Genesis 47 - 50
Suppose you had 3 minutes to live and your loved ones were gathered around you waiting to hear your last words. What would you say? Perhaps you are in the hospital dying of some disease. You know the end is near. As you search your mind for the right things to say, a thousand thoughts flood your mind. What can you say in your dying moments that will sum up your life? What if you’re involved in a terrible accident on the highway? What if you have only 30 seconds? What would you say to your loved ones? How would you summarize the things that are most important to you?
Since the Bible is a book of life, it should not surprise us that only a few deathbed scenes are recorded. Most often we are simply told that so-and-so lived so many years and then he died. We generally don’t know when or where or how death took place, so in most cases we don’t know about any last words that may have been spoken. In the NT we have even less information. We are not told how most of the chief characters—including the great apostle Paul—died. That’s understandable since the gospel is a message about life. We know how Jesus died, and Judas, and Stephen, and 1 or 2 others, but that’s about it. The NT says very little about death and a great deal about life.
In light of that it is fascinating to note how much space is given to the death of Jacob. Abraham’s death is described in 7 verses, Isaac’s in 3 verses and Joseph’s in 5 verses. By contrast Jacob’s death covers about 73 verses. The story begins at the end of chapter 47, covers all of chapters 48, 49 and the first half of chapter 50.
Jacob’s death is recorded in 4 scenes. It is a beautiful and moving story and one cannot help thinking, “That’s the way I would like to die someday—having lived many years, still in my right mind, full of faith in God, with my family gathered around me.” Although circumstances may conspire to make that impossible, this is how I want to die. But we can have the same faith when we die that Jacob had.
There is such a thing as dying faith. I suppose all of us are planning to live a long time, but these days you can never be sure. Any of us could be struck down at any moment.
Scene # 1: Jacob and Joseph 47: 28 - 31
Jacob is an old man, 147 years old, and the long years have taken their toll on his body. He barely stands now, tottering uncertainly, leaning for support on the top of his staff. He knows full well that he has an appointment with death. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment.” Hebrews 9: 27
Death is inevitable. It is the appointment you must keep. Jacob was not afraid to die. He saw the moment coming and made preparations for his own burial. He had only one request to make of his son, Joseph—“Don’t bury me in Egypt, but bury me with my fathers.”
This is a wonderful statement of Jacob’s faith in God. God had promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants. In faith Abraham believed God and settled there. In faith Isaac believed God and lived there. Now Jacob is dying in a foreign land. But he believes that someday soon—though he will not live to see it—his people, his family, his descendants would return to possess the Promised Land.
The Promises of God Live On
Jacob lived and died without ever hearing about Moses and Joshua. God gave him faith to believe that although he was dying in Egypt, his future belonged in the Promised Land.
Jacob is saying, “I may be dying but I believe that one day God will keep his promises. I want to be there when it happens so don’t leave me down here in Egypt. Bury me in the Promised Land.” “Nothing of God dies when a man of God dies.” We die, but the promises of God live on. They bury us, but they don’t bury God’s promises with us.
Scene # 2: Jacob and His Grandchildren Ch. 48
With all his strength Jacob rallies one last time and sits up on his deathbed. There he sees Joseph and his 2 sons—Manasseh and Ephraim. What follows is a touching scene as Jacob says to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”
v. 12 – 14 - But there’s more than just seeing the grandchildren. Jacob now blesses the 2 boys. According to the custom, the primary blessing should have gone to the older son—Manasseh. But that’s not how it works out. When Joseph brings the 2 boys forward, he puts Manasseh in front of Jacob’s right hand and Ephraim in front of his left hand. But Jacob crossed his arms, placing his right hand on Ephraim and his left hand on Manasseh. So the younger son got the primary blessing and the older son got the lesser blessing.
Some of you who are younger sons and daughters can draw great encouragement from this story. Many times the firstborn children are favored and children that come later are overlooked. But the Bible is full of hope for younger children. Isaac was a younger child. So was Jacob. So was Joseph. So was Moses. So was Gideon. So was David.
In blessing the younger over the older, Jacob teaches us that God is no respecter of persons. He exalts those who honor him regardless of their background or their birth order. Very often it is through the “overlooked” people of the world that God does his greatest work.
