At Babel God confused man’s speech and drove the descendants of Ham and Japheth away from those of Shem, who remained in the area where that tower of Babel was built. Japheth’s descendants went north into Asia Minor and into Europe. Ham’s descendants settled in the land of Canaan and in Egypt and Africa.
Many years later God called Abraham from the regions near the tower of Babel and brought him to Canaan, which He promised to him and his seed. A famine throughout the land of Canaan and Egypt brought Jacob and his family, which was two and three generations removed from Abraham, down into the land of Pharaoh, the descendant of Ham and ruler in Egypt.
Now what God had separated physically is rejoined in a rather close relationship. Jacob and his family dwell in Goshen, a part of Egypt which Pharaoh willingly gave them for their sojourn, and dwell there in a secluded and separate life. Yet Jacob’s most beloved son was Pharaoh’s right hand man and was loved by Pharaoh as a political leader under whom Egypt prospered materially.
This meeting was all arranged by God and was not the result of carefully laid human plans. He sent the famine, and before that sent Joseph into Egypt to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. He moved Pharaoh to exalt Joseph to supervise the whole gathering and distribution of the food. It was His hand that brought Joseph’s brothers to his feet seeking bread, and later on arranged to have Jacob come into the land and to be set before Pharaoh. All this was divinely planned and divinely executed. Had He not told Abraham that his seed would be strangers in a land that was not theirs? He knew that this long sojourn in Egypt was coming because He planned it all in every detail.
And now the “unexpected” happens when Jacob the descendant of Shem comes before Pharaoh the descendant of Ham. A Star would arise in Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel (Numbers 24:17); and He is the Son born unto us, the Child given to us on Whose shoulder is the government, and before Whom every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord to the glory of God (Philippians 2:10, 11). And yet Jacob blesses Pharaoh. A child of God blesses an unbelieving ruler of this world. He in whose line the Christ will come blesses him from whose camp the Antichrist will ultimately come.
How shall we explain it?
There are those who are ready to say that Jacob wished God’s blessing upon this worldly king. And there are those who insist that Pharaoh must have been a believer. Otherwise Jacob would not do this. As to the latter we have no evidence at all that he was a believer; and Jacob does not, outside then of this “blessing,” speak to him as though he were a believer. Nor is there anything in the passage to indicate that God was speaking here through Jacob and that he was sent to speak God’s blessing upon him. The only item recorded of what Pharaoh says to Jacob is the question, “How old art thou?” And Jacob’s response is a reference to the fact that he was a sojourner and that his sojourn was short in comparison with that of his fathers, and that it was full of evil. Apparently Jacob thought that the day of his death was near. Otherwise why would he say that it was so short? He was now one hundred thirty years old and he lived another seventeen years. He did come quite close to Isaac his father who lived thirty-three years longer than Jacob. But outside of that one item of speaking of his life as a pilgrimage, there is nothing spiritual in the whole conversation recorded between Jacob and Pharaoh. Surely more was said. But when just this little bit is recorded, we may be sure that the tenor and nature of the exchange between them was no more spiritual. Otherwise the spiritual aspect would have been presented.
Was Jacob ruled here by his flesh to bless Pharaoh even though he knew Pharaoh to be an unbeliever? Was he moved by the great things that he had done for his son Joseph, and for this kindness of giving them the land of Goshen to dwell in until the famine was a thing of the past? We also do that. We do it in the hymn, “God bless America” which some so glibly, or thoughtlessly, sing. It is quite a cry from singing, “God bless His people in America” and singing “God bless America”.
How does this fit in with Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful”? And would you contradict the Christ Himself Who, in His Sermon on the Kingdom—usually called The Sermon on the Mount, naming it after the place where it was preached rather than after its content—when He lists those who are blessed in the Beatitudes? God bless America means God bless all in America; and it limits it to America while there are surely people of God in every nation, tongue, and tribe. But God bless America means God bless the scorners who teach Evolution and the Atheists who say that there is no God. It means bless the sinners and the ungodly, those who are not poor in spirit; those who do not mourn over their sins but laugh about them; those who are not the meek of the earth; those who do not hunger and thirst after righteousness; those who are troublemakers instead of peacemakers; those who are vile in heart and not pure in heart; those who persecute the righteous. Let us not do that! Put the music away and sing instead, “Bless Thy inheritance, Our Savior be, I pray; Supply Thou all Thy people’s need, And be their constant stay” (Psalm 28:9; Psalter Number 75:6). Or, “O truly is the nation blest Whose God before the world confessed Jehovah is alone. And blest the people is whom He Has made His heritage to be, And chosen for His own” (Psalm 33:12; Psalter Number 86:3). These men spoke under divine inspiration and spoke what God speaks. Let us not dare to contradict them and pray God’s blessing on those for whom. Christ did not die, and for those then on whom Scripture—and thus God Himself—declares that the wrath of God abideth.
