“When Jacob had finished charging his sons,
he drew his legs up into the bed,
breathed his last and was gathered to his people.“
We have now finished going over each of the blessings that Jacob pronounced over his sons.
Before he breathed his last, Jacob charged his sons that they were to make sure he was safely buried in the cave in Canaan.
His instructions were quite detailed as he emphasized that this was the very cave his grandfather Abraham purchased and where his own life Leah lay.
One thing that’s important to understand is that a lot of the phrases we encounter in the Scriptures are NOT timeless, sweeping, universal statements of spirituality dripping with so much ridiculous sentimental honey.
They were simply idioms and expressions based on the culture of those times.
And a lot of what was expressed was based on the beliefs and traditions connected to ancestor worship.
In this sense, Israel was no different than the surrounding Middle Eastern societies.
Concrete ideas of going to heaven or hell weren’t yet in existence.
The reason Jacob wanted to be buried with his fathers was because he believed that if he wasn’t, he would be forever separated from them in the afterlife.
“How will my post-death spirit or essence ever be able to commune with my relatives if I’m buried thousands of miles away from them?” was the big question on his mind.
Notice the last words of Genesis 49: “he…breathed his last and was gathered to his people.”
Whoever penned these last words (most people believe Moses was the author) obviously believed in ancestor worship because it states in a very straightforward fashion that Jacob “was gathered to his people“.
So when studying the Scriptures, it’s important to realize that the Bible characters were real people just like you and me, living real lives, having the normal fears and concerns we all have and sometimes succumbing to the superstitions of the day.
I think we sometimes have a tendency to put the Bible characters up on a pedestal thinking that they were somehow impervious to the cultural superstitions and pagan beliefs of their day.
One final point.
Genesis 49:28 represents the first time in the Scriptures we are introduced to the phrase “the 12 tribes of Israel“.
So at long last, rather than just a big family, from this point forward Israel will be considered as a nation unto itself.
The promise that God made to Abraham so long ago has now become a reality.
NEXT TIME WE BEGIN GENESIS 50