|Topical Bible Study||August 1950|
GOD’S PLAN IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS
Jacob Blesses His Sons
Having adopted his grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, sons of Joseph, into his family and pronounced a blessing upon them, Jacob then sent for his own twelve sons in order that he might impart a blessing to them ere he died. What he said to them was also in the nature of prophecies for he explained that he wanted to reveal that which would befall them “in the last days.”
This is the first of fifteen references in prophecy to the “last days,” or “latter days,” as the same general period is also called. The other thirteen are as follows: Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30; 31:29; Job 19:25; Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 23:20; 30:24; 48:47; 49:39; Ezekiel 38:16; Daniel 2:28; 10:14; Hosea 3:5; Micah 4:1. A study of these will show that Jacob’s prophecy and blessing as spoken to his sons extends to and embraces the messianic age, having a relationship both to the first and second advents of Christ.
We are not to understand, however, that what he said with respect to every one of his sons was so all-embracing. So far as his words pertaining to the Messiah and his kingdom were concerned, these were contained only in his prophecy concerning Judah. In the case of the other boys, what promises he did make had to do particularly with comparatively minor things, such as their portion in the Promised Land.
Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son, Leah being his mother. The scriptural references concerning him on the whole present a favorable view of his disposition. To him the preservation of Joseph’s life appears to have been due. The sin which apparently caused him the loss of the high honor of being the head of the tribe from which the Messiah would be born is recorded in Genesis 35:22.
Jacob intimates that by nature Reuben should have been of excellent dignity and strength of character, but instead he was as “unstable as water”; that is, easily stirred up emotionally as water boils over a fire, but quickly “cooling off” when the fuel is removed. Actually no blessing at all was imparted to Reuben, and no prophecy given concerning him.
Simeon and Levi were the second and third sons of Jacob by Leah. The mention of their cruelty is evidently a reference to the revengeful massacre which they perpetrated, as recorded in Genesis 34:25. This was evidently the sin which robbed them of the firstborn rights forfeited by Reuben. To them went a meager blessing—“I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” Apparently this is prophetic of the fact that in the division of the land following the Exodus the tribe of Simeon was limited to a portion within the grant of land given to the tribe of Judah. The tribe of Levi was given no inheritance in the land, although they were honorably used in connection with the service of the Lord, evidently because of the noble stand they took in a time of crisis. See Exodus 32:1-29.
Judah was the fourth of Jacob’s sons by Leah, and because of the sin of the other three he inherited the blessing of the firstborn, which in this instance was the honor of heading the tribe from which the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” was to be born. The name means “praise.” His mother praised the Lord when he was born, and his father said that Judah’s brethren would praise him.
Remembering that this prophecy was given amidst Egyptian surroundings, meaning is added to Jacob’s reference to Judah being a “lion’s whelp,” and a “couched lion.” It seems that in Egypt at that time a couched lion was symbolic of the right to rulership which was vested in the reigning Pharaohs. The “seed” promised to Abraham was to be a great Ruler. Isaac and Jacob in turn inherited this promise, and now Judah was also to be a “lion’s whelp,” that is, the one to inherit God’s royal promise.
Thus, as Jacob explained, this “sceptre” was not to depart from Judah, “nor a lawgiver from between his feet.” This particular prophecy is given recognition in Revelation 5:5, where Jesus is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” And Revelation 5:11-13 seems clearly to indicate the larger fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy pertaining to the praise that would come to Judah, or the tribe of Judah.
“Until Shiloh come”: The word Shiloh means peaceable, and one of the prophetic titles ascribed to Christ is “The Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6) “Unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Paul may have had this in mind when in Ephesians 1:10 he wrote that in the “dispensation of the fullness of times” God will gather together “all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.”
Verses 11 and 12 appear to be symbolic descriptions of the great prosperity of the tribe of Judah in relationship to the other tribes when they became settled in the Promised Land. When the land was divided Judah was assigned a choice portion.
Zebulun was the sixth and last son born to Jacob by Leah. The tribe of Zebulun is very obscure in the Scriptures. Jacob’s prophecy that the tribe would “dwell at the haven of the sea” and be for “an haven of ships,” is in keeping with a statement of Josephus to the effect that Zebulun’s allotment in the land reached on the one side to Lake Gennesaret, and on the other to Carmel and the Mediterranean.
