Genesis 47:29 - 49:12
The patriarchs, being men of faith, viewed Canaan as being the land of Messiah's glory, and though now descending into the grave, they expected to see that glory in a coming day. The closing verses of Hebrews 11 sum up the situation. Though they believed they did not receive that which was promised.
They were waiting, though they did not know it, for further purposes of God to come to light, and the church was yet to be gathered out of all nations. Hence we read that they—the Old Testament saints—without us—the saints composing the church—"should not be made perfect." In a glorified condition we shall all reach perfection together at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The one event in Jacob's life which is singled out in Hebrews 11, as exemplifying the faith that was in him, is his blessing of the sons of Joseph. The importance of this act of his is evident here, for the whole of Genesis 48 is given up to the account of it. Being upon his deathbed, Joseph and his two sons arrived to see him, and it is striking how at once Jacob reverted to the moment when first he was brought into contact with God, as recorded in Genesis 28. The blessing then granted he remembered and the promises then made he rehearsed in a way that shows that he received them in faith. They were blessings of an earthly sort, but in the sons of Joseph he saw the beginning of their fulfilment.
There appears to be an element of prophecy in verse 5, for in the history of the nation Joseph's two sons were treated just as though they had been sons of Jacob, as Reuben and Simeon were his; each being treated as the head of a tribe, and all Joseph's posterity were ranged under the heads of these two tribes.
Then further, having recalled the original blessing received from God at Bethel, he passed on to recall the greatest sorrow of his life when Rachel, the mother of Joseph, died in the vicinity of Bethlehem. His faith could not embrace the distinction that was yet to come to the place, for centuries had to pass before prophecy indicated that spot as the birthplace of the great Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity. It was to be the place where not only was there to be a mourning for Rachel, but also where there should be a great mourning, "Rachel weeping for her children," according to Matthew 2: 18.
When Rachel died Jacob was still in full strength; now his natural strength was gone, his eyes were dim, so that he could not even discern the sons of Joseph. In his days of vigour he had too frequently walked by the sight of his own eyes; now at the close he begins to walk and act by faith and not by sight, and at the same time he realizes the exceeding kindness of God toward him. He had spent weary years thinking that never again would he see the face of his beloved son, and now not only had he seen him but his seed also. Upon the two sons he would now bestow his blessing.
With filial piety Joseph bowed down before his father and then presented them with due respect to their ages, so that Jacob's right hand might rest upon the head of the elder, according to the custom of those days. At that moment it was the faith of Jacob that was prominent—faith which led to his possessing the spirit of prophecy. Consequently he reversed what Joseph had done, and crossing his hands he laid his right hand upon Ephraim and not Manasseh.
Herein we may see a parable that has meaning for us. The name Manasseh means Forgetting, which is negative in its bearing, whereas Ephraim means Fruitful, which definitely bears a positive character. The first man and his race are negative as regards God, the complete negation of all His thoughts. In Christ, the Second Man, is the Yea and Amen to all God's thoughts, and all fruitfulness is found in Him. He is indeed the Man of God's right hand, and it is a great day in the spiritual history of each of us when we heartily endorse the fact that the first man is dispossessed by the Second, and therefore we turn away from self-seeking to find our all in Christ.
Once more then we find a type pointing forward to the word, "He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second" (Heb. 10: 9). When challenged by Joseph, Jacob held his ground, and though Manasseh was definitely blessed, yet Ephraim was given priority. The probation of mankind was running its course at this time and the test was not completed. Hence the time had not come for the conclusive judgment of the first man to be set forth in type, but only the fact that the Second should dispossess the first.
Again in verse 21 we hear the accents of faith. Israel knew that he was about to die, but his eye was lifted from himself to God. He had done much scheming in his time, but now he recognized that the only thing that really mattered was the presence and purpose of God. No matter what he himself had been nor what his sons would prove themselves to be, God would be true to them and to His purpose to give them the land that He had promised. At last, God and His word was the stay of Israel's soul, and we shall be happy if, long before we come to the end of life's journey, we discover that there, and there only, is stability and security to be found. Thereby we shall be spared much of the fruitless and heart-breaking scheming which we have seen characterizing him.
The last verse of the chapter seems to allude to an episode not previously recorded. We read of, "the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph" (John 4: 5), and Joshua 24: 32 seems also to refer to this gift. If so, we must identify it with the transaction recorded in Genesis 33: 19, and that was close to the bad and warlike action of his sons Simeon and Levi, yet no mention is made there as to sword and bow in the hands of Jacob. However, there was the acquisition of a portion in the land as the result of conflict as well as purchase, and it was given to Joseph, who became thereby lord of that little portion of the land as well as lord of all Egypt. It was a kind of foretaste and pledge that ultimately the whole land would be possessed.
In Genesis 49, we find Jacob still presented to us as a man of faith. He called his sons together that he might pronounce a blessing upon them, and he was conscious that in so doing he was speaking as a prophet and foretelling that which should befall them in the last days. We are on safe ground therefore in interpreting his utterances as referring to "the last days," and not merely to the more immediate future experiences of the tribes.
