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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 50

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-14


Genesis 50:1

And Joseph fell upon his father's face, and wept upon him, and kissed him. Joseph had no doubt closed the eyes of his revered and beloved parent, as God had promised to the patriarch that he would (Genesis 46:4), and now, in demonstration both of the intensity of his love and of the bitterness of his sorrow, he sinks upon the couch upon which the lifeless form is lying, bonding over the pallid countenance with warm tears, and imprinting kisses of affection on the cold and irresponsive lip. It is neither unnatural nor irreligious to mourn for the dead; and he must be callous indeed who can see a parent die without an outburst of tender grief.

Genesis 50:2

And Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians—literally, the healers, הָרֹפְאִים from רָפָא, to sew together, to mend, hence to heal, a class of persons which abounded in Ancient Egypt, each physician being only qualified to treat a single disorder (Herod; 2.84). The medical men of Egypt were held in high repute abroad, and their assistance was at various times required by persons from other countries, as, e.g; Cyrus and Darius. Their knowledge of medicines was extensive, and is referred to both in sacred (Jeremiah 66:11) and profane writings. The Egyptian doctors belonged to the sacerdotal order, and were expected to know all things relating to the body, and diseases and remedies contained in the six last of the sacred books of Hermes. According to Pliny (7.56), the study of medicine originated in Egypt. The physicians employed by Joseph were those attached to his own household, or the court practitioners—to embalm his father:—literally, to spice or season (the body of) his father, i.e. to prepare it for burial by means of aromatics; ut aromatibus condirent (Vulgate); ἐνταφιάσαι τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ (LXX.), which is putting part of a proceeding for the whole (Tayler Lewis). According to Herodotus (2. 86), the embalmers belonged to a distinct hereditary class or guild from the ordinary physicians; but either their formation into such a separate order of practitioners was of later origin (Hengstenberg, Kurtz, Kalisch), or Jacob was embalmed by the physicians instead of the embalmers proper because, not being an Egyptian, he could not be subjected to the ordinary treatment of the embalming art ('Speaker's Commentary')—and the physicians embalmed Israel. The method of preparing mummies in Ancient Egypt has been elaborately described, both by Herodotus (2.86) and Diodorus Sieulus (1.91), and, in the main, the accuracy of their descriptions has been confirmed by the evidence derived from the mummies themselves. According to the most expensive process, which cost one talent of silver, or about £250 sterling, the brain was first extracted through the nostrils by means of a crooked piece of iron, the skull being thoroughly cleansed of any remaining portions by rinsing with drugs; then, through an opening in the left side made with a sharp Ethiopian knife of agate or of flint, the viscera were removed, the abdomen being afterwards purified with palm wine and an infusion of aromatics; next, the disemboweled corpse was filled with every sort of spicery except frankincense, and the opening sewed up; after that the stuffed form was steeped for seventy days in natrum or subcarbonate of soda obtained from the Libyan desert, and sometimes in wax and tanning, bitumen also being employed in later times; and finally, on the expiration of that period, which was scrupulously observed, the body was washed, wrapped about with linen bandages, smeared over with gum, decorated with amulets, sometimes with a network of porcelain bugles, covered with a linen shroud, and, in due course, transferred to a mummy case.

Genesis 50:3

And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those who are embalmed: and the Egyptians mourned (literally, wept) for him threescore and ten days—i.e. the whole period of mourning, including the forty days for embalming, extended to seventy days, a statement which strikingly coincides with the assertion of Diodorus Siculus (1:72), that the embalming process occupied about thirty days, while the mourning continued seventy-two days; the first number, seventy, being seven decades, or ten weeks of seven days, and the second 12 x 6 = 72, the duodecimal calculation being also used in Egypt. The apparent discrepancy between the accounts of Genesis and Herodotus will disappear if the seventy days of the Greek historian, during which the body lay in antrum, be viewed as the entire period of mourning, a sense which the words ταῦτα δὲ ποιήσαντες ταριχεύουσι λίτρῳ κρίηψαντες ἡμέρας ἐβδομήκοντα (Herod. 2.86)will bear, though Kalisch somewhat arbitrarily, but unconvincingly, pronounces it to be "excluded both by the context and Greek syntax."

