In Hebrews Chapter 11 we have been inspired by the faith of Old Testament men and women of God. From Abel to Jacob there are beautiful examples of faith, trust, and obedience to God. Enoch walked with God for over three hundred years, Abel humbly offered acceptable sacrifices to God, Noah was obedient in building the ark while the rest of the world mocked him, Abraham followed God without question, even to the point of willingness to sacrifice his own son.
Sarah’s faith allowed her to conceive and give birth to a son even in her old age.
Isaac overcame his own selfish desires and surrendered to God in faith, and Jacob clung to God’s promise in blessing his sons.
In Hebrews 11:22, we see the extraordinary faith of Joseph, even in his dying breath. Joseph’s faith had been cultivated from an early age. (You can find the story of Joseph’s life in Genesis 38-50.) As a teenager, his jealous brothers had sold him into slavery. Joseph was taken to Egypt and purchased by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph was faithful in every job he was given and Potiphar promoted him to be overseer of the household. When Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him, Joseph was sent to prison, but he trusted God and was faithful. He was a model prisoner, God was merciful to him, and the prison keeper put him in charge of all the prisoners. Joseph humbly served in the prison and remained faithful to God in all he did. By faith, he was able to interpret dreams, ultimately even Pharaoh’s dreams, and was given a place of authority, second in command over all the land of Egypt. In his place of power, Joseph devised a plan that saved Egypt from starvation during seven years of famine in the land. During that time he was reunited with his brothers, and he never held a grudge. Instead, Joseph showed compassion and moved his whole family to Egypt where he could care for them and provide them with food. He faithfully served Pharaoh and the Egyptian people and his family until the day of his death. He never stopped trusting in God. And his faith honored God at the end.
In his commentary, on the Book of Genesis, Matthew Henry wrote, “faith has its greatest work to do at last, to help other believers to finish well, to die to the Lord, so as to honor Him, by patience, hope, and joy—so as to leave a witness behind them of the truth of God’s word and the excellency of his ways.” And that is exactly what Joseph did! "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones" (Hebrews 11:22).
Do you remember the promise God made to Abraham 200 years earlier (Genesis 15:18-21) and later repeated to Isaac (Genesis 26:3) and then to Jacob (Genesis 28:13)? He promised their multitude of descendants would become a great nation and inherit the land of Canaan. But at the time of Joseph’s death, his generation of descendants were settled in Egypt and thriving. No one was even thinking of leaving. It would be another two hundred years before God would fulfill His promise. But Joseph had faith! As he breathed his last, he reminded his family of the promises and encouraged them, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here”. Joseph did not want a permanent grave in Egypt. He wanted his bones to be part of the exodus out of Egypt, bound for the Promised Land. He had faith that time would come and he let his brothers know, encouraging their faith.
Joseph practiced his faith his whole life long. He clung to God, obeyed Him, and honored Him when he was a slave,
when he was unjustly treated,
when he was a prisoner,
when he was the second most powerful man in Egypt.
Joseph never gave up when things looked darkest,
never took personal credit for success,
never failed to give glory to God,
and was never corrupted by power.
Joseph didn’t give in to self-pity when his brothers sold him into slavery,
he didn’t fight back when he was unjustly treated,
he didn’t give up when he was thrown into prison.,
when he was given power, he used it to help others and not himself,
and he never sought revenge for what his brothers had done to him.
At the end of his life, Joseph’s faith was strong and shone brightly for all to see as he looked ahead to the fulfillment of God’s promises. Joseph’s faith did not fail. In fact, it seems his faith grew stronger through every trial. So even though he died in Egypt, he knew the Promised Land was a future reality. God had never let him down. In all he had been through, God had never failed him. He knew God’s promises would not fail and he shared his assurance with his family by reminding them of the promises and commanding that his bones be taken along when God moved them to the Promised Land.
It was faith in God that sustained Joseph all through his life and gave him strength. At the end of his life, Joseph never looked back. He passed his faith on to his brothers -- and to you and me -- with the encouragement to look to the future and to the fulfillment of all God’s promises. So lets be like Joseph. Let’s practice our faith every day, let’s cling to God’s promises in His Word, and let’s keep looking to the future, knowing God’s promises are real and will never fail. Let’s strive to be like Joseph and become an example and an encouragement to others.
