A Scripture Study On Making Decisions Upon the Death of a Family Member
(Hebrews 11:21-22) By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshiped, leaning upon the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
This article for Bet Yeshurun Assembly (BYA) appeared in 2013. It revisits a subject many don’t think about or much less spend time planning. Yet closely examine the above passage and notice how Jacob and Joseph used the time allotted before their deaths to bless their family and to make their funeral arrangements.
In the article from 6 years ago, I referred to a survey from the “Cremation Association of North America (CANA)” which reported that45% of deaths in America resulted in cremations. CANA’s 2018 Annual Statistics Report says cremation rates increased to 52% in 2017 (vs. 43% in 2012), and they estimate the rate will grow to 58% by 2022. Here in Michigan, over 50% of deaths result in cremation, while in states like Washington, Nevada, Oregon, and Maine the rate exceeds 74%. Cost is often given as the reason for choosing cremation over burial, yet the researchof CANAcorrelatescertain demographic traits with increasing cremations: “More of the U. S. population has chosen to roam across the country and around the world. Many have loosened their connections to geographic origins and increased their exposure to new traditions. Conversely, there are significant portions of the population who are rooted to their hometowns and remain deeply connected to the traditions they grew up with.”
CANA is suggesting that “roamers” tend to prefer cremation, while “rooted” individuals prefer burials. Whether we consider ourselves roaming or rooted, most of us have a sense of how we want our body handled upon death. Those with foresight and financial means dictate their body’s disposal through a will or last testament. Some will donate their bodies for medical research, or organ transplants. Whatever our desires, it’s important we tell our wishes to others. Joseph, whose Hebrew name “Yoceph” means “YAHUAH has added”) did exactly that “concerning his bones.” Likewise, we can bless loved ones by specifying our funeral arrangements for, (Hebrews 9:27) “It is appointed to men once to die.”
Sadly, disposal of a body too often falls upon a deceased’s family with them being clueless as to what their loved one desired. Grief-stricken and stressed by questions of death notices, obituaries, viewings, funeral services, casket choices, burial plots or cremation, etc. families understandably may base decisions on convenience and cost. Furthermore, if a decedent has no family, or if the death occurs in a way that precludes a family from managing the remains, society dictates the disposal. The purpose of this article is to help BYA with one of the many funeral questions: Cremation? Or, Burial? To help us answer that, we’ll look into Scripture: (Psalm 119:105) “Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path.”
While many books are available on many different subjects, I pray that BYA continues getting into a habit of always checking the Bible for answers to all of our life’s questions. Thus, Yah’s Word will become our key point of reference, our very “first” read. For truly nothing compares to the Holy Writ for guiding us in our ways: (Matthew 4:4) “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of Elohim.’”
Our Bible gives many examples on what to do (and what not to do). So let’s examine the ancient ways of funeral arrangements. Notice Patriarch Jacob specifically directs his family: (Genesis 49:29-31) He charged them and said, “I am 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 with the field of Ephron, the Hittite, for a possession of a burying place. There, they buried Abraham and Sarah, his wife. There, they buried Isaac and Rebekah, his wife. And there, I buried Leah.”
Jacob’s sons were to bury him in their great-grandpa’s family grave. Abraham, or in Hebrew “Avraham” meaning “father of a great multitude,” lived up to his name by providing a plot of land as a burial site for himself and his closest family members: (Genesis 23:7-9) Abraham stood and bowed to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth. He communed with them saying, “If it be your mind that I should bury my dead out of my sight; hear me and entreat for me to Ephron the son of Zohar, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he has, which is in the end of his field. For as much money as it is worth, he shall give it me for a possession of a burying place among you.”
That humble act cost Abraham 400 hundred shekels of silver, which is about $2,700 today. That was likely an exorbitant amount for land back then considering that the prophet Jeremiah acquired a plot for significantly less (14 shekels), although a looming Babylonian invasion likely kept land values down: (Jeremiah 32:8-9) “So Hanameel my uncle's son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of YAHUAH and said, ‘Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin. For the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of YAHUAH. I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle's son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver.”
The location of Abraham’s grave for Sarah and their descendants also proved inconvenient as his family later moved to Egypt, far away from Canaan. Plus, Jacob’s funeral procession was to go through a desert. Still son Joseph obeyed and hired undertakers to prepare the body: (Genesis 49:29-50:3) When Jacob made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, yielded up the ghost and was gathered unto his people. Joseph fell and wept upon his father and kissed him. Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians to embalm his father. The physicians embalmed Israel. And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed. The Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days.
Notice Egyptian physicians (plural) embalmed (mummified) Jacob’s body to satisfy his funeral wishes. That likely was an expensive process typically reserved for royalty. Plus, his mourning period lasted over 40-days. That makes today’s tradition of 1 or 2-day funeral home visits seem quite modest. Furthermore, those American companies which offer paid employee funeral benefits apparently rely on the tradition of Joseph’s boss, a Pharaoh with a generous family leave policy: (Genesis 50:4-6) When the days of his mourning were past, Joseph spoke to the house of Pharaoh saying, “If now I have found grace in your eyes, speak, I pray you, in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, My father made me swear, saying, Lo, I die: in my grave which I have dug for me in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me. Now therefore let me go up, I pray you, to bury my father, and I will come again.” And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, according as he made you swear.”
