Genesis 49:1-28; Israel blesses the twelve tribes
is old and he is sick. He is on his death bed. In the last chapter,
Joseph brought his two sons and came to see his father. Jacob
blessed Joseph and his two sons. He put the younger before the
older. He pointed his Egyptian grandsons to almighty God, the God
who had been graciously present to bless his fathers, the God who
had been his shepherd, the God who was his redeemer. He has adopted
Joseph's two sons, in effect passing on the birthright or double
portion to Joseph. Now Jacob summons all his sons to his bedside so
that he can prophesy over them.
Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves
together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to
come. 2 “Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to
Israel your father.
is aware that what he has to say is prophetic and will have a future
fulfillment. This is the first extended poem in the scripture, and
as poetry, it has many word plays and phonetic devices in the
original that we don't pick up on in a translation. It also has some
unique words that are difficult to translate. The order of the
blessings on the sons is structured interestingly. Jacob starts with
Reuben his firstborn, and continues thru the list of Leah's sons,
except he reverses the birth order of Issachar and Zebulun. Then he
mentions Rachel's servant's first son, then the two sons of Leah's
servant, then the second son of Rachel's servant, and he concludes
with Rachel's two sons. There is a kind of symmetry in the order he
chooses. Verses 1 & 2 are introductory, then seven sons are
blessed, a short prayer of hope is offered in verse 18, then the
remaining 5 sons are blessed, and verse 28 forms a conclusion to the
poem. We'll look at what Jacob says to each, and take a quick glance
at some of the historical circumstances that fit his predictions.
Some are easy to see, others are less clear, and some may have a
future fulfillment that remains to be seen.
you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength,
preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4 Unstable as
water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your
father’s bed; then you defiled it––he went up to
is the firstborn, and as such he naturally would have the favored
position, but Jacob looks at his instability of character and
demotes him from his position as firstborn. Jacob is thinking back
to the incident in:
While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his
father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it.
had dishonored his father by sleeping with his stepmother, but the
only reaction that is recorded is 'and Israel heard of it.' Now
Jacob looks his son in the eye and tells him in front of his
brothers 'you defiled my bed'. Then he turns his back on Reuben and
exclaims to his brothers 'he went up to my couch!'.
we look at Reuben's history, we see that no judge, no king and no
prophet came from the tribe of Reuben.
“Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their
swords. 6 Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be
not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men,
and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. 7 Cursed be their
anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will
divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.
and Levi are lumped together as 'brothers' or 'co-conspirators'.
Jacob is looking back to the episode in chapter 34 where the two
brothers responded to their sisters' rape by deceit and wholesale
slaughter of an entire town.
Genesis 34:25 On
the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon
and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against
the city while it felt secure and killed all the males.
Genesis 34:30 Then
Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me
by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites
and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather
themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I
and my household.”
rebuked them then, but now he looks these two boys in the eye and
curses their anger and cruelty. Jacob disassociates himself from the
action of these boys, and he pronounces the prophecy that they will
be scattered in the nation of Israel.
is interesting how this prophecy finds fulfillment in the two
tribes. Simeon numbered 59,300 fighting men in the census taken two
years after the exodus. By the time of the second census after the
fourty years of wandering, the tribe had declined to 22,200, which
was the least of any tribe.
Numbers 1:23 those
listed of the tribe of Simeon were 59,300.
These are the clans of the Simeonites, 22,200.
the children of Israel entered the promised land under Joshua and
divided the land among the tribes, the tribe of Simeon did not
receive their own territory. Instead they were scattered among the
tribe of Judah. In Deuteronomy 33, when Moses blessed the tribes
before his death, the tribe of Simeon is omitted completely.
Joshua 19:9 The
inheritance of the people of Simeon formed part of the territory of
the people of Judah. Because the portion of the people of Judah was
too large for them, the people of Simeon obtained an inheritance in
the midst of their inheritance.
tribe of Levi, on the other hand, had a different fulfillment to
this prophecy. When the people sinned by worshipping the golden calf
at Mount Sinai, it was the tribe of Levi that stood with Moses and
defended the honor of the Lord. They were rewarded by being ordained
to the service of the Lord.
Exodus 32:26 then
Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the
LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi
gathered around him. ...29 And Moses said, “Today you have
been ordained for the service of the LORD, each one at the cost of
his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon
you this day.”
too were scattered among Israel, and did not receive a territory of
their own in the land, but their curse was turned to a blessing as
they received the honor of serving as priests to the nation.
“Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites some of
the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in.
And you shall give to the Levites pasturelands around the cities.
..7 All the cities that you give to the Levites shall be
forty–eight, with their pasturelands.
“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on
the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down
before you. 9 Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son,
you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a
lioness; who dares rouse him? 10 The scepter shall not depart from
Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until
tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the
peoples. 11 Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s
colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and
his vesture in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than
wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.
whose name sounds like 'praise' will be praised by his brothers and
honored by all the tribes. He is compared to a lion's cub, a lion
and a lioness. He is given the first place among the tribes, and
from Judah will come a line of kings that will rule in Israel.
we see Judah take a position of leadership among the tribes during
the time of the judges:
Judges 1:1 After
the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, “Who
shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against
them?” 2 The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I
have given the land into his hand.”
God gave to David and his descendants the throne of Israel:
2 Samuel 7:16 And
your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.
Your throne shall be established forever.”’
1 Kings 9:5 then I
will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised
David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the
throne of Israel.’
will come back to some of the promises to Judah and look at them in
more detail before we're done.
“Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become
a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon. 14 “Issachar
is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. 15 He saw
that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, so
he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced
labor. 16 “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes
of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the
path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls
backward. 18 I wait for your salvation, O LORD.
received its territory that was toward Sidon and near the sea.
