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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Genesis 50

 

 

Verses 1-13

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Gen . The physicians.] The Egyptians had special physicians for each disease; the embalmers forming a class by themselves.—

Gen . Mourned for him three score and ten days.] The seventy days of mourning included the forty required for embalming.—

Gen . My grave which I have digged for me.] "This term is applied to the preparation of a tomb (2Ch 16:14). He thus speaks of having himself done what had been done by Abraham (Genesis 24); though it is not impossible that he had made preparations there for himself when he buried Leah." (Jacobus.)—

Gen . The elders of his house.] The court officials. The elders of the land of Egypt.] The state officials.—

Gen . Beyond Jordan.] Considered, not as written from the position of Moses, but as bearing the usual meaning—East of the Jordan.—

Gen . Abel-mizraim.] "This name, like many in the East, has a double meaning. The word Abel no doubt at first meant mourning, though the name would be used by many, ignorant of its origin, in the sense of a meadow." (Murphy.)—

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH—Gen

THE HONOUR PAID TO THE DEPARTED JACOB

This was of two kinds.

I. Private. The dead body of Jacob was honoured.

1. By the tears of his family. All the sons loved their father. They performed their last office for him by laying him in the grave. (Gen .) They mourned for him with true affection. But in Joseph especially is this strong filial love manifested. He fell with tears and kisses upon the dead face of his beloved father. (Gen 50:1.) When he stood by the old man's bedside with his two sons, he listened calmly to the prophetic words which were uttered; he could bear up and control his feelings; but when the last spark of life was gone, he gave way. A crowd of overwhelming thoughts rushed upon him, and held to that dear embrace he abandons himself to grief. Jacob was honoured also.

2. By the respect paid to his last wishes. He desired to be buried in the sepulchre of his fathers, around which gathered so many tender and solemn memories. His sons carried out that wish. (Gen ; Gen 50:12-13.) It was a bold thing for Joseph to ask so much of Pharaoh, for the journey to the grave was about three hundred miles. The embalming would be necessary in order to prepare the body to be borne such a long distance. Thus the desire of the dying man was fully accomplished. He was laid, the latest occupant, in the sepulchre whose denizens he had but a short time before enumerated. (Gen 49:31).

II. Public. Public mourning was ordered. "The Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days." (Gen ). This fell but a little short of a royal mourning. Jacob was honoured by a great nation with a public funeral, on an imposing and magnificent scale. In the funeral procession there were court and state officials, a military escort of chariots and horsemen;" it was a very great company. (Gen 50:9.) The Canaanites were impressed with the sight, and called the place where the funeral procession halted by a name which signifies, the mourning of the Egyptians. (Gen 50:11). 1 This might be objected to as merely formal. In the customs of polite nations, in the matter of court mourning, there is, no doubt, much that is mere outward form. Yet even these ought not to be despised as having no value. They are an outward witness of what men ought to be, and what they ought to feel. They show respect for departed worth, sympathy with survivors, and a thoughtful and solemn recognition of our common mortality.

2. This might be objected to as utilitarian. Some would say, this was altogether an unnecessary expense, time and labour wasted to no profit: "To what purpose is this waste." (Mat .) The disciples of our Lord objected to the costly ointment poured upon Him, in this same utilitarian spirit. But Christ discovered a native beauty in actions far surpassing the value of their outward form and use. Thus truth, goodness, and charity may be profitable in what they bestow; but they are also lovely in themselves. They are to be admired apart from the benefits they render. As they cannot be gotten for gold, so they are not to be compared with it. This mourning was imposing in its expensive grandeur, yet it produced feelings and impressions of more value than mere wealth. It produced respect for goodness. Men could not help reflecting upon that greatness of character which had won so much public homage. It strengthened the finest and noblest human feelings,—love, sympathy, compassion for those in sorrow. It invited to seriousness, giving men time to pause in the midst of busy life, so that they might think upon another world. And unless this inward life of noble thoughts and feelings is encouraged, of what use is a nation's wealth and splendour?