Today, we may drive cars with purple flags to a grave site. Back then, it was chariots and horsemen: (Genesis 50:7-9) Joseph went to bury his father and with him went all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house and all the elders of the land of Egypt, all the house of Joseph, his brethren and his father's house. Only their little ones, their flocks and herds, they left in the land of Goshen. There went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company.
Scripture, also shows crying is appropriate whenever we bury loved ones, even if they’re elderly and disabled. Recall Jacob was “147 years old” (Genesis 47:28) and “blind” (Genesis 48:10). So, his death was no surprise, yet it still was a heart-rending loss to Yah’s people and to the Egyptians: (Genesis 50:10-13) They came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond Jordan. There they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation. He mourned for his father seven days. When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians.” Wherefore the name of it was called Abelmizraim, which is beyond Jordan. His sons did unto him according as he commanded them. For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a burying place of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre.
Joseph also maintained his family’s rooted funeral tradition: (Genesis 50:24-26) Joseph said to his brethren, “I die, and Elohim will surely visit you to bring you out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel saying, “Elohim will surely visit you and you shall carry up my bones from hence.” So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
Joseph’s coffin was to be kept in Egypt until he could be moved into a family plot. His body remained in a foreign land until Israel was delivered from centuries of slavery in Egypt. Then Israel carried his remains on a 40-year desert procession until arriving in the Promised Land, when his body finally rested in peace: (Joshua 24:32) “The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, they buried in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of silver. It became the inheritance of the children of Joseph. (Also read Hebrews 11:22)
Webster’s Dictionary defines “burial” as “the act of burying a dead body (in ground versus at sea) or internment” and “cremation” as “the act of turning a dead body into ashes through incineration.” A body incinerated with intense heat and flame is consumed and vaporized, except for the bone fragments (noncombustible materials). After cooling, the bones are pulverized into “ashes” (actually bone particles) which weigh from 4 to 10 pounds. The process sounds awful even for the dead, and the deceased’s family still faces additional questions regarding the cremains (ashes). Who gets those? And, what are they going to do with it?
The prior referenced CANA report claims crema
tion is a new tradition of an increasingly mobile American population. While roaming (“unrooted”) people may accept it, there’s nothing new about this practice. Popular among the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, these pagan societies believed cremating the remains of their dead, facilitated a soul’s rise to heaven through the billowing flames of fire.
Yet for those “rooted” in Scripture,cremation is the way for disposing of individuals who commit wickedness: (Malachi 4:3-4) “You shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, says YAHUAH Tzavuot. Remember the Torah of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.” (also read Leviticus 20:14 and 21:19)
Furthermore, the Bible considers it a disgrace for a body to not be buried in a timely manner. (Read 1 Kings 13;22; 14:11; 16:4; 21:24; Psalm 79:1-4; and Jeremiah 7:32-33)
This helps us in understanding a story about Tobit, whose Hebrew name “TobiYah” means “YAHUAH is good,”) His Book was found in the fragments of writings from Qumran. It tells of Tobit, who was a devout Israelite living among captives deported to Nineveh from the Northern Kingdom of Israel. His virtuous character and courage was exemplified in the extremely kind and generous act of burying the bodies of individuals that were killed and left to decay in city streets: (Tobit 1:16-18; NAB) “In the days of Shalmaneser I often gave alms to the people of my race; I gave my bread to the hungry and clothes to those who lacked them; and I buried, when I saw them, the bodies of my country-folk thrown over the walls of Nineveh. I also buried those who were killed by Sennacherib. When Sennacherib was beating a disorderly retreat from Judea after the King of Heaven had punished his blasphemies, he killed a great number of Israelites in his rage, so I stole their bodies to bury them; Sennacherib looked for them and could not find them.” (This entire Book is a good read for BYA)
Also recognize that during Yahushuah’s time, dead criminals were typically hauled to a landfill near Jerusalem that had a fiery pit known as Gehenna. Not being buried was viewed as a dishonor, a curse and a tragedy. Yahushuah was thought to be a criminal and the Romans were well conditioned to cremate rather than bury those they executed. Of course, BYA knows under YAH’s Plan of Salvation, He was to resurrect from the grave, gloriously defeating death, a hallmark of our faith: (Acts 2:22-24) “Men of Israel hear these words; Yahushuah of Nazareth, a man approved of Elohim among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which Elohim did by Him in the midst of you, as you yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of Elohim, you took, and by wicked hands crucified and slayed. Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it.”
Whilesome may accept cremations out of ignorance, that practice wasn’t meant for the obedient children of Elohim. May BYA never have such lack of knowledge of Yah’s Will and Way. For true Believers of Yahushuah, a proper burial is very important to Elohim. Furthermore, consider the consequences had the relatives of Lazarus cremated his body after 3 days? (read of a miraculous arising in John 11:1-44)
Biblical funeral traditions have comforted and consoled families for centuries. It’s an act of love to tell our family how to handle our body. It’s a further blessing when we give them the means to pay for it. For those who served in the military, the government defrays the cost by providing a burial place for honorably discharged veterans and spouse. Yes, even after our deaths, we can still follow the example of our Redeemer and King. Now is a good time to confirm our funeral arrangements.
May our Heavenly Father YAHUAH Elohim, lead and guide us with our funeral arrangements. And may our Messiah and King Yahushuah grant mercy and grace upon us all. Shalom, Elder Curt
Thoughts for Meditation
“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” Edward Abbey
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you will.” Henry Ford