Summary: When you rely on the promises of God, you can look ahead with confidence, look up with commitment, and look around with compassion.
John Ortberg, in his book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, cites a medical study in which 122 men who had suffered their first heart attack were evaluated on their degree of hopefulness and pessimism: “Of the 25 most pessimistic men, 21 had died eight years later. Of the 25 most optimistic, only 6 had died! Loss of hope increased the odds of death more than 300 percent; it predicted death more accurately than any medical risk factor, including blood pressure, amount of damage to the heart, or cholesterol level.”
Then Ortberg adds his own humorous thought to the study: “Better to eat Twinkies in hope than to eat broccoli in despair.” (John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat, Zondervan, 2001, p. 159; www.PreachingToday.com)
The question is, “Where do we find such life-giving hope?” Especially for those of us who have struggled in the last year, where do we find hope as we begin a new year tomorrow?
The question reminds me of an ad I once saw offering a cash reward for help with locating a lost dog with a description of the dog. It said: “He's got three legs; he's blind in the left eye and missing a right ear; his tail has been broken off; he was neutered accidentally by a fence – ouch! – he's almost deaf, and he answers to the name ‘Lucky.’” (Philip Griffin, A God Who Redeems, www.PreachingToday.com)
Poor dog. I think his luck has run out, and maybe you feel the same especially when we’re talking about hope. Where do the hopeless find hope? Well, if you have your Bibles I invite you to turn with me to Genesis 48, Genesis 48, where an old man on his death bed found hope beyond the grave not only for himself but for his entire family.
Genesis 48:1-4 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ (ESV)
Jacob recalls the promises God had made to him at Luz (later called Bethel); and there he finds hope, so much so that he adopts Joseph’s two sons as his own.
Genesis 48:5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. (ESV)
Reuben and Simeon were Jacob’s first-born sons. They were the ones who by right and by custom should have received a double portion of Jacob’s estate, twice as much as any of their brothers. But now, Jacob adopts Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons, as his own first-born sons. They will replace Reuben and Simeon as first-born sons and receive their inheritance.
This elevates Joseph’s position, as the 11th born son, to an even greater position than the 1st born son. That’s because he, through his first two children, now receives four portions of his father’s estate. Usually, the first-born son receives two portions of the estate and the rest of the children only one, but Joseph gets four portions! Jacob elevates Joseph through this adoption, then he continues…
Genesis 48:6-7 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance. As for me, when I came from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).” –ESV
The elevation of Joseph to the status of 1st born, reminds Jacob of Joseph’s mother, Rachel. He still feels the pain of her loss even after all those years; but in the midst of the pain, and in the midst of his own terminal condition, he looks to the future with confidence.
He adopts two boys as his own and promises them a double portion of his estate even though he has nothing to give them at this time. Jacob is living in a strange land. In fact, he has no land of his own except a small burial plot hundreds of miles away. Yet he speaks with all the confidence of a promising future for his family.