Genesis 50
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 50 (J, P, E.)

  1–13.  The mourning for Jacob and his burial.

  14–21.  Joseph and his brethren.

  22–26.  Joseph’s death.

With the exception of Genesis 50:12-13, which are from P, this chapter contains the narrative of J and E. Genesis 50:1-11; Genesis 50:14 (J) follow upon Genesis 47:29-31 (Joseph being the prominent person); Genesis 50:12-13 (P) follow upon Genesis 49:29-33 (Jacob’s sons collectively acting together); Genesis 50:15-26, from E.

And Joseph fell upon his father's face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.
1. And Joseph] For Joseph’s strong affection for his father, cf. Genesis 45:3, Genesis 46:29.

And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.
2. the physicians] LXX οἱ ἐνταφιασταί; Lat. medici. By this expression we should probably understand “the guild of embalmers” (ταριχευταί, Herod. ii. 86), a large and influential class in Egypt, who, with an expert knowledge of the body and of drugs, practised embalming almost as a fine art.

to embalm] Embalming was carried out to great perfection in Egypt. It was supposed that the soul, or ka, would return to inhabit the body. The mummy was the body ready for occupation. See Budge, The Mummy (1893).

And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed: and the Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days.
3. forty days] Herod. ii. 86 mentions 70 days, and Diodorus (i. 72) mentions 72 days as the time required for the process of embalming.

threescore and ten days] It is here specially mentioned in honour of Jacob, that the Egyptian nation mourned him for 70 days.

The period of mourning for Aaron and for Moses was 30 days (Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 34:8). In later historic times the period of mourning for the dead was seven days (cf. 1 Samuel 31:13; Job 2:13; Sir 22:12; Jdt 16:24).

And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found grace in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying,
4. unto the house of Pharaoh] Joseph does not speak to Pharaoh personally, but to the court officials. As a mourner, he is unclean and would not be permitted to approach Pharaoh.

My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come again.
5. have digged] or, bought. Both meanings are possible. LXX and Lat. favour “digged.” Syr. Pesh. and Targ. Onk. favour “bought.” The word in the Hebrew appears for “to buy” in Deuteronomy 2:6, and for “to dig” in Genesis 26:25. It has been objected that, in the case of Jacob, neither meaning is appropriate to Machpelah (Genesis 47:30), and that this passage refers to some other grave, e.g. that of Rachel (see note on Genesis 48:7). But it is unreasonable to press this objection. Joseph’s report of Jacob’s words might well imply, that either Jacob or his forefathers had thus provided a burial-place. Moreover, he might possibly have hewn out a burial-place for himself in the rock of the cave. On the whole, “digged” seems more appropriate than “bought.” The language is not explicit enough to throw light upon the possibly independent legend of a burial-place, where Rachel was buried (Genesis 48:7). The tradition of a “purchase” of ground by Jacob is connected with Shechem (see Genesis 33:19; cf. Acts 7:16), but not with a burial-place.

I will come again] Joseph is anxious to assure his master, Pharaoh, that he is not going treacherously to leave the Egyptian service.

And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear.
And Joseph went up to bury his father: and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt,
7. all the servants of Pharaoh] The very ample description of the Egyptian attendants at the funeral of Jacob is evidently intended (cf. Genesis 50:3) to impress the Israelite reader with the thought that Jacob, the father of their people, had been buried with royal honours by the Egyptians. “Went up,” cf. Genesis 50:5-6; Genesis 50:9. See Genesis 12:6, Genesis 42:38, “go down” to Egypt.

And all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father's house: only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen.
And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company.
9. chariots and horsemen] A strange element in a burial procession, and one which it would be hard to illustrate from the records of Egypt. Possibly, we are intended to consider them in the light of a guard for the protection of the procession travelling into Canaan.

On “chariots” and “horses” in Egypt, see Genesis 47:17.

And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation: and he made a mourning for his father seven days.
10. the threshing-floor of Atad] Goren-ha-Atad, a threshing-floor of “the thornbush,” or “bramble” (Jdg 9:14-15). The place is nowhere else referred to.

beyond Jordan] By this expression is generally meant “on the east side of Jordan.” If so, we must suppose that for some reason the burial company leaving Egypt travelled round the southern extremity of the Dead Sea. But this appears extremely improbable. The traditional burial-place of Jacob was at Machpelah. No Israelite could suppose that, even for the purpose of doing honour to Jacob, it would have been necessary to go round into trans-Jordanic territory. Winckler conjectures that the original reading was “on the other side of the river” (viz. “the River of Egypt,” or ‘El-Arîsh, the boundary of Egypt and Canaan, cf. Numbers 34:5; 1 Kings 8:65), and that this was carelessly altered by the error of a scribe to the more familiar phrase “beyond Jordan.” Whether this conjecture be accepted or not, the present text is unintelligible. It is very unlikely that any legend would have arisen connecting Jacob’s burial-place with the eastern bank of the Jordan.

seven days] See note on Genesis 50:3. “Lamentation” (cf. Genesis 23:2), i.e. the Oriental custom of “wailing” for the dead.

And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians: wherefore the name of it was called Abelmizraim, which is beyond Jordan.
11. Abel-mizraim] This was popularly rendered “Egypt mourns,” cf. LXX πένθος Αἰγύπτου; Lat. planctus Egypti, but its true meaning would be “the meadow of Egypt, or “of the Egyptians.” In all probability, this name recalled some incident in the days of the Egyptian sovereignty over Palestine; and, when that had faded out of recollection, the name was popularly connected with the traditional mourning of the Egyptians for Jacob, on account of the similarity in sound between ’âbêl = “field” and ’êbel = “mourning.” For other place-names beginning with Abel, cf. Abel-cheramim (Jdg 11:33), Abel of Beth-maacah (2 Samuel 20:15).

beyond Jordan] The place was identified by Jerome with “Beth-Hoglah,” the modern Ain Haglah, south of Jericho. But the identification rests on no proof. The mention of the trans-Jordanic region presents the same difficulty here as in Genesis 50:10.

