On the day God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, death came to mankind. But even as death began to gain power, God made a promise that one day one of Eve’s sons would rise up to crush the serpent’s head, defeat death, rebuild the garden, and lead God’s people back through the gates into their Father’s presence, where they would live in peace and plenty forever.
And throughout the Book of Genesis, Moses has been showing us how God began to lay the foundations for the fulfillment of this promise. Little by little, through the lives of God’s chosen family, Moses has been giving us previews of what this Son of Eve is going to look like when he finally arrives: from Abel to Seth, from Noah to Shem, from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob.
And as we have been discovering over the last few weeks, Joseph is Moses’ final and most detailed example of what God’s Serpent-Crusher is going to look like:
Early in his life, he was given authority over his brothers. But then his brothers rebelled against him, and betrayed him to slavery and death. But then God raised him back up to life and crowned him with authority over the greatest serpent-worshiping empire of the age.
Joseph, quite literally, became God’s promised Serpent-Crusher, God’s promised messiah and saviour for his generation.
So, having defeated the serpent, Joseph started the great task of rebuilding the garden of God’s presence and bringing God’s people back from where they had been scattered:
First, the good news began to go out to all the surrounding nations, drawing them in to the source of life.
Second, when his own brothers showed up, looking for salvation, Joseph forgave them for their betrayal and restored them to life in God’s garden, where they would always have enough to eat and drink.
Third, Joseph began the process of extending the life of God’s garden even to people who lived in the spiritual wilderness outside. To the exact degree that they were willing to draw near and submit to his rule, he blessed them with life and a future.
And last week, right at the end, having completed the work of organizing his kingdom, Joseph gave the whole thing back to his father Jacob. By that point, Joseph was the most powerful man on earth. But when his elderly father Jacob demanded that he use his power to carry Jacob’s body back to the land of Canaan when he died…Joseph did as his father asked: he put all the power and authority of Egypt at Jacob’s disposal.
And so now, today, we get to find out what Jacob is going to do with all this power and authority at his command. He has just recieved a superbly organized kingdom, a kingdom he did not have to work for because his own son Joseph did all the work. The only price Jacob had to pay for this kingdom was the loss of his son to death for 20+ years…which, to be honest, is quite a high price to pay.
But now all has been restored. All the years of grief have passed, overtaken by years of joy and peace. Joseph has been raised back to life, restored to his father, and now is the golden harvest of Jacob’s life.
What is Jacob going to do with all this power and authority?
…actually, that is the wrong question. Since Jacob is now a very old man, the question we should be asking is this: which of Jacob’s sons is Jacob going to give all this power and authority to?
And this question takes us right back to the beginning of Book 12 and reminds us what this whole story has actually been about: which of Jacob’s sons is going to be the father of Israel’s future kings? Which one of Jacob’s sons is going to be the father of the true and final Serpent-Crusher?
This has been a subject very close to Moses’ heart. Moses, as a prophet of God, wrote down the future history of Esau’s people back in Chapter 36. Esau was Jacob’s brother. And we remember that, even though God blessed Esau and his descendants with lands and tribes and kings, the future history of Esau’s people was consumed with civil war: each of Esau’s 12 tribes fighting with the rest for the right to rule.
Moses does not want that to happen to Jacob’s people. He wants to make it very clear which of Jacob’s 12 tribes is supposed to rule over the rest when it comes time for Israel to have kings. And so, from the very beginning of Book 12, he has been showing his readers what happens when brothers rebel against their father — and go to war against one another — over questions of authority and inheritance.
For most of Book 12 the two main contenders for the title have been Judah and Joseph. Early on it looked like Judah had already won by getting rid of Joseph, and we were seriously worried, because Judah’s ambition was entirely selfish. But then Joseph made this astonishing comeback — as we know — but instead of holding on to his authority over the family, he has put the decision back into Jacob’s hands. It is Jacob’s job, as the father over the family, to decide who should be the next father over the family.
 Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him.
Because Joseph knows that now is the time for Jacob to write his final will and testament.
Now  when Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.  Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me  and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’
So that is the estate Jacob needs to pass on to his sons: the promises of God centered around the nation to come and their possession of land of Canaan.
Next, Jacob declares his intention to adopt both of Joseph’s sons as his own:
 “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.  Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers.
Now, at this point everyone asks why? Why does Jacob adopt Joseph’s sons as his own?
Well, basically, Jacob is now declaring Joseph to be his ”official” firstborn son.
