Saturday, October 15, 2005

Meanwhile, this Sunday Night in North Finchley … 2

Sermon preparation for the record and for the day ahead:

—•—The Bones of Joseph—•—

Genesis 50[19-26]

19 • But Joseph said to them,
“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?
20 • 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.
21 So do not fear;
I will provide for you and your little ones.”
Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

22 • So Joseph remained in Egypt,
he and his father’s house.
• Joseph lived 110 years.
23 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.

24 • 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.”
25 • Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying,
“God will surely visit you,
and you shall carry up my bones from here.”

26 • So Joseph died, being 110 years old.
They embalmed him,
and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

The tenth plague that was visited onto the Egyptians was directly linked to sonship in Israel by it’s nature. Because of obedience to the command to slay a lamb and then place its blood on the door posts and on the lintel, the firstborn sons of Israel were ‘passed over’ by the plague. Because of Pharaoh’s hardness of heart and his refusal to let Israel go in spite of all his promises during the other nine plagues, the firstborn of every family in Egypt died that night. This irreconcilable loss of sons marked the division of these peoples as Pharaoh at last commanded the children of Israel to leave and the Egyptians thrust the inheritance that their dead sons would now not receive into Israelite hands. Tombs prepared for fathers would now be filled with sons, all over Egypt but the most prominent tomb that would commemorate their loss was to be one that would now stand empty because as the Israelites left, they took the bones of Joseph with them.

Exodus 13[16-22]

16 • (“)It shall be as a mark on your hand
or frontlets between your eyes,
for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”
17 • When Pharaoh let the people go,
God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines,
although that was near.
• For God said,
“Lest the people change their minds when they see war
and return to Egypt.”
18 But God led the people around
by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.

• And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt
equipped for battle.
19 • Moses took the bones of Joseph with him,
• for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear,
“God will surely visit you,
and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.”

20 • And they moved on from Succoth
and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness.
21 • And the LORD went before them
by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way,
and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light,
that they might travel by day and by night.
22 • The pillar of cloud by day
and the pillar of fire by night
did not depart from before the people.

The tomb of Joseph, the son of Jacob who was separated from his brothers, stood empty on the morning of the Exodus. He — who in life was the symbol of salvation to Egypt and Israel both, and the means of salvation to both — became, in death, the symbol of the curse that Egypt brought upon itself and the sign of that curse was an empty tomb. The father-Pharaoh had arisen who ‘did not know Joseph’ and when he died the son-Pharaoh who replaced him faced his nemesis, Moses, with the arrogant claim not to know the LORD.
Now this son-Pharaoh’s own son lay dead and the bones of Joseph were ready to be taken from the place where his honourable place had been so disgracefully and disastrously forgotten. We are quite right to take up Joseph’s own words to his brothers and echo them concerning the Pharaohs who so conveniently forgot what they owed because, while those Pharaohs meant what they did for evil, God meant it for good.
The honours of inheritance — initially piled onto Joseph when he was released from the prison and then taken from him long after his death — those honours were now returned in kind as his dry bones became the symbol of the life of a new nation, brought out of captivity with, proverbially and literally, ‘not a hoof left behind.’
Joseph, who was first of all given undue prominence by his father as the son of the loved though junior wife, exalted over the heads of his older brothers in the matter of the coat — Joseph, who was then disinherited by the violence, greed and scheming treachery of his brothers — This Joseph, though being dead, now takes his honoured place in the phalanx of the living on route to Canaan, via Sinai.

Joshua 24[28-33]

28 • So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.
29 • After these things Joshua the son of Nun,
the servant of the LORD, died, being 110 years old.
30 • And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah,
which is in the hill country of Ephraim,
north of the mountain of Gaash.

31 • Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua,
and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua
and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel.
32 • 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.

33 • And Eleazar the son of Aaron died,
• and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son,
• which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.

When’s Jacob died, Joseph was his heir, receiving the birthright and he was privileged in turn to live long enough to ‘see Ephraim’s children of the third generation.’ Jacob’s body was taken back to be buried in Canaan when he died but [Heb 11:22] ‘By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.’ Joseph’s bones had to wait. The last words of Genesis are about the bones of Joseph so it is fitting that, in the last few verses of Joshua, the bones of Joseph are finally laid to rest after the conquest of the land.
His burial is placed in between those of Joshua himself, who inherited the leadership from Moses and Eleazar who inherited the high-priesthood from Aaron. The parallels are striking. Joshua died, being 110 years old, the same as Joseph. Eleazar was buried in a town belonging to his son just as Joseph’s bones were buried in land that his father had bought but which his sons inherited. Note the ominous implication that a generation would arise that would parallel the advent of the Pharaoh who did not know Joseph [Joshua 24:31] ‘Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel.’
Judah was the brother whose tribe was to produce the kings and ultimately the Messiah but the birthright belonged to Joseph and so he is representative of the people to whom the Messiah would come.

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