Tag Archives: Genesis 35

Genesis 49: The Blessing of Jacob’s Sons…

In Genesis 49, Jacob calls together his 12 sons and blesses them before his death. He calls each son by name and speaks of their pasts as well as their futures. I thought it would be an interesting study to take each of these sons of Jacob and analyze their blessings, attempting to apply what is said of them by their father to our own lives.

Reuben

Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son, born to his wife Leah. Leah had been forced on Jacob, and in Genesis 29:31, it specifically states that she was not loved by him.  Because of this, God showed mercy to her by giving her a son, whom she named Reuben and said “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (Genesis 29:32). My online Bible comments that “Reuben sounds like the Hebrew for he has seen my misery ; the name means see, a son.” Later in the text, it mentions that Reuben slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah, and Israel (Jacob) heard about it (Genesis 35). This extremely short verse appears as almost an afterthought in Genesis 35, but it ends up playing a huge role in the story as a whole. In chapter 49, when Jacob blesses Reuben he says “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.”  This was Reuben’s blessing in its entirety – so basically, one act of indiscretion (however large it may be) lost Reuben all of his inheritance. Later, in 1 Chronicles 5:1-2, it states that even though Reuben was the firstborn, because of his sin the firstborn rights were given to Joseph. Reuben could no longer even be listed first in the genealogical order. The lesson I take from this is the seriousness with which God sees sin. It’s not just some simple act of indiscretion that can be overlooked whenever we sin – because of His righteousness and holiness, justice must be served when we sin. Unfortunately for Reuben, the concept of grace was still foreign, and he had to live with the consequence.

Simeon & Levi

Simeon and Levi are Reuben’s younger brothers, born to Leah. When Simeon was born, Leah said “Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too,” and my commentary says that “Simeon probably means one who hears.” When Levi was born Leah said “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons,” and my commentary states that “Levi sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for attached.” Unfortunately for Leah, none of these 3 sons brought Jacob any closer to becoming attached to her, and Jacob didn’t particularly become attached to any of these sons either. Reuben, of course, was because he defiled his father’s marriage bed, but for Simeon and Levi, it was because of the revenge they enacted on the Shechemites when their ruler raped Dinah, Jacob’s daughter.  Simeon and Levi, with the help of the rest of their brothers, attacked the Shechemites and killed every last male (Genesis 34).  Because of this, Jacob said “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.” (v. 30). Later, during the blessing, Jacob says of them “Simeon and Levi are brothers—their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.” This is an interesting statement, because Jacob does not curse the sons for their actions, but he curses their anger. Let’s face it – at least part of us thinks that it’s awesome that Simeon and Levi were passionate enough to serve justice to the Shechemites, regardless of how ruthless they were. I think Jacob may have felt this way too – so, as Matthew Henry puts it, “Jacob does not curse their persons, but their lusts.” An interesting side note – Jacob states in their blessing/curse that he will scatter/disperse them. In Henry’s commentary, he mentions that this sounds like a curse, but that it in fact becomes a blessing for Levi, who’s descendants were spread throughout the tribes of Israel to serve as priests.

Judah

When Judah was born to Leah she said “This time I will praise the LORD,” and the name Judah sounds like the Hebrew word for praise (Genesis 29:35). Judah’s blessing is one of the longest, but Judah’s descendants also play the largest role in the history of the nation of Israel. It is Judah’s descendants who become the rulers of all the tribes of Israel, foretold in the blessing  – “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you…the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his” (Genesis 49:8,10). Jacob also foretells of the coming of one of Jacob’s descendants who will be greater than all others – “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” (v. 10, emphasis added). My commentary says that this part – “to whom it belongs” – means “Or until Shiloh comes ; or until he comes to whom tribute belongs” meaning when one comes who is greater than all others. Jacob also says that Judah will “tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch” – Christ calls himself “the true vine” in John 15:1, and later Jacob calls Joseph “a fruitful vine,” (Genesis 49:22) and Joseph is seen by many as a figure who foreshadows the being of Christ.

Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, & Naphtali

Each of these sons of Jacob receives a foretelling of what their descendants will be like or live through.

