Genesis 50:22-26 “Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.’ So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.”
There’s a wee gap in your Bibles where our text begins. You see it? The heading is “The Death of Joseph” and then we start at verse 22. That little gap on the page contains the heading ‘The Death of Joseph’ printed between the end of verse 21 and the beginning of verse 22. It measures about a quarter of an inch, but chronologically there’s actually a half a century gap between verse 21 and verse 22, maybe even 54 years bridge the word ‘them’ at the end of verse 21 and ‘Joseph’ at the beginning of verse 22. We love Joseph and we want to know what were some of the high spots that marked those five decades, but the Bible says nothing at all; they’re silent years for us. We obviously don’t need to know anything at all about that time. Certainly during that half a century God quietly and consistently blessed Joseph. We know that because in his last conversation recorded in our text he is speaking, as he always did, of his loving and faithful God.
Many of us look back through the different stages and situations of our life’s story and we might say something like this, “The first twelve years were spent in such a place, and then our teenage years were spent somewhere else as Dad moved to a new job – perhaps they were followed by our university years – and then we moved on again to our first job and when we were first married . . .” and so on. For many of us in this congregation there were probably one or more chapters with the headline, “Aberystwyth.” Different challenges and encouragements marked each of the periods of our lives. There have been no seasons when God forsook us, but there may have been times when we were colder towards him. He, though, was always there for us, and so we confess that all the years of our life his mercies have been new each morning to us. So it was with Joseph.
There are few other persons in the Old Testament of whom we know as much about their boyhood and teenage years (other than King David). In fact we know much more about those early years for those two men than we know about the Lord Jesus’ boyhood. But then we come to this passage and there are these fifty years in the life of Joseph and we know nothing at all about what happened . . . hidden years. This period reminds me of the premiership of Lord Salisbury. British Prime Minister for 20 years and today no one has ever heard of him. He is the perfect conservative. In a sense we in this church desire it to be like that. God keeps secrets. We don’t want constant E-mails arriving from all over the world asking how we are. When people ask how things are in Aberystwyth I tell them, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ, and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” (2 Cors. 2:14). That is all we want them to know. We don’t appreciate the buzz word of some Christians ‘exciting’, how everything must be exaggerated concerning events and activities. We love the peaceful years when no one in Wales knows anything about what’s happening in our congregation or in our families. We love the quiet years of real evangelism and maturing and growing and serving and especially loving one another. Have you ever thought of how we know so little about the life of the apostle Peter, where we went, his evangelism and church planting? What adventures and scrapes he must have got into, and yet it was unnecessary for us to know anything at all about that. God threw a veil over it all. I don’t think that that life is a failure when people say to you, “Is so-and-so still alive?” and he is alive, but he is preparing for heaven. He isn’t living his life for you and me; he’s living it to the Lord and for the Lord.
So after all the trials and suffering that Joseph had experienced this was his reward. He was given fifty-four quiet years. I read an interview with Brad Pitt this week. He’s a man who seems to have everything young men want, wealth, fabulous good looks, intelligence, a beautiful wife and children, fame, and yet Brad Pitt fights depression. There’ve been many days when his wife tells his children, “Shhh! Daddy isn’t well. Be quiet,” and they tip-toe around the place, and money and good looks and fame can’t help him. He took drugs to seek for deliverance; he’s had to spend periods in hospital, and he hates his fame. He longs for anonymity, just to walk down the street unnoticed. What blessings we Christians have. We don’t know what we’ve got until those blessings are taken from us. So what can we say about Joseph?
1. GOD BLESSED HIM WITH A LONGISH LIFE.
Joseph’s first 17 years were spent as a young man in Canaan. The next 13 years were spent as a slave and prisoner in Egypt. The next 80 years were spent as a ruler in Egypt. Imagine one day when he was thirty, and – little known to him – it was actually going to be his last day in jail. Thirteen years he had spent away from his family either in Potiphar’s household or in prison. He never dreamed those nights that the very next day he was going to be summoned to the royal palace and then and there be appointed by Pharaoh as the illimitably wealthy ruler of the country which he’d serve for the next 80 years. He would have been lying on his bed in a dungeon wondering if he was going to be there for another thirteen years, and then the door is unlocked, he is told to wash and make himself ready in order to meet not the parole board but. . . Pharaoh. God acts in a moment and lifts him up. Men and women we don’t know what can happen to us in a day. We don’t know when the set time to favour us or favour our congregation may come.
