IV. FROM MANASSEH TO EPHRAIM
Now we come to the fourth case, the case of the shifting of the birthright from Manasseh to Ephraim (48:12-20). Manasseh was the firstborn (v. 14). When Joseph brought Ephraim and Manasseh to Jacob to be blessed by him, he tried to maneuver the blessing of the birthright according to the natural birth (vv. 13-17). However, Ephraim received the blessing of the birthright because Jacob crossed his blessing hands (vv. 14, 17-20). I have the strong feeling that Joseph’s maneuvering of the situation reminded Jacob of the maneuvering he had done in his youth. He might have remembered how he had maneuvered his brother to obtain the birthright and deceived his father to receive the blessing. As Jacob crossed his right hand and placed it upon the head of Ephraim, the second son, he might have said to himself, "Jacob, there was no need for you to maneuver anything. Ephraim is not doing anything, yet you place your right hand upon him. Why did you maneuver so much when you were young?" I believe that, as Jacob crossed his hands, he had very deep feelings within him. If Joseph and his sons had not been present, Jacob might have openly expressed his regret. You may think that you are right in maneuvering certain situations. But after a number of years you will feel ashamed of what you have done and say, "What a shame it was to do those things!"
We must believe that Jacob did not guide his own hands. Certainly they were guided by the Spirit. The Spirit’s guidance was a blessing to Ephraim, but it was a rebuke to Jacob. Perhaps the Lord said to him, "Jacob, you didn’t need to do anything. Look at Ephraim. Although he is doing nothing, he is receiving the birthright. Why did you maneuver so much and cause yourself such suffering?" Like Jacob, I also did certain things when I was young, but I later regretted them. Young people, you need to realize that the blessing is not in your hands; it is in the hands of the old ones. Whether we shall cross our hands and place our right hand upon your head does not depend on you. It depends on us. If you want to receive the blessing, you must have the old ones. If you stay away from them, you will miss the blessing. The old ones will not bless you unless you honor them. Young people, you simply cannot go on without the blessing of the older ones. You desperately need their help.
V. FROM ISRAEL TO THE CHURCH
Now we come to the last case of the shifting of the birthright in the Scriptures, the shifting of the birthright from Israel to the church. This is very important. In Exodus 4:22, the Lord said to Moses, "Thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn." Although Israel was God’s firstborn, Israel lost the birthright because of unbelief (Matt. 21:32; Rom. 11:20). According to Luke 15, in the beginning of His ministry the Lord still considered Israel, represented by the Pharisees, as the firstborn son and the publicans and sinners as the second son. But according to the enjoyment in Luke 15, it was the second son who received the birthright, for the second son enjoyed the fatted calf, which is Christ. This indicates a shifting of the birthright. By this we see that the Pharisees lost the enjoyment of Christ, but the repentant publicans and sinners gained this enjoyment. This means that they gained the birthright.
Toward the end of His ministry, in Matthew 21, the Lord indicated that the repentant publicans, harlots, and sinners, of whom the church was to be composed, were the first son and that the unbelieving Pharisees, representing Israel, were the second. Matthew 21:32 says, "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and you, when you saw it, did not later regret it so as to believe him." Due to unbelief, Israel, the first son, was cut off, and the second son was grafted into the birthright. Thus, the repentant and believing sinners have become the constituent of the church, and the church today is called the church of the firstborn (Heb. 12:23). We in the church are a group of firstborn sons who possess the birthright. This birthright gives us the right to enjoy Christ to the fullest, to be priests of God, and to be co-kings of Christ. Although we have the birthright, the New Testament warns us of the possibility of losing it (Heb. 12:16-17). Be careful: you may lose your birthright.
(Life-Study of Genesis, Chapter 96, by Witness Lee)