24 November 2023Genesis 49:1-10
'Judah, your brothers shall praise you.' (v. 8)
The people of Israel were always aware that they were divided into 12 tribes and that those tribes settled different parts of the land which had been promised to Jacob during his dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:13). In today’s passage we learn something more of how they understood their origins as Jacob (who is also known as Israel) blessed his children on his death bed. In the previous chapter Jacob had, in effect, adopted Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
Within today’s passage there are startling contrasts. Whereas it would be natural to offer a particular blessing to the firstborn son, Reuben is denied this privilege because he slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). Simeon and Levi, while not disowned by their father, do not receive favourable words either. They had deceitfully taken the lead in instigating a terrible revenge on Shechem and his father Hamor since Shechem had defiled Jacob’s daughter Dinah (Genesis 34). As a result the territory of Simeon’s tribe was at the far south end of the country while the tribe of Levi was given no land of its own. In time many of the Levites were associated with the Temple and were supported by tithes from the other land-owning tribes.
Judah, on the other hand, receives what could be considered the strongest and most positive blessing from his father. The description of Judah as “a lion’s whelp” (cub) and the surrounding imagery has led to the title “the Lion of Judah”. In particular verse 10 speaks of Judah being a ruler. We recall that King David, often seen in Israel as the ideal king, was a member of the tribe of Judah. The genealogy of Jesus, found in both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, trace him to the tribe of Judah as well, thus offering additional support to his disciples’ insight that he was the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed one.
- Jacob’s blessing is the last of a number of blessings in the book of Genesis. How important is it to you that you both give and receive blessings?
- We can imagine the Hebrew people looking back to these words of Jacob as they reflected on their own story and tribal identity. As you look to your story, what has been most influential in shaping your identity?
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7)