Genesis 49 affords a deathbed scene with lessons for today and for eternity. Jacob rose spiritually as he declined physically.
Jacob’s last days were his best, spiritually speaking. In his youth he cleverly schemed to accomplish his own purposes. In his mature years, he became the greatest shepherd of his day.
In his earlier years we find nothing to show that he sought to know God better. Except for God’s appearance to him at Bethel as he fled from Esau, we read nothing to indicate he was a believer until twenty years later when God appeared to him again in Haran. Nevertheless, God’s grace to him marked these years in manifold blessings. His interest in getting on in the world was reflected in his sons. Apart from Joseph, they gave little evidence they knew God or His ways.
In this article we will consider from Genesis 49 the spiritual insights he passed on to his sons before he died. In verse one we read, “Jacob called unto his sons, and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days’.”
It was a solemn moment when Jacob’s sons gathered at their father’s death bed. Such a scene was more common formerly than now. Death has a solemn reality when the family observes it.
Jacob’s Message from God for his Sons
Many commentators see a prophetic view of the history of Israel in Jacob’s words. We will look at them, however, in their personal application to the individual sons of Jacob.
He described Reuben, his firstborn in glowing terms. But the joy and bright promise Reuben’s birth brought Jacob were overshadowed and marred by the memory of Reuben’s grievous sin. Jacob pronounced words of judgment from God upon Reuben, “Thou shalt not excel” (v 4).
Simeon and Levi, the next two sons, are linked together. Jacob recalled their violent attack upon the Shechemites 24 years before. He dissociated himself from their terrible deed, pronounced a curse upon their anger and informed them they would be divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel (verses 5-7).
Judah, the fourth son, was the first to receive unstinting praise from his father. Jacob told him his brothers would praise and bow before him (v 8). Then to Judah, Jacob pronounced the promise so treasured by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -that the Messiah would be his descendant. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (v 10). Verses 11 and 12 detail additional blessings.
Jacob mentions his sons in the order of their birth until he comes to Zebulon, Leah’s sixth son. It is quite likely the four sons of the handmaidens, as well as Zebulon’s older brother Issachar, were born between Judah and Zebulon. Jacob mentions Issachar after Zebulon.
Jacob relates nothing about ZebuIon’s character or deeds. He speaks prophetically of the inheritance that would be his “at the haven of the sea” (v 13). He spoke of Issachar as, 11 a strong ass couching down between two burdens: And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute” (vs 14-15). This may suggest that, though Issachar and his descendants would be strong and able to work hard, they would seek ease instead and this would lead to bondage to others.
Next he mentions Dan, the firstborn son of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaiden. “Dan shall judge his people…” and “…shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels so that his rider shall fall backward” (vs 1617). God intended Dan to be the tribe teaching His judgments to His people. Yet there is no evidence Dan was noted for this. The failure of the tribe of Dan was so total, it is missing from the roster of tribes and the 144,000 “servants of our God” in Revelation 7. The second statement above suggests a character that harms others. It is significant that the Danites were first in idolatry (Jud 18). Samson, from the tribe of Dan, was one of the Judges, whose history was marred by his lack of control over fleshly desires.
Gad, Asher (the two sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaiden) and Naphtah (Bilhah’s second son) are mentioned briefly. Gad would be overcome, but would ultimately be an overcomer (v 19). Asher would receive ample food and would also “yield royal dainties” (v 20). “Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words” (v 21). He would know freedom and would bless others by his speech.
Jacob mentions his favorite son, Joseph, in the order of his birth, number eleven. Joseph is one of the preeminent pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ found in the Old Testament. Jacob’s words about Joseph repeatedly remind us of Christ. Consider: “Joseph is a fruitful bough…” (v 22). “The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him” (v 23). “They shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren” (v 26). Who was more fruitful, more sorely grieved, more hated, more worthy of a crown than our blessed Lord, the One Who provided for His brethren even as Joseph had done?
Jacob pronounced a series of rich blessings upon Joseph also. Surely this also reminds us of the Father’s approval of His beloved Son. Jacob honored his faithful son, Joseph. You and I shall one day stand in the presence of our heavenly Joseph while the Father heaps honors upon Him.
Jacob spoke finally of his youngest son, Benjamin. “Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil” (v 27). This pictures a fierce beast who is successful in his quest for prey. The Benjamites became renowned warriors. Saul, Israel’s first king, was hailed as a warrior when he came to the throne. There was a fierceness to his character not unlike that of a wolf. He was not a man of God.
Lessons for Us Today
Jacob must have known much of communion with God to speak to his sons of what lay ahead for them. We can also tell others of “things to come” only after communion with God. A thoughtful reader will remember that Judah also had dark chapters in his life not unlike those of his older brothers upon whom Jacob pronounced curses and judgment from God. Why was judgment not pronounced upon him also? We may suggest two answers. Without doubt it was of God’s grace, His sovereign choice. “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Rom 9:21). We may also suggest that Judah had a day of conversion mi
His life. Details of his later years following the mention of his sin in Genesis 38 are limited, but he is the one who was willing to become surety for Benjamin. The winsomeness seen in Judah then is very like our Lord Jesus, Who became Surety for us. It is what we would expect of a person who has been converted.
Let us be mindful of the multitude of blessings we too have received from the Lord. May we be properly appreciative and thankful to Him from Whom all blessings flow.
Until Shiloh Come
The meaning of this beautiful phrase, found in verse ten, is not explained in the context nor by other references in our Bible. Shiloh is the name of the city north of Jerusalem where the tabernacle was first erected when the Israelites entered the promised land. It is called “the house of God” in Judges 18:31. By Jeremiah’s day God spoke of it as having been judged for its wickedness (Jer 7:12). Instead of being the house of God, it was then under a curse.
The context here is unquestionably a reference to the coming of the Lord Jesus. The word Shiloh is linked with the ordinary greeting between Middle Eastern people, “Shalom” which means “peace.” Strong’s concordance gives the meaning of the word as a “place of rest.” Mr. Newberry in a marginal note gives “Pacificator,” or “Whose it is.” Dear unsaved reader, only His coming into your life will bring true peace and rest. To a world that ows no peace, He Who is “the Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6) will shortly come. “Even so come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).