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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Genesis 50

Verses 1-26

ELEVENTH SECTION

Joseph’s mourning. Jacob’s burial in Canaan. The brothers’ dread of Joseph. His word of peace and trust for them. Joseph’s last provision for his own return home to Canaan after death, similar to the provision of his father.

Genesis 50:1-26

1And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him. 2And Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians, to embalm1 his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel. 3And 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. 4And 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, 5My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die; in my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now, therefore, let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come again. 6And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear. 7And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, 8and all the elders of the land of Egypt. And all the house [attendants, servants] 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. 9And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and it was a very great company. 10And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad [buckthorn], which is beyond Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and sore lamentation; and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11And 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 Abel-mizraim, which is beyond Jordan. 12And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them. 13For 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 burying-place, of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre. 14And 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. 15And 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 we did unto him. 16And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, 17So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive,2 I pray thee, now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil; and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. 18And his brethren also went, and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants 19[literally, and more pathetically, Behold us, thy servants]. And Joseph Said unto them, Fear not, for am I in the place of God? 20But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. 21Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.3 22And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s house; and Joseph lived a hundred and ten years. 23And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph’s knees. 24And 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. 25And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. 26So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him; and he was put in a coffin [a sarcophagus] in Egypt.

PRELIMINARY REMARKS

1. As the fundamental idea of the preceding chapter denoted, with solemn foresight, the future appearance of Israel in the promised land, so, in the closing chapter before us, the actual return of Israel to Canaan is settled, by way of anticipation, in the burial of Jacob in Canaan, and by the oath which Joseph gives to his brethren. The spirit of the theocratic home-feeling in its higher significance, and of the assurance of their return, breathes through this whole chapter. In this, Genesis points beyond, not only to the exodus of the children of Israel, but away beyond this also, to the eternal home, as the goal of God’s people.

2. According to Knobel, merely Genesis 50:12-13 belongs to the ground Scripture, while all the rest is an enlargement made by the Jehovist; but then the Jehovist must be supposed to follow the first document (see p. 377, Knobel). As respects this criticism, now, must things themselves be allowed to speak, especially such things as the strong presence of Joseph, and other facts of a similar kind!

3. Contents: 1) The mourning for Jacob’s death, and the preparation of his dead body in Egypt, Genesis 50:1-6.—2) The mourning procession to Canaan, Genesis 50:7-13.—3) The breaking out of an old wound. The fear of Joseph’s brothers, and his declaration that their guilt has been expiated under the government of God’s grace, Genesis 50:14-21.

4. Joseph’s life and death. His provision exacted from them by an oath: that he should be carried home to Canaan at his death, Genesis 50:22-26.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1.Genesis 50:1-6.—And Joseph fell.—An inimitably touching expression of his soul’s deep emotion.—And the forty days were fulfilled.—For forty days did the process of embalming continue. Then follow thirty days, which make the full three-score and ten days—the time of mourning for a prince. “The embalming of the body was an Egyptian custom, practised for pay by a special class of skilled artists (ταριχευταί), to whom the relations gave the body for that purpose. According to Herodotus, ii. 86, there were three modes of proceeding, of which the most costly was as follows: they drew out the brain through the nostrils, and filled the cavity in the head with spices; then they took out the viscera, and filled the space with all kinds of aromatics, after which they sewed it up. The next step was to salt the body with natron, and let it lie seventy days, or longer. Then they washed it off, wrapt it in fine linen, and smeared it with gum. Finally, the relatives took it back, enclosed it in a chest, and kept it in a chamber for the dead. We derive the same information from Diodorus Sic., i. 91, and, moreover, that the taricheutists (the embalmers) were held in high honor, and ranked in the society of the priests. In the several districts they had particular places for their business (Strabo, xvii. p. 795). They used asphaltum which was brought from Palestine to Egypt (Diod., xix. 99; Strabo, xvi. p. 764). From thence, too, they obtained the spices that were employed (see Genesis 37:25; Genesis 43:11). The intestines they put in a box and cast into the Nile; doing this because the belly was regarded as the seat of sins, especially those of gluttony and intemperate drinking. (Porphyr. Abstin., iv. 10.) See more on this subject in Friedreich (Zur. Bibel, ii. p. 199). See also Winer, Realwörterb., ‘Embalming.’ Jacob was prepared as a mummy. Joseph in the same manner, Genesis 50:26. This is related of no other Hebrew. The embalming mentioned later among the Jews was of a different kind (John 19:39).” Knobel. The mourning for Aaron and Moses was observed thirty days.—Speak in the ears of Pharaoh.—On an occasion so peculiar he lets others speak for him; moreover it was unseemly to appear before the king in mourning.—The grave which I have digged for me.—This is not at variance with the supposition that Abraham had previously bought the cave. In this cave of Machpelah Jacob had, at a later time, made a special preparation of a grave for himself. It is a conjecture of Von Bohlen, with Onkel and others, that כרה here, should be rendered bought; but there is no need of it.

