10 And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation: and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians: wherefore the name of it was called Abel-mizraim, which is beyond Jordan. 12 And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them: 13 For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a buryingplace of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.
The funeral procession comes into Canaan, but pauses for a week at the threshingfloor of Atad, and I see some considerable symbolic significance with this place. First of all, it is a threshingfloor, which means a large, hard surface, upon which grain is threshed to separate the seed from the stalk. Often this is done by beating it with flails or crushing it under the foot of an ox. Also, this place is called Atad, which means “thorn bush.”
Things being beaten and thorns immediately bring to mind the abuse Jesus Christ suffered before his crucifixion. He was whipped and he was crowned with a ring of thorns before being taken to his place of death. Also worth noting is that Atad was “beyond Jordan,” the very river where Christ would be baptized, which baptism is also a symbol for death and burial. And finally, all these somber tokens are joined with the sound of mourning for the death of Jacob.
I feel that these connections to the Messiah are clear, but I admit I don’t fully understand why they are being invoked in this particular instance. What did the cosmos see in the death of Jacob that befitted a connection to the death of Christ? One possibility, I suppose, is that Christ’s death signaled a sort of death for all of Israel. His passing would bring his testament into full force, a new covenant to fulfill and supersede that of Abraham. Another reason might be that Jacob is the direct forerunner of the Israelite people in a physical sense, but Christ is their spiritual forerunner, and so the death of the physical is also pointing to the death of the spiritual. Or perhaps simply since the death of Jacob was notable and important, and all the eyes of the people were upon it, God saw it as an excellent opportunity to teach of a coming sacrifice.
Whatever the reason, the symbolism is unquestionably there. And so, the symbolic significance continues until the mourning of Jacob concluded, and then the Israelites and Egyptians move on, and Jacob is buried how and where he intended. The sons’ final duty to their father is fulfilled, and now they truly are out on their own.