My real home
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 - besides all the members of Joseph’s household and those belonging to his father’s household. (Genesis 50:7-8, NIV)
Right at the end of the book of Genesis comes the account of an extraordinary expedition from Egypt to Canaan in the eighteenth century BC. It’s to bury Jacob, also known as Israel, the father of the nation which bears his name. Jacob has spent his final years in Egypt, where he’s gone down to escape the famine in his homeland. But he has made his son Joseph promise to bury him with his ancestors in Canaan, in the tomb of his grandfather Abraham.
So when Jacob dies, a huge party of mourners - both Egyptian and Israelite - makes the 400 mile journey to Canaan to bury him. He is interred in the very cave Abraham had bought, near Hebron. It’s like a prequel of the great Exodus of Israel centuries later.
Why’s this story in the Bible? With the Bible’s narrative passages, you have to use the context to work out the message God wants us to get.
This is a story about where home is, and where God’s people really belong. Joseph has been rejected by his brothers and sent down to Egypt, but there God raises him to a position of great power, where he’s able to save his brothers from a famine. They are marvellously delivered, but the message of the final chapters is that the story cannot and must not end there: they are in Egypt rather than the promised land of Canaan.
And Jacob knows it. Despite the obvious attractions of life in Egypt, in the final chapters of Genesis Jacob is at pains to tell his family that Canaan is their real home. He gives his grandsons born in Egypt an inheritance in Canaan. He chooses Canaan for his grave - rather than (we might suggest!) the Valley of the Kings. And Joseph swears to take him.
The strong emphasis on “Canaan, not Egypt” makes most sense if the book of Genesis dates - as traditionally understood - from the time of Moses. For then, too, the Israelites were journeying from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. Many times, they were tempted to go back to Egypt. But they needed to know that God had promised them this land - and would surely give it to them. It was the place of flourishing He intended for them - they were going home!
And this message still speaks to God’s people in Christ today. The New Testament - particularly the letter to the Hebrews - sees Canaan as the place of God’s rest, the heavenly country, the life of the world to come promised to those who belong to Jesus. We need to remember that this is our place of real belonging as we make our pilgrimage through what John Bunyan called “the wilderness of this world.” When we land safe on Canaan’s side, we truly come home. This is where to fix our hopes!
We’ll cover the other remarkable teaching of Genesis chapter 50 in Sunday’s 5pm service.
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