Weekly Bible Reading Reflection (Week 7): God is Sovereign and the Dead will be Raised

And so we reach the end of the book of Genesis. There are so many important things in Genesis. It really is a foundational book, essential for understanding the rest of Scripture. Today we conclude this first book of Moses with the death of Jacob, one last reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, and finally the death of Joseph. I want us to focus on two things from this chapter: the sovereignty of God, and the hope of the resurrection of the dead.


The Sovereignty of God


In verse 15, we read, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’” Joseph’s brothers are scared that everything has been an act, that Joseph has just been biding his time, waiting for his father to die so that he could exact his vengeance. Perhaps, they thought, Joseph had only treated them well out of respect for their father, a respect they didn’t have all those years ago. Perhaps he hadn’t wanted his father to have to suffer the loss of his sons. Perhaps Joseph thought his father couldn’t handle it. Again, these would have all been concerns the brothers could have had when it came to Joseph, but they didn’t.


So, the brothers now have a dilemma. They know that if Joseph tries to get his revenge it will be because they deserve it. Furthermore, they know that Joseph is one of the most powerful men in the world. If he wants his revenge, he can get it. Since there was no reason, as far as they could see, why Joseph wouldn’t want his revenge, a plan was formed.


First, they sent a messenger in Gen. 50:16-17 to tell Joseph, “Your father gave this command before he died…‘Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’” So, rather than simply asking forgiveness themselves, they put the words in Jacob’s mouth. They thought if Joseph had been kind to them all this time for Jacob’s sake, perhaps he would continue for Jacob’s sake. Just in case though, they came to him themselves in Gen. 50:18 and simply said, “Behold, we are your servants.”


Now, to be clear, I don’t know what kind of relationship Joseph had with his brothers after the whole family moved to Egypt. I don’t know if they were always over at each other’s houses. I don’t know if their kids played together. I don’t even know if they regularly corresponded. I don’t know any of that.


What I do know is this: Joseph isn’t seeking vengeance, not because the brothers didn’t deserve it, but because Joseph could see God accomplishing his purposes even in their evil actions. He responds in Gen. 50:19-21, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Joseph knew the promise to Abraham that all nations of the earth would be blessed through his Offspring. Joseph knew that sin and death and everything wrong with the world, including what his brothers did to him, would be solved by the Offspring of Abraham. Joseph knew that God was keeping his promise. That meant that, in keeping his promise, God had Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt. Yet God did this for a purpose, and Joseph could now see what that purpose was.


We aren’t always told why God allows certain things to happen. We aren’t always given the reason. Yet we have the same God that Joseph did, and he is still carrying out his purposes in this world. God’s promise to work all things together for the good of those who love him was true in Joseph’s day, and it is true in our day as well. We can trust our sovereign God just as Joseph did.


The Resurrection of the Dead


You may find it odd that I believe we can find the hope of the resurrection of the dead here in Genesis 50. After all, many will tell you that the Old Testament knew nothing of an afterlife, much less of a resurrection. “This belief came about during the time between the Testaments,” they’ll say. Well, I’m going to dispute that. Sure, there’s nothing as detailed as what we have in, say, 1 Corinthians 15, but if you know where to look for it, you can find the promise of the resurrection of the dead in the Old Testament. And I would contend that you can find it in this chapter.


In Gen. 50:25 we read, “Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.’” There. That’s it. That’s the hope of the resurrection of the dead in the Old Testament. Isn’t it great?


On the off chance that you’re sitting there wondering, “Has Pastor Brooks lost his mind,” let me explain. This isn’t the last time the Old Testament makes a big deal out of someone’s bones. In fact, Exodus 13:17-19 records the Israelites keeping this promise to Joseph when they leave Egypt, and Joshua 24:32 records them finally burying him in the promised land. In fact, both passages explicitly mention the “bones” of Joseph. So this isn’t just a “throw away line.”


Then the theme of bones continues in the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 31, the men of Jabesh Gilead remove the bones of Saul and his sons that had been displayed as trophies on the city walls by the Philistines. In 2 Samuel 21, David reburies those bones, placing them in the tomb of Saul’s father. In 1 Kings 13, when one prophet of God is burying another, the man tells his sons, “When I die…lay my bones beside his bones.” In 2 Kings 23, King Josiah is burning the bones of false prophets on the alter to Asherah, when he encounters the bones of that very prophet from 1 Kings 13. Upon realizing who this person is, Josiah tells his men, “Let no man move his bones.” He was perfectly willing to desecrate the bones of the wicked, but not of this God-fearing, righteous man. In 2 Kings 13, a man is actually raised from the dead when he is thrown into a tomb and comes into contact with the bones of the prophet Elisha. Finally, in Ezekiel 37, the prophet sees a valley of dry bones, and the Lord raises them all from the dead.


Lest you think I’m reaching here, Hebrews 11:22 says, “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.” The writer to the Hebrews saw Joseph’s instructions about his bones to be an act of faith, and the rest of the Old Testament makes it clear that the faith he had was in the hope of the resurrection of the dead. Joseph believed that Christ would one day come, and that the dead would be raised. Funny enough, Matthew 27 records tombs being opened when Christ died and was raised. Paul calls Christ the “first fruits” of those who have fallen asleep. In Christ, we have the substance of what Joseph believed would one day come. Thanks be to God![1]

[1] The “bones” motif I write about here was taken directly out of my notes from Dr. John Currid’s Gen.-Josh. class at RTS Charlotte.