Genesis: The Beginning
Blessing the Sons 2-10-16
Genesis 48, 49, 50
In our reading yesterday, Israel (Jacob) and Joseph are reunited and the family is set up—compliments of Pharaoh—for a new life beginning in Goshen. They will be taken care of during the next five years of famine, because of the goodness of God to send Joseph to Egypt years earlier as an instrument of salvation. Today, Israel is going to bless all the sons before he returns home to God.
Joseph becomes aware that his father’s health is failing, so he takes his two sons—Manasseh and Ephraim—to visit Israel (Jacob). Israel is so glad to see Joseph and his sons he rallies and sits up in bed. He has been waiting for this moment to bless Joseph’s sons. Israel reminds Joseph that God Almighty—El Shaddai—has a covenant with all the descendants of Abraham. In a moment, Israel speaks of Manasseh and Ephraim as “my sons.” Even though they have been raised in Egypt they will inherit the blessing of Abraham through Israel’s line; Israel restates the covenant promise of God.
Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt, humbly bows before his father. Then, he presents his sons to Israel. Joseph positions Manasseh, his first born, across from Israel’s right hand (symbolic of the greatest blessing); Joseph assumes the double portion will go to Manasseh. But, Israel crosses his arms to rest his right hand on Ephraim the youngest; this is against the normal custom. With Israel’s hands in place, he speaks a blessing over Joseph; in this blessing Israel speaks of his relationship with God who has loved him as a Shepherd, Angel of protection, and Redeemer.
Joseph believes his father has made a mistake in the placement of his hands, so he tries to correct it by placing Israel’s right hand on Manasseh. Israel refuses to change the position of his hands; Ephraim is to be the most influential of the two sons. But, let’s go back and remember how things have gone in the descendants of Abraham: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben, and now Ephraim over Manasseh. What’s the lesson? God’s ways are not human ways and God decides who gets the divine blessing—spiritual inheritance—in His plan. Why? Because God alone knows the heart of every person. Israel turns his attention to remind Joseph that God will be with him.
Israel then calls for all of his sons (tribes) to gather around him. He addresses them in birth order and reveals to each one their days ahead based on their character. Reuben demonstrates instability; forfeits the firstborn blessing. Simeon and Levi demonstrate violence and anger; Simeon will have smallest tribe and Levi’s descendants will redeem themselves and become the priestly tribe. Judah is strong like a lion; he will enjoy dominance and the descendants will be David, Solomon and Messiah—the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Judah is associated with a scepter (right to rule) and wine (prosperity). Zebulun will thrive in a commercial area. Issachar is associated with strong donkeys; forced to work hard for others. Dan is associated with a serpent; morally weak and spiritual unfaithful. Gad is associated with warriors; they will repel invasions. Asher is associated with fine food; tribe will settle near Mount Carmel in fertile farmlands. Naphtali is associated with a doe; free mountain people who will live in the hill country. Then, Israel turns to Joseph and recaps his trials and tribulations, but points to a sovereign God who has acted on Joseph’s behalf as Mighty One, Shepherd, and Rock of Israel. Benjamin is then blessed and associated with a wolf; his descendants will become a tribe of warlike archers. In the blessings we must note character is influential and the past affects the future. Each son is held accountable for how he has lived.
Israel provides detailed commands regarding his death and burial, he makes Joseph take an oath to bury him in the cave in the field near Mamre in Canaan where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah are buried. Then, at 147 years old, Israel breathes his last human breath. Joseph weeps over his father; but quickly makes decisions for burial. Joseph calls the physicians to embalm his father (a 40 day process). This is an Egyptian custom not a Hebrew one, but Joseph allows it more than likely to preserve the body for the journey to Canaan. Mourning goes on for 70 days; Joseph then asks Pharaoh for permission to leave and bury his father in Canaan. He promises to return to Pharaoh’s service. Pharaoh agrees to honor Joseph’s request, but he also honors Joseph by sending Egypt’s elders as a sign of respect.
Joseph remains a man of his word and returns to serve Egypt, but his brothers are worried now that their father is gone Joseph might retaliate against their earlier cruel crime against him. They beg forgiveness; they bow down before Joseph. He responds in love, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” Joseph lived to 110 years of age. Before he died, he told his brothers that God would lead them out of the land of Egypt one day and bring them back to Canaan. Joseph made them swear an oath to bring his bones with them when they leave.
God uses many different means to accomplish His ends, but He is sovereign and in control. When unexpected things happen in our lives—a strong turn that changes life drastically—God is never caught off guard. He knows all things and we need to trust Him. We can see from the life of Joseph that God really does make “…all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Only God can bring good out of evil; use it for his supreme purpose. Let’s trust God even in our difficulties; one day God will reveal a life-lesson of great value. Joseph has been teaching us to remain patient and let God be God! Blessings…