We come to the end of Jacob’s life. His sons fulfill the promise made by Joseph and bury him with his fathers in Canaan.
Jacob knows his time is ending right away. The blessings/prophecies he just gave his sons are his dying declarations. He also has one final wish, which he has already sworn Joseph to uphold. Now he shares that one final request with the rest of his sons. They will all be part of the fulfillment of that promise.
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All the sons of Jacob have gathered by his bedside. The room is overly warm to offer comfort to their father. This is a private time between a father and his sons. Everyone else had left at Jacob’s command.
Jacob is spent. He has just finished giving each of his sons a blessing that is personal to them. Reuben is hanging his head in shame. Simeon is angry. Levi is stunned. Judah is relieved. Many others are perplexed. The blessings of Jacob are not what they were expecting. What could he mean by them?
Jacob is not done yet. He has one more thing to discuss with his sons. He needs to address what will become of his mortal body. “I want to be buried in the cave Abraham bought as a burial plot. Abraham and Sarah are buried there. Isaac and Rebekah are buried there. And I buried Leah there. I want to be laid to rest with them.”
The brothers exchange looks around the room. This is a great distance to carry a body! They couldn’t even get Rachel to this plot when she died. Her body had to be laid to rest along the journey. How were they going to bring Jacob’s body all that way?
Joseph wasn’t worried about the journey. He had already looked into what had to be done to honor his father’s request. He was surprised that he made the request again after swearing Joseph to its completion. Then again, his father needed to let his brothers in on the plan. If not there may be strife arise between them for Joseph’s handling of the body. This actually smoothed the way for Joseph.
Making this request took every last ounce of Jacob’s strength. He falls back over onto his bed and draws his feet back under the covers. He lies there trying to catch his breath for a moment. Then a peaceful look transforms his face and his breathing halts. The brothers watch with anticipation, waiting for his next breath. Finally one last breath leaves Jacob’s lungs and he lies still. His eyes are open but unfocused.
The brothers all realize what has just happened. A torrential wail rips from Joseph’s throat as he falls onto his father’s inert body. He knew this was coming but he wanted just a little more time with his father. He had missed so many years. After a few moments Joseph regains control of himself. He kisses his father’s face, closes his eyes and rises from the bed.
The brothers huddle together to comfort one another with Joseph drawn into their center. The cries from within the tent garnered the attention of those waiting outside, including the physicians Joseph had tending his father during his last days. A few heads peek through the door to gage the situation but quickly retreat to allow the brothers privacy.
Some time passes before the brothers begin to separate and then make their way out of the tent. All are drenched in sweat from the heat and their own turmoil. As each emerge from the tent they are greeted by family members who offer comfort during their grief. When Joseph exits he goes directly to the physicians. He is determined to carry out his father’s dying request and to do so will require their assistance.
“You are to take my father’s body and prepare it for burial through the Egyptian embalming process. He is not to be buried, only prepared for burial.”
The head physician hurried off to get things in order while the rest of the family was allowed a final visit by Jacob’s bedside if they wished. His body was taken away for embalming that same day.
This was a very lengthy process. It would take more than a month to complete. Joseph was highly revered in Egypt and the whole land joined in to mourn with him. The traditional mourning period of seventy days was fully observed for Joseph’s honored father. This was more than enough time for the embalming process to be completed.
When the appropriate days of mourning were completed Joseph went to Pharaoh. He hadn’t approached him with this request previously but it had to be done before Pharaoh settled on a burial place for Jacob. “My lord, I have a request to make of you.”
“What is it my son? You know you can ask anything of me.”
“While my father lived he put me under oath to carry his body back to his home in Canaan. There is a family burial plot there that he wants his mortal remains entombed within. If I have found favor in your sight, please allow me to leave for a short time to do fulfill my father’s dying wish. I will return immediately after preforming this service for him.”
“Since it was an oath you sword, you must keep it. Take all the time you need to honor your father then hurry back to me. Egypt still needs you. You shall not go alone. Egypt wishes to honor you by honoring your father’s request. I am sending with you the elders of my household and the elders of all of the land of Egypt.”
“Thank you my lord. This is more than I could have hoped for and surely more than I deserve. My household, my brothers and my father’s household shall accompany me also. We will all return once this oath is concluded.”
Joseph left Pharaoh’s court and completed the tasks required for readying such a large contingent for travel. Food was prepared and stored, sufficient for the full journey. Jacob’s body was loaded into a specially prepared hearse that his sons would carry the final leg of their journey. And all those accompanying him were assembled for the journey. They left two days after Pharaoh had agreed to Joseph’s request.
This was a somber procession that stretched for miles. Horsemen and chariots were part of the processional and attended to the traveler’s needs and safety along the route. When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, which was near Jacob’s final resting spot, his family began their traditional mourning ritual. Egypt had mourned for Jacob in their fashion, now it was the family’s turn to follow their traditions.
For seven days wails went up from all those present at the threshing floor. The Egyptians followed the lead of Joseph and his family. The wailing could be heard for miles around. People form the surrounding cities came out to see this spectacle.
On the seventh day Jacob’s hearse was lifted onto the shoulders of his sons. From here they proceeded on foot to the cave where he was to be laid to rest. Weeping and mourning continued to pour forth from the family members that accompanied the hearse. This was their final moments with their father. The Egyptians who accompanied them kept watch from a distance to provide the family some semblance of privacy.
The tomb was opened and Jacob was placed within it and then resealed. Joseph’s oath and his father’s last request were complete. The family rejoined the Egyptian contingent and began the slow journey back to Egypt. On the way stories were shared of Jacob and his exploits. After their lengthy mourning, it was time to celebrate the life that was Jacob. The heaviness of death lifted from their hearts to be expelled by the joy that was Jacob and the hope that lay in their future.
Joseph’s brothers hearts weren’t all excitement and joy though. They were not certain what their futures held now that their father was dead. Would Joseph now exact his revenge? Was he only waiting until their father passed to show his true feelings for them? They would have to wait until they returned and had a chance of approaching him in private to truly settle their hearts. For the rest of the journey though they would be the ones relating the poignant stories of Jacob.
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When I was looking up how far away from the burial cave the threshing floor was, I came across a Jewish site that gave some of their history of this final processional. I have not encountered these events in my reading of the bible but share them with you nonetheless. I cannot attest to their veracity and therefore did not include much from them in my story, which in itself is an extrapolation of what might have been from what we have on record in our reading. Their story was very interesting.
Regardless which narrative is fact, there remains the central fact that Jacob was loved by many and mourned by even more. His life touched people beyond his physical sphere. It is still touching lives today. He was NOT a perfect man. He cheated his brother. He tricked his father. He manipulated his work world. BUT he LOVED his God. He trusted His promises and followed where He led. He wanted to be in God’s favor so badly that he refused to let go of an angel of God until he received a blessing from him. That’s the kind of faith I want! One that holds on TIGHT even in the midst of the battles.
Father God, thank You for sharing Jacob’s life with me. There were many lessons to learn from him. I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface of what You have hidden there. For what I have received, help me put it into practice EVERY DAY in my life. Help me hold on TIGHT to Your promises. Remind me to STAY in You will. Bring me back EVERY TIME I start to wander. Let me finish this race with the same words that Jacob did; God has been my shepherd all my life long to this day and His angel has redeemed me from all evil.
More than that, I’m SO glad that I can say that Jesus is my Savior and in Him I place my trust. Help me stick to Him like GLUE ALL my life! Did Jacob have any idea of the eternity that awaited him upon death? Did he know Your promise was to transcend the physical world? I wonder how amazed he was when he finally saw the WHOLE picture.