God's Kingdom, People, And Plan
Last week Jonathan said that Genesis 46-48, and really the entire story of Joseph, is the story of how the people of Israel end up in Egypt; that these events serve to set up the defining event in Israel’s history, which is the Exodus. So, today is the end of that journey through Genesis, here at Cities Church. And at the same time, it is the opening act for the rest of the Bible. This book provides a setting for, and makes sense of, what is coming in the Old Testament and ultimately Jesus. Genesis 49-50 deals with the final piece of this transition into Egypt, out of which Israel will be called into the land of Promise. And in doing this it provides this dual feeling of resolution combined with a sense of anticipation for the future.
How we got here
But how did we get here? Well, 3 southern boys got together and said, “let’s plant a church in the coldest place on earth, and then let’s pick the most difficult book in the Bible to preach out of”.
But before that, God created the heavens and the earth.
And having done so he formed it and filled it with plants, fruit, trees, the sun, the moon, stars, muskrats, sturgeon, and chickadees. And then he crowns all of it with the creation of man, in whom his spirit would dwell, who would display what God is like and would accomplish God’s purposes on earth. And then God creates a garden, and he places Adam in it to function as the prophet by proclaiming the law of God, the priest in his temple to cultivate the worship of God, and the king in his domain to exercise the authority of God and protecst his kingdom. And then God takes a seat, as if to say that all the good that he intended to accomplish in this initial act of creation has been brought to completion.
But Adam faithlessly fails in his duties as prophet, priest, and king, by disobeying God’s law and failing to protect the garden kingdom, and in so doing breaks covenant relationship with God.
And in the midst of dealing out the curses that belong to rebellion against the king God promises a rescuer, a snake-crusher who would be the offspring of Eve.
And then what we experience from Genesis 4-11 is a view of worldwide rebellion from various vantage points, as well as God’s feelings towards it and interaction with it. Cain offers unlawful sacrifice and then murders his brother. From there things get much worse, so bad that God chooses to use a flood as a means of cleansing the world of wickedness. Then mankind attempts at Babel to thwart God’s purpose to have his people be fruitful and multiply across the whole earth.
So God scatters the people from babel by giving them various languages. And as this happens the focus transitions to Abraham, to whom all the nations would look to for hope and rescue. And throughout the whole book the focus never leaves Abraham or his family.
Which is the 2nd“Act”, or piece, of this book. Chapters 12-50 concern themselves with Abraham and his children.
God calls Abraham at 75 years of age, away from his home on what ends of being an 1100-mile journey into a land that he is completely unfamiliar. And God covenants with Abraham, saying that he will make his family a great nation, and that through this family all the people of the earth will be blessed. And he promises Abraham a land to dwell in.And he commits to this covenant in the form of a sacrifice. He takes three creatures, cuts them in half, and then walks between them as if to say, “Let this be done to me if I do not fulfill my promises to you.”
Later God gives Abraham and Sarah a child at an incredible, unbelievable, age. And they call him Isaac, which means laughter,because their greatest joy on earth is in seeing God fulfill his promises in the form of their offspring. God then extends his covenant promises through Abraham to Isaac.
And God somewhat miraculously provides a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s family, in what ends up being the longest recording of a marriage arrangement in the entire bible(and there are more of those than you might first think). And this amazing woman, Rebekah,does two important things. Not only does she provide an heir to the covenant blessings, she protects God’s plans by ensuring that these promises are passed on to their son Jacob, whom God had chosen.
Jacob then accidently marries the wrong woman,which later proves to be the right woman; God’s woman. And then he marries the person he first intended to marry. And together these two, along with a few others, provide Jacob with 12 sons.
Which, having skipped a few details, leads us to where we are in the story right now,the foot of Jacob’s bed, where he lays ready to pass on God’s covenant blessings to his sons. That is the opening to Genesis 49.
A Summary of Genesis
Before we get into that, I would like to try and summarize the book so far.Genesis is one wild story that includes God’s sovereign and good work of creation, provision, purpose, and protection, as well as some of the most terrible acts you could imagine, and a highly dysfunctional family. And it is a big book. And I think that short summary statements can help us hold onto what God is saying in it.
Genesis is about God’s kingdom being established through his people according to his plan. It is a “garden kingdom”, in that everything we see after the fall in chapter three reflects, in skewed and muted ways, what God intended in the garden. This kingdom is manifest in a family, which is the line of Abraham, who would become God’s blessing to all the peoples of the earth. And the events are all a part of God’s plan. Everything terrible, tragic, and wonderful about what happens in this book; all of it is a part of God’s perfect plan for his people.
So, with that said, let’s transition to the text. The shape of Genesis 49-50 is four sequential scenes. But these four scenes have two threads that run through them to tie them all together.
