If I asked you, “What is the single-most influential factor determining the course of your life,” what would you say? Is it the home you grew up in, the school you attended, or the job you landed? Is it the friends you made, the spouse you married, or the children you had? Maybe it’s the money you owe, the racism you’ve experienced, or the sexual violence committed against you.
Life is full of decision-points where the choices we make have a profound effect on the course of our life. The same could be said of the choices other people make that influence and affect our own in countless ways. As a result, my life may look and play out very different than your own, friend, but the Bible tells us that single most influential factor in both of our lives is exactly the same. It’s the plans and purposes of Almighty God.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul declared to the Greek intelligentsia of his day. Acts 17:24–26, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…”
Our universe isn’t an accident. Nor is it some sort of cosmic wind-up toy created and left to sputter along on its own. It’s a theater for the constant, active, and personal outworking of the sovereign purposes of God. Jacob’s actions and words in Genesis 47-49 assert as much.
He’s lying on his deathbed, surrounded by his sons and grandsons, evaluating the past, considering the future. And in that moment, as Jacob chose his final words, the fountainhead from which nearly three chapters of instruction, grief, joy, rebuke, and confident expectation pour out isn’t what he has done or what other people have done to him. It’s what God has done, it’s the activity of Yahweh, that looms largest in his mind and rightly so!
Jacob correctly perceives that the plans and purposes of the Almighty have governed the 147 years of his life and will continue to govern the life of his children and grandchildren. In so doing, he shows us what it means to die by faith in the promises of God. We often speak of living by faith, but dying by faith is no less important. In fact, the author of Hebrews recognizes the hour of Jacob’s death as the high point of his faith. Hebrews 11:21, “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.”
His example draws our attention to the essence of biblical faith and the main point of Genesis 47-49. Faith believes that the blessings God has promised to his people govern the future of his people. They don’t just exist. They aren’t just hanging out there in space on coffee mugs and calendars. They’re in control. They’re in charge. They’re calling the shots and bringing all of God’s good plans and purposes for his people to pass. Why is that the case? Jacob’s words in Genesis 47-49 give us at least four reasons.
1) THE BLESSING OF GOD IS GUARANTEED BY GOD’S WORD
Jacob’s last words to his children begin neither with gratitude for what he has done nor regret for what he has failed to do. In fact, they don’t begin with Jacob at all. They begin with God. Genesis 48:3 – “And Jacob said to Joseph, ‘God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’’” Jacob recounts, practically word for word, what God promised He would do for him and his descendants back in Genesis 28.
God gave him the gift of His presence (He appeared to Jacob). God gave him the gift of His favor (He blessed Jacob). But notice where Jacob’s attention ultimately rests. His confidence culminates in the specific promises of God’s WORD. God appeared. God blessed. And most importantly, God SAID. God SPOKE. God made a binding, covenantal promise guaranteeing the delivery of two gifts – land and offspring.
Friend, if you’re going to wrestle honestly with who God is and His significance in the world today then you must come to terms with what He says in his word. He has not invited us to commence our quest for understanding with what “we think” or what “we believe” or what “seems right” in the smallness and finitude of our own minds. He has graciously and lovingly revealed his eternal plans and purposes through his word such that neither the nature of his blessing nor the means by which we participate in his blessing are a mystery. They are known because God has declared them to us through his Word.
So how did Jacob respond? He believed God’s Word and demonstrated his faith by doing two things. First, he told Joseph to bury him in Canaan. Why? Because he believed God when He said that He would give the land of Canaan to his offspring after him. He had yet to receive it. He wasn’t even living in it. But he believed it would eventually happen for the simple reason that God said it would happen. “Bury me there, Joseph, because Egypt isn’t going to be our home. Canaan will be our home because God’s promised to give it to us.”
But there’s a second way Jacob demonstrates faith in God’s Word. He gives Joseph a double portion of the land by adopting his two oldest sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own children. In the next point we’ll consider the significance of Jacob elevating Joseph’s younger son over the firstborn. For now, however, don’t miss the obvious. In giving Ephraim and Manasseh an inheritance in the land Jacob is affirming in no uncertain terms his absolute confidence that God will be faithful to give them the land. Why? Because he said so. The foundation of his confidence in the blessing of God is the word of God.
