By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
Not their historic deeds, but their faith was the point of selection for all the heroes of this great chapter; their forelooking and their belief of things not yet happened, so as to influence their daily life and conduct. Their faith; that is, the power of the sanctified imagination acting upon spiritual and temporal things. Yet, not what they did — their various achievement, but what they were internally, in regard to this one point, determined who should be admitted and who should not. Even the poor harlot of Jericho had a place in this national gallery, because she acted upon a sagacious foresight of faith, and did good to the spies that Israel had sent forth. And what more significant than the same account of Joseph! Egypt was the world's capital, advanced higher in civilisation than any or all others. Glory, on every side, had its symbols. Now, he-requests of all this regnant glory nothing. In his dying hour it was to him as a fable; as a thing like a summer's brook run dry. He asks for no history to be chiselled on obelisk or temple facade, or writing upon papyrus. "Swear to me that you will carry my bones to the sepulchre of my fathers, to the cave of Machpelah, where Abraham and Isaac and Jacob rest. Let me slumber among them." He had never forgotten his country. Egypt could not make him an Egyptian; exile could not make him a foreigner; all the gorgeous civilisation could not make him forget his shepherd-home. Palaces, sculptured temples, magnificent ceremonies of sepulture. He longed to leave the Nile and to sleep where the Jordan rolled, or near it. The faith of his youth and the love of his childhood and fidelity to his nation and his kindred remained uncorrupted by the whole prosperity of his imperial life, and is that nothing? Is this fidelity to brotherhood, native land, and ancestry to be counted as unworthy of a record? Ten thousands of men dwell among us and are cheered by a prosperity such as never came to their earlier years, yet old age will babble still of the circumscription of youth, and the dying fire will kindle a flame of love to the old home, and he were no worthy citizen of this empire who could in his prosperity forget the home of his childhood and the tongue of his people; for among the things that are sacred, none are more so than the remembrances of the paternal roof of childhood. "What!" says the hard Materialist, of this fancy. "Why should he want to take his bones from the sands of Egypt? What matter where the body sleeps? This concern for the perishable body is not scientific; it is a mirage of sentiment." Nevertheless, sentiment is more fruitful of joy and as fruitful of elevation as science itself. And as the solid earth on which we build is important, and the sky, with its rolling clouds and its translucent atmosphere, not less important, so in human life, while we do not disdain the facts, neither should we disdain the fancies. There is a shock given to a superior sentiment when the body is discarded and thrown out as something worn-out and worthless. All that is noblest in human consciousness, revolts at any indifference of this kind. How well has the body served us; our senses, as if they were so many ministers of God, bringing in treasures hour by hour, year after year, in their round — through the eye. Or who can count what the ear has done for us?-the highway along which have trooped such thoughts, such feelings have been enunciated, such loves have whispered, such sweet sounds ministered to us. Who can tell what that golden gate, the ear, is, through which God's messages of kindness to men have moved in multitude? What joy have we had in the voice! How well has this strangely delicate, yet wonderfully enduring body served us, with its various implements and organs, secret or open and visible — what a service has it rendered to every one in life! Even by the law of association one should come to honour it. So we do. The poor, helpless, withered, almost speechless old woman that sits in the corner is the mother of our mother. We do not see her palsied and dried like an untimely apple overkept — what we see is her service, her life-love — the atmosphere that springs from affection and fidelity — that is what we see as it hovers around about her — the exhalation of the heart, not the despoiling of the body. To this law of association it seems to me the whole world is indebted, I had almost said more than to knowledge itself. Is it no matter, after life is over, what becomes of the body — the fair form of your wife? She taught you the deepest lessons of love, and of the life of love. Could you bear to see her cast out, or to know that she lay on some barren field, or that the wild beasts had devoured her. Everything in a man revolts at that idea of the very form that has been to us as a temple of God, and is sacred to us. Is it nothing to you where your baby sleeps? Could you carry your child on a blustering March day, as I carried mine, amidst the snows, and not shiver yourself, as you laid the dear child into the ground? It is not a phantasy, but an intensely natural feeling that has led the mother to wrap her dead child in flannel that it might be warm in the winter's grave. And are these associations of the human body of no sanctity and of no value whatsoever? Regard for one's body should be and often is a moral influence, as certainly it is a refining influence when it is regard for duties owing. Self-respect is one of God's ministers of education in life. Respect for one's self is the consciousness that you are a king. If none others think so of you, think so of yourself in all that pertains to real royalty, and not alone in the realm of thought, or of association, or of affection, but in respect to the body. Hold it in honour in life, and for an honourable sepulture in death. He will be likely to respect another man's person who has a scrupulchre respect for his own.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.