In our weekly messages over the past few months we have been following the life of Joseph as recorded in the last section of the book of Genesis. Next week we will conclude our study of Joseph, so today’s message, and the one next week, will be looking at two passages toward the end of the book of Genesis that give us a kind of review of Joseph’s life. Next week, from Genesis 50, we will review Joseph’s life from his own words to his brothers shortly before his death. Today, we review Joseph’s life from the perspective of his father Jacob, in his words of blessing to Joseph.
The blessing that Jacob gives Joseph is recorded in Genesis 48, where he blesses the two sons of Joseph, and then also in Genesis 49, verses 22 through 26, where Joseph is blessed along with his eleven brothers. What I want to do today is work backwards, first looking at the passage in Genesis 49, and then looking at Genesis 48. My reason for doing this is that Genesis 49 focuses on Joseph, and then Genesis 48 expands the blessing to his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Now the first thing I want to call your attention to here is the behavior of old man Jacob shortly before his death. He is a godly old man who is sick on his bed and knows that he is soon to die. What does he do? There is something here for us to learn as Christians, both as regards to how we should die and as to how we should treat elderly believers as they approach death.
Today, nursing homes have become a common place for elderly people to live out their final years. And for many of these elderly folk, life in a nursing home is a very lonely existence. They sit or lie forgotten and eventually die all alone. Family and loved ones, in whose lives they had invested for decades, have become too busy or too materialistic or too selfish to care about the aged and dying. And both parties suffer. The old are not blessed by the love of their families, and the young miss out on the wisdom and blessing that comes from the aged.
For Christians, it should not be this way. We should, instead, treasure God’s faithfulness and promises in generations. We should want to learn from the experiences of dying saints, and we should want to impart a blessing and wisdom from our past experiences to the generations to come.
This is what we see happening in Jacob’s family toward the end of his life. In both chapters 48 and 49 we are presented with family scenes. Joseph hears that his father is failing, and he quickly takes with him his two sons to see Jacob, who sits up on the bed to talk with them. Soon after this, Jacob calls together his twelve sons in order to speak with them from his deathbed, and when he is done talking to them, Genesis 49:33, he gathers his feet up into his bed and yields up the ghost.
Jacob did not die a lonely death. The whole family is there to witness the death of their father and to hear his last words. This is a good thing, also for us today. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to his heart.” There are important lessons to learn in death, and the pain and grief of death. We should not be afraid to face the reality of death in a hospital, a funeral home, or a graveside. It is good, too, for our children to see this reality, and to think and ask questions about the reality of death, and to hear what the Scriptures say about this, the cause of death in man’s sin, and the victory over death in Jesus Christ. The living will lay these things to heart.
Hebrews 11:21 tells us that when Jacob died, he died in faith. That means, he died believing the promises of God. Death is grim and fearful. There is nothing in death itself to give hope or comfort. It is the bitter last enemy. But Jacob faced it in faith, that is, he believed the promises of God. He did not view death as an end, but believed it was a servant to bring him into the heavenly Canaan. This is why he wanted to be buried in Canaan, and this is why it says, in Genesis 49:33, that he was gathered unto his people. That means he went to be with his people, that is, he went to be with all God’s people who had gone before him to heaven. He went to be with his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham, in the presence of God. He died in faith.
Jacob’s dying faith was not only personal, that is, he believed not only that he was going to heaven, but that God’s promises were also for his children and grandchildren. That is why Hebrews 11:21 says, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph.” He blessed his children and grandchildren, believing that God would be with them and keep His promises to them. Faith, you understand, is the opposite of sight. It looks to God and not to circumstances. If Jacob had looked at circumstances, he might have wondered about God’s promises. Here he was, dying, in a strange land, far from the promised land of Canaan. How could he know that his children would not simply be absorbed in the nation and culture of Egypt? How could he know that they would keep their identity, and that they would go back to the land of Canaan? It was because he believed God’s promises. And so, when he dies, he speaks prophetically of what will happen to the nation of Israel in its future. In faith, he repeats the promises of God to his sons, and speaks also of the coming of the Messiah, Shiloh, who will come from the line of Judah. These prophecies concerning each of his sons are recorded in Genesis 49. We do not have time to look at each of them, so we are going to focus just on the words he spoke concerning Joseph in verses 22 through 26 of chapter 49.