  • Zebulun is told he will leave by the sea and become a haven for ships. An interesting side note – one commentary I read said that when Joshua assigned the allotments of land to the tribes of Israel, Zebulun received the region of Galilee along the shore of Lake Tiberias, reaching to the Mediterranean Sea. Zebulun was also an important “haven” in another respect (other than just for ships) – after fleeing King Herod, upon returning from Egypt, Joseph and Mary, with their child Jesus, took refuge in Galilee, the land allotted to Zebulun.
  • Issachar is told that he will enjoy his new land, perhaps to the point that he would live their as a slave rather in order to stay there, rather than fight for it.
  • Dan is told that his tribe will provide justice for the people of Israel. The name Dan means “judge” or “he who vindicates,” but there is no history linking the person of Dan to this prophecy. Samson, the future judge of Israel, does come from this tribe, though (Judges 13).
  • Gad is told that he “will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.” (Genesis 49:19). It’s interesting to note that “Gad was one of the tribes who chose to stay on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead (along with the Reubenites, see Numbers 32), rather than cross the Jordan and be with the other tribes within the promised land. Because of this, they were isolated from the other tribes, and thus, were subject to attacks by border raiders” (see Judges 10:8, Judges 11:4, 1 Chronicles 5:18, and Jeremiah 49:1).
  • Asher is told that his “food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.” (Genesis 49:20). The tribe of Asher is later allotted an area that was prosperous and known for its wheat, olive oil, milk, and butter (all delicacies at that time).
  • Naphtali is called “a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.” Some believe that this is a prophecy of the fact that a later prophetess and judge – Deborah – came from the tribe of Naphtali (see Judges 4). The latter portion of Jacob’s blessing – “…that bears beautiful fawns” – is translated “he giveth goodly words,” which some  believe to be a prophecy of the song of Deborah in Judges 5.

Joseph

Jacob has already blessed Joseph and his 2 sons at an earlier time (see Genesis 48), so in this blessing Jacob refers mainly to Joseph’s past of perseverance and staying strong through adversity. Joseph was a blessing to all those around him – to the Egyptians and to all those around Egypt – “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.” Joseph was imprisoned and persecuted, but he stayed strong – “with bitterness archers attacked him;
they shot at him with hostility.  But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber.”  It was because of God that Joseph was able to succeed – “…because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,  because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you…”

Benjamin

Benjamin is told that he “is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.” It is thought that this prophetically refers to the tribe of Benjamin’s fierceness and courage. Historically, this is very accurate. For fierceness, note that Ehud, a judge of Israel mentioned in Judges 3, was a Benjamite. Under the guise of paying tribute, he got close to the king of Moab and plunged a sword into his fat belly. “Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.” (v. 22). Great story!!!  Also, the apostle Paul was a Benjamite, and he is remembered for how he fiercely persecuted the church before his conversion (see Acts 9).  For courage, note that Mordecai and Esther were Benjamites, and few stories in the Bible tell of more courage than that of these two characters (see the book of Esther)

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Genesis 43-44: We are defined by our actions…

My study today had me go through both Genesis 43 and 44, so this post will be covering 2 chapters as opposed to the 1 chapter I usually cover per day.

In the previous chapter (42), Joseph’s brothers had come to Egypt in search of food to take back to their families in Canaan. Joseph, a man of power now, meets with them (though they don’t recognize him), and works it so that one brother (Simeon) has to stay in Egypt while the rest return to Canaan to get their other brother Benjamin and bring him back. Their father, Jacob, refuses to let Benjamin go. So in chapter 43, we see that what little food they were able to bring back from their first trip to Egypt has run out, and Jacob is now telling his sons to go back and get more. The sons, of course, know that they cannot go without taking Benjamin, and Judah stands up and says that he will take personal responsibility for Benjamin if Jacob will let him go with them. Jacob says yes, and they all head to Egypt for a second time. Joseph greets them when they arrive, and of course, they bow to him. Joseph prepares a feast at his home and gives Benjamin 5 times as much food as the others (he is his full-blood brother, after all). He gives them all the grain they can carry, he returns their silver, and he has one of his possessions (a silver cup) placed in Benjamin’s bag without any of his brothers knowing it. When the brothers head back to Canaan, Joseph has his servant stop them and accuse them of stealing his cup. The brothers vehemently deny that they would do this, but when they open their bags, Benjamin is found to have the cup in his bag. Benjamin is taken back to Joseph (supposedly to become Joseph’s slave), and the rest of the brothers go with him – they had promised their father they wouldn’t let anything happen to little Ben. Judah, who had taken personal responsibility for Benjamin, approaches Joseph and pleads to take Benjamin’s place, saying that his father would die if Benjamin was lost.

