Israel asks “Who are these?” in reference to Joseph’s sons. That’s a little odd considering the length of time that Israel had been in Egypt. Had he yet to meet his grandchild whom he has just claimed as his own children? Clearly he knows about them to declare that they will receive the same inheritance as Joseph and the other sons of Israel. I think it is more likely that he is, much like Joseph did with his brothers, playing a game with Joseph. He is trying to appear as if he is slightly senile so that he can get the last laugh. When Joseph brings his two children to Israel to receive their blessing, Israel reverses their order and blesses the younger first and the older second. We see in verse 17 that Joseph has bought into Israel’s ploy. Joseph talks to his father as if his father is confused and does not know what he is doing. Israel knows exactly what he is doing. This short interaction calls a few other stories to memory. Jacob himself received the blessing due to the firstborn, although he was younger than his brother Esau. The craftiness of Jacob was clearly passed on to Joseph. We also read in Genesis 38 that the twin children of Judah born to Tamar had their birth order reversed at the exact moment of birth, with the first one to feel fresh air being the second to be born. A clear theme emerges from all of these stories: “The last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). If this reversal of roles leaves you feeling satisfied, why? Perhaps you are exactly the opposite. This situation makes you indignant. Once again, why?
In Israel’s final words to his children, we get a little reminder of why Judah was given more responsibility than the firstborn Reuben. Judah’s older siblings are vicious. The plot to kill Joseph and the massacre of an entire Canaanite establishment are just two examples of their perverse ways. Levi was an awful man by all accounts, but the priesthood comes out of this tribe. We know that during the wandering, the Levites were responsible for carrying all of the elements of the Tabernacle. Perhaps that was a form of punishment for the sins of Levi. Conferring this holy duty to the levites could also be considered a way to correct their course. They were pushed to become the gatekeepers for all their brothers, providing the means necessary to receive the grace of God through sacrifice and all the religious acts.
The other thing that grabs my attention from these blessings is that Israel blesses Judah with rulership of his siblings. This is manifested in the Kingship later. It seems like a wise choice considering who the other options are. Yet Joseph would also be a fair choice, would he not? Joseph is the one who all of the siblings bowed down to in their lifetimes. Yet Israel confers his blessing upon Judah. One issue with the reign coming out of Joseph is the split of his tribe into two halves, leaving one to rule and the other to serve, even though both are equally entitled to the position. Instead, Israel puts both half-tribes under Judah.
Though Joseph was a man of great power and authority, he was also a man of great emotion and compassion. We see a reflection of God’s nature in him. After Israel’s death, his brothers beg for their lives at the feet of Joseph. By all rights, this is the state we should find ourselves in before God. Then Joseph delivers one of my favorite lines of the Bible: “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good.” Those who attended reFuel will remember the song “See A Victory.” This song contains that line and I find great comfort in it. We must first experience the evil in order to come out on the other side and experience the good that God intended. Take comfort in God’s kindness.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+48-50&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will begin the exciting book of Exodus – chapters 1-3 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan