9 October 2015

Genesis 49:2-10

“Then Jacob called his sons, and said, ‘Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father.” (vv. 1-2)

Psalm: Psalm 106:1-8


This chapter contains the final thoughts of Jacob, about each of his twelve sons, all of whom survive him, and our portion covers the four oldest sons, whose mother was Leah. What Jacob/Israel - he uses both of his names in verse 2 - says about each son can be described as prophecy concerning what would become of their descendants. Genesis and its source documents were all written long after both Jacob's time and the periods of distinctive tribal histories to which the prophecies appear to relate.

For Reuben, Simeon and Levi, Jacob prophesies impacts on their descendants which are viewed as outcomes of their own past behaviour. Reuben might expect to inherit the privileges of the firstborn including a double share in the dividing of the father's inheritance, as well as the special place the firstborn of a large family naturally holds in a father's affection. But Jacob indicates that Reuben will forfeit his rights because he had a sexual liaison with Bilhah his father's concubine, which Genesis 35:22 mentions briefly in passing. History shows that the tribe of Reuben, one of those that settled east of the Jordan eventually became assimilated into the tribe of Gad.

Simeon is paired with his brother Levi, because they had acted together in highly disproportionate vengeance for the shaming of their sister Dinah by a Hivite prince (the story is in Genesis 34). As verse 7 indicates neither tribe would possess lands of their own in future, Levi being set aside for priesthood and Simeon being incorporated in particular towns within the territory of Judah.

Jacob has more to say about Judah than any of the other sons except Joseph, and makes no reference to acts in Judah's past equally despicable to those of Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Likened to a lion in several images in these verses, the period of Judah's great accomplishments describes the time of the Judges (reported in the book of that name). But the tribe of Judah would eventually achieve even greater prominence through its descendant David, and much later, Jesus.

To Ponder

  • Reflecting on the case of Reuben, how far do you think it is true that greater privilege should entail greater responsibility? Why?
  • Is it fair that according to the understanding of history portrayed here the sins of an individual may have an effect on the destiny of his or her descendants? What might be said for and against such a principle?
  • "Cursed be their anger" Jacob says of two of his sons in verse 7. To what extent is it acceptable to love a person yet curse an aspect of their character?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.