This chapter presents a little difficulty in organizing a sermon to preach it. We have a bunch of sons who are not prominent, then a couple who are. The best way is to just go through them and follow the Bible’s lead: we’ll go through them in the order the Bible presents them and we’ll emphasize the sons that the Bible emphasizes. That means there are seven sons who get a little bit of attention and one son who gets a lot of attention. That’s how we’ll do it today. Joseph will get a lot of attention and the others will get some, but not much. Then we’ll close with some take-aways for ourselves.
OVERVIEWChapter 49 shows us the 147 year old Jacob giving his last words to his sons. He is blessing most of them, cursing some of them, and basically prophesying over them. Verse 28 tells us the blessings the boys received were based on their merit, [READ]. We made some general fly-over observations last time that are worth reiterating:
- The chapter lists each son and their appropriate word from Jacob.
- Nine sons are blessed, but there are three sons who are cursed – Reuben, Simeon and Levi.
- Two sons receive the most blessing: Judah and Joseph. Both get 5 verses dedicated to them and they are jam-packed with good stuff from Jacob. No other son gets anywhere close to that much attention. But that is fitting, since Judah is the Messianic tribe and Joseph is the favorite son.
- ***This week I want to add another observation. It’s really my personal thought as I look at Jacob’s words to his sons: I think what Jacob tells his sons may not apply to all of them at the same time throughout history. In other words, I think what Jacob prophecies about them could come true while they are living in the land before their exile; or it could come true after their exile; or it could come true in the end times; or it could come true in the Millennial Kingdom.
- The other thing to keep in mind is that while the sons may be distinguished in some way it doesn’t mean that other son won’t have similar features. What I mean is that if one son is known for great food, like Asher, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t great food in other tribes. If one son is known for his military might it doesn’t mean none of the other sons will have military strength. It just means that each particular son will have certain traits that stand out about him.
Last time we studied the first 4 sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. This week we’ll look at the remaining 8 sons.
We’ll break up our material into 3 categories: The “Minor” sons, then Joseph the “Major” son; and finally Jacob’s Deliverer (v18)
THE “MINOR” SONS (13-21, 27)The minor sons are minor because they don’t get as much attention as Joseph. It’s like the group of OT books we call the “minor” prophets towards the end of the OT – they are minor because their books are a lot shorter than those of the major prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel and so on. (Ray will give 10% off anyone’s tithe this week if they know how many minor prophets there are)
The first brother is Zebulun. Read verse 13. He is the sixth and last son of Leah, Jacob’s first wife – the unloved wife. Zebulun’s name means “honor” and Leah thought with his birth her husband would finally love and honor her. Here Jacob focuses on the location of Zebulun: he will live by the seashore, be a haven for ships, his borders will extend.
The next brother is Issachar in verses 14-15, [READ]. Issachar is the fifth son of Leah, Jacob’s first wife and unloved wife. His name means “reward” because his mother saw him as a reward from God. Here in our text we see a shift from marine imagery to farm animals. Issachar is a donkey relaxing next to the sheep pens. Nobody today would appreciate being likened to a donkey but back then not so. A donkey was seen as hard working, useful, rugged, courageous, and very tough.
The text seems to indicate that the tribe of Issachar will enjoy peaceful rest in the day to day life of farming (lying next to sheep pens). It seems as though the tribe will enjoy the production of their land and herds too when it says, “how pleasant is his land.” But somewhere along the way Issachar is going to be subjected to forced labor.
Then we come to Dan in verses 16 and 17, [READ]. Dan is the son of Bilhah, the servant of Rachel the 4th wife of Jacob. Bilhah is the wife who disgraced herself with Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son. Dan’s name means “vindicated,” and Rachel named him Dan because while she herself could not have children at that point God gave her a son through her servant Bilhah, whom she gave to Jacob as a wife to bear children for her.
Jacob says two things about Dan: he will provide justice for his people and he will be like a snake on the roadside. Now providing justice is honorable but what is the snake comparison for? A snake biting heels is what we saw in Genesis 3 when God said the serpent would bite the heel of the Redeemer. That was a negative thing. But it may not be a negative thing for Dan here. Just like being likened to a lion can be good or bad because Jesus is the Lion of Judah and Satan is like a lion looking to devour someone. What things mean depends on the context It could be that his actions to provide justice will be like a snake biting a horse to make the rider fall off. Which would seem to mean that Dan, though smaller than his opponent (snake vs horse and man), and not as militarily equipped (horse), will through strategy be able to strike this enemy of Israel in a way that will topple them. And that opponent may very well have been a nation that oppressed Israel thus making Dan’s actions both free the Israelites and pay back that nation. So Dan’s name, meaning vindication, seems to correlate with something noble he will do someday.
