New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

Gen 50:1 Joseph fell on his father’s face, wept on him, and kissed him- As noted through Gen. 49, Jacob cursed rather than blessed many of his sons. It is Joseph who comes over as the most affectionate for Jacob, and is in charge of his burial; see on :10. To fall on the face was a sign of inferiority; Joseph did so knowing that the next time he would see Jacob, in the resurrection, Jacob and Rachel would fall before him. So he did this realizing that it was in the flesh, as part of this fallen state. The same phrase "wept on and kissed" is used of what Jacob did to his brothers, to assure them that all was forgiven (Gen. 45:15). We wonder if Joseph felt he had things to forgive Jacob for; Jacob's favouritism towards Joseph had been the root of so many problems for Joseph. And perhaps the way Jacob had removed Joseph from being the firstborn and effectively given it to Benjamin, then Ephraim and then Judah... all felt like it was something he had to forgive, as he finally accepted that all this talk about the paternal blessing was really nothing.

Gen 50:2 Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians, to embalm his father; and the physicians embalmed Israel- The Hebrew for "physicians" is literally the healers, those who make whole. It was not the job of physicians to embalm. But Joseph makes them do it, perhaps to teach them that all their Egyptian myths about prolonging life were incorrect. They had not kept his father alive, and so he made them embalm him, dealing personally with the body which they had failed to cure or keep alive. This fits in with a wider theme in the Joseph story- that the ways of the true God demonstrated the errors of Egyptian thinking.


Gen 50:3 Forty days were fulfilled for him, for that is how many the days it takes to embalm. The Egyptians wept for him for seventy days- Jacob's sons wept for a shorter period (:10), perhaps again demonstrating (as noted on :2) that the Egyptian ways were inferior to those of the Hebrews; for such lengthy weeping was but a formalism compared to the true grief of the family. We note that Jacob was embalmed; the body was not divided into parts, perhaps in reflection of the hope of resurrection by Joseph. Hence Joseph commands the servants specifically to embalm the body. And the word translated "embalm" also means "to ripen". Death is as Paul explains, the sowing of a seed, which then ripens into the resurrection body.


Gen 50:4 When the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found favour in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying- We wonder why Joseph did not directly speak to Pharaoh. Perhaps a new Pharaoh had arisen, and already there was a distance between Joseph and the new ruler. For the rigours of famine were now 12 years in the past. There may be far more implied in the statement "If now I have found favour in your eyes".


Gen 50:5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, Behold, I am dying. Bury me in my grave which I have dug for myself in the land of Canaan. Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come again’- The burial place was therefore not simply a cave, from where bodies could be stolen, but involved digging. This was unusual for the Egyptians, who preferred to build structures over the bodies and keep the bodies above the ground; but we can understand it given the Hebrew hope in resurrection. It is not clear when exactly Jacob had this grave "dug"; perhaps he did it when leaving Canaan, so distinct was his sense of association with the promised land. Yet Jacob himself, despite so often asking to be buried in Canaan, had never spoken of having dug a grave. We wonder if Joseph threw this in at the last moment to underline the need to do it.


Gen 50:6 Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury your father, just like he made you swear- Joseph now needs Pharaoh's permission to leave Egypt. This is different to the relationship he had with the Pharaoh earlier, when he could do what he wanted. And the record is pregnant with connection with how Israel were to ask a later Pharaoh to leave Egypt and were not allowed to. The winds of change were already blowing, and the tide of history was turning against Israel in Egypt.


Gen 50:7 Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, all the elders of the land of Egypt- Clearly the elderly Jacob had become a senior figure in Egypt in the 17 years he lived there. These "elders" of Egypt were those to whom Joseph had taught "wisdom" (Ps. 105:22 s.w. "senators"). Perhaps they had come to share the hope of Israel.


Gen 50:8 All the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house. Only their little ones, their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen- Again this points us forward to how a later Pharaoh insisted that Israel's flocks must remain in Goshen if they wanted to leave (Ex. 10:24). And Ex. 10:10 could imply that Pharaoh had tried to bargain that Israel could temporarily leave Egypt to sacrifice in the desert, but their "little ones" must remain. We are being prepared for the Pharaohs getting more controlling and demanding of the Hebrews.


Gen 50:9 There went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company- I explained on Gen. 45:7 that it was the Divine intention that Israel leave Egypt and return to Canaan once the famine ended; Jacob was intended to die in Canaan with Joseph next to him, and the blessings on the tribes in Gen. 49 would have had their primary fulfilment in the land of Canaan at that time. Israel were to become a great company in the land of Egypt during the famine, and then return to Canaan. And now indeed they were a great company, and were returning to Canaan- but temporarily. They ought to have gone permanently. We too face so many problems in our lives because we do not follow the Plan A which God intended for us. It's not that He rejects us for not following it; but the other plans involve so much suffering for us which would be otherwise needless, and so much human damage.


