I miss going to the movies. One of my favorite movies of last year was a murder mystery called “Knives Out.” It’s not exactly a family friendly movie, so I can’t recommend it as a pastor. But it was an enjoyable couple of hours in the theater in which I tried to discover which one of the relatives of a rich old man actually committed his murder. All of the relatives had something to gain by his death; all were hoping to get a massive windfall when he died, but who would stand to benefit the most from his passing? Who was the greatest beneficiary in his will?
In Genesis 48, Jacob knows that he is about to die, so he verbally dictates his own will by blessing his sons. This blessing was not a division of their physical inheritance, but it was a very important spiritual inheritance that will have massive ramifications on the tribes that his sons will sire. Next week, we will look more at this blessing. Today, we will focus on who exactly will receive the blessing.
Please read Genesis 48:1-9.
Jacob had twelve sons, and each one was entitled to a portion of his inheritance. As the firstborn, Reuben was entitled to a double portion of the inheritance, but Reuben had earlier lain with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (35:22). Jacob remembered this gross sin, and so disqualified Reuben from the rights of the firstborn.
Likewise, Simeon and Levi, the next two in line, had murdered and plundered an entire city. In Jacob’s own words, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land” (34:30), so they too lost the rights of the firstborn.
At this point, Judah would be next in the line of succession. In many ways, the tribe of Judah will later lead Israel as its firstborn: possessing a key portion of the promised land, providing important Kings to rule over Israel, and producing the Messiah, a lion of the tribe of Judah. But Jacob does not afford Judah the right of the firstborn. After three of his sons have disqualified themselves from that right, he takes it upon himself to grant it to his favorite son, a son who has gained the most success and provided the most for his family: Joseph.
Still, rather than giving Joseph the double portion that was reserved for the firstborn son, Jacob, goes about it in the roundabout way of adopting two of Joseph’s sons as his own. Thus Joseph’s descendants will now receive twice as much as the descendants of any other son of Jacob.
This isn't just a token blessing. Later, Ephraim and Manasseh will become two of the most powerful tribes in Israel. Especially during the time of Judges, Ephraim is one of the strongest military tribes in the nation. So, Jacob’s adoption and blessing of these two grandsons does end up bearing great fruit.
How can this be? How is it fair to Judah or Benjamin or Zebulun to receive less inheritance because Jacob chooses to adopt two grandsons? It’s not. And most of us put ourselves in the place of Judah or Benjamin or Zebulun and wail in outrage. But that is not who we are in this story.
As Gentiles who were born in sin and have lived our whole lives in rebellion against God, we have no part in the people of God. We are not members of the family of God. However, God looked on us with compassion and adopted us into His family as His children. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we too have joined in God’s family. We are the workers who were hired at the eleventh hour, the prodigal son who had forsaken his family, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the branches that have been grafted in. We are Ephraim and Manasseh, who have been adopted into the family because the Father has shown us compassion, grace, and mercy.
Jacob’s selection of Ephraim and Manasseh to take part in his last will and testament is purely an act of grace towards them, respect towards Joseph, and faith in God. Perhaps that is why Jacob is listed in the great Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11:21. He is not listed for trusting God in his travels, in his dealings with Laban, or in his wrestling with the angel, but in his blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. It is this last event of Jacob’s life that serves as a symbol to us today of the grace of our Heavenly Father.
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