Then Israel said to Joseph, "Look, I am about to die, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers.
I. WHAT IT WAS.
1. It was not anxiety about temporal support, for that had been generously made sure to him by his son Joseph.
2. It was not concern about the future fortunes of his family, for these had been graciously taken under God's protection.
3. It was not uncertainty as to his own personal acceptance with Jehovah, for of that he had long ago been assured.
4. It was scarcely even fear of his approaching death, for besides being a thought with which Jacob had long been familiar, to a weary pilgrim like him the event itself would not be altogether unwelcome.
5. It was dread lest his lifeless body should be interred in Egypt, far from the graves of his ancestors in the holy land.
II. WHENCE IT AROSE.
1. From the deeply-seated instinct in human nature, which makes men wish, if possible, to sleep beside their fathers and friends. Though religion teaches us to believe that every spot on earth is in a manner holy ground, yet it does not induce a spirit of indifference as to the last resting-place where we shall lie.
2. From a firm faith in the Divine promise that his descendants should yet return to Canaan. Even if Jacob did not anticipate that this would immediately occur, if, as is probable, he had already dark forebodings that the period of exile and servitude spoken of by Jehovah to Abraham was about to commence, he was yet able to detect a silver lining in the cloud, to see the happy time beyond, when his children, in accordance with the promise "I will surely bring thee up again," should return home to their presently abandoned inheritance.
III. HOW IT WAS REMOVED.
1. By Joseph's promise. Requested by his aged parent to convey his body back to Canaan, when the life had departed, Joseph solemnly, engages to carry out that parent's wishes to the letter. "I will do as thou hast said."
2. By Joseph's oath. As if to remove every possible ground of apprehension, the old man further binds his son by an appeal to heaven. "And he said, Swear unto me; and he (Joseph) sware unto him." The venerable patriarch's anxieties were at an end. "And Israel bowed himself upon the bed's head." - W.
I. LET US CONSIDER THE SPIRIT OF THE WORDS OF THE DYING PATRIARCH IN REFERENCE TO HIMSELF. "I die," as if he had said, I die in peace; I die without reluctance; I have lived long enough; I am satisfied with life; I am willing to depart. What may have been the considerations which induced this state of feeling?
Behold, I die.
We have here a threefold picture.
I. OF STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS.
1. The strength of faith.
2. The strength of godliness.
3. The strength of peace.
II. OF SUCCESS IN FAILURE.
III. OF LIFE IN DEATH.
A PERIOD OF UNRUFFLED PEACE AND PROSPERITY.
II. A SEASON OF GRATEFUL RETROSPECT.
III. A SUBLIME DEATH-SCENE.
AN ABSORBING CRISIS.
1. Its nature.
2. Its cause. Result of sin.
3. Its consequences. Everlasting.
II. AN AWAKENING CONSIDERATION. "Behold." That word suggests to us suitable preparation. In prospect, then, of that amazing hour we ought —
1. To review our past lives.
2. To realise our dying hour.
3. To think of our future prospects.
1. He was satisfied with the amount of enjoyment which the God of his life had granted him.
2. The patriarch was satisfied with that duration of life which had been allotted him.
3. The dying patriarch was satisfied with the prospect of a better life which was opening before him. Having thus considered the words of the text, in reference to the views entertained by the patriarch as to himself, let us regard them.
II. As SUGGESTIVE OF THE REASONS OF HIS REPOSE IN REFERENCE TO HIS SURVIVING RELATIVES.
1. The manifestations of the Divine mercy to himself, encouraged his hopes as to his surviving relatives.
2. He was persuaded that the paternal benediction he was authorized to pronounce, had an aspect peculiarly favourable to his descendants.
3. The patriarch felt assured that the covenant made with Abraham, and Isaac, and himself, secured the presence and blessing of God to his survivors, even to the remotest age.
