By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
1. It is not possible to read the life of Joseph without beholding here the portrait of a great man, not merely as commanding and guiding intelligence, but that which is higher yet, a strong and noble, personal character.
2. He was what we should call a self-made man; he was as much so as any man can be a self-made man; his life was one long contest with difficulties, but he overcame them all. He was made by God.
3. The greatness of Joseph was what we call moral greatness. He was not a warrior; he had insight and foresight; and he had that which really makes life easy and character strong. He had principles: faith ruled and controlled his character. And thus he ascended to the place of power in the great land of the Nile. So in the country of the Pyramids he ruled and he died. Can you see him in death? — surrounded by the dusky magnificence of that strong and ancient monarchy, the barbaric pearl and gold there, the Pharoah of that day waiting there and endeavouring to detain awhile the wisdom of that mighty and far-seeing mind. But where is he? Where is Joseph? True to the law of our being, by which to die is to recollect the past existence — as Shakespeare makes even that wicked old Falstaff when dying to revisit innocent scenes and babbling of green fields; and some of you will probably remember the story De Quineey tells of his mother, in his "Confessions of an English Opium Eater," how, in one memorable moment and instant of her life, when very near to death, her whole life started before her, all its moments successive and yet instantaneous; which leads De Quincey himself to remark, that there is no such thing as "ultimate forgetting" — true to the Divine law, his memory is away in the fields of his youth, fields, perhaps, not seen since the day when he left his father's house to be a prisoner and an exile. He is among the fields of Hebron, he is a boy again. He sees the tender face of Rachel, his mother, his venerable father, long since gathered to the earlier patriarchs, Shechem, the Ishmaelites, the well — these all rise before his eyes, soon to be dismissed. But other associations will not go; more mysterious presences are about him; unseen fingers are drawing aside the curtains of the future history of his nation and his posterity; the enrapturing visions of death are thronging before him; he sees the persecution and the tyranny of the centuries as they rave and roll round his dust; he sees the march of the multitudes through the wilderness, the dividing sea, the tabernacle, the cloud, the pillar, Canaan, the temple; he sees the hurrying people, the rising thrones, the little mountain monarchy destined to throw a spell of power over the world when obscurity should fold the fame of Egypt and Assyria. Then there came a thought of his own dust. Shall I lie here alone amidst Egyptian sands, while they are there? My bones amidst idolatrous crowds while the people of the covenant have crossed the river to their inheritance? No!
I. See here THE NATIONALITY OF JOSEPH. His heart turns to Canaan. You see, here is an illustration, in the wearied statesman, of that which the apostle assigns to these patriarchs of faith. He, too, by this act, confessed himself a stranger and pilgrim. He who could give this commandment concerning his bones, "declared plainly that he sought a country"; that he, in fact, "was mindful of the country whence he came out, that he desired opportunity to return thither"; nay, that he descried "a better country, a heavenly."
II. But underlying this there was a far deeper feeling, a far higher and a far mightier without which it would have been the mere boast of race distinction — it was THE LESSON OF FAITH. He believed, "he counted Him faithful who had promised." Joseph was one of the children of the promise. His affections for his people, for his family, were founded in his affection for God, his father's God. "I die, but God shall surely visit you." It was clear to the mind of the patriarch — the affliction, the tyranny, the departure. The world would seek to enslave the Church, and then God would say, "Loose her, and let her go," and then the Church would arise and depart. He knew the promise made to Abraham by "two immutable things"; he knew the people that were to be "as the stars of the sky in multitude, as the sands on the sea-shore innumerable." It was Faith — "God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry my bones up from hence"; "he made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave commandment concerning his bones."
III. He died! Shall we then say here, How men speak when they are dead? May we not say, Read here, in this history, a lesson of THE SUSTAINING POWER THERE IS IN THE MEMORIES OF GREAT AND GOOD MEN. HOW long it seemed, the dreary night — long seemed the covenant lost; it was buried, not lost; those bones were a kind of witness, those dying words were a testimony to the faithfulness of God. Thus often truth is buried, or a noble character seems lost; but fear not for anything on which God has set His seal. At last the moment comes; they hurry out of the land, but they do not in their haste forget those bones, they are borne along with them on their mysterious march. In the long progress through the wilderness old men dropped and died, children were born, children became men and women — still there was the wonderful chest, the bones the same as when they came up from Egypt. In their progress through the desert, by those Sinaitic rocks, the awful dead seemed to add to their criminality, when they doubted; to their hopes, as they moved upon their way, like an enchantment and a terror to such a people. The spell of his words was upon them in which "he gave commandment concerning his bones." No; great good men do not pass away, as some suppose. We have a very legible illustration in the guardian care exercised over the relics; Joseph lived in the thoughts and affections and hopes of his descendants. The dust of the holy dead is precious, the words of the holy dead are watchwords "Thy dead men shall live together, with My dead body shall they arise."
IV. I cannot but think that there was here A HINT, A HOPE, AN ASPIRATION "TOUCHING THE RESURRECTION." I cannot but think that the glorious dreamer anticipated, not only the departure of the tribes, but the final unsealing of all those tombs, and longed rather to be near the old cemetery of Machpelah than amidst the cold, dark, stony, stately rooms of Egyptian pyramids and their coffins. Yes, as in that hour when the tribes in their flight could not leave behind them those bones, but bore them to their appointed resting-place in the promised land, so shall it be in the resurrection of the dead. At the risk of seeming to say what, to fastidious ears, may seem the mere refining of spiritualism, I will say, God will suffer no dust to remain in Egypt that belongs to Canaan; nothing that belongs to Grace shall remain beneath the dominion of Nature; there is an eye that watches; there is a law by which it will resume its own empire. There is a "commandment concerning our bones."
(E. Paxton Hood.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.