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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 50". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ genesis-50.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 50". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father
The honour paid to the departed Jacob:
1. The tears of his family.
2. The respect paid to last wishes.
II. PUBLIC. (T. H. Leale.)
Ceremonies after death:
The order of the ceremonies alluded to, and on the whole agreeing with classical and monumental records, was as follows:
1. When the extinction of the vital breath could no longer be doubted, the relatives began a preliminary mourning, perhaps observed during the day of death only (Genesis 50:1), and consisting in public lamentations, in covering the head and the face with mud (or dust), girding up the garments, and beating the breasts.
2. Then the body was delivered up to the embalmers, who, in the case of Jacob, completed their work in forty days (Genesis 50:3), though it more frequently required seventy.
3. Simultaneously with the operations of embalming commenced the chief or real mourning, which, lasting about seventy days (Genesis 50:3), usually ended together with the process of mummification, but which, in the instance of the patriarch, exceeded it by thirty days.
4. The body, after having been enclosed in a case of wood or stone (Genesis 50:26), was then either deposited in the family vaults (Genesis 50:13), or placed in a sepulchral chamber of the house of the nearest relative (Genesis 50:26). (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)
Three modes of embalming:
1. If the most expensive mode, estimated at one talent of silver, or about £250, was employed, the brain was first taken out through the nostrils, partly with an iron (or bronze) hook, and partly by the infusion of drugs; then an appointed dissector made with a sharp Ethiopian stone, a deep incision (generally about five inches long) in the left side, at a part before marked out by a scribe; but having scarcely performed this operation, he hastily fled, persecuted by those present with stones and imprecations, as one who was guilty of the heinous crime of violently mutilating the body of a fellow-man. Then one of the embalmers, holy men, who lived in the society of the priests, and enjoyed unreserved access to the temples, extracted through the incision all intestines, except the kidneys and the heart; every part of the viscera was spiced, rinsed with palm-wine, and sprinkled with pounded perfumes. The body was next filled with pure myrrh, cassia, and other aromatics, with the exception of frankincense; sewed up, and steeped in natrum during seventy days, after the expiration of which period it was washed, and wrapped in bandages of linen cloth covered with gum. By this procedure all the parts of the body, even the hair of the eyebrows and eyelids, were admirably preserved, and the very features of the countenance remained unaltered.
2. The cost of the second mode of embalming amounted to twenty mince, or about; £81. No incision was made, nor were the bowels taken out; but the body was, by means of syringes, filled with oil of cedar at the abdomen, and steeped in natrum for seventy days. When the oil was let out, the intestines and vitals came out in a state of dissolution, while the natrum consumed the flesh, so that nothing of the body remained except the skin and the bones; and this skeleton was returned to the relatives of the deceased. The possibility of an injection, as here described, without the aid of incisions, has been doubted; and, in some cases, incisions have indeed been observed near the rectum.
3. A third and very cheap method, employed for the poorer classes, consisted merely in thoroughly rinsing the abdomen with syrmaea, a purgative liquor (perhaps composed of an infusion of senna and cassia), and then steeping the body in natrum for the usual seventy days. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)
The message of his brethren to Joseph:
The death of great characters being often followed by great changes; conscious guilt being always alive to fear; and the chasm which succeeds a funeral, inviting a flood of foreboding apprehensions, they find out a new source of trouble.
But how can they disclose their suspicions? To have done it personally would have been too much for either him or them to bear, let him take it as he might. So they “sent messengers unto him,” to sound him. We know not who they were; but if Benjamin were one of them, it was no more than might be expected. Mark the delicacy and exquisite tenderness of the message. Nothing is said of their suspicions, only that the petition implies them; yet it is expressed in such a manner as cannot offend, but must needs melt the heart of Joseph, even though he had been possessed of less affection than he was.
1. They introduce themselves as acting under the direction of a mediator, and this mediator was none other than their deceased father. He commanded us, say they, before he died, that we should say thus and thus. And was it possible for Joseph to be offended with them for obeying his orders? But stop a moment. May we not make a similar use of what our Saviour said to us before He died? He commanded us to say, “Our Father--forgive us our debts.” Can we not make the same use of this as Jacob’ssons did of their father’s commandment?
2. They present the petition as coming from their father: “Forgive, I pray thee, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil.” And was it possible to refuse complying with his father’s desire? The intercessor, it is to be observed, does not go about to extenuate the sin of the offenders, but frankly acknowledges it, and that, if justice were to take its course, they must be punished. Neither does he plead their subsequent repentance as the ground of pardon, but requests that it may be done for his sake, or on account of the love which the offended bore to him.
