Genesis 47:28-48:22 And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years.
29 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 your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” 31 And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed.
48 1After 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).”
8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 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.” 10 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. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 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. 14 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). 15 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,
16 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.”
17 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. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 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.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying,
“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,
‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’ ”
Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”
Jacob had lived 147 years. By his own admission, it was a full life. It was filled with hardship, “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning” (47:9), he told Pharaoh. But it was also a life filled with the blessing of God, “God has been my shepherd all my life long…” (48:15), he told his grandsons. And now our passage finds him near the end of his full life. Knowing that his time is nearly up, unable to see, and barely able to sit up, Jacob intended to use his last words and ounces of strength to bless the boys who would carry on his line and God’s covenant promises.
The three big ideas of the passage are that (1) God is perfectly faithful, even across death and generations, (2) It is God’s faithfulness that creates and sustains faithfulness in His people, and (3) When God’s faithfulness leads to faithfulness in His people, the result is unmatched and unending joy. We’ll get significant glimpses of each this morning. And the three main takeaways are (1) the rightness of trusting in God, (2) the rightness of passing on our trust in God to future generations, and (3) the rightness of remembering the vaporness of this life. Let’s pray.
“When the time drew near that Israel [Jacob] must die…” That’s a fairly dramatic way to begin a story. Nevertheless, that’s where things stood in the course of God’s plan of redemption. After a nearly two-decade reunion with his thought-to-be-lost, favorite son, Jacob knew it was time to make final preparations before his death.
There were two matters in particular that he felt the need to attend to. Describing both is the main thrust of this passage. The first was the matter of his burial. In a true (albeit subtle) act of faithfulness, Jacob insisted that he be buried in the land of God’s promise, along with his fathers. He could see the beginnings of God’s covenant fulfillment, but he also knew that much more was yet to come. Jacob asking to be burried in Canaan before Canaan was actually the possession (not just the promise) of his offspring is like buying your graduation gown on the day you receive your acceptance letter. It is an act of faith. Unlike college freshman, however, God never fails. In faith, then, Jacob made Joseph swear to him that he would take him back to the land of Canaan, the land of God’s promise. Having received Joseph’s assurance, Jacob bowed to God in silent, contented worship (“Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed/staff” 47:31).
The second matter of death-bed importance concerned the blessing his heirs. The bulk of the passage/story covers this. Jacob had been blessed by God, and now it was time to pass on that blessing. Once again it was Joseph who came before Jacob. This time, he brought two of his sons.
Jacob “summoned his strength and sat up in bed” (48:2) before recalling God’s kindness to him. He said, “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 company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession” (3-4).
What a beautiful and succinct summary of the covenant. God had first made this promise to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. Abraham had passed it down to his second son, Isaac. Isaac had passed it down to his second son, Jacob, and now Jacob was about to pass it down to his 11th son, Joseph and his grandsons. In the covenant line, this is no small reminder that God is not bound by any human tradition (of the firstborn). He will choose and bless whomever He chooses.
Interestingly, there is a kind of adoption that takes place in v.5. Jacob would pass on Joseph’s blessing to Joseph’s sons. But before he would do so, he declared them “mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” Joseph’s firstborn sons would be like Jacob’s firstborn sons to Jacob. “They shall be called by the name of their brothers in the inheritance” (6), Jacob declared. It is for that reason that there is no tribe of Joseph, but two half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
In a bit of foreshadowing, in naming Joseph’s sons, Jacob mentioned the second born (Ephraim), first (5). It should not be surprising, then, that when it came time to bless the boys, Jacob “kissed them and embraced them,” and then blessed Ephraim before Manasseh in spite of Joseph’s intentions and objections. Joseph presented his young sons to be blessed by placing his father’s right hand on the firstborn and his left on the second, but Jacob purposefully “crossing his hands,” blessed the younger over the younger. Both would be blessed, but the second would receive a greater measure of blessing.
The content of the blessing was a mixture of acknowledging (1) the goodness of God and (2) his desire for God’s covenant promises and blessings to continue through these boys. Jacob acknowledged God’s faithfulness to his fathers, the life-long shepherd, protector, and rescuer God had been for him, and then asked God to bless Ephraim and Manasseh by carrying on the name of the patriarchs and growing them into a great nation. Jacob hoped that it would be so, such that it might become the wish of all to be “as Ephraim and as Manasseh” (20). That’s such a great wish. Just as Bill Gates is associated with wealth and Michael Jordan with basketball greatness and Albert Einstein with intelligence, Jacob wished that the blessing of God would be forever associated with his grandsons.
