July 15, 2018
So, far, as we have looked at this catalogue of faithful believers in the Old Testament, we have seen Abel offering a sacrifice in faith even though it cost him his life. We have seen Enoch, who was taken into heaven without dying as a pointer to the reality that there is hope of life in a world plagued by sin. We have seen Noah who constructed the Ark to deliver his family and the animals from God’s judgment — an earthly redemption that anticipates an eternal redemption in Christ. We have also seen Abraham who followed God even though he did not know anything about the place God was taking him and who then was willing to offer Isaac in confidence that God was faithful to his promise and would raise him from the dead.
Last week we talked about Isaac and his blessings on his sons, Esau and Jacob. And now we arrive at Jacob and his son, Joseph.
The theme, though, that strings all of these people together is that they lived lives of faith, preferring to obey God and seek his pleasure over following the wisdom or conventions of men. As is written in verse 6: “Without faith it is impossible to please him.”
And that, loved ones, is a message that we cannot hear often enough. I don’t care how many good things you do that are good in the eyes of man, anything not done in faith and to the glory of Christ is sin. We must believe that he exists not just in an intellectual sense, but in a way that makes us live lives of obedience.
I fear, though, that when push comes to shove, the church is often filled by practical atheists — people who think that God exists, but whose lives do not reflect that reality.
- people who don’t forgive sins against one another
- people who can be downright mean to one another rather than loving them
- people who give begrudgingly rather than generously (and this applies to time, not just money)
- people who don’t know their Bibles and will not “study to show themselves approved…”
- people who do not rejoice in God always nor who pray without ceasing
- people who read the words of the Bible but are not engaged by them
- people who dishonor their parents
- people who give 1 hour in 168 to God rather than 1 day in 7
- and if they were to share their faith, it would come out as moralistic rules and not as good news.
Do you get my drift? Its something that ought to weigh heavily on all of us and convict us so that we might repent.
And so, we arrive at Jacob and Joseph…
Their stories are intertwined across 24 chapters of Genesis, nearly half of the book. But as the author of Hebrews has done with the others in this chapter, he focuses on one specific aspect of life to make his point — in this case, focusing on what they do as they approach death.
Confirmation students and students who have been taught by me in confirmation over the years…All of you have heard me repeatedly say that the purpose of confirmation class is not simply to become a member of the church. Membership is only a byproduct of what we are doing. The purpose is to equip you to live a life of faith and then to die a death clinging to faith as well. And folks, that goes for all of the things we do here in worship as well…it is not just about the immediate, but about the whole of our lives.
So, of Jacob, the author writes: (verse 21)
“By faith, Jacob, while dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and he worshipped on the top of his staff.”
By the way, this is a reference to Genesis 48.
Now, to understand what is taking place and what happens next as we move from Genesis into Exodus, you need to understand a little about ancient Hebrew culture.
When it came to an inheritance, the oldest son would get a double portion of the father’s estate. So, for example, if a man had three sons, his property would be divided into 4 portions and the first-born would get two of them while the others each received one.
The oldest son of Jacob, though, is Reuben. Yet Reuben lost his birthright (1 Chronicles 5:1; Genesis 49:3-4) because he raped Bilhah, his mother’s concubine (Genesis 35:22).
So, in place of Reuben, Jacob is giving the double-portion to Joseph and he does that by taking each of Joseph’s two sons and making them as if they were his own (Genesis 48:5) — giving each of these grandsons an equal share with their uncles, thus making a double-portion out of Joseph.
Why is that important?
First, it explains why Ephraim and Manasseh each are treated as separate tribes when they take their inheritance in the land, not combined as the tribe of Joseph.
Second, it gives us a picture of the importance of adoption in the eyes of God. The bottom line is that God is a God who adopts. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, but we are called sons and daughters of God out of a spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15) and it is a reminder to us that we should take that same spirit with others — whether we actually adopt children (which is a wonderful thing) or we become extended parents and grandparents to kids in the church and in the community.
There is one more thing that this mentions about Jacob at death…he worshipped over his staff. That, beloved, is a mark of a believer, wanting nothing more than to humbly worship before God in life and in death.
That leads us to verse 22 and Joseph’s death. The author writes:
“By faith, Joseph, at death, remembered the exodus of the Sons of Israel and with respect to his bones, he gave orders.”
Okay, I’m going to get a little bit technical here for a minute, but bear with me, I think you will see the significance of this point if you bear with me…
Most of our English Bibles translate the beginning of this verse: “By faith, Joseph mentioned the exodus” making us think that this this statement is prophetic in nature. Yet, literally, it states that he “Remembered” the exodus. Yet, how can someone remember an event that has yet to take place?
To answer that, we need to look back to Genesis 15:13-16 where God tells Abraham that his descendants would sojourn in a land not their own (Egypt) for about 400 years, but after that, God would bring them out with great possessions.
You see, what Joseph is remembering is a promise…he is thinking back to something handed down to him from his great-grandfather, not a prophetic utterance..
Why is this important?
First of all, in translation, the word that is in question is the root from where we get the English word, mnemonic. Further, in every other usage in the New Testament, it is rendered “remember.” So, there is a question not just of translation theory, but of recognizing that there is great value in studying your Bibles from a translation that is as literal as possible — even from an interlinear if you can get your hands on one. Every translation sometimes makes decisions for you, but the fewer decisions they make, the more you can make about what the text is saying.
Apart from that, the text is reminding us again of the importance of handing down the promises of God from one generation to the next. Abraham handed this promise to his son Isaac, who in turn handed this down to Jacob who in turn handed it down to Joseph. And this is an essential part of the Christian life even today.
Third, to translate this as “remember” highlights the continuity of God’s promises in redemptive history — God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Those of you in Ron’s Sunday School class have been hearing about some of the problems with Dispensational theology. This theology focuses on the discontinuity on Scripture, not the continuity. And, while dispensational is not heretical per say, it is also not helpful as you seek to study God’s Word.
Again, this view is not heretical, but is often quite unhelpful in understanding God’s word. We see the continuity from Genesis to Revelation (again, God is unchanging) and this passage is a good illustration of that continuity…and more practically, you don’t want a God who changes either in little or in big things because what if he changes his mind as to salvation and everything you are clinging to in life?
What were the instructions concerning his bones? — don’t leave them in Egypt (Genesis 50:25).
And we see them being buried in Shekem in Joshua 24:32.
Even though Joseph was rightfully entitled to a tomb amongst the Pharaohs and their wealth, he chose to be identified with his people and forsook Egypt for a land that he had not seen in 93 years. It is a model that would be emulated by Moses years later.
And, for those coming to faith in many parts of the world, it is a model that they have to face. In our country, not so much, but do know that is changing.
One of the things I find interesting is that in America things are very casual and being identified with a church is not heavily valued, though when people get “the letter” saying that they haven’t been fulfilling their vows and may be removed from membership unless this changes. Yet, people get upset because it seems that even though some folks have no intention of fulfilling vows, they get some sense of satisfaction that they are identified by name in a church roll somewhere. Of course, that does not mean that Council should not do their job — they are required to do so by constitution and by the scriptures (in terms of the Elders helping the body in living out their faith.
In the end, identifying with a people is not a matter of good wishes and good intentions; it’s a matter of putting your flesh and spirit in with those you are identifying — even if that just means your bones…identifying with God’s people in word and deed.