12-4-23 The Blessings

This week’s reading: Genesis 48:1-22

Hi Friends,

     Joseph has been successful in establishing a home for his family in the area of Egypt called Goshen, where they can live separated from the Egyptian culture. This should minimize their temptation to abandon the God of their forefathers and assimilate with the surrounding nations. Joseph knew how vital it was for his family to remain holy. “Holy” meaning being set apart from those who did not know God, nor had any desire to know Him. Just like this was the most important thing for them, it remains the most important thing for us, God’s children, too. Then, we fast forward through the 17 years that Jacob, also called Israel, spends living in Egypt with his whole family, in peace and unity, and we come to his final days. We are in Genesis 48, reading the whole chapter, that is verses 1 through 22. Listen to these two Saints, Joseph and Israel, as they give God all the credit for the good outcome in their lives.

“When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, ‘Who are these?’ ‘They are the sons God has given me here,’ Joseph said to his father. Than Israel said, ‘Bring them to me so I may bless them.’ 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.’” Gen 48:8-11 NIV

Double Blessings

     Jacob is now moving towards the end of his life. He is suffering from some type of illness when Joseph hears about it and brings his sons to their grandfather. By God’s Divine Plan, and Israel’s own favor towards his son, Jacob chooses to adopt both of Joseph’s sons as his own. This does several things. First, it grants Joseph the gift of the birthright. Even though the kings of Israel will come from the line of Judah, including of course, the King of Kings, our Jesus, it is Joseph who is given the most honorable gift of position and authority over Israel’s family. 

     Recall how important this status is to these ancient peoples, and how the son of the birthright would receive a double portion of all that belongs to the family. And so, when Jacob sees Joseph’s two sons, he adopts them as his own, giving them each a tribe in the family of God’s people, and in doing so, giving Joseph a double portion. I think we would all agree that Joseph well earned this right, yet gifts are never earned. They are given. Thus the term gift. And the birthright was a gift from God to certain people in the Bible. 

     Even though it should have been the right of the firstborn, we have seen several instances where this was just not so. The birthright was not an automatic thing. It was a gift solely given by God to those He chose to receive it. In God’s Omniscient Wisdom, He chooses who will be in what position. We saw this with Isaac over Ishmael. (Gen 17:18-19) Then with Jacob over Esau. (Gen 25:23) And now with Joseph over Reuben (Gen 49:3-4; 26) In the case with Esau and Jacob, God proclaims, even before they were born, that Jacob would lead the family, not the older son Esau. This shows that gifts are not given on the basis of our being able to earn them. Ultimately, God knows our hearts, and as I usually say, with God, the heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart.

     While we are all flawed, God sees into Eternity, from Eternity, and knows who will serve His Divine Plan and where each of us will serve it best. It is a matter of trusting God. As the saying goes, Father really does know best, and in this situation, He chooses Joseph to lead His people. It is Joseph God uses to save this small family from dying off because of the famine. And it is Joseph God uses to keep them holy, separated from the Egyptian culture, as they grow in multitudes, fulfilling God’s promise to make a nation out of the descendants of Abraham. 

     God knows who will be willing to do what, and when, and where, and how, and so on. It is His Kindness that places each of us in the position we should be in, to further His Kingdom. With that in mind, it is so important that we each take full advantage of whatever gifts God has given us- time, talents and treasures- to glorify God by pointing others to His Love and Grace, by simply living a life than honors God. Joseph certainly did this and God grants him the gift of the birthright. Again, not because Joseph earns it, but simply because God knew he would cherish his relationship with God and humbly serve Him, wherever God planted Joseph. It is because God knows our hearts beforehand, that He moves us to live a life that honors Him, and Joseph certainly has done that.

     My Friends, in Christ, if you are sincerely born again, God has given us the birthright as well. We are to have authority in this world, over ourselves and over the evil that is prevalent around us. We, like Joseph, are to live a life that reflects God’s Character as we choose to humbly serve Him wherever He plants us. As we move towards the end of our own lives, may we be like Jacob and Joseph here, praising God for all the blessings He has given us in this world, as we joyfully await the next. 

     This is the Abundant Life and though it may be filled with struggles, heart aches and trials, it is also filled to the brim with God’s Love and Grace and Kindness. The latter far outweighs the prior…and what comes next will be so much more than anything we could have ever imagined! Hold on to your birthright in Christ and live a life with double the blessings, receiving them from God and then giving them away to others around you. Because a blessing shared is automatically a blessing doubled!