3. They unite their own confession and petition to that of their father. Moreover, though they must make no merit of anything pertaining to themselves, yet if there be a character which the offended party is known to esteem above all others, and they be conscious of sustaining that character, it will be no presumption to make mention of it. And this is what they do, and that in a manner which must make a deep impression upon a heart like that of Joseph. “And now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father.” It were sufficient to have gained their point, even though Joseph had been reluctant, to have pleaded their being children of the same father, and that father making it, as it were, his dying request; but the consideration of their being “the servants of his father’s God” was overcoming. But this is not all: they go in person, and “fall before his face,” and offer to be his “servants.” This extreme abasement on their part seems to have given a kind of gentle indignancy to Joseph’s feelings. His mind revolted at it. It seemed to him too much. “Fear not, saith he: for am I in the place of God?” As if he should say, “It may belong to God to take vengeance; but for a sinful worm of the dust, who himself needs forgiveness, to do so, were highly presumptuous: you have therefore nothing to fear from me. What farther forgiveness you need, seek it of Him.” (A. Fuller.)
Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good
Good out of evil:
God permits evil, but from the evil He unceasingly causes good to proceed. If good were not destined to conquer evil, God would be conquered, or rather God would cease to be.
2. Since the Scriptures call us to be imitators of God, like Him we must endeavour to draw good out of evil. For believing souls there is a Divine alchemy. Its aim is to transform evil into good. Evil, considered as a trial, comes from three different sources: it comes either from God, through the afflictions of life; from men, through their animosity; from ourselves, through our fault. We may learn Divine lessons from sorrow, and lessons of wisdom from our enemies; we may even gather instruction from our faults. (E. Bersier, D. D.)
I. BY THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD I MEAN THAT PRESERVING AND CONTROLLING SUPERINTENDENCE WHICH HE EXERCISES OVER ALL THE OPERATIONS OF THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE, AND ALL THE ACTIONS OF MORAL AGENTS; or, as the Shorter Catechism has succinctly expressed it, “His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions.” That there is such a thing is clearly taught in the Word of God, is matter of daily observation, and follows naturally and necessarily from the very fact of creation. That which could be produced alone by the will of the Omnipotent can be maintained and regulated only by the same volition.
II. Advancing now another step, it will follow from the reasoning which we have just concluded THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS UNIVERSAL, having respect to every atom of creation and every incident of life. Take any critical event, either in the history of a nation or the life of an individual, and you will discover that it has depended on the coming together and co-operation of many smaller things, which, humanly speaking, might very easily have been, and indeed almost were, different. Hence there can be no watchful superintendence over those things which are confessedly important unless there be also a care over those which to men seem trivial.
III. Advancing yet another step, we may observe that THIS UNIVERSAL PROVIDENCE IS CARRIED ON IN HARMONY WITH, OR RATHER PERHAPS I OUGHT TO SAY BY MEANS OF, THOSE MODES OF OPERATION WHICH WE CALL NATURAL LAWS. “This is, in fact, the great miracle of Providence, that no miracles are needed to accomplish its purposes.”
IV. But taking yet another step, we may lay it down as a further principle THAT GOD’S PROVIDENCE IS CARRIED ON FOR MORAL AND RELIGIOUS ENDS. There is a retributive element in the workings of Providence. We see, we cannot but see, that idleness is followed by rags, intemperance by disease, dishonesty by suffering or dishonour, and deceit by cruelty. One cannot take up a newspaper without having that fact sternly confronting him from almost every column; and though the Nemesis may be long in overtaking the guilty, sooner or later the wrong-doer is brought low, and men are constrained to say, “Verily He is a God that judgeth in the earth.” Thus in the universe of God the moral and the physical go hand in hand, and still the law is vindicated in morals as in the fields of the agriculturist: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
V. But if that be so, we are prepared now to put the copestone on the pyramid of our discourse by saying THAT THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD CONTEMPLATES THE HIGHEST GOOD OF THOSE WHO ARE ON THE SIDE OF HOLINESS AND TRUTH. “All things work together for good to them who love God.” “God meant it unto good.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Difficulties in providence mitigated by revelation
The sound of the words is comforting. They were spoken by a brother to his brethren, in reference to events long past, yet still vivid and present to memory and to conscience. No sorrow, and no sin, ever quite dies. No lapse of time, no length of experience, no depth of repentance, can absolutely divide the one life into two, while the person is the same, or cut off the thing that was from the thing that is. But there may come a time when even suffering--in a certain sense, when even sin--may be regarded in a light subdued and softened; when the bitterest trial of the whole life, however mingled and entangled (as most of life’s bitterest trials are) with human unkindness and human sin, shall be seen to have had in it a kind as well as a cruel intention; when the old man, or the dying man, shall be able to distinguish in the retrospect between man’s part in it and God’s; saying, with the noble-hearted and saintly man who speaks in the text, “As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.” The mind is staggered and astounded by the sight of the prevalence of suffering amongst beings altogether or comparatively innocent of sin. The lower you descend in the scale of being, the more unaccountable does this suffering appear to you. That a wicked man