Then we come to Gad in verse 19, “….” Gad was the first son of Zilpah, servant of Leah whom Leah gave to Jacob to have more children. Apparently someone will be foolish enough to start a fight with Gad but Gad will be too powerful for them. Gad will put them to flight and chase them, which seems indicated by “attack them at their heels.”
Next, Jacob’s attention turns to Asher in verse 20, “….” Asher was Gad’s younger brother from the same mother and his name means “happy.” And he will make others happy through his fine cuisine. The KJV says it best, “he shall yield royal dainties.” “Dainties!” How is that not the best way to translate that verse?! Asher will someday be known as the best place to dine in all Israel: weddings will be catered by Asher, royalty will travel from far and wide to his restaurants, husbands really wanting to treat their wives to a date night will load her up on a donkey and ride over to Asher for “royal dainties!”
Then in verse 21 Naphtali receives his blessing, “…” Naphtali is Dan’s younger brother, born from the same mother, Bilhah. His name means “my struggle.” Perhaps his blessing refers to someday being oppressed then liberated and then becoming bountiful in some way.
Naphtali along with Zebulun have the honor of being named in one of the most famous Messianic prophecies in the OT. Turn to Matthew 4:13-16 with me….
Maybe the imagery of bearing fawns indicates new life, and maybe it is hinting at the coming Messiah’s power to give new life. What’s interesting too is the words can also be translated Naphtali will “utter beautiful words.” If that is the better translation then considering that Jesus began preaching in Naphtali what a way for that blessing to be fulfilled: “Naphtali, through the Christ himself in you preaching you have uttered beautiful words.”
The last “minor son” is Benjamin, skipping all the way to verse 27, “….” Benjamin is the youngest to Jacob, the second and last son born from his favorite wife Rachel, the only full brother to Joseph. Jacob named him and his name means “son of my right hand.” In light of the course of Jacob, Rachel and Joseph’s lives we can only imagine how precious Benjamin was to Jacob. His blessing was not economic like Zebulun, or cultural like Asher, or Messianic like Judah’s. His blessing was like Dan’s and Gad’s and seemed to refer to his strength – specifically his strength over his enemies. The tribe of Benjamin will be fierce on the battlefield – which is how it turned out as we see in the history of the OT.
THE MAJOR SON: JOSPEPH (22-26)Joseph is a major son, like Judah. While Judah is major in the long run historically, Joseph was major in the events of Genesis.
And he was major to Jacob. If you’re just reading through the chapter and you get to Joseph there is clearly a change in Jacob when he gets to Jacob. He is beaming and bursting with joy and blessing. Remember Joseph was Jacob’s favorite. Joseph was the first son from his favorite wife Rachel, who was barren for a long time until Joseph. Which only made Joseph even more special to them.
Lets note three things about Joseph: 1) His prosperity, 2) his persecution, and 3) his God.
First, Joseph is described as prospering. Verse 22 poetically says, “….” He prospered at home as his father blessed and favored him, most symbolically in the beautiful robe he gave him. He prospered in Potiphar’s house, rising to be the highest servant, running the entire household of this high level official. He rose in prison to the most trusted aid, again being trusted with running the prison for the warden. Then we see him exalted from the prison to the palace where he was made 2nd in command of the entire nation. Then he was given a wife and at least two honored sons. Joseph has indeed prospered. He was a master administrator, a man of untouchable honor, possessing the wisdom of 100 sages, and someone who perfectly demonstrated what the Apostle Paul would say thousands of years later, “I can do all things through God who gives me strength.”
Second, Joseph was persecuted, verse 23, “…..” Jacob is referring to all the suffering that Joseph has endured early on in the first 30 years of his life: betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery; then falsely accused of sexual assault and wrongly imprisoned; and finally forgotten by the cupbearer.
You can see too the failure of his persecutors too because these two verses describe Joseph prospering in the midst of his persecution. Look at verse 24, “But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber.” He wasn’t weakened when he was attacked, but his strength stayed constant. Jacob describes him as an overcomer, flourishing even when everything is against him. William James describes the courageous man who faces a cruel and unjust world when he says, “The world thus finds in the heroic man its worthy match and mate….[the courageous man] can stand this Universe.” Joseph could stand this universe.