Scene 1) Israel passes the blessing of Abraham on to his 12 sons
The first half of 49 is all about the promises and blessings originally given to Abraham being passed on from Jacob to his 12 sons. All of the elements of God’s blessing to Abraham, and then to Isaac, and then to Jacob are all here, which is to be fruitful and multiply, to be a blessing to the nations and To control and benefit from the promised land.
We know that these blessings are prophetic in nature. Verse 1 says, “Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come’” (Genesis 49:1). This is not a dying man’s last hope for his children. The children are about to experience a revelation from God to them about their family’s future. They are also more precise than previous blessings. Much greater detail is given to the sons, with greater particularity. And their purpose is to define each son’s role in establishing and protecting the promised kingdom in the land.
Here is what we have seen from the twelve sons up to this point:
The first three, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi act quite shamefully.
Judah sells his brother Joseph into slavery, lies to his father about it, and unwittingly puts his daughter-in-law into a position where she must go to great lengths to provide him with a child. But then God transforms Judah into a faithful representative who intercedes for his brothers,Which is what we have been seeing since chapter 38.
Joseph,the hero acts as a type of the greater rescuer to come, endures great hardship in so doing provides safe entrance into Egypt for his family.
The rest, well, they essentially follow along with whoever has the loudest voice at any particular time.
With that said, here is what God has for the sons:
Reuben, Simeon, and Levi receive blessed curses, meaning that they are blessed to the extent that they all participate in God’s future plans. Their children will one day inhabit the land. But nothing good is said about their role in the land. This is a result of their actions. The consequences of their choices have finally caught up to them.
The 7 all relate in some way to protection of the land or provision for the land; things like, “Asher shall yield rich food and royal delicacies”, “Benjamin shall be a ravenous wolf devouring prey and dividing spoil”, “
Joseph receives the right of the firstborn. For the blessings he will receive as a result of his faithfulness. Joseph embodies everything that God intends for how his people are to conduct themselves and the role that they are to plan among the nations. And this faithfulness, like all righteous living, was wrought by God. In poetic language, “The archers bitterly attacked him…yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the mighty one of Jacob.” and because of this Joseph’s blessings are greater than Jacob’s. Jacob tells Joseph, “The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents up to the bounties of the everlasting hills. May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.”
Judah – the royal line: The royal line runs through Judah. Judah is about a promised ruler over the land. It includesDavid, Solomon, and ultimately Jesus.
It is helpful to see how what is said to Judah finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, as presented in Revelation.
“Judah, your brothers shall praise you…the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff…he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes…his eyes are darker than wine. (Genesis 49:8-12)
Here is a mashup of Revelation 5 and 19: He is “the lion of the tribe of Judah…who has conquered…who sits on the throne…to him be blessing and honor and glory and might…his eyes are like a flame of fire…his robe is dipped in blood…he will rule the nations with a rod of iron…on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of Lords.”
Scene 2) Jacob asks his family to bring his body back to the land (49:28-31)
Which is no small task, for several reasons. First, it could be seen as an offense to Pharaoh. And, it is quite a journey to bury Jacob in his family’s tomb, the gravesite that Abraham originally purchased to bury his wife Sarah in.
I want to pause and take a moment to observe Jacob’s request, because there is something so incredibly beautiful in it.
“I am to be gathered to my people; bury met with the fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite…There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. They they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah—” (Genesis 49:28-31)
Leah, who was neglected and unloved, is now honored by her husband. It is not Rachel who is buried in the tomb of the patriarchs, but Leah. And I think that many of us need to see this. Leah, in not being cared for by Jacob, probably felt like a she was a million miles away from God; like she was as far as you can get from the promises and presence of God. We have felt, or are feeling unwanted, unappreciated, or like we don’t have a role in God’s work in this world, or simply like God is not near. But God often draws near in presence to provide joy and honor to the heartbroken.
Jacob passes. Then Joseph, his brothers, and all of Egypt mourn for 70 days. Jacob’s body is embalmed. And an extravagant procession brings him back to the land, “With all the servants of pharaoh, all the elders of the land of Egypt, the households of Joseph and his brothers, and chariots and horsemen.
So that it was, “a very great company” (50:10). Even the Canaanites, who dwell in the land, recognize that it is not just the family, but all of Egypt who is mourning. They do not see a family mourning a death, they see an entire nation mourning. All of which is a reminder that all the nations will enter into God’s blessing through Abraham’s family: The reason I go into detail on Egypt’s involvement in Jacob’s burial and procession is because it is so astounding.
Scene 3) Joseph reconciles with his brothers
Once mourning is brought to completion, Joseph and his brothers travel back into Egypt. The brothers conclude that now that their father is gone, Joseph may feel less inclined to let them live. So they concoct a story:They say to Joseph, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you” (50:17)
And instead of giving them Justice, Joseph leans on the providence of God to forgive them: Here is what he says, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (50:20) Joseph realizes that this moment in time, with the whole family safe in the land of Egypt, is exactly why all of those terrible things happened to him.
