|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
50:1-6 Though pious relatives and friends have lived to a good old age, and we are confident they are gone to glory, yet we may regret our own loss, and pay respect to their memory by lamenting them. Grace does not destroy, but it purifies, moderates, and regulates natural affection. The departed soul is out of the reach of any tokens of our affection; but it is proper to show respect to the body, of which we look for a glorious and joyful resurrection, whatever may become of its remains in this world. Thus Joseph showed his faith in God, and love to his father. He ordered the body to be embalmed, or wrapped up with spices, to preserve it. See how vile our bodies are, when the soul has forsaken them; they will in a very little time become noisome, and offensive.
Verse 2. - And Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians - literally, the healers, הָרֹפְאִים from רָפָא, to sew together, to mend, hence to heal, a class of persons which abounded in Ancient Egypt, each physician being only qualified to treat a single disorder (Herod., 2:84). The medical men of Egypt were held in high repute abroad, and their assistance was at various times required by persons from other countries, as, e.g., Cyrus and Darius (Herod., 3:1, 132). Their knowledge of medicines was extensive, and is referred to both in sacred (Jeremiah 66:11) and profane (Homer, 'Odyssey" 4 . 229) writings. The Egyptian doctors belonged to the sacerdotal order, and were expected to know all things relating to the body, and diseases and remedies contained in the six last of the sacred books of Hermes. According to Pliny (7:56), the study of medicine originated in Egypt (vide Wilkinson in Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' vol 2. pp. 116, 117). The physicians employed by Joseph were those attached to his own household, or the court practitioners - to embalm his father: - literally, to spice or season (the body of) his father, i.e. to prepare it for burial by means of aromatics; ut aromatibus condirent (Vulgate); ἐνταφιάσαι τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ (LXX.), which is putting part of a proceeding for the whole (Tayler Lewis). According to Herodotus (2:86), the embalmers belonged to a distinct hereditary class or guild from the ordinary physicians; but either their formation into such a separate order of practitioners was of later origin (Hengstenberg, Kurtz, Kalisch), or Jacob was embalmed by the physicians instead of the embalmers proper because, not being an Egyptian, he could not be subjected to the ordinary treatment of the embalming art ('Speaker's Commentary') - and the physicians embalmed Israel. The method of preparing mummies in Ancient Egypt has been elaborately described, both by Herodotus (2:86) and Diodorus Sieulus (1:91), and, in the main, the accuracy of their descriptions has been confirmed by the evidence derived from the mummies themselves. According to the most expensive process, which cost one talent of silver, or about £250 sterling, the brain was first extracted through the nostrils by means of a crooked piece of iron, the skull being thoroughly cleansed of any remaining portions by rinsing with drugs; then, through an opening in the left side made with a sharp Ethiopian knife of agate or of flint, the viscera were removed, the abdomen being afterwards purified with palm wine and an infusion of aromatics; next, the disemboweled corpse was filled with every sort of spicery except frankincense, and the opening sewed up; after that the stuffed form was steeped for seventy days in natrum or subcarbonate of soda obtained from the Libyan desert, and sometimes in wax and tanning, bitumen also being employed in later times; and finally, on the expiration of that period, which was scrupulously observed, the body was washed, wrapped about with linen bandages, smeared over with gum, decorated with amulets, sometimes with a network of porcelain bugles, covered with a linen shroud, and, in due course, transferred to a mummy case (vide Wilkinson's 'Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,' vol. 3. p. 471, ed. 1878; Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' vol. 2. pp. 118-123).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians, to embalm his father,.... Which he did, not merely because it was the custom of the Egyptians, but because it was necessary, his father's corpse being to be carried into Canaan to be interred there, which would require time; and therefore it was proper to make use of some means for the preservation of it, and these men were expert in this business, which was a branch of the medicinal art, as Pliny (x) and Mela (y) suggest; and of these Joseph had more than one, as great personages have their physicians ready to attend them on any occasion, as kings and princes, and such was Joseph, being viceroy of Egypt. Herodotus (z) says the Egyptians had physicians peculiar to every disease, one for one disease, and another for another; and Homer (a) speaks of them as the most skilful of all men; though the Septuagint render the word by the "buriers", such who took care of the burial of persons, to provide for it, and among the rest to embalm, dry, and roll up the bodies in linen:
and the physicians embalmed him; the manner of embalming, as Herodotus (b) relates, was this,"first with a crooked iron instrument they extracted the brain through the nostrils, which they got out partly by this means, and partly by the infusion of medicines; then with a sharp Ethiopian stone they cut about the flank, and from thence took out all the bowels, which, when they had cleansed, they washed with palm wine (or wine of dates), and after that again with odours, bruised; then they filled the bowels (or hollow place out of which they were taken) with pure myrrh beaten, and with cassia and other odours, frankincense excepted, and sewed them up; after which they seasoned (the corpse) with nitre, hiding (or covering it therewith) seventy days, and more than that they might not season it; the seventy days being ended, they washed the corpse, and wrapped the whole body in bands of fine linen, besmearing it with gum, which gum the Egyptians use generally instead of glue.''And Diodorus Siculus (c), who gives much the same account, says, that every part was retained so perfectly, that the very hairs of the eyebrows, and the whole form of the body, were invariable, and the features might be known; and the same writer tells us, that the expense of embalming was different; the highest price was a talent of silver, about one hundred and eighty seven pounds and ten shillings of our money, the middlemost twenty pounds, and the last and lowest were very small. The embalmers he calls and says they were in great esteem, and reckoned worthy of much honour, and were very familiar with the priests, and might go into holy places when they pleased, as the priests themselves.
(x) Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 11. c. 37. (y) De Orbis Situ, l. 1. c. 9. (z) Euterpe, sive, l. 2. c. 84. (a) Odyss. 4. (b) lbid. c. 86. (c) Bibliothec. l. 1. p. 81, 82.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2. Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father, &c.—In ancient Egypt the embalmers were a class by themselves. The process of embalmment consisted in infusing a great quantity of resinous substances into the cavities of the body, after the intestines had been removed, and then a regulated degree of heat was applied to dry up the humors, as well as decompose the tarry materials which had been previously introduced. Thirty days were alloted for the completion of this process; forty more were spent in anointing it with spices; the body, tanned from this operation, being then washed, was wrapped in numerous folds of linen cloth—the joinings of which were fastened with gum, and then it was deposited in a wooden chest made in the form of a human figure.
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