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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 50

Verse 1

1. Joseph fell… and wept… and kissed A touching picture of the tender emotion of Joseph’s soul . The prominence given to Joseph in the account of this funeral was due to his official position in Egypt as well as to his great devotion to his father .

Verses 1-14

THE FUNERAL OF JACOB, Genesis 50:1-1.50.14.

“The royal obsequies of Israel and Joseph fittingly end the history of the patriarchal age, and the first stage in the development of the covenant people. The father of Joseph was buried with all the magnificence of an Egyptian funeral. No prophet, or prince, or king of Israel’s line, even in the noontide glory of the Hebrew monarchy, was ever laid to his rest with such pomp and splendour. The funeral ceremony was, with the Egyptians, an elegant art, in which they concentrated their religion and highest philosophy, and on which they lavished their taste and wealth. Their belief in immortality, and in the re-union of the soul with the body after transmigration, led them to carve magnificent sepulchres out of their mountains, and decorate them with all the splendours of painting and architecture, where the embalmed body, fresh in feature and fragrant in smell, might wait, as in a palace hall, to welcome the spirit on its return from its wanderings. Thus the Greek historian, Diodorus, says that the Egyptians built only inns for the living, but eternal habitations for the dead. The temples and tombs of Egypt are not only the oldest and most massive monuments of the past, but are also monuments of man’s faith in God and the future state, which have endured from the earliest dawn of civilization.

“Magnificent funeral processions are pictured in the royal tombs of Thebes. Such an imposing pageant is here described, though with such unworldly simplicity as almost to escape the eye, when ‘all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, and all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father’s house,’ leaving only their ‘little ones’ in the land of Goshen, with ‘chariots and horsemen,’ a ‘very great company,’ (Genesis 50:7-1.50.9,) set forth from the land of Goshen on a funeral march of three hundred miles, through the desert, round the Dead Sea, to the banks of the Jordan, and halted there for seven days’ funeral rites, such as the land of Canaan never witnessed before or after, and which stamped the meadow with the name, ‘Mourning (place) of the Egyptians.’” Newhall.

Verse 2

2. Commanded… to embalm “The Egyptians were famous for their skill in medicine . Homer says that every physician in Egypt ‘knew more than all other men . ’ Odyss . , 4, 229 . Medical specialties were carefully cultivated, and the land abounded with oculists, aurists, dentists, etc . , so that persons of rank and wealth generally had several different kinds of physicians among their servants, as Joseph seems to have had, according to the text . The Persian kings, Cyrus and Darius, had Egyptian physicians at their courts . Herod . , 2: 84; 3:1, 132 . The Theban mummies show that they filled teeth with gold; and Pliny says, that they practised postmortem examinations; while one of the books of Hermes treated of medical instruments, and another of anatomy . The government was very severe upon quacks, and the death of a patient who had not been ‘doctored by the books,’ was held a capital crime . Wilkinson, in Rawl . , Her . , ii, p . 117 .

European medicine came from Egypt through the Arabs, whence the Arab symbols of our chemists, while the very word chem -istry is a souvenir of the land of Ham, or Chem.

“Embalming was practised by several ancient nations, but the art was carried to the highest perfection in Egypt. The materials principally used were cedar oil, natron, (native carbonate of soda,) and various spices. Embalming was the work of a special class, ( Herod., 2: 86,) whom probably Joseph’s physicians employed.” Newhall.

Verse 3

3. Forty days… of those which are embalmed… mourned for him threescore and ten days That is, it required forty days for the embalming, during which time the mourning for him went on, and after the embalming they continued to mourn for thirty days more . Thus the Egyptians honoured Jacob as though he were a great prince . “Diodorus says, that the process of embalming took more than thirty days, and that the Egyptians were accustomed to mourn seventy-two days for a king . Herodotus mentions that the body was never allowed to lie in the natron more than seventy days, 2:86. These periods, given by the classical writers, it will be seen remarkably correspond with the numbers of the text. The actual process occupied the first forty days, while the body lay for thirty days more in natron, completing thus the seventy days of mourning. Wilkinson, in Rawl., Her., ii, p. 122. There were, however, many grades and varieties of the process, according to the rank of the person, for rank is seen in the grave in Egypt as well as in Christendom.” Newhall.

