Thus far, in the blessing of the tribes, we have seen predicted the sorrowful history of Israel up to Christ, and Christ Himself presented as the Object of praise and the Wielder of power, though a hint be given of His suffering at His first advent.
With Zebulon, in verse 13 we pass to a prediction which sets forth that which has characterized the people after they rejected their Messiah. That tribe did occupy the north-western part of the land toward Zidon, which brought them into contact with the wide outlook of the shipping world, and for many centuries now the Jew has been pushed out all over the world and has given himself up to commerce, of which ships are an appropriate symbol.
With this Issachar also is connected. The figures here are very graphic. The Jew has indeed proved himself to be possessed of remarkable strength, but he has been continually pressed down beneath his two burdens, which he has endured for the sake of rest for his wandering feet and for a pleasant life. He has been burdened with the labour of acquiring wealth on the one hand, and of being "a servant unto tribute," on the other. Again and again has he crouched under the burden of having to yield up in some kind of tribute much of what he had burdened himself with.
These two tribes, then, set forth that which has characterized the people during this long period that has succeeded the rejection of their Messiah. Now in Dan, verses 16-18, we have a prediction of the antichrist , who is to come. When the true Judge of Israel appeared, His unbelieving people smote Him with a rod upon the cheek as Micah foretold: now another judge will appear, represented by Dan. The true Judge came with an authority which was Divine: the false will judge "as one of the tribes of Israel;" that is, his authority springs from man, for he will come "in his own name," as the Lord said in John 5: 43.
Moreover there will be about him an authority and power that is of the serpent — Satanic, as New Testament scriptures show. Ungodly Jews of those days may imagine they are riding forward to victory, but in result they will be like a rider falling backward to disaster. The Jews have suffered many bitter things since they slew Christ, but the bitterest things lie before them under the brief domination of antichrist .
The contemplation of these things moved the prophetic soul of the patriarch, and led him to express his personal faith and hope. "I have waited for Thy salvation O Lord." This is the first occurrence of the word, "salvation," in our English Bible. Jacob had to wait for it. Many centuries after old Simeon could say, "Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation," and we can each now say, that in heart and life we have experienced it. But, in the sense in which Jacob thought of it, the cry still goes forth, "Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!" (Ps. 14: 7).
In verses 19-21, the three tribes, Gad, Asher and Naphtali, are grouped together, and Jacob's words seem to set forth the experiences of the godly in Israel as the antichrist is overthrown and replaced by the true Messiah. At first everything will conspire to overcome them under the persecuting power of the "beasts," of whom we read in Revelation 13. They will be persecuted and reviled for righteousness sake, but at the end theirs will be the kingdom, as the Lord stated in Matthew 5: 10-12. Like Gad they will overcome at the last.
Having overcome by the grace and power of Christ in His second advent, they will enjoy the fatness and royal dainties of the kingdom, as indicated in Asher. Further, as indicated in the word to Naphtali, they will have liberty secured to them.
The figure is a graphic one, for the "hind" is the female deer, naturally apprehensive and not furnished with horns for its own defence. Brought into this place of secure liberty, their mouths are opened with "goodly words." No longer will praise be silent for God in Sion (see, Ps. 65: 1, margin), for their mouths at last will be filled with thanksgiving.
This brings us to Joseph, where again we have a striking type of Christ. If in Judah we see Him presented as the royal Lion, who came down to lowliness and sacrifice, in Joseph we see Him as the One once hated and rejected, who nevertheless rises up in the strength of the mighty God to be the Inheritor of all blessing both heavenly and earthly, as well as the Source of all fruitfulness, which shall extend beyond the confines of Israel to all creation.
In Joseph's own history, that we have considered, we have seen a preliminary forecast of Jacob's blessing. His brethren hated him and shot at him, but the mighty God of Jacob stood behind him and made his hands strong, so that he became a blessing to the civilized world of his day. The language of verse 24 is remarkable in view of the way in which Joseph's hands are mentioned in the history—see, Genesis 39: 3, 4, 6, 22; Genesis 41: 42. Here the secret spring of Joseph's skill is revealed. Upon the hands of Joseph rested the hands of the mighty God.
