Jacob A Dying

Genesis 48.

It is interesting to mark the comment of the Holy Ghost himself on the history which He Himself has penned: "Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope." As the Holy Ghost knew what particulars were to be recorded in the lives of those of old, so He can best fix our souls on the special points, of instruction which their histories are designed to afford. In the enumeration of the saints of old, borne witness to for their faith, we find our attention called to circumstances which we might hardly have noticed. The notice in Heb. 11 of the eventful life of Jacob, refers to this chapter of Genesis. "By faith Jacob, when He was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff." We see here that the Holy Ghost fastens on those instances in the lives of the saints of old which especially evinced faith. He characterizes faith as being precious. "By faith Jacob," etc.

There is great force in that word, "rich in faith." (James 2:5.) The soul which knows the God with whom it has to do is very "rich." It has pleased God to reveal Himself in all the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus, and these riches can alone be appreciated and possessed by faith. The Holy Ghost reveals them to those whom He has quickened to believe in Jesus. These are the riches which faith can call its own; they are inalienable. On this ground we find the apostle Paul taking the standing of one who was able to confer more than he had received, at the very moment he is thanking the Philippians for their liberality towards him. "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19.) The apostle had been well trained in that school which makes its scholars "rich in faith." He had, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, stripped himself of everything which might have been reckoned either a natural or an acquired advantage. (Phil. 3:7-8.) But he had learned the difficult lesson, "in whatsoever state I am to be content." The Philippians had lovingly supplied his want; but he, in his eager pursuit of winning Christ, was "rich in faith." He knew what riches he had in Christ, and what riches were still to be had in Him; and, therefore, could confidently return the Philippians a far greater blessing than that which he had received from them. "My God," says he (that is, he reckons upon having God for his God, for his portion, and, therefore, he can say, my God), "shall supply all your need." Surely this same ground is open to ourselves to take; but we have made little progress in that school wherein the apostle was so great a proficient. In order to become "rich in faith," many of us have to be beaten out of confidence in our own advantages, as Jacob was, rather than to learn their worthlessness by faith, as Paul did.

It was when Jacob fled from his brother Esau (Gen. 28), when his "staff" was his only portion - his all (as he says to the Lord, Genesis 33:10, "With my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands"); it was when "the stones of the place" were his pillow that Jacob had his most wondrous vision - "the ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it." Then it was that the Lord stood above it, and revealed Himself to Jacob as the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac - and He engaged also to be his God. Jacob had his "staff" as a pilgrim wanderer, but Jacob had the God of Abraham and Isaac for his God. And how rich he was, had he only known it. He was never richer all his life through than at this moment. He started then, not to seek his fortune, but with his fortune already made. He had God for his portion. And if Jacob is to take the higher place of the blesser, ("without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better,") it must be by learning the riches he was in possession of when he had only his "staff" in his hand, and the stones of Luz for pillows: he must learn to be "rich in faith," in having the Lord for his God.

Is it not hard, beloved, for us to realize, that, as poor ruined sinners in ourselves, the moment we are, by the grace of God, brought to receive Christ, we are rich indeed; and not only rich, but, like Jacob with his "staff," poor, yet making many rich? It is hard to realize that our fortune is already made. We start on our Christian career, as blessed of God, and as having Him for our exceeding great reward, as well as for our shield. And we become "rich in faith" when we experimentally know this, and can attach more value to the blessing of a poor saint than the gift of a great man.

Here, in this chapter of Genesis, we have Jacob presented to us, after all his many wanderings from place to place. He had proved the God with whom he had to do. How manifestly had God shown His faithfulness to Jacob, in all the engagements He had made to him, when, on leaving his father's house, he was a houseless, homeless pilgrim at Luz. God had graciously provided for him, in giving him "meat to eat, and raiment to put on." We find him here (not in Canaan, but in Egypt) on his death-bed, and, as we are told in the epistle to the Hebrews, "leaning on the top of his staff"

Behold every thing in keeping with the dying pilgrim.

He. is a stranger in a strange place. He has his staff to lean on, but he has God for his portion. Surely Jacob now realized that he had been substantially blessed at Luz, that he was really enriched then; and never, at any period of his life, was he so fully enriched as when he had only his "staff" in his hand, and heaven opened over him to bless him. He had been well stripped of all his confidence by the way, and now is about to close his career with no more than that with which he had set out - "his staff" in his hand.* Doubtless, his "staff" had been with him in all his wanderings; it now brought the early scene of Luz vividly to his recollection. And, when weighed down with weakness in the full confession of his pilgrim character, he takes the high place of the blesser. He can now, with far greater confidence, bless both the sons of Joseph, than he could have done when possessed of temporal riches. "By faith he blessed both the sons of Joseph." He had an insight into the divine counsels, and learnt the divine order. Without any thing but his "staff," in the attitude of a worshipper, he could say, with an intensity of meaning, "I know in whom I have believed;" He had learnt the God with whom he had to do. "God, before whom my fathers Abraham. and, Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads." (vv. 15, 16.) It was by faith that Jacob blessed both the sons of Joseph. The retrospect of faith leads the soul to rest on the proved faithfulness of God, and to reckon on all the fulness of God. And "God is faithful;" that is enough. "He is faithful that promised." Such is the portion of faith. "Leaning on the top of the staff;" destitute of outward means; but able to speak very confidently, because faith leads to God, and brings in God. "My God shall supply all your need," says the apostle; "The God who fed me all my life," says the patriarch, "bless the lads."

