Thursday, July 6, 2017

Block 74 Ephraim

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“Pride goes before destruction.” Proverbs 16:18
On his deathbed, Jacob adopted Manasseh and Ephraim, Joseph’s two sons so they might receive shares of Jacob’s inheritance.  In this way, Jacob was able to give a double portion of inheritance to Joseph’s sons, an inheritance typically given to the oldest son.  When he adopted Joseph’s sons, he placed them before his oldest son, Ruben, who had disappointed him very much.  On his deathbed, Joseph positioned his sons, Manasseh (Joseph’s oldest) on Jacob’s right and Ephraim on his left.  But before Jacob delivered his final blessing, he crossed his arms and laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on Manasseh’s head.  Joseph thought his father was confused, so he quickly switch the hands on his sons’ heads.  Jacob removed his hands, crossed his arms again and continued with his blessing. 
Jacob promised that Manasseh would become ancestor to a great nation, but Ephraim would become ancestor to an even greater nation.  As such, Ephraim received the blessing that was reserved for Jacob’s first-born son.  True to his word, Ephraim’s tribe was the strongest tribe of the northern kingdom.  Joshua, one of Ephraim’s descendants, was chosen to lead God’s people into the Promised Land.  Indeed, Ephraim became ancestor to a great nation.  The first temple was built by Ephraim’s tribe, and the tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant stored there.
But the tribe was not without flaws.  They, too, failed to drive the Canaanites out of the Promised Land.  Although they were valiant warriors, the Ephraimites often demonstrated pride and selfishness. Their pride got the best of them when they challenged a southern tribe in civil war and lost 42,000 warriors.  Pride and jealousy can easily get the best of us as well.  We should always remember that excessive pride can lead to destruction.  Luckily, like the tribe Ephraim, God loves us despite our failings.  He will continue to guide us to repentance so that we may be in harmony with Him.

I chose a variation of the Grandmother’s Pride block to represent Ephraim, who was chosen as his grandfather’s favorite.  Ephraim’s tribe demonstrated pride and selfishness.

Block 73 Manasseh

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“God is fair and just.” Psalm 25:8
So if Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son, then why was he the only son who was left out of his father’s deathbed gifts of inheritance?  Typically, the eldest son received his father’s blessing and a double portion of the inheritance.  But sometimes, fathers justified deviating from the norm.  That’s exactly what happened in Joseph’s case.  Because he was Jacob’s favorite (but not firstborn) son, Jacob wanted to give him the double portion, but knew that this could prove to be problematic with the other brothers.  So Jacob devised a way around the expectation.  Before he died, Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and gave them each a portion of the inheritance —essentially dividing Joseph’s double portion between the two.
Manasseh was born in Egypt to Joseph while Joseph was estranged from his family.  The name Manasseh means “makes to forget,” and it is believed that Joseph chose the name because he hoped that Manasseh would help him forget all of his troubles that he had endured at the hands of his brothers.  Even though Manasseh was Joseph’s first born, he did not receive Jacob’s right hand and blessing.  That was given to his brother (see Block 74 Ephraim).  Manasseh was given land that was split by the Jordan river.  The two sides were almost completely disconnected and difficult to lead.  Both sides had great natural water resources, so both sides were very valuable to the northern kingdom.  Both sides also controlled and defended mountain passes that were important for trade routes. The land west of the Jordan was Canaan.  Manasseh was expected to conquer the Canaanites, but he was hesitant to go into battle, because he was afraid of defeat.  Although God was disappointed in Manasseh, he did not punish him.  Several generations later, when Manasseh’s last surviving great-great grandson (Zelophedad) died in the desert before entering the Promised Land, Manasseh’s great-great-great granddaughters petitioned Moses  to inherit their deceased father’s land.  Moses conferred with God and developed rules that would allow the property to remain in the family.  What nerve these girls had!  These great-great-great granddaughters were perfect examples of women who stood up for what is right and were rewarded for their efforts.  

I chose the Fair and Square block to represent Manasseh, whose female descendants were treated fairly by God (through Moses).



