The goal of both the beginning and the Torah (Instruction), is the Comforter (Menachim: Messiah), and the Comforter introduces us to a new beginning in HaShem our Merciful King.
When we come to what we consider the “end” of a book of the Bible we are wise to adjust our modern western understanding of the word “end”. We are better to understand Biblical texts as having reached a “goal” rather than being “finished, ended”. The last chapter of Genesis is no different. While it reaches its climax with the death and embalming of both Jacob and Joseph, it retains a strong sense of comfort and hope for the future. Jacob is embalmed and taken to the Promised Land, a promise yet to be fulfilled and in Israel’s case a promise of the resurrection of the dead at the end of days. The brothers of Joseph go up to Eretz (Land) Israel together in a type of trial run for the coming Exodus. Following the death of their father, Joseph’s brothers begin to feel vulnerable and plead for forgiveness yet again. It is now that Joseph the comforter (Menachim: a name for the Messiah) arises. And with grace and prophetic vision he acknowledges the greater plan of the God for Israel.
Gen 50:1 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) fell upon his father's face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.
In Jacob’s final moments the promise God had made to him in Genesis 46:4 was fulfilled:
“I will go down with you into Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up and Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) shall put his hand upon your eyes.”
Gen 50:2 And Yosef commanded his servants the physicians lacha’not to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Yisrael (Overcome in God).
Embalming was an Egyptian custom and was based on idolatrous beliefs. The Torah and subsequent rabbinical halakhah concerning interment do not allow for embalming because it is considered a desecration of the body. Unlike pagan religions, Biblical Hebrew faith sees an intrinsic connection between the body and spirit, considering all parts of human existence to be encompassed by the nefesh (soul). Thus the complete physical body is returned to the earth according to the observation of God, “For you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) and awaits the physical resurrection of the dead at the last day.
It is therefore likely that Joseph oversaw the embalming process and had the idolatrous elements removed from the practise as it was applied to Jacob. His motivation being to keep Jacob’s body from decaying rapidly so that he could avoid having to bury Jacob outside of Hebron, as was the case with Rachel (buried near Bethlehem).
In this context the Hebrew lacha’not is correctly translated as “embalm” (The full meaning of the root “chanat” is: embalm, spicy, make spicy, blossom, ripen). However, Rashbam explains that Menachem compares this text with that of Song of Songs 2:13, where the same root “chanat” is translated “In blossom”, meaning that the fig tree is about to give forth it’s fruit. There is a beautiful metaphysical correlation in this idea. Jacob, while dead to this world, is about to blossom in Gan Eden (Paradise).
With regard to the process of Egyptian embalming Herodotus (A Greek historian from the 5 BCE, writes:
"first with a crooked iron instrument they extracted the brain through the nostrils, which they got out partly by this means, and partly by the infusion of medicines; then with a sharp Ethiopian stone they cut about the flank, and from thence took out all the bowels, which, when they had cleansed, they washed with palm wine (or wine of dates), and after that again with odours, bruised; then they filled the bowels (or hollow place out of which they were taken) with pure myrrh beaten, and with cassia and other odours, frankincense excepted, and sewed them up; after which they seasoned (the corpse) with nitre, hiding (or covering it therewith) seventy days, and more than that they might not season it; the seventy days being ended, they washed the corpse, and wrapped the whole body in bands of fine linen, besmearing it with gum, which gum the Egyptians use generally instead of glue.''
Gen 50:3 And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those who are ha’chanutiym embalmed: and the Mitzraiym Egyptians (Double distress) mourned for him seventy days.
The forty days refers to the length of time that the body lay immersed in the embalming fluid, a mixture of cedar, myrrh and cinnamon, etc. This was done so that the agents present to preserve the body could soak into it and penetrate it thoroughly. Thus keeping the body from rapid decay.
Various sources site different lengths of time for the Egyptian embalming process. Thus there is symbolic significance to the number 40 in regard to the Hebrew understanding. Forty is a number of completion and beginning. It is the point where any given thing is both reaching a goal and beginning a new journey. It is a number representing fulfilment, transition and renewal.
The 70 full days of mourning are also significant. 70 being a multiple of two of the Hebrew numbers of fullness, fruitfulness and completion, 10 x 7. It is also the number representing the nations (Genesis 10).
In essence the 70 days foreshadow the seven day mourning period recorded in verse 10. Seven days multiplied by intense/full (10) mourning.
Gen 50:4 And when the days of his mourning were past, Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) spoke to the beit house of Pharaoh (Great house), saying, “If now I have found favour in your eyes, speak, I plead with you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying,
Perhaps the most reasonable explanation for Joseph asking Pharaoh’s officials to speak for him is that the Egyptian Pharaoh’s, like the latter Persian rulers (Esther 4:2), would not allow those in mourning to appear before them.
