A Blessing for All Nations

In Genesis 12 God promises to make a nation of Abram’s descendants. It’s one of the most ironic passages of scripture in the Bible. Why? Because Abram was an old man who had no children. Along with the promise to increase Abram’s offspring God also promises that through Abram all the nations of the earth will find blessing. This promise is repeated continually to Abram and his descendants throughout the rest of Genesis.

This morning I was reading the end of Genesis and found another ironic story. Joseph, Abram’s great great grandson by Jacob, had been sold into slavery by his brothers and through a series of events had become a ruler in Egypt second only to Pharaoh. In God’s providence, Joseph led Egypt to prepare for a coming famine that would ravage the land. Not long after, the very brothers who had sold Joseph as a slave would come and beg for bread. Joseph would eventually reveal his identity to them and be reunited with his father Jacob. In Genesis 47 Jacob is brought in to meet Pharaoh, the man who is responsible for saving Jacob and his family from starvation. Yet, as he stands before the most powerful man in the world something totally unexpected happens:

“Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.  And Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the days of the years of your life?”  And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.’  And Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from the presence of Pharaoh.”

The reader expects Pharaoh, the greater, to extend blessing to Jacob, the lesser. The exact opposite occurs. Jacob, though starving and begging for bread stands above Pharaoh. The author of Genesis accomplishes several purposes with this irony:

1. He reminds us, the readers, of the promise God made to Abram, and indeed, all of the nations were being blessed because of his descendants. Joseph had rescued nations from starvation. But Joseph’s grain would not be the culmination of God’s blessing through Abram.

2. Throughout Genesis God subverts our expectations. He chooses the weak over the strong, the old over the young, and the faithless over the faithful. Jacob stands as a shining example of the grace of God. He does not bless Jacob because Jacob is a righteous man. He does not bless Jacob because he is a faithful man. He blesses Jacob because God chose him in complete, undeserved mercy. It was God’s good will to choose Jacob over Esau as the heir to the promise, and therefore, the message of Genesis 47 isn’t, “Be faithful and God will put you in positions of importance and influence.” Rather, the message of Genesis 47 is, “The blessing of God is at his disposal alone, and he dispenses it totally apart from human action.”

As I prepare for work, and my role as husband and father today I want to remember the free blessing of God in Christ and not live as if I am owed anything.

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