Tag Archives: Judges 11

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)

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Bible Study, Genesis

Genesis 31: Open mouth, insert foot…

My study today continued the story of Jacob in Paddan Aram, working for his uncle Laban in order to “buy” his daughters, Leah and Rachel. Jacob is starting to realize that Laban hasn’t been treating him extremely well by coaxing him to work for him for all these years. Jacob has gotten more than he bargained for in getting two wives (and their maidservants). He’s got at least 12 children by now, which is enough to drive anyone crazy, and his wives have fought over which could give him children. Life hasn’t been easy for Jacob, but God has blessed him by increasing his flocks. Jacob is now looking to leave Laban and head back to his own country, taking his wives, children, and flocks with him.

There are probably a lot of good lessons to learn from this story, but one particular thing stood out to me. Before they left, Rachel (Laban’s younger daughter) sneaks in and steals Laban’s household gods. I assume these were some kind of idols (which is a whole other topic to study!). Jacob and clan head out towards his home country, and Laban comes home to find them gone. He promptly mounts up and pursues them. Apparently Jacob wasn’t traveling too fast (it must be hard with 12 kids and 4 wives…just think of all the bathroom stops!), because Laban ends up catching up with him. Now, Laban is ticked about the fact that Jacob left in secret, but one thing he immediately mentions is the stealing of his household gods. Jacob, who knows nothing of Rachel stealing them, quickly becomes offended, and in his anger he makes the statement “…if you find anyone who has your gods, he shall not live.”   WHAT??  That is a scary thing to say when you are surrounded by at least 16 people you care a lot about!  Rachel, who must know what has been going on, goes back to her tent and sits down on the bag which has the gods in it.  Laban enters her tent, she makes an excuse for why she can’t get up (her period, of all things!), and Laban leaves.  Whew!  Catastrophe averted…

I haven’t read further in the story, so I don’t know if Jacob finds out later that Rachel stole them, but I would like to focus on this day for right now. Jacob, who I guess really believed that no one of his people could have stolen from Laban, makes a very hasty statement. But had Laban found those idols, I am not sure either men would have had Rachel killed. Knowing how seriously people took their words back then, I wouldn’t put it past them. And that would have been an extremely tragic story.

I happen to remember a pretty tragic story that is very similar. In Judges 11, it tells the story of Jephthah. He was the leader of the Isrealite forces at the time, and he was leading them in battle against the Ammonites. As they were going into battle, Jephthah made a vow to God, saying “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”  Wow!  The door of your house?  Really?  How about the door of your barn, or the first animal you see? But the door of your house?  And of course, when Jephthah wins in battle and return home, who is the first one out of his door but his own daughter, his only child. He was overwhelmed with grief, as I know I would be. And he kept his promise to God and sacrificed his own daughter. Tragic…

I can’t help but think that both Jacob and Jephthah needed to be a little less hasty in what they vowed to do. People that know me know that I don’t talk a lot (at least not in social situations), so you would think that I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with saying things hastily, but I do. I think we all do, and it’s something that we all should work to improve on. An example from my life: a few months ago I interviewed and was offered a position with a company doing something that was somewhat related to what I wanted to do, but not exactly what I wanted to do. I had been looking for a job for a while, so I wanted to say yes so badly. Fortunately, the Lord helped my wife and I be patient and to not make a hasty decision. A couple of months later I was offered another job at a company doing exactly what I wanted to do, getting paid almost twice as much as the first job. Had I taken the first job, I know I would have stuck with it for a while, and this second opportunity would have come and gone. I’m thankful that God helped us to not make a hasty decision in this case.

So anyway, to sum up, I want to point out that there is an ironic twist to both of these stories – the location where Jacob promised to kill whoever stole Laban’s idols was Mizpah. And where do you think Jephthah was from? You got it…Mizpah. A very small place (on the map, at least) in the eastern part of Israel. So this tells me that the moral to these stories is one of two things: either we should never go to Mizpah, or we need to be a little more careful about what we say.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible Study, Genesis, Life Application