Moving Joseph’s Bones

In Genesis 50:24, 25 we read:

And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. (Emphasis added)

This portion of scripture tells us of an oath being taken which bound or obligated posterity. In this case, a future generation of Israelites was bound by their forefathers to exhume Joseph’s mortal remains and move them to the Promised Land at a future date.

A right understanding of this matter of posterity being bound by the oaths of forefathers is of great significance. May posterity be bound to that which they are unable to perform? One who would answer an emphatic, “YES!” to that question is Greg Price, who is the preaching elder of a group which calls itself the Reformed Presbytery of North America (General Meeting). In a March 23, 2006 correspondence, he states:

I agree with what is said in the Confession of Faith in regard to an “oath.” However, it should be noted that once a lawful social covenant is sworn directly to God in which posterity is lawfully bound, posterity cannot claim to be unable or unresolved to keep the sacred covenant of their forefathers. For there is a descending obligation to all posterity in a social covenant that is ALREADY in effect and that requires obedience which is not true when a single individual seriously considers his ability and resolve to take an oath whereby God is called to be a witness. (Emphasis added)

Following is the portion of The Westminster Confession of Faith referred to above by Greg Price. It is Chapter 22, Section 3, which addresses, among other things, the issue of ability in the taking of solemn oaths:

Whosoever taketh an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act; and therein to avouch nothing, but what he is fully persuaded is the truth. Neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believeth so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform. Yet is it a sin to refuse an oath touching anything that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority. (Emphasis added)

One point made in the WCF excerpt above is that a person may bind himself by oath only to that which he is able to perform. It seems reasonable to extrapolate that an oath involving posterity would bind them also only to what they are able to perform. Posterity would then be free of an oath if it were impossible for them to fulfill it as it was originally sworn.

The specific interest of the RPNA (General Meeting) is a document called the Solemn League and Covenant for Reformation and Defence of Religion, the Honour and Happiness of the King, and the Peace and Safety of the Three Kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland of 1643. Greg Price states in a February 10, 2006 correspondence that the Solemn League and Covenant is perpetual in its intrinsic and moral obligation to all posterity. These intrinsic and moral obligations are also called *general moral principles*. He teaches that these general moral principles are what continue to bind posterity in the event that sworn specifics can no longer be performed by posterity.

Let us return now to Genesis 50:24, 25 and consider the oath which Joseph took of the children of Israel, to move his bones to the Promised Land. One might say the *general moral principles* of this oath are found in the fifth commandment to honor and obey parents (Exodus 20:12), since a superior gave a charge to inferiors. Perhaps the ninth commandment should be considered as well (Exodus 20:16), since the children of Israel swore an oath to Joseph, which needed to be kept with fidelity.

Speaking from Greg Price’s point of view, what are the viable options for a faithful posterity in the event they could not keep the exact oath which their forefathers swore?

    1. If Joseph’s bones were lost, could they move some other ancestor’s bones, and be counted as keeping the *general moral principles* of the oath?
    2. If they did not return to Israel, could they simply move the bones to another land?
    3. If posterity moved all of their ancestors’ bones but Joseph’s (in the event they could not find his bones), would this be a keeping of the oath?
    4. In the event they were unable to keep the oath which was sworn on their behalf, Joseph’s posterity, to be considered faithful by Greg Price, would have to bear witness to the world that Joseph’s oath was yet a *super-added* obligation upon them. All Israelites who disagreed with this statement would be declared unfaithful to their covenant obligations. The only faithful Israelites would be the Covenanted Bone-Moving Israelites.
    5. Even if the oath regarding Joseph’s bones were reduced to the *bare-bones* moral principles, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”-Exodus 20:12 and “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”-Exodus 20:16, Greg Price would still call these *superadded obligations* of an oath binding posterity.

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