Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:10-13

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.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:1-3

1 And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.

2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.

3 And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed: and the Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days.

Joseph commits his father’s body to be embalmed by the physicians of Egypt. We have never heard of any other patriarch having his body embalmed, but here it would be necessary if the remains were to make the long journey back to the cave of Machpelah without turning rancid.

It is interesting that these early Israelites accepted the embalming process, as the Jewish law forbids it. Perhaps this law was not in force at the time of Jacob, or perhaps this was considered an acceptable exception. In either case, the period of seventy days that Jacob is mourned for matches perfectly with the Egyptian custom, as reported by Herodotus in his Histories. Thus, Jacob was to be buried with his Hebrew fathers, but his funeral preparations were decidedly Egyptian.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 38:11-14

11 Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.

12 And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah’s wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.

13 And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.

14 And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.

Judah had now lost two of his three sons, each while they were married to Tamar. He spoke kindly to her, promising that his third son would be her husband once he was old enough, but in the meantime she needed to return to her father’s house.

Evidently that was a lie, though, as in verse fourteen we learn that the third son, Shelah, was now old enough to marry, but still not given to Tamar for a husband. Judah was perfectly content to have her live out the rest of her days as a widow, with little prospect of finding any other husband to care for her, and thus no children to care for her either. Thus he was really pawning her off, not wanting to deal with her problem.

But if Judah thought his troubles were past him he was soon disappointed by the death of his wife. He had elected to go and join himself with a pagan people, and had intermingled his family with their lineage and their ways, and all around him his household was dying prematurely.

Much humbling had been inflicted upon Judah, but still his moment of repentance was not at hand. There was yet another uncomfortable trial to pass through before he would be willing to admit his own unworthiness, and it would come at the hand of Tamar, waiting on the road in a veil.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:28-29

28 And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.

29 And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

We haven’t heard about Isaac for a long while. The last words we heard from him were in Genesis 28 when he blessed Jacob to receive the covenant of Abraham and sent him to find a wife. As far as the biblical record is concerned, Isaac’s role seems to have been to carry the covenant from his father Abraham to his son Jacob. He bridged the gap between the two men who were most fundamental in establishing the Israelite nation.

This is also the last we hear of Esau and Jacob being gathered in the same place. We have not heard of any interaction between them since Jacob first returned to Canaan, and we will hear no interaction hereafter, not even when Jacob leaves for Egypt because of the famine.

One would assume that Jacob had occasional interactions with his father and brother after returning to the covenant land, but it is abundantly clear that he does not rely on them anymore. He is his own household, and now that Isaac has passed, he is the patriarch of his own people.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:16-20

16 And they journeyed from Beth-el; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour.

17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.

18 And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin.

19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem.

20 And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

A very somber end to the story of Rachel. It is particularly sobering how childbearing, usually a source of great joy for a mother, was such a source of travail in Rachel’s life. First, she was unable to have any children for several years, causing her to envy her sister Leah. Then she miraculously had one child, Joseph, but then ceased again for a while. Here, at last, she was able to give birth to a second…but that proved to be the death of her. Her grief is apparent in how she named the child Ben-oni, which translates to “son of my sorrow.”

That is a very heavy title for an innocent child to bear, but Jacob set for him another title: Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand.” I cannot help but wonder what sort of special companionship Joseph and Benjamin shared, the only two half-orphaned brothers born of Rachel. It seems a difficult situation for starting one’s life, but perhaps it was necessary for their development. Each of them grew to be the most faithful of sons.

I wonder also how her death affected Jacob, who still had many years to go without his most beloved companion. We do not know exactly how long she and Jacob had together before the end. It is clear that they were married after Jacob had served Laban seven years, and that Jacob served Laban twenty years in all, but we aren’t sure how long Jacob was in Shalem before travelling to Beth-el, and how long he was in Beth-el before this fatal delivery occurred. Still, it seems likely that their earthly union was somewhere in the range of fifteen-to-twenty years. He likely had many years yet to go, but he would always see a living reminder of her in their two sons.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 25:7-10

7 And these are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years.

8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.

9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre;

10 The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife.

Here we have the end of Abraham’s story. 175 years, many of them spent in tents beneath the stars, but with numerous travels in between. For years he waited for his promised son, and in the end he sired not one, but two, great nations. He raised a mighty household, fought in battle, and was a digger of wells. His death brought back together his two first sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who laid him to rest with his wife, Sarah, in the cave he purchased for them.

Looking back at his story what stands out to me is that Abraham was steady and flexible at the same time, like a strong reed. His experiences required a great deal of shifting and adapting, moving with life as it rose and fell, yet through all that change he also maintained a steady faith in Jehovah, and followed God’s instructions to the letter. He was bold enough to campaign to God that Sodom and Gomorrah should be spared for the sake of the righteous, but also willing to acquiesce in the event that those righteous could not be found.

