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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Gen. 47–50]

JACOB lived seventeen years in Gessen. When the day of his end approached, Joseph, with his two sons, Ephraim and Manasses, went to visit him. Jacob kissed the boys, blessed them, and prayed that the angel, who had delivered him from evil during life, might protect the sons of Joseph. To Joseph he said: “Behold, I die, and God will be with you, and bring you back into the land of your fathers.”

Then, his children and grandchildren having assembled round his couch, he blessed them all. To Juda he gave a special blessing. “Juda”, said he, “thy hand shall be on the neck of thy enemies. The sons of thy father shall bow down to thee, and the scepter shall not be taken away from Juda, till He come that is to be sent, and He shall be the expectation of nations.”

Then, having told them to bury him with his fathers in the land of Chanaan, he died.

When Joseph saw this, he fell upon his father’s face, weeping and kissing him. He then ordered the body to be embalmed And Pharao commanded that all Egypt should mourn Jacob for seventy days. When the time of mourning was passed, Joseph, accompanied by all the elders of the house of Pharao, set out for the land of Chanaan, and buried the remains of his father at Hebron. Now, Jacob being dead, the brothers feared that Joseph would remember the wrong they had done him, and therefore they came to him and begged forgiveness. Joseph received them kindly, saying: “You thought evil against me, but God turned it into good.”

 

Fig. 17. Egyptian painted coffin for depositing the embalmed body.

Joseph lived one hundred and ten years, and saw his children’s children to the third generation. When his end drew near, he said to his brethren: “God will visit you after my death, and will make you go up out of this land, to the land which he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Carry my bones with you out of this place.” He then died, and they embalmed him and laid him in a coffin (Fig. 18).

The fifth promise of the Messias. Jacob’s dying prophecy treated, firstly, of Juda’s precedence over his brethren, and secondly, of the coming of the Redeemer. Both prophecies have been fulfilled. Even in the time of Moses, the tribe of Juda was the most numerous of the twelve. To this tribe belonged the royal race of David; and with it remained the capital, Jerusalem, with the Temple and the High-Priest. After the Babylonian captivity, this tribe gave its name to the whole nation, all its people being thenceforward known by the name of Jews. Finally, from the tribe of Juda sprang the Messias (Hebr. 7:14), to whom the second part of Jacob’s prophecy refers. In this wonderful prophecy, uttered 1900 years B. C., the very time of our Lord’s coming was foretold, namely that in which the dominion of Juda should cease. This came to pass exactly as foretold, for, at the time of our Lord’s birth, the foreigner, Herod, placed as king over the subjected people, ruled in Judæa. Jacob also prophesied that the Redeemer would be expected by all nations, i. e. that not only the children of Abraham, but all the nations would be looking for Him. This also came to pass.

 

Fig. 18. Egyptian mummy-coffin. Paris, Louvre.

Conduct towards aged parents. Joseph had always been a good son, and he honoured and loved his father as long as he was alive, and faithfully carried out his last wishes. His example shows us that we ought to support our parents in their old age; to visit and comfort them when they are sick; to be by their side at the hour of death; to faithfully carry out their last wishes; to pray diligently for the repose of their souls, and always have a grateful remembrance of them. “Son, support the old age of thy father, and grieve him not in thy life” (Ecclus. 3:14).

The reward of virtue. Almighty God often visibly rewards virtue, and especially that which is shown by children to their parents. We can see this in the case both of Joseph and of Juda. a) Joseph loved and honoured his father; therefore, he was blessed by God even in this world. He lived fifty-four years after his father’s death, rejoiced in his children and grandchildren, was protected and enlightened by God, and died a happy death. b) Next to Joseph, Juda was the best of Jacob’s sons. He saved Joseph from death, saying: “It is better he be sold than that our hands be defiled, for he is our brother.” He made himself surety for Benjamin, and when Joseph wished to keep the latter as a slave, he said: “I will stay, instead of the boy; for, if he is not with us, we shall bring our father’s grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.” Juda was rewarded for this generous conduct; for his tribe was the dominant one, and of it was born the Saviour. “Honour thy father in work and word and all patience. The father’s blessing establisheth the houses of children: but the mother’s curse rooteth up the foundation” (Ecclus. 3:9, 11).

Happy death. Is not Jacob’s death striking and beautiful? Surrounded by his children, he gives his blessing to each one, foretelling God’s will concerning them. Dying in a strange land, he fixes his mind on the divine promises, and leaves this world calm and joyous, solemnly proclaiming his belief in the coming Redeemer. Joseph, too, died a holy and happy death, mourned by his brothers, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He died firm in the hope that his people would possess the Promised Land, and that, some day, the Redeemer would come. Both Jacob and Joseph had led holy, God-fearing lives; therefore they both died happy, peaceful deaths, firm in the hope of the future Saviour. As they lived, so they died. “With him that feareth the Lord, it shall go well in the latter end, and in the day of his death he shall be blessed” (Ecclus. 1:13).

The words of Jacob to his son Juda refer to the Saviour, who was expected by the nations, and who was descended from Juda. The patriarch Joseph is a figure of St. Joseph, the foster-father of Christ. The one was ruler in Egypt; the other is the protector of the Catholic Church.

The twelve sons of Jacob were a type of the twelve Apostles. As from Jacob’s twelve sons sprang the whole chosen people, even so, in a spiritual way, have the chosen people of the New Testament, the faithful, sprung from the twelve Apostles, who converted both Jews and Gentiles, receiving them into the Church of Christ.

APPLICATION. If you wish to die a happy death, you must fear God from your youth upward, and pray diligently for the grace of final perseverance, because this most important of all graces can only be obtained by prayer. Only the foolish and cowardly hope for a sudden death. The Church teaches us to pray: “From sudden and unprovided death, Lord, deliver us.” It is a great blessing not to die suddenly, but to watch death approaching as Jacob did, and be able to prepare ourselves for it. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.”

Some day you will stand by the death-bed of your father or mother. How you will then grieve, if you have caused them sorrow or suffering in their life-time!








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