And the time drew nigh that Israel must die.
By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
“And the time drew nigh that Israel must die.”
Death is a hard and difficult thing. It brings man ingloriously to his end, especially when it is a natural death caused by nothing but age. The strength and vitality of youth is gone, and man lies upon his bed in weakness, oft times in pain. The eyes have grown dim, able to see only in vague outline. The ears have grown faint. Even the mind seems often to have lost its sharpness. The keen rules of logic are no longer observed. The distant memories of the past are ascribed greater importance than the realities of the present. The thoughts flit vaguely from one disconnected thought to another. It is not surprising that friends and relatives stand about the bedside with sadness written across their faces. It is a time of sorrow and weeping. Death is a hard and difficult thing.
So the time of Jacob’s death drew nigh; and so the marks of death were to be seen. His strength was all but gone, and he had to worship while leaning upon his staff, bowed over the head of his bed. His eyes were dim so that he could hardly recognize the forms of his own grandchildren. The remarks of others to him were of scant concern, to be shrugged aside as interruptions. The important things were the memories of events long past. In fond reminiscence, they dominated his mind. With words whispered and halting, his thoughts wandered over the length and breadth of the past. The waning ways of death were upon him. We see the tears in the eyes of Joseph as he knelt by the side of his father, the looks of confusion on Manasseh and Ephraim who in their youth could not completely understand the seriousness and finality of death. We are given here a clear picture of a death-bed scene with all of its sad characteristics of declining strength. And yet as we examine it again we find that from it there shines a beautiful light. In fact, the more we look with the eyes of faith the stronger the light becomes until the sadness all but disappears before the richness of spiritual glory. The weakness of the flesh gives way to the strength of faith. The dimness of the eyes is forgotten for the surety of hope. The sadness of the end is swallowed up in the confidence of victory. Such is the paradoxical beauty to be found in the death of a saint. It emits the glorious cry of faith, “For me to live is Christ, and to die?—it is gain!” Jacob knew that death was approaching. Already when he had first come into Egypt, he had fallen on Joseph’s neck and said, “Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive.” Still seventeen years passed by before the time finally came. They had been years of peace and joy. His sons had repented from the sinful way of life which they had pursued in Canaan; and he was united again with Joseph, always the son of his love. Although the duties of Joseph were many, we may be sure that he found frequent opportunity to meet and commune with his father. Thus when Jacob felt death approaching, it was Joseph whom he called first to his side.
Jacob had a very serious burden pressing upon his heart which he wished to impart unto Joseph. As soon as Joseph appeared he spoke, “If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: but I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place.” When Joseph consented to this request, it was not enough. Jacob required him to swear with an oath.
We might wonder about this. We know that among the heathen it was customary to make elaborate preparations for burial. This was especially true among the Egyptians. It was thought by them that the circumstances of their burial would have an effect on the life to come. So they built the pyramids, and so they had them filled with treasures of great value and with mystical symbols of many sorts. But for the children of God such superstitious practices are more than folly. God does not judge a person according to his external circumstances; nor does what happens to the body after death have any effect on the life to come. But why then the great concern of Jacob?
Jacob was a child of faith. From his earliest youth, he had grown in the faith that God would realize His covenant with Abraham and his seed in the land of Canaan. Canaan was a symbol as well as a type of the promise that God had made to his fathers. It was the land in which the covenant promises would be realized. Even when in his old age Jacob left the land of Canaan, his hope remained implanted there. In that land only could his blessing come, and there only could the blessing of his children come. Thus, as Jacob felt the shades of death closing upon him, he felt the importance of stressing this fact upon his children. He must leave them no occasion to think that their future could as well be realized in Egypt as in Canaan. They must tarry there only for a time and then return to Canaan. In insisting that his bones be carried to Canaan, he was telling his children, in terms more forceful than words, that Egypt was in no sense their home. The home of their fathers was the land of Canaan to which they also would have to return. Jacob in his command was preaching to his sons the gospel.
Willingly Joseph made the oath required of his father. He did so with his hand upon his father’s thigh, for it was from those loins that according to promise the Messiah would come. It was an oath in effect before God. Thereupon Jacob bowed himself upon the bed’s head. It was the attitude of prayer. He was thanking his God in heaven for
the assurance that his final testimony of faith would be given.
