Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”
After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13:19-21)
We might see the promise.
Only God can bring the fire.
Cradling in hands pampered by forty years of royalty and forty years of open field – knowing with intimacy both grandeur and disdain, the inside and outside, failure to accomplish and invitation to lead – Moses carries the remains of the dead into the land of the promise.
Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt, and so wanted to experience the promise of God that he desired even his bones to touch the land of mercy after his death.
The Israelites were born into slavery and so wanted to maintain the past they desired to bring their living bodies back to a place of certain death.
For Joseph it was better to have your grave disturbed to rest in the place of redemption than reside richly entombed in the land of pain. Because Joseph had known what it was like to be a dearly loved child and wanted even his remains to belong where his father had dwelled.
Joseph’s care for his family was what brought them into Egypt. But it was never his desire for them to stay. He knew he wouldn’t take them out. But it didn’t matter what Joseph couldn’t do. It mattered what God had already promised. Our immediate inabilities are not relevant to God’s eternal purpose. Simply because we could not bring about the totality of God’s plan does not render void our participation in it. Joseph knew he couldn’t save his family – and knew as well that the place he had brought them into they did not belong. But instead of mourning the impossibility of his own action he urges the certainty of divine intention.
Because Joseph understands that where the people of God need to go are the places of God that He has already prepared. To keep from starving Jacob’s family moved into Egypt. But Joseph had a hunger for more than grain. He wanted God. Don’t even let me reside in the place of my fame, he declares. Move even my bones from the land in which I am of highest regard.
Joseph didn’t want to stay in the place where he proved himself capable. He wanted to be where God would prove Himself faithful.
And who carried Joseph’s bones? Moses.
And how was Moses prepared for such a task?
By being Egyptian royalty and losing his place of fame and regard. And so the man who did not regard any importance to his legacy of success would be laid to final rest by a man called to do the same. God’s development of Moses’ character made him ready for God’s fulfillment of Joseph’s destiny.
Sometimes we don’t see that what we are losing in this world inevitable in the hands of God makes us ready to carry others into the next. Moses would be leading a people wanting to go back. And Egypt was the one place on earth Moses couldn’t go back to. God selected a man desperate for a new beginning with Him to lead people captive to their old ways.
If you want to be part of the kingdom of heaven expect to lose that which chains you to earth.
Carrying into the future of what will be, Moses takes the past of what once was. But not the past of the people he is leading, the past of knowable bondage rather than frightening freedom. Instead Moses brings the prophetic past, the past of future promise, the past so wanting to see what God will do it is willing to leave behind the monuments built to its success.
For we must remember that Joseph was effectively the ruler of Egypt and held all the power and pomp of its highest royalty in his death and his life. When he says “take my bones” he is throwing away everything his place of fame tells him – the Egyptians went to extraordinary lengths to give the dead all they needed for the next life and to safeguard their tombs. But Joseph will have none of it. Better to be carried by ex-slaves on the run with the living God than have a pyramid among the deceived dead. And Joseph was married into Egyptian spiritual practices – his wife was the daughter of the priest of On (Gen. 41:45). No wonder the book of Hebrews says “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.” (Heb. 11:22). By faith indeed. Everything in his family and place of fame would have told him to cling to his place of death and make ready every effort to surround it with resources to secure safety.
But Joseph didn’t need the empty fears of his neighbors, who piled high their rotting treasures next to their aging coffins. He was a man on the move – a move with God, for God, from God. Joseph came into Egypt with God and so had learned that he could leave Egypt with nothing but God. His descendants would spend forty years learning the same lesson.
And what does God do? Will Moses save them, or the bones of Joseph the great governor? No. A pillar of fire and cloud will show them the way – they will look to heaven for the way on earth. There will be no mistaking that if they want to be free they must see God faithful.
Joseph came to Egypt against his will sold by jealous brothers carrying little of his life. He saw that their intentions of evil were rendered void by the plans of God. It is tempting often to think that the designs of man can thwart God’s work in our life. It is precisely God’s work in our life which will render destroyed the plans of man.
Moses left Egypt because he was afraid Pharaoh would kill him. God asked him to confront his deepest wound of rejection and fear of death to unlock his kingdom destiny. And God met Moses in a small fire in the desert to prepare him to follow a big one in the wilderness. Never despise small moments with the living God. They prepare you for great moments of eternal worth.
And so the man who did not want to enter Egypt is carried by the man who cannot come back so both can find the place they cannot wait to discover.
God is up to something good with your life because if you are in His life He is good.
You are seen and known and loved. You might be wondering why you are doing what you are doing. Just commit your way to the work of the Lord and what does not make sense today becomes eternal tomorrow.