ŇBy faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.Ó Hebrews 11:21.
In these words the Holy Ghost lays down the notable and worthy example of JacobŐs faith; which is here commended by two actions:
I. First, his blessing of the two sons of Joseph;
II. Secondly, his adoring or worshipping of God.
I. In the first action, consider these points:
1. The blessing itself;
2. The circumstances belonging to the same. As:
(1) The time when Jacob blessed them, that is, when he was dying;
(2) Secondly, by what means he did bless them, namely, by faith;
(3) Thirdly, the parties blessed, Ephraim and Manasseh.
Of these in order.
1. First, for the blessing. Of this kind of blessing we entreated in the former verse in the example of IsaacŐs faith; and therefore need not now repeat the same. Only this we must remember, that this blessing of Jacob is not the common or ordinary blessing of a father, but the extraordinary blessing of an holy patriarch and prophet of God. The blessing itself stands in three things:
(1) Jacob makes the sons of Joseph his own sons, adopting them and taking them into his family. And this is the meaning of those words in Genesis where Jacob saith as he is blessing them, Let my name be named upon them, and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 48:16), that is, they shall be received into my family, and be my children, called after my name.
(2) He gives them two portions in the land of Canaan; for Jacob was made an instrument of God by way of prophecy to distinguish and divide the land of Canaan among his children.
(3) He doth as a prophet, by the spirit of prophecy, foretell the condition and estate of Ephraim and Manasseh in their posterity; to wit, that they should be great nations, and of them should come two great people.
In these three things doth JacobŐs blessing consist.
Out of this blessing of Jacob we learn two things:
(1) First, that God alloweth this liberty to a master of the family, to adopt and choose for the upholding of his house, a child or children, in the want of an issue from his own body. For here old Jacob for the continuance of his posterity, and the enlarging of the church of God, adopteth his own sonŐs sons into his own family, to be his own sons; and this he doth by faith. And therefore a lord and master in his family may do the like; but yet with this caveat: he must ever take heed that in this adopting he do not unjustly hinder his own issue or kindred.
(2) Again, whereas Jacob blessed these two sons of Joseph, by foretelling the particular estate of their posterity, for their portion in the land of Canaan; here we learn that in many things God doth vouchsafe to reveal His will and counsel in a special manner unto them that be His children; as in this place he revealeth unto Jacob the particular estate of the two sons of Joseph. In like manner, when God was to destroy the Sodomites; Shall I hide (saith the Lord) from Abraham that thing which I do, seeing that Abraham shall be indeed a mighty nation? For I know him that he will command his sons and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord (Gen. 18:17-19). And the prophet Amos saith (Amos 3:7), Surely the Lord will do nothing but he will reveal His secrets to His servants the prophets. So saith our Saviour Christ to his disciples, Ye are my friends; and He giveth a reason, because (saith He) I have revealed unto you all that I have heard of my Father (John 15:15). So that those which are (in Christ) the friends of God, they shall in a particular and special manner know those things which God will not reveal unto others. And look as this is here verified to Jacob in a special manner, so it is true generally in all GodŐs servants and children; he revealeth some particular things unto them, more than he doth unto others. For besides that general knowledge which they have in His Word, He reveals particularly unto them the knowledge of their own election, of their justification, sanctification and glorification to come; though not by way of prophecy, yet by the working of His Spirit in the ministry and meditation of His Word.
2. And thus much of the blessing. Now follow the circumstances.
(1) The first circumstance to be considered is the time when Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph; noted in these words: When he was dying, that is, being ready to die, not in the act of dying.
In this circumstance we may learn two especial duties: (i) one for masters of families, (ii) the other for ministers of GodŐs Word; for here Jacob bears the person not only of a father, but of a prophet.
(i) First, masters of families are here taught to set in order their houses and families whereof they have charge before they die; for Jacob, having a great charge and many children, calls for the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, before his death, and makes them his own, to perfect his family.