Verse 4

4. Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh He communicated with Pharaoh by means of his servants, or messengers, as it would have been contrary to Egyptian customs for him to have gone in mourning attire into the presence of the king . During the days of mourning for a relative the Egyptians allowed the hair and beard to grow long, ( Herod . , 2: 36,) and no man might enter the king’s presence unshaven . Comp . Genesis 41:14; Esther 4:2.

Verse 5

5. Which I have digged for me Some take the word כרה , here rendered digged, in the sense of purchased, as קנה is used in reference to Abraham’s purchase in Genesis 49:30. If so rendered, the language used would make Jacob speak of Abraham’s act as his own . This is an allowable explanation, but unnecessary . The more common meaning of כרה is dig, and Jacob may have excavated his own sepulchre or separate chamber in the cave after the burial of Abraham and Isaac . See on Genesis 23:9.

I will come again “The earnestness of Joseph’s entreaty, and the repetition of his solemn oath to his father, show what difficulty a naturalized foreigner would have in leaving the land of the Pharaohs . Jacob’s characteristic foresight and prudence appear in exacting this oath, which he knew Pharaoh’s religious scruples would guarantee from violation, while, at the same time, Joseph would be protected from the national jealousy . ” Newhall .

Verse 7

7. All the elders of the land The writer dwells with emphasis on the magnificent funeral procession, composed of the various officers of the Egyptian court, and the entire house of Israel excepting the little children, (Genesis 50:8,) probably the seventy whose names are given in chap . 46 .

Verse 9

9. Chariots and horsemen For protection and defence . So large and solemn a procession required a military escort in their long march through the desert .

Verse 10

10. The threshing-floor of Atad Or, the threshing-floor of the thorn . The words may be taken as the proper name of a place, Goren-haatadh . It was beyond Jordan, that is, on the east of Jordan, for such is the natural meaning of this phrase . Accordingly, it appears that this vast procession took a circuitous route, went round the Dead Sea, and entered Canaan on the east . Why they should have taken such a journey does not appear in this narrative, and some have regarded it as so improbable that they have discarded the natural meaning of the language here employed, and have explained beyond Jordan as meaning west of the Jordan . According to Jerome it was called in his time Beth-agla, and some have sought to identify it with the modern Ain Hadjla, the Beth-hoglah of the tribe of Judah, (Joshua 15:6,) situated at the northern end of the Dead Sea, about two miles west of the Jordan . One writing at the east of the Jordan, as the author of this passage is supposed to have done, would have spoken of this place as beyond Jordan. But this identification with Beth-hoglah is of no sufficient authority, and why any writer should have designated a place west of the Jordan as beyond Jordan is inexplicable, if this funeral procession did not go anywhere in the vicinity of the Jordan. Better, therefore, to suppose that this round-about journey was taken to avoid conflict with hostile tribes then occupying the country on the direct road to Hebron. For a similar reason the whole house of Israel at a later day compassed the land of Edom and entered Canaan from the east. At this place, perhaps nothing but a threshing-floor surrounded by thornbushes, but affording a suitable place for the purpose, they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation for the space of seven days. Thus to the seventy days of mourning in Egypt, (Genesis 50:3,) they now added a full week at the borders of Canaan.

Verse 11

11. Abel-mizraim That is, the mourning of the Egyptians . The Canaanites, who witnessed the unusual spectacle of lamentation, gave a new name to the place . They had never before seen such violence of mourning . Herodotus in describing the habits of the Egyptians observes, ( Herod . , 2: 85,) that when a distinguished individual died the females of the family besmear their heads and faces with mud, and wander about beating themselves and exposing their breasts . The men, also, having their clothes girt about them, beat themselves and indulge in excessive lamentation . See also Wilkinson’s full account of Egyptian funeral rites, Ancient Egyptians, vol . ii, p . 366 .

Verse 13

13. His sons carried him into the land of Canaan This implies that the place of the seven days’ mourning was not in Canaan proper, though on its border, where the Canaanites (Genesis 50:11) could observe their excessive lamentations . The Egyptian escort probably waited at Abel-mizraim, while the sons of the great patriarch carried him to the ancient tomb of Machpelah, (see on Genesis 23:9,) and deposited his embalmed body by the dust of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, where also he had buried Leah . Genesis 49:31. And there, perhaps, that embalmed body still remains, and may be identified when Moslem fanaticism permits a careful and thorough examination of that ancient cave at Hebron.

