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Genesis 48: Shepherd at the Right Hand
given 31 May 2003 by Bob Mendelsohn, at Beth Messiah, Sydney, Jews for Jesus Australia

Introduction

The movie "The Matrix" is back in full swing with a vengeance. The TV commercials for 2Day FM and Samsung and other products are using the Matrix imagery of the floating green numbers and the sunglasses wearing power heroes. The issue continues to be... 'Who is the Chosen One? And will he save the proverbial day?" Keanu Reaves is of course the one, the chosen one, in Hollywood that is.

In our story in Genesis, we have seen God continue to choose son after son for his position of "Chosen One." Today is no different as we see another unusual choice in Jacob's final blessings. And in the future we will meet Y'shua, the true Son of Israel, the true Chosen One, who will indeed save the world, not on celluloid, but in reality on the cross of Calvary.

Today we will review the story of the choice of Ephraim over his older brother Manasseh by granddaddy Jacob, and see how God's choices in the past and in the future are consistent. We will ponder again the choices we have to make in our daily lives, to bring God pleasure and to enjoy God's pleasure in our often and otherwise futile lives.

God as Shepherd through circumstances in the past

Jacob began his memoirs in the last chapter, planning his funeral and then this week, continues with his reflections and memory lane visit. He retraces his steps and God's power and leading.

Gen. 48:15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,

What a thought! God has been my shepherd all my life. That includes the times when Jacob was wandering in fear. That includes the times when he was finegling to land more cattle from his uncle Laban. That includes the times of 22 years without his favourite son Joseph. All my life. Can you say that?

Chapter 47.27 says, "And Jacob lived". We might miss this in the English. The Hebrew says he lived. Not as in other places "he dwelled" or "he sojourned." But "he lived." Vayechi. This is a point of much Talmudic conversation. Most say and I agree that Jacob finally had a good ending to his otherwise ordinary life. The expression of Chizkuni "If one's end is good, all is good" makes good sense here. And what made it so good? He was reunited with his entire family. And in that reunion he could say "God has been my shepherd".

King David sang this also. Remember the most famous psalm in the Bible is Psalm 23. How does it begin? Adonai roi. The Lord is my shepherd. He didn't begin being our shepherd when we recognized him. He doesn't become the shepherd when we realize we are his sheep. He is who He is from the beginning. We only enter into the relationship and figure this out when we repent of our sins, accept Jesus as our Messiah and Saviour, and learn that we are sheep, and in fact, we are His sheep!

So Jacob is smiling there in Egypt and shares with his family this pleasure. He wants to end well and teaches them yet again of the Lord and His plans for them. The shepherd has found his 147 year old sheep, and life is good for them both.

2. Jacob shepherding by choices in the present

Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of WWII US president Franklin Delano. She said: "One's philosophy is not best expressed in words. It is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.  [Quoted by Tim Kimmel, Little House on the Freeway, p. 143. ]

When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice.  [William James]

This is certainly true when you are witnessing to people. When you offer them eternal life in Jesus, and say "Would you like to receive the Messiah now?" Sometimes they will waffle and say, "Cannot decide now." But according to William James, that is already a decision. See?

Back to our story. Jacob is being led by his son of power. That's a very comfortable position for Jacob. And yet, it's not over; the fat lady has not sung. Jacob still has to transfer the blessings he stole. The zoom lens of history and the baited breath of the generations to follow await. Whom will he choose? What will he say to his own children? What will he say and to whom will he transfer the blessing of the Almighty? Who is the chosen one?

Joseph brings his own children in first. They are the sons of the son of power. Joseph is used to getting his way. He wasn't originally, but certainly now he is. He rules Egypt and Egypt rules the world. Joseph puts his two children before their grandfather. It's their time. And yet Jacob switches his arms and puts the blessing on Ephraim and not on Manasseh. The right hand is the hand of mercy and blessing; left is the hand of justice and secondary blessing. This is the only recorded time of Joseph going against the wishes of his father. But Jacob does what Jacob will do, and blesses the apparently wrong son.

We should be used to this, shouldn't we? In Genesis we have seen the switch many other times. Cain was angry that Abel was the chosen one. Ishmael is the first born son of Abraham, but it was Isaac who won the title of chosen. Jacob connives the blessing from his older brother Esau by hook and crook and a little help from his mother. Rachel is switched with Leah to the chagrin of her husband. Reuben is replaced by Judah in the honors of the firstborn of Leah and by Joseph in the overall prize of firstborn of Jacob.

