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- Genesis 48:1 - 22
When you grow up
What do you want to be when you grow up? Perhaps you were asked that question when you were young. Perhaps you are still asking the question. The question is full of hope and promise and intrigue. The idea is that the world is a place full of limitless opportunities. And you have the capacity to do a number of things. You could be a firemen, a chef, a lawyer, a professor, a homemaker, a builder, a missionary, a soldier. There is a shred of truth in that.
But as you grew up, you realized that there may be more limitations than you first thought. You may not be cut out to be an open-heart surgeon (I can barely shave without cutting myself), or a geologist or a well-paid musician. Limitations are not a bad thing. Limitations help to guide us to the path and plan God has laid out for us. God often opens doors and shuts doors at the same time. And He has a purpose for all of us, a task for all of us to pursue. And His path is always good and right.
God’s plan for Jacob was not your typical childhood dream. His plan for Jacob was a life of faith and movement. The point was not so much what Jacob did with his life. The point was what God did with Jacob’s life. Believers in the Lord Jesus can learn to eliminate at least one stress from their minds: what am I going to do with my life? That is not a biblical response to being claimed, saved and redeemed by Jesus. That is one stress inducer that can go right out the window of the heart.
Your life is a design
If you read the Scriptures and the life of men and women who loved God, it becomes very clear. Believers in Jesus are not self-determined, independent, autonomous beings. We are fully dependent on Christ and led, prodded and shepherded by Him. Your life is not a mistake. It’s a design.
Our task is not to try to rise above our life and pull strings and manipulate situations to make it what we want it to be. Our task is to embrace, enjoy and fully engage the life we’ve been given. That includes the daily tasks, the chores, the mowing, the commutes, the ordinary actions of the day and to do them to the glory of God Who gave us the life we have.
What Scripture teaches
This may sound a bit grandiose and far-fetched but this is what Scripture teaches us to do. We will never move beyond the life we we’ve been given and we don’t have to. Our life with God is enough. Jacob has learned this over the course of his comparatively long life. And chapter 48 is a portrait of a person at the end of his journey, reflecting back on this incredible truth: God is infinitely good. God is faithful to His promises. God is the everlasting God.
Getting his house in order
We have jumped about 17 years since last week and Jacob is at the point of death. He only has a few more things to do: he needs to get his house in order and dole out some blessings. This is bit more than estate planning but it’s not less. Jacob has received the covenant blessing from God and he is now ready to pass on that blessing to his sons and grandsons in different measure. Joseph gets word that his father was ill and he and his 2 sons come to Goshen to see him.
Jacob is told that they are coming and he “summoned his strength and sat up in bed.” At this point in Jacob’s life, just sitting up on bed is a tremendous task. His body is spent. His lungs, heart, arms, legs, everything is tired and worn out.
A beautiful description
In this state of being feeble and weak and in many ways powerless, He goes on to give a beautiful description of the power and permanence of God. He begins by calling God, God Almighty. In other words, God not weak, God not feeble, God not tired and worn down, God not like me, God not sorta mighty at different points in history. But God Almighty. In chapter 35, God came to Jacob and called Himself God Almighty but now at the end of his life, Jacob is calling God, God almighty. This title had not just been heard. It had been experienced.
How we pray
This title for God is meant to inform the way we pray. Our weakness does not diminish the power of God in the slightest. Our weakness in fact magnifies God’s power. So if you think at any point that you are to weak to pray or to hopeless to pray or to unworthy to pray, that is the point. We come to God in weakness not strength. That is true at the moment of conversion and at the point of our own death. We are weak. He is strong. The relationship with God and His people is always based on our need and His sufficiency, our incompleteness and his perfections.
There is no real equivalent to this relationship but a baby and a parent might be a helpful example. For example, if mom or dad is crying in the bed at 2 in the morning, the newborn child will not come to comfort them. The child cannot do that. We even see Jesus in the garden asking for the disciples to come and comfort Him and they did not do it. They did not have the capacity, the love for Jesus, the affection for Jesus, at least not yet. They were weak and not very compassionate.
Our relationship with God is based on our need for Him, not His need for us.
