During the last week or so I have received a blessing from a number of people. People have taken the time to underscore strengths, recount special moments and affirm character traits because of my recent birthday. And let me tell you that all these comments have revived me and energized me. There is nothing like being given a blessing from another.
I have also been on the other side. There have been times when I longed to hear my parents, a coach, a teacher, or significant friends say the words, “I’m proud of you” or “you did good.” Don’t get me wrong, I often knew these people loved me. But I still needed to hear it.
I suspect many of you have been in the same boat. Maybe you have spent your whole life hearing about your failings. You’ve heard about your weaknesses, you’ve had your failures held up before you again and again, and you long to feel that there is blessing in your life. Or maybe like me, you have felt loved and cherished but still long to hear the word of blessing from the ones most significant in your life.
Throughout the Bible we often see parents taking the time to affirm and bless their children. These parents underscore the gifts of God they see in their children and give their children a vision of what God can do through them. And this morning we are going to focus on a few of the blessings that Jacob pronounced on his family. We’re going to look at the most significant of these blessings because there are some valuable lessons for us in these words.
EPHRAIM AND MANASSEH
The first scene we look at is found in Genesis 48:1-20. Jacob has been in Egypt for seventeen years. He is one hundred and forty seven years old and word comes to Joseph that Jacob is near death. So Joseph gathers his two sons and heads off to see his father.
Jacob tells his story
Jacob is told that Joseph has come and Jacob rallies to meet him. Jacob begins by re-telling the story of his own pilgrimage. He tells Joseph and the boys about how God delivered His promise to him and also shared some of the sorrow of his life.
I remember what it was like when my grandmother lived with us. We would be visiting and she would start talking about the “good ole days”. Many of the stories I had heard so many times that I could tell them too. At times I was impatient and I’d cut Grandma off . . . it was old news. Then I learned that every time a person tells a story again it is usually for a different reason. The story may be the same . . . but the message is different. So I began to listen for the message. My regret now is that I didn’t ask more questions. I would have liked to know more about my Grandfather. I wonder how they met. I don’t know much about what it was like being a parent to my mother. But I could have learned those things . . . if I had listened.
We may see Jacob simply rambling here. I’m sure the story he told was not a new story. But we shouldn’t miss what he is doing: he is passing life on to his children and grandchildren. He is giving them a sense of history and heritage. We’ve lost that sense of history by being only concerned about the present.
One of the best things you can do is pass your story on to others. Especially the story of your spiritual pilgrimage. What a blessing for children and Grandchildren to know how you came to grace. It is helpful to learn of how you have seen God’s faithfulness demonstrated in your life. So, share your stories. Take time to build a sense of history into those you love.
- write down your memories
- interview a family member and tape record or video tape the interview
- make it a point to share with your children the similar experiences that you share
Jacob adopts and blesses Joseph’s sons
Jacob sees the two sons of Joseph and asks who they are (he can barely see). When he learns that they are the sons of Joseph he tells Joseph that he will consider these boys to be his own sons. They will be treated with the same honor and receive a similar inheritance to Reuben, Simeon or any of the other boys. And this is what happens. If you look at one of those maps in the back of your Bible and see a map that shows the areas given to the twelve tribes you will notice something. There are twelve tribes but you don’t see the name of Levi (they were the priests and given land in each tribe) or Joseph, but you do see the names of Ephraim and Manasseh.
In essence, Jacob is giving Joseph the double blessing that is generally reserved for the firstborn (Reuben). And then Jacob reaches for the boys and says,
“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 redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; And may my name live on in them, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”
Picture the scene. Joseph, like any Father, very proud of his boys, brings them to his aged Father. Jacob wants to bless the boys, and nothing could please Joseph more. He knows that the blessing is generally given after putting your hand on the head of the one to be blessed so he places Manasseh in front of the right hand and Ephraim in front of the left. The assumption is that the older son will receive the greater blessing. It was traditional. It was the accepted practice. But it was not what Jacob intended to do!
Joseph tried to correct his dad. He surely assumed that dad could not see the boys clearly and had simply made a mistake . . . but dad knew just was he was doing. The body may have been wearing out, but the mind was still sharp! Jacob said,
“I know, my son, I know; he also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.” He blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessing, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh!’”
