Hebrews 11 begins like this: Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For by it our ancestors won God’s approval.
We are going to settle in Genesis 48 today and you can begin there in your bibles. If you don’t have a bible of your own or you don’t have it with you today there are some black bibles in the pew racks. Today’s text can be found on page 43 in those bibles. And if you don’t have a bible of your own that you can read and understand please take that black bible home as our gift to you.
Faith, the unknown author of Hebrews tells us, is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. And by faith our ancestors won God’s approval. The chapter then goes on to list many heroes of Scripture and their great acts of faith. Abel’s sacrifice, Enoch’s ascension, Noah’s building of the ark, Abraham’s radical obedience and on and on. And when we arrive at verse 21 we find Genesis 48 encapsulated in one sentence:
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and he worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. (Heb. 11:21)
If we take the definition of faith in Hebrews one and lay it over this verse we’d find that Jacob, by the reality of what is hoped for and the proof of what is not seen, when he was dying blessed each of Joseph’s sons—and he worshiped. Jacob’s faith was so fully invested in the God of his fathers that the last meaningful action he takes on this side of eternity is to worship Him by passing on His covenant blessing.
Commentator Kent Hughes observed that Genesis 48 gives a remarkable portrait of an old man who took full charge of his own death. His faith on his deathbed was the singular triumph of his life. And there, while he did nothing that today is commonly referred to as worship, as there was no prayer or song, he intensely worshiped. This is because we worship when we, by faith, trust God for all of life and give ourselves to him.
I love that last line, because that’s a great measure of our faith, isn’t it? Do we trust God for all of life and give ourselves fully to him? Jacob’s faithfulness in the last days of his life was conclusive evidence that he fully rested in God for his ultimate satisfaction.
Faith says I can’t, God can and I’m satisfied with the result. And Hebrews tells us a life of faith wins God’s approval. How can you be more satisfied with the outcome of your life than that?
We need to be aware, though, that this kind of talk is like a foreign language to our culture. According to one news report a survey earlier this year asked Americans “If you haven’t yet made it, what’s missing?”
That’s a pretty good question, isn’t it. Most of you could think of something. What’s that thing you need to be satisfied? What is the missing component to happiness in your life?
You probably won’t be surprised to find out that the number one response to that question was income. Maybe that’s your response. But I want to submit to you today that any response to the question ‘what do you need to be satisfied?’ that does not find its center in a relationship with Jesus Christ will leave you empty and your deathbed scene will be one of regret rather than one of faith that rests on God’s goodness in your life.
Tim Keller wrote the following about happiness and satisfaction:
What will make you happy? What will really give you a satisfying life? Almost always you will answer by thinking of something from outside of you. Some of us have our hopes set on romantic love, some on career, some on politics or a social cause, and some of us on money and what it will do for us. But whatever it is that makes you say, ‘If I have that, if I get there, then I’ll know I’m important, then I’ll know I have significance, then I know I’ll have security’ – it’s likely something outside of you. Yet Jesus says, there’s nothing outside of you that can truly satisfy the thirst that is deep down inside you.
Jacob’s satisfaction and his faith rested in the same place in Genesis 48. It’s because of his faith that on his deathbed Jacob could worship God because all of his needs in life had been met. There’s no salary, no relationship, no status, no home, no car that will provide that satisfaction. The hottest Christmas present on the market will be played with and discarded by New Year’s but Jesus said “No one who comes to me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty again.” (John 6:35)
How can we grow in this faith that reflects the truth that Jesus has met all of our needs? Let’s examine God’s goodness in Jacob’s life here in Genesis 48 to find out:
48 Some time after this, Joseph was told, “Your father is weaker.” So he set out with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed.
3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. 4 He said to me, ‘I will make you fruitful and numerous; I will make many nations come from you, and I will give this land as a permanent possession to your future descendants.’ 5 Your two sons born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt are now mine. Ephraim and Manasseh belong to me just as Reuben and Simeon do. 6 Children born to you after them will be yours and will be recorded under the names of their brothers with regard to their inheritance. 7 When I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died along the way, some distance from Ephrath in the land of Canaan. I buried her there along the way to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).