There are three things for us to note here.
First, Jacob gives an overview of the life of Joseph. Jacob says, “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: But his bow abode in strength.”
Joseph was fruitful under fire.
The metaphor is of a well-watered and fruitful tree, whose branches hang low over the wall so that passersby can pick off the fruit and enjoy it themselves. This is what Joseph had been throughout his life, and especially during the famine, not only to his family, but to the nation of Egypt, and even to the world. Joseph’s fruitfulness had fed the world, and Joseph was a blessing especially to his own family, bringing them together again after years of estrangement and conflict.
And this fruitfulness had come despite the difficult circumstances of his life. Jacob uses another metaphor, one of archers shooting at him because they hated him. This was his brothers, who, out of spite, determined to kill and destroy him. This was Potiphar’s wife, who had Joseph thrown into prison. But, despite all this, Joseph’s bow abode in strength, that is, he was not destroyed by the troubles of his life. He never became bitter or selfish, but he remained strong and fruitful. Think of the blessing he was in Potiphar’s house and in the prison. Think of the grace and kindness he showed to his brothers who had hated and hurt him. He was fruitful under fire.
Are you under fire? Are you going through severe trials? Are you being attacked and opposed? What does it produce in you? Bitterness, self-pity, anger, discontent? Or fruitfulness? The trials God sends us are means of grace to produce godly character in us and to make us a blessing to others.
Joseph was fruitful under fire.
How? That is the second thing here. Jacob continues, “the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee.”
Joseph’s ability to remain fruitful under fire came from his God. Over and over, in this series of messages, we have emphasized that Joseph lived before the face of God, and that Joseph depended for strength on his God. This is how he could remain godly while his brothers were wicked. This is how he was able to serve God, even in the position of a slave. This was the secret to his resisting the seduction of Potiphar’s wife, to whom he said, “How can I do this thing and sin against God?” This was the secret of his endurance in prison, and this gave him the ability to stand before Pharaoh and answer his dreams. God, his God, was his strength.
Jacob captures that beautifully here by giving some of the names of God, names which are descriptions of God. He says of Joseph, “The arms of his hands were made strong by the mighty God of Jacob.” That is, Joseph trusted in the God of his father, and knew him as a God of strength, a God of sovereign power. In Psalm 56:11, “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.” Joseph trusted in a God greater than any of his adversaries.
Jacob continues by calling Joseph’s God a Shepherd and a stone or a Rock. That tells us about Joseph’s faith. He trusted that God in His good providence was leading him, as a loving shepherd leads his sheep. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” He saw God as a Rock, the stone of Israel. Joseph depended on a God who would never fail him. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. Throughout his life, with all its troubles, Joseph went back again and again to his God. His God was dependable.
Further, Jacob says that Joseph was helped by the God of his father, that is, the God who is faithful to His covenant promises from generation to generation. Joseph looked back at God’s promise to Abraham, “I will establish my covenant with thee and thy seed after thee in their generations.” Joseph looked back at the faithfulness of God to his father Jacob, leading him from Bethel to Haran, and then back to Peniel and the promised land. He saw that despite Jacob’s weakness and sin, God cared for him and kept him. He trusted in a God who was faithful and who kept His promise to generations.
And then, lastly, Jacob calls him “the Almighty,” that is, El-Shaddai, the God of hosts, the God who, from the abundance of all that He possesses, blesses His people.
What was Joseph’s strength? How did he remain fruitful under fire? It was his God, “the mighty God of Jacob,” the Shepherd, the Rock, the God of his father, El-Shaddai. And, dear Christian listener, this God is also the source of our strength. He is the God who, according to Ephesians 1:3-4, has “blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.”
What an encouragement it is for us to look at the life of Joseph, to see him fruitful under fire, and then to see that his strength was in his God, the same God who is our God and remains faithful to us today.
The third thing to take note of in what Jacob says concerning Joseph is the blessing that he speaks to Joseph. Jacob says to Joseph that God will “bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.”
