By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his bones.
I. PHYSICAL LIFE ENDING IN ASSURED HOPE OF THE FULFILMENT OF THE PROMISES OF GOD TO HIS PEOPLE, The end of Joseph's life upon earth was at hand, and he was well aware that such was the case. Very extraordinary had been his career - remarkably checkered and eventful, now dark and anon dazzling, now full of trial and anon full of triumph, useful beyond any other in that age, and very illustrious; yet it is now nearly ended. It reminds us that the most distinguished and powerful, the most holy and useful life, must come to an end here. At this time Joseph's glances were not cast back regretfully to the greatness and grandeur which he was about to leave, but forward hopefully to a splendid future. He had a firm assurance that a great future awaited his family, and this faith rested upon that God who in his providence had so wonderfully led him and so richly blessed him. "By faith Joseph, when his end was nigh, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel." "And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die; and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob."
1. This assurance forms a fitting conclusion to a life of distinguished piety. The faith which had sustained him in the changeable and often trying experiences of life is clear and vigorous in its closing scenes. In Joseph's case the testimony of his active and public life, and the testimony of his last hours, beautifully harmonize.
2. This assurance was suited to the needs of his kinsfolk at this time.
(1) As a caution against entertaining the notion that Egypt was to be their home. The Israelites at this time were peaceful and very prosperous in the land. They were in danger of losing sight of the destiny to which God had called them, and of endeavoring to find a final settlement in the land of their temporary sojourn. The word of Joseph was fitted to guard them against this peril. It is in worldly comfort and prosperity that men are most prone to be unmindful of their heavenly calling.
(2) As a comfort to them under the loss of his protection. It would not have been strange if the Israelites had feared for their peace and safety when their kind brother and powerful patron was removed by death. But Joseph's calm assurance would encourage them to believe in God's continued interest in them, in his providential care over them, and in the fulfillment of the promises which he made to their fathers. When friends die, when great and good men are summoned home, let this be our encouragement, that God ever lives to save his people and to carry on his work.
II. PHYSICAL LIFE ENDING WITH A BEAUTIFUL DESIRE FOR CONTINUED IDENTIFICATION WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Joseph was a great man in Egypt. His elevation and honor, the triumph of his genius and the success of his plans, his prosperity and power, had all been won and enjoyed in Egypt. He had contracted a distinguished marriage with an Egyptian princess. Pharaoh "gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On." In Egypt "the priestly caste was the royal caste also." In authority and rank, in state and splendor, in greatness and power, Joseph was inferior only to the king himself. Yet he wished both in life and in death to be numbered amongst the Israelites. Hence he "gave commandment concerning his bones." "And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence." We discover in this an evidence of:
1. His warm affection for his family. For some years of his life, for more than seven years of his prosperity and power, we have no evidence of any interest taken by Joseph in his father and brothers; but now he manifests a tender and tenacious attachment to them. This is the more worthy of commendation when we call to mind the grievous injury which his brothers had done him aforetime. Joseph loves his kindred who had treated him so ill more than the Egyptians who had treated him so well. "Love as brethren."
2. His unwavering fidelity to his God. Joseph's faith in Jehovah had not been undermined or shaken by his residence in idolatrous Egypt. Through life and in death he was faithful to the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. "Be thou faithful unto death," etc.
III. PHYSICAL LIFE ENDING WITH A SUGGESTIVE INTIMATION OF THE HOPE OF IMMORTALITY. Joseph "gave commandment concerning his bones." He "took an oath of the children of Israel" that they would carry his dead body with them, when God should lead them into the land which he had promised unto their fathers. Why should so wise and good a man be so concerned concerning his body? Such concern in such a man is inexplicable apart from the craving of the human heart for immortality; and not for a vague, shadowy existence after death, but for immortality associated with a distinct and recognizable form. The same craving found expression amongst the Egyptians in their embalming of their dead. Joseph must have had some measure of faith in such an immortality. This craving is met in Christianity. "Our Savior Jesus Christ hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." "There shall be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust." "The hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth," etc. Both the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body are revealed to us as facts in the Christian Scriptures. Therefore, with our clearer revelation and richer privileges, as the end of our earthly life draws nigh we may realize a failer and firmer assurance than he did whose faith we have been considering. "For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:1). - W.J.
Joseph... gave commandment concerning his bones.to the being brought up from the dust and again sinewed with life. But on the supposition of a belief, or even the faintest conjecture, of a resurrection, we seem to understand why the dying patriarch longed to sleep in the promised land. "I will not leave," he seems to say, "this body to be disregarded, and trampled on, as though it were merely that of an animal whose existence wholly terminates at death. That which God takes care of, reserving it for another life, it becomes not man to despise, as though undeserving a thought. And though the eye of the Almighty would be on my dust in Egypt, as in Canaan, yet would I rather rest with the righteous than with the wicked in the grave, with my fathers and my kinsmen, than with the foreigner and the enemy. If I am to start from long and dark slumbers, let those who wake with me be those whom I have loved, and who are to share with me the unknown existence."
(H. Melvill, B. D.)" 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.)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.)
(H. W. Beecher.)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.)
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