Another possible reason for Joseph’s request may be his need to stay with the family during their time of grief. They had lost not only a father, grandfather and great grandfather, but also a priest and spiritual leader. Moreover, Jacob was the last of the three patriarchs and had left a daunting task in the unification of the tribes. Thus Joseph’s presence as leader of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt may well have kept him from approaching Pharaoh himself.
Additionally, these events took place in Goshen, some distance from the palace of Pharaoh and therefore necessitated a messenger who would follow the chain of command in order to make the request known to Pharaoh.
‘Gen 50:5 My father made me swear, saying, “Hinei Now, I die: in my kever grave which I have carah purchased by trade for myself in the land of K’naan (Lowland, humility), there shall you inter me. Now therefore let me e’eleh go up, I plead with you, and inter my father, v’ashuvah and I will return.”’”
The traditional translation, “Grave I dug” while acceptable, does not help the reader understand the burial practises of Israel at this time, nor does it properly connect Jacob to the trade made by his father (Grandfather) Abraham. The body of Jacob would be interred in the cave at Machpelah rather than buried beneath the ground. Thus the more likely translation, and the better representation of the Hebrew “carah” would be, “in my kever grave which I have carah purchased by trade for myself”. Hosea 3:2 translates the root “carah” in the same way. Note that contrary to popular misrepresentation, the Hebrew word for grave is kever and not sheol, which refers to the spiritual holding place that is metaphorically beneath the ground.
It was of course Abraham who purchased the field and cave of Machpelah in Hebron. However, Jacob is right to say that he purchased it because in the Hebraic sense the legal acquisitions of the forebears are passed on to their heirs and considered as if they had been undertaken personally by the living relative.
Additionally we must remember that Joseph is speaking to Pharaoh via an emissary and through Pharaoh’s elders and is therefore attempting to show legal grounds for Jacob’s interment in the cave at Machpelah. Yet again the Torah is setting legal precedent for future generations by showing that God considers Jacob and his progeny to be the deed holders to the field and cave of Machpelah in Hebron.
Joseph’s final words are intended to allay any fears Pharaoh may have of losing Joseph to the land of K’naan.
Gen 50:6 And Pharaoh (Great house) said, “Aleh Go up, and inter your father, according to the oath he made you swear.”
Pharaoh holds oaths to be sacred and respects Jacob’s need to keep his oath.
Gen 50:7 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) vay’alu went up to inter his father: and with him all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders (Old ones) of his house, and all the elders (Old ones) of the land of Mitzrayim Egypt (Double distress),
Such is the Egyptian respect for Joseph that the elders of Egypt went up with him and his brothers. Pharaoh is not mentioned and rightly so. While the second in command of the land (Joseph) was gone the Pharaoh must remain to maintain secure rule.
Gen 50:8 And all the house of Yosef, and his brothers, and his father's house: only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen (Draw near). Gen 50:9 Vay’al And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company.
The consistent use of the Hebrew root “alah” carries a sense of holiness in its relationship to the regalim, aliyot, going up festivals (Moedim) of Israel (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot).
Jewish tradition says that Esau came out with a large army and met Joseph at the cave of Machpelah, where he attempted to hinder the interment of Jacob. Subsequently Esau is said to have lost his life to Cushim, the son of Dan, who struck him with a club so that he died. Other sources say it was Zepho, the grandson of Esau, with the sons of Esau, that made the disturbance at Machpelah, and that a battle ensued, in which Joseph was the conqueror, and Zepho was taken captive (T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 13.a 1. Targum Jon. in ver. 13. Pirke Eliezer, c. 39. Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 5. 1.).
Jewish tradition also gives us an order of the procession of the great company:
“First Joseph, next the servants of Pharaoh, or the princes, then the elders of the court of Pharaoh, then all the elders of the land of Egypt, then the whole house of Joseph, next to them the brethren of Joseph, who were followed by their eldest sons, and after them were the chariots, and last of all the horses.” -R. Bechai apud Hottinger. Smegma, c. 8. p. 381.
Gen 50:10 And they came to the Goren threshing-floor of Atad (Thorn), which is in the region of the Yarden (descender) Jordan, and there they wailed, greatly, heavily and exceedingly: and he made a mourning for his father seven days.
Goren HaAtad literally means “The field or threshing floor of thorns”. According to Jewish tradition it was common practice at the time to make a hedge of thorns round about a threshing-floor (T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 13. 1. & Gloss. in ib. Aruch in voc. גרן fol. 39. 4.).
