Joseph: Faith Accepts the Unexpected (Gen 46-48)

582px-Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_Jacob_Blessing_Ephraim_and_Manasseh_-_Schloss_Wilhelmshöhe_Kassel
Rembrandt – Jacob Blessing Joseph’s sons (Public Domain)

Does God always do what you expect Him to do when you expect Him to do it? If we are honest, the answer is an emphatic “No”. This is because God is not as interested in our schedule (or to-do list) as He is His own. Our God—who “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11)—does not always do what we expect Him to do[1]. Genuine faith accepts the unexpected because it knows that God’s will is always right. As we get back to our study of Genesis we will move quickly through chapters 46-47 and focus on 48. In Genesis 46-47, Jacob arrived in Egypt and reunited with his son Joseph (Gen 46). Joseph was in charge of managing the affairs of Pharaoh and did so well so that many people were saved from death (Gen 47). In Genesis 48 we learn that when it came time for Jacob to meet Joseph’s sons and bless them, he gave the greater blessing to Joseph’s younger son instead of his older son. This was an unexpected act and it was done in faith (Heb 11:21). Let us examine more closely how this unexpected action was faith and faithfully received.

  1. Willing to cross your arms. We read in Genesis 48:10 that Jacob’s “eyesight was poor because of his old age; he could hardly see.” Joseph placed his older son Manasseh near Jacob’s right hand. He then placed his younger son Ephraim near Jacob’s left hand. This was intentional because the right hand symbolized greater authority and blessing. Therefore, Joseph thought it right that the greater blessing from Jacob go to his older son. But, “Israel stretched out his right hand and put it on the head of Ephraim, the younger, and crossing his hands, put his left on Manasseh’s head, although Manasseh was the firstborn” (Gen 48:14). Jacob then gave his blessing to Joseph and the sons. He praised God for being his shepherd who has “redeemed me from all harm” (Gen 48:16).
    Why did Jacob cross his arms? While we are told that his eyesight was poor and that he could hardly see, this was not done accidentally but intentionally. Why did he intentionally place the right hand on the younger son and bestow the greater blessing upon him? Because he discerned the will of God and acted accordingly. We shall see in the next section that there are times when obedience to the will of God causes others to protest.
  1. Willing to keep your arms crossed. When Joseph saw that his father crossed his arms, “he thought it was a mistake and took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s.” Joseph said, ““Not that way, my father! This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.” Jacob refused to move his hands because he knew this was God’s will. Jacob told Joseph, “I know, my son, I know! He too will become a tribe, and he too will be great; nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his offspring will become a populous nation.
    Joseph thought Jacob’s action was a mistake. But, as we learned earlier, Jacob had discerned the will of God in this matter and acted accordingly. Jacob was insistent that the blessing was to be bestowed in this manner and refused to uncross his arms. There are times when the Spirit of God will call you to do something that others (even fellow Christians) consider foolish. Rest assured, however, that obedience is never foolish. When we are confident of God’s will, we must act accordingly; regardless of what others say.
  1. Willing to allow the arms to remain crossed. Joseph thought his father’s actions were a mistake. He thought that Jacob messed up because of his poor eyesight, but did not realize that Jacob could see spiritually far better than he could see physically. After an initial protest, Joseph accepted his father’s action in faith as the will of God. Joseph demonstrated this by taking his hands off of Jacob’s hands. Joseph made the faithful choice to accept God’s will rather than to resist it. Jacob’s blessing for Ephraim came true in that Ephraim became a very important tribe of Israel. Also, it is worth noting that Joshua came from Ephraim (Num 13:8).

God always does what is good and always calls us to do what is morally right. God will never direct us to sin; we may be confident of that. But, God does not always do what we expect Him to do. If we are unsure of what we should do, we must always pray for God to give us wisdom and guidance. We must seek God’s will through God’s Word. If anything contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture, it must be rejected. Having said that, many times God’s way is not what we expect. Faith accepts the unexpected because God’s way is always best. Let us therefore:

  • Be willing to cross our arms in obedience. When the Lord guides our steps over unexpected paths, let us boldly walk in obedience.
  • Be willing to keep our arms crossed. When we step out in obedience to the Lord, let us hold to our conviction without wavering because, as Paul wrote in Galatians 1:10, “am I striving to please people? If I were still striving to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
  • Be willing to allow the arms to remain crossed. When we see other Christians following Christ in a way we do not expect, we must be very careful. We must first examine whether or not they are sinning and rebelling against God. If so, we must seek to bring them back. If they are not sinning, we must refuse to be a stumbling block to them. Accept God’s will and do not resist it.

[1] Unexpected, but not sinful. God will never do anything that contradicts His character and holiness.