************ Sermon on Genesis 49:22-26 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on June 14, 2015

Genesis 49:22-26
"Joseph is Given the Rights of the Firstborn"

Psychiatrists tells us that birth order is very important. The youngest child is usually the spoiled child. The middle child is often the forgotten child. And the oldest child usually is the driven child. The problem with these generalizations is that we all know exceptions to these rules.

This past week, I thought about and read articles on birth order as I was studying what the Bible teaches us about the firstborn.

I The Rights of the Firstborn
A The laws and customs of all nations show that to be the firstborn son means not only priority in time, but a certain superiority in privilege and authority. To be the firstborn or oldest son is a position of honor and power.

According to the law of Moses, the firstborn son was the one who normally received a double inheritance and inherited his father’s role as head of the family (Deut 21:16). Now sometimes God reversed this order -- as was done with Isaac and Ishmael (Gen 21), Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:21-26), and Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:13-22) -- but normally the rule held. When I was a young boy, this rule sounded pretty good to me because I was the firstborn. However, I quickly discovered this rule was only for Bible times and Bible people and does not apply to us today.

B This does not mean the concept of firstborn is unimportant to us. When we study and look at the Old Testament, we need to understand that Israel is God's firstborn among the nations (Ex 4:22; cf Jer 31:9).

Furthermore, according to the psalmist, the Messiah is God's "firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth" (Ps 89:27). Therefore, it does not surprise us that Paul identifies Jesus Christ as "the firstborn over all creation" (Col 1:15). Applied to Jesus, this means He is prior to creation in time and above it in power and authority. He is the firstborn, sovereign over time and creation. According to Hebrews, at the incarnation of Jesus God brought His firstborn into the world and summoned all His angels to worship Him (Heb 1:6). In the resurrection, Jesus is the "firstborn from the dead" (Col 1:18; Rev 1:5). And in the church, Jesus is the "firstborn among many brothers" (Rom 8:29; cf Heb 12:23). As for the church, she is the "church of the firstborn" (Heb 12:22-23) -- that is, we belong to Him Who is sovereign over time and all of creation.

To confess Christ, as was done by Jorge & Becky this morning, is to confess Him as the firstborn.

C Towards the end of his life, Jacob called for his twelve sons and said: "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come" (Gen 49:1). Jacob then blessed each of his sons in turn. Do you remember how Isaac had but one blessing to give? When Isaac gave that blessing to Jacob, he had nothing left to give to Esau (Gen 27). But Jacob had a blessing for each of his twelve sons. As we have been looking at these blessings we have learned that each son received "the blessing appropriate to him" (Gen 49:28). Normally, as I said, this meant Reuben should have received the blessing of the firstborn. But, as we have looked at these blessings, we quickly realized that the rights of the firstborn were taken away from Reuben because of his sin of defiling his father's marriage bed (Gen 49:4; cf 1 Chron 5:1-2).

That raises the question: to whom were the rights of the firstborn given? If they were taken from Reuben, to whom were they given? The writer of Chronicles informs us that the rights of the firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph (1 Chron 5:1-2; cf Gen 48:15-16, 20).

D So, Joseph was given the blessing of the firstborn. Notice, Jacob calls him the "prince among his brothers" (Gen 49:26) -- that is, Joseph is the ruler, the leader, the head of the family.

Furthermore, Joseph's blessing includes every sphere of life and all of the earth. Joseph is promised blessings of heaven above -- that is, rain and fair weather. Joseph is promised blessings of the deep -- that is, mines and springs. Joseph is promised blessings of the breast and womb -- that is, children safely born and nursed. Joseph is promised the blessings of the ancient mountains and age-old hills -- that is, fertile hilltops (Gen 49:25-26). I want you to notice that six times Jacob uses a key word we find throughout Genesis -- the word "blessing" -- to describe the future of Joseph.

In Joseph's blessing we hear an echo of God's original blessing upon Adam and Eve to be fruitful and to multiply (Gen 1:26-31).

And, in Joseph's blessing we see a prelude to Jesus' promise to Jorge & Becky and all those who believe in Him as Savior and Lord: that they will inherit the earth (Mt 5:5).

Joseph and his sons, then, received the blessing of the firstborn.

II Joseph is Fruitful
A Now, Jacob starts the blessing by announcing "Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall" (Gen 49:22). Perhaps you remember why Joseph named his second son Ephraim? Ephraim means "fruitful" or "twice fruitful." So, at Ephraim's birth Joseph said "It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering" (Gen 41:52).

"Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall" (Gen 49:22). This image makes me think of the blessed man described by Psalm 1:
(Ps 1:3) He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Do you remember why the blessed man of Psalm 1 is described this way?
(Ps 1:1-2) [Because he] does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. (2) But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
The psalmist is describing Joseph and a host of other heroes of faith: men who serve and fear the Lord and walk in His ways.

My prayer, of course, is that Jorge & Becky and all of us are fruitful vines like Joseph. That we all are rooted in the Word. That we all drink deeply from the springs of living water given us in Christ. That we all serve and fear the Lord and walk in His ways.

B "Joseph is a fruitful vine ... With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility" (Gen 49:23). We are told that Joseph was fruitful in the face of persecution; he was fruitful though often he was under attack. Think of how his brothers hated him and sold him into slavery (Gen 37:4,5,8,27). Think of Joseph in jail because of the malicious lies said by Potiphar's wife. Think of how Pharaoh's cupbearer let Joseph languish in jail for two extra years before he remembered what Joseph did for him.

