Lonesome Dove, Joseph and Us

One of the best westerns of all time is Lonesome Dove, the TV miniseries based upon the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Larry McMurty. It is the story of August McCrae and Woodrow Call, old Texas Rangers and and new cattleman who decide to make a cattle drive from Lonesome Dove, Texas to the Montana territory. Of course, they have all kinds of adventures along the way. But not long after reaching Montana, McCrae is wounded in leg by Indian arrow; he loses one leg to gangrene and needs the other amputated to save his life.  He refuses. In the scene below, the dying McCrae asks his friend Woodrow Call for one last favor.

Lonesome Dove ends with Call’s 3000 mile odyssey from Montana to Lonesome Dove, Texas to bury McCrae in Clara's orchard. Everyone he meets thinks Call was completely crazy to go to all that trouble, but he completes his mission because he gave his word to his friend.

That part of the novel/movie is based on the true-life story of best friends Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight. Loving was scouting ahead on a cattle drive through Indian territory when he was attacked. Goodnight got to him before he died and promised to take him back to be buried in Texas, although his trek from New Mexico to Texas was nearly as dramatic as Call's odyssey from Montana. In fact, McMurtry gives Goodnight a shout-out by making him a minor character in Lonesome Dove.

But this story is also Biblical. The book of Exodus ends with Joseph charging his family to carry his bones back to Canaan for burial. He knew the promise made to Abraham (his great-grandfather), Isaac (his grandfather) and Jacob (his father). That promise was that the land in which the Patriarchs wandered as nomads would become the home of their descendants. And when Canaan became home for Israel, Joseph wanted to be buried at home. Joseph trusted the promise of God, and he wanted in on that promise. When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, one of the final preparations made was to collect that old bag of bones--

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.” (Exodus 13:19)

Joseph traveled more after his death than he ever had while he was alive. His bones were carried as the Israelites traveled to the foot of Mt. Sinai. His bones went with them as they came to banks of Jordan. His bones turned back and wandered with them through the wilderness for 40 years. And after the death of Moses, the bones of Joseph were carried into Canaan and accompanied the Israelites on the conquest of the land. Finally, after the death of Joshua, the bones of Joseph were laid to rest "beneath the green, green grass of home."

And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants. (Joshua 24:32)

Just an old bag of bones? No, those bones represented Joseph's faith in the promises of God. God always keeps hi s promises. Sometimes He is not as prompt as we would like; God only works on His timetable. But the promises of God always come true. Joseph counted on that; we should count on it as well!