2.37 The End of the Patriarchal Age
Jacob's blessings over his sons (Gen 49) were sometimes curses (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar). Judah was given a word of preeminence and a possible Messianic future:
"The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is his" (Gen 49:10).
Joseph was "a fruitful vine," "the prince among his brothers," "because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob" (Gen 49:22-26).
Upon the death of Jacob, his body was carried back to Canaan and buried in the ancestral plot in Machpelah. Joseph's brothers, who could never leave aside their insecurities and schemes, invented a "last word" of Jacob to ensure that Joseph wouldn't carry out any deferred vengeance. His gracious response contrasted with their own meanness.
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them (Gen 50:20-21).
Joseph remained in Egypt, died there, and was embalmed in the Egyptian manner (Gen 50:26). Yet in his last wishes, he showed that Egypt was not his true homeland. He gave instructions that when God fulfilled His promise to bring the children of Abraham back to their own land, they were to take his coffin with them. Second ruler in Egypt he may have been, yet Joseph's identity was firmly fixed in the people of God's promise.
The age of the Patriarchs lasted only 4 generations, but in it was laid the foundation for all future sacred history: the bestowal of God's blessing and the appointment of its custodians. How clearly the Bible depicts the characters of the forerunners of the future people of Israel. We see them "with their warts on," in their petty rivalries and conflicts, and in their broken families.