Further In and Deeper Down: God’s Great Gospel of Grace (Gen. 47:27-50:26)
As we come to the end of 2012, we have also come to the end of our series in Genesis. We actually spent exactly 52 weeks in the book of Genesis. This is the 52nd message. We started in August 2011 and journeyed all of this year and now have come to the last remaining chapters. I probably say this about every series we end up doing, but this truly was the most life- changing, ministry-altering, heart-transforming series of all time for me. It all started when you all graciously sent Jenny and I to the Gospel Coalition Conference in April 2011.
The theme that year was “Preaching Christ in the Old Testament.” It was an intriguing concept. I thought I knew what that meant, but watching it modeled and taught those few days really did a number on my heart as we came home. It was there I thought to dive into Genesis later that year and here we are, 51 messages later. God has truly been good to us. I used to preach the gospel for salvation, but it has been so amazingly revolutionary for me to preach the gospel as sufficient for all of life as well. I am still learning and I have far to go, but I am thankful the Lord has changed and is changing me with His Gospel of Grace.
As we close out 2012 and this series, there is nothing better than to look once again at the Gospel of Grace. We have seen God take Joseph who was going further in and deeper down into his own selfishness and adversity actually ending up taking him further in and deeper down into God’s gracious purposes. We saw God take the brothers of Joseph who was going further in and deeper down into guilt actually ending up taking them further in and deeper down into God’s reconciling grace. And now in the last few chapters, we see God taking Jacob who was going further in and deeper down into grief and fear, actually ending up being taken further in and deeper down into God’s redemptive grace.
We have three chapters with three points regarding God’s great gospel of grace. We have three final lessons. Let’s start with this:
I. Follow the Shepherd of the Gospel of Grace (Gen. 48).
Last time, we looked at Jacob’s fears of taking his entire family into Egypt. We saw God’s packing up and going with him. God’s presence is what quiets our fears. God took care of all the details of his life as he surrendered. Jacob got Joseph returned to him and he actually lives another 17 more years before he dies. Joseph spent 17 years in his father’s care and now Jacob spends 17 years in his son’s care.
We saw some crazy adventures that Jacob had. He had stolen his brother’s birthright and schemed his way to get his dad’s deathbed blessing. God gave him the dream of the ladder when he ran away. We saw the amazing love story between him and Rachel (and three other women). How can we forget the wrestling at midnight with the angel of the Lord? Really exciting. Now we have the last scenes of Jacob’s life.
Jacob is about to die in Gen.48. So Joseph brings his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim to his father for the deathbed blessing. What was the deathbed blessing? We saw this earlier when Jacob stole his dad’s deathbed blessing. When the father of a clan dies, he gathers everyone together, there is a special meal involved and proclaims to everyone what seems like the destiny of their sons. It was a legal transaction, which is why it cannot be taken back. It is not exactly all prophecy, but with God’s people He would use the deathbed blessing to accomplish His purposes. It seems like God speaks through the patriarch’s deathbed blessings. So this blessing was huge.
Interestingly, the author of Hebrews in chapter 11 gives us a survey of all the important figures from Genesis and the Old Testament. The author also gives little summaries of each of the characters in this hall of faith and out of all of the events of Jacob’s life, we find him singling out Gen. 48 as the most important, triumphant moment, the preeminent moment in Jacob’s life. Heb. 11:21: “By faith, Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.” It’s weird!
Why? Why not the wrestling at midnight? I would have chosen that one. Perhaps it is because here at the end of his life, what comes out of his mouth is what really summarizes the theme of Jacob’s life. And what is that theme? As Keller notes: The overpowering grace of God. We learn here how the grace of God is not a doctrine to be believed, but it is a set of lenses to see all of life. It is a worldview!
Look at the first words when he begins this blessing: “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day” (Gen. 48:15). This is the first mention of God as a Shepherd. If God is a shepherd, what does that make Jacob? He’s a sheep. Keller adds, “First of all the sheep, now when you and I hear that we’re sheep and he is the shepherd it just makes us feel warm, fuzzy, gauzy, and we think of fluffy little lambs and green pastures and still waters and you need to know that when the bible calls Him the great shepherd and us the sheep it is a very important and very well meant spiritual insult.”
This is an insult. It doesn’t say, “He is my Rancher and I am His horse.” If a horse gets away from a rancher, the horse leaves and becomes a wild horse. If a sheep gets away from the shepherd, the sheep dies. Sheep cannot get back home on their own. They are helpless against parasites and predators.