Joseph lived for 80 years as the prime minister of the greatest nation in the world. He lived until he was 110 years of age. I read in one of the commentaries that during those ancient times, in the literature of that period, I believe that in 27 different places it is stated that the ideal span of life was one hundred and ten years. So Joseph here in Egypt has reached the age that was regarded as the most desirable lifespan a person could attain. That was God’s gesture of approval upon the activities of Joseph. God didn’t say about his own Son that he would live until he was 110 and then be crucified. “It will be 33 years,&rdquo
; said the Father and the Son nodded his head. Remember the words of Richard Baxter:
If life be long, I will be glad That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad To soar to endless day?
By our standards 110 years is a very long life, but his father Jacob lived until he was 147, and his father Isaac lived until he was 180. The effects of the fall of man began to shorten man’s average lifespan as diseases began to thrive and spread. 110 years was certainly a long life especially when 80 of those years were spent in making huge decisions leading the Egyptian nation.
We are living longer in the 21st century. There was an interview with Bill Gates in the Telegraph on Friday, in many ways he seems a very likable man. He is the second most wealthy man in the world possessing 40 billion pounds and he is giving away his fortune to fight diseases. That should be done. Last year no one in all of India contracted polio. The whole sub-continent has been vaccinated. What an achievement – of course not due to Bill Gates, but that is his concern. Bill Gates says that his ambition at 56 years of age would be to live another 25 to 30 years during which time he would see unnecessary deaths drop to zero, but then Bill Gates, like Steve Jobs before him, will die. What does he believe in? He says, “I believed in the personal computer and I devoted my life to it.” Well, we who possess computers just love our laptops, and we can say to God, “Thank you for jumbo jets and computers,” but we don’t put our trust in them. When we murmur to them to hurry up they don’t answer back; they don’t tell us how much they love us. We don’t want to rest in their arms for ever and ever. They don’t tell us that our sins are forgiven. We would like to live for another decade, but only if we are going to make progress in our relationship with God. If God spares us then that is the only reason we’ll grow older. We can live a long life or a short life and be greatly blessed by God in either, or in neither, and that is an awesome reality. Live for the best! Live for eternity! Live for God! It’s the blessing of God that makes us rich. It’s the blessing of God that makes our lives useful.
2. GOD BLESSED JOSEPH BY THE SIGHT OF HIS CHILREN’S CHILDREN.
Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim’s sons. He saw the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh who was Ephraim’s son, and these little babies were placed at birth in Joseph’s lap. Did you know the Bible speaks about seeing one’s children’s children as one of the blessings that God gives to men and women? God who maintains the galaxies of the Milky Way determines, “I’ll give many children of mine the delight of having grandchildren.” They are the glory of their grandparents. I am saying that one of the unexpected blessings you may receive from God is the privilege of becoming a grandparent. I have seen my grandchildren, in fact as the years go by it looks as though I’ve seen all of my grandchildren – so far as I can tell! This year all our girls will be over 40 years of age. No more grandchildren . . . probably. We are grateful to God for the privilege of seeing our grandchildren, and I know the joyful power of Proverbs 17:6, “Children’s children are a crown to the aged,” To grow old in good health is a blessing, and to see your children’s children is like receiving a wonderful honour, being made a prince and wearing a crown. Joseph had this happy blessing bestowed upon him by Jehovah. He was able to see his grandchildren.
More than that; they had been brought up close to him, “on his knees” we are told. They lived nearby, and during those fifty years he helped to bring them up. They sat on his lap and he told them stories. He comforted them when they fell over, and when they were bullied by other children he could say to them, “I was bullied too.” “Grandpa tell us what happened when you were sold into slavery!” “Oh, I’ve told you that many times.” “Again . . . tell us it again.” And Joseph would tell Makir’s children how God was with him on the journey from the lovely land of Canaan, and also when he went to Potiphar’s house, and into prison, and was with him every day. “That is what you must have,” he would tell the little boys and girls, “God with you every day, and then you can survive the bullies.” He could tell them to trust in Jehovah, the God who knows what is best for us, so that when men intend evil things against us God intends good to come from it. Joseph could tell them how to pray, about calling on the name of God, about fearing God as the beginning of becoming wise. He could teach his children’s children lessons like that in all those fifty years.
