Sunday, October 23, 2011

Genesis 46-50 - Caring for Aging Family Members

 "Jacob's Body is Taken to Canaan" (James J. Tissot, Jewish Museum, New York)
One of the life passages which almost all of us encounter at some point is caring for aging family members. Does the Bible have principles for us in this area? Yes, it does, and we find a great example in the care that Joseph gave to his father Jacob in his final years. Joseph made sure he treated his father with honor and dignity. These are the two most important words in dealing with aging family members. 

Contextual Notes:
Abraham was the man with whom God made covenant in Genesis 12, to bless him and to make him a blessing to the nations. With him the nation of Israel began. His son was Isaac. His son was Jacob. Jacob married first Leah, then Rachel, and had 12 sons whose names (with Joseph’s sons) became the 12 tribes of Israel. Joseph was Jacob’s son who was a victim of human trafficking, sold as a slave to Egypt, and eventually rose to be Prime Minister of Egypt under the Pharaoh. Got that? OK.

Now, we find ourselves in Genesis 46-50 in Egypt where Jacob and his family have come to live because of the famine in Canaan.  It is the sunset of Jacob’s life as Prime Minister Joseph takes care of his father the best he can and still run one of the most powerful nations on earth. In Genesis 46, the family journeys to Egypt to meet Joseph (Gen 46:1-27), and after an emotional reunion with Joseph (Gen 46:28-34), Jacob meets Pharaoh who grants land and employment in Egypt’s richest district (Gen 47:1-12). Meanwhile, Joseph manages Egypt in the midst of famine, buying up all privately-held land with stored grain, consolidating the Pharaoh’s authority (Gen 47:13-26). Jacob asks Joseph to bury him in Canaan (Gen 47:27-31), and Jacob blesses and adopts Joseph’s two sons as his own (Gen 48:1-22).

Key Truth: Moses wrote Genesis 46-50 to explain to Israel the history of how the nation began its sojourn in Egypt.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about caring for aging family members.
Key Verse: Genesis 48:3-4 – focus on the future
Pray and Read:  Various passages from Genesis 46-50