Question: How (will some ask) must a man set his house in order when he dies? Answer: By doing two things after JacobŐs example; for first, he disposeth of his temporal things, and distributeth his temporal inheritance in the land of Canaan. Secondly, he gives them charge of some duties concerning himself, and some others, especially concerning religion and GodŐs worship, and then he dies; and it is said, When he had made an end of giving charge unto his sons, he plucked up his feet into his bed and gave up the ghost (Gen. 49:33). So likewise, masters of families, they must set their houses in order by the like of two duties: (a) By a due disposing of their temporal goods and possessions; and (b) By giving exhortation and charge unto their children and family concerning the worship of God and the practice of true religion. This (as we may also read in 1 Kings 2) was the practice of good king David; when he was about to die, and as he saith, to go the way of all flesh, he calls for Solomon his son, and makes him king in his stead, and gives him a most notable charge concerning GodŐs worship (v.3). Read the place, it is worth the marking. So the prophet speaks when he comes to Hezekiah from the Lord, he aims at these two; and bids him set his house in order, for he must die and not live (Isa 38:1); and so ought every master of a family, after their example, both learn and practice these two duties.
(ii) Secondly, GodŐs ministers must hence learn their duty; for Jacob was a notable minister and prophet in GodŐs church, which was then his family. Jacob he blessed the sons of Joseph, that he might receive them into his family, and into the covenant; that so he might continue and preserve the church of God after his death; for look as Isaac his father did call him into the covenant and blessed him, so dealeth he with the two sons of Joseph. And accordingly every minister of God, in his place, ought to have special care to convey and derive true religion, and the gospel of Christ from hand to hand, so much as they can while they live; that so after their death it may be published and maintained. In the New Testament we have a worthy commandment for this purpose; St Paul having instructed and taught Timothy in the ways of godliness and religion, chargeth him that what things he had heard and learned of him, the same he should deliver to faithful men, which should be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2); that so GodŐs gospel and religion going on from hand to hand, and from person to person, might increase from time to time. St PeterŐs practice herein was notable (2 Pet. 1:15), I will endeavour therefore always, that ye may be able to have remembrance of the things of God after my departure; having professed before that while he lived he would stir them up by putting them in remembrance (v.13). And in like sort, all GodŐs faithful ministers must do their whole endeavour before they die, that the gospel may be preached when they are gone.
(2) Second circumstance. By what means did Jacob bless the two sons of Joseph? Answer: By faith in the promises of God; so the text saith, By faith Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph. And if we consider the matter well, we shall see it was a notable faith; for he was now a poor pilgrim in Egypt, and yet by faith gives them portions in the land of Canaan,
Question: Why (will some say) did he not keep himself in the land of Canaan? Answer: Jacob indeed dwelt there for a time, but yet as a sojourner, having no more liberties than he bought for himself; no not so much as water for his camels, or a place to bury the dead; and besides, he was driven out of this his own land by famine, and was fain to fly into Egypt for food and sustenance; and there to live as a poor pilgrim and stranger, forth of his own country; and yet for all this extremity (as though he had been some mighty potentate of the world, or some emperor) he makes his will, and bequeathes unto his children the land of Canaan, allotting to everyone his part and portion; which must needs be a work of a notable faith, wonderfully apprehending and applying the promise of God.
In his example we are taught a notable duty in the matter of our salvation; whenas any of us (by reason of the rigorous temptation of sin and Satan, and by their assaults) shall seem to ourselves to be (as it were) thrust out of our inheritance in the heavenly Canaan, what must we do? We must not despair; but even then set before our eyes, and call to remembrance the promises of God made unto us in Christ, concerning life everlasting; and thereon we must rest and stay ourselves. Then let temptations assault us, and drive us whither they can; still we must hold fast the promise with both hands of faith; and above hope, by faith appoint and design unto ourselves, a part and portion in the kingdom of heaven. And so doing, we shall be true Israelites, and true followers of this faithful patriarch; who by faith (beyond all likelihood) allots the land of Canaan to his posterity.