Remember, until now this has been pretty confusing, since there are four wives in the family, each one with a first-born son. So Jacob wants to clear up this confusion.
And adopting Joseph’s two sons accomplishes this in two ways:
First, according to God’s law, the first-born son is supposed to receive two times more than all the other sons. So, by adopting Joseph’s two sons, and giving each of them an inheritance, Jacob is effectively giving Joseph twice the inheritance.
Second, by saying “Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine” is actually a way of saying that Ephraim and Menasseh — the two youngest sons in the family — are now officially replacing the two oldest sons.
Then Jacob says this:
 “As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).
And this seems pretty random: as if Jacob drifted off-topic for a moment to talk about his favourite wife that has been dead for 30-over years — like very old men sometimes do, perhaps.
But Jacob is not actually drifting: he is actually giving us another reason why he is adopting Joseph’s sons. Leah gave birth to 6 sons, and adopted 2 more from her maidservant. Rachel only gave birth to 2 sons, and adopted 2 more from her maidservant. By adopting Joseph’s two sons now, Jacob is bringing Rachel’s total up to 6 sons.
Basically, he is answering his wife’s life-long prayers for more sons.
Then they begin the official adoption ritual: Jacob looks at Joseph’s two sons and says, “Who are these?”
— sort of like how the minister at a wedding says, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
And Joseph says,  “They are the sons God has given me here.”
Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”
And for the sake of time we are not going to focus a great deal on the details of the ceremony, except to say that everything Jacob says and does confirms that Joseph is now officially the “first-born” son of the family, who receives double the inheritance through his own two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. In the end, in verse 21, Jacob even gives Joseph: “one more ridge of land than to your brothers, the ridge I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.”
What is interesting is that the Hebrew word “ridge of land” is the word “Shechem”, which is the city that Jacob’s sons conquered violently without their father’s permission. So it seems as if Jacob is giving Joseph that territory in particular. And the fact that, almost 500 years later, Joseph’s body is buried in Shechem just adds to this impression: Joseph is the only son who inherits a city from his father Jacob.
But there is one unusual feature about this adoption ceremony that we are going to focus on: Jacob deliberately crosses his hands, so that his right hand is on the younger son, and his left hand is on the older son.
In Jacob’s culture, just like in Muslim culture today, the right hand is the hand of greater blessing.
As a left-handed man, I am profoundly offended by this, but…it’s the bible, so what can I do? And you will no doubt comfort me by saying, “It’s okay, Ian, one day, when you are resurrected and completely redeemed, you will be right-handed like the rest of us.”
To which I will reply: “Did you know that scientific studies have confirmed that all babies are actually born left-handed? And they stay that way until they sin…”
Joseph sees Jacob cross his arms like this and he thinks the old man is…drifting again. So he tries to correct him, but Jacob says, “I know, my son, I know. I have not completely lost my mind yet! Don’t worry, Menasseh will be blessed. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.
And the reason we are highlighting this unusual feature is because this idea that the younger son should be greater than the older has been such a major theme of Genesis. Abel was greater than Cain. Shem turned out to be greater than Ham. Isaac was greater than Ishmael, Jacob greater than Esau, Ephraim and Manasseh have just been made greater than Reuben and Simeon — and now Ephraim will be greater than Manasseh.
And through all this Moses has been making a very important theological point — one that we will talk about a little bit later.
And now it is time for Jacob to confirm, in the hearing of the whole family, that Joseph is his official first-born, the one who is destined to inherit the right to rule over his brothers.
So  then Jacob called for the rest of his sons and said: “Gather around.”
This is going to be Jacob’s last will and testament. He is the last of the three great fathers of the nation of Israel: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And as the last of the three great fathers, it is his duty now to speak as a prophet. That is why he says:
“Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.  “Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel.
 “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.”
Reuben, as the firstborn, will always be special to Jacob. But, as the firstborn, Reuben had a greater responsibility to teach the rest of his brothers how to submit properly to their father’s authority.
He failed to teach his brothers. Even worse, he refused to submit himself — and so he has been rejected for leadership.
But we saw that coming a long time ago.
 “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.”
These sons are also rejected for leadership, because of their hot tempers and violence. And to keep them from becoming too strong, Jacob has declared that, when they get back to the land of Canaan, their tribes must be scattered among the other tribes.
And sure enough, about 500 years later, Simeon’s tribe was assigned a few villages scattered throughout Judah’s territory, while Levi’s tribe received no lands at all: they were told to live mixed in with the rest of the tribes.
