24 November 2017Genesis 49:1-10
“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 124
Blessing and promise are two of the brightest strands woven through the Genesis narrative. But there's something strange about these particular blessings, offered by Jacob/Israel to his sons from his deathbed - some writers have suggested that if these are Jacob/Israel's blessings, it's hard to imagine what his curses would be like!
Once again, the text seems to reflect on the past and look towards the future. Reuben, the eldest son, is told that he shall "no longer excel" (v. 4). Many who are more familiar with the popular telling of the Joseph story might instinctively feel defensive of Reuben, who (perhaps a little half-heartedly) saved Joseph's life in Genesis 37:21-22. But in Genesis 35:22, Reuben slept with Bilhah, Jacob/Israel's concubine, much to his father's displeasure, and in doing so seems to have forfeited his birthright. Simeon and Levi receive similarly discouraging words for their violence and anger in the past. Their meagre blessings perhaps reflect that in the future, the tribes of Reuben, Simeon and Levi will be relatively insignificant - the latter two tribes will be dispersed, one assimilated into Judah and the other with no land of its own.
So it is not until verse 8 and the fourth eldest son that the blessing really begins, reflecting Judah's prominence in the narrative of chapters 37-50 and the future importance of the tribe of Judah, of which King David and Jesus will be listed as descendants.
In the book of Genesis, Abraham's descendants live in light of God's promise that he will make them a great nation; that their name will be great and they will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2-3). For those (such as Jacob/Israel, Joseph and Judah) who find their identity as children of Abraham, all other blessings and assurances must fall into place within this overarching promise. Jacob/Israel's 'blessings' seem to set out the parts his sons will play in the bringing about of God's plans for the future of the people of Israel.
- Think back to Jacob's antics in Genesis 27:1-41 to trick his dying father into blessing him instead of his brother Esau. What impact does this have on how you read Genesis 49:1-10?
- How do you think Joseph might have felt about the prominence given to Judah in this passage?
- John Wesley's final words are said to have been: "The best of all is, God is with us." How important are 'last words'?