Zebulun is placed before Issachar, who is rebuked for laziness and a
willingness to trade freedom for material gain. Dan, whose name
means 'vindicate' or 'judge', was appointed to judge the tribes. We
see in Judges 13 that Samson was from the tribe of Dan. Dan was also
the tribe responsible for introducing idolatry into the nation of
Judges 18:30 And
the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and
Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests
to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the
is compared to a serpent that strikes at the heels. This may have
reminded Jacob of his own name 'at the heels' and it would have
reminded him of the serpent of Genesis 3 who would crush the heel
of the seed of the woman, but this coming one would crush the head
of the serpent.
Genesis 3:14 And
the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this,
thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the
field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the
days of thy life: 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the
woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head,
and thou shalt bruise his heel.
causes Jacob to burst out with a prayer of faith and expectation: 'I
wasit for your salvation, YHWH'. He is exclaiming his hope that YHWH
would bring deliverance. He is pointing godward and declaring that
his hope does not rest in people or things, but his hope is in his
shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels. 20 “Asher’s
food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies. 21
“Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns.
19 is full of puns on the name 'Gad'; four of the six words in this
verse sound like 'Gad'. Gad settled east of the Jordan, and was
subject to frequent attacks. Asher settled in an abundantly fertile
region of Canaan. Naphtali under Barak in Judges 4 & 5 lead
Israel to break loose from a crippling bondage.
“Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring;
his branches run over the wall. 23 The archers bitterly attacked
him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, 24 yet his bow
remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the
Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of
Israel), 25 by the God of your father who will help you, by the
Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the
breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father are
mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of
the everlasting hills. May they be on the head of Joseph, and on
the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
like Judah, receives 5 verses of blessing. Joseph is fruitful, in
spite of the attacks and circumstances that were against him. His
faith remained unshaken. His success is attributed to 'the Mighty
One of Jacob'; the hero or champion. Jacob again refers to God as
his Shepherd, and he adds the description 'the Stone of Israel'.
Jacob is again stacking up descriptions to communicate who his God
is. He is the Mighty One; the God of your father who will help you;
the Almighty who will bless you. God is the hero; the champion. God
will be there to help in the future as he has helped in the past.
God has no limit to his power and ability. He shepherds his people.
And he uses his great power to bring blessing to us. The word
'blessings' is used five times in these verses; blessings,
blessings, blessings, blessings, blessings! God is a God who
delights to bless his people. The book of Genesis starts out with
God blessing his creation:
Genesis 1:28 And
God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and
multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the
fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every
living thing that moves on the earth.”
God blessed Noah (Gen.9:1) and God blessed Abraham (Gen.12:2) and
Isaac (Gen.25:11) and Jacob (Gen.35:9); and Jacob blessed the
Pharaoh (Gen.47:7), and now at the close of the book of Genesis, the
word 'blessing' shows up over and over and over again.
is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at
evening dividing the spoil.”
has a reputation for bravery and skill at war. Ehud, in Judges 3, is
from the tribe of Benjamin. King Saul and his son Jonathan were from
this tribe. And the apostle Paul traces his lineage back to Benjamin
All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father
said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing
suitable to him.
blessed... blessing... blessing. Their father blessed each one with
the blessing appropriate. Jacob didn't treat them all the same. And
he didn't find something nice to say about each of them. Jacob had
harsh words for Reuben and Simeon and Levi and Issachar. We might
even say he cursed them, but here it is called a blessing. Jacob
told the truth, the painful truth. These sons didn't need to be
coddled. They needed a strong loving look them in the eye rebuke
that said 'your're going to hell if you keep going the way you're
going.' Reuben didn't need to hear 'Jesus loves you and it's all
going to be okay'. He needed to hear 'you're a sick twisted pervert
and you need to repent!' Simeon and Levi didn't need to hear 'I'm
your dad and I love you no matter what.' They needed to hear 'your
actions are evil and they come out of an evil heart and I will have
nothing to do with you'. Issachar needed to hear 'your love for
material things will enslave you'. But Judah, who was just as much a
sinner as his brothers, who left the family and married a Canaanite
and had kids so evil that God killed them; for Judah, who got his
own daughter in-law pregnant there is no word of rebuke. Judah had
repented of his sins and God had changed him. God had made him into
a leader, a lion. And from Judah came The Lion we see in Revelation
5:5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold,
the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so
that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 And
between the throne and the four living creatures and among the
elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with
seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God
sent out into all the earth.
says of Judah not only that his brothers will bow to him, but
nations will bring tribute to him and obey him
49:10 The scepter
shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from
between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be
the obedience of the peoples.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every
knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and
every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God
says of Judah that he will hitch his donkey to a choice vine.
49:11 Binding his
foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
you hitch your donkey to a choice vine, the donkey eats all the
grapes, and might destroy the vine. You don't hitch your donkey to a
vine unless the produce is so abundant that it doesn't matter. At
the wedding at Cana, Jesus turned 150 gallons of water into the best
wine. It goes on to say of Judah:
...he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood
of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter
at Revelation 19:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting
on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges
and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his
head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows
but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the
name by which he is called is The Word of God 14 And the armies of
heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on
white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to
strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.
He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the
Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written,
King of kings and Lord of lords.
my Jesus! The Mighty One of Jacob, the Stone of Israel, my Shepherd,
the Almighty God, King Jesus! Jesus who has crushed the head of the
serpent at the cross and is coming back to crush his enemies and
reign forever. Jesus, who is almighty to bless his people. Be sure
this morning that he is your hero, your champion, that you are on