Faith At the End of Life

Hebrews 11:21 Genesis 48:8-16

We live in a culture which has tremendous difficulty dealing with life issues. Who deserves to even have a chance at life and who can decide that? To what extent do we use technology to save or prolong life? What happens at the end of life and how do we cope with that? Do we have a celebration? a memorial? a funeral? a graveside service? Do we do try to pretend nothing has happened? there is no great hole once filled by a loved one?

When life ends, when loss occurs is not a good time to be trying to figure it all out. It can certainly jump-start the process, encouraging us to begin our own preparation for when it’s “our turn”. But how much better to have lived life with the end in view, to approach the end of life able to look back over years of faithfulness – God’s faithfulness toward us and ours toward him. We shouldn’t be preoccupied with death; the child of God should certainly not fear death – the dying process, maybe, but not death itself. And even then, faith in God’s faithfulness and sustaining takes away fear and gives confidence that in his strength we can finish well.

We learned last time that Jacob did not start well, yet he did finish well. The author of Hebrews by inspiration of the Holy Spirit remembered Jacob as one who ended his life by faith, worshiping the triune God of his fathers and his God, the God who had repeatedly proved himself faithful to his covenant promises. As he blessed his grandsons, Jacob spoke of God in three different ways: as the God (the majestic, all-mighty Creator God) of his fathers, the God who had fed him, the God who had redeemed him.

A. The God of my fathers v.15a

When Jacob reviewed his family history he could clearly see the hand of God directing the affairs of his father and grandfather.

He could also recognize the life that Abraham and Isaac each lived as they “walked before God”

God had challenged Abraham to do so: “walk before me and be blameless” Gen. 17:1

God likewise challenged Solomon: “walk before Me as your father David walked” 1 Kgs. 9:4

what it means: “in integrity of heart and in uprightness”

pure in heart and action – motive and deed

faithful and obedient

400 years later, God condescended to identify himself as “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:15).

the covenant making and keeping God – Yahweh – LORD

the God who spoke the universe into existence

Jesus even in the New Testament proved the resurrection by quoting God’s words to Moses:

“…have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” Matt. 22:31-32

In pronouncing a blessing on the next generation, Jacob, as his father and grandfather before him, passes along the covenant promise, the spiritual blessing. He does so in faith that the God who made the promise to his fathers AND to him has the power and intention to keep it.

B. The God who has fed me v.15b

The second way in which Jacob refers to God is as the one “who has fed [him] all his life long”.

remember what Jacob did for seven years to gain the right to marry Laban’s daughter
and then another seven years for Laban’s daughter he
really wanted

more than fifteen years first-hand experience as a shepherd in addition to what he learned at home
much more to raising sheep (or any livestock) than simply feeding them
much more to raising sheep especially
requirement for hands-on guiding, tending, nurturing, leading, rescuing, doctoring, etc.

better rendering: “the God who has been my Shepherd all my life long”
from a practical standpoint – term contains everything wrapped up in “The Lord is my Shepherd”

the Shepherd who had:

ordered his steps leaving from and returning to Canaan, then emigrating to Egypt
given protection from his enemies: Esau, Laban, famine
restored his favorite sons to him in his older age
set a rich table for him
blessed him with the heritage of grandsons

C. The Angel who redeemed me v.16a

Jacob had prior experience, and spine-tingling experiences at that, with angels.

running away from Esau Gen. 28:10-22
on his way to Haran, preparing to leave the Promised Land
stopped for the night at the place he later called Bethel
saw the ladder reaching from heaven to earth
angels ascending and descending

returning to Canaan Gen. 32:1-2
intending to be reconciled with Esau
met by the angels of God at Mahanaim

each time, recognized God’s presence, not just the angels
“Surely the Lord is in this place”
Gen. 28:16
“This is God’s camp”
Gen. 32:2

here uses the definite article – the Angel

perhaps had in mind his night-time experience at Mahanaim
wrestling with the Man – who changed his name, then blessed him
called the place Peniel – “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”
Gen 32:30

understood God had preserved him during his time with Laban
now, at end of life, recognizes God had preserved him through

reunion with Esau
recovery of his two youngest sons
relocation to Egypt

and brought him to a peaceful end to a tumultuous life

D. The family name v.16b

It is this God who has been such a central figure in Jacob’s life that he prays will bless his grandboys.

God was the one who conferred the blessing on Jacob’s ancestors – Abraham, Isaac – and then on him. Jacob’s confidence, faith, prayer, is that God will be faithful to bless his grandsons in the same way. We know from history that the Promised One, Jesus, was a descendant of Judah, not Ephraim or Manasseh.

Jacob’s prayer:

may it (the blessing granted to Abraham and Isaac) coalesce on Ephraim and Manasseh;

may the cumulative blessings promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob continue to be the portion of these boys and their descendants.

may the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, my Shepherd and my Redeemer bless these boys

When the time came for apportioning the land inheritance in Canaan, you’ll notice that Joseph’s name is not mentioned as one of the tribes. But we do hear of Ephraim and Manasseh and the significant place they had in subsequent Jewish history.

God answered Jacob’s prayer

God acknowledged Jacob’s faith

Jacob ended life well doing his best to pass along his greatest treasure to his descendants.

Most importantly, he ended his life in faith – trusting that God who had been gracious to him would do likewise for his children and grandchildren

E. Application

Ending life well requires living life well prior to the end. Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it!

But have you thought about it? Have you done anything about it? None of us can go back in time and redo the things we did badly. We can’t even do things today or tomorrow to make up for lost time and opportunity.

We can review our lives and seek God’s forgiveness for where we’ve failed, thank him for his faithful shepherding of us. And we can resolve to live the rest of our lives from this day forward in a way that is pleasing to him. We can make it our goal to be able to say with the hymnwriter as we approach the end of life:

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.

Have we to the best of our ability passed along the heritage of the God of our fathers? the God who has been our faithful Shepherd? the Angel who has redeemed us?

I will sing of my Redeemer,
And His wondrous love to me;
On the cruel cross He suffered,
From the curse to set me free.


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