You can’t let the sheep out. They are foolish. They need comprehensive, endless, 24-hour care. What is Jacob saying? He’s making a radical statement about our need for God’s grace. We need a God who is a shepherd, because we are clueless and lost sheep. He then brings up the wrestling match by the river in the next verse (Gen. 48:16). Remember Jacob was running from God? God wrestled the self-sufficiency out of him (Gen. 32). God hurt him. His pride was crippled. He was never really the same again. He saw the grace of God as a sheep in need of comprehensive care of a shepherd.
When God wrestled with Jacob, God was being this kind of shepherd to Jacob. Notice “all my life long to this day.” What?! Let’s look at Jacob’s life. He was raised by a dad who didn’t love him. This poisoned his life as he schemed to get his father’s love and blessing. He worked 20 years for an uncle, Laban who exploited, manipulated and stole from him. He was forced to marry a woman he didn’t love. When he finally got to marry the woman he did love, she died within just a few years in childbirth. Finally, the light of his eyes, Joseph is seized by his jealous brothers and sold off into slavery. Jacob has spent 20 plus years in clinical depression.
And now at the end of his life, he has the audacity to say that at every moment, he was under the care of a loving shepherd? Sometimes we have a tendency to romanticize Jesus and the sheep. In Sunday School especially, we have a shepherd who is bringing a lost sheep over his shoulders back home (Luke 15). Most of the time, we picture it this way. The poor little sheep is shaking and trembling saying, “I’m so lost and alone here. If only my shepherd comes to get me.” And finally the shepherd comes around the corner and the sheep jumps up and down. “My shepherd has come to find me and take me home!” This is not true.
Keller gives us the words of a pastor who before he went into the ministry was a shepherd. He understands what it means. He says, “A sheep is a stupid animal. It loses its direction continually in a way that a cat or dog never does. And even when you find a lost sheep, they are never happy to be found. The lost sheep brushes to and fro and will not follow you home. It is extremely difficult to bring them home unless you have a dog to scare it. So when you find it you must seize it throw it to the ground, tie its’ fore legs and hind legs together, throw it over your shoulder and carry it home struggling. That’s the only way to save a lost sheep.” How do you love a sheep? You seize it, you grab it and tie it up and carry it on your shoulder. The shepherd is always doing what is best for the sheep and the sheep don’t know it. When the shepherd is loving the sheep, the sheep never feels loved, though the shepherd loves them. Jacob is a professional shepherd. He knows this.
All of his life when he thought God was being mean to him, not answering prayer, treating me horribly, I was wrong. He was just being a loving shepherd, saving me and loving me from destruction. Do you see your life this way? I am slowly seeing it. There are so many prayers God did not answer. Looking back, now I see God’s wisdom and love. So many things have not gone my way, but my shepherd has proven to be faithful. Just wait beloved flock of the Father. You don’t realize you are being loved, but you are. Have you seen your shepherd’s heart for your life right now?
Now he sees it. He is looking at his life through the lens of God’s shepherding grace. And it has deeply changed the way he sees everything. As Joseph brings his two sons toward him, he senses God’s grace again in choosing Ephraim, the younger, over Manasseh, the older. The right hand is a position of strength, honor, power and glory. Joseph is still thinking like the world. The right hand of blessing should go to the oldest male in that culture. This means the oldest gets the inheritance and pretty much everything by virtue of his birth. So Joseph moves the oldest to Jacob’s right hand and Jacob crosses his hands. Joseph doesn’t get it. He thinks his dad can’t see properly and tries to correct him. Jacob answers, “I know my son, I know.” In other words, he knows exactly what he’s doing. His dad, blind Isaac blessed Jacob without knowing it. Jacob is blessing knowing exactly what he’s doing. And what he is doing? He is looking through the lenses of grace. He is seeing God’s values differently from the way the world works. His understanding of the grace of God has changed his understanding of social reality.
Every culture has a set of rules like this. This is how things get done in every culture. It might not be the oldest male in our culture, but our culture says, “You got to be smart, got to have the right cheekbone structure and born into wealth to be important.” These are the ones that get things done. The bigger, the taller, the more educated, the more successful, etc. are the ones to look at. Jacob is saying, “God does not work in the world the way the world works.” We saw it all throughout Genesis. God chooses the one whom the world discards. He chooses the younger son over the older: Abel not Cain. Isaac over Ishmael. Homebody Jacob over Hunter Esau. Barren old Sarah and not young fertile Hagar. Unattractive Leah over Beauty Queen Rachel. Go through the Bible. God works through the people who the world thinks are failures. Prepubescent David over his brothers. Jesus is the ultimate example. The salvation of the world came through defeat. He became lower than low. The shepherd does everything, even becoming a lamb to pay for His sheep’s sins.