Some time passed by during which Jacob grew steadily weaker. Finally a messenger came to Joseph informing him that his father was sick and the end was rapidly approaching. Immediately Joseph called his two sons and went with them to the bedside of their grandfather. There is recorded for us the resulting interview. Clearly the speech of Jacob constitutes the wandering reminiscence of an old man; but through it there shines the consistency and conviction of a faith that has been purged through a lifetime of trial and victory. It is the speech of a saint who, having received God’s blessings in the past, looks forward with hope to the future.
Jacob began with recalling one of his most cherished memories. “God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me. And said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give the land to) thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession.” Twice he had been at Bethel with close to forty years in between. But in the mind of the old patriarch the two events were practically merged into one. Bethel formed the chief foundation for the confidence of his life. There God Almighty had appeared to him, and there he had been given unequivocally the covenant blessing from above. God assured him that unto him would be given the covenant seed, and the promised land of Canaan would be their dwelling place. Through all his troubled life, Jacob had found in this promise his strength. That it should be first in his mind at the approach of death was to be expected.
From Bethel Jacob’s mind turned to Joseph and his children. Although the two thoughts might appear to be disconnected, there is a definite relationship between them. Jacob had long wished to pass on the blessing which he received at Bethel to Joseph and his children. At the time of Joseph’s youth this had been a firm conviction with him. One of the functions of Joseph’s removal into Egypt was to keep this determination from developing as it did in the case of Isaac with Esau. Now after many years of separation, in which Jacob feared Joseph to be dead, he saw the matter in a much more balanced light. Joseph was not to receive the full blessing, although neither was he to be excluded from it completely. The blessing consisted of three different portions: the princedom, the priesthood, and the double portion. Of these Joseph was to receive the last. With the sure conviction of one who was in accord with the will of God, Jacob spoke, “And now thy sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.”
With joy Jacob pronounced those words. They brought back to him the memory of his beloved wife, Rachel. He continued, “When I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem.” One thought had dominated the life and the death of Rachel, the desire to bring forth seed. Jacob had seen it develop in her from a carnal sense of competition with her sister to a deep spiritual longing to bring forth a covenant seed unto God. In her death on the way to Ephrath she had grieved because she thought that her second son would not live and there would be left from her only one son, Joseph. But Benjamin had lived, and to Joseph was given a double portion in the covenant. Even more, as though in answer to Rachel’s prayer, Ephraim and Manasseh would serve in Israel as a symbol of the fertility which their grandmother had desired. This Jacob brought clearly forth in what followed.
The aged eyes of Jacob discerned the forms of Ephraim and Manasseh in the shadows of his tent. Because of the weakness of his vision, he was not certain as to their identity. After asking and being assured, he said, “Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.” He kissed and embraced them, and then, while Joseph bowed in reverence, he extended his hands to bless them as the seed of Joseph. “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads.” It was a beautiful blessing, anticipating the Trinitarian benediction of later ages. The first phrase refers to God the Father Who walks in love with His people; the second to God the Holy Spirit Who communes with and nurtures His people; the third to the Angel of Jehovah, God the Son, Who in grace redeems His people from sin. To this Jacob added, “And let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” To them was the name of the covenant, and in them would the greatness of Israel be revealed. So great was to be their greatness that henceforth it would be a byword among Israel, “God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh.” The prayer of Rachel was answered.
It was then that Joseph noted his father’s hands. While he had led Manasseh to Jacob’s right hand and Ephraim to his left, Jacob had crossed over his right hand to Ephraim’s head and the left to Manasseh’s. Joseph interrupted, “Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.” But Jacob was not to be moved. He spoke and blessed the children not as a man but as a spokesman for the elective counsel of God. To God the order of the flesh is of no matter. Although Manasseh was also to be blessed, the place ordained for Ephraim was the greater. Through faith this was revealed to Jacob, and in accord with it he acted.
Once again,tells us, Jacob worshipped, “leaning upon the top of his staff.” He said, “Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers. Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren, which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow.”