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Adoption

Date: Mar. 17, 2019

Author: Michael Mark

Genesis 48:1-22

Key Verse: Genesis 48:5

Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.

Does anyone here know someone who was adopted?  It’s more common than you might think, and I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone knows at least one person who was adopted.  What do those children call their parents?  They call them mom and dad.  When they refer to them, they say, “my mom and dad.”  Not “Bill and Sheila.”  They have legally become the children of the adoptive parents, and have all the rights as sons and daughters: the right to be loved, the right to be fed, the right to be protected, the right to be cared for, and even the rights of inheritance.  For all intents and purposes, they are considered the children of their adoptive parents.  For some of my friends in UBF, I couldn’t even tell that they were adopted until they told me.  Adoption ranks among the highest expressions of love, because you are loving as yours another child that was not naturally or originally yours.  One of the reasons why it’s so beautiful is that it is a reflection on our relationship to God, who has adopted us as his own.  We can catch a glimpse of the beauties of adoption as we study today Jacob’s adoption of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.

Last week we saw the beautiful reunion of father and son.  Jacob had thought Joseph had been dead for more than 20 years, but they were reunited at last!  It was a miracle!  Famine had swept through the land, including Egypt and all the surrounding nations. Jacobs family would have surely perished.  There were 5 years of famine left to go, but because God raised Joseph up to be ruler of Egypt, he was able to enable the family to survive and even thrive in the best of the land of Egypt.  Jacob’s family had ballooned into 70 people by the time he arrived, and God was able to provide for them all.  They had struggled in the land of Canaan, but were living well in the best part of Egypt. But still, Jacob never considered this home.  He had his eye toward Canaan, the land promised to his grandfather Abraham.  His family owned no land there, but he held on to the promise of God, and believed that it would one day belong to all of his descendants.  So Jacob called Joseph to make him promise that he would bury him in Canaan.  Joseph swore he would do so, and Jacob leaned on his staff and worshipped.  He gave thanks to God for keeping his promise.  He gave thanks to God for he knew Canaan would one day be his.  And he gave thanks to God for keeping hope alive in saving his family through Joseph.  And now, he would give thanks to Joseph.

Look at v.1-2, “Some time later Joseph was told, ‘Your father is ill.’ So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him.  When Jacob was told, ‘Your son Joseph has come to you,’ Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.”  Joseph did not delay, but went to see his father, for he must have sensed his time was near.  The book of Genesis will close out with Jacob’s last words, and the events closely following his death.  Jacob is 147 years old, and Joseph is around 56 years old.  Verse 2 says Jacob had to rally his strength to sit up on the bed. Normally, people would just sit up on the bed, but the fact that we read that he need to rally his strength, shows how incredibly weak he was, from both old age and disease.  You would want people like that to stay in bed, but Jacob wasn’t just giving his final words – but he would also pass down his blessing, and give a prophecy from God.  We don’t see much of Abraham’s or Isaac’s last words, important as they were, but Jacob’s last words were uttered in the Spirit of God, and so they were recorded in their fullness.  They almost make no sense in the immediate time, but you can see them fulfilled over the next hundreds of years.  The next time we see Jacob lay back down is when he dies at the end of the next chapter. So pay close attention to these words of prophecy in these last chapters.

The first thing Jacob mentions is the promise of God.  It is the introduction to his final words.  This promise is central to the book of Genesis, and central to the Bible.  It is the source of hope for the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the object of their faith.  None of them received the promise in their lifetime, but they welcomed it from a distance, believing that God is faithful, and if God said it, it was as good as done. They were commended for their faith in this.  See the promise in v.3-4.  Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty (that’s El Shaddai, God the Most Powerful), appeared to me at Luz (Bethel) in the land of Canaan and there he blessed me and said to me, “I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers.  I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.”  That is the promise – that the land of Canaan would be an everlasting possession to Jacob and his descendants.  Remember, Jacob owned no land yet, but he believed God will give it to his descendants. But what’s peculiar is that it is to be an everlasting possession.  There may have been a time when Israel was off the map, but isn’t it interesting today, that the nation of Israel is recognized internationally?  And I do believe, even as the other nations around it and all over the world may come and go, Israel will be there forever. But looking farther and deeper, there is an everlasting possession for the people of God.  1 Pet 1:4 calls it an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  The land of Canaan is just a type and shadow of the everlasting kingdom in heaven, one that will be populated by the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All the patriarchs looked forward to this, the city of God.

Out of all of the brothers, Joseph lived an exemplary life.  He wasn’t perfect, he was a sinner as all humanity is, but comparatively, his life reflected true faithfulness to God.  He remained pure despite temptation.  He gave credit to God for interpreting dreams, and through God saved Egypt and his family.  He helped his brothers to repent, and forgave them for what they did to him.  He suffered much in rejection and in prison, but God was with him.  Now look at how God rewards him in v.5.  Can we all read v.5 together: “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.”  Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh in order to give Joseph a double blessing.  They will each inherit their own territory in the land of Canaan.  See how Jacob speaks so confidently of their inheritance in v.6. He doesn’t own any of the land yet, but he tells them what they’re going to get.  It’s like telling your first kid, Ok Dave, Washington DC will be yours. Grace, you’ll control Seoul, South Korea.  Ella, your inheritance will be Berlin.  See how Jacob says “your two sons will be reckoned as mine.”  He is adopting Ephraim and Manasseh.  They will be reckoned as his.  He will be as their father, they will call him dad.  What happens when we are adopted by God?  We are reckoned as his.  We are considered his children.  We can say to God, father, and he will be our father. 