We don’t know whether Jacob had seen something in the personalities of the boys that led him to this blessing or whether it was some insight from God. Jacob declared that Ephraim would be greater than Manasseh. And history has shown that this was true.
After our study of Genesis we should not be surprised by this blessing. Isaac was blessed over his older brother Ishmael and Jacob was blessed by Isaac over his older brother Esau (even if it was by deception.) And now, Ephraim is blessed above Manasseh. The reason for this seems to be simple . . . God’s blessing came in this way because God wanted us to know that His blessing comes by grace and not merit. God was concerned that we understand that salvation is not something that is given to us because of birth order, IQ, gender, race, appearance, natural ability, or personal achievements.
We also see that God blesses as He sees fit. I don’t know why some people get great hair. I don’t know why some are artistically gifted and others are not. I don’t know why some people seem to have everything go their way while others don’t seem to have anything go theirs. At times I am just as confused as Joseph. I think God is surely mistaken. But He’s not. God knows what He is doing. God gives to each of us as “he determines” and does so for His purpose and glory.
REUBEN, SIMEON AND LEVI
After the record of the blessing of Joseph’s sons Jacob calls the rest of his sons to him so that he might extend a blessing to each of them. Giving a blessing to someone does not require that they be the oldest child, or the best child, or even a child at all. In this case Jacob wants to bless each one. Let’s look at the three oldest sons (all children of Leah).
First there was Reuben. We don’t know what Reuben was expecting. As the oldest he would normally be made the leader of the family and granted twice the inheritance of the other sons. Not this time,
“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed,
onto my couch and defiled it.
Jacob affirms that Reuben holds a special place in his heart by virtue of the fact that he was the firstborn. But the sins of the past have disqualified him from blessing in the future. In Genesis 35:22 we read that soon after Rachel died, Reuben became sexually intimate with Rachel’s servant (and the mother of his brothers Dan and Naphtali). All the text tells us is that Jacob heard about it. We don’t know why Reuben did this. Some suggest that Reuben hoped to make Bilhah someone despised by his father and Reuben, in his warped sense figured that his mother Leah, would then be the most cherished.
Jacob however sees in this that Reuben was a troubled young man. He had no values . . . he had no morality. And Jacob sees that Reuben is an unfit leader. He will not be the leader of the household.
Simeon and Levi
So we move to sons two and three, Simeon and Levi. Jacob blesses them together,
“Simeon and Levi are brothers— their swords are weapons of violence.
Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger
and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.
Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel. (Genesis 49:5-7)
In this blessing Jacob refers back to the events of Genesis 34. In that chapter we read of the deceptive way that Simeon and Levi conspired to slaughter the Shechemites because Shechem was intimate with Dinah, their sister. When Hamor (Shechem’s father) asked for Dinah to be his son’s wife, Simeon and Levi told them that all the men would have to be circumcised. When they were recovering from their surgery they slaughtered all the men and looted the town and took all the women. It was a violent, disproportionate act. There is no record of any rebuke by Jacob at the time. But Jacob had not approved of their actions.
Simeon and Levi had shown themselves to be men of violence and injustice. After this point Simeon and his descendants take on a role of insignificance. Levi became the priestly tribe because in the time of Moses the Levites stood for the honor of the Lord against the idolatry of the people. But they end up with no land of their own.
The lesson from these men is that we cannot live recklessly. God, the righteous judge sees everything. We may feel that we have “gotten away” with something. But we haven’t. We just haven’t “faced the music” yet . . .but we will. Reuben, Simeon and Levi, were disqualified because of their recklessness.
The first three brothers are disqualified from their position and now the mantle falls to the fourth child, Judah. The words to Judah are powerful . . . perhaps even staggering.
Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk. (Gen. 49:8-12)
The picture is clear. The tribe of Judah will be a victorious tribe. Judah’s descendants will be victorious in battle and will reign over the others. The descendants of Judah will be prosperous. So prosperous that the vines for wine will be so plentiful that they will use them for common purposes like: tethering their donkeys or washing their clothes. And though we might not pick these same images, this seems like a blessing any of us would desire for our own children: victory, success, leadership, prosperity. But that’s not the staggering part.
