Blessings keep on coming - Genesis 48
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
~~Blessings Keep on Coming 7.4.19
A Christian writer who has had a major impact on my life is Os Guinness.. He is without doubt one of the foremost evangelical thinkers and apologists of his generation.
He was born in China during the Second World War to missionary doctor parents- they personally knew Eric Liddell of ‘Chariots of Fire’ fame. As you can imagine life became very difficult for them when China was invaded by the Japanese resulting in an estimated 17 million people being killed. He said that as a result of a famine in 1943, ‘five million died in three months, including my two brothers, and there were 10 million refugees on the road. I survived and so did my parents, but my mother described how awful it was for her as a doctor when there was no food, no medicine, and people were dying all over the place. There was cannibalism, crime, prostitution, and parents selling their own children for a meal. It was an absolutely horrendous situation.’ He went on to remark, ‘My parents gave me a faith with immense realism. Today, I often meet young Americans who have never seen a dead body outside of a film or TV. I saw hundreds before I was ten, but more importantly my parents brought me up to face and understand the reality of a fallen world, broken and ground down by oppressive regimes. They gave me the foundations for a deep and robust faith.’
From another point of view Os Guinness’s faith could be traced back to his great, great, great Grandmother who married Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer and evangelical Christian, because she committed herself to pray regularly not only for her own children to come to faith in Christ but the next five generations. That is what a Christian parent wants more than anything else- for their children to know the blessings, which includes the sufferings, of being a follower of the one true God in Jesus Christ- in short to be children of the covenant.
Now in our passage this morning we see something like that going on especially with Jacob and Joseph and his two sons. Even on his death bed, Jacob wants his children to know the joy of walking with God.
Although the story presents us with Jacob as the main character, it is Jacob’s God which has shaped that character that is very much to the fore. And so I want us to zero in on some of the things this passage has to tell us about the God Jacob served and whom we can know personally through the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first thing is that he is the covenant God, (v1-6). In verses 1 and 2 Joseph is informed that his father is terminally ill, aware that this will probably be the last time he will see his father alive he takes with him his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. Joseph is now about 59 years old and so his two sons would be in their teens at least. And then in verse 5 Jacob tells Joseph that he is going to treat Joseph’s sons as if they were his own. Later on in Scripture they are referred to as the two half tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim. Now pause for a moment to think about what both Joseph and Jacob have done.
Take Joseph who is second only to Pharaoh. His sons are half Egyptian which means that Joseph could have secured a very prosperous future for them had he wanted to. They could have had palaces, chariots, and treasures aplenty. But Joseph in taking them to Jacob to receive the blessing means he is turning his and their backs on all of that in order to throw in his lot with God’s people. They are now children of the covenant- part of the heritage of the increased numbers God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sure they had land in Egypt. Sure, they belonged to the upper echelons of Egyptian society. But all of that in principle is to be consigned to the rubbish bin if needs be in order to belong to the covenant community of God. Doesn’t that seem like some kind of madness? But Joseph for all his status and wealth, for all his influence and prestige knew he didn’t really belong in Egypt. No, his identity was not to be found in his position in Egypt but his position in God- he was one of the chosen people and so were his two sons who by Jacob’s were to be adopted into God’s family.
And you know we are faced with a similar choice. Are we content to be known as a Christian but still making our home in ‘Egypt’- going along with society’s values, not creating too many waves, fitting in and laying low; or are we going to be like Joseph and be whole hearted in our commitment to the covenant God who has committed himself to us, a commitment sealed in blood? Let me put it another way: in those quiet moments of contemplation as you ponder what you might want for your children or grandchildren, what are the first things to pop into your head- ‘Good health, good education, good job’? Because if following Jesus and being part of his family the church are not at the top of your thoughts, you have got your priorities seriously wrong.
