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Hebrews 11:21- 21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

I love the picture of Jacob that is painted here. In one culminating act, in one final moment of passionate faith, Jacob, as he was in the process of dying, blessed Joseph’s sons and worshiped the Lord has he leaned on his staff for support. As Jacob was reflecting on his life, it was so important to him to worship the Lord that he willed himself to stand and worship the Lord.

It makes me think of a precious elderly man that was in a worship service at a Church of God Pastors meeting in KY a few weeks back. He had to be well up in his 90’s, was somewhat frail, and as I looked over at him, I saw him singing his heart out with one hand in the air as he wiped his tears with the other. The gratitude of his heart poured out through his body language. That is the sense I get when I read about these final moments of faith in Jacob’s life. Jacob’s faith fueled a deep gratitude, the kind that prompts a person to worship.

Like the other characters we have discussed, to understand the intensity and authenticity of their faith, we have to revisit their steps. Jacob, that twin brother of Esau, had been a deceiver. He had been out for number one, but there was a point when God got a hold of his heart and changed it. He no longer was Jacob, but his name was changed to Israel.  It happened in a literal wrestling match with God. It was in that wrestling match that Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26) Jacob had come to realize who the Ultimate Blesser was!

Remember, he had received his earthly father’s blessing, the one typically given to the older brother, but he, Jacob, through God’s choosing (not through his scheming) received a special blessing from his earthly father. In that intense time with God, he held on with all of his might, requesting to be blessed by his Heavenly Father. Not only was his name changed to Israel during the struggle, but his hip was dislocated in that experience, and as a result, he walked with a limp It was a physical reminder to him about his life-changing experience with God. It was an incredible and passionate pursuit that Jacob was making to receive all God could give him.

As Jacob got to the end of his life and made the choice to bless two of his grandsons as he was also blessing his sons, he made the choice to worship God. He was grateful to the God who had changed his identity and heart. He hadn’t always been someone you could trust. He hadn’t always been something whose heart was even free to worship God.

Early in his life, he had done his brother dirty and had fled for fear of his life. Yes, God had chosen Jacob to receive the blessing Esau expected to get, but Jacob’s heart wasn’t right in that moment about any of it.

When he fled, he went to work for his Uncle Laban, a man who had two daughters.  Jacob fell in love with one of the daughters, Rachel, and had to work for seven years to be able to receive her hand in marriage. However, when the wedding day arrived, Laban gave Jacob a taste of his own medicine and switched the brides at the last minute, marrying off his older, obviously heavily veiled daughter, Leah, instead of Jacob’s beloved Rachel. Wouldn’t that make a great reality TV show? Maybe you could call it, “Switched at Church?” In that moment, Jacob would have had to reflect on his own deception with his father.  Sometimes God allows us to learn to hate our sin by allowing us to feel how painful it is to be on the receiving end of other people’s cruelty.

Even in those moments, there is a grace that comes to us as we learn to live differently, as we move away from selfishness and manipulation of others because we understand how wrong those internal motivations are.  We see in Scripture that God often deals with us in a way that mirrors how we deal with others. The world would say, “What goes around comes around.” God says we reap what we sow. Galatians 6:7. God was teaching Jacob to hate deception.

Jacob worked another seven years to marry the woman of his dreams. Rachel finally became his wife. While Leah had several sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, it took a while for Rachel to finally conceive. When she did, she gave birth to Joseph. Did you ever wonder why Jacob favored Joseph? Why he gave him that coat of many colors that would make him a standout from his brothers? It was because he was the firstborn of his first love, Rachel. 

The other brothers in the family hated Joseph because of Jacob’s favoritism. Joseph had been given special dreams by God, dreams that told him that one day his brothers would bow down to them. I suppose he could have been more sensitive to his brothers’ feelings and kept the dreams to himself, but one day, his brothers were going to need to see the hand of God on their own lives and knowing about the dreams would not only then make sense but would point them to the God who prepares and provides for us years and decades before we have a need.

Well, the brothers weren’t fans of the dreams and resented Joseph so much that they wanted to be rid of him. They thought about killing him but decided instead to sell him as a slave.  The people who purchased him took him to Egypt. The brothers faked his death by putting animal’s blood on the coat and told their father he had been killed by a wild animal.

