But [Jacob] stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn.
—Genesis 48:14

In the Old Testament, Jacob left for his children a legacy of spiritual growth. Look at Genesis 47:29-30. “When the time for [Jacob] to die drew near, he called his son Joseph and said to him, ‘. . . When I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.’” Jacob realized his death was drawing near, so he had a request for his son. He knew that God’s plan was for his family one day to return to Canaan. So he said, “When I die, don’t leave my body here. Take me back with you to the promised land.” And Joseph agreed.

In addition to Jacob’s request in Genesis 47, we also observe Jacob’s blessing, beginning in Genesis 48. “Now it came about after these things that Joseph was told, ‘Behold your father is sick.’ So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim with him” (v. 1). Joseph wanted to take his sons to meet their grandfather. The Bible describes their introduction: “When [Jacob] saw Joseph’s sons, he said, ‘Who are these?’ Joseph said to his father, ‘They are my sons, whom God has given me here.’ So he said, ‘Bring them to me, please, that I might bless them’” (vv. 8-9).

But Jacob does something surprising: “Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand toward [Jacob’s] left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward [Jacob’s] right, and brought them close to him. But [Jacob] stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn” (vv. 13-14). Joseph wanted his sons to be blessed by their grandfather. Back then a blessing signified an inheritance. Jacob wanted to bless Joseph’s sons so they could receive a portion of the inheritance along with his own sons. Usually the older son got more of the inheritance. Realizing that, Joseph put Manasseh under Jacob’s right hand so that Manasseh would receive the greater blessing.

But sometimes God does the unexpected. It is not always God’s plan for the oldest to get the blessing. It certainly wasn’t in Jacob’s life. Remember, it wasn’t the older son, Esau, but Jacob who got Isaac’s blessing. And in the same way, the greater blessing passed not to Ishmael the older son of Abraham, but to Isaac. The same thing was happening here. Jacob crossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim so that the younger son received the greater blessing. One commentator writes about God’s crossed hands of blessing: sometimes God chooses to bless that which we don’t expect Him to bless in our lives. Maybe you have a career and think, “This is my life’s calling.” But you are terminated or the business goes bankrupt, and you wonder what’s going on—then you start a second career and find it’s your second career that God chooses to bless. That shows God’s crossed hands of blessing. God chooses what He will bless in our lives.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Lessons in Leadership” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2009.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.