Issachar means “reward.” The land allotted to this tribe was, historians claim, among the richest in Palestine. It is this aspect of the territory of Issachar which appears to be alluded to in Jacob’s blessing. It would seem, however, that the tribe of Issachar was not overly ambitious. Comfortably located in fertile territory, the prophecy indicates that the tribe would prefer to pay tribute to the Canaanites rather than engage in the struggle to expel them.
The prophecy that Dan would judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel was apparently fulfilled in the judgeship of Samson. See Judges 13:25 and 15:20.
The reference to Dan as a “serpent” that biteth the “horse heels” reminds us of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Mother Eve was beguiled by that “serpent,” and the tribe of Dan helped to beguile others in Israel to worship heathen gods, being the first of the tribes to go into idolatry.
Having given a prophecy reminiscent of the influence of Satan in Eden, and of his continued beguilement of the people, Jacob expresses his hope of ultimate salvation from evil and its results, a prophecy which originally was expressed as the seed of the woman bruising the serpent’s head. All will be glad and rejoice in that salvation.—Isaiah 25:9
Little information is given in the Scriptures concerning Gad. When his mother (Zilpah) gave birth to him, Leah said, “A troop cometh,” and so named him Gad, which has that meaning. (Gen. 30:11) His father said concerning him that a troop would overcome him, “but he shall overcome at the last” What we know about the tribe of Gad indicates that they were a warlike people.
The tribe of Asher is another concerning which not much is said in the Scriptures. In the division of the Promised Land the Asherites were given the maritime portion of the rich plain of Esdraelon, probably for a distance of eight or ten miles from the shore. This territory contained some of the richest soil in Palestine, and it may be this fact that caused Jacob to prophesy concerning this tribe that “his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.”
Naphtali means “wrestling.” Jacob’s prophecy concerning this tribe is rather obscure in meaning. The expression, “He giveth goodly words,” may mean that he would give cause for goodly words. If this is the thought, its fulfillment may be in the fact that in Deborah’s song of praise over the defeat of Sisera, she gives special praise to Naphtali and Zebulun for their heroism in the battle.—Judges 4:10; 5:18
In bestowing his blessing upon Joseph, Jacob first of all recounts the wonderful manner in which God had already cared for this favorite son, that although his enemies had tried to destroy him, his “hands were made strong” by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob. The clause shown in parenthesis—“from thence is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel”—is evidently intended to impress the thought that from the God of Israel come all blessings, and that in preserving Joseph, the Lord through him had preserved all Israel, thus keeping alive the nation from which the great Shepherd and Stone of promise would come. These two terms are among the many which refer to the promised Messiah. Surely God’s providences over Joseph that he might be the savior of all Israel constitute a wonderful manifestation of God’s ability to fulfill his promises concerning the “seed” through which all the families of the earth will be blessed!
God’s blessings upon Joseph’s tribe, future from Jacob’s day, were manifested chiefly in the prolific increase of their numbers—“blessings of the breasts, and of the womb.” Compare the “blessing” of Moses upon the tribe of Joseph as recorded in Deuteronomy 33:13-17.
According to this prophecy, one of the chief characteristics of the tribe of Benjamin was to be that of fierce cruelty. There are a number of references to Benjamites which bear this out; for example, Judges 3:15-30. King Saul was a Benjamite, and note his characteristics as revealed in I Samuel 11:6-11. Saul of Tarsus was a Benjamite, and before the Spirit of God began to mellow his heart he was a cruel persecutor of the church.
The parental blessing of Jacob was bestowed upon all twelve of his sons in contrast with Isaac’s blessing which was limited to the firstborn alone—or to Jacob who purchased the right to receive the blessing of the firstborn. True, the royal blessing bestowed by Jacob was limited to Judah, nevertheless the other tribes were not ignored—Jacob had something to say to them all, although in some cases the blessings were limited.
This contrast, we think, helps to establish the difference in God’s method of dealing with his people during the patriarchal age and the Jewish age. During the former, he dealt with individuals only—the patriarchs, each in turn. But beginning with the death of Jacob, God’s dealings were with all twelve tribes as a nation. To them as a nation were his promises made. To them as a nation he gave his Law. When they sinned they were punished as a nation; and when they continued to reject him, their iniquity coming to a full, they were rejected as a nation. This was one of the main characteristics of the Jewish age.