Sermon Points: Give aging family members . . .
1.   Dignity and honor in changes near life’s end (Gen 46:1-7, 48-47:12)
2.   Dignity and honor in preparation for dying (Gen 47:27-49:32)
3.   Dignity and honor in mourning their passing (Gen 49:33-50:21)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Genesis 46:1-7: Jacob/Israel set out with everything he owned and all his family to make a big change late in life. At Beersheba, he stopped and made sacrifice at the southern end of the Promised Land. He must have been afraid to make such a change late in life because the Lord had to speak to him in the night to encourage him (Gen 46:2-4). This change so late in life must have been very hard for him on several levels including God’s promises, and the future of his children (Gen 46:7). Jacob took with him his whole life, leaving behind some significant markers in his life.
b.   ILLUSTRATION: I remember when my high school history teacher Miss June Adair got to the point where she was going to have to move out of her ancestral home because she could no longer handle the stairs and the upkeep. I was so sad for her, because I knew how proud she was of holding on to her home. I asked her how she would handle all that change. With a far away look in her eye and great wisdom, Miss Adair said to me in her quiet way, “Well Gene, I’ve found that the only thing constant in life is change. And it’s time for a change.” And with that she marched forward.
c.   APPLICATION: We need to understand that there are times when we must make hard choices to leave behind what feels like our whole lives because life is forcing the change. It may be our health or our financial situation. It may be family changes, but if you’ve lived more than a couple decades, you’ve found that the only thing constant in life is change. Change came to Jacob, and change comes to us, too. As family members, we need to understand that all the change is not easy for our aging loved ones. They may hold on tenaciously to that house or that driver’s license, but change comes no matter what.
d.   If you are one of those individuals who are at the time of life in which it is time to start letting go of some things and making arrangements for a change to a new place to live or other changes, look to the Lord and trust Him. Remember how He has led you and provided for you all your life, sometimes in spite of you? Like John Newton, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, /I have already come; /‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,/ And grace will lead me home.”[1] There is a sense in which there must be a clean break with the past. Is that hard? Yes, every bit as hard (as it was maybe harder) to leave home, to start a new life with a spouse, to adjust to the first child, to buy a home, to find a job after graduation, to be transferred by your company. An old family friend named Mr. William Young once told me, “I’ve learned in life that the older you get the hurdles just keep getting higher.” Why is that? Probably because you never stop growing in your trust of the Lord, and He requires you to grow in Him.
e.   The most important thing we must do is what Joseph did. Provide them with dignity and honor. Did you notice that little phrase in verse 5 that Jacob left with everyone “in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him.” Joseph had provided Jacob with the dignity and honor of having first class transportation to his new home to make it easier for him. With our aging loved ones, we must focus on dignity and honor. We preserve their dignity as much as we can. We don’t tell everyone all their medical business. Don’t make a fool of your father at the DMV. Preserve his dignity. We provide whatever we can to help them in transition when those transitions come. And we honor them. We talk to them in a way that is honoring and respectful. We don’t talk to them like they are children when they once changed our diapers. We treat them with honor and surround them with our respect. They are going through great stress in all these changes and in losing so much of their treasured independence. The least we can do is honor our fathers and our mothers.
f.    Genesis 46:28-47:12 – Joseph and Jacob had a tearful reunion. Joseph respected and loved his father enough to set aside his calendar to take care of his father Jacob (Gen. 48:29). Joseph helped Jacob and his family navigate Egyptian politics to obtain possession of the best land in Egypt in Goshen (Gen 46:31-47:6). Joseph honored his father before the Pharaoh (who seemed taken with the old man) (Gen 47:7-11) and provided food for them (Gen 47:12). Joseph watched out for Jacob’s best interests, honored him before those whom Joseph served, and made provision for his father.
g.   APPLICATION: Part of honoring our mothers and fathers means that we also will look after our aging family members’ best interests. We will honor them among those who have authority and those we hope to please. We do our best to provide the best for them in housing, food, and living standards.
a.   In Genesis 47:29, Jacob realizes that he is nearing his death, and he asks Joseph to show him “kindness and faithfulness” and not to bury him in Egypt but to bury him with his family. Jacob identified himself fully with the Abrahamic promise and purpose of the Lord in the Land. His roots were in Canaan, and his vision of the future is bound up in the idea of a Jewish homeland there.
b.   In chapter 48, Joseph receives word that his father is ill, and fearing his imminent death, he goes with his sons to see his elderly father. Jacob musters his strength to see his son and grandsons. Notably, his mind is concerned with reviewing his life (Gen. 48:3-4), the future after he is gone (Gen. 48:5-6), and those who are waiting on the other side (Gen. 48:7). Despite his body’s deterioration (Gen 48:8), his focus is on his family (Gen 48:9-16), and their future provision (Gen 48:17-22).
c.   Jacob adopts Joseph’s two sons as his own, thus securing for his beloved Rachel a third son. When the Levites were called out as priests, then there are still 12 tribes of Israel. He blesses them, making the prophetic sign of the cross over them, pointing to the Messiah who would come. In chapter 49 Jacob blesses all his sons, and for Judah there is a special blessing that points to the Messiah, Jesus, to come from that tribe. The scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes (Gen. 49:10). The Jewish Aramaic Targum takes Shiloh as a name for the Messiah. The NIV takes it as a verb rather than a name, and translates, “until He comes to whom it belongs.” So the meaning backs up what the Jewish Targum interpreted. Either way it is Jesus, to whom all authority in heaven belongs (Ezek. 21:25-27; Rev. 19:16).