Judah also makes a bold declaration: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” Judah foretells that the Kings of Israel will come from Judah.
And if you know the history of Israel, you know that stating with Saul, David and Solomon every King came from the tribe of Judah. And if you read Matthew 1 verse 2 you see that Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. After Christ, there have been no Kings. So, even now in the book of Genesis, Jacob is pointing to Jesus as the rightful ruler. He is the one who will not only be King over Israel but over the nations!
How did Jacob know this? I don’t know. Did He hear the words and speak them even though he didn’t know what they meant? Did he have a vision? I don’t know. What I do know is that these words came true. Israel hit its most prosperous times in the days of David and Solomon. And the scepter did come to the one to whom it belonged . . . .it came to Jesus. And He has reigned ever since.
The great thing about these words to us is this: It shows us that God has a plan. From the first sin in Genesis three, God has been pointing His people to a Savior. And He points us in the same direction. We have the advantage of the added testimony of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. We have the testimony of those who traveled with Him and were transformed by Him. Even in Genesis the spotlight is on Jesus. He is the One we have been needing. He is the one we have been longing for. It is not something some guy dreamed up like most of the religions of the world. This is what God has been preparing from the foundations of the earth.
I know you may be asking, “as fascinating as this history is . . . so what? I remind you that Paul says the stories of the Old Testament
happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (! Cor. 10:11)
And since I believe the Scriptures are intended to give us guidance today and every day, let’s draw some practical applications.
First, let me suggest that the Old Testament practice of giving a blessing was a good one. In fact, Gary Smalley has written an entire book about the contemporary application of this principle. It’s called “The Blessing”. If you have been blessed by someone’s word or have ached for such a blessing, you know what that blessing can mean. So we should realize that we can give a blessing to others.
- you can affirm character strengths
- you can spotlight a job well done
- you can look at people and dare to see what they might be and share your vision with them
- you can write your child, a friend, a mate, a family member a letter telling them how highly you regard them
Second, you can see from Reuben, Simeon and Levi that sin is not overlooked. There will be a day of reckoning. And my hope is that their example will lead you to repent. Turn from the sin of your life and turn to the one who can save you. Turn yourself in . . . don’t wait until that final day! The past will not go away . . . it must be dealt with and it is better to deal with it now.
Third, we are pointed once again to our Lord Jesus Christ. I know it is politically incorrect to say that Jesus is the only way to Heaven. But I can’t help that. This is the straightforward testimony of scripture. The prophecies attest to his nature. His life, death and resurrection validate His claims. The Bible says that the only way you and I can gain forgiveness is through the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God on our behalf.
It would nice to think that everyone is “climbing the same spiritual mountain” but it’s not true. The Bible says there is salvation in no one other than Christ. We are called to stand on the truth. We are called to turn to Him, to confess our sin, to repent, to receive the new life that He offers us. The message is plain. We ignore it to our peril.
Finally, I hope you see that Christ is God’s blessing to you. And this blessing is the one you have been longing for all your life.
I read a story about a concert pianist who gave a concert in Carneige Hall. He played for the people and when he finished the people stood to their feet and applauded. The man should have been elated . . . but instead he was in tears. When asked what the problem was he said, “My teacher was in the first row of the balcony and he did not applaud.” When the blessing is withheld from the most significant person . . . the blessings of others mean little.
Many of you crave the blessing of a parent, or a mate, or a mentor. But I suggest that the blessing that you most crave is the one that comes from the Lord. And I want you to know today that you matter to God. He has loved you from before you born. He knows you better than you know yourself yet He considers you to be a person of infinite value and incredible potential. He knows the failures and the sin. And He gave His Son for those sins . . . all because He loves you and wants you to be His.
I know you may still yearn for earthly blessings. The applause of others is gratifying. But I want you to know that all the earthly blessings will be hollow if you do not get His. Friend, His arms are open. He is willing. All you need to do is turn from your past and come to Him. God offers you the blessing you have longed for all your life. So now it is up to you to
- hear it
- believe it
- receive it
- celebrate it . . . and then
- share it with others.