Posts tagged Manasseh
So, are you tired of reading genealogies yet? Well, it seems as though the writer of Chronicles was getting a little tired of his subject matter, too, or at least enough so to give us a few more details. I find it interesting that in these chapters, we’re given little snippets of information that, to us, mean very little. Why was GeHarashim called GeHarashim? Why was the birth order of Israel’s sons so messed up? It’s all in there. We’re told about the professions and misfortunes of some of these people. We’re given explanations as to why some tribes flourished and others didn’t. There is actually a lot of information packed inside of this written family tree, but none is more intriguing to me than the contrast between a guy named Jabez and the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.
The Jabez snippet pops up in chapter 4, verses 9 & 10:
Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.” Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)
Two verses. That’s all we read about Jabez in the entire Bible. In fact, until several years ago when a book came out about him, Jabez was about as anonymous of a figure in the Bible as there could be. There was nothing special about Jabez – just another name in a long line of names. And yet, the author takes a moment to note something about this man and his life. And while much has been made of the specifics of Jabez’s prayer, it is his life that stands out to the author first and foremost.
The little note about Jabez begins by telling us that he was more honorable than his brothers. It ends by telling us that God granted his request. Whatever happened in between – the “Prayer of Jabez” – was a direct result of the former and honored in the latter. God seems to listen a little closer to those who are living for him.
A contrasting outcome is brought up in chapter 5. The Reubenites, Gadites and Half-Tribe of Manasseh were unlike Jabez in just about every way imaginable. They were famous, not anonymous. They were numerous and strong. They had everything going for them. God even came to their aid in battle against the Hagrites. But, unlike Jabez, they ultimately weren’t honorable – they weren’t faithful to God. And so, their outcome looked very different from that of Jabez. God didn’t expand their territory, he took it away from them. He didn’t keep them from harm and pain, he led them into it.
There is a direct link between the lives we live and the outcome that we experience. And, though God has a LOT of grace in his dealings with us, the Bible makes it very clear that if we are determined to be miserable, God will let us be. If we are hell-bent on our own destruction, God’s not going to get in our way. In fact, he may even help expedite the process a little. There is a stark contrast between the honor of Jabez that led to God’s blessing and the dishonorable people of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, whose actions led to their own defeat – a contrast that serves as a reminder that how we live our lives matters to God.
Perhaps, instead of focusing on the prayer of Jabez, we should focus on his life.
What if everything we think we know about God is wrong? What if we’re trying to do the right thing, but we’ve completely missed it? What if my heart is right, but my actions are misguided? I was pondering this question today as I read 2 Kings 22. This is a story that first really caught me off guard last year as I was reading through the Bible at break-neck speed over the course of 90 days (you should really try it sometime!)
This is the scenario that Josiah finds himself in. He’s only eight years old when he becomes king and for his entire life plus the 50 or so years before he was born, there have been kings in power who didn’t follow God. Manasseh, who reigned most of that time didn’t simply continue the traditions of former kings. He actually rebuilt what his father had destroyed – returning Judah to the worship of Baal, the sex-rituals and self-mutilation exercises. He essentially removed God from the equation. I would imagine that by the time Josiah was born, all that remained of true Godly worship were a few stories and ideas passed down through oral tradition and told by some of the old geezers in town. And yet, Josiah somehow was able to see the truth in those stories. He was determined to follow the God that they spoke of, even though he didn’t have the whole picture.
Imagine the shock, then, when Josiah discovers that, in so many ways, he and the people of Judah have missed it. Suddenly, his men who are working on the temple discover this ancient book that contains instructions that Josiah knew nothing of up to this point. He freaks out:
“Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13)
Suddenly, Josiah gets it. And when he does, he’s terrified. How in the world did the people who came before him NOT follow the instructions of the Lord? Well, as I’ve mentioned previously, tradition is a powerful force. “We’ve always done it this way,” sets in hard and fast. Fifty years of Baal worship had eliminated God from the minds of the majority of Judah. In one generation, study of the scripture was gone.
