Lessons are drawn from the life of Jacob which are applicable and valuable for us today.
The Less is Blessed of the Better
Thirty seven centuries ago an aged patriarch stood before the most powerful monarch of that day. Any observer would mark a great contrast between them. The patriarch was one hundred and thirty years old, the father of twelve sons. Eleven of his sons and their families had come with him from their homeland to escape severe famine where they lived. A younger son had been in that land twenty one years and had risen to become second ruler of the nation.
When this family arrived, six of his sons, including the second ruler of the land, went with the old man to their audience with the monarch. He decreed that they should be given land in the choicest district in his domain.
Then the patriarch of that little band was presented to the ruler. The ruler inquired of his age. The old man answered him, but added that he had not lived as long as his progenitors. Then the patriarch lifted up his hands and blessed the monarch before going out from his presence. It is very striking to mark that the blessor was the elderly shepherd, not the majestic and mighty monarch. One is reminded of the text, “And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better” (Heb 7:7).
The patriarch was Jacob. Is it not remarkable the great monarch is known to us only by his title, Pharaoh? His given name is unknown, while Jacob’s is very well known.
Jacob in Egypt
We have come to the final chapters in Jacob’s life. He lived seventeen years after meeting the Pharaoh. Jacob died in Egypt. He and his family who came with him from Canaan were delivered from the famine in the land the left by the bounty of their brother, Joseph. Joseph nourished his father, his brethren and all his father’s household with bread (Gen 47:12).
Joseph wanted them to remain in Goshen where he met them upon their arrival. It was very fertile and was very suitable for their flocks and herds. None of the Egyptians lived in Goshen. Joseph recognized the wisdom of maintaining separation from them lest his brethren become idolaters like the Egyptians.
Joseph wisely counseled his brothers to tell Pharaoh at their interview, “Thy servants’ trade hath been about cattle from our youth even until now.” He knew that every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians (Gen 46:34). Pharaoh willingly ranted Goshen to them when he learned they were shepherds so that there would be no conflict with the Egyptians. In this way the Israelites became inhabitants of the choicest farm land in Egypt.
When Pharaoh asked them, “What is your occupation?” they replied, “Thy servants are shepherds, both we and our fathers” (Gen 47:3). Their forthrightness in this answer is notable for Joseph had told them to say, “Thy servants trade hath been about cattle.” They declared openly what they were. God honored their honest candor. Pharaoh responded by instructing Joseph to make the most energetic of them keepers of his own cattle.
Joseph’s brethren prospered in the land of Egypt in those next few years. While famine continued in Canaan, the Lord undertook for them and blessed them even in a land that was not theirs by promise. They dwelled long in Egypt, evidently forgetting it was not the land God had promised them. Eventually God called them back again to the place He had chosen for them.
We read very little of Jacob’s final seventeen years of life spent in Egypt. It was a time of aging and physical decline. How did he cope with this? The scriptures give no hint that he was marked by depression or anxiety. We read in Genesis 48:29-31 that he made arrangements with Joseph for his burial with his fathers in Canaan. He repeated these instructions in more detail after blessing his twelve sons.
There are two other recorded events of this period, his blessing of the sons of Joseph and his blessing of his own sons, before the record of his death. These events portray a man at peace with his God and secure in his knowledge of divine purposes for himself and his offspring.
Jacob is to be admired as a man whose last days were his best spiritually. Genesis 48:3-4 records him meditating upon and speaking of God’s blessings and promises to him. He was a thankful man. He was blind but he expressed thankfulness that God enabled him not only to see Joseph again (when he had no hope of this) but also to see Joseph’s sons (Gen 48:10-11).
When Joseph presented his two sons to Jacob just before he died, Jacob purposely placed his right hand upon the younger one, Ephraim, as he blessed the two boys. Joseph tried to switch Jacob’s hands upon his sons, but Jacob refused while pronouncing the greater blessing upon the younger one. This was in keeping with the divine principle he had learned at the time he received the blessing from his own father, Isaac, that God’s man is never the firstborn.
This principle is seen most prominently in Paul’s teaching in Rom 5:12-19 regarding the curse that came upon the human race through the first man, Adam, and the blessing that comes through our Lord Jesus Christ Who is called the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45).
The Triumphant Character of Jacob’s Death
There is a remarkable parallel in Jacob’s death to the death of the Lord Jesus, Who bowed His head, and gave up the ghost, when His work in this world was done (John 19:30). We read in Genesis 49:33, “And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.” The death of the Lord Jesus was totally voluntary. “No man taketh it (my fife) from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18). Jacob had made an end also of his earthly sojourn and died immediately.
The Lord Jesus alone could will the moment of His death. In Jacob’s case, God gave him the strength to worship, leaning upon the top of his staff (Heb 11:21), and to speak prophecies and blessings to his sons (Gen 49). Then lying back and bringing his feet into his bed once more, God took him to Himself.
Things we may Learn from These Events
Jacob outshone Pharaoh because, although he was a sojourner in the land of Egypt, he was a citizen of a better land. This gave him a genuine dignity Pharaoh could not match. Let us never forget, “Our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). Let us manifest the dignity of that high honor.
In his last days, Jacob looked back upon God’s workings with him and blessing upon his life. It is good for us to do likewise. We shall mark that God worketh all things together unto good (or goodness -He reproduces likeness to His lovely Son in the child of God) to them that love Him (Rom 8:28, literal translation). So it was with Jacob whose last days were marked by closeness to God and thanksgiving. How could they then be other than tranquil and peaceful?
We ought to openly declare who we are (as Jacob’s sons did) when asked when asked by the world. God still is able to bless believers in an alien environment today.
Jacob gave explicit instructions about his burial. There is considerable disposition in our day to dispose of the bodies of those who die by cremation. There is a preciousness about a dead body, for God declares it will be resurrected. Jacob regarded burial in the land of promise as worth all the effort required to accomplish that. Let us regard testimony to the coming resurrection so vital, we will tenderly lay away our loved ones in anticipation of that glorious day.
Physical decline and approaching death is something that most of us will face unless our Lord returns first. May we seek grace from God to make suitable preparations and further grace to face what comes in confidence in the Lord Who has so graciously provided for us thus far. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).