For Better Or Worse

     The second thing adopting Joseph’s two sons into the family of Israel does, is it reminds these two sons that they are to be a part of the people of the God of Abraham. They are not to stay in Egypt and live off their father’s high ranking, but to lower themselves to live humbly as God’s chosen people. Again this requires being different than those around them. 

     Think about how these two sons were raised in the land of Egypt, where they had plenty and knew no lack. They were living large, as the saying goes. No doubt Joseph taught them all about the God of his forefathers, yet there is a huge difference between living a life knowing about God, and living a life for God. It takes real life experience following God to truly understand that we are to count on God for all our needs. And that we can count on Him for all those needs. Sometimes when we live in a “land of plenty,” we forget all about God and begin living for MMI. This always leads to problems as it was not what we were created for. It will steer us into an unfulfilling life where we will be searching for worldly things to satisfy us. But none of that will last long. It is only as we humble ourselves and seek to know and live for God’s Glory that life becomes more and more gratifying. 

     Yet if we continue to live a cushy lifestyle, where we think more about MMI than what God would have us do to be a blessing, then we are missing the whole point to being His children. These two sons would become two tribes in the 12 tribes of Israel. They would have twice the amount of influence over what these people of God would bring to the fallen nations around them. Did they stand out from the rest, imitating their father, Joseph, bringing God’s saving grace to others? Or did they end up assimilating, caring more about their own lives, rather than being a shining example to others about who God is and how much God loves everyone? 

     This is our challenge as well, my Friends. Once we sincerely, wholeheartedly repent of living apart from God, when we sincerely, wholeheartedly receive the Father’s Love, the Son’s Sacrifice and the Holy Spirit’s Indwelling, we become a part of the people of God. We cannot stay in our own “Egypt” and live off our Father’s High Ranking, but we must lower ourselves to live humbly as God’s chosen people. The choice these two sons of Joseph had, is still the same choice each one of us has: will we be grateful for the gift of the birthright, or will we continue to live as if it matters little in our lives here? 

     As I said earlier, God knows the exact position to place each of us in. It is a place where, for better or for worse, we will impact the furthering of His Kingdom. As the tribes of Israel, including of course Ephraim and Manasseh, assimilated with the nations that surrounded them, God still used their sinful hearts to further His Divine Plan. Yet this is an example of using their “worse” for God’s “better.” Our choices matter. Yet praise God, He is greater than our “worse” decisions. When we choose to live for God, we make better choices. But when we choose to live for MMI, we make “worse” choices. Either way, God will continue to further His Kingdom, but it is so much better that we work with Him, instead of against Him. May we choose to make humble and wise choices that seek to serve God for the better. 

Recognizing the Blessings

     Lastly, being adopted into the sons of Israel, also showed Jacob’s love for his beloved wife, Rachel, as he lifts their firstborn son, Joseph, to this high position in the family. Jacob never forgets his first love, and blesses Joseph because of her. We hear Jacob reminisce about Rachel in Genesis 48:7, where he recalls how his heart broke that she died along their journey to their home in Hebron, never reaching the land of Canaan that God had promised Abraham. She did not make it to the Promised Land, but he honors her by deeply loving Joseph, more than his other sons, until the end. 

     We talked about how favoritism is never a good idea in a family, especially one as big as this one. We mentioned how it was this favoritism that moved Joseph’s brothers to hate him, and eventually, sell him into slavery. Yet God uses all our faults, flaws and failures in His Divine Plan for the good of every heart that surrenders to Him. Romans 8:28 remains the most precious of verses to me as it fills us with Hope. “And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro 8:28 BSB) 

     Even when we have experienced heartbreak. Even when we have not made the most godly of choices. Even when their are unforeseen consequences to those choices, God is not done yet. Our immaturity, our unfaithfulness, our selfishness, our stubbornness, our fear, our Pride…none of these are beyond God’s ability to transform into a beautiful and fulfilling life. As Jacob comes to the end of his, and although his physical sight is failing, he sees clearly how God has been with him his entire life. Through the challenges. Through the injustices. Through the doubt. God has never forsaken Jacob and he praises God for it all. I love the verse I mentioned above where Jacob is in complete wonder over the Goodness of God over his life. “Israel said to Joseph, ‘I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.’” (Gen 48:11) 

     Awe and wonder. What a lovely state of heart to be in. Jacob has lived a long life and seen many up’s and down’s, yet his Faith in God has grown steadily through it all. And now, now that his vision is dim, he can clearly see. May we not wait that long, my Friends. May we choose to take inventory of our lives every day, seeing where God has brought blessings. Where God has helped us endure challenges. Where God is still working it all together for our good…because we love Him and daily receive the call to live a life according to His purpose. 

