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- Genesis 49:1 - 33
How well do you love people? On a scale of 1-10 what number would you give yourself? What I mean by people is your family members, friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters in this church community, the people you interact with consistently. There is a danger in giving yourself a number to quickly. If you give yourself a 7 you don’t have too much farther to go. If you give yourself a 2 you might get a bit depressed.
The bigger question is not where you fall on the scale of 1-10, the bigger question is if you are growing in love for people. Are you heading in the right direction? Are you a bit more compassionate and understanding this year than you were last year? Are you a bit more kind with your words, a little less harsh, slightly more tender?
There is a common critique about Christians that I have heard at times. Christians are no different than anyone else. They get angry, they say things about other people, they get into arguments and sometimes hold grudges. They are just like everybody else. And to that accusation, I say wholeheartedly, yes and amen. We are just like everyone else. However there is a key difference. We are not okay with it. We are conflicted in our impulses and motivations. People without Jesus are okay with their lack of love. People with Jesus are eager to love more like Jesus.
People with Jesus are deeply impacted by I John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” That invitation to love, fueled by our new nature, motivates us to love more like God loves. Love may not be on the top of our agenda for the day, but love is at the top of God’s agenda for us. Loving God and loving people is to be the constant activity of all who know and trust Christ as Lord.
Honest and sincere
What does this love look like? Love is honest and sincere. It is far beyond wishful thinking or having good feelings toward someone. Love is dynamic and non-flat. It leads us to challenge each other, encourage each other, warn each other, push each other forward and hold each other back at times. We see in the ministry of Jesus, love showing up in different ways. He warned some. He encouraged some. He taught some. He angered some. He comforted some. Love is not a static, non-emotional, not affected thing. It is multifaceted and complex at times.
Today is Mother’s Day and moms you know that love has many faces. Love might say no to the request for a candy bar at 8:30 in the evening. And love might say yes to an ice cream cone on a sunny Sunday afternoon. When we set out to love, we are choosing a dynamic life. We are choosing to love that particular person in the best particular way for that particular situation. This of course requires that we abide in the dynamic, non-static love of God so that His dynamic, non-static love abides in us.
So what does this have to do with Genesis 49 and the distribution of blessing from Jacob to his sons? Good question. This is a picture of love that is not one size fits all but is honest and dynamic. Not every brother will get the same blessing or anti-blessing. But every brother will be loved in his own way. It was impossible for Jacob to love each son in the exact way because each son was different from the other.
How will Jacob bless these 12 complicated, unique sons now at the end of his life? He gathers them together so that he could tell them what would happen to them in the days to come. This was a prophetic blessing based on divine knowledge and personal experience.
He begins with Reuben. Reuben was the firstborn son of Jacob. He had allot going for him. Jacob calls him “my might,” “the firstfruits of my strength,” “preeminent in dignity and power.” This is who Reuben was because of his firstborn status. However Reuben did not live up to his status in the family. He was cowardly and brazen. He failed to protect Joseph. And he slept with his father’s concubine as a show of disrespect.
Losing it all
So Jacob continues, “Unstable as water you shall not have pre-eminence because you went up to your father’s bed, then you defiled it.” So to summarize, the pre-eminent one loses pre-eminence, the favored one falls out of favor. The one who was given high status without earning it, loses high status by his own bad actions. Reuben spurned his privilege and redefined his identity. And this had a severe consequence on him and future generations.
Was Reuben penitent, remorseful for his actions? I don’t think so. He still blames his brothers for what happened to Joseph. He offers to have his 2 sons killed instead of his own life taken if Benjamin didn’t come back. He appears to be the same old Reuben, cowardly and unwilling to take responsibility.
There is another story of someone in the Bible who spurned his inheritance, his status, his nobility. He is the Prodigal Son. The difference between Reuben and the Prodigal is that the Prodigal sees his own error and turns back to dad. Reuben does not. He hunkers down. He digs in his heels. He remains in his state of defiance. The best day Reuben never had would have been the day he accepted his own lack of awesomeness and told his dad just how un-awesome he had been. Reuben never does that.
The Reuben that is
And Jacob is dealing with the Reuben that is, not the Reuben that could have been.
