The Death Of Jacob!
Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. Then Joseph told the physicians who served him to embalm his father’s body; so Jacob was embalmed. The embalming process took the usual forty days. And the Egyptians mourned his death for seventy days.
When the period of mourning was over, Joseph approached Pharaoh’s advisers and said, “Please do me this favor and speak to Pharaoh on my behalf. Tell him that my father made me swear an oath. He said to me, ‘Listen, I am about to die. Take my body back to the land of Canaan, and bury me in the tomb I prepared for myself.’ So please allow me to go and bury my father. After his burial, I will return without delay.”
Pharaoh agreed to Joseph’s request. “Go and bury your father, as he made you promise,” he said. So Joseph went up to bury his father. He was accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s officials, all the senior members of Pharaoh’s household, and all the senior officers of Egypt. Joseph also took his entire household and his brothers and their households. But they left their little children and flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. A great number of chariots and charioteers accompanied Joseph.
When they arrived at the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan River, they held a very great and solemn memorial service, with a seven-day period of mourning for Joseph’s father. The local residents, the Canaanites, watched them mourning at the threshing floor of Atad. Then they renamed that place (which is near the Jordan) Abel-mizraim, for they said, “This is a place of deep mourning for these Egyptians.”
So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them. They carried his body to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre. This is the cave that Abraham had bought as a permanent burial site from Ephron the Hittite.
After burying Jacob, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to his father’s burial.
Genesis 50:1-14 (NLT)
What a heart-rending scene we have here, with Joseph breaking down upon his father’s death, and crying and kissing this now empty shell that was Jacob. Then Joseph orders his father’s body to be embalmed. This is not now, nor ever, going to be usual and normal Israelite custom, however it did happen from time to time.
As we all know, the Egyptians had perfected the art of embalming the dead. The reason for the embalming was all wrapped up in Egyptian beliefs about the after life. Physical preservation was key in the survival of death by the immortal soul, according to the long established Egyptian cult of Osiris, the god of the underworld.
However, that is not the reason or the circumstance that Jacob was embalmed. The reason was that Jacob’s body had to be taken on a substantial and hot journey, to Canaan, to be buried with his forefathers, and if they did not embalm him…well…I don’t think I need to paint a vivid picture for you.
Now, part of the reason that I know that Jacob’s embalming had nothing to do with the Egyptian death cult is that the Bible leaves us a subtle message: and it is that Joseph called the PHYSICIANS to perform the embalming. Physicians were not normally embalmers in Egypt; usually, it was the Priests of Osiris who performed this intricate and secretive task. And, this because embalming was a religious practice NOT a medical one, and so was always performed by professional mortuary priests.
Then, in the next few verses, we’re given a series of numbers about the amount of days the embalming process and mourning period occurred, and at first glance they are a little confusing and seem almost at odds with one another. We have two periods mentioned: 40 days and 70 days. Forty days for embalming, 70 days for mourning.
Actually, what we have here is the typical period of 40 days of embalming, followed by the customary 30 day mourning period Hebrews observe…giving us a total of 70 days.
And, so the brother’s complied with their father’s wish, and the entire clan, led by Joseph, and except for the smallest children, accompanied by royal charioteers and an armed guard as well, proceeded in what must have been a funeral procession fit for a king the 200 or so miles from Goshen up to the cave at Makhpelah in Canaan.
All of Egypt was, apparently, ordered to go into a period of mourning over Jacob… a very great honor, indeed, usually accorded only to royalty.
Now, just as we were given a subtle message that Jacob’s embalming had nothing to do with Egyptian religious practices, we’re also given a hint that things were not calm and peaceful in Egypt at the moment.
Because in verse 5, as Joseph goes to Pharaoh to ask permission to journey to Canaan to bury his father (this would just have been a normal and respectful thing for Joseph to do), Joseph says, “…let me go up and bury my father, THEN I WILL RETURN.”
Obviously the Pharaoh was a little anxious over Joseph leading this procession of all his primary adult family members back to what was ostensibly their homeland; Pharaoh was concerned that Joseph might not return.
So, while we can certainly see that it was a funeral procession fit for a King, it was also a funeral procession filled with high Egyptian government officials and sufficient military presences to both protect everyone in their journey but also to ensure that Joseph would return.
Let me remind you of two things at this point:
- 1st, the current Pharaoh of Egypt was NOT an Egyptian he was a Semite.
- 2nd, the 7 year famine was over.
So, from that standpoint Joseph was not needed as the overseer of nation’s food supply. Rather, Joseph was Pharaoh’s right-hand man and a valued ally, of the same genetic stock as Pharaoh.
To Be Continued…