Monday, June 13, 2011

Genesis 49:29-33 Jacob's Last Moments

"Then he gave them these instructions:

'I am about to be gathered to my people.
  Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite,
the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan,
There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried,
there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried,
and there I buried Leah.
The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.'

When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people."  (Genesis 49:29-33 NIV)

Joseph had been notified that his father was ill, and had come to his bedside.  Apparently he realized that his father was not long for this world, for he brought his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along as well.  When Joseph arrived, Jacob had "...rallied his strength and sat up on the bed." (Genesis 48:2 NIV)

Jacob had adopted Joseph's two sons as his own, and had revealed that Ephraim would have preeminence over his brother Manasseh, who was the firstborn of Joseph's sons.  Both, however, would share in the blessings promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob himself.

Then Jacob had blessed each of his sons individually, giving a prophetic picture of the characteristics of each tribe which would spring from the twelve brothers.  For some of the tribes, some of the main events in the tribe's future were outlined.

Now, Jacob gives his sons instructions as to the burial of his body.  He commands them to bury him in the family burial cave which Abraham had purchased from the Hittites.  He gives very specific directions as to the location of the field and cave which Abraham had purchased.

Although Jacob had been living in the land of Egypt for about seventeen years (Genesis 47:28), he had never forgotten that his real home was in the land of Canaan which God had promised to his grandfather Abraham.  Actually, some time earlier, when Jacob realized that he was nearly about to die, he had made Joseph promise that he would bury his body in the place where his grandfather and father were buried. (Genesis 47:2-31).  Now Jacob repeats these instructions in the presence of all the brothers.

I do not think that this is simply so that they will carry out his last wishes.  If Jacob were to be buried in Egypt, it would be easy for his descendants to remain in Egypt indefinitely.  It would be very difficult for them to leave their ancestor's body behind and go to a place which most of them had never seen before.  Perhaps they would have even begun worshiping Egypt's 'gods' eventually.  Instead, Jacob wants them to bury him in the land of Canaan, for that place, not Egypt, is the land which was promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.  In this way, even Jacob's burial place would testify to his descendants as to the place where they should be living, and the One whom they should be worshiping.

After giving his instructions, Jacob/Israel gathers his feet back up into the bed and calmly breathes his last breath.  There is something very poignant about Jacob's last moments.  He has had a rather turbulent life, much of which is because of his own doing.  However, he has grown in faith and come to rely upon "the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel" (Genesis 49:24) entirely for his needs.  Even now, as Jacob dies, he looks with eyes of faith for that Shepherd to continue to lead him -- not into oblivion -- but to be gathered into the company of his people.  

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