“All in the family (part 1)”
II. Vs. 1-2 The final words
III. Vs. 3-12 The future of the sons of Leah
These are the final words of Jacob and they are to his sons. They have particular interest as fulfillment of prophecy and refocus our attention upon future events, although most of Jacob’s words now would be of historical interest. The truth is we, like Jacob’s sons, have a tendency to live our lives as if they have no future. We become so involved in the present that we fail to prepare for the future and in so doing become so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good. These words of Jacob for his son’s ought to motivate us to live our life in Him, with all purity having our hope assured that what awaits us is of greater importance then what we have now.
II. Vs. 1-2 The final words
There are five things that we need to realize prior to looking at the details of this prophecy from Jacob to his 12 sons.
First, we are told in verse 33 that these are the final words spoken by Jacob and that they were done so on his death bed. Generally, the words of any person on their deathbed are taken as truth even more then the word of a father to his sons.
Second, notice how the words are printed in our Bibles, they are written in poetry format. What this suggests is that these words were not written in haste, but spoken with much fore thought. Jacob prayed for his sons and their future and the Lord had spoken to him concerning these things with these words being from the Lord.
Third, these words are more then poetry they are prophecy as we are told as much by Jacob himself in verse 1 “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days”. For us they have become more history then prophecy, to these sons they were able to hear the words of the Lord through their father and look down the halls of time to see the general peoples that would come from their loins.
Forth, we are told in verse 28 that these words were intended to be a blessing. Now as you read through the individual prophecies for each family it is hard to call them a blessing. So how do we see them as a blessing? Though they reveal the individual characteristics of each family those characteristics didn’t need to be true of each individual in the specific tribe. In some ways they were a blessing, as they would provide an early warning system to potential fleshly behavior. Ruben’s descendants who would read of their family heritage as being “unstable as water”, could repent and turn from such behavior.
Finally, the future that was told of each tribe had an extension to the past. For instance, Ruben’s family’s future was unstable because he was unstable, thus the words spoken to each family were related to there past behavior. What a great lesson and tool this would be for future change, without having to repeat the mistakes of our forefathers!
Vs. 1-2 The words “in the last days” will become an expression that will command our attention used some 8 times and this will be the first time it is used to speak consciously with regards to the future. There had been many times where God had spoke directly of future events but this is the first time where man has been conscious of the fact that what he was saying was going to happen.
It seems as though this event happens soon after the last chapter as we are told that Jacob summed strength while on the bed. Then in verse 33 at the conclusion “he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.” This ties in with the author of Hebrews words “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.” Jacob was a man on the go the difference was in what powered him as he went for most of his life it was the power of his own flesh, at the end of his lie it was the power of the Spirit.
III. Vs. 3-12 The future of the sons of Leah
Vs. 3-4 Here Jacob gives Ruben’s future who was the first born of the family and as such had the rights of the first born which were to be the spiritual leader (priesthood) as well as the social leader (ruler). Notice how the Lord describes Ruben “you are my firstborn, My might and the beginning of my strength”. It seems as though Jacob saw a lot of himself in Ruben a man of natural talents and abilities but he got in his own way as he often operated in his own power. Further more Jacob says that Ruben and his descendants will be “The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power “but” unstable as water.” It was the struggle with his own flesh that made him unstable, which was most clearly scene in the incident recorded in 35:22 where Ruben went into his father’s concubine Bilhah, which as we noted then was not about sex but rather about power that Ruben wanted then and now. It was his pride that caused him to commit sexual immorality. From this tribe we know that no one ever excelled, they had not one prophet, judge, King or priest from among them. How could this be seen as a blessing? Simple, it is a blessing, as they would know of the bent of their flesh and the struggle they would have on handling success, which would cause them to fall into pride. So God in His wisdom did not allow for their outward success.
Vs. 5-7 From Ruben Jacob moves to his net two son’s Simeon and Levi. They also had not demonstrated godly character as you will recall in 34:25-29 where they had killed all the men of the city of Shechem for the action of one man who had taken advantage of their sister Dinah. Because of this they receive a blessing from their father that fits this deed.
Their problem was anger, which was rooted in their “self-will”. In the 34th chapter we were told of the killing the of the men of the city but here we are told of another detail this incident which was “hamstrung an ox.” Horses were hamstrung by cutting the tendons of the leg because of their use in a military use, but oxen were not used for anything other then a peaceful purpose. Thus these sons did this just for the sake of violence which teemed from their anger. Their blessing was to be that of a division and scattering.
Simeon: We know that as they departed from Egypt 450 years, latter they did so as the 4th largest tribe, yet 35 years after that after taking a census 63% of the tribe had perished in the wilderness and they became the smallest tribe. Their portion allotted to them in the land of promise was surrounded by the tribe of Judah and they became mostly absorbed by that tribe. They were blessed as they were divided by a far better tribe and not left to their own self-wills.
Levi: They were scattered to serve the people as servants in the sanctuary. They were the lone faithful tribe at the rebellion in the wilderness over the worship of the golden calf. They received no portion of land, as the Lord was their inheritance. They were blessed and became a blessing.
Vs. 8-12 Jacob here reveals the 4th son’s “Judah’s” future. In the 37th and 38th chapter you will recall that he did not act very well either. It was he who had suggested selling Joseph to make a buck. It was him as well who had not dealt right with his daughter in law Tamar having sex with her thinking she was a prostitute. But it was also Judah who offered himself as a substitute for Benjamin.
The grace of God is clearly evident as this blessing is bestowed upon Judah. All of these statements refer to the fact that this tribe shall be over all the other tribes and they shall praise the Lord for it. The rights to become the ruler and priest are therefor given to Judah and they are described not only in terms of ruling over their brothers but over other nations. Militarily he is described as strong as a lion a term applied to Jesus in Rev. 5:5. In verse 10 we are told that the extent of his government will be until “Shiloh comes”. The word means tranquil or rests and is an epithet of the Messiah. In effect what this is saying is that Judah’s tribe will have a ruler over the land until the Messiah who brings rest comes. So from David’s kingdom until the beginning of the reign of the Herod’s a prince of Judah was head over the nation. The promise was Judah would keep that scepter until Shiloh or rest came and even under foreign occupation they maintained limited rule until 7 A.D. when under Roman occupation Herod an Edomite began to reign. The Rabbis struggled with this verse in light of that and walked through out the streets of Jerusalem saying, “Woe unto us, for the scepter has been taken away from Judah.” There are many that believe that it was at this very time that Jesus was discussing God’s word in the temple telling them of God’s promise spoken of here.
Judah blessing has three parts to it:
- That there they are to be the ruler over all other tribes and although this will take some 640 years to be fulfilled it will start with the reign of David.
- The second part of it deals with Judah being a “law giver” or priest, which would take 1600 years when Jesus came.
- The third part of this has to do with “Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, And his clothes in the blood of grapes.” And this deals with the prosperity of Judah’s material blessings. Again fulfilled in Christ as we have all of His spiritual blessings in heavenly places.
These words record by Joseph and edited by Moses neither of which saw their fulfillment and now we look at them and await their final consummation.