Haftarah V’yechi

“Dying Directives”

1 Kings 2:1-12


by Mark Huey

Physical death is the penultimate part of life that comes at the end of whatever amount of time one is given to reside in a perishable body (1 Corinthians 15). Most people do not spend much time contemplating their eventual corporeal end, or what they would want to communicate to loved ones before expiring. However, a few times throughout the reading and study of the annual Torah cycle, the inevitability of a person’s life on Earth coming to a close presents itself for our consideration. V’yechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26), the concluding portion of Genesis, records the closing statements of Jacob and Joseph. The Sages connected this to King David’s dying directives in 1 Kings 2 as the complimentary Haftarah reading. It is beneficial for us as pursuers of God to search out meaningful themes that can help us in our walk with Him, and interactions with others.[1]

What is it about the dying directives of these three significant men in the history of Israel, that is similar or different? Is there something we can learn from these comparisons, which will be useful in our walks with the Messiah today? Is it profitable to pause at times during our Earthly lives, considering our future deaths and what we want our dying words to be?

One would be hard pressed to find three men noted in the Tanakh—other than perhaps Abraham and Moses—who had more profound impacts on Ancient Israel than Jacob, Joseph, and David. Each of these three individuals had a special relationship with the Lord, and to varying degrees received: visions, dreams, revelations, psalms, and even a covenantal promise during the course of their lives. Jacob, the father of the twelve sons who constitute the twelve tribes of Israel, was of course renamed Israel, and both Joseph and David became emblematic types of the Messiah to come. Like both Abraham and Moses, all three are noted for their walks of faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:21-22, 32). When one considers their recorded dying remarks, it can be seen that each of them believed in a resurrection and a future Kingdom to come (Hebrews 11:8-10; 13-16).

Even though Jacob, Joseph, and David had much in common, there are some distinctions which should be noted when one reviews the dying directives of these giants of faith. The author of Hebrews summarized how both Jacob and Joseph demonstrated significant faith in their final days:

By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.[2] 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).

In this recollection, the writer of Hebrews mentions the prophetic blessings Jacob bestowed upon his sons in Genesis 49, which follows the earlier blessings placed upon Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim in Genesis 48. The very last request of faithful Jacob is found in his desire to have his remains buried among his fathers, mothers, and wife Leah in the cave at Machpelah in Canaan:

“All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him.  Then he charged them and said to them, ‘I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah—the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth.’ When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:28-33, NASU).

It is interesting that after all of the adoptive actions Jacob administered with his grandchildren Manasseh and Ephraim, and the prophetic statements made concerning his twelve sons—his dying request was to be buried in Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Was there something about his final resting place that prompted Jacob to ask his sons to return him to the Promised Land? Were the promises that God made to Abraham, and passed down to Isaac and Jacob about this place being where God would place the foundations of His Heavenly city, part of his reasons? Or was the important thing for Jacob simply wanting to be buried with his family? Or is it possible that God put this on Jacob’s heart, so that the land purchased by Abraham would be of utmost importance for Israel down through the ages? Even though the Scripture indicates that when Jacob breathed his last, he was gathered to his people in Sheol (the netherworld),[3] his remains were not transported to Canaan until a few months later. Consequently, the mourning sons and their descendants would forever be attached to the burial site of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel.

Additionally, when you review the dying directives of Joseph, the preeminent son of his generation, the precedence established by his father Jacob is followed. On what appears to be Joseph’s deathbed, the desire to be returned to Canaan, and in particular the specific land near Shechem purchased and conquered by Jacob (Genesis 33:19; ch. 34) and promised to Joseph by Jacob (Genesis 48:22; Joshua 24:32), was requested of his brothers:

“Now Joseph stayed in Egypt, he and his father’s household, and Joseph lived ne hundred and ten years. Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim’s sons; also the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph’s knees. 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 50:22-26, NASU).

We find in further reading that after all the years waiting for the return of Israel to the Promised Land, Joseph’s remains were finally laid to rest in Shechem during the Conquest by Joshua:

“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).

The parallels between Jacob and Joseph are fairly consistent. Both in their dying moments, they requested, of their heirs, a burial in the Promised Land. From the Hills of Judea where Hebron is located in the south, to the hills of Samaria where Shechem is located in the north, Jacob and Joseph’s remains were eventually laid to rest. These two burial sites were important places recorded during the life of Abraham, who was initially given the promise of the land for his progeny. From the first significant incident recorded after Abraham entered the land west of the Jordan (Genesis 12:6-7), to his ultimate resting place in the caves near Hebron (Genesis 25:8-9), the importance of this land was passed down from Isaac to Jacob to Joseph, and ultimately the Ancient Israelites.

In our Haftarah selection this week, 1 Kings 2:1-12 describes the dying directives of King David, and presents a different approach to the end of a life. David was not concerned about where his remains were going to be interred. But, just like the purchase of land in Hebron and land around Shechem, David had legally purchased the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite for the location of God’s House (2 Samuel 24:16-25). It was there in Jerusalem, the city of David which was situated between Hebron and Shechem, that David was confident his remains would rest. God had promised David an everlasting covenant regarding his progeny (2 Samuel 7:12-17), and instructed David to choose Solomon to be heir to the throne (1 Kings 1).

