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Odd blessings?

We may think that receiving a blessing is a wonderful prediction for our welfare and should make us happy. However, in reading Genesis 49, where Jacob calls his sons to his side, we see that this may not always be true. In the Hebrew custom and as he was dying, “Jacob called for his sons and said: ‘Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel.’” Jacob’s blessing pictured his thoughts about each son’s future.


He started with Reuben: “You are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power.” Jacob then makes it clear that Reuben was “unruly as a flood” and because he had committed sin with his stepmother’s maid and father’s concubine he would no longer excel. In the NT he is not listed in the genealogical records as the firstborn son.


Reuben did save Joseph’s life (Genesis 37.21) and rebuked his brothers for what they had done to Joseph. Reuben thrived apparently because his clans and their troops numbered 43,730 (Numbers 28.7) and his descendants built at least eight towns (Numbers 32.34-37).


Simeon and Levi don’t fare much better than Reuben, as Jacob declares they are “two of a kind and their weapons are instruments of violence.” Jacob places a curse on their anger and wrath and says that he will scatter them throughout Israel. They were Dinah’s full brothers, and they slaughtered the males of the tribe of Shechem, who had defiled Dinah. Not exactly a “blessing” to look forward to.


Judah was compared to a lion’s cub, one who will “tether his donkey to a vine […] wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.” He married a Canaanite woman but also had a child with Tamar, his daughter-in-law, who he thought was a prostitute. He was helpful before Joseph when he and some of Jacob’s sons went to Egypt for grain during the famine. When Joseph wanted to see Benjamin, it was Judah who spoke up and told Joseph about his brothers and how “Our father’s life is bound up in the boy’s life” (Genesis 40.30). He did tell the truth to atone for some of his past.


Zebulun, Jacob foretold, “will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships.” Moses wanted Zebulun and his tribe to prosper (Deuteronomy 33.18) and the Canaanites worked as slaves for his people (Judges 1.30).


Issachar is compared to a “rawboned donkey lying down among the sheep pens.” He submits to forced labor. There were a number of clans that descended from his sons and their troops numbered 64,300 (Numbers 26.25).


Dan is compared to a snake, a viper, that bites “the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward.” He was the first of the two sons of Jacob and Bilah, who was Rachel’s handmaid, and one of Jacob’s concubines. In the apocryphal Testaments of the Patriarchs, Dan is said to have hated Joseph because he went along with the idea of smearing blood on his many-colored garment. The title of Dan is missing from the 144,000 (12.000 from each of Job’s sons) and he is later a part of the northern kingdom of Israel. Dan eventually follows idolatry and immorality and assimilates with the Phoenicians.


Jacob says that Gad will fight with bands of raiders. He was the 7th son of Jacob and the first of Zipah’s sons. He was a member of the Northern Kingdom, and his tribe was counted as one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.


In his “blessing,” Jacob sees Asher in the future having rich food and “delicacies fit for a king.” Asher was Jacob’s eighth son and was born to Zipath, the handmaid of Jacob’s first wife Leah. Asher did lead one of the most prosperous tribes, although it was eventually partially dispersed and assimilated into other groups.


Naphtali is compared by Jacob to a doe that is free and has beautiful fawns. He was the sixth son of Jacob and the second of his two sons by Bilhah. His tribe was in northern Israel, and it failed to drive out the Canaanite inhabitants. In the time of Christ, the land of Naphtali was part of the Galilee area.


Joseph, of course, is seen in a positive light and will be like “a fruitful vine near a spring” with “branches [that] climb over a wall.” He is favored and Jacob’s words for him “are greater than the blessings of ancient mountains.”


Jacob was 100 when Benjamin was born, and his father compares him to a “ravenous wolf” that devours and divides his prey. He was the second son of Rachel and an Israelite tribe bore his name. He was not part of the conspiracy that his older brothers concocted to kill Joseph and his father kept him home “because he was afraid harm might come to him” (Genesis 43.4).


Jacob had 12 sons and a daughter with two wives and concubines—his secondary wives. A concubine had certain rights and protection with the Hebrew law. They were usually acquired when the first wife did not have a male son as heir, but Jacob seemed to also acquire them for wealth and to satisfy his own sexual desires.


Jacob was by no means a perfectly moral or righteous man and yet he is included in the names of the “big three,” along with Abraham and Isaac. The men are examples of faith in their pursuit of God and it is no accident that God uses frail men—which is, of course, an encouragement to people like me.


Karl Franklin


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