Online Bible Commentary
Hebrews 11: 21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones. (NIV)
In this chapter of the book of Hebrews, the faith chapter, the writer continues to write of the women and men of God who displayed great faith. In this passage he writes of the faith of Jacob and his son Joseph. Thus, two more men of faith are added to God’s Hall of Faith.
Jacob was the second son of Isaac and Rebekah, and the grandson of Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew nation. God ordained that Jacob should receive the blessing of the first born from his father Isaac, which should have gone to Jacob’s twin brother Esau. The descendants of Jacob, later named Israel, became the Israelites, and the descendants of Esau, later named Edom, became the Arabs. They have been feuding since the day that Esau lost his blessing and left Canaan to settle in the lands east of Israel. Jacob and Esau were born about 1837 B.C., so the feud has existed for almost 4,000 years.
The name Jacob means “supplanter.” He “supplanted” Esau as the blessed one. Although God intended for Jacob to have the blessing, it was actually obtained through the deceit of Jacob and Rebekah. God granted the blessing to Jacob, despite the deceit. However, because he had obtained the blessing by deceit, Jacob experienced trouble and sorrow in his life. After a night of wrestling with God, his name was changed to Israel, which means “the prince that prevails with God.”
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons” (v. 21a). Shortly before his death, at the age of 147, Jacob gave a blessing to Josephs’ two oldest sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph was the first born, and favorite, son of Jacob. Joseph was the prime minister of Egypt during Jacob’s later years.
Jacob’s blessing was, however, reversed, just as the blessings of Jacob and Esau had been reversed. Although we do not know why Jacob reversed the blessings, this verse tells us that it was through his faith in God. Surely, at some point God instructed him to grant Ephraim the blessing. So, Ephraim received the blessing that should have gone to Manasseh, the first born. The account of Jacob’s blessing can be found in Genesis 48.
Then Jacob adopted Manasseh and Ephraim as his own, and made them heads of tribes. The twelve tribes of Israel originally were the twelve sons of Jacob. But the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim received the portions of land in the Promised Land that would have gone to the tribes of Joseph and Levi. The tribe of Levi was not given land because they were designated as priests and were spread out throughout the Promised Land so as to serve the people. Jacob also was recognized for his faith when he “worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff” (v. 21b), in his old age.
Joseph was recognized for his great faith when he “spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt” (v. 22a). His example of faith was his belief that God would fulfill His promise to Abraham that his descendants would occupy the Promised Land. He exhibited faith in this promise by “giving instructions about his bones” (v. 22b). Joseph’s instructions to his brothers were that his remains were to be taken to the Promised Land when the Israelites were released from slavery in Egypt. Joseph continued to have faith in the promise of God, even though he did not see its fulfillment in his lifetime.
Jacob and Joseph were great men of faith. The definition of faith is trust in God, to be confident in the fact that God is trustworthy. When we are confident that we can trust God, the result is that we are sure of our hopes and of things which we cannot see. Neither Jacob, nor Joseph saw the promises of God fulfilled in their lifetimes. But they both remained faithful.
Jacob was still worshiping God when he was too old to stand without assistance. Joseph went to his death giving instructions for his remains to be interred in the Promised Land. If only our faith can be so lasting and firm. May each of us have a faith that is unwavering until our dying days, a faith that is undeterred by the challenges and disappointments dealt to us by life, and a faith that is truly deserving of God’s recognition.