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JACOB'S PROPHECY AS TO THE TWELVE TRIBES
After a life of many failures and troubles, the last days of Jacob stand out in bright relief. His perception of God's ways became much more clear and commendable as he neared the end of his life. Now at the age of 147 he called for all his sons in order to tell them their future that would reach much further than any of them personally would experience, but applies to each tribe, going on to "the last days" (v.1). For each tribe borrows its character from the character of its head. His failing eyesight did not deceive Jacob, as did that of his father Isaac (ch.27:1-25).
Reuben was Jacob's firstborn, portraying Jacob's might and strength, pre-eminent in dignity and power. But by his glaring failure in self-discipline he forfeited all title to the rights of the firstborn. He stands for the boasted strength of man in the flesh, which eventually (as in the case of King Saul) turns out to be pathetic weakness. The tribe of Reuben then symbolizes Israel's first coming as a nation into the land of Canaan, but very soon forfeiting all title to that land by the corruption of the flesh. As Reuben defiled Jacob's property, so the nation Israel has defiled God's property. This is the history of natural humanity in all ages. The flesh is as unstable and uncontrolled as the water of the seas.
SIMEON AND LEVI
These two brothers are considered together, and united in cruelty and violence. Nothing favorable is said about them at all, and Jacob desired not to have any identification with them in their rampage of murder because of their bitter anger. He refers to their slaughter of all the men in the city of Hamor and Shechem (ch.34:25-26). A prophetic sentence is then passed, "I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel." Their unity in evil would result in division even among the tribes.
Jacob's words here are prophetic of the condition of Israel from the time of the Judges until David. After being established in the land by Joshua, it was not long until the nation began to depart from the living God, practically with one accord giving themselves up to idol worship and the gross moral abuses that this involved. Though God delivered them a number of times, they reverted back again to the same low level. Later, when Saul became king, the condition of Israel did not improve, and Saul himself was guilty of glaring murder, even of the priests of God (1 Samuel 22:11-19), and of plotting the murder of David. Under these conditions the people were constantly in discord, divided and scattered.
The prophecy as to Judah is in great contrast to that as to Simeon and Levi, for all is favorable. Though Judah had been guilty of very serious wrong too, his deeply felt repentance evident in chapter 44:18-34 was such that God was free to bless him greatly. His brothers would praise him (Judah means "praise"). He would subjugate his enemies. His father's children would bow to his authority. He is likened to a lion, the king of beasts, feeding on the spoils of his conquest. The scepter of kingly authority would not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver, until the coming of Shiloh, the Lord Jesus. To Him (Shiloh) would be the obedience of the people.
Verse 11 however intimates His lowly character of identifying Himself with the godly in Israel. For a king was not expected to ride a donkey, but a horse, yet the Lord Jesus is prophesied of in Zechariah 9:1, as coming to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, and the Gospels give the history of this (Matthew 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:35-38). But the vine and the "blood of the grapes" in which He washes His clothes is typical of the voluntary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on Calvary. His eyes red with wine are a contrast to "His eyes like a flame of fire" in Revelation 1:14, where He is presented as judging in righteousness. In Genesis 49:12 He is seen in grace, for also His teeth are white with milk, which speaks of gentle nourishment of the Word of God, a contrast to the sharp sword going out of His mouth (Revelation 1:16), which also refers to the Word of God, but in terrible judgment.
The prophecy concerning Judah then denotes Israel's history from David until the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. David was of the house of Judah, a "man after God's heart," not because he was without sin, but because he had a character that confessed and judged his sin (as did Judah). He was a type of Christ the King of Israel, and this prophecy therefore goes right on to the time of Christ's coming in grace and His sacrifice. So far as the flesh is concerned, Judah himself was the same as his brothers, Simeon and Levi. It is not because he was better than they that his prophecy is favorable, but rather, their history signifies the ruin of Israel under law, while God makes Judah typical of the answer to Israel's sin that is, the coming and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
Zebulon was Leah's sixth son, and for some reason is mentioned before Issachar, her fifth son. He would dwell at the seashore, which indicates the time of Israel's being dispersed among the Gentiles, as thy have been since their rejection of Christ, for the sea is a type of the Gentile nations, and being a haven for ships implies Israel's trade and commerce with the Gentiles.
Issachar is said to be a donkey lying down between two burdens, becoming content to be a slave. Thus, when Israel has been mixed up with Gentiles, she has become a virtual slave to them rather than having Gentiles subservient to her. This condition of things continues through "the times of the gentiles," so will not change until the time of the great tribulation.
Dan was the first son of Rachel's maid Bilhah. "Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel." Prophetically this brings us to the time when self-government is resumed in Israel. To some degree this has been true since 1948. But it is added that "Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider shall fall backward" (v.17) This prophecy specifically refers to the tribulation period when satanic activity rises to a dreadful height in the proud, deceitful reign of the antichrist in Israel. When we compare this verse with Revelation 7:1-17, it seems likely the antichrist will come from the tribe of Dan, for inRevelation 7:1-17; Revelation 7:1-17 Dan is omitted from the 144,000. Well may Jacob add here, "I have waited for Your salvation, 0 Lord!" Yet even though Dan is missing from the 144,000 sealed in Revelation 7:1-17, he will have his place in the blessing of the millennium, for it is plainly declared that he will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel.
