The verse we consider in today’s broadcast relates for us the account of the blessing Jacob pronounces upon the two sons of Joseph before he dies. This is found in verse 21 of Hebrews 11. We read, “By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshiped, leaning upon the top of his staff.” When reading Hebrews 11 superficially this verse does not seem to say much. What information can be gathered from it? There are all kinds of much more exciting events in the life of Jacob that reveal his faith. Why mention such a seemingly insignificant event to exemplify Jacob’s faith? Once that question is asked, then we begin to search out an answer.
The answer to it will lead you and me today to examine our own faith. After all, it is the intention of the author of Hebrews to exhibit the faith of these Old Testament saints for our benefit as New Testament believers. In other words, we do not simply consider the various events in the lives of God’s saints of old as interesting stories about them. We do so in order that we might examine our faith over against theirs. Then with zeal to follow them in their faith.
The life of Jacob was a colorful one. Genesis records many different incidents that took place in his life. Jacob fled to Haran in order to escape Esau’s anger and in order to find a wife. There over the course of 21 years he married two wives: Leah, the oldest daughter of Laban, and then Rachel, the younger. Because of the competition between these two wives, Jacob also took to himself their handmaids as concubines. He was given of his wives and concubines 12 sons and one daughter—all during the span of years he spent in Haran. His last son, Benjamin, was born in Canaan and his mother, Rachel, died there in childbirth. Jacob openly revealed that he favored Joseph above his brothers since Joseph was the son of his favorite wife, Rachel. In hatred and envy the brothers sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Joseph spent the rest of the years of his life living in Egypt, never again to see the land of Canaan.
Jacob mourned the loss of this son whom he thought was dead, until the time a famine hit the land of Canaan and Jacob sent his sons to Egypt for food. It was then that Jacob not only found out that Joseph his son was alive but had become the most powerful ruler of Egypt under Pharaoh. Jacob then, together with his family, moved to Egypt and lived there until his death. The incident we consider today, that is, Jacob’s blessing on Joseph’s sons, takes place in Egypt. Joseph had married an Egyptian woman with whom he had two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. It was now the end of Jacob’s life. He was about to die. He called to Joseph to bring his two sons with him to receive God’s blessing. Then takes place the unique event of Jacob’s life that reveals his faith. This we now consider.
I. Jacob’s Blessing
Jacob was old. He had lived with his family in Egypt for 17 years. He was now 147 years old, and he was sick. He was, in fact, bedridden. He pulled himself up from where he lay and sat leaning against the head of his bed. We make mention of this because this verse we consider in Hebrews 11 informs us that Jacob “worshiped leaning on the top of his staff.” Genesis 48, the chapter that teaches us of the incident we consider today, informs us in verse 2, however, that Jacob actually strengthened himself and sat upon his bed. The idea is that Jacob worshiped actually leaning on the head of his bed. Though stated differently, the idea expressed is the same. Jacob was old and sick. He was not able to stand up anymore. The staff he had used in his earthly sojourn probably stood by his bed. The most Jacob could do is lean on it, not get out of bed and walk with it. The account in Genesis 48 reveals that so old and sick was Jacob that he could not even get out of his bed. Jacob was fully aware that he did not have very long to live. When Joseph heard that his father was close to death, he brought his two sons to Jacob. As we learned, these two sons were named Manasseh, the older, and Ephraim, the younger, of the two. Joseph would have more sons after them, as is evident from Genesis 48:6, but these two sons were of special significance.
Just a word about these two boys. They were Egyptians. It is true that Joseph was a Hebrew. The blood of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ran through him. But Joseph had lived in Egypt for sure half, if not the majority, of his life. He had adopted the language and culture of the Egyptians. After all, he served in the courts of Pharaoh. His name was Zaph-nath-pa-a-ne-ah. That Joseph served in Pharaoh’s palace does not mean that he had forsaken the faith of his fathers. Neither does it mean that he did not pass the truth of Jehovah down to his sons. But his sons were born and raised in Egypt. They knew nothing of the land of Canaan. Their mother’s name was Asenath. She was the daughter of Potipherah, priest of the pagan god On. We would like to think that Jehovah had worked in her heart to convert her from her heathen worship to the service of Him, but that cannot be certain. But it is of importance to the account before us that these two sons of Joseph had been brought up in a pagan land where there was no worship of Jehovah. They were fully adapted to the culture and people of the land. They knew nothing, by experience anyway, of the land of Canaan. I can imagine that their cousins and their Hebrew ways seemed strange to them. The point is, from a human point of view, that these sons would throw in their lot with the rest of Jacob’s family was a stretch.
