The funeral of Jacob and the procession that accompanied it to Canaan is not the end of the story, but it will be related to something that will play out centuries later, something much bigger. We have a hint to this larger picture when the Torah describes an overlooked action, and that is the location of Goren Ha Atad (the threshing floor of Atad), which we have already mentioned (Gen 50.10). This was where the funeral procession stopped to mourn for Jacob before arriving in Hebron at the cave of Machpelah. This is where the Canaanites looked on in wonder at the level of mourning being seen by these Egyptians. They knew it was serious and named that place “Abel-mizraim” or “mourning of the Egyptians.” It tells us that Goren ha Atad is “beyond the Jordan.” Looking at the geography, this was on the east side of the Jordan. The procession started in Middle Egypt, at the Faiyum, and they were going to Hebron, just south of Jerusalem. These points are west of the Jordan. Why were they on the east side of the Jordan? That certainly wasn’t the direct route.
The shortest route from Egypt to Hebron is to head northeast on a straight line. If the procession went to Goren Ha Atad it means they went well out of their way. They would need to go on the Derek Seir (“the way to Seir” or Edom) that runs south of Canaan across the Sinai Peninsula, to the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba. Then they would head north on the King’s Highway around the length of the Dead Sea then turn left at the Jordan, probably around Jericho. That is a long way to go.
Why go that way? Nobody really knows, but it does look an awful lot like another great procession that took a similar route to Canaan. Yes, that is the route Israel would take centuries later in what is called the Exodus. The Lord specifically had the people avoid the more direct route (Exo 13.17-18) to Canaan because they were on their way to Sinai. As a result, he led them into the southern wilderness, taking the Derek Seir across the Sinai Peninsula to the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, then they went down to Sinai. Eventually they left there and headed north from Wadi Rum (Kadesh Barnea), around the length of the Dead Sea, then hooked left and crossed the Jordan near Jericho. So, the route the burial procession of Jacob took is the same route that Israel took in the Exodus. Are there other similarities? We are going to look at few right now.
Besides the route the funeral procession took, we know that the children of Israel left behind their little children and their livestock in Goshen. Everyone else went with the funeral procession. In the Exodus story a few centuries later, the nation wanted to go into the wilderness to celebrate a festival to the Lord for three days. The issue of the children and the livestock came up again. The logistics of this was one of the final points of negotiation between Pharaoh and Moses (Exo 10.8-11). Pharaoh may have very well said, “Hey, the last time you guys left for a little trip you didn’t take your little children and livestock, why do you need them now? No, you can’t take them, you can leave them just like before.”
Another connection between Jacob’s funeral procession and the Exodus is how Pharaoh commands his chariots and archers to go with Joseph and the family. The only other time in the Torah that we hear of the chariots and archers is when Pharaoh pursues Israel to the Yom Suf (Red Sea). We have already mentioned that the Canaanites were looking on in wonder at this procession and they were amazed. The Exodus story tells us that the Canaanites heard of what happened to Egypt and were afraid of Israel (Exo 15.14-15). There seems to be a connection between Jacob’s funeral procession and the Exodus.
We don’t believe this is circumstantial, but part of the plan of God and in both stories. This is for our instruction. We are to look at both stories and learn the essence of what is really going on. Why the parallels? What is the Lord trying to teach us? Why are these stories connected in so many ways? Does this relate to the coming of the Messiah and his route to Jerusalem? A burial procession for a beloved father and the mass extraction of a whole nation from slavery are two entirely different things. To see the burial event for what it is, we need to stop looking at the Exodus and start looking at the Exodus that could have been.
The original hope for the Exodus can be found in what Moses told Pharaoh in Exo 5.1, where he says, “And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, Let my people go (literally “send my people out”) that they may celebrate a feast to me in the wilderness.'” YHVH is the name of God, and that God has a relationship with a nation you are holding slaves. The Lord is expecting Pharaoh to allow them to leave. We all know what Pharaoh says. That is what happened, but what if Pharaoh said “Yes.” What if he acted differently?
Let’s say Pharaoh agreed to let them go, then the people could have gone into the wilderness for three days, celebrated a feast, and then return. YHVH was their “Father.” They would have gone into the desert in a great procession and honored their Father in the way he wanted to be honored. This is exactly what happened to Jacob. Once we see this aspect we can see the connection in the Exodus involving the route, the children and the livestock and the army of chariots that went with them.
Joseph would lead his family out of Egypt back to Canaan to serve his father, but there were things in the way. How would Pharaoh take the news? Joseph was like a son to him and how would he react to Joseph showing his loyalty to his biological father? His request to be buried in Canaan was unheard of and unusual, involving strange customs. Joseph really had to choose which father he was going to serve. He was the first born, the “bikur” of his family. On the other hand, he was the “bikur” of Egypt as well.
We have mentioned this before but we will go over it again. Joseph had believed that his father was somehow involved in what happened to him. He believed that it was possible that he was driven out of the family, or was he? It wasn’t clear to him. Somehow, Joseph needed to know that he was not out of the family and that his father loved him. Judah was the one who gave Joseph the truth, and that gave Joseph the courage to ask Pharaoh to allow him to have his father buried in Canaan. Jacob had shown Joseph that his status as “bikur” had not changed in the family.
Several centuries later another “bikur” would have some of the same issues Joseph had. But this “bikur” was not an individual, but the nation of Israel. They had a Father in heaven, and this Father was telling the bikur to leave Egypt, but there were things in the way. There was another father, too, called Pharaoh. Israel was like a child to the throne, but that father was no longer kind and understanding. He was evil and abusive. This Pharaoh did not want this child to leave his side. He did not like this child having another father to look to. That father didn’t even exist as far as Pharaoh was concerned. He certainly would not understand their customs and service to this father in the desert.
It all will come down to this, which father would this bikur serve? Would they put the blood of the lamb on their doors or not? By doing so, they were choosing their heavenly Father. They weren’t sure that their Father in heaven really loved them anyway. That father had a closer relationship with them when he was smaller in Canaan, but over the years that relationship was not so clear anymore. To choose this father, there was going to have to be an understanding. They needed to know that the Father in heaven really loved them and that they had not been disowned, ending up in enslaved. They needed someone to tell them that, just like Judah did. And that man was named Moses. He will come as the “bikur” and tell them the truth about their father.
We will pick up here in Part 26.