Friday, February 13, 2009

A State Funeral

Several times in recent years we have witnessed state funerals. Diana, Princess of Wales was probably the most prominent, or on a smaller scale, George Best was granted a semi-state funeral up at Parliament Buildings in Stormont. They are generally grand occasions, with pomp and ceremony mixed with high emotion.

Reading through Genesis, in the last chapter we find a state funeral of sorts. Jacob, also known as Israel, had died in the land of Egypt, having made it to see his son Joseph alive, and also his children. Joseph by this time had risen to the rank of Prime Minister of Egypt, seeing the nation through years of famine and national crisis (another posting on this soon).

Jacob was to be buried in the cave in the field of Machpelah, where his wife Leah was buried, as well as Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah. Thus far, the field and the cave was the only portion of the Promised Land held by Israel. It was all Abraham saw - he died in faith.

Picture the scene:

4And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5My father made me swear, saying, 'I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.' Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return." 6And Pharaoh answered, "Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear." 7So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. 9And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, "This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians." Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place.

What a sight it must have been! Israel buried in honour by the state of Egypt in the promised land. Several generations would pass before the people of Israel would leave Egypt for good, and take possession of the land in its fullness. And through it all, God's promise and purpose continue to be worked out.

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