“Joseph’s Confession of Faith” — Hebrews 11:22
Do you like concise statements that sum up where a person stands in a very few eloquent words? For example, do you remember the speech that Patrick Henry made in the Virginia Legislature? The summary of the whole speech was, “Give me liberty, or give me death” Nathan Hale the Revolutionary war patriot gave us a moment like this. With the hang man’s noose around his neck, he said, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Then there was Abraham Lincoln’s stirring rhetoric in his Gettysburg address, “That government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
While these statements and others like them may stir us, there are other testimonies which move me to the core of my being. One such declaration is that of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms in April of 1521. When his opponents demanded he renounce his books, Luther, looking death right square in the face, said: “Unless I convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of Popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me.” This is the essence of what made Martin Luther able to stand alone for truth virtually alone. His conscience was captive to the Word of God. The act of faith the writer of Hebrews recorded in Hebrews 11:22 is very similar to Luther’s great Worms testimony. Like Luther, Joseph’s conscience was God’s willing captive, and that fact led to his greatest single statement of faith
“By faith, Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.” (Hebrews 11:22).
Each of the statements in Hebrews 11 summarizes a saint’s whole life in a sentence or two. Each verse also tells us what difference faith made in their lives. What aspect of Joseph’s life would God the Holy Spirit chose to highlight in this place? Many ideas come to mind. For example, the writer could have mentioned Joseph’s faithfulness to God in the face of the advances of Potiphar’s wife. The writer could have written about his faithfulness under the stress of an unjust imprisonment. Perhaps, we could even have found an allusion to Joseph’s forgiving his brothers and not exacting revenge for what they did to him. While each of these examples is significant, the writer chose instead to cite Joseph’s action at his death. Why is Joseph’s statement so significant?
First, Joseph’s deathbed statement is important because, Joseph, like his father, grandfather, and great grandfather before him, planned for an event God promised, but had not yet taken place. Joseph was laying plans for a future still distant. The promise was so certain in Joseph’s mind that he did not just wait for it, he made plans for them to carry out when it happened.
The motivation for Joseph’s act of faith was not a new revelation from God. It was simply remembering and keeping before his mind the promise God made before to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-14 “And God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions.’”
We may be tempted to say things like, “I wouldn’t have any difficulty trusting God and believing what He said, if He would reveal Himself to me like He did to Abraham and Jacob.” However, receiving a revelation from God does not necessarily produce faith. Remember, too, our friend Thomas. He said that unless he put his fingers in the holes in the Lord’s hands and thrust his hand in the hole in His side, he would not believe. In John 20:29 Jesus gently rebuked him. “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” In Joseph’s case there was no direct revelation recorded for us. Instead, Joseph remembered the promise given to Abraham and repeated to him by his father, he believed it, and made plans accordingly. So, we too must believe what God has promised in His Word, and make our plans according to His Word.
Joseph understood he was not going to see the Exodus. The Exodus was still many generations in the future. Still, he prepared the people of God for that day. He asserted it was coming. Then he commanded them to take his body with them when they left Egypt for the Promised Land. We read in Exodus how God brought His people out of Egypt and they remembered to bring Joseph’s bones with them.
We can observe a tremendous truth in all of this that we must see before we leave this thought. Joseph’s dying confession was an outgrowth of a life lived in fellowship with the living God. Joseph demonstrated the relationship he had with God every step of the way. Joseph practiced a close walk with God in the hard times and in the good times. Trial did not trip him up and material prosperity did not keep him from being faithful to God. A life of principled obedience and relationship prepared Joseph to make this commitment when he died. There is one more question that we need to try to answer before we complete our study. Why did Joseph take these steps?
There were several reasons for Joseph’s decision. First, this step was important to Joseph because he was an important official in Egypt. Joseph did not want people to remember him as an Egyptian. He wanted his sons and everyone else to know that he was a Hebrew and served the Hebrew God. He was a part of the people of God, not the pagan people of Egypt.
Second, Joseph may also have done this because Egyptians worshiped their departed Pharaoh’s as gods. He may have feared that they might try to deify him after his death. He wanted no part in that process.
Third, he openly identified with the Jewish people and their God to encourage the faith of his brothers and their children. Being a child of the promise was more important to Joseph than being a power broker in the most powerful nation on the face of the earth. In our pragmatic day, I wonder if we would make this choice?
Finally, and most importantly, he did it because he wanted to please God. How many things do we do every day, not because it is popular, not because we gain some benefit from it, but simply because it pleases God? The answer to this question reveals a lot about where we are spiritually. Paul prayed for the Colossians that they might “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). May God help us to desire these same things in our lives.