Joseph is thinking like the world. He likes the older kid. But Jacob has finally gotten it. He has allowed the Gospel of grace to change him, even to the point of looking at his entire life through those lenses. It took him years. Remember that he picked the beautiful Rachel? Remember his favoritism of Joseph and Benjamin? Now he sees that he is simply sheep. If he is a sheep saved by grace, then how can he see any superiority over anyone else? Has the gospel of grace transformed the reality of how you see people? If you are educated, do you see uneducated people are inferior to you? Do you look at another race and feel superior? To be honest, I am learning this still. If you notice, we preach the Gospel here every Sunday and I look at churches that are not doing that as inferior to us. But they are saved by the same grace as I am, by the same Shepherd for dumb sheep as we all are.
I know we may not have services like the Taiwanese ministry (TM) does. We may be tempted to boast in our contemporary music or better powerpoints or less liturgical style. But do we look at them with the lens of God’s grace? That really in the end, they are no different from us. They too are saved sheep by the same Shepherd? I am often guilty. I don’t see through the lens of God’s grace. Let us follow the shepherd of grace in this way.
I don’t see Christians any different from unsaved people in how they choose their partner. The world says, “I want the beautiful one. The hot one. The guy with a great career.” And the Christians do the same. So people who don’t fit those categories are bypassed, even if they are deeply godly or have amazing character. Why? Because our self-esteem cannot handle being with those people. What is our self-esteem based on? If we are a sinner saved by God’s grace, we must use the lens of God’s grace to see all people. When you follow the Shepherd of the Gospel of Grace, you not only see your life as a testimony of that grace, but you also start to see others through the lens of God’s grace.
II. Hope in the Blessor of the Gospel of Grace (Gen. 49).
Jacob now brings his twelve sons around him to proclaim their and their tribes’ future. Some of these tribes are going to be blessed and others will not. We know that none of these brothers deserve to be alive. They all participated in different kinds of wickedness. The fact that they are all alive shows us God’s Gospel of Grace. Some of these brothers have consequences to choices they made. Reuben, slept with Bilhah, the concubine (Gen. 35:22), for example. Simeon and Levi led an attack on the people of Shechem in senseless brutal violence (Gen. 34). Thus they are alive, but disqualified from leadership. Reuben never really becomes a popular tribe and Simeon’s tribe will get absorbed into Judah’s tribe. The tribe of Levi however, will end up redeemed to be priests for God (Deut. 33:8-11).
The majority of verses go to Joseph and Judah. Judah was notorious for his sins (Gen. 38), but his repentance is more notorious. It was Judah who later pleaded before Joseph for his brother Benjamin (cf. 44:18–32) and offered himself as Benjamin’s substitute (cf. vv. 33–34). Judah will be majestic, conquering with dominion and strength (Gen. 49:8-9). He is a resting lion, having subdued everything under his feet (Gen. 49:9). He has eternal kingship (Gen. 49:10). There is abundance, prosperity, fertility and abundance.
The name “Shiloh” in verse 10 has given rise to many interpretations and speculations, but the most reasonable is that it refers to the Messiah (Num. 24:17). The phrase could be translated “until he comes whose right it is [the scepter, i.e, the rule],” because the word Shiloh means “whose it is.” The ancient rabbinical scholars took Shiloh to be a name of the promised Messiah, who alone had the right to claim rule over God’s people Israel.
Notice that the image he uses is wine. There is so much wine that you can be free to tie your donkey up to a grape vine and not worry he will eat all the grapes. You can even wash your clothes in wine, there is so much. It makes sense that Jesus comes and the first miracle he does is? Turning the water into wine in abundance (John 2). Zebulun will have international trade (Gen. 49:13). Isaachar seems to be the lazy tribe, preferring slavery over working for their land (Gen. 49:14-15). Dan is small like a snake on the road, but aggressive, dangerous and striking unexpectedly (Gen. 49:16-17). Samson was from this tribe, overturning the Phillistines by himself, if you remember (Judg. 15). Gad, is often attacked, but they fight back (Gen. 49:19). Asher will be known for their fertile land (Gen. 49:20). Naphtali will be known for being like a deer, agile, beautiful and fast (Gen. 49:21).
