Joseph Keeps His Pledge

“Pharaoh answered, ‘Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear’” (Gen. 50:6).  

- Genesis 50:4–6

Joseph does not call upon the special class of professional embalmers found in ancient Egypt to preserve his father’s body. Instead, he asks his physicians to embalm Jacob (Gen. 50:2), a process in which the internal organs are removed and the body is wrapped with spices. It is not entirely clear why Joseph turns to physicians and not the full-time embalmers to accomplish this task. One likely possibility is that these doctors would preserve the body without performing the usual magical rites that accompanied embalming. In any case, the process takes the customary forty days to complete, and it is probably coextensive with the seventy days of mourning (v. 3).

Moses again shows us Joseph’s faithfulness to his father in today’s passage. In accordance with his oath to bury Jacob in the Promised Land (47:29–31; 49:28–33), Joseph goes before “the household of Pharaoh” to secure the king’s leave to keep his promise to Jacob (50:4). Note that he does not go before the pharaoh himself; rather, he approaches the household, a shorthand way of saying that Joseph addresses the king through some court officials. Perhaps, one commentator notes, there were traditions associated with mourning that made it impossible for Joseph to approach the pharaoh directly.

Jacob’s favorite son is deferential when speaking with the king. His conditional statement, “If now I have found favor,” is designed to communicate the gravity and importance of the request. Joseph implies here that his stewardship should give him enough standing in Pharaoh’s eyes to have his wish granted. Moreover, Joseph leaves out Jacob’s plea that he not be interred in the land of the Nile (47:29–31) as well as his desire to lay with his ancestors (49:28–33), most likely because he did not want the pharaoh to doubt his loyalty to Egypt. Joseph pledges to return to Egypt and stresses that Jacob belonged in the tomb he labored to prepare to assuage any fears the king might have. Therefore, Pharaoh grants his request (50:5–6).

Though an adult himself, Joseph remains committed to honoring his father by honoring his godly plea for burial in Canaan. May we all likewise be committed to respecting our elders (Deut. 5:16).

Coram Deo

As we grow older and leave our parents it can be hard to understand what it means to honor our father and mother (Ex. 20:12). Still, this command does not become null and void once we no longer live in our parents’ household. We are still obligated to respect them and seek to fulfill their godly requests. We may honor our father and mother by endeavoring to spend time with them, learning from them, and doing what they ask us to do.

Passages for Further Study

Prov. 23:22–25
Luke 2:41–52
Eph. 6:1
1 Tim. 5:1–8

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