Genesis 50:4, Genesis 50:5

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,—that Joseph did not address himself directly to Pharaoh, but through the members of the royal household, was not owing to the circumstance that, being arrayed in mourning apparel, he could not come before the king (Rosenmüller), since it is not certain that this Persian custom (Esther 4:2) prevailed in Egypt, but is supposed to have been due, either to a desire on Joseph's part to put himself on a good understanding with the priesthood who composed the courtly circle, since the interment of the dead was closely connected with the religious beliefs of Egypt (Havernick), or, what was more likely, to the fact that Joseph, having, according to Egyptian custom (Herod. 2:36), allowed his beard and hair to grow, could not enter the king's presence without being both shaven and shorn (Hengstenberg, Kurtz, Keil). It has been suggested (Kalisch) that Joseph's power may have been restricted after the expiration of the famine, or that another Pharaoh may have succeeded to the throne who was not so friendly as his predecessor with the grand vizier of the realm; but such conjectures are not required to render Joseph's conduct in this matter perfectly intelligible—saying, My father made me swear (Genesis 47:29), saying (i.e. my father saying), Lo, I die: in my grave which I have digged for me—not bought (Onkelos, Drusius, Ainsworth, Bohlen, and others), but digged, ὤρυξα (LXX.), fodi (Vulgate). Jacob may have either enlarged the original cave at Machpelah, or prepared in it the special niche which he designed to occupy—in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore (literally, and now) let me go up, I pray thee (the royal permission was required to enable Joseph to pass beyond the boundaries of Egypt, especially when accompanied by a large funeral procession), and bury my father, and I will come again.

Genesis 50:6

And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear. Pharaoh's answer would, of course, be conveyed through the courtiers.

Genesis 50:7-9

And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh (i.e. the chief officers of the royal palace, as the next clause explains), the elders of his house (i.e. of Pharaoh's house), and all the elders of the land of Egypt (i.e. the nobles and State officials), 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. And there went up with him (as an escort) both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company. Delineations of funeral processions, of a most elaborate character, may be seen on the monuments. A detailed and highly interesting account of the funeral procession of an Egyptian grandee, enabling us to picture to the mind's eye the scene of Jacob's burial, will be found in Wilkinson's 'Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,' vol. 3. p. 444, ed. 1878. First servants led the way, carrying tables laden with fruit, cakes, flowers, vases of ointment, wine and other liquids, with three young geese and a calf for sacrifice, chairs and wooden tablets, napkins, and other things. Then others followed bearing daggers, bows, fans, and the mummy cases in which the deceased and his ancestors had been kept previous to burial. Next came a table of offerings, fauteuils, couches, boxes, and a chariot. After these men appeared with gold vases and more offerings. To these succeeded the bearers of a sacred boat and the mysterious eye of Osiris, as the god of stability. Placed in the consecrated boat, the hearse containing the mummy of the deceased was drawn by four oxen and by seven men, under the direction of a superintendent who regulated the march of the funeral. Behind the hearse followed the male relations and friends of the deceased, who either beat their breasts, or gave token of their sorrow by their silence and solemn step as they walked, leaning on their long sticks; and with these the procession closed.

Genesis 50:10

And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad. The threshing-floor, or goren, was a large open circular area which was used for trampling out the corn by means of oxen, and was exceedingly convenient for the accommodation of a large body of people such as accompanied Joseph. The goren at which the funeral party halted was named Atad (i.e. Buckthorn), either from the name of the owner, or from the quantity of buck-thorn which grew in the neighborhood. Which is beyond Jordan—literally, on the other side of the Jordan, i.e. west side, if the narrator wrote from his own standpoint (Jerome, Drusius, Ainsworth, Kalisch, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Wordsworth, et alii), in which case the funeral train would in all probability follow the direct route through the country of the Philistines, and Goren Atad would be situated somewhere south of Hebron, in the territory (afterwards) of Judah; but east side of the river if the phrase must be interpreted from the standpoint of Palestine (Clericus, Rosenmüller, Hengstenberg, Kurtz, Keil, Lange, Gerlach, Havernick, Murphy, and others), in which case the burial procession must have journeyed by the wilderness, as the Israelites on a latter occasion did, and probably for not dissimilar reasons. In favor of the former interpretation may be claimed Genesis 50:11, which says the Canaanites beheld the mourning, implying seemingly that it occurred within the borders of Canaan, i.e. on the west of the Jordan; while support for the latter is derived from Genesis 50:13, which appears to state that after the lamentation at Goren Atad the sons of Jacob carried him into Canaan, almost necessarily involving the inference that Goren Atad was on the east of the Jordan; but vide infra. If the former is correct, Goren Atad was probably the place which Jerome calls Betagla tertio ab Hiericho lapide, duobus millibus ab Jordane; if the latter is correct, it does not prove a post-Mosaic authorship (Tuch, Bohlen, &c.), since the phrase appears to have had an ideal usage with reference to Canaan in addition to the objective geographical one. And there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation. The Egyptians were exceedingly demonstrative and vehement in their public lamentations for the dead, rending their garments, smiting on their breasts, throwing dust and mud on their heads, calling on the deceased by name, and chanting funeral dirges to the music of a tambourine with the tinkling plates removed. And he made a mourning for his father seven days. This was a special mourning before interment (cf. Ecclesiasticus 22:11).