The last days of last year 2011, just after Christmas all our family gathered in Pembroke 50 miles away in a conference centre that we hired, and one night Iola’s brother in law Keith Lewis (whom I met 52 years ago in a student IVF conference) spoke to them and then he prayed, and on the next night it was my turn and I spoke to them on, “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” There were 25 children present under 23 years of age and over half of them have already professed faith in the Lord and are beginning to enter Christian work. Some of those children have seen me at my worst, behaving as badly as a Christian man can, and yet in spite of that they are amongst those who have confessed faith in the Saviour and are following him.
3. GOD MADE JOSEPH A PREACHER.
When Joseph approached the end of his life he shared with his family some important matters. “Here are four things God wants you to know,” he virtually said to them.
i] God will certainly help you. You notice how he says twice to them, “God will surely come to your aid” (vv. 24&25). You have the beginning of an incurable disease, but God will surely come to your aid. You suddenly lose your job, but God will certainly come to your aid. You are looking for a new pastor-preacher, but God will surely come to your aid. You are facing loneliness, but God will surely come to your aid. One of your children or grandchildren is causing you grief, but God will surely come to your aid. We love it in psalm 46 when he says, “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved. God shall help her, and that right early” (Psa. 46:5). There will be no long years of uncertain delay – ‘right early’ his help will come. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of “grace to help in time of need” (Hebs 4:16). That is the first thing he preached to them.
ii] God will surely deliver them from Egypt. Joseph could see just how dependent on these hard-working, trustworthy men and women the Egyptians had become.
It was not going to be easy for the Egyptians to let them go or for the children of Israel to want to leave pleasant Goshen in the land of Egypt. The decades might become a century, and one century become four and we might think or even say after all those years, “People don’t come back. That’s it. They have been there too long now to move away. You might get a couple of the more adventurous ones out of Egypt and back to Canaan, but even then you’ll never get Egypt out of them.” That is how we think. People never come back from America. The forces hostile to Christianity have the media and education and politicians in their pockets all over Europe and they’d like to choke the life out of the Christian church. Churches are closing, book shops are selling less, fewer men are becoming preachers of the gospel. “It don’t look good!” men say. Who’ll deliver us from triumphalistic atheism? “God will do it,” believers say. God will surely deliver us from Egypt. Everything is possible with God. Little David with his sling will destroy impressive Goliath with his armour-plating. God will vindicate his truth. God will exalt his Son. Christ will build his church. The gates of hell will not prevail. God will deliver us from our Egypt. God will visit us. That was the second point in his sermon.
iii] God will bring them to the Promised Land. Jacob is telling them not to worry. God’s going to be with them and he is going to be with us too, and he will accomplish all his purposes. He has made certain promises and he’s totally trustworthy. He’ll keep his word. He will bring the descendants of the children of Israel from this land to the land that he promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. God shall arise and in his might put all his enemies to flight in shame and consternation. God will deliver his people.
Do you know what that means men and women? It means that when God promises to do something, of course, he does it. “Time to go to the Promised Land,” he says, and away they go! Jehovah did it in a fantastic way. Do you remember? A man has been working in the desert looking after sheep for forty years. He is an old man, and most people think he is dead and Jehovah comes to him, introduces himself, “My name is I AM THAT I AM” and he speaks from the flames of a burning bush and tells him it is time for Moses to lead his people home. They are leaving Egypt, a million of them, and they are going to the land he promised their great-great-great grandfather Abraham that they were going to inherit. That morning when Moses got up and went off to work he never imagined that that day would be perforated by God and his life would never be the same again.
God makes his promises and then in wonderful grace, he gives favoured people faith to believe them. That’s the pattern. Here’s a promise, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Then he works in the hearts of his children and he brings them to faith in his promises. We don’t worship a frustrated deity, twisting his hands saying, “Oh I wish they would believe me,” He visits them in grace. He gives them a new birth and what a change takes place – “by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” We favoured sinners embrace the promise, and afterward we know he moved our souls to seek him as he sought for us. God made promises to Abraham and he certainly accomplishes what he said he would do. That was the faith Joseph had. That was one of the reasons that Joseph was able to keep so restful amidst the trials of life.
It’s the same reason that many of you have been able to keep restful amidst the trials and troubles of your lives. You have a worldview (it’s your Weltanschauung, that delicious German word). Everybody here has a worldview. It is a number of things,
(1) a commitment you’ve made, a fundamental orientation of the heart,
(2) a set of assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false, for example, that life has no meaning, and this universe came about by a lucky chance and so we just have to go with the flow because there are no universal standards of right and wrong. That is also a world view – a false world view;
(3) it’s an attitude to life which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and
(4) it provides the foundations on which we live and move and have our being.