d.   ILLUSTRATION: I have grown so tired to visiting hospital rooms or nursing homes and hearing relatives talk to their dying relatives as if they are children. Or talking about them as if they are not in the room. Or being derogatory. I remember a daughter at a nursing home in another town thumping her father’s ears after he had had a stroke, doing that in front of visitors even, and me his pastor with my wife and children there, too. Now I believe she did it out of her own fears, discomforts, and insecurities, but still it was so disrespectful to him, and she was part of the medical profession. He was not even physically capable of moving his hands to stop her. I noticed he stared straight ahead and acted like he couldn’t hear her asinine questions and comments. He wouldn’t respond to anything she asked him to do. Later she went out of the room for something, and I pulled up a chair and spoke to him with a decent respect. He immediately turned his head toward me, smiled, and we carried on a conversation and had a prayer. When his daughter returned to the room, suddenly he dozed off!
e.   APPLICATION: If it is at all possible, honor the requests of your loved ones who are nearing death. By honoring them in that way, you give them the dignity of having some say so in things that pertain to them and their interests. When it comes to death, we look backward and forward to the future after we are gone. We remember the most important things and try to set them in place (Gen 48:3-4). Those of us who care for those loved ones who are about to pass over to the other side must talk with them about their souls, about salvation and forgiveness, and settling the great questions.
f.    One of the acute areas for caring for aging family members right now and in a increasing way in the future is in health care. We have an overhaul in our health care industry in this country, and though many things will be worked out in the Congress and the Courts, we here on the ground have to deal with present and future realities. If we want to see where government-run healthcare is going, one place to go is where it has been in place for a number of years, Great Britain. And the news is not good. A new report from the Care Quality Commission has highlighted the failure in many British hospitals to provide elderly people with adequate basic care. The Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, Mark Davies, said, “the neglect of the elderly on [British] National Health Service hospital wards may be a symptom of the ‘culture of death’ that has grown out the loss of respect for human life following decades of abortion and destructive experimentation on human embryos”. The British people now seem to back legislation in the form of the pro-euthanasia Mental Capacity Act 2005. Bishop Davies continued, ““The review involved a targeted inspection programme between March and June, examining the question of whether elderly patients were treated with respect and if they were given food and drink that met their needs. It involved the largely random “spot check” inspections of 100 NHS hospitals. According to the national report, the review found that nearly a fifth of the hospitals were failing to meet the basic legal standards and a further 35 needed to make improvements in their standard of care. Just 45 hospitals inspected were found to be “fully compliant” with their obligations toward elderly patients. Among the problems identified was the failure to help patients to eat, and the interrupting of patients while they were eating so that their meals went unfinished. The privacy of elderly patients was not always respected, according to the report, because of the failure, for example, to close curtains and screens properly. Call bells were in some cases put out of patients’ reaches, or not answered soon enough, and this left some elderly patients rattling their bed rails or banging their water jugs to attract the attention of nurses. Hospital staff also spoke to some patients in a “dismissive or disrespectful way”, the CQC found. The report said that basic care of elderly patients was “no mystery”, however, yet concluded that many hospitals were “struggling or failing” to provide such a service. It blamed the crisis on “excessive bureaucracy” and “short staffing” in some hospitals but also found that such problems existed even on wards that were well-staffed because of the poor attitudes of some doctors and nurses. Dame Jo Williams, the chairman of the CQC, said that “the fact that over half of hospitals were falling short to some degree in the basic care they provided to elderly people is truly alarming and deeply disappointing”.”[2] As Christian, pro-life relatives of aging family members, we must now not simply trust everything the doctor tells us, because she or he may be receiving government directives to simply sedate and comfort an elderly patient who can no longer pay taxes, who has fulfilled his “duty to the state,” and who is seen as only a drain on the treasury. Nourishment is withheld and sedative drugs are given to make the patient be quiet and sleep until they die.
a.   Gen 49:33-50:14 – When Jacob finished his instructions, he moved into a fetal position and died. Joseph and his brothers and the Pharaoh and all Egypt mourned the death of Jacob. Joseph gave honor and dignity to his father in his burial and in burying him where he promised he would.
b.   APPLICATION: It is important for you to honor your loved one’s wishes as much as is possible for you, to give their bodies dignity in death as you gave your loved ones dignity and honor in life. Do what is Christ-honoring and is honoring to your loved one. I remember a funeral not too long ago, I can only remember it was a woman, but one of the family members requested that “The Circle Be Unbroken” be played. Thankfully, the musician refused to play it. Why? It was not both Christ-honoring and giving dignity to the memory of that person.
c.   Gen 50:15-21 – Joseph’s brothers were fearful of what he would do to them once their father was dead, and they had good reason to be. Joseph could have had all them executed with a word. But Joseph honored his father and the Lord by taking the Lord’s perspective on what his brothers had done to him so many years ago.
d.   APPLICATION: One of the saddest things about a death is often the hard feelings and old past wounds that come up and come out among the family members in the wake of someone’s death. For the sake of your loved one, for their dignity and honor, please do not fight over the dining room suite. Please do not fight over the house or the money. Please do not be greedy. Remember to honor your Lord and to honor the memory of the one whose things you are trying to distribute properly.