Today’s reading begins with Israel’s blessing of his sons and concludes with the telling of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt.
Near the time of Israel’s death, he called his sons to him and speak to them his final words and bless them.
Reuben: Preeminent in dignity and power, but his preeminence is removed because he took Israel’s concubine and defiled her.
Simeon and Levi: Violent men and cursed in their anger. Israel fears them.
Judah: He will be praised among his brothers and shall dominate his enemies and be over his brothers. Judah will be a ruler and the scepter would not depart from him.
Zebulun: He will be someone who dwells near the sea and his home will be near Sidon.
Issachar: He is strong and works hard.
Dan: He shall be a judge among his people and cause disruption.
Gad: He will be overtaken by raiders, but return their actions to them.
Asher: He will be rich.
Naphtali: He will bear beautiful children.
Joseph: He is a fruitful bough. God will give him help and great blessings will be his.
Benjamin: He is ravenous and dangerous like a wolf.
Genesis 49:28 sums up Israel’s final words to his children very well:
“All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.”
Israel’s final words to his sons are instructions for where he is to be buried: “…in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave thatis in the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite.” Genesis 49:30
Israel passed away and all of Egypt wept for him for 70 days. Joseph ordered that his father be embalmed and in all likelihood was mummified in a manner similar to other Egyptians. After this, Joseph took his father and buried him in Canaan in the place he commanded.
Even after all the Joseph had done to preserve his family and living in apparent harmony with his brothers for the remaining seventeen years of their father’s life; his brothers still feared that Joseph would exact vengeance on them. This fear is understandable, but it must have brought grief to Joseph. He once again had to explain to his brothers that God had used the events of Joseph’s life to preserve each of them, protecting them from death and that his brothers had nothing to fear from him.
Joseph passes away and is embalmed in the tradition of Egypt, most likely, mummified, and buried in a coffin in Egypt.
The transition between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus is stark. Israel goes from having a harmonious relationship with the Egyptians to one that proceeds from fear to enslavement. In addition to that fear came the command from Pharaoh that all male children be killed by the midwives delivering them. The midwives ignored this command and Pharaoh eventually commanded that all male babies be thrown into the Nile. This is the environment into which the Exodus plays out.