Take Me Back to Canaan
“Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here’” (Gen. 50:25).- Genesis 50
Joseph lived another eighty years after rising to prominence and authority in Egypt at age thirty (Gen. 41:46; 50:22). During this time, he brought his family to Egypt, saved the known world from famine, and increased the pharaoh’s ownership of the country (46:28–34; 47:13–26). Seventeen years after coming to Egypt, Jacob died, and Joseph fulfilled his promise to his father that he would bury him in the Promised Land (47:29–31; 49:28–50:14).
Even though Joseph had forgiven his brothers (45:1–14), they had a hard time believing it and came to him again after Jacob’s death to implore him for pardon once more (50:15–18). Joseph not only expressed his forgiveness once more at this point, but he also gave a brief exposition of the Lord’s mysterious providence, or the manner in which He governs His creation. Replying to his brothers, Joseph said, “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” (vv. 19–20). This quote encapsulates the doctrine of concurrence, or God’s way of working in the world in conjunction with the actions of human beings. In this instance, as Scripture reveals through the words of Joseph, God’s plan was to bring about a greater good, in spite of the evil motivations of his brothers. Both the Lord and the brothers were operative when Joseph was sold into Egypt, but with different intents and purposes. This is, no doubt, difficult to understand, but the Lord, who is holy and sovereign, uses the actions of mankind for His greater good, even though He Himself remains free from all evil (James 1:13–15).
After his father’s death, Joseph also made his family swear an oath to take his bones back to the Promised Land (Gen. 50:22–26). As good as Egypt was, Joseph knew a better inheritance lay ahead. In asking his family to take his remains to Canaan, Joseph revealed faith in God’s promise to give His people life when they live in gratitude for His blessing. He knew life is found only in the presence of the Lord, and that His life-giving presence exists only where God determines. Joseph hoped in the resurrection, for he knew Canaan would be the beachhead in the Lord’s campaign to take the whole earth for His kingdom — that place where His people will enjoy eternal, resurrected life (Rev. 21).
Though Joseph did not know how God would bring His people back to Canaan, he did have a lifetime of experience to testify that the Lord is always utterly faithful to His promises, even when it seems He is taking the long way around. We must likewise trust that God is with His church today (despite its lackluster faithfulness), moving us toward the day when we will see the full realization of all the good He has sworn to do.
Passages for Further Study