Jacob had many reasons to be grateful. His long life spanned about a century and a half. His descendants multiplied and flourished under the gracious hand of God (Genesis 47:27, 28). As Jacob grew old and approached death, his faith remained strong, but his legs became tottery. He needed a staff (a wooden walking stick) to keep him from falling.
Genesis 47:31 says the aging patriarch “worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” The New Testament reiterates the point by saying, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21).
What went through Jacob’s mind as he leaned on his walking stick? It’s not difficult to imagine. Reflecting back on his life through the lens of faith, he recalled years of conflict with his brother Esau. He remembered his strange prophetic dream of angels ascending and descending on a stairway to Heaven, and his night-long wrestling match with an angelic visitor that left him walking with a limp (another reason he needed a staff to hold him up). No doubt Jacob reminisced about his wives Leah and Rachel and their 12 sons. He recalled the long season of grief when it appeared his beloved son Joseph was gone forever—followed by the joy of discovering Joseph was still alive and well in Egypt. In these closing days of his life, Jacob realized that, through all the ups and downs, God had poured out abundant blessings on him and his household.
One thing we know for sure. While Jacob stood there leaning on his staff, he was thinking about God. Twice, Scripture says he “worshiped” as he leaned on his staff. Physically he put his weight on a wooden stick, but spiritually he leaned hard on God. Leaning on God is the right way to live, and it’s the only wise way to die.
We All Lean on Something
Skeptics claim that faith in God is merely a crutch for the weak, but there are at least three problems with this assertion: (1) It disregards the abundant positive evidence of God’s existence found in nature, history, Scripture, philosophy, and human experience. (2) It assumes only weak-minded people believe in God, while throughout history well-educated individuals with keen minds have found faith more reasonable than unbelief. (3) It ignores the fact that while God does comfort those who suffer, mercy is only one of his attributes. The almighty God rules the universe with wisdom, purpose, and power.
None of us can stand completely on our own. If we lean on our talents, money, and material possessions, eventually we will lose them all. Should we lean on popularity and fame? Eventually they will fade away. On alcohol and drugs? Temporary highs usher their victims into lasting lows. If we depend on government to fix everything, we will be disappointed. Friends are a blessing, but they can’t save our souls, nor can our own cleverness.
Proverbs 3:5 urges, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (emphasis mine). As Jacob approached death, he needed more than a walking stick to keep him steady. Wisely, he worshiped God. Everyone leans on something. The wise lean on the Lord.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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