should find misery in his wickedness; that, even as the vultures gather to the carcase, so sorrow and trouble should fasten upon the evil-doer--this is to be expected, if the rule is the rule of justice. It is more difficult to understand why this punishment should extend itself to persons not implicated in the particular ill-doing; why, for example, a profligate spendthrift son should be allowed to ruin his father, or why the sins of a drunken dissolute rather should be visited upon his children (as they often are seen to be) to the third and fourth generation. Still, in these cases, as none can plead absolute innocence, a perfectly upright nature and an entirely sinless life, it seems not wholly iniquitous that there should not be an exact discrimination, in effects and consequences, between the particular sin and the general. It is when we see the overflowing of that misery which is engendered of sin upon whole classes and departments of being which have never sinned and never fallen; when we see the animal world laid under the power, and subjected to the uncontrolled tyranny, of a race called rational, but employing reason, largely or chiefly, in ingenuity of sinning it is then that the heart revolts against the order of things established, and finds it most of all difficult to understand in what possible sense the text can have an application here, “But God meant it unto good.” Now, the difficulty, though it must ever press, and press heavily, upon thoughtful men, is evidently much lightened by the suggestions of revelation, as to a coming time of refreshing and restoration, when these innocent ones shall cease to suffer, and the whole creation, now “groaning and travailing,” shall be delivered, as St. Paul writes, evidently (to careful students of the passage) with reference not only or chiefly to the human creation, “into the glorious liberty,” into the liberty belonging to and accompanying the glory, “of the children of God.” There may be much that is unexplained--a dark fringe and border of mystery must ever lie around each revelation of the unseen--still, in so far as there is revelation, there is light and there is reconciliation. With it we can believe at least that all shall be well; we can wait, without credulity, for the key and for the lamp; we can expect, and not irrationally, a day, near or far off, when the text shall receive, in this connection, its warrant and its demonstration, “But God meant it unto good.” There are two thoughts, besides that of the glorious rest reserved for God’s people, which bring with them, wherever they are entertained, harmony and reconciliation at once.
1. One of these is the length of the Divine vision. “A thousand years are with the Lord as one day.” “He sees,” it is written again, “the end from the beginning.” “God meant it unto good”--yea, the loftiest good and the most durable of all--if He taught one soul, by the unroofing or the unbuilding of its home here, the comparative, the superlative importance of a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. If when He severed from you, by death or banishment or (sadder still) alienation, that friend who was your life, He thus made you look onward towards heaven, or upward towards Himself; if He strongly, sharply, roughly, rudely rebuked your tendency to make man your trust, and to hew out for yourself broken cisterns which can hold no living water--was it not unto good? Or if, by a more conspicuous visitation of one of His four sore judgments, He should at last teach a frivolous though gallant nation that by Him alone counsels are established, by Him alone republics, like kings, govern, and that without Him there is neither strength nor permanence, was not this too “meant unto good”? Learn of God the length of His vision; learn not to weigh with the light weights and false balances of time, but with that “ shekel of the sanctuary” which is the recollection of eternity, and you will find no cause to impugn God’s wisdom or God’s justice in the arrangements of His providence, whether as concerning men or nations. You will say, “He hath done all things well”; and even when He seems to provoke the prophet’s question, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” you will be able also to answer it in the end, out of a full heart and a firm conviction, “But He meant it unto good.”
2. The other thought which suggests itself as tending powerfully towards the justification of the ways of God is that of the largeness of the Divine view. It differs in some respects from the former, as the breadth differs from the length of the vision. It has special reference to those dealings in which sin is concerned. No reflection, because no revelation, reconciles the true heart to the existence of evil. That mystery lies still in its darkness. We fret and we struggle against it in vain. But that mystery is not one of God’s mysteries. God’s secrets are always secret’s told. You will find no instance in Scripture of the term “mystery” applied to things incomprehensible. God’s mysteries, indicoverable to human search, are apprehensible, when revealed, to human faith. The existence of evil is no mystery, because it is a fact; the origin of evil is no mystery, in God’s sense, because it is not revealed. But, evil being recognized as a fact and unexplained as a secret, the question which remains is all-practical, and the text forces it upon our attention--Is there any sense in which God has to do with it? any sense in which God, in His mercy and compassion, deigns to use it as His instrument “unto good”? Does He merely threaten it with judgment present and to come? Or does He, as the text seems to say, coerce and even rule it for the welfare of His children? We would tread warily on this perilous ground; yet firmly too, under the guidance of the Holy One. We say that even sin is made, in some sense, to confess and to glorify God. The sin of these men addressed in the text was made to save life. The sin of the murderers of the great Antitype of this saint was made to save souls. Yes, we cannot evade the conclusion, “As for you, ye thought evil, but God meant it unto good.” And it gives a very magnificent, however incomplete, conception of the greatness and goodness of God, that He forces even this inexplicable, this adverse existence, this sin which He hates, into subserviency to the good of His redeemed. (Dean Vaughan.)