Gad was the first son of Zilpah, Leah's maid. His name means "a troop," and this name is used in the prophecy that the troop (armies of enemy nations) would trample Gad (representing Israel) underfoot, as will be fulfilled in the tribulation period, but that Gad will in the end overcome the troop. God will give Israel the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Asher was Zilpah's second son, his name meaning "happy." The prophecy concerning him implies the rich provision that God will make for the nation Israel, even "royal dainties," when they are restored to their land in the millennium, a wonderful contrast to their years of deprivation and desolation!
Naphtali was the second son of Bilhah, and is here called "a deer let loose; he uses beautiful words." This describes another side of Israel's blessing in the coming kingdom. After being restrained in bondage for centuries, she will be like a deer let loose in the open to enjoy the liberty she has forgotten was ever possible. This freedom too will bring beautiful words to her lips. Instead of bitter cursing, her mouth will be filled with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. In the Church of God today we are already blessed with such a experience, as Ephesians 4:8 tells us, "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts of men." The marvelous death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus has set believers free from a state of captivity; and to express that liberty we are given gifts from God to speak "beautiful words," words that could never have been spoken before the Lord Jesus died and rose again.
The two sons of Rachel are left for the last consideration, though they are actually first in importance. For they are both types of the Lord Jesus. Joseph speaks of Christ as the One through whom all blessing in the millennium will be secured both for Israel and the nations. He is a fruitful bough by a well, drawing refreshment from the well of the Word of God, and his branches running over the wall, the wall of separation between Israel and the Gentiles. His branches run over the blessing of Gentiles.
The fruitfulness was not hindered by the fiercest opposition that the enemy could mount against Him. Joseph in his many afflictions remained firm and decided in his stand for God, in this way being a lovely type of Christ, who suffered far more than Joseph, His hands being made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob. To press this typical character more fully, it is said in verse 24, "From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel." As the Shepherd Christ is the example of faithful, tender care. As the Stone He is the solid basis of all blessing.
Verses 25-26 indicate the widespread fulness of the blessing of the Almighty resting upon the Lord Jesus. There are blessings of heaven above, implying, though only faintly, that He would have a heavenly company, as in fact He does today, "blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). "Blessing of the deep that lies beneath" implies the blessing of Gentile nations through the Messiah of Israel (Revelation 17:15). The heavens speak of that which is above Israel, and the deep that which is in a lower place, as Gentiles will rightly be.
As to Israel, the Lord will share with her "blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have excelled the blessing of my ancestors, up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills." The breasts speak of nourishment, and the womb, of fruitfulness, thus showing that the land will produce abundantly. Israel's blessing in Christ will excel the blessings of Jacob's ancestors, Abraham and Isaac, with widespread earthly blessing, "to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills." This completes the three spheres of the great blessing connected with the Messiah, the heavens, the deep, and the hills of earth.
All are on the head of Joseph, the one who was separated from his brothers, typical of Christ, blessed after suffering. All blessing then in the coming day will be seen to depend on the One who has suffered total rejection and the ignominious death of the cross, but who has been raised from among the dead and exalted above all heavens.
In contrast to Joseph, only one short verse is devoted to Benjamin. He speaks of Christ also, not as the Sufferer, but as "the Man of God's right hand," who will, as a wolf, strike fear into the heart of His enemies, judging in perfect righteousness all who rebel against divine authority. This will be seen in the judgments of the tribulation and also at the Great White Throne, where at last every enemy will be fully put under His feet. He will gain "the spoil" also, and divide it among believers. In other words, there will be results in blessing for Him and for believers because evil has finally received its just judgment.
Verse 28 concludes the subject of Israel's blessing each of the tribes. It may not sound as though Simeon and Levi were blessed (vs.5-7), but the honest exposure of their sin is in itself a blessing if they would simply accept it in a spirit of self-judgment.
THE DEATH OF JACOB
Jacob, maintaining full possession of his senses to the end, calmly gives instruction to his sons to bury him with his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, in the cave of Machpelah that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite (ch.23:16-20). Jacob was thus indicating that he had the same faith as his fathers in the resurrection power of God. He mentions that Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Leah had been buried there. Also, he reminds his sons that the purchase of the cave and the field had been made from the children of Heth, which means "fear." Those unsaved are the children of fear, who, through fear of death, are all their lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:15).
The evidence of Jacob's being at this time led by the Spirit of God is beautiful. All seems to be ordered with calm deliberation, every necessary thing attended to in perfect time, so that his death was the expected culmination of all. How different was this than the disorder of much of his earlier life.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 49". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19