Take Joseph’s Bones with You

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The car is packed. The suitcases are crammed up against the windows. I am about to leave for a trip. Suddenly I think, “Oh, did I remember to pack the bones?” That sounds rather morbid, doesn’t it? “A box of bones?” That is not the first item on our family’s packing list.

Yet, when Jacob’s family left Egypt, “a box of bones” was the one thing they must not leave behind. Those bones belonged to Joseph. The story of Joseph’s bones had a life far beyond the grave.

You see their significance by where they are placed in the Biblical story. Joseph’s bones surface in the final verses of Genesis and Joshua (Gen. 50:24-25; Josh. 24:32), and they mark an important turning point in the book of Exodus (Ex. 13:19). In other words, “The story of Israel is written on the bones of Joseph.”

In addition, when the author of Hebrews looked for an illustration of faith in the life of Joseph, he found it in a most unusual place. He discovered faith living in the bones of Joseph (Heb. 11:22).

The placement and prevalence of Joseph’s bones in the Biblical story cause us to examine them for ourselves. Once we have, we will not want to make our journey without them. Here’s where the story begins.

“Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” 25 And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” (Gen. 50:24-25)

There is a message in “them there bones.”

This World Is Not My Home. Joseph may walk like an Egyptian, but his heart is firmly placed in the land of God’s promise (Gen. 49:29-50:14, where he buried his father years before). The wealth and pleasures of Egypt did not capture his affections. He remained a foreigner in mind.

Later, those “bones in a box” reminded Joseph’s children they had something better to live for than temporary delights. Their lives could bring glory to God. Likewise, we are foreigners and exiles in this world who are traveling toward an eternal inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4; 2:11-12). This world is not our home.

Adversity Will Come. However, the message of Joseph’s bones is not all cheery. They tell of trouble to come. Joseph said, “God will surely come to your aid” (50:24). Great! But, aid is only needed when pain is present. And pain was coming. Israel went from shepherds to slaves. They groaned from tortuous work and wept over murdered children (Ex. 1).

They could bury their heads in despair. Except, there were those bones! The affliction of God’s people should not be a surprise. Joseph’s bones say, “There will be tears ahead.”

Only the naive think life is without pain. Jesus told His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33; 15:18-20). Paul taught even new believers, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

God Is with You. But, written on Joseph’s bones was also a promise, “God will surely come” (Gen. 50:25). Israel had a Helper sufficient to the need. After ten plagues and a parted sea, Israel understood the abundant aid of their God.

Of course, Joseph’s own life is a testimony to this truth. When he found himself in a pit or a prison, God was always present to provide the relief he needed (See Gen. 37-41).

God’s presence is also discovered during the second excavation of Joseph’s bones in Exodus 13.

When Israel left Egypt, God gave them visual testimonies of His providential care. He gave them feast like the Passover and Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12; 13:3-10). He gave them Laws like the “consecration of the firstborn” to remind them they were His people (Ex. 13:1-2, 11-16). He gave them a pillar of cloud and fire to guide and protect them (Ex. 13:20-22).

But, one of the living testimonies of God’s presence was an Egyptian made coffin with the bones of Joseph inside. Those bones promised, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place” (Ex. 13:19). They did not leave Egypt alone. God was with them.

Surprisingly, we are reminded of God’s presence not by dry bones from a tomb, but by the fact that there are no bones in a tomb! Our Lord Jesus is risen from the dead! Therefore, He is “able to aid” those who suffer (Heb. 2:18).

God Will Get You Home. Joseph’s bones once again resurface in the final verses of Joshua to tell us, “God will get you home” (Josh. 24:32). The enemy was conquered. The land was enjoyed. Like planting a flag on the top of Mt. Everest, Israel placed the bones of Joseph in the land as a victorious statement, “God did it! Despite our weakness and sin, and the defiance of men…God did it!”

The writer of Hebrews visits the bones of Joseph to make a similar point. He writes about how early believers, like Joseph, died before the promise of a home was received. Yet, they died in faith that God would do it (Heb. 11:22). Joseph’s bones, resting in Canaan proved, God can get His people home.

The author of Hebrews is quick to remind us that the real home Joseph and others longed for was not soil and rock, but was a “heavenly country” and a city prepared by God (Heb. 11:16). Joseph’s bones tell us that God is still able to get us home!

By the way, Joseph’s bones are not finished traveling. None of God’s people are. At the trumpet call of God the dead shall rise and those who are alive will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-18). We’ll see those bones again. Until then, take Joseph’s bones with you.

Tim Jennings

“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)


Extra Bits:

One more mention of Joseph! 

Stephen uses the Joseph story to emphasize 1) the rejection of God’s elect by his brothers (Joseph foreshowing Jesus; Acts 7:9, 51-52) 2) God’s “resurrection” and “exaltation” of the rejected one (Joseph foreshadowing Jesus; Acts 7:9-10)

New You Resolutions

It is the beginning of a new year and many of us are examining our past and planning our future.  However, this noble practice can send us off in harmful directions if our standard of evaluation is anything less than faith.

Paul wrote, “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). In other words, our goals for the new year don’t just include Jesus, they are written by Him.

So, if Jesus wrote your goals for the next year, what would they look like?  We don’t have to guess. Just look at the New Testament letters. They record essential goals to make a new you this year.

Live for God’s Glory

The early believers were driven by a desire to honor God.  After all, God gave us life so that we might live for His glory.  It is our purpose.

“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

“[Jesus] died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)

“serve…so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 4:11).

“It was for the sake of the Name they went out.” (3 John 7) “Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

“To God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph. 3:21)

Look at the list of things you want to change this year and ask, “Why?” If the answer doesn’t come back with something about God’s will, God’s glory, God’s work, then you might need to reconsider that goal as not worthy of your life in Christ.

Deepen Your Spiritual Relationships

Large sections of every New Testament letter deal with our responsibility toward the local church.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another” (Rom. 12:10). 

“through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). 

“stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:24-25).

“exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13)

“I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10)

“God will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Heb. 6:10; Matt. 25:40)

Do the plans we make interfere with worshiping with and serving the church?  Perhaps more pointedly, do our plans include the local church?  Have we planned to show more hospitality, love, service, generosity, and encouragement?  Have we planned to teach a class, clean the building, or visit the hospital?

Jesus is so identified with His people, that whatever we do to them, we are doing it to Him. Jesus gave His life for the church, and He asks us to do the same.

Grow in Your Biblical Understanding

There is nothing that can change you for the better like regular time spent in God’s word.  That is why nearly every New Testament letter includes exhortations to grow in spiritual understanding.

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge” (Philippians 1:9)

“For this reason, we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:8-10)

“but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

Make A Commitment to Personal Holiness

Every New Testament letter includes a call to personal holiness.

“I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Pet. 2:11)

“let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

“put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; … and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22,24)

“just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13)

“let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1)

Don’t settle for anything less than a totally holy and righteous life.

Whatever you plan this year, make sure the motivating goals have something to do with God’s glory, God’s people, God’s word, and God’s holiness.  It will make 2017 worthwhile!