Which bring us to our third point regarding Joseph: Joseph’s God. Joseph was a worthy match and mate to this grinding universe – his bow remained steady and his arms strong through it all – because of his God. Look at verses 24-25 and how poetic and emphatic Jacob is that God is the reason behind Joseph’s prosperity in the middle of persecution, “….” Four times Jacob says, “Because of” and he refers to God five times by five different titles:
- The Mighty One of Jacob – God is strong, but not just strong – he is the Strong one of Jacob meaning he is strong on behalf of Jacob. “The Lord is my strength!” (Ps 28:7) and “My power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
- The Shepherd – He is the Pastor, the Ultimate Pastor. Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd, Peter called Him the Chief Shepherd. David continued on that imagery of God that Jacob started when he said in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
- The Rock of Israel – Again he is strong, but here it is in the sense of stability. God is the rock beneath our feet, he is the one whom we rely on and look to for solid ground when everything else is shaky. He does not change like shifting sands, His word remains, His promises stay, He is who He is, He always will be who He has always been. He is our stability.
- Your father’s God – I love this because Jacob is relishing the fact that his God is his son’s God. He is beaming with the knowledge that God has been good to his son like He has been good to him. Jacob is tasting not only the sweet joy of seeing his son alive at the end of his life but also enjoying the fellowship of faith with his son. Tell me that isn’t the longing of every Christian parents’ heart? “It brings me great joy” the apostle John said, “to see my children walking in the truth.” That joy was Jacob’s.
- The Almighty – Again
APPLICATION: God makes us strong in the face of adversity. By faith we stand. By faith Joseph stood firm. God warned the Israelites, “If you do not stand firm in your faith you will not stand at all.” (Isa 7:9). And neither will we. The great men and women of faith in the Bible were not protected from adversity. Their great faith was seen in their adversity because in their adversity they entrusted themselves to God and never turned from Him in the middle of what they were going through. Our faith is not seen in the sunshine so much as it is in the storms.
And his overcoming is a demonstration of God’s immeasurable favor and blessing towards him. And then after such exalted thoughts of God Jacob turns to Joseph’s future and swings the floodgates open in verses 25-26. Look at the beautifully rich language Jacob uses, “….”
Just as a side thought: when you realize that Jacob was speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit you step back and marvel at the beauty of which God speaks. He knows how to create a beautiful world and universe, and he also knows how to create a beautiful sentence.
Jacob just wants the best for Joseph. He seems to acknowledge that the best of the earth has been given to Joseph already by God’s goodwill and the best will continue to be given to him.
CONCLUSION: Looking for God’s “Deliverance.” Swinging back up to verse 18 we read what appears to be an out of left field thought from Jacob.
It’s right after Dan that Jacob blurts out a beautiful cry of faith to God in verse 18, “I look for your deliverance, LORD.” It’s a very familiar biblical cry that we read all throughout the Bible. Psalm 119 declares, “I wait for your salvation.” The aged prophet Simeon who took the child Jesus in his arms was called “a righteous and devout man waiting for the consolation of Israel.”
Anyway, while you’re reading verse 18 it just *seems* to come out of nowhere, or like Moses inserted it randomly into the text. But since nothing in Scripture is random we treat it as divinely intentional – the Holy Spirit wanted those words put right there. But for what purpose? It could be related to the justice Dan would provide, and so Jacob knew that hardship would come for his descendents but he also knew that in His time God would deliver them. But Jacob’s words just seem “more” than that, they seem to indicate his thoughts lifted to the bigger picture of God’s plans.
I don’t think it is random, but I don’t think it was specifically related to Dan’s prophecies and blessings. I think it was a man whose mind and spirit were looking across the span of time into the future, seeing what would come for his sons. And here’s the thing: all these things, along with all God’s promises to him personally, the same promises given to his grandpa Abraham and his father Isaac, were all promises that would be fulfilled long after he was dead. A good number of them still are not fulfilled but will be when Israel is resurrected and enters into the kingdom. So Jacob’s words, “I wait for your deliverance” is a man who is looking forward, looking at God, looking to God, looking for God to come and to come through. These are his last words and they are distended with anticipation of God’s faithfulness to give the land to his descendents forever and to bless all nations through his own seed that would come.
- Messianic redemption is bleeding through this whole section.
- God’s word always comes true.
- Trust God and obey His commands that it may go well with you
- Wait, Watch and Walk. Wait for God’s deliverance, Watch for His coming, and Walk in his commands.