20 November 2020Genesis 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.' (v. 1)
Yesterday we read how Jacob (Israel) and his family arrived in Egypt to be reunited with Joseph at the invitation of Pharaoh. Today we have Jacob’s description of his sons, which reflect the heritage of the brothers over centuries from that time. Jacob knows that he is approaching death and draws his children to him. He does not mince his words, calling each one by name and spelling out what their future might hold. The passage is selective – Jacob does not recite all the names – but in rather colourful language speaks of the more notable of the group and gives his opinion of them. Tradition has it that these words are Jacob’s blessing on his sons. However, as the Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad points out in his commentary on Genesis, the words are clearly not all of a piece. Some of the predictions only come true hundreds of years after the time of Jacob. What does become clear is that these words are setting out the details of the 12 tribes of Israel who would become the foundation for the future of the Hebrew people. The writer of the Book of Genesis has placed them at the appropriate time so that those reading his words would understand the way in which the nation developed and came together.
- If we take the passage literally, can we relate Jacob’s words to the way in which we ourselves might look at members of our own families and, based on what we know of their personalities, predict their future lives?
- Are the descriptions of the brothers accurate in light of what we know about the history of the Hebrew people from the Old Testament?
- Do these verses help us understand the history of the Hebrew people, bearing in mind that the Book of Genesis is one of the later books to have been written in the Old Testament?