The Son of PromiseSeries: Traveling To Egypt
The Son of Promise
One of the neat things about studying the Bible is its twists and turns, the surprising details, the way things don’t necessarily go the way you would expect them to go. In fact, I think God just might delight in surprising us every now and then. Perhaps he does it to remind us that he is the one who is in charge.
Today, I want to look at one detail from the story of Joseph that caught him off guard. And then we’ll see how that is really part of a theme that runs throughout Genesis and even the rest of the Bible. Finally, we’ll see how it applies to us.
II. Jacob comes to Egypt
We’ll pick up the story where we left off last time. Do you remember where we were? The brothers were headed home to get their father and their families and come to live in Egypt. Joseph sent them off with a warning:
Gen. 45:24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”
Well, apparently they listened. There’s no indication of any strife between them on their journey. And at last they came to Jacob with their surprising news:
Gen. 45:25-28 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. 26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
We aren’t told about any conversations the brothers had with their father concerning how Joseph ended up in Egypt. Seems like he didn’t know what to think at first. Maybe the questions came later, but to my knowledge there’s no record of it.
Jacob does seem to be hesitant to leave the promised land, especially to be moving away. He’s not taking a trip to visit Joseph, he’s moving to Egypt. But God had promised him and his descendants the land of Canaan where he was dwelling. As Jacob travels south, he stops at Beersheba to offer a sacrifice. Later, the land of Israel would often be referred to as “from Dan to Beersheba,” so this is basically the southernmost point in the land.
46:2-4 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” 3 Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. 4 I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes.”
With this reassurance, Jacob continues on his journey along with his entire clan.
It’s interesting in verse 28 that Judah is sent ahead to Joseph, apparently so they would know where they should go. Joseph goes to meet them.
46:29-30 Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. 30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.”
What a scene. Joseph is about 39 or 40 at this point. He was 17 the last time he saw his dad.
Next, Joseph takes five of his brothers and his father to meet Pharaoh. Pharaoh welcomes them and says the best of the land is theirs, and they can settle in the land of Goshen. Then he meets Jacob:
47:7 Then Joseph brought in Jacob his father and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.
This is a fascinating detail considering what we know about blessings from:
Heb. 7:7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.
So here is Jacob, the head of a clan of sheepherders from Canaan blessing the ruler of the most powerful nation on earth at the time. But as the leader of God’s chosen people Jacob had the power to give important blessings, as we will see.
III. Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons
Now, for the sake of our lesson, we’ll skip ahead to another blessing, years later. Gen. 47:27-28 says that Jacob’s family prospered in Egypt, and he lived on for 17 more years. Sometime near the end of his life, he called in family in to bless them. He started with Joseph and his sons:
48:1-2 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed.
He begins by telling Joseph that his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, will be given equal portions along with Jacob’s other sons. This in effect doubles Joseph’s portion, as his two sons would each count as a direct heir. That, of course, is why there are tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh and no tribe of Joseph.
Then Jacob blessed the sons directly:
48:8-11 When Israel saw Joseph's sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.”
After this, Joseph positioned his sons to be blessed.
48:13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel's left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel's right hand, and brought them near him.
He put the oldest at the right hand of his father, and the youngest at his left hand. This was so the oldest would receive the primary blessing. But Jacob surprises him:
48:14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn).
And then he blessed them. But Joseph is completely focused on his hands being on the wrong sons:
48:17-20 When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. 18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.” 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.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.
The younger will be greater. Why? I don’t know. Clearly Jacob is prophesying here, as he does in blessing his other sons in the next chapter. So I would say he is guided by inspiration in giving these blessings. Very interesting to consider.
But it’s also interesting because it fits with a pattern that we find in Genesis and even elsewhere in the OT. The pattern is that it’s often not the son you expect who ends up being the son of promise.
In their culture, much emphasis was placed on birth order, especially being the firstborn. It’s a principle called primogeniture, and to some extent it is still in effect today. It would be common for an oldest child to be made executor in a will, for example. But in ancient times it was much more important. The family estate would often pass from father to oldest son.
Cleary, Joseph expected his oldest son to get the better blessing. But that wasn’t to be. And think about how often this was the case.
Adam and Eve. Their oldest son was Cain. He killed Abel, so the son of promise would be Seth.
Then we come down to Abraham. Who was his firstborn? It was Ishmael, through Hagar. Abraham suggested that the promises could pass to Ishmael:
Gen. 17:18-21 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”
It wasn’t to be Ishmael, the oldest, but Isaac.
