Instructive Burial Arrangements

It has been stated that there is nothing more certain in life than death. There is truth in this, and whether we be rich It has been stated that there is nothing more certain in life than death. There is truth in this, and whether we be rich or poor, bond or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile the day of our death is certain for us. The only exception is that those living when Christ returns will be changed and at once enter into heavenly glory or hellish agony. We may not like to think of our coming death. We may try by surgery and medication to delay it. But it is an experience that we may be sure lies in the future for us.

However, it would be wrong to say that it is the most certain thing in life. The most certain thing in life is that God will fulfill His counsel; and therefore all His promises to His people will be fulfilled to the last letter of every word in them, and the wages He has decreed for the ungodly will be paid in full in the lake of fire. And therefore the believers may face this certain death with the firm conviction that death for them is gain and will bring them to the enjoyment of what God promised in a heavenly glory, while unbelievers have reason to live in fear and dread of that day when all the deceptive earthly joys come to an end and they receive their reward in a woe that will never end.

Because we know that death lies ahead we buy cemetery lots, make out wills, try to set our house in order, and even perhaps pick the text and the songs for our funeral service.

But although death is very certain, the time of that death is not so certain in the minds of all those that die. The physician at times may predict quite accurately how many days, hours, or minutes one has yet to live. But some die suddenly, unexpectedly, at times when their loved ones have no thoughts of the nearness of death at all. It takes them by surprise not only, but they are wholly unprepared for it. A cemetery lot must quickly be purchased. A will contemplated but not consummated cannot now be drawn up and filed with an attorney.

Then, too, there are those who expect to die and continue to live, as well as those who are expected to die and baffle the physician and even get up off their “deathbed” to live active and productive lives. The time of our death is not for us fixed and certain, even though the fact that it is coming is so sure that there is no room to doubt it. Through almost six thousand years of history man has not been able to point to one person who escaped death and has continued on this earth beyond the age of Methuselah, who was not touched by death until he reached nine hundred and sixty-nine years.

Now Jacob was aware of all this. And Jacob was aware of it because he knew that his death was not far away, for he had not only reached the age of one hundred and forty-seven, but he could tell from his physical limitations and frailties that he was rapidly going down hill. And there were things that he not only wanted to do, but he knew that he must do before he closed his eyes in sleep. Therefore he called Joseph to him and made him swear that he would see to it that he would be buried in the land of Canaan. So we read in Genesis 47:29-31.

One thing Jacob wanted to make sure. He was living with his sons in Egypt, and he knew that his sons would remain there for many centuries. For his grandfather Abraham had been told by God that they would be strangers in a land that was not theirs, and would be afflicted four hundred years before they would come out again into Canaan. Genesis 15:13-15reveals that to us. But even though they would continue in that land for many years, he wanted his body buried in a land that by promise was theirs. And he wanted that burial shortly after his death. Joseph later on commands that his bones be carried to Canaan when the Israelites would in God’s time be delivered from that people that would afflict them. But Jacob says to Joseph, “Thou shalt carry me out of Egypt.” And “thou” is singular, referring to Joseph, not to the Israelites when they come up out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses.

Did Jacob have a special reason for asking Joseph to do this and to swear an oath that he would do so? Was it that he trusted Joseph more than the other sons? Was it that he was confident that Joseph had the king’s favor and could easily get permission to do this? Was it because Joseph was his favorite son? And did he have to demand an oath of Joseph? Had Joseph ever done anything to give his father the impression that he would go back on his word? All these questions arise when one reads these lines about Jacob demanding this oath of his son.

One truth stands out among all the answers that might be given to these questions, and that is that Jacob was very serious about this matter. Be it his favorite son, be it that this son had influence with the king of Egypt and could obtain permission to bury him shortly after his death and back in the land of Canaan, this was no whim or fancy of Jacob. It was not a wish of a senile father with childish preferences. You can rule all that out of the picture. Those words, “deal kindly and truly,” are the same words that Abraham’s servant used before Bethuel when he requested Rebekah’s journey with him in order that she might become Isaac’s wife, as recorded in Genesis 24:49. There it was not a case of sentimentality. By no means is it a case of fleshly emotionalism and sentimentality here.