When you read through this, you find that beyond David encouraging a righteous walk with the Lord, David was concerned about consolidating and insuring the rule of Solomon after his death. Instructions to Solomon about how to resolve old issues with David’s enemies and detractors, dominated his dying directives:

“As David’s time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son, saying, ‘I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn, so that the LORD may carry out His promise which He spoke concerning me, saying, “If your sons are careful of their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.” Now you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, what he did to the two commanders of the armies of Israel, to Abner the son of Ner, and to Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed; he also shed the blood of war in peace. And he put the blood of war on his belt about his waist, and on his sandals on his feet. So act according to your wisdom, and do not let his gray hair go down to Sheol in peace. But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table; for they assisted me when I fled from Absalom your brother. Behold, there is with you Shimei the son of Gera the Benjamite, of Bahurim; now it was he who cursed me with a violent curse on the day I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, saying, “I will not put you to death with the sword.” Now therefore, do not let him go unpunished, for you are a wise man; and you will know what you ought to do to him, and you will bring his gray hair down to Sheol with blood.’ Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. The days that David reigned over Israel were forty years: seven years he reigned in Hebron and thirty-three years he reigned in Jerusalem. And Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established” (1 Kings 2:1-12, NASU).

Clearly, King David’s last words were much different than the last words of Jacob and Joseph. David seemed to have a number of unresolved issues that he wanted to have dealt with after his death. Imagine being the sons of Jacob at his deathbed requests, or the relatives of Joseph hearing his last request—compared to being Solomon and his entourage hearing the words of King David. Would you rather be responsible for transporting a body back to Canaan for burial, or settling some of your father’s unresolved problems with a rebellious general of the army and a prominent Benjamite citizen who cursed your father (2 Samuel 16)?

The more I dwelt on this topic, the more I thought about the fact as stated earlier that these Scriptures have been preserved for our spiritual edification (2 Timothy 3:16). Is there something we need to learn from these contrasting dying directives, which we can apply to our own situations today?

Jacob, who lived one hundred forty-seven years, seemed to handle his physical demise in a stellar fashion. Recognizing that he was about to die, he took the time to communicate some wonderful things regarding his grandsons to Joseph and the brothers. He also made sure that all of his sons heard his final words about what he foresaw concerning their futures. While some of the words might have been a little discomforting (especially when you consider the statements made to Reuben, Simeon, and Levi),[4] the fact that Jacob made these declarations allowed them to accept their positions in the family. It helped establish order and minimized any potential for bitterness which might erupt among this large and diverse family. In fact, the result was that these twelve distinct tribes were able to maintain their cohesion through the days of the Exodus until they could finally return to the same land where their father would be buried.

Joseph, who lived one hundred and ten years, also gave us a great example of how to be prepared for death today. As it is recorded, Joseph’s brothers were extremely concerned about how Joseph was going to deal with them after the death of Jacob. The brothers were not convinced that the evil they had done to Joseph was totally forgiven. However, Joseph not only forgave all of them, but he thought it was his God-ordained responsibility to take care of the brothers and their families (Genesis 50:15-21). The example of Joseph gives all of us today a great model of how we are to forgive those who have wronged us, and resolve any potential relational conflict that might be real or perceived—long before one’s actual death.

In what appears to be a way to not depart Earth, one can learn from King David what not to do to those around after we are gone. David truly loved and trusted the Lord. Yet at his deathbed, David was not entirely content in letting Him handle any ongoing problems with those whom he continued to have unresolved conflicts with. Palace intrigue must have been bothering him, despite the fact that he had a covenant with God. The transition of power to Solomon was nearing completion. Perhaps the fact that David was not concerned about his funeral arrangements, allowed him to spend time instead worrying about the consolidation of power that Solomon was going to have to perform. Would it have been better for Solomon to have just trusted in the Lord, and not approve the executions of Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei? Did the actions that King Solomon had to consolidate his power impact his style of leadership?

One can ask many questions and surmise a number of scenarios, but the records in Scripture speak for themselves. Personally, I believe that the dying directives of Jacob and Joseph are far more desirable than what transpired on David’s deathbed. Perhaps God can use these passages from Genesis and 1 Kings 2 to give each of us a wake up call on not only the reality of death, but the need to pass on blessings to the next generation without any unresolved conflicts. I believe that if we can do this in our lives, the Lord will not only be pleased, but that we will experience more blessings before we go. Such is an inheritance that cannot be priced!


NOTES

[1] Cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

[2] Editor’s note: The author of Hebrews here relies on the Greek Septuagint in his view of Jacob “leaning on the top of his staff.” The Hebrew Masoretic Text of Genesis 47:31 reads with rosh ha’mittah or “head of the bed,” whereas the Greek LXX has epi to akron tēs hrabdou autou, “on the top of his staff.” These differences may come from the fact that the vowel markings for the Hebrew MT are Medieval in origin, and without them the Hebrew word for “staff,” matteh, is spelled with exactly the same consonants, mem, tet, and heh, as mittah or “bed.” The LXX follows the point of view that Jacob was leaning on his staff as he blessed his sons.

In the scope of meaning, this is a rather small point, but some in the Messianic community have used it to discount the reliability of Hebrews. For further discussion, consult the entry for the Epistle to the Hebrews in A Survey of the Apostolic Scriptures for the Practical Messianic, and the commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic, by J.K. McKee.

[3] While there is debate among interpreters as to the exact meaning of Sheol, it is notable that there is specific terminology in Biblical Hebrew for a place of burial or internment: qever. When the Patriarch Jacob heard that his son Joseph had died, he exclaimed, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son” (Genesis 37:35). Strong support for Sheol in the Tanakh being an inter-dimensional holding place for the consciousness of the deceased is realized when Joseph, as one who had apparently been eaten by wild animals (Genesis 37:33), would have had no grave.

[4] Genesis 49:2-7.


This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope Haftarah Exhortations by William Mark Huey.