For us, the question still remains, although slightly nuanced. You see, we have the Bible and we know it’s full of useful knowledge and instruction from God. And yet, how often do we actually consult this book? If you started with me on day 1 of this journey and have made it this far, you can at least say that you are reading your Bible regularly, which most followers of Jesus, unfortunately, aren’t. But how many instructions are in this book that we are ignoring while we defer to how “we’ve always done it,” in our homes, our churches and our lives? What if we’ve got it wrong and we don’t even know it?
In today’s reading, we see the passing of two of the major characters of the Bible: Jacob (also called Israel) and Joseph. What is interesting to me, though, is a series of events that happens just before Jacob’s death. In previous posts, I talked about the chaos of Jacob’s family and how odd it was that this family would be the “chosen ones” of God. In today’s reading, you’ll notice that some of the same chaos is revisited on the next generation.
From our earlier reading, we know that Abraham, after he was told that he would be the father to many nations, had a son by his wife’s servant, Hagar. This son, Ishmael, was Abraham’s eldest son and, therefore, should have received Abraham’s birthright and blessing along with the highest place of honor among Abraham’s children. However, that was not God’s plan for Abraham and, instead, allowed Sarah, Abraham’s wife, to have a child. This child, Isaac, would be the one to receive God’s blessing and would be the one through whom God would fulfill his promises to Abraham. In this, God essentially flipped convention on it’s head by giving the blessing and authority to the younger son.
Then, later on, Jacob and Esau were born to Isaac and his wife Rebekah. In that famous story, again, the birth order was flipped on its head as Jacob, the younger brother, received the birthright and blessing that his brother Esau should have received. In our current context, we may not fully understand the significance of these events. What was happening here was not only a slap in the face to the traditional way of doing things; it was essentially telling a child, “You are no longer my firstborn, no longer the oldest and no longer have the privileges you once had.” It meant that these older brothers lost a significant piece of their identity.
For the younger brothers, however, this was like winning the lottery, the World Series and the Super Bowl all at once! And the upside-down blessing that Isaac, through God’s intervention, received, he passed on (unknowingly) to Jacob. Jacob then, through no effort or choice of his own, would see Joseph (son number 11) rise to power and rule over his brothers. Even in his blessing of his sons in today’s reading, he actually curses his firstborn, Rueben.
But the thing that I think is the most significant in these chapters is his blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. Here, Jacob again signals the blessing of the younger over the older. But this time, Jacob is intentionally choosing the younger. Gone is the deception that Jacob used to get his blessing from Isaac. Gone is the sibling envy that served as a precursor to Joseph’s rise to power. Instead, here is a grandfather choosing the younger grandson. His son, Joseph, even tries to correct him. But Jacob indicates that he knows what he is doing and that his desire is to bless the younger son.
So, why is this so significant? Simply put: because we need it to be. The lives of these patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would serve as models and illustrations from that time until now (and beyond). They would be used to tell two stories: the first was the story of God choosing the nation of Israel. They were, in essence, his firstborn. He gave them the inheritance, the blessing and the protection. And he gave them a Savior.
But he did something else. He began to write the second story : a story where the forgotten son – the one born to a servant girl, the one thrown into a pit and sold into slavery – was given the blessing. When God began to send missionaries into the Gentile communities claiming “son-ship” and “daughter-ship” for those people, the “first-born” Jews were incredulous. They were losing their birthright, their blessing and part of their identity. If anyone could be God’s chosen, then who were they?
The good news – for the ancient Jews, modern Jews and all the rest of us – is that, unlike earthly fathers, God has enough blessing to go around. The kingdom is upside-down, but even though the “last shall be first” and the “first shall be last” in the kingdom of heaven, there’s no indication that either group isn’t allowed in. And so, whether first-born or last-born, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, God has made room for us all!