Genesis 50:11

And when (literally, and) the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they (literally, and they) said, This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians: wherefore the name of it was called Abel-mizraim,i.e. the meadow (אָבֵל) of the Egyptians, with a play upon the word (אֵבֶל) mourning (Keil, Kurtz, Gerlach, Rosenmüller, &c.), if indeed the word has not been punctuated wrongly—אָבֵל instead of אֵבֶל (Kalisch), which latter reading appears to have been followed by the LXX. (πένθος Αἰγύπτου) and the Vulgate (planctus AEgypti)—which is beyond Jordan (vide supra).

Genesis 50:12, Genesis 50:13

And his sons—the Egyptians halting at Goren Atad (Keil, Havernick, Kalisch, Murphy, etc.); but this does not appear from the narrative—did unto him according as he commanded them (the explanation of what they did being given in the next clause): for his sons carried him—not simply from Goren Atad, but from Egypt, so that this verse does not imply anything about the site of the Buckthorn threshing-floor (vide supra, Genesis 50:11)—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 Mature (vide Genesis 23:1-20.).

Genesis 50:14

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


Genesis 50:1-14

The funeral of Jacob.

I. THE PRIVATE SORROW. That a great and good man like Jacob, the father of a numerous family, the ancestor of an important people, the chieftain of an influential tribe, the head of the Church of God, should depart this life without eliciting from some heart a tribute of sorrow, is inconceivable. That any of his sons witnessed the last solemn act of this great spiritual wrestler, when he gathered up his feet into his bed and yielded up his spirit into the hands of God, without a tear and without a pang of grief, although it is only the emotion of Joseph that is recorded, is what we cannot for a moment believe. Less demonstrative than was that of Joseph, less deep too, probably, since the heart of Joseph appears to have been peculiarly susceptible of tender emotions, we may yet suppose that the grief of Joseph's brethren was not less real.

II. THE PUBLIC MOURNING. In accordance with the customs of the times, and of the country, it was needful that a public ceremonial should be observed, in honor of the dead. Accordingly, Joseph, as the first step required by the usages of the people amongst whom he lived, gave instructions to his court physicians to embalm his father. For details as to the process, which occupied a period of forty days, the Exposition may be consulted. Then, along with this, for seventy days, peculiar rites, supposed to be expressive of the heart's grief, such as rending the garments, smiting the breast, throwing dust upon the head, calling on the deceased, were maintained with the assistance of friends, neighbors, and professional mourners.


1. The train of mourners. This consisted of the state and court officials of Pharaoh's house, and of the land of Egypt, the members of the houses of Joseph and his brethren, and a troop of horsemen and charioteers for protection on the journey.

2. The line of march. This was either straight north, through the country of the Philistines, if Goren Atad was south of Hebron in Judea, or it was round about by the way of the wilderness, if the halting-place was east of Jordan.

3. The lamentation at Goren Atad. This was intended as a special demonstration before burial, and was conducted with such vehemence as to arrest the attention of the Canaanites, who called the place in consequence, Abel-Mizraim; i.e. the plain or the mourning of Mizraim.

4. The advance to Hebron. It is more than probable that the Egyptians, who had accompanied the funeral procession from Goshen, remained behind at Goren Atad, while Joseph and his brethren bore the patriarch's body on to Hebron.

