent by the Orientals on occasions of solemn mourning (1 Samuel 31:13; 1 Chronicles 10:12; Job 2:10; Ezekiel 3:15). This, as we learn from various sources, was eminently an Egyptian custom-to make a very solemn mourning for the dead, especially those of high rank, immediately before entombment (Herodotus, book 2:, chapter 85; Diodorus, book 1:, chapter 91).

Verses 11-12

And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians: wherefore the name of it was called Abelmizraim, which is beyond Jordan.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 13

For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.

His sons ... buried him in the cave ... of Machpelah - (see the note at Genesis 23:1-20.) The Egyptians could not join in that ceremony, as it was contrary to their usages. Since the mummified body of Jacob was encased in a coffin or sarcophagus, according to Egyptian usage, it is reasonable to believe that it lies undisturbed in the inaccessible recesses of Machpelah, where, doubtless, on the adoption of a more liberal policy by the rulers of Palestine, the discovery will reward the researches of Christian explorers by the interesting information its Egypto-Hebraic inscription must contain.

Verse 14

And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 15-21

And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.

When Joseph's brethren saw ... He was deeply affected by this communication. In endeavouring to dispel their fears, he gave them the strongest assurances of his forgiveness, and exhibited a beautiful trait of his own pious character, as well as appeared an eminent type of the Saviour.

Verses 22-23

And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father's house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years.

Joseph dwelt in Egypt. He lived 80 years after his elevation to the chief power, witnessing a great increase in the prosperity of the kingdom, and also of his own family and kindred-the infant congregation of God (see further the note at Genesis 50:26).

Verse 24

And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I die - or, 'I am dying.' The national feelings of the Egyptians would have been opposed to his burial in Canaan; and therefore he said nothing regarding his immediate interment; but he gave the strongest proof of the strength of his faith and full assurance of the promises by "the commandment concerning his bones" (Hebrews 11:22). It is evident from his dying injunction, that he had not allowed himself to be so immersed with the politics, the honours, or the pleasures of a foreign and a pagan capital as to obliterate the memory of, or shake his faith in, the divine promises to Israel.

Verse 25

And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 26

So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him,

So Joseph died, being, an hundred and ten years old. Bunsen, whose semi-rationalistic system led him to reduce the longevity of the patriarchs to the present ordinary standard of life, does not allow ('Egypt's Place,'

iii., p. 342) that Joseph, when he died, exceeded 78 years of age, grounding an argument on the circumstance that, had he been as old as the text represents, he must have seen not the children of Machir only, but Machir's grandchildren. Gesenius shows, on critical principles, that Joseph actually did so: for (Genesis 50:23) he saw Ephraim's [ bªneey (H1121) shileeshiym (H8029)] children of the thirds, i:e., children of great-grandchildren-viz., the fourth generation. [See Exodus 34:7, where bªneey (H1121) baaniym (H1121) are the grandchildren, and shileeshiym (H8029), the third, is expressly distinguished from ribee`iym, the fourth generation.] Keil proves (Keil and Delitzch, 'On the Pentateuch,' p. 412, Clarke's edition) by a minute calculation on Genesis 41:50, that there is no practical difficulty in the way of this explanation. And if the translation of the recently-discovered papyrus is to be relied on, the great age of their honoured prime minister became proverbial among the Egyptians ('Parthenon,' No. 11: -`Longevity among the Ancient Egyptians, and a Record of the Patriarchal Age,' by D.J. Heath).

And they embalmed him. The practice of embalming prevailed in Egypt at a very early period, for Rosellini states (chapter 11, 3) that mummies have been found from the dates of the first kings. Joseph might have been induced to comply with this Egyptian custom, both in his own and his father's case, with a view to the conservation of their corpses for final removal to Canaan. The idea, however, that originated the practice seems not to have been a vain wish to immortalize the body, but a dim traditional belief of a future state, in which the conservation of the body would be essential to the vigour and happiness of the soul. But further, 'we have now abundant reason for concluding that the perfect purification of the body, and not its conservation was at the root of the ideas expressed in every act of mummification' (Brugsch, quoted by Hardwick, 2:, p. 296: cf. Wilkinson, 'Ancient Egypt,' second series, 2:, p. 445-7; Kenrick, 1:, 480; Prichard's 'Egyptian Mythology,' p. 198; Cormack, 'On Creosote,' with the catalogue of books on embalming referred to).

And he was put in a coffin in Egypt, [ `aarown (H727) - a wooden chest (Herodotus and Diodorus, as quoted on verse 3; Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt,' volume 5:, p. 459); the Septuagint, soros (G4673), a specially-constructed theekee (G2336)], for the incasement of a mummified body, generally of sycamore wood, sometimes of pasteboard, formed by glueing together numerous folds, plastered and painted with hieroglyphics. Stone or basalt was the exception; and besides that wood was the ordinary material, a good reason for employing it in Joseph's case was, greater facility in the conveyance of his remains to Canaan, in accordance with his last injunctions. The putting of a corpse in a coffin was peculiarly an Egyptian custom, since it did not obtain among the Hebrews (2 Kings 13:21; Matthew 27:59-60); nor does it in the modern East, either among Turks or Christians. But even in ancient Egypt it was not universal; and while the lower classes were simply embalmed and swathed, or often interred without embalming, the enclosure in a coffin was a distinction reserved for persons of rank and wealth. It is probable that, since each family had a burial place for itself, Joseph's corpse would be placed on a niche, where it would be preserved until the exodus, instead of being buried in the great pyramid, as is maintained by a modern writer (Dr. E. Clarke's 'Travels,' volume

v., pp. 253, 261).

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 50". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/genesis-50.html. 1871-8.