Introduction: The importance of our recent studies of the last chapters of Genesis lies in the key lessons they give us about what it means to be “blessed by God,” as Ephraim and Manasseh were in Genesis 48:20. Most important, there are abuses of such blessings against which we must be warned – as we will see, for example, in tracing the checkered history of these ‘blessed’ tribes throughout the Old Testament. May our sober study of blessings misused help us in learning that our ultimate hope of blessing lies not in our own success or strength, but in our only abiding hope and consolation in Jesus Christ himself.
Monday: read Genesis 48:20, Judges 1:27-29 and Judges 12:1-7. You will recall from Jacob’s blessing in Gen. 48:20 how he predicted that all Israel would complement each other: “May you be like Ephraim and Manasseh.” But when would this blessing flow upon Ephraim and Manasseh so that all would see and desire it? Well, sadly, the true nature of these blessings would take years to discover because these two tribes became proud at God’s blessing of them when they should have been humbled into closer dependence upon him. See, for example, how Ephraim and Manasseh failed to use their superior numbers to conquer the Promised Land in Judges 1:27-29 and instead lived alongside the Canaanites. See also how Ephraim proudly accused God’s Judge Jephthah of being a rebel because he took the credit in a war in which they refused to fight in Judges 12:2-4. Jephthah is then used by God to severely chastise the tribe of Ephraim for trying to take credit for a war in which they refused to do their duty in Judges 12:5-6. In this way the proud history of Ephraim and Manasseh proves to be their undoing. As we will see in this week’s notes, these two tribes become symbols of God’s judgment as they with the other ten tribes of Israel eventually go into Assyrian exile.
Meditate and Pray: Let us realize the truth of the saying, “To whom much is given, much is required.” Ephraim and Manasseh were first in blessing, but also first in being judged by God for their pride. To avoid such pride, it is wise for us to pray that God would not bless us in such a way that we forget him. As Agur says in Proverbs 30:7-9:
“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches,
But give me only my daily bread.”
“Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say,
‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
And so dishonor the name of my God.”
Tuesday: read Genesis 48:20 and Hosea 10:15-11:4. Because of their leadership in blessing and number, Ephraim and Manasseh became the leaders of the ten tribes who broke away from David’s Kingdom to form the Northern Kingdom called Israel, or ‘Ephraim,’ throughout the rest of the Old Testament. Bethel – that famous city of ‘Jacob’s ladder fame’ (Gen. 28:17-19) – became the center of this Northern Kingdom of Israel centuries after ‘The House of Joseph’ captured it in Judges 1:22. This Bethel was also where Jeroboam, himself an Ephraimite, and the first king of this break-away kingdom, set up the calf-gods which led all Israel astray into idol-worship! Oh Ephraim! How far you have fallen by the time Hosea writes of “wicked Bethel” in Hosea 10:15! A checkered history indeed. Yet, God continues to chastise and plead with his wayward people – for as Hosea poignantly reminds us, it was the Lord who “taught Ephraim to walk” (Hosea 11:3)! God cannot give his dear son Ephraim up – chastise him though he must.
Meditate and Pray: Let us submit to God’s way of mixing even severe chastisement with his promised blessings. He knows how to chastise us to the point where we will finally appreciate his blessings. Let us leave, then, our blessings in his hand, to distribute them to us only when and how he sees fit. As hymn # 676, verse 1 & 3, in our hymnal says:
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.
Wednesday: read Genesis 48:20, Hosea 11:3-7 and 2 Kings 17:3-8. Just as Hosea predicted about 100 years before in Hosea 11:5-7, Samaria, the capital of Israel, fell to the Assyrians after their treacherous efforts to ally themselves with Egypt according to 2 Kings 17:4-6. And both Bible books agree that this tragic fall of all ten tribes, including the greatest ones Ephraim and Manasseh, came about because God’s people “were determined to turn from me” (Hosea 11:7). Does the Bible speak any more poignantly than that? Though God declares, “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,” He must admit, “My people are determined to turn from me.” They were determined to “follow the practices… that the kings of Israel had introduced” (2 Kings 17:8) – with an Ephraimite, Jeroboam, being the first king to lead them down that path to destruction! Well might we say to Ephraim: “Where is the blessing of God now in your life?” Has all been lost? Not quite!
Meditate and Pray: Let us thank God that sometimes the only way in which He can bless us, and prove that He is still involved in our lives, is by chastisement and trial. Well may we think that all hope is dashed for Ephraim – but tomorrow’s notes will show us that is not so! For now, let us be thankful that God’s chastisements – no matter how severe – bear eloquent testimony that God has not forgotten us. So don’t be discouraged. “The Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son” (Heb. 12:6).
Thursday: read Genesis 48:20 and Hosea 11:7-9. We mistake the painfulness of our trials if we think that we bear the greatest heartbreak from them. It is God himself, whose love for us is so tender and deep, who finally has to say in Hosea 11:8-9: “Stop, I can’t take it anymore! … My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.” The reason our trials have a limited duration, and a set date of completion, is because God’s compassion demands that our trials be “light and momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17), giving way to God’s enduring desire to bless us and call us his own.
Meditate and Pray: Have you lost heart because you see more clearly than ever your years of wandering and your many refusals to turn to God in repentance and faith? It is not too late. Let Paul’s description of even the worst of your trials give you hope anew: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). Turn to the Lord now, as the one who has led you “all your life long… .” Even in the days when you denied him, he has never denied you. God is not like a man who holds grudges (Hosea 11:9); his nature is to eagerly forgive and embrace you as his long lost child Ephraim!
Friday: read Genesis 48:20, Hosea 11:10-11 and Jeremiah 31:7-9. Did we lose sight this week of Jacob’s great blessing on Ephraim and Manasseh? Did we lose sight of it in the dark days of the Judges? The proud days of rebellion in the days of kings like Jeroboam, that evil Ephraimite? Or in the days of Hosea where Ephraim turns for help everywhere except to the God who had taught him to walk? Well, behold afresh the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh in Hosea 11:10-11 and Jeremiah 31:7-9. Both these prophets wrote of the days when the sorely punished and exiled Ephraim would finally discover in returning to God the blessing of Jacob which he had lost in years of sin. And look at him forge ahead, back to God, back to his spiritual home once that way of salvation has been rediscovered! Why? Because God declares in Jeremiah 31:9 that he is still Ephraim’s father, and he is still his “firstborn son,” given that blessing all the way back in Jacob’s day!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God again for the great geography of salvation traced for us in Hosea and then Jeremiah: From over the oceans to the West; from Assyria where they were exiled, from Egypt their false ally to the South… Look! Here comes Ephraim, trembling with a holy fear at all the hurt they have caused their Father! But coming nonetheless … weeping but walking, as God “brings them back to lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble” (Jeremiah 31:9). Thank God for this description of the road of salvation, the road of real blessing – in which all sinners who believe in Jesus Christ can walk as they turn in repentance from sin and in faith and hope to discover the real way of blessing. And don’t let your weakness or your doubts hinder you from “making tracks” on this road. Don’t you see how handicapped all who are travelling this salvation way are? They’re blind, lame, in labor (Jer. 31:8)! Surely you can keep pace with such folks? Jesus is waiting for you to turn and follow him! Jesus said to you, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Well, what are you waiting for? Turn and follow him!
Sat/Sun: Jeremiah 31:18-20 and Genesis 49:18: Perhaps the most important fact about Divine blessing is to realize that we shall die holding onto God’s promises to bless us, waiting for longer than we expect for many of His blessings to be fulfilled. For example, even in the midst of blessing not only Ephraim and Manasseh but all his other sons as well – Jacob testifies to the patience required to wait for God’s blessing as he cries out in Genesis 49:18, translated literally, “I wait with expectation, and endurance, for your salvation” – not merely for some temporal deliverance in his day… but waiting for the coming of Jesus to be the Savior which he and his sons so desperately needed – a long wait indeed!
Meditate and Pray: How well do you wait for God’s purposes to ripen in your life? It is hard to wait, and yes, “hope deferred makes the heart sick”, (to quote the book of Proverbs). But consider again those who reject waiting on God’s timing for the most spiritually appropriate blessings for their lives. Remember Ephraim! He almost immediately inherited the good things that flowed from Jacob’s blessing. He began to multiply in the land of Egypt, coming out as the most numerous of the Twelve Tribes. Great heroes such as Joshua arose from the hosts of Ephraim! A large inheritance, with a place of prominence and leadership over all the tribes of Israel was his lot. Ephraim stood as the greatly blessed son of Joseph, and could look back to an auspicious beginning as a favored grandson of Rachel and Jacob.
But their sinful abuse of such immediate blessings remind us that handling Divine blessing humbly and wisely can be more difficult than waiting for such blessings to arrive! Oh, may the Lord indeed answer the prayer of Proverbs 30:7-9 in terms of moderating both our expectations and our sense of privilege. May we never have so much of the good things of this life that we begin to live without daily dependence on the Lord. May we always give thanks to God when His blessings tarry and our patience is tested – even as hymn # 338 encourages us to do:
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find!
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.