Student Teaching in the New Millenium

What Is Merit? (5772 Vayechi)

In Genesis on January 2, 2012 at 12:30 am

May God be with Us,
Our Children, and Their Children,
And All They Know.

1 Kings 2:1.12
Genesis 47.28-50.26

And now thy two sons, who were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, shall be mine. (Genesis 48.5)

Why does the Torah induct Ephraim and Manasseh into the company of Jacob’s children with such pomp and circumstance? Why does Solomon become King of Israel although he is not first in line to the throne? Adonijah has the better claim.

Or does he? Later, Israel blesses his sons, each according to their blessings. We could also say each according to their merits. Adonijah’s character was not ideal for leadership, so Solomon was made king by David.

Is this to say Solomon was made king by David’s merit alone?

And Solomon said: ‘Thou hast shown unto Thy servant David my father great kindness, according as he walked before Thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with Thee; and Thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that Thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. And now, O LORD my God, Thou hast made Thy servant king instead of David my father; and I am but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in.’. (1 Kings 3.6-7)

Note the phrase Thou has made Thy servant king instead of David my father. Whatever the merits of our forebears, it is our own merits that qualify us to rule instead of our parents. Merit is a matter of personal character. This has incredible implications for any prophecy concerning the Davidic line: any descendants of David must meet the standards of leadership on their own. What does this mean for a child of David who doesn’t meet the standard? What does this mean for someone else’s child who does? David was a great king in his own time. Would he have made a great king in Solomon’s time?

What are Ephraim and Manasseh’s merits? The phrase used is Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, shall be mine. We’ve known Reuben as a conniving, weak willed, impulsive coward, and Simeon has severe anger management problems and a sadism fetish. They are the first of Israel’s sons. Why count Ephraim and Manasseh among them?

Ephraim and Manasseh as children are equally worthy of the honor accorded Reuben and Simeon. Joseph’s sons are innocents. They are also Israelites, though born in Egypt, and raised by their father after his father’s tradition. It is also Jacob’s wish. I do this because…Rachel died, to my sorrow, while I was journeying. (Genesis 48.7).

Jacob also says I never expected to see you again, and here God has let me see your children as well. (Genesis 48.11). The text says see, and not know. Jacob doesn’t know what to expect from these children. This is the lot of all ancestors. What does this teach us? To give people the benefit of the doubt.

Israel decides to bless young Ephraim and Manasseh, and tells Joseph so. Then he says Who are these? (Genesis 48.8) How can Jacob not know the very sons he plans to bless?

Do we all know merit when we see it?

Is merit knowable?


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