By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff (Hebrews 11:21).
In Hebrews 11, we have been considering the importance of faith while looking at the lives of Old Testament men and women of faith. Hebrews 11:21 speaks of the faith of Jacob. The thing that struck me while thinking of Jacob’s faith, is the importance of faith in our old age. Faith is not something that grows dim as we grow older. As we grow older, our knees may become weak and give out, our hearing may decline, and our eyes may grow dim, but our faith should grow stronger and shine brighter than ever for everyone to see.
God had promised Abraham, in his younger days (Genesis 12, 15), that He would bless him, make him a great nation, make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens, and give them the land of Canaan. But Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, was not born until Abraham was one hundred years old! Abraham had slipped up a bit in his faith and tried to help God by having a child by his wife’s maid, Hagar. But the promise was not to be fulfilled through that child. What joy must have filled the household when Abraham’s wife gave birth to Isaac, the son of promise. But then God tested Abraham’s faith and commanded him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. We saw in Hebrews 11:17-19, Abraham’s faithful response to that command and God’s provision of an alternate sacrifice. Abraham was over one hundred years old when his faith was sorely tested and his faith prevailed and brought blessing.
In Hebrews, our attention has also been directed to the faith of Isaac in his old age when his eyes were dim and he wanted to bless his son before he died. We saw that his faith did not seem so strong as he tried to manipulate God by the giving the blessing to Esau, knowing that was wrong. But when his sin became clear to him, Isaac surrendered to God and his faith shone brightly.
Toward the end of their lives, neither Abraham nor Isaac had seen the fulfillment of God’s promise of the land of Canaan nor had they become a great nation and their descendants were not as numerous as the stars in heaven. But that did not dim their faith, for they looked to the future, believing God would keep His word. For faith is having confidence in things you do not see (Hebrews 11:1). They knew the important things were invisible, intangible and part of God’s sovereign plan .
Hebrews 11:21 gives a glimpse of Jacob following in the footsteps of faith of his father and grandfather. This verse reflects upon the incidents of Genesis 48 when Jacob was on his deathbed. Many years before, his favorite son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery by his brothers, and Jacob thought he was dead. By God’s grace, Joseph was very much alive and had risen to become the “prime minister” of Egypt (second in command only to Pharaoh). After learning that Joseph was alive, Jacob took his family, 75 persons, to Egypt to escape the famine in the land and to be near Joseph. Seventeen years later, when Jacob was old and near death, Joseph took his two sons to pay their respects to the venerable patriarch. Jacob mustered all his strength, sat up in his bed, and asked for his grandsons, Ephraim and Manassah, to be brought near to him. He laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim and his left on the head of Manasseh and blessed the boys and adopted them as his sons. Thus Ephraim and Manasseh each became a tribe of Israel along with Joseph’s brothers and each of them received an inheritance in the land when God’s promise to the patriarchs was fulfilled. Jacob's faith looked ahead to that day.
Jacob, although knowing he would die in Egypt, had faith that God would keep His promise and take his descendants into the Promised Land. Knowing this, he gave a blessing to his grandsons and then he worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. Jacob worshiped God, knowing in his heart that the promised blessings given to his grandfather, Abraham, his father, Isaac, and passed on to him would be fulfilled. Jacob’s faith is also seen in his last words to all his sons in Genesis 49:29-30, “I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah….in the land of Canaan [the Promised Land]”.
Jacob is an illustration of what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. Jacob was a man of faith who struggled much of his life with the reality of faith. But when he came to die, Jacob looked back over his life and remembered God’s blessings, God’s promises, God’s leading, and God’s redemption (Genesis 48:3-4, 15-16). In spite of (and often because of) struggles, his faith had grown and at the end his faith was strong and a living testimony that God’s promises are real and reliable.
May the lives of the patriarch’s inspire your faith in God and help your faith to flourish in all circumstances all through your life,
I have been involved in Disciplers since 1987, as a discussion leader, teacher, writer, and now as director. I am profoundly committed to the stewardship of this ministry which God has entrusted to me for a time. God’s word is the chief joy of my life. I cherish my personal time in the word, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share His word with you, my fellow disciples in Christ.