In the ancient city of Chester, which is one of the few links connecting the world of this nineteenth century with the age of the Roman rule in Great Britain, there is an old building, which some of you, perhaps, have seen, having these words engraved on the lintel of the door; “God’s providence is mine exheritance.” It is said that when the plague last visited the city that was the only house which escaped the visitation, and so its inmates sculptured these words upon it as a record of their gratitude. I trust that God’s providence was the heritage of many who died as really as of those who were preserved. But the Christian may always adopt that inscription as his own. God’s providence is his inheritance, and is so as much and as really when he is suffering calamity or enduring persecution as when he is prosperous and honoured. Friends, if we could but believe that, how much of the bitterness would be taken out of our trials! (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
God’s providential care
In Palestine and Asia Minor the winter of 1873-4 was unusually severe. The snow lay at one time from two to five feet deep in the streets and on the flat roofs of the houses. Many roofs were crushed, and many houses fell in ruins under the unwonted burden. In Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, thirteen houses were thus prostrated. In Gaza, where of old the temple of Dagon fell and slew Samson and three thousand of the Philistines, the following remarkable incident occurred in connection with the great snowstorm of February 7th and 8th:--A robber during the night broke into the house. After having collected several articles on the lower floor, he entered the chamber where the master of the house was peacefully sleeping. His little child was also asleep in his cradle. The robber reflected that he might be betrayed by the child, so he took the cradle and set it outside of the house near the door. The child began to cry. The mother hastens to the cradle, but finds it gone. The child kept on crying. The father awoke and exclaimed, “The child is crying out of doors. How can that be?” They both hasten to the cradle, wondering who could have taken it out. While they are wondering and speculating on the strange circumstance, the roof, pressed under the burden, falls, and in a moment their house is in ruins. But they are all three unharmed. In the morning, when the stones and lumber were taken away, a man was found dead among the ruins. The things he had stolen were found partly sticking out of his pockets, partly tied up in a bundle on his back. Thus God and death had overtaken him. He carried out the child lest he should wake his father and mother by crying, and so, without meaning it, by the wonderful providence of God, he rescued the lives of all the family, while he himself died in his sin. How truly were the words of Joseph to his brothers fulfilled in him--“Ye meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” “Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” God’s angel averted the evil which the enemy would have gladly done. It would be difficult to find a more striking instance illustrating God’s providential care--saving those whom He resolves to save, even by the agency of the wicked, whose sin He condemns; and while He employs the agency of the sinner as a means of life, visits upon him, according to his deserts, judgment and death.
He comforted them, and spake kindly unto them
Joseph’s last forgiveness of his brethren:
THEIR NEED OF FORGIVENESS.
II. THE PLEA ON WHICH THEY URGE IT (Genesis 50:16-18).
1. The dying request of their father.
2. Their own free confession of guilt.
3. Their father’s influence with God.
4. Their willingness to utterly abase themselves.
III. THE COMPLETENESS OF THEIR FORGIVENESS.
1. He speaks words of peace.
2. He will not presume to put himself judicially in the place of God.
(1) As an instrument of vengeance.
(2) As presuming to change does not join forgetfulness. You forgive only so far as you forget. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you
SATISFIED WITH THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD.
II. FULL OF FAITH.
1. Sure of God’s covenant.
2. Superior to the world.
3. The possessor of immortality. (T. H. Leale.)
The last days of Joseph:
I. THE REMOTE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN (Genesis 50:15-17). To fear God and keep His commandments, always, is the only safe way and sure way for the soul. Men are peopling their future with calamity when they go one step out of the right path.
II. The last days of Joseph were an illustration of THE MYSTERIES OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE (Genesis 50:20). The strange problems of human history should not cause us to lose faith. Behind the web into which so much that seems chaotic and unintelligible is being wrought, God sits wise to purpose and almighty to accomplish; and when His work is done, the assenting acclaim of the universe will proclaim, “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of Saints.” Morbid views of life are unwarranted. What God pleases is best, and what God pleases is sure to come to pass.
III. Very noticeable also is THE FAITH WHICH COMFORTED THE LAST DAYS OF JOSEPH (Genesis 50:24). He saw already the blooming fields and laden vineyards which his descendants were to inherit, and he “took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.” That same sort of faith has a place and power among men now. Outlook and confidence are not the peculiar privileges of any one age. The victories of faith are world-wide and world-old.
IV. Notice also some INCIDENTAL TEACHINGS of this passage.
1. The last days of Joseph were the natural result of his first days. He began right.
2. Righteousness pays in the long run. Men who are tempted by the speciousness of strong temptation do well to listen to the Saviour’s question “What shall it profit?” God’s pay-days may be in the future, but He pays well when the time of reckoning comes.
