In my early days as a Christian I was involved with an organisation (UBM) that sought to reach out to people while they holidayed on various beaches around the UK and beyond. During my 10 year stint, I heard quite a bit about their founder Professor Verna Wright (1928-1998). It was said of him that when faced with impending death, he said, “When you see the tape, you run faster”. That is what this blog is all about, finishing well and in the life of Joseph we have two very positive examples of this in his Father, Jacob and Joseph himself.
1. Jacob’s years of Pilgrimage
We see quite a bit of Jacob in the life of Joseph and to be frank, much of it is far from inspiring! We know that Jacob worked a total of 14 years to win Rachel’s hand in marriage. After 7 years Laban had tricked him into first marrying Leah and between these two wives and their two servants Jacob had had twelve sons and at least one daughter. There was plenty of rivalry among them and if they didn’t already know, the special coat Jacob gave to Joseph made it very clear that he was the favourite. When Jacob heard from his sons that Joseph was dead, he “tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days” (37:34). This was a massive blow for Jacob. Later when the sons returned from their first trip to Egypt saying that they had been told not to go back unless their younger son Benjamin (2nd son born to Rachel) was with them, Jacob flat out refused:
36 Their father Jacob said to them, ‘You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!’…38 But Jacob said, ‘My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my grey head down to the grave in sorrow.’Genesis 42:36 & 38
Its not difficult to hear the pain in Jacob’s heart regarding the loss of Joseph and his fear for Benjamin. One wonders what the other brothers must have felt when they hard Jacob refer to Benjamin as the only one left! Then when the brothers return a second time and tell Jacob that Joseph was alive, we are told that he was stunned and does not at first believe them (Genesis 45:27-28). Soon however he was convinced that Joseph was indeed alive and he determined to go and see him before he died. For Jacob finishing well involved being reacquainted with his beloved son.
On route to Egypt, God met with Jacob through a vision at night (46:2-4). If you know much about the life of Jacob, you will know that this was not particularly unusual. God also met with him in 32:10-15 (the dream of a stairway reaching from heaven to earth), 32:22-31 (when Jacob wrestled with God and ended up with a limp) and 35:9-15 (when God renamed him Israel and reiterated the promises He had made to his forefathers Abraham and Isaac). The passage in Genesis 35 comes just after the birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel: at least 20-25 years since the last recorded example of God meeting with him in this way.
2 And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, ‘Jacob! Jacob!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied.3 ‘I am God, the God of your father,’ he said. ‘Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.’Genesis 46:2-4
God encouraged Jacob to go down to Egypt without fear. We know from Exodus, that his family do not return from Egypt for another 400 years but God’s promise here is that in Egypt they would become a nation. It was to be their home for the remainder of Jacob’s life, but nevertheless God promised to bring them back. Jacob did go to Egypt and when he met Pharaoh he was asked how old he was:
9 …’The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.’ 10 Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.Genesis 47:9-10
2. The thoughts of a dying man (chapter 48)
Seventeen years late at the ripe old age of 147 Jacob made Joseph promise not to bury him in Egypt but back at the ancestral graveyard where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah had been buried (47:28-31). This was back in the land that had been promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was deeply symbolic of Jacob’s faith and hope in God as he prepared “to be gathered to his people”. Jacob proceeded to bless Joseph’s sons and in this, there is also the source of Jacob’s mention in the writer to the Hebrews great hall of faith:
“By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”Hebrews 11:21
This phrase “Israel worshipped” (47:31) is of great significance and speaks of his gratitude towards God for the years tat he had lived and those who he was entrusting to him for the future. Soon though, in chapter 48, we are told that a message was relayed to Joseph that his Father was ill. So Joseph and his two sons visited him. This was a great encouragement to Jacob who “rallied his strength and sat up on the bed” (48:2). Jacob reminded Joseph of the promises God had given him (see 28:10-15), which were themselves a reiteration of the promises that God had made to Abraham and Isaac.
3 Jacob said to Joseph, ‘God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4 and said to me, “I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.”Genesis 48:3-4
The Jacob told told him that Joseph’s two sons would be “reckoned as his”. Indeed, in time these two sons would become two half tribes within the nation of Israel. What is really interesting however, is that when Jacob sees Manasseh & Ephraim he does not recognise them (48:8). Were his eyes failing or had he just seen little (or even none) of them while he had lived in Egypt? We’re not sure, but it sure seems like this is a big deal for Jacob who is thrilled to see not only Joseph, but his children also. He said “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too” (48:11). Jacob gave his blessing to his sons and and his grandsons. They were his legacy!
3. The legacy of the life of Joseph
So far we have focused mainly on Jacob, but in the next chapter we read that Joseph also died, aged 110 years. He had enjoyed the blessing of seeing the 3rd generation of Ephraim’s children and the grandchildren of Manasseh. Joseph did a huge amount for both his family and also for the known world as he worked tirelessly to bring them through the crisis. Yet Joseph was also a father and a grandfather. Like most of us, Joseph’s legacy was tied up in respect to those he left behind. His sons had seen first hand how he had served both God and Pharaoh, how he had wholeheartedly trusted God even through the hard times. Joseph’s brothers had deep concerns about what Joseph would do now that their Father was gone but Joseph reassured them:
19 But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.Genesis 50:19-21
In Joseph’s eyes, God had intended the harm they had done to Joseph for good, and the saving of many lives. In time the family would find their way back to the land God has promised them in Canaan. Through Joseph (though not from his direct line) God had ensured the legacy of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Joseph finished well because he remained true to the wholehearted dependence that he had placed in God and which had seen him through both the good and the bad times in his life. Joseph’s own entry in the writer to the Hebrews hall of faith says that he spoke in faith about the Exodus and also gave instructions about taking his bones back to the Promised Land…something which eventually happened in Exodus 13:19.
While plenty of Old Testament characters did not finish so well, both of these men saw the finishing tape and it served served as a motivation to respond in faith and invest in the next generation. What will it mean for you to finish well and invest in a legacy that lasts long after you are long gone into subsequent generations.
See more in the Life of Joseph Series