Summary: When we rely on the promises of God, we can look ahead with confidence; we can look up with commitment; and we can 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 today?
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?
Genesis 48:1-4 Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. 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 will 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.’ (NIV)
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 “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. (NIV)
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 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. 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). –NIV
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. Why? Because Jacob has found his hope in the promises of God, and that’s where we find our hope as well. It doesn’t matter if we have nothing. It doesn’t matter if we’re in pain. It doesn’t matter if the last year has been a struggle. If we rely on the promises of God, we can still…