The faith of Joseph is mentioned just once: “By faith Joseph [when] dying called to mind the going forth of the sons of Israel, and gave commandment concerning his bones” (Heb. 11: 22). That is all that is said, despite his long and eventful life. After all his sorrows and afflictions, his triumphs and glory, this is the greatest and most wonderful thing that emerges: He called to mind the exodus of his people, and gave instruction concerning his remains. The Holy Spirit does not here direct our attention to all those things which we delight to dwell upon––all the types foreshadowing the humiliation, rejection, sufferings, death, exaltation and glory of Christ––but to one simple act of faith, greater and more precious than all the acts of Joseph’s eventful life.
Joseph had been highly exalted in Egypt. It would have been natural if arrangements were made to erect some grand monument in his memory. No one would have thought it remarkable if he had ordered a colossal pyramid to be prepared as his tomb, and a grand monument to be erected to his memory. Yet what he had heard from God had overruled all such ideas and made them of no account in the reckoning of faith.
So what was it that Joseph had heard? The answer takes us back to what God had said to Abraham some two centuries before: “Know assuredly that thy seed will be a sojourner in a land [that is] not theirs, and they shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years. But also that nation which they shall serve I will judge; and afterwards they shall come out with great property” (Gen. 15: 13, 14). These words were handed down by Isaac to Jacob, and on to Joseph, and when he heard them he believed what God had said. So far as human sight was concerned only some of these words had proved to be true, for though Joseph’s people were indeed strangers in a strange land, up to the present there had been no servitude and no affliction. Had Joseph walked by sight he must surely have become an unbeliever ––for judging by the things which are seen the fulfilment of what he had heard seemed not only most unlikely but impossible. He himself was next to the throne, the saviour of Egypt, and his brethren were dwelling in the land in peace. By the outward appearance of things where was the possibility of any servitude and affliction? There seemed to be none. There was nothing but Jehovah’s word “know assuredly”. Joseph knew assuredly because he walked by faith. How else could he have known anything about the Exodus of the children of Israel? More than two hundred years had passed away since God had spoken to Abraham and many more years were yet to run.
See how he emphasises the certainty of his faith: “And Joseph said to his brethren, I die; and God will certainly visit you, and bring you up out of this land, into the land that he swore unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will certainly visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones hence” (Gen. 50: 24, 25, my emphasis). Note how the words “ye shall” depend entirely on “God will”. Apart from the fact that God had promised, Joseph could only have said ‘I think’, but because God had spoken he could say ‘I know’. In Joseph’s heart were things “hoped for” (Heb. 11: 1). The ground on which his hope was based was what he had heard. If had heard from man that his people would have a mighty deliverance from Egypt he would not have had much ground for his hope, but what he had heard was what God had sworn to his fathers. When Joseph rested his faith on the oath God had made, and gave commandment concerning his bones that they should be carried up out of Egypt, it was in the sure and certain hope of resurrection - that he would wake up in the land which God had promised.
In Genesis 48 we read some of Jacob’s last words to Joseph: “And Israel said to Joseph, Behold, I die; and God will be with you, and bring you again to the land of your fathers. And I have given to thee one tract [of land] above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow” (vs 21, 22). Joseph’s oath with the children of Israel in chapter fifty is proof that he had believed what he had heard from his father in chapter forty eight. Yes, he believed he would possess that portion which Israel said “I have given to thee”. Hence “ye shall carry up my bones hence”.
What simple faith! Oh to possess like precious faith as to what we have heard and has been handed down to us––not by the traditions of men––but by the inspiration of God in the Scriptures. We too have a promise of a tract of land (comp. John 14: 2), of being called on high (see Phil. 3: 14), and of experiencing a wonderful change (see Phil. 3: 21) when our bodies of humiliation will be transformed into conformity to his body of glory. A glorious ‘exodus’ awaits us––may we have it always on our hearts and minds!