Genesis 48 recounts a rather poignant scene. Jacob (Israel), a widower (2x) now in Egypt, is dying but rallies after hearing Joseph has come to see him. And so he recounts to Joseph firstly his encounter with God, when fleeing his brother Esau, where God restates the promise given to his father and grandfather. He then tells Joseph that his two sons will be regarded as his, i.e. not grandsons but sons and then secondly he recounts the death of his beloved wife and Joseph’s mother, Rachael, at Bethlehem.
Joseph then presents his sons to Jacob to be blessed and Jacob deliberately blesses the younger above the older saying:
“May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm,
May he bless these boys……….”
These are the things I noticed:
- Only a chapter or so earlier, one of the first things Joseph says to the family he has just been reunited with, is that they are to make sure they tell Pharaoh they are shepherds. This is so that, though despised, they get the best land. I can’t help but think that tending sheep and livestock, here described, is starting to become part of their identity. (It also sets up well the tension which leads to the Exodus.) So I think this personal statement by Jacob that God has been his shepherd is something that means much when reflecting on his checkered but redeemed past.
- This is mirrored much later by King David, also once a shepherd, in Psalm 23
- There is much that is for-shadowed here of Christ, the good shepherd. Though Jacob recounts Rachael’s death in order to hint perhaps that Ephraim and Manasseh could have been the sons he had if she hadn’t died, the connection with Bethlehem seems significant. It seems from early on Bethlehem is linked with tending sheep and with Rachael’s death, two things that are significant in the accounts of Jesus’s birth. In these accounts it is carefully pointed out that he is born in Bethlehem (the Messiah’s birthplace) and that his birth is announced by angels to shepherds. Also that Herod’s infanticide is predicted by Jeremiah as “Rachael weeping for her children” which causes the flight to Egypt.
- Bethlehem became the place also where lambs were tended and taken to Jerusalem for sacrifice, so, an interesting thought, perhaps, of Christ being both Good Shepherd and Lamb of God. This second understanding of Bethlehem though is not contained in the above passage.