“Primogeniture”

Path of Integrity week 7

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – Nov. 4, 2012

  1. We are now coming to the end of our series on Joseph.
    1. We have followed Joseph’s life story from the time he was the youth who was regarded with jealousy by his 10 older brothers because he was so obviously favoured by their father through his time as a slave in the house of Potiphar and his time as a prisoner, until he rose to be second in power in Egypt only to Pharaoh himself.
    2. We have followed the story of his family through the grief of separation, to the initial tentative contacts, to a full revelation and reconciliation.
    3. As one would expect, at the end of the story, when people have completed their journey of life, and done so with integrity, it is reasonable to expect that there will be spiritual blessings.
    4. Up until this point in the historical narrative, the main focus has been on the relationship between Joseph and his 10 older brothers. Benjamin says nothing in all this, even though the story revolves around whether he is with his father, the 10 brothers, or Joseph. Now that the issue of who gets Benjamin has been resolved – since the family is together, everyone has him for the moment – we can look at the concluding message.
    5. When the 10 brothers return at the end of their second trip to Egypt with the news that not only is Benjamin safe, but Joseph has been found alive, Jacob is overcome with shock and joy. Further, he learns that he and the whole family has been invited to move to Egypt where there is safety and food.
    6. Once in Egypt, Jacob discovers that not only is Joseph not dead, but he has produced grandsons that he can bless!
      1. Jacob is old and blind, so Joseph brings his two sons to Jacob and arranges them so that the Manasseh, the elder son will be touched by Jacob’s right hand.
      2. Jacob crosses his hands, conferring the blessing of the firstborn on the younger son, Ephraim.
      3. Joseph, probably thinking that his elderly father is confused, tries to correct what he considers to be a mistake, and is reprimanded by Jacob. Manasseh will indeed have an important place and be a blessing, but the greater role has been reserved for Ephraim.
  2. So what’s going on here?
    1. This story is the Lord’s way of giving an answer to a question that people have been debating in the church for thousands of years – which comes first, faith or charity?
    2. It may not seem to be an important question, yet it comes up over and over again in the stories of the Word.
      1. AC 367 That charity is the “brother” of faith is evident to everyone from the nature or essence of faith. This brotherhood was represented by Esau and Jacob, and was the ground of their dispute about the birthright and the consequent dominion. It was also represented by Pharez and Zarah, the sons of Tamar by Judah (Gen. 38:28, 29, 30); and by Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48:13, 14); and in both of these, as well as in other similar cases, there is a dispute about the primogeniture and the consequent dominion.
        1. Cain and Abel
        2. Esau and Jacob
            1. Jacob himself received the blessing of the firstborn although he was the 2nd.
        3. Tamar’s twins Pharez and Zarah
            1. Culturally, the issue of who was so important that the firstborn that the midwife was prepared with red thread to mark the first born child when twins were expected!
        4. Final plague in Egypt, the death of the firstborn
          1. Here, because it was a spiritual church where faith was in the first place, and it was a fallen church so it was actually falsity that was in the first place, it was judged – or brought to an end – by having those falsities removed.
        5. Manasseh and Ephraim
    3. There is a progression in our own lives, and in a parallel way in the development of the Lord’s church over the generations. When we (and the church) are young, we see things in terms of truth – because we as yet have very little in the way of true charity.
      1. It’s only later, as we gain experience and begin to bring our lives into order and put the truth into life and become forms of charity that we begin to see the importance of charity.
      2. So the appearance is that faith is the firstborn, and that charity only comes later.
        1. So, the child that represents faith is born first. In the Joseph story, that is Manasseh.
        2. But when it comes time for the blessing, it is the child that represent charity that gets the blessing of the firstborn.
    4. Or another way to put it is that charity is first in end, not in time.
      1. When we think about it from the natural mind which is in time and space, we see what come first in time.
      2. When we think about it from the mind that is uplifted into spiritual things by doing what is good, we think apart from time and space and rather see it in terms of ends – and so Charity is seen to be first in importance.
  3. AC 4925:7 points out that the Lord alone is the firstborn, because He is the source of all good, and all truth is derived from that good.
    1. It all starts with the Lord.
      1. He wants us to live in charity like the angels, so when we are born He gives everyone the ability to be affected by truth.
        1. Or, what we call “an affection for truth” which is a kind of love, or good.
      2. Because of that affection for truth, we can then acquire facts about the world and heaven. We look at them, and fit them into the puzzle of our lives in different ways using our rational minds to weigh the consequences, and eventually come up with a faith that works for us.
      3. As that faith is growing, if we are doing it right, we are learning by doing, see which of those truths of faith give us delight when we live them – and in the process we become forms of charity (angels).
      4. These new delights then give us new insights in how to do things even better, and we acquire new truths of faith.
      5. Which lead to new forms of charity and the delights that accompany them.
      6. Which lead to new forms of faith.
      7. And so on to eternity. Amen.

