The reading of the will is usually seen on television shows as a surprise to most who gather to hear it in the room of the lawyer. When I first saw that as a young adult, I wondered, how did they not know? I grew up in a close-knit family. You knew without being told after a person died what to expect. When you know, love, listen to understand, help each other while working closely together, there is no established time for the “reading of the will” to see what you inherited, you already know because you knew and loved the one who passed from this life to the next. There are generally no surprises.
However, I learned later in life that many families separate in location and in relationship to the degree of not knowing their family, their dreams, their accomplishments, or what they leave behind. Some expect nothing and some expect everything. In pastoral ministry we saw all kinds of expectations from people who came to the funeral of a relative they hardly knew. It seemed to us the people who cried and lamented the most seemed to be the ones who knew the least about the person who died.
Jacob’s sons knew their father well. Jacob knew his sons very well, inside and out! Being a man of God who follows God’s leading, he now calls all the sons into the room and proclaims his expectations as well as his blessings over each one. Jacob is breathing his last breaths of life on earth. But it is important to Jacob to tell all the “sons of Israel” his expectations of how their lives will turn out because he knows and loves them so well. He makes it clear that Joseph is the new “first born” but with that comes the responsibility of taking care of the rest of the family and Joseph as already done that well—by the grace and will of God!
The descriptions of the lives of each son is very revealing and a bit amusing. What if we proclaimed our expectations of each of our children just before we die? What were our parents expecting of us? Have we fulfilled their prophecy of how we turned out? I pray we fulfill what God asks each one of us to be and do as we join Him in His work. The only legacy I want to leave is for people to know and follow Jesus. All else doesn’t matter so much. Only Jesus.
Genesis 49, The Message
Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather around. I want to tell you what you can expect in the days to come.”
2 Come together, listen sons of Jacob,
listen to Israel your father.
3-4 Reuben, you’re my firstborn,
my strength, first proof of my manhood,
at the top in honor and at the top in power,
But like a bucket of water spilled,
you’ll be at the top no more,
Because you climbed into your father’s marriage bed,
mounting that couch, and you defiled it.
5-6 Simeon and Levi are two of a kind,
ready to fight at the drop of a hat.
I don’t want anything to do with their vendettas,
want no part in their bitter feuds;
They kill men in fits of temper,
slash oxen on a whim.
7 A curse on their uncontrolled anger,
on their indiscriminate wrath.
I’ll throw them out with the trash;
I’ll shred and scatter them like confetti throughout Israel.
8-12 You, Judah, your brothers will praise you:
Your fingers on your enemies’ throat,
while your brothers honor you.
You’re a lion’s cub, Judah,
home fresh from the kill, my son.
Look at him, crouched like a lion, king of beasts;
who dares mess with him?
The scepter shall not leave Judah;
he’ll keep a firm grip on the command staff
Until the ultimate ruler comes
and the nations obey him.
He’ll tie up his donkey to the grapevine,
his purebred prize to a sturdy branch.
He will wash his shirt in wine
and his cloak in the blood of grapes,
His eyes will be darker than wine,
his teeth whiter than milk.
13 Zebulun settles down on the seashore;
he’s a safe harbor for ships,
right alongside Sidon.
14-15 Issachar is one tough donkey
crouching between the corrals;
When he saw how good the place was,
how pleasant the country,
He gave up his freedom
and went to work as a slave.
16-17 Dan will handle matters of justice for his people;
he will hold his own just fine among the tribes of Israel.
Dan is only a small snake in the grass,
a lethal serpent in ambush by the road
When he strikes a horse in the heel,
and brings its huge rider crashing down.
18 I wait in hope
for your salvation, God.
19 Gad will be attacked by bandits,
but he will trip them up.
20 Asher will become famous for rich foods,
candies and sweets fit for kings.
21-26 Naphtali is a deer running free
that gives birth to lovely fawns.
Joseph is a wild donkey,
a wild donkey by a spring,
spirited donkeys on a hill.
The archers with malice attacked,
shooting their hate-tipped arrows;
But he held steady under fire,
his bow firm, his arms limber,
With the backing of the Champion of Jacob,
the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.
The God of your father—may he help you!
And may The Strong God—may he give you his blessings,
Blessings tumbling out of the skies,
blessings bursting up from the Earth—
blessings of breasts and womb.
May the blessings of your father
exceed the blessings of the ancient mountains,
surpass the delights of the eternal hills;
May they rest on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of the one consecrated among his brothers.
27 Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
all morning he gorges on his kill,
at evening divides up what’s left over.
28 All these are the tribes of Israel, the twelve tribes. And this is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each one with his own special farewell blessing.
* * *
29-32 Then he instructed them: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave which is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah facing Mamre in the land of Canaan, the field Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite for a burial plot. Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried there; Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried there; I also buried Leah there. The field and the cave were bought from the Hittites.”
33 Jacob finished instructing his sons, pulled his feet into bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
WHAT DO WE LEARN—HOW DO WE RESPOND?
There is so much more to the blessings upon the sons of Israel. Jacob’s last words are a revelation of human character and conduct as well as of divine purposes. Three of the sons learned that their past conduct had cost them their future inheritance. What we reap, we sow!
But something else was true: Jacob’s prophetic words must have given great encouragement to his descendants during their difficult time of suffering in Egypt, as well as during their unhappy years wandering in the wilderness. Jacob assured each tribe of a future place in the Promised Land, and that meant a great deal to them.
In Jacob’s “last witness and testimony” we see a beautiful revelation of the gracious Lord who had cared for His servant for so many years. There’s also a revelation of the Messiah, who had been promised to Jacob’s people. In these words of Jacob, you meet Shiloh (v. 10), salvation (Yeshua, v. 18), the Mighty God, the Shepherd, and the Stone of Israel (v. 24), and the Almighty (v. 25), all of which point to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Yes! Joseph foretells the coming of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior through the generational line of Judah!
As Genesis draws to a close, Jacob gathers his sons for his final words of instruction and blessing. He addresses each of his sons with perceptive and prophetic comments. He foreshadows the way in which his sons will together form the nation that will bear the special name God had given him—Israel.
Judah had made some mistakes, but he had also made some things right with his father and his family, and that was the difference between him and his three elder brothers. Judah—was preeminent among his brothers, the royal tribe that conquered enemies and produced kings, including the King of kings, Jesus Christ.
Jacob’s long and difficult life was over. He had made his last journey, given his last blessing, and shared his last request. His work was done, and he breathed his last and died. With only his staff, he had crossed over Jordan many years before; and now he had his staff with him (Heb. 11:21) as he crossed to the other side. He was a pilgrim to the very end.
How will our lives give evidence of God’s faithfulness throughout our journey on earth?
Our answer will reveal our faith. Our behavior will reflect who we really believe and follow.
The “fathers” of faith reveal their character as well as their imperfections. But what rises to the forefront is your unfailing faithfulness to each one of them! Your love is amazing. Your plan to send a Savior was planned from the beginning of creation. Genesis is all about You and beginning of the relationship we must have with You! We find our place in the story as we read. We learn from the men and women who have gone before us just how important our relationship is with You and how it grows more intimate each day. I am grateful. Thank you for saving my soul, making me whole and continually growing and maturing our relationship. I know what I will inherit—eternal life!
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen. Yes!