Passing On Our Faith (Genesis 48)

Passing On Our Faith (Genesis 48)

Please turn in your bibles to Genesis 48. We are nearing the end of what turned out to be a longer series than I had originally planned. We began in Luke 24 and showed how, after the resurrection, Jesus spoke to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. In verse 27 we read, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” We don’t know which passages Jesus reflected on, but we know that he began in Genesis and worked his way through the Old Testament. So we titled our series Beginning With Moses: Christ In Genesis. And my goal has been to show how the main events and characters point us forward to Jesus Christ.

It was my plan to highlight the big events, but when we got to Joseph I decided I wanted to slow down and cover each chapter, because there is so much in the life of Joseph that helps us to understand our Savior better. Now we come to the end of Jacob’s life and have before us an extended look at his deathbed confession.

Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.

O Lord, as we open now Your word, we pray that the eyes of our heart may be enlightened, so that we may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled up the all the fullness of God. Amen (Eph. 3:18-19).

Genesis 48

1 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. 7 As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”

8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). 15 And he blessed Joseph and said,

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,

the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,

16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;

and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;

and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

17 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying,

“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,

‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’ ”

Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. 22 Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”

This is the Word of the LORD.

The author of Hebrews selects this episode, out of all the other experiences Jacob had, as the example of his faith. “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Heb. 11:21). Maybe this seems like an odd choice compared to his dream of the staircase at Bethel, or his wrestling match with the Angel at Jabbok, or even his reunion with Joseph. What is it about this episode that testifies of his faith so clearly?

His trust in the future fulfillment of God’s promises to him are not tainted by deception, doubt, or self-pity. He is acting with complete confidence. He declares his blessings without wavering from harsh statements. This is Jacob’s finest moment. It is his testimony. He fills it with everything we expect of a wise patriarch.

This is the example of one who dies well. His actions didn’t always live up to the calling of his faith, but his last days were in no way a failure. My hope this morning is simply to cause you to reflect upon a fundamental question: Are you passing your confession of faith on or is your confession of faith passing away with you?

As I was outlining the chapter I noticed how it progressed from focusing on the past to the present to the future. The blessings Jacob received and the blessing he gives can be understood as answers to prayer. First, we will look at Past Supplication (1-12). Second, we’ll see Present Invocation (13-20). And third, we will note Future Benediction (21-22).

I. Past Supplication (1-12) 

In supplication we make our requests known to God. It is another word for asking God to help us. After some time had passed from the oath ceremony at the end of the previous chapter, Jacob adopts Joseph’s sons reflecting upon God’s past provision.

Joseph was likely away from the family often due to his position in the Egyptian court. Joseph hears news of his father’s illness, so he takes his two boys for a visit. Jacob is in his last days (49:33). Joseph’s sons would have been about 20 years old.

After sitting up, Jacob remembers the revelation of God at Luz, which he renamed Bethel, recounting the promises he received. As Jacob prepares to bless his grandsons he reflects upon the blessings God has given to him.

In verse 5 we notice that this is more than a blessing ritual. Joseph’s sons will be treated as Jacob’s sons. He adopts his grandsons (known elsewhere in the Ancient Near East; Ruth 4:16-17; Esther 2:7) enabling him to bless them as the rest of his other sons.

Then, in verse 7, Jacob reflects upon Rachel’s death. It might seem out of place here in the middle of an adoption ceremony. Maybe he noticed something in the face of Joseph or his grandsons that brought his beloved wife to mind.

Some think Jacob cannot make out his grandchildren because of his poor eyesight, but the question “Who are these?” (v.8) is probably related to legal ritual:

    • Baptism “What name is given to this child?”
    • Wedding “Who gives this woman to this man?”

Joseph credits God for his sons (v.9) and Jacob praises God for their reconciliation (v.11).

These are what occupied Jacob’s thoughts as he was lying on his deathbed. He was reflecting on the promises of God, anticipating the blessing of God upon these boys, and remembering the loss of his spouse. Apparently these expressions are rare nowadays.