Gen 50:10 They came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan- That they crossed the Jordan is twice mentioned (:11). We wonder why they took the more circuitous route to Mamre from Goshen; for there was a direct highway, that didn't require them to cross the Jordan river. Whatever the reason, it was perhaps to help Israel in the wilderness (the first audience of the book of Genesis) to see that their route was not in fact without precedent. And this is the whole purpose of Biblical history; to help us see that man is not alone, no situation is essentially unique, others have passed this way before. With God's grace ever with them.

And there they lamented with a very great and severe lamentation. He mourned for his father seven days- We notice a separation between "they [the other sons] lamented", and Joseph's mourning ["he mourned"]. The last words many of the sons had heard from their father were his ranting at them and effective cursing of them when he was supposed to be giving them a blessing. Presumably they forgave this, or humbled themselves to accept that although he was unreasonable to them in his demented state, yet indeed they had done wrong and deserved his words. For otherwise it is hard to understand how they could apparently so genuinely mourn their father's passing.


Gen 50:11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians. Therefore its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan- The Hebrews appeared as Egyptians, just as Moses was later to appear as an Egyptian. We too may be perceived as the people of this world, our Egypt; we look the same, wear the same clothes, pass through the same general experiences, speak the same language. And in moments of weakness, this can lead us to think that perhaps there is really nothing of substance to our religion. But we are different; circumcision is of the heart, in the hidden, inner man, as the New Testament describes it. For the significance of them taking the route over the Jordan, see on :10.


Gen 50:12 His sons did to him just as he commanded them- This is laboured (:13). The record wishes all to see how "Israel" were centred around identity with the promises made to the patriarchs, with the patriarchs personally, and with the associated hope of the resurrection of the body. And that is just as true for the new Israel; for the new covenant was expressed in the promises made to the patriarchs.


Gen 50:13 For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field, for a possession of a burial site, from Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre- Again the point is repeated, that the patriarchs had to buy land in which to bury their dead, when God had promised them the land as an eternal inheritance. They had to buy a possession; whereas God had given them the land as an eternal possession. God keeps His promises, and thus is necessitated the resurrection of the dead and the establishment of God's eternal Kingdom in the land promised.


Gen 50:14 Joseph returned into Egypt - he, and his brothers, and all that went up with him to bury his father - after he had buried his father- As noted on :9, there is a tragedy to this. They ought to have taken their children and flocks, and remained in Canaan. But it is emphasized that not one of them remained in Canaan; they all returned to what seemed the softer life.


Gen 50:15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said- As always with the inspired record, this has the ring of psychological credibility. The 'seeing' or perception of another's death sinks in some time after the burial.

It may be that Joseph will hate us, and will fully pay us back for all of the evil which we did to him- They recognized that the apparently single act of selling Joseph into Egypt had led to "all of the evil" which had come upon Joseph. He had clearly explained to them what had happened. And they accepted, as we should, that one bad act spawns many others for which we are responsible. The man who abuses a young child has some blame for the life of theft, drug addiction and self harm which resulted from actions which may have summed up to "just" a few hours. This is the nature of all sin- it has rolling consequences. See on :17.

The brothers still needed education in their faith in grace. The same word is used of how they had "hated" Joseph (Gen. 49:23). So they proceeded to tell a lie, to show a lack of faith, on the basis of a 'What if...' logic. And it is 'What if...?' which drives so much of our lack of faith. It drives the need to undermine others, to pursue ever more wealth, to be untruthful. God does at times pay back evil- the same words are used of Him doing this elsewhere (Jud. 9:56,57; 1 Sam. 25:39; Ps. 54:5 etc.). Joseph does not just gloss over their evil; he agrees with them that they had done evil (:20), but he tells them that he is not God (:19). It will not be for him to have any part in any possible repayment of them for the evil done. He doesn't rule out the possibility of God doing so; but it is for him to show grace and to only repay evil with good. This is a profound lesson which Christians have struggled to learn over the centuries.


