Sunday, January 15, 2012

Joseph's bones

Hebrews 11:22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

When my meditating mind wanders to the great faith chapter of the Bible -- Hebrews 11 -- it is likely to survey the "highlights". Perhaps Abel, who offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. Enoch, who did not die. Or Abraham who when called by God went out, though not knowing where he went, or offered up his son Isaac. There's Moses, who chose to suffer the affliction of the people of God rather than the pleasures of sin and Pharaoh's house. But how often do I meditate on a man and his bones?

The man perhaps best known for his coat of many colors lived to the age of 110. In his dying day he gave a curious commandment concerning his bones. The Bible says it was an act of faith.

Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rachel, and first saw the light of day in the land of Haran while Jacob was serving Laban as payment for marrying his daughters. His father came into the land of Canaan, where Joseph lived with his family until he was 17 years old. Because of the preference of Jacob for this son of his preferred bride, the brothers of Joseph sold him into slavery. This resulted in his descent into Egypt, first in bondage as a slave, and then in bondage as a prisoner. Through the providence of God, when Joseph was 30 years old, he was not only released from prison but also exalted to second ruler in Egypt, only beneath the Pharaoh himself. By his God-given wisdom he saved the people of Egypt and strengthened their position among the surrounding nations. After a time in which Joseph's separation from his father and brethren exceeded the length of time he had lived with them, they were reunited. During a world-wide famine, the entire people of Israel (Jacob) came to dwell in Egypt. The days of the lives of Jacob and Joseph (and beyond), they lived and grew and prospered there.

God sent Joseph to Egypt as his ambassador (Gen 45:7-8). Joseph lived all his adult life in Egypt. He got his wife in Egypt. He raised his sons in Egypt. He was respected in Egypt. When he died at age 110, he had spent about 93 years there -- 80 of them as a ruler. Yet when he was dying, he took an oath of his family "ye shall carry up my bones from here." Yes, bury me in a place I know by faith and not by sight!

Soon after his demise, there arose a king that knew not Joseph. Though this king knew not Joseph, when God delivered His people from Egypt the people remembered Joseph! Moses removed his bones, his coffin, for the exodus from Egypt to the promised land. Though many an Israelite fell in the wilderness, their bones to mingle with the dust and sands of the places their feet trod, Joseph's bones continued on, steady, hasting toward the goal. When God had given rest to the people of God in the land of Canaan, Joseph's bones were laid to rest in a piece of land Jacob had bought in Shechem, completing the arduous journey from Canaan to Egypt and back again.

By his commandment, Joseph identified himself with God's people rather than the people of Egypt. 93 years in Egypt and he had not forgotten where he came from! He was "of the stock of Israel, an Hebrew of the Hebrews". He had not forgotten God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that was his birthright. Joseph had no superstitious regard for the place of burial. Like Moses, by the grace of God he chose Israel over Egypt and would be identified forever thus.

By his commandment, Joseph signified his faith in God's promise. He reminded the people of Jacob, "God will surely visit you." Some of the younger members of the family had never lived in Canaan. Yet their promise lay in the land of promise, not in Egypt. Joseph had no doubt. What God had promised he was able also to perform.

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