< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Jacob Blesses His Sons

Friday, March 11, 2016

Jacob Blesses His Sons

Genesis 49:1-2

Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.
“Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel.

A commentator pointed out that “days to come” wasn’t just in their life time, but actually everything that had to happen to the nation of Israel up until end times when God’s plan would all come together.

Reuben - Genesis 49:3-4 Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.

Reuben forfeited his birthright because of sin that he committed and didn’t repent from. (Reuben slept with his father’s concubine.) Jacob describes Reuben’s character as being like water, “unstable” or “turbulent” Reuben had one eye on God and one eye on pleasing himself at all costs.  And from Reuben’s tribe comes no king, no judge and no prophet. His tribe and Gad’s settled on the wilderness of the Jordan.

Simeon and Levi - Genesis 49:5-7 Simeon and Levi are brothers—their swords are weapons of violence.
Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they please Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.

These two are linked together because they were the leaders in organizing the massacre of the Shechemites back in Genesis 34. Jacob here places on record his own absolute separation from such a crime. And the result of their being together, united to commit such a crime, was that they would be “divided” and “scattered” in the nation of Israel. Therefore they couldn’t be ringleaders in causing others to sin again.

Simeon seems to have shown little change in disposition. It’s possible he was the one who led in the conspiracy to get rid of Joseph since he was the one Joseph threw in prison when the brothers came to Egypt looking for food. He did not receive a special territory in Canaan but instead inherited his portion within the allotment of Judah. Thus, the Simeonites were “scattered” among the cities of Judah.

Levi’s curse was later changed to become for him a means of blessing. But not til Deuteronomy. At a crisis in Israel’s later history Moses called, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” and all the sons of Levi gathered with him to put down the rebellion against God which endangered the whole nation. For this reason and also more loyalty to God displayed in the book of Numbers God gave Levi the privilege of leading the people to God through the Levitical priesthood. The original prophecy remained unchanged – they were still scattered in Israel, God can turn our punishments or consequences from sin to blessings if we turn to Him.

Judah - Genesis 49:8-12 “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?  The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. 11 He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.

There are four parts to this most important prophecy concerning Judah: praise, power, prince and prosperity.

Praise – this is a play on Judah’s name which means “praise”. Judah too sinned. In Genesis 38 – he slept with his daughter-in-law thinking she was a temple prostitute. But he repented and turned from his sin. He also tried to save Joseph’s life from the other brothers. And he brings up the fact that what the brothers did to Joseph was a sin later on. AND he offered his own life in order that Benjamin might go free and his father Jacob be spared more sorrow.

But the reason he will be praised is because Christ will come from his line.

Power – To Judah was given power over his enemies. And he had power over his brothers in leadership as he ruled through the kingly line from David to David’s greater Son. The “lion” figuratively represents the development of power and kingship in Judah’s tribe. In Revelation Christ is called “The Lion of the tribe of Judah.”

Prince – The scepter represents rulership. Judah would have rule of Israel until Christ returns. And at the end of time every knee will bow to Judah’s descendant, Jesus Christ.

Prosperity – “He will tether his donkey to the vine.” Judah’s portion of the Promised Land was the vine-growing district of the south. But God continually speaks of the whole nation of Israel as the vine which He planted. So it would seem that Judah and the nation of Israel were to be inseparably connected. Christ is referred to as a vine too. Today we call the Israelites Jews – taken from Judahites.

ZebulonGenesis 49:13 Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.

His land lay near the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. It was a place to which caravans brought the riches of trade. His territory embraced the land where Christ performed so many of His miracles: Galilee.

IssacharGenesis 49:14-15Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens: 15 And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.

His name means “hired workman” or “he will bring reward”. His territory was small, but it embraced some of the most fruitful land. This made his life very easy and he got lazy later on becoming a “servant under tribute” to many invaders who were attracted to his land.

DanGenesis 49:16-18  16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. 18 I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.

Dan was the first of the sons of the two servant maids. Rachel named him Dan which means “be judged” because she felt God had judged her cause. Later Samson, who judged Israel for twenty years was from the tribe of Dan. He was unstable and violent though which might explain the part of the prophecy - an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.

Later there is a strange total omission of Dan’s tribe in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles and Dan is the only tribe not mentioned in Revelation 7.

GadGenesis 49:19 “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.

Gad chose to live where he did, on the east side of Jordan.  Together with Reuben he asked for the fertile territory outside the main portion of the Promised Land.  Because of how great the land was his tribe continually suffered from hostile people. In later years this land became the main theater of war in the long struggle between Israel and the Syrians.  Jacob talks about the warfare, but also the final victory in this prophecy

AsherGenesis 49:20 “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.

Asher’s name means “happy”. Fatness in Scripture is often used to denote happiness or well-being. Like we say “fat and happy”.

God blessed Asher with prosperity. His fertile territory was the red land which sloped to the Phoenician seaboard in the north. Apparently though he never drove the Phoenicians out. Instead he became partner to their rich enterprises and shared the gains of the commerce. He never fought for Israel like some of the tribes did. However later when Solomon was building the temple he sent some of his material blessings – or “delicacies fit for a king.” Later Moses prophesized that Asher would “bathe his feet in oil” – and today the most important pipeline of oil emerges in Asher’s territory.

NaphtaliGenesis 49:21 “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.

Naphtali means “my struggle”. Jesus spent the greater part of His life teaching within the borders of Naphtali, the land of Gennesaret, Bethsaida, Capernaum and Chorazin. Moses in Deuteronomy calls Naphtali “abounding with the favor of the Lord and full of His blessing.”

JosephGenesis 49:22 – 26 “Joseph is a fruitful vine,
    a fruitful vine near a spring,
    whose branches climb over a wall.
23 With bitterness archers attacked him;
    they shot at him with hostility.
24 But his bow remained steady,
    his strong arms stayed limber,
because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
    because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
25 because of your father’s God, who helps you,
    because of the Almighty, who blesses you
with blessings of the skies above,
    blessings of the deep springs below,
    blessings of the breast and womb.
26 Your father’s blessings are greater
    than the blessings of the ancient mountains,
    than the bounty of the age-old hills.
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,
    on the brow of the prince among his brothers.

Jacob’s prophecy regarding Joseph is divided into two parts. The first is retrospective about Joseph’s fruitfulness. He means that Joseph had a fulfilled life both in regard to personality and accomplishment. His fruitfulness through God’s blessing went “over the wall” in blessings to his own family and other nations.
The archers mentioned were his brothers who threw him in a well and then sold him to slave traders and also Potiphor who threw him in jail. But Jacob describes his victory over suffering in that he was not bitter, discouraged or indulging in self-pity. And he says the secret to that is “God made him strong.” (Only he used other titles for God – Mighty one of Jacob, Shepherd, the Rock of Israel)

Verse 25 is the temporal blessing; rain, springs of water, marriage and children. And verse 26 eternal blessings. “Greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills.” A commentator wrote that Joseph’s life foreshadowed Jesus.

BenjaminGenesis 49:27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.”

This seems strange for such a favorite son. Saul and Jonathan were Benjaminites and so was Paul – who actually was like a wolf when he was killing Christians! But who totally turned around. This could be an example like the Levites who started out with a bad prophecy that they turned around.

Genesis 49:28 28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.

All of these sons made up the nation of Israel. With all their faults and failures God used them to be a blessing to the world. The church is made up of individuals too – with all of our faults and failures.

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