     What is that purpose? One word: Love. We are called to love God with all we’ve got- heart, soul and strength- and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And do not forget that, according to Jesus, our neighbor is whoever God places along our path in life. It may be people who are friendly or it may be people that are hostile towards us. The state of their heart is not our job to judge. We are to love all and serve all. To some, loving may look like providing for their material needs, like food, shelter, or clothing. To some it may look like spending time with them in their struggles, like when they are suffering from depression or a loss in the family. To others still it may look like gently telling them the truth, in love and grace, about any sinful lifestyle choices, like addictions or gender confusion. And even this is not our job to judge. Like Joseph and Jacob, we are simply to seek God and serve Him to the best of our ability. Then trust God to sort it all out. 

     We are not to forget our First Love, Jesus, but use this gift to bless others around us. The moment we put God to the side, is the moment we cannot be a blessing to others. Joseph knew this and so he held on to God in the pit, before God lifted him up to the palace. Wherever we happen to be right now, it is my prayer that we each choose to follow the examples of these Saints. Even when life is not good, God always is. May we recognize it and live this truth every day of our lives, here and then forevermore.

Blessings Received and Given

     Jacob makes a beautiful proclamation over Joseph: “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.” (Gen 48:15-16) By blessing his two sons, Jacob blesses Joseph. In the same way, we Christians are blessed as God uses us to be a conduit of blessing towards others. 

     As I mentioned above, those of us who can, we must be a blessing to those around us. Yet we must turn to God to see HOW we can be that blessing. We must be open to ways that will bring dignity to those we bless. More than just a handout, we must seek to lift them up towards God in ways that will multiply the blessing. Like one of my favorite sayings goes, “If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. But if you teach a man to fish, he will eat for the rest of his life.” 

     This is one of the many reasons God does not just go about handing us the answers to our prayers. Instead, it is God’s desire to mature us in such a way where we will be able to, not only receive the blessing in humble gratitude, but then seek to be a blessing, as well. This is the way God blesses us and so it should be our desire to do likewise. And here is what we must really understand, when we bless others in this way, where the blessing will continue, we ourselves will be blessed in return also. To be blessed as we are being a blessing. This is a huge part of the Abundant Life God designed us to have, enjoy and share. And often this fulfilling contentment comes only with experiencing God’s Faithfulness throughout our lives. Jacob knows this. Joseph knows this. May we know it for ourselves too. And like them, may we also understand that things do not always happen the way we thought they should. 

     Joseph brings his two sons to Jacob and Jacob adopts them as his own. Joseph places the older one near Jacob’s right hand and the younger one by Jacob’s left hand. Joseph believes that the oldest should get the greater blessing. That he should receive the gift of God’s birthright. Yet as we have seen, this does not always happen. Here, again, we see the younger being placed before the older as Jacob switches hands, placing his right hand on the second child. As in the past, the younger is placed before the older. Joseph protests, but Jacob speaks prophetically over these two sons. “But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” (Gen 48:19) 

     God’s ways are higher than ours. (see Isa 55:8-9) While we think in terms of our own tiny life, God thinks in terms of Eternity. This is one of the greatest reasons to live by Faith. There are things we will just not understand, and we have to be alright with that…and the more we trust God, the more we will not only be alright with not knowing, but we will be content with it. I had been the type of person who wanted to know every detail of what might happen before I stepped out to do anything. When presented with the unknown, I usually chose not to venture out. My, oh my, how God has changed this heart of mine. Now I am more than glad to serve God whichever way He leads me. This very often means just stepping out, moment by moment, not really knowing what serving Him will look like. But I trust Him to be with me every step of the way, and that is all I really need. 

     I believe this is exactly how Jacob lived out his last 17 years, at peace and enjoying his entire family, as they continued to grow and prosper under God’s constant direction and loving provision. We too have been brought by Jesus to the Father, and for the sake of Jesus, the Father has adopted us into His Forever Family. Because of the life and love of Jesus, we share in His birthright and are considered co-heirs with Christ, the Firstborn of all Creation. (see Ro 8:17 & Col 1:15) Every time I remember all that God has done for me, all He has helped me through, all the blessings He continues to pour into me and my life, I am humbled and grateful and so excited to serve Him in every way I can. This is what increases my peace, my joy and my contentment. How about you? Do you want this Abundant Life too? Then won’t you join me?

     Until we meet again, keep lifting your eyes to God, He’s closer than you think.

<>< Peace, Diane