()The first symptom of approaching death with some, is the strong presentiment that they are about to die. Oganan, the mathematician, while in apparent health, rejected pupils from the feeling that he was on the eve of resting from his labours; and he expired soon after, of an apoplectic stroke. Fletcher, the divine, had a dream which shadowed out his impending dissolution, and believing it to be the merciful warning of Heaven, he sent for a sculptor and ordered his tomb. "Begin your work forthwith," he said at parting; "there is no time to lose." And unless the artist had obeyed the admonition, death would have proved the quicker workman of the two. Mozart wrote his Requiem under the conviction that the monument he was raising to his genius, would, by the power of association, prove a universal monument to his remains. When life was fleeting very fast, he called for the score, and musing over it, said, "Did I not tell you truly that it was for myself that I composed this death chant." Another great artist in a different department, convinced that his hand was about to lose its cunning, chose a subject emblematical of the coming event. His friends inquired the nature of his next design; and Hogarth replied, "The end of all things." "In that case," rejoined one, "there will be an end of the painter." What was uttered in jest was answered in earnest, with a solemn look and heavy sigh: "There will," he said; "and the sooner my work is done the better." He commenced next day, laboured upon it with unremitting diligence, and when he had given it the last touch, seized his pallet, broke it in pieces and said: "I have finished." The print was published in March under the title of "Finis"; and in October, the curious eyes which saw the manners in the face were closed in the dust. Our ancestors, who, prone to look in the air for causes which were to be found upon the earth, attributed these intimations to various supernatural agencies. John Hunter solved the mystery, if so it can be called, in a single sentence. "We sometimes," he says, "feel within ourselves that we shall not live; for the living powers become weak, and the nerves communicate the intelligence to the brain." His own case has often been quoted among the marvels of which he offered this rational explanation. He intimated, on leaving home, that if a discussion which awaited him at the hospital took an angry turn, it would prove his death. A colleague gave him the lie; the coarse word verified the prophecy, and he expired almost immediately, in an adjoining room. There was everything to lament in the circumstance, but nothing at which to wonder, except that any person could show such disrespect to the great genius, a single year of whose existence was worth the united lives of his opponents. Hunter, in uttering the prediction, had only to take counsel in his own experience, without the intervention of invisible spirits. He had long laboured under a disease of the heart, and he felt the disorder had reached the point at which any sharp agitation would bring on the crisis. Circumstances, which at another time would excite no attention, are accepted as an omen when health is failing. The order for the Requiem with Mozart, the dream with Fletcher, turned the current of their thoughts to the grave. Foote, prior to his departure for the continent, stood contemplating the picture of a brother author, and exclaimed, his eyes full of tears, "Poor Weston!" In the same dejected tone he added, after a pause, "soon others shall say, Poor Foote! "And to the surprise of his friends, a few days proved the justice of his prognostication. The expectation of the event had a share in producing it, for a slight shock completes the destruction of prostrate energies. The case of Wolsey was singular. The morning before he died, he asked Cavendish the hour, and was answered "past eight." "Eight of the clock!" replied Wolsey, "that cannot be; eight of the clock, nay, nay, it cannot be eight of the clock, for by eight of the clock shall you lose your master." The day he miscalculated, the hour came true; on the following morning, as the clock struck eight, his troubled spirit passed from life. Cavendish and the bystanders, thought he must have had a revelation of the time of his death; and from the way in which the fact had taken possession of his mind, we suspect that he relied on astrological prediction, which had the credit of a revelation in his own esteem. Persons in health have died from the expectation of dying. It was common for those who perished by violence to summon their destroyers to appear, within a stated time, before the tribunal of their God; and we have many perfectly attested instances in which, through fear and remorse, the perpetrators withered under the curse, and died. Pestilence does not kill with the rapidity of terror. The profligate abbess of a convent, the Princess Gonzaga of Cleves, and Guise, the profligate Archbishop of Rheims, took it into their heads, for a jest, to visit one of the nuns by night, and exhort her as a person who was visibly dying. While in the performance of this heartless scheme, they whispered to each other, "She is departing." She departed in earnest. Her vigour, instead of detecting the trick, sank beneath the alarm; and the profane pair discovered, in the midst of their sport, that they were making merry with a corpse.
