Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Genesis 48:5-20

When I started this chapter I mentioned that it had a lot to say about God’s choices. Because God is God, He is the one who gets to choose how He will carry out His plans. And because His ways are not our ways, He usually chooses to do things in ways we don’t expect. In this passage, Joseph has brought his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to pay their final respects to their grandfather, and to receive the patriarchal blessing of Jacob. We see a familiar scene played out:

Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.

Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”

Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn. (Genesis 48:10-14)

Just like his own father, Isaac, Jacob now has failing eyesight in his old age, so Joseph moves his sons forward for the blessing and manipulates it so that the right hand of blessing will be on the firstborn, Manasseh, with Ephraim on the left. But Jacob crosses his arms so that the younger will receive the greater blessing. The blessing Jacob pronounces on Joseph and his sons is profound:

Then he blessed Joseph and said,

   “May the God before whom my fathers 
Abraham and Isaac walked, 
the God who has been my shepherd 
all my life to this day, 
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm —may he bless these boys. 
May they be called by my name 
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, 
and may they increase greatly upon the earth.” (vs.15-16)

Here Jacob was honoring the faithfulness of God, his Shepherd, who had faithfully cared for Jacob his entire life, the God who had continually delivered him. When he said, “May they be called by my name,” he is affirming his adoption of Joseph’s sons as his own sons, moving them up the inheritance ladder to be equals with their uncles (see verses 5-6). This would give Joseph’s family a double portion of the inheritance. By giving Ephraim the priority that would normally belong to the firstborn, Jacob is reversing what the custom of his day was. We see this reversal throughout the Bible: Isaac chosen over Ishmael, Jacob honored over Esau, David over his older brothers, Solomon over David’s other sons, etc. Beth Moore reminds us of the significance of the names of these boys in this sovereign choice of God, Manasseh meaning forget and Ephraim meaning twice fruitful:

“Manasseh’s name represented forgetting one’s troubles. Ephraim’s, on the other hand, represented fruitfulness in the midst of one’s troubles. Beloved, in God’s economy fruitfulness trumps forgetfulness every time... becoming fruitful in our troubles has far greater ramifications of blessing than forgetting our troubles... Jacob’s enduring line would not be marked by the troubles they’d forgotten. It would be marked by the faithfulness of God who remembered His covenant and made them fruitful.” (The Patriarchs, P. 229).

When we read the “roll call of faith” in chapter 11 of Hebrews, we see that this was true of all of God’s “heroes.” They were commended for the faith they exercised in the midst of their troubles - that was where the fruit came from! So, Ephraim, the younger, received the greater blessing, and they have been since remembered as “Ephraim and Manasseh” (vs. 20) rather than “Manasseh and Ephraim” (vs. 1).

More about this whole blessing thing next time!

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