17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”
19 But his father refused and said, “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.” (Genesis 48:17-19 NIV)
This act of blessing is an important one in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here near the end of the narrative and the end of Jacob’s life it becomes so again. Throughout this history, the younger son gets the preferential treatment that tradition said was the older son’s – Isaac, Jacob over Esau, Joseph ahead of many of his brothers, and now Ephraim over Manasseh.
Blessings were important and had power. When Isaac blesses Jacob thinking he is Esau and Esau then comes to receive his blessing, Jacob tells him he cannot undo it, he cannot take it back and that he cannot pronounce the same blessing on Esau that was already given to Jacob.
One reminder to me in this story is that God often overturns our expectations and cares little for our human traditions and rules. What we think is “right” bears little resemblance to divine justice or to God’s intentions.
God over and over chooses a younger brother over an older one, women rather than men, poor and lowly rather than rich and powerful. God’s choices are God’s and remind us how flawed our judgments and valuations often are.
How do I live a life that values people as God does? That sees people for their worth in God’s eyes and plans rather than by the measures I usually use? How can I bless as the patriarchs at their wisest emulated their Lord who chose the weak and the lowly and the powerless to shake the foundations?
Lord may I not judge by human standards but by yours. May I not see as my prejudices would see but as you see. Remind me how like Joseph I can be – a younger brother who experienced a blessing he did not deserve but then tried to impose the same old, tired traditions and standards on his own sons. In the name of the Son who chose as you choose – who used and uses the lowly, the poor, and the powerless to bring the Kingdom. Amen.