"Swear to me, Joseph—promise me this," Jacob said. "Place your hand under my thigh and swear." Making promises to the dying is nothing unusual. That is still done today.
As the time of his death drew near, Jacob called for his son Joseph and said to him, “Please do me this favor. Put your hand under my thigh and swear that you will treat me with unfailing love by honoring this last request: Do not bury me in Egypt. When I die, please take my body out of Egypt and bury me with my ancestors.”
So Joseph promised, “I will do as you ask.”
“Swear that you will do it,” Jacob insisted. So Joseph gave his oath, and Jacob bowed humbly at the head of his bed. (Genesis 47:29–31)
"Swear to me, Joseph—promise me this," Jacob said. "Place your hand under my thigh and swear." Making promises to the dying is nothing unusual. That is still done today. Frequently I have heard spouses or children tell of promises they made to a dying
mate or a parent. But what about this strange gesture of placing one's hand under the thigh of another? What's that all about?
Brown, Driver, and Briggs, old but still reputable authorities on the Hebrew text, suggest that this sealing of the promise was done by placing the hand beneath the lower back or beneath the buttocks. Joseph promised to do as his father asked, and he
also indicated this symbolically by placing his hand under Jacob. It was an oath-taking posture common at that time.
"Promise me before our God, Joseph, that you will bury me back in my father's land. Promise to bury me over there in Canaan, the land of our people, not here in Egypt. God brought us to Egypt so we could survive the famine, but I want to be buried in
the land of our forefathers, along with Abraham and Isaac and Leah. Take me back there. Don't bury me in Egypt. Swear before God that will not happen." And Joseph swore to keep this promise to his father.
On Jacob's tombstone, Joseph could have placed the words: "He worshiped." Years earlier, of course, "He deceived" might have seemed more appropriate, but now that Jacob was almost a century-and-a-half old, he had come a long way with God. At the end of
his life, one of his final acts was to worship the God he had both wrestled with and served. In his old age he urged Joseph to remember that Canaan—not Egypt—was the Promised Land, so he made his son promise to make his final grave there.