Monday, December 19, 2011

Jacob Claims Joseph’s First Two Sons - Genesis 48:5-7

And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.  But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance.  Now as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died, to my sorrow, in the land of Canaan on the journey, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”

As Jacob is dying, he tells Joseph that his two sons born to him in Egypt are now his (Jacob’s), just as Reuben and Simeon, Joseph’s brothers, are his.

This is an incredible act of love by Jacob bestowed on his son Joseph.  Jacob is adopting his first two grandsons born to Joseph in Egypt as if they were his own children and as such giving them full rights to Jacob’s inheritance as his own sons.  And that includes inheritance in the land that God promised.  In essence then, Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob, gets a double portion of the inheritance – an honor that is usually afforded to the oldest son who in this case would have been Reuben, Leah’s first-born – one part going to Ephraim and one to Manasseh.  They too will become tribes and inherit land as tribes.

Some believe that Jacob’s eyes were failing him by this age and that as he spoke these words, he only saw the shadowy figure of Ephraim and Manassah.  Of course they were not young children any more and more likely in their twenties, as Joseph would have been in his fifties.  The reference in the text to Reuben and Simeon is to his first and second born sons and now Joseph’s first and second born sons are adopted by Jacob as if they were his own first and second born.  David Guzik suggests that perhaps they were ‘replacements’ for Reuben and Simeon, “who were in a sense disqualified from positions of status and leadership in Israel’s family because of both their sin” of treachery against Shechem and Hamor in Genesis 34 and Reuben’s sin of sleeping with his father’s concubine, Bilhah in Genesis 35:22.  There is no evidence one way or another on that view.

In earlier verses in this chapter, Jacob says, “God blessed me” and he now wants that blessing (that is, to multiply greatly and to have Canaan as an inheritance) to be shared with, or to apply to, Joseph’s children.  As we consider our blessings from God, we clearly have this built-in or innate desire to have our children and grandchildren experience the same blessings.  That is especially true of salvation.

Here in verse five we also see expressed a very beautiful picture of a grandfather’s love for his grandchildren when Jacob tells Joseph that his sons are his own as well.  As a grandfather I know now what that means.  I have often heard my daughters say to their friends, “I trust my dad totally with our children, he loves them and he takes care of them as if they are his own, always on the lookout for their well-being and safety.”  That means so much to me, but at the same time, it is a description that has to be demonstrated and earned.  And in my case, as a loving father who values life from its conception to its end, earning it comes most naturally.

Also included in this section is reference to any children that Joseph had after these first two.  Basically, Jacob was saying that Joseph’s other children would not be considered separately in any inheritance, but rather they need to identify themselves with either Ephraim or Manasseh, or both.  That is, they would not develop into their own tribes as part of God’s covenant with Israel.  For some, the point becomes a moot one, as we have no record of Joseph having other children.  Yet, it was wise of Jacob to give this as an instruction to prevent any potential future arguments after his death should there have been any other children born to his son, especially given what Jacob did for the first two.  The lesson for us, perhaps, is to learn to make provisions for the ‘possible’ and not just the ‘what is now’.  That’s prudence at work.

A small diversion from our study:

The above thoughts, however, do allow us to consider an interesting topic that many Christians tend to avoid these days and that is the topic of “pre-marital agreements” or arrangements of what should happen in the case of separation or divorce, which, believe it or not, happens frequently between Christians.  Let me state at the outset that I do not believe in divorce.  I believe God intended for us to remain together with our spouse until one of us should die.  That’s the rule.  When one studies the New Testament one will find some exceptions that appear to be supported (e.g. adultery) and that’s fine as well.  However, the fact remains that people – Christian people – do get divorced.  Then what?

Let me share a situation with you.  Person A enters a marriage with lots of hard-earned money and no debt.  Person B enters that same marriage with no money and lots of debt.  After B’s debts are covered using A’s money, the couple then makes major capital (e.g. land, houses, investments) purchases using the balance of A’s hard-earned money.  The couple then divorces.  Person B now gets half of everything that Person A’s money bought.  Without getting into who was at fault, the issue being discussed is whether or not a “pre-marital or pre-nuptial agreement” should have been in place to prevent that situation, and if so, is that what a Christian should do?

There is agreement that the Bible does not provide explicit teachings in this matter.  Pre-nuptial agreements were not around in the days of the Old Testament or the New Testament.  Still, the Christian church, both Catholic and Protestant, tend to be against them, since in God’s eyes, marriage is “until death do us part”.  And I would agree with that view of marriage.  The problem is that in reality, Christian spouses, in numbers almost right up there with their non-Christian counterparts, are leaving each other before death parts them.  Since the Bible is silent on their appropriateness, I find that the position of the Church is idealistic at best and one that ignores the reality of what is happening.  I understand that changing our view of pre-nuptials is very difficult.  It implies that, as a young couple in love, our “Christian marriage” has a chance of failing. Many of us cannot fathom that possibility making it next to impossible to accept for many.  The truth is that in fact, while your Christian marriage and mine has every intention of staying in tact until death, we see the casualties all around us among our Christian friends and acquaintances, and some of them were even believed to have been pillars of the church.  That is undeniable evidence that divorce, as much as God hates it and we should hate it too, does occur among us.  None of us are guaranteed it will never happen to us.

I do not have a pre-nuptial with my wife of almost 41 years.  Neither do any of my three children with their spouses.  They wouldn’t hear of it.  Yet, I still wonder how wise a decision that is these days.  In fact, may I be so bold as to suggest that not only may having a pre-nuptial agreement not encourage divorce, but rather I believe it may well help discourage it, depending on which party was better off before the marriage and which party is thinking of exiting the marriage.  After I wrote this section, I read some research from Cornell University that said people in general are avoiding marriage and living together because they fear the ravages of divorce.  You can read the research here:

My fear is that many of the young couples from our so-called Christian families who may not be well-grounded in the faith are doing the same thing and the idea of a pre-nuptial may well help offset that fear and help them to get married.

Returning to our scriptural text, we finally read of Jacob telling Joseph about the death of Rachel his mother who was Jacob’s best-cherished wife (see Genesis 35:19).  Perhaps Jacob, sensing his own dear death, felt he would ease his transition to the grave by remembering, with significant detail, the earlier death of his beloved wife.  As Christians, living after the ultimate sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross, when we become aware of our imminent death, we not only can find comfort in those that went before us but we can also look forward to joining them.  Jacob may not have had that benefit of knowledge, but he approached his own death as if he would have gleaned the same advantage.  I pray it will be so with you and me.

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