What are your hopes for the future? All of us have some, right. Christmas is a time when we have hopes for a variety of things—as well we should.
Billy Graham wrote back in 1969 that Christmas should be a time of renewed hope—not hope in a particular political concept, but Christmas hope; Christian hope; hope in Jesus Christ; hope that, despite our tangled bungling, God will bring order out of chaos.
Despite our tangled bungling, God will bring order out of chaos. I don’t know about you but sometimes the Christmas season seems like more tangled bungling on my part than it does actual celebrating. But we have joy because we know that God will bring order out of our chaos. In fact, that’s really the message of Genesis. This story of the beginning of God’s people leaves us with incredible hope. Hope that is not yet fulfilled, but we meet in Genesis a God who shows us enough of Himself that we can trust in Him to fill the hopes we are left with at the end of Genesis 50.
All of us know what it’s like to hope for something. We were asked from a young age what we wanted to be when we grew up. What did we hope to become? The answers are usually pretty standard—doctor, veterinarian, police officer, firefighter, scientist, and so on. Last year the website Fatherly and New York Life teamed up to poll over 1,000 children and found for the most part those answers change little over the years. Though, they did get some interesting responses: One 2-year-old boy wanted to be a dancing unicorn, a 6-year-old girl wanted to be a dragon keeper, and 8-year-old girl wanted to be a crazy cat lady, and a 4-year-old boy wanted to be the ice cream man at Costco. So at least there are some kids out there who still have imaginations.
But most of us don’t end up doing the thing we hope to do when we’re kids. Some of us view that as a good thing, others probably wish we could do things over to live out one of those childhood dreams. We’ve been studying Joseph since September and his life certainly didn’t take shape the way he would have hoped when he was a child. At age 17 he was sold as a slave in a foreign land and he spent the final 93 years of his life living there.
Joseph’s story has taught us much about the providence and promises of our God as He works to redeem a people for His glory. And as we finish it today, we will see from Genesis 50 this one final truth: God’s Providence and His Promises Create Hope for His People.
There are three movements to Genesis 50. The chapter is bookended by funerals with an apology sandwiched in the middle. Let’s read it together:
Jacob’s Funeral (vv.1-14)
50 Then Joseph, leaning over his father’s face, wept and kissed him. 2 He commanded his servants who were physicians to embalm his father. So they embalmed Israel. 3 They took forty days to complete this, for embalming takes that long, and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.
4 When the days of mourning were over, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s household, “If I have found favor with you, please tell Pharaoh that 5 my father made me take an oath, saying, ‘I am about to die. You must bury me there in the tomb that I made for myself in the land of Canaan.’ Now let me go and bury my father. Then I will return.”
6 So Pharaoh said, “Go and bury your father in keeping with your oath.”
7 Then Joseph went to bury his father, and all Pharaoh’s servants, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt went with him, 8 along with all Joseph’s family, his brothers, and his father’s family. Only their dependents, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. 9 Horses and chariots went up with him; it was a very impressive procession. 10 When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, which is across the Jordan, they lamented and wept loudly, and Joseph mourned seven days for his father. 11 When the Canaanite inhabitants of the land saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a solemn mourning on the part of the Egyptians.” Therefore the place is named Abel-mizraim. It is across the Jordan.
12 So Jacob’s sons did for him what he had commanded them. 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave at Machpelah in the field near Mamre, which Abraham had purchased as burial property from Ephron the Hethite. 14 After Joseph buried his father, he returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone with him to bury his father.
The Brothers’ Apology and Joseph’s Response (vv.14-21)
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said to one another, “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”
16 So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before he died your father gave a command: 17 ‘Say this to Joseph: Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin—the suffering they caused you.’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when their message came to him. 18 His brothers also came to him, bowed down before him, and said, “We are your slaves!”
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. 21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph’s Funeral (vv.22-26)
22 Joseph and his father’s family remained in Egypt. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 He saw Ephraim’s sons to the third generation; the sons of Manasseh’s son Machir were recognized by Joseph.
24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land he swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.”
26 Joseph died at the age of 110. They embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt.
This is the Word of the Lord. May the Holy Spirit help us to apply this word to our lives. Let’s pray.