And now it is time for Jacob to reject Judah for leadership:  “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you…”
What? Isn’t this the guy who sold Jacob’s beloved son Joseph into slavery?
 “You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?”
Okaaay. That still sounds more positive than negative! — but let’s carry on:
 “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”
Jacob has just declared that Judah is going to be the father of the kings of future Israel!
In fact, he has just declared very clearly that Judah is going to be the father of God’s Serpent-Crusher, the Messiah who will win the final war against the serpent and then bring all the nations into obedience to the true God. Jacob has just promised Judah an eternal kingdom!
…this is very odd. Until this point, Joseph has been the perfect preview of the Serpent-Crusher to come. It would make so much more sense for Joseph to be the father of Israel’s kings and the father of God’s Messiah!
But Jacob is not finished yet:
 “He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.  His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.”
Jacob is prophesying that it will be through Judah that the final Golden Age of God’s rule over the nations will come: an age of such unbelievable wealth and peace that people will park their donkeys next to precious vines, not caring if the donkey eats the vine; they will use fine wine for laundry detergent; they will experience health and beauty beyond imagination.
So it turns out that Joseph’s Golden Age here at the end of Genesis was just a preview of Judah’s Golden Age to come.
But why? Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah — all of these four sons rebelled against their father and disqualified themselves for leadership in the family. Jacob rejected the first three, and rightly so! But why now has he given Judah the right to rule over his brothers?
Well, the only possible explanation for Jacob’s decision is this: Judah repented. He faced the truth about himself. And he offered to lay down his life for the sake of his little brother Benjamin, for the sake of his own father Jacob.
And it is this last thing that sets Judah apart even from Joseph.
See, it is true that, until now, Joseph has been the perfect preview of God’s promised Messiah. Every element of his life — from his humiliation to his exaltation to his rule over the nations — has pointed forward to God’s Messiah to come.
But apparently there has been one element missing, one element that Joseph could not preview for us: Joseph was never asked to lay down his life for his brothers. He did have the authority to crush them, and he did forgive them instead. But because of the nature of his story, Joseph did not volunteer to die for his brothers.
That role went to his brother Judah. When Judah offered up his life in exchange for Benjamin’s, he did not know it but he was actually completing God’s preview of what God’s Messiah is going to do when he comes. The future Messiah is going to be a combination of Joseph and Judah: on one had he is going to be betrayed by his brothers, and forced to die for them; but on the other hand he is also going to choose to submit to death for his brothers.
So: as Judah’s reward for completing the preview of God’s Messiah, God moved Jacob to give the future kingdom of Israel to Judah…not Joseph.
Joseph does receive the rights of the first-born son in this generation, even though he is one of the youngest of Jacob’s sons. But now Judah receives the blessing of becoming the father of Israel’s future kings.
And even this unexpected decision by Jacob is yet another example of God lifting up the lesser over the greater, God lifting up someone that we would say is less deserving than the other.
And again: this is a very important theological point, one that we will talk about more in a bit.
And so, from this point on in Jacob’s prophecies, the rest of Jacob’s sons receive positive blessings, now that Judah’s rule over them has been established.
And again, for the sake of time we are not going to focus very much on the details of each. I’m just going to point out that when we match up Jacob’s prophecies here with what territory each tribe ends up inheriting in the land of Canaan, we find that each of these remaining tribes has a particular role, they each develop particular specialities, each one essential for a well-balanced nation to operate properly. Some focus on fishing from the Sea of Galilee, some on shepherding in the lands to the south. Others become farming tribes in the north. Some become merchants and craftsmen, because their territories lie along major highways. Others are known for their wise judges, while still others become famous for their hunters and warriors.
And Moses is making yet another theological point for us here:
In the second chapter of Genesis, he showed us how God placed the man and the woman in the garden to work it and protect it: their job was to maintain the order of the garden God had given them, and to extend that order gradually until it filled the earth. And God gave them everything they needed to accomplish this task.
Well, here, in the second-to-last chapter of Genesis, Moses is showing us how, in the centuries to come, God is going to place his people in the garden of Canaan to work it and protect it and bring it back into proper order. And he is giving his gathered people everything they need to build a well-balanced nation.
From beginning to end, the God of Israel is a God of order, and balance, and beauty. He cares about each one of his children, and just like Jacob here in verse 28, God blesses each one: giving each the blessing appropriate to him — giving each a unique and essential place in the Golden Age to come.
So, in summary: Joseph built and completed a kingdom, and then he gave it to his father Jacob.