()This is the nearest approach in the Bible to that which is commonly termed a death-bed scene. There is no sadder phrase than that — "a death bed scene"; for a man, when he comes to die, has something different to do than mere acting; it is not then his business to show other people how a Christian can die, but prepare himself to meet his God. It is sad also because the dying hour is often unsatisfactory, often far from triumph; in the Book of Ecclesiastes we read, "How dieth the wise man, as the fool." For there is stupor, sadness, powerlessness; and spiritual darkness also frequently clouds the last moments of the pious man. This dying hour must however have made an impression on these young men. In death itself there is nothing naturally instructive; but in this death there was simplicity, they saw the sight of an old man gathered ripe unto his fathers, and they would remember in their gaiety and strength what all life at last must come to. Consider too the effect that must have been produced on Joseph. There had been nothing, that we are aware of, with which he had to reproach himself in his conduct to his father; there was therefore no remorse mixed with his sorrow, he was spared the sharpest pang of all. How different must the feeling of the other brethren have been; they would remember that there lay one dying whom they had wronged, one whom they had deceived.
()The history is a simple one, yet with wondrous perspective. Seventeen years did Israel dwell in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen, and when he was a hundred and forty and seven years old, the time drew nigh that Israel must die. Who can fight the army of the Years? Those silent soldiers never lose a war. They fire no base cannon, they use no vulgar steel, they strike with invisible but irresistible hands. Noisy force loses something by its very. noise. The silent years bury the tumultuous throng. We have all to be taken down. The strongest tower amongst us, heaven-reaching in its altitude, must be taken down — a stone at a time, or shaken with one rude shock to the level ground: man must die. Israel had then but one favour to ask. So it comes to us all. We who have spent a life-time in petitioning for assistance have at the last but one request to make. "Take me," said one of England's brightest wits in his dying moments, "to the window that I may feel the morning air." "Light, more light," said another man greater still, expressing some wondrous necessity best left as a mystery. "Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt," said dying Jacob to his son Joseph, "but bury me in the buryingplace of my fathers." What other heaven had the Old Testament man? The graveyard was a kind of comfort to him. He must be buried in a given place marked off and sacredly guarded. He had not lived up into that universal humanity which says — All places are consecrated, and every point is equally near heaven with every other point, if so be God dig the grave and watch it. By-and-by we shall hear another speech in the tone of Divine revelation; by-and-by we shall get rid of these localities, and limitations, and prisons, for the Lion of the tribe of Judah will open up some wider space of thought, and contemplation, and service. With Joseph's oath dying Jacob was satisfied.
()The close of Jacob's career stands in most pleasing contrast with all the previous scenes of his eventful history. It reminds one of a serene evening, after a tempestuous day: the sun, which during the day had been hidden from view by clouds, mists, and fogs, sets in majesty and brightness, gilding with his beams the western sky and holding out the cheering prospect of a bright to-morrow. Thus is it with our aged patriarch. The supplanting, the bargain-making, the cunning, the management, the shifting, the shuffling, the unbelieving selfish fears — all those dark clouds of nature and of earth seem to have passed away, and he comes forth, in all the calm elevation of faith, to bestow blessings, and impart dignities, in that holy skilfulness, which communion with God can alone impart. Though nature's eyes are dim, faith's vision is sharp. He is not to be deceived as to the relative positions assigned to Ephraim and Manasseh, in the counsels of God. He has not, like his father Isaac, in chapter 27., to "tremble very exceedingly," in view of an almost fatal mistake. Quite the reverse. His intelligent reply to his less instructed son is, "I know it, my son, I know it." The power of sense has not, as in Isaac's case, dimmed his spiritual vision. He has been taught, in the school of experience, the importance of keeping close to the Divine purpose, and nature's influence cannot move him from thence. In Genesis 48:11, we have a very beautiful example of the mode in which our God ever rises above all our thoughts, and proves Himself better than all our fears. "And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face; and, lo, God hath showed me also thy seed." To nature's view, Joseph was dead; whereas in God's view he was alive, and seated in the highest place of authority, next the throne. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Would that our souls could rise higher in their apprehension of God and His ways.