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES

Gen . We are not told what Reuben or Simeon felt on this occasion; their sensibilities were not so strong as those of Joseph, but theirself-reflections must have been bitter. Joseph's tears were attended with secret consolation.—(Bush.)

Gen . With wonderful propriety does Joseph unite in his own person the Israelitish truthfulnes with that which was of most value in the Egyptian customs and usages.—(Lange.)

Jacob was embalmed, according to the custom of Egypt. This was done to retard the progress of corruption; for so long as the body was there, their friend seemed still among them. In that we find an intimation of immortality.—(Robertson.)

Gen . All the Egyptians saw how dear Jacob was to their lord, and thought they could not pay a more suitable token of respect to him than by mourning for his father. When good and great men die, it is proper that the general heart of the community should feel the stroke of Providence. A loud voice comes from their graves, proclaiming that soon we shall be with them. Shall we not, then, prepare for the decease which we must so soon accomplish?—(Bush.)

Gen . Joseph could not apply in person to Pharaoh, because he was in mourning attire. It had been a long established custom in the time of Esther, to exclude all such from the courts of kings. (Est 4:2.) The palace was regarded as the image of heaven, the region of life and gladness, and therefore, the visible signs and symbols of death could not be permitted to enter.

Gen . The Egyptians were very jealous of the honour of their country which they esteemed "the glory of all lands." They might have thought that Joseph, who had received such honours in their land, did not discover a grateful sense of their favours, if he had carried his father's body to be buried in another land without giving a good reason for it. The old man had himself, moreover, been treated with great generosity by Pharaoh. Joseph wished to obviate any such reflections, and therefore produced reasons for his request.—(Bush.)

Gen . The mourning train of Jacob, a presignal of Israel's return to Canaan. The dead Jacob draws beforehand the living Israel to Canaan. Before all is the dying Christ.—(Lange.)

In this there was fulfilled the promise made. (Gen .) Jacob was literally brought back from Egypt to Canaan; since for his body did God prepare this prophetic journey.—(Starke.)

So great a cavalcade attending Jacob to his long home through a part of two different countries would spread the fame of the good man, and revive the remembrance of him in the land of Canaan. And it was much for the interest of religion that his name should be known. In his life he had eminently displayed the virtues by which religion is recommended.—(Bush.)


Verses 14-21

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Gen . Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.] The literal rendering is—If Joseph should now punish us, and requite all the evil that we have done to him—The sentence breaks off unfinished, requiring some such filling up as, what then? or, that would be our ruin.

Gen . And they sent a messenger unto Joseph.] From Goshen to Memphis.—

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Gen

JOSEPH'S LAST FORGIVENESS OF HIS BRETHREN

I. Their need of forgiveness. Their father, who was the bond of love between the brothers, was now gone; and they naturally fear lest Joseph should punish them for the previous wrong they had done him. The old wound breaks out afresh. They begin to suspect that the kindness Joseph had shown them was only for their father's sake, that Joseph never really forgave them in his heart, and that now, when the restraint of their father's presence is removed, he will take vengeance. Sinners find it difficult to believe in human goodness. Conscious guilt is always alive to fear. Their fears were groundless, yet conscience taught them what was true, i.e., that sinners deserve to be requited according to their works. But to appreciate the majesty of goodness, to feel and know what is godlike in another, requires a spiritual mind. Wisdom can only be justified of her own children.

II. The plea on which they urge it.

1. The dying request of their father. (Gen .) They bring forward their father as a mediator. They request that his word shall be held sacred, shall still be a defence between them and the dreaded evil. They admit the justice of their punishment, but desire pardon for the sake of another.

2. Their own free confession of guilt. "The trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil." (Gen .) This confession they allege was prepared for them by their father, and they adopt it with all its humiliating terms.

3. Their father's influence with God. "Forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father." (Gen .) They would strengthen the tie of nature with the tie of religion. They would say, as we have one father, so we have one God; forgive us for His sake, the God of our father. Guilty men as they were, they knew the highest principle to which they could make an appeal.

4. Their willingness to utterly abase themselves. They are ready to atone for their sin in kind. They had sold Joseph for a slave, and now they offer themselves as his servants. They make the utmost humiliation.