Jacob had a strong faith in the promises God had made to his grandfather Abraham, so strong that he knew his people would not remain in Egypt, but would eventually be delivered and brought into Canaan. On the strength of this belief he desired that he be taken back there to be buried. He gave specific instructions to his sons concerning his burial place, saying that he wished to be laid away with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and with Leah, one of his own wives.
Having pronounced his blessings upon his sons, and having instructed them concerning his burial, Jacob “gave up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.” Later, his sons carried him to “the Meld of Machpelah” for interment, but this was after he had been gathered to his fathers—an expression which denotes merely that he joined his fathers in the state of death, where “the wicked cease from troubling; and … the weary be at rest.” (Job 3:17-19) The word “ghost” is a translation of a Hebrew word meaning “breath.” No imaginary white robed phantom escaped from Jacob when he died. He simply gave up his breath, or stopped breathing.
JACOB’S BURIAL AND JOSEPH’S DEATH
“Only their little ones, and their flocks, and their herds, they left in the land of Goshen” when they went back to Canaan to bury Jacob. This included, in addition to Jacob’s sons and their grown children, “all the servants of Pharaoh.” This was a wonderful tribute of respect and love for Jacob, and revealed the high esteem in which he was held by his family. Besides, it showed that they shared their father’s faith in God’s promises pertaining to Canaan.
Until the death of Jacob, Joseph’s brethren had more or less taken for granted he would not endeavor to inflict special punishment upon them for their attempt to do away with him in earlier life. But now they became fearful lest his leniency toward them had been on account of the great love he had for his father; and for the first time they formally and humbly asked his forgiveness, explaining that this was the death-bed request of their father
Joseph was ever head and shoulders above his brethren in matters of righteousness, and he assured them that they had no cause to fear. “Am I in the place of God?” he inquired, then explained that while they had sought to do him harm “God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Since God’s will had been manifested in what had taken place, why should he hold anything against them? Thus Joseph comforted his brethren, and “spake kindly unto them.”
“So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old.” The “dreamer,” as his brethren had called him, had lived to see his prophetic dreams come true—his brethren had bowed down before him, yea, even his father had become dependent upon his mercy. He had not misused the authority and power which divine providence had entrusted to him; but rejoiced that God had given him the honor of being the savior of his people, the preserver of the “seed” of promise.
It was his faith in God’s promises that caused him to arrange that his body should he embalmed and ultimately taken to Canaan. In exacting an oath from his brethren that they would carry out his wish in this respect, Joseph said to them, “God will surely visit you, … and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.” Joseph’s willingness to have his bones remain in Egypt until the Exodus might indicate his desire not to impose an unnecessary burden upon his brethren by asking that they make a special funeral trip to Canaan as they had done in the case of Jacob. Or possibly he realized that when he was dead his people would not enjoy the same degree of freedom to come and go as they did while he was alive and serving as deputy ruler.
So we come to the end of the first book of the Bible, and in the outworking of the divine plan for human salvation, to the end of the patriarchal age, for with the Book of Exodus, the Jewish age begins. While historically the Book of Genesis covers the patriarchal age only, prophetically it embraces all the ages, including the Millennium, when as promised to Abraham, all the families of the earth shall be blessed. The development of the spiritual “seed” of promise has been the work of the present Gospel age. The promises of the book applying to the deliverance of the natural seed of Abraham from Egypt, and planting them in the Land of Promise, were fulfilled during the Jewish age.
In this wonderful book we are told of the creation of man, and the divine purpose concerning him—that he was to “multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it.” We are informed of the entry of sin and of its tragic results, man’s loss of life and his earthly home. We are assured, nevertheless, of God’s continued love, and that a provision would be made for the redemption and recovery of the human race from the result of its own transgression.
This provision is the “seed,” first referred to as the “seed of the woman” and later as the “seed” of Abraham. With the aid of the New Testament, we learn that primarily this seed is Christ Jesus, the Redeemer and Savior of the world; also that his faithful followers of this Gospel age, the church, as members of his mystical body, are a part of that seed, “and heirs according to his promise.” Thus does the opening book of the Bible introduce the main features of the plan of God, and wonderful is the harmony of the entire Bible as we trace the reiteration of these features throughout its sacred pages.