By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
Why does our author fix upon the request of the dying patriarch concerning the removal of his bones to the land of promise, as constituting his special claim to rank amongst the chief builders of the City of Faith? Not certainly because of the lack of other and appropriate material. For Joseph, like Barnabas, was a good man, full of faith, and of the spirit of holiness, and his life from boyhood to old age displayed a conspicuous strength of confidence in the living God as the Redeemer and Ruler of his life. Surely with a biography, every page of which recounts the power and blessedness of trust in the Lord, he must have had deep and strong reason for restricting his choice to the last page of the volume. Did he shrink from including in his list of world-builders any one on whom death had not set its seal of finality — in obedience to the maxim of Solon, "Call no man happy till he is dead"? That cannot be, for this list of world-builders is certainly no mere gathering of the " last sayings" of dying men. It throbs with the passion, and is luminous with the achievements of full and strong life. In the judgment of the compiler of this list, the patriarch Joseph reveals the unsubduable strength of a valorous soul; when approaching his end, he speaks of the exodus of Israel, and gives commandment concerning his bones. But it is not improbable that the memorable words of Joseph came into his mind as he recalled the vision of the dying patriarch Jacob, imparting his blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh, and adoring God for the manifold mercies of his long life. Making all allowance for the influence of this law of association, yet I feel sure a deeper reason governed his choice of this specific moment in Joseph's career as signally illustrative of Joseph's faith. He saw in these words the characteristic quality of the man's faith — the essential soul of him and of it — living as well as dying, guiding not less than crowning his life; a faith in God essentially patriotic, identifying him with the fortunes of his father's house and the future of his people, and constituting him one of the founders of the commonwealth of Israel, and thereby one of the builders of the eternal city of God. That such reasoning is valid will appear if we briefly examine the contents and characteristics of Joseph's faith. His end is nigh; but the soul of the deputy-king is absorbed in thoughts and hopes concerning the future of his brethren, and breathes out its deep yearnings in a solemn adjuration to them to pledge him in an unbroken faith in the living God, the God of Israel. No anxiety for self darkens his last moments; no consideration for his greatness and fame disturbs the serenity of his soul. The request of Joseph concerning his bones, wears, I daresay, to some of us, an aspect of concern for himself, but really it is only an additional witness to the patriotic quality of his faith, and the quenchlessness of his hope. The ruling passion, "love of his brethren," is strong in death. As the faith of Moses incarnated itself in uncomplaining endurance for forty years of the severest spiritual discipline, and that of Abraham in a splendid venture into a trackless desert at the bidding of the God who had chosen him, so the faith of the patriarch Joseph clad itself in the self-suppressing, pure, and far-seeing patriotism of his farewell appeals and aspirations. Thus, "by faith," Joseph built the city of God in a day of impending trial and prolonged and acute suffering. But his speech makes clear that his "faith " rested on the solid basis that human life is a Divine order; that his own life had been moulded by God, the Watcher and Ruler of mankind, who had given him his education, and his place in the administration of the affairs of Egypt and the world. Joseph saw that truth early, and rarely, if ever, lost sight of it. It shines like a brilliant star in the darkest night of his life. It is the thread of gold woven into the web of his character. But this "order" and that "faith " have for their goal, their "objective," the future of Israel; the deliverance, guardianship, development, and service of the people of God's special choice. "By faith," Joseph makes mention not of his "bones" first, but of the " departure " of the children of Israel from Egypt on their way to the new home and fatherland in Palestine. Real faith in God embraces a good future. Joseph had said of his life at each stage, "God did it" — God, first and last — God, and not men, and so his farewell word is a gospel of God and of the future, "God will surely visit you." For faith in God carries faith in man's advance, in, his sure if slow, spiritual growth, in the perfection of society and the ascendency of righteousness, peace, and joy. And is not the same device, "God did it," traceable on the extended walls of our British history? Through all the chaos and disorder, recklessness and revolution of our ancestors, there is a Divine purpose and a Divine energy working out for us a future rich in promise for all the sons of men. The making of the nations is in the hands of its true and trusty souls who expel selfishness by the love of God, self-will by obedience to the Divine order, and despair by a living hope in the redeeming God. It is Joseph who is "crowned amongst his brethren": — Joseph, not Reuben. The firstborn is deposed. Instability cannot rule, for it cannot guide. Reuben must give way to the stronger soul of the boy he loves. Cruelty pulls down and destroys. "Weapons of violence" may keep off a foe, but they do not guarantee primacy of political power. "By faith" Joseph gains his place, and "by faith" he holds it after his death, advancing his formative and inspiring influence in the life of the people, through that commandment concerning his bones. Patriotism is fed from three perennial fountains — God, the Home, and History. God is the supreme politician; He is the Maker of nations and peoples. He does not leave us solitary, but setteth us in families, cities, nations, and empires. No part of our life is strange to Him; He filleth all in all, and faith in His Divine administration helps each citizen to find his place in the plan of God, to see his duty, to cast out evil, and to build for righteousness and peace. "Christians are the soul of the world," said the writer of the Epistle to Diognetus. What our politics need is soul; therefore Christians ought to be the best patriots and the most devoted politicians. Fed by faith in God, nourished in homes radiant with His presence, and guided by the Divine flame that burns in the bush of history, it is theirs to make and mould the purest, gladdest, strongest civic life of the world. See to it, therefore, that you choose your legislators for their strong faith in the living God and in the future of humanity. Put your conscience into your choice. Be not deceived by brilliant gifts. Never surrender your power to the greed of place and pelf. But remember, too, that the safety and progress of states and the widening welfare of mankind depend upon the heroic service of individual citizens, on men and women who, through faith in God, are masters of themselves, patient with suffering and failure, but impatient at wrong, iniquity, and dishonour, and who give to the world the distinctive influence of a pure Christian character and the consecrated service of a noble Christian life. "Ye are the light of the world." "Ye are the salt of the earth."
(J. Clifford, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.