12, 13 (P). And his sons] The account of Jacob’s burial, according to P, is given in these two verses. They are quite distinct from the preceding narrative, and follow directly upon Genesis 49:33. Observe that, in P, no Egyptians, but only Jacob’s sons, carried him to the burying-place of Machpelah.

And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them:
For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.
And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.
And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.
14–21. Joseph and his Brethren

15. It may be … hate us] Lit. “supposing Joseph were to hate us.” LXX μή ποτε μνησικακήσῃ ἡμῖν Ἰωσήφ. Joseph’s brethren fear lest, Jacob being dead, Joseph will no longer restrain his desire for revenge.

requite] Their conscience cannot leave them alone. Cf. their fear in Genesis 42:28, Genesis 44:16, Genesis 45:3.

And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,
16. sent a message] Lit. “charged” (Lat. mandaverunt), the same word as in Genesis 49:29, in the sense of “commissioned,” persons to go to Joseph. LXX παρεγένοντο and Syr. Pesh. follow a different reading, “they drew near unto.” Perhaps the original text contained the delegation of two or three brothers to go unto Joseph.

Thy father did command] An unrecorded dying charge.

So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.
17. the God of thy father] Cf. Genesis 49:26. They call themselves “the servants of the God of thy father,” as if it constituted a stronger appeal than “the sons of thy father.” They and Joseph serve one God.

Joseph wept] Cf. note on Genesis 45:1.

And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.
18. his brethren also went] These words agree with the sending of a message (Genesis 50:16), but hardly with the words of Genesis 50:17, “when they spake unto him.”

fell down] A final reminiscence of Joseph’s dreams, Genesis 37:7; Genesis 37:10.

And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?
19. am I in the place of God] i.e. “am I the person to punish for wrongdoing? God alone knows the hearts.” LXX mistakes the meaning, τοῦ γὰρ θεοῦ ἐγὼ εἰμί = “for do I belong to God”; Lat. Numbers Dei possumus resistere voluntati. Symmachus is correct, μὴ γὰρ ἀντὶ θεοῦ εἰμι ἐγώ. Cf. the occurrence of the same words in Genesis 30:2 and 2 Kings 5:7.

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
20. meant] i.e. devised or purposed. Joseph here, as in Genesis 45:7, points to the Divine purpose behind the petty schemes and wrong-doings of men.

as it is this day] According to P’s chronology (Genesis 47:28) the famine was long past. Here, however, in E’s narrative, it is evidently still raging; as is shewn also, in the next verse, by the words “I will nourish you.” The E narrative, therefore, must have recorded Jacob’s death as occurring not long after his arrival in Egypt.

Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.
21. nourish you] Cf. Genesis 45:11, Genesis 47:12.

kindly] Heb. to their heart. So LXX: cf. Genesis 34:3. The Latin gives the sense blande ac leniter.

And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father's house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years.
22–26. Death of Joseph

22. an hundred and ten years] See Joshua 24:29. Attention has been called to passages in Egyptian records, in which this age is described as the ideal span of life.

And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph's knees.
23. of the third generation] Ephraim’s children “of the third generation” might mean his great-grandchildren; cf. Exodus 34:7. But in Exodus 20:5, Numbers 14:18, the third generation are the grandchildren, the grandparents being reckoned as the first. If this way of reckoning be here followed, Ephraim represents the first generation, and his grandchildren the third. This is also favoured by the next clause, which mentions Manasseh’s grand-children. Joseph, therefore, lived to see his great-grandchildren. On this token of blessing, see Psalm 128:6; Proverbs 13:22; Proverbs 17:6.

Machir] The name of one of the leading branches of the tribe of Manasseh; cf. Numbers 32:39; Deuteronomy 3:15; Joshua 13:31; Joshua 17:1; 1 Chronicles 7:14. From these passages it appears that the family of Machir occupied Gilead: while in Jdg 5:14 Machir takes rank with the tribes of Israel.

upon Joseph’s knees] A phrase denoting that Joseph, as head of the family, acknowledged and adopted the children. See note on Genesis 30:3, and cf. Job 3:12, Isaiah 66:12, and Homer, Od. xix. 401.

And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
24. will surely visit you] The visitation of God in a gracious and merciful sense, as in Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:31; cf. Luke 1:68, “He hath visited and redeemed his people.” “Bring you up,” cf. Genesis 15:16, Genesis 28:15, Genesis 46:4.

which he sware, &c.] Cf. Genesis 22:16, Genesis 26:3, Genesis 28:13.

Observe how the patriarchal narrative is closing with the promise of redemption, and with the renewal of the oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.
25. Joseph took an oath] The fulfilment of this oath and Joseph’s burial at Shechem, in the land of Ephraim, are duly recorded in Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32. For these dying words of Joseph, cf. Hebrews 11:22, “by faith Joseph, when his end was nigh, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.” As Jacob, his father, had done, Joseph forewarns his kindred that the day of the Exodus would come.

So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
26. they embalmed him] See Genesis 50:2. Lat. conditus aromatibus.

in a coffin] LXX ἐν τῇ σορῷ; Lat. in loculo. The Hebrew word ârôn is the same as that rendered “ark” (of the covenant). Here it undoubtedly means the mummy case, or sarcophagus, in which the body, having been embalmed, was deposited. Joseph’s mummy was carried up out of Egypt by Moses, Exodus 13:19.

The peaceful death of Joseph and the preparation of his body for removal to Canaan close the Narrative of the Patriarchs.

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