The foundation of our confidence today is no different. In Psalm 119:107 the psalmist is “severely afflicted.” Have you ever felt that way? Maybe you feel that way this morning. What does he pray in his affliction? “Give me life, O LORD, according to your word!” So how does God’s Word guarantee God’s blessing when you’re 3 months behind on rent, worried you might be evicted, and tempted to envy a wealthy relative?
Hebrews 13:5-6, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
What sort of blessing do you need in that moment? You need an assurance that the Lord will help you, that he’s your provider, and that no landlord or sheriff’s deputy can stop Him from doing good to you no matter what happens. So do we just believe that? Do we just decide it’s true because we want it to be true or feel like it must be true? No! We believe that blessing will come to pass because God has said it will come to pass. What has he said? Joshua 1:5, the Lord says to his people, “I will not leave you or forsake you.”
The blessings God promises to His people govern the future of His people because they are guaranteed by God’s Word. That should make us confident.
2) THE BLESSING OF GOD IS DISTRIBUTED ACCORDING TO GOD’S WISDOM
The Lords fulfillment of the promise of offspring in Jacob’s life was marked by an unrelenting combination of joy and sorrow. In verse 7, Jacob recalls the sorrow of losing his beloved wife, Rachel, after she gave birth to his youngest biological son, Benjamin. Then in verse 11 he declares the joy of not only being reunited with his long-lost son, Joseph, but also getting to see his grandchildren. “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.”
Such has long been the experience of faithful saints in this life. God is faithful. He does what He says He will do. In Jacob’s case, He made good on His promise of offspring by giving Jacob an abundance of children and grandchildren. Yet the road for Jacob, as for us, is filled with joy and sorrow.
Yet Jacob has learned something even more important. He’s learned that God’s blessing isn’t gained through feats of human strength, striving, or wisdom. It’s received as a gift of grace in the midst of human weakness and inability. It was the moments when Jacob found himself most helpless, most unable to protect or provide for himself, that God miraculously intervened to protect and provide for him.
Jacob had to learn that the hard way. It wasn’t until he physically wrestled with God in Genesis 32 that he learned the humility of total dependence on the Lord. But by the end of his life, he’s learned that God’s ways are not man’s ways. He’s learned to walk by faith, believing that even when God’s ways don’t make sense, when they aren’t what we would expect or even desire, they are still good and worthy of our trust.
So when Joseph brings his sons forward for a ceremony of adoption and blessing, Jacob crosses his hands, granting the right hand of greater blessing to the younger son, Ephraim, instead of the older son, Manasseh. And when Joseph intervenes, assuring his father there is a better way, what does Jacob say? Verse 19, “But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.”
It proved to be a true word of prophecy, informed by a mature faith in the God who distributes his blessings in keeping with his wisdom, not our own. Centuries later, the tribe of Ephraim became the dominant tribe in the northern kingdom of Israel. It’s not hard to hear my own words in Joseph’s, “Not this way, Father, THIS way. This is what you’re supposed to do. This is how you’re supposed to direct and apportion your blessings.”
Have you ever said that to the Lord? There’s a big difference between the humility of crying out to the Lord for a specific blessing and the arrogance of demanding that God do exactly what we want Him to do in the way we think He should do it. Well did Jesus teach us to pray, “YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done,” and model the same when He cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane, contemplating His own crucifixion, “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42)?
Knowing God’s blessings are distributed according to God’s wisdom shouldn’t make us concerned that God might not do what we think he very well ought to do. It should make us content, confident that the one who knows what is best will do what is best even when we don’t yet see how it will all work out, in our family, in our coworkers at the office, or in even in our church.
The faith Jacob models. The faith that says to Joseph in verse 21, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers,” is the same faith we need today, friends. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, God has promised to do good to you, but His ways are not our ways. Genuine faith embraces what makes no sense to man with quiet contentment, knowing God’s ways are infinitely better than our own.