8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?”
9 And Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons God has given me here.”
So Israel said, “Bring them to me and I will bless them.” 10 Now his eyesight was poor because of old age; he could hardly see. Joseph brought them to him, and he kissed and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, but now God has even let me see your offspring.” 12 Then Joseph took them from his father’s knees and bowed with his face to the ground.
13 Then Joseph took them both—with his right hand Ephraim toward Israel’s left, and with his left hand Manasseh toward Israel’s right—and brought them to Israel. 14 But Israel stretched out his right hand and put it on the head of Ephraim, the younger, and crossing his hands, put his left on Manasseh’s head, although Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 Then 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 to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all harm— may he bless these boys. And may they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they grow to be numerous within the land.
17 When Joseph saw that his father had placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head, he thought it was a mistake and took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s. 18 Joseph said to his father, “Not that way, my father! 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 too will become a tribe, and he too will be great; nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his offspring will become a populous nation.” 20 So he blessed them that day, putting Ephraim before Manasseh when he said, “The nation Israel will invoke blessings by you, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”
21 Israel said to Joseph, “Look, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you back to the land of your fathers. 22 Over and above what I am giving your brothers, I am giving you the one mountain slope that I took from the Amorites with my sword and bow.”
The first thing we learn about faith in Genesis 48 is that it rests in what God has already accomplished.
When Joseph comes to visit his ailing father in the text we just read, Jacob is ill and nearing the end of his life. He summoned his strength to receive his son and immediately began recounting God’s faithfulness over the course of his life. Here’s something important for us to notice about Jacob and it reveals how faith changes our perspective. When Jacob tells Joseph his life story, the beginning of the story and the focus of the story is on God, not on Jacob. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, being focused on someone else over ourselves is not a strong suit for many of us, church.
Instead of resonating with Joseph’s God-focused narrative, we are more apt to follow the words of the revered American philosopher, Toby Keith. He said:
I want to talk about me
Want to talk about I
Want to talk about number one
Oh my me my
What I think, what I like, what I know, what I want, what I see
Jacob, however, wouldn’t have resonated with Toby Keith. His life story began when God appeared to him at Luz and was defined by God’s continuing faithfulness to him. Jacob described a God who promised to make him fruitful and numerous, bring forth from his family many nations, and give the land of Canaan to his descendants.
Which is what leads to the radical display of reliance on God that Jacob displays in verses 5-7. Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh into his family and promises them an inheritance. This action has been looked upon curiously by scholars. Many think that the following passage starting in verse 8 was a type of ancient formal adoption ceremony. This adoption probably grew from his deep love for both Rachel and her firstborn son Joseph. Rachel died young, and Jacob never fully got over her loss. Had she lived on she likely would have bore many more children and so Jacob adopts his grandsons, through Rachel’s son, into his family—into the place of the firstborn, which was the place of the blessing—a position we’ve seen throughout this study to be extremely important.
There are three things we need to notice about this adoption and we’ll run through them quickly. First, Ephraim and Manasseh did nothing to earn this adoption. They were culturally Egyptian. Ethnically, they were half-Egyptian. Up until the 70-members of Jacob’s family entered Egypt they had never met another Israelite. And yet, God—through Jacob—was saying to Ephraim and Manasseh, ‘You will not be Egyptians. You are mine and I have chosen to carry on my covenant blessing to my people through you.’ The blessing that was originally Reuben’s, by order of being the first-born son. But 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 tells us that (Reuben) He was the firstborn, but his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, because Reuben defiled his father’s bed. He is not listed in the genealogy according to birthright. 2 Although Judah became strong among his brothers and a ruler came from him, the birthright was given to Joseph.
Reuben did something to lose the blessing, but the ones who gained it didn’t earn it in any way. That’s just like our salvation isn’t it? We did nothing to gain it, yet God granted us the faith to call on His Son for salvation. Ephesians 2 calls faith God’s gift (verse 8). And with that gift of faith comes adoption into His family, which is the second thing we should notice about the adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh. It’s an illustration of our adoption into God’s family.