First Lesson: GEN 48:15-22

15 And he blessed Joseph, and said: “ God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed me all my life long to this day,

16 The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.”

17 Now when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him; so he took hold of his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head.

18 And Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”

20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh!’ “ And thus he set Ephraim before Manasseh.

21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers.

22 Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow.”

Second Lesson: TCR 336

From the wisdom of the ancients came forth this tenet, that the universe and each and all things therein relate to good and truth; and thus that all things pertaining to the church relate to love or charity and faith, since everything that flows forth from love or charity is called good, and everything that flows forth from faith is called true. Since then charity and faith are distinguishably two, and yet make one in man, that he may be a man of the church, that is, that the church may be in him, it was a matter of controversy and dispute among the ancients, which one of the two should be first, and which therefore is by right to be called the firstborn. Some of them said that truth is first and consequently faith; and some good, and consequently charity. For they saw that immediately after birth man learns to talk and think, and is thereby perfected in understanding, which is done by means of knowledges, and by this means he learns and understands what is true; and afterwards by means of this he learns and understands what is good; consequently, that he first learns what faith is, and afterward what charity is. Those who so comprehended this subject, supposed that the truth of faith was the firstborn, and that good of charity was born afterwards; for which reason they gave to faith the eminence and prerogative of primogeniture. But those who so reasoned overwhelmed their own understandings with such a multitude of arguments in favor of faith, as not to see that faith is not faith unless it is conjoined with charity, and that charity is not charity unless conjoined with faith, and thus that they make one, and if not so conjoined, neither of them is anything in the church. That they do completely make one, will be shown in what follows.

[2] But in these prefatory remarks I will show briefly how or in what respect they make one; for this is important as throwing some light on what follows. Faith, by which is also meant truth, is first in time; while charity, by which is also meant good, is first in end; and that which is first in end, is actually first, because it is primary, therefore also it is the firstborn, while that which is first in time, is not actually first, but only apparently so. But to make this understood, it shall be illustrated by comparisons with the building of a temple, and of a house, the laying out of a garden, and the preparation of a field. In the building of a temple, the first thing in time is to lay the foundation, erect the walls and put on the roof; then to put in the altar and rear the pulpit; while the first thing in end is the worship of God therein, for the sake of which the preceding work is done. In the building of a house, the first thing in time is to build its outside parts, and also to furnish it with various articles of necessity; while the first thing in end is a suitable dwelling for the man and the others who are to constitute his household. In the laying out of a garden, the first thing in time is to level the ground, prepare the soil, and plant trees in it and sow in it the seeds of such things as will be of use; while the first thing in end is the use of its products. In the preparation of a field, the first thing in time is to smooth, plough and harrow it, and then to sow it; while the first thing in end is the crop; thus again, use. From these comparisons anyone may conclude what is essentially first. Does not everyone who wishes to build a temple or a house, or to lay out a garden, or cultivate a field, first intend some use? And does he not continually keep this in his mind and meditate upon it while he is procuring the means to it? We therefore conclude that the truth of faith is first in time, but that the good of charity is first in end; and that this latter, because it is primary, is actually the firstborn in the mind.

 

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