Marcus Dods syas, “He will give you the whole that Christ hath merited, but for the application and distribution of that grace and blessing you must be content to trust Him. You may be at a loss to know why He does not do more to deliver you from some sin, or why He does not make you more successful in your efforts to aid others, or why, while He so liberally prospers you in one part of your condition, you get so much less in another that is far nearer your heart, but God does what He will with His own, and if you do not find on one point the whole blessing and prosperity you think should flow from such a Mediator as you have, you may only conclude that what is lacking there will elsewhere be found more wisely bestowed.”
The blessings God promises to his people govern the future of his people because they are distributed according to God’s wisdom. That should make us humble.
3) THE BLESSING OF GOD IS EXPERIENCED IN KEEPING WITH OUR CHARACTER
Jacob makes crystal clear in verse 15 that a faithful and loving God is the source of every blessing he has received and every blessing his children will receive. “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil,” may that God, the One True God, “bless the boys.”
The old man who spent his life laboring as a vocational shepherd recognized that he had always had a spiritual Shepherd and that the God who kept his covenant promises in his life would keep his covenant promises in the lives of his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. As the chosen mediator of God’s blessing his generation, Jacob announced that God (verse 16) would make them “grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” Yet there was a reason Joseph, through Ephraim and Manasseh, received the double-portion typically reserved for the firstborn. Jacob’s firstborn, Reuben, proved unworthy of receiving it and the next two in line, Simeon and Levi, were no different.
In Genesis 49:3, Jacob issues a public judgment of the sexual lust Reuben arrogantly indulged back in Genesis 35:22 when he slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. At the time, Genesis simply reports that Jacob heard about it. Now the spiritual significance of Reuben’s actions is fully revealed. Verse 4, “Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence.” Simeon and Levi are similarly judged in verses 5-7 for violently and unjustly destroying the entire village of Shechem in Genesis 34.
In both cases, what happens? Three sons and their descendants failed to experience the blessing the could have experienced because of their sin and wickedness. Where they were unfaithful, Joseph was faithful and God distributed His blessings accordingly. Now we have to be careful here in drawing direct parallels to our own experience of God’s blessing today. On this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s favor and blessing is no longer reserved for the 12 tribes of a specific ethnic group. They are freely available to all who come to Jesus through faith. More on that in the next point.
But there is a spiritual principle here that holds equally true today and that we must not miss. The content of your character will have a profound effect on your experience of the blessing of God. That’s true in two respects.
First, to my non-Christian friends, know that God’s blessing, the smile of God’s favor, the assurance of forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with your Creator, and eternal life in heaven, isn’t reserved for good people, for church-goers, for people who seem to have their act together in the eyes of the world. It’s reserved for sinners who know they deserve God’s judgment, who abandon all hope of making themselves right with God, and trust Jesus to make them right with God.
If that kind of saving faith in Christ is present, your life will show the difference. You can’t trust Jesus without obeying Jesus. You can’t claim him as your Savior if you’re not submitted to him as your Lord. So while you don’t become a Christian by being a good person, you can’t call yourself a Christian if the character of your life doesn’t reflect the character of Christ.
And in that sense, the blessing of eternal salvation from sin and death is exclusively reserved for those who demonstrate the obedience of faith. The favor and blessing of God is not blindly bestowed on all mankind. It is specifically given to those who choose to turn from sin and follow Jesus. If you’re not doing that, friend, I implore you – stop forfeiting God’s blessing. Come to Christ for all the blessings of God find their yes and amen in him.
Second, for my Christian brothers and sisters, recognize in the varied experiences of God’s blessing among Jacob’s sons a sobering reality that while choosing to disobey the Lord in a specific area of your life may not cause you to lose your eternal salvation, it will cause you to lose temporal blessings and eternal rewards that would otherwise be yours. Speaking of the testing of our words and deeds when Christ returns, Paul writes, “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).
