Friday, August 3, 2012

XXIX - Chapters 48 and 49 - Passing the Birthright

I find these two chapters (especially 49) interesting, exciting, and prophetic.  It takes a very research-minded student of the Bible to follow Jacob's predictions for the descendents of his respective sons forward into the next thousand years.  Predictions may not be an appropriate term.  Perhaps pre-destining?  perhaps assigning?  You be the judge as you consume the flavor of these two chapters, and let me know what you think.  Here again, I might be over-thinking some of this.

Chapter 48 - Manasseh and Ephraim

Word came to Joseph that his father Jacob was sick.  Joseph took his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, and immediately went to Goshen.  When Jacob heard that Joseph had arrived, he gathered his strength and sat up on his bed.  Jacob began his talk with Joseph by recounting his meeting with God in Bethel and repeating the covenant promises God had made him there (Gen 28:11-15).  Then Jacob surprises Joseph (surprises me too) by telling him he wants to adopt Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh (vs 5).  These two sons of Joseph were not born in the covenant family circle.  They were born in Egypt to an Egyption mother.  Jacob could sense that Joseph would not live to return to Canaan.  He therefore wanted to remove all obsticles to Joseph's sons' rights to their father's portion in Israel.  Jacob was a very smart man.  Adoption would guarentee them equal rights to any of Jacob's other sons.  I think this was an ingenious idea and would avert a future disaster.

Jacob shares with Joseph in vs 7 the details of his mother Rachel's death and told him she was buried near Bethleham.  Joseph was too young to remember.

Joseph had brought his sons with him.  Although Jacob was almost blind, he sensed that there were others with them, and asked "Who are these?".  Joseph told him they were his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  Jacob embraced his grandsons and kissed them.  Jacob praised God for allowing him to see not only Joseph (who he thought was dead), but also his grandsons.  Read thoroughly vss 10-21.  These verses tell of the ceremonial adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh, but the interesting thing that happens is that Jacob refuses to put his right hand on Manasseh's head.  Instead he (at the objections of Joseph) deliberately switches his hands to make sure he blesses Ephraim the younger ahead of Manasseh the elder, thereby granting the younger Ephraim the birthright traditionally held by the eldest son.

Chapter 49 - Jacob Blesses His Sons

Jacob's last act was to bless his other sons, and pronounces a prophecy upon them.  This prophesy would reflect their character and Jacob's hopes for their future.  As I stated earlier, Jacob was a master student of human nature, always observing, making mental notes of everything about everybody, especially his sons.  And now, with God's guidance, Jacob pronounces individual blessings, customized to each of his sons, from the oldest to the youngest.  And there are some pleasant surprises and some not-so-pleasant surprises.  Beginning with vs 3, allow me to paraphrase.

REUBEN    the eldest son received his blessing first.  Jacob had held high hopes for Reuben, being his first born.  But Reuben hopelessly compromised his position, and revealed a great weakness of character by his immoral involvement with his father's concubine Bilhah (Gen. 35:22).  Therefore his future was less than bright, with no specifics of special blessings given.  I'm sure Reuben was the most disappointed.  With being the eldest Reuben would have been expecting the very best.

SIMEON and LEVI   were linked together, which seems strange and unusual.  Jacob had nothing good to say about them.  Remember their violent anger and hasty revenge against the men of Shechem?  (Gen. 34:13-31)  They portrayed an unruly temper.  Jacob, therefore, would not bequeath his honor upon them, and wanted no part in the future of such uncontrollable people.  He sentenced them to be scattered throughout Canaan when the time of settlement came.  {This is one of the rare situations where we will see something of a contradiction, as Levi will contain the priestly lineage, which of course would be an honorable assignment.  However, in order for the Levites to be affective as priests, they must be represented in every part of the land where Israel is to be, thus "scattered".  We'll speak more on this soon.}

JUDAH    received wonderful praises.  He would have great military strength.  He would be like a young lion chasing its prey, a brave soldier putting his enemies to flight.  He would mature into an old lion that people would be afraid to disturb.  Judah would provide Isreal with political and spiritual leadership.  The Messiah would come out of Judah.  Judah's wealth would be so great that he would wash his clothes in wine.  He would be handsome with white teeth and sparkling eyes.  (Sounds to me like Judah comes out pretty good.)

ZEBULUN   would dwell by the sea in northern Israel.  He would become a mighty portmaster.

ISSACHAR   would be physically strong and content to work hard and enjoy the land.  He would sacrifice freedom for peace even though it meant paying tribute to foreign powers.

DAN   would provide Israel with judges and rulers.  He would be skilled in guerrilla-type warfare, very cunning and to be feared by his enemies.

GAD   would suffer temporary defeat, but he would eventually prevail over his enemies.

ASHER   would be a wealthy farmer, producing excellent foods and delicacies fit for a king.

NAPHTALI   would be swift and unpredictable like a deer just turned loose.  He would have elequant speech and produce beautiful children.

JOSEPH   Jacob's favorite son, was in for a glowing blessing.  His descendants would be many and he would successfully withstand the attacks of his enemies.  His blessings are almost indescribably wonderful and many.  His blessings would come from every direction, from the Heavens above and from the earth beneath.  They would be greater than anyone that ever came before him, and would be heaped up as high as the everlasting hills.

BENJAMIN  would be like a hungry wolf seeking his prey.  He would be a vicious and unsatisfied soldier, always eager for a battle.

All twelve sons of Jacob, the twelve tribes of the natiuon Israel have been blessed and can now ponder all of these words and can begin to imagine how they will fit into the future of the chosen nation.  In vss 29-32 Jacob gives some last-minute instructions concerning his burial.

In the last verse in the chapter it tells of Jacob's death.  {We've studied the life of this fine man Jacob, seeing all his warts and scars when he was young, and turning into such a fine man of God.  After studying these men so closely, I can't help feeling really sad when it tells of their death.}

Next post:  Chapter 50, the last chapter in Genesis

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