by Robert Dean
Series:Genesis (2003)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 49 secs

Doctrine of Dying; Prepared and Dying Grace


We are in Genesis chapter 49 and we have come to the end of Jacob's final words of blessing, this prophecy to the twelve sons in verse 28 NASB "All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him." In other words, each blessing was fitted and tailored to each of the sons. Three times in this verse we have the Hebrew word for blessing used. Most of us tend to think that when we are blessed that that is a good thing because part of the meaning for blessing has the idea of a statement of praise or a good statement which has been made. In fact, the Greek word for blessing is eulegetos [e)uleghtoj] which is where we get our word eulogy which is normally restricted now to what takes place at a funeral.  But blessing isn't always a good thing. If we just think back on a few of these prophecies related to these twelve sons they weren't all positive. So blessing has a lot of different manifestations and it may include a lot of divine discipline in the process. In what sense is the word blessing being used in Jacob's statement to the sons? The idea here is that blessing can be a statement of the power and the provision of God for something, how God is going to work and be faithful to us over the years even though we may fail. Many of these men would fail many times, nevertheless the outworking of this whole blessing statement for the twelve sons is that God is going to be faithful to the Abrahamic covenant. And even though they are in many cases unworthy—and some of this is outlined in these blessing statements—God is going to be faithful to His promise to Abraham and would eventually fulfil all of His promises to Abraham and to his descendants. That is why this is a blessing statement, and when we read the word "blessing" in the book of Genesis especially we can't understand it and divorce it from God's statement of blessing to Abraham, that all the nations would be blessed through him. So it is a reminder that despite their flaws and failures and despite all of the things that are going to happen God is still going to be faithful to His promises.


It also takes us into the New Testament. In Hebrews 11:21 we are told NASB "By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, {leaning} on the top of his staff." "By faith" here means not just in an act of trusting. Too often today people think of faith as a sort of nebulous, mystical thing where you just believe something because it makes your life work. That is the existential concept of a leap of faith. Bible believing Christians never take a leap of faith. A leap of faith means that you are going to believe something that goes against reason and against experience. God is not at war with reason or experience; God is the author of truth, and so there is stability there. We believe because there is rational evidence and there is empirical evidence of the faithfulness of God and of His truth, we don't just leap into a blind void believing it because somehow it makes life work for us. We trust because there is content there. The biblical idea of faith isn't just believing, to believe, but it is believing truth because it is truth that is what matters. It is the truth that orients us to reality and that is what gives us freedom, because our thinking is properly oriented to reality, not because there is just some sort of existential power to truth. Just because you understand truths, lower case t, doesn't mean that that sets you free from anything. You have to know the overall framework of capital T truth, total truth, in order to have that true freedom in the soul which is freedom from slavery to sin. So by faith, i.e. by trust in the truth, Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph.

Genesis 49:28 ends the section, Jacob's blessing to the sons, and then in verse 29 NASB "Then he charged them and said to them, 'I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, [30] in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site'." The focus in this section is going to be on death and dying. The word "charged" is the Hebrew word tsavah which means to order, to command, to appoint, and it is used twice here, the second time in verse 33 NASB "When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people." He commands them to bury him in the field of Machpelah back in Canaan. This is very important and his whole statement makes up the lion's share of this section. It seems overly detailed, he wants to make sure: [31] "There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah—[32] the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth." He is emphasizing the details because he doesn't want them to just bury him anywhere. There is a specific piece of real estate and he wants to make sure that they don't miss the point that he needs to be buried in that precise place where Abraham and Isaac and their wives are buried.

The next word we want to note is the word "gathered." This is the Hebrew word asaph. It is used in the first two verses of chapter 49. Then in verse 33 NASB "When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people." The vocabulary here ties things together in a very neat package. He is going to be gathered to his people. He is not dying, he is going to be with his parents, grandparents and his whole family. He has a profound sense of resurrection here. His view of death is extremely real, it is not something that he is afraid of, there is not a level of anxiety here. He knows that what is going to happen to him is certain. He has never crossed the threshold of death before but he knows with certainty what is on the other side because God has told him. And when God tells us we don't need to have experiential data in order to validate that. The point of the whole story about Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 is that when the rich man realizes that he is in torments and that what happens is because he has rejected God he pleads with Abraham to release Lazarus to let him go back in order to tell his brothers. Abraham has a profound comment. He says experiential data won't work, they have rejected the truth already. The truth is that Moses and the prophets told them exactly what would happen, and if they won't believe Moses and the prophets they won't believe the empirical data of someone raised from the dead. Jacob believes the Word of God and it is more real to him than anything else, than anybody's ideas about death or what transpires at the moment of death, he is absolutely certain of what will happen. He is going to be gathered with his people. So in this final command to his sons we see the richness of the doctrine in his soul and how is shapes his understanding of what happens at death, and what a relaxed person he is because of that. He is calm, he is certain, he has made a number of important decisions in relationship to the family and has been able to objectively think things out in order to prepare for death because he knows he is not going to miss it. He is going to die, their lives are going to go on, and he has to properly prepare for them.

The fact that he uses this terminology, "gathered to my people," indicates his understanding and belief in resurrection. This is one of the things the Lord emphasized when He debated the Sadducees over the resurrection. He pointed out that God said "I am the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," not "I was the God." That indicated a future resurrection. These men knew that God had promised them the land. That never happened in their life on earth, therefore they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God would bring them back from death and that they would then possess the land because God was faithful to His promise. What under girds Jacob's confidence at death, and what under girds our confidence at death, is that we can have a confidence that no one else can have because we know the truth. We know with absolute certainty, beyond the certainty of rationalism and empiricism, what the realities are at the time of death.

