In Hebrews 11:20 we read of the faith of Isaac consisting in this, that he blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. Then in the next verse we read of Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph; and that is presented in this chapter of the giants of faith as evidence of Jacob’s great faith. Both father and son are listed as giants of faith, and both are presented as performing the same act of faith, namely, blessing their seed.
On the surface it would seem as though we have somewhat of a repetition here, a case of “Like father like son.” It is true that we read a bit more about Jacob, such as the fact that he was dying, that he worshipped, leaning on his staff, and that it was his grandsons whom he blessed, rather than sons as was the case with Isaac. But otherwise it would seem to be the same act of faith, whereas we, no doubt, would be expecting something different to be made known to us, some new facet of faith to enrich us with a fresh viewpoint of what faith does.
Now in a sense we may say that the incidents recorded in Hebrews 11, and given to the author by the Spirit, single out the high points of faith in the lives of these saints and manifest most clearly the strength of their faith. But at, the same time it must be admitted that throughout this chapter we have presented to us not only different giants of faith but also different works of faith. And this blessing by Isaac of his sons, and of Jacob upon Joseph’s sons would seem to be an exception to this procedure.
Yet mere repetitions are not to be found in Scripture, and we had better look a bit deeper to appreciate this work of Jacob consisting in blessing the sons of Joseph.
Not only is it important to note and bear in mind that these are grandsons of the one pronouncing the blessing, whereas with Isaac it was a case of blessing sons, but also that Joseph on hearing that his aged father was sick brought his two sons to his dying father. And although we do not read of Joseph doing so in order that Jacob might bless them, we may be sure that it was not simply, or in the first place, merely to say “Good-bye” to their grandfather who lay on his deathbed.
Another difference that does not lie on the surface is that although they were grandsons and therefore Jacob’s seed as surely as the children of the other eleven sons of Jacob, these sons of Joseph were not like the other grandsons, either in outward appearance (because of distinct dress and hair styles) or in speech.
Now Jacob, with his dim eyesight, could no doubt see some difference, and certainly could see a bit. We read in Genesis 48:8, “And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these?” A little later in verse 11 we read, “I had no thought to see thy face, and, lo, God hath showed me also thy seed.” He did see dimly. Whether he heard them speak is another matter. This was not the twentieth century when children show increasing disrespect for their elders, and claim to have, and behave as though they have, freedoms which, if they were theirs, would nullify God’s unchangeable and ever abiding law with its fifth commandment of honoring father and mother, and which also includes grandfather and grandmother. There could even be the language barrier that prevented such communication. Even then, silence and failing eyesight would not make Jacob unaware of a vast difference between these grandsons with their Egyptian culture and education and the other grandsons of his sheep-tending sons.
There is another matter to remember. Had Jacob seen these sons of Joseph when he first came into the land of Egypt, or on that trip that he made shortly after arriving to be presented to Pharaoh, these grandsons would have been very young, as young as two and three years old. Aged Jacob lived in Goshen, and Joseph and his sons far removed in the capitol city of Memphis. It is very doubtful that Jacob ever went to Joseph after the one recorded instance, so that a tremendous physical change had taken place in these sons of Joseph. Now being about twenty years old they no longer looked like the little grandsons that Jacob saw, if indeed he did see them, on that trip to see Pharaoh. Being dressed as young men and not as little boys, wearing Egyptian attire and hair style they could easily have been mistaken by Jacob with his dim eyesight as part of Joseph’s bodyguard or attendants. Hence the question, “Who are these?” Remember that Jacob lived in Egypt for seventeen years (Genesis 47:28). His two grandsons were born before the seven years of famine began. That would mean 24 years from the beginning of the famine until Jacob’s death. But Jacob came into Egypt two years after the famine began and was there during only five years of famine. So Joseph’s younger son was at least 19 years old and the older one was at least 20 years old when they stood before Jacob. Recognition would be remarkable even for a man with good eyesight.
Now consider that Jacob, not knowing the identity of these young men, and yet in their presence, said to Joseph, “And now thy two sons Ephraim and Manasseh which were born to thee in the land of Egypt, before I came unto thee in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” Whether these grandsons understood their grandfather is another matter. But he did order Joseph to consider them to be his sons on the same level with Reuben and Simeon his first two sons born to him in Haran. These two sons of Joseph were to be reckoned on a level with those sons of Leah who were certainly first in line to be heads of tribes that would constitute the nation of Israel. These two sons of Rachel, his beloved wife, of whom he will speak in the verses immediately following, will as surely be counted as heads of tribes in the nation of Israel as the two sons of Leah whom all would count as worthy of that rare honour because of their places in the genealogies of Jacob. Jacob’s name shall be on them and the name of Abraham and Isaac shall be on them as fully as upon Reuben and Simeon.