We were wondering what Jacob would do with all this power and authority. And now we have seen that Jacob has passed that power and authority to yet another one of his sons, so that God’s promise to provide a Serpent-Crusher can be fulfilled.
Basically, Jacob used the power God gave him to serve God’s greater plan to redeem the entire earth.
Okay. That’s great. But now, just like we do every week, we have to ask: what is Moses trying to accomplish here? What was his application for his people — the ancient people of Israel — and what is the application for us?
Well, as we recalled at the beginning, Moses’ desire has been to make sure the future nation of Israel does not fall into the chaos of civil war. The God of Israel is a God of order, and so the people of Israel should also be a people of order. One of the 12 tribes is going to specialize in Kingship, by God’s will. Moses wants to make sure the rest of the tribes submit to God’s will in this matter, so that they can help fulfill God’s promise to provide a Messiah for the entire earth.
Basically, this is Moses’ application for his people: use the power God has given us to submit to God’s plan.
And to help them submit, Moses has given them a warning, and an encouragement:
First, by way of warning, he made it clear that rebellion against God’s will leads to rejection by God. That is what Jacob prophesied for Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, and that is what happened in history: the tribes of Reuben and Simeon were basically absorbed by their neighboring tribes shortly after the time of Joshua. They disappear from the pages of history; they never produce a single prophet or judge, they barely get a chance to contribute to the nation before they are gone. Levi — which was Moses’ tribe — is assigned the role of priesthood, which sounds good — and is good! — but all the way through the Old Testament the prophets kept saying that one day the specialized role of priesthood would become obsolete, because in the Golden Age of God’s Messiah all of God’s people would be priests. And sure enough, that is what happened: the Levites of Jerusalem led the opposition against Jesus of Nazareth, God’s promised Messiah. They got him crucified, and as a result, within that very generation, their temple was destroyed and along with it: their role as priests. Because it is impossible to be a proper priest without a temple to be a priest in.
So Moses warned his people first about the consequences of rebellion against God’s will, God’s kings, and God’s Messiah.
But, second, by way of encouragement, Moses made it clear that, if they submitted to God’s kings and Messiah, each tribe would be given a distinct place in the Messiah’s kingdom. Only one tribe can produce the kings of Israel, and in the end there will be only one King over the earth. But this does not mean that the rest of the tribes are less valuable to God. They are all God’s children, and God does not practice the sin of favouritism! We all tend to think of kings as more valuable than fishermen, that is why we would rather be kings than fishermen — but Moses is building on some of the points he made last week about the true structure of God’s world: about how the center of the Messiah’s kingdom is always on the fringes of the kingdoms of this world.
In other words: it is better to be a fisherman or a farmer in the Messiah’s kingdom than to be a king over the nations of the world.
So Moses’ overall application for his people was to guide them toward submission to the order God is going to bring to his earth through his Messiah’s rule.
And the reason Moses has been so careful to highlight the fact that God often elevates the younger over the older, the undeserving over the deserving, is because he knows this is how God is going to do it again in the future. When God’s true King and Messiah arrives, he is not going to show up in a chariot with a thousand bodyguards to seize power, he is going to show up as a fisherman or a farmer or a shepherd or something equally obscure and humble. It is going to be hard to recognize him, at first! So Moses knows that, if the people of Israel have not been prepared in advance to look for their Messiah among the humble people of this world, they are very likely to miss him completely!
And as we know, that is what happened. I just mentioned how the priestly tribe of Levi led the rebellion against Jesus of Nazareth. They refused to recognize his claim to kingship, and unfortunately most of the nation at that time followed them in their rebellion.
And so, as a result, the Gospel of Jesus Christ went out to the surrounding nations, and the surrounding nations began to accept Jesus as their King and Messiah. They began flooding in to join the few Jewish followers of Jesus. And the Jewish followers of Jesus began to get seriously worried, because they were quickly getting outnumbered! Their Jewish background Church was going to turn into a Gentile background Church, full of Greeks and Romans and Germans and all kind of barbarian people.
So the leaders of the Jewish Church in Jerusalem conducted an in-depth study of the Old Testament, and they noticed that Moses’ theological point about younger brothers being elevated over olders brothers had an application to their own situation also. They remembered hearing Jesus himself talk about how this principle was going to play out inside his future Church. And so the leaders wrote letters to the Church saying, “Do not be alarmed! This was actually God’s plan all along! Yes, our Jewish nation is God’s official ‘first-born’ nation, and we always will be. But now we have come to the part of God’s plan where his ‘younger sons’ — the pagan nations of the world — are going to be greater than his ‘oldest son’. And that is okay! That is the plan! It does not mean that we are now less valuable than all the other nations!”