Listen to the five most common deathbed confessions according to one nurse’s experience:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

These could not be MORE different than the words of Jacob. It is depressing how self-absorbed these confessions are.

Jacob’s testimony begins and ends with God (vv.3, 11). He doesn’t wallow in the muck and mire of his past sins. He doesn’t feel the need to “make peace” with each of his sons. He shares about the one thing that truly matters. Now, granted, Jacob wasn’t asked by his nurse, “Do you have any regrets?” But that’s sort of my point. These are the kinds of questions modern man is interested in. We aren’t asking “Do you have a confession of faith?” “What is your comfort and joy?” “Where is your hope?”

Instead of wondering how we can glorify God—even in our dying—we want to know the “secret” to personal satisfaction. It is a very man-centered culture that can only think about temporary matters, when eternity hangs in the balance.

The most important things we can leave our children is a knowledge of God. Successful business practices, a heathy lifestyle, and a good education are all secondary matters! How are you modeling your faith at home? Are you passing your knowledge of God to your children?

Family worship is one of the most important ways we can do this. I want to encourage you to join us for our Summer Study where we will be modeling family worship and discussing A Neglected Grace by Jason Helopoulos.

This is not a responsibility that can be farmed out. It doesn’t cost anything, but your time and sincere engagement. You might feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the load of dishes and piles of dirty laundry. You might battle fatigue and illness. But if there is anything worth every other activity and commitment combined—it should be your commitment to pass on your faith. Everything else MUST be secondary to that!

Jacob recounts how God has blessed him, before beginning to bless Joseph’s sons, which have now become his own. 

II. Present Invocation (13-20)

Our opening prayer for Worship is usually in the form of an invocation. It is a call upon God to attend our Worship Service. We invite him to inhabit our praises. Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons beginning with an invocation (vv.15-16). “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys…”

There is a bit of irony in verse 19. You will recall how an almost blind Isaac unwittingly blessed the younger Jacob. Now, an almost blind Jacob knowingly blesses the younger Ephraim. This is the fourth consecutive generation where the younger was blessed over the older: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben (1 Chron. 5:1-2), Ephraim over Manasseh.

Joseph as Jacob’s firstborn by Rachel has replaced Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn by Leah. Eventually, even the Ephraimites will forfeit their prominent role with Joshua as they enter the Promised Land, being replaced by Judah (Ps 78:67-71).

As Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons he invokes the name of God and describes the faithfulness of this God they serve.

Maybe you’ve heard the popular country song “Live Like You Were Dyin’” by Tim McGraw. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but it is only sound advice if you know how to die well. Unfortunately, the song is mostly about living carefree. After receiving news of a terminal illness, someone responds saying:

I went skydivin’. I went rocky mountain climbin’. I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu. And I loved deeper. And I spoke sweeter. And I watched an eagle as it was flyin’. And he said, Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dyin’.

He mentions “finally reading the good book” in the second verse. But ultimately, after taking a good long hard look, he decides to go “sky divin’, rocky mountain climbin’…” again.

I’m not saying you can’t enjoy vacation, entertainment, and hobbies. But, if those are the things that define how you live—if those are the activities that give you purpose—I encourage you to take a longer look at “the good book”. If skydivin’ is what you are talking about on your deathbed, you’ve likely completely missed your purpose.

We die well when our hope in the Lord is passed on. Every life lived for self will be filled with regret. It is easy to think that we have some experiential wisdom to pass on, but our testimony should be “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

We could look to any number of passages regarding death in Scripture, and we would notice the topic is not personal accomplishments/regrets but confessions of faith.

Jacob is fully aware what he needs to do with his final days. He doesn’t live them selfishly. His purpose is to pass his faith on to his children. To leave them with a blessing.

You don’t have to wait until you’re on your deathbed to do that. If that is how you want to die, then you CAN and SHOULD live like you were dying.

After reflecting upon God past and present blessings, he points forward to…

III. Future Benediction (21-22) 

Just as we open each Worship Service with an Invocation, we close each service with a Benediction. It is a blessing from the Lord pronounced to his people throughout Scripture.