A new world
When we embrace this, we are rushed into a new world of hope in Christ. Because God’s power is not dependent on my power. His mood is not dependent on my mood. When I feel like things are hopeless and out of control, that is no indicator that things actually are hopeless and out of control. If we are saved by the mercy and the power of Christ, our lives are sustained by the mercy and the power of Christ. So when you are weak or feel weak, pray like never before. God is still Almighty.
The permanence of God
Jacob goes on to tell Joseph about the permanence of God. God made promises to make him fruitful and multiply him and turn him into a company of peoples “for an everlasting covenant.” Both of these words, “everlasting” and “covenant” are not commonly used today. Everlasting sounds a bit old. Covenant sounds a bit stodgy. We prefer words like modern, current, cutting edge, trendy, hip. None of those things are bad. But none of these things are permanent.
There were certain hairstyles that were flat out amazing in the early 90’s (I won’t go so far as to name them) and of course the famous “business in the front, party in the back” look that still shows up today in different forms. Styles change. Clothes change. House designs change. Even reclaiming old lumber is a “modern” change in design! Everything changes expect the everlasting covenant of God to lead and love His people from the beginning to the end. There is nothing more vintage and more current than that.
The prophet Isaiah perhaps demonstrates the everlasting nature of God more than any other biblical writer. Isaiah says that God is an everlasting Father and an everlasting Rock and an everlasting Light who has everlasting love and gives everlasting joy within an everlasting covenant with His people who will live with him in an everlasting kingdom. And you thought you had nothing to look forward to.
And I wonder if there was a connection between Isaiah’s enormous view of God and his very humbling and accurate view of Himself. He saw the Lord high and lifted up with the seraphim around the throne calling out, holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory. And He said, “woe is me. I am weak. I have left my life of temporary, short lived experiences and gotten a glimpse of eternal, everlasting God and I am changed.” He did not say. “What do I do now with my life?” He says, “Here am I. send me.” The everlasting God also sends us to do temporary tasks on earth that fulfill his everlasting plans to build a people for his everlasting possession.
God being Almighty and Everlasting is not meant to get us down about our weakness and temporariness. It is meant to redirect our hope and confidence from ourselves to Him.
Can I do this?
How often have we said, “I cannot do this? I can’t do this job. I can’t raise this child. I can’t pay this bill. I can’t overcome this battle.” And how often does that thought bring us down instead of pushing our eyes up. Usually it is the most obvious thing that we miss the most easily. The truth is we cannot do this job and raise this child and pay this bill and win this battle.” Jesus Himself said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Branches do not stay green and healthy and energized without ongoing attachment to the vine. Our power is never in ourselves. It is always Christ in us. And this is true when we feel powerful and when we don’t.
From blessing getter to giver
At his death-bed, with very little strength left and very few days left, Jacob is praising the almighty and everlasting nature of God. He knew it intuitively back then, when his life was before him. He probably knows it a bit more deeply now with his life behind him. His role has changed from learner and blessing bearer to teacher and blessing giver. So it’s time to bless Joseph’s sons 2 sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. These sons would become Jacob’s sons and be treated as equals to Joseph’s brothers. They would be adopted into the inheritance. So far, so good in Joseph’s mind. But there will be a slight twist to the story.
The set up
The sons are brought to Jacob and Jacob embraces them and kisses them and he is just overwhelmed with the chance to see Joseph and his 2 precious grandsons. Now it’s time to bless them. The author already told us that Jacob had bad vision, dim eyes and Joseph knows this. So he lines up Manasseh the oldest on Jacob’s right and Ephraim the second born on Jacob’s left. It was tradition for the oldest to get the firstborn status and privileges. Everything is set to go.
Jacob reaches out his hands to bless the boys and while his arms are stretching, he switches his hands. His right hand of blessing goes to Ephraim the second born and his left hand goes to Manasseh the firstborn. And out comes the blessing: “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
The jaw drop
You can picture Joseph’s jaw dropping to the floor. He probably didn’t hear a word that Jacob said. He was shocked at what Jacob did. “When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.”
Joseph still has allot to learn about the strange ways of God. He was a traditionalist. And Jacob was not a traditionalist and God is not a traditionalist. There is nothing wrong with tradition so long as we don’t imagine tradition as a border for what God can and can’t do. God has already colored outside the lines and He will do it again here. The firstborn blessing already went to Jacob not Esau and now the firstborn blessing is going to Ephraim not Manasseh.
