By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22).
Joseph was the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. He was Jacob’s favourite son and he receives more attention than any other son of Jacob in the last half of the book of Genesis. Yet, he was not the messianic heir of the Promise to Abraham. No, the line of the Messiah was carried by Judah, Joseph’s half-brother.
The biography that we have of Joseph shows remarkable faith in the face of tremendous adversity. He was hated by his brothers because of their father’s demonstrative favouritism. He was bullied, thrown into a well, sold into slavery, falsely accused of adultery, imprisoned, and forgotten. And yet, repeatedly the Bible tells us that the LORD was with him. And, at just the right time, the LORD gave Joseph an opportunity to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. His insight was so remarkable that Pharaoh made him Prime Minister over Egypt, the second most powerful man in the most powerful nation at that time. One of his key responsibilities was to stockpile enough grain over seven years so that Egypt might not starve to death when the dreamt-of famine hit.
When the famine struck Egypt and surrounding lands, people flocked to Joseph to receive a ration of grain. Included in these hungry pilgrims were Joseph’s brothers, who had sold him into slavery decades earlier. Joseph recognized them but they did not recognize him. Eventually Joseph revealed himself to his family, inviting them to live in privilege within Egypt.
The author of Hebrews might have selected a detail from any part of Joseph’s life to demonstrate his faith. And yet, he chooses a relatively obscure passage from the end of the book of Genesis:
So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 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. 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. Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, sayng, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt (Genesis 50:22-26).
Why did the writer of Hebrews choose this passage? Perhaps it was because this passage best illustrates the definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Indeed, Joseph is clearly looking into the future by faith. However, this is not altogether different from his interpretation of his own teenage dreams or of Pharaoh’s dreams. All of these incidents illustrate Joseph’s ability to perceive future realities by God’s gracious gifting and by faith. Therefore, this cannot be the reason for choosing this latter passage.
This passage is likely selected because it, more than any other detail of Joseph’s biography, is embedded with deep symbolism for the nation Israel and for all humanity. The land God promised to Abraham is a picture of the eternal promised land, the New Jerusalem in a new heavens and a new earth. Egypt, on the other hand, was to become a picture of bondage, slavery, and sin. Joseph wanted to be forever linked with the promises of God and therefore, he asked his bones to be buried in the land that had been promised to his great-grandfather, Abraham. On the day when the Trumpet sounds from heaven and the dead are raised back to life imperishable, Joseph will rise out of the ground of the Promised Land, meet the Lord in the air, ready to inherit the eternal promised land forever, with all the saints of all the ages.
Likewise, we are to live in hope for the fulfillment of all God’s promises. We do not need to be buried in Israel to have the same faith as Joseph. All we need do is remember always that God’s promises are sure. We have been delivered from our slavery to sin and we will inherit the eternal promised land, along with Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. Praise be to God!