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Hebrews 11:21 - The Faith Of Jacob As He Blesses Joseph's Sons

Our text this morning is Hebrews 11:20-22. In this passage we are given three examples of men who displayed great faith in God and in His promises as they came to the day of their death. We read, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

  • Last week we saw that faith can overcome affections and desires of the flesh. We saw this when Isaac had wanted to bless Esau and not Jacob.

  • This week we will see that Jacob’ faith can overcome the interference of man. We will see this when Joseph protests that his younger son is blessed above his older son.

  • Next week we will see that Joseph’s faith will overcome the worthless temptations of the world. We will see that Joseph lived and died in faith and did not consider the wealth and treasures of Egypt to be compared with that of the kingdom of God.

We are going to look at Hebrews 11:21 today which says, “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.

A month ago I visited the grave site of my father for the first time in almost twenty years. As time has passed by I have discovered that it is getting harder for me to picture my dad’s face in my mind with the clarity that I used to have. It is getting harder for me to hear his voice as I recall the conversations that we shared together as father and son.

I can understand this difficulty because it has been so long since I have seen him and since I have heard his voice. However, it has been over forty years since my grandfather died; and yet, there is a moment that I shared with him that I remember with remarkable clarity.

How is it possible that I can remember this moment with my grandfather more than I can remember my dad?

Well, let me explain what happened. My grandparents lived in Wichita, Kansas and we lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It took 4 hours to get to their house and we did not get to go there very often. However, I remember one day when my dad told my brother and I that we were going to make a special trip to see my grandpa because his death was imminent. I was still pretty young and I had not experienced this sort of thing before so I remember trying my best to grasp what these things meant.

I remember our drive to Kansas as my dad would occasionally talk to us about the situation and inform us about what we might experience once we got there. One of the points that he seemed to emphasize was that he did not think that my grandfather would recognize us or even know that we were there with him in the room. After we arrived we were greeted by others family members and then my brother and I were taken in to see my grandfather. Honestly, I had pretty low expectations about what we would experience.

When we went into the room my grandpa appeared to be asleep. I remember my dad holding my grandpa’s hand as he began to speak to him. My grandpa did not respond in any way. Then my dad told him that his grandson’s were there to see him. All of a sudden he opened up his eyes and sat straight up in bed and looked right at my brother and I with a very large smile on his face. He could not talk but you could tell that he wanted too. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to hear what he wanted to say in that moment.

Shortly after this happened he laid back down and closed his eyes and fell back to sleep. For the rest of the day all of the adults continued to talk about what had occurred. I will admit that my grandfather made me feel special that day.

I share this story because we are going to see a similar moment in the lives of Jacob, Joseph and his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. I bet that this was a moment that Jacob’s grandson’s would never forget. Hebrews 11:21 and Genesis 48 describes an event that is similar to what I experienced. Like me, Manasseh and Ephraim got to see their sick grandfather sit up, smile, hug and kiss them. However, they were able to experience far more than I did that day when they witnessed their grandfather worshiping the LORD on his death bed, he displaying great faith in God’s promises before them, he blessed his two grand-kids, adopted them to be his own, and gave them an inheritance. Ephraim, the younger grand-son even received the double inheritance.

Manasseh and Ephraim would have to receive these things by faith. Like Esau or Reuben or Simeon they could reject or despise these blessings. I was reminded of the proper response we ought to have to these things when I was talking to my brother who has adopted two young boys into his family. I told my brother that he was fortunate because he has a second opportunity to raise these two boys with more wisdom than he may have displayed with his two grown boys. When I said this my brother smiled and laughed and then said, “Well, I may see these two boys as my children but they do not see me as their dad right now. Maybe they will some day.” My brother’s response gave me a little dose of the harsh reality that he faces with those two boys.

Jacob spoke these blessings to Manasseh and Ephraim and they had to believe that these things were true by faith. The good news for Jacob was that these two boys never forgot this special moment that they shared with their grandfather. The blessing that Jacob gave to them from his deathbed changed the course, the trajectory and the destiny that they were headed towards. It changed their standing within the family and the inheritance that they would have upon Israel’s death.

These two boys were born in Egypt and lived in the capital city. Their mother was the daughter of a pagan priest. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh which meant, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house’. He named his second born son Ephraim which meant, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’.

Manasseh and Ephraim’s father was the second most important man in all of Egypt. Because of this their futures looked bright and promising within the kingdom of Egypt. But this blessing changed the course of their lives for the better. You see, there would be a day when Joseph’s power would come to an end, his influence would diminish, his accomplishments would be forgotten, and his legacy in Egypt would cease to be remembered. However, even as this happened God would establish the inheritance of Joseph and his brothers forever! Manasseh and Ephraim will now be part of these promises and they will have their rightful share in the inheritance that God is passing on to them during this occasion.

This morning we will spend most of our time considering the story that is found in Genesis 48: 1-19. Let us take a moment to consider Genesis 48:1-7. It says, “After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).