At this point the thoughts of old Jacob travelled on from the type to the great Antitype. From that same mighty God would in due time come the One who is both Shepherd and Stone. We have already had Him mentioned as the Seed of the woman, which presents Him in relation to the whole human race, though as Man of another order than that of the first man, Adam. Here Jacob's words are more circumscribed, for Israel is before him. That nation will never be right until it finds itself gathered round the true Shepherd and under His care, and established upon the foundation Stone that can never be moved.
Genesis has well been called the seed-plot of the Bible. Here are three designations of Christ, which appear with increasing fulness of light right through the Book, and the figures, as we know, are expanded into the New Testament and given an application in connection with the church, to which we belong. Considerations of space forbid our tracing out here these further references, but we trust that many of our readers will be stirred up to do so.
True to the dispensation in which he was found, the blessings that Jacob pronounced were mainly earthly, but still of the widest sort—"unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills," for the Inheritor of them all is the One who had been separated from His brethren. It was the cutting off from His people of the Messiah that brought the wider purposes into view.
Lastly we come to Benjamin, and here we close on the solemn note of judgment. The earthly blessing of Israel will not be ushered in apart from judgment. This is a fact we are often tempted to overlook, and never more so than in the day in which we live. It is probably the case that in the latter part of the nineteenth century the preachers of the Gospel rather overstressed the solemn facts of judgment and hell fire, but the swing of the pendulum has now gone much too far in the other direction.
Benjamin, let us recall, signifies, "Son of the right hand." He typifies Christ exalted to the right hand of God and exercising judgment on His behalf as is brought before us so strikingly in Psalm 110. Verse 5 of that Psalm reads, "The Lord at Thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of His wrath." This exactly coincides with verse 27 of our chapter but stating the same truth in plainer and less figurative language.
So let us allow the solemn truth to sink into our hearts that judgment is a stern necessity with God, and there will be no bright millennial age without it. The idea still persists that the age will be brought about by the gradual diffusion of the Gospel, and we cannot help feeling that the main attractiveness of that idea lies in the fact that those who entertain it can largely, if not altogether, eliminate the fact of judgment from their minds. To eliminate the idea of judgment from the minds of the people was the work of false prophets in Old Testament times. Hence such scathing words as these:— "Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness and not light." (Amos 5: 18).
The blessing of the twelve tribes was now complete, as verse 28 states. The first verse of the chapter showed that Jacob's words had a prophetic bearing and we have read them in that light. The language used is full of figures and not nearly so plain as the later predictions which we get in the prophets. This is not surprising, as it has ever been God's way to make His revelation a progressive one. There is a progress of doctrine in the Old Testament as well as in the New.
The closing command of Jacob to his sons now comes before us, and still we hear the accents of faith. It is worthy of note that his thoughts turned to the original spot that had been bought by Abraham near Mamre. As Rachel had been so special an object of his affection we might have expected that he would have desired to be buried by her side. But no! there was this spot that had been purchased in the land, to faith a kind of pledge that one day God would fulfil His promise and all the land would be theirs. There had been laid Abraham Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah and there would he be buried.
So from the time that we found Jacob in the land of Goshen,—Genesis 47: 27—to the finish, we see Jacob acting and speaking as a man of faith. He had reached Joseph, not as the result of his own scheming, clever or otherwise, but as the fruit of God's wonderful intervention. The storms of his life were over and he had sailed into an haven of rest. The eye of his faith had been cleared of mist and dimness, and God in the certainty of His promise and His power was fully in view. In this faith Jacob could calmly gather up his feet into the bed, yield up his spirit and be gathered to his people.
This glimpse we are granted of Jacob, "when he was a dying," is very cheering. It illustrates how God can bring a saint, whose course for many years was a chequered one, to a calm and beautiful finish. Many of us in this day of Gospel light have to say,
"Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home rejoicing brought me"
We thank God that thus He deals with us too.
A bright finish to one's earthly course is good. Yet it is even better to have the brightness of faith characterizing all one's course, though this may mean a less striking exit when the end is reached.
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