So why did Jacob adopt Ephraim and Manasseh?  Notice also in v.5, he mentions his two other sons: Reuben and Simeon, and these were his two firstborn.  Ephraim and Manasseh are compared to the firstborn sons.  Because Ephraim and Manasseh belong to Joseph, and they each get an inheritance, you can see that Joseph gets a double portion.  A double portion is the birthright that belongs to the firstborn.  So Joseph is being honored with the inheritance of the firstborn.  Reuben and Simeon will each receive only one inheritance each, but Joseph receives double through his sons.  1 Chr 5:2 validates this, saying “though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph.”  This was no small gift – the sons would be chiefs among the tribes of Israel.  They didn’t really deserve or earn this right. In fact, if Jacob never knew they were alive, they had no chance for this inheritance.  But God brought them back and made them sons of Israel, so that they could become co-heirs of the promise of God.  Joseph was blessed through them, and his mother Rachel was also honored, as Jacob recounted his sorrow at her death when he returned from Paddan.

In v.8, Jacob, called Israel now, saw Joseph’s sons and said “Who are these?” It seems odd, that he mentions Ephraim and Manasseh by name in v.5, but he looks at these two lads and doesn’t recognize them.  This might show that Joseph might have lived some distance away while he served Pharaoh, and that his family might not have been in frequent contact with Jacob. When Jacob first arrived, the children would have been very young, both being somewhere between 2 to 9 years old. 17 years later, these kids are now somewhere between 19 and 26 years old.  So he might not have recognized them after they had grown up.  Look at what Joseph says to his father in v.9, “They are the sons God has given me here.”  Notice that Joseph gives credit to God for giving him these children. Israel asked them to be brought to him to be blessed.  Verse 10 tells us that Israel’s eyes were failing and he could hardly see.  His father Isaac had the same condition when he got old, so this problem ran in the family.  When Joseph brought them close, Israel kissed them and embraced them. Here was a happy grandfather, showing his tender love and care.  Israel also gave credit to God, saying to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”  This is such a heartmoving statement, and show’s Israel’s heart, which I think is the heart of any father to their children. He never expected to see his son again, but God enabled him to see him and his grandchildren. His heart must have been bursting with gratitude.

Look now at v.12, “Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground.”  Even though Joseph was the most powerful man in Egypt, he gave respect and reverence to his father.  In the world, Joseph was the ruler, but in God’s kingdom, and at this time, Israel was the head of all God’s children.  Noticed that Ephraim and Manasseh were removed from Israel’s knees. Now, remember that these kids were between 19 and 26 years old.  It’s hard to imagine that they were sitting on a sick, weak 147 year old person’s lap. So what does this mean?  This may have been a ceremony or some rite, to show that they have been adopted by Jacob.  In those times, to say that a child was born on the knees, was to adopt the child as your own.  The practice was, so I’ve read, that if a mother could not have a child, she would choose a surrogate to have her husband’s child.  Then, when the surrogate was ready to give birth, she would sit on the wife’s lap, and the child would be born on her knees, signifying that the child would be considered to be the wife’s.  Now obviously men do not have wombs, and these children were already grown, so perhaps this was some ceremony to indicate that they were being adopted by Israel.

After that, bowing, Joseph took his two sons and placed Manasseh at Jacob’s right hand, and Ephraim at Jacob’s left hand, to receive their blessings.  The right hand was the hand which would give the greater blessing.  Manasseh was the firstborn and elder of Jacob’s two sons, so by birthright he should receive the blessing of the firstborn.  But Israel did something unexpected, and different.  He crossed his arms, and his left hand ended up on Manasseh’s head, and his right hand on Ephraim’s!

Before Joseph could intervene, Jacob began to pronounce a blessing. Verse 15 indicates that the first blessing given was for Joseph.  Look at v.15 first: “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,”  There is only one God, and that is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.  The God that they walked with is the only God in the whole world.  Naaman, a commander of the Aramean army in the time of the prophet Elisha (800 years before Christ), made this confession when he was healed of leprosy: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. (2 Kings 5:15).”  This God was Jacob’s shepherd all his life.  Notice the change in Jacob’s outlook on life.  In chapter 42, he said “Everything is against me!”  Last week, in chapter 47, he told Pharaoh, “my years have been few and difficult.”  But now he acknowledges “God has been my shepherd all my life to this day.”  There were moments he was not faithful to God. There were periods in his life that he doubted God.  But in his last day, he recognizes that God has always been faithful to him.  God was his shepherd all his life.  Even in the hard times, God was with him, working not according to Jacob’s plans, but according to His own.  This is true for every one of us here.  God has been our shepherd, our protector, our provider, our guide, all of our lives to this day. 