Our text begins with the words, ‘After this…’. These words remind us to consider the context that has come before. In Genesis 47:29-31 we discover that even though Jacob has been living in Egypt for seventeen years his heart desires to be back in the land that God has promised to give him and his descendants (47:28, 46:1-4). Although Jacob has been living in Goshen, the best land in all of Egypt (47:6), Jacob always thought longingly about the land of Canaan.

Because of this we read in Genesis 47:29-31 these words, “And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, ‘If now I have found favor in you sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.’

Can you and I really appreciate the request that Jacob is making here to his son? Perhaps a month ago I would have casually said that I understood the conviction that Jacob displays here, however, today I would not answer this question so quickly. This is because of something that Mindy and I experienced recently.

When Mindy and I were in Oklahoma last month my mom’s friend told us an interesting story. She mentioned that she was on her way to an appointment with the funeral home where she was going work with them to plan for the day of her death. She said that she was going to do this because of what she had experienced in her church.

I was not sure what that meant so I asked her what she had experienced at church that was making her do this? She told us that one of the burdens that weighs so heavy upon her African American pastor was providing for members of the church and the community caskets and burial plots for people when they die. Her pastor does this because in his community no one believes that cremation is appropriate way to treat the body in death.

Even though this is their strongly held conviction many of them do not have the money to purchase their own caskets and procure their own cemetery plots. Because of this the pastor of this small church takes this burden upon himself. Most would not concern themselves with such things but this pastor, like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), takes it upon himself to display great kindness in providing these things for them even after they have died.

To be honest, as I listened to these things I struggled to understand the sense of obligation to do this that this pastor felt. I also wondered how he could carry such a burden to do this all by himself. Through the actions of this pastor it is not hard to see the kindness and favor that he shows for these individuals who had died by providing these things for them which they could not provide for themselves.

Jacob makes his son take an oath and swear that he will not bury his father in Egypt. He makes him promise that he will take him and bury him with his fathers Abraham and Isaac in the Promised Land. This would be Joseph’s responsibility to fulfill. It will be Joseph’s burden to make sure that his fathers wishes are carried out even in death. Joseph agrees to do this for his father and then we read that this makes Israel bow himself in his bed and worship the LORD. (Joseph was obedient to fulfill this oath as we see in Genesis 50:1-14)

Some time after Jacob and Joseph had this conversation we see what happens next in Genesis 48:1.Jacob becomes ill and his death is imminent. The word that is used for Jacob’s illness implies that he was ‘worn down in strength and was dying due to some sickness or disease’. (Gesenius, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 279)

You often hear people say that they are not afraid to die, but that it is how they are going to die that scares them. Jacob is a patriarch, a believer, a God-fearing man; yet, it is through a sickness that the LORD will bring him home. One of the greatest tragedies of some bad theologies is that you are left believing that sickness is always because of sin or unbelief and that it cannot bring good to us or glory to God. My friends, these things are simply not true. Faithful men and women experience tragedy, hardship, suffering and death. They are loved by God and are partakers in the grace of God. In fact, consider how Jacob describes his own life in Genesis 47:9, “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life…”. Even while on his deathbed Jacob will talk to Joseph about the sadness that still remains over the loss of Rachel when he says, “As for my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Bethlehem.” (48:7)

As we come to Genesis 48 we are told that word of Jacob’s illness and sickness comes to Joseph. When he hears of this we are told that he gathers together his two boys and makes the trip to see his father. When Joseph arrives we read these words, “Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed.

There are two reasons why Joseph expends his strength to sit up in bed at this time. First, it must have always been a joy to see Joseph’s face particularly. For many years Jacob believed that his son was dead and he thought that he would never see him again. You can imagine what the scene must have been like when they were reunited in Egypt. When this happened Jacob said, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive” (46:30). What joy and comfort the face of Joseph would always bring to Jacob. This would be especially true when he came to see him while he was on his deathbed on this particular day.

Secondly, Jacob sits up because he knows that it is time to bless his sons as an act of faith and worship before God. A.W. Pink speaks of this moment when he writes, “The Holy Spirit’s mention here of Jacob’s reverent gesture in worshiping God, intimates to us that it well becomes a worshipper of the Most High to manifest the inward devotion of the soul by a fitting posture of the body. God has redeemed both, and He is to be honored by both.

Listen to the way Jacob begins to speak in Genesis 48:3, “God Almighty (El Shaddai) appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me…”. What a blessing these words about the LORD must have been for all of Jacob’s family to hear and to consider(Genesis 17:1). They all now live far away from the Promised Land and they dwell now in Egypt. How easily they may neglect to remember that it is the providential hand of God that is guiding them. How easily they might forget that it is the LORD who is God Almighty and not the Pharaoh who Joseph served. Pharaoh was the wealthiest land ownerand themost powerful military leader in the known world (47:13-28), but Jacob reminds his son that the LORD is God Almighty.

Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were growing up as children of privilege in the capital city. Their father is second in command over everything in the known world. Their grandfather is a pagan priest. How important it would be to hear their grandfather say, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me…”.