Ephesians 1:4-5 tell us For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. 5 He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One.
We did nothing to earn it, yet like Ephraim and Manasseh we have been adopted into the family of God.
Third, this adoption show us Jacob’s radical reliance on God. In verse 6 Jacob anticipated a question Joseph would likely have brought up at some point. He said I am adopting these two sons. The rest of your sons remain yours and will be recorded under the names of Ephraim and Manasseh for the purpose of inheritance.
Just by stating that there would be an inheritance Jacob is demonstrating incredible reliance on God. Remember where he’s at! He’s in a pagan nation in the midst of a global famine hundreds of miles from the land that God promised His family and yet he has the audacity to be thinking of an inheritance?
Jacob’s radical reliance on God to provide and inheritance for his offspring points us to the point of the next section. Verses 8-20 teach us that Faith Recognizes God’s Sovereignty.
Joseph brings Ephraim and Manasseh before Jacob and in verse 11 we find another marker of how God blessed Jacob abundantly in these last days of his life. He never expected to see Joseph alive again and is now meeting his grandsons! Faith trusts that God will be faithful even when logic and reason say otherwise.
The next scene, however, the one in verses 13-20 is kind of strange, isn’t it? Jacob goes to bestow this formal blessing on Joseph’s sons—by the way, so much of this scene is reminiscent of Isaac’s end of life blessing on his sons Jacob and Esau, from the blessing to the blindness. Moses continually draws from earlier scenes in Genesis to remind us of the big picture of what God is doing here. Again, we see the younger being the channel of blessing when every other culture of the time would have seen the older son as the bearer of the blessing. Here, despite Joseph’s effort to line the boys up perfectly so his feeble father could easily bless them, Jacob chooses the younger over the older.
Joseph thought surely Jacob was mistaken. “Not like that! This one is the firstborn.” God, throughout Genesis chose the younger son over the older despite conventional wisdom. Why? Because His ways are not our ways. You see, faith understands that God doesn’t always work in the way we want him to, or think we should—and faith is okay with that. Jacob had figured that out. He schemed to steal the birthright from Esau, but by this advanced age he fully understood that God, in His sovereignty, was going to work His will despite human interference. And so Jacob’s wisdom, shaped by the providence of God, led Jacob to choose the younger to bless the older.
And then finally, in verses 21-22 we se that Faith Endures to the End. Jacob stated very plainly that even though he was about to die he trusted that one day God would deliver on the promises He reiterated to Jacob over-and-over again throughout his life.
Faith accepts that God’s purpose is much bigger than my one individual life. And, in a chapter filled with odd behavior, Jacob does one last strange thing. He gifts something to Joseph that doesn’t currently belong to him. He gives him the land of Schechem where he once lived.
But he doesn’t currently possess that land. In granting Joseph this, Jacob is reiterating his belief that God would deliver to his descendants the land of Canaan.
Jacob’s faith in Genesis 48 is enshrined as an example for us to follow in Hebrews 11. We’ve been given many more examples across the history of God’s people in the centuries since Jacob lived.
On of my favorite examples of a fully-satisfied faith that endures to the end of a man named Adoniram Judson. If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share with you a brief sketch of his life as we close.
He was born in 1788 in Massachusetts and while in college it became clear to Judson that his faith was leading him toward the life of a missionary service in Asia.
He met a young lady named Ann in 1810 who was also committed to serving on the mission field and decided to write her father a letter asking for her hand in marriage. The letter reveals to us how committed Judson was to his faith:
I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left is heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteous, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Savior from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?
He made it clear that he had no hopes to return to the comfort of home.
The two were wed in February 1812 and 12 days later sailed for India. It was in India that they felt called to go further into the unstable nation of Burma. They were told not to go there by missionary friends. Missionaries had gone there before and had no success. They had either been killed or they gave up and left.
They arrived in Rangoon on July 13, 1813. It was an unwelcoming place. Temperatures were almost 110-degrees with no air conditioning, they battled cholera, malaria and dysentery.