And those letters the leaders wrote to the Church 2000 years ago are now here, in what we call the New Testament. We are the “younger sons” of God who have been lifted up out our pagan backgrounds and brought into the Church, the Kingdom of God’s Messiah Jesus.
And that means there must also be some applications here for us.
So what are they?
Well, if you are here today and you are already a Christian who has been baptized into a local church community, then you have already put Moses’ primary application into practice: you have recognized the Messiah and his Kingdom, and you have submitted to it!
But: now what? Now that we are citizens of this kingdom, how are we supposed to live?
To be more specific, perhaps: what does it look like to daily submit to God’s plan for us as individuals, as families, as a local church, as a kingdom?
So, a few points here:
First, we should notice that, in the end, even Jacob submitted his sin of favouritism to God’s greater plan. From the very beginning, Jacob wanted to make Joseph the next Head-of-Household, simply because he loved Joseph more. Now: God did use Jacob’s sin to save the whole family from starvation. But that does not mean that Jacob’s sin was a good thing. And all along we have been waiting to see how God is going to cure Jacob of this problem.
Well, here, in this episode, it just happened. Even though Jacob — perhaps — still loves Joseph more than the rest of his sons, in the end he submitted to the voice of God’s Spirit within him, and he used the power and authority God gave him to bless Judah’s tribe with the Head-of-Household position.
What is the application of this point for us?
Encouragement! All of us, as we grow in our faith, begin to see the sins of our earthly fathers more clearly. And as the years go by and it seems like God is doing nothing about it, it can be quite frustrating. Our prayers start to sound like, “Come on, God! Fix the old man already, so we don’t have to deal with his nonsense anymore!”
And then, as we grow in our faith a little more, we begin to see that we are exactly like our earthly fathers. And if we live long enough, we begin to realize that we are now the stubborn old men our children are praying about. And then our prayers start to sound like, “Come on, God! Fix me already, so I don’t have to deal with my nonsense anymore!”
This glimpse of Jacob’s redemption from the sin of favouritism shows us that God is at work in each one of his children. His timeline is not our timeline. He does not fix everything at once. Some things he leaves to the very end. But here is God’s promise to every one of us: one day he will complete his work in our lives.
So, what is the first thing it looks like to daily submit to God’s plan? It looks like encouragement, perseverance, prayer, even in the midst of our frustrations.
Second, we are going to notice that Jacob’s three oldest sons were ultimately rejected because they refused to submit to their father’s authority, and to their father’s plan for the family. They were the sons of Jacob, they were called by Jacob’s name, but beginning with their generation and over the centuries that followed their tribes slowly drifted away from their identity in the covenant family. The members of those tribes who remained faithful were absorbed into other faithful Israelite tribes; the members of those tribes who did not remain faithful were eventually absorbed into the surrounding nations.
And the application of this point for us is almost the same as it was for Moses’ people: this is a warning. It is not enough for a person or a church to simply be called by the name of Christ — they must also submit to Christ’s authority and God’s plan.
And this warning is not meant to cast us into fear and doubt about our own place in Christ. So if you are here today and you are now wondering if you might be one of Jacob’s rejected sons without knowing it…then the fact that you are asking that question of yourself indicates that you are seeking the kingdom of God, and that seeking will be rewarded.
So this warning is not mean to make us all doubt our salvation, it is simply telling us to pay attention. Jesus himself gave his disciples a similar warning. He said it like this: “False teachings will show up inside the Church, and those who teach such things will fall under God’s curse. So watch yourselves!”
In other words: throughout the history of the Church there will be false teachers and false churches. They will call themselves by the name of Christ. But like Jacob’s three oldest sons, they have actually rejected Christ, and so they are destined to be rejected by Christ.
So this is our warning: pay attention! Every Christian church claims to be descended from Christ, but not all who claim to be descended from Christ are actually in Christ — just as not all the sons who were descended from Jacob were actually Jacob’s sons in the end. So watch yourselves! Do not become false teachers, and do not follow false teachers.
Of course, our next question is: what exactly should we watch for? How can we recognize false teachers and false churches?
We are not going to answer that today. But make sure to join us for our upcoming series on 1st and 2nd Peter, because Peter is going to paint a very clear picture for us of what false teachers look like in everyday life.
