Genesis 48-50: The spiritual Israel

We have reached the final three chapters of Genesis.

Outline of Genesis

Let’s go through a brief outline.  In the early chapters, we have heard much of Eden, the paradise on the holy mountain of God.  On this hill God and the Son had fellowship with the man made outside of the garden in the wilderness who was placed there.  Yet, man turned away from God, but God had provisions for that.  Sin had to be dealt with, and only through the blood of the eternal Lamb could the sin be washed away.  So Adam and Eve left Eden, to struggle in the wilderness.

The nature of sin and its qualities are further magnified in following generations, from the split of Adam’s family into two factions – that of Cain and that of Abel/Seth.  The elect line followed after Seth, to Noah, to Abraham.  Throughout these chapters, there are continual references to circumcision, to covenant faithfulness, to baptism, to Jesus’ work on the cross and his death, resurrection and ascension (symbolically shown by the seven days of creation).

Not only that, but we have at least had a dozen if not more Christophanies from the first few chapters to the last chapters of Genesis.  Christ has continually been interceding, appearing before many saints to give them hope.  His persistent appearances show a God who is directly involved, who reveals Himself to us and who communicates through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Moreso, the fact is that we look forward to communion with God because He reached out to us first.

Finally we see the covenant promises come to further fruition, based on the power of the cross and Jesus’ work which is consistently portrayed throughout the different dispensations and fruitions, from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob as well as his 12 sons, especially through Joseph.  We now come to finish looking at the dispensation of Jacob and Joseph, to be followed up by Moses in the next book.  Meanwhile, chapters 48-50!

1.  Israel and the Angel; Ephraim and Manasseh  (Genesis 48 )

2.  The 12 Tribes of Israel  (Genesis 49)

3.  Death  (Genesis 50)

1.  Israel and the Angel; Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48 )

The first thing which Israel mentions to Joseph is the appearances of Christ in his life as the Angel.  v.3-4 – “God Almighty (El Shaddai) appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 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”.

What is most interesting is how straight after he mentions Christ’s blessing on himself, he immediately turns to Ephraim and Manasseh, the interracial mix of Israelite-Egyptian.  And what does Israel say to this interracial mix?  v.5 – “And now your two sons… are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh are mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.”  This is an amazing prophecy of the inclusion of the Gentiles and not a religious adherence to the physical Israel.  Then Israel mentions something a bit random – he speaks of Rachel’s death, and how she was buried on the way to Ephrath in Bethlehem. I will come back to this in such a moment.

Then Israel places his dominant right hand on Ephraim, the younger; and his left hand on Manasseh, the physical firstborn.  Why this?  Israel had crossed his hands whilst blessing Joseph and asked Christ to bless the boys to let them “be like fish for multitude” in the midst of the earth (v. 16 – ESV footnote for the alternate translation).  This is what Calvin has to say concerning the Angel:

He so joins the Angel to God as to make him his equal. Truly he offers him divine worship, and asks the same things from him as from God. If this be understood indifferently of any angel what ever, the sentence is absurd. Nay, rather, as Jacob himself sustains the name and character of God, in blessing his son, 1 he is superior, in this respect, to the angels. Wherefore it is necessary that Christ should be here meant, who does not bear in vain the title of Angel, because he had become the perpetual Mediator. And Paul testifies that he was the Leader and Guide of the journey of his ancient people. (1 Corinthians 10:4.) He had not yet indeed been sent by the Father, to approach more nearly to us by taking our flesh, but because he was always the bond of connection between God and man, and because God formally manifested himself in no other way than through him, he is properly called the Angel. To which may be added, that the faith of the fathers was always fixed on his future mission. He was therefore the Angel, because even then he poured forth his rays, that the saints might approach God, through him, as Mediator. For there was always so wide a distance between God and men, that, without a mediator; there could be no communication. Nevertheless though Christ appeared in the form of an angel, we must remember what the Apostle says to the Hebrews, (Hebrews 2:16,) that “he took not on him the nature of angels,” so as to become one of them, in the manner in which he truly became man; for even when angels put on human bodies, they did not, on that account, become men. Now since we are taught, in these words, that the peculiar office of Christ is to defend us and to deliver us from all evil, let us take heed not to bury this grace in impious oblivion: yea, seeing that now it is more clearly exhibited to us, than formerly to the saints under the law, since Christ openly declares that the faithful are committed to his care, that not one of them might perish, (John 17:12,) so much the more ought it to flourish in our hearts, both that it may be highly celebrated by us with suitable praise, and that it may stir us up to seek this guardianship of our best Protector. And this is exceedingly necessary for us; for if we reflect how many dangers surround us, that we scarcely pass a day without being delivered from a thousand deaths; whence does this arise, except from that care which is taken of us, by the Son of God, who has received us under his protection, from the hand of his Father.

Indeed, so this Son of God is our Mediator from Alpha to Omega.  But I don’t want to short-change the significance of blessing Ephraim over Manasseh; nor do I want to short-change the reason why Ephraim and Manasseh are blessed prior to the 12 tribes of Israel in Chapter 49, when both of Joseph’s sons should have also been part of Joseph’s blessing in Genesis 49:22-26.

