Genesis 47:7-10 (The Message)
Next Joseph brought his father Jacob in and introduced him to Pharaoh. Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked Jacob, “How old are you?” Jacob answered Pharaoh, “The years of my sojourning are 130– a short and hard life and not nearly as long as my ancestors were given.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and left.
Joseph’s father, Jacob, and his entire family have now moved to Egypt to live under Joseph’s protection. Eleven brothers, their wives, children, servants, extended families. So many people relying on the Pharaoh’s generosity and good-will. All dependent on Joseph and his knowledge of the court of Pharaoh. Joseph had worked many years for the ruler of Egypt, and he knew how to talk with him. Joseph first brought five of his brothers to offer obeisance to Pharaoh. Before entering his presence, Joseph tells them exactly what to say. They repeated Joseph’s words verbatim, and Pharaoh granted them prime land for their flocks. Everything in this interview went exactly according to plan.
Then Joseph brought his father to meet Pharaoh. The man who gave him life to see the man who gave him back his life. The man who named him Joseph to stand in front of the name who re-named him Zaphenath-paneah.
No doubt Pharaoh was curious to meet the father of a man as extraordinary as Joseph. As the father of a deeply valued servant, Jacob might have expected to somehow be honored by Pharaoh. In truth, simply by allowing this elderly man to be near him, Pharaoh was conveying his appreciation for Jacob’s son. But then something truly unusual happened. Jacob stepped boldly up to Pharaoh and gave him a blessing. An old Hebrew man, a shepherd, straight out of the wilderness… this man dared to bless the Pharaoh of Egypt! This prompted Pharaoh to ask what we might consider a rather rude question: “How old are you?” That always brings up a smile for me. I wonder if Pharaoh was thinking that perhaps this man was senile. Obviously Jacob did not realize in whose presence he stood. Surely Pharaoh would not have felt that he was in need of a blessing– he was the most powerful man in the land, considered a god by his people, with hundreds of people at his immediate command, an army of servants dedicated to his comfort and safety, and an actual army ready to fight to the death at a word. And yet, somehow, Pharaoh recognized that something important was happening there. He wordlessly accepted Jacob’s blessing, not once, but twice.
I love today’s passage– it’s one of my favorites.
It tells me that God’s blessing doesn’t always come the way we expect. We don’t always receive it from the anticipated sources. Last week I was walking back to my apartment from the train, and a man stopped me on the sidewalk, asking for help. We talked for a few minutes, and I told him I was going to go to the grocery store around the corner to pick up some food for him. A few minutes later I came back to the bench where he was sitting. He was visibly surprised that I had returned– apparently he thought “I’m going to the grocery store” meant “I’m out of here.” We spoke for a few more minutes, and just as I was about to pray for him, he put his hand on my shoulder and prayed for me. It was an unexpected moment, a beautiful, thoughtful prayer. I was blessed.
This passage also reminds me that God’s blessing does not necessarily guarantee smooth sailing, easy paths, straight roads. Jacob had been the recipient of God’s blessing, but when Pharaoh asks about his age, he replies: “a short and hard life.” (How many of us would count 130 as short? But that’s beside the point here.) God’s blessing doesn’t mean that we’ll always be healthy and prosperous. But it does mean that we are loved with an infinite, undying love, and that God will never abandon us.
And, finally, it is a lovely reminder that God’s blessing is intended to be shared with the people around us. There is not one person in this world who is too powerful or too lowly to be in need of God’s grace. I need it. You need it. Every person you see today needs it. Through our words, but, even more importantly, through our actions, we get to be the conduit of that blessing today!
When was the last time you “blessed” someone? What does it mean to bless a person? What does it look like? How could you bless someone today?