So Jacob has a focus on resurrection. Then he says, "Bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite." The location is in the land of Canaan, which is the promised land. He uses the word "bury" here, which is the Hebrew verb qabar, and some form of this word occurs fourteen times in the next nine verses. This section from 49:29 to 50:14 is all about the death and burial of Jacob and the preparation for that.

Genesis 50:1 NASB "Then Joseph fell on his father's face, and wept over him and kissed him." Joseph is showing the intensity of the grief there but it doesn't overwhelm him. It is not that it is wrong to grieve and sorrow and hurt profoundly when someone near and dear departs to be with the Lord. It is not questioning God's goodness or His timing or anything else, it is simply the fact that we weren't made to go through that. When God created Adam and Eve the initial intent in the makeup of man was not to die. But death is the penalty for sin and we think that one reason it hurts so much when someone near and dear dies and we go through that loss is because it is a built-in mechanism that God has given us to grab our attention to the fact that this isn't the way it ought to be. It is a reminder to us that this is not normal. Death is abnormal, it is the penalty for sin, the consequence of Adam's sin in the garden, and it is not supposed to be that way. We were not intended to go through that, so it is a reminder of the need for the gospel, a reminder of the need for grace. This is why funerals are a great opportunity to present the gospel and make it clear to people because it is the one time that they are most vulnerable in life to the realities of death and dying.

For Jacob, the one who is dying, there is going to be no loss. He is focused on the fact that he is going to be with the Lord, he is going to be with Rachel, with Leah, with Isaac and Sarah and Abraham. He is going to be with the Lord so he is focused on eternal things, and that gives him a peace and stability while those who are left behind are the ones who are feeling that loss and that separation. So he is also focused on the future because he says: "Bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite." Why is it important for him to be buried with his fathers? Why is it important that he be buried in that piece of real estate? It is important for him to be buried with his fathers—with Abraham and Isaac. And Leah is there but is Leah his favourite? No. A lot of times people want to be buried next to their loved ones, their dear husband or their dear wife. But Jacob wants to be buried with Leah. Why? Not because Leah is there, and Rachel is buried outside of Bethlehem. He wants to be buried there because that is where Abraham and Isaac are and the three patriarchs need to be unified. It has something to do with the unity of the nation and he is thinking totally within the divine viewpoint promiser of the Abrahamic covenant. That is why he wants to be buried there. He wants to be resurrected in the land that God promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to himself. So it emphasizes that this piece of real estate is the only piece of real estate that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ever owned in the land. They never owned any other land. God did not fulfil that promise. The only piece of real estate in the land that was theirs was this piece that Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite. So the emphasis is going back to the land, and what we see in this whole statement is the tremendous faith that Jacob had. This is the function of the faith-rest drill. What gives him stability and peace and tranquillity and happiness at the end of his life is really an understanding of the faith-rest drill. The promises of God are more real to him than anything else.

Faith is a very active concept of trusting in something. It is the object of faith that has value. We are to have faith in the content of Scripture. Faith is a trust in the promises of God. What is the key promise that Jacob is focusing on? It is that promise that goes back to the Abrahamic covenant. He understood what God had promised and that had become more real to him than anything else. The idea of promises is brought out in 2 Peter 1:3, 4 NASB "seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of {the} divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust." With Abraham, Isaac and Jacob faith starts with understanding the core promise: Genesis 12:2, 7; 13:14, 15. 

The first step in the faith-rest drill is taking a promise and mixing it with faith. That simply means that we trust it. The next level of the faith-rest drill is to have a doctrinal rationale. That means to think through a promise, to meditate on it, to understand the dynamics that are going on inside that promise. (This is where Bible study methods help) Then we reach certain conclusions. Jacob understood that God had a plan, and that plan meant that eventually they would be raised from the grave to enjoy the possession of the land because as God had promised it to them He would fulfil it even though they had never seen it in their physical life. So Jacob could think it through in terms of God's eternal plan and as a result of that he could take appropriate action which was to just to relax and rest in that promise. We see how relaxed Jacob was at the end: "When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people." No hysteria, no fear, no drama; just a relaxed passing as he went from this life into the next.

So this is how we prepare ourselves for that time when we are going to be absent from the body and face to face with the Lord. There has to be a preparation.

The doctrine of preparation for dying

1)  The first issue is to prepare for the destiny of our own soul. Where will you spend eternity? Will you spend eternity in the lake of fire or will you spend eternity in heaven?

2)  What is going to happen to you at the judgment seat of Christ? In other words, what are you going to do after you are saved? Are you going to say, Well Lord as long as I'm going to heaven that is good enough? Or is it more important for us to learn the Word of God so that we can glorify God with our life in time so that we can more effectively serve Him in eternity?

3)  We have to take care of earthly business. Jacob took time to prepare his sons in terms of the blessing. For us this means that we need to make sure that we have a will and attend to the wisest thing that we can do with our physical assets so that things are provided legally for those we leave behind. Medically: What happens if we are hit in a car accident tomorrow, what if we can't make decisions, so we need to have a living will. Power of attorney. In most marriages there is one who handles the finances, pays the bills and knows what is going on financially, and the other one usually doesn't. In many cases it is find that the person who knows all of that is the one who goes first. The one who is left has to then figure out where everything is and put it all together. There should be communication, things written and prepared so that that transition is fairly easy. Also in terms of preparing them spiritually, and preparing yourself spiritually. We need to be prepared for the fact that a loved one can go to be with the Lord tomorrow. How are we going to handle that? Have we taken the promises of God and the doctrine that we know and applied that to that situation. If we haven't that will devastate us in ways it wouldn't if we had taken that doctrine and fortified our souls in preparation for that situation.