Hebrews 11:21, “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.”
Yesterday we examined Hebrews 11:20 and saw how Isaac by faith blessed his two sons at the end of his life. This evidence of faith shows that those with true persevering faith will hold onto God’s promises even if they die before they are all fully realized.
In today’s passage we read another example of faith drawn from the last days of an old covenant saint. This time our model is Jacob who when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph while “bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (v. 21).
This verse reflects upon the book of Genesis and the story of Jacob blessing his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh. We read in Genesis 48:8–16 that near the end of Jacob’s life, Joseph brought his two sons to their grandfather. Manasseh the older was placed at the right hand of Jacob in order to, as was customary, receive the better blessing. Ephraim was placed on Jacob’s left. But instead of blessing Ephraim with his left hand and Manasseh with his right one, Jacob crossed his arms and gave Ephraim the better blessing.
In verse 17, we see that Joseph became upset with his father because he had violated the custom of giving the better blessing to the older son. It was not expected that the younger child should get the better blessing. However, though this act was not the usual custom of the day, giving the better blessing to the one whom men would not choose to bless is the standard practice of God. After all, was not Jacob the younger son chosen over his older brother Esau (Mal. 1:2–3)? Most amazingly, did not the Messiah and Lord of the universe come in the guise of a poor carpenter’s son (Matt. 13:55)?
True persevering faith knows that God will often choose the least in order to do the greatest. Moreover, Hebrews 11:21 does not just allude to this fact but also tells us that even at the end of life, those with true faith continue to worship God. For Jacob did not only bless his grandsons, he also bowed “in worship over the head of his staff.” This worship at the end of Jacob’s life reflects his own journey, which, though he was a charlatan at first, became characterized by an attitude of worship. John Owen comments on this verse saying that Jacob retired to God “acknowledging his mercy and asking for more grace,” because “this indeed is the way the holy act as they die.”
True persevering faith manifests itself in an attitude of worship through all seasons of life. Though the exact manifestation of this worship may differ depending on our circumstances, persevering faith always manifests its trust in worship. As you go through your day, look for ways you can worship God.