Genesis 49:9-12 (focal: v10)
The book of Genesis is a book about blessing. When God created the world, he blessed it (Gen. 1:22, 28). In the beginning, the perfect universe existed under the smile of its perfect Creator. Yet that universal blessing was lost through the sin of the first couple, Adam and Eve. The fruitful, safe, and peaceful world that they had been given was now filled with thorns and thistles, interpersonal conflict, bodily pains, and ultimately death, by which their bodies returned to the dust. Worst of all, the perfect relationship with God that they experienced in the garden of Eden was lost as they were driven out of God’s presence into the cold and dark reality that we all now experience. Blessing turned to curse.
Yet from the beginning the Lord our God has been determined to deliver us from all of our evil and to turn our self-imposed curse into restored blessing. In large measure, the book of Genesis is the story of that restored blessing, promised and partially received. The Lord promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, restoring the relationship that sin had broken (Gen. 3:15). Yet that restorative work would not be short or painless. Far from redeeming humanity, the first ‘seed of the woman,’ Cain, took sin to the next level by murdering his own brother (Gen. 4). That downward spiral of sin continued in the subsequent generations until, at the time of the flood, every thought of mankind was only evil, all of the time (6:5). Even after the flood, sin continued to rear its ugly head. The same self-confidence and independent spirit that caused the first sin culminated in the building of the Tower of Babel, an arrogant assertion that by working together and using technological skill, mankind could force its way back into God’s presence (11:1-9). Far from assuring blessing for its builders, however, the tower resulted in further curse and the scattering of humanity.
These stories show us that a new beginning of blessing could never come from human initiative. It would need to come from God, and that redeeming plan began at the end of Genesis 11 when God called Abram and Sarai, promising to bless them and make them a blessing for the whole world. The rest of Genesis is the partial outworking of that promised blessing in the lives of four generations of broken, sinful people.
That is the wider context for the blessings in Genesis 49. Jacob is pronouncing God’s word to each of his children, a process that started with the double blessing for Joseph’s two children, Ephraim and Manasseh. Now Jacob gathered all twelve of his children to give a final word of blessing to each. The news was not all good. Some of the ‘blessings’ don’t seem much like blessings at all. In some cases, judgment for the sins of the parents will fall also on their children. But the keynote of Jacob’s speech is still blessing, as v28 makes clear, for all his sons are included in the foundational blessing of being part of God’s people. Unlike Abraham and Isaac, Jacob would not see any of his sons cut off from the promise. All twelve were included in God’s plan, in spite of their sin. Certainly, they were not better people than Esau or Ishmael, as Jacob’s words make clear. It was simply God’s purpose and plan to show grace and favor to the whole of what would later become the nation of Israel. Yet the shape of these blessings highlights a number of key themes in God’s relationship with his people.
First, these blessings show us the ongoing reality and consequences of sin in the life of God’s people. Indeed, these blessings show us the complexity of sin. Although sin has multigenerational consequences, they are not inevitable and irredeemable, as the Levites demonstrated. By the grace of God, their curse of being dispersed among the nation was transformed into a blessing. It is the same for us. Thankfully, sin shall not have the last word in our destiny. Instead, the Bible encourages sinners to remember that those who are chosen and saved by God, through his grace alone, can never be disinherited. We may be broken in many different ways, but if we are joined to God’s people through Christ, we can never be broken off and cast away. God’s grace trumps all of our sin, and he will use our struggles with sin to bring about profound spiritual fruit in our lives, as through them we grow in patience, humility, and dependence upon God.
The second thing Jacob’s blessings portray is the faithfulness of God in redeeming our evil circumstances. That is why, even though Joseph had already achieved greatness in Egypt and possessed wealth, status, and power in abundance, Jacob still blessed him. The blessing that Joseph needed did not consist in things that Egypt could give. Rather, they were the same blessings that were first promised to Joseph’s grandfather, Isaac, and to his great-grandfather, Abraham.
Even though the longest and riches blessing was preserved for Joseph, the blessing on Judah was the most remarkable. This blessing obviously foreshadowed the future of the history of Israel, in which the tribe of Judah would become the royal tribe, from which would come the line of David. Yet the prophecy also anticipated something even greater than the substantial blessings experienced by Judah in the time of David and Solomon. After all, the scepter first arrived in Judah in the time of David and Solomon, and v10 anticipates the scepter continuing with Judah until some greater, future arrival. This verse is understood almost universally as a messianic prophecy. This enigmatic ‘one to come’ will reign over, not only Israel, but all nations. And it is this verse that we will focus our study on this week.
So how should we respond in the meantime, midst the disappointments and trials of life, surrounded by people who constantly sin and seem unable to live up to their potential? Where is true blessing to be found for such messed-up people? Jacob models for us the right response. He looked to the Lord, expressing an attitude of patient waiting for the Lord to complete his salvation. In some measure, Jacob had already experienced the Lord’s deliverance. But Jacob also knew that the blessings he had already seen were only a faint shadow of the salvation that was yet to come.
This coming Lord’s Day we will learn how we can wait with hope on the Lord who delivers his people from the clutches of the enemy. Join us as we learn of ‘Shiloh’ who comes.
For His Glory,