Scriptural Analysis- Genesis Summary

Seventeen months ago I started my study of Genesis. I’ve always had a great esteem for the Old Testament, and during the last year-and-a-half I’ve realized that Genesis in particular is one of my favorite books in all of scripture. Ever since I was a child, I have loved legends and fairy tales, life lessons wrapped in a fable, and Genesis is full of that same sort of mythic storytelling. It has larger-than-life individuals, people who discover important morals, and cautionary tales.

In the beginning we had the story of Adam and Eve, and during my study I focused on how their experiences are an archetype for common experiences that we all pass through, and thus can be interpreted on an individual level. The story of Adam and Eve shows a state of innocence, the loss of that innocence, and the need to be saved from the resultant corruption. The story of Adam and Eve might be completely literal, but even if it is, it also has great value to us as an allegory of our own selves.

Then we had the decline of civilization, the prevalence of evil, and the eventual flooding of the world. I noted at the time that this was a sort of rebirth of the world, a second beginning. Also, it sets up the theme of man being prone to losing his way and that the truly faithful are a great minority.

The rest of Genesis was then dedicated to some examples of those faithful few. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were each an island of faith in a pagan world. Though each faced different challenges, they did share common themes and patterns. In one way or another each of them was a stranger in a strange land, was taken from their usual comforts, was thrust into the wild world where they discovered the true nature of God, and each learned to trust Him above all else. They were imperfect men, but through their trials they grew into the unique identity God had called them to, often receiving a new name to signify this. And usually with those new names came promises, some to be fulfilled immediately, but some to come in God’s own good time.

Of course, this is only a brief summary. Genesis also has a tremendous number of individual lessons scattered throughout. It covers topics such as sacrifice, admitting one’s wrongs, duty, forgiveness, redemption, inner peace, patience, and faith. It illustrates how the good prosper overall, even if not in the moment. It gives example of how to live peacefully, even among those of different beliefs. It makes clear the importance of acting in accordance with one’s conscience, no matter the danger in so doing.

In conclusion, the book of Genesis teaches us how to live in honor with God and also our fellow man. It teaches by example the principles of virtue. Later on, we will have Moses and his explicitly spelled out law, we will have Jesus Christ and his clearly delineated gospel, but here at the beginning we have no formal set of commandments. This does not mean that there isn’t a law being taught, though, there absolutely is, it’s just that the reader is expected to derive what that law is from the stories. Thus, this is an interactive sort of law-giving, one that demands interpretation and application. If we don’t understand exactly why each of these principles exists, or if we don’t know how to abide by them all, that’s alright, more detailed explanation and instruction will come later. For now, though, we have enough to start living a life of faith.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:25-26

25 And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.

26 So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

Unlike Jacob, Joseph was not immediately carried to his resting place in the land of Canaan. He was embalmed after the Egyptian tradition and then he was laid to rest in Egypt. Many years later his prophecy would come true, though, as the Israelites carried his bones with them in their Exodus and laid him to rest in Shechem.

Of course, this meant that all the time that the Israelites were in bondage, and also later when they wandered forty years in the wilderness without a proper home, during all that time they had the bones of Joseph close beside them. How fitting that Joseph, who was carried away from his home and had to wait years for his deliverance, was present with the Israelites when they went through the same experiences. He was the first Israelite slave in Egypt and his bones were a companion to the last ones.

Also interesting to me is that in his death we see the dual nature of his nationality. He was embalmed and laid to rest in Egypt, the land of his redemption and vocation, but his conviction was to still be brought back to the home of his fathers. When his brothers sold him into Egypt it would be hundreds of years before he came back to the land of his inheritance, but eventually God would restore him back to where he belonged.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:22-24

22 And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father’s house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years.

23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph’s knees.

We here begin a dramatic transition in the biblical narrative. We have just finished speaking of Jacob’s death, and now we rush ahead to Joseph’s, and then the age of the patriarchs will come to a close. 40 of the 50 chapters in Genesis have been dedicated to the stories of these patriarchs. Five of the other chapters are about Adam and Eve and their immediate children, and five of them are about Noah.

