Genesis 49:28-50:14

50 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days. [1]

Jacob’s prophetic blessing of his sons left the dying patriarch exhausted. Just as Jacob/Israel had communicated blessings to his sons, all of us have every spiritual blessing right now in the heavenly places. But the consummation of those blessings must and shall go beyond this sin-fractured life because God’s intent is to bless his people perfectly and eternally. Jacob/Israel’s hope was his being gathered to his people, the Church Victorious.

So, apparently lucid to the end, he commanded his sons (49:29-32):

I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.

This dying man’s specificity is remarkable. He was even more specific here than in his earlier directives. He was determined to be buried in the Promised Land of his ancestors. He clearly believed the oracles of blessing he had invoked up his sons. He was certain that blessing and redemption would come through Abraham, Isaac, himself, and Judah. He was certain the bare word of God was true and there would come a time when the tribes his sons fathered would leave Egypt and settle in the land promised to the patriarchs.

Jacob knew the prophecies and experiences of Abraham. They were part of his family’s legacy and what defined them as a separate people. The first thing God promised to Abraham was land. God said, “Go from . . . your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation . . .” (12:1, 2). So, Abram set out and traveled the great semi-circle from the sophisticated and splendid city of man at one end of the Fertile Crescent to a rural backwater land full of lower-class agrarian pagans – the land of Canaan. When he arrived, the Lord commanded Abram, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. . .. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you” (13:14-17). Abraham began a by-faith tour of the land by building an altar in Hebron, its center – the place where he would buy the burial cave of Machpelah.

But, as we will recall, Abraham’s storyline did not follow the timeline he thought it should. Sarah’s womb was rocky ground upon which Abraham’s seed could find no purchase. Abraham grew discouraged. So, God called to Abraham one stary, stary night and swore as the patriarch looked up, “So shall your offspring be. And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (15:5, 6). Abraham’s trust was followed by an amazing night vision of God ratifying his covenant by passing as a flaming glory-cloud between the carcasses of flayed animals, confirming the promise that Abraham’s descendants would possess the land after a four-hundred-year sojourn in a foreign land and then depart with great possessions that they would carry back to the promised land (15:7-21). Abraham trusted the bare word of God that he would have a land, and he would be the sire of the Promised Seed who would bless the whole world. In the sacrament of circumcision, God again confirmed his promises and added that Sarah would be the miraculous mother of the promised seed.

Isaac’s birth strengthened Abraham’s trust to the point that, when God called him to sacrifice Isaac, he prepared to do it because he reasoned “that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Heb. 11:19). The miraculous birth of Isaac also confirmed the land promise all the more to the patriarch. He believed his children would eventually possess the land, even if four centuries had to pass first. Though he was but a sojourner, as his son and grandson would be, he was certain of God’s repeated promises. That is why, when Sarah died, Abraham bought a plot of land at Hebron with a cave on it to serve as the family tomb. He was so certain his descendants would possess the Land as God promised, he wanted his and his wife’s bones to remain in the land to which his people would one day return.

The cave at Machpelah became a monument to Abraham’s faith and, later, Isaac’s faith as well. By faith, Abraham embraced God’s promise that his descendants would inherit the land. By faith, Abraham sojourned in the promised land for about a century, living as a man to whom it belonged. By faith, Abraham purchased the cave at Machpelah in Hebron. By faith he buried Sarah in the cave. By faith, his beloved son Isaac buried him with Sarah at Hebron. By faith, his grandson Jacob buried his father Isaac at Hebron.[2] Jacob/Israel lived his life with the same assurances from God of land, seed, and blessing that Abraham had lived. At Bethel, while running from angry Esau, he had seen the stairway to heaven with an army of angels climbing and descending. Moreover, he saw the pre-incarnate Promised Seed standing watch over him and reaffirming the Abrahamic Covenant, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring” (28: 13).

When Jacob returned to Bethel with his family after his 22-year sojourn in Mesopotamia, God appeared to him again and Jacob wrestled him for a blessing. He wrestled his pre-incarnate descendant, the Son of God, the Promised Seed whom he had seen by the stairway years earlier. The Seed said to him:

Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.[3]

Jacob’s trust in God’s covenant promises had grown as sure and certain as that of Abraham. We see that reflected in his making Joseph promise twice to bury him in Machpelah, the cave of covenant promise. Following his final instructions for burial, “he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people” (v. 33). “On the surface, this scene is about Jacob’s death and burial, but on a deeper, ideological level it is about the unity of the holy family transcending the generations and the exaltation of the last patriarch as a king.”[4]


Because of his three older brothers’ failures, Joseph the vizier had risen to headship of the family though the future leadership belonged to Judah’s tribe. During the last 17 years, Jacob and Joseph had reveled in the pleasure of their renewed relationship, Joseph had figuratively risen from the dead to power and glory and honor. Jacob had no doubt been proud to see that although Joseph was “in Egypt,” he was still not “of Egypt,” maintaining his Hebrew trust into his Covenant God. Joseph remained unphased by life as “King of the Hill, A Number One, Top of the Heap.” He was proud to be the son of the abominable shepherd, Jacob/Israel.

