A Good Death
Heavenly Father, from whom I have come and to whom I must return, You alone bind up the hearts of the brokenhearted.
Read GENESIS 49:29—50:14
29 Then he gave them these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 31 There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.”
33 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.
50 Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. 2 Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, 3 taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.
4 When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, “If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, 5 ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’”
6 Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”
7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt— 8 besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. 9 Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.
10 When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father. 11 When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.” That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim.
12 So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them: 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 14 After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” (Psa. 46:1,2a).
There are two striking contrasts in this passage. First, the end of Jacob’s life stands in sharp contrast to its beginning: the one who from birth was known as a deceiver and who lived up to that name, becoming a wandering vagabond as a result, has been changed into a man of God who can face the end of life with peace and trust. Jacob exemplifies the transformative power of the grace of God, especially when face to face with “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is reported as saying, “Our people know how to die well”; it is arguably a tradition with its roots in this text.
The second contrast concerns the difference between Jacob’s simple instructions—“Bury me… in the cave” (49:29)—and the elaborate funeral ceremony of the Egyptian tradition. The old man’s request implied a distancing, perhaps even a critique, of empire; the future was with the God of Abraham and Isaac and the manner of Jacob’s death and burial testified to this faith. Did the Egyptian takeover of the funeral arrangements overshadow that hope? The reaction of the local people in Canaan suggests that it did (50:11).
The interviews that appear in weekend magazines routinely ask celebrities, “What song would you like played at your funeral?” Recent answers include “You Have Killed Me” by Morrissey and “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra. The gulf between faith and unbelief is nowhere more obvious than at the point of death; the simple description of Jacob’s end (he “breathed his last and was gathered to his people,” 49:33) perfectly illustrates the difference.
What song would you like to be played at your funeral? Why?
Spirit of God, in whom I live and move and have my being, I praise You for bringing joy out of my sorrow.