In Isaiah 55:8, 9 the sovereign God of our salvation declares, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” And how often is it not that we find this to be so very true as far as what happens in our lives is concerned, as contrasted with what we had planned as the way we wanted our lives to develop?
How often likewise is it not that what we had planned for our children, and what God had in mind for them as the way which He ordered are complete opposites? This is the case so often not only with their natural lives but also with their spiritual lives. Adam and Eve certainly did not plan their son Abel’s natural life to end so soon and in such a tragic way. Nor did they plan the life of their firstborn Cain to be that of a murderer. Isaac did not choose a reprobate walk of life for Esau, nor a life of trickery and deception for Jacob. Yet the truth of Isaiah 46:9, 10 stands, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.”
Jacob experienced this difference between man’s and God’s ways when it appeared as though his most beloved son Joseph seemed to have been slain by a wild beast. This was not the way Jacob had planned for his son. And Joseph experienced this as well when he brought his two sons before his dying father to have them blessed. He planned to have his older son, Manasseh, receive the richer blessing, and therefore that his father would place his right hand on his head while pronouncing the blessing in God’s name. Therefore he placed them before his father so that Manasseh was on Jacob’s right and Ephraim on his left. But Jacob crossed his hands to place his right hand on the head of Ephraim and his left hand on the head of Manasseh.
Jacob did God’s bidding and not his son Joseph’s. And he therefore refused to interrupt the blessing and reverse the pronouncement of it.
Undoubtedly God had revealed to Jacob before he placed his hands on the heads of these grandsons that the richest blessing would go to Ephraim. The crossing of his hands was deliberate, intentional, and with purpose. He had made no mistake, either purposely or in faulty judgment. It was not a case of faulty eyesight in a dimly lit tent. It was not a case of mistaking the taller one as the older one, which would make it necessary to cross his hands. It was not a case of thinking that Joseph had made the mistake of placing the wrong son in front of his right side. Jacob’s answer to Joseph’s “Not so, my father, for this is the firstborn” reveals that Jacob knew God’s will and had acted accordingly. He said, “I know it, my son. I know it.” And we also read that his father refused to change his hands. He knew not only what he was doing, but he knew that this was God’s way and according to God’s thoughts which are always higher than our ways. For His thoughts and ways are sovereign.
Joseph, therefore, must and did submit. Hearing the word of God from his father’s mouth, and recognizing that what his father said was God’s word, he submitted. For this God had given him grace so that, after hearing what God spoke through his father, Joseph did not utter one word of protest. By God’s grace he changed his way and thoughts to agree with the sovereign way and thoughts of God. And this is the lesson that we must learn and relearn so often. This is the truth that time and again reveals to us the need of getting down on our knees and praying for grace to say, and also to mean it when we say it, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
It often pleases God to take a child, a wife, a husband away and to disrupt so completely all our plans and thoughts and the way we wanted for them. The way we planned for them as far as their natural life is concerned is suddenly an impossibility. Sometimes the way of their spiritual lives also is shown not to be God’s way with them. The way He has for the neighbor and his children is also so often different from our thoughts. The neighbor’s child is sickly, frail, and apparently destined to live but briefly on this earthly globe. But that child, though sickly and frail, continues to live while our healthy, strong son or daughter is suddenly snatched away from us by a swift stroke of an unexpected disease or “accident.”
I speak here of “accident” in quotation marks because with God there is no such thing. An accident is something unplanned. It can bring joy as well as sorrow. Cures for diseases have been, discovered by “accident.” But with God there is nothing that has not been planned in every detail from before the foundation of the world. And when it looks to you as though God has crossed His hands by mistake, just bear in mind that you are the one who is making the mistake. Let us commit that thought in Isaiah 55:8, 9 to memory and take it with us wherever we go, to have it whatever may happen. His ways are not only different from our ways, He declares in these verses, but His ways are higher. Higher they are because He is above us in His unchangeable sovereignty. His thoughts and ways are also way above our wisdom. For He knows how to work ALL things together for good to those that love Him. We are not wise enough to do that. We so often choose a way and have thoughts which, if executed, would hurt us.
Jacob had experienced this before this event. Had he had his way, Joseph would not have been sold into Egypt; and what would they have done during the famine? Jacob did not plan as Benjamin’s way that he go down to Egypt to buy corn. Had he not, would Jacob have ever seen his son Joseph again? And the disciples—and Peter was their spokesman—said when Jesus spoke of suffering and dying for our sins, “Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee” (Matthew 16:22). And if God’s ways were not higher than our ways, where would our salvation be? That cross was no accident for sure. But neither is any event in our lives. We cannot keep track of every little detail. But so much higher is God’s way and are His thoughts that the minutest detail is all planned so that all does work together for good to those that love God.
