Weeping For The Future

The Patriarch Israel had died. His son, Joseph, the Prime Minister of Egypt, ordered that he be embalmed, a process which took forty days. When the days of mourning had ended, Joseph was given permission to return to the Promised Land to bury his father in the cave of Machpelah.

A significantly large contingent accompanied the funeral procession. “So Joseph went up to bury his father; and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s house.” (Genesis 50:7-8) These were statesmen and prominent leaders who had been instrumental in laying the foundation for the future generation. Egypt had developed into the most powerful and prosperous nation in the lifetime of these men. However, though respected and well-known in the community, Egypt’s rise to prominence was not due to their achievements.

Egypt had grown into a great nation, and it was largely due to this man, Jacob whom they were burying. Jacob was the father of Joseph the Great. And it was Joseph, who single-handedly saved Egypt. Moreover, Joseph was God’s appointed, and through him not only was Egypt rescued from the jaws of starvation and death, but other nations too were saved, as they also came to Egypt to buy food. While other nations languished, during the seven years of famine, Egypt’s economy soared, placing Egypt as the leader of nations, and it was directly as a result of the policies (laws) Joseph legislated and implemented. Jacob was the father of Joseph – undoubtedly, the two greatest men of that time – and now, Jacob the father was dead. What would the future hold? Now that Jacob had died, how would Egypt maintain its prominence in the future? And what would happen in the future when Joseph died? How could Egypt survive, when these men were no more?

The funeral procession had journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land, without interruption. Then, when it reached the threshing floor of Atad, it came to a grinding halt. “. . . they mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation. He observed seven days of mourning for his father.” (Genesis 50:10)

The depth of mourning by the Egyptians was unusual, and very significant. Note too, that Joseph’s mourning of his father appears to be separate. “He observed seven days of mourning for his father.” It is as if they mourned two separate events.

Grief is not easily predictable. Sometimes, it seems distant, belonging to another world. Other times, it comes haunting, tearing at every precious memory, consuming every emotional resource to maintain hope for the future.

Prior to leaving for the Promised Land, the Egyptians had mourned a total of seventy days for Jacob the Patriarch, which included the forty days of embalming. So why did the procession stop? And what caused grief to so overwhelm the mourners that the procession needed to halt? What kind of grief was this that brought the entire procession grinding to a halt, even before it reached the burial site? Undoubtedly, their mourning was deep. The loss of this great man was devastating. His passing threatened the future stability of the greatest kingdom on earth. Grief had robbed them of a hope and a future. Nothing else seemed to matter, time had stopped, and they could not take one more step. It was as if they could sense Egypt’s downfall and they were overwhelmed with grief.

To be sure, Egypt would be destroyed in the future during the great Exodus by the Children of Israel, the future descendants of this man, Jacob. Also at that time, they would take with them the bones of Joseph, and leave Egypt to take possession of their everlasting inheritance, but in their leaving, Egypt would be totally destroyed.

Moreover, the future destruction would be so widespread that the great power and glory which was once Egypt’s would be lost – gone, forever. It was as if the Egyptians, who had come to the threshing floor of Atad, were mourning this tragedy of catastrophic proportions! Unable to absorb the grief, the depth of loss, the utter powerlessness, they were incapable of taking another step. Life in the present was unbearable, because the future was gone. Everything that they had worked toward; the young and the old – the glory of Egypt, everything swept away . . . gone!

The tragedy in those days will culminate in an evil Pharaoh who will not acknowledge Joseph – unthinkable – the greatest-ever ruler of Egypt, who was both Deliverer and friend to Egypt – impossible – who would have thought it could happen – and it was beyond their grasp and influence.

So great was their mourning that “when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, ‘This is a deep mourning of the Egyptians.’” (Genesis 50:11)

They were overwhelmed with horror and grief. They could not advance one more step. It was as if the eyes of their understanding were opened – they had seen a great tragedy – and they mourned, deeply.

Observe the scene centuries later, when the Children of Israel were finally rescued from the land of bondage (which Egypt had become) and they stood on the eastern bank of the Red Sea. It was there that their redemption from slavery was dramatically realized that they burst out in a song of deliverance. The God of Israel had redeemed them and brought them out safely as promised. They had reason to sing.

But who was mourning the Egyptians? They lay dead. The chariots and horsemen, the pride of Egypt, the firstborn sons, were all dead. The economy had collapsed, and fruitfulness of the land had been ruined. The once-powerful and prosperous Egypt was gone! But who mourned? Perhaps, only those who had gathered at the threshing floor of Atad.

The tragedy is further deepened when one considers that there is no joy in the death of the wicked. There is, however, great blessing when the sinner repents of his evil ways and walks in the path of righteousness, after the one true God. If only Pharaoh had repented!

Returning to the funeral procession at the threshing floor of Atad, observe Joseph who, it would appear did not mourn with the Egyptians. Instead, the Scripture records that “He observed seven days of mourning for his father.” (Genesis 50:10) Joseph’s mourning was on a different level from that of the Egyptians.

Both father Jacob, and son, Joseph, were great lights in the Kingdom of God. Jacob the elder was no more. Joseph the younger would continue to shine, but the loss he felt was greater than what the Egyptians could relate to, despite their grief.