In conclusion, Jacob made it clear that his time was near, said to Joseph, “God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers” (21), and then added to Joseph’s blessing “a mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites” (22). Who wouldn’t want their dad to promise those two things in his last days—the perfect faithfulness of God and a mountain.
In the midst of all of this, the genuine emotion of Jacob cannot be missed. He remembered with sadness the death and burial of his wife, Rachel (7) and wondered aloud at the sweetness of meeting Joseph’s children when he never thought he’d see Joseph again (11), embracing and kissing them.
There is a tinge of sadness in this passage as Jacob’s life nears its end, but the overall tone is one of gratitude for God’s faithfulness, and hope in His willingness to continue it with the next generation.
As I mentioned in the beginning, there are three big ideas and three main takeaways for us to see. Let’s consider the big ideas now.
THE BIG IDEAS
God Is Perfectly Faithful, Even through Death and Across Generations
As we’ve seen dozens of times already, we see here the big idea that God has yet to fail to keep a promise in Genesis. In the blessing of Jacob’s son and grandsons, God kept yet another. Never get tired of seeing and hearing that, Grace. Our God is a perfectly faithful God.
More remarkable still, is the fact that even the usual promise-breakers don’t apply to God. Not even death could get in the way of God’s faithfulness. That’s the point of Jacob’s speech in 48:3-6 and his blessing in 15-16.
In chapter 12 God made the covenant with Abraham. In chapter 25 Abraham died, but the promise miraculously lived on with his son, Isaac. Then, in chapter 35 Isaac too died, but God still remained faithful to His promise in Isaac’s son, Jacob. Now, even as Jacob neared death, the promise would live on in his sons and grandsons.
Capture, enslavement, imprisonment, barrenness, sin, and even death could not stop or even slow down the faithfulness of God across generations. Jacob realized that and so he trusted in the perfect faithfulness of God to continue even after his time came. That’s the thing Hebrews praises Jacob for; trusting that God would keep His promises through his sons’ sons. Of all the things that could have been highlighted concerning Jacob’s faith in God, in Hebrews 11 we read, “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21). The most praiseworthy act of Jacob’s faith was his worship-filled trust in the death-transcending faithfulness of God.
How can we hear this and not remember the gospel? There has never been a time in which death seemed to have won more than when Jesus hung lifeless on the cross. But it is passages like this one that were given to prepare God’s people for God’s use of death to defeat death. If death couldn’t break God’s covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, why would it be able to defeat God’s New Covenant promises in Jesus? Again, rather than threaten God’s faithfulness, Jesus’ death became the very means by which God secured eternal faithfulness. Praise God for this, Grace. God is perfectly faithful, even through death and across generations.
It Is God’s Faithfulness that Creates and Sustains Faithfulness in His People
God was, is, and forever will be faithful, without exception. The second big idea is that it is God’s perfect faithfulness that creates and sustains faithfulness in His people. In this passage we repeatedly see Jacob responding to God’s faithfulness by further placing his faith in God.
Because Jacob had witnessed God’s generational faithfulness to his father and grandfather, in his dying days, he was not worried about his eternal state. Instead, he was focused on being buried in the Promised Land. If God hadn’t been perfectly faithful throughout his life, Jacob would have no reason to trust that God would be faithful in the future and it wouldn’t have mattered at all where he was buried. This is the point of 47:29-31.
Because God had already been true to his promises for offspring, Jacob had faith that God would make good on his promise of land as well. And because he had faith in these things, Jacob trusted God to pass along the blessing to his sons and grandsons. That’s the point of 48:1-8.
And because God had faithfully returned Joseph to rule over the family (as God revealed in his dreams), even though Jacob doubted for a time, Jacob had faith that God would shepherd, protect, multiply, and bless his descendants after he died. That’s the point of 48:9-22.
God is faithful. God’s people must be faithful as well. It is our faith that God counts as righteousness. But it is God’s faithfulness that leads to and preserves ours. What a double gift that is. When my kids were little, I regularly asked them to trust me by jumping off high places so I could catch them, but I’m the same dad who dropped them occasionally. Similarly, what sports coach hasn’t asked his team to trust him to work hard that he might lead them to victory, even though there are no lifetime undefeated coaches. Our God is different. He is perfectly faithful and so having faith in Him is different. His perfect faithfulness creates and sustains our faithfulness. This is the second big idea of the passage.
