1 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 it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.
4 And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” 6 And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” 7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8 as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him 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 at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. – Genesis 50:1-13 ESV
Jacob’s last dying wish was for his body to be taken back to Canaan and placed in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, the land purchased by Abraham as a burial plot for his wife, Sarah (Genesis23:10-20). That land had remained in the possession of Abraham’s descendants and became the official family burial plot, containing the bones of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and his second wife, Leah. His first wife, Rachel, had been buried near Bethlehem, not long after Jacob’s return from Mesopotamia.
Now, it was time for Jacob’s bones to be placed alongside those of his deceased family members. So, Joseph sent news to Pharaoh, informing him of his father’s passing and requesting a leave of absence from his official administrative duties so that he might return to Canaan and bury his father. Pharaoh graciously agreed to Joseph’s request, but nearly two-and-a-half months would pass before Joseph was ready to make the long journey home.
Joseph ordered his personal physicians to prepare his father’s body for burial, using the traditional Egyptian method of embalmment, which most likely included mummification. The elaborate and laborious process of embalmment took 40 days to complete but would have properly preserved the body of Jacob for its long journey back to Canaan. And Jacob’s return trip back to the land of promise would be radically different than the one he had made 17 years earlier. On that occasion, his small entourage had consisted of only 70 family members, and he had come in fear and trembling, an insignificant Hebrew in hopes of saving his family from famine.
But this trip was marked by pomp and circumstance. In death, Jacob was treated like a king and given a royal funeral procession fitting for a Pharaoh. In fact, the people of Egypt showed their deep respect for Jacob by mourning his death for 70 days, one day less than they would have mourned the death of a Pharaoh. And when the time came to make the journey back to Canaan, Joseph and his brothers were accompanied by a host of Egyptian officials and dignitaries.
So Joseph went up to bury his father. He was accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s officials, all the senior members of Pharaoh’s household, and all the senior officers of Egypt. Joseph also took his entire household and his brothers and their households. But they left their little children and flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. A great number of chariots and charioteers accompanied Joseph. – Genesis 50:7-9 NLT
This strange scene seems to foreshadow a number of significant events in Israel’s future, and the original readers of Moses’ book would have made at least one of the connections. The audience to whom Moses addressed his historical narrative were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, at the time they read this chronology of their own history, they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, having been delivered by God from their 400-year captivity in Egypt. And they would have seen the similarities between their exodus from Egypt and that of Jacob’s elaborate funeral procession. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded the day when the people of Israel walked out of Egypt as free men.
When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.
Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:17-19 NLT
That too had been a funeral procession, but it had also been a celebratory occasion, as the people of Israel walked out a mighty army prepared for battle. Estimates are, that over the four centuries they had been in Egypt, they had multiplied greatly so that when they left, they were probably well over a million in number. Moses indicates that there were “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). And they didn’t go alone.
A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:38 NLT
Not only that, but the Israelites left Egypt loaded down with great wealth, provided to them by the Egyptians, but according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.
The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth! – Exodus 12:36 NLT
The funeral procession of Jacob foreshadowed the exodus of the people of Israel, an event that would take place more than four centuries later.
But there is a second event foreshadowed by Jacob’s funeral that Moses’ readers would not have recognized because it had not yet happened. And that will be the future exaltation and reverent treatment that an offspring of Jacob will one day receive. Jesus, as a descendant of Jacob, will also be shown great honor and respect. But it will not be because of His passing, but it will be due to His long-awaited second coming. According to the apostle Paul, even after Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection, He was afforded great honor and glory.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV
But the day is coming when Jesus will return and be afforded even greater honor as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul discussed this reality in his letter to the believers in Rome.
For the Scriptures say,
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” – Romans 14:11 NLT
Jacob was honored in death. But Jesus will be honored in life. As a descendant of Abraham, born through the tribe of Judah (one of the sons of Jacob), Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to produce a king from Jacob’s family tree.
“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.” – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV
And that King will one day rule over the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal kingdom which will descend from heaven to earth, and all the nations of the earth will honor the one true King in his never-ending kingdom.
I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. – Revelation 21:22-27 NLT
So, there is far more to Jacob’s death and funeral than meets the eye. Like the rest of the story of his life, it is a representation of God’s sovereign will and providential provision for His people. Jacob’s death was not the end, but only the beginning of great things yet to come.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.