In the closing section of the book of Genesis, we read a fascinating statement which Joseph, the son of Jacob, made to his brethren. He talked with them about what would happen to his bones, that is, what he wanted them to do with his body after his passing. Here are the words of Genesis 50:24-26:
(24) And Joseph said to his brethren, ‘I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ (25) Then Joseph took an oath from the children of Israel, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.’ (26) So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
What lessons can we learn from the Bible’s message about Joseph’s bones?
Joseph’s statement about his bones reminds us of the certainty of death for all. Joseph was a mighty man, second in command in the land of Egypt. Yet, he, too, made the transition from “I am dying” to “Joseph died” (50:24,26), leaving his bones behind. Except for those who still will be alive when Jesus comes again, all humans die (Hebrews 9:27), and their bones are left in the hands of others.
Joseph showed faith in God’s promise to visit Israel (50:25). It is not speculation on our part to state that in this regard Joseph demonstrated faith. You see, the Bible says, “By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:22). Joseph was totally convinced about these matters: (1) The God of heaven is faithful, being true to His word at all times; (2) The God of heaven has the power to fulfill His promises; (3) The God of heaven had promised Joseph’s father, grandfather, and great- grandfather that He would give the land of Canaan to their descendants (Genesis 12:5,7); (4) Since God is faithful and has the power to fulfill His promises, if He pledged to give a land to Jacob’s offspring, the Israelites, then that is exactly what would take place. Thus, Joseph basically said, “When God comes to visit His people and make good on His promise, my bones are going with you.” Now that is buying into what Jehovah says and taking action!
Joseph’s bones lying in that coffin in Egypt sent a powerful message to the enslaved Israelites. Every time they thought about, talked about, or had occasion to pass by the bones of Joseph, they would be reminded of Joseph’s statements about his bones and that the God of heaven, according to His will and time schedule, would fulfill His promise to bring them to the distant land of Canaan. In the same way, when we reflect on our Lord’s promise of an eternal inheritance, we are reminded of the spiritual land of Canaan to which we are headed. When life seems tough, even unfair, and the road seems so long, let us remember our final destination!
What actually transpired with Joseph’s bones after he died? It is common for people to make requests about their funeral and what they would like to be done with their body following their demise. In some cases, the survivors follow those wishes; in other instances, they disregard them and do as they please. What happened with Joseph’s bones? The children of Israel complied with his request. A few hundred years after Joseph’s passing, when the Lord delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him . . .” (Exodus 13:19). That is right: Joseph’s bones were transported from place to place as Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Finally, after the Israelites conquered Canaan, “The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought . . .” and belonged to the land territory of Joseph’s offspring (Joshua 24:32).
Some people go to great lengths to make arrangements for their bones, but they do not do the same with their soul. Joseph did both. That is, he expressed his desires about what he wanted others to do with his physical body, but he also made it his priority in life to walk with the Lord and thereby make proper arrangements for his soul’s eternal well-being. “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). In the same way, what shall it profit a man if his bones are buried or cremated in a memorable fashion, but he loses his own soul? Right-thinking people are those who set their mind “on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2); their number one focus is on eternity in heaven (1 Peter 1:3,4), not a cemetery plot or fancy funeral.
Like Joseph, we might have a say in where our bones will be placed, but the Lord will make the final decision about our soul’s destiny. When you think about it, we choose our own eternal destiny by the choices that we make in life. The Lord simply will be the One who pronounces the final verdict.
— Roger D. Campbell