Reflection for V’yechi
“Dying Words Live”
by Mark Huey
The fourth and final installment of the lives of Joseph and his brothers, as the Book of Genesis comes to a close, focuses on what happens after Jacob is reunited with his son Joseph, and how the remaining years of Jacob’s life take shape. Once again, the Bible student is reminded of how the scene, of Jacob’s final days in V’yechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26), is employed by Stephen in his defense before the Sanhedrin:
“The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and granted him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and all his household. Now a famine came over all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction with it, and our fathers could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers there the first time. On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family was disclosed to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent word and invited Jacob his father and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five persons in all. And Jacob went down to Egypt and there he and our fathers died. From there they were removed to Shechem and laid in the tomb which Abraham had purchased for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem” (Acts 7:9-16, NASU).
The words of Stephen are an indication that the history of Ancient Israel played a very important role in forming the Jewish psyche of the First Century. If the Sanhedrin could be convinced that God would allow the sons of Jacob to be buried, in what by the First Century was “cursed” Samaritan territory but still in the Promised Land, then surely God could work new things with the arrival of the Jewish Messiah through Jewish people who had been faithful to Him.
Considering V’yechi, and also how Joseph himself died, we see how Joseph’s request for him to be buried in the Promised Land was honored. In fact, the author of Hebrews considered this request to be a significant act of faith, a kind of foretelling of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt:
“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.’ Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.’ So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:24-26, NASU).
“By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:21-22, NASU).
While we ponder the final words of Jacob, as he spoke blessings to Manasseh and Ephraim in Genesis 48, and blessings over his sons in Genesis 49, and even how Joseph asked that his remains be transferred to the Promised Land—it is not at all difficult to see why they would be mentioned within Stephen’s defense. These are all a part of the final words of Ancient Israel’s Patriarchs before they died, and were things strongly remembered by those who followed them. Whether it is an old man like Jacob (147 years old) or a slightly younger Joseph (110 years old) on their respective deathbeds, or a much younger person like Stephen being pummeled to death by an angry mob—final words have a tremendous impact on not only their immediate listeners, but in each of these cases, countless readers and hearers of the Holy Scriptures ever since. The life testimonies of Jacob, Joseph, and Stephen continue to affect and mold us today even in the Twenty-First Century!
Certainly down through the centuries, we know how the Jewish people have revered the blessings bestowed upon the sons and grandsons of Jacob. Blessing one’s children to be fruitful and prosperous in life is a part of the traditional Shabbat dinner. Likewise, via reflection upon the Scriptures and life experience, all who have looked to the God of Israel have appreciated the need to bless members of one’s family, and even others in close proximity.
Also important from V’yechi is the need to honor one’s final wishes given before death. The request of Joseph to be buried with the rest of his family was an important one. It might bring up dramatic images of the Twelve Tribes trampling through the desert sojourn for forty years, carrying the mummy of Joseph to its ultimate resting place in Shechem. When you fast forward to the end of the Book of Joshua, it is confirmed how Joseph’s final request was indeed honored:
“Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons” (Joshua 24:32, NASU).
For Believers today, a great lesson can be learned about being mindful of what is being communicated at all times, because in actuality, not one of us knows when our lives may end—and what just might be the final words people actually remember us by. This is why many families make a legitimate habit of speaking blessings, or always saying “I love you,” as a parting statement or valediction when speaking to one another. We each need to recognize that our words have tremendous meanings to hearers, and when they are the last thing locked into the memory, they have the potential to possess never-ending consequences.
Perhaps you are familiar with the adage to “not let the sun set on your anger,” meaning that you should make sure that you have resolved all conflict before you go to sleep at night. This is derived from statements affirmed in Ephesians 4, where the Apostle Paul admonished Believers in Asia Minor on the need for them to work together as a united Body of Messiah. Within this he quoted from Zechariah 8:16:
“As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Messiah, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Messiah in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Yeshua, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN [Zechariah 8:16]; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:14-27, NASU).
This admonition is great instruction for Believers today. If we would all take this advice seriously, then today’s Body of Messiah would actually be built up and grow properly. On a communal scale this would be awesome, but it cannot work unless it is first employed in your dealings with those family members to whom you are intimately acquainted. Too many people are handicapped by a harsh word, unloving rebuke, or just plain mean-spirited comments from parents, spouses, or children. These unfortunate ruptures of relationship manifest themselves with the community of faith on a larger scale. If one’s own familial relationships are somehow off kilter and disjoined, this has a strong tendency to manifest itself on a much wider scale among fellow Believers.
Let us each remember the blessings offered by our spiritual forbearers to their offspring! We need to be molded into men and women who speak blessings to all we encounter—whether they be of our immediate family or not. Let us remember that even a word of testimony might have been used by the Lord, to prick the conscience of a young Saul as he witnessed the stoning of Stephen (cf. Acts 8:1). Perhaps seeing Stephen die a martyr’s death would later be used by Him to blind this zealous persecutor of the faith, and make him one of the most useful workers ever in His Kingdom!
Words do make a difference. If you think about what you would like to leave your loved ones with, in terms of words of wisdom or encouragement, speak those words to them often! Leave those you care about with a blessing of sincere love from your heart. Allow what you say to have a positive impact on succeeding generations of grandchildren and dear friends. Quite frequently, dying words count and live beyond our respective lives. May yours be remembered long after you depart this Earth.
 Editor’s note: Some have pointed out a possible difference between what Stephen states in Acts 7:16, and what the Torah states in Genesis 49:30 and 50:13, about Abraham purchasing the cave at Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite. I. Howard Marshall indicates that Stephen’s stating that the sons of Jacob were buried at Shechem is actually based in “a local tradition” (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Acts [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980], 138). Also not to be confused is how some specific rhetorical device may be employed in Stephen’s speech, to make a particular point to the Sanhedrin. In David G. Peterson’s estimation, “Luke appears to have telescoped into one various biblical traditions about the burial sites of the patriarchs (cf. Gn. 23:10-19; 33:18-20; 49:29-32; 50:13; Jos. 24:32)” (Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Acts of the Apostles [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009], 253).
The main issue in Stephen’s employing a reference to Shechem is that in the First Century C.E., it fell within Samaritan territory. Part of Stephen’s polemic was against those who would restrict God’s activity to one particular “approved” location (Ibid.; Marshall, 139).