Jacob’s son’s had come and stood before Pharaoh as his servants in the land of Egypt (47:4). They were thoroughly dependent upon the supply of Egypt for their lives when they entered into this foreign country. Pharaoh graciously said to them, “The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen…” (47:5-6). As powerful and prosperous as Pharaoh seemed to be to them they are reminded by Jacob that the LORD is ‘God Almighty’.

As Jacob’s sons stood before Pharaoh that day Jacob may have seemed small in their eyes. Their father was a sojourner, an exile, a wanderer , a pilgrim who stood before Pharaoh looking for food and a place to stay. Jacob stood before Pharaoh as an old man and said, ‘The days of the years of my sojournings are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the day of the years of the life of my fathers in the day of their sojourning.’ (47:9)

In this moment Jacob’s life may have seemed insignificant and Pharaoh must have seemed so powerful and privileged. Pharaoh seems to have everything and Jacob seems to have very little. However, in Genesis 47:10we read that it is Jacob who blesses Pharaoh, “And Jacob blessed Pharaoh…”. Jacob is not inferior at all to Pharaoh. Jacob has seen the LORD and he has received the promises from the God Almighty.

In Genesis 47:10 we read, “And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh.”. In Genesis 48 we see that Jacob is about to die and go out from the presence of his family but before he does he blesses them with divinely inspired words that they are to receive in faith.

Jacob says to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ (47:4)

Jacob is about to call all of his sons to him and prophetically speak to them. He will say to them in Genesis 49:1-2, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in the days to come. Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father”. However, before he does this he has something to say to Joseph and his two sons (49:1-2).

Jacob says to Joseph, “And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.” (5-6) In saying this Jacob gives to Joseph the inheritance and his sons receive the double portion.

After doing this Jacob then confirms to Joseph the love that he had for his mother. And he is also reminding Joseph that even those who are greatly blessed by God will experience troubles and pain in this life. He reminds Joseph that not even Rachel got to dwell in Bethlehem with him. Jacob says, “As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).

{On a personal note. It is nice that Jacob brings up Joseph’s mother. After my grandfather died I noticed that many in my family even avoided bringing him up in conversations because of either the pain and sorrow it would cause them or what they thought it would do to others. One night I was with my dad in the back yard and I asked him why we never talked about grandpa and from that time on we felt more free to do so. It was nice.}

Genesis 48:8-11 says, “When Israel saw Joseph's sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.

Last week we considered Isaac when he was blind because of old age. When he gave the blessing he kissed and embraced his son (27:26-27). In this text we see that Jacob now does the same thing to Joseph’s sons under similar conditions. Some commentators have pointed out that these things are all part of the ritual that surrounds the giving of a blessing.

Jacob has told Joseph that Manasseh and Ephraim were now his kids through adoption and this expression of sincere affection would also confirm to Joseph and his two young sons that this has indeed happened. Jacob will hug and kiss them as sons. And then he will give them their inheritance as sons. This is really a beautiful and special moment.

We read in Genesis 49:12-16,

Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

This morning we have mentioned some of the trials and sufferings that Jacob experienced in life. Yet, here Jacob can look back upon his whole life and say, “God has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel has has redeemed me from all evil”. Jacob blesses these children and entrusts them into the hands of the Almighty God who has been such a faithful Shepherd to him throughout his life.

And as Jacob blesses the two boys he crosses his hands and gives the blessing to the youngest Ephraim. The Holy Spirit is working in this moment to accomplish His will concerning these two boys. In the past we have seen God choose Isaac over Ishmael. We have seen God choose Jacob over Esau. Now we see that God does not treat all of His children each alike. We all have different callings, different gifts, different opportunities, and different paths to take. Some are given five talents, some three, and still others receive only one. In this case, God has chosen that the blessing should go to Ephraim and not to the oldest son Manasseh.

We see in the following verses that Joseph does not like what he sees his father doing at first. We read in Genesis 49:17-19, When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since 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. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.’

This is the moment where you see Jacob’s faith standing firm against the interference of Joseph who tries to get his father to bless the oldest. As far as we know Joseph quickly surrendered his will to the will of Jacob in this moment when he sees that Jacob was aware of what he was doing and that it was inspired by the LORD to be done this way.

Let me end by reading Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Today we have considered Jacob’s life. His life was a pilgrimage filled with evil, troubles, and sorrows. And yet, he speaks of God’s faithfulness. Jacob’s life seemed so insignificant when compared to Pharaoh’s but his inheritance continues long after Pharaoh’s has vanished.

Today’s text exhorts each of us to consider the faithfulness of God and of Jesus Christ. We are exhorted to consider Jesus who was despised, treated shamefully, and who died on the cross. Yet it is through Christ that we can receive every earthly and heavenly blessing. Jesus is now exalted above all things and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Are you tempted by the things of this world and is your longing for eternal things waning? Can you say with Jacob after living for years in a foreign land, “I still long for heaven and the inheritance that I have in Him”? Are you living in the reality of these eternal things and seeking to pass the gospel and its blessing on to others (our kids, our families, our communities)? Our text encourages us to cast aside every sin and weight and run with endurance the race put before us. We are to look to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.


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