The Plan of God in the Book of Genesis—Part 35

Jacob Blesses His Sons


VERSES 1,2  “And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.
“Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.”

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 before he died. What he said to them was also in the nature of two prophecies, for he explained that he wanted to reveal that which would befall them “in the last days.”—vs. 1

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 fourteen 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 sons, what promises he did make had to do particularly with comparatively minor things, such as their portion in the Promised Land.

VERSES 3,4  “Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:
“Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.”

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 cools off when the fuel is removed. Actually, no blessing at all was imparted to Reuben, and no prophecy given concerning him.

VERSES 5-7  “Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.
“O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall.
“Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.”

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 meagre 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.

VERSES 8-12  “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.
“Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?
“The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
“Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.
“His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.”

Judah was the fourth of Jacob’s sons by Leah, and because of the sins 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” (I Tim. 6:15) was to be born. The name Judah 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 amid Egyptian surroundings, meaning is added to Jacob’s reference to Judah being a ‘lion’s whelp,’ and a ‘couched lion.’ 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.

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.’ (vs. 10) 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 fulness of times” God will gather together “all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.”

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.

VERSE 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.”

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, the Hebrew historian of the 1st century, 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.

VERSES 14,15  “Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:
“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.”

Issachar means ‘reward.’ The land alloted 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.

VERSES 16-18  “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.
“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.
“I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.”

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 bit 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 continuing 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.—Isa. 25:9

VERSE 19  “Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.”

Little information is given in the Scriptures concerning Gad. When his mother (Zilpah, Leah’s maid) gave birth to him, Leah said, “A troop cometh,” and so she 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.

VERSE 20  “Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.”

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.’

VERSE 21  “Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.”

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

VERSES 22-26  “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:
“The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:
“But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)
“Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:
“The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.”

In bestowing his blessing upon Joseph, Jacob first of all recounted 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 Almighty 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” (Deut. 33:1) of Moses upon the tribe of Joseph as recorded in Deuteronomy 33:13-17.

VERSE 27  “Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.”

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.

VERSE 28  “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.”

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 the full, they were rejected as a nation. This was one of the main characteristics of the Jewish Age.

VERSES 29-33  “And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,
“In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace.
“There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.
“The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth.
“And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.”

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 field 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.

Click here to go to Part 36
Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |