Genesis 48-50 The Deaths of Jacob and Joseph

Hi all!  I just wanted to take a minute and thank Stephanie for covering for me this week.  Her willingness to step in was encouraging to me in my absence.  Thanks for your faithfulness and preparation, friend! –Kelly

Ladies, we have finally arrived at the ending chapters of this book of firsts, and in many ways it is fitting to consider the end of the personal lives of these patriarchs as the nation itself is now birthed.  Like much of Genesis, these chapters contain some well-known verses as well as some unlikely twists in the narrative.  I trust you’ve had good discussions at your tables already this morning.  Now we want to take some time to look back at these ending chapters and see some overarching themes, namely that Israel’s (meaning Jacob’s) unlikely blessings reveal the faithfulness of God.  We will look at this first by considering the blessing of Joseph through his sons and second the blessing of Judah over his brothers.  Finally, we will remind ourselves that our response to the promise of God reveals our faith in Him.

            First, the unlikely blessing of Joseph through his sons.  The initial scene in chapter 48 is so personal.  Israel, here, is ill and on his deathbed, and Joseph is given word of it. What is about to take place in this somber and private setting is the offering of Israel’s blessing to his firstborn son.  It reminds us of Jacob’s own meeting with his father Isaac on his deathbed.  After all, wasn’t this that coveted meeting that Jacob sought and at which Esau felt betrayed and Isaac deceived?  The importance of this deathbed meeting cannot be overlooked.  Here, Israel will give the best of what he has…blessing, inheritance, to the honored firstborn.  Except, Israel’s firstborn is not here.  Where is Reuben?  Joseph is the one sent for, and Joseph comes to receive this blessing.  This is not how things should be done, but this time, aren’t we so relieved?  It just seems so right that Joseph would receive this inheritance!  After a life of faithfully following after God in spite of injustice and never taking revenge upon his brothers, he is given the double portion, the inheritance, the rights of the firstborn.  I Chronicles 5:1-2 makes clear that this substitution happened because of Reuben’s sin in defiling his father’s marriage bed and that though Judah, too, would be over his brothers, the rights of the firstborn were given to Joseph.  Isn’t that amazing?  The one who lived in exile from his family, who was as good as dead to his brothers and his father, is now given the richest of blessings and an inheritance for his children.  In Chapter 49, Israel elaborates on Joseph’s blessing with rich vocabulary, verse 22 “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.”  These are images of prosperity and of life.  As I’ve often heard our pastors say, “God will be no man’s debtor.”  God saw and remembered Joseph and his children, and now He will bless Joseph by naming his sons among Israel’s own children.  Each son receives a portion of the inheritance, equaling a double portion for Joseph’s descendants.  In Joshua 19, when the Israelites finally take possession of the land, Ephraim and Manasseh have become distinct tribes and receive their rightful territories along with Joseph’s brothers.

There is also something unlikely about the nature of the blessing on Joseph’s children. Israel switches his hands, putting Joseph’s second-born above his firstborn.  This makes three generations now of reversals.  What is the meaning of this switch?  I don’t know, but it does seem fitting that Israel’s blessings would include this irony.  It reminds us of how God used Jacob, despite his second-born status.  Joseph tries to intervene, but Israel is settled on the matter.  It is good for us to remember that God alone is the giver of good gifts, and even the “rightful heir” cannot claim anything from His hand.  God gives graciously as He chooses.  We should take care that we seek to worship Him as a good giver more than we lay claim to His good gifts.

Second, we see God’s faithfulness in the unlikely blessing of Judah over his brothers.  After conferring the rights of the firstborn to Joseph, all the brothers are summoned, and Israel delivers his final blessings upon them.  Right down the line, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, all of them fail to merit significant blessing for their unseemly ways…until we come to Judah.  Let’s imagine, for a moment, that we only have the book of Genesis to go on. (and no knowledge of what God is going to do later).  All too clearly in our minds is Judah’s sordid past of talking the brothers into selling Joseph which was only marginally better than killing him.  We can also recall his hypocritical disdain and disregard for his daughter-in-law Tamar and his sexual immorality with her.  He did seem to have changed his ways by the time of reunion with Joseph, but at best, we expect his sins will either merit no blessing or a minimal blessing.  Instead, he is told, “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you.” (49:8)  This language of bowing down is what we saw in Joseph’s dream, and we did see that come to pass for Joseph.  What could be meant now for Judah?  Israel’s blessings for Judah indicate that he will become a strong, formidable opponent, images of prosperity, beauty, and even the Davidic line of kings are in his future.  Verse 10, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is his.”  And here we have that clear Messianic picture.  Jesus Christ, Himself, will come from the line of Judah.  We might have expected such an honor for the righteous Joseph, but for the unrighteous Judah?  This serves to highlight all the more, the faithfulness of God to surprise and bless His people, according to His own goodness, that He might receive ultimate praise.  Judah’s line will bring the true Son to whom the nations will bring their allegiance and who will sit on His throne forever.  On this side of the cross, we do praise this great Savior King who reigns as a formidable opponent, in beauty and prosperity, and who is worthy of the praise of all.  Psalm 2:6 “I have installed by king on Zion, my holy hill.” And verse 8, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance.”