And in saying this Joseph provides framework for everything that happens to God’s people. I do not think that this is an accident, that such a statement occurs at the end of Genesis. I think that it is given to us as a lens through which to look back on everything that has already happened, as well as forward to what will happen to them. It provides context for all the difficult questions concerning God’s people:Why did God wait so long to provide a child for Abraham and Sarah? Why did Jacob have to run from Jacob to Laban’s house? Why Jacob’s wrestlings with God? What about Leah being neglected by her husband? Why did Tamar endure humiliation for the sake of Judah’s household? Why Joseph’s series of trials?
Because God accomplishes his purposes for his people and through his people in this manner. Because waiting for a child refined Abraham’s faith in God to fulfill his promises. Because running from Esau to Laban is how Jacob came to marry someone in the family, and not a Canaanite. Because in her fourth child Leah finds her satisfaction and identity in Yahweh. Because through Tamar’s sacrificial humiliation God brings about the snake crusher who will bless the nations. Because through the evil acts of Joseph’s brothers, a way is made for their family to be brought down to Egypt, where God wants them to be.
And seeing all of this Joseph not only forgives, but promises to provide for them in Egypt: “’So do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (50:21)
Scene 4) Joseph’s death and final request (last scene)
The text observes God’s faithfulness to Jacob’s family in Egypt. Joseph lives to be 110, and he lives to see his son Ephraim, who received the blessing of the firstborn, as well as his children to the third generation.
And on his death bed Joseph reminds his brothers and their children of God’s plan to bring them up out of Egypt. And he asks them to bring his casket with them when God brings them when this happens. Joseph is embalmed like Jacob, placed in a coffin, but not buried. And he is not actually buried until the land is divided and settled in the book of Joshua.
Now, I said that two threads that run through the text. Here is how we are going to talk about these threads. Let’s talk about them as two vantage points of Genesis 49-50, from the ground and from the air.
Let me explain this way: for several years my family hosted my birthday parties at a magical placed called Paul Bunyan Land. If you have not been there, it’s basically like a mashup of Disney World and Six Flags, only better. I have two distinct memories from these parties. The first is of my initial encounter with the theme park. You walk in and Paul Bunyan, who stands about thousand feet high, or thereabouts, says your name in a very deep, somewhat creepy voice. Which is terrifying. He finishes talking to you, and once the shock wear’s off you begin looking your surroundings. You see the Paul and his ox, and off to your right is the gift shop, and to your left is the entrance to the part of the park that has rides. When you’re six this is the most amazing thing you’ve ever experienced. To tell you about the first time I walked into Paul Bunyan land is to give you a participant’s angle on the park. I can tell you what it feels like to be in the park.
The second experience is about the one and only time I took a helicopter ride over the park. Soaring above you get to see the whole thing all at once is to gain an idea of what the designer meant for the park to be, and consequently what he is trying to do through the park for all who enter its gates.
In the bible, these two realities, or perspectives, meet perfectly.
For Us, from the ground
This is the experience of the Israelites in Genesis 49-50. God’s people trust God to do what he says he will do.
Israel trusts God as he passes on the Abrahamic blessing to his children He banked on God for the future of his family. Think of the confidence with which he says, “Zebulun, (in the land) you shall dwell at the shore of the sea and become a haven for ships” (49:13), something that would not occur for hundreds of years!
Jacob trusts God as he asks his family to bury him not in Egypt, but in the land (Part 2). He knew that Egypt would not be the final dwelling place for his children, and that they would one day join him in the land.
Joseph trusts God’s sovereign plan in forgiving his brothers. He also trusts God’s promises as he asks to not be buried, but instead to have his bones brought back to the land, which would occur following the Exodus 400 years later.
For Us, from the air
To take an overview of God’s work in Genesis 49-50, we see that God faithfully accomplishes all of his purposes in establishing his kingdom through this family according to his plan.
God fulfills all the blessings to Jacob’s sons. Everything he says to his sons happens. They become the 12 tribes of Israel. They each fulfill the role that they were promised. The king that Judah is promised redeems the people and brings them into lasting rest
God brings Jacob’s family back to him in the land.
God faithfully uses all of Joseph’s experiences to fulfill his purpose of protecting his family.
God brings Joseph to his final resting place in the Promised Land.
In Jesus, at the table
Ultimately these two threads meet in Jesus. As a descendent of Judah, a member of Abraham’s family, Jesus perfectly trusts the father’s plans to accomplish his purposes through his life, death, and resurrection.
And God perfectly fulfills all of his promises to Abraham in his son Jesus.
Which brings us to the table, where we remember the work that Jesus finished and his perfect trust in the father’s plan.