The Second Shall Be Greater Than The First
What does one think about and do when facing death? With a little advanced notice and thought, one might prepare for the dispersal of material possessions through a will or other legal means. One might, out of mercy to her loved ones, clean out and organize the garage, attic, or storage building. Another might prearrange final matters with a funeral home and a graveyard. But, is what to do with our possessions and our bodies the extent of our legacies? Is that all there is to consider when facing death? Jacob did not think so. He had concern about where he would be buried but he had even greater concern that the legacy of God’s covenant promises would be passed on as an inheritance to his children. In this week’s passage we see that Jacob was particularly concerned with blessing his son Joseph, by blessing Joseph’s two sons, in the name of the LORD. May we see, from this portion of God’s word, ways in which are recipients of the covenant blessing of God in Christ and how we can be a means to pass that legacy of spiritual life and blessing onto others.
Standing on the Promises of God
In last week’s sermon, I pointed out how Jacob savored the promises of God. It could seem redundant this week to have a point be to stand on the promises of God. Except, Moses, the author of Genesis, keeps putting in occasions where the patriarchs recall the promises of God to them and His faithfulness in caring for them in light of those promises. It’s like when I promise my preschooler that I will take her out to lunch on my day off. She knows I’ve made that promise before and kept it. When she goes to school on that day she often will tell her teacher and her friends, “My daddy’s taking me to lunch today. He promised.” Her friends and teacher may get tired of her talking about it, but she doesn’t seem to grow weary of repeating it. It gives her something to look forward to all morning long. Jacob was kind of like that. He went to Haran trusting God’s promise (Genesis 28:13-15). He left Laban trusting the promise of the LORD (Genesis 31:3). He dwelt in the land of Canaan with hopeful confidence in the word of God (Genesis 35:9-15). He went to Egypt during the time of the famine because God assured him He would be faithful to grow him into a people and to return them to the land in His time (Genesis 46:3-4). With all of these past, kept promises in mind, Jacob stood on the solid ground of faith in God, even in the face of death. He was ready to bless his children, trusting the LORD would do all He promised for them (vv. 3-4, 15-16).
In Christ Jesus, we have the firm foundation upon which our lives our built (Matthew 7:24-27). Because of His own sinless life, His death, His resurrection, and ascension we know that we will stand against all hardships and struggles, even against death itself. We don’t stand in our own strength, but on the promises of God, which are yes and amen in Jesus Christ! We look to the past and see His faithfulness to us, which gives us assurance that He will return as He promised, that we will be resurrected, and that all wrongs will be made rights in the new creation. This living hope, which is ours by the Spirit dwelling within us, equips us to be steadfast and immovable in the present difficulties of life.
Covenant and Kingdom Blessing
Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh for birthright and blessing purposes. He intended to bless all of his sons, as we will see in next week’s passage, but for Joseph there was a duplication of blessing and an elevation of birthright status because of Jacob’s actions here (see 1 Chronicles 5:1-2). The promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were never for them alone but also for their offspring after them. Circumcision was the sign and seal of that covenant promise, but so too was Jacob living out the reality of that covenant by blessing his grandsons to “grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (v. 16). One could translate the word “earth” as “land”, which under the circumstances may be the better translation. The “land” referred to Canaan. Jacob was not only asking for Ephraim and Manasseh to become numerous in Egypt, but rather that they would become fruitful in Canaan, God’s promised land. His outlook was in keeping with God’s promises. His blessing was not worldly but covenantal.
How can we who are in Christ ask for the Lord to bless us in “the land”? As Christians we do not inhabit any one particular country these days as Israel eventually inhabited Canaan. So what is our “land”? The New Testament makes it clear that our citizenship is in the kingdom of God. We should seek blessings for our children, our brothers and sisters in a Christ, and ourselves that are in keeping with kingdom promises. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount give us a good summary of kingdom blessing. Such blessing is far from worldly. May the Lord Jesus give us such a longing for His kingdom that we seek to grow in the lifestyle and blessings that are indicative of our citizenship.
The Second is Greater than the First
Jacob crossed his hands when he blessed his two grandsons, effectively making Ephraim the recipient of the firstborn blessing. Joseph scolded his father, but Jacob corrected Joseph, letting him know it was the will of God. Grace is distributed according to God’s good and perfect will, not by man’s understanding or merit. Jacob knew this truth experientially having received the covenantal birthright and blessing from Isaac by God’s will (Genesis 25:23), though Esau was the older. In this case, Ephraim and Manasseh were both blessed, though Ephraim’s blessing was greater by degree (v. 19). God has not distributed spiritual gifts nor material blessings evenly. Neither has He dispersed them according to any merit He sees in people. Rather, spiritual gifts, material blessings, and more are given according to God’s grace and are to be used for His glory and the good of others, as well as ourselves.
Jacob’s elevation of Ephraim is reminiscent of other times in scripture where God chose a second, or younger son, in place of an older. He chose Abel over Cain (and then Seth over Cain), Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Joseph over his brothers. He would later choose David over the seven older sons of Jesse. This pattern could point us to a truth that Paul teaches in the New Testament. Jesus is the last, or second, Adam. He came in human nature after Adam, but He is the firstborn, preeminent Son. The birthright is His, and unlike Adam (and all his helpless descendants) before Him, Jesus is mighty to save. In Adam came death, but in Christ came victory over death. In Him is eternal life (see Romans 5:121-2 and 1 Corinthians 15:42-49). He is the second Adam but He is eternally greater than the first. His offspring shall become a multitude of nations who worship God and eternally dwell in His kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace.
Application and Discussion
- What, if anything, new did you learn from this scripture?
- Jesus told His disciples that the one who hears His words and does them is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock. How does Jacob show himself to be a wise man in this passage? In what ways does your life display your trust in the promises and teaching of Jesus?
- Read Matthew 5:1-12. How are you pursuing these kingdom blessings for yourself? For your children? For your brothers and sisters in Christ?
- God does not distribute all of His blessings evenly. What are some examples from scripture of how the Spirit worked through this uneven distribution of certain blessings to promote unity and community among Christ’s followers? How have you seen the Spirit work similarly among the fellowship of believers at First Pres? In Lake Wales?
- Read 1 Corinthians 15:42-49. Why did we need a second Adam? In what ways is the second Adam greater than the first? Why is that such good news?