The faith of Jacob

A Bible reflection, courtesy of a sermon by Rankin Wilbourne at Pacific Crossroads Church:

Hebrews 11 details a list of lives of faith in the scriptures, stretching back to Abraham, Noah, and Abel. For Jacob, the description in verse 21 reads “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and he worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.”

Of all the experiences of Jacob’s life, why highlight this as his culmination of faith? What about the vision of the ladder of angels ascending and descending? What about hearing the voice of God promising blessings on him? What about wrestling with the angel? What about finding his son Joseph, given up as dead, alive and well in Egypt?

The actual blessing from Genesis 48 reads:

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
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.”

On its face, a rather generic blessing, and certainly a far cry from the more detailed blessings in Genesis 49. It is significant that Ephraim the younger was blessed to be greater than Manasseh the elder, but Hebrews 11:26 refers to blessing both, not Ephraim over Manasseh.

But consider this line: “the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day.” This is the first time that God is referred to as “Shepherd.” The Bible is full of references to God’s character as a shepherd, including in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.” All these find their origin with Jacob.

Jacob’s entire life was a struggle for self-preservation. Tricking his brother to give up his birthright, deceiving his father to receive the firstborn’s blessing, working for Laban to earn the right to marry Rachel. Jacob was driven by the belief that he had to fight to get what he wanted. Yet at the end of his life, Jacob saw that God had been shepherding him the entire time. As Hebrews 11:21 describes, Jacob ended his life of strife and conflict in worship, “leaning on his staff.” He learned to rest in the character of God.

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