The patriarchal story began with the blessing of Abraham (Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22), Isaac (Genesis 24), and Jacob (Genesis 28). The final chapters of Genesis detail the progress of the covenant in Jacob’s descendants. In light of his age and health, Jacob was naturally concerned with the promises of God, and his children.
In Genesis 48 Joseph brought Manasseh and Ephraim to Jacob for his blessing. Jacob had enough strength to remind Joseph and his boys of what God had promised him. Jacob emphasized that lineage and land were the structural components of the blessing (vv. 3-4)—and he wished these blessings to be for Joseph’s sons. The blessing oracle was followed by a quasi adoption ceremony, in which Joseph’s sons became direct heirs of their grandfather, Jacob (vv. 5, 8-9). The touching scene runs parallel to the instruction of Proverbs 4 and a father’s instruction to his son. In the midst of the sentimental and familial portrait of Genesis 48, the text emphasizes the theological point of the sovereignty of God over Jacob’s family. Ephraim, the younger, would be more prominent than his older brother, Manasseh (vv. 17-20). This parallels when Isaac was chosen over his older half-brother Ishmael (21.8ff.), and Jacob was chosen over his older brother Esau (25.19ff.). Jacob’s actions were congruent with the principles of election in the patriarchal family: those who were lesser become the favored, and the weaker received the blessing.
On the heels of blessing the sons of Joseph, the aged and dying patriarch Jacob called in his other eleven boys and spoke to them (Genesis 49). Of all of the interpretive difficulties of Genesis, these blessings may be some of the most challenging to understand. Nonetheless, several themes are unambiguous:
- Rueben, Simeon and Levi were chastised for their behavior of incest and murder (vv. 3-7)
- As Judah’s character had been transformed from a selfish merchant to a willing substitute for Benjamin in prison, his progeny would be blessed (vv. 8-12; cf. Gen 37.12-36; 44.18-34)
- The Land of Canaan functioned as the locale of covenant blessing for Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali (vv. 13-21)
- Joseph was blessed for his endurance and faithfulness (vv. 22-26)
- Benjamin was blessed in view of success (v. 27)
In the final chapter of Genesis the author returned to the horizontal relations of the covenant family. In the back of their minds Joseph’s brothers wondered if Joseph’s grace would expire with their father, Jacob. While they strategized to squeeze kindness out of Joseph, he responded again with tears (50.16-17), and promised to do well to them. Should the reader have expected anything different?
The favored status of Isaac over his older brother Ishmael, and Jacob over his older brother Esau, and Ephraim over his older brother Manasseh provide a schematic for the storyline of Scripture. The New Testament authors propose that all of humanity is born in sin and are by nature spiritual children of Satan through Adam’s fall (Rom 5.12ff; 1 Tim 2.11-15). But God has chosen His own family out of Satan’s domain. If we are going to think rightly about divine election then we must conclude that in both Testaments, “God has chosen the world’s insignificant and despised things—the things viewed as nothing—so he might bring to nothing the things that are viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence” (1 Cor 1.28-29; cf. Rom 9-11).
The concluding scene of Genesis—indeed the final word—provides us the opportunity to ruminate on three issues: one thematic, one practical, and one missional:
1. We have seen that the story of Genesis runs mainly on the two tracks of the Abrahamic covenant, expansion of land and lineage. While Abraham’s descendants had become a significant nation, they had yet to take possession of the Promised Land—in fact they were yet keepers of Joseph’s bones “in Egypt” (50.26). The stage is thus set for the next book of the Old Testament story.
2. And yet related, is the practical consideration that Scripture is a story. Throughout the remainder of the Canon, each book is built upon what has previously been set forth, and must be understood as a ‘link’ in the chain of progressive revelation, which reaches its climax in the coming of Messiah and the inauguration of His Kingdom.
3. We should consider that—while the Scripture storyline is complete—God’s redemptive plan carries on; what’s your part in it?
*For a complete list of references, please see scripturestoryline.com