Like Joseph, we are called to be fruitful in the face of persecution. As you may know, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in the next couple of weeks on same-sex marriage. We need to be in prayer that the Court rules in favor of traditional marriage. Because if it doesn't, we can eventually expect persecution for our biblical stance. Consider the following news stories:
-August 2013: A U.S federal district judge ruled that a biblically based denunciation of homosexuality is a "crime against humanity." In other words, what I am doing this morning is criminal. And you are criminal because you agree with me.
-June 2014: A court determined that a Christian baker violated the law by refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

As a consequence of our public witness we may be discriminated against and denied educational opportunities; our colleges may lose access to federal grants for their students; we may lose opportunities for employment and professional advancement; we may be excluded from worldly recognition and honors of various sorts; our witness may cost us treasured relationships. As Joseph found out, there are costs to discipleship -- heavy costs. Jorge & Becky, that is true for you. That is true for all of us.

Our culture does not want the church saying anything against abortion, LGBT behavior (that is, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), public school curriculum, and a host of other issues. Unfortunately, there are Christians who want the church to be silent as well. Some of you might know about two-kingdom theology. Two-kingdom theology does not think the church should speak out on public issues. According to two-kingdom theology, the church has no business promoting Christian schools, Christian adoption agencies, or Christian organizations like Love INC and Hands in the Community. According to two-kingdom theology, the church cannot address the public square or governing officials to uphold the requirements of God's Law. According to two-kingdom theology, the church cannot speak out about gay marriage, homosexual behavior, abortion, capital punishment, environmental issues, and so on. Do you see how dangerous this theology is? Just like that, the church's witness is silent. We who are Reformed go back to Calvin and Kuyper and declare -- as we see on the Dordt College website and stationery -- that every square inch of this universe belongs to King Jesus.

"Joseph is a fruitful vine ... With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber ..." Joseph remained strong as he faced the enemies of righteousness and holiness.

III Because of the Hand of God
A Now, hear the reason why Joseph was able to be fruitful in the face of persecution:
(Gen 49:24-25) ... because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, (25) because of your father's God, who helps you, because of the Almighty ...

We hear five great and wondrous titles for our God in this blessing:
-He is the Mighty One of Jacob (cf Ps 132:2,5; Isa 49:26; 60:16)
-He is the Shepherd (cf Ps 23:1; 80:1)
-He is the Rock of Israel (cf 2 Sam 23:3; Isa 30:29)
-He is your father's God (Ex 3:13, 15, 16; Deut 1:11,21)
-He is the Almighty (Num 24:4, 16; Job 5:17; 6:4,14)

Notice, it is the hand of this great and wondrous God that upheld Joseph during his years of trials and afflictions and persecution. We see the hand of God mentioned often throughout Scripture. With His hand, God delivers His chosen ones, judges His enemies, and cares for His own (Deut 2:15; Josh 4:23-24; Acts 11:21). There is a song we sing about the hands of God:
Your hands, O Lord, in days of old
were strong to heal and save;
they triumphed over pain and death,
o'er darkness and the grave.
To you they went, the blind, the mute,
the palsied and the lame,
the leper set apart and shunned,
the sick and those in shame.
We know, of course, that the hand of God is the hand of Jesus. It is Jesus Who is our Savior from sin. It is Jesus Who is our Defender. It is Jesus Who rules. It is Jesus Who defeats the enemies of the cross. It is Jesus Who intercedes for us. It is Jesus Who is the Friend of sinners.

Like Joseph, we all need the hand of God in our lives. That is true for you and me and Jorge & Becky.

B This emphasis on God's hand in our lives is a lesson we must never forget. Look at the tribe of Ephraim. When the twelve spies returned from viewing the Promised Land, it was the spy from Ephraim, Joshua, who stood with Caleb of Judah in maintaining that the hand of God would give victory over the walled cities and giants of Canaan (Num 13:30ff; 14:6ff). And, it was this Joshua who became Moses' successor and Israel's leader. Later, the tabernacle was placed within Ephraim's boundaries (Josh 18:1). Eventually, Ephraim became the dominant tribe in the northern kingdom of Israel, so much so that the name "Ephraim" became synonymous with "Israel" (cf Isa 7:2; Ezek 37:16).

But, then, something happened. Ephraim led the northern kingdom of Israel into idolatry and self-reliance:
(Hosea 4:17) Ephraim is joined to idols; leave him alone!

(Hosea 13:12) The guilt of Ephraim is stored up, his sins are kept on record.
This earned the Lord's condemnation:
(Hosea 9:11) Ephraim's glory will fly away like a bird-- no birth, no pregnancy, no conception.

(Hosea 9:16) Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring."
Though blessed to share Joseph's blessing as a fruitful vine, Ephraim's clan felt the curses of the covenant when it parted from God.

We are reminded here that worldly success can blind us, making it easy to believe the lie that we don't need the hand of God, that all blessings come to us by our own hands, that we prevail through our own efforts. In fact, that is what happened to Ephraim. It no longer thought it needed God.

Those who profess Christ, like Jorge & Becky did this morning, can do the same thing. So beware, congregation. Beware of the danger of complacency. Beware of taking God for granted.

Confessing Christ once is not enough. Our profession of faith is useless if we do not possess a living faith in God and His promises (James 2:14-26). We must rely daily on the hand that sustained Joseph and heed the warnings of Scripture so that we will persevere.

Out of Jacob's long life, there is one event the writer of Hebrews chooses to highlight as a demonstration of his faith:
(Heb 11:21) By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons ...
In the eyes of the world this must have looked as the foolish attempts of a senile old man. But, in fact, Jacob was showing His trust in God's Word and promises.

Like Jacob, like Joseph, may each of us also have the faith to trust in God and His promises.
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