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Mar 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 9, 2014 – Genesis 48-49

How Blessings Are Multiplied

Now it came about after these things that Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is sick.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him. When it was told to Jacob, “Behold, you son Joseph has come to you,” Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed. Then Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and He said to me, “Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting inheritance. Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.”
Genesis 48:1-5 

Intro: There are two things I want to point out in these verses: The central theme (chapters 48-49) and a footnote

  1. The central theme in chapters 48-49 is blessing
    – the source of blessings Jacob doled out, “God Almighty . . . blessed me” (48:3)
    – the blessing was divine and dynamic
    • it was because he was blessed, he was able to bless
    – the time had come to pass on the blessing
    • Joseph brought his two sons for this reason
  2. The footnote (v. 7) — Jacob recalls Rachel’s death
    – with a deep sigh, the old man says, “Rachel died on me”
    • he still feels the heartache of losing his lover
    • the woman for whom he was willing to work fourteen years
    – it’s hard to lose someone precious and supportive, especially when you still have a long way to go

The footnote introduces a sub-theme in these chapters
– the blessings collide with the realities of family disappointments, misconduct, and hardships

Something subtle happened in verses 1-7

It’s not likely we would catch it on our first reading
– in v. 1, when Joseph brought “Manasseh and Ephraim,” the oldest brother is listed first
• but in verse 4, Jacob reverses the order and put the younger
– Joseph is well aware of how this works, when blessing is given, first place goes to oldest

We’re told that Jacob’s eyes were so dim, he could not see
– this immediately reminds us of the time he received his father’s blessing (Gen. 27:1)
• Jacob exploited his father’s blindness to deceive him (Gen 27:21-22)
– when Joseph his presented sons, he made it easy for Jacob
• it helps to visualize verses 13 and 14 to appreciate this scene
• Jacob stands facing his father, who is sitting on his bed
○ with Ephraim at his right hand, this younger son is at Jacob’s left hand
○ all Jacob has to do is stretch out his arms and his right hand will be on Manesseh and his left on Ephraim
• it was believed that more power was transferred through the right hand

Now the story gets interesting
– as Jacob stretched out his hands, he crossed them
• so his right hand was on head of the younger son
• then he begins the blessing, which is rather beautiful and deserves close meditation
– but before he finished the blessing, Joseph stopped him
• he grabbed the old man’s hand and said, “No, my father, for this one is the firstborn . . .”
○ but Jacob fought him and said, “I know, my son, I know”
• Jacob himself had received blessing intended for the firstborn, only his father, Isaac, did not “know”
○ perhaps he discerned God’s hand in this (25:23)
○ after all, Joseph was also the younger son who had blessed above his older brothers (49:26)
– Jacob then completed the blessing (v. 20)

What do we know about the blessing?

According to theologian, Johannes Pedersen:
We can begin with the soul, which is the whole person–alive
– the soul has within it the vital power of growth
• it was actualized in internal and external growth
• Israel called this vital power “blessing”
– the vital power could be passed on to a son or sons

The blessing, therefore, came from the father’s soul
– the more enriched the soul, the greater its strength (and the more it had to give)
• in giving the blessing, the father shared what was most valuable
• the blessing connected the child with God and with God’s creation
○ the blessing echoed God’s original benediction on animals and humankind (Gen. 1:22 & 28)
Claus Westermann, “It must continue in the family because the family is a spiritual unit.”

In its most basic form, the blessing was a gift of fertility (48:4)
– the ability to reproduce – body, ground, livestock (cf. Deut. 7:13-14)
• but it was also generalized as productivity, effectiveness, success

When the father gave the blessing, it was a formal and sacred event
– a rite-of-passage that included:
1. Meaningful touch
2. A carefully constructed verbal pronouncement
3. It was usually given right before father’s death (or when it was presumed he would soon die)
4. Its  potency and fulfillment depended on God
– the father’s intent was to shape child’s future, but without trying to manage or control it
• the blessing was a potential, not an absolute
• what we know of genetics: certain genes do not predetermine, but predispose a person to a particular outcome
○ the gene can be turned on or off
○ the blessing was similar in this respect–it could be forfeited
– at the same time, the blessing implied a destiny
• the child’s success was for his own benefit, but was connected to God’s objectives

We can imagine the psychological benefits of blessing
– how it could empower a child with confidence, the father’s trust and backing, and a sense of destiny
– but the blessing went far beyond psychology
– it injected God’s grace into a person’s story
• most of all, it carried the promise of God’s presence

Chapter 49 records Jacob’s blessings on his twelve sons (49:28)

Yet not every pronouncement was exactly a blessing
Several sons received “inferior” blessings (not unlike Esau, 27:39-41)
– two sons are cursed (vv. 5-7 — cf. Noah, Gen. 9:25-26)

Notice this chapter is poetry, filled with metaphors and allusions to natural world
– five sons are compared to animals: a lion, a donkey, a serpent, a doe, and a ravenous wolf
– the oldest three are set aside — disqualified by their previous behavior
• the blessing on Judah anticipates David’s reign and dynasty
• Judah and Joseph receive the most elaborate (and longest) blessings
○ Joseph’s includes the most beautiful imagery–and it also tells his story
• later on, the tribes of Judah and Joseph became the two central location of political power

Afterward delivering the blessings, Jacob curled up on his bed and his long and troubled journey came to an end
– we are told that both his father and grandfather “breathed his last . . . an old man and satisfied” (Gen. 25:8; 35:29)
• by contrast, Jacob “breathed his last, and was gathered to his people”

What if we were to take the blessing seriously?

Claus Westermann, “Interpersonal relationships are not possible without blessing. . . . For Israel, the greeting was a form that contained a deep reality; it established or confirmed a spiritual community.”

In Ruth we find people conferring blessings on others in every chapter
– the blessing was built into their greetings (e.g., “May the LORD be you,” Ruth 2:4)

In Christian practice:
– we can take seriously our invocation of God’s presence when meeting and parting from each other
– our meeting as a spiritual community can be enhanced by receiving and returning blessing from a minister
• this also establishes the fact that we are meeting in Jesus’ name in expectation of his presence (Mt. 18:20)
– then, at the end of our meeting, the benediction seals us with the name of God that is placed on us ( Nu. 6:22-26)
Westermann, “The blessing is a bridge that joins what happens in worship to what takes place outside.”

Conc: There is a phrase in chapter 49 that seems strange and out of place  (v. 18)

“For Your salvation I wait, O LORD”

What inspired this? or wrenched it out of Jacob?
– was he distressed by the challenges he saw ahead? or the incompetent or chaotic behavior of his sons?
• is it that Jacob could not connect the future he foresaw with the destiny God had revealed to him for his people?
– it may be that as we think of what God wants to do with us in our world,
• the reality of our own family situations seems to stand in the way
• what can we do?

We can wait for God’s salvation
– waiting in scripture does not mean inactive
• while we wait for his salvation to heal, redeem, and repair everything, we learn to bless

To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing in stead; for uho were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. (1 Pe. 3:8-9)

Our destiny in this world is to become a blessing to others

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