Jacob’s Death and Burial
Then he charged them, saying to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors—in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah— the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites.” When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
Then Joseph threw himself on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. Joseph commanded the physicians in his service to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel; they spent forty days in doing this, for that is the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.
When the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph addressed the household of Pharaoh, “If now I have found favor with you, please speak to Pharaoh as follows: My father made me swear an oath; he said, ‘I am about to die. In the tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.’ Now therefore let me go up, so that I may bury my father; then I will return.” Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”
So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. Both chariots and charioteers went up with him. It was a very great company. When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they held there a very great and sorrowful lamentation; and he observed a time of mourning for his father seven days. When the Canaanite inhabitants of the land saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning on the part of the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. Thus his sons did for him as he had instructed them. They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, the field near Mamre, which Abraham bought as a burial site from Ephron the Hittite. After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news of Christ. We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.
I find it curious that Jacob, who struggled with family his whole life, finally wrested with God and received a new name, was called Jacob again at the end. It is almost as if the redemption part of his life story was just a few years in the middle of his life, after which he slipped back into old ways in old age. There at the end, he is no longer the deceiver, he is the one being deceived – first by his sons telling him that Joseph was killed by a wild animal, and later by Joseph himself, pretending to hold his youngest son for ransom in order to see his father again. His life was crazy and messy from beginning to end.
As another curiosity, he was buried with Leah, not Rachel, the woman he originally fell in love with. Not that it was going to matter a great deal to them in death, but the symbolic nature of being put to rest with your family and being with those you loved least, and apart from those you loved most seems odd. For his sons who knew the story, who lived the story, I’m sure there were some odd feelings, particularly from Rachel’s sons. Yet she had died in childbirth, just a bit too far from home to bury her in the family tomb. The wife who had to wait in line behind her older sister in life, had to do so in death as well.
I think in this particular instance, it is helpful to recognize that there really are no heroes here. Everyone in this family had sinned against one another. Everyone had been offered grace and mercy and reconciliation. Now, at Jacob’s death, he asks to have his redeemed (and now dead) body taken back to the beginning where it all started, like the Prodigal Son finally returning home.
What strikes me is their humble attitudes. Jacob did not claim to be made new, starting a new lineage of God’s people, the way his grandfather Abraham had. The sons are drawn together in grief, no longer lording themselves over each other. Death makes humble creatures of us all.
That was the reality that Paul tried to impress upon the Christians in Corinth. Only he know it was not only death that brings us all to common ground. Grace humbles us too, in much the same way. After all, was it not God’s grace, working in Jacob’s life even before death, that allowed him to have that humble attitude? Grace takes away our ability to boast and puts us all on common ground.
How has grace humbled you?
What other experiences brought you into new relationships with people who were different from yourself?