Genesis 49:1-28 ~ 20080803 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

8/03 Genesis 49:1-28; Israel blesses the twelve tribes

Jacob 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.

49:1 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.

Jacob 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.

3 “Reuben, 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 my couch!

Reuben 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:

Genesis 35:22 While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it.

Reuben 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!'.

If we look at Reuben's history, we see that no judge, no king and no prophet came from the tribe of Reuben.

5 “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.

Simeon 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.”

Jacob 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.

It 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.

Numbers 26:14 These are the clans of the Simeonites, 22,200.

When 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.

The 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.”

They 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.

Numbers 35:2 “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.

8 “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.

Judah, 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.

Historically, 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.”

Then, 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.’

We will come back to some of the promises to Judah and look at them in more detail before we're done.

13 “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.

Zebulun 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 Israel.

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 land.

Dan 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.

This 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 God.

19 “Raiders 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.

Verse 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.

22 “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.

Joseph, 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.”

And 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.

27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.”

Benjamin 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 (Rom.11:1)

28 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.

Jacob 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:

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.

It 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.

Philippians 2:9 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 the Father.

It 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,

If 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:

49:11 ...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.

Look at Revelation 19:

Revelation 19:11 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.

That's 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 his side.