Another quality that stands out is Abraham’s great trust that things would work out. When he and Lot parted ways he accepted the worse portion of land. When Lot was again captured by armies he gave battle to them. When instructed to set Ishmael and his mother free he did so. When tasked with sacrificing his own son he complied. None of these were pleasant tasks, things that anyone would naturally want to do, things that one would expect to find success in. But he did them all anyway, and as he had been promised, all of them worked out for his good.

The third quality that stands out to me is Abraham’s deep sense of duty. All throughout his story we see examples of him giving his God, his family, and his neighbor what each of them is due. He treated them all with courtesy, even when he had received offense from them or their household, as in the case of Abimelech’s servants. Two scenes that particularly show Abraham’s good manners is how he receives the three heavenly messengers before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and how he negotiates with Ephron to buy the burying place for Sarah.

Abraham made a deep influence on the lives of those who knew him, but his heritage at this point was very small. The righteous nation God had promised would not manifest for a few generations more, but when it did it would be built upon the foundation that he so faithfully laid down.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 6:5-7

5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 

6 And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

7 And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

There have been many that struggle with the notion of a loving God who has destroyed swaths of humanity. For whatever reason, this has never been much of a concern for me. I have a sense that God made my life and He has the divine right to extinguish it at any time. I’m honestly okay with that, and by extension I’m willing to surrender the fate of all mankind into His hands as well. That doesn’t mean I know why He does all the things that He does, but I’m okay with it. I’ve already seen Him extend immense mercy to me that I wasn’t deserving of, so I’m not afraid that He is being unfair or cruel to my brothers or sisters either.

I will say, though, that the Old Testament seems to represent a fundamentally different time from the one we live in today. I get the sense that things took a drastic shift after Jesus came and performed the atoning sacrifice, providing a space between sin and consequence, a place that mercy could be more freely applied. I do believe that God has always been a loving God, that He is unchanging, but that the systems in between Him and us do change.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 3:22-24

22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Verse 22 suggests that if Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of life at this point they would have become immortal, which would mean living forever in their fallen state. It was therefore a great act of mercy that God drove them from that temptation and placed a guard over it.

This notion of living forever has obsessed man ever since. For millennia we have told of the Fountain of Youth, of the Nectar of the Gods, and more recently of medications and de-aging practices that stretch this short life out longer and longer. We may have all manner of pain in this life, but the notion of losing it still terrifies us, and we would give anything to escape that end.

Of course God promises us that death is only a portal to something better. He assures that a short walk into the dark gives way to a bright light at the other end. But it takes great faith to trust in that, and all of us have days where we would trade God’s promise of heaven for Eden’s tree of life. We would limit ourselves to eternity in the fallen world if given the chance. And this is perhaps the ultimate struggle we face. Learning to stop clutching to our world of pain, letting go of control, and just trusting that we will be caught in unseen glories.

Solemnity and Joy- Revelation 21:3-4

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

COMMENTARY

There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain
I mentioned before that times of mourning are not the only reason for being solemn, but they certainly are a reason. All of us live in a fallen world, and now and again the reality of that impresses deeply on our hearts. We gradually come to appreciate the hard facts of life. Concepts like death and decay become more than just concepts, we start to feel the reality of them, the totality of them, and the certainty of them. How can we not be solemn then?

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes
The miracle, it would seem, is that we can still be happy in the face of such heavy fates. It is wondrous that we are beings of hope and not despair. All our senses perceive a complete end in the image of a corpse, but the spirit inside denies any end. Never mind what illusion the body shows, the spirit knows that it is made of more eternal stuff.
In the fallen world we have doom and despair. It is real and it is sobering. But in this fallen world are also infinite souls which solemnity can have no permanent hold on. Our souls are in the hands of their Father, and He wipes away the transient tears to uncover the natural, eternal joy that remains beneath.

Calloused Hearts- Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV), Romans 6:23

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 
Made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

COMMENTARY

God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions
The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord
Yesterday I mentioned how the only one that can make us truly alive inside is God. We cannot ever hope to feel fully vibrant in our hearts without Him there. And as today’s verses make clear, the way God makes us alive is in and through Christ. Jesus is the medium that this restorative process must be done through.
When I read today’s verses the thought that occurs to me is “how well am I trying to live in Christ?” And by that I mean am I allowing my actions to be guided by his spirit, and am I keeping myself open to receiving his healing love, and am I actively striving to live as the sort of person he is?
If I am lacking in these qualities then am I striving to remain in Christ? And if I am not striving to remain in Christ then can God make my heart come alive? And if God cannot make my heart come alive then is it any wonder I feel so calloused instead?