The Sages say that the name is derived from events that transpired as the interment of Jacob approached. The legend says that the kings of Canaan and the princes of Ishmael amassed to prevent the interment of Jacob, but when they saw Joseph’s crown hanging on Jacob’s coffin, they relented and hung their own crowns on the coffin in tribute to the Patriarch. It is said that there were 36 crowns in total hanging from the coffin and that it looked like a field surrounded by thorns. Thus the name “Goren HaAtad” (Sotah 13a; Rashi)
It’s from this passage that the Talmud derives the sitting of Shiv’ah, an intense seven day period of mourning that follows the interment of a close relative (y. Moed Kat. 3.5).
Ibn Ezra notes this as the seven day mourning period of Shiv’ah which begins after the interment. However, in order to understand the text according to Ibn Ezra’s assertion we must see the phrase, “he made a mourning for his father seven days” as something Joseph was instituting to happen following the actual event of the interment which doesn’t occur until verse 13.
Gen 50:11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the K’naani (Lowland, zealous) saw the mourning in the floor of Atad (Thorn), they said, “This is a heavy mourning to the Mitzrayim Egyptians: upon it therefore they called the name Avel-Mitzraiym (Mourning Egyptians), which is in the region of the Yarden (descender) Jordan.
Or Ha-Torah suggests that the residents of the land were unwittingly prophesying the mourning that would come to Egypt because of her mistreatment of the children of Israel.
Gen 50:12 Thus his sons did unto him (Jacob) according to that which he commanded them: Gen 50:13 For his sons carried him into the land of K’naan (Lowland), and interred him in the cave of the field of Machpelah (Double portion), which Avraham (Father of many peoples) bought with the field for a possession of a kever tomb of Ephron (fawn-like) the Chitti (Terrorist), before Mamre (Strength, fatness, abundance).
According to tradition Jacob had commanded that his sons be arranged around his coffin in the order that they would later surround the Mishkhan (Tent of Meeting) [Numbers 2].
Once again the Torah repeats the information regarding the legal purchase of the field and cave of Machpelah in Hebron.
Gen 50:14 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) returned to Mitzrayim (Double distress) Egypt, he, and his brothers, and ha’oliym all that went up with him to inter his father, after he had interred his father.
Oliym is used in the modern Ivrit vernacular to describe new immigrants to Israel, that is, those who have come up to the land from throughout the world in order to become citizens of the modern state.
Gen 50:15 And when Yosef’s (YHVH: Mercy adds) brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Given the circumstances Yosef will hate us, and will certainly repay us for all the evil which we did to him.”
Joseph had done nothing to show he had even an inclining of hatred toward his brothers. In fact he had cared for and encouraged them ever since their reconciliation to him. The fear of the brothers is to do with their own sense of guilt and their inability to understand the kind of forgiveness that Joseph had imparted. Like so many followers of Yeshua (Jesus) today, the brothers began to trust in condemnation rather than resting in forgiveness. This is why Rav Shaul (Paul) writes “There is no longer condemnation for those in Messiah Yeshua” (Romans 8:1).
Gen 50:16 And they sent a messenger to Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds), saying, “Your father left instructions before he died, saying,
There is no record of Jacob leaving such instructions. This is probably a lie intended to placate Joseph, who the brothers believed was harbouring resentment toward them.
Gen 50:17 ‘Say this to Yosef, “Forgive, I plead with you now, the transgression/rebellion of your brothers, and their sin; for they did evil to you’: and now, we plead with you, forgive the transgression/rebellion of the servants of Eloheiy God of your father. And Yosef wept when they spoke to him.
The brothers name their sin as both an act of rebellion (against God) and a sin of ignorance (against Joseph). They also acknowledge that their actions were ra’ah (evil) that is contrary to the wellbeing of Joseph. Perhaps, like Yeshua, Joseph wept at the inability of his brothers (fellow Jews) to understand the extent of his forgiveness. Joseph clearly loved them deeply.
“There is therefore now no condemnation toward those who are in Messiah Yeshua, who walk not after the flesh (fallen nature), but after the Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh). For the law (the established consequences) of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua has made me free from the law (the established consequences) of sin and death.” –Romans 8:1-2
Gen 50:18 And his brothers also went and fell down before his face; and they said, “Hineinu Now, behold, we are your servants.” Gen 50:19 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) said to them, “Fear not: for am I in the place of Elohiym (Judge) God?
Joseph is saying, “I’m not your Judge”. From a position of hindsight Joseph sees the perfect weaving (chashavah) together of God’s plan for Israel and the role both he and his brothers have played in it.
