A Dead Man’s Bones

Monday, October 15, 2007

Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying,
“God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”

Genesis 50:25

How does our faith impact the “little” decisions of our lives? Does our attitude in seemingly inconsequential events testify to a deeply rooted faith in God? For all those who want to combat their post-modern tendencies: Do we live in such a way that the small narratives of our lives testify to the meta-narrative?

Praying for Rain?
There was a town that was suffering from a horrendous drought. The crops were suffering, and many families were in financial peril. The church decided to come together and pray for rain. The night of the prayer meeting came, and the pastor stood up and looked out over his congregation. He did not have encouraging words for his flock. Apparently they did not think God was going to answer any prayers. How did the pastor know that the congregation suffered from unbelief? No one brought an umbrella.

The Suffering Saint
It is an amazing thing to trace out the life of Joseph in Genesis. The beloved son of Jacob and a favored child of God, Joseph was thrown into a well, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and forgotten. Then Joseph ascended into a place of high political office. He protected the people against famine, and certainly saw the faithfulness of God displayed in his life even working through the sinfulness of man; this finally culminates in the statement to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). This is a man who peered into the depths of the sovereignty of God and found solace there.

Two dreams of a great promise were given to Joseph (Genesis 37). At that time, Joseph was 17, and it was not until he was 30 years old when he rose to power in Egypt. Thirteen years of hard-knocks. Most of us would be disheartened, losing confidence in the promises of God. Unbelief would seize our hearts. We would shirk the promise. We would shun the God of that promise. How did Joseph handle it? Joseph took the time to learn the patience of waiting on God. For thirteen years, Joseph waited. Maybe sometimes God’s promise of his rise to power seemed vibrant; maybe, at times, it was a dim. Joseph saw God’s hand working through the sinfulness of man. The theme over this suffering was “God meant it for good”. In the end, God proved to be faithful to His promise to Joseph. No matter how long it took, Joseph finally saw the promise realized.

Joseph’s Umbrella
Joseph knew the promises of God to Abraham and his offspring: Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7a). What was to become of this promise? Is it as though the word of God had failed? They were not in the Promised Land. Could it be that in three generations God had faltered? Did the promise of God stumble? What can a dead man’s bones teach us about the deep things of Scripture? Joseph’s life of consistent disappointments and suffering brought him deeper in his faith in God’s promise to Abraham.

If God said something would happen, Joseph knew that God would do it. However, Joseph had learned that God would work in His time and His way. Joseph never saw the promise to Abraham fulfilled. But a lifetime of not seeing this promise realized would not stop Joseph from believing that God would be faithful. We read of Joseph at his death:

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph's own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. (Genesis 50:22-26).

Joseph saw the mist of the promise in Ephraim and Manasseh’s offspring. He pulled out his umbrella and said, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” He knew the sovereignty of God, and “died in faith” (Hebrews 11:13). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews uses Joseph as an example of faith: “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:22).

Whatever Happened to the Bones?
We know that this man’s faith did not fall on deaf ears. Another man of faith took heed. In going out from Egypt, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.’” (Exodus 13:19). We finally find later:

As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. (Joshua 24:32)

Is that the end? What are we to do with Joseph’s bones now?

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18).

Joseph was looking for much more than an earthly dwelling. He yearned for a “heavenly country” (Hebrews 11:16). He saw a city prepared by God. Let us do the same.