IV. THE SOLEMN INTERMENT. His sons buried him in the ancestral vault; of Mach-pelah. Reverently, affectionately, tearfully, yet hopefully, let us hope, they laid the weary pilgrim down to sleep till the resurrection morn beside the dust of his own Leah, and in the company of Abraham, and Sarah, and Isaac, and Rebekah. It must have been an affecting, as surely it was a sublime spectacle, this coming home of an aged exile to lay his bones in his native land, this returning of the heir of Canaan to claim his inheritance, this laying down of the last member of the great patriarchal family among the other inmates of Machpelah. With the burial of Jacob, the first patriarchal family was complete, and the tomb was closed. The members of the second household slept at Shechem.


Genesis 50:1-26

Retrospect and prospect.

The fellowship of Egypt with the children of Israel in the burial of Jacob is full of significance. "A very great company went with them." "Abel-Mizraim" the Canaanites called it, "a grievous mourning to the Egyptians." It seemed to them altogether an Egyptian funeral. Yet we know that it was not. The work of God's grace will transform the world that it shall not be recognized. The funeral itself said, Egypt is not our home. It pointed with prophetic significance to the future of God's people. Canaan, the home of God's people, is the symbol of the everlasting home. Strange that the conscience should wake up in the brethren of Joseph after the father's death. How great the power of love in subduing fear! The true-hearted, tender piety of Joseph both towards God and towards his father and his kindred, is not influenced by such considerations as affected the lower characters of his brethren. They feared because they were not as true as he. "Joseph wept when they spake unto him," wept for them, wept to think they had not yet understood him. It is a great grief to a good man, a man of large, simpler loving nature, to be thought capable of unkindness and treachery. Joseph recognized that his life had been a Divine thing. He was only an instrument in the hands of God, in the place of God. He saw Providence working with grace. The influence of real religion is to sanctify and exalt natural affections. Joseph's end, like his father's, was a testimony to the faithfulness of God, and a fresh consecration of the covenant people to their Divine future. "I die, and God will surely visit you. He was a truly humble man to the last. His people's blessedness was not of his making. His death would be rather their gain than their loss. Yet "by faith he gave commandment concerning his bones" (Hebrews 11:22), not in any foolish feeling of relic worship, but because he would have the people while in Egypt not to be of Egypt. Those who live on the promises of God will feel that" faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and confess, not by word only but by deed, and to the last moment of life, "that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth," "seeking a better city, even a heavenly."—R.

Verses 15-26


Genesis 50:15

And when (literally and) Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they (literally, and they) said, Joseph will peradventure hate us,—literally, If Joseph hated us, or pursued us hostilely (sc. what would become of us?), לוּ with the imperfect or future setting forth a possible but undesirable contingency—and will certainly requite us (literally, if returning he caused to return upon us) all the evil which we did unto him. "What then?" is the natural conclusion of the sentence. "We must be utterly undone."

Genesis 50:16, Genesis 50:17

And (under these erroneous though not unnatural apprehensions) they sent a messenger unto Joseph,—literally, they charged Joseph, i.e. they deputed one of their number (possibly Benjamin) to carry their desires to Joseph—saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil (nothing is more inherently probable than that the good man on his death-bed did request his sons to beg their brother's pardon): and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. Joseph's brethren in these words at once evince the depth of their humility, the sincerity of their repentance, and the genuineness of their religion. They were God's true servants, and they wished to be forgiven by their much-offended brother, who, however, had long since embraced them in the arms of his affection. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him—pained that they should for a single moment have enter-rained such suspicions against his love.

Genesis 50:18

And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. Both the attitudes assumed and the words spoken were designed to express the intensity of their contrition and the fervor of their supplication.

Genesis 50:19

And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?i.e. either reading the words as a question, Should I arrogate to myself what obviously belongs to Elohim, viz; the power and right of vengeance (Calvin, Kalisch, Murphy, 'Speaker's Commentary'), or the power to interfere with the purposes of God? (Keil, Rosenmüller); or, regarding them as an assertion, I am in God's stead, i.e. a minister to you for good (Wordsworth).

Genesis 50:20

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good (literally, and ye were thinking or meditating evil against me; Elohim was thinking or meditating for good, i.e. that what you did should be for good), to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive (vide Genesis 45:5).

Genesis 50:21

Now therefore (literally, and now) fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. Thus he repeats and confirms the promise which he had originally made to them when he invited them to come to Egypt (Genesis 45:11, Genesis 45:18, Genesis 45:19). And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them—literally, to their hearts (cf. Genesis 34:3).

