I have a daughter who turns 17 tomorrow. Was it really all that long ago she was a half-bald, half-blonde preschooler who enjoyed neatly lining up her markers, and then using them systematically, one-by-one, to make her work of art? Was it really ten years ago that she would stand in the hallway in our house, repeating the name of her favorite person, when said person was gone (said person, by the way, was mom). Can she really be 17 and making college visits and beginning to dream about what’s next?
When Joseph was 17, he had some pretty big dreams. They involved his brothers bowing down to him; you can imagine how well this went over with those brothers. But his dreams were even grander than that; he even sees the sun, moon, and stars giving him honor.
But those dreams came true. You can read about it in Genesis 37-50, where Joseph faces the wrath of his brothers, as well as a vengeful woman, but he keeps the faith. And, in his case, his integrity keeps opening doors — and by those open doors God uses Joseph to save those same brothers — brothers who would become the people of Israel. The Bible tells us that each of the brothers would have a part to play in this new nation; that 12 families within the Family of Israel would be set apart, and given a name. And where does the name of each family-tribe come from? From each of the 12 brothers.
Except one. That one? Joseph.
Huh? How is that the one brother who shows integrity, who trusts in God through all circumstances, how come he doesn’t become a part of the Family of the 12 Tribes? Well, because, he gets TWO tribes. While in Egypt, Joseph has two sons, Ephraim and Mannaseh — and those two sons become a part of the 12 Families that make up the Family of Israel. It’s as if God, for all time, honors Joseph by giving him a double blessing.
But even more than that, something else jumps out at me. Who is mom to these two boys? Or, even more interesting, who is their grandpa? We find that out in Genesis 41.50-52. Their mom was Asenath, and their granddad was Potiphera (not to be confused with Potiphar). And what was Potiphera’s occupation? He was a priest of On, an Egyptian god. Which means that within the people of Israel, two of the tribes trace their lineage to boys who were half-Jew, half-Egyptian — and whose mother’s lineage was rooted in worship of other gods.
In other words, nestled deep into scripture is this reality: even as God was calling to Himself the people Israel — even as God’s work began with them — there was this glimpse that God’s grace and calling would reach all people. For from the very beginning, nestled into the foundation of the People of God, are two tribes (not just one!) of mixed background. From the very beginning, God gives a glimpse of His plan — to call all people to Himself. And when we fast-forward to the end of the Bible, we read in Revelation 21.12-13 that the New Jerusalem, the City of God, has 12 gates. And written on those 12 gates are the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. Names, for all eternity, that show: God’s love reaches Israelites and Egyptians. Europeans and Eritreans. Chinese and Chileans. People like you and me, and people very different from you and me. In other words: ALL people.