III. The completeness of their forgiveness. Joseph assures them of his entire forgiveness.

1. He speaks words of peace. "Fear not." (Gen ; Gen 50:21.) He hastens, at once, to relieve their minds, before he utters one word by way of reason or explanation. They are instantly assured of that love which casteth out fear. These words were like balm to their wounds, giving them immediate relief.

2. He will not presume to put himself judicially in the place of God.

(1.) As an instrument of vengeance. "Am I in the place of God?" (Gen .) "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." For one who himself needs forgiveness, to follow others with the last vengeance is presumption. Joseph had already judged them, and he had forgiven. He will not presume any further, and infringe the prerogatives of the Judge of all the earth.

(2.) As presuming to change God's purposes. Joseph reminded them that God had brought good out of their evil, had turned the calamities resulting from their sinful deeds into the means of deliverance. (Gen .) He would not presume to change this manifest purpose of God, which facts had already revealed. "God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive."

(3.) As presuming upon God's prerogative of forgiveness. God had shown by events that He forgave their sin, and Joseph would not presume to reverse that act of forgiveness. He could not retain sins which God had remitted.

3. He assures them that their suspicions were unfounded. It seemed to them that with all his words of kindness and his gifts, Joseph was all along playing the hypocrite, and cherishing malignity in his heart. Therefore he shows, by implication, that their suspicions were unfounded. In Gen he answers them in nearly the same words as he had used seventeen years before; as if he would say, "What I told you seventeen years ago, I meant, and mean still." God's purpose of good in things evil was a principle which Joseph had well mastered. It was the golden key of his life's history; and, indeed, of all human history to those who believe that God works in it.

4. He was ready to prove his forgiveness by his actions. (Gen .) He would not have them be satisfied with mere words without deeds. He wished to see them happy, and he gave them the means of happiness. Joseph's forgiveness brought comfort and peace, as God's does to the sinner. And to show further how complete was his forgiveness, there was,—

5. The silent testimony of his tears. "And Joseph wept when they spake unto him." (Gen .) To a pure mind, to one who sincerely means good, nothing can be more painful than suspicion. It was part of our Lord's humiliation that he had to endure the suspicion of evil. "Be ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves?" (Luk 22:52.) The soul that cannot be injured with the substance of evil may be pained if touched with its shadow. Jesus had to endure the gainsayings of sinners against Himself. (Heb 12:3.)

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES

Gen . The guilty conscience can never think itself safe: so many years' experience of Joseph's love could not secure his brethren of remission. Those that know they have deserved ill, are wont to misinterpret favours, and think they cannot be beloved. All that while, his goodness seemed but concealed and sleeping malice. It grieves Joseph to see their fear, and to hear them so passionately crave that which they had. "Forgive the tresspass of the servants of thy father's God." What a conjuration of pardon was this! They say not, the sons of thy father; but the servants of thy father's God. How much stronger are the bonds of religion than of nature? if Joseph had been rancorous, this depreciation had charmed him; but now it resolves him into tears. They are not so ready to acknowledge their old offence as he to protest his love. Even late confession finds forgiveness. Joseph had long ago seen their sorrow; never but now heard he their humble acknowledgment. Mercy stays not for outward solemnities. How much more shall that infinite goodness pardon our sins, when He finds the truth of our repentance?—(Bp. Hall).

Behold we be thy servants. Oh that God might hear such words fall from us, prostrate at His feet! How soon would He take us up and embrace us!—(Trapp).

The spirit of Joseph's inner life was forgiveness. Conversant as his experience was with human treachery, no expressions of bitterness escape from him. No sentimental wailing over the cruelty of relations, the falseness of friendship, or the ingratitude of the world. No rancorous outburst of misanthropy, no sarcastic scepticism of man's integrity or woman's honour. He meets all bravely, with calm, meek, and dignified forbearance. If ever man had cause for such doubts, he had; yet his heart was never soured. At last; after his father's death, his brothers, apprehending his resentful recollections of their early cruelty, come to deprecate his revenge. Very touching in his reply. (Gen ). This is the Christian spirit before the Christian times. The mind of Christ, the Spirit of the years yet future, blended itself with life before He came; for His words were the Eternal Verities of our humanity. In all ages love is the truth of life. Love transmutes all curses, and forces them to rain down in blessings.—(Robertson).