I sometimes wander around the CBD or around the eastern suburbs. Next week I travel to Melbourne. After service next Saturday I fly to Perth. And everywhere I go I look at the choices of man and the choices of God. Let me explain. Paul said it this way,
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. (1 Corinthians 1.25-29)

The apostle is teaching us about God's choices. The Lord chooses in Genesis and He continues to choose in the 21st century in the same way-- for His own purposes. He chooses us who are the less than noble. The maths teacher and the handyman, the retail clerk and the uni student... not so great, are we? We aren't the ones getting interviewed on the TV for the ABC; we aren't the people featured on the social pages of 'Who's who and who's out and about." Most social hunters give us a miss. We won't be called wise or great or mighty. But God has chosen us! And it's that choice that elevates us and makes us pleased in God.

Jacob is shepherding in the same way he learned how God shepherded him in the past. He does this by odd choices and by particularization in the midst of God's universal love. How amazing is our God!

3. Satisfaction by committments in the future

Sometimes choices are mind-boggling and demand entirely too much. We talk about children being debilitated by the plethora of choices they are afforded in these days. That may be true. I'm reminded of the story perhaps apocryphal involving former British prime minister Herbert Asquith who spent a weekend at the Waddesdon estate of the Rothschild family. One day, as Asquith was being waited on at tea time by the butler, the following conversation ensued:

"Tea, coffee, or a peach from off the wall, sir?" 
"Tea, please," answered Asquith. 
"China, India, or Ceylon, sir?" asked the butler. 
"China, please." 
"Lemon, milk, or cream, sir?" 
"Milk, please," replied Asquith. 
"Jersey, Hereford, or Shorthorn, sir?" asked the butler.
 [Today in the Word, May 5, 1993. ]

Choosing demands deselection as well. Luciano Pavarotti: "When I was a boy, my father, a baker, introduced me to the wonders of song. He urged me to work very hard to develop my voice. Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in my hometown of Modena, Italy, took me as a pupil. I also enrolled in a teachers college. On graduating, I asked my father, 'Shall I be a teacher or a singer?' 

"'Luciano,' my father replied, 'if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.' 

"I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it's laying bricks, writing a book--whatever we choose--we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that's the key. Choose one chair."  Guideposts.

So we who have been chosen by the Lord have to commit ourselves to Him. We have to sit in one chair, and serve God and each other. Jacob chose to commit himself to the Almighty. Jacob gave himself to his children. The blessing of the Lord was passed on and he urges his children to follow God fully.

Next week we will look at the actual blessings on the sons of Jacob and see how God wants to bless even the less blessed among us. We will look to find ourselves in the tribes and find our place there, and then in a fortnight we will finish Genesis, studying chapter 50, and also celebrate the Bat Mitzvah of Shelli...so don't miss either of the next two weeks. You will be glad to be with the chosen family of God.

Summary

Here are some things I see as we conclude, and you can add your thoughts to your own list.

  1. The blessing of God is transmitted by God's people to the nations and to the other people of God
  2. God's choice is not irrelevant, but ours can be.
  3. God didn't become our shepherd when we noticed him. He always has been leading us. And He will continue to lead us.
  4. Visiting the sick is a noble and godly task for the people of God

Dear friends, we have eternal life due to the Saviour Y'shua, due to His love and forgiveness. His Resurrection has proven His new covenant. His teaching is great, and yet it goes well beyond that to His life and death. No amount of good works will give us enough information to help us overcome evil. No amount of information will help us overcome our own evil inclination. Only the messiah can repair our relationship with God, which will in turn give us pleasure with Him.

If you have never experienced this eternal and new life about which we are speaking, if you are yet outside the relationship with God, then pray with me. If you haven't yet been restored into fellowship with Him, maybe God is vindicating you today. Won't you pray this prayer and ask God to forgive you of your sins, whatever they might be, and come home to pleasure with God? Lord forgive me in the name of the Messiah, the Serpent Bruiser, Y'shua himself. Forgive me for all my sins, and make me clean again. Give me eternal life in the name of Y'shua and make me born again. I trust you.

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