By faith Jacob, when he was dying,
blessed each of the sons of Joseph,
and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff
Why was this action significant? Why did it demonstrate such FAITH that, alone among all the deeds of JACOB, this final action is cited by the writer to the Hebrews? Read on.
HALL OF FAITH" bears a name that actually means "supplanter." The name of JACOB literally means "heel catcher," and it describes someone who will snatch you down by the heel if you are not alert. Sadly, JACOB spent most of his years living up to his name and practicing many deceptions. Yet the LORD later changed his name to ISRAEL (Genesis 32:28), which means "GOD PREVAILS." God made the name change after a long process that brought JACOB to a deep trust in Him.
Given the importance of JACOB's new name, it seems odd that the WORD of GOD, as conveyed by the writer to the Hebrews, would list JACOB in the "HALL OF FAITH" under his old name. Perhaps this name is a reminder of God's great work of sanctification in JACOB's life. Thus JACOB serves as an Old Testament example of the same sanctification God wants us to experience today. We would do well, when we enter into WORSHIP, to remember how far God has brought us since the time we placed our trust in Him for salvation. Maybe JACOB was remembering the same thing as he lay dying; perhaps those thoughts were the cause of his WORSHIP.
Indeed, JACOB had much to think about as he recalled the 147 years of his life (Genesis 47:28). In his first fifty years, JACOB's life was characterized by sinful scheming. During the next eighty years he reaped the evil he had sown. No wonder, then, that when Pharaoh asked JACOB, "How old are you?" the patriarch replied, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years: few and evil have been the days of the years of my life" (Genesis 47:8-9). At that time, seventeen years before his death, JACOB still had trouble remembering how God had forgiven and blessed him.
As a youth, JACOB deceived his father Isaac and sinned against his brother Esau by taking Esau's birthright. Because of his deed, JACOB was forced to leave his family and flee to a foreign land (Genesis 27:41-28:5). Yet even then, God was working to bring JACOB into a trusting relationship with Himself. Even as JACOB left home, the LORD provided guidance and encouragement through the counsel of his father Isaac. He blessed his son, urged him not to take a heathen wife, and advised JACOB where he should go (Genesis 28:1).
During JACOB's journey, God met him in a dream. The LORD not only confirmed the blessing Isaac had given, but made JACOB an unconditional promise that He will bring JACOB and his descendants back to the land. (Genesis 28:13-15).
JACOB did not throw himself on God's mercy when he heard this promise. But his response to the dream indicates that he was thinking seriously about his relationship with God. "Surely the LORD is in this place; and I did not know it," JACOB exclaimed when he awoke. He then piled some stones into an altar, poured oil upon it, and called the place BETHEL, which means "HOUSE OF GOD." Yet JACOB did not trust God completely to provide for His needs, and he continued to put God to test. (Read Genesis 28:20-22)
After JACOB arrived at his destination, God provided him a wife - although ironically, JACOB obtained two wives after enduring the trickery of his uncle (Genesis 29). In the years he lived with Laban, JACOB reaped the consequences of the actions he had sown earlier. . But he also received much blessing from God and learned of His care and mercy during a difficult time. Through difficult circumstances JACOB's FAITH in God grew. When at last he had to face Esau, the brother he had wronged, JACOB anticipated trouble and realized that he might be killed. Yet the night before their meeting, God came again to JACOB.
This time JACOB wrestled with God. In spite of an injured leg, JACOB hung on and said, "I will not let You go, unless You bless me" (Genesis 32:26). He longed for God's blessing more than anything, for he finally trusted God to provide . So the LORD said to him, "Your name shall no longer be called JACOB, but ISRAEL: for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed" (Genesis 32:28). When JACOB received the blessing he had requested, he gave God all the credit: "I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" (Genesis 32:30).
God brought JACOB to the end of his rope once again when he was compelled in his old age to make a journey to Egypt. Just as JACOB had once tricked his own father, his own sons had deceived him into believing his favorite son Joseph was dead. Yet now, after many years of grief, his sons had changed their story. Joseph was alive, they said, and ruling Egypt! What? Such a thing was impossible! Yet JACOB learned to trust God even in this strangest of situation. When father and son were reunited, JACOB's first utterance was to credit the promise God had given to preserve his children.
"Then JACOB said 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 you a multitude of people, and give this land to your descendants after you as an everlasting possession' " (Genesis 48:3-4).
Now at the end of his life, JACOB's trust in God was complete. As the writer to the Hebrews recalls and the Old Testament relates (Genesis 48:5-20), the patriarch gave a blessing to the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. They, too were now included in the promise God had given first to Abraham and had confirmed in turn to Isaac and JACOB.
Why did the writer to the Hebrews view JACOB's blessing as so significant? Simply put, IT WAS BECAUSE JACOB ACTED BY FAITH. Consider his situation. Although he had once lived in the Promised Land, JACOB had been a nomad there. Now his sons and their households were in Egypt, a long way from Canaan. Yet JACOB fully expected that God would someday give the Promised Land to his descendants. Fulfillment of God's promise would have seemed impossible; in fact, it would ultimately take centuries. But JACOB HAD FAITH. He trusted God. He was so certain God fulfill His promise that he instructed his sons to make sure he would be buried in Canaan (Genesis 47:29-31, 49:29-32).
JACOB saw in advance something that others would see only in hindsight. And it was because of this faith that he could give his LORD TRUE WORSHIP, even with death closing upon him. Thus did the writer to the Hebrews say of JACOB and his forefathers, "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them" (Hebrews 11:13).
(an extract from TRUE WORSHIP by David Whitcomb and Mark Ward, Sr.)