Christ Covenant Church
Marq Toombs
Series — Joseph: Stories of God’s Providence for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Text – Genesis 48:1-22

May the grace and peace of God be with you all.

Have you ever been around someone who knew they were going to die? How do they act? What do they say, what do they do?

In my experience, the dying say and do only things that need to be said and done. No more, no less.

A few years ago one of my uncles was drawing near to death and he called my brother and me to come see him. Said he had some things he wanted to tell us before he left this world. Important things. Things he wished he had told us sooner. So, for the next hour he told us his story — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and we listened. He told us stories about his experiences with a broken family, and alcohol and drug abuse, and crimes, and women, and prison and prison break — and he told us about his experience with the Lord, and painting, and repairing a broken life. How he could not have made it with our parents or without the Lord. Finally, he told us how much he loved us, and asked the Lord to bless us and keep us. We hugged and kissed and bid farewell. That was the last time we ever spoke (but it won’t be the last time we ever speak).

The story we are going to hear today reminded me of that experience.

Only in this story, father Jacob is sick and dying. He wants to see two of his grandsons one more time. He has something important to tell them before he leaves this world.

And that brings us to our sermon text in Genesis 48. If you are able, please stand and pay close attention to the reading of God’s holy word.

After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 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. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).” When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.”

The word of the Lord. May God add his blessing to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his holy word. And the church says: Amen!

There are so many good things that I would like to point out in this story. Things like

true love aches. Jacob was 98 years old when he lost Rachel to death. 49 years later, at the age of 147, he was still grieving her death and his loss. (thoughts on Gen 48:7) I know some of you have experienced the loss of loved ones and that leaves us a wound that will never heal. I want you to know that the sorrow you feel in your heart is okay. “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.” (from an inscription found on an Irish headstone)

the next generation really matters. Jacob didn’t get to see his grandchildren as much as he wanted. No grandparent ever does! (In the end, his eyes were so weak he couldn’t see them at all!) But when he did see them, he made it count. He welcomed his grandsons into his personal space; he kissed them and hugged them; he puts his old hands on their young heads; he prayed over them and he blessed them. He wished the very best in life to come upon them from the Lord.

Like I said, there are so many good things that I would like to point out in this story — but there’s just not enough time. So (for the sake of time) we will focus on two massive truths revealed in this story: the grace of adoption and the grace of election.

First, let’s take a look at the grace of adoption.

ADOPTION

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. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. [. . .] When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth.

In this story Jacob adopts only the first two sons of Joseph as his own sons. Joseph begat other children in Egypt after his kinsmen arrived in Egypt, but Jacob only wants to adopt the first two.

Now, these sons were not babies or even young children as so many paintings depict. Remember, these sons were born in the years of plenty before the famine started. And the famine had already lasted two years when Jacob arrived in Egypt. So these sons were between 6 – 8 years old when they met the grandfather Jacob for the first time. Then, Jacob was in Egypt seventeen years before he died. In the seventeenth year he called Joseph’s sons to come see him so that he could bless them. So, at this point in the story, Joseph’s sons were young men in their mid-twenties.

Joseph led them to his father Jacob and presented them to him. It is not clear whether he made them sit on his father’s knees or just stand between his knees. Either way, the result is the same. In ancient Jewish culture this was part of a formal adoption ceremony. Making the sons sit on or stand between Jacob’s knees, signified that Jacob wanted to reckon them as seed from his own loins. In other words, he wanted to adopt his grandsons as his own sons.

This is significant because Joseph’s sons were ethnically/racially mixed. Their father Joseph was Hebrew and their mother Asenath was Egyptian. They were half-breeds, mutts, like us.

The adoption of these “hebryptian” sons is the start of fulfillment of God’s covenantal mission to bless all the nations and families of the world (Gen 12:2-3). And it foreshadows the adoption of Gentiles into the covenant family of God.

This adoption ceremony is relevant to us because we are a mixed race of people as well. We are Gentiles. Like Ephraim and Manasseh, we have been adopted into the family of God, not by an old man, but by the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

By the grace of God in Jesus Christ we have been adopted in God’s covenant family. The good news is this:

Adoption gives us the right to call God Father — freely and without fear.

