Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Before he died, Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, blessed his sons. This sort of tradition of blessing isn’t really as common today (and I suspect most folk don’t buy into it). However, during Jacob’s time, the father’s blessing was taken very seriously. In fact, Esau was ready to murder Jacob after his brother had stolen his blessing from their father. After Jacob (a name which according to my NIV Bible figuratively means “he deceives”) took his brother’s blessing, a very emotional scene followed. Scripture records,
Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him- and indeed he will be blessed!”
When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me- me too, my father!”
But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”
Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”
Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”
Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud (Genesis 27:33-38).
Coming from a modern perspective, I find this passage amazing. Notice that both men, Isaac and his son Esau, firmly believed that the blessings placed upon Jacob would stick. Isaac even counts the blessings as Jacob’s inheritance, claiming to have given him power and sustenance, all through his words of blessing. I suppose this is why we can read in Hebrews 11:1-2, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” Imagine the faith it would take for someone to say, “My father didn’t leave me anything when he died, but he did promise I’d always have good food to eat and a place over my head.” That’s faith in the power of a godly blessing. Esau was so upset about Jacob stealing his blessing (and the rather lackluster blessing he got instead) that he actually became homicidal over it. Genesis 27:41 records, “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” This blessing thing was serious stuff back then, and if you missed out on your blessing, you’d be going into life at a disadvantage. Now, it’s likely that your dad hasn’t blessed you, but fear not: the Holy Spirit wants to share a blessing from your Heavenly Father that you can receive and take with you into your life.
When Jacob blessed his sons, some of the blessings were weird and didn’t really make sense. I mean, check out the blessing of Benjamin,
Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
In the morning he devours the prey,
In the evening he divides the plunder (Genesis 49:27).
What does that even mean? Is it a blessing or some sort of backhanded comment on his personality? I mean, granted, it’s pretty hard to give twelve individual blessings out (one for each son), but really, what’s he trying to say? Benjamin was the cute baby of the family up until that time. Even stranger is that I have that verse highlighted, which means a pastor must have talked about it at some point, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it’s supposed to mean. Anyway, although some of the blessings were a bit difficult to understand, Jacob gave a special blessing to his favorite son, Joseph. This is the blessing of Joseph:
Joseph is a fruitful vine,
A fruitful vine near a spring,
Whose branches climb over a wall.
With bitterness archers attacked him;
They shot at him with hostility.
But his bow remained steady,
His arms stayed limber,
Because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
Because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
Because of your father’s God, who helps you,
Because of the Almighty, who blesses you
With blessings of the heavens above,
Blessings of the deep that lies below,
Blessings of the breast and womb.
Your father’s blessings are greater
Than the blessings of the ancient mountains,
Than the bounty of the age-old hills.
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,
On the brow of the prince among his brothers (Genesis 49:22-26).
Compare that to the “blessing” on Benjamin we just read. The blessing on Joseph was special, and long. Joseph was fruitful though, in fact he was so fruitful that he was always a blessing to those around him; be it his family, his owner during his time as a slave, the prison where he was wrongly incarcerated, or Egypt where he ruled. How was this possible? Joseph actually suffered much, but he always remained steadfast. According to the blessing (and the actually story of Joseph), through everything he always trusted in the Lord; so the Lord blessed him and protected him. That’s what that “They shot at him but his bow remained steady” stuff is about. Although the world threw all it could at Joseph, he remained in his faith and was rewarded because of it. Problems will come, but according to the Bible, we have a defense, our faith. Paul tells us, “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). Through our faith in God, we can overcome the devil’s attacks on our lives; for it is written, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10-11). Notice that people under attack aren’t called to fight so much as they’re called to stand firm in God. Paul backs this up a couple of verses later when he writes, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). The goal isn’t to conquer Satan by force, but rather to endure the hard times as they come. Paul says to be strong in the Lord to stand, and when you’ve done everything to stand, to keep standing. So we find that by standing firm and trusting in God (after receiving salvation) we open the door for the Lord to bless us (as we are relying on him).
This blessing is backed up by Jesus in the New Testament so that all of us who are under attack today know that the blessing extends to us as well. We read the words of Christ,
To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name (Revelation 3:7-8).
Just like Joseph, though suffering greatly, the church in Philadelphia trusted in God instead of giving up or seeking worldly means. Therefore Jesus said to them,
I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you (Revelation 3:9).
By standing firm in the Lord, he will show his power and the enemy will be ruined and defeated. Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery, were eventually brought to his feet, bowing; even though Joseph never lifted a finger against them in revenge. The Bible records this moment in Genesis 42:6, “Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.” Jesus actually goes as far as saying that when we persevere in the Lord, we’ll be saved from later problems. For it is written, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trail that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Revelation 3:10). And sure enough, we see this come to light as we look at Joseph and his family during the great famine in Egypt and Canaan of his day:
So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.