It cannot be denied that Jacob on his deathbed is much concerned with the spiritual well-being of Joseph and of these two sons who were brought up in Egyptian culture and education. Joseph was high in this world and his situation was very similar to that of Moses who “had it made” as far as the things of this world are concerned. Both had bright futures, if you are thinking of worldly advancement and wealth. Jacob had, indeed, gotten a promise from Joseph that he would bury him in Canaan and in this found out that Joseph did remember God’s promise to Abraham and his seed. His political career had not turned him away to unbelief. But there are those grandsons growing up in pagan Egypt with all its idolatry. There is also their mother who is daughter of the priest of On. Jacob rightfully has much concern for them. And as a faithful covenant father and grandfather he launches at once, upon Joseph’s visit—even strengthening himself to sit upon the bed to talk to Joseph—into that which is heavy on his heart.
He speaks to Joseph of God the Almighty and His appearance to him at Luz in the land of Canaan and to the blessing which He gave Jacob to make him fruitful, to multiply and to become a multitude of people, and to give him the land of Canaan. It is the covenant and the covenant promise that is uppermost in Jacob’s mind. Of it he wants to speak to his son before he dies; and the place of his grandsons in that promise and in that covenant he also wishes to set forth. It is in that light that Genesis 48 presents those words of Jacob, “And now thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh . . . are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” And then the idea is not simply that they shall belong to the covenant family of Jacob and must not be given over by Joseph to be Pharaoh’s, or to belong to Egypt’s pagan realm and to the idols of Egypt. No, the connection between verses 3 and 4, and verse 5 is that Joseph’s sons, on a par with Reuben and Simeon, are a fulfillment and will be a fulfillment of God’s promise to Jacob to be fruitful, to multiply, and to become a multitude of people.
That there was fleshly disappointment to Jacob as well as to Rachel that God did not give them more sons is certainly true. This moved Rachel to cry out to Jacob, “Give me children or else I die” (Genesis 30:1). Yet as far as Jacob, who did have children, is concerned, it was also because he looked for the fulfillment of God’s promise to him, namely, to make a multitude of people out of him.
By faith Jacob blessed these sons of Joseph. And what a faith it was! Faith in God’s faithfulness. Faith in the covenant promise so that, granted these grandsons are in the culture and environment of gross idolatry, “God Almighty”—as Jacob here calls Him—is God the all faithful One Who will keep His Word and preserve in the midst of a sinful world His people.
What is more, what great faith Jacob displays here on his deathbed! Many a dying saint, because his sins rise up against him, prevailing every day, seeks comfort on his deathbed that those sins are gone and that he is sure of a resurrection to glory. Many ‘a saint who knows his life is quickly slipping away wants, exactly because he is a child of God, to be assured of God’s promises and to have prayers spoken in his behalf. But Jacob, strong in his faith, speaks of those promises, instructs his son and grandsons about them. And though he is dying, he speaks powerfully of the continuation of the covenant promises in his grandsons who are on every side, surrounded by heathendom and idolatry and great temptations for the flesh.
And Jacob has no doubt about their or his own everlasting future because, although he is weak physically and no longer able to wrestle with men for the things of this world—and God mercifully took that power away from him so that he would wrestle in prayer with his God—he is strong in faith in his Savior. He confesses, according to Genesis 48:16, that the Angel which redeemed him from all evil will bless these grandsons. He prays that the Angel of his redemption will do this; but his prayer is prophetic, and prediction and evidence of his confidence in God.
We know that Angel Who redeems us from all evil to be Christ, the Son of God in our flesh. “All evil” certainly includes first of all our sins. And although Jacob saw his Redeemer only in the types and shadows, we see Him in the reality of His incarnation, cross, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, so that He sits there now with a glorified body that is truly redeemed from all evil and cannot be touched by any evil.
Because of that fact we too on our deathbeds, rather than listening to others comfort us, can—when we are strong in faith—comfort those whom we will leave behind. And we can close our eyes in the sleep of death with confidence for the church here on earth after we have left the scene. When Jacob says, “Thy two sons. . . are mine,” he speaks as the head of the church of that day, and in the name of Him Who is The Head of the church. Our children are His and are equal with Reuben and Simeon, yea with Jacob and Joseph in God’s covenant. They shall be named the True Israelites, the church of God, the people whom He redeems from all evil. And they shall be this, not simply in name, but in all the redemption which the Angel of the Lord has earned for them by His precious blood.