Hebrew priest blowing Shofar Funeral Arrangements

A Scripture Study On Making Decisions Upon the Death of a Family Member

Last week, my wife Diane and I visited a funeral home to pay our respect for the loss of the father-in-law of Diane’s brother. While there, I spoke with an acquaintance, who told me that he’s been working at the Perry Funeral Home in mid-town Detroit for the past three years. As we discussed various funeral customs and traditions, I asked him whether cremations are becoming more prevalent. He said that was true at Perry’s and remarked that 90% of their services now include cremation. 

Later at dinner, Diane discussed with me what type of funeral arrangements she wants. Her directions were so specific that she plans to write them down so I won’t forget. Diane is on the right track. I agree that it’s important to let others know our desires in this matter. It is an act of love to tell our family how to handle our body.

Earlier that day, I heard that disposing of a body usually falls upon the deceased’s family, yet many have no idea of what their loved ones wanted. Grief-stricken and stressed with questions about death notices, obituaries, viewings, funeral services, casket choices, burial plots or cremation, etc. families base their answers on cost or convenience. When a decedent has no family, or if a death occurs in a way that precludes a family from managing the remains, then society dictates the disposal.

As I reflected upon all this, and knowing that “it is appointed to men once to die,” (Hebrews 9:27) I asked Yah this question, “How should I arrange for my funeral?” My answer often comes through a study of scripture, Thy Word is a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105) 

While I read many books, I’m trying to make Yah’s Word my “initial” read, my key reference point. I find that nothing compares to the Book of books as a guide for my ways. It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of Elohim.” (Matthew 4:4)

So, this article shares some of what I learned about funeral arrangements. It begins with the patriarch, Jacob, who gave his family very specific directions for his funeral. 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. The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth.” (Gen. 49:29-32)

Jacob wished to be buried in the field that Abraham bought as a burying place for his family. Jacob’s sons obeyed his wishes. 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. (Genesis 49:29-50:3)

I read this story many times, yet never fully comprehended that Joseph used physicians (plural) to embalm (mummify) Jacob to satisfy his funeral wishes. I suspect that preparing a body for a long funeral procession in the desert was a considerable expense. Furthermore, compared to Jacob’s mourning period of 40-days (and Egyptians known to mourn for 70-days); our modern-day traditions of embalming and funeral home visits are modest indeed.

Joseph, the ever dutiful son, asked his boss (Pharaoh) for a family leave of absence for his father’s funeral arrangements. 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.” (Genesis 50:4-6) Modern-day companies still offer employees this benefit (some even with pay). Now I know where this tradition came from. 

And Joseph went up to bury his father and with him went up 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 their herds, they left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. (Genesis 50:7-9) Back then, it was chariots and horsemen. Today, we drive automobiles with purple flags to the grave site.      

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. And 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. Recall that Jacob was “147 years old” (Gen. 47:28), “blind” (Gen. 48:10), and sick (Gen. 48:10). Still, his expected death was a heart-rending loss to Yah’s people (and the Egyptians). It is ok to cry when my loved ones die.

Jacob had well-trained Joseph to follow his funeral example. Joseph said to his brethren, “I die, and Elohim will surely visit you to bring you out of this land unto 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 an hundred and ten years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. (Genesis 50:24-26)  

Not wanting his final resting place to be Egypt, Joseph asked to be buried in a plot that Jacob chose for him. Interestingly, his Promised Land rest was much later: after Israel was freed from centuries of Egyptian bondage, and after Israel wandered for 40-years in the desert and after Joshua led them across the Jordan River. Then, 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 an hundred pieces of silver. It became the inheritance of the children of Joseph. (Joshua 24:32)

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines“burial” as “the act of burying a dead body (in ground vs. at sea), or internment.” According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the Hebrew word “qebura” (H6900) means “burying place, grave, sepulcher” and “qebar” means “to inter, or bury”. The Bible’s King James Version (KJV) uses this word nearly 100 times, so I have many examples of “burials” to consider. Check for yourself, how the patriarchs and matriarchs were buried. Reflect upon how Israel’s judges and kings were buried. Recall the preparations for Yahushuah’s burial. Yes, even after my death, I can still follow the good example of my Redeemer.    

Webster’s defines “cremation” as “the act of turning a dead body into ashes through incineration. Cremation totally incinerates a body with intense heat and flame. Body substances are consumed, vaporized except for bone fragments (noncombustible materials). After cooling, the bones are pulverized into “ashes” (actually bone particles) weighing from 4 to 10 pounds. Even if I’m dead, my spirit doesn’t find this process particularly appealing.         

Strong’s notes a Hebrew word“sarap” (H8313) means “to be on fire, burn, cause to burn, make a burning, kindle utterly”. In KJV, it appears 31 times as the word “burnt” invariably within the context of an act that represents a form of punishment. The word, “ala” (H5927) means “to burn, cause to burn, arise (as in smoke)”. “Now I will rise,” says YAHUAH. “Now I will be exalted! Now I will lift up myself! You shall conceive chaff. You shall bring forth stubble. Your breath, as fire, shall devour you. The people shall be as the burnings of lime. As thorns cut up they shall be burned in fire.” (Isaiah 33:10–12)   

From that primitive root word (“ala”) comes the word “awal” (H5765) meaning “to distort (mortally), deal unjustly, unrighteous”. A related Hebrew word “awla (H5766) means “(moral) evil, iniquity, perverseness, wickedness, wicked, unrighteousness, unrighteous, unjust, unjustly.” To me, these physically descriptive words portray an undesirable spiritual state. It shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he has, because he transgressed the covenant of YAHUAH and because he wrought folly in Israel. (Joshua 7:15)

Furthermore, consider that in scriptureit was disgraceful to not to be buried in a timely manner. He who dies of Jeroboam in the city the dogs shall eat. He who dies in the field the fowls of the air shall eat,” for YAHUAH has spoken it. (1 Kings 14:11) The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel. There shall be none to bury her. (2 Kings 9:10) Also, consider that in Yahushuah’s time, the bodies of criminals were hauled to a fiery pit Gehenna (a landfill for garbage outside of Jerusalem) instead of being buried. So to be unburied was a curse, dishonor and tragedy from Yah. 

I will close my article on funeral arrangements with a prophecy from Jeremiah. They shall die grievous deaths. They shall not be lamented. Neither shall they be buried. But they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth. They shall be consumed by sword, and by famine. Their carcass shall be meat for the fowls of heaven and for the beasts of the earth. For thus says YAHUAH, “Enter not into the house of mourning. Do not go to lament, nor bemoan them. For I have taken away my peace from this people,” says YAHUAH, “even loving kindness and mercies. Both the great and the small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried. Men shall not lament for them, nor cut themselves, nor make themselves bald. Neither shall men tear themselves for them in mourning, to comfort them for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or for their mother. You shall not also go into the house of feasting, to sit with them to eat and to drink. (Jeremiah 16:4-8)

While this serves as a harsh rebuke from Yah, I find many guidelines within it for my funeral arrangements. I think it will comfort my family if I am buried. While I need to work out the details and cover the costs, I pray Yah will bless me with an opportunity to be embalmed for viewing by friends and relatives for several days. If possible, I wish to have a funeral procession to a burial site followed by a fellowship meal with my mourner’s favorite drinks. I hope they will share many stories of me, many laughs, and a few tears. Next, I will be sure Diane and my daughters know my desires on this matter. I also need to confirm my parents’ wishes.

May Yah be with you in your own scripture studies, and may His grace be with 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