Peter and Jesus
Joseph’s response sounds a bit like Peter’s response to Jesus in Matthew 16. Jesus is predicting his suffering and death and resurrection and Peter is having none of it. He says to Jesus, “far be it from you, Lord. This shall never happen to you. You will not die like this, you are the firstborn of all creation, blessed of God, sent by God to save us from a tyrannical government.” Peter is a traditionalist. The bad guys should die and be cursed, not the good guys. He like Joseph had a lot to learn about God’s grace. God’s grace is not based on birth order or good grades or a high education. It is based on His choosing.
Get behind me
Jesus “turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” If Peter gets his way here and Jesus is preserved, not only would those bad guys (Romans) die but good guy Peter would die too. The traditional way of thinking needed to be replaced with the gospel or everyone, expect Jesus would be doomed.
At the cross
The only possible way weak and not almighty, not everlasting, sinful people can be saved is if God switched His hands at the cross, if Jesus was doomed and we were blessed. At the cross, all the blessings of being the firstborn of all creation comes streaming down to us and all the judgment of falling short of God’s glory comes streaming down onto the Son. We are saved. He is condemned. Grace to us. Justice to the Son.
The arrow stories
The stories and examples in the Old Testament point us to this great substitution, to Mercy overcoming judgment. Adam and Eve being clothed. Noah being spared. Abraham being called out of pagan religion. The ram being killed in the place of Isaac. Jacob getting the birthright in spite of his trickery. The brothers being cared for by the brother they sold into slavery. This plan will not work without a radical departure from the natural way of thinking. The wages of sin is death yes but the gift of God is eternal life. And that gift does not come from obligation. It flows out of the gracious heart of God.
This is what Romans 4 makes clear, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” If you think of salvation as payment for your hard work than you are not saved. If you think of it and receive it as a gift then you are.
Laying a foundation
The history of Israel is meant to lay a foundation for how God would save sinners throughout the world. He would save them by his own choosing not because His people had tipped the scales in their favor. Deuteronomy 7, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers…” Ephesians 2, “For it by grace you have been saved through faith and this in your own doing. It is the gift of God not a result of work, lest any man should boast.” Romans 3, “None is righteous. No not one.”
How will this work?
The only possible way project redemption can be accomplished is if God does not give us what we deserve and instead gives us the grace that we don’t deserve. How will that work? How will God maintain His justice and bring sinners into the family? He did it through the dual work of Christ is not only taking our sin from us but giving us His all of His perfections. The traditional way of thinking cannot fit in the grace-based plan of redemption. There is one Mediator between God and man: the Man Christ Jesus.
A part of the club
If you think you will get to heaven by your good works, you don’t need to join the club. You are already in it. So do allot of people. That is a traditional, common, obvious way of thinking. If you think that God will accept you if you impress Him with your good efforts and quality work ethic, you are in that club too. We are all born legalist, not just Americans or Swedes or Mexicans.
Exchanging our best
Whether your mission is to be fit or buy local or save more than you spend, we all want to matter, to be somebody, to be great in our own way. (We all got our own tower of Babel). What we do at the cross is trade in our best efforts to be good for Jesus’ gift of perfect righteousness. We are made holy and justified by a pronouncement not a process of hard work. God the just is the justifier of all who put their faith in the finished work of Jesus at the cross. After these self-centered attempts to be good are abandoned and replaced with gratitude for Jesus’ then we are free to work for God’s everlasting glory, with His everlasting joy, on the way to an everlasting kingdom. Our life begins at the cross.
Ephraim did not deserve the firstborn blessing. Neither do we. But by faith, we can receive it, happily.
Some words for Joseph
Jacob reassures Joseph in verse 19 that everything is okay. “I know what I am doing Joseph, I know. Ephraim will be greater than his older brother but Manasseh will get a blessing too. As for you, Joseph, God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. God is fully capable of working all these things out. You know He is with you. Believe it.”
We do not determine anyone else’s life. God does. We do not even determine our own life. God determines that too. From that knowledge comes this new identity so perfectly stated in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Let’s pray.