*The only mention made in the chapter of any temporal thing, is that of the portion he had taken out of the hand of the Amorite, with his sword and his bow (v. 22); but Jacob is not now in the land of the Amorite, he is not in actual possession.

And if we, beloved in the Lord, were on our death-bed, what should we find? We, in God's mercy, may have proved, as Jacob did, our own riches; but we shall not find ourselves a bit richer than when first we started on our pilgrim course. We were then only sinners saved by grace; but what riches are ours as such! The highest riches, even "riches of glory;" as it is written, "that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory." (Rom. 9:23.) We have much, very much, to learn by the way, deeply humbling to ourselves, yet redounding to the praise of the glory of His grace. But that which a Christian dies with is not the experience gathered by the way, but the faith which led him at the first, as a ruined sinner, to the cross of Christ. The first truth is the last truth. The grace of God, as revealed in the cross of His Son, is the truth to live by, and to die with.

Jacob was a dying. He says boldly, "Behold, I die: but God shall be with you." He speaks of death, "leaning on the top of his staff," as if still pursuing his pilgrim career, and about to remove from one place to another. He desired only to take possession of the land of Canaan, by death, as Abraham and Isaac had done. (Gen. 47:29-31.), This is all. God is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac. He is still in covenant with them. He has never dissolved His relationship with them, but is unchangeable towards them in it. Jacob had faith in God. Death would not dissolve his relationship to God, even "the God of Bethel." He, as his fathers, "died in faith, not having received the promises" (Heb. 11:13), but having so "embraced them," that he could reckon on God making all good in resurrection. Yes, "He is not a God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto Him." Here was the confidence of Jacob. Here were the riches of Jacob. Here the expectation of Jacob. It was what God was to him, even the living God - "Behold, I die but God shall be with you."

Happy pilgrim! the "staff," on which he leaned, led his soul back to Luz. And what was Jacob at Luz? nothing but a houseless, homeless, destitute wanderer; but to him, in these circumstances, Luz is changed into Bethel - the house of God. There God found Jacob, and God blessed him as a pilgrim, having nothing but his "staff." And, as Jacob received the blessing, so now he gives it to both the sons of Joseph. Jacob had no claim on God for a blessing. He was a fugitive from his elder brother Esau, to whom by natural right the blessing belonged. But God allows of no rights. He acts according to the counsels of His own will. He can challenge the assertion of man's rights. "Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob." (Mal. 1:2) And now Jacob, blessing in the name of God by faith, has such intelligence in the mind and ways of God as to bless both the sons of Joseph; and in doing so, again to traverse the order of nature. He could look at his grand-children, and see the blessing of God coming on them, as freely, from the grace of God, as it had come on himself.

Surely the thoughts of Jacob were fully occupied with God. His own life would have afforded him but a sorry retrospect. He had tried to get the blessing in his own way, but it had only led him into trouble; and he had learned, by bitter experience, that the ways of God were both higher and better than his own. How faithful had God been to His "worm Jacob." And what must be the thoughts of every dying saint? Surely not of themselves, but thoughts of God; of original grace taking them up when dead in trespasses and sins, and making them sons and heirs of God. Such are the thoughts of the soul, if it be in a healthy tone, at such a season. It will pass in solemn review all its failures. This will indeed humble; but it will, at the same time, lead the soul to see all these blotted out by the God with whom we have to do.

"Now the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see." (v. 10.) Never, it maybe, since he had received the name, by having the hollow of his thigh put out of joint (Gen. 32), did he so fully realize that he had power with God an man as on his dying bed. He had now "no confidence in the flesh." Dim, as to His natural eye, but clear-sighted by faith, he guided his hands "wittingly." Jacob had exercised his own natural shrewdness in many ways in his past life; but now, in the fading away of his natural powers, faith is very keen in the discernment of the ways of God. "And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim's head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh's head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn. And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life-long, unto this day, the angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads." (vv. 14-16.) Joseph, the interpreter of God's ways to Pharaoh, could not in this instance see as clearly as Jacob. (vv. 17. 18.) It needs an exercised soul, as well as a spiritual gift, to see clearly the way of grace. Pre-eminent indeed does Joseph stand, both as to gift and moral worth, above his father Jacob. But Jacob had been well sifted, and had learnt experimentally his need of grace. Parental fondness, the right of primogeniture, etc., may occupy the mind, where there is distinct gift, and that from God; but the soul well exercised in grace knows that one great truth, "No flesh shall glory in His presence." Faith in Jacob could see clearly into God's ways. Jacob had learnt that it must be all of grace. "I know it, my son, I know it." (v. 19.) He knew it was not the elder, and he did it "wittingly."

