By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
It may seem surprising that the charge of Joseph concerning his body should be mentioned as a notable act of faith, and not the similar charge delivered by Jacob; for did not Jacob also give commandment concerning his bones (Genesis 49:29-31)? Why was not that a case of faith in Jacob as much as in Joseph? We cannot always speak positively of these things, but we think that there is a very decided difference between the two. Jacob's wish to lie in Machpelah was by himself described as resting mainly on the grounds of natural affection. When his soul should be gathered to his people he would have his body lie side by side with his own relatives. This wish was probably as much an outgoing of nature as an expression of grace. Of course, natural affection would have led Joseph to desire the same thing, but he does not put it on that score. Moreover, you notice that Jacob commands his sons to do with his bones what they could readily do; they were to take him to Machpelah and bury him at once. He knew his son Joseph to be in power in Egypt; and therefore anything that was wanted for his funeral would be provided. Jacob therefore commanded nothing to be done but what could be done; there was no very remarkable exhibition of faith in commanding an immediate funeral which the filial love of Joseph would readily secure. Joseph not only wished to be buried in Machpelah, which was nature, but he would not be buried there till the land was taken possession of, which was an exhibition of the grace of faith. He wished his unburied body to share with the people of God in their captivity and their return. It was faith in Jacob, but it was remarkable faith in Joseph; and God who looks not simply at the act, but at the motive of the act, has been pleased not to put down Jacob as an instance of dying faith in this particular matter of his bones, but to award praise to Joseph as exhibiting in death a memorable degree of confidence in the promise. Probably Jacob's dying faith, when exercised upon other matters, outshone his faith in connection with his burial, while in his favourite son that matter was his leading proof of faith.
I. THE POWER OF FAITH; the endurance of true faith under three remarkable modes of test.
1. First, the power of faith over worldly prosperity. It is hard to carry a full cup with a steady hand, some spilling will usually occur; but where grace makes rich men, and men in high position and authority to act becomingly, then grace is greatly glorified. You who are rich should see your danger; but let the case of Joseph be your encouragement. There is no need that you should be worldly, there is no need that you should sink the Israelite in the Egyptian.
2. Secondly, you see here the power of his faith exhibited in its triumph over death. He speaks of dying as though it were only a part of living, and comparatively a small matter to him. He gives no evidence of trepidation; but he bears his last witness concerning the faithfulness of God and the infallibility of his promise. Moreover, if I am to gather from the text that the Holy Spirit has singled out the brightest instance of faith in Joseph's whole life, it is beautiful to remark that the grand old man becomes most illustrious in his last hour. Death did not dim, but rather brightened the gold in his character. On his death-bed, beyond all the rest of his life, his faith, like the setting sun, gilds all around with glory; now that heart and flesh fail him, God becomes more than ever the strength of his life, as He was soon to be his portion for ever.
3. Once more, here is a proof of the power of faith in laughing at impossibilities. It seemed a very unlikely thing that the Israelites should go up out of Egypt. Why should they wish to go?
II. THE WORKINGS OF FAITH.
1. The first fruit of faith in Joseph was this — he would not be an Egyptian. No doubt he would have had a sumptuous tomb enough in Egypt; but no, he will not be buried there, for he is not an Egyptian. In Sakhara, hard by the great pyramid of Pharaoh Apophis, stands at this day the tomb of a prince, whose name and titles are in hieroglyphic writing. The name is "Eitsuph," and from among his many titles we choose two — "Director of the king's granaries," and the other an Egyptian title, "Abrech." Now this last word is found in the Scriptures, and is that which is translated, "Bow the knee." It is more than probable that this monument was prepared for Joseph, but he declined the honour. Though his resting-place would have been side by side with the pyramid of one of Mizraim's greatest monarchs, yet he would not accept the dignity, he would not be aa Egyptian. This is one of the sure workings of faith in a man of wealth and rank; when God places him in circumstances where he might be a worldling of the first order, if his faith be genuine, he says, "No; I will not even at this rate be numbered with the world."
2. Notice, next, that his faith constrained him to have fellowship with the people of God. Not only does he refuse to be a worldling, but he avows himself an Israelite.
3. His faith led to an open avowal of his confidence in God's promise. On his death-bed he said, "I die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land." He also said, "He will bring you to the land which He promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." Faith cannot be dumb. I have known her tongue to be silent through diffidence, but at last it has been obliged to speak; and why should not your faith oftener speak, for her voice is sweet and her countenance is comely?
4. Moreover, notice, that having faith himself, he would encourage the faith of others. Every time an Israelite thought of the bones of Joseph, he thought, "We are to go out of this country one day." True faith seeks to propagate herself in the hearts of others. It is a good proof of your own faith when you lay yourself out to promote the faith of others.
5. Joseph's faith made him have an eye to the spiritualities of the covenant. Joseph had nothing earthly to gain in having his bones buried in Canaan rather than in Egypt; that can make small difference to a dying man. None of us would voluntarily desire to have his bones kept for some hundreds of years out of the ground in order that they might ultimately come into the family sepulchre. I believe he had no eye to the mere secularities of the covenant, but was looking to the spiritual blessings which are revealed in Jesus, the great seed of Abraham.
6. Joseph's faith in connection with his unburied bones showed itself in his willingness to wait God's time for the promised blessing.
III. AN EXAMPLE FOR OUR FAITH TO ACT UPON WHEN WE ALSO COME TO THE TIME OF DEATH. What shall I derive any comfort from when I come to die? Come, let me prepare my last dying speech. Now think it over.
1. First, I would imitate Joseph, by deriving my comfort from the covenant. Jesus, who is Himself the covenant, soothes most blessedly the dying beds of His saints. A man was asked when he had been sitting up to nurse his minister one night, "How is your master?" Said he, "He is dying full of life." It is a grand thing when one has the covenant to think on. You can then die full of life, you can pass away out of this lower life, being filled with the life eternal before the life temporal has quite gone out, so that you are never emptied out of life, but the life of grace melts into the life of glory, as the river into the ocean.
2. Joseph may be an example to us, in that he drew his consolation from the future of his people.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.