3. What power there is in a good life. (E. S. Atwood.)
The Israelite’s grave in a foreign land:
I. THE LIFE OF JOSEPH.
1. Its outward circumstances.
(1) Chequered with misfortune. It is the law of our humanity, as that of Christ, that we must be perfected through suffering. And he who has not discerned the Divine sacredness of sorrow, and the profound meaning which is concealed in pain, has yet to learn what life is. The Cross, manifested as the necessity of the highest life, alone interprets it.
(2) Besides this, obloquy was part of Joseph’s portion. His brethren, even his father, counted him a vain dreamer, full of proud imaginings. He languished long in a dungeon with a stain upon his character. He was subjected to almost all the bitterness which changes the milk of kindly feelings into gall; to Potiphar’s fickleness, to slander, to fraternal envy, to the ingratitude of friendship in the neglect of the chief butler, who left his prison and straightway forgot his benefactor. Out of all which a simple lesson arises, “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils.” Yet that may be over-stated. Nothing chills the heart like universal distrust. Nothing freezes the genial current of the soul so much as doubts of human nature. Human goodness is no dream. Surely we have met unselfishness, and love, and honour among men. Surely we have seen, and not in dreams, pure benevolence beaming from human countenances. Surely we have met with integrity that the world’s wealth could not bribe, and attachment which might bear the test of any sacrifice. It is not so much the depravity as the frailty of men, that makes it impossible to count on them.
(3) Success, besides, marked the career of Joseph. Let us not take half views of men and things. The woof of life is dark; that we granted, but it is shot through a web of brightness. Accordingly, in Joseph’s case, even in his worst days, you find a kind of balance, to be weighed against his sorrows. The doctrine of compensation is found through all. Amidst the schemings of his brothers’ envy he had his father’s love. In his slavery he had some recompense in feeling that he was gradually winning his master’s confidence. In his dungeon he possessed the consciousness of innocence, and the grateful respect of his fellow prisoners.
2. The spirit of Joseph’s inner life.
(1) Forgiveness. The Christian spirit before the Christian times.
(2) Simplicity of character. He bore a simple, unsophisticated heart amidst the pomp of an Egyptian court.
(3) Benevolence. This was manifested in the generosity with which he entertained his brethren, and in the discriminating tenderness with which he provided his best beloved brother’s feast with extraordinary delicacies.
II. THE DEATH OF JOSEPH WAS IN ACCORDANCE WITH HIS LIFE.
1. The funeral was a homage paid to goodness. Little is said in the text of Joseph’s funeral. To know what it was, we must turn to the earlier part of the chapter, where that of Jacob is mentioned. A mourning of seventy days; a funeral whose imposing greatness astonished the Canaanites, they said, “This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians.” Seventy days were the time, or nearly so, fixed by custom for a royal funeral; and Jacob was so honoured, not for his own sake, but because he was Joseph’s father. We cannot suppose that Joseph’s own obsequies were on a scale less grand. Now, weigh what is implied in this. This was not the homage paid to talent, nor to wealth, nor to birth. Joseph was a foreign slave, raised to eminence by the simple power of goodness. Every man in Egypt felt, at his death, that he had lost a friend. There were thousands whose tears would fall when they recounted the preservation of lives dear to them in the years of famine, and felt that they owed those lives to Joseph. Grateful Egypt mourned the good foreigner; and, for once, the honours of this world were given to the graces of another.
2. We collect from this, besides, a hint of the resurrection of the body. The Egyptian mode of sepulture was 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 opposite to spirituality is not materialism, but sin. The form of matter does not degrade. For what is this world itself but the form of Deity, whereby the manifoldness of His mind and beauty manifests, and where in it clothes itself? It is idle to say that spirit can exist apart from form. We do not know that it can. Perhaps even the Eternal Himself is more closely bound to His works than our philosophical systems have conceived. Perhaps matter is only a mode of thought. At all events, all that we know or can know of mind exists in union with form. The resurrection of the body is the Christian verity, which meets and satisfies those cravings of the ancient Egyptian mind, that expressed themselves in the process of embalming, and the religious reverence felt for the very bones of the departed by the Hebrews. Finally, in the last will and testament of Joseph we find faith. He commanded his brethren, and through them his nation, to carry his bones with them when they migrated to Canaan. In the Epistle to the Hebrews that is reckoned an evidence of faith. “By faith Joseph gave commandment concerning his bones.” How did he know that his people would ever quit Egypt? We reply, by faith. Not faith in a written word, for Joseph had no Bible; rather, faith in that conviction of his own heart which is itself the substantial evidence of faith. For religious faith ever dreams of something higher, more beautiful, more perfect, than the state of things with which it feels itself surrounded. Ever, a day future lies before it; the evidence for which is its own hope. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Comfort from the thought of the eternity of God:
These words bring before us the contrast between the mortality of men and the eternity of God. They die, but He abides “the King eternal, immortal, the only wise God.” Now this truth is full of comfort, on the one hand, to the dying servant of God, and, on the other, to the bereaved who are called to mourn his loss.
