Saturday, December 01, 2012

Genesis Chapter 48 ~ Nation Building, Adoption, & the Kingdom of God

Genesis Chapter 48

Rembrandt, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Josef, 1656
Approaching Jacob/Israel
Joseph was told that Jacob was ill, so he took his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. It was told to Jacob that Joseph came to him. Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed and said to Joseph: "God Almighty [El Shaddai] appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, 'Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.' And 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. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)." (vs. 3-7)

Gustave Doré
Joseph Brings His Sons to Israel
When Israel saw Joseph's sons, he said, "Who are these?" (vs. 8) Joseph said, "They are my sons, whom God has given me here." Jacob said, "Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them." (vs. 9) Israel's eyes were dim with age, and he could not see. Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them (vs. 10). Israel said to Joseph, "I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also." (vs. 11) Joseph bowed with his face to the earth, and Joseph took his sons, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him. (vs. 13)

Israel Crosses His Hands
Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was younger, and left his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (Manasseh was the firstborn).

Israel Blesses Joseph & the Boys
Israel blessed Joseph saying, "The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth." (vs. 15-16)

Guercino Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh before 1666
Joseph Tries to Correct Israel
When Joseph saw that Israel laid his right hand on Ephraim's head, it displeased him, and he took Israel's hand to move it to Manasseh's head. (vs. 17) Joseph said to Israel, "Not this way, my father; since this one is the first born, put your right hand on his head." (vs. 18) Israel refused and said, "I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations." (vs. 19)

Israel Blesses the Boys
Israel blessed them that day, saying, "By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, 'God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.'" (vs. 20) Israel put Ephraim before Manasseh, and then he said to Joseph, "Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow." (vs. 21-22)

Reflections on Genesis 48
(1) Nation Building
God is building a nation out of the weakest people on earth in Genesis: the Hebrews. Jacob's name becomes the banner over the nation: "Israel". The specific place that God promised to this people is the land of Canaan, but as we are seeing here they are sojourning to Egypt for a time (400 years).

(2) Adoption: Jacob's Blessing of Ephraim & Manasseh & Israel's Future Inheritance
This chapter focuses on Jacob's blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, and the language of, "your two sons...are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine," shows that God is adopting Joseph's boys as Jacob's sons. (vs. 5-6, 9). God is covenantally adopting them for Himself through Jacob. Adoption: this is the earliest example of full adoption in the Bible that I know of, and it displays a glimpse of the power that adoption can impart (I don't think Abraham and Lot is an example of full adoption). Ephraim and Manasseh inherit Jacob's blessing as if they are his sons, namely having a share in the inheritance of the Promised Land (Shechem). Jacob (acting partially in the role of prophet/priest/king here) pulls Ephraim and Manasseh up to an equal level of inheritance with their 11 uncles (we'll see Jacob bless their uncles next, in Genesis 49). This chapter (and chapter 49) provide an explanation of how Ephraim and Manasseh receive a share in the inheritance of land along with their uncles. Also, Jacob's "greater blessing" of Ephraim explains how it is that Ephraim will become stronger. God ordained that the younger (Ephraim) would dominate the older (Manasseh), not unlike Jacob receiving the greater blessing from Isaac (through deception, but also God's fore-ordination). Ephraim, later in Israel's history, will become the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It started here. Also, it's important to note that this is not the particular seed through whom God will bring the Messiah (Jesus is in the line of Judah), although Jacob's favoritism of Joseph would seem to indicate that he thinks, and maybe even hopes, that it will be the main genealogical line of God's particular favor through which He will bring His Messiah.

(3) Jesus Christ: Dispenser of God's Covenantal Blessing of Adoption
Jacob is an instrument in God's hand here in his partial role of being a prophet, priest, and king. This points to Jesus Christ. Bruce Waltke makes this connection well:
Now Jacob mediates the blessing without the direct intervention of God to bestow it. Later, sacred personnel - the high priest (Num. 6:24-26) and king (1 Chron. 16:2) - mediate God's blessing on the generations of Israel, and the people's prayer for one another mediate blessing. The ascending Jesus Christ (prophet, priest, and king) and Son of God extends his pierced hands toward his representative church and blesses it (Luke 24:50-51). Today the Lord richly blesses all who call on him (Rom. 10:12). (Waltke, 602)
If we turn from our sin and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have the perfect Prophet, Priest, and King. We no longer need men (like Jacob) to be our prophets, priests, and kings, because Jesus Christ perfectly fulfills each office. We don't need to go to men in order to receive the covenantal blessing that God richly bestows upon His people, we need only faith alone in Jesus alone. Jesus Christ forged a better covenant through His blood. And our inheritance is not physical land on this earth, but the new heavens and the new earth that the Promised Land pointed to. We become heirs to the promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: "if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:29). We have an inheritance, as God adopts men and women as sons with full inheritance rights through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3-14). 

What do we inherit, exactly? [1] First, heaven and God Himself. If we repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ we become fellow heirs (along with Jewish believers in Jesus Christ) of what the Promised Land of Canaan pointed to, Heaven (Eph. 3:6). Through Jesus Christ we inherit the kingdom of God (Eph. 5:5; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21). We become citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). We also become God's chosen people. Through Jesus Christ, Yahweh becomes our God and we His people. Second, and not wholly different, we inherit eternal life (Matt. 19:29; Titus 3:7).

The Kingdom of God: "God's people in God's place under God's rule"
What is the "kingdom of God"? Graeme Goldsworthy sums up the kingdom of God well, writing, "the essence of the kingdom [of God] is God's people in God's place under God's rule." (Goldsworthy, 87). Vaughan Roberts helpfully describes Goldsworthy's description of the kingdom of God in the introduction of God's Big Picture (pg. 25):
The perfect kingdom. One day Christ will return. There will be a great division. His enemies will be separated from his presence in hell, but his people will join him in a perfect new creation. Then at last the gospel promises will be completely fulfilled. The book of Revelation describes a fully restored kingdom: God's people, Christians from all nations, in God's place, the new creation (heaven), under God's rule and therefore enjoying his blessing. And nothing can spoil this happy ending. It is no fairy story; they really will all live happily ever after. 
Through the gifts of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, God adopts us as sons. We are no longer our own, and our identity becomes that of a child of God, similar to how Ephraim and Manasseh's identity becomes that of "Israel" - God's possession. When our identity becomes consumed in Jesus Christ we begin to live for different hopes. Hopes that are eternal. Hopes that are unchangeable. Can you see how adoption, rightly practiced, can show something of the character of God in His work in the gospel? In Genesis 48 we even see a small shadow pointing to all of this. 
[1] In answering this question I referred to this resource: Arnold, Clinton E. Ephesians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 93.

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