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Gen 48-50: Sovereignty and Responsibility in the Lives of the Patriarchs Print E-mail
Sunday, 26 February 2006

It is appropriate to conclude our look at the book of Genesis this morning by returning once again to one of the major themes in the book, namely that of Godís sovereignty. We have seen His sovereignty in creation. We have seen His sovereignty in the calling and choosing of Abraham. We have seen His providential hand moving in the lives of the founding fathers of Israel, namely Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thus, we see Godís sovereignty as a major theme in the book of Genesis.

Yet, as we have also noted before, Godís sovereignty is always seen alongside manís responsibility. Although we may be tempted by our logic to pit these two biblical ideas against one another, it seems that the biblical authors have no problem seeing these two truths as completely compatible.In the end, we can affirm with Scripture that God is sovereign and man is responsible. 

Of course, we can ask at this point with Genesis 48-50 in front of us, ĎDoes the text really teach that God is sovereign and man is responsible? And if so, how?í These are the questions that I want us to look at this morning as we bring our study of the book of Genesis to a close. Thus, I want to identify three examples of Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility from our text.

First, we see Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility in the blessings from Jacob (48:1-49:28).

Our text begins this morning with Jacob blessing Joseph. Yet, the way in which Jacob does this may seem odd to us. In 48:1-7, as we read a moment ago, Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacobís first two sons born to him in Egypt. Why would Jacob do this? In doing this, Jacob is assuring that they will be blessed just as the other sons of Israel are blessed. Look at 48:5-6. I point this out because it will be important for the future of Israel. Ephraim and Manasseh will receive inheritance just as the other sons of Israel (see Deuteronomy 33:17 and Joshua 16). So Jacob is blessing Joseph by blessing Ephraim and Manasseh.

Yet, in the actual blessing, which takes place in 48:8-20, we see that Jacob offers a greater blessing to the younger rather than the older. Of course, this was not customary, normally the eldest son received the greatest blessing. But this is not the first time we have seen this in Genesis. In fact, we have seen this with Isaac and Ishmael. Even though Ishmael was the firstborn, it is Isaac who is the child of promise and receives the blessing. We saw this with Jacob and Esau as well. Esau was the oldest, but the Lord told Rebekah, even when the twins were still in the womb, that the older will serve the younger, so the blessing came to Jacob (see 25:19-28). We see this also in Jacobís blessings to his sons, for it is Joseph and Judah who are emphasized and not Reuben (see ch. 49). 

All of this continues to demonstrate Godís sovereignty over the nation of Israel. It is God who chose Abraham, and God who chose Isaac, and God who chose Jacob. These are His people and His plans. God is sovereignly working in the lives of the patriarchs to bring about His good plan of redeeming a people and summing up all things in Christ, even as we looked at last week from Ephesians 1. 

In chapter 49, Jacob moves from blessing Joseph, through Ephraim and Manasseh, to blessing all of his sons. Now, much could be said about the blessings that come to the 12 tribes of Israel. Amazingly, much of what will take place in the history of Israel throughout the rest of the Old Testament is spoken of here, specifically what will be the inheritance of the individual tribes. In order to demonstrate Godís sovereignty over the whole matter, let me demonstrate how some of these blessings play out.

Consider the blessing offered to Judah. Look at 49:8-12. Even though Judah is not the firstborn, the text says that the brothers will bow down to him. This is a clear reference to the Kings that will come from the tribe of Judah, specifically King David. In verse 10, Jacob points to something even beyond David and the Kingdom of Israel. How will the scepter stay in the hand of Judah? Are not the Kingdoms dispersed? And when will be the obedience of the peoples? Did not the Exile rule this out as well? It is this that points us to the greater King of Israel, the true Lion of the tribe of Judah, none other than Jesus Christ. It is He who will reign forever and bring the obedience of the peoples. In the blessing of Judah we see Godís sovereign plan in motion.

Not only this, but we also see it in how the inheritance comes to the other tribes. Any idea how Joshua divided up the land once they had conquered Canaan? Look at Joshua 18:6, 8, 10. These blessings are fulfilled by the casting of lots and yet they remarkably fulfill what Jacob is saying here. Is this just crazy luck? No, listen to Proverbs 16:33, The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. No, this whole deal is part of Godís sovereign plan. He is in control of Jacobís blessings and He is in control of bringing them to pass.