This is a very difficult thing for a parent to do: to accept the way things are. Not the way things could have been. Love here is not wishful thinking. It is painfully real and honest. However, Christ-centered, God-empowered love is always hopeful. That is what I Corinthians 13 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” So don’t give up on the Prodigal. Continue to love in grace and truth.
Simeon and Levi
Jacob moves on to Simeon and Levi, the brutal brothers. He says, “Weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul not come into their council; o my glory be not joined to their company. These brothers killed men. They cut the tendons of oxen so that they couldn’t walk any more. Cursed be their anger and their wrath. They will be divided and scattered throughout Israel.” Jacob is thinking back to the defiling of Dinah and the brutal retaliation of the brothers. They went to Shechem and slaughtered everyone in their sight. David won’t build the temple because of his bloodshed. These guys will be scattered because of their bloodshed.
However there will be some redemption for at least Levi and his future tribe. In Exodus 32, Aaron has led the forging of a Golden Calf. Moses comes down from the mountain and sees what has happened and he knows exactly what to do. He needs to draw a line to see who is with the Lord and who is not with the Lord. And guess who comes to join Moses? The descendents of Levi, the Levites. And here is what Moses tells them to do: go throughout the camp and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor with the sword. Does this sound familiar? Levi did the same thing generations before but with very different motives.
The sons of Levi did this in Exodus 32 and 3,000 men fell that day. And this becomes an ordination ceremony into ministry. Here is what Moses told them, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one to the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing on you this day.” The Levites are now using their fierce anger, their strong sense of justice for the glory of God, not for personal revenge. The story of Jonah is a similar example. Jonah is fiercely loyal to God’s people, Israel and through a ride in a fish belly, he learns to be loyal to God.
Strengths and weaknesses
We all have natural strengths, leanings or bends. Some of us are justice people, right and wrong people. This can lead to anger and lack of compassion. Others of us are mercy people and more easily choose grace above judgment. This can lead to passivity. What God does is redeem these strengths so that they are used to help and not harm people, to mend instead of cut. The Levites have gone from revenging themselves to being agent of God’s justice.
When we are saved, God claims our strengths and weaknesses and uses them to glorify Himself. There is hope for the angry and hope for the passive because God is Lord of both.
So with the 3 oldest sons out of the way, Judah emerges as the new covenant bearer. Judah will go on to be praised by his brothers. His hand will be on the neck of his enemies. The scepter shall not depart from Judah and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. From the line of Judah will come Boaz and king David and eventually king Jesus. And Jesus will bring about the obedience of the peoples by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. The obedience of the people’s will not happen until the people are given a new nature that wants to obey.
Obedience of faith
Romans 1:5 labels obedience as the obedience of faith. Our first act of obedience to God is to believe the gospel. Acts 6:7 “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Faith is usually not the first thing we think of when we think of obedience. We think of the Ten Commandments or a list of rules. But those things are a natural overflow of an obedient heart, not the product of hard work. We obey the One we believe in, the One we love.
Laying down His life
The King Who will come from the tribe of Judah will not bring us to obedience by laying down the law but by laying down His life. He will not lift up a rule and say follow this and you will make it to heaven. Instead, He allows Himself to be lifted up on the cross so that all who look on Him with faith will be healed.
How bad it is
Part of what makes the gospel hard to believe is a lack of self-awareness. We don’t know how bad we really are. And if there is badness, we are fairly confident that it can be fixed with the right resources and proper education and willpower. But the problems we have are too big to fix. The problem is inherent to who we are. Like G.K. Chesterton when he was asked, “What’s wrong with the world?” He said, “I am.” That is not pessimistic. It’s true.
Believe in God
If Jesus came and said, “get to work people and I will give you salvation if your work is up to my standards” than nothing changes in the world. We are stuck. The sick and non-obedient remain sick and non-obedient. But if Jesus comes and says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Then suddenly the list goes away and we are left with a Person to believe in and love.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are reminders for believers of what we want to happen with our kids. We want them to see Jesus, to trust Jesus, to be obedient to Jesus for all their days. Judah’s life changing moment came when he was faced with his own nature as a deceitful sinner. He then turned away from that identity and embraced his nature as a worthy heir of the covenant promise. From that point he became obedient to God and obedient to his earthly father.