And where have we often found the wisest counsel? In the gifted teacher, or in the ungifted, yet experienced saint? Where have we found real spiritual discernment? Has it not been among the simple-minded believers who have been learning their need of Christ in their own souls? How "wittingly" have we found the hands guided, where there has been faith in God, in the very case where even the possessor of a real gift might mislead us. Joseph thought his father was making a great mistake; and we often, when walking by sight, and not by faith, do the same, calculating upon some human claim or other, whereas God has ever shown that "His ways are not our ways." "The elder shall serve the younger." Jacob was sent forth in life to learn, this lesson, and having learnt it experimentally, at the close he is able to guide his hands "wittingly."

Have we yet learnt this lesson, the entire setting, aside of the flesh and; the all-sufficiency of God? Were we to live and learn for a hundred years, it could only be to get this lesson by heart. Jacob's history is written for our admonition; but we ought to learn the lesson more quickly, and more deeply too, because we know the risen One, and, our union with Him. Our very axiom is, "The flesh profiteth nothing."

What a blessed testimony does Jacob bear to the faithfulness of God - "The God which fed me all my lifelong, unto this day." When Jacob walked by sight, he did not so clearly see God feeding him, and caring for him; but, "leaning on the top of his staff," he retraces all God's ways by faith.

If any one character could have set aside the faithfulness of God, it is that of Jacob. It was marked by low cunning, and crookedness of policy, from the outset, with regard to his brother Esau. But this did not at all interfere with God's fidelity to him. Looking back, he sees, and I doubt not sees with joy, the failure of all his scheming and policy. Jacob is absorbed in one single thought - the grace and faithfulness of the God with whom he has to do. He was never saved from a single danger by his own policy; but Jacob can pass over all his own failures, in the overwhelming thought of God's grace towards him.

And, beloved, will not our souls be able to rejoice in seeing the failure of every work of our own, in which we might have confidence at the time we did it? Shall we not be glad to see all that we have done in the flesh burnt up? that that alone which was of the Spirit, and done to the glory of the Lord, might remain. And if we are "wise after the flesh," the penalty is sure; God will take us in our craftiness; for neither by strength nor by wisdom shall man prevail.

And what a blessing the lads got from the dying pilgrim. There was great faith in Jacob, to be able, in holy confidence of soul, to transfer the blessing from himself to them. He was "rich in faith" himself and bequeathed his riches to Joseph and his sons. Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers." Even as another pilgrim "rich in faith" said to the elders of Ephesus, "Ye shall see my face no more;" but, "I commend you to God," etc. (Acts 20)

Jacob did not say, 'Because I have not dwelt in the land, I have not got the blessing.' No! he had it by faith. "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." God is always the same to faith. Faith raises us above all human thoughts, and gives us to rest in God. Surely, surely it is blessed, when stripped of every confidence here, we are able to look above circumstances, and trust in God Himself.

And is not this the way in which God is now leading our souls? He is not only showing us the emptiness of every thing here, in order to prove His all-sufficiency, by leading us to the fulness which is in Christ Jesus; but He is also showing us how prone we are to misuse the very blessings which He has given to us, by resting in them, instead of living by faith in God. The process of stripping is indeed painful, under all circumstances, but it is peculiarly so when even what we have is taken away from us because of our misuse of the blessing. Surely the experience of many of our souls is that we have been entrusted with blessing and did not know how to use it aright. It has pleased God to strip us of all our ornaments, that He may know what to do with us. And having thus made room for Himself to come in, His grace has abounded again over our sins, in leading us more practically to "live the life we now live in the flesh, by the faith, of the Son of God," bringing us to know the immense blessing of His presence by the way, in reviving our faith in the abiding presence of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, when every thing entrusted to man's responsibility has failed.

"Blessed is He that hath the God of Jacob for his help; whose hope is in the Lord his God … which keepeth truth for ever … which giveth food to the hungry. The Lord raiseth them that are bowed down: the Lord loveth the righteous: the Lord preserveth the strangers; the Lord shall reign for ever and ever." (Ps. 146)

May we know more and more of "the God of Jacob." And then, if the Lord delay his coming, and we have to gather up ourselves on our beds, "we shall be able to say with Jacob, "Behold, I die;" "but God liveth."