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Death of St. Joseph - Paolo de Matteis (1662-1728)

Genesis concludes with a narrative describing the burials of Jacob and Joseph and one last interaction between Joseph and his brothers. After Jacob died, Joseph hugged his father and wept over him. At Joseph’s direction, his physicians embalmed Jacob. This took forty days. Then the Egyptians mourned Jacob for seventy days.

After the mourning period, Joseph told Pharaoh’s royal court,

“Please tell Pharaoh that my father asked to be buried in the land of Canaan. Please allow me to go and bury my father, then I will return.”

Pharaoh allowed Joseph to bury his father as requested. Pharaoh’s officials and all Joseph’s household went with Joseph to Canaan to bury Jacob. They left the children and flocks in Goshen. It was a huge entourage.

The death of Joseph - Artist UnknownWhen they came to the threshing floor of Atad on the other side of the Jordan, they mourned there with great sorrow for seven days. When the Canaanites saw them mourning, they said, “This is a very sad occasion for the Egyptians.” This is why the name was called Abel Mizraim.

Jacob’s sons buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah near Mamre, the field Abraham purchased as a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite. Then Joseph returned to Egypt along with his brothers who had accompanied him.

Joseph’s brothers then wondered if Joseph would bear a grudge since their father was now gone. They sent word to Joseph saying,

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“Your father gave these instructions before he died. Tell Joseph this: ‘Please forgive the sin of your brothers and the wrong they did when they treated you so badly.’”

When Joseph received the message, he cried.

His brothers went to him and threw themselves down before him saying, “Here we are, we are your slaves.”

But Joseph answered them,

“Don’t be afraid. Am I God? As for your acts, you meant to harm me but God intended it for a good purpose so he could preserve the lives of many people as you see today. So don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.”

Joseph then consoled his brothers and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph lived in Egypt for the remainder of his life. He died at the age of 110 years. Joseph saw the descendants of Ephraim to the third generation. He also saw the children of Makir, the son of Manesseh. They were given special inheritance rights by Joseph.

Then Joseph told his brothers, “I am about to die. God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore an oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He said, “God will surely come to you. Then you must carry my bones up from this place.”

When Joseph died, they embalmed his body and placed it in a coffin in Egypt.

What the story means to us today

God’s plan for mankind is unchanging and unchangeable

The Death of St. Joseph - The Hermitage (1712)The central narrative here is familiar in Joseph’s storyline. His brothers intended to harm him, but God intended their actions to be for the good of Joseph. God’s plan for mankind is unchanging and unchangeable. We may never understand why dire events affect us, but we must remain faithful and recognize God’s plan is not always understandable to us. We should continue to trust God and believe he has our best interests in mind. As Romans 8:28 tells us, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Additional thoughts and considerations

Joseph comforts his brothers

When Joseph’s brothers fear he will turn on them after their father’s death, they tell him about Jacob’s dying wish that they be forgiven. Joseph admits that their intent was to harm him but holds no anger in his heart towards his brothers. In fact, to ease their fear, Joseph comforts them.

The closeness of the Twelve Tribes becomes evident here. Going forward, the members of the tribes will remain in exile together, working together, and waiting to be returned to the promised land.

“Speak to the Pharaoh for me”

The scriptures tell us Joseph approached the Pharaoh’s court, not Pharaoh himself. Joseph told them, “If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me.” It is not clear why Joseph did not speak to Pharaoh directly. Egyptian funerary practices were complex and involved rituals, magic spells, collection of personal items to send with the dead, etc. Their practices continued to evolve over time to become even more complex. It is likely Joseph did not speak to Pharaoh directly because it was a period of Egyptian ritual uncleanliness following the death of Joseph’s father.

The “threshing floor of Atad”

The scripture says when Joseph and the funeral procession “reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father.” Atad is only mentioned here, in Genesis 50:10. The word means “mourning of Egypt” or “meadow of Egypt”. Its location and significance are unknown.

Where was Joseph buried?

