Thursday, March 26, 2020

In The Beginning. Day 178, The Death Of Jacob

Jacob knows his time to pass from this life is very near. While he still can, he makes his burial wishes known to his sons. Previously in Genesis he expressed to Joseph his desire to be buried with his parents and grandparents. Now he repeats his request with all his sons present.

"Then he gave them these instructions, "I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.'" (Genesis 49:29-32)

We don't know when Leah died. It must have been while Jacob was still living in Canaan, before he moved to Egypt, since she is not mentioned in the group that went down to Egypt with him. It's possible that she and Jacob spent many years together after the death of Rachel and that Leah and Jacob grew old together in comfortable companionship. I hope so. I hope he came to appreciate what a treasure he had in his first wife. Jacob could have requested to be taken back to Bethlehem and buried beside of Rachel. Or he could have allowed Joseph to provide him with an ornate tomb in Egypt. But instead he makes his wishes known, in today's passage. to be buried beside of Leah in his family tomb in Canaan. There's something beautiful about this, that the woman who so deeply loved Jacob but who was not his first choice is interred beside him until the day the Lord resurrects the dead. She never had him all to herself while she was living, but as his first wife and his true legal wife, the place of honor was reserved for her. The two of them are still side by side to this day.

"When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people." (Genesis 49:33) I think he must have mustered the strength to sit up on the side of the bed with his legs hanging down and his feet on the floor. Too weak to go on speaking, and having said all that needs to be said, he lies down and soon after passes from this world.

"Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him." (Genesis 50:1) What a moving scene! I believe all of Jacob's sons mourned his passing but the loss of the family patriarch appears to affect Joseph the most. Once he is able to get control of himself, Joseph takes on the responsibility of arranging his father's burial.

"Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days." (Genesis 50:2-3) Joseph has never lost the faith of his forefathers but he has lived in Egypt for about forty years now. He looks, speaks, dresses, and goes about his day just like a native Egyptian. He became acclimated to their culture a long time ago and, in everything except religion, he is very much like everyone else in Egypt. He wants the best services performed for his father that money can buy. And he has the money to afford the same services Pharaoh himself can afford, so due to his wealth and position in the land, the Egyptian physicians embalm Jacob and then the whole land observes a seventy-day mourning period for Jacob out of respect for Joseph. This is really quite impressive when you consider how superior Egyptians believed they were. It shows us just how much the Egyptians thought of Joseph that they would observe what is almost a royal mourning period (which would be seventy-two days) for a Hebrew shepherd from Canaan.

I am sure there is also a practical reason for having Jacob embalmed. The twelve brothers will have to travel a long distance with their father's body and that would be fairly unpleasant and unsanitary if he were not embalmed and placed into a coffin while still in Egypt.

It was common up until the Victorian era for people to observe a protracted period of mourning for deceased loved ones. I think we should have kept up with that practice. Mourning is essential for human beings, yet in today's times we are lucky if our jobs allows us three paid days of "bereavement leave". Those three days usually don't even afford us much time at all to be alone in our rooms to cry; those days are spent making arrangements and contacting family members and friends to advise them of the death. When we return to work the day after a funeral, we're expected to behave normally and go on with our lives. It makes people uncomfortable when they see us grieving and they prefer no to see it. If we appear to be going on with our lives and handling our losses well, it makes them feel they could also handle losses well and that they'd be able to go on with their work as if nothing has happened.

We weren't designed to compartmentalize death and grief in this way. God didn't create us to take only three days to arrange a funeral, bury a person, and cry all our tears before going on with our lives as if nothing has happened. If we were allowed to observe a more proper period of mourning, I think we'd be a lot better off mentally and emotionally, but instead we are required by our modern society to push our grief to the back of our minds for most hours of the day. No wonder so many people go years without feeling like they've fully accepted the death of a loved one! No wonder so many people are still struggling with the loss of a close relative years and years down the road. We aren't allowed enough time to process our loss and mourn it. A time of grief is a holy and reverent time. It's sacred and precious. Yet we're so often robbed of a proper period of mourning and I feel it takes a heavy toll on us.

The Lord Jesus Christ wept by the tomb of His friend Lazarus because it's the human thing to do. He felt intense grief and sorrow. He felt the intense grief and sorrow of the mourners around Him. Though He knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, still He felt all the things the human heart is created to feel when a loved one dies. He shows us there's nothing wrong with crying out in our sorrow. He shows us that it's okay to not be okay in the days following the death of a loved one. It ought to be acceptable in our society, even though we might have to be back at work, to admit we're not feeling okay and to be treated with extra compassion and care for a while. And we need to cut our co-workers and friends and family members a whole lot of slack when they don't immediately bounce back from a loss and go about their lives within a short time after experiencing the death of a loved one. Does witnessing grief make us uncomfortable? Yes, sometimes it does because we don't know what to do or say. That's because there isn't anything we can do or say to make things all better. But we can do what Joseph and his brothers and all of Egypt do in today's passage: we can band together in support of each other. Just letting someone know we are here for them and that we care about them goes a long way in helping them not to feel so alone. That's what the people of Egypt do for seventy days following Jacob's death. If those pagan people who normally wouldn't socialize with shepherds were willing to be there and show their concern for Jacob's family, surely we have no excuse for not showing the same care and compassion for our fellow man.

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