For the week of January 10, 2004 / 16 Tevet 5764
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
Haftarah: 1 Kings 2:1-12
Previously published the week of December 21, 2002 / 16 Tevet 5763

Expect the Unexpected

He blessed them that day and said, "In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: 'May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.'" So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh (Bereshit / Genesis 48:20).

Near the end of Jacob's life, he blessed his children. He also gave a special blessing to two of his grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph. When he blessed them Jacob unexpectedly gave the greater blessing to the younger, contrary to the custom of the day.

Through this seemingly simple act, we are reminded of a very important principle: our blessings are not subject to or controlled by our life situations. Our being born into this or that family, our birth order, our economic situation, or other perceived personal limitations are not the things that determine the quality of life we will have in the future.

Jacob's placing of the younger before the elder is but one biblical example of this. He, in fact, was repeating the very thing that happened to him. God chose him to be the recipient of God's covenantal promises, not his older brother Esau, even though he had no natural claim upon them.

The Scriptures are full of stories of those whose blessings were not based on natural and human circumstances. This is so because the Scriptures are mainly the story of God's involvement in human affairs. Time and time again we read about how God surprisingly and unexpectedly revealed himself to people, radically changing their lives and circumstances.

This is why I am surprised when I meet people who claim to believe in God, yet assume that they will live their lives trapped by their current difficulties and circumstances. Even though they might admit that God could suddenly change their situations, they have resolved in their hearts that he won't.

This is actually a denial of God's mission on earth. From the moment human beings strayed from God's goodness in the Garden of Eden, God has resolved that he will bring about the radical changes we all long for. If that is the case, then why do we find it so hard to believe that he will actually bring about unexpected blessings in our lives?

Could it be that our cynical view of God might be the very thing that holds back his blessings? This negative view of God affects us far more than we might think. For example, if we don't believe that God will act on our behalf, then either we won't pray, or if we do pray, we will pray weak prayers.

God is the God of unexpected blessings. Maybe it is about time we begin to expect the unexpected.

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