What of the other blessings for the other brothers?  Much is uncertain about the particular meanings.  It seems their past is taken into account.  God has seen their lives.  This is a kind of reckoning for some of them.  Prior to this, we do not see them ever receive their just desserts, but we do see God’s justice at play here and this would have stood as a reminder to them that they would give account for their lives to God.  Sometimes the symbols stem from the meaning of their names: Judah sounds like Hebrew word for praise; Dan means He provides justice; Gad can mean attack and band of raiders.  Finally, these pronouncements did come true for the tribes of Israel.  Joshua 19 indicates the land that each received, minus the Levites who had no land as the priestly tribe and Simeon who was, indeed, scattered among Judah’s land.  The tribe of Issachar was later enslaved by the Canaanites for a time.  Again, God’s faithfulness to all Israel is striking.  All of what He promised comes to pass.

Finally, let’s consider that our response to the promise of God reveals our faith in Him.  Israel’s deathbed blessings began with a reiteration of the promise that God made to him so many years before when He appeared to him at Luz.  At the end of his days, Israel’s every mention of God is a declaration of his faith in Him and a testament of how he has come to know God throughout his life.

48:15 “The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,” Recall how Jacob worked as a shepherd from his early years. 


48:16 “The Angel who has delivered me from all harm”.  Remember how God appeared to Him as he saw the angels ascending and descending on the ladder staircase to            heaven.

49:24 “Because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob

 Because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel

 Because of your father’s God, who helps you,”           

Because of the Almighty, who blesses you.”

At one time, Jacob called on His father’s God, but now God is His God.

Israel’s faith is evident in how he gives praise to God for preserving Joseph’s life.  He is not primarily concerned at the end of his days with his personal relationship with Joseph, but with God’s glory in it all.  Notice how many times he says, it is because of God that Joseph survived and prevailed.  Even in his burial instructions, Israel is displaying faith in God as he insists upon being buried next to Leah, in the plot of land he owned where the promises would later be fulfilled.  He recognizes his own place in the story of God’s promises, and he wants even his dead bones to testify that God will fulfill what He promised.

Joseph, too, shows faith in this way.  After a life of honor and respect in the foreign land of Egypt, he too, insists upon being taken up out of this land, when God takes the brothers, the nation, out again.

The final scene between Joseph and his brothers is both sobering and comforting.  With Israel gone, the brothers fear they will lose favor in Joseph’s eyes.  Perhaps it was logical, but it does show that their greater fear, even after all this time, is the retribution Joseph can bring to them.  Joseph weeps, perhaps out of compassion, perhaps out of sadness for them.  They still do not understand that God himself will bring them to account, of greater account that even Joseph can bring.

Conversely, Joseph’s confession is clear.

50:19-20 “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” 

Joseph understands the saving of lives is not just meant for the Egyptians, but for the family of the promise given to his fathers, to preserve the nation of Israel.

What about you?  Does your response to the promise of God reveal your faith in Him?  Are you treasuring our eternal inheritance in heaven, or are you cultivating an appetite for the things of earth?  Sisters, let us be thankful for our own place in God’s redemptive plan, that He graciously chose to give us the good gift of salvation, and let us be zealous to walk in, not seeking a name for ourselves, but the praise of His glorious Name.

If, with me, you have known this salvation from sin through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, can you recall how God has shown Himself to you?  Have you known God as a Shepherd? Your Rock? The Angel of Deliverance, the Mighty One, your God, the Almighty?  In just a few minutes, as you pray at your tables, take some time to praise God together by calling on Him according to the ways He has been faithful to you.  And let’s spur one another on in faith, knowing that God is One who works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

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