Genesis 48-50: And the Beat Goes On . . . Are You Willing to Trust God’s Promises?

Life seems so arbitrary sometimes.  Each day seems to bring with it new challenges and hurdles to be overcome.  Sometimes we have surprises that are invigorating and there are moments when the wall in front of us seems to great to overcome. In these moments in which the unknown seems so overwhelming, where do we go for a sense of stability – a place where we can be grounded?    There is no doubt that it is to God that we must run in those frightening times of uncertainty.  It may even be right now that you may be worried about your church or job or your income or your business or your education or your children or your husband, wife or your parents.   Of course, for the Christian, our first answer is that we run to God as the psalmist says, “God is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-2).  So if this is the case that God is our refuge and our fortress, in what ought we take comfort during the unknown of our lives?  Well, a simple answer to that is in his promises.  While it is easy to say, “trust in God’s promises,” there is no underestimating the power of this principle when applied to our lives.  Throughout the book of Genesis a central theme has emerged: It is much easier to talk about God’s promises than it is to actually trust and apply God’s promises.

 

Genesis 48-50 has traditionally been considered a section of this book that revolved around blessings.  This is true, but it seems that we could more accurately define it as a section of prophesy.  This is because not all the “blessings” given to Jacob’s sons seemed like real blessings.  For example, we read, “Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down between two saddlebags.  When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor” (Genesis 49:14-15).   Instead, these blessings are really prophesies concerning the sons of Israel. These prophesies are promises about the futures of the men and their families and the clans that would eventually spring forth from them and occupy the land of Canaan in a little more than 400 years from Jacob’s death.  Whether the actual blessings were positive or negative for individual sons of Jacob, it is clear that each one of them would have a massive lineage which would each occupy a significant place within the formation of a great new nation.  In other words, they had no reason to fear the unknown because their futures were secured by the promises of God.  In chapter 48 we notice that Joseph first brought his sons to Jacob for their blessings.  Because Joseph was considered the first born by Jacob, his sons were to get a double portion of blessings. Joseph’s two sons were named Manasseh and Ephraim. When Joseph brought his boys in for their blessing Jacob first inquired as to whom Joseph had brought him (this may have been part of an adoption rite) and then crossed his arms to put his right hand on the younger son and his left on the older.  Joseph tried his best to reverse this, but it could be no other way.  God had chosen it to be this way.  So we come to the end of the book of Genesis and we notice that once again God’s will once again trumps human decision.  Abraham wanted Ishmael, but God wanted Isaac; Isaac wanted Esau but God wanted Jacob; Jacob wanted Rachael but God wanted Leah; Jacob wanted Joseph but God wanted Judah; Judah would have wanted Zerah but God wanted Perez; Joseph wanted Manasseh but God wanted Ephraim.  The pattern here is very obvious as the patriarchs chose wrong ever time, yet it did not matter because God’s Will is unstoppable and God’s promises are more firm than the constant rotation of the earth itself.

 

The greatest foundation for the Christian life itself lies in the promises of God.  Trusting in the promises of God or fretting about the future is a lesson that each generation and each person must deal with on their own.  While we are often double-minded, God is always sure and his will is always done.  OT Scholar John C.L. Gibson has written this about each of the promises and their application to the future of Israel as a nation.

 

“The tribes represented by the three oldest brothers were not strong in later times. Reuben succeeded only in occupying a small territory east of the Jordan, and Simeon and Levi were in the end unable to capture any land at all. Simeon was scattered partly in Judah and partly in the north, and Levi became an elite priestly caste. These happenings are set forth as a reckoning for the misdeeds of Jacob’s sons related in 35:22 (Reuben’s incest) and in chapter 34 (Simeon and Levi’s terrible vengeance on Shechem), which is on the face of it fair enough. . . . The tribes which settled in Transjordan (Gad) and in the north of Palestine (Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali) are likewise given short shrift. All that is said of Zebulun is that it lived close to the sea, though in fact Asher’s territory was nearer the Mediterranean. Issachar’s “forced labour” is thought to allude to the troubles it experienced from having the powerful Phoenicians of Sidon as near neighbours. The verses on Dan probably have in mind the sorry story of Judg. 18, which tells of its violent and unsuccessful attempts to find territory in southern Palestine and its eventual migration to the far north . . . Gad, a Transjordanian tribe, would be constantly exposed to Bedouin raids. Asher’s prosperity in the north would have resulted from trade with the Phoenicians, though no doubt it also shared some of Zebulun’s discomfiture from the same quarter. Naphtali’s blessing seems to be a simple notice of its independent character as a mountain tribe in Galilee. The large space given to the prophecies about Judah and Joseph (that is, Manasseh and Ephraim together) accurately represents the dominance of these two tribal groups in the Judges period and in the following monarchical period, when they supplied the nuclei of the two Hebrew kingdoms. Joseph’s blessing dwells on its large population and the fertility of central Palestine where this confederation settled, while Judah’s waxes eloquent about its right to staff and sceptre and its glorious, if rather bloody, victories over its enemies, including the other tribes. . . The rendering of verse 10 “until he comes to whom it [the sceptre] belongs” is based on the ancient Greek version. It has a distinct messianic ring to it, and this verse was in fact often treated as a hidden prophecy of Christ by the early Church, which used the Septuagint. . . Benjamin was a small but important tribe in later times and gave the new nation its first king in Saul. It had a reputation for warlike fierceness (see 1 Chr. 8:40; 12:1–2), and it is this which is celebrated in its blessing.”[1]

 

There is only one thing to mention about all of this and that of all the blessings of Jacob, Judah would receive the true blessing. For from Judah would come the Messiah, as Gibson notes.  Even though Jacob chose Joseph, God chose Judah and there was nothing Jacob could do about that.  This is because true blessing comes from God and not from man.  You cannot go to a clergyman and receive a blessing.   Certainly he can pray for you and ask that God will bless you but it is God alone who blesses and withholds blessing.  None of these things are found in the power of man.  Jacob, as a young man, seemed to believe that the blessing lay in the hands and thoughts of his father so he concocted a plan to deceive him into thinking that he was his elder brother Esau in order to steal the blessing.  The reality is that Isaac could not have given the blessing to Esau because the power to give the blessing did not come from Isaac but from God.  Had Jacob simply acted in honor and in integrity, he would have received the blessing and he would not have had to spend so many years in running and in the wilderness.  He would not have had to fear his brother’s wrath and he would have never had to suffer the wound in his hip. In short, his life would been a lot better off had he simply trusted in God’s promise given before he was born. While it is easy to condemn Jacob for this, it is true that most of us make the same mistakes all the time.  We have the benefit from learning from Jacob’s mistakes, so hopefully we’ll be careful not to repeat them.

 

So here we are at the end of this masterpiece we call Genesis – perhaps a book that has been read by more people than any other in the history of the world.  The sons of Jacob have now had the opportunity to draw no generations of God’s faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac and their father Jacob.  They have been brought out of famine and into abundance.  They have all received a promise from God that their families would each grow into powerful clans and that their lines were secure.    After Jacob passed, it occurred to them that perhaps Joseph allowed them to live on account of their father.   So what did they do when their father died? As some might say when one generation repeats the mistakes of the former . . . “and the beat goes on.” They did the same thing that their great-grandfather, grandfather and father did when they found themselves between a rock and a hard place . . . they turned to deception to save themselves from what they perceived as their inevitable demise. “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “’what if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’ so they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘your father left these instructions before he died: This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.’ When their message came to him, Joseph wept” (Genesis 50:15-17).  The brothers did not get the lessons that were learned by their fathers.  As we have discussed before, every generation must learn its own lessons, yet the real student of God will not have to learn again what others had to learn the hard way.  Joseph seemed to have learned the lessons and it was time for him to teach his brothers, and us, a lesson that will spare each of us the deepest of pain, “Don’t be afraid, Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-21).

 

So what will it be for you? Will you trust God in the midst of the unknown of our life?  One of the most important lessons of Genesis is that our own attempts to manipulate others as well as events in order to preserve ourselves are a terrible waste of time that will create bigger problems than it will solve.  God calls us to simply trust him in the good and the bad for he has a plan and that plan will be carried out with perfection.  I pray that we would all learn to live peacefully and joyfully under the covering of God’s sure promises.  If you want to experience life in this relationship, it begins with trusting in Jesus, the lion of Judah who remains forever as King.  This King descended from his throne, took upon humanity and paid for the sins of us all.  Trust Christ today and experience a life underneath the shelter of his gentle, powerful wings.


[1]Gibson, John C.L.: Genesis : Volume 2. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, c1981 (The Daily Study Bible Series), S. 312

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4 Responses to “Genesis 48-50: And the Beat Goes On . . . Are You Willing to Trust God’s Promises?”

  1. Derek Taylor Says:

    This concept where God keeps selected the second born or second favorite makes me think of what Jesus said: The first will be last and the last will be first.

    It also makes me think of what our culture tells us – pursue your dreams and you can accomplish anything. How should we as people of faith in Christ treat our dreams and heartfelt desires? It is a question I’m really pondering as we finish Genesis.

  2. Bruce Smith Says:

    I like the connection that you draw between the words of Jesus and the lessons of Genesis. I have never really thought of that but it makes sense. It will certainly be wonderful to see so many who followed Jesus in earthly obscurity receive incredible honor on that day.

    When it comes to chasing our dreams, the lesson of Genesis would seem to indicate that we must be careful not to pursue our dreams through manipulation. It is certainly good that we have dreams and aspirations, we must chase them with integrity and trust. This is particularly difficult when the dream that we have doesn’t appear to be coming to fruition. In those moments, we will fight the greatest of temptations to compromise so that we can have what we think we really want. Yet, when we do get what we had hoped for by this means, it is such a hollow feeling.

  3. Derek Taylor Says:

    Thanks for that guidance, Bruce. I think you also just answered my other question from the previous passage: When Jacob says “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life”, I think he was probably feeling regret more than anything. I think he began to realize at the end of his life that his striving and manipulation of others and of God had brought him nothing but trouble and heartache. The whole time, God had nothing but the best of intentions for him, which he saw much more clearly, I think, particularly after seeing Joseph in Egypt.

    Wow. May God help us to see this now and not late in life.

  4. Bruce Smith Says:

    This is our challenge.

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