Joseph now takes his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, into the presence of Jacob. Before pronouncing the blessing on these two sons, Jacob informs Joseph that these two grandsons of Jacob were going to be to him as sons. They are mine, Jacob said. Just as Reuben and Simeon are my sons, so also your two sons, Joseph, will be sons to me. These two boys who were born in Egypt would be numbered among the sons of Jacob or Israel as a part of the promise God had given to Jacob at Bethel.
The two boys stand before Jacob. One can almost sense the warmness of the situation. An old man sitting up in his bed, his eyesight very poor. He smiles at the boys and asks, “Who are these?” It is not as if he does not know who they are. It is more of an expression of fondness. “Ah, and who are these?” Joseph answers: “These are my sons.” “Bring them to me and I will bless them!” They come near to grandpa and he embraces them and gives them each a kiss. “I had thought I would never see your face again, Joseph, and now I see your children too.” Joseph brings his children to Jacob to receive a blessing from him. He makes sure that Manasseh, the elder, stood at Jacob’s right hand as custom dictated. Ephraim, the younger, stood on Jacob’s left. Jacob then crosses his right hand over to Ephraim’s head and pronounces the blessing on him. This displeased Joseph and he went to lift his father’s hand from the head of his younger son to place it on the elder. Jacob would not allow him to do that. He had done so wittingly, that is, knowing what he was doing. The birthright blessing was pronounced on Ephraim therefore.
Just a quick look at the blessing in a formal sense. Jacob, we learn in Genesis 48:15, was blessing Joseph by means of blessing his sons. Jacob acknowledges three truths about God and His faithfulness. First, God was the God of Abraham and Isaac, before whom they walked in fellowship. Second, God was also Jacob’s God who fed, or, literally, cared for him his whole life long even up to this day. Third, that the Angel of God had redeemed him from all evil. Who that angel was we will consider in a moment too. Jacob then repeats what he said earlier. These two sons would be called Israel—let my name and the name of my fathers be on them. Then the promise of the covenant: let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. After Jacob refused to remove his hand from the head of Ephraim, he continues with the blessing. Concerning Manasseh, the older Jacob says, “he also will become great, but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.”
Now, before examining the faith of Jacob in his actions and this pronouncement, we need to take note of one other fact. This blessing pronounced on Joseph through his two sons was also prophecy. Prophecy is a prediction of events that will take place in the future. It is spoken by one to whom God has divinely revealed the future. It is not as if Jacob was saying something that he knew nothing of. He pronounced this blessing with the knowledge that what he said would come true. He did not know how God was going to fulfill what he said, that is, he did not know the specific way in which what he said would take place. But God had confirmed in Jacob’s mind what he now declares. He spoke of future events in this blessing as if in his mind they were already a reality.
We need to take a close look at this in order to ascertain how all of this revealed the faith of Jacob. By examining this we can also understand how our faith ought to reveal itself yet today. In other words, what we learn of Jacob is also what we learn of the church today and our future.
II. Jacob’s Faith
Jacob’s faith in this account is revealed in much the same way as that of the other patriarchs: he believed the promises of God to him and his fathers. This is evident in the words of this blessing on Joseph’s sons. Notice: “God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk…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.” God’s covenant established with Abraham included the generations of Abraham: “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations,” God had said. Jacob believed these words of God’s covenant. God would save His people in the line of the generations of Abraham. Jacob was aware that God did not establish this covenant with all the children of Abraham or of those born into the line of the covenant. God had told Abraham, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” The covenant promises did not include Ishmael. Jacob knew that Isaac sent Esau away from the blessings of the land of Canaan. The promise was to Jacob. Jacob also knew that the covenant and its promises were not to all those who were born of him in his generations. It was only to those in whom God worked the same faith that was in him.
But that is exactly why the writer to the Hebrews brings up this particular event in Jacob’s life to reveal his faith. He pinpoints the blessing of Jacob on these two sons of Joseph. These sons were not born in Canaan. They were born and raised in Egypt. From a human point of view they could very easily walk away from the promises of God that centered in the land of Canaan. Jacob’s faith reveals itself in the fact that he believed that these sons were also included in the covenant of God and that they too in their generations would cast in their lot with Israel. They would then become tribes that would be of great consequence in the nation. In fact, Jacob gives Joseph here in this blessing a double portion in Israel. Ephraim and Manasseh both would become tribes that would receive inheritance in the land of Canaan. Though they were grandsons, they would be numbered together with Jacob’s sons. “Your two sons are mine as Reuben and Simeon are mine. Let my name be named on them.” There would be 13 tribes in Israel, though Levi was a tribe of priests and did not receive inheritance in the land of Canaan.
