Israel and his family arrive in Egypt, escaping the prophesied famine that reached from Egypt to Canaan.
What a picture! This is a beautiful, if inauspicious, beginning to a nation that would endure to this day, surviving and occasionally thriving through some of the worst troubles that any nation has ever endured. The land of Canaan, which they were now leaving, would be given to them as a home 400 years later. Closer to our time, the Jews would endure a dispersion of over 1,800 years before Canaan was restored to them, less than 70 years ago.
All that started with 70 people fleeing for their lives under one of the most unlikely rulers in all of history. A foreign shepherd, former slave, and former prisoner was ruler over the greatest nation of his time.
God will get his way. Joseph is an example, but so are his children. Once again, God ignores convention and blesses the younger son over his older brother. If there is anything consistent in Scripture, it is that God does not feel restrained by convention or tradition, and that he violates them often.
Next week, when you read the entire Gospel of Matthew, keep that in mind and note Jesus’ utter disregard and occasional contempt for any tradition that does not serve people positively or which does not send a message he does not want sent.
Just as Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, so Jacob blesses his children in chapter 49. It is clear that he expects all these things to come to pass.
God has always had his prophets, but we are all prophets in some small way. In ancient times, men blessed their children in hope. In the Christian church, we are told, "You may all prophesy one by one" (1 Cor. 14:31). The very foundation of the New Testament is that "On my servants and handmaidens I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy" (Acts 2:18).
Prophecy, Prayer, and You
Prophecy, however, does not always look like we think it does.
Sometimes it looks like a man blessing his children at the end of his life.
Don’t read about men of God and come to believe that they are not like you! We each have our gift(s) and calling from God. Some are prominent and in the public eye, and others are not. Nonetheless, as James, our Lord Jesus’ brother, reminds us, "Elijah was a man with passions like ours" (Jam. 5:17). Elijah, prayed, he tells us, and got remarkable answers, but he reminds us as well that the "fervent, energetic prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much."
That applies to all of us.
We must follow in the footsteps of these men of God, not merely read about them with unbelieving eyes.
Let’s look specifically at one of Jacob’s blessings. He tells Judah that "he washes his clothes in wine, and his robes in the blood of grapes" (49:11).
Who washes their clothes in wine and grape juice???
That blessing was given somewhere around 1,500 years before Jesus was born. Nonetheless, it survived 1,500 years of history to be available in writing at the time of Jesus’ birth. That blessing would stand as a testimony that God had been whispering in history all along that some day the blood of a descendant of Judah, the nation that was merely a twelfth of a family at the time, would cleanse the world of sin.
How Did Jacob Do This?
How did Jacob prophesy these things? What would prompt him to mention the blood of grapes, or to tell Judah that the scepter would never depart from him? Why Judah?
In fact, what prompted Jacob to choose Ephraim for the greater blessing over Manasseh? How did he know?
Jacob simply spoke what was on his heart. All of us have a logical side and an intuitive side. It’s the way humans are made. (It is well worth the time to learn about our logic and intuition and the limits and purposes of each. It will help you make effective decisions.)
Jacob did not lean on only what his eyes could see and his ears could hear. He paid attention to what his intuition pushed up into his conscious mind.
God uses circumstances and clear messages that can be processed by our logical side. He also uses our intuition—knowledge we have that we perhaps cannot even explain. Intuition is not always spiritual. Intuition is a natural, explicable and important part of our thinking process, but in cases like Jacob’s blessing, God can use it as well. At such times, it is very spiritual.
A non-intuitive Christian is walking with one leg. If he fails to study and learn spiritual principles, he’s spiritually paraplegic. We need both.
The Rest of Jacob’s Blessings
I will leave the rest of Jacob’s blessings for you to study, but know that some of them simply refer to the history of that particular tribe. They won’t mean much to us, though we may find some of them interesting as we read more of Israel’s history.
Never forget, though, that God’s words are living. They can find application at the most unexpected time, and the Holy Spirit is able to pull them up from your memory … if you have put them in your memory by reading and studying.
Joseph’s blessing is not really a blessing. I called it that because it is a blessing to all of us:
You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. (Gen. 50:20, NASB)
Let us all learn Joseph’s lesson. God is watching, and in the end, God means our present circumstances for good. (As I write this, three days before you will be able to read it, I start six days of intense radiation and chemotherapy for acute leukemia. I mention this in hope it will add some weight to my words of faith. God works all things for good if you will turn your life over to him.)