Reuben was the firstborn and in him more especially the might, the strength, the dignity and the power of Jacob should be seen. The very beginning of Jacob's strength and excellency were to be expressed in him. And what was expressed? Nothing but instability and self-gratification, which was defiling and an outrage on all natural decency. What a disappointment for Jacob to see this evil manifested as the beginning of his strength!
Here surely we have predicted that which marked Israel the nation all through their sad history, and particularly when they were tested under the law. Whether in the wilderness or in the land; whether under Moses or Joshua or the Judges or the Kings; their story is one long record of unstable fluctuations between the worship of Jehovah and of idols. They were defiled by their adulterous connection with false gods. And in contemplating this we must remember that they were the sample nation, selected that the test of man might be carried out in them. In their condemnation all the nations stand condemned; ourselves included as men in the flesh.
Simeon and Levi come next. Their father never forgot their cruel and violent action, as recorded in Genesis 34, and he dissociated himself from it. They claimed to be avenging the honour of their sister, but with what they did Jacob's honour would not be united, and he denounced it as the fruit of their anger. The allusion here is again to that which was past, and in which their natural character was seen. But to what did it refer prophetically?
It refers, we believe, to that terrible outbreak of anger and cruelty in the nation, which reached its climax in the rejection and death of Christ. Stephen speaks of Him as "the Just One," in contrast to the sinful men that were slain by Simeon and Levi, and he added, "of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7: 52). Strikingly enough Simeon and Levi achieved their murderous intent by a preliminary act of betrayal.
The last clause of verse 6 is obscure, inasmuch as the reading is not certain. But taking it as it stands, "they digged down a wall," we may apply to the fact that in murdering their Messiah and Deliverer, they destroyed their own separated position, and digged down by so doing the wall of protection that had been theirs. They are still in a very full sense the scattered nation, and that in spite of a partial return to their own land.
Consequently there rests upon them nationally the curse of which Jacob spoke in verse 7. Indeed, as we know, they took the curse upon themselves in the presence of Pilate, the representative of the ruling Gentile power. Verse 7 is still being fulfilled before our eyes to this day, though early in their history a fulfilment of it began. Simeon was soon much weakened and relegated to an unimportant place among the tribes, whilst Levi was separated from them. But that was because after several centuries Levi was zealous not for his own honour but for God's honour, and used his sword to vindicate God's holiness.
We see, then, in verses 5-7, a prophetic reference to the death of their Messiah at the hands of the nation, resulting in the curse and scattering being their portion, as to this day. This is a national matter and does not conflict with the action of God's grace in still calling out from among them a remnant according to His election.
In the blessing of Judah an entirely different note is struck. In verses 8-12, we turn to a prophecy which refers to Christ, who though rejected and slain, as we have just seen, emerges triumphant both in grace and in judgment. There is a play upon Judah's name, for it means "Praise," and Christ is to be the Object of universal praise, as we see in Revelation 5; praise which shall fill both heaven and earth and go far beyond anything foreseen by Jacob. Two classes are seen in verse 8—his brethren and his enemies. His brethren are to sound out his praise, and his enemies are to feel the power of his hand in subjugation; and how these things, spoken of Judah, point on to Christ, it is easy to see. Here his father's children are to bow down before Judah, as representing Christ, just as previously they were to bow down before Joseph, since he represented Christ.
In verse 9 Judah is compared to a lion, as a king among beasts. Here we see an allusion to Christ acting in judgment. Genesis is the seed-plot of the Bible. We pass to Revelation where everything reaches fruition and finality, and in Revelation 5 we find "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" about to take the book of judgment and break its seals. And the universe is filled with His praises. The connection is too plain for us to miss. In this way old Jacob must have rejoiced to see the day of Christ, though doubtless not so fully as Abraham did.
Verse 10 contains a striking prophecy, indicating that Judah would be the tribe out of whom should come the kingly line, culminating in "Shiloh," a term which is taken to refer to Christ as the Prince of peace. And of course we know that our Lord, as concerning the flesh, sprang out of Judah, as we are reminded in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Out of that kingly line He sprang, as is shown by the two genealogies recorded by Matthew and Luke. But at the end of that verse another striking fact is alluded to, for the word, "people," is more correctly, "peoples;" that is, it refers to the nations generally and not merely to the nation of Israel. And the coming of Shiloh has resulted in His becoming, by reason of His rejection and death, the Centre of gathering for a multitude out of all nations; and in the coming age He will be visibly the Centre not only of Israel but of the nations also.
The prophetic allusions of verses 11 and 12 are not so clear, especially as the language is highly poetic and figurative. We cannot miss the words, "His foal," and "His ass's colt," which at once carry our thoughts to Zechariah's prophecy and its fulfilment as our Lord presented Himself to Jerusalem, as is shown in Matthew 21: 5. It looks therefore as if the words relate to His first advent rather than to His second, and thus refer to His sufferings and to the grace which is proffered as the result of them.
In Isaiah 55: 1 the Gentiles are in view for the call goes forth to "every one" that thirsts. "Wine and milk" are free for all. Our verses would indicate the reason. They are free because procured as the result of what He has done.
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