16. Faith and the Past

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 16.  Faith and the Past

Heb 11:21   By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

Although this may also be true of Isaac blessing his boys I believe it is much so applicable to Jacob’s situation later in life – that facing death he is faced with the fruit of his life and he still has something to do about it. It is the fact that he is dying that perhaps provokes this action although there may be other factors. Let’s look at the story.

As he is aware that he is reaching the end of his life, Jacob calls his son Joseph to him. You may remember they are living in Egypt and Joseph is the nation’s second leader next to Pharaoh, but old man Jacob (renamed Israel) is still the patriarch of the family. And yet Joseph is the one with the power so Jacob sends for him and gets him to promise that when he dies Joseph will take his bones back to Canaan and not allow him to be buried in Egypt (see Gen 47:29-31).

A little while later Joseph is informed that his father is ill (Gen 48:1a) and so he takes “his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him,” (v.1b) presumably to say goodbye to the old man before he dies. There appears nothing significant about the two boys going along with him and what follows is promoted by Jacob. Jacob was nearly blind (48:10) but he could just see two figures with Joseph and when he is told they are his two grandsons he says, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” (v.9) He had obviously learnt from his father Isaac something of the significance of a blessing, to be given to the oldest son, but more than that, even as in his own case he had learned that a blessing was to be a prophetic declaration of God’s will, not his.

Thus when Joseph brings the two boys to him and places his hands on their heads the right hand, (the hand of authority) on the older boy expecting him to get the greater blessing, Jacob switches hands and then, intriguingly blessed Joseph as their father but says, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm –may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth” (v.15,16) i.e. may God bless these boys and make them famous and may they increase in number on the earth. Now this switching hands annoyed Joseph but Jacob insists, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” He blessed them that day and said, “In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: `May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ ” So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.” (v.19,20)  The lesson is clear: when you impart a blessing you impart God’s will, not what others think it should be, and the blessing is a truly prophetic word.

Note the time elements in all this. Jacob is old and about to die. Joseph had had two sons, first Manasseh and then Ephraim. The traditional expectation would be that the older son would inherit the family name and business and be better known, and so on. In other words, so often we let the affairs of the past govern what we think about the present. Very often we allow ourselves to be governed by our past but God knows what He wants and what will be and it is NOT determined by the past. You may have had negative things spoken over you in the past and you may be living in the light of those negatives.  When you were born again you entered a new time dimension, a heavenly one, an eternal one and the same rules no longer apply – only God’s will.

Your negatives can be thought of as a curse, things that decree bad for you. The apostle Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:13,14) Summarize that and you have, Jesus was cursed to take all our curses so that  now we can be inheritors of all the blessings God has for all people of faith.  Jesus has taken all your negatives; you do not have to be bound by them. More than that Jesus has opened the door to heaven for you so that all the blessings of God for His children may flow to you. It doesn’t matter what order in the family you were – you are a child of God. It doesn’t matter if your parents gave up on you, your heavenly Father will never give up on you. It doesn’t mater if you have felt lonely through life (for whatever reason), you have a big brother in Jesus who is totally for you. It doesn’t matter if you have felt utterly weak in your life, you are a container for the Holy Spirit, the very power of God.

Ephraim became probably the most powerful of the northern tribes and indeed the northern kingdom was sometimes referred to as Ephraim. Your future is not to be subservient to the expectations of others, the lies of Satan or whoever else, or even the events of the past or even traditional expectations;  you are a child of God, precious to Him and He has a great future for you. Accept it today, declare it and praise and thank Him for it. Go for it!

28. Worshipping Providers


28. Worshipping Providers

Matt 2:11,12 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

We are almost there. Tomorrow is Christmas Day. For a large percentage of the population it will be a day of presents, large amounts of food and drink, possibly too much TV and, for some, parties into the night. There will be a tiny minority who will totally ignore the day, but in the middle of these two groups will be those of us who want to appreciate the day in the traditional way with Christmas lunch and so on, but who also want to hold onto the truth and wonder if what we believe, according to the Bible, took place on this day slightly more than 2000 years ago. For Christians it’s always an odd sort of day, trying to balance these things, but then the Christmas story is an odd sort of story. Today’s verses are about those who came and worshipped the baby. Can we retain worship in all that happens tomorrow?

The ‘Wise Men’ are a great example of worshippers. They worship the newly arrived Son of God by bowing down and by giving to him. It is a faith that expresses itself by far more than just words or certain spiritual actions. It is a faith that provides for him. Now isn’t that strange! God arrives on the earth in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby, complete with all the limitations of a baby. He’s going to grow, this baby, and when he’s fully grown, the power of God is going to flow through him as never seen before or since; he is God on earth. But, for the time being he is reliant upon Mary and Joseph to care for him and now, for the wise men to provide for him. Yes, God can do miracles, like providing life where there is none, but having done that He so often wants to use us as the means of further provision. The Christian life is a life of partnership with God (1 Cor 3:9. 2 Cor 6:1). Thus we’re told to work out our salvation, because God is also working in us (Phil 2:12,13).

So these worshippers come and provide for the child. They provide Gold, currency in any day. This is God’s immediate bank account for this little family. Frankincense is a pure incense used for worship offerings and for wedding processions in the Bible. Myrrh, another perfume was used as a perfume for bridal processions, and for funerals. Whether the two perfumes were given as symbols of what would be involved in this child’s life or whether they were just given as alternative forms of currency, things that could be sold for money, is not clear. They are however, clearly expensive gifts, lavish gifts, gifts what could be purely ornamental, but also very practical.

Some say the practice of giving gifts at Christmas (which is not done by Christians all over the world) derived from the Wise Men. Giving is a practice very much at the heart of love for God. For the Christian it is not just a ritual done to appease God, for He doesn’t need appeasing. It is a response of a freed-up heart that sees need and gladly rises up to meet it. In a world where so many charities clamour for our attention we need to learn to respond to God’s prompting to give, not the emotional pressures of advertising agencies working for such charities. Giving starts with those closest to us in need. Giving comes with a heart of love, a love that is moved by compassion and moved by relationship. John picked this up in his letter (1 Jn 3:17) as did James (Jas 2:15,16). We become providers for others, knowing God will provide for us (Phil 4:19).

Having come as worshippers, these men find a new form of guidance, as they too move into the realm of guidance by dreams! Yes, there is a truth here: true worshippers come into a new closeness with God where they can hear His guidance more clearly. May we each know it! May we bow before him today and tomorrow and every day and may we let nothing detract from our worship and become a people guided and directed by God for ever more.