Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Hebrews 11:21

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Blessed both the sons of Joseph - That is, Ephraim and Manasseh. See the account and the notes. Genesis 48:5, etc.

Worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff - This subject is particularly considered in the note, See Genesis 47:31; (note).

It appears, that at the time Joseph visited his father he was very weak, and generally confined to his couch, having at hand his staff; either that with which he usually supported his feeble body, or that which was the ensign of his office, as patriarch or chief of a very numerous family. The ancient chiefs, in all countries, had this staff or scepter continually at hand. See Homer throughout. It is said, Genesis 48:2, that when Joseph came to see his father Jacob, who was then in his last sickness, Israel strengthened himself, and sat upon the bed. Still I conceive he had his staff or scepter at hand; and while sitting upon the bed, with his feet on the floor, he supported himself with his staff. When Joseph sware to him that he should be carried up from Egypt, he bowed himself on his bed's head, still supporting himself with his staff, which probably with this last act he laid aside, gathered up his feet, and reclined wholly on his couch. It was therefore indifferent to say that he worshipped or bowed himself on his staff or on his bed's head. But as שחה shachah signifies, not only to bow, but also to worship, because acts of adoration were performed by bowing and prostration; and as מטה mittah, a bed, by the change of the vowel points becomes matteh, a staff, hence the Septuagint have translated the passage Και προσεκυνησεν Ισραηλ επι το ακρον της ῥαβδου αυτου· And Israel bowed or worshipped on the head of his staff. This reading the apostle follows here literatim.

Wretched must that cause be which is obliged to have recourse to what, at best, is an equivocal expression, to prove and support a favourite opinion. The Romanists allege this in favor of image worship. This is too contemptible to require confutation. To make it speak this language the Rheims version renders the verse thus: By faith Jacob dying, blessed every one of the sons of Joseph, and adored the top of his rod. A pretty object of adoration, indeed, for a dying patriarch! Here the preposition επι upon, answering to the Hebrew על al, is wholly suppressed, to make it favor the corrupt reading of the Vulgate. This preposition is found in the Hebrew text, in the Greek version of the Seventy, the printed Greek text of the New Testament, and in every MS. yet discovered of this epistle. It is also found in the Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Coptic: in which languages the connection necessarily shows that it is not an idle particle: and by no mode of construction can the text be brought to support image worship, any more than it can to support transubstantiation.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

By faith Jacob, when he was a dying - Genesis 47:31; 48:1-20. That is, when he was about to die. He saw his death near when he pronounced this blessing on Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph.

And worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff - This is an exact quotation from the Septuagint in Genesis 47:31. The English version of that place is, “and Israel bowed himself upon the bed‘s head,” which is a proper translation, in the main, of the word מטּה miTTahThat word, however, with different vowel points - מטּה maTTehmeans a branch, a bough, a rod, a staff, and the translators of the Septuagint have so rendered it. The Masoretic points are of no authority, and either translation, therefore, would be proper. The word rendered “head” in Genesis 47:31 - “bed‘s head” - ראשׁ ro'shmeans properly head, but may there mean the top of anything, and there is no impropriety in applying it to the head or top of a staff. The word rendered in Genesis 47:31 as “bowed” - וישׁתחו wayishtachuw- implies properly the idea of “worshipping.” It is bowing, or prostration for the purpose of worship or homage.

