Monday, September 11, 2006

Genesis 49:29–50:26

Genesis 49:29–50:26: Jacob/Israel dies; Joseph reassures his brothers; Joseph dies

Synopsis

In this passage Jacob/Israel passes away. Just before he dies, he brings in his sons, and makes them promise not to bury him in Egypt, but, instead, to bury him in the land where his fathers were buried (Canaan). And then:

When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people. (verse 49:33)

When Jacob dies, Joseph has him embalmed, in the Egyptian style, and asks Pharaoh’s permission to go and bury his father in the land of Canaan. Not only does the Pharaoh give him permission, but all of the Pharaoh’s officials accompany Joseph and his family to Canaan. (It’s not clear, to me, if this includes the Pharaoh himself, or just his officials.)

After this, Joseph’s brothers start to worry: “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’” (verse 50:15) So they send a message to Joseph, purportedly from their father, saying that Jacob had commanded Joseph to forgive his brothers. Then they went and threw themselves on his mercy. But they needn’t have worried:

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (verses 50:19–21)

After this, the family stayed in Egypt. Before Joseph died, he prophesied that God would come and help the Hebrews, and bring them to the promised land:

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” (verses 50:24–25)

After that, Joseph died—at the age of 110—and was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Thoughts

A couple of interesting things to mention about this passage. First off, the famous line from Joseph to his brothers, in verse 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” This is an important truth: Although we are in control of our own actions, God is ultimately in control of everything. Joseph’s brothers sinned in what they did to him, but at the same time, it was done for a reason, so that God could bring Joseph to Egypt.

Did God, therefore, cause Joseph’s brothers to sin? No. But did He allow them to do it, and use their actions? Yes. It would be an oversimplification—and just plain wrong—to claim that God caused the brothers to do what they did. But, on the other hand, it would also be an oversimplification—and equally wrong—to claim that God wasn’t involved, or that He just used the brothers’ actions after the fact; it was part of His plan for this to come to pass.

So let the endless debates continue—how much in control God really is has been a debate as long as people have been talking about God.

Aside from this, the other thing I like about Joseph’s speech to his brothers is what he said just before: “Am I in the place of God?” Joseph knows that what the brothers did to him was wrong. And he now has the power to do something about it; either revenge, or just make them legally pay for their crimes, using the law of the land. But ultimately, it’s up to God, and that’s where Joseph is leaving it.

The other interesting thing in this passage is when Joseph is prophesying that God will come to the Hebrews’ aid, and bring them out of Egypt. I find that interesting because, at the time, the Hebrews don’t need aid. Joseph is second in command of the whole country, and the Hebrews are living in Goshen—“the best part of Egypt”. I wonder what the other Hebrews thought, when Joseph mentioned God coming to their aid.

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