Jacob reminds Joseph that God will protect, guide, and provide.

Jacob provides the reassurance of God’s presence. God with us:

    • “I am with you” (28:15).
    • “I will be with you” (31:3).
    • “God…has been with me” (31:5; 35:3).
    • “God will be with you” (48:21).

First verse of Be Still My Soul. This is something of a funeral dirge, and the words fit perfectly with the theme of Joseph’s words upon his deathbed

Jacob provides a piece of land.

God always protected Jacob

Again Jacob is reflecting upon the Israelites return to Canaan. He reminds Joseph of Canaan to stir his affections for the Promised Land over Egypt.

He is so sure of their return he bequeathed a mountain slope to Joseph.

Jacob took Shechem through the cruelty of Simeon and Levi. He credits Shechem to himself, stripping the victory from Simeon and Levi.

Illustration – Move me! Families and Faith by Vern Bengtson. Forty years of research. Influence of parents teaching faith is waning. Cultural forces are overwhelming the family. “Those children who remained int he faithful fold as adults had parents who were consistent, unconditionally supportive, and active role models of love, respect, and patience with their children and their faith development.”

In particular, engaged fathers who were “warmly pious” played a formative role. Cold, distant, or inconsistent parents will find it difficult to pass on their faith.

Where homes are broken, or father’s have abandoned their responsibility—the community of faith must step in and mentor. The study also found an important role for grandparents and great grandparents.

Four findings:

  1. Focus on the quality of your own relationships.
  2. Belong to a faith community.
  3. Churches should focus on the family unit.
  4. Take a long range view.

This research was done from a secular perspective, but the author returned to the faith of his childhood near the very end.

Men who are not actively engaging with their family about their faith, are actively destroying the hope of their children persevering in faith. This result is perfectly consistent with Scripture.

What would you do differently if you began passing your faith on to your children now? Would your commitment to the ordinary means of grace (Word, Sacraments, and Prayer) replace more of the frivolous activities on your schedule? Would you work less? Would family worship take a more prominent role in your home? Would reading and praying with your spouse become more central? If you don’t have kids now, how are you preparing for them? If you can never have kids, how will you participate in passing your faith on to the next generation? (This isn’t an application that only speaks to parents!)

How are you contributing to this in your home? Church? Community? What is your role? Are you spiritually leading as a father and husband? As a child are you actively listening and participating.

God has promised to be with you time and again. He is always faithful to bring you through your trials. Do you believe that? Are you passing it on?


The Cultural Mandate (1:28) is repeated throughout Genesis often, but it gradually transfers to God. He will cause fruitfulness and multiplication. God promised to fulfill in Jacob that which he had commanded of him. What he demands of us, he does for us.

Sailhamer, “The blessing did not follow the lines of natural descent or natural right. The blessing was a gift bestowed upon those who could not claim it as a right.” 35:11 is a command, whereas the verb form in 48:4 suggests God will bring it about!  God will make us fruitful and multiply us. This isn’t something we must do in our own strength. In fact, if you don’t experience fear, maybe you have forgotten what is at stake. Fear is not out of place, but we more forward knowing that we are ambassadors speaking for Christ. He is the one who opens deaf ears. He is with us not merely to provide support, but to work in a through us.

This text prepares us for Jesus by causing us to hope in God’s presence. God will be with you! God has been with us! Immanuel! And Christ has promised to remain with us even to the end of the age!

Jacob mediates God’s blessing to his sons. Jesus Christ blesses the church by extending his pierced hands to you. He blesses all who call on him (Rom. 10:12).

God will be with you. Worship as if that were true! Then continue in worship at home. In my preparation for this sermon my own heart was stirred up with fresh vigor to engage family worship with real purpose, excitement, and expectations for growth. God’s Word is living and active. Don’t make your kids think it is lifeless and boring. If you don’t want your kids to groan when it is time for family worship—you have to model an excitement for it yourself.