8 “When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them. 11 And Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” 12 Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth. 13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near him. 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands (for Manasseh was the firstborn).” (Genesis 48:8–14 (ESV)
Today’s text reveals a wonderful and poignant scene between Joseph and his father Jacob. For over two decades, Jacob resigned himself to the misunderstanding that his son Joseph was dead and he would never see him alive again in this lifetime.
How wonderful it was for both Jacob and Joseph to reunite within the purpose and plan of God’s sovereign providence. You can sense Jacob’s emotion when he said to Joseph, ““I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.”
Do not glance over the words “God has let me.” In Jacob’s particular situation, he understood that the providential and sovereign God of heaven and earth permitted him to see his two Egyptian grandsons. This was the same providential and sovereign God who not only preserved Joseph while he was in prison, but also preserved humanity by releasing Joseph from prison.
Jacob was nearly blind, if not completely so. Therefore, Joseph brought his two sons close to their grandfather. Jacob then kissed and embraced them both. The aged patriarch was prepared to bless Manasseh and Ephraim. However, it is at this point that Jacob did a curious thing.
Dr. John Walvoord explains, “When Joseph presented his two sons to the aged patriarch, the blessing was pronounced. Like Isaac, Jacob gave this blessing when his eyesight was failing. But in the blessing Israel crossed his hands so that his right hand was on Ephraim’s head and his left on Manasseh’s … even though Manasseh, the firstborn, would normally have been blessed with the right hand. This was Jacob’s decision in spite of Joseph’s direction. Joseph, like so many others, expected God to work in a certain way, but found that He is often pleased to work differently and sometimes even unconventionally. But faith recognizes that God’s ways are not man’s ways. It took Jacob a lifetime of discipline to learn that fact. But he learned it, and now he blessed the younger over the elder. For four consecutive generations this re-versed pattern was followed: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over Reuben, and Ephraim over Manasseh.”
English poet and hymn writer William Cowper (1731-1800) expressed the doctrine of God’s providence as follows in his hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unsearchable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
And ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings, on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense
But trust Him for His grace
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face
His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower
Soli deo Gloria!