I am not saying Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were not followers of Yahweh. The corporate nature of Jacob’s prophecies make that impossible to determine. I am saying that the blessing they failed to experience because of the flagrant sin they committed against God and man has a parallel in our own lives as Christians today.
If you honor the Lord with our wealth, you can expect God’s provision. If you don’t honor the Lord with your wealth, you should not expect the same kind of provision. If you honor the Lord with your body as a married man or woman, you can expect to reap the divine blessing of a strong and healthy marriage. If you’re enslaved to pornography or are unfaithful to your spouse, you will reap the opposite.
In either case, the blessings God promises to His people govern the future of His people because they are experienced in keeping with our character. That should make us holy.
4) THE BLESSING OF GOD IS FULFILLED THROUGH THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST
The rest of the Old Testament provides glimpses of various ways in which Jacob’s prophetic words of blessing came to pass in the lives of his children and their descendants. However, the clearest and most important fulfillment of them all traces back to the blessing Jacob pronounced over Judah in verses 8-12.
Judah will receive praise and worship from his brothers. He will enjoy victory over his enemies. He will reign over his brothers with the majesty and power of a lion. And his dominion won’t be limited to the nation of Israel. verse 10 says, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Joseph receives the double-portion, but Judah receives the promise of universal kingship, victory, wealth, and glory.
The rise of King David from the tribe of Judah during the Israelite monarchy in Canaan, centuries later, proved the initial fulfillment of the promise. But that was just the beginning. For there is another descendant of David, another ruler from the line of Judah, whose dominion is not limited to a strip of land in the Middle East. Heaven and earth are his footstool. In Revelation 5, the plans and purposes of God to redeem and bless His people are symbolized as a scroll.
Revelation 5:2-5, “And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’”
The true Israel, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the reign Jacob welcomed from afar by faith, is none other than the Eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, to whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father! Through faith in Him and His saving work, all the blessings of God in Genesis 49 – spiritual and physical – become our inheritance. Galatians 3:29, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
The protection and deliverance in suffering Joseph enjoyed and his descendants were promised in vv. 22-24, is yours, Christian, because of Jesus. The sure help and lavish blessing of God in every realm of life in verse 25 is yours, Christian, because of Jesus. The blessing of being God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule, nothing less than a complete and total restoration of heaven on earth, pictured in the symbolic prosperity of verse 26, that is your eternal inheritance, Christian, because of Jesus.
As Joseph was set apart from his brothers, so too you have been set apart in Christ. All that is his, is yours, which means you are rich in blessing beyond your wildest imagination! Don’t try to figure out which son of Jacob you most closely resemble. If we’re anyone, we’re Reuben. We’re Simeon. We’re Levi. But what have we received because of Christ? The double-portion of Joseph and immeasurably more on account of the Lion of Judah. The fullness of salvation Jacob waited for by faith in verse 18 has come to pass for us through Jesus. 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For all the promises of God find their yes in him.”
The blessings God promises to his people govern the future of his people because they are fulfilled through the person and work of Christ. That should make us perpetually grateful amidst all the joys and sorrows of our life in this world.
Faith believes that the blessings God has promised to His people govern the future of His people. They control the future, they determine the future, because they are guaranteed by God’s Word, distributed according to God’s wisdom, experienced in keeping with our character, and fulfilled through the person and work of Christ. In that way, Genesis 47-49 is designed to make us confident, humble, holy, and grateful.
There is no better foundation, no safer refuge, on which you can build your life than God’s program of blessing in Jesus. His plans and purposes will prevail. There is no other Shepherd. There is no other Rock. There is no other Redeemer. The most decisive, the most determinative factor in your life, is the nature of your relationship with Christ.
If you are far from Him, you are far from the blessing of God. If you have drawn near to Him by faith, then you are secure in the eternal blessing of God. But don’t focus on determining your status. Focus on Jesus. If your body and soul thirst for the blessing of God in this life and in the life to come, run to Him. Cast the weight of your life on Him. Entrust yourself wholly and completely to Him day after day after day.
For then and then alone will you discover the rest of knowing that goodness and mercy will surely follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.