I am reading through Genesis in the New King James, and I came to this verse:

Genesis 46:4

"I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes."

Reading from the ESV, the NASB, and the NIV, they all seem to suggest the idea that Joseph will close his father's eyes, which I take to be a reference to dying; however, the NASB has a footnote that reads "Lit put his hand on". The KJV reads much like the NKJV.

My question then, is this a reference to dying? Is Joseph putting his hands on Jacob's eyes, presumably to close them, an indication that Joseph will be there to literally close his dad's eyes when he dies?

Or is something else at play? A cultural thing? A badly translated Hebraic idiom meaning something else?

  • I recently discovered this verse in my reading of Genesis and find it to be amazingly comforting, Joseph being such a rich antitype of the resurrected messiah.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 10 '18 at 10:33

This is indeed a reference to death, but it isn't an idiom. It was the custom to literally close a deceased person's eyes (Mishna Shabbat 23:5):

אין מאמצין את המת בשבת, ולא בחול עם יציאת נפש; וכל המאמץ עם יציאת נפש, הרי זה שופך דמים.

One may not close a dead person's eyes on the Sabbath, nor on a weekday while the soul is departing; and whoever closes a person's eyes while the soul is departing is shedding blood.

  • Ibn Ezra here concurs with you.
    – Bach
    Apr 10 '18 at 14:02
  • @Bach, do you have a quote from Ibn Ezra? May 7 '18 at 9:00
  • ויוסף ישית ידו על עיניך. במותך כי כן מנהג החיים עם המתים
    – Bach
    May 8 '18 at 13:45
  • Translation: "'and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes'--when you will die; for this is the custom of the living with the dead"
    – Bach
    May 8 '18 at 13:47

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