Thanksgiving is a time when extended families often gather. Grandparents and parents and grandchildren, often in increasing numbers. They gather to share in God's blessings, and in reaffirming God's covenant - His promises "for you and your children and for all who are far off -- for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:39)
It has been customary for us to reflect on the "ebenezer" - the stone of help. You probably remember my reflections on the life of Jacob from previous years - how God watched over him and called him and how he raised up stones as memorials to God's help and blessings. This morning, however, I want to reflect on a different passage, though still reflecting on Jacob. It is found at the end of Genesis, at the end of Jacob's life, when many things had befallen him and his substantial family... both prosperity and adversity. Jacob had had twelve sons (destined to become twelve tribes) but along with blessing for this family had come grief and sorrow. Most notable was the savage betrayal and wicked deception of his sons who in jealousy had sold his favorite son into captivity and then told him Joseph had been slain by wild beasts. How God overcame their evil and turned it into good for them is another story. The Lord had delivered them all from famine through Joseph, the betrayed one. The family resided in Egypt, and though Jacob's beloved Rachel has died enroute and was buried near Bethlehem (vs. 7), they now numbered seventy souls gone down to Egypt (Exo. 1:5). They had lived in Egypt for 17 years.
There came a time as Jacob's health was declining, as was also his eyesight, that Joseph was summoned to his father's bedside, and he brought along his two teenage sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. There the promises of the Ebenezer stone were repeated. (vs. 3-4) and passed on to Joseph's boys who had been born in Egypt (vs. 5-7), but whom Jacob now formally adopted as sons (Vs. 5) (Note the order of the names!). The passage accounts how Jacob, his eyesight barely making out the forms of these sons, rejoiced in God's goodness that while he had feared Joseph lost forever, yet God had blessed him with seeing Joseph's sons as well. (vs. 11) Joseph had placed his sons so the older, Manasseh, was on Jacob's right. But as Jacob blessed Joseph's sons, we are told how he crossed his arms and blessed the younger over the older, much to the chagrin of Joseph, who, his eyes to the ground, had not immediately noticed the mistake, and attempted to correct it, only to have his father refuse. (There is more to this story than we can consider this morning, though it must be observed that prophetically in the days of Moses when first numbered this prophecy was written, Manasseh still outnumbered Ephraim, yet later the numbers were switched (cf Numbers 1:33-35; 26:28-37). (For those of you who are wondering, the story is one of free grace, as opposed to human advantage and birthright - even as Jacob, the younger had been exalted over Esau.)
This morning, I want to focus on the blessing that Jacob pronounces and relate it to our stone and our day of thanksgiving. And I want to focus on the blessings that pass from generation to generation.
Then he blessed Joseph and said, "May the God (true God) before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm -- may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth." Genesis 48:15-16
An observation about this blessing. Jacob blesses Joseph by pronouncing a blessing in his sons. In effect he is giving to Joseph a double potion of his birthright, for Ephraim and Manasseh have been adopted as equals of Joseph's brothers. He is passing on the blessings that he had received from his grandfather, Abraham and his father, Isaac. We have in view God's covenant promises given to to be passed on from generation to generation to generation. As we gather to enjoy God's blessing of our families this Thanksgiving day, let us not lose sight of God's faithfulness to generations past and generations yet to come.
Jacob looks to the Lord as the source of all blessing. He is the "true" God intimately known by his fathers, and before whom they walked - their blessings that have flowed from a vital relationship with God and sincere and godly living before Him. His own life is a testimony to the grace of God and how it can transform a man. Here for the first time in the Bible, God is spoken of as a "shepherd". Jacob, himself a shepherd, is conscious of that the Lord has watched over "all his life to this very day". Jacob's life was turbulent and he had wrestled with God. God had been his pastor, and had nurtured and cared for him in every circumstance. God's spirit had convicted and drawn him to God and nurtured his life of faith. He is also spoken of as the Angel who has delivered me from harm. (This "Angel" had appeared to Abraham (Gen 18 and 22) and had wrestled with Jacob(Gen 32). Scripture points to this one as the Son of God appearing as a "theophany" - a pre-incarnate appearance in human form.) The Angel has redeemed him from all harm. Jacob had wrestled God for a blessing and though a sinner, been spared: "I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared." (Gen 32:30)
Some commentators see in Jacob's words in this blessing of Joseph's sons an illusion to the trinity - Father, Son, Holy Spirit, at the least, reference to the Father and the Son. And the blessing God gives is that of godly living - "suffering them to walk before Him; shepherding them uninterruptedly; and redeeming them also from all evil" (Leupold) This is what Jacob desires for his grandsons as well. The phrase "may they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac" underscores this for to bear the name is to bear the character. His prayer for their blessing is a prayer for that they may share the same faith in God and experience the same walk and shepherding and deliverance that was Abraham's Isaac's and Jacob's.
In the final part of this blessing is the expression of Jacob's desire that they night increase greatly upon the earth. In this, Jacob is clinging in faith to the promise given at Bethel (Gen 28) "Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring." We can see in this the Great Commission, the Gospel given to all mankind. The fulfillment of God's will and covenant.
Jacob was Interrupted by Joseph, but he was not finished....
He blessed them that day and said, "In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: `May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.'" So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. (Again, note the order of the names) 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, "I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. Genesis 48:20-21
Jacob has not forgotten the promises given at Bethel where he raised the ebenezer stone - and he points his son and grandsons clearly back to these promises. Though they shall sojourn in Egypt for 300 years, yet their destiny lies in God's covenant and in the promised land, Canaan. With thankful hearts for God's grace and blessings already received, They must look ahead to the future - to increase, and greater blessings, and the fulfillment of God's will in their lives. Their destiny did not lie where they were, no matter how blessed, at that point of time. They must look to the next generation - and prayerfully seek God's blessings on them - passing on the faith, seeking God's increase of His people. Jacob knew he would not live to see these things, but he made Joseph promise that when they returned to the promised land that his bones would be taken to be buried there. For he fully expected the fulfillment of God's covenant promises to his family, indeed to all the world, through him.
As we gather to give God thanks, shall we not consider God's faithfulness to past generations and to our generation, and should we not pass this blessing on to our children and our children's children. We must not be simply satisfied with our blessings, but look to God's double portion of grace to be given. Let us remember God's shepherding care and redeeming grace in our walk with Him. Let us give thanks for all His blessings. And share these with our children and grandchildren this day and in days to come. But then let us look to Him for the increase of His people and the coming of His kingdom. Let us look also for outreach and growth in His church, and for faithfulness in our walking before him.