It is true that Jacob states that he desires to lie with his fathers. It is also true that family plots are purchased and designated so that families can be buried together, and that bodies are flown from places on the other side of the globe to be buried where their relatives can visit the grave and place flowers upon it. But Jacob’s desire is spiritual. It is not because he was born in Canaan. It is not even because his fathers were buried there. What benefit do the dead derive from such a burial? To the soul departed for heavenly glory, what does it matter where the body is temporarily hidden from the eyes of men and set aside until the resurrection day? Jacob is not looking at that piece of land called Canaan. Nor in the first place is he looking at his fathers buried there in that one small spot in Canaan. Turn to Hebrews 11:13-16 and let Scripture interpret Scripture. Then you are safe, and then you will learn to see matters as God wants you to see them.

Jacob had seen the promises of the new Jerusalem afar off, was persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that he was a pilgrim and stranger on the earth (also in that land where he wanted to be buried), because he desired a better country, that is a heavenly one. Jacob had his eye on the promise of God. He had his eye on Christ. O yes he did. For all God’s promises center in and revolve around Christ. And although Jacob could not know Him as we do, and could not see beauty in His cross the way we do, Jacob could with Job say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body; yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25, 26). And do not forget that Job lived before Jacob’s day. There is nothing strange about it that the saints in those days knew that they had a Redeemer Who would raise their dead bodies. Rather than being strange, it is wonderful that they knew and believed all this. It is the result of a wonder of grace which God wrought in them to give them spiritual life, faith, and hope.

Jacob had in him the same spiritual life that God gave not only to his fathers, with whom he would be buried, but to Job and all the Old Testament saints. This life takes hold of God’s promises and causes all those who have it to seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and to say with David (who likewise had that life), “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4). It works the confidence in those who have it to say also with David, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).

And because Jacob had such hope and confidence in God’s promises he is moved to want his body buried in the land of promise. He wants that which comes when the promises of God are all fulfilled. He wants his body to be there when God fulfills these promises. As an Old Testament saint he could not see the details of that fulfillment as clearly as we can, but he saw a fulfillment coming. And I might add that we today do not see the fulfillment either as it actually shall be. We still, though our vision is brightened and contains more detail, see as in a glass darkly. Revelation 21 and Revelation 22 are a beautiful testimony of what lies ahead. But it is all written in earthly language. We too still see the promises afar off, even though we are much closer to their fulfillment. We seek “an heavenly” country; but, not having been there, we cannot say anything more about it than what is presented to us in Holy Writ in earthly language. That language expresses its beauty in terms of earthly beauty. How much more wonderful it shall then be! The psalmist says in Psalm 103:11 that as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is God’s mercy toward them that fear Him. We may also say that as high as the heaven is above the earth, so great is the glory and wonder of that which is promised us in earthly language.

And before we conclude—even though we had more to write on this matter—let it be pointed out that there is another aspect of this request of Jacob that must not be overlooked. There is instruction here. And I do not mean merely that we can learn from this deed of Jacob. I mean that Jacob is here teaching his sons as a faithful covenant father. He is about to die, and he knows it. The day will soon come when he cannot instruct his sons any more. His mouth will be stopped. His body will no longer be seen. He will no longer be there to rebuke, exhort, and point his sons (who had their flesh and had given him many moments of anxiety as to their spirituality) to God’s promises. Putting them to the task of burying him in the land of promise will focus their attention on that promise of God. They will not as easily forget it as they would have without this example which their father sets. And I might add that Joseph’s request that his bones be carried along to Canaan by the Israelites served that same purpose, namely, to keep before them the hope of the promises of God. Jacob points his sons to the promise. He directs their thoughts, even after he is dead, back to Canaan and to the promises of God connected with that land. He, as well as Abel, “being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4).

Do we as parents do that? Do we so live that we point our children to what we are going to leave behind for them, or to what God has laid away for His people in the heavenly Canaan? At the moment, the Israelites had it good in Goshen. In fact, they never had it so good before this as pilgrims and strangers in Canaan. And our children never had it so good in all the affluence and luxuries—even in these times of gross inflation. We do well to strive, therefore, more diligently and faithfully to point them to the heavenly Canaan, and to live a life that sets such an example not only, but so that their memory of us after we have departed points them heavenward and not to the things below which moth and rust corrupt and thieves break through to steal.