(3) Third circumstance. The parties whom he blessed; namely, the two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim. Hereof we may read at large (Gen. 48:8ff.), where among many things, observe this one: Joseph brings his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim, unto Jacob his father, that he might bless them as he lay on his bed. Now JosephŐs mind was that Manasseh (the elder) should have the chiefest blessing; and therefore he set Manasseh at JacobŐs right hand, and Ephraim (the younger) at his left. But Jacob being to bless them, putting his right hand on EphraimŐs head, and the left on the head of Manasseh; whereby he gave the birthright (which was a principal prerogative) unto Ephraim, contrary to JosephŐs desire. Unto Manasseh he gave a blessing also, but far inferior to EphraimŐs. Now here we may not think that Jacob did this upon any fond affection (as parents oftentimes do, because they love one child better than another) but he did it after a special manner; by the direction and instinct of GodŐs Spirit, which so appointed it. For, when Jacob blessed them, he knew not (of his own knowledge, by the benefit of his senses), which was Ephraim and which Manasseh. Again, look as Jacob gave the blessing at this time, the principal unto Ephraim, and the lesser to Manasseh; so afterwards they came to pass. For (as we may read) the tribe of Ephraim was far more populous and more glorious than the tribe of Manasseh. And therefore, in the books of the prophets (Hos. 4:17, 5:9, 6:3 &c.) we shall find that the name of Ephraim is given to all the ten tribes; and they are called by that name because it was the most noble tribe of all, and the most valiant, and (as it were) the shelter of all the rest. Yea, further, of this tribe came (1 Chr. 7:27) Jehoshua, that noble captain; and (1 Kin. 11:26) Jeroboam and many other mighty kings of Israel.
Where we may learn that God is the disposer of honours and dignities in this world. He giveth those to whom He will, to some more, and to some less, as pleaseth Him; yea, sometimes he raiseth up men of base and low degree to great dignity; as David saith (Psa. 113:7), He raiseth the needy out of the dust, and lifteth the poor out of the dung. Now whence comes this? Is their hearing, their great strength, their beauty, or wonderful skill and knowledge, the cause of their preferment? or the wealth of their parents, or anything in them? No surely; if we speak of the first cause, we see in this example that the preferment of Ephraim above Manasseh was for no cause in Ephraim; for what was in Ephraim that was not in Manasseh, when Jacob blessed them? Surely nothing; for he was but a child as the other was, and a younger child also; but he was preferred by reason of GodŐs good will towards him. And so it is with all those that are advanced to preferment in this world. Wherefore, seeing honour and dignity cometh not from themselves, or anything in them; therefore they must not ascribe it to their own wit, learning, strength or friends; but wholly to the gift of God as the first cause; and so must labour to use it to the honour of Him that only gives it, of His good pleasure; else they sacrifice to their own net (Hab. 1:16).
Question: Why doth the Holy Ghost in this place put JosephŐs name down, who was not blessed, and conceal the names of the two children that were blessed? Answer: If we read the history in Genesis, we shall see the reason hereof. For, when Joseph heard that his father Jacob was sick; though he was a mighty prince and a noble potentate among the Egyptians, and his father but a poor pilgrim; yet he comes to his sick father before his death, and brings his two sons with him, to have his father to bless them before he died; and therefore the Holy Ghost here nameth Joseph, to shew unto us what respect he had of his fatherŐs blessing; he made more account thereof, and did more esteem it, that so he might have his sons within the covenant, than of all the kingdoms of the world; and therefore he brings them both to his father to be blessed, a little before his death.
Now look what mind and affection Joseph bears, the same should be in every one of us. Whatsoever our estate be, whether honourable, or base and mean; we must with Joseph esteem more of GodŐs covenant, and to be members of GodŐs church, than of all the honour in the world besides; and we must esteem our place and preferments that we have, or our children may have, to be nothing in comparison of the blessing of God and His favour. Yea, we must choose with Joseph rather to leave our honours and dignities for a time, or (if it were) for ever, than to lose the blessing of GodŐs grace; and blessed shall those fathers be with Joseph, who had rather have their children blessed of God than advanced in the world.
II. The second action of JosephŐs faith is in these words: And worshipped on the end of his staff.
And it is a notable work for the commendation of his faith. But before we come unto it, there are certain questions which may profitably be considered, as,
1. First, for the translation, how the words should be read. The papists read them thus: and adored the top of his rod; that is (say they), the top of JosephŐs sceptre who came to visit him. From whence they would gather and ground their abominable idolatry, in the adoration of creatures, and namely, of holy things, as crucifixes, relics, images, and also of God at and before such holy things. But we must know that their translation is false and erroneous, and cannot be justified. Howsoever they may bring some menŐs witness and testimony for the same. For in reading it thus, and adored the top of his rod; they leave out a substantial word of the text, to wit, this word upon; whereby they corrupt the text, and deprave the meaning of the Holy Ghost.
