Famous Last Words: Joseph

In comparison with the lengthy and momentous last words of Jacob, which take up more than two chapters [1], the famous last words of Joseph are very short, and echo only some of the same concerns that were seen when looking at Jacob. Nevertheless, the short nature of Joseph’s last words do not mean that they were insignificant, only that greater attention must be paid to what is between the lines, as well as to the fact that even Joseph’s more modest last words led to an act that is not often recognized concerning the Exodus that is pointed out very obliquely, demonstrating that the last words of a godly man are considered of great importance. Joseph’s last words are short enough that they can be stated very briefly as follows from Genesis 50:22-26: “So Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his father’s household. And Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. Joseph saw Ephraim’s children to the third generation. The children of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were also brought up on Joseph’s knees. 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.” 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.” So Joseph died, being one hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.”

Joseph’s death, coming at the very end of Genesis, is the very meaning of unfinished business. Unlike was the case with Jacob, when Joseph died there was no ability on the part of the children of Israel to depart Egypt to bury him in the promised land. He was embalmed, in deference to his greatness in Egypt, and with the goal in mind of preserving the body from rotting and decomposition while he lay in state in his coffin until he was brought to the land of Israel. As it happens, in Joshua 24:32, we have a record that Joseph’s last wishes about the state of his body were followed, as it is written: “The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver [2], and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph. During the hurried preparations for departing Egypt, one of Moses’ important tasks was to honor the request of Joseph that his bones be taken to the promised land, as it is written in Exodus 13:19: “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under a solemn oath, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you.” As it was promised, so it was done.

Yet the bringing of Joseph’s bones with them was only part of the unfinished business with which Genesis ends. Reading closely, one can see that even at the death of Joseph, the children of Israel were in a difficult spot. Twice in the short space before His death Joseph feels it necessary to comfort the children of Israel concerning the fact that God would visit them, because they were already in a bad spot. At the beginning of Exodus, it is said that there arose a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8), but it does not require the death of Joseph for that to happen. It often happens that even when people are around, living decent and godly lives, and speaking and writing and living the right way, that there are others who do not know them, who do not take the time to develop a relationship, who do not regard them, and who show no respect for them, even while they are there. It appears, given the implied anxiety of the children of Israel and the fact that Joseph could not be buried promptly when he died because unlike the situation at the death of Jacob some seventy or so years before, the children of Israel no longer had the favor of the Egyptian authorities, and their position was already in a decline towards slavery and oppression.

There is one more particularly intriguing aspect to this discussion of Joseph’s famous last words, and that is the way that it demonstrates that the prophecy given by Jacob concerning Joseph’s two sons had already begun to take place. Just as Jacob promised that Ephraim would be more prominent than Manasseh, so to this passage first discusses the growth of Ephraim’s family first, and then discusses the children of Machir, the son of Manasseh. The early coming to pass of Jacob’s prophecy about Joseph’s family is in stark contrast to the fact that many other prophecies have taken a much longer time to unfold, but it is demonstrative of the concern of the Bible for prophecy and for God’s faithfulness in bringing to pass what is promised through the mouths of His servants. Even if brief, Joseph’s last words are worthwhile to reflect upon as being evidence of the importance that is placed on last words and on the faithfulness of God to His promises, even if it takes some time sometimes.

[1] See, for example:


[2] A particularly painful incident. See also:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Famous Last Words: Joseph

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Famous Last Words Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  3. Pingback: Famous Last Words: Moses | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Famous Last Words: Joshua | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Famous Last Words: Sisera | Edge Induced Cohesion

  6. Pingback: Famous Last Words: Adoni-Bezek, Zebah and Zalmunna, Agag | Edge Induced Cohesion

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