Genesis 50:22

And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father's house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years. Wordsworth notices that Joshua, who superintended the burial of Joseph in Shechem, also lived 110 years. Joseph's death occurred fifty-six years after that of Jacob.

Genesis 50:23

And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation:—i.e. Ephraim's great-grandchildren (Kalisch, Lange), or Ephraim's great-great-grandsons (Keil, Murphy), which perhaps was not impossible, since Ephraim must have been born before Joseph's thirty-seventh year, thus allowing at least sixty-three years for four generations to intervene before the patriarch's death, which might be, if marriage happened early, say not later than eighteen—the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh-by a concubine (1 Chronicles 7:14) were brought up upon Joseph's knees—literally, were born upon Joseph's knees, i.e. were adopted by him as soon as they were born (Kalisch, Wordsworth, 'Speaker's Commentary'), or were born so that he could take them also upon his knees, and show his love for them (Keil).

Genesis 50:24, Genesis 50:25

And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God (Elohim) will surely visit you,—literally, visiting will visit you, according to his promise (Genesis 46:4)—and bring you out of this land unto the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel,—as his father had done of him (Genesis 47:31),—saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. The writer to the Hebrews (Genesis 11:22) refers to this as a signal instance of faith on the part of Joseph.

Genesis 50:26

So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old (literally, a son of a hundred and ten years), and they (i.e. the children of Israel) embalmed him (vide on Genesis 50:2), and he was put in a coffin (or chest, i.e. a mummy case, which was commonly constructed of sycamore wood) in Egypt, where he remained for a period of 360 years, until the time of the Exodus, when, according to the engagement now given, his remains were carried up to Canaan, and solemnly deposited in the sepulcher of Shechem (Joshua 24:32).


Genesis 50:15-26

The last of the house of Jacob.

I. JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Genesis 50:15-18).

1. The unworthy suspicion. After Jacob's death, Joseph's brethren began to fear lest he should seek to revenge himself on account of his early injuries. It was perhaps natural that such an apprehension should arise within their breasts, considering the enormity of the wickedness of which they had been guilty; but remembering all the tokens of Joseph's love which already they had received, it was surely unkind to Joseph to suffer such a thought for even a moment to find a lodgment in their breasts.

2. The friendly embassage. Deputing Benjamin, it is thought, to be the bearer of their wishes, they instructed him to remind Joseph of their dead father's desire that he should forgive the evil he had suffered at their hands, and to solicit an express assurance from his own lips that it was so.

3. The voluntary humiliation. Whether they allowed their messenger to return or followed close upon his heels cannot be certainly concluded. But they appear to have resorted in a body to Joseph's palace, and placed themselves unconditionally in his power: "Behold, we be thy servants," meaning, "Do with us what seemeth good in thy sight."

4. The generous assurance. As they desired, he explicitly declared, though with tears at their unkindness, that they had no cause whatever to anticipate his anger, that he was not in God's place that he should seek to punish them for a sin which had turned out so providentially for good, and that on the contrary he would continue to nourish them and their little ones so long as they remained in Egypt.


1. The children of Ephraim. He lived long enough to see the children of Ephraim's grandchildren born into this sinful world, and then he died at the good old age of 110 years.

2. The children of Manasseh. He saw the offspring of Manasseh's son born, and either adopted into his own family, or brought up in his own house.


1. Joseph's premonition of approaching death. "Joseph said unto his brethren,"—i.e. the descendants of his brethren, his actual brethren having in all probability predeceased him,—"I die." Along with this Joseph recalled to their minds the sacred promise that God would eventually visit them and cause them to return to their own land. It is well when death approaches to remember God's promises. The thoughts of God are very suitable for dying hours.

2. Joseph's preparation for death. He took an oath of the children of Israel that they would carry up his bones to Canaan, in this following the example and imitating the faith of his revered father Jacob.

3. Joseph's falling asleep in death. "Joseph died, the son of an hundred and ten years." He had lived a shorter life than any of the four great preceding patriarchs; but his life had been eminently honored and useful, and his death, we may be sure, would be beautifully calm and peaceful.

4. Joseph's body after death. It was embalmed, and the mummy put into a coffin for better preservation, until the time approached when it could be taken for consignment to the holy land.


1. How difficult it is to shake oneself free from the evil consequences of sin, even after it has been forgiven.

2. How painful to a loving heart it is to be suspected of cherishing a feeling of revenge.

3. How generously God sometimes rewards his servants on earth, by permitting them to see children's children, born and brought up, and sometimes also brought into the family of his Church.

