The Bible In A Year: Day 20
Jacob is nearing the end of his earthly sojourning and calls Joseph in to bless his sons. Jacob blesses both Ephraim and Manasseh, and he even adopts them as his own sons, adding them to the head of the birth order and replacing both Ruben and Levi in the order of birthrights and blessings. Ruben is supplanted as the eldest son because he slept with Jacob’s wife, this may have been a power play to assert himself as dominant but it’s also extraordinarily immoral and will be banned under the Law of Moses. Levi is passed over because of the violence he meted out to Shechem after the rape of his sister.
Once again, even among the sons of Joseph, the younger brother received the blessing usually reserved for the older brother. All throughout Genesis, God has shown a propensity to favor the younger over the elder brother. Sometimes this is because the first son does some evil to negate his own blessing (Cain, Ruben, Er and Onan), but sometimes it’s just God choosing to bestow a greater blessing upon the younger son, perhaps to show that strength, power, order of birth, or other measures of man don’t mean as much to the almighty as they do to us. We see this happen again with the selection of David as King, over his older brothers, to the disbelief of his father.
The next chapter is a listing of the sons of Jacob, who become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel, and his pronouncements over them. Some of these prophetic words stand out more than others;
Ruben is called out publicly for his crime against his father and one of his wives. Back when this incident took place, the text says that Jacob “heard of it” but there’s no indication he confronted Ruben at that time, so it’s possible that they’re all gathered around Jacob’s deathbed and he drops this bombshell to a surprised Ruben. Maybe he though he’d gotten away with that for all these years, only to find out it cost him dearly in the end.
Simeon and Levi are both dressed down for the incident that happened back in Shechem. I feel like Jacob is warning them that they should think before they act, and maybe that would’ve kept them from slaying an entire city.
Judah gets one of the best blessings and prophecies from Jacob. he prophecies that the other tribes will bow down to him, signifying the monarchical line of Judah, and a further prophecy of that line of kings culminating in one for all the nations. This prophecy was fulfilled in David’s line, but reached ultimate fulfillment in our Thorn Crowned Savior. He continues that in the age of that King to come, people will wash their garments in wine. Some of the early church fathers read this to be connected to age of the messiah where God will supply abundant wine, so much so that even menial tasks like doing laundry will be completed with this wine. Also, Justin Martyr seen this as allegory for Christ’s passion
When Jacob finishes blessing all his sons, he reminds them once again to carry his body back to Hebron and bury him with Isaac and Abraham before he dies. Joseph has his father mummified as was the tradition in Egypt, and then the story of Joseph, and the entire book of Genesis, comes to an end. But before it does, the sons of Jacob elicit one more assurance from their brother that he isn’t going to seek revenge now that their father is dead. I guess they figured that Joseph might’ve been pretending to be gracious and forgiving just for the sake of his father, and now that he’s gone he’ll have them punished. But Joseph reiterates the fact that although what they done was evil, God repurposed it to accomplish His will. And that is really the major takeaway from the entire account of Joseph, and most of Genesis too; God has taken this world that is imperfect because of the fall, and directed it towards His ultimate goal of saving us, all while respecting the free will of each person along the way.
We come back to Mathew right after Peter’s confession of faith in chapter 16, and now it’s six days later and He is heading up the mountain with Peter, James and John. This is another episode that replays and surpasses what was prefigured in the Old Testament by Moses: like Moses He takes three people with Him up the mountain; both episodes involve a glory cloud; both Moses and Jesus’ faces shine with the glory of God; both scenes have a heavenly voice speaking aloud.
Appearing with Jesus was Moses and Elijah, they represent the Law and The Prophets, and both men had spoken to God atop Mount Sinai. Now they converse with the Son atop Mount Tabor. The voice of the Father repeats what He said at Christ’s baptism, with the added “listen to him.” Which would lead any faithful Jew at the time to think of the prophecy from Deuteronomy 18:15, so much so that Peter quoted that verse in reference to Jesus when giving his Pentecost speech and Saint Stephen did as well when speaking just before his own martyrdom.
The transfiguration doesn’t transform Jesus into some new thing, He hasn’t changed at all in this moment, but what has happened is that the disciples can now see Him exactly as He is. His glory is no longer veiled and they’re seeing Him in His full divinity, it’s still the same person and He retains the same essence, but how they see Him has changed. This is the same way that we can perceive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a matter of faith, but if we could see a transfiguration of the Eucharist like the disciples did on this mountain, we’d see the Host shining like the sun.