Scene # 3: Jacob and His Children 49: 1 - 28
Then Jacob asks his sons to gather round him for one final farewell. Beginning with Reuben the firstborn he pronounces a blessing or prophecy upon each son individually. The words are crucial because they describe not only what will happen to each son but to the tribes that will eventually come forth from each son – v. 28. After all these years Jacob knows his sons inside and out, knows their weaknesses, their habits, their tendencies and their ambitions. With all that in mind, and speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he pronounces a blessing on each son. Each son receives a blessing or prophecy perfectly suited to him. Hundreds of years later the tribes would emerge, still bearing the personality traits of their founders.
Jacob is fulfilling his ultimate responsibility—he is blessing his family in the name of the Lord. What a positive example Jacob is for all of us today. Let us go and do likewise for our loved ones.
Scene # 4: The Death of Jacob 49: 29 - 50: 14
When he had finished blessing his sons, he once again requested to be buried in the Promised Land. Clearly, this was no small issue to him. In one sense it doesn’t matter where he is buried because Jacob belongs to God regardless of where his body is laid to rest. But for him the issue is bigger than that. He wants his burial place to be a testimony to the fact that he never stopped believing in God.
Jacob praised God as he was dying. That is what Jacob is praised for in the book of Hebrews. When the writer considers all Jacob’s deeds over his long line, he singles out this one event and says of him, “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
It’s always good to praise God, but it is especially meaningful to stand at the end of a long life and say, “God has been good to me.” That is a great testimony. It is one of the chief benefits of old age.
Jacob’s Life in Perspective
A. His life is a story of continual struggle and difficulty.
B. His 2 names reflect the inner struggle of his heart: Jacob—the Cheater, Israel—the man who wrestled with God.
C. Jacob came from a dysfunctional family, created another, and left one behind.
D. But Jacob was a man of faith who had an unquenchable desire for the blessing of God.
E. Most of his mistakes were made because of excessive self-confidence. In the end, his greatest weakness became his greatest strength when he yielded his ambition to the will of God.
F. He died in faith, a follower of God - and is a worthy addition to the great list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.
Jacob’s Message to Us
A. Sin in one form or another will dog our steps as long as we live. We should not be surprised that we struggle with some sins until the day we die.
B. God will do whatever it takes to break our confidence in the flesh in order that he might replace it with confidence in God alone.
C. Though we may not believe it at the time, the trials of life are not meant to destroy us, but to teach us lessons we couldn’t learn any other way.
D. When God judges a man’s life, he looks at his faith, not at his faults.
Despite all his flaws, Jacob was fundamentally a man of faith. His story should encourage us because - there’s a little bit of Jacob in all of us! If God can use Jacob, he can use anyone.
Jacob is a man I can fully understand. He’s not as great as his grandfather Abraham or as accomplished as his son Joseph. He made many mistakes along the way—sometimes repeating the same mistakes over and over again. But at the core of his being, Jacob was God’s man. He desperately wanted to please God and find his blessing—even if he had to bend the rules to do it.
The Real Hero
I pointed out that Jacob is not the hero of this story. The hero of this story is God. He is the one who never gives up on Jacob, who never sways from his original purpose to bless him despite all his failures. Jacob didn’t make it easy, but God never gave up. He looked on Jacob the way he looks at most of us—as a lifetime project. At any given point along the way, God could have said, “Forget it. This man is hopeless.” But he never said that, and in the end Jacob emerges with triumphant faith in God.
God is pleased to associate himself with anyone who has faith in him.
—You don’t have to be perfect.
—You don’t have to be strong.
—You don’t have to walk the straight and narrow.
You can be yourself and God will gladly associate with you … as long as you have faith in him.
Who is the God of Jacob?
—He is a God of abounding grace.
—He is a God of unerring wisdom.
He is the God who is always there for us
—in spite of our sin
—in the face of our failure
—in the midst of our fears.
Here is my final word. The God of Jacob is our God too. The same God who led Jacob is the God who leads us today. Do you know that God? He has revealed himself to you in the person of Jesus Christ.
Are You Ready to Die?
No one is ready to die until they know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Sometimes people says, “Life begins at 40.” How wrong they are. Life begins at Calvary. Life begins the moment you put your trust in Jesus Christ. Life begins at the cross when you bow the knee and say, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for dying for me.” Until you come to Christ your life has no beginning. You have existence but you don’t have life.
Life begins the moment you say “Yes” to the Lord Jesus. I urge you to come to him so that no matter how long you live—one more day, one more week, one more month, one more year, or 50 more years—you will be ready to die when the moment finally comes.