2.Genesis 50:7-13. The great mourning procession of the Egyptians here proceeded, on the one hand, from their recognition of Joseph’s high position, and, on the other, from their love of funeral festivity (Hengstenberg).—Threshing-floor of Atad.—So called from אָטָד, thorn, because, perhaps, surrounded by thorn-bushes.—Seven days.—The usual time of mourning. The place is called by Hieronymus, Bethagla. Concerning the late discovered traces of the place, lying not far from the northern end of the Dead Sea, see Knobel, p. 379. It is this side of Jordan, though the account says beyond Jordan. The expression is explained, when, with the older commentators, we take into view that the traditionary mention arising from the old position of the Israelites, had become fixed. Bunsen would remove the seeming difficulty by maintaining that בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן actually means this side of Jordan. Delitzsch and Keil suppose that the place denoted is not identical with Bethagla, but actually lay on the other side of Jordan. There probably did the Egyptian mourning-train remain behind, after having gone round the Dead Sea; whilst the sons of Jacob, according to Genesis 50:13, actually entered Canaan proper. The difficult question, why the mourning-train did not take the usual direct way from Egypt to Hebron, is answered by saying, that on the usual route they would have to guard themselves against encounters with warlike tribes; and this is supported by the fact, that the children of Israel, likewise, at a later day, had to avoid the direct route on the western side. Moreover, the march was in some respects typical, presenting an anticipation, as it were, of the later journey. Even at that time the Canaanites attentively watched the mourning procession; but they had no presentiment of its significance for the later time, and were especially quiet as they looked on during this “grievous mourning of the Egyptians.”

3.Genesis 50:14-21.—And when Joseph’s brethren saw.—The father had stood as a powerful mediator between them and Joseph; and now conscience again wakes up. In their message to him they appeal to their father’s words, and there is no ground for what Knobel says, that this was a mere pretext. Joseph’s weeping testifies to an elevated and noble soul. Once they had sold him for a slave, and now they offer themselves as his servants. This is the last atonement. Joseph’s answer contains the full reconciliation. Am I in the place of God? Can I by my own will change his purposes? God has turned the judgment into a deliverance, and in this must they find peace and reconciliation. God has forgiven them; and, therefore, he himself can no longer retain their sins; nor would he; since that would be to put himself judicially in the place of the forgiving God.—What he says, Genesis 50:20, gives us the grand golden key to his whole life’s history—yea, it is the germ of all theodicy in the world’s history.

4.Genesis 50:22-26.—The third generation.—That is, great-grandchildren. The dead bodies were placed in chests of sycamore wood, and kept in the chambers of the dead. So Joseph’s body was kept. In the exodus of Israel it was carried along (Exodus 13:19), and laid in the field of Jacob at Shechem (Joshua 24:32).

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. We have denoted this chapter as the chapter of the home feeling. It is a trait that breathes through it. Canaan the home-land of Israel—type of the heavenly home.
2. Joseph’s disposition, mourning, and truthfulness.
3. With wonderful propriety does Joseph unite in his own person the Israelitish truthfulness with that which was of most value in the Egyptian customs and usages.
4. The mourning-train of Jacob, a presignal of Israel’s return to Canaan.

5. As God makes Genesis glorious in the beginning, by the account of his creation,—so here, at the end, by a display of his providence (Genesis 50:20).

6. The admonitions of conscience.
7. Perfect love casteth out fear. Joseph’s word of peace for his brethren.
8. Joseph’s provision an act of faith. Pointing to the exodus.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Consecrated death.—Consecrated mourning. The consecrated mourning usage. The pious mourning procession. The divine sighing for home. The dead Jacob draws beforehand the living Israel to Canaan. Before all is the dying Christ.—The way of our future wonderfully prepared: 1. In the mourning-train; 2. in the exodus of the spirits; 3. in the going forth of the heart in its longing and sighing for home.

First Section. (Genesis 50:1-6.) Starke: Extract from Herodotus ii. 85, 86, on the Egyptian mourning usages, and the embalming of the dead.—Bibl. Tub.: The bodies of the dead are rightly honored, when they are buried in the earth, with the common usages, when they are not superstitious; but they are not to be exposed for spiritual reverence, or carried about for that purpose, or have ascribed to them any miracle-working power. Though we may weep for the dead, it must not be with us as it is with the heathen, who have no hope.—Calwer Handbuch: Egypt swarmed with physicians, because there was one specially for each disease.

