Some people have very clear ideas about their funerals and sometimes they tell me the things they would like included. To be honest it’s a bit difficult because the person is usually in good health and many years away needing any of their instructions carried out. To solve the problem, we came up with an idea a few years ago whereby anyone who wished could put their funeral requests on paper; seal them in an envelope to be placed in the church safe. When the time finally arrives, the envelope can be retrieved and handed to the person’s family, who in my experience are often torn trying to decide what their loved one would have wanted. We publicised the idea and many have told me what a good idea it was but the last time I checked, no one had taken up the idea – there are no funeral requests in the church safe to my knowledge. Jacob had a very firm view on his funeral arrangements and he made sure Joseph knew about them.
As Stuart pointed out last week at the beginning of Joseph’s story, faithfulness was one of the qualities that we see in his life. He demonstrated it at first in the small things but years later he is still serving faithfully even though his circumstances had changed dramatically for the better. Pharaoh would obviously have been impressed by Joseph’s wisdom and commitment. As would be said of the prophet Daniel hundreds of years later; ‘he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent’. (Daniel 6:4). Perhaps one of the surprising things is not that Pharaoh was thankful for Joseph’s wisdom; the people were as well. ‘You have saved our lives’ they said (47:25). They recognised that Egypt’s ability to ride out the terrible famine was down to Joseph’s faithfulness. It’s a quality we can see in many of the people that God chooses to use throughout the Bible. It’s a characteristic seen most clearly in the Lord Jesus. It’s part of the fruit of the Spirit that should be produced in our lives (Galatians 5:22). It’s sad then when many Christians seem to see faithfulness as unimportant. Many move around from church to church without ever making a meaningful contribution to the kingdom of God.
It had taken a long time, but Jacob was finally showing some of the signs of being in a relationship with God. We can see here that as the end of his life approached, he was at last living by faith. He could have settled in Egypt and left thoughts of what would happen to his mortal remains to his sons but he was determined to be buried in Canaan. He didn’t want to be an Egyptian, he wanted to be different, he was determined to die in faith. This may be a good time to read those verses from Hebrews 11:13-16 again that talk about the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) living by faith when they died.
“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)
Some things get better with age and some things do not. It’s true of people too, some of us seem to get increasingly grumpy while others seem to grow closer to God – I know what I’m praying for! Jacob aged well, he worshipped by faith. There had been a real change from the manipulating deceiver of his youth. Now as he approached the end of his life his thoughts were fixed on the Lord. In Numbers, Balaam a seer, prophesied over the people of God after being hired by one of Israel’s enemies to curse them. God gave him a very direct warning that he should not curse his people in any way so instead of cursing Israel; God caused him to bless them, much to the annoyance of the enemy who was paying him. They are some of the most beautiful words found in the Old Testament in my opinion and at one point he says;
“Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!” (Numbers 23:10)
Beautiful isn’t it, but sadly for Balaam he didn’t. He was driven by greed (Jude 11), he sided with God’s enemies and plotted the downfall of Israel (Revelation 2:14) only to die in battle fighting against Israel rather than his ‘end being like theirs’ (Numbers 31:8). As we grow older let’s not be like Balaam, aspiring to something but choosing the opposite. Let’s be like Jacob, worshipping by faith.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee. (Rock of Ages – Augustus Toplady)