Jacob’s faith is revealed in the second place in what he spoke in the first part of verse 16: “The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads.” Here we come upon that Angel of Jehovah that appeared at different times in the Old Testament. “This Angel has redeemed me from evil,” Jacob states. Jacob had come to know this Angel. The Angel had appeared to him at Bethel, at Jabbok, at Mahanaim, and at Beersheba. Jacob recognizes this Angel as divine. He has redeemed me from evil. Only God is able to do that. Only God is able to redeem from sin. Yet Jacob here also distinguishes Him from God Himself too.
The only conclusion we can reach is that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, appeared at times in the Old Testament as an Angel. Although the second Person of the Trinity would not be born into our human flesh until the birth of Christ, He did appear to Jacob several times in the form of an Angel. Somehow, someway, Jacob recognized Him as his redeemer, the one who paid the price of sin in order to deliver him from guilt. This Angel had shown to Jacob the grace and mercy of God in granting him the forgiveness of sins. So Jacob in this blessing upon the sons of Joseph expressed his faith in the coming Messiah.
Finally, the faith of Jacob was revealed in his prophecy concerning Ephraim’s receiving the birthright blessing instead of Manasseh. Though Joseph was displeased that his father put his right hand on the head of Ephraim instead of Manasseh, Jacob believed that God’s promise would be fulfilled in these two sons exactly by predicting that Ephraim would be the greater of the two tribes in Israel. By faith Jacob saw that these sons, in their own particular way in their generations, would receive the promises of God’s covenant.
Now, this faith of Jacob surely speaks to you and me of our faith. You see, the covenant that God established with Abraham is sure to the seed of Abraham yet today. God’s people today are sons and daughters of Abraham by means of that same faith Jacob exhibited. The promises of the covenant belong to believers today too. But the point of God’s Word here in Hebrews 11 is that they who are God’s people today believe—neither ought they to doubt—that God continues to establish His covenant with their children in their generations. Jacob did not doubt that—even when blessing these two sons of Joseph. Neither are those chosen, regenerated, and called of God into His church today to doubt that. When believing parents present their children for baptism, they believe God’s Word of Acts 2:39, “For the promise is unto you and to your children!”
It is for that reason such parents take vows upon themselves at that time. They vow to raise their children to the utmost of their power in the fear of God’s name. Believing parents take such vows seriously. By means of them they express their faith that by means of their weak efforts God will preserve His church in their generations. The faith of Jacob ought to encourage us in our faith too. We know, as did Jacob, that God’s covenant and its promises are bestowed only on God’s elect. We fully understand that the promises are not to all the seed. In fact, Ephraim especially, but also Manasseh, later in the history of Israel rebelled and as a whole were cut off. Only in the way of obedience does the blessing rest upon us and our children. Yet, God’s promises are sure.
They are sure because of the Angel of Jehovah, that is, our Lord Jesus Christ, who has redeemed us! That too we believe! Christ has paid the price for our sins. He has purchased us in His blood from sin and guilt. For that reason, on that basis, God continues His covenant with us and our children. Christ will build His church. And that church will be built on His blood and righteousness. Such has been and is the faith of all of God’s saints, all believing parents who bring forth children of the covenant.
III. Jehovah’s Fulfillment
We can be assured of God’s faithfulness to us in this regard when we see how God fulfilled the prophecy Jacob spoke in this blessing. God did indeed bless these two sons of Joseph. Four hundred years later, when Israel departed Egypt, the generations of these two sons were part of them. When the inheritance of the land of Canaan was given by lot, the generations of both these two sons were given their inheritance with the sons of Jacob. They too were given the blessings of God’s covenant and became a multitude of people. Everything that Jacob prophesied came true. Here was an old man—far away from the land of promise, living in Egypt. If there was any reason to be discouraged it would be at this point—about to die, and the promise of Canaan farther away than ever. But Jacob had learned through the school of hard knocks to look in faith to Jehovah.
May we not grow discouraged either. The land of Canaan awaits us and our children. We reach out in faith to that promise. For Christ’s sake the blessing is ours. May we not forget that God saves His church in the generations of believers. God grant us that blessing.