4. How peacefully a child of God can die; and

5. How hopefully he ought to look forward to the resurrection


Genesis 50:20

Intended bane an unintentional boon.

"Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good." Joseph must have been deeply pained by the mistrust of his brethren. They implied that it was only out of consideration for his father that he had been kind to them. Yet Joseph had forgiven them. They could not so easily believe in the forgiveness; just as man now is forgiven by God, but he has the greatest difficulty in believing in the reconciliation. Joseph's brethren sent a messenger unto him, probably Benjamin. They who had once sold Joseph as a slave now offer to be his slaves. The offer is to him humiliating. Moreover, it is great pain to him. To a noble soul designing only good to others there is no greater offensiveness than to have his doings viewed with suspicion. Joseph repudiated the mistrust, and refused the offered self-enslavement. He assures his brethren of full forgiveness in words which must have been as softest balm to wounded spirits. In a spirit of the highest magnanimity he tries even to make them view with complacency the result of their wrong-doing. In the text we have the "grand golden key to the whole of his life's history." Notice how—

I. INTENDED BANE OFTEN BECOMES UNINTENTIONAL BOON. Evil works evil to others, but sometimes good. Intended evil is overruled by God when he has some good object in view. "Man proposes, God disposes." God always knows what the result of certain actions will be. If they are good actions they work in line with his will: if evil, he overrules them. If the horse keeps the road it feels not the rein, but if it will turn aside, the sharp bit must draw it back again. Whatever speculation there may be about our absolute freeness, we feel that we are free. It is the glory of God to be able to trust with freedom a being with such great powers for moral evil, like man. He would teach us to use our wills, by giving us full freedom. We frequently pain him by our misuse and our abuse of our powers. What evil we devise and strive to carry out! The brethren of Joseph even intended murder, and modified it by selling their brother into slavery. They acted more cruelly than some of the men-stealers of Africa. The latter steal strangers to sell them, but these ten men sold their own brother. They thought they were rid of him. Egypt was a long way off; Joseph was but a weakling, and might soon perish. They would be free from his presence, and could divide their guilty gains. They hardened themselves against his tears and entreaties; and even in malicious spite were ready to slay the weeping youth because he did not appreciate their considerateness in selling him into slavery instead of killing him outright. It was an evil deed. Those who looked on could see no good to come out of it. There were, however, several great results.

1. He was personally advanced in life, and was able to make the best of it.

2. He saved thousands of people from perishing, and among them his own family.

3. He was the means of bringing Israel into Egypt, where it developed as a people. Its deliverance gave occasion to the mightiest display of Divine power.

4. He became a type of the Messiah—rejected of men. Thus we know not the results of any of our acts. God can overrule, to the development of character and spiritual power, circumstances seemingly most opposed to our best interests. God knows what is best. He could break the plans of the evil in pieces. Instead of this he oft confounds the wicked by letting them see that the ends they did not desire have been attained in spite of their opposition, and even by the very existence, that the intended bane becomes an unintentional boon. Thus Joseph's brothers found it, and bowed their heads.


1. It is a dangerous thing to scheme against others. Especially is it a dangerous thing when a good man is the object of the attack. It is likely to be checked and to recoil. "A greater power than we can contradict may thwart our plans." There are a thousand chances of check or change. Men have so noticed this that even a French moralist said, "I do not know what hidden force it is that seems to delight in breaking up human plans just at the moment when they promise to turn out well." Yes, there is a "hidden force," ever watchful, ever balancing human actions, ever ordaining, either in this world or the next, the just need of praise or blame, of retribution or reward. See how the scribes and Pharisees held councils against Jesus, the gentle, pure, loving teacher of truth, and healer of diseases, they sought how they might kill him. They excommunicated him, they sent others to entrap him. They succeeded at length in nailing him to the cross. They carried out their evil intentions; but that cross became the throne of the Savior's power, the salvation; and the death of Christ became the life of the world. They went by wagging their heads, but at last they had to wring their hands. They themselves were left in their sin, and their "house left unto them desolate," while unto the Christ they hated all men are being drawn.