Let’s look at the sequence.

(a)  Israel had been holding his staff, upon which he bowed his head in faith, looking forward to the promises of the Promised Land represented by his burial in Canaan.  This staff is a prototype of the cross of Christ, the wood and tree on which Jesus was nailed.  (Genesis 47v.31).

(b)  Israel speaks of Christ and his blessing on Israel as the father of a multitude of nations, to which he immediately turns to Joseph’s two inter-racially born sons rather than the immediate 12 sons of Israel.

(c)  Not only that, but he supersedes the ‘first-born’ priority and, in the shape of a cross, places his arms on their heads and pronounces the blessing on the younger one.

It is quite clear that the significance of the mentioning of Christ, twice, in Chapter 48, followed immediately by Israel’s blessing on the two children are very significant; for, these children are children of the Gentile-Jewish mix – their very existence and the priority of blessing them over the 12 tribes immediately displays the priority of the global Gentile-Jewish church to which God promises the multitude of nations (better yet, to be like ‘fish for the multitude’).  Israel, who had looked forward to his burial in Canaan bowing on the piece of wood, now blesses the two Gentile-Jewish children in the shape of a cross (when he could have easily asked each of them to sit in different positions) – again, a prototype of the cross in which the Spirit is then given to both Gentiles and Jews.  Now this is extremely important – why was Ephraim blessed over Manasseh?

There is no short variety of verses referring to Ephraim – Psalm 60:6-8 (“Ephraim is my helmet; Judah is my scepter); Psalm 78:9-16 (“Ephraimites, armed with the bow…they did not keep God’s covenant.  They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them”); Psalm 78:67-72 (“He rejected the tent of Joseph; he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Judah…”); Psalm 80:1-2 (“O Shepherd of Israel (Jesus)…Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us!”); Isaiah 9:18-21 (“They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied; each devours the flesh of his own arm, 21 Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim devours Manasseh”); Jeremiah 31:6-10 (“For there shall be a day when watchmen will call in the hill country of Ephraim: ‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God…’O LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel’…With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I wil make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel and Ephraim is my firstborn”); Jeremiah 31:18-20 (“I have heard Ephraim grieving, ‘You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf…Is Ephraim my dear son?  Is he my darling child?  For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still”); Ezekiel 37:15-23 (which deserves a special quotation):

15The word of the LORD came to me: 16(AB) “Son of man,(AC) take a stick[d] and write on it, ‘For(AD) Judah, and(AE) the people of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For(AF) Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him.’ 17And(AG) join them one to another into one stick, that(AH) they may become(AI) one in your hand. 18And when(AJ) your people say to you,(AK) ‘Will you not tell us what you mean by these?’ 19say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am about to take(AL) the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the(AM) stick of Judah,[e] and(AN) make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand. 20When the sticks on which you write are in your hand(AO) before their eyes, 21then say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold,(AP) I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. 22And(AQ) I will make them one nation in the land, on(AR) the mountains of Israel. And(AS) one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer(AT) two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. 23(AU) They shall not(AV) defile themselves anymore(AW) with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But(AX) I will save them from all the backslidings[f] in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and(AY) they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

Indeed, Ezekiel says it best – Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) will enjoin with Judah, the true Israelite line.  The two sticks with enjoin, and “they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 37:23).  Ephraim is not exactly the most flattering tribe – you can see their warring nature and the number of times in which they forget the LORD, given their intermingling with many nations.  Yet, the LORD remembers Ephraim – and Ephraim is still considered his firstborn son, a la Isaac is Abraham’s firstborn son (when Ishmael is the physical firstborn, like Manasseh).  The significance speaks of the Gentile-Jewish spiritual church, represented by Ephraim, blessed by Christ.

2.  The 12 Tribes of Israel (Genesis 49)

Given Christ’s blessing to the Jewish-Gentile church in chapter 48, the subsequent prophecies on the 12 tribes speaks of the prophetic future of each tribe and the role they play in fulfilling God’s blessing through the Jews and the Gentiles.  Note that there isn’t much in terms of ‘blessing’ on the 12 tribes, save a few (save Joseph, Judah…)!  Thus, the obsession is not in the 12 tribes themselves; neither is it through the natural priority of the firstborn and the last-born; rather, it is in the spiritual church, to be represented by Joseph’s Jewish-Gentile children already mentioned.  Now let’s see what roles the 12 tribes play in fulfilling God’s plan.

Tribes

Meaning of the names

Scripture (Chapter 49)

Prophecy

Reuben

Who sees the son; the vision of the son; behold a son

v.3-4

His sin in Genesis 35:22 is brought to the open, and this tribe amounts to nothing. No one significant will come from this tribe.

Simeon

That hears or obeys; that is heard

v.5-7

Both Simeon and Levi’s violence in chapter 34 is brought to the open as well.

Levi

Associated with him; joined

v.5-7

Levi, however, tames the hot blood and gives themselves to the LORD’s service (Exodus 32:27-29). This shows how the Levites did not become victims of their own character.

