Out of Jacob’s long career, the writer to the Hebrews selects the incident in this section as his greatest act of faith: “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Heb. 11:21) – namely, his reaching out to the future of the promise in the face of death as he blessed the younger over the older. There is irony in the fact that this incident is comparable to the situation in which he had received the blessing over his older brother. Once more the blessing was given to the younger, but this time there was no deception or bitterness. This time the blessing was given openly, in accord with God’s plan.
Here was the man of God at the brink of death, passing on the blessing – a hope for the future. But there is also Jacob’s recognition that the elder would serve the younger – and so he crossed his hands in the blessing. Believers learn throughout life to accept God’s crossing up of the normal conventions, for God’s ways are not the ways of humankind.
This section begins a series of narratives about the death and burial of Jacob, drawing the life of Jacob to a close. With so many references to the death of Jacob, one would expect this section to close with Jacob’s death. But these references raised the question of the circumstances of his death. Would matters be resolved? Would he die in peace?
In the way that things worked out, the death of Jacob thus provided the culmination of the patriarchal narratives; it was a death that fit harmoniously within God’s program for the blessing. The material in these last chapters includes the adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh, the last blessing on the sons, and the death and burial of the patriarch. All the events bring an age to a close and, at the same time, announce the future.
Jacob believed that God’s promises to him were certain, even after death, and so he worshiped God, proving his faith by demanding to be buried in the Land of Promise; Jacob also believed that God sovereignly gave his blessing contrary to human expectations, proving his faith by blessing the younger Ephraim over the older Manasseh.
When Jacob pronounced the blessing on the sons, he wittingly guided his hands so that his right hand was on Ephraim’s head, and his left on Manasseh’s, even though Manasseh was the first born (v14). This was Israel’s (Jacob’s) decision, in spite of Joseph’s displeasure. Joseph, and many others like him, expected God to work in a certain way. Joseph had brought his two sons before Jacob so that Manasseh would receive the first blessing, but Jacob crossed his hands. It had taken Jacob a lifetime of discipline to learn this truth about God. in his early years he had deceived his blind father for the blessing, but in his duty now of passing on the blessing, he performed in the way that God wanted, blessing the younger over the elder. He would not attempt to bless the wrong one, nor would he handle the blessing dishonestly.
In his blessing Jacob used a threefold invocation of God as the God of the fathers, the God who shepherded him all the way, and the God who delivered him out of trouble. These remarkable descriptions reveal Jacob’s faith – one that had matured through the years and that had learned to trust the Lord in the difficulties of life.
There is little wonder that the writer to the Hebrews would select this event as the epitome of Jacob’s faith, for it presents one of the finest samples in Scripture of a mature faith: “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Heb. 11:21).
Allen Ross writes, “Believers who have matured in the faith through a lifetime of experiences in which the covenant God has shepherded and delivered them – no matter how difficult the maturing process may have been – can discern with confidence the purpose and plan of God for the future.” That is, “This statement does not say that the believer will have the ability to predict; it merely says that the mature believer is familiar with God’s ways, knows God’s plans, and can prepare for the future with a certain expectation.”
Is this your God? Are you maturing in the faith? This Sunday we will see what Scripture teaches concerning the God who is faithful and who redeems his people from all evil. Bring a friend with you as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.
For His Glory,
P.S. Don’t forget that time changes
this week as we set our clocks
forward one hour.