Again, their observation and collection hence is most abominable; for to worship an image or other holy thing, or God Himself in or at the same, is flatly forbidden in the second commandment, Thou shalt not make to thyself and graven imageÉ. Thou shalt not bow down to them. But our translation in this place is true and right, according to the words of the text and the meaning of the Holy Ghost, that he worshipped upon the end of his staff.
2. Yet further there may be a question moved about the words; for if we read the history in Genesis, it is there said that Jacob worshipped towards the end or top of his bed (Gen. 47:31).
Now there is a great difference between these two, to worship on the top of his staff, and on the top of his bed. How therefore can they stand together? Answer: They may stand well together, and be both true; for when Jacob was about to give up the ghost, and was ready to die, he raised up himself upon the pillow towards the bedŐs head, and thereon rested his body. Now because his body was weak and feeble, he stayed himself also upon his staff; and thus comparing the places together, we see there is no repugnancy in them. Again, this we must know, that the same sentence of Scripture may be diversely read in divers places of Scripture, without any impeachment to the truth, certainty or perfection of Scripture; for when the Holy Ghost speaketh the same thing often, yet in different terms (as in this place), the diversity of words doth enlarge or open the sense and meaning, but no way corrupt or deprave the same. And thus much for the words.
Now to come to the fact itself; in JacobŐs worship, three circumstances are to be considered:
1. The occasion.
2. The manner of it.
3. The time.
1. The occasion of JacobŐs worship here spoken of (as we may read in Gen. 47), was this: When the time drew near that Jacob must die, he called for his son Joseph, and charged him deeply that he should not bury him in Egypt when he was dead, but that he should carry him thence, and bury him in the burial of his fathers. Joseph consents unto his fatherŐs request; and yet Jacob for certainty makes him to swear that he shall do so, and Joseph sware unto him. Now upon this issue that Jacob had with Joseph, the text saith that Israel worshipped towards the bedŐs head; that is, he praised God and gave thanks unto Him for this benefit that he should be buried with his fathers Abraham and Isaac. And yet this benefit did not so much concern himself as his children; for the carrying of his bones thither was to be a token and pledge, and a certain assurance unto them, that the land of Canaan should be theirs, and that God would bring them thither again.
In this circumstance, observe a notable duty belonging unto fathers and masters of families; they must in their lifetime have care of the posterity, and use all the means to help them and benefit them in their faith; not only while they are alive, but also after they are dead, after the example of this holy patriarch; and when they have obtained this benefit for them, they must be glad in their hearts and rejoice, and thereupon take occasion to praise the Lord, as Jacob did in this place.
2. Second circumstance. The manner how he worshipped; which is set down in these words, on the end of his staff. This circumstance is worth the marking; for good Jacob, by reason of the weakness of his body and old age, was not able to come forth of his bed and kneel down or prostrate himself; but raised himself upon his pillow towards his bedŐs head; and by reason of feebleness, being not yet able to sit upright, he doth lean and bear himself upon his staff.
Here we learn that we must not only worship God with our souls and hearts, but with our bodies also; for God hath created both, and therefore will be worshipped in both (1 Cor. 6:20). Old Jacob might have excused himself, that by reason of the weakness of his body he was not able to adore God with any bodily reverence; but yet we see he leans upon his staff; and so making supply to his bodily weakness, adoreth God with his body.
Question: In what kind of gesture must we worship God with our bodies? Answer: The Word of God doth not prescribe any, by way of limitation. For sometimes our Saviour Christ prayed kneeling (Luke 22:41), sometimes grovelling (Matt. 26:39), sometimes standing (John 11:41), as also did the apostles. And the Scripture approveth the publican, who stood afar off and prayed (Luke 18:13). Elias also (1 Kin. 18:42) is said to pray with his head between his legs; so that we have no certain form prescribed us; only this, we must use that gesture which may best set forth and declare our humble heart and holy affection unto God.
