By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. – Hebrews 11:21 ESV
Jacob, the son of Isaac, had lived a full and far-from-boring life. He and his mother had conspired to deceive Isaac in order to receive the blessing reserved for the first-born son. Even though he and his brother, Esau, were twins, Jacob had been born second, coming out of his mother’s womb hanging on to his brother’s heel. Which is how he got his name, Ya`aqob, which meant, “he takes by the heel or he cheats.” Jacob would live up to his name, living a life in self-imposed exile after having cheated his brother out of his blessing. Upon leaving, Isaac reiterated his blessing to Jacob, saying, “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4 ESV). Even while traveling to the land of Haran where his uncle Laban lived, Jacob had a dream and received a vision and a word from God.
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 ESV
God reaffirmed the blessing Jacob had received from Isaac. In spite of the deceit and trickery Jacob and Rebehak utilized to get the blessing, God clearly affirmed it. It had been His plan all along, as He had told Rebekah before the boys were even born. “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). So Jacob would spend years living his life in exile, living in a foreign land far away from his father and mother. Yet in time, Jacob decided to return home. During his time in Haran, he had deceived and been deceived. He had married multiple wives, who had born him children. He had grown rich and prosperous. But he was ready to go home and face the anger of his brother Esau. On his way, he had a divine encounter with God. He actually wrestled with God, demanding that He bless him. And God did, saying, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). Jacob had spent his entire life wrestling with God, trying to do things his way. And when God said that he had prevailed, he wasn’t saying that Jacob had bested Him, He was simply saying that Jacob had managed to survive. The Hebrew word is yakol and it means “to be able, be able to gain or accomplish, be able to endure, be able to reach.” Jacob had endured his exile. He had survived his own life of deceit. He was going to gain all that God had promised. And he was going to learn that it was all God’s doing, not his own. Jacob would make it safely back to the land of Canaan, receive a surprisingly warm welcome from his brother, Esau, and have yet another visit from God.
God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:9-12 ESV
Jacob would father twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son and his favoritism would eventually cause his other sons to sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph would end up in Egypt where, through an amazing chain of God-ordained events, he would become the second most powerful ruler in the land. In the meantime, Jacob and his remaining sons would find themselves dealing with a terrible famine in the land of Canaan, which would eventually force them to seek out aid in the land of Egypt. This would lead to a surprising reunion with Joseph, who would end up not only forgiving his brothers, but providing them with protection and land. “Thus Israel [Jacob] settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years” (Genesis 47:27-28 ESV). When the time came for Jacob to die, he asked Joseph to bring in his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh so that he might bless them. In an interesting turn of events, Joseph presented his two sons to Jacob in order for him to bless them. He held Manasseh, the eldest, in his left hand, so that Jacob could easily bless him with his right hand. He held Ephraim in his right hand, so that he would receive the blessing of the second-born from Jacob’s left hand. The Scriptures tell us “Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth” (Genesis 48:12 ESV). With his head bowed, he did not see his father, Jacob, switch his hands and place his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger of the two. The passage makes it clear that Jacob’s eyesight was dim from old age and he could not see. With his hands switched, Jacob pronounced his blessing:
“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” – Genesis 48:15-16 ESV
When Joseph saw what had been done, he tried to get his father to correct his apparent mistake. But Jacob refused, saying, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 ESV). You might think that Jacob, because of his poor eyesight, inadvertently and mistakenly gave the blessing of the first-born to the wrong son. But the mention of Jacob’s poor eyesight is there to indicate that he was having to trust God for what he was doing. He had received a divine directive from God to give Ephraim the blessing reserved for the firstborn. It was God’s will and what Jacob did, he did by faith. He had to trust God with the outcome. He did not fully understand it or know how it would all turn out, but he knew that God was in control. He didn’t need strong eyesight, he simply needed strong faith. Jacob would die in the land of Egypt, never returning to the land of Canaan, but he trusted that God would bring his people back to the land and fulfill His promise to make them prosperous and to bless them. Jacob blessed his two grandsons, “bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21 ESV). His hope was in God. His assurance was in the promises of God. He had a strong conviction that God knew what He was doing and he willingly obeyed God’s wishes. Jacob might not have always lived his life by faith, but he ended it that way – trusting God for the fate of his family and the future fulfillment of His promises.