When we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:3-7)

Adoption gives us the right to be called the children of God — freely and without fear.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Someone might ask, Why did Jacob adopt only some of Joseph’s sons, but not all of Joseph’s sons?

A better question is, “Why does God the Father adopt any sinners at all? Why does he adopt only slaves like us?”

The answer is simple. 

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

So, why does God the Father adopt only slaves like us? Why does he adopt any sinners at all?

The answer is love. God adopted you into his family through Jesus Christ because he loved you when you were unloveable. And he did this for the praise of his glorious grace.

In his wonderful book Children of the Living God, Dr Sinclair Ferguson explains that “We are sons, but we are in danger of having the mindset of hired servants.”(p 69) But “Christ has removed our guilt. Furthermore, he sends his Spirit into our hearts, bringing us the deep spiritual and psychological security that rests on the objective fact that our sins are forgiven and we belong to the Lord.” (p 72)

In Christ we are given a new status as sons.

We were not adopted from slavery to become God’s household servants. We were adopted from slavery to be God’s sons and co-heirs with Christ of household.

Now, let’s take a look the grace of election.

ELECTION

And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). [ . . . ] When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.

Joseph led his sons to Jacob in their proper birth order. He expected Jacob to place his right hand on Manasseh and his left hand on Ephraim. But Jacob pulled the ol’ switch-a-roo and criss-crossed his hands.

This did not sit well with Joseph, so he protested, and tried to uncross his father’s hands, so that each son would get his proper blessing.

But Jacob knew exactly what he was doing. He was following the same tradition handed down to him by his fathers.

He was blessing by faith, not by sight. This is made all the more clear by the fact that he could not even see his grandsons because his eyes were dim.

Isaac had elevated Jacob above Esau when he gave him the blessing of the first-born. Remember Esau had despised his birth-right and sold it to Jacob for a bowl of stew! Jacob “tricked” his blind father because he knew that Esau was going to re-neg on the deal.

Abraham had elevated Isaac above Ishmael when he gave him the inheritance as his true, one and only son. Thus, the son born by the power of the Spirit was elevated above the son born by the power of the flesh.

So, this counter-intuitive principle was established by God from the beginning: nature serves grace, and grace rules over nature; flesh serves spirit, and spirit rules over flesh. That is why (for those who are able to accept it) the first man Adam serves the last man Christ, and the last man Christ rules over the first man Adam.

Throughout the story of God’s people, the younger rules over the elder; and the elder serves the younger.

Paul seizes on this principle in Romans 9:8-12 where he argues that “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. And, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls, ‘The older will serve the younger.'”

In another place, Paul urges us to consider our calling: God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:27-30)

Again, we see the counter-intuitive principle of grace at work.

Jacob blessed both sons. And both sons were going to flourish and be fruitful and multiply, but the younger son Ephraim was destined to be greater than the elder son Manasseh.

But that’s another story for another time.

The thing you need to know right now is that the grace of election turns everything upside down.

In God’s purpose of election the older served the younger. Manasseh served Ephraim; forgetful served fruitful. At some point we must see that God’s grace is greater than our sorrow. Sooner or later we must forget our pain in order to enjoy God’s fruit. We must let go of the past and take hold of the future.

Grace is not fair.

Grace is a troublemaker to some, and a peacemaker to others. God knows I have gotten into more trouble preaching grace than I ever got into preaching legalism and moralism; and still I have gotten more peace by preaching grace than got by preaching legalism and moralism.

Deep down, grace makes us nervous.

Joseph knew what his father was doing — and he knew why he was doing it. Joseph understood that the “sign of the cross” over his sons meant the grace of election for his sons.

Joseph had already experienced the grace of election in his own life. Jacob had elevated him above his elder brothers when he gave him the coat of many colors. But, for some odd reason Joseph did not want his own sons to experience it in theirs.

I have seen this same kind of thing happen among Christians. They want mercy for themselves, but justice for everyone else.

Some have experienced grace in their own life, but they don’t want others to experience grace in theirs. Others care very much if they experience grace, but they care very little if others experience grace.

