It seemed like such an odd detail. In a list praising Abraham for being willing to sacrifice his son, Moses for giving up a life of luxurious living, and Noah for building a boat and saving all of humanity, the statement about Jacob really stood out to me. “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21). I was preaching through Hebrews 11 when I first paid attention to that verse and was confused by the statement. What in the world did leaning on a staff have to do with faith?
I have found that when I come across something in Scripture that I don’t understand, there is often treasure there if I’m willing to look hard enough and long enough. And so, preaching through Hebrews 11, I refused to skip over what seemed like a pointless detail and asked myself, “Why did it matter that Jacob worshipped while leaning on his staff?”
It wasn’t too complex a puzzle; there are far more difficult passages in the Bible. What does it mean to lean on your staff? It means you’re old, and weak. It means you are having a hard time standing. It means you’ve reached the end of your life. This is the point Jacob had reached. And yet he still worshipped. Jacob had kind of a lousy start in life, to be honest, but he finished his course. He made it to the end, still believing and trusting in God.
I was thinking about this verse a few weeks ago when our church had a funeral for one of our former pastors, Phil Thomas. He had served faithfully his whole life. While his passing brought many sorrow, it was not sorrow without hope. I was moved as family and friends got up to share the impact that Pastor Thomas had on their lives. I was inspired to see someone who had lived for Christ, and had lived for him all the way to the end. In a world full of those who start strong and fizzle out, Pastor Thomas had endured, joyfully loving and serving Christ right up until the point of his passing.
A few summers ago, while interning at the church I now work at, I was privileged to have dinner with Dr. John Whitcomb. For those who don’t know, Dr. Whitcomb is a well-known commentator and was very influential in the young-earth creationist movement. His guestbook he asked us to sign contained names like Warren Wiersbe, Ken Ham, John MacArthur, and Peter Masters. But what struck me most about the visit was Dr. Whitcomb’s love for Christ. In a body that is slowly shutting down, his enthusiasm about his Savior and joy in the Spirit are impossible to miss. He can’t get out much now; in fact, the last time I remember seeing him was at Pastor Thomas’s funeral. But I love seeing him walk ever so slowly down the church aisle when he is able to come, shuffling along as he leans on the head of his walker, worshipping.
Recently Joshua Harris, a well-known author and teacher, announced to the world he was divorcing his wife. A few days later, he announced he was no longer a Christian. It made me think of Jacob again. It’s easy to focus on the failures, on those who don’t make it, and we should look at their lives and take warning. But we should also remember those who have made it to the end. Those whose faith was genuine. Those with saving faith. Those who, even as their bodies and mind fail, persist in their love for Christ.
They are at your church as well as mine, these faithful men and women. The flesh and the world and the devil have made an all-out assault on their faith year after year, and yet that faith in God has endured. If Christ doesn’t return, and I live to be a ripe old age, I hope to join their ranks. I hope to one day be shuffling along, barely able to stand, mind slowly failing, and yet to say as John Newton once said “Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”
Joshua Harris and others like him may fall away, but there are many who haven’t. There are the Pastor Thomases, Dr. Whitcombs, and the Jacobs of the world. The author of Hebrews wrote his letter because he wanted his listeners to have a faith that endured, and I can just see him smiling as he studies his Old Testament and reads the life of Jacob. I can see him picturing in his mind’s eye an old man, bent over, barely clinging to life, still worshipping his God and thinking to himself, “That is exactly the example my readers need.” And so he slips in a detail that most of us would have passed over: Jacob was worshipping even after his strength was gone. In doing so, his leaves his readers with a question that should be asked of all of us: will you endure to the end?
Ben Hicks went to Bob Jones University for college and stayed on for grad work, recently graduating with his Master of Divinity. Ben is the Young Adults Pastor and oversees the Single Focus ministry at Colonial Hills Baptist Church. Follow him on Twitter @HicksBen
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