2. That God overrules evil's no license to do evil. Many would say, "Let us do evil that good may come." This would suit carnal nature. They would say, "Sin is not so great an evil, since God can overrule it." To talk like this would be like throwing dust in our own eyes when we have reached an eminence from whence we might behold a beautiful landscape. It would be like a youth who, seeing a gardener pruning trees, should take a knife and cut and slash all the trunks. Or, it would be like the act of one who, seeing how an artist had wrought in a picture some blunder into a beauty, should take a brush and streak with black the brilliant sky. We are not at liberty to sin that God may bring good out of it.

3. That God overrules evil should make us feel our dependence on him. If we could succeed in good without him, if all we intended to do could surely be calculated upon, we should become proud. It is well that God sometimes even breaks up our good plans in order that we may learn this lesson. We might even intend good without him otherwise, and that would lead to evil in ourselves. But we are dependent on him to check the evil of our own lives and of others intentions.

4. It should make us hopeful also with respect to our affairs. Surely out of this thought we may get "royal contentment," as knowing we are in the hands of a noble protector, "who never gives ill but to him who deserves ill."

5. It should make us hopeful with respect to the order and destiny of the world. In some way, far off, God's glory may be advanced, even by the way in which he will have subdued, by Christ, all things unto himself.

6. Intended good is not always a benefit to those for whom intended. God intends good to men, and provides a way to bless, but men refuse. See at what a cost the way has been provided. Those who refuse are under worse condemnation. "It were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them."

7. We must all face our wrongdoing some time or other. We shall find that the evil we have sown has produced a harvest of weeds, which we shall have sorrowfully to reap. We ought to pray earnestly, "Deliver us from evil."—H.


Genesis 50:26

The lessons of a life.

Joseph's life remarkable for the variety of his experience, and for the consistency of his character through all. A man full of human sympathy, who also walked with God. Here the charm of his history. We can thoroughly enter into his feelings. In his boyhood, deservedly loved by his father, and on that very account hated by his brethren (1 John 3:13); in his unmerited sufferings; in his steadfast loyalty to God and to his master; in his exaltation, and the wisdom with which he ruled Egypt; and in his forgiveness of those who had sold him as a slave, we feel for him and with him. But Joseph died. His trials and his triumphs passed away. The scene where he had played so conspicuous a part is filled by other forms. And he who was the means of saving a nation must share the lot of the most commonplace life. One event happens to all (Ecclesiastes 2:15).

I. THE UNCERTAIN TENURE OF EARTHLY GOOD. No care can keep away misfortune, not even care to walk uprightly before God. Sin brings sorrow sooner or later; but it is a great mistake to think that all sorrow springs from faults committed (Psalms 73:5). Joseph's slavery was because his Godward life condemned his brothers and made them angry. His being thrown into prison was because he would not yield to temptation. This often a stumbling-block. If God really marks all that is done, why are his most faithful servants often so sorely smitten? We can neither deny the fact nor trace the reason of the stroke. Enough to know that it is part of God's plan (Hebrews 12:6), to fit us for the end of our being. As Christ was perfected by suffering (Hebrews 2:10), so must we be. And just because to bear the cross is needful for a follower of Christ (Matthew 16:24)—and this is not the endurance of suffering at our own choice, but the willing receiving of what God is pleased to send—the uncertainty of life gives constant opportunity for that submission to his will which is the result of living faith.

II. THE ONE END OF ALL LIVING (Exodus 1:6). How varied soever the outward lot, wealth or penury, joy or mourning, one day all must be left behind. To what purpose then is it to labor for good, or to dread impending evil? Can we not remember many whose name was much in men's mouths, full of youthful vigor or mature wisdom? And they are gone, and the world goes on as before. Joseph, embalmed in Egypt with almost royal honors, was as completely separated from all his wealth and power as if he had never possessed them. Others filled his place and occupied his gains, in their turn to give them up, and awake from the dream of possessions to join the company of those who have left all these things behind. And is this all? Has life nothing worth striving for? Is there no possession that we can really regard as our own?

III. LIFE HAS ABIDING TREASURES. Was it nothing to Joseph that he possessed and showed a forgiving spirit (Matthew 6:14, Matthew 6:15), and singleness of heart, and earnest benevolence, and watchful consciousness of God's presence? These are treasures the world thinks little of. But these are treasures indeed, ministering comfort without care. And when earthly things slip from the grasp these abide, reflections of the mind of Christ, and telling of his abiding in the soul (Revelation 14:13).—M.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 50". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/genesis-50.html. 1897.
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