The book of Genesis tells us that when Jacob was buried he was eulogized on the east bank of the Jordan called the threshing floor of Atad (Goren ha Atad). It means “the threshing floor surrounded by thorn bushes (50.10). The Canaanites of course were looking on. Now if we think back to these nations and who started them, we find that they were Canaan and Ishmael. What do they have in common? Both were “out of the family.” Canaan was the cursed grandson of Noah and driven out of the family, and we all know what happened to Ishmael. He was driven out by Abraham. Shem was the accepted son of Noah, and Isaac was a descendant of Shem and accepted by his father. Now the “accepted” generations of children gather at Jacob’s burial in the very presence of the unaccepted children. We will look at where this threshing floor was in Canaan because it is going to reveal something very interesting.
Jacob has died and Joseph weeps over his father (50.1). He gives orders to embalm him without speaking to Pharaoh (50.2). He just goes ahead with the standard procedure that is accorded to a member of the royal family. The duty to embalm Jacob falls to the “rofim” meaning “healers.” So the question is, what kind of “healing” could be done to a corpse? But we need to know something about Egyptian customs. They believed that the dead could be healed and they wanted to make sure the body did not decompose because the body still had things to do in the afterlife. So, they embalmed people with that in mind.
What that work was is alluded to in the Torah in Gen 50.3 where it says, “Now forty days were required for it; for such is the period of embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.” Forty days is a number used quite frequently in the Scriptures. It rained forty days and nights in the flood of Noah. Later, Moses spends forty days on Sinai. Yeshua spends forty days on the mount of temptation. So, forty is the number of transition and testing in the Scriptures.
In the flood, forty days and nights were a bridge from one world to the next. Moses and his forty days on Sinai alludes to the transition to a new world for Israel. Yeshua on the mountain at the beginning of his ministry conveys the same idea. For the Egyptians, embalming was to prepare someone for their transition and journey between two worlds. So, as a result, the “dead” could be healed if it was preserved. The “spirit” would ride the body to the next world.
The embalming period ends for Jacob, but the Egyptians continue to mourn for another thirty days, for a total of seventy days. Some commentators believe it was forty days for the embalming and seventy more for the mourning. Regardless, this was not Jacob’s family doing the mourning. It was a nations that mourned for him. His son Joseph had saved them and they knew it, so they considered Jacob as their own. However, we are going to have a contrast in customs here.
After the period of mourning is over, Egypt gets back to normal. But it is not “over.” Joseph has not told Pharaoh of his father’s request to be buried in Canaan. The mourning in Egypt was just that, Egyptian mourning. Joseph and the family had not yet even begun to honor Jacobs request. He wanted to be buried in the earth, the exact opposite of embalming. According to the religion of the Egyptians, a person enters the afterlife with his physical body. Embalming was meant to prevent it from turning to dust (Gen 3.19).
The Egyptians would be in shock to hear that Jacob’s body would be buried, and they considered him one of their royalty. They would think that the vehicle for the afterlife was being destroyed. Joseph was in “pickle” (no pun intended). He waited to tell Pharaoh of his plan, and that may come back to bite him. How does Joseph go about doing this in the first place. So, he approaches the people in the court of Pharaoh and he wants them to convey a message to Pharaoh (Gen 50.4). He outranks every one of them, yet he says, “If I have found favor in your sight, please speak to Pharaoh, saying” and it goes on with the request. Joseph has never had trouble talking to Pharaoh, but now he seems to be afraid to talk to him. Why didn’t Joseph say something before. They can’t just pretend that all the ceremony and the embalming didn’t happen. Pharaoh may take a look at all this and not understand what Joseph is doing and get very angry. Maybe Joseph didn’t want to be around when Pharaoh heard about his father’s request.
In Gen 50.5, we have Joseph’s request to Pharaoh. The first thing he mentions to Pharaoh is the oath he gave to his father. This puts this request in a little different light. It isn’t at the same level as a simple request, this was an oath that he gave to his father. Joseph also says that he will come back to Egypt after he has buries his father in Canaan. This is similar to what Moses said centuries later. As it will turn out, this will be the last time that Israel will set foot in Canaan until the time of Joshua. There will come a time when Israel will not have the option to leave.
Now it is up to Pharaoh, and he says “Yes.” He may have had mixed feelings about it but he says “Go and bury your father, as he made you swear” (50.6). He was not going to make Joseph violate his oath to his dying father. Joseph has the permission he needs and Pharaoh can walk away from this and handle other matters of state. It seems like we have come to the end of Joseph’s dealings with Pharaoh.
Gen 50.7 says, “Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt.” As it turns out, Jacob’s procession just isn’t the family. It will include an escort from Egypt, and not just any escort. The people that will accompany the family will be the important people in Egypt like palace officials and leaders of the people. They could only have been sent by Pharaoh himself, to represent him and his wishes. One other group will be making the trip. We learn in Gen 50.9 that “chariots and horsemen” went along, a “very great company.” Why would they go along? Protection for the company would be one reason, but that can’t be the only reason. There was no military reason to send them. This was a funeral march, not an invasion. This was not a military invasion, but an honor guard and Pharaoh sent them as well. All of these were sent out with the family to Canaan. What sight that must have been. Instead of giving Joseph a problem with his request, Pharaoh seems to be endorsing it and wanting to be involved with it. There also has to be some sort of clearance with the other nations for such a huge procession to proceed, although Egypt and their holding spread quite far.
Now, there were a lot of colors and banners flying and a ceremonial procession to all of this. After all, this was a state sponsored funeral by one of the most powerful nations in the world. No wonder the Canaanites looked on in awe. An Egyptian funeral procession like this in Canaan was something that they have never seen before because you don’t have state funerals beyond your border. They must have had some questions. Why was a great “Egyptian figure” being buried by Hebrew customs? But, Pharaoh didn’t care about what other nations thought. If Jacob wanted a burial in Canaan, and that is what the family wanted, then that was what they were going to do.
The burial ceremonies and customs of the Hebrews were very different than the Egyptian ceremonies and customs. The Egyptians were not accustomed to doing it this way and wondered “Why a burial after embalming?” They must have been very uncomfortable doing this at times, but the Hebrews would show them what to do and they would follow. This burial procedure will have two prominent figures involved. Joseph risked everything to bury his father in Canaan. He could have lost power, prestige, status and his good relationship with Pharaoh.
The second figure is Pharaoh. He knew Joseph well enough to know that he was an honest man, saved Egypt through his God and was not in any way trying to do something he didn’t believe in. In some ways, that is all Pharaoh needed to know. He knew what kind of man Joseph was. He also did not impose Egyptian identity on Jacob. He allowed Jacob to be who he was, and so did the Egyptian people. He knew his home was Canaan and to want to be buries there was a reasonable request. They gave him great honor and a royal escort. Canaan was his home, and back home he would go. Pharaoh made that all possible.
Jacob’s funeral procession is not the end of the story, but the beginning. In Part 25 we will pick up here and show something much bigger. It will be a tale of two Pharaohs, and we will examine how this “Exodus” ties into the Egyptian Exodus several centuries later.