Here then is confuted an opinion of those which think that a man may worship God with his heart, and yet worship images with his body; that he may be present at idolatrous worship, yet keep his heart unto God. But JacobŐs behaviour in this place doth both confute and condemn them; for he thought his body as due to God as his soul; and therefore worshipped God with both.
3. Third circumstance. The time when he worshipped God thus: namely, when he was dying, even then he worshipped God. In this circumstance we may note divers things:
(1) First, here behold the bad practice of the world; for many men when they are dying nowadays, are so far from following JacobŐs example in worshipping and praising God; that they are fain to call for men to teach them how they should worship God; having spent the former part of their life carelessly in regard of their souls; following worldly profits and pleasures, never thinking of their duty to God till they die. But what a fearful course is this, that men should thus brutishly go on from day to day, not knowing how to worship God. Well, all such as love their own souls, and would be like to godly Jacob; or (as our Saviour Christ said to Nathaniel) would be true Israelites (John 1:47), the natural sons of old Israel indeed; they must have care so to live in this world that they may worship God when they die; and therefore they must not defer, but learn betimes the knowledge and fear of God; that when death comes, they may be able to shew forth and practice the same. It is a lamentable thing to consider how the devil bewitcheth menŐs hearts, so as they live in the world as though they should never go out of it; never caring for religion till the day of death come upon them, and then it is too late to learn. But this is to follow Esau and not Jacob; who is therefore condemned by the Holy Ghost.
(2) Secondly, again, in this that Jacob worshipped God at his death, we learn this: that as men live, so they die, for the most part. Jacob was brought up in GodŐs worship, and there lived all his life long; and look as he lived, so he died; for when he died, he worshipped God, resting his body on the end of his staff. This same truth is verified now, and shall be for ever; let a man worship God through the course of his life, and when he dieth he shall be able to worship and praise God. On the other side (take notice of it) he that lives in covetousness, in profaneness, in fornication and wantonness, for the most part so dies. Come to a covetous man at his death, and talk with him, and you shall find nothing in him ordinarily, but raving, and talking about his bargains, his bills, and indentures, and other worldly things. And so we may say of other lewd livers: look what mind they had while they were living, and that shall you find most in their mouths while they are dying; which shews plainly that as men live, so they die.
But some will say that oftentimes the godly man raves and speaks lewdly, and (it may be) profanely before his death. Answer: It is true indeed; the best man is not freed from any kind of bodily sickness, but is subject to them, as well as the wicked; as to burning fevers and such like; by the violence and rage of which diseases they are often driven to rave, to speak fondly, and sometimes lewdly; yea (it may be) profanely. But what is that to the purpose? For though a godly man (for the time of his fit) cannot express the grace of his heart, but rather the corruption of his nature; yet when he hath recovered himself, he is sorry for the same, and is then ready and willing to praise God with all the heart. So that if we would die well, as Jacob did, praising God, then let us lead our lives as he did; namely by faith, and the direction of his Word and promises. Then come death when it will, and how it will; we may indeed be sore assaulted by sickness and temptation, but yet we shall never be overcome; for God is faithful that hath promised an issue to his children in temptation (1 Cor. 10:13).
(3) Lastly, whereas Jacob worshipped God at his death; here we learn that sound zeal will never decay. Many men have zeal indeed, but it comes only from the strength and soundness of their bodily constitution; and look, as strength decays, so doth that kind of zeal. But sound zeal will not decay and weaken with the body; but (as David saith of the righteous Psa. 92:12,14), they will flourish like a palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon, it shall still bring forth fruit in a manŐs age, and flourish. This we see was true in Jacob; for though he were old and feeble with sickness, yet he shewed forth sound zeal in his heart at the hour of his death. Even so will it be with us that profess religion; if zeal be sound in our hearts, it will shew itself; and the older we are, the more fruits of grace we shall bring forth; and then shew forth more true zeal than in younger years. For though bodily strength decays, yet sound zeal will never decay, then will zeal flourish (if it be sound) like to the palm tree, which will bud and sprout, though the roots of it be cut off. Wherefore, if we would shew forth zeal in our old age, we must get soundness of it in our youth; for that will put forth itself in the time of death.
And thus much of JacobŐs example.