Without getting into the great debate between nature vs nurture, I think that we can all agree that people are products of our environment, at least to some extent. Today’s Scripture passage is a great example of that. Jacob and Joseph disagree on which of Joseph’s sons deserves the greater blessing. If you want to know why they have such different opinions, it may help to remember their past.
Please read Genesis 48:10-22.
In this culture, the firstborn son was entitled to a greater blessing from his father. When stretching out your hands, the greater blessing was given by the right hand than the left. Which is why Benjamin is “son of my right hand” and not “son of my left hand” (no offense to left-handed people!). Both Jacob and Joseph understand this principle of blessing, so why does Jacob want Ephraim to be blessed by his right hand, while Joseph wants Manasseh to be so blessed?
First, remember Jacob’s childhood. His twin brother Esau was born moments before him, and these precious seconds earned him the rights of the firstborn. As the younger brother, Jacob stewed with jealousy until he was able to trick his older brother into giving up his birthright, and then trick his father into giving him the firstborn’s blessing. After he gained all of this, he had to flee in fear of his older brother, and they never truly reconciled. In his heart of hearts, Jacob never really thought that the eldest brother deserved a special blessing, so he wants to change things.
Now, consider Joseph. He too was abused by his older brothers, and to a far greater extent than his father experienced. But he remained faithful to the Lord in the midst of his many trials. Joseph dedicated himself to doing things the right way, no matter what others said or did, and he experienced God’s blessing time after time. His valuable life experience has taught him that doing things the right way is important, even if you can’t understand why at the time.
So Joseph is determined that the culturally accepted practice of blessing the oldest son with the right hand is essential, while Jacob is determined to honor the younger brother over the older. Both are products of their upbringing. Joseph ultimately submits to his father’s decision because this too is the culturally accepted practice, and Jacob prophesies a great blessing on Joseph’s sons.
This debate between the two Patriarchs is a great reminder for us to examine the motives for our beliefs. Joseph believed with all his heart that his father was in the wrong, and that’s primarily because of his life experiences. Likewise, Jacob was determined to do things his way because of his life experiences.
Often, we are the same way: our life experiences, our childhood upbringing, things that have happened to us, and the consequences that we did or did not experience for our actions affect the way we think about things. It is often difficult to have conversations with people who come from different life experiences. Their way of thinking is so foreign to us that we want to scream out with Joseph, “Not this way!”
There are times when people say things that seem unfathomable to us, propose courses of action that we cannot even consider, and believe things that we find incredulous. Many of these beliefs are coming to light now, during our current political climate. At times like these, even though everything within us screams in outrage, we must respond the same way that Joseph did: we can disagree, but we must have humility. It is more important to represent God in a good light, and to live at peace with our neighbors as far as it depends on us, than it is to win an argument.
By following these principles, even though his younger son was more blessed than his eldest, Joseph saw both his sons being blessed by his father, and they will both become great nations. It might not be exactly how he wanted it, but relationships were maintained, peace was kept, and his family was blessed. That’s more important than winning the argument.
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