The verses say “after they embalmed him, Joseph was placed in a coffin in Egypt.” Embalming and coffins were distinctly Egyptian funerary practices and would have taken place in Egypt. However, Joshua 24:32 says, “Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor.” It is possible that Joseph’s body was placed in a coffin in Egypt and then delivered to Shechem or taken to Shechem at a much later date.

The science and history behind the story

Egyptian funerary practices

Greek historians Herodotus (500 BC) and Diodorus Siculus (100 BC) provide the most complete description of Egyptian funeral practices. Their writings confirm earlier Egyptian sources and the events described in the Bible. When a person died in Egypt, especially if they held a high status, their faces were covered in mud and the body paraded around the city. Then the body was embalmed, usually within a day or two after death.

After embalming, a funeral procession took the body to its final resting place using a sled-like carrier to transport the body. At the tomb, the deceased person’s head was turned toward the south and the mouth opened, symbolizing a person’s ability to defend themselves at final judgement. Goods and other items were then placed on and around the body and the tomb sealed.

Notes on Biblical translation

“Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten”

St. Joseph's Happy Death - Unknown ArtistThe verses say, “So Joseph died at the age of 110.” Joseph may not have died at precisely 110 years old. His forefathers lived much longer: Jacob, 147 years, Isaac, 180 years, and Abraham, 175 years. The phrase “110 years” was considered the ideal lifespan in ancient Egypt. It was often used in an honorary manner, not to indicate a person’s true age.

Bible Text

NIV

50 Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. 2 Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, 3 taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

4 When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, “If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, 5 ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’ ”

6 Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”

7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt—8 besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. 9 Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.

10 When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father. 11 When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.” That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim.

12 So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them: 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 14 After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

22 Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years 23 and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees.

24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.”

26 So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

50:1 Then Joseph hugged his father’s face. He wept over him and kissed him. 50:2 Joseph instructed the physicians in his service to embalm his father, so the physicians embalmed Israel. 50:3 They took forty days, for that is the full time needed for embalming. The Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

50:4 When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s royal court, “If I have found favor in your sight, please say to Pharaoh, 50:5 ‘My father made me swear an oath. He said, “I am about to die. Bury me in my tomb that I dug for myself there in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go and bury my father; then I will return.’ ” 50:6 So Pharaoh said, “Go and bury your father, just as he made you swear to do.”

50:7 So Joseph went up to bury his father; all Pharaoh’s officials went with him—the senior courtiers of his household, all the senior officials of the land of Egypt, 50:8 all Joseph’s household, his brothers, and his father’s household. But they left their little children and their flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. 50:9 Chariots and horsemen also went up with him, so it was a very large entourage.

50:10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad on the other side of the Jordan, they mourned there with very great and bitter sorrow. There Joseph observed a seven day period of mourning for his father. 50:11 When the Canaanites who lived in the land saw them mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a very sad occasion for the Egyptians.” That is why its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.

50:12 So the sons of Jacob did for him just as he had instructed them. 50:13 His sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, near Mamre. This is the field Abraham purchased as a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite. 50:14 After he buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, along with his brothers and all who had accompanied him to bury his father.

50:15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge and wants to repay us in full for all the harm we did to him?” 50:16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave these instructions before he died: 50:17 ‘Tell Joseph this: Please forgive the sin of your brothers and the wrong they did when they treated you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sin of the servants of the God of your father.” When this message was reported to him, Joseph wept. 50:18 Then his brothers also came and threw themselves down before him; they said, “Here we are; we are your slaves.” 50:19 But Joseph answered them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 50:20 As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. 50:21 So now, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.” Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them.

50:22 Joseph lived in Egypt, along with his father’s family. Joseph lived 110 years. 50:23 Joseph saw the descendants of Ephraim to the third generation. He also saw the children of Makir the son of Manasseh; they were given special inheritance rights by Joseph.

