And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that . . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3).
The promise, that through Abraham all nations of the earth would be blessed, did not apply to all of Abraham’s descendants. It left out Ishmael and his six step-brothers. It would later leave out Esau. Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, had twelve sons, but the means of blessing the world would come through only one of them – Judah.
Reuben’s lifestyle issues excluded him from the blessing. Simeon and Levi were guilty of acts of violence and that excluded them (see Genesis 49). And that, of course, left Judah – through whom Jesus came.
We could leave it at that, but we would overlook another contender: Joseph. Why not make Joseph the tribe of the blessing? After all, Joseph himself was a man of faith and absolute devotion to God. His descendants (through his sons Manasseh and Ephraim) would constitute the largest tribe in Israel – so prominent that “Ephraim” would become the other name for ten of Israel’s tribes. Why wouldn’t the blessing come through Joseph and Ephraim? In fact, according to 1 Chronicles 5:1-2, this was a distinct possibility.
Psalm 78 provides an answer. “they [Ephraim] did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power . . . despite his wonders, they did not believe” (vss. 22,32). And so, God “rejected” the tribe of Joseph (or the rest of Israel) in favor of Judah (vss. 67-68).
The thrust of Psalm 78 is to emphasize the importance of a right response to God’s blessings (of which all Israel were recipients), and therein is the lesson for us. The proper response to God’s grace is to trust His way, seek His guidance and follow it, believing that God’s way is the best way, and the only way into His presence.
It’s called “living by faith.”