Go back to Psalm 1 and now verses 4 and 5, “The ungodly are not so; but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”
But perhaps you say, “Does Paul not teach us to pray for kings in I Timothy 2 and for all men?” Indeed he does, but he does not say that we are to pray for a blessing upon them. He spells it out clearly, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” The prayer here is for the Church and for her good, for a blessing of quietness and peace to be able to teach the generations to come God’s praises; and to build up the church in the truth and in the faith.
But then there are those who also want to insist, in spite of all the texts quoted above, that there is a material blessing for all and that God has a certain grace for everyone. And in that sense Jacob could wish God’s blessing on Pharaoh. Yet how do they explain it that too much rain, and thus too much of a blessing, ruins man in his crops and does damage to his home? And that too much sunshine, and thus too much grace kills him and causes his food supply to wither away and die and so denies him food and brings him famines? And shall we rebuke and contradict Him Who is the Way because He is theTruth and the Life, when He says, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Mine” (John 17:9). And again, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). What blessing, Jesus asks, is there in getting material possessions, if you lose your soul?
No, the text does not teach anything like that. Jacob wished God’s blessing upon Pharaoh neither in the sense that he wished him worldly riches and prosperity, nor that he prayed for his salvation. The simple fact in the case is that the word “bless” used here can mean and does here mean simply that he greeted Pharaoh. It is translated as bless 121 times in the Old Testament. But it is also translated 5 times as salute. Let us look at one or two of these. You have in I Samuel 13:10 King Saul saluting Samuel. Saul had sinned in that he did not wait for Samuel to offer but offered himself. But he came to salute Samuel. Did he mean to bless him? Could you, would you, so translate this passage? Can a wicked man sincerely wish you God’s blessing when he cares not about what is truly a blessing? Then turn to I Samuel 25:14, where we read of David saluting Nabal, who by his wife is called such a son of Belial that a man cannot speak to him. Do you suppose that David wished him God’s blessing? Would you not here keep the translation that David saluted, that is, greeted churlish Nabal. In II Kings 10:14 we have wicked Jehu saluting. Did he wish God’s blessing upon Jehonadab? Was he even wishing him material blessings?
And please note that in Genesis 47:7-10 Jacob blessed Pharaoh when he first was brought before him, and he blesses him again when he leaves Pharaoh’s presence. Is that not exactly what one would do before a dignitary; that is, greet him and say farewell to him? There is nothing spiritual in the whole thing. It is simply saying Hello and Good-bye, except that our good-bye is a contraction for God be with you. And if that is what we mean, we also should not say this to the wicked.
Jesus said it, “I lay down My life for My sheep.” For them there are blessings flowing from the cross, and for no one else. What men call material blessings, and claim also to have come from that cross, will only testify against the wicked; and they would have been better off, yea let us say it, it would have been much closer to a blessing if they had not gotten these material gifts. For their torment in hell would not have been as great. They are rewarded according to their works. Had they not received these material possessions, they could not have sinned with them.
But for the child of God the loss of material possessions is a blessing. It is a blessing for him to lose his life. As Paul put it, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Some would count it loss. But it is only in the way of losing this body and this sin cursed world that we can enter into a realm of everlasting blessedness with new spiritual bodies. And unless Paul did not speak the truth when he said that all things work together for good to those that love God—he did not say to all men—the losses we suffer, the pains we experience, the afflictions that are our lot ARE blessings, because as he also wrote in II Corinthians 4:17, 18, “Our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. . . .” Is it not a blessing to receive that which works glory for us? That also is why Paul can call death a gain, a pure gain, and far better than to continue in this vale of tears.