The same thing happened with Isaac’s two sons. Even though they were twins, Esau was born first. But the promise when to Jacob:
Gen. 25:23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
You’ll recall that Esau had the birthright at first, but sold it to Jacob for a bowl of soup, and then even thought Isaac intended to give Esau the blessing, Jacob deceived him and got it for himself. But this was foretold by God.
Then among Jacob’s own sons, it was not Reuben who was the son of promise. Nor the next two in line, Simeon and Levi. But the fourth son, Judah, received the promise.
Gen. 49:8-10 Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? 10 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.
Judah would be the one through whom David and his sons would come, and most importantly, the king of Kings, Jesus. But do you remember how the blessing proceeded from Judah to his son? That’s one of the stranger ones, but it fits this pattern we’ve been discussing.
In Gen. 38, Tamar is pregnant with twins who belong to Judah. It’s a crazy story that we don’t have time to get into, but sufficed to say Judah didn’t even know he was the father at first. Wild stuff. But look at the birth order:
Gen. 38:27-30 When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.
Zerah was first in line to come out, but before he got all the way through the door, Perez cut in line ahead of him. So technically Zerah was first, because his hand came out first. But guess who the promise goes through? You got it: Perez.
Okay, two more examples just for fun. When Samuel went to the house of Jesse to anoint a new king, you’ll recall that Jesse brought out his sons, one by one, beginning with the oldest, Eliab. But God chose the youngest, David.
And David himself had many sons, starting with Amnon. But it would be Solomon, at least the seventh in line, through whom the royal lineage would pass.
Okay, so enough examples. Let’s make some applications of this principle.
A. God doesn’t think like man
First, it should be obvious that God doesn’t consider himself in any way obligated to do what we expect. Furthermore, God doesn’t see things the way we do. He makes this point to Samuel.
1 Sam. 16:6-7 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord's anointed is before him.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
We put a lot of emphasis on things that don’t matter to God. Height. Birth order. Age. Good looks. Etc. God looks deeper.
Are people today still swayed by youth and beauty? Does someone from a prominent family get better treatment or more respect than someone from an unknown, or perhaps even notorious family? And yet God looks past all that right to the heart.
You might have come from a long line of faithful Christians, or a long line of scoundrels. It doesn’t matter. God chose Perez even though his father, Judah, thought he was sleeping with a prostitute who turned out to be his former daughter-in-law. That’s crazy, but God didn’t hold that against Perez. Rahab had been a harlot, but ends up in the lineage of Jesus. These things surprise us, but that just proves that God doesn’t think like we think.
B. God has the right to choose
Regarding Jacob and Esau, Paul writes:
Rom. 9:11-15 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
God has the sovereign right to say “I will bless the house of Jacob.” God has the right to choose who he will show mercy to.
We may not like that. It might not seem fair to us. But it is God’s prerogative. As Paul goes on to say, the clay can’t complain to the Potter about how he makes things.
In our day, the Lord has said, “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16). We might want to ask, what about those who do not believe? Or are not baptized? Why is that fair that they are not saved? Because God has the right to choose the terms of his grace and mercy.
The question for us is, am I a child of promise?
C. The child of promise
Backing up a few verses, Paul is answering the question, “what about the Israelites who do not believe in Jesus? What about the promises made to them?”
Rom. 9:6-8 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
It wasn’t about simply being blood descendants of Abraham. It was about being a son of promise. Isaac was, Ishmael was not. He makes the same point in Galatians, where he compares the non-believing Jews to the sons of Ishmael:
Gal. 4:22-26 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
This would have been highly offensive to the Jews, I’m sure. They considered themselves true descendants through Isaac, but Paul says you’re the same as Hagar’s descendants, since you remain in slavery. They had not been set free by believing in Jesus, therefore they were not heirs of the promise like Isaac. That’s what the Christians are:
Gal. 4:28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
So the question is, who is a son of promise today? Who are the true children of Israel? Who are God’s chosen people, the ones who will be saved? The heirs of the promises made to the patriarchs?
It is those who share in the faith of Abraham:
Rom. 4:13-16 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
So here’s the final plot twist. The promises made to Abraham did not go to the sons you would expect, the physical Jews. Most of did not share Abraham’s faith. They rejected the Messiah. But for us who come along later, like younger brothers, if we put our faith in Jesus, we become the sons of promise, the chosen ones, the heirs. We Gentiles become the true Jews!
God’s way is surprising, but it’s his way, and his right to choose. And it works for our benefit! After all, you have no say in whether you were born first or last. Or whether you were born a Jew or Gentile. But you can choose to have faith, just like Abraham, and become a child of promise.