I mentioned the Guinness’s knew Eric Liddle. Well, the film Chariots of Fire is in some ways a comparison of two men- one who, if you like, longed for the glory of Egypt and the other the glory of Christ. Set in France and the 1924 Olympics, there is Harold Abrahams running for personal glory, and Eric Liddle running for God’s glory. In one scene just before the Olympic race Abrahams confesses to a friend ‘You know, I used to be afraid to lose, but now I am afraid to win. I have ten seconds in which to prove the reason for my existence, and even then I am not sure I will.’ That is how most personal glory is sought, but when it arrives it leaves us empty- and- insecure. By contrast at another point in the film Eric Liddle is reprimanded by his sister for trying too hard in his efforts to win the gold medal and so neglecting things of greater importance which for her is missionary work. His answer reveals that he saw all his life connected to God: ‘Jenny’ he says, ‘God has made me for a purpose-for China. But he has also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.’ And as Abrahams wins the 100 metres, in the midst of the thunderous applause there is a silent despondency within. But when Liddle wins the 300 metres, he packs his bags and off he goes to China with the gold medal in its proper place and his heart at peace with God. Joseph and Jacob are at peace with God and know where their true future lies and it isn’t in Egypt because they knew God was going to fulfil his covenant promises. And while it is the case, as we see at the end of chapter 49, that Jacob was not to see Canaan again, he wanted to be buried there which was itself a sign of faith because the true Canaan of course is not in the Middle East, it is in heaven- that is the everlasting possession mentioned in v4.
But here is the question: how are he and Joseph (and us for that matter) going to know that God is able to deliver on his promises? This brings us to the adequate God. Notice the name he uses to describe God whom he encountered in verse 3, it is ‘God Almighty’- El Shaddai- the all sufficient, all powerful God. What is so significant about that? Well, it is a title which appears six times in the Book of Genesis, and almost without exception it occurs when God’s people are at the end of their tether, when things seem so desperate, so hopeless there is nowhere else to turn. That is when El Shaddai appears and a good thing too because his options are not limited; his resources never run out, his wisdom can’t be stumped. And you can just imagine Joseph thinking ‘Tell me about it Dad! How else did I cope on that long journey into Egypt with hands tied as a slave; how else did I manage those years of service in Potiphar’s house with that wretched woman making my life a misery; what else kept me keeping going during those seemingly interminable years in jail, not to mention the heavy responsibility placed on my shoulders to sort out the famine- of course it was El Shaddai who sustained me!’ But don’t you sometimes entertain the nagging doubt that, that maybe, just maybe, you have somehow used up your allotted resources from God- that perhaps this time he will come up short? I just love the way C.H. Spurgeon portrays the absurdity of doubting God’s sufficiency. He says, ‘It seemed to me as if some tiny fish, being very thirsty, was troubled with fear of drinking the river dry, and Father Thames said to him, "Poor little fish, my stream is sufficient for you." I should think it is, and inconceivably more! My Lord seemed to say to me, "Poor little creature that you are, remember what Grace there is in Me and believe that it is all yours. Surely it is sufficient for you." I replied, "Ah, my Lord, it is, indeed." Put one mouse down in all the granaries of Egypt, when they were the fullest after seven years of plenty, and imagine that one mouse complaining that it might die of famine. "Cheer up," says Pharaoh, "poor mouse, my granaries are sufficient for you." Imagine a man standing on a mountain and saying, "I breathe so many cubic feet of air in a year. I am afraid that I shall ultimately inhale all the oxygen which surrounds the globe." Surely the earth on which the man would stand might reply, "My atmosphere is sufficient for you." I should think it! Let him fill his lungs as full as ever he can, he will never breathe all the oxygen, nor will the fish drink up all the river, nor the mouse eat up all the stores in the granaries of Egypt! Does it not make unbelief seem altogether ridiculous?’ And Jacob wants Joseph and his sons to know that with El Shaddai such unbelief should have no place for the believer.
But, this doesn’t mean there will be no pain with El Shaddai, because look at verse 7, ‘As I was returning from Paddan to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).’ Why does he mention that? You could move from verse 6 to 8 without breaking up the story, but it seems that Jacob can’t mention the name El Shaddai without also mentioning the death of his dear wife Rachel from which he never really recovered. Back in chapter 35 where we read of Jacob’s encounter with God who calls himself El Shaddai, the very next thing recorded is the death of Rachel in childbirth as she gave birth to Benjamin- it was such a painful memory. And surely that name would have meant so much more to Jacob holding his little baby boy in his arms while looking on his dear wife in death. Who was going to sustain him through this? El Shaddai. Having God Almighty does not mean being taken around trouble; rather it is being sustained through trouble.
Which brings us to the generous God, vv 8-11, ‘When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?” “They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”
Martin Luther would
often quote a Latin proverb, ‘Nothing ages more quickly than gratitude.’
