Famous Last Words, Part 1

Genesis 48

Here are some famous last words of people on their death-bed:
“Our God is the God from whom cometh salvation: God is the Lord by whom we escape death.” Martin Luther “Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death.” John Knox “Thou, Lord, bruisest me; but I am abundantly satisfied, since it is from Thy hand.” John Calvin “The best of all is, God is with us. Farewell! Farewell!” John Wesley “I shall be satisfied with Thy likeness–satisfied, satisfied!” Charles Wesley.

George McDonald wrote to his sorrowing wife when their daughter died. He began by telling her that she wouldn’t find consolation in lovely but empty sentiments that he called “pleasant fancies of a half-held creed.” He then pointed out that the Great Shepherd had gone before and prepared the way for their daughter. McDonald reminded her that they were both moving along day by day toward that same destination. In closing, he said, “We seek not death, but still we climb the stairs where death is one wide landing to the rooms above.” The faith of a dying man is what we have here in Genesis 48. Hebrews 11 describes it this way: “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.” What we are about to look at this week and the next two weeks is the climax of Jacob’s faith, the high point. Jacob is never more faithful to his God than he is right here. And that is a great testament to the grace of God.

First of all, however, we must begin by noticing the faith of Joseph. Joseph wants his two sons to be blessed by Jacob. In doing so, he is forever letting go of any possible advantages from Egypt for his two sons. He could have promoted them up through the Egyptian hierarchy until they stood ready to inherit Joseph’s position. But Joseph does not allow them to do that. He sees with the eyes of faith. And what he sees is the land of Canaan, the inheritance promised to them. So the promise and blessing of Jacob is worth more to Joseph than all Egypt.

Next, we notice that Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh as his own sons. Jacob is remembering the promises of God given to him, who was the younger son. Now he wants to do the same thing for Joseph, a younger son. And further than that, he will eventually bless Ephraim, the younger son, over Manasseh, the older son. But what Jacob is really doing here is turning the past into the future by means of blessing. Let me repeat that: Jacob is turning the past promises of God unto future hope by means of blessing. Verse 5 states that Ephraim and Manasseh are going to replace Reuben and Simeon as the two oldest sons. What is happening here is a formal adoption process. But it is not merely an adoption. It is also giving the birthright to Ephraim and Manasseh. So Ephraim and Manasseh actually replace Reuben and Simeon. Another thing that is going on here is that Joseph is receiving the double portion of the inheritance. Joseph has the birthright, and, through his two sons, now receives a double portion of the blessing.

Jacob cannot give such a blessing without remembering Rachel, and how much he misses her. He could perhaps have benefited from George Macdonald’s words quoted earlier. The Great Shepherd had indeed gone before Rachel to prepare the way for her.

Then we come to the blessing proper in verses 8 and following. Jacob asks the question, “Who are these?” just to make sure that he is blessing the right people. His eyesight isn’t so good, and he remembers well what happened with his father Isaac. He wants to make sure that there is no mistake. He wants to make sure that they are Joseph’s sons. We know this because Joseph does not have to give the actual names of Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph knows what Israel needs to know: namely, that they are in fact his sons.

What happens next is quite curious. Joseph knows that the oldest son gets the better blessing. He also knows that the right hand is the more powerful hand. And so he makes sure that his first-born Manasseh is going to be blessed by Israel’s right hand, and Ephraim, the younger, will be blessed by Israel’s left hand. However, it does not turn out that way. Israel may have lost his eyesight, but he never lost his insight. He did what God told him to do. And we see yet another part of that pattern that we have seen so often in Scripture: the younger is preferred to the older. We have see it with Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and the brothers, and now Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph either doesn’t see the crossing of the hands, or else he is too speechless to do anything about it until it is too late. In any case, the blessing is done, with Ephraim receiving the right hand blessing, and Manasseh the left hand blessing. They are both blessed by Israel, however. In that respect, this relationship is different from the other older/younger son combinations. In those the older son didn’t receive any blessing, and was outside the covenant. Here, however, both sons are in the covenant.

What is the blessing of the covenant? It is the blessing of God on Adam and Eve in chapter 3, the promise of the Seed to break the head of the serpent. It is the promise of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Look closely at the text, and you will see Jesus there. Notice that God the Father is the subject of verse 15, but the Angel is the subject of verse 16. Grammar is sometimes important for us. Here it is vitally important. God the Father and the Angel blesses the boys. The verb in Hebrew is singular. God the Father and the Angel are one and the same. The Angel here is Jesus Christ before He became incarnate, not a created being, but the preincarnate Christ. They share the same verb here. They both bless as one God.

Well, Joseph finally gets around to reacting to this, which, to him, seems like someone saying the wrong name at a baptism, and he remonstrates with Israel in verse 18: “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” Israel has a very interesting response to that: “I know, my son, I know.” What Israel is saying there is that he knows the world’s way of doing things. He knows that the rule is that the firstborn gets the lion’s share of the blessing. However, he knows that the Lord has revealed this to him. This again shows Israel’s great faith: he believes in the Word of God revealed to him. Jacob is here a prophet, just like Abraham was before him.

