“By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff “
A Christian is as his faith is. This does not mean that a man can believe himself into becoming a Christian, can become what he wants to be. But, faith is a bond, a spiritual bond uniting him with Christ; faith is, therefore, the source and root of all our life; hence, as is my faith, so am I. Faith and assurance are therefore inseparable, and it is certainly proper for a Christian to stand in the assurance of faith. Some deny this. They claim that to doubt is peculiarly Christian, even frown upon those who would stand in the joy of salvation. How wrong this view is! On the one hand, they deny or doubt the Word of God. The Word of God exhorts to rejoice in the Lord, to rejoice always. On the other hand, this attitude of doubt is also deeply sinful because then it is impossible to walk in the way of the Lord and live to His glory, the glory of our Redeemer. If I doubt my salvation I cannot sing of God’s glory, love, and grace. And it is certainly my calling to say with our Heidelberg Catechism that my only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Faith also gives us the victory. How often this is emphasized in this eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews! It is also the victory over our natural weaknesses and infirmities. How this is demonstrated in this history of Isaac when he blessed Jacob although he was naturally attracted and drawn to Esau, his profane brother. Yea, what is more, faith is also victorious in the hour of death. This is held before us in this scripture to which we now call attention: Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph while he was a dying. What an amazing demonstration we have here of the power of faith.
THE WONDER OF IT
Death—what is it?
We must grasp the idea of the Word of God here, in order to understand its beauty. Jacob certainly revealed his faith when he blessed the sons of Joseph. And he also revealed his faith when, as we read, he worshipped as leaning upon the top of his staff. But the amazing beauty of the text is expressed in the words, “when he was a dying.” This expression does not merely denote when he believed. But it also emphasizes the amazing character of Jacob’s faith. We read literally that he believed while dying. Jacob was in the final moment of death. Of course, we are all dying, every day, something which we do well to remember. We are mortal. Dying we die, every day. Our life here is a journey from the cradle to the grave. But Jacob was in that final moment of dying; the arms of death were encompassing him, taking hold of him. He was in death’s final agony.
What is death? First, death is unnatural. Man was created, not to die but to live. And, in the elect, man shall live. Secondly, death is suffering and agony. All men do not die the same way. Some die violently, as in a moment. Most people die gradually. However, be this as it may, death is always suffering. Thirdly, death is a divine visitation. It is not an accident, a merely natural process. People do not simply pass away. The unbelieving world would, have us believe this. Death, however, is a divine visitation, execution. It is the result of sin. And this is death’s worst feature; it adds to the horror of it. Therefore, dying we must remember that after death comes hell, an endless torment, everlasting ruin and misery. That this does not apply to the Christian is only for Jesus’ sake. But then we know and must know that our sins are washed away in His blood.
Hence, how amazing is Jacob’s faith! Applying this to Jacob, he was in the agony of death. What a change had come over the old patriarch! Remember him when he was young, still in his parents’ home, his cunning and shrewdness, when he and his mother would deceive Isaac? Shall we remember him when he spent twenty years in Padan-Aram, with his, greedy and selfish uncle, trying to outwit him…? But, then, Peniel, had entered his life and the incident had followed at the Jabbok when he was filled with terror and the angel of the Lord had wrestled with him. Indeed, Jacob had changed! He had changed naturally. But he had also changed spiritually. There was a time when he was considerably pelagian, would help God. But this had changed, fundamentally, at the Jabbok. There he had learned to place all his strength in his faithful covenant God. O, he did not lose completely all his old tricks. But he had undergone a tremendous change.
And now? He is in the agony of death. The reality of imminent death confronts him. And now, what shall he say? Shall he think of his experiences of the past? Does he resent the approach of death, bewail that he must soon die? Does he lie there in fear and terror? Does he tremble now? The very opposite is true! His eyes, although physically dim, are spiritually bright. In faith he takes hold of the promises of his God, He is engaged with the things that are future and eternal. His faith, also now, has the victory.
And what shall we say? What shall we say in the moment of death? Will we also believe, so that our faith will overcome and have the victory in death’s dark vale? This is the amazing character of Jacob’s faith in this text.
THE EXPRESSION OF IT
We know the history.
