Of the many exploits, experiences, and examples of faith in the life of Joseph, the Holy Spirit chooses this strange incident on his deathbed as the most remarkable case of all: "By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones" (Heb 11.22). Why? Because his final act of faith outshines the rest. Joseph lived out his last days in pomp and splendour, in comfort and luxury; he was waited on and served, the world was at his feet and at his disposal. However, he never forgot his God and the true values and meaning of life. He still loved the simple and natural things; he spent time with his family, especially his grandchildren who were "brought up on Josephs knees" (v.23) - a lovely human touch. His grandfathers duties were as important to him as his official duties. His faith was alive and well at a ripe old age!
His Confidence (v.24)
Josephs heart was still steadfastly fixed upon his God to his dying days. He was going to finish his course with joy and expectation. He knew his hour had come, but he was not morbid. He did not dwell on the good old days, but looked forward into the future. Many on their deathbeds fear the future; others think they have no future. Joseph is sustained by the promises of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had proved Gods faithfulness and the reliability of His word. Have we? Joseph expects a bright future and his faith remains strong; it was a certain hope that comforted him in his old age - "God will surely visit you" (repeated in v.25). He knew too that many centuries would lapse before that promise would be fulfilled (Gen 15.13-14). His body was weak but his vision was clear and confident. We have a more blessed hope that cheers us through dark and difficult days - the imminent return of the Saviour and the rapture of the saints. Praise His name!
His Command (v.25)
"Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel", solemnly stressing the significance and importance of his desire, and binding them to his demand that at the time of divine visitation, their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, "ye shall carry up my bones from hence". His heart was not in Egypt any longer; he knew he did not belong there so he refused the pomp and pageantry of a royal entombment and official funeral. He wanted his bones in the land of promise, thus staking his claim on the inheritance when Israel came into that land. It also indicated his belief in the resurrection of the body and his participation in the coming Kingdom of Glory. His bones were a valuable and precious legacy for the children of Israel; it was a memorial of his person.
His Coffin (v.26)
The people guarded the coffin as a peculiar treasure during the many years of slavery and suffering in Egypt. It was a constant reminder of Josephs faith and afflictions, but also of his exaltation and glory there. Its visible presence served to give them hope and strength in their sufferings. At the time of the Exodus Josephs request and his actual words were remembered, "Moses took the bones of Joseph with him" (Ex 13.19). Did he whisper to the bones with a wry smile, as another has imagined, "The time has come; we are going into the land of promise". The Israelites carried the coffin carefully and reverently through the wilderness; it was a memory of the past and a pointer to the future. So it is with us in the memorials of Christs death: "this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me", and we do so "till he come" (1 Cor 11.25-26). Week after week on our pilgrim journey through this wilderness world we are reminded of the blessed Saviour in His sufferings and glory, inspiring hope and expectation.
At last the bones were buried in Shechem by Joshua, a descendant of Joseph (Josh 24.32), in an area which became the inheritance of one of Josephs two tribes. The ways of God are wonderful! This incident is the final point of Josephs likeness to Christ. Joseph would never be forgotten again. Do we always have our heavenly Joseph in mind and heart?
Remember Thee, and all Thy pains, And all Thy love to me;
Yea, while a breath, a pulse remains,
Would I remember Thee.