We Christians have a worldview, an outlook, an attitude to our lives and to this world. We are convinced that there is a living, powerful, personal God who makes promises to those who turn from unbelief and rejection of him to put their trust in him, and to those people he fulfils the promises he’s made to them. I say again that God is not a frustrated deity. He will visit his people, and help them and he will do exactly what he says that he is going to do, and Joseph’s faith in him, tried and tested fearfully but stronger than ever, was not disappointed. His family were going to go home.
iv. Joseph’s bones are going too. The words speak of an outward and visible seal on the promises Joseph has given them. His reference to his own bones is a confirmation that this is going to happen. “You keep my bones safe because one day you are going to put them in a box and take them with you when you all go back home, and I am going to be buried there.” So when children played around a tomb or maybe it was an old mummy case two hundred years later and they asked, “What’s inside there?” “Oh, that’s where we’re keeping great Joseph’s bones. One day we are going home and we are taking them with us. We are going to bury them with our fathers in Canaan.” It was a reminder to them of the fact that God was going to honour his word.
Did it happen? Let’s see. Exodus 13:19, “Moses took with him the bones of Joseph.” They’re on their way; his grandchildren haven’t forgotten what he asked them to do. Then Joshua 24:32, “Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor.”
God’s work didn’t end in one poor mummy case in Egypt! The children of Israel had put their roots into Egypt after 400 years. They were getting wealthy there, nice homes, nice land, nice network of friends there, nice abundance of water from the Nile, and nice preaching on the Sabbath too I suppose. All very nice, and so who wants to go back to the land of Canaan and start from scratch with a lot of fighting and body bags when you are doing so nicely way down in Egypt’s land, and people weren’t talking much about Joseph’s bones. They were a bit of an embarrassment, with the promise that they would be going back to Canaan and taking his bones with them. Not a lot of talk about that when things are nice, not many glances at t
he old mummy case over there with those moldering remains, the bones of Joseph.
In fact God had to do an extraordinary work to loosen them from being cemented into a nice life under the north African sun. When I was a boy many of us carried in our pockets a very plain pen-knife, or it dangled from our belts. It had one blade and one vicious spike, three inches long, and we all knew what it was for. Its purpose was to take stones out of horses’ hooves. You see we all traveled by horse when I was young . . . not! I guess it was a legacy from earlier days. I never saw such penknives being used for that purpose. But I am sure that that smooth strong spike could take any stone out of the hoof of a horse. My point is this, that God had to use a very mean and powerful instrument to loosen the children of Israel and get them out of Egypt with the bones of Joseph and back to Canaan. He used a new cruel line of Pharaohs who didn’t know Joseph or his descendants, who effectively enslaved all the children of Israel and wanted all the boy babies to be killed. That would loosen anyone from Egypt. And then God sent ten great plagues of increasing terror and destruction on Egypt until Pharaoh said to them, “Get out!” That was the fearful spike of God that caught up Joseph’s bones and they were all homeward bound.
Now, let me ask you, would it be nice if we had some bones today? Wouldn’t it be nice if we just had the bones of the Lord Jesus like Mohammed’s bones there in Medina? That seems to give the Muslims quite a bit of encouragement. They go to Medina and there they worship the bones of Mohammed. Thank of all the benefits people would get from going to venerate Jesus’ bones, the financial benefit to the tourist industry of Israel, the social benefit of the friends you’d meet on the journey. Many, it would be said, met their future husbands and wives going on a pilgrimage to look at Jesus’ old bones, and wouldn’t it help people to remember that he was a historical person, and Jesus was a preacher, and you could read his word in the Bible?
