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Genesis 49 > The future in a nutshell

Genesis 49 is literally Jacob’s last words before he died. And they are deathbed-words spoken inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are also prophetic words regarding the future of Jacob’s sons – in poetic language.

Besides the fact that Genesis 49 is a very difficult passage, the big question that we must find an answer for this morning is: What does the future of Jacob’s sons have to do with us – here in the 21st century? And another question: What did these pronouncements have to say to Jacob’s sons seeing that they would all die in Egypt and therefore would not live long enough to see them fulfilled. Why did the Lord – through the words of Jacob – speak about things that would be fulfilled long after all of them were dead and gone? What was the purpose of it all? Why did Reuben, Simeon and Levi receive dissipline from their father about their sinful past, while Judah – who had also committed sin – received the greatest blessing of all the sons – since he was to be the ancestor of the Messiah? What real value did the words of Jacob have for Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah and the rest? And of course: What should WE do with it today?

One danger we must avoid, is to become ensnared in the finer details of these prophetic pronouncements. We should remember: ONE that it is cast in poetic language and TWO that the intention is not to regard the future of each of the sons individually, but to see them as the eventual leaders of tribes – the 12 tribes of Israel. Therefore, it is concerned with the general character and climate that each individual tribe would be marked with in future times.

To go back in history to search for specific fulfilments of the small details is therefore a waste of time and energy. People are sometimes inclined to do that because they do not understand the character of biblical prophecies. We should rather ask, what is the timeless message that we can filter from these pronouncements.

It is interesting to observe how these pronouncements of Jacob’s, with regard to the future of his sons, are actually either an extension of their past or the meaning of their names. It is important to see that, because it teaches us something about what biblical prophecy is.

Prophecy is not a prediction of the future as done by a fortune-teller over his/her crystal ball under demonic influence. Biblical prophecy is Gospel preaching … it is a Message from the living God which was or will be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, and which is aimed at the redemption of sinners. Biblical prophecy is never a hit or miss prediction of the future.

The reason why OT prophecy is mostly about the future is because the coming of the Messiah – for them – was still in the future. And the reason why some prophecies in the NT is future-music, is because the SECOND coming of Christ (consumation of all things) – for us – is still in the future.

Biblical prophecy is therefore SALVATION-PROCLAMATION in the Messiah, firmly anchored in the path that the Lord has already walked with His people – salvation-history therefore.

Look at Jacob’s pronouncements and you will see it. For example, the future blessings that Jacob gave to Reuben, Simeon and Levi, are based on sins they have committed in the past. The others’ future blessings are based on the meaning of their names, for example Judah whose name means “praise”. And now Jacob is saying that Judah will be praised by his brothers (verse 8). Dan, whose name means “he judged”, will provide justice for the Lord’s people (verse 16).

We should therefore have a thorough knowledge about what Biblical prophecy is: The message of salvation in the Messiah – anchored in God’s historical deliverance-dealings with His people. If it refers to the Messiah that is still to come (as in the OT) then it is prophecy in future tense. Then it may SOUND like a gypsy’s prediction with a crystal ball, but it isn’t that at all. It is Gospel preaching – anchored in the Messiah.

We can’t enough emphasize the importance of this definition. Particularly in our day where people all over the show profess to possess the “gift of prophecy“ and make all kinds of pronouncements like “the Lord told me to tell you” OR “the Lord showed me what is going to happen”.

According to these people, the so-called “gift of prophecy“ means that the Lord is giving some people new revelations – directly into their hearing – of which many have to do with the future. Which actually means that that which is written in the 66 books of the Bible, is not God’s final complete revelation – it can and must still be supplemented.

We can calmly ignore these modern prophets without feeling one moment’s guilt.

Of course the prophetic gift is still in existence today. But it means to apply that which is written in the SCRIPTURES – that which God has ALREADY said – correctly within concrete situations under the guidance of the Spirit. Go and speak SCRIPTURE WORDS and the Holy Spirit will use it to establish others, edify them, caution them, comfort them, instruct them etc. That is what prophecy means.

Let us now briefly look at the contents of each of Jacob’s pronouncements and afterwards we will distil it to see what it means for us today – the true prophetic Word for us who are sitting here.

1 REUBEN (VERSES 3-4) > Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn, but he lost his birthright which would allow him to rule over his brothers and to receive a double portion of inheritance. He lost that as a result of lust and his hunger for power which became evident when he’d committed adultery with Bilhah, his father’s concubine. He was turbulent as the sea. No leader – judge, prophet or king – has ever emerged from the tribe of Reuben. MESSAGE: SIN ALWAYS HAS CONSEQUENCES – Reuben lost his firstborn-right.

2 SIMEON AND LEVI (VERSES 5-7) > In the way they behaved when their sister Dinah was violated by Shechem, they showed that they did not live godly lives. They reacted with uncontrolled fury and senseless destruction towards all the people of Shechem. They would therefore not receive any territory of their own. And so it eventually happened that the land of Simeon’s descendants was established inside the territory of Judah. And because the priests would come from the Levitical tribe, they did not receive any territory either. MESSAGE: SIN HAS CONSEQUENCES: SIMEON AND LEVI LOST THEIR TERRITORY!

3 JUDAH (VERSES 8-12) > We would not have expected Judah to receive prominence – not after the episode with Tamar whom he took to be a prostitute (Gen 38). And yet there awaited a bright future for the tribe of Judah. It is clear that the position that should have been Reuben’s, was assigned to Judah. Indeed, Judah pleaded for the life of Joseph when his brothers wanted to kill him. And Judah gave himself as pledge for Benjamin’s safety. He would reign over his brothers and defeat his enemies. His military strength would be powerful as a lion. Also, Messiah would be born out of the tribe of Judah. The mysterious title SHILOH (which is correctly translated in many translations) is a reference to the coming Messiah – the “lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5). The sceptre of leadership would come from the tribe of Judah and be rooted in the royal house of David and Christ who was born out of the line of David. MESSAGE: DESPITE A BELIEVERS’ PERSONAL SIN-SHORTCOMINGS, GOD IS FAITHFUL AND FULFILLS HIS DIVINE PLAN AND PROMISES!

