Joseph's Bones

Joseph’s Bones

David Kirk

“Joseph… gave commandment concerning his bones” (Heb. 11:22). Does it not seem strange that the Holy Scriptures should contain such an odd, and almost morbid statement?

It will be my purpose in this treatise to trace a number of parallels between Joseph’s last request and the last request of the Saviour. Before doing so, however, I would like to look at Joseph himself, who is perhaps one of the best types we have of the Lord Jesus.

Joseph’s mother was Rachel, the greatly beloved wife of Jacob, his father. Her elder sister Leah was also Jacob’s wife, but, whereas, Rachel was Jacob’s wife by choice Leah was his wife by circumstances, and that in trickery (Gen. 29:16-28).

To counterbalance the unfortunate situation in Jacob’s domestic circle God made Leah a fruitful wife, while poor Rachel remained barren. Eventually, God heard the cry of her anguished heart, filled with longing, and she became the jubilant mother of a son. It was Rachel’s hour of triumph and of faith. Looking upon her offspring she announced his name would be Joseph, explaining, “The Lord shall add to me another son” (Gen. 30:24).

Joseph’s Name meaning “adding” was well and truly given; for his life was a fruitful one.

Joseph’s second name is also of deep spiritual significance, illuminated for us by the circumstances in which it was given to him.

He was called into the presence of Pharaoh at the suggestion of the butler, whom Joseph had befriended while in prison, to interpret for the ruler a disturbing dream. God gave Joseph the interpretation. He explained to Pharaoh that the seven lean-fleshed cows, he had seen in the dream devouring the seven fat-fleshed, followed by seven fat ears of corn being devoured by seven thin ears, betokened a seven years’ famine in the land to follow a seven years’ plenty.

Joseph gave Pharaoh simple advice: “Look out a man, discreet and wise, and set him over the land… gather all the food of those good years… and lay up corn… and that food shall be for store ... against the seven years of famine” (Gen. 41: 33-36). Pharoh believed Joseph; acted on his advice, and appointed him to rule, putting him next on the throne to himself.

Pharoh called him by a new name, Zaphnath-Paaneah. One margin renders this, “Saviour of the world,” which seems most fitting in the circumstances. Subsequent history proved Joseph was a veritable Saviour.

Joseph was the only man in Scripture beside the Lord Jesus to bear that title. When the men of Samaria found the Christ they exclaimed to the woman who brought the news of Him, “We know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).

His Death

A coffin! Bones! Death!

“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup ye do show the Lord’s death till He come” ( 1 Cor. 11:26).

In each case we are reminded of the solemn fact of death.

Let us examine the symbols employed in the remembrance of the Lord’s death, recalling the Divine institution.

The night of the Saviour’s betrayal was the night in which the Jewish Passover was observed. On the table there was unleavened bread, immemorial since the memorable night of the Exodus, when the nation left the land of Egypt after celebrating their first Passover. Years later wine reached the table. Using these symbols on this particular night the Lord related them to His death.

As He broke the bread He calmly said, in an atmosphere of tension, “Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you.” Following this He took the wine (called the cup) ; giving it to His own He explained: “This cup is the New Testament in My blood” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Luke added, “Which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).

The symbols stand apart, and thus in a simple, striking way bear home to us the solemn fact of death. Let the blood course uninterruptedly through the veins and arteries; that is life. Shed it; that is death.

His Request

Still another parallel may be noticed, in that both the request of the Lord Jesus and the request of Joseph were a last request.

The Spirit of God points this out in Hebrews 11:22, “By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.” As he approached his end he calmly announced to his brethren, “I die.”

Previous to the institution by the Lord of the supper we hear Him say to His disciples, “With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:14). Death was lingering near when both the Saviour and Joseph made their requests.

What a night! They arrest Christ. He is hounded to Annas, then to Caiaphas, despatched to Pilate, sent over to Herod, and back again to Pilate. By nine o’clock in the morning He hangs upon the cross. On such a night, alone with His own in the upper room, while outside the sorrows of death, like angry clouds were gathering around Him, He remembered us. Knowing the long separation from His saints during their pilgrimage here, He knew how easily they could forget Him in an unfriendly scene. How touching then to recall that on this last night they were to spend together He took the precious emblems, and requested, “This do in remembrance of Me.”

His last request! How dare I, how can I turn Him aside and refuse to satisfy the longing of His loving heart ? Yet, thousands of dear saints, although they sing, “My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou art mine,” knowingly or otherwise, fail to gratify this last request as He desired.

Request or command? We like to think He requests us, but behind the loving request is all the insistence of a Divine command. Let it be clearly understood, to neglect His wish in this respect is to do it to our loss.

His Preservation

Joseph ordered his body to be embalmed, so that when God’s time came for the emancipation of His people from Egyptian bondage his brethren could carry his remains and deposit them in the sacred soil of Caanan.

It is of interest that the Egyptians believed in the survival of the soul in the embalming of the body. We may be sure no such thought was in the mind of Joseph.

To his brethren who were with him at the close of his life he said, “God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence” (Gen. 50:25). He did not say, Ye shall carry me up. No, it was “by faith” that he gave commandment.

So long as the nation had that body with them they knew a three-fold preservation: Joseph’s death, Joseph’s promise, and Joseph’s people. His death is never forgotten; his promise of a glorious future shines like a beacon on their desert way, and they, his people are delivered from the wickedness of the nations around them. Let us look now at the Lord’s supper and make an application.

Already we have seen that in it we have preserved for us the symbol of the Lord’s death. Its weekly observance proclaims it “till He come.” We cannot forget His promise to come. While we thus observe it Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day, following the pattern of the early Church, we have been preserved from the awful pitfall of modernism which has played such havoc in the professing Church around us.

Not only is the Saviour’s death preserved in our hearts, but so is His wonderful promise, “I will come again.”

As the nation carried the bones of Joseph with them, they had constantly with them the reminder and guarantee that a Divine promise would be fulfilled.

Beloved, so with us. We look upon that symbol bread and wine, and are carried forward in rapturous hope, even as we are taken back in thought to Calvary.

The Children of Israel have reached the Promised Land; both for them and the bones of Joseph the days of wandering are over. Joseph’s wish is fulfilled, and his remains rest in the beloved country, possessed in faith by his forefathers, and now the inheritance of their children.

“Till He come!” is the Saviour’s message to us at His table. Come He will. What then? No more breaking of the bread; no more drinking of the cup. Gone forever the Lord’s Supper; it belongs to the earth and pilgrim days. The emblems are for the desert, but in the glory it will be Himself! Instead of shadow we shall have substance; anticipation shall yield to realization, faith give place to sight, and a spiritual presence change for one of blessed literalism. Never in “The Land of Fadeless Day” shall we remember Him in the breaking of the bread. In the courts of unsullied splendour around His nail-pierced feet we shall meet and worship, and adore forevermore the Lamb that was slain.