But grace should never make us proud or stingy. Rather, it should make us humble and generous. Our attitude and our prayer should be the same as Arwen’s in the Fellowship of the Ring (film, not book).

After fending off the ring-wraiths she looks down at Frodo, who had been stabbed by a Morgul-blade. She sees the life fading from his body; he is passing into the shadow world and will soon become a wraith, neither living nor dead. She holds him close to her body and sheds tears over him as she prays to her father:

What Grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared. Save him.

Now, think about all the people you know who are passing into the shadow world. Do you defend and protect them? Do you hold them close? Do you weep and pray for their salvation? If not, why not?

By the power of love you should start doing that right now.

O Father God, what Grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared. Save him. For Christ’s sake. Amen

Now, someone might ask, Why did Jacob elect one son over the other? Why not elect them both equally?

A better question is, “Why did God the Father elect many sinners but not all? Why did he elect any sinners at all? Why did he only elect sinners and not saints?”

The answer is simple. 

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

So, why did God the Father elect only sinners like us? Why did he choose to save many, but not all? Why did he elect to save any sinners at all?

The answer is love. God elected you in Jesus Christ because he loved you when you were unloveable. And he did this for the praise of his glorious grace.

In his book 18 Words, J.I. Packer says, The gospel “view of divine love is that God, having gone one mile in love, as it were, in giving his Son to become the savior of all believers, now goes a second mile by bringing all his chosen ones to faith.” (p160) “Thus the knowledge of our election turns our hope of glory from an [insecure] longing to an exulting certainty, and strengthens us to face the most nightmarish future on earth with triumph in our hearts.” (p162)

In Christ we were chosen that we should be like Christ — holy and blameless before God the Father. This is all of God’s grace and none of our works, all to the praise of his glory and grace.

CONCLUSION

Like I said, there are so many good things that I would like to point out in this story.

To some this is just another ordinary event from Joseph’s life. To us it is an extraordinary example of God’s providence for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In this story, we focused on the grace of adoption and the grace of election, and we saw that both flow out from the love of God and come to us by the power of the Spirit in Jesus Christ. Why?

Why did God adopt you? Why did God elect you?

Simply because he loved you.

How much does he love you?

He loves you more than Jacob loved Joseph. He loves you more than Jacob loved Ephraim and Manasseh.  He loves you as much as he loves Jesus.

He loves you with an infinite, eternal, undying love.

He loved you enough to send Jesus into the world to save you. And he loved you enough to send his Spirit into your heart to seal you for the day of redemption. He loved you enough to send gospel messengers into your life to serve you.

In this story, we see the gospel of God’s grace in Christ.

We see that Jesus Christ is the true and better Joseph who presents us to his Father that we might be adopted into his family as his sons and daughters, and Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

And we see that the Father is the true and better Jacob who welcomes you into his presence; who kisses you and hugs you; who makes the sign of the cross over you, and lays his hands on you, and blesses you with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Let us bow down before our glorious and gracious God and pray:

Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, I pray that according to the riches of your glory that you may grant us to be strengthened with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith—so that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

——-

Appendix:

RE-GENERATION

Now, let’s take a look at the grace of regeneration.

Jacob adopts two of Joseph’s sons into his covenant family. Thus, they are “born again” of imperishable seed (=sacred words) into an imperishable inheritance. The younger son is elevated above the older son. Finally, both sons flourish and become a multitude of nations in the earth. (Gen 48:5-6, 10-20; cp 1 Pet 1:3, 23; 2:10)

And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn). And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

Typologically, this is a picture of regeneration — new birth.

Joseph’s “hebryptian” sons were adopted by Israel into his covenant family. Here they were “born again” of imperishable seed into an imperishable inheritance. As a result they flourished and became a multitude of nations in the earth. (Gen 48:5-6, 10-20; cp 1 Pet 1:3, 23; 2:10)

Once, they were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But then they were adopted and born again into the family of God’s people. (Eph 2:12)

Thus, they became the name-bearers of the Father and sons of his covenant promises. As sons they were heirs.

Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. Moreover, I have given to you rather than to your brothers one mountain slope that I took from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and with my bow.” 

Ephraim and Manasseh were co-heirs with Joseph, likewise, we are co-heirs with Christ.