Hebrews 11:22 and the Case against Cremation

December 21, 2015

In my last post, I treated three reasons why cremation is unbiblical. A striking statement about Joseph in Hebrews 11 provides additional conclusive evidence for the case against cremation.

Joseph’s Charge to the Israelites Prior to His Death

As he neared death, Joseph communicated his full assurance that God would fulfill His promises to His people about bringing them out of Egypt and into the land that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 50:24). Joseph then made the Israelites take an oath that they would carry his bones with them out from Egypt (Gen. 50:25).

By giving this charge to his own, Joseph displayed that he valued highly what would become of his bones after he had died. Not only did he not want his body to be cremated so that it would be reduced to ashes, but also he cared about where his remains would be buried.

Joseph wanted his bones to be buried in the Promised Land into which he was certain that God would one day lead His people. Was Joseph’s desire concerning his bones simply a manifestation of a cultural practice of his time or was it a display of something far greater?

Israel’s Obedience to Joseph’s Charge

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he obeyed Joseph’s charge by taking his bones with them (Exod. 13:19). The children of Israel later finally fully fulfilled the wishes of Joseph when they buried his bones in a parcel of ground in Shechem, which parcel “became the inheritance of the children of Joseph (Josh. 24:32).

The OT Scriptural record of Joseph’s charge and the Israelites full obedience to that charge shows that God has wanted all His people who have ever received His Word to know what Joseph ordained concerning his bones and what ultimately happened to them. Does this Scriptural record merely relate the fulfillment of self-chosen instructions given by a powerful Israelite leader who was following the cultural customs of his time or is the record intended by God to communicate something of far greater importance?

Divine Commendation of Joseph’s Charge

The writer of Hebrews explicitly commends Joseph to NT believers as one who “obtained a good report through faith” (Heb. 11:39). Considering all that Scripture reveals about Joseph that is commendable, it is highly instructive that the explicit commendation given concerning Joseph in this key NT passage concerns the very charge that we read of twice in preceding Scripture:

Heb 11:22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

God thus highlights that Joseph’s giving the charge that he did concerning his bones was the exemplary manifestation of his faith in God that God wants to call to the attention of all Christians! God’s commendation of Joseph’s believing desires that his bones be buried in the Promised Land shows that what he did was not just a record of a powerful Israelite following his own wishes in keeping with a cultural custom of his people and time.

Conclusion

Joseph wanted his bones to be buried—not cremated, and his wanting to do so was a vital expression of his faith in the promises of God. All Christians must likewise display their faith in God by seeking to have their bodies buried when they die.

The Scriptural record concerning Joseph’s charge about his bones powerfully argues against any legitimacy of cremation for God’s people. Christians must not cremate their own!

Rajesh

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One response to Hebrews 11:22 and the Case against Cremation

  1. I appreciate my former Greek teacher, but I haft to disagree with his post. Joseph wasn’t an example of faith because he avoided creamation, but because he believed God’s people would be return to the promised land. Joseph return (post-mortum) served as a powerful symbol of God’s covenant grace. There is simply no parallel I can see with modern cremation. Is writer of Hebrews trying to warn Christians away from cremation? Or reminding them of Joseph’s faith in God’s promise?