Jacob continues in v.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 on the earth.”  Jacob switches to the Angel, as he spoke about God.  This Angel is a separate and distinct person, but equal with God.  Who could this be?  This might be the pre-incarnate Jesus.  He was saving people before he came to earth in the flesh.  He delivered Jacob from all harm, and he too, will deliver us from all harm.  The blessing ends with Ephraim and Manasseh being called by the name of Israel, and Abraham and Isaac.  Ephraim and Manasseh would be called Israel.  Just like how we are called American.  I am a Chicagoan, but I am also an American.  I’m reckoned a child of the United States.  The children of Israel are called Israel (the nation), and they are children of Abraham and Isaac.  The final benediction “may they increase greatly on the earth” is an echo of the promise God made to Abraham.  It seems like this blessing was for the two sons, but verse 15 says it was for Joseph, showing that Joseph would be blessed through his children.  It is a blessing for us to see our children succeed. Many immigrants have come to America and sacrificed a lot in order to give a better life for their children.  I know that was true of my mom, and I believe true of all your parents.

After Jacob finished this blessing, Joseph thought he should correct him before he moved on to bless the sons.  Look at v.17, “When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head.”  He was displeased because Manasseh was the oldest and expected him to get the blessing of the right hand.  Manasseh might have expected it too. It was the culture at that time, and even to this day in many other cultures, that the firstborn son receives the greater inheritance. Joseph may have thought Jacob wasn’t seeing well, or that grandpa was making a mistake.  But Jacob knew what he was doing.  He didn’t make a mistake.  He refused to move his hands.  He’s pretty strong now.  At first it was hard for him to even get up from bed, but now not even Joseph, who was well built and handsome, could move his hand.  Such is the power of the Spirit of God.  Jacob told Joseph he knew who was who, and that Manasseh too will become great.  But his younger brother Ephraim will be greater.  Jacob did not say this because he had a favorite.  As we saw, he did not even know these children very well.  If he wanted to bless Joseph his way, he would undoubtedly have done it the traditional way.  But Jacob was under the influence of the Spirit of God.  He did not bless Ephraim the younger because he wanted to, but because God wanted to.  History would prove these prophecies would come true.  He foresaw a little of God’s plan, and gave the blessing accordingly. Jacob did this by faith.  So he completed his blessing of the two sons in v.20, “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.”  Ephraim and Manasseh would be so blessed, that their names would be synonymous with blessing.  It’s like telling a basketball player, “May God make you like Mike,” or telling a soccer player, “May God make you like Ronaldo.” 

Jacob concludes with a reiteration of God’s promise and blessing to Joseph. He says in v.21, “I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers.”  To the very end, Jacob had faith in what God would do.  He also stated a recurring theme in Joseph’s like, and the key to all his success: that God was with him.  He said this in the presence of Manasseh and Ephraim.  Imagine the impact this would have had.  They were the children of a prince, in a well off family.  The world was in the palm of their hands.  But they chose instead the blessings of God, rather than the blessings of this world.  They chose to become the children of God, rather than remain as children of the world.  Though they were born in Egypt, their descendants would all return to the land of Canaan, promised to their fathers.  In verse 22, we can see again that Joseph received a double portion, as he inherited one more ridge of land than his brothers.

Ephraim and Manasseh received a great honor, an even greater honor than the honor in this world.  They became the patriarchs of two of the largest tribes in Israel.  Their names, Ephraim and Manasseh are remembered to this day, and for all eternity.  And why? Because they were adopted as children of Israel.  They did not earn or deserve this, but were adopted by the grace of God. They were children of Joseph, who was cut off from his brothers.  But God reconciled them (the whole family of Joseph) and brought them back, and gave them an inheritance above any other.  Jacob adopted those that were not his own, loved them, and treated them as his own sons, even his firstborn.  This is the beauty and glory of adoption, to love one who would be a stranger as your own family.  And this is what God has done for us.  Once we were not a people, cut off from God by our sin, and sold into slavery. But Christ came to reconcile us, to be cut off for us by his death on the cross, so that our sins may not be counted against us.  Jesus is the Angel that saved us from harm. And by his death and resurrection we are counted as children of God, children with full rights.  Through Christ God has adopted us.  John 1:9,12 tells us “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world … to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  You have a right to become children of God!  1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”  That is what we are!  He has given us new clothes: the robes of a royal priesthood.  He has embraced us and kissed us with his Holy Spirit.  And by his Spirit we cry out, Abba, Father!  We can pray, Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name! 

So let us pray: Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be your name.  We thank you for adopting us as your own, as children of God, and making us co-heirs with Christ, that through him we will inherit immortal, imperishable bodies, and inherit a land where there is no death, no mourning, no crying or no pain, for you have come to wipe the tears from our eyes and dwell among us, that we may be your people, and you will be our God.  Help us Lord, to walk with you each day, as we would walk with you in heaven, in holiness and in love for our brothers and sisters.  Thank you for bringing us into your family.  We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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