God’s Faithfulness, Leading to Faithfulness in His People, Results in Unmatched and Unending Joy
God is perfectly faithful, it is His perfect faithfulness that creates and sustains faithfulness in His people, and finally, the two combined ultimately result in everlasting joy. We only get glimpses of that in this passage, but we know from the rest of God’s Word that the taste we are given here will turn into a never-ending banquet in the new heavens and earth. Here we see it in Jacob’s calm confidence. We see another glimpse of it in his near-death worship. We see it in his rest in God’s blessing. We see a bit of it in his thankfulness at being able to see Joseph’s kids. And we see it in Jacob’s confidence in the blessing he gave. All over we see little bits of the kind of sweetness that will be ours in full, forever when our hope is truly in God.
Revelation 21:3-5 “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” … these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21 describes the time when both God’s faithfulness and ours will be perfect and unending, and the kind of full and everlasting joy that results. The third big idea is that Genesis 48 gives us glimpses of this kind of joy.
THE MAIN TAKEAWAYS
From those three big ideas, there are three main takeaways for us in all of this as well. Rightly understood we see…
The Rightness of Trusting in God
This has been a theme week after week now, so I’ll just mention it briefly: God’s perfect faithfulness means that it is right to trust in God’s every promise. It is good to base our every hope and action on the things God has said. All that you do, Grace, ought to be tied to a specific aspect of God’s nature, will, and promises. We must trust in God for all things. Even as we increasingly recognize that God alone is perfectly trustworthy.
That this kind of faithfulness comes from God’s faithfulness also means that we ought to pray that God would grant faith to the unbelievers in our lives. Jesus was clear on the fact that no one comes to the Father but by Him (John 14:6). But a few chapters earlier in the same Gospel, Jesus was also clear on the fact that no one comes to Him but by the Father who draws them (John 6:44). Let us pray to God, then for God to faithfully draw non-Christians to Jesus.
And that this kind of faithfulness comes from God’s faithfulness means that whenever anyone comes to faith in Jesus, it is right to praise God. All who hope in Jesus do so because God is faithful. And so we praise God!
It is right to trust God.
The Rightness of Passing on our Trust in God to Future Generations
The second main takeaway is that it is right to not only place our faith in God, but also to share our faith in God with the younger generation, especially our kids. This theme is everywhere in our chapter, even as it ought to be everywhere in the Church. Do not be silent about the gospel or its implications for life in Jesus. We must be intentional to pass our faith on to future generations. Many of you are actively working to pass on your affinity for a certain hobby or sports team or standard of living or career. You know what it is like to appreciate something so much that you want it to carry on with your kids. More than all these things, one billion times more than all of those things, we must long to pass on our love for and trust in God. Our second takeaway is that it is a privilege and command for one generation to declare and praise the faithful and glorious works of God to the next (Psalm 145:4). Please notice that this is not merely information impartation. This is mainly worship and trust impartation. Consider afresh and carefully how you might do that today.
The Rightness of Remembering the Vaporness of this Life
Finally, we are right to takeaway from this passage a fresh remembrance that life is short. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. And even if we have 10,000 tomorrows, our lives on this earth are still but a mist (James 4:14). Unless Jesus returns, you will die. Rightly understood, this doesn’t lead to discouragement or sadness, it leads to urgency, intentionality, and rest. This passage is a strong reminder that we ought to live with the end in mind, and with the mind that the end is near. This reality, displayed in this passage, will focus us and keep us from wasting our lives. Grace, think and say and do only what will matter in eternity.
Likewise, acknowledging the vaporness of life will fill us with peace and courage that can only come from knowing that we win. The fact that life is short by itself is scary. The fact that life is short and then in Jesus we get to enter paradise, is comforting and strengthening beyond measure. I’ll watch yesterday’s football game today, through all the turnovers, missed calls, and obnoxious antics of the other team, even considering them joy, without a hint of worry, precisely because I already know that in the end we win. If a DVR can do that, how much more must the promises of God.
Life is short, do what matters, and do it with all the confidence that a perfectly faithful God who has promised everlasting joy in His presence can bring.
The three big ideas of the passage are that (1) God is perfectly faithful, even across death and generations, (2) It is God’s faithfulness that creates and sustains faithfulness in His people, and (3) When God’s faithfulness leads to faithfulness in His people, the result is unmatched and unending joy. From these things, the three main takeaways are (1) the rightness of trusting in God, (2) the rightness of passing on our trust in God to future generations, and (3) the rightness of remembering the vaporness of this life.
As we seek to understand and live these out in faith, let us remember that Jesus died for our failures and sent us His Spirit to empower us for obedience. Let us press into this passage, it’s lessons and implications, humbly, prayerfully, diligently, and in full awareness that God is worthy and Jesus is Savior, and the Spirit is sufficient.