Jacob, who crossed his hands, as directed by God, to give the richer blessing to Ephraim, the younger grandson, will himself face a situation shortly thereafter wherein he will have to submit to God’s way and to His thoughts. Realizing that he was dying he called his twelve sons to him to bless them. And in the course of pronouncing the blessings, in God’s name he will have to say things about his sons that no earthly father relishes expressing.
In especially two instances Jacob could rejoice in what he had to say about Judah and Joseph. The Messiah would come in Judah’s seed; and Joseph’s seed shall know great growth and prosperity. But what he had to say about his first three sons, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi was by no means flattering or what a father would like to have to say about his children. Their sin and violence were presented without varnish or disguise. He spelled it out in no uncertain terms and called a spade a spade. He expressed God’s thoughts and not simply his own, and gave no biased and partial father defense of which his own flesh and blood had done, and of what his own flesh and blood had done, and of flesh color God’s thoughts and way with his sons.
In that light too we may and must look at the order in which he spoke of his sons. The first four are the first four sons born to him of Leah. We have I no problem there. Understandably Jacob would I have liked to list Joseph first, even as he gave him that princely coat. But he is speaking God’s word here, and therefore God’s thoughts. And being directed by God he, after following the natural expected order, departs from it to mention his ninth and tenth sons before Dan, his fifth son. What is more, he mentions Zebulon, the tenth son, before Issachar, the ninth son. It is true that these also are Leah’s sons, but why this order? Then, too, Dan who was born of Rachel’s handmaid is mentioned seventh while he was actually Jacob’s fifth son, and Naphtali, who was Jacob’s sixth son, is mentioned tenth. Asher, who was Jacob’s eighth son, is listed ninth. Rachel’s handmaid, Bilhah’s sons, Dan and Naphtali, though Jacob’s fifth and sixth sons are listed seventh and tenth.
What shall we say of all this? Well, certainly, if we have learned the truth in regard to the crossing of the hands of Jacob by God’s direction, we shall say that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours. We need not strive to find some hidden order in this list that does not follow the chronological order, or on the surface show a logical order. Be assured that it is logical, for it is the product of God’s thoughts and not Jacob’s. And God’s thoughts are always logical—and simplistic in the sense that they are always logical and never illogical—and He has His purpose in all that which He decrees.
A more profitable question would be to ask whether we can rightly call all this a case of Jacob blessing his sons. What is recorded about Judah and Joseph will unequivocally receive a Yes vote. Zebulon, as an haven for ships, Gad who shall in the end overcome, Asher who shall be fat and yield royal dainties, Naphtali, in as far as he will speak goodly words will receive qualified Yes votes together with Benjamin, who will divide the spoil. But Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, who will become a servant, and Dan, whose prediction causes Jacob to cry out that he waits for God’s salvation, would seem to pose a big question mark behind the statement that Jacob blesses his twelve sons.
And yet, in two ways, and sometimes in one of two ways, we may call this blessing them. We may note that Hebrews 11:20 states that by faith Isaac blessed Esau and Jacob concerning things to come. Esau blessed? When Romans 9:13 presents him as one whom God hates? And when Psalm 1:1, 2 tells us that they only are blessed whose delight is in the law of the Lord and meditate in it day and night?
Consider that the word bless means to speak well of someone or something. And since Jacob is speaking God’s word, it is the truth and in that sense well. What Jacob has said is well spoken, and what Isaac said about Esau was well spoken, for these patriarchs said exactly what God gave them to say. They spoke the unadulterated truth of God’s higher thoughts.
However, we ought also to bear in mind that it is a blessing to call the child of God’s attention to his sin and evil nature. Rebukes, expositions of sins and sinful natures for the purpose of bringing to consciousness of sin, sorrow, and repentance are most certainly blessings. To hide from one, to let one go on in one’s sins is not a blessing by any stretch of the imagination. Take heed to what Solomon in his wisdom, and speaking for God, Whose thoughts are higher than ours, wrote in Proverbs 28:13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
If your children are walking in sin, bless them by uncovering that sin so that they may find mercy in the way of confession and forsaking. Let them walk in sin just because they are your flesh and blood and your fleshly heart goes out to them and you really are not interested in their receiving a blessing. Be sure that your children will not prosper in sin. Bless them with the truth and an uncovering of their sins that they may grow in spiritual sensitivity to loathe and flee from sin.