When the book of Genesis was composed, which according to tradition was in the time of Moses, its main subjects were already the stuff of myth and legend. And one interesting indicator that we are moving from more epic characters to more grounded ones is their declining longevity. Abraham lived 175 years, Isaac reached 180, and Jacob 147. Now we have Joseph only reaching the age of 110, which, while still ancient, is an age that typical people really are able to achieve. Thus, there are no more demigods, we are finally and fully descended into the mortal realm.

The other thing I want to call out is the image of great-great-grandchildren laying on Joseph’s knees. At one point his life was in a very precarious place. Murder was being discussed and instead he was abandoned to a life of slavery that could have very well been the death of him. The odds were heavily stacked towards his being a tragic victim, but here he is, more than a hundred years old, with his descendants safe and secure in his lap. In his darkest times he was provided for, and then in the country’s darkest time he provided for all of its people. He was saved so that he could save others, and here upon his knees is the reward of it all.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:19-21

19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?

20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

Joseph firmly reassures his brothers, doubling down on the forgiveness he gave to them before. He has let go of all their trespasses, he has no ill will towards them, and he is not going to destroy them. Let us consider a few points of his reassurances.

First of all, in verse nineteen he asks the question “am I in the place of God?” as if to suggest that he doesn’t even have the right to deny them forgiveness. Joseph may have been their direct victim, but even that does not give him the right to demand his pound of flesh. What an interesting idea. This sentiment is expressed elsewhere in scriptural text, such as in Doctrine and Covenants 64:10 where it states “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

Obviously, all of us have the capacity to hold a grudge and condemn each other, but how would our world change if we stopped believing that we had a right to. We may speak for truth, may refute evil, but the damnation or salvation of an individual soul should be left only to the Lord.

But realizing we do not have the right to condemn others does not mean that we cannot be opposed to their evil. Being willing to forgive does not require us to condone all behavior. In verse twenty Joseph states in no uncertain terms “ye thought evil against me.” What his brothers did was wrong, and he does not pretend that it was not, or that he can’t have an opinion of such.

Finally, in verse 21, Joseph reaffirms his tender care. He promises that he will continue to nourish his brothers and their children and speaks comfortingly to them. He shows to us what a kind and sympathetic man he is, taking his brothers unwarranted anxiety and responding with graciousness.

The story of Joseph is an astounding lesson in forgiveness. He takes it to a level that many of us might be uncomfortable with. He shows how we can stand for truth while still loving those who do not. He shows how we can walk the careful life of pardoning unreservedly without being irresponsibly permissive of evil behavior. He sets an ideal that we might struggle to match, but which we all should strive for.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:16-18

16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,

17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.

18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.

Joseph’s brothers still did not believe that he had truly forgiven them, and they were afraid that he would take his vengeance upon them now that Jacob was out of the picture. In this they show a lack of faith, but it is worth noting that they have at least improved from the men that they were before.

Earlier they had felt threatened by Joseph, specifically by their father’s favoritism of him and his visions, and at that time their response was to try and destroy him. Another time they had felt insulted by the people of Shechem and had destroyed the men of that land. Today, though, there is no violence in them whatsoever. Today they are willing to humble themselves, fall before Joseph’s face, and beg for mercy instead. There is faith to believe in the forgiveness that we have been given, but lacking that there is at least the faith to ask for it.

What of their claim that before Jacob died he expressed that Joseph should forgive them? If they mean that Jacob said this only to them, intending for them to convey the message secondhand to Joseph, that seems highly suspect. We know that Jacob met Joseph shortly before his death, to bless him and his sons, so why would he not have just told Joseph his wishes directly then? This claim of theirs seems entirely made up.

Unless, of course, they mean that Jacob did express such a wish at that final gathering, with all the brothers including Joseph hearing it, in which case the brothers are simply reminding Joseph of that request. In either case, the fact that the brothers are invoking these wishes of Jacob, whether real or fabricated, supports my theory that Jacob was at some point made fully aware of how Joseph’s brothers had sold him into Egypt.

