The Reading of the Will

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The family is gathered in the lawyer’s office. The will is about to be read and each person present is eagerly waiting to know who gets what. Some have huge expectations. Others have few expectations but since they were told to appear for the reading, they have complied. Perhaps there will be a token from a dead man left behind for them. We’ve seen the scene on television: the thwarted heir, the surprised butler, the dog that got it all.

When we come to Genesis 49 we find Israel on his deathbed. He has some final words to say to his children. These words have to do with their inheritance but really don’t concern wealth or land or who gets the silverware. He gathers his sons around him to prophecy as to their futures after he is gone. We are not told how these revelations came to him. We can only assume that God whispered in his ear.

Some of what Israel pronounces over his sons is not pleasant—a little like finding out that the deceased didn’t leave you a cent in spite of your expectations. Reuben, Simeon and Levi get the brunt of the unpleasant news. Judah and Joseph are the most favoured by Israel’s words. To Judah, of course, comes the promise of the Messiah, of the eternal kingdom.

The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his...” (Genesis 49:10). To Joseph comes a wonderful reminder of how much God has blessed despite Joseph’s early troubles, and how much more is yet to come.

But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb. Your father’s blessings are greater that the blessings of the ancient mountains, that the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers” (49:24-16).

In one more chapter, Joseph’s story will disappear from Israel’s written history. His name is not even mentioned among the towering examples of faith found in Hebrews 11. His example is not quoted by anyone, including Jesus. His sons, also blessed by Israel, do not become glowing stars on the stage of the nation of Israel’s story. It is on Judah that the eternal promises rest.

The “reading of the will” must have been a bit of a surprise.

Most of us can look back on our history and remember those “most likely to succeed” from our high school yearbooks. We can think of those in our youth groups who showed the greatest potential for going on to do great things for the Lord. We remember those we thought wouldn’t make it, couldn’t make it, shouldn’t make it. And we are sometimes amazed at who “made it” and who didn’t.

I got a letter this week from an old friend with whom I had gone to seminary. He congratulated me on my most recent book, Ordinary People With An Extraordinary God, and then remarked about how amazing it was that God should have brought us ordinary people, him and me, so far.  How right he is. Neither of us would have been chosen as the “most likely to succeed.” And yet, God had other plans. Despite the statistics that are thrown around about how little time pastors spend in a church before they move on, Arijan pastored one church in his career—for 40 years! As for me, well, that’s a story that takes more space that I have here. But nevertheless, the Lord took us ordinary people and did things neither of us expected. The “reading of the will” of God was a surprise.

But God’s like that—full of surprises and likely to do what we least expect with the people who are the least “likely.”

Perhaps you can relate. It just one more thing to thank Him for.


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