Have you ever thought about how deep deception ran in his family? He had deceived his father, had been deceived by Laban and now he was being deceived by his own sons. It was generational. He could work another seven years to make Rachel his bride, but he couldn’t work to regain the life of his son. He was crushed. His mourning seemed to be unending. Genesis 37:35 tells the state of his mind and heart. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.

In those moments of anguish, which turned into years of anguish, Jacob had no hope for anything different than a life of mourning, the kind of mourning that could never been soothed or comforted. He couldn’t see anything different than sadness for the rest of his days. A life without the possibility of joy? Who wants that?

Even though he had 11 other sons at that point and many years ahead of him, he lived as if his life was over. Of course, Jacob didn’t know that Joseph was alive in Egypt, and even though Joseph was a victim of some tough circumstances in Egypt like being falsely accused of something bad and being sent to prison, God was working in Joseph’s life to elevate him to the person who served just under the Pharaoh.

Pharaoh had a disturbing dream he couldn’t make sense of, but with God’s help, Joseph explained what it meant. A widespread famine was coming, so they needed to store up grain during some great harvest years to prep for the time when there wouldn’t be a harvest. Joseph was put in charge of all of it.

When the famine hit, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt because there was grain there.  Those boys had no idea they would come eyeball to eyeball with the brother they had sold into slavery, the one that said he had dreamed of being raised to a position of great prominence, one that would cause them to bow down to him.

They were petrified when they met up with him. I’m guessing they thought he would be seeking revenge, but in a sweet moment of grace, Joseph forgave them and asked them to go get their dad and bring him to Egypt. Well, Jacob had a hard time believing them when they told him that Joseph was still alive. His sons had to come clean about their role in the whole thing, and Jacob finally realized that he had lived a miserable existence for years because of a lie.

Look at Genesis 45:28-  And Israel (Jacob) said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.” Even though his precious son was alive, even though an incredible reunion was ahead of him, he had resigned himself to a short reunion. His mindset was, “I’m going to get to see Joseph, but then I am going to die.” You get the sense that in his mind, his life was soon over. It was all too little, too late.

When the two met up, it wasn’t one of those reality TV show moments like when someone finds a long-lost parent or sibling and there are tears of joy and great celebration.  Listen to the reunion story:  Genesis 46:29-30- 29 Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel (Jacob). As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father[h] and wept for a long time.30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”

I wish I could have had two actors re-enact this moment for us this morning because seeing it play out would help us understand how spent, how emotionally fragile, how doom and gloom and empty Jacob had become. Joseph had fallen on him and was weeping tears of joy, but Jacob was convinced his happiness couldn’t be sustained.  There were no plans to do anything fun. There was no discussion of catching up on the last several decades. There wasn’t even an, “Oh, how I’ve missed you” comment from father to son. Jacob couldn’t even let himself experience the happiness that was right in front of him. It was as if Jacob was resigned to die.

God had other plans for Jacob. Genesis 47:28 tells us that Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years! 17 years! That’s a long time! And during that time, there was a transformation in his life. How so? I’m glad you asked!  When Jacob got to Egypt, he got to meet the Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked him how old he was, and this was his response:  “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage. Genesis 47:9-10 (KJV)

Jacob was 130 years old at that moment, but he used his brief intro to the Pharoah to talk about how evil his life had been and how his life wasn’t much compared to his father and grandfather before him. I think Jacob was processing some regret in that moment. I think he was wishing he would have done more with his life. I think he was lamenting that he had resigned himself to a life of grief when in reality he had so much to live for and so much more life to live. His answer didn’t reveal any faith, any hope, any spiritual forward look. He certainly wasn’t worshiping in that moment. He was whining. 

But fast-forward 17 years, and we see a different Jacob emerge.  17 years with Joseph! He was spiritually revived in Egypt, and at the end of those 17 years, he had something different to say. Look at what he said when he blessed his grandsons in Genesis 48:15-16. This is what our Hebrews 11 passage is referring to: 15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,16 The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; 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.” Genesis 48:15-16

That doesn’t sound like the same person, does it?  When Jacob got to Egypt even though the longing of his heart of being with Joseph had been met, he had no life, no faith, no worship. 17 years later he was testifying to how God had taken care of him “all of his life.” He was giving honor to the God who redeemed him “from all evil.” Evil didn’t have the last word in Jacob’s life. Grief didn’t have the last word in Jacob’s life. Regret didn’t have the last word in Jacob’s life. His last words were filled with faith. His last words were filled with worship. These are the words Jacob declared as he leaned on his staff and blessed his grandsons in faith. He believed that the same God that had transformed his life would also walk with them, and he believed it by faith.