Though the Septuagint and the apostle here have, therefore, given a somewhat different version from that commonly given of the Hebrew, and sustained by the Masoretic pointing, yet it cannot be demonstrated that the version is unauthorized, or that it is not a fair translation of the Hebrew. It has also the probabilities of the case in its favour. Jacob was tenderly affected in view of the goodness of God, and of the assurance that he would be conveyed from Egypt when he died, and buried in the land of his fathers. Deeply impressed with this, nothing was more natural than that the old man should lean reverently forward and incline his head upon the top of his staff, and adore the covenant faithfulness of his God. Such an image is much more natural and probable than that he should “bow upon his bed‘s head” - a phrase which at best is not very intelligible. If this be the true account, then the apostle does not refer here to what was done when he “blessed the sons of Joseph,” but to an act expressive of strong faith in God which had occurred just before. The meaning then is, “By faith when about to die he blessed the sons of Joseph; and by faith also he reverently bowed before God in the belief that when he died his remains would be conveyed to the promised land, and expressed his gratitude in an act of worship, leaning reverently on the top of his staff.” The order in which these things are mentioned is of no consequence, and thus the whole difficulty in the case vanishes. Both the acts here referred to were expressive of strong confidence in God.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, concerning things to come. Things present are not the best things; no man knoweth love or hatred by having them or wanting them. Jacob lived by faith, and he died by faith, and in faith. Though the grace of faith is of use always through our whole lives, it is especially so when we come to die. Faith has a great work to do at last, to help the believer to die to the Lord, so as to honour him, by patience, hope, and joy. Joseph was tried by temptations to sin, by persecution for keeping his integrity; and he was tried by honours and power in the court of Pharaoh, yet his faith carried him through. It is a great mercy to be free from wicked laws and edicts; but when we are not so, we must use all lawful means for our security. In this faith of Moses' parents there was a mixture of unbelief, but God was pleased to overlook it. Faith gives strength against the sinful, slavish fear of men; it sets God before the soul, shows the vanity of the creature, and that all must give way to the will and power of God. The pleasures of sin are, and will be, but short; they must end either in speedy repentance or in speedy ruin. The pleasures of this world are for the most part the pleasures of sin; they are always so when we cannot enjoy them without deserting God and his people. Suffering is to be chosen rather than sin; there being more evil in the least sin, than there can be in the greatest suffering. God's people are, and always have been, a reproached people. Christ accounts himself reproached in their reproaches; and thus they become greater riches than the treasures of the richest empire in the world. Moses made his choice when ripe for judgment and enjoyment, able to know what he did, and why he did it. It is needful for persons to be seriously religious; to despise the world, when most capable of relishing and enjoying it. Believers may and ought to have respect to the recompence of reward. By faith we may be fully sure of God's providence, and of his gracious and powerful presence with us. Such a sight of God will enable believers to keep on to the end, whatever they may meet in the way. It is not owing to our own righteousness, or best performances, that we are saved from the wrath of God; but to the blood of Christ, and his imputed righteousness. True faith makes sin bitter to the soul, even while it receives the pardon and atonement. All our spiritual privileges on earth, should quicken us in our way to heaven. The Lord will make even Babylon fall before the faith of his people, and when he has some great thing to do for them, he raises up great and strong faith in them. A true believer is desirous, not only to be in covenant with God, but in communion with the people of God; and is willing to fare as they fare. By her works Rahab declared herself to be just. That she was not justified by her works appears plainly; because the work she did was faulty in the manner, and not perfectly good, therefore it could not be answerable to the perfect justice or righteousness of God.
Ellen G. White
Patriarchs and Prophets, 234

As he felt death approaching, he sent for Joseph. Still holding fast the promise of God respecting the possession of Canaan, he said, “Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: but I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place.” Joseph promised to do so, but Jacob was not satisfied; he exacted a solemn oath to lay him beside his fathers in the cave of Machpelah. PP 234.1

Another important matter demanded attention; the sons of Joseph were to be formally instated among the children of Israel. Joseph, coming for a last interview with his father, brought with him Ephraim and Manasseh. These youths were connected, through their mother, with the highest order of the Egyptian priesthood; and the position of their father opened to them the avenues to wealth and distinction, should they choose to connect themselves with the Egyptians. It was Joseph's desire, however, that they should unite with their own people. He manifested his faith in the covenant promise, in behalf of his sons renouncing all the honors that the court of Egypt offered, for a place among the despised shepherd tribes, to whom had been entrusted the oracles of God. PP 234.2

Said Jacob, “Thy two sons, Ephraim, and Manasseh, which were born unto thee in the land of Egypt, before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” They were to be adopted as his own, and to become the heads of separate tribes. Thus one of the birthright privileges, which Reuben had forfeited, was to fall to Joseph—a double portion in Israel. PP 234.3

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Ellen G. White
Selected Messages Book 3, 265.2

[Sydney, N.S.W., Australia] February 4, 1893—Spoke in the Morning, Boarded Ship in the Afternoon—We rode in the cab to the church in Sydney, and I spoke from Hebrews 11 upon faith. The Lord strengthened me by His grace. I felt much strengthened and blessed. The Holy Spirit was upon me. Strength, both physical and spiritual, was given me in large measure.... 3SM 265.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, 40-1

Our workers are not reaching out as they should. Our leading men are not awake to the work that must be accomplished. When I think of the cities in which so little has been done, in which there are so many thousands to be warned of the soon coming of the Saviour, I feel an intensity of desire to see men and women going forth to the work in the power of the Spirit, filled with Christ's love for perishing souls. 7T 40.1

Those in our cities—living within the shadow of our doors—have been strangely neglected. Organized effort should now be put forth to give them the message of present truth. A new song is to be put into their mouths. They are to go forth to impart to others now in darkness the light of the third angel's message. 7T 40.2

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