Gen 50:20 But as for you, you thought evil against me; but Elohiym God chashavah wove it into good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, l’hachaiyot to give life to a am rav great people.
While some English translations give the impression that the life given here is given to “many people” (a valid translation), I believe the Hebrew is better read as “A people, great”. Meaning the singular people Israel. This makes more sense in relation to the context.
Gen 50:21 Now therefore you, fear not: I will feed you, and your little ones.” Vay’nacheim And he comforted them, and spoke kindly to them.
Joseph shows yet again why his life and character are such a wonderful type or foreshadowing of the Messiah. Here Joseph, in spite of the fact that he has every right to hold a grudge, acts as a gracious and loving comforter “Menachim” (a name for the Messiah, and in Messiah, a descriptive name for the Ruach Ha-Kodesh [Holy Spirit]).
Gen 50:22 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) dwelt in Mitzrayim (Double distress) Egypt, he, and his father's house: and Yosef lived one hundred and ten years. Gen 50:23 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) saw Ephraim's (Double fruitfulness) children to the third generation: the children also of Machir (sold) the son of M’nasheh (Forget) were brought up upon the knee of Yosef.
The age 110 years appears in Egyptian sources as the ideal lifespan. This is perhaps a sign to the Egyptians of the blessing of HaShem upon Joseph and Israel.
“Brought up on Joseph’s knee” infers adoption (Gen. 30:3; 48:12). Thus in Judges 5:14 Machir appears as a tribe of Israel.
It’s interesting to note that Machir’s sons were contemporaries of Moses (Numbers 26:29) and were among the fourth generation that God had promised to set free from Egypt (Gen. 15:16). They had seen Joseph as children and would live to see Moses and the Exodus.
Gen 50:24 And Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) said to his brothers, “I die: and Elohiym (Judge) God will pakod yiph’kod will attend, number, appoint, care for and visit you, and bring you up out of this land to the land which He swore to Avraham (Father of many people), to Yitzchaak (He laughs), and to Yaakov (Follower).”
The phrase “pakod yiph’kod” is said to refer to the redeemer whom God will send to Israel to lead them out of Egypt (Mizrachi). Tradition attributes this to Moses, however, it is here referring to God Himself and the same phrasing is used in Exodus 3:16 in reference to God “veilohiym pakod yiph-kod”. In fact, it seems to be directly connected to the Malakh HaShem (Messenger of YHVH), the Angel Who in both Cloud and Fire leads and protects Israel on her journey of escape toward the Promised Land.
“Bring you up” refers to Israel’s Exodus but according to Sechel Tov, it also means that the bones of Joseph’s brothers were literally brought up to the Promised Land along with his own bones.
Gen 50:25 And Yosef required an oath of the children of Yisrael (Overcome in God) saying, “Elohiym (Judge) God pakod yiph’kod will attend, number, appoint, care for and visit you, and you shall ha-alitem carry up my bones from here.
It is in fact none other than Moses himself who carries the bones of Joseph up out of Egypt (Exodus 13:19). It is therefore interesting to note the meaning of the name Moses, “Drawn out”.
Joseph was eventually interred in Shekhem (Joshua 24:32) according to the gifting of that region to him by Jacob (Gen. 48:22). The very city that Jacob had sent Joseph to on an errand to find his brothers all those years before. As is so often the case, HaShem brings His servant in full circle. Why? In order to begin again.
Gen 50:26 So Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) died, being one hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Mitzrayim (Double distress) Egypt.
Of all the Jewish traditions concerning the location of Joseph’s coffin when it was entombed in Egypt, the Babylonian Talmudic assertion that he was interred in the sepulchre of the Egyptian kings, is the most likely [T. Bab. Sotah, ut supra. (c. 1. fol. 13.1.)].
The Stone Chumash puts it well, “The end of the Patriarchal epoch was not a conclusion, but a beginning”.
Joseph dies and is embalmed but is not taken up directly to the Promised Land. Why? Because his physical remains remain a physical symbol of Israel’s coming deliverance from Egypt. Joseph’s body is also left awaiting its journey to the Promised Land and the resurrection at the last day. The goal of the book of beginning (Bereishit [Genesis]) is an everlasting beginning that will swallow up this sin affected world in victory. Thus, like a tantalizing television series, Genesis leaves us with, “Tune in next week when…”
The goal of both the beginning and the Torah (Instruction), is the Comforter (Menachim: Messiah), and the Comforter introduces us to a new beginning in HaShem our Merciful King.
“For Messiah is the goal of the Torah making righteous everyone who believes.” –Romans 10:4
Salvation Himself is the goal of the beginning.
“Chazak! Chazak! Venitchazeik!” (Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!)
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.