Genesis Segment 37 (Final, 50:1-36)

Gen 50:1 And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.

Joseph grieved normally over his father’s death. Of course, the remainder of the family grieved with Joseph, for they, too were present when Jacob died. Now Joseph became the patriarch even though he was not the firstborn (1 Chron 5:1). Reuben had been stripped of that office because of his adultery with his father’s lawful concubine Bilhah (Gen 35:22), the mother of Dan and Naphtali.

Gen 50:2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.

The Egyptian physicians were Joseph’s servants because of Joseph’s position as second in command of Egypt. He had all the trappings of Pharaoh, except the throne itself (Gen 41:40). Jacob, or Israel was embalmed according to the Egyptian way. Because of that, it is possible that Jacob’s remains are intact today. Egyptian embalming was thorough and long lasting as we know from modern archaeology.

Gen 50:3 And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed: and the Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days.

The Egyptians mourned for seventy days. That included the time period required for embalming a corpse. The corpse was prepared: its organs were removed, the body was packed with embalming spices, and then the body was sewn up and covered with natron powder, a naturally occurring desiccant made from a combination of salts, for 30-40 days, which dried the body. In Jacob’s case, it was forty days according to this passage. The body was removed from the natron powder, washed, and the spices were removed from the abdomen, which was then filled with natron. Then they meticulously wrapped the body in linen strips. Afterward, the body was ready for interment.

Gen 50:4 And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found grace in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying,

Instead of seeking an audience with Pharaoh, Joseph went to his staff and asked them to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf. Being unshaven and in sack-cloth, the habit of mourners in Israel, Joseph was not properly clothed to enter into Pharaoh’s court. In the East, people could not appear before monarchs in mourning habit. We see this in action in Esther 4:2. Here in the modern West, we have dress requirements for certain activities. For example, even today, we are required to dress properly to go into court. This would also have the effect of maintaining friendly relations with Pharaoh’s officials.

Gen 50:5-6 My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come again. (6) And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear.

Since Joseph was required to leave the country to comply with his father’s wishes, he sought and obtained leave from Pharaoh to go. Even though he was the prime minister of Egypt, he still had to obtain leave from Pharaoh to go. Jacob made this wish known to Joseph in Genesis 47:29-31.

Gen 50:7 And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,

This was quite an assembly. It was basically the government of Egypt. Of course there would have been some elders that stayed behind to attend to the affairs of government. The military would have had to stay behind, though an armed guard accompanied the entourage (see verse 9). Pharaoh still needed servants, so it is again likely that some stayed with Pharaoh. This was akin to a funeral procession for a high-placed government official or a very wealthy person. Jacob and Joseph were being granted a great honor by the Egyptians. Apparently Joseph commanded great respect.

Gen 50:8 And all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father’s house: only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen.

Most of the family went to Canaan. There would have been stewards and servants as well as the mothers of children that remained behind. In ancient Egypt, women had status.1 They were not simply chattel. Thus it is possible that some women accompanied the men into Canaan.

Gen 50:9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company.

Chariots renders a Hebrew word (רכב, rekeb) that can mean a vehicle that is a weapon of war, and it can also mean passenger vehicles, supply vehicles, and vehicles of royalty. The vehicles could be horse drawn, or drawn by donkeys or oxen. The word can also be rendered cavalry, horses, or caravan (that is, a group of wagons). The entourage included riders and walkers. It included military men and military chariots as well as civilian carriages and carts. It included men on horseback and horse drawn chariots. Egypt was arguable the most powerful nation in the world at the time of Joseph and Jacob. Additionally, Egypt had helped keep many peoples supplied with food during the drought. Therefore, it was unlikely they would be molested.

Gen 50:10 And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation: and he made a mourning for his father seven days.