Gen 50:16 They sent a message to Joseph, saying, Your father commanded before he died, saying- As noted on :15, this was a lie, told on the basis of fear of possible futures. It is those same fears which lead us to so much poor behaviour. The Hebrew word for "message" can mean either a message or a messenger- hence Gen. 50:16 AV "messenger", RV "message". In the Divine thinking which is so often reflected in the Hebrew language, the man is his message, the messenger is the message. “What the Soviet cosmonaut wanted when he looked for God in the dark void outside his spacecraft window is... the hungering desire of our age. We want proof, evidence, a personal appearance, so that the God we have heard about becomes the God we see” (Philip Yancey, Disappointment With God (Zondervan, 1997) p. 46). And the only evidence is in you and me. People are interested, they are hungering and searching for Him; and the evidence they seek is in our radically transformed lives. They won’t get a voice out of a whirlwind or sight of a Heavenly form; they just get a glimpse of you and me. In this sense the [human] medium is the [Divine] message.

Gen 50:17 ‘You shall tell Joseph, Now please forgive the disobedience of your brothers, and their sin, because they did evil to you’. Now, please forgive the disobedience of the servants of the God of your father- We wonder why the emphasis upon "disobedience". The sin of selling Joseph into Egypt was the summation of much "disobedience"; and they recognized that this apparently single act of selling Joseph ["their sin"] had much more to it (see on :15). They did it because they were disobedient to Joseph as the family priest, and were disobedient to the implications of his dreams. We note that they like their father Jacob are still talking about the God of their father, rather than their personal God.

Joseph wept when they spoke to him- He wept as God must weep, at the slowness of men to believe His wonderful grace. The good news of the Gospel is disbelieved so often because it is in fact too good news.

Joseph's brothers had slink away from him, and he had had to encourage them: "Come near to me, I pray you" (Gen. 45:4). They absolutely knew that they ought to be punished and killed by him, and they obviously thought he would do it. And now even years later, Joseph wept in frustration at their lack of full acceptance of his total forgiveness. These scenes are so evidently typical of the future judgment seat of Joseph / Jesus. There is even the suggestion in Rev. 7:15 that after the judgment process, the Lord will come down off His throne and mix with us, after the pattern of Joseph. See on Gen. 45:4.

Gen 50:18 His brothers also went and fell down before his face- They recognized that they had been disobedient to the implication of Joseph's dreams (see on :17), and so again they fall down before him.

And they said, Behold, we are your servants- In :18 they say that they are servants of God; here, that they are Joseph's servants. They perceived Joseph as God manifest, hence his comment in :19 "Am I in the place of God?". Or it could be that Joseph is encouraging them that he is indeed in the place of God (the Hebrew can be translated "I am in the place of God"); and he could therefore assure them that his grace towards them was indeed a reflection of God's grace to them. And God to this day arranges things and encounters in our lives to elicit repentance from us, and to help us perceive that others' grace to us is indeed God's grace to us reflected through them.

Gen 50:19 Joseph said to them, Don’t be afraid, for am I in the place of God?- Joseph doesn't point out their lie; he doesn't say 'I don't believe you, it makes no sense to say this, surely he would've told me himself as I am the one to do the forgiveness; see, again, you are back to your dishonest ways'. Rather he doesn't confront them but lets his own example of grace speak for itself, setting us a great example. See on Gen. 40:8. He might be saying that indeed "I am in the place of God" (Heb.), not acting according to my own gut feelings; and God is full of grace and forgiveness, so they need not fear him, as he was manifesting God's saving grace to them. I noted on Gen. 41:19 that Joseph was an intense manifestation of God, and the vehicle through whom God was working.

But this could also be read as Joseph telling them not to fear him, because evil is repaid only by God and not himself; see on :15. ‘God manifestation’ doesn’t mean playing God. Joseph held himself back from being vindictive against his brothers by saying that he could not do so, because if he did, he would be acting ‘in God’s place’. His fear of ‘playing God’ meant that he wouldn’t presume to judge them. All too easily, a too simplistic view of ‘God manifestation’ can lead us to assume that we are to judge and condemn others, thus arrogating to ourselves what is only and rightly God’s personal prerogative.

Gen 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day- When Paul wrote that all things work together for our "good" (Rom. 8:28), he was echoing how in all the grief of Joseph's life, the rejection by his brethren, the cruel twists of fate [as they seemed at the time]... God meant it for good. This same wonderful process will come true in our lives- for they too are equally directed by a loving Father.

Joseph held no grudge against his brethren, and would not be vindictive to them, because he understood something of predestination: “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good”. And because he understood that God’s good intentions were worked out through the evil intentions of others, Joseph was content to leave all in God’s hands, and on this basis he assures his brothers that given his understanding of this ‘predestination’, he wouldn’t hit back at them for what they’d done to him. This can be a helpful perspective for us in our struggles to forgive. "Meant" is literally to weave, to fabricate. Their weaving of evil plans and lies were more than matched by God's incredible weaving through the whole situation to bring about good from evil- He doesn't just walk away from evil and sin, but weaves through it. It is the word used of the "cunning work" of the tabernacle tapestry and the breastplate of judgment, where the threads of colours representing God are woven through the scarlet threads of human sin (Ex. 26:1,31; 28:15). The cherubim were made likewise; through all this, God's absolute glory shines (Ex. 36:35).