There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine (Genesis 47:11-13).
By enduring the trials in his life with faith, Joseph was not only blessed, but he was also spared from a much worse situation that followed- and he was able to protect his family too. There’s more too though. For those who overcome through standing in the Lord, there are always greater and greater blessings to come. Jesus tells us,
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:11-13).
I’m not gonna lie, how awesome will it be when you get to heaven and see essentially a monument to you just because you kept your faith during hard times? Or anyways to be a staple in the heavenly temple of the Lord? (Depending on how you interpret the passage)
Don’t trust in that which you can see; the things of this world. In the Bible, whenever Israel makes a treaty with Egypt, it is analogous with us trusting in worldly things. This is always considered to be a mistake. Even other nations knew trusting in Egypt was a mistake. History records as Assyria berates Israel,
Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man’s hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him (2 Kings 18:21).
Now to their defense, when Assyria said this, Israel was actually trusting in God and Assyria just wanted to break their moral. But God also got on the nation’s case when they put their hopes in worldly allies rather than the Lord. We read,
“Woe to the obstinate children,”
Declares the Lord,
“To those who carry out plans that are not mine,
Forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
Heaping sin upon sin;
Who go down to Egypt
Without consulting me;
Who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
To Egypt’s shade for refuge.
But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace” (Isaiah 30:1-3).
By trusting in the world’s ways of handling problems, you’re only asking for trouble. Remember that for a believer, all things are from God (or at the very least approved by him); therefore, when trouble comes you should trust that the Lord will work it out in his way and not try to solve your problems how a nonbeliever would. For example, say you want to take revenge on someone who hurt you or those you love: the Lord would advise against it. Do you want to see the “blessing” that Simeon and Levi got? Check this out,
Simeon and Levi are brothers-
Their swords are weapons of violence.
Let me not enter their council,
Let me not join their assembly,
For they have killed men in their anger
And hamstrung oxen as they pleased.
Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
And their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
And disperse them in Israel (Genesis 49:5-7).
What did they do to merit such a curse? Simeon and Levi defended the honor of their sister who was pressured into sex before she was married (I am careful with my wording since the Bible isn’t clear if it was a rape situation or not). Rather than follow you emotions when someone hurts you or those around you, Jesus tells us to do something completely uncomfortable and extraordinarily difficult: “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Paul expands on this when he writes,
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21).
Talk about a backwards response. When hurt, pray for those who hurt you, and let God sort it out. Remember, faith is believing in what you do not see- so even if it doesn’t look like God is making any moves, just trust that he’s got everything under control and let go of your feelings of anger and hatred. Also, don’t trust in worldly delights either. For by chasing after the things nonbelievers chase, you could end up in a pretty nasty situation. Check out Jacob’s “blessing” on his first son, Reuben,
Reuben, you are my firstborn,
My might, the first sign of my strength,
Excelling in honor, excelling in power.
Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel,
For you went up onto your father’s bed,
Onto my couch and defiled it (Genesis 49:3-4).
Reuben slept with one of his father’s concubines, it wasn’t quite incest, but it still wasn’t cool. Later it’s revealed that Reuben lost his status as the firstborn because of his lust. I know that many think that because of God’s grace they can continue in whatever they did before coming to Christ, but the Word is clear that there are consequences to sin. You might be heaven-bound because of Jesus, but still miss out on a world of blessings from God due to continuing in sin. Take Moses as your positive example. It is written of him,
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).
See, I told you the Bible frequently uses Egypt as the representative for the unbelieving world. Notice though here that Moses decided that suffering and denying his emotions and urges were of greater worth in Christ than giving in and just saying, “Oh well, I’m going to heaven anyway.” There is a greater reward for those who will live in such a way, completely dependent on Christ and his power rather than on one who follows the world’s ways.
Remember, God is all powerful. When Jerusalem was in dire straits and Jeremiah was freaking out in prayer, the answer from above was simple; “Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: ‘I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?’” (Jeremiah 32:26-27). That’s the ultimate answer for any problem, issue, or feeling you might have. God is God, is there anything he can’t handle? The answer is of course, “no.” He even solved the problem of humanity being irreconcilable in his sight due to our sin nature through the death of his son, Jesus the Christ, as the ultimate sacrifice. If he could figure out that (and bend heaven and earth so far as to put on skin and die a human death, then rise again, conquering said death), then we’re in pretty good hands for everything else. Romans 8:28 reminds us, “And we know that in all things God words for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” For the believer, when you act in faith, all things will work out for you. So rather than live life like Joe Atheist down the street, do what Joseph would do and
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him,
And he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).
That is the blessing of Joseph; the very same blessing that is on you who are in Christ today. Amen and rock on in God!