4 When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, “If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, 5 ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’”6 Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt— 8 besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. 9 Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.10 When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father. 11 When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.” That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim.12 So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them: 13 They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. 14 After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.
Regarding this burial, Tom Hale writes:
‘The reader is reminded of God’s promise to Jacob when he left Canaan to go down to Egypt: “I will surely bring you back again” (Genesis 46:4). Here once again we see the fulfillment of God’s promise. But beyond that, the great procession described here is a hint, a foreshadowing of an even greater procession that would take place four hundred years later: the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt and their fourty-year journey to the promised land. Even the roundabout routes of the two processions were similar: in both cases Canaan was entered from the east.’ ‘Applied Old Testament Commentary’, pp.202, 203.
There is a sense in which, following each and every burial, we have to ‘return to Egypt.’ What I mean to say is that life has to go on and we have to live it. Back in 2009 I was given a number of books on grieving and bereavement. They were all helpful in their own way. But the stand-out phrase I took away from one of them was, ‘You have to establish a new normal.’ I found that thought so helpful. The ‘old normal’ has gone and will not return, but you can build new patterns. (I appreciate that in the last eighteen months, this phrase has been used re life during, and after, the pandemic, but I think I will always associate it primarily with rebuilding life after loss).
Joseph’s ‘new normal’ back in Egypt involved adjusting to the painful reality that his father was dead, and he would never see him again in this world. But his life went on, as we shall see. It also went on for his brothers.
Life does go on. What, of course, is wrong, is that any of us should insist that people move on when they are not ready. Every grieving soul will move at their own pace, and they need sympathetic, patient friends to walk with them.
‘This was Joseph’s first trip back to his homeland in thirty-nine years, and it’s too bad it had to be for his father’s burial. But he didn’t linger in Canaan, for God had given Joseph a job to do in Egypt, and that’s where he belonged with his family.’
Life does go on, and for every believer there is always work to do.
PRAYER: We pause to pray today for all those who have lost their nearest and dearest. They face the huge challenging of carrying on without those they love. Help them, in your timing, to live again, and give them true companions on their journey. Enable me to be a ‘friend indeed’ to friends in need.