Jacob knew Joseph would be the one to close his eyes at death (46:4) because God had promised it. And when Jacob breathed his last, Joseph did just that as his brothers looked on. “Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him” (v. 1). Seventeen years earlier, when Joseph was reunited with his father, we read that he fell on his father’s neck (46:29). Now he fell on his father’s face and bathed it with his tears. The only tears recorded in Joseph’s life were shed over the misfortune and grief of others, never for the terrible situations of his youth. We can imagine his brothers wept as well, but the focus is on the favored son. Joseph set the tone of grieving on behalf of the entire family. This was a rough picture of the Christ the Son’s separation from the Father at the cross – utter grief at the separation following such perfect fellowship.

Joseph took charge of the funeral arrangements, which appeared very Egyptian on their face. “And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So, the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.” In Egyptian religion, under the influence of the Cult of Osiris, bodies were preserved so the deceased could enjoy the afterlife. Every corpse was treated with as much care as the family could afford. Bodies of the poor were ritually washed and set out in the desert sun to dry. For a little larger price, the body would be packed with salt to dry more efficiently. Those with more means were injected with juniper oil and their major organs removed before salting with sodium nitrate (niter). But only the wealthiest and most important of Egyptian society received a mummy wrap, a sarcophagus, and an elaborate grave. “the rich got a total redo as well as a body wrap. All organs were extracted. The body was soaked in niter and then bound in linen and laid out for an eternal good time. Ah, the life of the rich and pious!”[5]

Pharaohs began their plans for their entombment the moment they came to power, so strong was their belief in a carnal afterlife. Mortuary science was normally a function of the pagan priests, who recited demonic incantations over the body as they worked. Such ritual likely did not take place at Jacob/Israel’s mummification. Moses writes that, “the physicians embalmed Israel,” not professional mortuary priests reciting their pagan incantations as they worked. Joseph was again distancing himself and his family from the demonic realm of pagan superstitions. The 70 days of mourning ordered by Pharaoh (since “the Egyptians mourned for him”) likely included the 40 days of mummification in addition to the customary Semitic mourning period of 30 days that would have included the procession to Canaan. Such a national mourning period was reserved only for the most important of state figures and was only two days less than the period of mourning for a pharaoh.

BURIAL (4-14)

Joseph was on the absolute best of terms with Pharaoh. But the vizier had been in mourning for his father and was likely (as was the Hebrew custom) unshaved and dressed in sackcloth and ashes. He had also been in contact with a dead body and may have been ritually unfit to see the king. So, he submitted his tactfully-worded request through courtiers. His request was, again, the model of diplomacy – he left out the fact that his father would have been appalled to be buried in a pagan Egyptian tomb.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’”

Joseph’s request triggered an affair of state, a grand state funeral conducted with royal pomp and ceremony. “The father of the man to whom Egypt owed so much, who had saved them from starvation, who used the occasion to consolidate Egyptian power and empire, must not be buried as a common man. Jacob was honored by an immense cortege that accompanied his bier to Canaan.”[6] The funeral procession was composed of three groups.

First, came the elite of Egypt. “So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt.” The rich and famous, the movers and shakers of the royal court of Egypt – all the courtiers, all the advisors, perhaps all the important royal priests (like Joseph’s father-in-law), and all their servants. The repeated use of the word “all” suggests absolutely everyone who was anyone (other than Pharaoh himself) came along for the funeral procession.

Second, came Jacob/Israel’s family, “…all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen.” Joseph’s household, including Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as his eleven brothers from Reuben to Benjamin, their wives, and older children and older grandchildren, all trudged along in the mournful procession along the trade route to Canaan.

Third, came the military contingent – there both to honor the royal personage of Jacob/Israel and to ensure the safety of the Egyptian royal elite (and, perhaps, even to ensure Joseph would have no choice but to return to Pharaoh as promised). “And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company.” Jacob, who fought his way out of the womb dramatically, makes a grand and dramatic exit. R. Kent Hughes describes the scene this way:

Can you see the procession decked out in the color palette of Egypt (gold and turquoise and the blood-red of carnelian) gleaming in the sun as it wound along the blue of the Nile and up across the steppes of the Sinai to Canaan? The sequence of the text suggests the order of the procession. Joseph, accompanying the catafalque bearing his father, rode in front of the van attended by the clean-shaven leadership of Egypt in their flowing, diaphanous linens. Next come bearded patriarchs and their families— motley in comparison. And then, in the vanguard, came the prancing mounts of the military and chariots emblazoned with hieroglyphs and deities of Egypt. Indeed, “It was a very great company” (v. 9).[7]

Here is another fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, “and I will bless you . . . so that you will be a blessing” (12:2). All of Egypt stopped to honor the last patriarch/prophet, Abraham’s grandson. By siring the vizier –the  resurrected, ascended, and glorified savior, Joseph—Abraham’s grandson had given a vast blessing to the known world. That blessing prefigured the world-wide eternal blessing that would come through the person and work of the Promised Seed – who lived perfectly, died sacrificially, was resurrected, and ascended to rule the universe As Abraham’s ultimate son of Judah’s tribe, he crushed the head of the great dragon-serpent as promised in Genesis 3:15.