The same words and ideas of good and evil are found in 1 Sam. 20:17, where Saul does David evil, but David repays that evil with good. David was inspired by Joseph; as we should be. So often he laments that Saul and his men 'mean evil' ["devise... my hurt"], and yet God will preserve him as He did Joseph, for good (Ps. 35:4; 41:7 etc.). For these records are for our learning, that we too like David might slot ourselves into Joseph's place.

To save many people alive- God's abundant grace is revealed in the way that they devised evil against one man, and yet God through that devised good not for one man, Joseph, but to save not only him but "many people". They devised death; but through that God devised life. Paul catches this spirit when he draws up the contrasts between the death which came from the one man Adam, and the life which comes through the Lord Jesus.

Gen 50:21 Now therefore don’t be afraid. I will nourish you and your little ones. He comforted them, and spoke kindly to them- Joseph alludes to his words of 17 years before, when he had first promised to "nourish" his brothers and their families in Egypt (Gen. 45:11; 47:12 s.w.). He assures them yet again that he is a man of his word, no matter how long the consequences of that word go on for. He was in this sense manifesting God to them (see on :19). The 'comfort' he gave them was really comfort in their slowness to believe in his grace. The same words are found in the prophecy of how the Elijah ministry will speak to the heart ["comfortably", s.w.] of latter day Israel, assuring them that their sin is past and forgiven (Is. 40:2).


Gen 50:22 Joseph lived in Egypt, he, and his father’s house. Joseph lived one hundred ten years- After the flood, lifespans slowly decreased. We have quite a lot of data in the Bible regarding this; my friend Dr. John Thatcher once analyzed it and found that the recorded ages decline precisely in line with the decay function of entropy.


Gen 50:23 Joseph saw Ephraim’s children to the third generation. The children also of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph’s knees- Ephraim and Manasseh themselves had been taken from Joseph's knees and made the sons of Jacob. But these children of Machir and thence Manasseh, the rejected firstborn, were counted to him; see on Gen. 48:12. If he died at 110 he would have presumably seen many grandchildren and great grandchildren, but these of Machir are mentioned as born on his knees because they were counted as his.


Gen 50:24 Joseph said to his brothers, I am dying, but God will surely visit you, and bring you up out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob- In his time of dying, Joseph speaks and wishes just like his father Jacob in his time of death; and he said these words in faith, seeing the future as if it is now (Heb. 11:22). The implications of the promises which comprised the covenant were identical for every man, as they are for us this day. He emphasizes three times (:25 also) that Egypt, this world, is not the resting place of God's people Israel. They should have returned to Canaan of their own volition (Gen. 45:7); but they did not, and so God would 'bring them up', taking the initiative to bring about the fulfilment of the Gospel's promises- by His grace, rather than just abandoning them to their own choice, which at the time was Egypt over Canaan. Earlier, the brothers had been 'brought up out of' Egypt to Canaan when Joseph had released them from the burden of their sins by his grace (Gen. 45:25 uses the same Hebrew phrase). And on a collective level, Israel were to be brought to the same level of desperation and repentance before they could be brought up from Egypt to Canaan. But like the brothers, it seemed they never really got to the required level of repentance; but they were saved by grace all the same.


Gen 50:25 Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here- Like Jacob, Joseph's heart was in the land of promise. Joseph's bones  were 'carried up' with them when Israel left Egypt. The Hebrew word here is elsewhere translated 'to rise up', 'lift up', 'spring up', clearly hinting of the resurrection which will come at the Lord's return. I explained on Gen. 45:7 that it was God's intention that Israel leave Goshen and return to Canaan; and they had failed to do so. Joseph probably wanted to do so, but his brothers didn't. He perhaps envisaged that the generation contemporary with him would do so, as he asks them to take his bones with them. So he foresaw a special intervention of God in Israel's collective life, God 'visiting' then, so that they would leave Egypt. That could all have been avoided if they had been obedient and quit the soft life and returned to Canaan immediately.

Gen 50:26 So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old, and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt- To remain in power for 80 years in the cut throat politics of Egypt was a huge testament to his integrity. We note again that he was embalmed and put in a coffin; the body was kept intact in reflection of the hope of resurrection. See on :2,3. 'Embalm' also means 'to ripen'.  Death is as Paul explains, the sowing of a seed, which then ripens into the resurrection body.