Jacob is dying. His last act will be to prophecy to his sons regarding their futures. These are not personal futures but those of the tribes they father.
This section of reading is heavy with meaning and questions. I do not feel competent to do it justice. I’m not going to address this in story format because of its complexity. I would love to have the ability and time to take this into an in depth study of the 12 tribes futures, but that is not my forte either. Instead let’s just jump in and see where the Holy Spirit takes us today.
Through the stories of Jacob’s life, we have seen him have trouble with his children. Jacob may have addressed it at the time but in his final prophecies, those troubled times come back to bite his children. They discover that “dad’s memory is LONG” and he doesn’t let things go.
I’m SOOOO glad that this is not the attitude of our Heavenly Father. When He forgives, He also removes any trace of the memory of the event. He will NEVER bring it up again. Yes, we may face earthly consequences that result from our actions but HE will never punish us for them.
Reuben’s praise starts out beautiful. I can just see his eyes sparkle as Jacob speaks of his preeminence in dignity and power. But he doesn’t stop there. Reuben gets a BUT prophecy. “You should have had ALL this BUT because you did _____ you lose it all.” Reuben’s “blank” was sleeping with one of his father’s servant wives; two of his brother’s mother. I don’t know if this act was common knowledge to the rest of the brothers before that announcement or not. We aren’t told that Jacob confronted Reuben, only that Jacob heard about this act. How he found out isn’t told to us either. I can just feel Reuben’s face and neck burning with shame as his sin is paraded out in front of all his brothers.
We do know that when the brothers were planning to kill Joseph, Reuben wanted to save him and bring him back to Jacob. He wasn’t doing this because of some secret love for him but out of a desire to win back Jacob’s favor. Apparently Reuben was aware that Jacob knew of his sin. And also as apparent by Reuben’s intentions we can surmise that the father and son relationship between the two suffered because of Reuben’s actions.
Next Jacob addresses Simeon and Levi. These two were the ones who instigated and carried out the deadly “trick” on the town of Shechem. Their anger at the treatment of their sister was understandable. Their sister was raped. No two ways about it; the act was WRONG. But their deceit punished the whole town for the actions of one man. Granted, he was the prince of that city, but the rest of the men in the city were innocent. Simeon and Levi let their anger boil over until it burned everyone in sight. EVERY man was killed and even the animals suffered their wrath.
Jacob had no part in their plot. I don’t believe he even had an inkling of an idea what these two had in mind when they “struck their deal” for Dinah. Jacob certainly knew of it afterwards and he said something to the two brothers, but there was no individual punishment for them, at the time. But by God’s hand there would be an accounting by dividing them and keeping them subject to their brothers. Levi’s tribe never received an inheritance in territory. They received 48 cities in total for their inheritance and were the servants of their brothers for life. This was a special service but service nonetheless.
Judah was the first child that Leah had that she praised God for. The first three were to try and win Jacob’s favor. It didn’t work of course and she had to find her happiness elsewhere. We also know something about Judah that Jacob probably didn’t. We know that Judah was the one who initiated selling Joseph to the Ishmaelite traders. I wonder how the brothers explained Joseph’s survival. Did they ever come clean? Did Joseph tell his father the story and also tell him that he forgave them? How would Jacob’s pronouncement of Judah’s future differed if he had known this about him?
Jesus comes through the line of Judah. I wonder why God chose his tribe for this special honor. Much of Judah’s prophecy deals with the position in power his tribe will attain. From him will come the kings of Israel. Not all of them, but the majority.
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (verse 10). We know that Jesus is the ultimate King from this line but there was a time when Judah did not rule the people. The Jewish people have not been ruled by a king since Israel was conquered by Assyria and Judah was conquered by Babylon. The earthly scepter left the hands of the people but the Spiritual scepter has NEVER left. Jesus holds it today and will for eternity.
Zebulun was the next one to receive his prophecy. His was short and sweet. He would have territory that controlled sea trade. When the land was split up between the 12 tribes, Zebulun’s portion was positioned to do that nicely. His territory didn’t lie on the coast but the waterways he controlled were crucial to the shipping industry.
Issachar is next. My bible helps offers me little in the way of understanding his prophecy. I’m going to take a stab at it. Donkeys are not only strong but also stubborn. Is it possible that Jacob is looking forward and seeing how Issachar’s tribe finds a beautiful section of land and STAYS there, no matter what?
This reminds me of the days of the early settlers in America. When the great land race started, some of the people snuck out before the gun. Those people came across the plains of Oklahoma and saw how beautiful it was. They quickly settled there and stubbornly refused to move. We know them as the “Sooners.” Problem was, they came across Oklahoma in the pleasant season. Anyone who has ever lived there knows that the lush green grass and flowering plains DON’T last long. Summer turns Oklahoma into a hot dry dust bowl. But yet the people who live there persist. And they work by the sweat of their brows to make something out of nothing. No offense to those living there!
Did Issachar’s tribe take up residence in an area like Oklahoma, which only blooms for a short season? Did their land choice require them to find other ways, like serving their brothers, to make a living? Jacob said they would serve as “forced labor.” Forced by circumstances or by the hand of man? This is probably another “bench question.”