Thursday, June 22, 2017

Block 72: Zebulun

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“...pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God.”  2 Chronicles 30:19
From the moment he was born, Zebulun’s mother, Leah, knew he was a gift, destined for greatness.  As Jacob’s tenth son (sixth born of Leah), Zebulun was one of six tribes chosen to stand on Mt. Ebal and pronounce curses, promising God NOT to participate in certain behaviors, such as casting idols or withholding justice and others.  In fact, Zebulun was zealous in his pronouncements, listing twelve behaviors he would refrain from and would encourage his tribe to avoid the same. Yet when Zebulun entered the Promised Land, he didn’t live up to God’s expectations for him.  God had commanded Zebulun to drive out the inhabitants of the land, and Zebulun fell short.  Instead of driving out the Canaanites, he forced them into slave labor.  God had given Zebulun a clear command, and Zebulun disobeyed this command.  Maybe in Zebulun’s mind, he thought he was doing enough.  Many times, we are just like Zebulun when we do not obey God’s commands explicitly, but rather act in a manner that is “good enough.”  Sometimes it is just not convenient for us to follow God’s wishes all the time.  Lucky for us, and lucky for Zebulun, God has an unlimited capacity to love and forgive. In Zebulun’s case, God’s love for him never ceased and He pulled Zebulun back into communion with Him. On Jacob’s deathbed, Zebulun was given the land of Galilee, where he returned to God and followed his commands. His tribe fought many battles and played an important role  in critical victories in Israel’s history.  Later, Isaiah promised that the land of Zebulun would be honored.  And indeed, it was.  We know that Joseph and Mary were from Nazareth, in the land of Galilee, and that Jesus began his teaching along the shores of Galilee. Zebulun’s tribe became seafaring merchants and provided financial stability to the land.
So our lesson from Zebulun is a gloriously liberating one.  God is always present when we return to Him.  Regardless of all of the times that we turned away from God, regardless of all of our sins and transgressions, if we return to God with our whole heart, He will forgive us and use us to do His work.  Our only role in life is to fulfill God’s purpose for us.

I chose Ocean Waves to represent Zebulun, whose tribe was mainly comprised of seafaring merchants. 


Block 71: Issachar

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 “...knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10
On his deathbed, Jacob described his ninth son (fifth by Leah) as a donkey.  Most men would be embarrassed by this description, but Issachar was proud of the comparison.  In the Bible, the donkey was considered a special animal, often distinguished for their ability to work hard under extreme conditions.  Note that donkeys were present in many of the greatest events of the Bible:  Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaiah,  Joseph’s brothers’ pilgrimage to request food, Moses’s trip back to Egypt to set the Israelites free, Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem, and most importantly, Jesus’s final ride into Jerusalem.  Like the donkeys, Issachar and his tribe were known for their quiet, consistent willingness to work hard and carry a heavy burden.  Just as the donkey carried the son of God on his back, Issachar and his sons chose to carry the word of God.  They studied the word, protected it and understood it.  They kept track of the sun and moon cycles and announced God’s appointed times.
Issachar’s tribe were described in 1 Chronicles as men who “understood the times and knew what to do”  (1 Chronicles 12:32). They understood that God wanted worshippers who would be true, faithful and passionate.  They understood that God wanted a king who would follow His command, and not take matters into his own hands.  Issachar’s tribe demonstrated amazing political insight.  They switched their allegiance from King Saul to David, helped him rise to the throne, then served in his Army.  Like a donkey, the tribe of Issachar persevered on the rough road and quietly carried the burden of following God’s will.
Today, God is asking us to be like the sons of Issachar.  He asks us everyday to be true worshippers and follow God’s will rather than do our own thing.  Like the sons of Issachar, we should rely on the word of God, study the Bible, in an effort to understand the times and make decisions about how we and our family should live and worship in these times.  Let us start with this simple prayer: Lord, help us to understand the times and know what to do.

I created a tent block to represent Issachar, whose tribes lived in tents and studied the scriptures in their tents.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Block 70: Benjamin

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“...but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
The name Benjamin means “son of my right hand.”  Benjamin was originally named Ben-oni (means son of my sorrow) by his mother, Rachel.  He was re-named by his father, Jacob, when his mother died in childbirth (bearing Benjamin).  Benjamin was Jacob’s twelfth son and thirteenth child.  Recall that Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery by his brothers, but Jacob thought that Joseph had been killed by an animal.  Actually, Joseph had ended up as second in command to the Egyptian Pharaoh. 
During a period of extreme drought and famine, Jacob sent the ten older brothers to Egypt to buy grain.  He did not send Benjamin because he feared something might bad might happen to him.  When the brothers arrived in Egypt, they did not recognize Joseph, but Joseph recognized them.  Joseph tested the brothers to see if they would abandon Benjamin.  The brothers passed the test, and Joseph was pleased that they were willing to risk their lives for their brother.  The family was reunited.
On his father’s deathbed, Benjamin received the last of Jacob’s blessings.  Jacob described Benjamin as a ravenous wolf, devouring and dividing its prey.  In truth, Benjamin’s tribe was the smallest tribe, and was known for their mighty warriors and excellent swordsmen.  Four great Bible characters descended from Benjamin’s tribe:  King Saul, Judge Ehud, apostle Paul, and prophet Jeremiah.  Like Joseph, Benjamin was obedient to his father and was later described by the apostle Paul as the greatest missionary ever.
On outward appearances, Benjamin was the baby of the family and had the smallest tribe, yet later, he was described as the greatest missionary ever.  Benjamin teaches us that we should never judge a book by its cover.  God does see what is on the outside, he knows what is on the inside. 

I chose Baby’s Bunting to represent Benjamin because he was the youngest brother of Jacob’s twelve sons, the baby of the family.