You know what looks like a tough job? Disciplining a child. If you punish them for doing something wrong, they get mad and throw a fit. If you ask them to apologize, they either refuse or do it grudgingly, and you can tell that they aren’t sorry. Sometimes you accidentally punish them when they haven’t done anything wrong, which seems to make them more likely to do something bad the next time. It’s just too many variables. Justice, for children or adults or even for an entire family line, is a tough job.
But sometimes it goes right. In Genesis 49, after blessing Joseph’s kids, Jacob moves on to Joseph’s brothers. One by one he describes what God has in store for each of them, including Joseph. Consider how close this man had to be to God to be given wisdom about what the future held; to essentially pronounce judgment on them! The laundry list of everything each of these twelve men had done, both good and bad, could have gone on for hours. On top of that, the worst thing they had ever done was something that caused Jacob unthinkable pain and loss. How could Jacob have fairly judged them on his own? God had to be speaking through him.
After blessing his children, Jacob gives final instructions about where he should be buried. Then he dies. It has been a long journey from him, from competing with his brother for the birthright and marrying four women, to his epic wrestling match with God and moving to Egypt. His plentiful years finally spent, Jacob is laid to rest with his ancestors.
The Treasures Within:
I would kind of love to see Jacob’s sons’ faces as their father gave them their blessings. Although some of them were good, some of them were really unfortunate. But then again, maybe his sons weren’t fazed by what Jacob had to say. His blessings were mainly directed at their future generations, not the men themselves. Whether he was right or not, it didn’t matter too much for them, did it?
Whether those thoughts crossed Jacob’s sons’ minds or not, the fact is that each blessing declared over each son was just and fair. Their blessings ranged from depressing to dazzling. On one end were Simeon and Levi, who had instigated and executed the horrifying crime of murdering an entire city. These men are assured that their violent anger would cause their tribe to be scattered all through the nation of Israel, unable to remain together as one group (verse 7). On the other end is Judah, who after selling his brother into slavery, experienced a striking transformation of heart. Judah’s descendants are promised power, riches, and the right to rule many nations, including their own family (verses 8-12). There are no mistakes in judgment here. Each son’s blessing is exactly what he deserves. Only time would be able to tell whether Jacob’s prophecies were empty words or true descriptions of the future.
Because Of God, Because Of God, Because Of God
Spoiler alert: Jacob was right, so right. As we read on throughout the Bible, we will see that the tribes of Simeon and Levi truly are scattered throughout Israel. The Levite tribe never settles in their own land as one group of people – they are forced to take up residence in the towns of their brothers (Numbers 35:1-8; Joshua 21). The tribe of Simeon ends up the smallest and weakest of the twelve tribes, forced to share land with the tribe of Judah instead of settling their own (Numbers 26:14; Joshua 19:1-9). Speaking of the tribe of Judah, everything Jacob said about them was fulfilled as well. The tribe of Judah becomes so large and so prosperous that it eventually breaks off from the rest of the tribes of Israel and, starting with King Rehoboam, becomes its own nation (1 Kings 12-14). The nation of Judah lasts longer than the nation of Israel (2 Kings 17), and it is into this nation that the Son of God is born (Matthew 1).
This is poetic justice; fair and correct. The words of this old man were truly fulfilled down through the years. And why? Jacob tells us himself. Over and over during Joseph’s blessing, Jacob mentions the One who guided and protected his son through all the terrible things that happened to him. Four times Jacob explains that Joseph triumphed “because of…the Mighty One…the Shepherd…your father’s God…the Almighty” (verses 24-25. The certainty that Jacob feels is so clear. God blesses and He curses in His own strength and wisdom and, yes, love. What happened to the nations of Simeon and Levi and the nation of Judah and to every nation before then and since has all been because of God. He is in control. He has the power. This knowledge can sustain us just like it did Joseph. If God was working then, He is definitely working now. If we trust Him, we can be sure that one day we will see His promises fulfilled.
God’s Message To Us:
“I never break a promise.” The only Person in the world who can say this is our God. Those passive-aggressive statuses we post about not being able to trust anyone are mostly true. Humans, powerless humans, will always drop the ball. They will disappoint us. Our parents, our friends, our significant others, even (especially?) our governments will break their promises and fail us. It’s a terrible feeling to be let down. The unfairness of it is suffocating. God doesn’t do that to us. He is always fair, just, and perfect. When He says He will do something, He does it. That is Someone we can depend on. That is Someone we can believe in. That is Someone we can love with abandon.
There Are Always Questions:
- It feels almost like Leah got one last dig at Rachel because in verse 31 we see that Jacob is planning to be buried next to Leah when he dies, not Rachel. This is technically because Jacob’s most beloved wife died and was buried in the middle of traveling through a different land. This is crazy, but I can’t help but wonder if this, like the other times Leah managed to be blessed instead of her sister, was a signal of God’s favor. Was it?
- Even though the blessings and punishments given to the descendants of Jacob’s sons were fair, they were given to the descendants and not the men who actually did the good or bad things. Was this fair because the descendants perpetuated the fathers’ attitudes and sins? Would things have been different had the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, etc. acted differently?
What do you think? What did you learn from this chapter of the Bible? Why do you think God included this chapter of the Bible?