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Joseph had told the Israelites to carry his bones from Egypt to Canaan

Genesis 50:25 NIV

:And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.”

So during the time of the Exodus Moses did actually carry his bones to Canaan.

Exodus 13:19 NIV:

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”

But according to the law anyone who touched a dead body,carcass or bone defiled the camp of the Israelites

Numbers 19:16 NIV

Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days.

Why did the bones of Joseph not defile the camp of the Israelites?

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There is a simple distinction here:

  • The Torah law about defilement because of contact with a dead body in Num 19:16 involves actually touching the dead carcass.
  • However, if such a dead body were placed in a coffin and presumably sealed, then no such defilement would occur.
  • defilement by a dead body is only ever recorded as occurring to an an individual and not an entire camp.

Note the record in the last verse of Genesis 50:26

So Joseph died at the age of 110. And they embalmed his body and placed it in a coffin in Egypt.

Note that two acts are involved here:

  1. Joseph's body was embalmed (thus, sanitizing the body)
  2. Joseph's body was placed in a coffin and thus no direct contact with living people was possible.

Now, we should note that the Torah law in Num 19:16 was given more than 100 years after Joseph's death and so was not applicable.

However, even if that law had applied, the fact that Joseph's embalmed body was placed in a coffin prevented direct contact with living people and so no law was broken.

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What about the part of Num 19:16 that says one is unclean if they touch a grave?

Would not touching a grave include touching a coffin? Does this also mean if we visit a graveyard we too, become unclean?

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