50:24 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to you and lead you up from this land to the land he swore on oath to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 50:25 Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He said, “God will surely come to you. Then you must carry my bones up from this place.” 50:26 So Joseph died at the age of 110. After they embalmed him, his body was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The Death of Saint Joseph - Artist UnknownBiblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

50 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him, and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 Forty days were required for him, for such are the days required for those who are embalmed; and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

4 Now when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the hearing of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “Behold, I am dying; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me.” Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father, and I will come back.’ ”

6 And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear.”

7 So 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, 8 as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house. Only their little ones, their flocks, and their herds they left in the land of Goshen. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen, and it was a very great gathering.

10 Then they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and they mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation. He observed seven days of mourning for his father. 11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.” Therefore its name was called Abel Mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan.

12 So his sons did for him just as he had commanded them. 13 For his sons carried him to the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as property for a burial place. 14 And after he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers and all who went up with him to bury his father.

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.” 16 So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, 17 ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” ’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

18 Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

22 So Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s household. And Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. 23 Joseph saw Ephraim’s children to the third generation. The children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were also brought up on Joseph’s knees.

24 And Joseph said to his brethren, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

1 50 Joseph threw himself on his father, wept over him, and kissed him.

2–3 Joseph then instructed the physicians in his employ to embalm his father. The physicians embalmed Israel. The embalming took forty days, the period required for embalming. There was public mourning by the Egyptians for seventy days.

4–5 When the period of mourning was completed, Joseph petitioned Pharaoh’s court: “If you have reason to think kindly of me, present Pharaoh with my request: My father made me swear, saying, ‘I am ready to die. Bury me in the grave plot that I prepared for myself in the land of Canaan.’ Please give me leave to go up and bury my father. Then I’ll come back.”

6 Pharaoh said, “Certainly. Go and bury your father as he made you promise under oath.”

7–9 So Joseph left to bury his father. And all the high-ranking officials from Pharaoh’s court went with him, all the dignitaries of Egypt, joining Joseph’s family—his brothers and his father’s family. Their children and flocks and herds were left in Goshen. Chariots and horsemen accompanied them. It was a huge funeral procession.

10 Arriving at the Atad Threshing Floor just across the Jordan River, they stopped for a period of mourning, letting their grief out in loud and lengthy lament. For seven days, Joseph engaged in these funeral rites for his father.

11 When the Canaanites who lived in that area saw the grief being poured out at the Atad Threshing Floor, they said, “Look how deeply the Egyptians are mourning.” That is how the site at the Jordan got the name Abel Mizraim (Egyptian Lament).

12–13 Jacob’s sons continued to carry out his instructions to the letter. They took him on into Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah facing Mamre, the field that Abraham had bought as a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite.

14–15 After burying his father, Joseph went back to Egypt. All his brothers who had come with him to bury his father returned with him. After the funeral, Joseph’s brothers talked among themselves: “What if Joseph is carrying a grudge and decides to pay us back for all the wrong we did him?”

16–17 So they sent Joseph a message, “Before his death, your father gave this command: Tell Joseph, ‘Forgive your brothers’ sin—all that wrongdoing. They did treat you very badly.’ Will you do it? Will you forgive the sins of the servants of your father’s God?”

When Joseph received their message, he wept.

18 Then the brothers went in person to him, threw themselves on the ground before him and said, “We’ll be your slaves.”

19–21 Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.” He reassured them, speaking with them heart-to-heart.

22–23 Joseph continued to live in Egypt with his father’s family. Joseph lived 110 years. He lived to see Ephraim’s sons into the third generation. The sons of Makir, Manasseh’s son, were also recognized as Joseph’s.

24 At the end, Joseph said to his brothers, “I am ready to die. God will most certainly pay you a visit and take you out of this land and back to the land he so solemnly promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel promise under oath, “When God makes his visitation, make sure you take my bones with you as you leave here.”

26 Joseph died at the age of 110 years. They embalmed him and placed him in a coffin in Egypt.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

50 And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 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. 4 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, 5 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. 6 And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear. 7 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, 8 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. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company. 10 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. 11 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 Abel-mizraim, which is beyond Jordan. 12 And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them: 13 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. 14 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.

15 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. 16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, 17 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. 18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. 19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 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. 21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

22 And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father’s house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years. 23 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. 24 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. 25 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. 26 So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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