We’ve just read the end of the first book of the Bible. We’ve seen how God through Joseph to rescue his family, but the more we study the more we realize God really is the main character of this whole narrative.
Everything that God has worked to do in human history since the fall—and I’d really argue even before—is to gather a people to the praise of His glory through His Son. Jesus said in Matthew 6 that the will of the Father who sent Him was that he would lose none of those the Father has given Him. Colossians 1:13 shows us how God has worked this rescue for us: He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. (Col. 1:13)
God’s redemptive purpose has been at work since the very beginning of Genesis when Moses introduced us to a sovereign, yet personal God who created a perfect universe and ruled over it while remaining distinct from it. We meet humanity in chapter two—when God creates man and woman in His very own image. We see evil creep into the world as Adam and Eve rebelled against God in chapter 3. . .but we also get a promise. The very first promise of the gospel, in fact.
God looks at the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve and says in 3:15
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
That’s the very first promise of the Gospel in all the Bible. God is promising that one day He would repair what had been broken in the Garden of Eden. When God sent His son hundreds of years later, Satan bruised His heel—but Jesus crushed the head of sin and death on the cross of Calvary. And here’s God dropping the first Gospel breadcrumb in just the third chapter of Scripture.
The rest of Scripture is the story of God preserving for Himself that offspring. It starts with a family—first in Seth who replaced his fallen brother Abel. Then in Noah in Genesis 6-9 as God reveals both His justice in punishing sin at the flood and His grace in preserving a family through which he would one day bring that offspring.
God enters into a covenant with Noah after the flood and later with a man named Abram—Joseph’s great grandfather. God promises Abraham some things in Genesis 12:
I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
God chose Abraham’s family as the family through which the offspring—Jesus—would one day be born. The last part of that promise is my favorite—all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. That promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. More specifically in His great commission—Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19). The promise of blessing to all the peoples of the earth is still being fulfilled today but that fulfillment is only possible through Christ.
We see that picture more fully today, but in Genesis it is revealed piece-by-piece as God works at first through family and begins to build them into a nation. He goes on to tell Abraham in Genesis 15 13 . . . “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions.
This promise to Abraham meets its fulfillment in the life of Joseph. Generations before He was even born God was sovereignly at work to work in Joseph’s life to make him the lynchpin in his plan to take Abraham’s descendants from a family to a nation. Yet, as we see in Genesis 50 Joseph never sees the family of God become the nation of God. Both Jacob and Joseph’s faith end—on this side of eternity—in hope, not sight. And that’s not bad. It was brought about by God’s providence and both Jacob and Joseph displayed a confident hope in their final actions. From the two funerals in chapter 50, we learn that hope for tomorrow comes from the same place as hope for eternity.
We see it first in the funeral of Jacob in verses 1-14. The chapter begins with Joseph’s overwhelming grief at the loss of his father. Notice that Joseph’s hope in the God of his father never falters in this chapter—or in the entire story for that matter—but his heart is still broken at the loss of a loved one. Hope isn’t the absence of hurt.
If Jacob were writing his own story, dying in Egypt would not have been the final chapter. He would have died not just in the promised land, but in possession of the promised land so that he could pass it along to his children. That wasn’t God’s plan, yet it shook neither the hope of Jacob or of Joseph.
We see, though, that hope for Joseph’s day-to-day continued to be rooted in the hope promised by the God of his fathers. We see it in his rejection of Egyptian religious customs in verse two.
Egyptian religion required that the body be preserved so that the deceased could enjoy the afterlife; so every dead body in Egypt was treated with care. The amount of care, though, was determined by how much money you had. Sound familiar?
You only got the full mummy treatment if you were wealthy—a pharaoh or a member of the nobility. According to one scholar, many poor were simply salted and left to dry in the sun.
I tell you that because we need to notice that Joseph was rejecting these cultural norms when he ordered the body of his father taken by the physicians and not by the professional embalmers who would have handled other important Egyptians in death.
We see how respected the family of Joseph was in Egypt that Jacob’s death was mourned for 70 days. The entire nation went into a state of mourning for the death of an elderly Hebrew immigrant who contributed nothing to their state of well-being. And they mourned for 70 days. It was typical to mourn for 72 days when Pharaoh died. This shows how respected that Joseph was in Egypt at the time.
