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Are you living for the beginning of the beginning, or dying to see the end?


The end of Chapter 49 & all of Ch50 detail for us the end of two great men of the Old Testament.  Jacob and his son Joseph. Both these men had time to prepare what would happen after their passing from this world.  And so both these men give instructions for what is to be done with regard their death, and burial. Some of us may at first think that these matters are a little morbid for us to consider, but God the Holy spirit has placed them in the scriptures for our edifying and encouragement, so it is to our benefit to look into these things. When people know that death is imminent often the mind becomes very focused.  Some people will do different things to cope with that news.  Some want to do all the things that they haven’t yet achieved, and so they make some sort of ‘bucket list’ to tick off the things that they have always wanted to do, but never had time or an opportunity. Others withdraw into themselves and want to spend more time savouring the things that they have left, enjoying the things that are special to them. Some don’t want to know about the details, and others want to know exactly how much time they have left.  Some if they have time, at least wish to prepare a will, others set about putting in place many plans for what will happen to their earthly remains, and how that will be remembered in a funeral service.

None of these things are necessarily right or wrong, but we do see in the passage before us two men who leave instructions for what is to be done after their passing. 

Jacob, the father of Joseph, asks to be buried with his fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite.  This is the plot of land that Abraham had purchased from Ephron to bury Sarah when she had passed away.  It was the place where his grandfather Abraham was buried, where Isaac his father and Rebecca his mother were buried, and it was the place where he had buried his first wife Leah.  But it’s not just that it is a very special and sacred place to Jacob, this plot of ground is situated back in Canaan. It’s back in the Promised Land.  What Jacob is saying is:  I don’t belong here in Egypt. Please ensure that I return to place that God promised to our forefathers.  When He does pass away, Joseph and the other brothers do as was requested of them. Joseph has Jacob embalmed according the practice of the Egyptians and then requests permission from Pharaoh to return to his homeland to discharge all that Jacob has asked.  There is grief involved, for the family of Jacob. Even when people time to prepare and also have faith in the Lord, there is still a sense of grief.

No matter the preparation, no matter the promises and assurance of a life beyond this life, and even if the person is a believer there is every assurance that they died safe in the arms of Jesus, still a funeral is a time of sadness and loss for those of us who remain.  If there is faith in the living God then we do not grieve like those who have no hope, for we have hope that God will complete what he set out to do in that person’s life.  Even full salvation. – we trust that God has an eternal purpose, and even here in the OT we find that Joseph and the brother’s grief is described in a manly sort of way. They do grieve but there is some restraint, some acknowledgment that there is a God, and God will undertake to bear us up, and bring the soul of his servant into His dwelling place.

Verses 15-26 outline for us what happened after Jacob’s funeral, and we can think of it sort of in terms of a ‘wake’.  And as so often happens when families get together following a funeral, the important interpersonal matters may come to the surface.  The brothers who have been living with the guilt of what they’d done to Joseph all those years ago, want to know what will happen to them now.  Even though Joseph has told them back in Ch45 that he had been brought to Egypt by God to deliver them, they are still suspicious of what Joseph might now do.  He has been so nice to them up until now, maybe it’s all a show”  Maybe he was just waiting till the father died to then turn on them. And so they send word to Joseph reminding him of what they understood of their father’s instructions, and then they physically come and throw themselves down at his feet and plead with him to forgive them.

We should notice two things about this;  The first is that sin that goes unconfessed breeds guilt within us.  And guilt makes us suspicious of others and stifles any love or acceptance that could normally be within us.  Guilt has a paralysing, clogging effect, it’s like the wrong sort of cholesterol in the arteries, if its left there to build up for too long, it can cause blockages and pain, and in some cases even death. The second thing we need to notice is that Joseph seems much more willing to give forgiveness to these brethren than they are to believe that he would.

How many people force themselves to live at a distance to God simply because they can’t believe that He would be gracious and kind to them as He says He would?  We must trust that God will treat us kindly, we must trust that if He says He will forgive us then it is as good as done.  Well these men had born their guilt as a terrible weight upon their backs for so long, and now it is all coming to the surface.  Now they are forced to ask that terrible question, that they need to know the answer to, one way or the other.

