Jacobs blesses Josephs sonsBy faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. – Hebrews 11:21

After examining the faith of Abraham and Isaac, we now see that the writer of Hebrews is moving through a list that starts with the Patriarchs – the Fathers of Israel, God’s chosen people. God identifies Himself often throughout the Old Testament as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” and here we pick up with the faith of Jacob.

Just as Abraham had Isaac, the son of promise, so Isaac had Jacob, who while a twin of Esau had been chosen from among the two to be the one through whom the lineage of the nation of Israel (and of Christ) would flow. Interestingly, as we have studied Isaac and now Jacob we see that their faith is especially clear in their last acts – the things they did just before they died. They were faithful to the end of their lives.

For Isaac as we have studied, we saw that he blessed his sons according to the promise of the covenant that God had made with Abraham and with him. His faith was seen in that while he was facing death, having not seen a great nation or the fulfillment of the promises, he still had hope that God would keep His Word and hold up His end of the covenant.

Now we see that Jacob’s faith is presented to us as he is sick and dying and calls for the sons of Joseph that he might bless them. Why is this important and what relevance does it have to Jacob’s faith?

As the Covenant was unfolded through time and a people who belonged to God began to form a nation, we see that Abraham had one son, Isaac had two, and Jacob had twelve. They were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Isachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.

Of course I hope you know the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite and his brothers were jealous. He had dreams that foretold that his brothers and the rest of his family would one day bow down to him and serve him. They plotted to kill Joseph, but Reuben prevailed in convincing them not to kill him so they threw him in a pit until they could decide what to do about him.

They ended up selling him into slavery with a band of travelers headed to Egypt and telling Jacob that a wild animal had killed him. They even provided “evidence” in the form of a coat that Jacob had made for Joseph, ripped and covered with blood. After being sold as a slave, Joseph ended up serving in the house of Potifar.

Then he was accused falsely of immorality by Potifar’s wife and he was thrown in prison. Ever had one of those days? Well for Joseph, it became a way of life and yet through it all he was faithful to God and obedient in his attitudes and actions, and God blessed everything he did. The story of Joseph finds as a climax the incident where he is brought before Pharaoh himself to interpret his dreams and through doing so with the help of the Lord, the land of Egypt and many other nations are spared destruction in a severe 7 year famine that Joseph was able to warn about and establish a plan to help feed the people during the lean years.

His position was that of second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. He was reunited with his brothers when they came looking for food in Egypt, and in the end he declared that what they had meant for evil God had meant for good. Oh, the power of God to accomplish His will even when we mess up and sin. God has His purposes and worked the circumstances of his brothers jealousy for good for Joseph and lots and lots of other people. Joseph ended up having his whole family moved to Goshen, a prosperous and fertile area of northern Egypt.

After all of this, as Jacob was nearing the end of his life, he called for Joseph and as we see in these verses in our study, he blessed Joseph’s sons. The result of the blessing, this act of faith in the continuing promises of God, was to reward Joseph’s saving of the family by bestowing a double portion of the blessing to his boys, Manasseh and Ephraim.

Each son of Jacob received one portion of the blessing, the inheritance, and the promise of being a tribe “in Israel” with an allotment of the Promised Land. Of course this was not fulfilled for hundreds of years as Israel was eventually held captive as slaves in Egypt and it was not until the time of Moses that they were freed by God to go inherit the Land – the same land promised to Abraham all those many years before.

When the portions of the inheritance were assigned, Jacob gave a double portion to Joseph by giving a special blessing to his sons. So out of Joseph came two tribes, and two allotments of land.

The faith of Jacob is seen that even as he is dying, in a foreign land, he remembers the covenant and the promises of God and looks with expectation toward the future for his descendants, a future in the Promised Land. God, after all, always keeps His Word.

This is the account of the blessing of Joseph’s sons. Notice the similarities with his own blessing received from Isaac, that was intended for Esau but given by Providence to him as the younger instead:

Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me in this place.” And he said, “Please bring them to me, and I will bless them.” Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. Then Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I had not thought to see your face; but in fact, God has also shown me your offspring!” So Joseph brought them from beside his knees, and he bowed down with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn. And he blessed Joseph, and said, “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

Now when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; so he took hold of his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!’” And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers. Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”

The last thing Jacob is remembered for after this, according to Hebrews 11, is that he worshiped. At the end of his long life, after seeing God’s faithfulness and deliverance for his whole family, he came to the end of his days and worshiped God. He exalted and declared the glory of God. The God who had appeared to him at Bethel. The God who had wrestled with him and injured his hip. As he worshiped it says he did so leaning on his staff – remembering that wound, given by the very hand of God Himself as Jacob was marked for service to God and belonged to Him.

What a relationship with God! What a life lived that impacted and changed the world. All because God chose Jacob and worked through him to preserve a people that would one day be used to usher in the birth of the Messiah – God with Us – Jesus, our Emmanuel. Indeed through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the whole world has been blessed.

(tomorrow: Joseph’s Faith)