No bones! Bones of Joseph, yes, and bones of Jacob, and bones of Mohammed, but no bones of Jesus! What we have is an empty tomb though we don’t know where that is today. We have the resurrection, the assurance that our Lord Jesus Christ has come forth from the grave, and now he lives at the right hand of God the Father making intercession for all his people. No bones! It is the living Jesus Christ who meets with us by his Spirit and the same living Christ who is the Mediator with God, able to save to the uttermost those that come unto God by him. No bones of Jesus! We have a living Saviour and we have the assurance of his presence with us in all of the experiences of life, caring for us. It is a great thing to be a mere Christian. What a great encouragement it is to be a Christian when death comes. What a great blessing it is to be Christian at the death of another Christian knowing where he is going, knowing what happiness and life lies before him. If you are here today and not believing Jesus, not trusting in him then what a lot you are missing. I invite you to come to the Lord Jesus Christ who has offered the once and for all sacrifice for sinners’ pardon. It’s available and that blood will cover all of your sin. Come to him. Put your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. May God the Holy Spirit convince you of your sin and depravity and you come to him and receive forgiveness of sins freely, not by joining the church, not by doing good works, not by saying a prayer, not by being baptized, not by sitting at the Lord’s table, not by culture, not by education. Through faith in Christ alone come and receive as a free gift, the Lord Jesus. May God in his wonderful grace urge you to come.
So in those four words that Joseph wanted his family to know and heed great truths from God. In them you have the hope of the Old Testament as well as the hope of the New. You know how each of the testaments ends in hope with reference to the future. In the Old Testament, it is the hope of the coming of the Messiah. In the New Testament, it is the hope of the second coming of the Messiah, “Behold, I come quickly.”
- JOSEPH DIED.
The greatest of God’s servants must die. Charles Wesley said, “God buries his workmen but carries on his work.” He raises up new labourers and the work goes on. One of the most remarkable things in the Bible is the way in which the death of believers is described, that there’s a striking likeness between sleep and death. The reasons for that are simple.
I] First, when a man sleeps, he is living. When a man sleeps, he is resting. When a man sleeps, he expects to wake up. That’s true of every believer in Christ who dies. When he sleeps, he is living. His body is placed in the grave. The Bible doesn’t teach soul sleep. The Bible teaches body sleep. While the body is placed in the grave the spirit goes to be with the Lord. So he is alive.
II] Second, he is resting. He is resting from his labours.
III] Third, he shall have an awakening. That is, the body shall be raised from the dead, shall be made like unto the Lord Jesus Christ’s own glorious body, shall rejoin the spirit and thus for ever be with the Lord. So there is life, there is rest, there is resurrection. This is why the Bible uses the term ‘sleep,’ a Christian’s sleep being used only of believers in the New Testament. They sleep in death, others die, but we sleep.
Have you ever read Psalm 23 in the light of this? You know how that Psalm begins grammatically in the third person. It speaks of the Lord, out there, detached, ‘him’, ‘he.’ “The Lord is my shepherd. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his namesake.” It’s about him and it addresses others about him, but then something happens. David begins to talk about dying and the grammar changes. He turns away from his audience and he starts to talk personally and intimately to the Lord: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” So I confess this, that at this moment I am afraid of death, and I am not feeling ready to die tonight, but I am sure that when I or any believer come to the time when we pass from this earthy existence into the existence beyond this grave, the Lord Jesus in a special way draws near and he will escort me and all his own into his own presence. It’s a remarkable thing.
Have you ever noticed about people who sleep that they can sleep through lightening, thunder, the noise of a police siren, the neighbours next door. We used to live in Maesycwmmer in a little house right on the railway station
because Dad was a station master and for the first few days we heard the 5.30 a.m. colliers’ train coming along, stopping and starting again. Chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug. The first couple of nights we heard it. After that, I never heard it. The train was there every night, but I didn’t hear it. I slept through it all as only a teenager can sleep. Have you ever noticed a lot of people sleep just that soundly, but if their child says, “Mam” then they jump right up. That’s the way our Lord comes and speaks in death “Come on, it’s time to come home.” The personal touch of a personal Saviour; God’s servants die, but he escorts them with his rod and staff on into his presence.
Joseph died, was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. We have finally finished our journey through Genesis. It began with God creating a beautiful paradise on earth for his creatures, and it ends with dead Joseph in a coffin in Egypt, waiting and waiting for God to bring his people back to the Promised Land. Will it be Paradise? While in the grave he was waiting for God to fulfil completely his promise of land because God’s promise of land means the return of Paradise on earth. Today we are much like Joseph and the children of Israel, waiting for God to fulfil his promise of land, to restore Paradise to earth. The world of today is far from Paradise, but we should not give up hope in the coming of the new earth, where righteousness is at home, and death has no more dominion. God is sovereign to complete his plan for the cosmos through Christ his Son. Let us not give up hope. One day he will complete what he has begun and there will be a new universe full of the righteousness of Christ, a new creation, all things made new.
29th January 2012 GEOFF THOMAS