When they send word to Joseph about these things He weeps, He weeps at their sincere request and when they fall down before him and ask to be made slaves he reminds them again of God purposes and his forgiveness. Verse 19:  “Don’t be afraid, Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended It for good”  :”To accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  Funerals and death, and be great clarifying events, as we see the frailty of our own life, and are often confronted with the really big issues in life, like repentance, forgiveness, and acceptance.

In the last section we see Joseph, like Jacob, also giving instructions, this time, regarding his own funeral. And it’s in these instructions that we find faith living and active. He says verse 24:

"I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."25 And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place."26 So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Like Jacob, he knows that he doesn’t belong in Egypt.  He knows that he belongs in the Promised Land.  And He knows something else also, He knows that God will be faithful to His promises.  God had promised Abraham, back in Chapter 12 of Genesis: land, descendants and blessing.  And though he had had to bring his people to Egypt as sojourners, they were not to remain here but return to the place God had given them.  Egypt in a way, is like ‘the world’ for the Christian.  The world is a place that we are in temporarily, but we don’t belong here for eternity.  Our citizenship, our place, our home is in a different world and we are strangers and pilgrims in this one, till our bones are carried to God’s home.

Even in the O.T people knew these things.  Job says: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end, he will stand upon the earth.  After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him, with my own eyes” (Job 19:25,25)

David says in the Psalms “…From everlasting to everlasting,  the LORD’s love is with those who fear Him”  (Ps 103:17)

God says at many times to his people down through 5,000 years of history, “I will make an everlasting covenant with you”

In Isaiah he says “But Israel will be saved, by the LORD with an everlasting salvation; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting” (Is 45:17) The people of the O.T knew that, and certainly the people of the N.T knew that, but how quickly we are to forget it.  How many of us live life no differently to everyone else who is scratching out a little pattern on the headstone of the few decades that we have in this life, ||  as thought that, is all that there is?  How many of us are making plans, all sorts of plans based on the premise that all that there is to life is the bare years of our painful existence in this world?  Why does the sustaining & provision of the Lord for present and immediate things so fill our attention that we forget that He can also both sustain and provide for the things that are yet to come?

He is an everlasting God!  He loves His people with an everlasting love, and that means that He’s not going to give up on you just because your life in this world ends!  Of course that leads us appropriately to our last point, which is a question that each of us have to answer.  If we, like Joseph, have been in so many experiences that are up and down, good and bad, predictable and adventurous, joyful and frightening, comforting and disturbing – if that is what life is made up of, if its not all one long sweet holiday, if there are hard things in life…

& if we take the whole of Joseph’s existence and lay it out on the table, and ask him to answer the question;  “Who was really in charge, God, or the devil, or himself, or pharaoh, or something else, what do you think he’s going to say?

Of course its God in Charge, and we may not like the scenery outside our window at the moment, we may find the ride a little bumpy from time to time.  We may think that the Jones have got it so much easier, but there will come a day when our existence in this world will be no more, Will we trust God not just to the next turn in the road, but also for the eternity that lies before us.  When difficult things happen to us, it doesn’t mean that God has left us.  Joseph knew that, he still kept close to the God who Abraham had trusted.  Even Jesus’s death on the cross, as terrible as that was, Is attributed in Acts to God’s purposes for the saving of many lives – is it not a possibility that our suffering is also achieving some purpose in the plan of God?-  Either to the strengthening of our own soul in trust of him, or in encouraging others to press on in their trust of Him? 

Some people like finding patterns in the date, and doing things on that date so that they can remember it.

Well today is the 20.11 2011 Who will be doing things on this day to try to remember it?  But what about when its 30.22. 3011  a thousand years from now?  Will God remember us when that date comes up, and where will we be?  With Jesus in His heaven, or in that other place?

We can make many arrangements in this world, but once we have passed from it, it’s too late then to vary our choices.       LGS



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