Second Section. (Genesis 50:7-13.) Starke: Thus was there almost royal honor done to Jacob in his death; since for the dead Egyptian kings they used to mourn for seventy-two days.——Schröder: In this there was fulfilled the promise made Genesis 46:4 : Jacob was literally brought back from Egypt to Canaan; since for his body did God prepare this prophetic journey.

Third Section. (Genesis 50:14-21.) Starke: Attendance upon the dead to their place of rest is a Christian act.

Genesis 50:16. They sent a messenger, saying; It was probably Benjamin whom they sent.—Hall: To one who means good, there can be nothing more offensive than suspicion.—The same: The tie of religion is much stricter than that of nature.

Genesis 50:20. Lange: The history of Joseph and his brethren an example of the wonderful providence of God.—Bibl. Tub.: The wicked plots of wicked men against the pious, God turns to their best good.

Gerlach: The revelation of the most wonderfully glorious decree of God’s love and almighty power, which man cannot frustrate, yea, even the transformation of evil into blessing and salvation—this appears to have been fulfilled throughout the entire life of Joseph. His feeling, so greatly removed from the revenge which his brothers still thought him capable of, goes far beyond them. He speaks to their heart. His words drop like balm upon a wound. It is a beautiful pictorial expression which elsewhere occurs.—With an act of faith of the dying Jacob, connecting the first book of Moses with the second, this history closes, and thereby points to the fulfilling of the promise that now follows.—Schröder: As we have one father, they would say, so have we one God, our father’s God; forgive us, therefore, for God’s sake, the God of our father. They make mention of servitude as their deserved punishment, with reference to their evil deed to Joseph (Baumgarten).

Fourth Section. (Genesis 50:22-26.) Starke: It is not probable that, at that time, the brothers were all living. [In that case the meaning would have reference to the heads of families.—To the wood out of which the coffins of the dead were made, there seems to have been ascribed the property of being incorruptible?—Comparison of Joseph with Christ in a series of resemblances.]—God does not suffer fidelity to parents, or love and kindly deeds to one’s own people, to go unrewarded.—Bibl. Wirt.: God is wont, sometimes, even in this life, to recompense to believers their cross and misery. That is the best thought of death, to remember the promise of God and his gracious redemption.—Schröder: It all ends with the coffin, the mourning for the dead, the funeral procession, and the glance into the future life. The age of promise is over; there follows now a silent chasm of four hundred years, until out of the rushes of the Nile there is lifted up a weeping infant in a little reed-formed ark. The age of law begins, which endures for fifteen hundred years. Then in Bethlehem-Ephratah is there born another infant, and with him begins the happy time, the day of light, and quickening grace (Krummacher).—Calwer Handbuch: His place as prime minister of Egypt had not extinguished Joseph’s faith in the divine promise. He shared in the faith; he is to be a coheir, a sharer in the inheritance.—Lisco: And so speaks Joseph yet, through faith, unto his people, though he has long been dead, and in his grave.—Heim: Joseph closed his life with an act of faith. 

 Footnotes:

[1][Genesis 50:2.—חנט occurs only here, and in Song of Solomon 2:13, where it is applied to the ripening of the fig. The Arabic دـغط has also both these senses of ripening and of embalming. The LXX have rendered it ἐνταφιάσαι, to bury, putting a part of a proceeding for the whole—to prepare him for burial. Vulgate—ut aromatibus condirent.—T. L.]

[2][Genesis 50:17.—שָׂא, forgive; literally, lift up. The figure may be either the lifting up the supposed prostrate face, or the lifting off the burden of remembered guilt. It is most expressive either way.—T. L.]

[3][Genesis 50:21.—וַיְדַבֵּר עַל לִבָּם. Rendered, and he spake kindly unto them. Literally, he spake unto their heart, and so the LXX have rendered it. He did not merely use good oratorical forma of encouragement, but spoke words coming from the heart, and which the heart immediately understood. It was the language of deep emotion. Compare the same expression, 1 Samuel 1:13, and Isaiah 40:2, rendered in the latter place, speak ye comfortably—literally, speak to the heart of Jerusalem. It is to be regretted that such intensive expressions of the Hebrew had not been more generally preserved in our English version. Some of them might have sounded strangely at first, but time would have naturalized them, and given them a place among the choicest idioms in our language.—T. L.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 50". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-50.html. 1857-84.