And yet Joseph didn’t place his hope in being a leader in the most powerful nation on the planet. In verse four he asks Pharaoh to let him keep the vow he made to his father to bury him in the family tomb back in the promised land. Pharaoh allows it and what Moses describes from verses 7-14 is nothing short of a royal funeral procession out of Egypt and into Canaan.
Egyptian officials, the family of Jacob, and even the Egyptian army—the horses and chariots of verse 9—fill out what Moses writes is a very impressive procession. So impressive, in fact, that the locals began calling the place where they paused for a week Abel-mizraim, which meant the mourning of Egypt.
As Joseph lived out his hope here, we actually get to see the promises of God both fulfilled and foreshadowed for us in mighty ways through this once-in-history funeral event. The fact that Egypt was so disrupted by the passing of Jacob tells us how dear the family of Joseph had become to Pharaoh. Why? Because Joseph was a national hero. He saved them from starving to death and consolidated power in the household of Pharaoh to a degree that was probably never before seen in Egypt’s history. Pharaoh was good to Joseph and his family and therefore he was blessed. This is Genesis 12:3 parading north from Egypt. God told Abraham I will bless those who bless you. Egypt recognized how greatly it had been blessed by Joseph and, thus, declared national mourning for the loss of his father. In Exodus, Egypt learns the flip side of that verse—I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt. But for now, Israel and Egypt are mutually blessing one another.
This funeral procession in verses 7-14 is also a foreshadowing of another procession that will depart Egypt—though it won’t do so for about 400 years. Some of the language is strikingly similar. When Moses describes the exodus of Israel after the Passover, he’ll speak of Pharoah’s servants, and flocks, and herds, and horses, and chariots all over again. And that procession will also be carrying the bones of a dead Israelite. For, when Joseph’s descendants escape Egypt after generations of slavery they’ll be carrying his coffin. That’s what he asks as he lay dying in the last few verses of the chapter.
Moses tells us that Joseph lived to be 110 years old and in verse 24 he tells his brothers this: 24 “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land he swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the sons of Israel take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.”
You see, in death his hope was the same as it was in life. His hope rested on God’s divine providence in life and he trusted that same divine providence would sustain his family after he died. His dying statement is such a remarkable act of trust in God that the writer of Hebrews chose it—of all the things that happened in Joseph’s colorful life—he chose those words to highlight this man’s extreme trust in God. Hebrews 11:22 tells us that
By faith Joseph, as he was nearing the end of his life, mentioned the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions concerning his bones.
Joseph saved an entire nation, rescued his family, endured incredible hardship, but the most heroic thing he ever did was with his dying breath proclaimed such trust in God that he believed God would rescue his family from a captivity that didn’t yet exist.
He said “when God comes to your aid.” Understand, that his family didn’t need aid yet. They had it made. Things take a turn in Exodus 1 but in the moment, Israel was sitting pretty. He was telling his family to carry his bones to the promised land, to reunite them with his father. Joseph understood in death that he wasn’t the main character of the story. That God was still—in his divine providence—authoring the history of Israel. To understand that in death, we must first understand it in life. The hope that Joseph rested in for eternity was the same hope he rested in to get him through slavery, and false accusation, and prison—his vast hardships and also his vast successes. This seems counterintuitive but I think for some of us its easier to trust that God has our eternity handled than it is for us to trust that God has tomorrow handled. Heaven I’m sure of, but that electric bill is due tomorrow and I’m not sure where that’s coming from yet. I know Jesus is preparing a place for me, but I don’t know if my marriage is going to survive or what these test results are going to mean or whatever the uncertainty is. Compared to eternity, whatever it is that threatens our hope here on this earth is small. It won’t feel like it in the moment. That’s why the truth we’ll learn from the middle scene in this chapter is so helpful and it’s this:
Hope keeps life in the proper perspective. After Jacob’s months-long funeral had ended and his sons returned to Egypt, a fear crept into the minds of Joseph’s brothers.