Judah

The praise of the LORD; confession

v.8-12

Instead of receiving condemnation for the mess made in Genesis 38, the tribe of Judah will include king David, and the Promised Seed, described as the scepter, the ruler’s staff, the vine, and the blood of the Christ represented by the washing of his garments in wine, the blood of grapes

Zebulun

A habitation

v.13

This tribe would occupy the coast, displaying how Israel saw beyond the initial settlement in the Promised Land as definite of Canaan.

Issachar

Reward; recompense

v.14-15

The quality of Issachar’s land would make up for the tough burden.

Dan

A judge; judgment; he that judges

v.16-18

Justice is provided for Israel through the judges, perhaps symbolized by Samson in Judges 12-16; but Dan is not mentioned again in the book of Revelation, and Jeremiah 8:16-17, as interpreted by some theologians like Irenaeus of Lyons that the Anti-Christ would come from Dan, which explains the absence of Dan from Revelation 7.

Gad

A troop; a band

v. 19

This tribe is good at fighting for Israel (1 Chronicles 12) and the men of Gad make up David’s class of mighty men.

Asher

Happiness; blessed

v.20

The great wealth is noted – Joshua 19 (Asher has some of Israel’s great trading places)

Naphtali

Wrestling; that struggles or fights

v.21

The name means struggle – he is set free from this for peace and friendship, rather than war

Joseph

Increase; addition

v.22-26

This is a focus of the Rock’s sovereignty in Joseph’s life, rather than him engineering his own success – this is the longest blessing and displays the typology of Joseph in Christ. Israel recounts the archers who bitterly attacked him, shot at him and harassed him, to display the utter innocence of Joseph against the guilt of those who attacked this type of Christ. Joseph’s bow remained unmoved and his arms were made agile by divine power – defined further in v. 24 as Christ himself, the Stone of Israel. Indeed, Joseph is blessed increasingly – between v. 25-26 there are already four ‘blessings’ from God – “up to the bounties of the everlasting hills” (“the blessings of the eternal mountains/hills” in the ESV footnote) – these everlasting hills representing Eden, which is the type pointing towards to the Paradise, the holy hill on which only Christ can ascend. This further reinforces Joseph as like Christ, and how chapters 37 to 49 have been working towards an inherently Christological interpretation of Joseph as the incarnate, dead, resurrected and ascended Christ. Thus, as it is through Joseph, it is truly through Christ that the church of Christ will be given increase, Gentile and Jew alike.

Benjamin

Son of the right hand; fortunate

v.27

He is called a ‘ravenous wolf’ although he seems quite peaceful thus far; Judges 20 & 21 reveals the Benjamites’ personality – they go to war against all the rest of Israel. Paul the Apostle was also a Benjamite, which probably explains why he showed wicked violence as Saul.

You should notice that many of the names of the sons concur with what occurs with their future – but, like Levi, we are not victims of our ‘personalities’.

3.  Death (Genesis 50)

So chapter 49, after the sequence of blessings, ends with Israel’s death where he is gathered to the Israelite people in the cave that is in the field of Ephron (meaning like a fawn; dust – as should happen to the flesh of men, the flesh of Israel, until we receive new creation bodies) the Hittite.

One can see the direct contrast between chapter 50 of Genesis and chapter 1 of Exodus – the Pharoah here says “Go up, and bury your father, as he made your swear” (v.6), as opposed to the Pharoah’s outright refusal in Exodus.  Not only that, but there was great mourning for the death of Israel, rather than the death of Joseph whom they were directly involved with and known for many years.  What wonderful brotherly love is displayed here!  If only we can cry for our non-Christian brothers/sisters or even Christian brothers/sisters whom we don’t know – we are so guilty of desensitizing death in this generation.  Yet, what a great influence it has made on neighbouring nations (v.11).

The chapter ends with the brothers fully reconciling with Joseph but through lying to Joseph.  Joseph saw through their guilty consciences (v.16-18 ) – and Joseph straightens them out again.  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  20  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good”.  Indeed, Joseph does not stop praising God, and giving thanks to God and his sovereignty – and comforted the brothers despite their sins (Acts 2:23; Romans 8:28 ).

And so we reach the end of the book of Genesis.  The trip has been long, but we have covered almost all the major themes and events of what Scripture testifies to – which is the cross of Christ, his appearances, incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension, shown through the typologies, Christophanies, Christological readings and the gospel preached by the very things within creation.  This picture is indeed sufficient, and I believe you can even preach the gospel solely from the book of Genesis – but God has provided the prototype of the gospel from the Pentateuch, which means that even more riches can be found in the subsequent books.

This is a page-turner to Exodus, which Paul Blackham quotes as the theology book of the OT.  I look forward to turning to Exodus in the next post and give it a Christological reading when many modern commentators sadly are reluctant to do so.  And in the words of Joseph – “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob”.  This refrain isn’t contained specifically concerning the prophecy of the Exodus around 430 years later; but this refrain repeats itself in the Mosaic law in Deuteronomy… indeed, and it refers to us.  We await the day of new creation and new Jerusalem, and God will visit us in our rapture, and bring us out of wherever we live today to the re-created land that he swore to our spiritual forefathers.

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Genesis 48-50: The spiritual Israel

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