One of the dreams which Joseph dreamed at the age of seventeen was that of the sun and moon, and the eleven stars. (Genesis 37) Father Jacob and mother Rachel were represented by the sun and moon respectively. The eleven stars were the sons of Israel. In the dream Joseph saw “the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars” all bowing down to him. The Patriarch Jacob was the sun, a greater light than the stars.

Surely, Israel, the Patriarch, was the source of God’s light during all the years of his life, and throughout the days of his sojourning. “And Israel said to Joseph, ‘I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!’” (Genesis 48:11) Perhaps it was through his effective life and influence (in realms unseen) that his son, Joseph, while yet a prisoner in Pharaoh’s dungeon, received a ‘gracious’ welcome and an invitation from the king to submit an interpretation of the king’s dreams.

Joseph mourned for his father, a man whose life had brought forth an abundance of God’s light. His was a faithful life, and walking in the righteous ways of God.

Perhaps while Joseph mourned for his father the older generation of Egyptians grieved and wept for the future.

After returning to Egypt, Joseph’s brothers sent word to him saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please to forgive the trespass of your brothers, and their sin; for they did evil to you.” Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” (Genesis 50:16-17)

They had lived seventeen years in Egypt. Interestingly, Joseph was seventeen, when his brothers sold him to the Midianite traders travelling to Egypt. Thirty-nine years later, his brothers were asking him for forgiveness. Interestingly, Joseph was thirty-nine years old, when he revealed himself to his brothers.

At that time, when he had revealed himself, he informed his brothers that though they had meant to do evil, God had determined otherwise. Joseph was convinced that God had worked events together for the good, despite their intentions. Moreover, Joseph encouraged his brothers to see their behaviour not as a negative, but rather as an integral part of an Almighty Plan.

“But now, do not therefore be grieved or be angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God . . .” (Genesis 45:5-8)

Seventeen years later, the brothers were seeking forgiveness. “Now, please, forgive the trespass . . .” (Genesis 50:17)

Forgiveness is God-initiated. It comes from God and returns to Him with glory. Without God it is impossible to forgive, or be forgiven (that is, walking in its truth). Indeed, it is God who awakens one from slumber to see the need to be forgiven.

Note well, it is remarkable and outstanding that the brothers would approach Joseph to be forgiven.

In humbling themselves, these men are exemplary displaying the behaviour of the righteous. Prepared to lay aside their own reputation and prestige as leaders, they have put on the cloak of servants. “Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” (Genesis 50:18)

Despite being older, and being Joseph’s brothers, they did not consider themselves equal to him, and willingly took the form of humble, pleading servants.

Neither seeking to justify themselves, nor desiring the applause of others, but humbling themselves they approached Joseph asking forgiveness, seeking rather to heal the brokenness, the estrangement which resulted as a consequence of their trespass. In their younger years, they had rejected Joseph as a brother and as God’s anointed. They now wanted to remove the rejection and the estrangement it caused. With God’s forgiveness they would heal the brokenness and restore brotherly love toward each other. The brothers were confident that God had appointed Joseph as Deliverer, and were humbly identifying their trespass, knowing restoration could happen through forgiveness.

“And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” (Genesis 50:17)

Joseph wept. Joseph had declared seventeen years earlier that God had overruled his brothers’ evil intent for the good. Their humbling confession is reminiscent of the future generation, when the nation of Israel identifies its trespass against the Messiah. Like the brothers, the nation of Israel has rejected their Ultimate Brother, Yeshua the Messiah. Like Joseph, the Messiah was given into the hands of the Gentiles. Like Joseph, Yeshua the Messiah was rejected by His own. But in the same way that God overturned evil for good in Joseph’s day, so God has brought deliverance to the nations through Israel’s rejection of their Brother Messiah. Moreover, God will bring a great deliverance in the latter days with the salvation of Israel, as the nation returns to Him, confessing their trespass and seeking forgiveness.

“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look unto Me whom they have pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10)

The prophet Zechariah is speaking of Yeshua the Messiah, whose hands and feet were pierced, and whom the nation will acknowledge as God’s Appointed Deliverer, in the last days.

The nation’s rejection of the Messiah has caused an estrangement, in the same way that the brothers were estranged from Joseph. The brothers dwelt seventeen years in Egypt before seeking forgiveness. In the same way, the nation of Israel “shall abide many days” estranged from their Brother, the Messiah.

“For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3:4-5)

Sadly, Israel will suffer. Unrighteous leaders from within and without will rule over Israel, the Land and the People, until the latter days when, according to the prophet Hosea, the nation will return to the Lord.

“I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” (Hosea 5:15)

Just as the brothers sought reconciliation with Joseph whom God had appointed as Deliverer, so too, in the latter days the children of Israel will seek the Lord to confess their acknowledgement of Yeshua as God’s Anointed.

Joseph did not compel his brothers to confession. They came willingly, and as they talked to him, Joseph wept. Perhaps he wept because he saw the future generation of Israel who would reject the Messiah – perhaps he was weeping for the future!

May we be blessed to see the day of Israel’s return. In the meantime, may there be many who seek the Lord, and ask forgiveness.