So, what is the second thing it looks like to daily submit to God’s plan? It looks like watchfulness, awareness.
Now, the third thing we are going to notice is that, even though Jacob’s fourth son also joined the oldest three in rebelling against his father’s will…he repented. He gave up trying to save himself, he quit trying to lift himself up over his brothers, and in the end he was given the greatest honour of all: the right to become the father of God’s Messiah.
This application for us is pretty direct: repentance is always an option. Perhaps you are slowly becoming aware that the teachers you follow, the churches you attend, are not actually leading you toward submission in Christ, and you are wondering what you should do about that. Well: you can repent and turn away from them and join a healthier community of Christ! Or perhaps you are a parent and God is making you aware of the ways you are misleading your family into attitudes of selfish ambition rather than submission to Christ, and you are wondering what you can do about that. Well: it is not too late! Even at the very end of your life, you can still repent, and ask our Father to redeem your children from the damage you have done.
So, what is the third thing it looks like to daily submit to God’s plan? It looks like repentance. We are supposed to be a people marked by our willingness to confess when we are wrong, admit our helplessness, and put our faith yet again in Christ.
Fourth, we have to notice that, just as there was variety among the tribes of Israel, there will also be variety among the churches of Christ. Just because the church down the road is different from ours does not necessarily mean that church must be false! We are not all identical, but we are all essential elements of a well-balanced global Church.
And what is the application of this point for us?
Well, this one also is almost the same as it was for Moses’ people: we must do our best to avoid civil war. There are warriors and judges in Christ’s Church, just as there were back in the nation of Israel. Their duty is to defend the Church against false teachers and false churches — but we are not all called to be warriors and judges. Most of us are called to live a quiet life and to work with our hands. As Paul tells us in the New Testament: “We will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
So this application requires wisdom as we try to strike a balance between watchfulness and openness. We are called to strive for unity with every person, every church that claims Christ as Lord — while at the same time remembering that some who call themselves Christians will not be with us in the end.
It’s just as Jesus once said: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Be watchful, and yet open.
So what is the fourth thing it looks like to daily submit to God’s plan? It looks like unity and grace extended as far as possible to other elements of the global Church. We need one another. We really do.
And this is hard for us to accept. It’s hard for me to accept! Because I look around at some of the things other churches are saying and doing and I think, “Come on, God! Fix them already!”
And then I grow up a little bit more and I say, “Come on, God: fix us already.” And I remember to put my faith back in the promise that he will fix us. One day our Saviour will complete his work. He will complete his kingdom.
And this leads us to our closing question: what will that day look like? What is going to happen on the day Jesus completes his work on his kingdom?
Well, even this has been previewed here in the story of Joseph and his father.
The great crisis of the Book of Genesis began when Adam brought death to mankind. And death has reigned over mankind all the way through Genesis until Joseph was raised up out of prison and crowned with authority over Egypt. On that day, Joseph crushed the head of the Egyptian serpent. But his work was not finished there: he still needed to bring life back into the land. So, he rebuilt God’s garden in the land of Goshen, he saved God’s family from judgement by gathering them into that garden and giving them everything they needed. And then he reduced the people outside the garden to servitude: blessing them with food but making it clear that true life can only be found within the family of God in the garden of God. And so, in this way, Joseph defeated death, and brought life back into the land.
And once Joseph had finished that work of defeating death and restoring the land of Egypt to life and proper order…he handed the whole thing over to his father Jacob.
What Joseph did in his rule over Egypt, Jesus is going to do in his rule over the whole earth. Death reigned over mankind until Jesus himself descended into death and then was raised back up out of death and crowned with authority over all creation. On that day, Jesus became God’s promised Serpent-Crusher. And then Jesus set to work restoring the earth to life and proper order. One day, he will be finished.
And in the New Testament, Paul describes what that moment is going to look like very clearly for us. These are his words from the Book of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 15: “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ — the firstfruits — then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”
So, Paul is saying, Jesus was resurrected first, 2000 years ago. The rest of us will be resurrected on the day he returns to claim the earth as his own.
“Then,” Paul says, ”the end will come: when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.“ And: “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
In other words: the day Jesus returns will be the day of our resurrection. On that day, Jesus, God’s Serpent-Crusher, will have officially defeated death, his final enemy. And on that day, when he has brought everything into complete submission…he will turn and hand everything back over to his Father, proving that he has not been corrupted by selfish ambition.
And then we will all live…forever.