The thing that stood out to me today was the role of Judah throughout this entire story. If you recall earlier in the story, when Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelite merchants as a slave, it was really Judah’s idea. In Genesis 37:26-27 it says “Judah said to his brothers, ‘What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.’ His brothers agreed.”  Of course, you could look at this and say that Judah was talking his brothers out of killing Joseph, and this would place him in a much better light – but from a more responsible approach, if Judah had been wanting to take better care of Joseph, he wouldn’t have let him be sold as a slave. In general, slavery in ancient Egypt may not have been as bad as some people might think (see this site for a description of the treatment of Ancient Egyptian slaves), but this is not to say that slaves were not treated harshly and beaten, or that they had very few, if any, liberties of their own. To some, life without freedom is worst than death. So I contend with the point that Judah was being responsible here.

Interestingly, though Judah may have come up with the idea to sell Joseph as a slave, he was much more responsible when it came to handling Benjamin’s life. A lot had happened in Judah’s life since Joseph had left (see Genesis 38 to read about the Tamar debacle). Judah personally stood up and took responsibility for Benjamin with his father – he told him “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.” (Genesis 43:8-9), and Jacob gave in.  This tells me that Jacob may have had a lot more respect for Judah than Reuben (the oldest) – when they had returned from their first journey to Egypt and asked to take Benjamin back, and Jacob refused, Reuben told Jacob “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back” (Genesis 42:37). Of course, Reuben had slept with one of Jacob’s wives (see Genesis 35:22). But Jacob still refused that first time. Jacob listened to Judah and allowed Benjamin to go.

When they were before Joseph and about to lose Benjamin as a slave, Judah stood up and begged for Benjamin’s life – he pleaded that he be taken as a slave instead of Benjamin, at least for the sake of their father’s life. I’m not sure most people would see the correlation between the fact that Judah had sold Joseph as a slave, but wouldn’t allow Benjamin to be taken as one.  We saw in the previous chapters how guilt had affected the brothers, and this stand taken by Judah was an action he was willing to take to make up for the fact that he had screwed up in this area once already. He wasn’t going to let it happen again.

I, personally, am not a Judah fan (the person, not the kingdom that came later). I’m still a little mad about the whole sell-Joseph-as-a-slave thing. And I haven’t forgotten how he treated Tamar – sending her off to her father’s home so that he doesn’t have to deal with her, then so easily permitting her to be killed for prostitution when he himself had just recently slept with a prostitute (it was her, but he didn’t know that). But he shows a little growth here, and his actions prove that.

So much of how we live in our journeys through Christian spirituality is internal (i.e., belief, hope, knowledge, love) that sometimes it’s so easy to go around acting like we are doing well spiritually, when actually we’re dead as can be. It’s when we display actions that prove that we have these internal qualities that we are truly spiritually alive.

  • Sure, we can believe all we want – “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:19). Without outward signs of trust – living outwardly as if we trust God wholeheartedly – belief is not faith. It’s just belief, and it gets you nowhere.
  • Hope is wonderful – I know a lot of people who hope they win the lottery, but if they never buy a ticket, their hope is in vain.
  • They say that knowledge is power, but I disagree. I love martial arts movies, and I have a few instructional books, but without actually physically practicing under the instruction of someone else, I will never be a proficient martial artist.
  • Many people try to go through their marriages getting by on the ‘feelings’ of love. Unfortunately, our feelings change from day to day, and people’s marriages fail day after day. Love is a verb – it requires action.

So, although I’m still a little mad a Judah for his past transgressions, I will say that his actions are showing that he is not the same guy he used to be. And if we want to prove ourselves to be spiritually health, we must take action as well. It’s our actions that define us.

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Genesis 37: From bad to worse…

I wrote a short post the other day over my Bible study on Genesis 37:1-4. Yesterday, my study covered the rest of Genesis 37, and I’m afraid the situation for Joseph has gone from bad to worse. In the first 4 verses it says that, because their father showed obvious favoritism for Joseph (he even gave him a nice, colorful tunic), his brothers “hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” That is definitely bad – I have had people who hated me and couldn’t speak a kind word to me, and I can say from experience that it feels bad. But Joseph didn’t go making things better for himself. In the rest of chapter 37 it tells of how Joseph would have dreams and would tell his brothers and father about them, and they would interpret the dreams to mean that Joseph was saying that they would all bow down to him (never a good way to make a good impression). So to shorten the story, Joseph ends up getting sent to his brothers while they are out with the flocks, and his brothers see him coming. They plot to kill him and throw him in a pit, but Reuben (the oldest) talks them out of it. Instead, he says they should just throw him in the pit without killing him, and he plans to go back later and save him. Well, they do throw him in the pit, but before Reuben can save Joseph, Judah (another one of the brothers) sees some Ishmaelite merchants coming up and has the bright idea that instead of killing him, they should sell Joseph to the merchants as a slave (“after all,” he says, “he is our own flesh and blood!” – such a great brother). So they do this, and they take his pretty tunic and dip it in blood and take it back to their father to make him think that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.