4 ZEBULUN AND ISSACHAR (VERSES 13-15) > Unlike Judah, Issachar did not subdue his enemies. The result was that the enemy ruled over him. Issachar would be subservient to the Canaanites. What they could not conquer, would become their master. It seems though as if the promise to Zebulun was not fulfilled, because Jacob promised that their border would extent to the seashore towards Sidon. From Joshua 19 we know however that the territory that Zebulun received did NOT literally reached the seashore or Sidon. But it was close enough to both to benefit from maritime trade. And that is indeed what happened. In Hebrew we can see that Jacob is actually saying that Zebulun’s territory WILL REACH TOWARDS THE SEA. MESSAGE: THE BELIEVER CANNOT AND MUST NOT BECOME FAMILIAR WITH SIN AND TEMPTATION. BY THE SPIRIT IT MUST BE CONQUERED, OTHERWISE THE ENEMY WILL REIGN OVER YOU.

5 DAN (VERSES 16-18) > Although something positive is expressed about the tribe of Dan, namely that Dan would provide direction and justice to the tribes – verse 18 points not on the hope Dan must bring, but on the deliverance the LORD must bring. Look carefully: The Holy Spirit is speaking through Jacob, and the Spirit is moving the focus to the correct place: Not the tribe of Dan, but the LORD alone is the source, fountain, origin of true and real salvation. We must not keep our focus on MAN, but on the LORD, because man will fail and disappoint us. As Dan indeed failed. History confirms it. In Revelation 7 Dan is not even mentioned in the list of the tribes of Israel!

6 GAD AND ASHER (VERSES 19-20) > Of these two tribes two things would come true, Jacob said: Gad would be able – by the grace of God – not to be destroyed by enemy attacks from other nations. Gad would be a conquering, brave tribe. And Asher would be materially prosperous – productive. History proves that it has indeed worked out that way. MESSAGE: THIS IS THE FRUIT THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT GRACIOUSLY WORKS IN THE LIVES OF ALL BELIEVERS: MORE THAN CONQUERORS – AS THE BOOK OF REVELATION TEACHES.

7 NAPHTALI (VERSE 21) > The picture given of the tribe of Naphtali is that they would have unhindered freedom and increase in numbers. They would be a blessing to others. For example, the judge Deborah would come from this tribe. MESSAGE: THE LORD’S WILL FOR HIS PEOPLE IS THAT THEY WOULD BE A BLESSING TO OTHER PEOPLE.

8 JOSEPH (VERSES 22-26) > Although Messiah would not come forth out of Joseph, Joseph’s descendants would enjoy abundance and prosperity. Yet we know how Ephraim’s pride and defection eventually restricted the enjoyment of these blessings in great measure. But still: THE PREDOMINANT MESSAGE IS THAT JOSEPH’S DESCENDANTS ARE AN IMAGE OF THE ABUNDANCE WITH WHICH THE LORD WANTS TO BLESS HIS PEOPLE.

9 BENJAMIN (VERSE 27) > Benjamin’s descendants are described as fierce and aggressive. A ravenous wolf that devours the prey. We see something of that in Judges 19-21. Years later in Deuteronomy 33 Moses would put Benjamin in a more positive light by pointing out the security he had found in the Lord. The Lord entrusted so much to this tribe, however they did not always realize that the more you are entrusted with, the more responsibility and faithfulness it demands.


Perhaps it may be possible to compile a couple of comforting moralistic lessons from this complicated chapter, but I do not believe that is the correct direction we should look for the message.

The Bible’s main intention is not to teach moral lessons. The Bible’s intention is to proclaim Christ, to proclaim the Gospel-message. And I think, from Genesis 49 we should learn how we ought to understand the complete message of the Bible – and particularly the Bible as the PROPHETIC Word of God.

If we do it that way, we hear the following:
1 > THE PROPHETIC WORD OF GOD FOCUSES OUR ATTENTION ON THE FUTURE > All people have the inclination to live as if there is no future, and that everything is only about the here and now and the visible and tangible. It is ingrained in every person’s heart to live for the now and the temporal and the visible.

Jacob, his sons and their descendants were exactly the same.

But Genesis 49 is showing us how the Lord was turning their focus towards the future and let them look THERE in order to receive a living HOPE. True hope is rivited upon GOD’S future. Not uncertain man-made wishful thinking.

Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Jacob’s sons were not to stare themselves blind at what Egypt could offer them there and then. They had to see Canaan – where to God will return their offspring, because that is what He had promised to do.

Christians are people who are living with their eyes fixed on God’s future. And that focus influences their lives in the present


> It is vitally important to see that the prophetic word to Jacob’s sons was meant to eradicate passivity and complacency, and to encourage them to serve the Lord eagerly and to live holy lives. Their focus on God’s future and the promised land had to change their lives in the PRESENT and turn them to the Lord.
Listen what the Apostle Peter is saying in 2 Peter 3: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”.

The certainty I have about God’s future, drastically influences my life today.

Show me someone that desires to obey the Lord with all their might and who is on fire for the Lord Jesus. Someone who visibly yearns for a holy life. I can assure you that such a person’s eyes are fixed on the Lord’s future. There is a sure hope for the future in such a person’s heart. One can see that in the way that person lives.

Translated by Marthie Wilson

Main source: Bob Deffinbaugh

Category Genesis Series

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