Reflections on Genesis 49-50

Genesis 47:6: “… Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land.”

Genesis 49:29-30: 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, 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.

Better to be buried in a small cave in the promised land than in the best land in all of Egypt.

How inconvenient would this be – to carry a dead body through the desert in a time of famine; to bring all those people; to weep for forty days? Does it matter?


Genesis 49:33: When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

The idiom “was gathered to his people” is a way of talking about death. What does it say about belief in the afterlife?


Genesis 50:15-17 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.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘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.

  • Afraid to face their brother directly, they send a messenger to deliver fabricated words.
  • Their consciences are still loaded with guilt
  • They feared that Joseph’s care was only for them because of their father.
  • Joseph sees through the lie immediately and is grieved.

Aren’t we like the brothers? When we sin against God and feel grief we fear that God’s forgiveness may somehow be less than genuine. We bring fabricated words in an attempt to secure, if it were possible, more forgiveness. Is Christ grieved over this? Doesn’t He see through this? Was His work insufficient to secure a full pardon?

Read the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne:

I feel when I have sinned an immediate reluctance to go to Christ. I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would not do to go, as if it were making Christ the minister of sin, to go straight from the swine-trough to the best robe, and a thousand other excuses. But I am persuaded they are all lies direct from hell.

John argues the opposite way—‘If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father.’ The holy sensitiveness of the soul that shrinks from the touch of sin, the acute susceptibility of the conscience at the slightest shade of guilt, will of necessity draw the spiritual mind frequently to the blood of Jesus. And herein lies the secret of a heavenly walk. Acquaint yourself with it, my reader, as the most precious secret of your life. He who lives in the habit of a prompt and minute acknowledgement of sin, with his eye reposing calmly, believingly, upon the crucified Redeemer, soars in spirit where the eagle’s pinion [wings] range not.


Genesis 50:18-21: His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

  1. Their bowing down is an ironic fulfillment of Joseph’s original dream in Genesis 37. Not irony in sheer coincidence, but dramatic irony: the very actions they took to stop the dream from coming about were the actions that ensured that the dream would be fulfilled.
  2. Joseph doesn’t punish them because they don’t deserve it, or because they have children, or because dad wouldn’t want him to, or any other “horizontal” reason. Joseph doesn’t punish his brothers because that judgment belongs to God alone. “… am I in the place of God?” See also Joseph’s reason for not sleeping with Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:9 – “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” – and how he interprets dreams in Genesis 40:8 – “Do not interpretations belong to God?”. Joseph’s view of reality, the lenses that he sees all things through, is that everything is in reference to God. Joseph thinks of all things “vertically”.
  3. Man being in the place of God is the heart of folly and arrogance. God being in the place of man is the heart of grace and mercy.
  4. God ultimately overrides human sin, evil, and catastrophe for His glory and our good.

Genesis 50:20 is a succinct definition of the doctrine of providence. We are not subject to fate, futility, chance, or blind luck. History moves on towards a single purpose with God sovereignly orchestrating events. We may often wonder why a particular evil has happened – God has not promised to nor is He required to answer us in this way. But when we wonder if good can come out of evil God has answered definitively at the cross. See Acts 2:23, Acts 4:27-28.


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