There are a couple of things that stand out to me in the story. The first is the part that Reuben played in it. Reuben is the firstborn son of Jacob, and he has already messed up his life by sleeping with one of his father’s concubines. In Genesis 35:22 it says “While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.” Isreal, of course, being Jacob. Later, when it comes time for Jacob to bless his sons, he says to Reuben: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.” (Genesis 49:3-4). So how did a guy who would sleep with one of his father’s wives (technically, concubine, but in God’s eyes I think if Jacob was sleeping with her, she was his wife) go from being a nasty pervert to his half-brother’s champion?  I really don’t know!  Matthew Henry’s commentary on this topic brought up a good point – “Reuben had most reason to be jealous of Joseph, for he was the first-born; yet he proves his best friend.”

The other thing that stood out for me didn’t come to me until after I read Matthew Henry’s commentary on this chapter. The story of Joseph is a great example of a foreshadowing event of Christ’s story. As Henry puts it “Joseph was a type of Christ; for though he was the beloved Son of his Father, and hated by a wicked world (his brothers), yet the Father sent him out of his bosom to visit us in great humility and love. He came from heaven to earth to seek and save us; yet then malicious plots were laid against him…” I absolutely love how the Old Testament foreshadows the coming of Christ. It proves to me that there is a God whose perfect plan has always been in place since the beginning. The unity of the Bible is one of the greatest faith-builders for me, and this story has contributed to that for me.

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Genesis 35: Nobody’s perfect…

Today’s study was on Genesis 35. The narrative begins with God coming and speaking to Jacob. He tells Jacob to go to Bethel and to build an altar there to Him. Jacob responds by requiring that all of the “foreign gods” be thrown away by those in his household, and that they purify themselves. He buried the idols under a tree in Shechem, and he and his household traveled to Bethel. The passage says that no one attacked them on their way because the “terror of God fell upon the towns all around them.” When they got to Bethel, Jacob built the altar, and God spoke to him again. God told him again that He gave Jacob and his descendants the land that he was on, the same land he promised to Abraham and to Isaac. God also told Jacob that his name would now be Israel. Jacob responded to this meeting by pouring out a drink offering on the stone pillar, and pouring oil on the pillar.  The story continues with Jacob moving on towards where Isaac was living. Along the way, before they reached Ephrath (which v. 19 says is the same town as Bethlehem – see the map below), Rachel dies giving birth to their son Benjamin. They bury her and continue to Hebron where Isaac is living. A short side story emerges as it tells of how Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah (I think this becomes important later). The chapter ends with a listing of all 12 of Jacob’s sons, and tells how Isaac dies and is buried by Esau and Jacob.

There are many good things that can be taken from this chapter. My study points out that, as God spoke to Jacob, Jacob responded every time in ways that, I believe, were very pleasing to God. For one, when God told Jacob to go to Bethel and build an altar to Him there, Jacob not only did so, but he prepared himself and his household first by throwing away the foreign gods and purifying themselves (I would assume ceremonially and physically). I believe that this extra concern about coming before God in purity was pleasing to God. Fortunately, because of Christ we no longer have to purify ourselves to come before God – Jesus has done that for us. A second example of Jacob’s response to God was when God spoke to him after he built the altar. God reminded Jacob of his promise to give him that land, and He changed Jacob’s name to Isreal (which he says in ch. 32 is because he “struggled with God and with men and have overcome”). Jacob responded to God’s blessing with worship, which is always the proper response to God’s blessings.

I think that I often read about Jacob and I only see his faults – the fact that he was a deceiver (to both Esau and to his father Isaac). He also played favorites with his wives and sons, which comes to a head later in the story. But Jacob was actually a good man, the type of man that truly attempted to please God. He worshiped God, he tried to follow God’s commands, and wanted to please God – these are things that couldn’t be said of Esau or many other people of that time. I think he took very seriously the religious heritage of his family, and it definitely shows in this chapter.

One other thing that I hope remember from this chapter is how, when Jacob and his family were traveling from Shechem to Bethel, it says that the “terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.” I just think this is awesome! And it tells us that when God has ordained something to occur, He takes care of the outside details that affect whether or not it will get done. Jacob was scared that the surrounding towns would attack them because of how Simeon and Levi and his other sons had treated the Shechemites. But God, who gave the orders to go to Bethel, didn’t allow that to happen. It’s comforting to me to think that when I have a fear, my God is bigger and badder (in a good way) than anything that might have a desire to attack me.

The path Jacob and family took while traveling from Shechem to Bethel to where Isaac was living.

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