“Dust to dust, ashes to ashes…. Surely the LORD Almighty is faithful.”
The silence of the crowd is deafening. The wrinkled, stooped priest’s wavering voice carries clearly. Thousands stand, watching and waiting.
A spade full of rich, dark soil is ceremoniously poured over the elaborately decorated coffin lying at the bottom of the six foot hole.
Cheers erupt. Tears of happiness flow. Some laugh joyfully, grabbing one another in an embrace. Others do an impromptu jig. Musicians strike up a rhythmic melody. The women spread out a feast, the food all locally produced in this, their prosperous homeland.
The music increases in tempo and volume. The younger people dance tirelessly. The older people sit comfortably on rugs watching the action, laughing and nibbling on nuts, fruit and luscious breads. The very elderly smile toothlessly, reminiscing about all that preceded this happy day.
This was a burden they’d never begrudged carrying. Yet this was a burden they are unspeakably glad to lay aside. To bury these old bones once for all. Closure.
For several hundred years, the casket and its contents lay in reverent state in one home or another. Finally, almost a century ago, it was claimed by one who was an outsider … and yet one of their own. Having claimed this burden, he led on a long journey the family who had so reverently cared for it. A journey longer than any could envisage.
Standing with the casket in their midst, the people saw their enemy destroyed before their eyes, the bodies washed up on the beach on which they stood at the time. They were jubilant then too, singing and dancing. On that occasion, the women particularly had excelled themselves with their tambourines, songs and dances.
It wasn’t long, though, before the people tired of the journey. It wasn’t just the coffin they had to carry. It was everything - homes, bedding, clothing – all their possessions needed to be packed and moved at a moment’s notice. Discontent, fear, grumbling and gross disobedience became the order of the day.
Their God all but destroyed them. The behaviour of the people might have led the occupant of the coffin to turn in his grave … if he had a grave.
After two generations and several decades of carrying this burden, the responsibility of guarding it was shifted to the women and children. The men were otherwise occupied.
Sword met sword. Brute strength matched brute strength. It was not a fair match. Realistically, the bearers of the burden didn’t stand a chance. Yet against all odds, they slowly advanced. Inch by inch, mile by mile, they claimed for their own the land in which they now live.
Years of warfare preceded today’s joyful graveside ceremony. Still, there remain enemies to be overcome. Finally, however, the land is theirs.
The land is known today by the name of him to whose family it was promised – ‘Israel’.
The children of Israel celebrate wildly as the bones of Israel’s favourite son are finally laid to rest. It was from this very land that Joseph had been stolen while just a teenager. The particular plot of land in which Joseph is buried now belongs to the clans of his half Egyptian sons.
God promised His people the land. Generations ago, as Joseph lay dying in Egypt, an old man, he declared one last wish. It was more than a wish – he made his family take an oath to bring it about. When God fulfilled His promise, Joseph wanted his bones to be carried back to his homeland and be buried there.
It took centuries, but Joseph’s request was finally fulfilled. The burden the Israelites have carried has been laid to rest.
Surely, the Lord Almighty is faithful.
Genesis 50:25-26 “And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.” (NIV)
Exodus 13:19 “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath…” (NIV)
Joshua 24:32 “And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem…. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants.” (NIV)
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