Joseph requited his enemies with a noble revenge. (Rom .)


Verses 22-26

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Gen . Of the third generation.] "Either sons belonging to, or sons of, the third generation. If the former, then his (Joseph's) great,—if the latter, his great-great-grandchildren." (Alford.)—Were brought up upon Joseph's knees.] The meaning is, that they were placed upon his knees, when new-born, for his recognition and blessing (Gen 30:3).

Gen . Ye shall carry up my bones from hence.] The record of his burial is preserved (Exo 13:19; Jos 24:32). It was at Shechem.—

Gen . He was put in a coffin in Egypt] "The mummy of Joseph was put, as was the duty of the embalmers, in a chest of wood, such as may be seen in our museums to this day." (Alford.)

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Gen

DYING JOSEPH

I. Satisfied with the goodness of the Lord. He had his misfortunes, his days of evil; but they were the consequences of his integrity, not of his sin. The "evil report" carried to his father, though prompted by a sense of duty, was the occasion of his slavery. His invincible purity was the cause of his imprisonment. Yet his career was, on the whole marked by success. "The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man." For eighty years he lived as prime minister of Egypt, and died at the age of an hundred and ten years. "He saw Ephraim's children of the third generation: the children also of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were brought up upon Joseph's knees." He had seen the goodness of the Lord in a long life, an honoured old age, and a prosperous family. The morning of his life was clouded, but the clouds had passed away, and his evening sky is pure.

II. Full of faith. He was one of those heroes of faith commended in Hebrews 11. His faith made him,

1. Sure of God's Covenant. "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." (Gen .) But, how did Joseph know that his people would ever quit Egypt? We answer, by faith. He trusted in God. He had in his soul the sure conviction of things not seen. Faith looks to the future, but, at the same time, gives to that future a substantial existence; so that the soul is conscious of a higher and more perfect state of things than that which surrounds it here. Joseph was sure of that covenant which promised deliverance and the possession of the good land. Faith made him,

2. Superior to the world. Joseph was an illustration of St. Paul's words, "We walk by faith, not by sight." His dying words show that, after all, he was very little at home in Egypt, though, to all outward appearance, he was one of its people. He bore an Egyptian name—a high sounding title. He married an Egyptian woman of rank. But he was still an Israelite at heart, with all the convictions, aims, and hopes of his nation. The pomp and state in which he lived afforded him no true rest for his heart and soul. Prime Minister of Egypt as he was, his last words open a window in his soul, and declare how little he belonged to that state of things in which he had been content to live. He was content to feel and know, that like his fathers, he was but a stranger and a sojourner. Dying, he said, "Carry up my bones from hence." His faith made him superior to the world in which he lived and moved. He passed the time of his sojourning there as an alien; for his true home and all his desire was the Promised Land. And faith ought to produce such effects in us. The believer is not of this world. His true home is on high. His "life is hid with Christ in God." The centre of his interest is changed from earth to heaven. His faith also made him,

3. The possessor of immortality. His commandment concerning his bones may have been dictated by a natural instinct. We cherish a feeling that, somehow, after death, our bodies still remain part of ourselves. Our ideas of existence are all associated with material substance and form. Joseph may also have been influenced by a natural desire that his grave should not be among strangers, but among his own kindred. When old Barzillai was offered by the king to spend the remnant of his age in the palace at Jerusalem, he said—"Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and my mother." (2Sa .) But whatever other motives Joseph had, this is certain, that he believed in God's covenant promise and claimed his share in it. God had proclaimed Himself to the patriarchs as their God. His covenant relation to them implied a life beyond the grave. "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Men who stand so with God can never really die. The soul that has once looked up, by faith, into the face of its unseen Father, cannot be left in the grave. The patriarchs still exist. They are before God, and beneath His eye. While they were living here they may have wandered far in sin, darkness, and error. They may have served other gods, as Abraham did before he was called to the life of faith; but the one true God, who is the Judge of all, is their God now. Joseph felt that within him which triumphed over death. All was failing him on earth, but his faith held on to God. When his brethren stood around his dying bed, they could not help fearing that when this powerful prince was gone, disaster must fall upon their people. But the dying man lays firm hold upon the promise, that word of God which cannot pass away. "I die," he says, but "God will surely visit you." He is not going to die. He lives on for ever to be the portion and strength of his people when their heart and flesh fail.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES

Gen . If children's children are the glory of old men, they were so in a very eminent degree to Joseph, who was assured that the blessings of Divine goodness should descend upon his head in the persons of his descendants.—(Bush.)

Gen . It is clear that when Joseph was dying, his thoughts were not engrossed by his own concerns, although he was on the borders of the everlasting world. His mind was at perfect ease concerning his own state; but he did what he could to console the hearts of his brethren, and of all his father's house, whom his death was depriving of their last earthly friend. He does not refer them to any new discoveries made to himself, but to the well-known promise made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. When there was no written word of God, His afflicted people found a sufficient ground for their faith and hope in the sure promises handed down from father to son. How superior are our privileges, who enjoy that precious volume filled with promises as the heaven is with stars.—(Bush.)

That is the best thought of death, to remember the promise of God and His gracious redemption.—(Lange).

Gen . Joseph saw, by that creative faith, his family in prosperity, even in affluence; but he felt that this was not their rest. A higher life than that of affluence, a nobler destiny than that of stagnant rest, there must be for them in the future; else all the anticipations of a purer earth, and a holier world, which imagination bodied forth within his soul, were empty dreams, not the intuitions of God's Spirit. It was this idea of perfection, which was "the substance of things hoped for," that carried him far beyond the period of his own death, and made him feel himself a partaker of his nation's blessed future. They who have lived as Joseph lived, just in proportion to their purity and unselfishness, must believe in immortality. They cannot but believe it. The eternal existence is already pulsing in their veins; the life of trust and high hope, and sublime longings after perfection, with which the decay of the frame has nothing at all to do. That is gone—yes—but it was not that life in which they lived; and when it finished, what had that ruin to do with the destruction of the immortal? Heaven begun is the living proof that makes the heaven to come credible. "Christ in you" is "the hope of glory."—(Robertson).

Gen . We collect from this a hint of the resurrection of the body. The Egyptian mode of sepulture was by embalming; and the Hebrews, too, attached much importance to the body after death. Joseph commanded his countrymen to preserve his bones to take away with them. In this we detect that unmistakable human craving, not only for immortality, but immortality associated with a form. The Egyptians had a kind of feeling, that while the mummy lasted, the man had not yet perished from earth. Christianity does not disappoint, but rather meets that feeling. It grants to the materialist, by the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, that future life shall be associated with a material form. It grants to the spiritualist all he ought to wish, that the spirit shall be free from evil. For it is a mistake of ultra spiritualism to connect degradation with the thought of a risen body; or to suppose that a mind, unbound by the limitations of space, is a more spiritual idea of resurrection than the other. The opposite to spirituality is not materialism, but sin; the form of matter does not degrade.—(Robertson).

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.)

The sacred writer here takes leave of the chosen family, and closes the Bible of the sons of Israel. It is truly a wonderful book. It lifts the veil of mystery that hangs over the present condition of the human race. It records the origin and fall of man, and thus explains the co-existence of moral evil and a moral sense, and the hereditary memory of God and judgment in the soul of man. It gradually unfolds the purpose and method of grace through a deliverer who is successively announced the seed of the woman, of Shem, of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. So much of this plan of mercy is revealed from time to time to the human race as comports with the progress they have made in the education of the intellectual, moral, and active faculties. This only authentic epitome of primeval history is worthy of the constant study of intelligent and responsible man.—(Murphy.)

THE END.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 50:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/genesis-50.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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