Dan is the next one to receive his prophecy. Jacob says that he is to be a judge for the tribes of Israel. Notice here that Jacob mentioned the “tribes” of Israel. He apparently knows the structure of the nation before it is established.
Dan’s name means Judge but in trying to find if the judges were appointed from his tribe I couldn’t find any besides Sampson. Sampson was a judge for Israel for 20 years while they were under Philistine rule (Judges 15:20). He also let his actions speak judgement upon many of the Philistines in his lifetime. Beyond Sampson I don’t know of the origins of the judges for Israel. I believe that the elders of the cities would sit beside the city gate and judge the people on the smaller issues. I don’t think they had to be from one specific tribe or another, just leading men in that city. But God appointed special judges to lead Israel and to bring them back into His will. There was even one woman who was a judge appointed by God. These judges came from various tribes throughout Israel.
I’m curious if the portion of Dan’s prophecy regarding vipers might be refers to judges stopping a wrong direction in its tracks. When I come across a snake I RUNT the other way!!! The judges from Israel’s history were put in place to turn them back to God, no matter what tribe they came from.
Gad receives Jacob’s attention next but his prophecy is very short. My bible helps points out that the Gadites had to learn to be skillful warriors because they were attacked often by raiders. Gad, Manasseh and Reuben were separated by their brothers by the Jordan, so help was probably a bit difficult to get. They needed to be able to take care of themselves.
Asher is next. His prophecy sounds tasty. I wonder about the meaning of this. My bible helps states that their territory, along a coastal plain, was very fertile and positioned perfectly for trade. I wonder if they might also have been providers of the foods for Israel’s kings later on.
Naphtali comes next with another very short prophecy. My home area is FILLED with deer. They are beautiful and graceful creatures. They are also very fruitful. Most of the does that bring their fawns to my yard come with twins. This is not an unusual event with deer. We love watching them. Our only problem with them is that they love to eat my mother-in-law’s roses.
Joseph is next up for Jacob’s prophecies. His is very lengthy and glowing. Joseph is the one who God used to save his whole family. He listened to God and followed Him faithfully, no matter what his circumstances. Those who tried to destroy him tried in vain and he didn’t lift a finger in retaliation. No matter what was thrown at him, he prospered.
Because of Jacob adopting Joseph’s sons Joseph actually received a double portion in inheritance. I’m not certain if this was Jacob’s meaning when he spoke of Joseph’s blessings outpacing his fathers. The blessings of the womb in respect to Joseph personally would need to be referring to Ephraim and Manasseh as Joseph had no other children. But his name was not hampered in growth because he lacked other offspring. His sons carried on successfully for him. I was trying to look up the accomplishments of these two tribes but I’m running afoul. I’ll have to wait until we get there in our bible reading to know their exploits.
Benjamin is the last one Jacob addresses in his prophecies. His is very short too. My bible helps states that this allegory relates to the fact that Benjamin’s descendants were mighty warriors. When I went looking into the tribe of Benjamin I was reminded that Israel’s first king, Saul, came from this tribe. He was certainly ravenous for power and conquest. He pursued David relentlessly because he believed he wanted to wrestle the kingdom away from him. Yes, God gave the kingdom of Israel to David but he wouldn’t take it until GOD removed Saul. “I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:10).
All these prophecies were given to Jacob by God. There is no other way for Jacob/Israel to know what would become of his family. Abraham’s promise passed to Isaac and then to Jacob/Israel. I find it astounding that God changed Jacob’s name then founded the nation using his name and his son’s names. Why not Abrahamites? He was the one God gave the first promise to. Was it because Israel was the one who was so prolific in offspring? Abraham had other children later on and it is hinted at that Rebekah had other children. Why one man to one man to one man to twelve? What made Jacob so special that God chose him as the beginning of the branches?
Whatever reason, God gave Jacob a precious gift. We all want to know that our children will be ok in life, especially after we are gone. Jacob was able to look far into the future and see his children’s, children’s, children. I wonder if all the tribes attributes flowed from their “founding fathers.” Reuben, Simeon and Levi were openly rebuked for their personal behavior but their tribes would suffer for their sins. I pray it wouldn’t be so forever! Can you imagine the stigma if it was. “You are from the tribe of Reuben so of course you are sexually immoral; if not now then at some point in your life. An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree after all.”
Father God, thank You that I am not judged by the sins of my fathers [insert as many generations as You can here]. I am held accountable for my works, good or bad. I wonder where I would be today if my life mirrored Jacob’s sons’. I wonder what a glimpse down my children’s lives would reveal. Would their children’s children be following You? I’m sure they wouldn’t be a new nation unto themselves but what impact would my life have had on theirs so many generations later?
The glimpse You gave Jacob showed him that his descendants would still be following You. There would be many ups and downs but they would always return to You as their God. YOU made sure of that! Thank You for redirecting my path when I start to stray too! I wish I could see what the future holds for me right now in several areas, BUT I’m just going to stop worrying and trust You to have Your will in each of them. Forgive me for my sins and my part in the messes. Help me clean them up without anyone suffering for my sins. Guide my steps and guard my mouth in ALL I’m walking through. Thank You Father for ALWAYS being with me.