The Oscar-winning and much acclaimed movie, Chariots of Fire is one of many films which begins at the end. It starts in 1978 at the funeral service of Harold Abrahams, before then looking back on Abraham’s life, and that of Eric Liddell. Both Liddell and Abrahams were remarkable men – extraordinary leaders – who, through their natural ability, perseverance and strength of character achieved great things for themselves and their nation. This technique of starting at the end is one of many simple but effective ways of telling a story.
If I were to make a movie about Jacob (Genesis 25-50 – the son of Isaac and father of Joseph) I think I’d use this approach. I’d start at the end, beginning with the momentous scene of the old man Jacob in the court of Pharoah, before then going back and telling the story of his life.
It must have been a most extraordinary moment and would be wonderful to depict! Pharoah is the richest and most powerful man in the world, ruling the strongest and most influential empire on the planet. His court would have been lavish and splendid. And into this court Pharoah invites the patriarch Jacob. A humble shepherd. A elderly gentleman with failing eye-sight, who approaches slowly, leaning on the top of his walking-stick.
Jacob has travelled from Canaan to Egypt to be reunited with his long-lost son, Joseph, who, unbeknown to Jacob until recently, had done a remarkable job as Prime Minister of Egypt, managing its economy through a season of prosperity followed by famine. You can read the fantastic story in Genesis 41!
So back to the opening scene. Here is Jacob. Before Pharoah. This fragile old man before the greatest king in the world. What we’d expect to happen is for some conversation to take place, and then for Pharoah – the greater one – to speak some kind of words or do some kind of act to bless Jacob and send him on this way. That would be the usual format – the strong blesses the weak. But what happens is just the opposite! It’s Jacob who blesses Pharoah (47:7)! The seemingly weak blesses the strong. And not just once, but twice (47:10)!! What’s going on here?
What’s going on is leadership. Jacob’s life has not been perfect. Far from it. He’s made many mistakes: cheating his brother when young and mismanaging his family. He’s experienced much tragedy: fleeing from his family home, having a daughter raped and losing his much-loved wife in childbirth. Through these circumstances he hasn’t always led well. And yet here, towards the end of a complex life, Jacob exercises courageous leadership. In the presence of greatness, he blesses. He speaks words of affirmation, encouragement and favour over Pharoah.
Why does Jacob do this? Partly he does this as an act of thanks. Pharoah has been good to Joseph by making him Prime Minister. He’s been generous to the rest of his family by providing them with food and allowing them to settle in his rich land. So clearly he wants to thank him. But there’s more going on here. Jacob knows he’s been called by God. Despite getting many things wrong in his life, he’s experienced God’s presence on many occasions (eg. 28:10-15; 31:3; 32:22-30) and he knows there’s divine favour resting upon his family (47:3-4). And so by blessing Pharoah, he is conferring something of God’s goodness and love upon him.
Does Pharoah need this? On the surface the answer is ‘no’. But maybe he does! You can be the most powerful man in the world, yet have great need. Need for purpose. Need for friendship. Need for joy. Need for a satisfied soul.
So here’s a frail old man – a nobody in human eyes – impacting the most powerful man in the world. Here’s the weak choosing to bless the strong. Why? Because now, at the end of his life, Jacob has finally realised that he has much to give. That he does have God’s blessing and he can give it away. That his words are powerful and can make a difference. That it’s not too late to impact others. That he has the capacity to bless. Even at the ripe old age of 130! And so he does.
At the end of his life, Jacob has become a courageous leader. The leader he was always called to be.
It’s not too late for any of us to step up and lead. Whatever’s happened in the past, you’ve not missed it and you’re never too old. Now is the time to make a difference. Now is the time to use our lives and words well to shape the destiny of people, of other leaders and even powerful nations. Like Jacob, we have the capacity to bless. So step up and lead. It’s not too late.