Hey, dad’s gone now. What if Joseph’s still upset with us? Remember, we did sell him into slavery and all. They wonder aloud in verse 15 “If Joseph is holding a grudge against us, he will certainly repay us for all the suffering we caused him.”
So they sent this message to Joseph (because they’re liars), “Before he died your father gave a command. They say hey, before dad died he said you have to forgive us for the whole slavery deal.’
After all these years and all Joseph’s kindness, the brothers still didn’t get it. Here’s the fundamental different between Joseph and his brothers: It’s where their hope came from. The brothers hope was in “what can I do” and Joseph’s hope is in “what God has done.” Do you understand the difference?
The brothers thought, Ok now that dad’s protective hand is no longer on us how can we manipulate the situation so that we’re still okay. But listen to Joseph’s response: 19 But Joseph said to them,
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. 21 Therefore don’t be afraid. I will take care of you and your children.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph wasn’t concerned about what he could do to get back at his brothers. He recognized his circumstances as the outworking of God’s providence and he was going to use his position to bless rather than to get revenge. Why? Because nothing happened to Joseph—and nothing happens to you or to me that hasn’t been allowed, or ordained, by God in the first place. So if we take out revenge, who should we be trying to get revenge on?
If our hope is in our ability to influence our situation for our own good, then how do we respond if God’s providence finds us sitting in a slave caravan or a jail cell like it did for Joseph? But if our hope is placed in the God who is sovereign, the God who in His providence works to secure His promises for His children then we have a hope that is invincible.
The core of Joseph’s response in Genesis 50:20 is that this whole thing really isn’t about me in the first place it’s about God and what He is doing to rescue many people. God takes the evil planned by man and overrules it for His purpose—and His purpose is good.
Understand here that things are about to get very bad for Israel. Almost 400 years of slavery just scratches the surface. In Exodus 1 we are looking at a full-on attempted genocide. An evil Pharaoh will attempt to eradicate the Israelite race from the earth. But God works it for good.
Later on, when Israel is staring at captivity to another evil nation, Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah delivers the word of the Lord. You’ll probably recognize some of it:
10 For this is what the Lord says: “When seventy years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm my promise concerning you to restore you to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place from which I deported you.”
I know the plans I have for you. Those plans were to make them captives for 70 years, but ultimately the plan was for Israel’s good.
There’s one more verse I want us to see as we close. We’ve looked at it over-and-over again as we’ve study Genesis 37-50.
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
Church, we have a God who is guiding the workings of our world to ultimately work out for your good and His glory. He’s been doing it since the fall of mankind and He’ll be doing it until Jesus returns.
The question that confronts us in Genesis 50 is—where is your hope? Have you ordered your life in such a way that your hope rests on your own abilities? The brothers never really seemed to get it. Even after Jacob’s death they’re trying to work things for their own good.
What do we leave this study of Joseph’s life with? How should it change the way we look at ourselves? What about the way we look at our God? Joseph is remembered among the heroes of our faith in Hebrews 11.
As I thought about that list this week, it got me thinking about the popularity of heroes in our culture today. Just this year 3 super hero films brought in over $1 billion dollars. We’re obsessed with heroes. I wondered why exactly that is true. Fortunately, one online magazine asked the same question. Here’s their answer:
In times of trouble, people tend to wish for someone who is bigger than them to help them. Superheroes are strong, tough, and can kick some serious butt. They are always fighting the “bad guys” whether that be the Nazis or aliens. They help people. They make sure they stand up for the common man. And ultimately, they save people. When things get scary, we all want someone to save us, to tell us things will be okay. People go to stories because of this. I think deep down, we all wish sometimes that someone like Captain America or Batman will come and beat up the bad guys for us.
But in reality, the story never ends with a super hero. It ends with a nerdy high school kid getting bit by a spider and ending up in the hospital instead of with super powers.
Joseph’s story teaches us that the hero has already come. For Joseph, he trusted that the hero was coming. Given the full scope of Scripture we understand that the hero came in humble fashion, fulfilling all the promises God made to His people from Genesis 3 onward. And we rest our hope in the God who—through His providence—secures His promises for His people.
Let me leave you with two of those promises as we close today. Romans 10:13 tells us that:
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
And Philippians 1:6 says: I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Where does your hope rest this Christmas?