So, then, what of manís responsibility? Look at 49:28. Godís sovereignty does not negate Reubenís responsibility of sleeping with his fatherís wife (see 49:2-4, 35:22). Neither does it negate Simeon and Leviís responsibility of killing the people of Shechem (see 49:5-7, 34). No, they are held responsible for their actions and receive a blessing that is suitable to them. Thus, we see the coming together of Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility in the blessings offered by Jacob.

Second, we see Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility in the forgiveness of Joseph (50:15-21).

This text is one of the more insightful texts concerning Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility in the entire Old Testament. Look at what Joseph says in 50:19-21. Were the brothers guilty and responsible for their evil actions against Joseph? Yes, there is no way around that. Yet, was Godís sovereign hand moving throughout the entire deal? Yes, what they meant for evil, God meant for good. Notice that the text does not present God as somehow responding to the evil actions of the brothers and trying to bring good out of it. No, He meant for good to come from it from the beginning. He has a plan that is much bigger than Joseph or his brothers and He will bring that plan to fruition, using even the evil actions of men.

You may interrupt me at this point and ask, ĎAre you telling me that God is sovereign even over horribly evil actions, such as the Holocaust or 9/11?í I am simply saying that this is what the text teaches, and not just here but throughout its pages (consider the book of Job). Thus, even though men do evil things and will be held accountable for such actions, it never means that God has lost control. In fact, according to Romans 8:28, not only is God in control over evil, but good will work all things for the good of those who have been called according to his purpose. How can this be? What good will come from all of these evil actions? I have to admit that I cannot fully, or really even begin, to answer these questions. But I do believe that God can bring good from the most evil of actions. Why?

Let me ask you a question: what is the most evil action in all of human history? Of course a number of events immediately pop into our minds, but how do we discern. Let me ask another question: who is the most innocent sufferer of all human history? That narrows it a bit does it not. When we think of innocent sufferers we can really only conclude with one. Only one was completely innocent, only one had never sinned, only one was perfect in His obedience to the Father, namely Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, when we think of Jesus being beaten, being spit upon, being flogged, being mocked, being crucified with criminals, then surely we see the evil of that act. People have been tortured more, but none have been completely innocent like Christ. Of course this is only the physical suffering. The great weight of the cross comes from Godís wrath crushing His own Son in our place. You want to know the most evil act in all of history: it is the killing of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Yet, what good came of that? Why, it is unspeakable! God has secured our redemption and the salvation of the entire church by crushing His Son! God has taken the most evil act of all and brought from it the greatest good we can know, namely our just justification! Thus, to deny that God can bring good from the most evil of actions is to deny the reality of the cross, a denial I cannot make. I believe that God can do this because I believe in the cross.

God is sovereign over suffering and evil and, yet, man is responsible. We see this clearly in Josephís forgiveness of his brothers.

Third, we see Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility in the future of Israel (49:29-50:14, 50:22-26).

In these closing chapters we see that God is continuing to fulfill his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob longs to be buried in Canaan because of Godís promise and the brothers see that it is so. The author of Hebrews tells us that they did this in faith, still looking for the ultimate fulfillment of these promises, which even today we continue to long for. 

Josephís last words to his brothers in 50:22-26, end the book on a note of hope and trust in the providence of God. Look at what he says in 50:24. Joseph knows that God will get Israel to Canaan. Yet, he also gives the brothers responsibility as well. Look at 50:25. Joseph charged his brothers to have his bones buried in Canaan. This is a promise that Israel kept (see Joshua 24:32). Thus, we see a trust in sovereignty and a call to responsibility.

We see in our text this morning a constant interplay between Godís sovereignty and manís responsibility. We will continue to see this throughout the text of the Old Testament and the New. In fact, Peter teaches us in Acts 2:14-36, the passage we began our services with, that the cross is an example of Godís sovereignty and human responsibility. Hear what he says again in verses 22-24: Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves knowóthis Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. Brothers and sisters, this is what God is doing. He is working all of history, even using the evil actions of men, to bring about the glory of the Son through the salvation of a people. It is this plan that Genesis is the beginning of and it is this plan that we are apart of this morning through faith in Christ. May God grant us grace to be faithful in our responsibility as we entrust ourselves to our sovereign Lord. Amen.

1 For more on Godís sovereignty and human responsibility being compatible in the Scriptures, see D. A. Carson, How Long O Lord? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990), 199-227

~ William Marshall ~

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