29 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.
1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days. 4 And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” 6 And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” 7 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, 8 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. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company.10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 14 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. 15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. 22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
One of the many things I love about Roni Richardson is her absolute commitment to disliking the ending of any story! Through the many years we have been together, without fail, when a movie ends or a television series ends or a book ends she will inevitably say, “That’s it?!” I have come to expect it and to thoroughly enjoy it! And no matter how much I try to say, “Well, what else could they do? It had to end!,” she will reply, “That’s it?!”
I love that there is something about an ending she does not like. I like to think it is a reflection of the Christian conviction that the endings the world offers us are not real endings, that in Jesus the story does not end but goes on and on.
I was thinking about her question while working on the end of Genesis. I could hear her saying, “Is that it?!” and I believe I heard the Lord say, “No. It is not!” For the ending of Genesis leaves us wanting to know the rest of God’s story in and among the human race and the rest of scripture tells us that story. I actually love how Genesis ends, though, because it brings together a number of important theological themes that frame not only Genesis but also the rest of scripture. In fact, I believe the end of Genesis answers three important questions that our hearts are constantly asking and, in doing so, it leaves our hearts wanting to know more and more of God’s great plan of redemption for the world.
Will God really forgive me?
The first question the end of Genesis answers is occasioned by the death of Jacob the patriarch. When he dies, Joseph and his brothers return to Canaan and bury him alongside Rachel and his fathers in the cave of Machpelah. After the funeral, Joseph’s brothers’ nerves get the better of them. Let us listen to why:
14 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. 15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17a-d ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”
Ah! The old guilt comes back around, as guilt tends to do. With Jacob out of the way, the brothers wonder if Joseph is now going to give full vent to his fury over their past crimes against him. They wonder if perhaps it was Joseph’s respect for Jacob and not Joseph’s genuine love for them that restrained his wrath all of these years. So much so that they appear to make up a story about a deathbed plea from Jacob that Joseph forgive them. R.R. Reno poignantly writes that “the brothers have difficulty believing that one wronged can live without retribution.” But Joseph’s response is telling and powerful.
17e Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?…21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
See the heart of Jacob:
- He weeps.
- He tells them not to fear.
- He tells them that he is not God.
- He reiterates his call for them not to fear.
- He pledges to care for them and their families.
- He comforts them.
- He speaks kindly to them.
It is a powerful moment. By saying that he is not God, Joseph was situating ultimate forgiveness in the only place it can reside: the character of God. But then in the way he responds to his brothers Joseph reveals what is in the heart of God: compassion, kindness, restoration, and forgiveness.
Deep down everybody is asking this question: Will God really forgive me? And the answer of Genesis is unequivocal: Yes! Yes, God really will forgive you! Call upon His name and receive His mercy and forgiveness!
Is God really in control?
The end of Genesis answers yet another crucial question: Is God really in control? In the midst of speaking comfort to his brothers, Joseph makes an amazing statement.
20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many peopleshould be kept alive, as they are today.
This is truly one of the great theological assertions of scripture. It asserts, first, the ultimate sovereignty of God over the unfolding events of human history. Secondly, it asserts that God is able to work the wicked deeds of men to His own good ends and glory. So while Joseph’s brothers earlier intended to harm him, God took their wicked deeds and worked them to the ultimate end of the physical salvation of the world through Joseph’s famine relief plan in Egypt.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. It is answering this question: Is God really in control? And Genesis answers, “Yes! Yes He is!”
John Walton argues that Genesis 50:20 “is not just the lesson of the Joseph story, but the conclusion of the book of Genesis as well.” He goes on to argue that “this simple truth” we find in verse 20 allows “many other [of His] attributes to fall into place. His sovereignty, his love, his mercy, his justice, his faithfulness, his goodness—all of these are revealed about God as we stand on the sidelines of Genesis and watch him work in the world.”
Indeed they are revealed. The sovereignty of God is a foundational truth that reveals so many other things about who He is! God is in control, and that control is bound up with His love and mercy, for He works all things to His own glory and our own good.
This is a great comfort for us! No matter how bleak and dark things look, our God is in control. He not only can handle our troubles but He can work them in such a way as to be a blessing to us and to all around us! God is truly in control!
Does the grave get the last word?
There is a final question that Genesis raises. The end of Genesis 49 and Genesis 50 both involve burials: Jacob at the end of 49 and Joseph at the end of 50. It is quite moving to see the final words of this great book in Genesis 50.
24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
It is interesting that Joseph twice mentions God to his brothers on his deathbed.
- He tells them that God will one day deliver them from Egypt and take them back to the land of promise.
- He tells them that “God will surely visit you.”
Joseph’s death was therefore God-saturated. This is significant. It means that Joseph saw beyond his impending death to the continuing work of God in the world. It means that Joseph did not see death as the end.
The book ends with the words, “and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” This raises the question, “Does the grave get the last word?”
It is a powerful thing to realize that while Genesis ends with Joseph being sealed in a tomb, the gospels end with the Lord Jesus coming out of a tomb. The good news of the gospel is that, no, the grave does not get the last word! Paul positively mocks this idea in 1 Corinthians 15 when he writes:
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes! “Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”!
The grave does not get the last word. The Lord of heaven and earth does! Joseph was sealed in a tomb but there was no tomb that could hold Jesus…and therefore no tomb that can hold Joseph and the rest of Christ’s followers!
We worship the God who knows His way out of the tomb.
We worship the God who has defeated death.
We worship the Lord of life!
Hear me church:
- Yes, God will forgive you!
- Yes, God is in control!
- No, the grave does not get the last word.
Jesus does. And Jesus’ word is this:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:10-11)
And the church says, Amen!
 R.R. Reno, Genesis. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010), p.291.
 John H. Walton, Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), p.723.