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,