By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff.
"When he was a dying." Death is a thorough test of faith. Beneath the touch of the skeleton finger shams dissolve into thin air, and only truth remains; unless indeed a strong delusion has been given, and then the spectacle of a presumptuous sinner passing away in his iniquities is one which might make angels weep. The text tells us that the patriarch's faith was firm while he was a-dying, so that he poured forth no murmurs, but plentiful benedictions, as he blessed both the sons of Joseph. May your faith and mine also be such that whenever we shall be a-dying our faith will perform some illustrious exploit that the grace of God may be admired in us.
I. His BLESSING.
1. His blessing the sons of Joseph was an act of faith, because only by faith could he really give a blessing to any one. He believed God. He believed that God spoke by him; and he believed that God would justify every word that he was uttering. Faith is the backbone of the Christian's power to do good: we are weak as water till we enter into union with God by faith, and then we are omnipotent. We can do nothing for our fellow-men by way of promoting their spiritual interests if we walk according to the sight of our eyes; but when we get into the power of God, and grasp His promise by a daring confidence, then it is that we obtain the power to bless.
2. Not only the power to bless came to him by faith, but the blessings which he allotted to his grandsons were his upon the same tenure. His legacies were all blessings which he possessed by faith only. He had, as a matter of fact, neither house nor ground in Palestine, and yet he counts it all his own, since a faithful God had promised it to his fathers. Faith is wanted to enable us to point men to the invisible and eternal, and if we cannot do this how can we bless them. We must believe for those we love, and have hope for them; thus shall we have power with God for them, and shall bless them. Our legacies to our sons are the blessings of grace, and our dowries to our daughters are the promises of the Lord.
3. Jacob in his benediction particularly mentioned the covenant. His faith, like the faith of most of God's people, made the covenant its pavilion of delightful abode, its tower of defence, and its armoury for war. If you have no faith you cannot plead the covenant, and certainly if you cannot plead it for yourselves you cannot urge it with God for a blessing upon your sons and your grandsons. It was by faith in the covenant that the venerable Jacob blest the two sons of Joseph, and without it we can bless no one, for we are not blessed ourselves. Faith is the priest which proclaims the blessing without fear.
4. Jacob showed his faith by blessing Joseph's sons in God's order. Faith prefers grace to talent, and piety to cleverness; she lays her right hand where God lays it, and not where beauty of person or quickness of intellect would suggest. Our best child is that which God calls best; faith corrects reason and accepts the Divine verdict.
5. Notice that he manifested his faith by his distinct reference to redemption. He alone who has faith will pray for the redemption of his children, especially when they exhibit no signs of being in bondage, but are hopeful and amiable.
6. Jacob showed his faith by his assurance that God would be present with his seed. How cheering is the old man's dying expression, made not only to his boys, but concerning all his family. He said, "Now I die, but God will be with you." It is very different from the complaints of certain good old ministers when they are dying. They seem to say, "When I die the light of Israel will be quenched. I shall die, and the people will desert the truth. When I am gone the standard-bearer will have fallen, and the watchman on the walls will be dead." Many in dying are afraid for the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof; and, sometimes, we who are in good health talk very much in the same fashion as though we were wonderfully essential to the progress of God's cause.
II. HE WORSHIPPED BY FAITH.
1. First, while he was dying he offered the worship of gratitude. How pleasing is the incident recorded in the tenth and eleventh verses. Ah, yes, we shall often have to say, "O Lord, I had not thought that Thou wouldst do as much as this, but Thou hast gone far beyond what I asked or even thought."
2. He offered the worship of testimony when he acknowledged God's goodness to him all his life.
3. Notice, too, how reverently he worships the covenant messenger with the adoration of reverend love. We owe all things to the redeeming Angel of the covenant. The evils which He has warded off from us are terrible beyond conception, and the blessings He has brought us are rich beyond imagination. We must adore Him, and, though we see Him not, we must in life and in death by faith worship Him with lowly love.
4. If you read on through the dying scene of Jacob you will notice once more how he worshipped with the adoration of earnest longing, for just after he had pronounced a blessing on the tribe of Dan the old man seemed thoroughly exhausted, but instead of fainting, instead of uttering a cry of pain and weakness, he solemnly exclaims, "I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord."
III. His ATTITUDE. He worshipped on the top of his staff — leaning on it, supporting himself upon it. In Genesis you read that he "bowed himself upon the bed's head." It is very easy to realise a position in which both descriptions would be equally true. He could sit upon the bed, and lean on the top of his staff at the same time. But why did he lean on his staff? I think besides the natural need which he had of it, because of his being old, he did it emblematically. That staff was his life companion, the witness with himself of the goodness of the Lord, even as some of us may have an old Bible, or a knife, or a chair which are connected with memorable events of our lives. But what did that staff indicate? Let us hear what Jacob said at another time. When he stood before Pharaoh he exclaimed, "Few and evil have been the days of my pilgrimage." What made him use that word "pilgrimage"? Why, because upon his mind there was always the idea of his being a pilgrim. He had been literally so during the early part of his life, wandering hither and thither; and now, though he has been seventeen years in Goshen, he keeps the old staff, and he leans on it to show that he had always been a pilgrim and a sojourner like his fathers, and that he was so still. While he leans on that staff he talks to Joseph, and he says, "Do not let my bones lie here. I have come hither in the providence, of God, but I do not belong here. I am in Egypt, but I am not of it. Take my bones away. Do not let them lie here, for if they do, my sons and daughters will. mingle with the Egyptians, and that must not be, for we are a distinct nation. God has chosen us for Himself, and we must keep separate. To make my children see this, lo, here I die with my pilgrim staff in my band." The longer you live the more let this thought grow upon you: "Give me my staff. I must begone. Poor world, thou art no rest for me; I am not of thy children, I am an alien and a stranger. My citizenship is in heaven." Singular enough is it that each descendant of Jacob came to worship on the top of his staff at last, for on the paschal supper night, when the blood was sprinkled on the lintel and the side posts, they each one ate the lamb with their loins girt and with a staff in his hand. The supper was a festival of worship, and they ate it each one leaning on his staff, as those that were in haste to leave home for a pilgrimage through the wilderness.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parallel VersesKJV: By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.