Genesis 48: He crossed his hands!

Over the last couple of months, I have been working slowly through the book of Genesis in my personal devotions. As I go, I am recording some thoughts about the passages I read in a couple of note-taking Bibles. My wife and I will give these Bibles to our kids on their respective sixteenth birthdays. Because this is supposed to be a labor of love for them, specifically, I realized I needed to keep some of the insights between me and them. I have not, therefore, been sharing every insight on my blog. Today, however, I came across a significant thought in Genesis 48 that I thought was too important not to share.

In Genesis 48, Jacob summons his son Joseph, along with Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim, to his deathbed so that he can bless the grandsons. In vs 13, Joseph presents his boys to his father so that Manasseh, the eldest, will be on Israel’s right, and Ephraim will be on his left. This, so that Israel’s right hand, representing the greater blessing, will fall on the elder son.

This is right. It’s the way things were supposed to be. Eldest sons were supposed to receive the greater blessing.

But that’s not what happened.

Instead of placing his right hand on Manasseh and his left on Ephraim, as Joseph expected, Israel in vs 14 crosses his hands so that his right and its greater blessing rests on the younger of the boys, Ephraim. It was a gross violation of cultural protocols. This was simply not the way things were done!

Joseph, of course, protests. He says in vs 18, “Not that way, my father! This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.” I imagine that what he really meant to say was, “You’re doing it wrong, you old, senile fool!”

Have you ever felt that way? When God doles out blessings, but I don’t get the one I expected, I know I do!

Especially when someone else gets the blessing I thought was supposed to be mine, I, like Joseph, tend to cry foul. “You’re doing it wrong, God!” I cry as another pastor, at another church in another place, receives explosive growth while I remain small. “You’re doing it wrong, God!” I howl as another man, in another family, receives the lucrative bonus. “You’re doing it wrong, God!” I bellow as the blessing I was supposed to have evaporates into thin air or even rests upon someone else.

Ultimately, of course, it’s just jealousy. A gross violation of the tenth commandment. I want what is not mine, particularly when it seems to be given to someone else instead.

But there are a couple of things happening in Genesis 48 that strike me. The first is that Joseph carefully lined up his boys the way they were supposed to be in vs 13. I can’t tell you how many times I have carefully lined up my life to receive the blessing I assumed would be forthcoming. I worked hard to make sure that I was where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be, how I was supposed to be to receive my blessing, but someone else received it instead. It’s maddening!

Which brings me, of course, to the second thing that strikes me: this wasn’t Manasseh’s blessing at all. In point of fact, Joseph was Israel’s son; Israel should have been blessing him. Further, the only thing Manasseh had done was show up. Prior to this moment, the only two times the kid appeared in the Genesis account were when he was born in Genesis 41 and when he was recorded as part of Jacob’s family in Egypt in Genesis 46. Yet in vs 18, Joseph insists, “Not that way, my father! This one is the firstborn.” That is, because he was the firstborn, Joseph assumed that the primary blessing belonged to Manasseh. This, despite the fact that it wasn’t Manasseh’s blessing at all! It’s funny how God sometimes showers us with undeserved blessing for no apparent reason, and we still have the audacity to tell Him He’s wrong!

Third, when Joseph protested his father’s crossed arms, Israel responded in vs 19, “I know, my son, I know!” Just as Israel knew exactly what he was doing when he crossed his arms and blessed the boys in reverse, God knows exactly what He’s doing when He mixes up the blessings we were supposed to have. He knows, perhaps, that has another plan for our lives. Or maybe He knows that we’re not ready for that blessing just yet. We assume God doesn’t know what He’s up to, that He’s wrong, because it doesn’t mesh up with what we expected, the way we think things are supposed to be. But the truth is quite the opposite: God knows exactly what He’s up to, and He’s always right. If, that is, we’ll just trust Him.

Finally, it wasn’t as if Manasseh wasn’t blessed. Indeed, Israel continued in vs 19, “He [Manasseh] too will become a tribe, and he too will be great; nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his offspring will become a populous nation.” That is, even though Ephraim was going to receive the greater blessing – he was going to have greater stature and more offspring – Manasseh wasn’t exactly left out in the cold. His descendants would become a powerful tribe. And he would be great in his own right. It wasn’t as though Manasseh was completely overlooked when it came to blessing. He certainly wasn’t cursed! Yet Joseph was aghast that Manasseh didn’t receive the greater blessing, and I have to ask how many times I’ve done the same! It’s not that I’m cursed; indeed, I’m blessed! It’s just that someone else gets the greater blessing, and I feel slighted.

It’s funny how God sometimes surprises us. We may have expected, planned, and even worked for one thing, but God does something else. And we cry foul, especially when someone else gets it instead. We need to trust that God, like Israel, knows what He’s doing. We need to accept with gratitude whatever blessing He gives us. We need to not envy the blessing of others, even when we think that blessing should be ours. We need to rejoice because we are (both) blessed!



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