Once they arrived they didn’t hear any word from home for two years. Adoniram Judson never saw his mother, father, or brother ever again after leaving home in 1812. In fact he didn’t return home for 33 years. And his work wasn’t easy.
He and Ann had three children. All of them died. The first was born dead just as they sailed from India to Burma. The second was born in Burma and died after 17 months. The third, a girl named Elizabeth, lived to age two before passing away.
In 1823 they moved from the capitol, Rangoon, to Ava—about 300 miles further inland. The next year the British navy attacked the capitol city and all westerners were viewed as spies. Adoniram was imprisoned on June 8, 1824. His feet were chained and at night they would run a long bamboo pole through the chain and lift his feet so that only his head and shoulders were on the ground.
Ann was pregnant at the time and walked two miles to the prison every day to plead Adoniram’s case. While in prison he told a fellow prisoner: It is possible my life will be spared; if so, with what ardor shall I pursue my work! If not—his will be done. The door will be opened for others who would do the work better.
He was released after 17 months because he was needed as a translator. 11 Months later, Ann died. Adoniram spiraled into a deep depression.
He struggled in that depression for four years before gradually climbing out of it and resuming his work. Eight years after Ann died he married again—this time to Sarah Boardman whose husband, also a missionary, had died. After 11 years, 8 children (five who survived childhood) Sarah became ill and together they decided to sail home so that she could receive medical care. However, she died during the voyage.
He spent barely a year in the US, but he did fall in love again. He married Emily Chubbuck and they went right back to Burma—arriving in November 1846.
They had four years of hard, but successful ministry in Burma. In April 1850 Judson himself fell very ill. The only hope was to try to send him home for care. On the ship he was violently ill. He had a friend with him, Thomas Ranney. Ranney recorded that one of Judson’s last sentences was “How few there are who die so hard.” At 4:15 on a Friday afternoon April 12, 1850 Adoniram Judson died.
He faith in God had seen him leave his loved ones behind, bury two wives and six of his 13 children. But in those 38 years he translated the entire Bible into the language of the native people in Burma.
When he arrived in Burma there were no Christians that we know of. He was the first, but not the only, missionary to find success in that nation. There were 10,000 Christians by 1851, the year after Judson died, and by 1926 there were 192,000. The Burmese Baptist Convention, founded by those who came after Judson, today has 922,000 members.
By faith, the Judsons dedicated themselves to fulfilling the Great Commission in Burma. His first wife, Ann, wrote to a friend early in her marriage:
I have . . . come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his Providence, shall see fit to place me - Ann Hasseltine Judson
I submit to you that by faith, Adoniram and Ann Judson died satisfied because they placed their faith Jesus Christ, the only who who can truly satisfy, and they let that faith guide their lives.
That same faith in God guided Jacob to die worshipping, and because of that we find in Hebrews that his life was approved by God. What better outcome can you hope for?
Jacob stopped relying on his own schemes and plans to bring about his deliverance. By the end of his life, Jacob was 100% convinced that God would deliver his family. Though, he never saw that deliverance with his own eyes. Neither did the next generation, or the next. It would be 400 years before Israel even escaped Egypt. But God came through.
God has come through for you and I as well. If you belong to Christ you’ve been adopted into His family and have already been gifted an inheritance today. Ephesians 2:8-9 says 8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.
The faith you have is a gift. You didn’t earn it and you don’t deserve it. It’s a gift that is available to everyone in this room. What are you resting in today? It’s very possible that you can live out this life and come to the end of your days in great comfort, yet with overwhelming sorrow. That would be the opposite of Adoniram Judsons’ life. He left this world in agony, yet with a comfort knowing his life was not wasted.
What’s that thing you need to be satisfied? In reality, it’s knowing that God has already met every need you have in the person of Jesus Christ.
Our sin separates us from God and earns his wrath. In His goodness, Christ humbled Himself to a lowly birth and a hard life filled with sorrow here on this earth all so that God would be gloried as He redeemed us for Himself through His death. On the cross, Christ took the wrath that we earned for ourselves and paid its penalty. Now, God looks on us and sees Christ’s righteousness. And it’s because we have the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we know our faith will endure to the end. Let’s pray.