50 Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. 2 Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, 3 taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.
4 When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, “If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, 5 ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’”
6 Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”
7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt— 8 besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. 9 Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.
10 When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father. 11 When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.” That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim.
12 So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them: 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 14 After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
22 Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years 23 and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees.
24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “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 Israelites 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.
(Genesis 50:1-26 NIV)
At the end of Chapter 49, we saw Jacob prophesy about each of his twelve sons’ future, the last thing he did before he died.
As we begin Chapter 50, we see Joseph’s response to his father’s death. Verse 1 in the NIV says Joseph threw himself on his father; other versions more accurately and specifically translate that Joseph fell upon his father’s face during his grief.
There are two significant details in verse 1 that link back to Genesis chapter 46. The first is that God had promised Jacob that he would see Joseph before he died, and that Joseph would be with him when he died (46:4). The phrase “Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes” in 46:4 refers to the ancient tradition that the family member closest to the deceased would be the one to close the eyes of the departed. God indeed kept His promise to Jacob.
The second significant detail is that when Joseph met his father when they arrived in Egypt, Joseph had fallen on his father’s neck, weeping and hugging him for a long time (Genesis 46:29). Now, at Jacob’s death, Joseph weeps on his father’s face. There is no more reciprocal response of Jacob hugging his son Joseph; Jacob shows his love for his father by focusing on his face, the last remembrance of his father he will carry with him the rest of his days.
Joseph then ordered the physicians under him to embalm his father, as was the practice in Egypt. The mourning period for Jacob was seventy days; of those seventy days, the embalming process took forty days. Interestingly, historians tell us that the mourning period for the death of an Egyptian king was 72 days. For Pharaoh to have set the mourning period for Jacob to nearly that of a king must have have been Pharaoh’s great respect for both Jacob and for Joseph. Jacob’s one and only meeting with Pharaoh back in Genesis 47:7-10 must have been extremely impactful to Pharaoh.
After the days of mourning had passed, Joseph sent word to Pharaoh and asked permission to take his father’s remains back to Canaan and bury him there at the family grave site. Joseph was careful not to offend Pharaoh or Egypt by demanding that Jacob be buried in Canaan rather than in Egypt. Rather, Joseph appealed to Pharaoh’s sense of honor and integrity by letting Pharaoh know that he had promised to honor his father’s wish of being buried in his homeland. Joseph also made a promise of his own – to return to Egypt after he had buried his father. Pharaoh knew well of Joseph’s integrity and keeping of his word, so he granted his request.
Pharaoh not only granted Joseph’s request to return to Canaan to bury his father, he also sent many dignitaries and servants to accompany them (v. 7). Pharaoh also sent a military escort (v. 9) to accompany Joseph and the men of Jacob’s family (v. 8). The text does not say how many people were in the processional, only that it was a very great company of people.
When the processional party arrived somewhere in the trans-Jordan region, they stopped and had seven days of mourning for Jacob. The processional then proceeded to the designated family burial plot and placed Jacob’s remains in the designated tomb. Then all the members of the burial party returned to Egypt as promised.
In verses 15-21, fear arose in Joseph’s brothers when they took time to realize their vulnerability after their father’s death. Joseph was number two in all of Egypt; they were at the bottom of the Egyptian societal rankings, as both shepherds and foreigners. With their fears overpowering their reality, they crafted a message to be delivered to Joseph that supposedly came from their father, asking Joseph to forgive his brothers and to treat them kindly after his death. This note sent ahead of them, and the brothers prostrating themselves on the ground upon meeting with Joseph (v. 18) was their way of begging for mercy.
Joseph made it clear that he was not out for revenge; instead, Joseph used the opportunity to teach his brothers an important point about God’s character of love. Joseph first of all tells his brothers that he is not God. Second of all, he informs his brothers that God is all-powerful, and in fact had redeemed what they intended for evil into good – both for Joseph’s good, as well as their own good – to preserve their families, literally, to save their lives and the lives of their families.
In verses 19-21, notice Joseph’s tone and demeanor toward his brothers. Using your biblically informed imagination, can you see Joseph’s face being soft and kind toward his brothers, his voice tone being gentle and reassuring? This was not the face and voice of vengeance and justice – this was the essence and embodiment of the forgiveness and love of God reflected in Joseph’s words and body.
At the end of Joseph’s life, he reassured his brothers that God would come to their aid and lead them back to the promised land, the land that God had promised to their ancestors and their father. Jacob had reassured his sons of God’s promise to return them to the Promised Land; now Joseph carried forth that same belief in God’s goodness and ability to span multiple generations and carry out His promise.
As part of that reassurance, Joseph made his brothers promise that when they left Egypt, that they would carry his bones out of Egypt and bring him back to Canaan as well. As a spoiler alert, roughly four hundred years later, Moses did in fact bring Joseph’s bones with them when they left Egypt (Exodus 13:19).
As we look over Joseph’s life, may we always remember that we serve a powerful God, who is able to redeem evil and transform it into good. The process will often be painful, and will never be as fast as we would wish, but God is faithful and sovereign and will bring it to pass.
May we remember that our role is not that of God. We are not to redeem ourselves or to hand out justice, or to transform the situation by our own power. Rather, we are to focus on God, cry out to Him in our distress, and focus on being obedient and faithful to Him and trust Him to redeem and transform the evil into good, for His glory and our benefit.