PASSING OF A PATRIARCH
Generous God, giver of life, provider of all good things, You have sustained and supported me. I thank You and bless Your name.
Read GENESIS 49:29 – 50:14
The Death of Jacob
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.[a]”
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[b] 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.[c]
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.
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‘But, Lord ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait/The sky, not the grave, is our goal’.1
Seventeen years after elderly Jacob arrives in Egypt, the inevitable day comes when the patriarch dies. His passing, recorded in rich detail, invites us to look around, backward, and forward.
Jacob commands Joseph to bury him in the field of Ephron the Hittite (29–32) because of what it signifies in his family’s story. Purchased by Abraham, it is where he and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob’s wife, Leah, are already buried. Jacob’s life was a chapter in an unfolding story, not an isolated episode, disconnected from anything that had gone before. His burial there is a powerful reminder of God’s promises to Abraham, which God has not forgotten but is keeping through the generations. The embalming, mourning, and funeral procession to the grave (50:1–11) invite us to look around and see the working out of their grief. While the embalming takes a familiar Egyptian course, the rest of the account implicitly draws attention to other features. It points to Joseph’s filial obedience. The length of mourning points to the respect in which Jacob himself was held. Pharaoh’s permission for them to leave, albeit with some family members staying behind as a safeguard, and the military escort he provides testify to the respect in which the whole family is held. The actual burial near Mamre (12–14) in ‘the land of Canaan’ points forward. Canaan, the land God has promised them, is Jacob’s real home and that of the whole house of Israel. If they have not yet gained possession of it, the day would come when God’s promise would become a reality.
God’s people are always called to look backward to the cross and forward to their entry to the Promised Land. In the messy meantime, we actively wait, trusting and obeying God.
In what ways does Jacob’s approach to death help us to prepare for our own?
Merciful Father, I thank You for the meaning You give to life and death. In Christ I can live fully now, and one day I will live forever. I praise Your name.
1 Horatio Gates Spafford, 1828–88, ‘When peace like a river’