This is first a blessing of fertility, from heaven above, from the earth below, from the breasts that are a source of food, and from the womb, which is the source of life. God will give to the family of Joseph a fruitful portion in the land of Canaan, and God will give to Joseph a large offspring, larger than his brothers. Jacob is telling Joseph, here, that a portion of the birthright blessing will be his, that the birthright blessing he had received will rest on the head of Joseph, the one who was separate from his brethren.
Now, what is the birthright blessing? It consists of two main parts. First, it gave the recipient a double portion of his father’s goods, and second, it included the messianic promise, the promise that Christ would be born in his generations. Isaac and Jacob both had received the two parts of this birthright blessing. They were blessed above their brothers, and the promise of the coming Christ was to be in their family line. But, as Jacob blesses his sons, he divides the birthright blessing. Judah receives the promise that Shiloh, the Messiah, would come in his generations, but Joseph receives the double blessing.
That is the significance of Genesis 48, where Jacob blesses the two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim. In Genesis 48:5, Jacob says to Joseph, “And now, thy two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt, before I came unto thee in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” Jacob adopts the two sons of Joseph as his own and they become two of the tribes of Israel, and in this way Joseph receives a double portion in the inheritance.
As Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, we see again his dying faith. Jacob is 147 years old and is blind, and when Joseph comes into the room with his sons, Jacob wants to put his hands on their heads and bless them. Manasseh is the older boy, so Joseph leads him toward the right hand of his father, and Ephraim toward his left hand. But Jacob crosses his hands and puts his right hand on Ephraim’s head, rather than Manasseh’s. Here is another instance of Jacob blessing his children in faith. By nature, the primary blessing was supposed to go to the older boy, and later this would be a law in Israel too, but God is not bound by such laws. He blessed Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Joseph over his brothers, and so here Ephraim is blessed over his older brother, Manasseh. Alongside Judah, Ephraim would become one of the prominent tribes in the nation of Israel.
The faith of dying Jacob is evident especially in what he says in his blessing to the two sons of Joseph in Genesis 48:15-16. In these words of blessing, Jacob describes God in three different ways, each of which show how God will bless the children of Joseph.
First, he describes him as the covenant God of his fathers, as “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk.” He is saying that God will work out His covenant promises and faithfulness in the generations of Joseph and will bless the sons of Joseph by making them also walk with God.
Second, Jacob refers to God as the one who “fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from evil.” Jacob looks back at the care of God and the protection of the Angel of God, and he says that God will care for Joseph’s boys in the same way. He will provide for them, and He will protect them. We see this when we look at the nation of Israel wandering in the wilderness, fed with bread from heaven and guarded and guided by the Angel of the Lord in the pillar of cloud.
And third, Jacob refers to God as the God who saves in generations. He says, “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.” The name that Jacob speaks of here is the new name he received, the name Israel, which refers to him as a prince with God. “Jacob” was his natural name, which described him as he was by nature, a sinner, but his new name, “Israel,” described him as the one whom God had worked on spiritually, and to whom God had given strength. The blessing here is a salvation blessing.
What wonderful comfort this blessing was to Joseph, especially after he had been separated from his brothers and had brought forth two sons in a foreign land to an Egyptian wife. Not only is Joseph received back into the fellowship of God’s people, but the promises to him are immense and beautiful. God will keep him and will be faithful to him in his generations.
Now I ask, do you walk with God, just as Abraham and Isaac did? Then God’s promise comes to you also in your generations, to you and to your children. That is not God’s way of working just in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament. In Acts 2:39 Peter says to New Testament believers, “the promise is to you and to your children.” And we can rest in that as believers. We can trust that as we walk with God, He will save our children also, He will put on them the name that He has given us, His own name. He will care for them and provide for them and protect them from evil, just as He has us. The promise is to the children as well as to the adults.
There is great comfort here for us, especially as we bring forth children, and then think about the world and future in which our children must live. Just as God promised to Joseph that He would care for his sons in Egypt, so He promises to care for our children in the midst of a wicked world that is opposed to the faithful. Our confidence is not in ourselves, or in the strength of our children, but in the character and promises of God Himself.
Let us pray.
O God, help us to trust on Thee and Thy word and promises. And as we do, bless us, also in our generations. For Jesus’ sake we ask. Amen.