from WL Worcester (H Blackmer, ed.), 
The Sower.  Helps to the Study of the Bible in Home and Sunday School
(Boston: Massachusetts New-Church Union, n.d.)

Table of Contents


Lesson 33

Genesis 50:  Burial of Jacob

The Story

Primary and Junior

Jacob had died in Egypt, after blessing Joseph's sons and his own sons. Where was the family burying place? Turn back to chapter 23 and read again about the cave in the field of Machpelah before Hebron which Abraham bought for a burying place when Sarah died. Her body was buried there, and afterward Abraham (Gen. 25:8-10), and Isaac (Gen. 35:27-29), and Rebekah and Leah. (Gen. 49:31) Why is Rachel not mentioned? (Gen. 35:19, 20) Today a Mohammedan mosque stands over the cave. You can see its walls and towers in the pictures of Hebron. The Mohammedans do not let anyone go down into the cave, but it may very well be true, as they believe, that the bones of Abraham's family are still there.

The body of Jacob was embalmed in Egypt, and we know from those found in the Egyptian tombs and from old pictures with what great care this work was done by the physicians. You have perhaps seen in the museums the wooden mummy cases, painted all over with bright pictures. The wooden case was often placed in a heavy stone box, the sarcophagus. Inside the case was the body, preserved with resins and spices and wrapped in hundreds of yards of white linen strips. Wreaths of lotus flowers were laid in some of the coffins thousands of years ago, from which the color seems hardly gone as you see them opened today. The process of embalming took forty days, and there were thirty more days of mourning, making seventy days in all. (Compare the mourning for Aaron and for Moses. Numb. 20:29; Deut. 34:8) Pictures carved and painted on some of the walls in Egypt show us the funeral feasts, and how they used to carry the body of a king or a great man to the tomb with great pomp and ceremony. We can imagine the procession which started after the days of mourning, by the command of Pharaoh, to carry the body of Jacob to its resting place. The Egyptians seem to have stopped at the threshing-floor of Atad, or the "cactus," while Jacob's own sons carried the body of their father to the cave in Hebron.

The words "beyond Jordan" usually mean, on the east side of the river, which would imply that for some reason the funeral company took a roundabout journey. Swedenborg translates the phrase, "in the passage of Jordan," and speaks of their crossing the river after leaving the floor of Atad. (A. 6538, 6540)

They all went back to Egypt after the burial of Jacob, and Joseph renewed his promise of kindness.

Now Joseph's death was near, and he, too, charged the people, when the Lord should lead them back from Egypt, that they should take his bones with them and bury them in the land of Canaan. We look forward in the story and find that this was done. Read Exod. 13:19 and Josh. 24:32. This last verse tells us that Joseph's bones were buried "in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought." We remember this parcel of ground where Jacob dug his well, where Joseph came looking for his brethren, which Jacob gave to Joseph before his death, and where long afterward the Lord talked with the woman of Samaria by Jacob's well. A little building called the tomb of Joseph is still shown in the field. The building is not old, but it may mark the place where Joseph's bones were buried.

1. Where did Jacob die? Where was he buried? Where did Joseph die? Where was his burial place?

2. How did the cave at Hebron become the possession of Jacob and his sons? How did they gain possession of the parcel of ground at Shechem?

3. When the literal story of the Bible tells of death and burial, what do angels think of? How is one who dies gathered to his or her people?

4. What event in the Lord's life is connected with the parcel of ground where Joseph was buried?

Spiritual Study


Notice the words spoken of Jacob, that he was gathered to his people. (Gen. 49:33) It was a common saying in the old time. The wise ancients knew that when we die we awake in the spiritual world, and find our home there with those who are dear to us. All the particulars of this chapter, which tell so much about death and burial, mean to the angels things connected with the awakening and coming to the heavenly home. (A. 3255)

Does this suggest a beautiful meaning in the earnest request of Jacob, "Bury me not, I pray, in Egypt: but I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place"? (Gen. 47:29-30) And in Joseph's charge, "Ye shall carry up my bones from hence"? (Gen. 50:25) So we can look forward to heaven and desire, when we die, to come to the heavenly home. And we should desire, even in this world, not to remain always in the external, worldly state which Egypt represents, but, as regeneration advances, to return to spiritual states represented by the land of Canaan, and to the enjoyment of innocent things of earlier life which have been laid up within us by the Lord and carefully preserved. So, while we still live in this world, we come into association with those who have lived before us and gone on to heaven. (A. 3255, 6181-6185, 6451, 6589)

The Egyptians embalmed the bodies of the dead; not because they believed that these natural bodies rise again. The old books and pictures of Egypt plainly show that they knew the earthly body is left behind forever at death and that the spirit enters on a new life. Embalming the body represented the preservation of heavenly qualities of life, and was in general an image of immortality. There is in the embalming of Jacob and of Joseph, this thought of the preservation of the heavenly qualities which they represent - Jacob (who is here called Israel), a spiritual goodness, and Joseph, a more interior state of nearness to the Lord. The body of Jacob was buried as soon as the days of mourning were over, which means the revival and permanent establishment of this goodness after the necessary period of temptation and effort. (Notice especially the mourning at the threshing-floor.) But the burial of Joseph was long delayed, "and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt." The things of interior life and nearness to the Lord for a long time hardly exist, but they are preserved by being concealed in representative forms such as those of the Jewish Church. The charge to carry the bones of Joseph up from Egypt is a promise of return to interior life. (A. 6502-6516, 6592-6596)

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