The sons of Joseph will be fruitful. Jacob used the word “bless” at least six times in his speech to and about Joseph. Barren Rachel will produce the fruitful of tribes (Gen. 49:22-26). They will always persevere, like their ancestor Joseph and they will be successful in what they put their hands on, not because they were strong, but because God will put His hands over theirs, just like He did for Jacob.
Jacob forgets about blessings and talks about the One who blesses. Look at these awesome names of God. The God who defends Joseph is a Shepherd, one who is able to lead and defend his people (48:15 and 35:3). He is also the Stone of Israel, that is, one who is stable and unchanging (see Isa. 8:14, where “stone” and “rock” are parallel). He is the “God of your father” (ʾēl ʾābîkā), a description that reminds the reader of the ancestral calling and promised blessings (31:5; 32:9–10; 46:3). Finally, he is described as “Almighty” (šadday). These last two titles seem to fit the last two verbs: the God of the father would save him, and the Almighty would bless him. Lastly, Benjamin will be known for his bravery and skill in war (Gen. 49:27).
This is a poem, but the way its structured, the key is found in the middle verse: Gen. 49:18: “I wait for your salvation, O God.” In the midst of all this, Jacob realizes that we need someone to save us. It’s not going to be easy for these tribes. And it made me wonder if he is thinking back to the first promise of the Gospel in Gen. 3:15. The seed of the woman will come from the tribe of Judah to save the world.
All of these promises remind these brothers to raise their vision higher than what they currently see. They will all die before they see any of this. This was really to help their descendants live by God’s Word, but it also reminded the brothers who were living in Egypt comfortably, not to trust in what they see. And what about us? Are you looking for the blessing or the blessor in 2013? The Giver or the gifts?
To put it in another way, because of the Fall, our hearts are fundamentally bent toward one thing: our happiness. But the Bible always says that happiness is not something that can be found directly, but it is always a by-product of seeking something else. The Beatitudes start off with “Blessed is the one…” It can be translated, “Happy is the one…” But it never says “Blessed is the one who seeks after blessedness” Or “Happy is the one who seeks after happiness.”
The person who is happy is always the one who has stopped trying so hard to be happy. Seek righteousness more than happiness and you’ll get both. Seek happiness first and you’ll get neither. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. and all these things shall be added….(happiness follows). If you make ___________ [a happy marriage, successful career, being a great parent] your number one priority, you will fail.
If we come to Him to make me feel happy, I’m coming to a false god. He’s God not a butler or vending machine. My goals are wrong. Do we come to God in the hard seasons with a ‘you owe me’ attitude? The more you’re concerned about God and the less your concerned about your happiness, the better off you will be. Aim at earth you get nothing. Aim at heaven, you will get both. Lastly:
III. Believe the Redeemer of the Gospel of Grace (Gen. 50).
Jacob dies and is brought to Canaan (not Egypt), waiting for the promises to come true with his ancestors. We find that we have a problem that arises from the brothers. Look at Gen. 50:15. The brothers are afraid that the only reason Joseph is not killing them is because Jacob is alive. And now that Jacob is dead, they are like, “Dad said be nice to us.” And Joseph weeps. Why? They don’t trust Him. Reconciliation was still not complete. Trust and the reweaving of trust takes time and he reassures them once again: believe me!
Our issue is not that we don’t believe in God. Our issue is that we don’t believe the God we say we believe in. When He says, “I forgive you!” We say, “Are you sure? Let me pay for it somehow. Let me wallow in guilt.” When He says, “I will provide for you.” We say, “Are you sure?”
How do we grow in believing this redeemer? Look at what Joseph says: “Am I in the place of God?” This is the first way. Get out of God’s chair. In other words, stop being God in your life. How do we do that? We think we know what is best for us. Remember Genesis 3? Eat the fruit of the tree, you will be as God. You decide what is right or wrong for you, rather than following God’s Word. Or we look to a person to meet our deepest needs. You find someone and you think, “Now my life is complete. I’ll have love and know I’m lovable and my life will count. “ You have just made that person into God. No person can meet that for you. That person needs to be taken out out of the chair.
How about worry? That is putting yourself in the place of God. I know how my life should go and God’s not getting it right. Instead when you say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen and I don’t know what’s best, but God does,” you are getting out of God’s chair and worry becomes more manageable.
