The final chapters of the book of Genesis don’t really give us any insights into the lives of Jacob and his sons in Egypt but if we read carefully, they do give us a glimmer of hope, for a promise to come.
Jacob was on his last breaths and mustered up the strength to bless his fourteen sons, one last time. First, Joseph brought his two sons, born to him in Egypt, so that they may receive the blessings of his father. Jacob recalls the promise that God made to him at Luz and perhaps after finally realizing that he will not get to see it fulfill in his lifetime, wanted to ‘transfer’ his blessings to his newly adopted sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
He blesses both the sons of Joseph but not in the way Joseph wanted, as the younger son Ephraim was deemed to be more blessed in Jacob’s eyes than his elder brother Manasseh.
Then he rejected the tents of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim; but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loved.Psalms 78:67-68
While Jacob, much like his father Isaac, had his own set of criterion to bless his sons, God’s ways are always different than ours. If we thought that God always wanted to bless the youngest son, just like He did with Jacob and David, God just flipped the script on us and chose Judah to be the blessed tribe.
For people who are close to God and desire to know God’s will, God does reveal his plans as he did with Abraham, with regards to his second son, Isaac.
For the ones whose hearts are away from God, they do not know or even want to know His desires and like Jacob and Jesse, keep pushing the wrong option before God. In fact, Ephraim along with Dan are the only two from the fourteen sons of Jacob, who are missing from John’s revelation about The Seals in Revelation 7.
Jacob actually plans for Joseph to get four times more land than all his brothers, twice for him on account of being his favorite son, plus the territories that will supposedly be allotted to his two sons.
The ridge I took from the Amorites, might mean the land snatched from the Shechemites after the heinous acts of Simeon and Levi .
Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.Genesis 49:1
Jacob proceeds to bless his sons and uses vivid imagery to describe the blessings/curse his sons would receive. For five of them, he compares them to animals.
As a shepherd, Jacob would have dealt with all sorts of animals when protecting his sheep. But these names seem to be more than just character traits of his sons, rather simple analogies for the sons to understand what Jacob thought was coming their way.
Just like Jesus used examples of everyday objects in His parables that would resonate more with His audience, Jacob the shepherd is vividly explaining his blessing, using the animals that his sons would be familiar with.
Reuben the firstborn was cursed by his father because he kept relations with Israel’s concubine, Bilhah. No one worth mentioning ever descended from his tribe, no Judge, no Prophet nor a Ruler of Israel.
Simeon and Levi are not even separated in Jacob’s final blessing. Jacob remembered them as the sons who brought trouble on his peaceful lifestyle. But boy, could Jacob hold on to a grudge or what.
He wanted them to be scattered among all the tribes of Israel. Later we see that the tribe of Simeon, shrank to almost non-existence and had to settle in the leftover lands of Judah but the Levi tribe were however blessed to be in the lineage of Aaron the high priest.
Though they were scattered throughout the land of Israel, perhaps not in the way that Jacob had envisioned, they got the choicest land in each of the territories and ate of the earnings of the other tribes.
Judah was chosen to lead the tribe of Israel, perhaps with the same leadership skills that brought every member of Jacob’s family safely to Egypt. There are a lot of details in the blessings given to Judah and at the first glance, one might miss these Easter eggs. So let’s go over some of them,
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;Genesis 49:9
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
We all know, who the Lion of Judah is referring to. In the book of Revelation, we see Jesus being described as the triumphant Lion who is able to open the seven seals.
Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”Revelation 5:5
Jacob also talks about a mysterious Scepter that will not depart from the tribe of Judah till the appointed time.
The scepter will not depart from Judah,Genesis 49:10
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his
John the Revelator talks about a similar Scepter which Jesus will give his followers.
To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations — that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father.Revelation 2:26-27
Balam had prophesied several centuries before John regarding the Scepter.
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near.Numbers 24:17,19
A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.
…. A ruler will come out of Jacob
and destroy the survivors of the city.”
Some might limit Jacob’s blessings on Judah to the Kings of Israel who came from the same lineage but we know that the true descendant, the one prophesied by Balam and visioned by John is Jesus, to whom the Scepter actually belongs.
After Judah, there seems to be no clear order in Jacob’s blessing to his sons. Zebulun, the tenth son of Jacob, was to be given a land by the shore which extended till Sidon.
Issachar, the remaining son that Leah bore Jacob, was perhaps being motivated by his father to leave his slothful lifestyle, else he will be treated like an overworked donkey.
Dan, the son born after Judah to Jacob, was compared to a snake by his father, a viper that bites the horse’s heel and causes the rider to tumble to the ground. Samson was one of the notable people who belonged to this tribe, and who was always a thorn in the side of the Philistines.
Gad, the seventh son of Jacob, would often be attacked by raiders and be involved in back and forth wars with it’s neighbors.
Concerning the Ammonites: This is what the Lord says: “Has Israel no sons? Has Israel no heir? Why then has Molek taken possession of Gad? Why do his people live in its towns?Jeremiah 49:1
Asher the eight heir to Jacob, was seemingly praised for his culinary exploits. The region provided to Asher would be fertile and its harvest, fit for a king. Anna the prophetess mentioned in the Gospel according to Luke, hailed from the tribe of Asher.
Naphtali, the sixth son of Jacob, was compared to a doe, free and bearing beautiful fawns, perhaps again referring to the fertility of its lands.
Joseph was saved the longest blessing by his father, being his favorite and all. Jacob even says that his blessings for Joseph would be greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains.
Blessings of land to house him, blessings of women to comfort him and blessings of abundant children to carry forward his name, all kinds of worldly blessings, Jacob bestows upon his favorite son.
Sometimes our idea of a blessed life is also shaped by the mindset of these patriarchs. Over the years, our thinking has evolved when it comes to matters of slavery and misogyny, prevalent in these ancient texts, but when it comes to the idea of true blessings, we just don’t seem to be making any progress.
Benjamin was compared to a ravenous wolf which does not seem to fit the image of Benjamin that we have in our minds as the favorite son. King Saul was the most famous descendant from the tribe of Benjamin who perhaps fulfilled the words Jacob spoke with his disobedience to God and lust for wealth and power.
Seeing the map below, it doesn’t look like many of Jacob’s blessings were fulfilled in the lives of Zebulun, Ephraim, Joseph and Simeon.
But the one that mattered the most came true. The prophecy of the Messiah to come was indeed the Lion of Judah and as we wait for the second part of the prophecy, let us understand the difference between human desires and God’s great plan for our redemption. Do we desire the earthly blessings or the everlasting one?
We always focus on our lives on this earth and constantly worry about our possessions and inheritance, while God is constantly planning for our eternal lives. Let us not place our hope on the earthly blessings but look to God for his Scepter for that is the only blessing that will never depart from us.