1. It is full of comfort to the dying, for whatever of good he has done in the world shall not be lost when he is gone. In the words of the appropriate inscription on the monument to the Wesleys in Westminster Abbey, “God buries the workers, but He carries on the work.” The sower may die, but the seed which fell from his hands matures into a harvest which is reaped by others, and becomes in its turn the food of multitudes and the germ of many harvests more, I stood once on a Highland hill in my native land, and marked a spot upon the landscape greener than all else around. When I inquired into the reason, I learned that for many, many years there had been a village there, and that the gardens of the villagers so long under cultivation kept unwonted verdure still. So, through the operations of God’s grace, the earth is greener where His servants have been at work, though the servants themselves have long since passed away. The operations of grace, like those of Nature, go on after men have died, because God lives to maintain them, and nothing done for Him is ever allowed by Him to come to nothing. So when we are called to leave the earth, the work in which we delighted shall not be lost. We die, but God lives; and we may he sure that under His care it will flourish.
2. Then what consolation comes from the eternity of God to those who are bereaved! Look at the 90th Psalm. It was written by Moses in the wilderness, when he was depressed by the death of those who had reached man’s estate when he led them out of Egypt. There came a time when he was left wellnigh alone of all his generation; and then he took his comfort out of the permanence of God, singing, “Lord Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations; from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God,” and by that he was upheld. We see the same thing in David’s case; for not far from the close of his life, and when many of his early companions had gone into “the silent land,” he wrote the 18th Psalm, in which he said, “The Lord liveth, and blessed be my Rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.” Yes, “the Lord liveth,” therefore let us not refuse to be comforted when dear ones are taken from our side. He can sustain us and He will. He is as near us as He was when they were with us, and they were but the agents whom He used for our welfare. But He is not tied to any instrumentality, and He can guide, uphold, and bless by one as well as by another. He takes away the earthly prop that we may learn to lean the more thoroughly on Himself. “He will surely visit us”; yea, He will be ever with us, and when our death-hour comes we shall be with Him. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
All die, but God’s work proceeds
I. THAT THE MOST DISTINGUISHED SERVANTS OF GOD MUST DIE. Even the Great Master Himself died.
II. THAT THOUGH THEY DIE, THE CAUSE IN WHICH THEY WERE ENGAGED WILL MOVE ON. (R. Stodhart.)
The death of Joseph:
I. HIS BODILY FRAILTY. “I die.”
1. Not all his honours and dignities can exempt him. The princely robe must be exchanged for the winding-sheet.
2. Not all his eminent piety can buy him off. It is the common lot. No exception to this rule.
3. Will you not remember this? Is it wise to forget it, or try to forget. The one thing that’s certain in your earthly history. Ought it to be crowded out by a multitude utterly uncertain? There is nothing else I can foresee. I cannot tell how long you will live. I cannot tell whether rich or poor, strong or weak, joyful or sorrowful. No, I cannot discern anything of the complexion of your course. But this I know, that your course will have an end. And that the day, the hour will come, when (if syllable anything) you will say, “I die.” That day--don’t let it take you by surprise. Don’t leave the preparation for death until death comes. But live habitually prepared. And see whether it is not possible to triumph over death.
II. HIS ABOUNDING FAITH.
1. See his calmness in prospect of departure. “I die!” That’s all he has to say about it. No fears--no doubts--of any kind whatever. No vain regrets that his life come to an end. No painful forebodings of what may follow. It is not everyone can meet the last messenger like that. But it is possible to do so. His father Jacob did the same.
2. The consolation he gives those he leaves. “I die, but God will surely visit.” Your earthly friend may be taken--your heavenly not forsake you. Nay l more than this--“He will bring you out of this land, unto the land which He sware to, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Nearly three hundred years had passed away since this oath first uttered. More than one hundred must still pass before the time for its fulfilment. How it will be fulfilled Joseph does not know. But fulfilled it must be, for God had spoken it. Mark, brethren, this triumphant faith. My bones (says this dying man) shall not rest in Egypt. You may put them in sarcophagus--but label it “Passenger to Canaan.” For when the people go to the promised land, take it with them. “Where they go, I will go--where they rest, I will rest. And there will I be buried!”
3. I call that abounding faith. So the apostle seems to think it, in Epistle to Hebrews. For he gives it a niche in that temple of faith, in chap. 11. By the side of Abel, and Noah, and Enoch--Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. Figure of Joseph, with this inscription, “By faith Joseph.” And was this faith a mere delusion?
III. A WORD OF APPLICATION.
1. Would not such faith be precious to you? Would it not be pleasant to be able to say, “I die!” without single fear. And to say to those we leave behind, “God will surely?”
2. Are there no precious promises for you? You are a sinner, I know--“If we confess our sins.” “The wages of sin is death.” “Gift of God is eternal life.” Accept these promises--go and plead them. And all fear of death taken away--“Have a desire.” I know you cannot take all your loved ones with you. And you may have many a fear on their behalf. “Be careful for nothing.” “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them.” Widow’s trust.