How about keeping a grudge? That is making someone pay for their sin. That’s God’s business. Only God has the right and the knowledge and the power to judge someone. Get out of His chair.
I like what Keller says,
“The fastest way to become like Satan is to try to be God in your life. The fastest way to become like God is to refuse to take the place of God in your life.”
When you let God be God, you will be gracious, compassionate, loving and everything that God is!
Secondly, to grow to believe Him more in 2013, Get into God’s arms. See how Joseph processes everything in his life? It is very different from how we do it. We often think, “If life is good, then God is good and if life is bad, then God doesn’t care or indifferent. I don’t trust him.” What is God’s view? You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Life will have bad moments, evil is real, but God is my shepherd working for my good, His glory though I don’t see it and it might take a long time to as well. How do you look at your troubles? Get His perspective. We are like a kid in an elevator who can see belly buttons, belt buckles and backsides, but in his parent’s arms, the situation hasn’t changed, but the perspective is different.
Jared Wilson defines “gospel wakefulness” as treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly. He illustrates with the following: Imagine you are driving down the road and your car stalls at a railroad crossing. You are understandably nervous as you try to reignite the car’s engine, but you become even more so when you see a train turn the corner in the distance and begin quickly closing the gap between it and you. The train engine’s horn is blaring and the engineer has thrown on the brakes, but you are too close and he’s coming too fast. You move from trying to get the car to start to trying to unfasten your seatbelt, but fear has made your hands stiffen and shake. You can’t get your seatbelt unfastened. The train is rushing toward you, and you know you’re going to be hit. And you are. Suddenly and from behind. A man in a truck behind you has decided to ram into your car and push you off the tracks, even as he is destroyed by the impact in the very spot you once occupied.
You get out of the car, shaken and still frightened. You are terrified by the gruesome scene, in shock over your rescuer’s sacrifice. You are grateful in a way that you’ve never been grateful before. … Even in your terrified awe, it feels good to be alive. You feel woozy, so you sit down on the trunk of your car, and as you’re trying to retrieve your cell phone from your pocket to call 911 and marveling at how little damage the violent shove did to the rear bumper, you hear a whimper from inside.
You didn’t know that before you’d left the house, as your kids were playing hide-and-seek, your youngest son decided to hide in the trunk of your car. As you open it up frantically and discover that he is miraculously unharmed, you suddenly realize the total greatness of the loss you almost suffered. Your gratitude, your amazement, your new outlook on life takes a giant leap forward. That is the difference between the gospel wakefulness of conversion and the greater wakefulness that often occurs later.
See the difference? That is what God is taking us! Greater wakefulness to the Gospel of Grace. We realize He has done more for us than simply giving us a ticket to Heaven. The Gospel is the way to live life. It affects all of life. Everything must be seen through the Gospel of Grace: How I see my marriage, how I handle my money, how I deal with my fears…everything!
Genesis begins with life and ends with a coffin, death. It starts with glory, and ends with a grave. People are left waiting, hoping, believing, and following for a Shepherd to come. We are waiting for God to visit us and bring us home, to a Promised Land. Exodus to Deuteronomy is how that happened through a shepherd named Moses. But even at the end of Deuteronomy and even at the end of the Old Testament, but people were still left waiting.
Centuries later, God visited again. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd who came to lay down His life for His sheep. I am the Shepherd who became a lamb to pay for my people’s sins.” He lost God’s blessing and got the curse, so we could get His blessing. We tried to substitute ourselves as God, sitting in His chair, but God got off His chair and took our place, so we truly can be in His arms. This Shepherd put death to death and rose again. And forever He will be our Shepherd. Revelation 7 says this.
He will visit us again and this time, He will shepherd us into the true Promised Land of Heaven. We will be back in the Garden with Him again, blessed and to worship Him forever, the Lamb upon the throne. And we will never leave Him again. We will finally and fully “awake.”
As we close this year and this book, let’s do some heart work and have a time in prayer. First of all:
A) Are you looking at your life through the lens of God’s grace? Thank Him for shepherding you all this year and all your life. Thank Him for the times He seized you and threw you on His shoulders. Thank Him for the times you thought He wasn’t loving you, when He always was.
B) Are you looking at others through the lens of God’s grace? Do you see yourself as superior to others and forgetting the Gospel of Grace in your own life? Pray in 2013, we as LIVING HOPE will love the unloved, and refuse to look at people through the world’s eyes.
C) Let’s pray in 2013 that we will get out of God’s chair and into His arms more. As a result, we will believe Him more.