The last pointer to Israel’s faith is in his gift to Joseph of the land of Shechem. That is literally what Israel says here. It could be that he is remembering the incident of Simeon and Levi in decimating the town of Shechem. He acquired it through those sons, but he is giving it to Joseph. Israel’s faith is seen in that, though he certainly does not live in the Promised Land, he believes in the promise of God that it will one day belong to Israel again. He even thinks it will be in Joseph’s lifetime. And, as a matter of fact, Manasseh possesses Shechem when they return

We have seen Christ in the blessing. But we also see Christ in the chapter as a whole. What happens in this chapter is again what God usually does in salvation history: He chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. He does not pick the first-born, but the younger and weaker. This is so that God’s glory will shine all the brighter. God chose that Jesus, choosing the weaker way of death, would be highly glorified in His resurrection from the dead. We can see then the light on the other side. A few days before his death, Dr. F. B. Meyer wrote a very dear friend these words: “I have just heard, to my great surprise, that I have but a few days to live. It may be that before this reaches you, I shall have entered the palace. Don’t trouble to write. We shall meet in the morning.” That is the hope that we have. The hope of the other side. Death is not extinguishing the light from the Christian; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come. What we have seen is Jacob’s last words. They are words full of faith and hope for Israel’s future, both his own future, and the future of his offspring. As Jesus says, God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is not God of the dead, but of the living.

Do you expect the worldly way to work? Do you expect, as it were, the first-born of the world to get all the blessing, while the younger son, the Bible’s way of doing things, not to work? Where is your faith? Is your faith such that you believe in God’s promises that if you obey the law, you will be blessed, and that if you disobey the law, you will be cursed? Do you believe that Jesus took that curse of the law on Himself so that you could have the blessing? Where is that belief when you refuse to read God’s word everyday? What about Titus 2? Where is that belief when you fight, fight, fight for your supposed rights? Where is the belief in God’s promises when you ignore Biblical teaching on a host of issues? Do you run your life by the Bible? Do you trust God’s Word as Israel did? Then you need to use only the Bible as your guide, trusting in the Angel of the Lord, namely, Jesus Christ.

13 Comments

  1. November 19, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    Excellent article. It is a great encouragement to my soul. I greatly appreciate it. What an excellent example of how continuous the covenant view of the Bible is. It is united contextually around the person and work of Jesus Christ. Amen!

  2. greenbaggins said,

    November 20, 2006 at 10:12 am

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Seth McBee said,

    November 20, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Praise God. Great article on the trusting of the Lord’s Word above all else. Just to add why we should trust His Word alone look at Psalm 138:2…you have magnified Your word according to all Your name.

    God magnified His word above even His own essence, how much more should we believe in what He has said instead of what sometimes seems to be right in front of us.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    November 20, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Seth. Quick question: what do you mean by “magnified His word above even His own essence?” Just curious.

  5. Seth McBee said,

    November 20, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    The term “name” and the meaning of someone’s name was more than just calling me Seth, it was by understanding someone’s essence. Psalms 138 speaks of God, magnifying (to make important) according (to be above) His own essence. Meaning that His word is supreme. We see this a little more in 2 Peter 1:20,21 when Peter speaks of seeing Christ on the Mount and hearing God speak, but the written word was made more sure. The word of God has been exalted above everything as Psalm138 speaks. We could continue to go on why this gives us more comfort and direction but I think you stand where I do on the word of God.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    November 20, 2006 at 3:08 pm

    I do know we stand in the same place with regard to the Word of God. :-) I think for me, it is a question of what that vese means. Does the “all” in Ps 138:2 include God’s essence, or is it talking about created things? The context might seem to indicate in the “gods” direction (vs 1). What do you think?

  7. Seth McBee said,

    November 20, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    In verse 2 it speaks of “praising thy name” meaning of course YHWH and so, I take it to mean at the end of verse 2 to be again referring to YHWH. Instead of going back to verse 1, it seems David is speaking of YHWH both times he uses the term “thy name” in verse 2.

    So, I would take it that the “all thy name” means that God has magnified His word above even His own name. It seems as though the Psalm continues to give reverence to God and His word. It seems as though the focus is on YHWH the entire passage (thy holy temple, thy lovingkindness, thy truth, thy word, thy mouth, thy right hand, thy mercy) so I would be surprised if David was referring to any other name than YHWH’s in verse 2. To change from talking of the true “thy” to “the gods” would seem to be odd. But, I have never heard that “argument” before.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    November 20, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    I’m looking at several translations right now that have quite some difference from the KJV. Here is the NIV: “you have exalted above all things your name and your word.” Quite a few translations take this tack. The question is this: does the noun “your name” function as the direct object of the verb “exalt,” or does it function as the object of the preposition “above?” This, I think, is the crux. What say you?

  9. Seth McBee said,

    November 20, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    Look at the NASB translation. It would seem to agree with my interpretation, I have not looked at the ASV which would probably be a great place to look as well.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    November 20, 2006 at 3:54 pm

    Well, my point is not to count translations, but to ask the exegetical question: which use of “your name” should fit the best? Personally, I have a difficult time theologically with saying that the Word is exalted above the essence of God. Wouldn’t that mean that what has emanated from God in the Word is somehow superior to God Himself?

  11. Seth McBee said,

    November 20, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    It is definitely a tough subject but I think Peter points to this a bit saying basically, “forget me actually seeing Christ and hearing the voice of God, because Scripture is far more important”

    It is maybe a dichotomy that is tough to distinguish. Could be like Paul saying “even if an angel from heaven came and preached a different Gospel” (Galatians 1:6-10) Well, we know this isn’t possible but the point is taken. Could be the same issue here in Psalm 138. To try and distinguish God’s word from Himself is probably futile, but the importance of His word is shown in Psalm 138 and of course, as we know, shown in many other places in Scripture. Thoughts? or dead horse?

  12. greenbaggins said,

    November 20, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    As a man thinks in his heart, so he is. The same is true of God, since we do believe that God has truly revealed Himself in His Word. The Bible is not some kind of deception. With that, it’s probably a dead horse.

  13. Seth McBee said,

    November 20, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    Hey…it was fun while it lasted…


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