()It is interesting to notice the way in which the titles "Jacob" and "Israel" are introduced in the close of the Book of Genesis; as, for example, "One told Jacob, and said, Behold thy son Joseph cometh unto thee: and Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed." Then, it is immediately added, "And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz." Now, we know, there is nothing in Scripture without its specific meaning, and hence this interchange of names contains some instruction. In general, it may be remarked, that "Jacob" sets forth the depth to which God has descended; "Israel," the height to which Jacob was raised.
()When John Owen was dying, he said, "I am leaving the ship of the Church in a storm; but whilst the Great Pilot is in it, the loss of a poor under-rower will be inconsiderable." And when a young man whose heart was in the foreign mission work, had to die, he said, "God can evangelize the world without me." So when we may lose earthly friends, comforters, guides, and helpers, we may and ought ever to fall back on our all-sufficient and ever-present God and Heavenly Father. All the lamps in a house or in a town may be extinguished when the sun rises; all the pumps may also be demolished or taken away, whilst there is a reservoir ever full, from which every one may have an abundant supply of the best water. So we need not be dismayed when we lose any or all earthly friends and advantages, so long as we have God left. They who have God for their Father, and Friend, and Portion, have all things in Him. He is the best Teacher, Guide, Protector, and Provider. But sometimes God has to deprive us of our earthly friends and possessions in order to lead us to trust Him as we ought.What if the leaves were to fall a-weeping, and say, "It will be so painful for us to be pulled from our stalks when autumn comes?" Foolish fear! summer goes, and autumn succeeds. The glory of death is upon the leaves; and the gentle breeze that blows takes them softly and silently from the bough, and they float slowly down like fiery sparks upon the moss. It is hard to die when the time is not ripe. When it is, it will be easy, we need not die while we are living.
()Death to God's people is but a ferry-boat. Every day and every hour the boat pushes off with some of the saints, and returns for more.The Christian, at his death, should not be like the child, who is forced by the rod to quit his play, but like one who is wearied of it and willing to go to bed. Neither ought he to be like the mariner, whose vessel is drifted by the violence of the tempest from the shore, tossed to and fro upon the ocean, and at last suffers wreck and destruction; but like one who is ready for the voyage, and, the moment the wind is favourable, cheerfully weighs anchor, and, full of hope and joy, launches forth into the deep.
()The ship has set sail, and kept on her course many days and nights, with no other incidents than those that are common to all. Suddenly land appears; but what the character the coast may be, the voyagers cannot discern through the tumult. The first effect of a near approach to land is a very great commotion in the waters. It is one of the coral islands of the South Pacific, encircled by a ring of fearful breakers at some little distance from the shore. Forward the ship must go; the waves are higher and angrier than any they have seen in the open sea. Presently through them, partly over them, they are borne at a bound; strained, giddy, and almost senseless, they find themselves within that sentinel ridge of crested waves that guard the shore; and the portion of sea that still lies before them is calm and clear like glass. It seems a lake of paradise, and not an earthly thing at all. It is inexpressibly sweet to lie on its bosom after the long voyage and the barren ridge. All the heavens are mirrored in the waters; and along its edge lies a flowery land. Across the belt of sea the ship glides gently, and gently touches soon that lovely shore. So many a Christian has been thrown into a great tumult when the shore of eternity suddenly appeared before him. A great fear tossed and sickened him for some days; but, when that barrier was passed, he experienced a peace deeper, stiller, sweeter, than any he ever knew before. A little space of life's voyage remained after the fear of death had sunk into a calm, and before the immortal felt the solace of eternal rest.
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