FEARS OF JOSEPH’S BRETHREN, 15-21.

Verse 15

15. Joseph will peradventure hate us The Hebrew here is a conditional, unfinished sentence: If Joseph should hate us, and return with intensity (verb in inf . absolute to express idea of intensity or emphasis) to us all the evil which we have done him what could we do? How helpless our condition! The whole is equivalent to an exclamation of alarm: What if Joseph should hate us, etc? The deep consciousness of guilt prompted the words .

Verse 16

16. They sent a messenger Literally, they commanded, or gave a charge to Joseph . “They charged Joseph, in their father’s name, probably by an embassy sent from Goshen to Memphis, the seat of government, although the text says nothing about messengers . Perhaps Benjamin first pleaded for them, and then they all came into his presence . Genesis 50:18. Whether Jacob actually left this message for Joseph is doubtful . If he really had such fears, he would have been likely to entreat Joseph personally, as he freely charged him concerning other things which pertained to the family welfare. It was, of course, Jacob’s wish that there should be perfect and perpetual reconciliation among his children, which often may have been expressed; but the precise form of this petition to Joseph was probably suggested by the guilty fears of the brethren, who could not fully understand the generosity and magnanimity of Joseph. They knew that Joseph would sacredly heed his father’s charge and so offered their petition in his name.” Newhall.

Verse 17

17. Forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father “All the arguments that would touch Joseph are woven into a few words with great pathos and power. They cast themselves absolutely upon his mercy, and call up before him his venerated father, and his father’s God, whose servants they also are. Joseph replied in a way to scatter all doubt and soothe all fear he wept. At first he made no answer in words, but his tears were richer to them than speech. It was the golden silence, that cannot, from very fulness, speak.” Newhall.

Verse 19

19. Am I in the place of God “It is true that you have sinned, but it is not mine to punish; God is your judge and mine . ” Newhall .

Verse 20

20. Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good “He accepts their confession of sin, but now again, as when he first made himself known to them, (Genesis 45:5-1.45.8,) generously strives to mitigate their pain by showing them how God has overruled evil for good . Man devises evil, and in the device is sin: but when it comes to action, it can bring only good to them who trust God . Thus man’s wrath praises him . ” Newhall .

Verse 21

21. Spake kindly unto them Hebrews, spake to their heart, as in the margin; a beautiful form of speech, which it would have been well to retain in translation .

Verse 22

DEATH OF JOSEPH, Genesis 50:22-1.50.26.

22. Hundred and ten years Compare the same age of Joshua when he died . Joshua 24:29.

Verse 23

23. Ephraim’s children of the third generation That is, “his great great grandchildren (literally, the sons of the sons of the third generation, as Gesenius shows from Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7; but Furst and others understand the Hebrew to mean great grandchildren . ) He took upon his knees also his great grandchildren in the line of Manasseh . It was a serene and trustful old age . ” Newhall .

Verse 25

25. Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel “He could have commanded them to carry his body immediately to Canaan, as he had already carried that of Israel there; but he commanded that it should stand swathed in its mummy bands, in the sepulchral chamber, waiting for the time of its burial in their true national home . The Egyptians were accustomed to keep the mummies of their friends standing for some time, before final burial, in a small room attached to the tomb, whence it was often brought forth to receive priestly benedictions. Wilkinson. Thus, after his death the body of Joseph constantly exhorted and inspirited Israel to remember God’s covenant with their fathers.” Newhall.

Verse 26

26. They embalmed him See on Genesis 50:2.

He was put in a coffin “Rather, in the coffin, that is, the customary Egyptian coffin, or mummy chest, usually made of sycamore wood, which, though porous, was so durable that coffins of the time of the Pharaohs are freely used for fuel in Egypt to-day . Cedar coffins are also found, though less generally . The mummy chests of kings were often placed in a stone sarcophagus .

“Here, at the sepulchre of Joseph, endeth the great Book of Generations, wherein are laid the historical, doctrinal, and ethical foundations of Divine revelation. In Egypt are the significant closing words, for there the posterity of Jacob now vanish from our sight for centuries; but through those ages of servile travail, the mummy of Joseph, wrapped in its fragrant cerements, a mute but eloquent admonition and prophecy, stands calmly waiting in its niche for the birth of the NATION OF ISRAEL.” Newhall.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 50". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-50.html. 1874-1909.