Saturday, January 7, 2012

Genesis 47:28 - 50:26

“Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; they embalmed him and he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.”(50:26). The one who had saved all his family and a host of other nations has ultimately met the only one over whom he could have had no influence or power. As with the contemporary action-movie and its promise of a sequel, the reader is confident that even though an ancient Hebrew hero has been defeated, the story has yet to find its close.
To use a modern film, The Empire Strikes Back, with its closing scene of a hero being encapsulated in a coffin (of a science-fiction sort), brings its image to the closing scene of the life of Joseph---one that conveys a promise that will “God will surely visit you...” On an initial reading, this might seem a disappointing end for the magnificent first book of the Torah. Rabbinic commentators do not say a great deal about it, perhaps reflecting some embarrassment over Joseph’s embalming, since later Jewish law would forbid it. Likewise, Christian commentators often see the conclusion of Genesis as negative, suggesting the hopelessness of the human condition apart from Divine redemption.
The Letter to the Messianic Jews (Hebrews) however provides the key to understanding this conclusion: “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, made mention of the exodus of B’nei-Israel and gave instructions about his bones.”(Tree of Life translation, Hebrews 11:22).
The coffin in Egypt becomes an emblem of hope, a sure sign that this story is not over yet. Joseph “made mention of the departing of the children of Israel,” telling them twice that God would “surely visit” them and bring them up out of Egypt (50:24-25). God promises redemption and Joseph believes that promise.
As Genesis concludes, then, we may believe that we have only to wait for the sequel, when the promise will surely be fulfilled. We might think that the route from the coffin in Egypt to redemption is all in God’s hand, but actually, the actors in this drama must provide a crucial element themselves. The sequel will be another step on the way from Creation to Completion, the overall theme of all the Torah and therefore will require human participation.
Our participation involves several steps. The first is a simple cry to God for relief. Another comes in response to the promises revealed in Scripture. A third level responds to the fulfillment of those promises in Messiah Yeshua. We still await the World to Come, but in Messiah, the spirit of God is at work among us, here and now. Joseph’s coffin in Egypt becomes, therefore, not a picture of defeat but a promise of resurrection, a promise already realized in Messiah Yeshua and guaranteed to us, his followers.
Genesis began as an account of creation, which, early in the narrative, included the plan for its completion. As in the Garden of Eden expulsion and our loss of a close relationship with God, so now with the coffin in Egypt---the promises of God remain.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, your summary has led me into an additional thought. Though Yosef had spent 93 of his 110 years in Egypt, he had not become Egyptian. It was never his home. He desired to go back to the Land of Promise. Should that not also be our hope? Where we are right now or whenever this portion of our lives is complete is not our home. We have The Faithful One Who will bring us out with a trump (shofar). Oh, what a glorious event that will be.