There were times he would brood gloomily as he thought of the future course
of the Reformation- he wrote, ‘The ingratitude and the irreverence would
terrify me. Therefore I fear that this light will not long endure.’ He
recognised the pitfall of forgetting God when times were good and that one
of the sure ways of avoiding falling into it was to constantly be reminding
oneself of God’s kindness. Joseph could have dwelt on all the bad things
that had happened to him, but he didn’t and so he named one of his son’s
-Manasseh which means ‘forgetful’ because God had caused him to
be forgetful of the hard times. He called his other son Ephraim, which means
‘fruitful’ because God had enabled him to flourish even in the
land of adversity. As he said to Jacob in answer to his question, ‘Who
are these lads’, ‘They are the sons God has given me here. ’
Jacob to was not going to short-change God of his gratitude, v 11, ‘I never expected to see your face again Joseph letter alone seeing grandchildren.’ The sure way to counter becoming a grouchy Christian is to cultivate being a thankful Christian. Take time out to ponder God’s blessings and to make the effort, if one is needed, of giving him thanks. Think of Jesus in Matthew 11. His ministry had met with hardly any fruit in some of the towns in which he had been preaching and performing miracles in Galilee and so he pronounces what in effect is a curse on them for throwing over such a wonderful, generous God-given gift of having the Son of God himself come to them in person. But he didn’t allow that rejection to get him down because straight after that he bursts out, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.’ (Mt.11:25-26). Could I ask: How is your praise life (not your prayer life), these days? Do you take time out to reflect on God’s goodness to you, looking back with gratitude, thinking of specific things God has done for you over the years, especially when things are tough, so that you do not rob God of his glory and you do not rob yourself of being strengthened inwardly with the knowledge that the God you serve is so kind. Friends, we really do worship the generous God.
Finally, we worship the choosing God.
When Joseph places his two sons before their Grandad he does so deliberately in what he thinks is the right order- the eldest at his right hand and the youngest on his left, probably because Jacob’s eyesight is fading and so Joseph tries to help him along. But to Joseph’s consternation, Jacob crosses over his hands deliberately to give the youngest son, Ephraim, the greater blessing-v 14.
Jacob chose to defy convention (maybe in a God-inspired way) to bless the younger son over the older one and in so doing reflects the way God himself tends to work in his divine choosing or election. The people we might expect to be chosen and used by God- the influential, the well-educated, the movers and shakers - he passes over in favour of the apparent nondescripts, the powerless and unimpressive. He did it in Corinth when the Gospel arrived there, as Paul reminds them in 1 Corinthians 1:26-not many of them were drawn from the upper echelons of Corinthian society- but he saved them. When God decided to bring about a revival in Britain and the colonies in the 18th century, it was not the Oxford Don John Wesley he chose in the first instance to spear head the revival, it was the lowest of the low in the University, George Whitfield, son of a pub owner from Gloucester that he endowed with the Holy Spirit to lead countless numbers to faith. And maybe, it will not be in the well heeled churches of London that God will bring about our much needed revival, but Hull, or Bradford. Why not, after all that seems to be God’s pattern? And you can see why. If it were only through the rich and educated that God chose to work, then we would soon think it is because they are rich and educated that the blessing comes. So we might falsely conclude that we have to either be rich and educated if God’s work is really going to advance. But when it is through those who, humanly speaking, don’t seem to have much to offer, then it is obvious where the source of blessing comes - God, because there is no other explanation.
And so it is when it comes to the greatest blessing God bestows upon mankind through whom appeared to be the most unpromising of Jacob’s sons- Judah, look at chapter 48:10, ‘The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.’ He is talking about God’s Messiah- Jesus. When he came it was from a Jewish teenager, Mary, under suspicious circumstances which neither he nor his mother could never shake off, such that later Jewish writing said he was the illegitimate product of an adulterous liaison with a Roman soldier called Panter. The greater part of his life was spent in the despised North, making doors and laying floors. He had rough hands and an uncultivated accent, why, even when he went about choosing his followers they were from the most unlikely background, it would have been like Billy Graham going down to Hull docks in its heyday choosing the workers there to be his successors in world evangelism. The Church needs to get over its love affair with the rich and influential- thinking ‘If only we can get these people of influence we will make headway’. No, that is not God’s way. The Gospel is to be shared indiscriminately, to all people regardless of age, social class, education and background. Now it may be that you are here this morning thinking ‘I don’t know as much as some other people in church; I have little to offer, what would God want with someone like me?’ Well, let me say you are precisely the kind of person he wants- an Ephraim, because he wants to bless you and make you his through his Son, the Lion of Judah, who came for you and died for you, so why not commit yourself to him now as we pray.
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