Joseph, very busy of course in the affairs of the land of Egypt, informed of the sickness of his father, is summoned to the bedside of his father. He hurries to his father’s bedside with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, approximately twenty years of age. It is evident that these sons, considered to be of both royal and priestly descent and therefore whose position was equaled only by Pharaoh himself, spent their lives in the Egyptian world. And Jacob sees them now for the first time.
First, Jacob addresses his son. He speaks about the appearance of the Lord to him at Luz, recorded inGenesis 35:1-9. Then he speaks of the land of promise, the land the Lord had promised to the fathers and also to Israel. So, in the midst of a strange land, and while dying, Jacob by faith speaks of the land of Canaan as the land of their people. Thereupon he reclaimed the two boys of Joseph and expressed his wish that they shall be to him as Reuben and Simeon, that they shall bear the name of Israel. This means that it is surely the meditation of the dying old patriarch which can be expressed in one word: the Word, the promise of God, the God of his salvation.
Secondly, Jacob now concerns himself with Joseph’s sons. He notices the two boys as they appear dimly before his failing eyesight. And how he blesses them, changing their position, is a narrative familiar to us.
We may speak of Jacob’s faith in a general sense. On the one hand, these sons of Joseph surely had access to all the glories and honour and riches of the world. They were Egyptians, although their father was a Hebrew, of royal and priestly descent. On the other hand, however, we have here the promises of Jehovah. Should Jacob bless them with the blessing of Israel it would mean that they would become affiliated with the people of God, with them who were strangers in the land. So, the alternative was clear: the oft-occurring alternative between the world and the people of God. Jacob chooses the latter.
But we may also speak of Jacob’s faith in a specific sense. Let us notice the situation. Jacob is in a strange land. He had lived in Canaan, as a stranger, without any claim to it. And now he had been in Egypt some seventeen years. And, on the other hand, these boys were well established in Egypt. Things certainly looked hopeless from the viewpoint of the promise.
What, now, shall Jacob do? Shall he maintain the promises of God, now, in the moment of death, over against these tremendous odds? Or will he, because of the weakness of the flesh, succumb, lose his courage, yea his faith? Shall he judge that it is better for these boys to remain in Egypt? What is his answer? Solemnly he declares what we read in Genesis 48:15-16. Indeed, we have here the blessing of Abraham. The dying Israel is strong and clear in his faith; he does not waver.
To this must be added two more incidents. First, already here, Jacob, in actual fact, deprives Reuben of the blessing of the firstborn. Reuben was the firstborn, in the natural sense of the word. According to all rational judgment, the birthright blessing would be his. But the blessing shall be divided between Judah and Joseph. Judah would receive the blessing of the covenant, to bring forth the Great Seed. And Joseph would receive the double portion, divided between his two sons. Jacob claims them as his sons, and they shall be to him as Reuben and Simeon, according to his own words. And, secondly, notice the crossing of the hands. To Jacob was also revealed that the elder would be inferior to the younger. Jacob also recognizes this, even now in the moment of death.
Jacob now bows himself upon his bed, assuming the form of worship. He lifted himself and then bowed down before his God. What an act of faith! In this moment of death he, for one moment, by faith, pushes death aside as it were, to worship his God.
What this means? Worship here is not prayer, but acknowledgment of the greatness and sovereignty of his God. He had spoken of the promises of the Lord; he had made his son to swear that he would not leave his bones in Egypt; he had thereby expressed his faith in the promises of his God. And now he worships God. He realizes his own smallness, sin, and unworthiness. And he glorifies and extols his God, that to him, such a miserable and unworthy sinner, the mercy of the Lord had been sovereignly shown. And while Joseph and his sons look on in silent awe and reverence, the old dying patriarch lifts himself up, worships God, and declares: O God, my God, my covenant God, all glory and praise be Thine for Thy grace and Thy mercy, which Thou hast bestowed upon me, a sinner.
Such is the power of faith, also for us, even in the moment of death! Indeed, this faith is not of us. It is never of us. It is solely of the Lord. And this faith, the gift of God, is able to preserve us, even until the end. God’s work of grace, once begun, shall be finished and completed, that He, and He alone, may receive all the praise and the glory, now and even forever.