As for Joseph, he is moved to tears by their pathetic plea. Those tears are not explained, but they could be tears of pity for his brothers’ fear, or perhaps tears of frustration that they still think they have to fear in the first place.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:14-15

14 And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.

15 And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.

Joseph had already gone to great lengths to assure his brethren that their offenses were behind him, but evidently they are still gripped by a fear that he only restrains himself out of respect to his father. If that fear is true, then now that Jacob is dead and buried, there is nothing to stand in the way of Joseph’s wrath. And given Joseph’s powerful station in Egypt, if he does wish to pursue vengeance, he will be able to do so with impunity.

And so, Joseph’s brothers betray a faithlessness here. They have a hard time accepting that they could truly be forgiven, perhaps because they have a hard time forgiving themselves. Certainly many of us can relate to this failing, it is only natural to feel that if our sins don’t deserve to be forgiven then they won’t be. But the gospel is the “good news” that the natural order can be overturned for one that is entirely unnatural. An “eye for an eye” can be replaced with “turn the other cheek.” Part of us will always have difficulty with such seemingly irresponsible grace, but until we are able to accept it, we will forever remain a prisoner to our sins, even when the door to our cell was unlocked long ago.

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 50:7-9

7 And 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,

8 And all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father’s house: only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen.

9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company.

Yesterday we saw how Joseph petitioned Pharaoh that he might leave Egypt and return to the land of his inheritance to bury his father. This is a foreshadowing of Moses commanding a future Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave slavery and also return to the land of their inheritance.

Today we continue to see a foreshadowing of that future Exodus. A great company leaves Egypt, with all the households of Israel represented, as well as the elders of Egypt. Of course, in Moses’s time the little children will be included as well, and instead of elders of Egypt, it will be their jewels and gold, taken as a spoil. And the chariots and horsemen will not be on the side of the Israelites in that day, they will belong to the pursuing army of Pharaoh, but Israel will be delivered from them.

I’ve been struck by how many symbols and reassurances God gave to the Israelites at the start of their time in Egypt, illustrating how they would leave it in the future. As they came in, so would they depart, even though it might have seemed impossible in the depths of their coming slavery.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:4-6

4 And when the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spake unto the house of Pharaoh, saying, If now I have found grace in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying,

5 My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan, there shalt thou bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray thee, and bury my father, and I will come again.

6 And Pharaoh said, Go up, and bury thy father, according as he made thee swear.

“If now I have found grace in your eyes,” is a phrase we hear several times throughout the scriptures. It is a statement of ultimate humility, reserved primarily for sovereigns and God. Its communicates that I have something to say, but only if you will allow me to by your grace and favor. That might be a deeper humility than many of us may want to reach, especially in our modern society! It may feel like debasing oneself, but I feel in instances like these, Joseph is merely recognizing a simple truth.

The fact is, if Pharaoh wants to ignore to Joseph, if he wants to deny his request, if he wants to prevent him from leaving, he absolutely can and will. He has the power to do it. And so, yes, “if I have found grace in your eyes…” may be flattering, but it is not vain flattery. It is a way for Joseph to demonstrate that he sees the power distribution as it really is and has respect to it.

It is worth noting that when Moses approaches another Pharaoh to request the release of Israel from captivity there are none of these humble concessions. Moses is recorded as saying “if I have found grace in thy sight,” to the Lord on a number of occasions, but never to Pharaoh. Because at that time Pharaoh did not have the power to give or withhold. Pharaoh thought that he did, but Moses proved the power was in the hands of God instead, and that Pharaoh was the one who would be forced to comply.

Also of note is that Joseph did not speak to Pharaoh directly, he spoke to Pharaoh’s household, depending on a representative carry the petition for him. Some have speculated that this is because he was still in the attire of mourning, which would not have been respectful in the king’s royal court. Regardless, Pharaoh gives his approval to Joseph’s petition, and now will begin the great funeral procession out of Egypt.

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.