3. Is there not precious confirmation of these? Ay! more precious than any Joseph ever knew. He knew there should be seed of Abraham, blessing to world--He saw bleeding lamb, emblem. But we can say the seed of Abraham has come--Great Sacrifice offered. “Christ has died.” How all the precious promises sealed with precious blood. “He that spared not.” (F. Tucker, B. A.)
Joseph’s dying assurance to his brethren:
I. THE REFLECTION WHICH JOSEPH MAKES UPON HIS PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES. “I die,” or am dying.
II. THE ASSURANCE HE GIVES THEM, THAT GOD WOULD VISIT THEM.
III. The further assurance he gives them, THAT GOD WOULD BRING THEM INTO THE LAND OF CANAAN.
I. To aged Christians.
1. Frequently to think and speak of dying.
2. Reflect that God will visit and take care of your posterity when you are gone.
3. Remind your posterity of this, for their encouragement, when you are dying and leaving the world, that “God will surely visit them.”
II. To those descendants of good men, who are in the prime, or middle of their days.
1. Encourage yourselves with this thought, that God will surely visit you when your parents and friends die.
2. Pray earnestly for His visits.
3. Be prepared to receive His visits. (3. Often.)
Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence
Joseph’s faith in God
This is the one act of Joseph’s life which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews selects as the sign that he too lived by faith.
It was at once a proof of how entirely he believed God’s promise, and of how earnestly he longed for its fulfilment. It was a sign of how little he felt himself at home in Egypt, though to outward appearance he had become completely one of its people. The ancestral spirit was in him true and strong, though he was “ separate from his brethren.” This incident, with the New Testament commentary on it, leads us to a truth which we often lose sight of.
I. FAITH IS ALWAYS THE SAME, THOUGH KNOWLEDGE VARIES. There is a vast difference between a man’s creed and a man’s faith. The one may vary-does vary within very wide limits; the other remains the same. What makes a Christian is not theology in the head, but faith and love in the heart. The dry light of the understanding is of no use to anybody. Our creed must be turned into a faith before it has power to bless and save.
II. FAITH HAS ITS NOBLEST OFFICE IN DETACHING FROM THE PRESENT. All his life long, from the day of his captivity, Joseph was an Egyptian in outward seeming. He filled his place at Pharaoh’s court; but his dying words open a window into his soul, and betray how little he had felt that he belonged to the order of things in which he had been content to live. He too confessed that here he had no continuing city, but sought one to come. Dying, he said, “Carry my bones up from hence.” Living, the hope of the inheritance must have burned in his heart as a hidden light, and made him an alien everywhere but upon its blessed soft. Faith will produce just such effects. Does anything but Christian faith engage the heart to love and all the longing wishes to set towards the things that are unseen and eternal? Whatever makes a man live in the past and in the future raises him; but high above all others stand those to whom the past is an apocalypse of God, with Calvary for its centre, and all the future is fellowship with Christ and joy in the heavens.
III. FAITH MAKES MEN ENERGETIC IN THE DUTIES OF THE PRESENT. Joseph was a true Hebrew all his days; but that did not make him run away from Pharaoh’s service. He lived by hope, and that made him the better worker in the passing moment. True Christian faith teaches us that this is the workshop where God makes men, and the next the palace where He shows them. The end makes the means important. This is the secret of doing with our might whatsoever our hand finds to do--to trust Christ, to live with Him and by the hope of the inheritance. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Joseph’s instructions as to the disposal of his body:
To keep alive among them the truth that they were yet to go to Canaan, and to preserve in the midst of them the evidence of his faith that they should ultimately possess that land, he left his body, embalmed, yet unburied, among them, with the instruction that when they did go, they should take it along with them. They say that at the feasts of Egypt it was usual to bring a mummy to the table, that the guests might be reminded thereby of their mortality. But Joseph here left his coffined body to his people, that by its presence among them, and preservation by them, they might never forget that Egypt was not their final resting-place--their national home--and might be stimulated to hold themselves in constant readiness to arise and go to their own land. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The fulfilment of Joseph’s request as to his body:
How was this request of Joseph’s fulfilled? Read with me these two passages, and you will see: “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you” (Exodus 13:19). It was a terrible night. The destroying angel had passed through Egypt and laid low the first-born, in every household. The panic-stricken Pharaoh had ordered the Israelites away at once, and they started in great haste. Yet even in that crisis they did not forget the descending obligation of the oath which their fathers had sworn to Joseph, and they took time to carry with them his remains. Read again: “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of silver; and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph” (Joshua 24:32). Thus, between the death and burial of Joseph an interval of probably from three to four hundred years elapsed, during all of which his remains were kept by the children of Israel, a witness to the faith by which he was animated, and a prophecy of their ultimate possession of the land of Canaan, so that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had a right to say, “By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:22). (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The