Beyond Jordan usually means east of the river. However, the word rendered beyond could also mean against, or near. Atad is a word meaning thorns. It could therefore mean the trashing floor of thorns. Some claim this is on the west side of the Jordan near the north end of the Dead Sea. The exact location is ambiguous, but several sources place it in the vicinity of modern Alon, Israel, which is due east of modern Jericho. This would be out of the way if the entourage was going to Hebron. However, some commentators say they followed the route Joseph’s bones would travel in the future—a sort of prefiguration of that course. The actual location is not known. Mourning is a great Oriental art. The Egyptians would walk in a circle there, mourning for seven days. This is a bit like what Joshua did at Jericho, which is very near Alon.

Gen 50:11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians: wherefore the name of it was called Abelmizraim, which is beyond Jordan.

There was probably a large gathering of Canaanites that came to observe these proceedings, for they named it the Meadow of Egypt (Abel Mizraim). Again, we are told that the place was beyond Jordan, meaning east of the river or near the river. The term grievous mourning indicates the Canaanites thought a great person or official in Egypt had died. That is exactly what Joseph was, a great person in Egypt, and that is why his father was mourned is such a grandiose way.

Gen 50:12-14 And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them: (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 buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre. (14) And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.

Jacob was buried and slept with his fathers after a long and prosperous life in the cave at Machpelah (Gen 23:8-9; Gen 23:19; Gen 25:9). The procession then returned home to Egypt.

Gen 50:15 And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.

This is the second time Joseph’s brethren brought up this theme. We first observed it in Gen 42:21-22, when Joseph told them that must go back to Canaan and bring their youngest brother back with them while leaving Simeon back in Egypt in prison.

Gen 50:16-17 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, (17) So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.

After all they had been through with Joseph, including being given the land of Goshen to settle in, and including the funeral procession they had all experienced together, they still worried that Joseph might execute them now that their father was gone. Their guilt was still with them. We may suppose that Jacob never instructed them to do this, that it was a lie. Joseph had already told them that they were forgiven back in Gen 45:5-8. Is it possible that Joseph wept because after all his brothers still did not trust him?

Gen 50:18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.

They prostrated themselves before him for mercy, though they did not need to do so for Joseph had already given forgiven them. They were showing him that he might do whatever he wished with them—that he could execute them, sell them into slavery, put them in prison, etc., which was their fear, or simply forgive them, which was their hope.

Gen 50:19-20 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? (20) But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Joseph would not make himself their judge; only God could do that. Since it was God’s plan, he, Joseph was not going to put himself into he place of God and condemn them. He let them know that they need not fear, be grieved, or be angry about the deed. He had forgiven them. Again, he made it clear to them that it was God’s plan all along that he should come to Egypt in order to make sure that there was enough food to save lives during the drought.

Gen 50:21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

Joseph resolutely put the fears of his brethren to rest for the final time.

Gen 50:22-23 And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father’s house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years. (23) And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph’s knees.

Joseph was the patriarch of the family, even though he was not the eldest. Reuben has lost that position because of his tryst with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine (Gen 35:22). Joseph lived a long and fruitful life with his family until his great-great-grandchildren were born. This also illustrates that the prophecy that Ephraim would be the more numerous of the two sons of Joseph (Gen 48:19).

Gen 50:24-25 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (25) And 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 called his brethren together to tell them that when he died, he wanted his bones to be carried into the Promised Land when that time came. God told Abraham that his descendant would be in a strange land where they would be enslaved and oppressed for 400 years (Gen 15:13). Joseph gave the prophecy, under inspiration of the Spirit, that God would surely visit them and lead them out of Egypt. We know from Exo 13:19, that Moses made sure his bones were carried with them out of Egypt and Joshua made sure they were buried on the property Jacob bought from Hamor at Shechem (Jos 24:32).

Gen 50:26 So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

He was embalmed as royalty, thus his body was still intact, though completely dehydrated as Egyptian mummies are, when he was buried some three centuries later at Shechem. So ends the book of beginnings that the Hebrews call בראשׁית (bereshyth, “In the Beginning”) as well as the chronicles of the patriarchs.

Note: I began this commentary fifteen years ago. I would never have believed then that it would take so many years to complete.

  1. “Women’s Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt,” Janet H. Johnson, professor of Egyptology in the Oriental Institute and department of Near Eastern languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago, Copyright 2002, University of Chicago
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