fighting the temptations of fatherhood
Genesis 48:1-16 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)
1 Some time after this, Joseph was told, “Your father is weaker.” So he set out with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. 4 He said to me, ‘I will make you fruitful and numerous; I will make many nations come from you, and I will give this land as a permanent possession to your future descendants.’ 5 Your two sons born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt are now mine. Ephraim and Manasseh belong to me just as Reuben and Simeon do. 6 Children born to you after them will be yours and will be recorded under the names of their brothers with regard to their inheritance. 7 When I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died along the way, some distance from Ephrath in the land of Canaan. I buried her there along the way to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). 8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 And Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons God has given me here.” So Israel said, “Bring them to me and I will bless them.” 10 Now his eyesight was poor because of old age; he could hardly see. Joseph brought them to him, and he kissed and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, but now God has even let me see your offspring.” 12 Then Joseph took them from his father’s knees and bowed with his face to the ground. 13 Then Joseph took them both—with his right hand Ephraim toward Israel’s left, and with his left hand Manasseh toward Israel’s right—and brought them to Israel. 14 But Israel stretched out his right hand and put it on the head of Ephraim, the younger, and crossing his hands, put his left on Manasseh’s head, although Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 Then he blessed Joseph and said: The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all harm— may he bless these boys. And may they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they grow to be numerous within the land.
What do we know about Jacob?
He was the grandson of Abraham, the second son of Isaac. He spent most of his life fighting. He fought his twin brother — Esau — even in the uterus of his mother. His name in Hebrew — Ya’akov — apparently means he who grasps the heel. He and his mother were convinced that he was supposed to get the family blessing, and conspired to trick their father into giving it. That didn’t sit very well with Esau, so to avoid more conflict, Jacob left home, and set off for Haran. On the way he sees Jacob’s ladder. He works for his uncle Laban for seven years to marry Rachel, but is cheated and gets her sister instead, so he has to work another seven years. He fights an angel. It was in this altercation that Jacob gets an injury that will be his identifying mark– a fighting injury — a limp.
Now, I chose Jacob because this passage seems to indicate some of his inner struggles, and these are the same kinds of things that many Christian fathers struggle with today.
First, fight the temptation to hide our weakness.
My father was apparently a very strong man when he was young, but I never knew him then. In my teen and adult years, he struggled with emphysema. He tried not to let it show. No father wants to appear weak in front of his children.
I think Jacob had come to grips with the temptation to hide his weakness. There was lots to hide. But Jacob was still learning that his weakness was an avenue of blessing. Like Paul, he was coming to a place in his life when he could say “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Our children don’t need Mr. Perfect. It’s better if they see Mr. Real. They are going to have weaknesses as well. We would do well to demonstrate reliance on God instead of self-reliance.
Secondly, fight the temptation to hide our faith.
Of all the events of Jacob’s life, he chooses to highlight a personal encounter with God, and a covenant similar to the one God had made with Abraham. I think it bears mentioning that this testimony that Jacob makes is not politically correct for the time and place that Jacob lived. He and his family are living in Egypt. But he testifies that God had given him the promised land. It would be centuries before the Israelites actually go there.
One of the best things that we can do for our children is declare your faith in Almighty God and his promises to us in Christ. Jesus says he is going to make all things new. That means that all losses are temporary. We will be tempted to hide our faith, because it will be challenged. Fight that temptation.
Thirdly, fight the temptation to hide our emotions.
Jacob’s love for Rachel was never a secret.
One of the best things we can do for our children is to show your love for their mothers. Children need to learn faithfulness, and a father’s love for his wife is a powerful teacher. When I was a boy, there were times when I angered my dad, and I was not too sure of his love for me, but I never doubted his love for my mother.
Finally, fight the temptation to hide our influence.
Even now, in one of the last acts recorded of Jacob’s life, he insists on having a say in the lives of his two grandsons. Joseph thinks he is just making a mistake when he crosses his hands and places his right hand on the head of Ephraim and not Manasseh. But Jacob knows.
Sometimes our culture glorifies and magnifies youth. One of the results of that is that we lose the valuable insight we can get from our elders. It can also intimidate our elders into hiding their influence — assuming that nobody really cares what we think. We are tempted to confine ourselves to golf courses or nursing homes.
The Proverbs (4:1) tells children to “listen … to a father’s instruction, and pay attention so that you may gain discernment.” The book teaches us to respect gray hair, comparing it to “a crown of glory” (16:31).
Jesus tells us all that we are meant to have an influence, like light shining in the darkness. We influence people that we have a relationship with. Fatherhood is one of those influence relationships.
So, to sum up this little message today, let me just encourage all those who still have fathers, appreciate them. They are a gift from God. In fact, even if our fathers is gone, we can still thank God for them. I still do. For those of us who are fathers, or father-figures — step up to the plate! It is now our time for our light of influence to shine. And, happy Father’s Day.
[This message was preached at a virtual service for Windsor Congregational Church, Windsor, Massachusetts, June 21st 2020].