narrative reminds us of the memorable orders given by Lord Nelson when dying. As his comrades raised him from the deck where he had fallen after receiving the fatal wound, he exclaimed, “I die.” On his way to the cabin, whither they immediately conveyed him, his observant eye perceived that the tiller ropes had been shot away. Still interested in circumstances from which he was soon to take a final departure, he instantly gave the order, “Replace the ropes.” Laid upon a cot, he said to the attendant surgeon, “Leave me; render aid to those who can be profited by it.” Entertaining the same twofold conviction he entertained when he issued the order for battle--victory for England, death for Nelson--he lay calmly awaiting the anticipated result. Thinking, apparently, of the signal which for the encouragement of his soldiers he had exhibited from the mast-head as the two fleets came within range--“England expects every man to do his duty to-day” he whispered, I have done my duty. As Hardy, the captain of the ship, reported, “The victory is complete,” he slowly raised himself upon his arm to give his last order: “Bring the fleet to anchor to-night.” When reminded that this duty would devolve upon another, he sternly exclaimed, “Hardy, obey my order; anchor to-night.” Obedience to that dying order might have saved many a dismantled ship and hundreds of lives. But when the winds which scattered and nearly wrecked England’s victorious navy were howling through the torn rigging and sinking one disabled ship after another, the voice which gave this needed order, and could have enforced it, was silent in death. Nelson’s last energies were expended in giving a command in the interests of a nation whose honour he had died in defending: a command which he hoped would be obeyed after his death, though it might call for the surrender of present advantages in the anticipation of future security. Believing fully that a severe storm was pending, he gave an order which, though it could be of no value to him, might prove, if obeyed, an inestimable blessing to those who should survive him, and might save England’s victorious fleet. In this incident three facts are especially worthy of note, as having a parallel in the dying words of Joseph: the conviction that he stood by death’s river, that victory awaited his countrymen, that they needed an order which should be obeyed after his death. (J. S. Van Dyke.)
So Joseph died
The death of Joseph:
JOSEPH’S DEATH WAS THAT OF EMINENTLY GOOD MAN. Perhaps the best man of the Old Testament. He was not surprised by death, nor dismayed at its coming. He had lived to meet it--lived for the life beyond death--not for present indulgence, nor in heedless disregard of his highest good--but with wise and faithful reference to the will of God and the monitions of the Holy Spirit.
II. JOSEPH’S DEATH WAS THE DEATH OF A GREAT PROPHET. (P. Whitehead, D. D.)
Joseph died! Then after all, he was but mortal, like ourselves I It is important to remember this, lest we should let any of the great lessons slip away under the delusion that Joseph was more than man. We have seen fidelity so constant, heroism so enduring, magnanimity so--I had almost said--divine, that we are apt to think there must have been something more than human about this man. No. He was mortal, like ourselves. His days were consumed as are our days; little by little his life ebbed out; and he was found, as we shall be found, dead. So, then, if he was but mortal, why can’t we be as great in our degree? If he was only a man, why can’t we emulate his virtue, so far as our circumstances will enable us to do so? We can’t all be equally heroic and sublime. We can all be, by the grace of God, equally holy, patient, and trustful in our labour. Joseph died! Thus the best, wisest, and most useful men are withdrawn from their ministry! This is always a mystery in life: That the good man should be taken away in the very prime of his usefulness; that the eloquent tongue should be smitten with death; that a kind father should be withdrawn from his family circle; and that wretches who never have a noble thought, who do not know what it is to have a brave heavenly impulse, should seem to have a tenacity of life that is unconquerable; that drunken men and hard-hearted individuals should live on and on--while the good, and the true, and the wise, and the beautiful, and the tender, are snapped off in the midst of their days and translated to higher climes. The old proverb says, “Whom the gods love die young.” Sirs! There is another side to this life, otherwise these things would be inexplicable--would be chief of the mysteries of God’s ways. We must wait, therefore, until we see the circle completed before we sit in judgment upon God. Joseph died! Then the world can get on without its greatest and best men. This is very humiliating to some persons. Here is, for example, a man who has never been absent from his business for twenty years. You ask him to take a day’s holiday, go to a church opening or to a religious festival. He says, “My dear sir! Why, the very idea! The place would go to rack and ruin if I was away four-and-twenty hours.” It comes to pass that God sends a most grievous disease upon the man--imprisons him in the darkened chamber for six months. When he gets up, at the end of six months, he finds the business has gone on pretty much as well as if he had been wearing out his body and soul for it all the time. Very humiliating to go and find things getting on without us! Who are we? The preacher may die, but the truth will be preached still. The minister perishes--the ministry is immortal. This ought to teach us, therefore, that we are not so important, after all; that our business is to work all the little hour that we have; and to remember that God can do quite as well without us as with us, and that He puts an honour upon us in asking us to touch the very lowest work in any province of the infinite empire of His truth and light. (J. Parker, D. D.)