Look at our key verse one more time:  By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. Hebrews 11:21

They say that hindsight is 20/20. I think it took the totality of Jacob’s life to get him to the place where his faith was fully developed, at least as fully developed as it could be in this life. I think he reflected on all he had done and on how God had provided for him in spite of the ways he acted, in spite of the choice he made to give up on life. I think those 17 years with Joseph cemented the goodness of God in his soul and he finally trusted God for whatever would come which apparently was imminent death.

I think as he was blessing his grandsons and thinking about all that was in front of them, he was reflecting on all that was behind him and how God truly had carried him through, how God never gave up on him, how God never let him go. That awareness prompted him to worship.

It’s interesting that we read that this end-of-life worship moment included the blessing of his grandsons. That was actually an act of great faith. Ephraim and Manasseh were born of an Egyptian woman, and as Jacob blessed them, he adopted them as his sons and pulled them into tribal leadership.  Genesis 48:5- “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.

When you go back to the original Hebrew language, this verse literally says, “Like Reuben and Simeon they will be to me.” Reuben and Simeon were the firstborn sons of Jacob. In this act of faith, Jacob was pulling in two grandsons who had been born “outside of God’s covenant promises,” “outside of the Hebrew nation,” was putting them in the place of his own firstborn sons and was grafting them into the covenant promises of God. He was receiving them as sons, but by faith, he was believing that God would receive them as heirs to His promises! They would each lead one of the tribes of Israel.

Each of the sons of Jacob became the head of a tribe. The sons of Reuben were called the Reubenites. The sons of Simeon were called the Simeonites. The sons of Levi were called the Levites, but the sons of Joseph were not Josephites. Ephraim and Manasseh became the leaders of their own tribes as if they had been Jacob’s sons and had a direct share in the promises of God.

When God’s people finally no longer lived in tents and were able to take and settle in the Promised Land, it was divided into 12 regions. The Tribe of Levi didn’t receive any land because they were a special group of priests who were to serve everyone else as the worship leaders of the whole nation. All of the other tribes were supposed to support the Levites. They wouldn’t need to “live off the land” because they would be provided for by the rest of the tribes. Joseph, the firstborn to Jacob’s beloved Rachel got a double portion and that double portion was divided between Ephraim’s people and Manasseh’s people as if they were the direct descendants of Jacob. 

Stay with me. Ephraim and Manasseh didn’t need physical provision. They had been born into privilege in Egypt as their dad had been second in command to the Pharaoh. They were already wealthy in an earthly sense, but what they absolutely needed was to be heirs of the promises of God.  It wasn’t about a physical blessing, but a spiritual one, and that was the blessing Jacob offered in faith to his grandsons as he was dying.

Friends, Jesus has done the same thing for us. Through His death, He has made us joint heirs of every promise God has ever made. We are one body, together with the 12 Tribes of Israel. We have been grafted into the covenant promises of God!  This reality gives us our opportunity to activate our faith, our opportunity to believe God for all He has promised for all of His people. Jacob had come to know the Covenant Keeping God in such a way that he believed in faith that God’s covenant would extend to his Egyptian-born grandsons, and he spoke it into being. 

Faith worships. Faith speaks over future generations and calls them into the Kingdom.

Something about the last 17 years of Jacob’s life caused his faith to accelerate and take a firm hold of his heart, his will, and his ability to see things God’s way. I just hate for him that it took so long. How much had he missed? What quality of life could he have lived during those years he chose grief over the goodness of God? What had he forfeited that he then enjoyed during the last 17 years of his life?

None of us knows how long we will live, but there isn’t a good reason to go without a deep, abiding faith…the kind that leads us to worship and to speak blessing over those who are coming behind us. Don’t delay. Activate your faith in Christ and all that He offers today.

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