A life changes when faith takes root deep in the heart. Obedience does not lead to faith in God. Faith in God leads to obedience. If you love God and believe in God, you will obey his commandments.
Less prominent sons
Jacob goes on to bless some of the less prominent sons. Some will enjoy fine dining. Others will make their living on the seas. Some will be judges and indentured servants. Benjamin will be a fighter. Each son will have a unique path and no 2 lives will look exactly the same.
Now it’s time for Joseph to be blessed. Joseph like the man planted by the streams of water in Psalm 1 will be a fruitful bough by a spring with extending influence beyond his own life. The Lord was with Joseph and will continue to be with Joseph. The archers attacked him and he survived and thrived. God protected him from death and from bitter anger.
God carried Joseph
Jacob makes it clear that it was God who carried Joseph. Verse 24, “by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the God of your Father who will help you, by the almighty who will bless you… the blessing of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of even Jacob’s parents. God will bless you up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.” Why such blessing for Joseph? Because Joseph was set apart from his brothers for God’s purposes.
Notice what is lacking from this prophetic blessing. There is no “if, then” clauses. If Joseph proved worthy, then Lord was with him. Or if Joseph remains obedient, then the Lord will bless him. It is the opposite order. It is because the Lord was with him that Joseph was worthy of the blessing. It is because the Lord blessed him that Joseph was an obedient son.
A strong sense of God
Joseph had a very strong sense of God’s presence with Him and this formed the way he thought. He could have fallen in the ditch in two directions. He could have gotten bitter, knowing that he was the favored son and did not deserve such terrible treatment. Or he could have believed that it was his fault and that he really was just a self-absorbed dreamer and that he did deserve the bad treatment. But he does not fall into either ditch.
He reflects in a small way the attitude that Jesus had. Jesus did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped but humbled himself taking the form of a servant. Joseph also humbled himself and accepted his place in the big plan of God.
Humble and confident
This is terrific way to live: humble and confident in God. The flaws and qualities in your character can either puff you up or bring you down. That is why when we think of core character, who we are, we are to first think of Christ in us, not us in us. We are in us too but He is in us also.
As Moms and Dads guide their sons and daughters to discover who they are in the world, we gotta also help them discover who Christ is in them. We gotta tell them, you know what daughter you have some amazing qualities that are unique and other people will recognize and maybe even applaud. Remember Who gave you the gifts that you have and always submit yourself to His plans for you.
And son, you like me have some blind spots and areas of weakness, don’t ever imagine that you don’t. In this world, you will be told that you gotta have it all together all the time. But you don’t have it all together anytime. Your worth and value is not in what you do. It’s in who you are.
Loved with an everlasting love
You are a precious son and daughter of the King. And this King loves you with an everlasting love that will last far beyond the everlasting hills and burns longer and brighter and more passionate than the heat of the sun. Nothing you do or don’t do can make Him love you more or less. I will probably fail you at some point. He never will.
The greater confidence
The confidence that comes from knowing the love of mom or dad or mom and dad is great. But the confidence that comes from knowing the love of God in Christ is far greater. Why? Because love is from God, not from us. We get to display His love in small ways that reflect His love but our love can never eclipse or surpass God’s love. Our love is flawed and imperfect and inconsistent. God’s love is constant. Our love is often conditional. His love is not. Our love will be filled with I’m sorry’s and please forgive me’s. His love is without apology or regret.
What keeps us hopeful is not looking back to our impressive ability to love, our 7 or 8 on the scale. What keeps us hopeful is the perfect 10 that Jesus proved to have at the cross. God’s love was made manifest through Jesus’ death at Calvary. Through Christ, all the nations on the earth would be blessed and brought to the obedience of faith. Here we are to prove it.
A perfect Parent
Our hope and joy on Mother’s Day and on Father’s Day is not that we are perfect but that we have a perfect Parent in God. I John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (the satisfaction) for our sins.” If God so loved us like this, we ought also, with His power, to love one another. Let’s pray.