This grand procession out of Egypt was a type and shadow of Israel’s descendants’ grand exodus from Egypt some four centuries later. Many of the words and descriptions used here to portray the procession (“servants of Pharaoh,” “flocks,” “herds,” “chariots,” “horsemen,” and “great company”) occur again in the story of the exodus. Joseph now bore the bones of his father out of Egypt. At the nation’s exodus, Joseph’s bones were borne back to the Promised Land. Now the Egyptian horses and chariots guarded the procession. Four centuries later, they would oppose and harry the departing Israelites (Ex. 14:9-28). In Jacob/Israel’s exodus, the children were left behind. In four centuries, the children would join the nation’s exodus. Perhaps to extend the time of mourning and the procession, the company traveled the long way round the bottom of the Dead Sea and up the east side of the Jordon. This would be the same route the nation would take centuries later to enter the Promised Land.

Coming to their point of entry into the Promised Land, the great company set up camp just across the border and held one last great mourning ceremony.

10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore, the place was named Abel-mizraim [Mourning of Egypt]; it is beyond the Jordan.

Hebrew mourning was characterized by loud weeping that variously included the tearing of clothing and the donning of sackcloth, fasting, and going bareheaded and barefooted. To what extent the Egyptians joined in we do not know. But the Canaanites were able to identify the company as Egyptians, so it’s likely all the royal dignitaries join in the weeping and wailing. Theirs, it would seem, was the greater number of the company. Was their sorrow heartfelt or merely due to Pharaoh’s order? Moses does not say. But it was loud and visible enough to be noticeable to the Canaanites across the border.

The formal Egyptian part of the mourning having ended (the 70 days being up, presumably), the family entered the land and traveled on to Hebron and the Cave of Machpelah for the internment.

12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place.

“This grand funeral procession and this exaltation of Jacob as a king by the Egyptians foreshadows Israel’s exodus from the world and gives a foretaste of the time when the nations hail a son of Jacob as King. Thus, the narrator brings to conclusion his theme that God created humanity to rule the earth. The Creator’s design will come to fruition when Israel lives in the Promised Land and a son of Judah rules the nations.”[8] Life in the Promised Land first becomes possible through a grave. Through a grave, the Israelites put down roots in the land. The grave is the maternal origin and the final refuge.[9]

Machpelah was Israel’s land. The sons now owned it outright, a piece of the Promised Land right in the heart of the land. Jacob’s bier was placed before the cave and the stronger among the brothers rolled away the stone. Inside were the bones of Abraham and Sarah, their son Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and Jacob’s wife Leah. And there, along the cave wall near where Leah’s bones were, was a ledge carved out by Jacob himself (v.5) where his mummy was to be placed.

All of this Joseph and his brothers did by trust into God’s covenant promises to Abraham, all centering around the person and work of the Promised Seed to issue from his family. The brothers knew they would not see this Promised Land again, nor would their children or grandchildren who had made this journey. They knew their grandchildren’s descendants would wait in the misery of slavery for redemption none of that generation would even recall was promised to Abraham. It would come through the blood of the Passover lamb splashed on the doorframes of their houses in faith and hope offered by God through Moses. Then, the same fiery presence that passed so long ago between pieces of carved animal flesh before Abraham, would lead them out of slavery and into a new, well-watered and lush land.

But even that miraculous exodus to come would be but a type, a shadow, a rough outline of the great exodus to be ushered in by the person and work of the Promised Seed thousands of years later.

Two thousand years ago godly Simeon, who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25), took the baby Jesus, the Messiah, the Promised Seed come to crush the head of the great dragon-serpent, in his arms and blessed God and said:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).

The Promised Seed was born to die for the sins of his people and rise again to take away the sting of death. He suffered the grief and wages of sin – death. He triumphed over the grave in a way his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel never could so that the Apostle Paul could sing, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?[10]

Beloved, one day we will join “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13). The entire book of Genesis is about blessing and how grace is going to go out to the world. And through the Lion of the tribe of Judah it has come to you, and you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and his intent for you is further blessing. You may be going through hard days, but understand what God is about, and trust him. Or perhaps you do not yet know God. Please understand that his desire for you according to the revelation of his Word is to be blessed, to have fellowship with him, to be freed out of bondage to your sins, and destined for blessing in eternity.[11] I will be your God. You will be my people. I will dwell with you.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 49:28–50:3.

[2] Hughes, 564. Kindle Edition.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 35:10–12.

[4] Waltke and Fredricks, 616.

[5] Hughes, 565. Kindle Edition.

[6] Id., 566.

[7] Id., 567.

[8] Waltke and Fredricks, 618.

[9] Hamilton, 2:698.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 15:55.

[11] Hughes, 562. Kindle Edition.