“By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21).
“I know, my son, I know.” In the midst of a rather puzzling moment in the life of Jacob, we find some of the most tender and endearing words the patriarch ever uttered to his son Joseph. Life has not been easy for these two progenitors of the covenant. Jacob, in his own life, has seen many ups and downs. Before he was even born, he struggled with his brother, Esau (Gen. 25:22). From the moment of his birth, he was the heel-holding son of Issac and Rebekah, much to the chagrin of his older brother. Nevertheless, Jacob was the son who was sovereignly chosen and blessed by God. After what might appear to be one of the most traumatic birth narratives in Scripture (Gen. 25), Jacob supplants his older brother Esau, setting the stage for a lifelong sibling rivalry. Jacob will not only supplant his older brother, but on more than one occasion will deceive him, as well as his father Isaac, in order to secure the blessing of God. What is striking about the life of Jacob is that though Jacob’s ways often appear to be more crafty and manipulative than faithful, God is still gracious to bless him and to mold him into a man of faith.
Jacob’s relationship with Joseph has also been a heavily burdened one. Who could forget the fatherly travail that was forced on Jacob when his own sons conspired to kill Joseph for being favored both by God and by Jacob? How Jacob’s heart must have broken when his sons brought him the report that Joseph had been torn to pieces by wild animals and nothing more than his bloodied cloak remained. Yet, the truth was that the brothers, who nearly killed Joseph, pitifully decided to sell him to traders headed to Egypt and to lie to Jacob about the death of his son and their brother.
But here lies Jacob on his deathbed, with none other than Joseph beside him. The fact that Joseph is alive in Egypt is no less miraculous than the fact that Jacob is. Both men are tokens of God’s grace. Joseph was clearly preserved by the grace of God not only for himself but that he might also be a blessing to the family of God—the family of Jacob. God preserved Joseph’s life when his brothers sought to kill him. God preserved Joseph’s life when Potiphar had him cast into prison, where he pined away in withering isolation for years. God preserved Joseph’s life because it was part of His sovereign plan to bring about blessing for the people of God and to preserve life. In short, what so many men “meant for evil” God sovereignly turned to good in ways that only He in His infinite wisdom and might could accomplish.
As Jacob lies on his deathbed in Egypt, he is comforted by Joseph, the son he thought was dead, as well as the grandkids he never imagined he would get to see. It truly is a blessed departure, one he enjoys only because God has kept His promises to Jacob and to Joseph, just as He had to Abraham and to Isaac. God is not only good and gracious; He is sovereign, powerful, and mysterious. His ways are above our ways and His will is beyond our comprehension. Who but a loving heavenly father could create such a context for Jacob to close his eyes in this world as he prepares to open them in the next. Here, as these two patriarchal pilgrims prepare to bid their final farewells, once more God will display His electing purposes to bless as He sees fit to bless.