Genesis 48-50: “Blessing and Prophecy” · February 3, 2010
We come now to the conclusion of Genesis. We will see that the whole book is in fact a foretelling of the entire Bible. We have seen the great themes of creation, the fall, the calling of an elect people (in ways that mystify us as sinful human beings), the continuing conflict between righteous and sinful behavior even on the part of God’s chosen people and the themes of redemption and reconciliation. In the last chapter we are reminded of God’s overarching providence. While we are free to make our own choices, God determines the final outcome of all things.
The blessing of Manasseh and Ephraim (or, here we go again) — Genesis 48
- Jacob has come to the end of his life. In spite of all the earlier tragedies and disappointments he has faced (many of which were due to his own actions) he is ending his life in happiness and security.
- Knowing that his father is about to die Joseph brings his two sons to be blessed by their grandfather. As we noted earlier, “blessing” bestowed a special, favored status on the recipient, not unlike our view of baptism.
- Jacob repeats the promise of God that was made originally to Abraham (Genesis 48:3, 17:1-8). The whole theme of the Bible can be summarized as the story of God’s promise to a sinful and rebellious people (II Corinthians 1:19-20).
- Jacob’s eyes are weak (Genesis 48:10) so he asks Joseph to bring the boys to him.
- Joseph presents the boys so that Manasseh, the older will receive the favored blessing of the right hand. However Jacob intentionally crosses his hands so that the younger, Ephraim receives the favored blessing. Joseph, displeased at what his father is doing and perhaps assuming that Jacob is mistaken due to his poor eyesight, tries to correct the situation (Genesis 48:17-18). Jacob reaffirms that he knows what he is doing (Genesis 48:19). This of course is a repeat of Jacob himself receiving the blessing of his father Isaac over that of his older brother, Esau. However where Jacob (and his mother’s) action was deceitful Jacob is very up front about what he is doing. This is a critical scene because it reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God loves Jacob rather than Esau (Malachi 1:2-3). The first shall be last (Matthew 10:31). If we could grasp this spiritual lesson spelled out here explicitly in the first book of the Bible we would face less distress and questioning in our spiritual lives. God’s pattern is not our pattern. We never have the whole picture.
The Destiny of the Twelve Sons — Genesis 49
Jacob now summons all his sons and gives basically a prophecy of their future destinies.
- Reuben is the firstborn but rather than enjoying the fruits of this status his father pronounces him as “unstable as water.” His sexual involvement with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22) is ultimately a disgrace against his father. The ancient world both within and outside the Bible regarded such actions as abhorrent (I Corinthians 5:1-2). The Greek dramatist Euripides in his play Hippolytus speaks to this and this may well be what Paul is referring to when he cites the “pagans.”
- Simeon and Levi are cursed because of their violence. This goes back to their murder of Shechem and all his people because of the rape of their sister (Genesis 34:25-30). This is a condemnation of the spiral of violence which Jesus invokes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-42).
The most significant prophecy has to do with Judah.
- Judah will be powerful (Genesis 49:8).
- He will be like a lion — Genesis 49:9; Revelation 5:5
- He will be a king — Genesis 49:10; Psalm 89:18-37
- references to a donkey’s colt refers to his humility — Genesis 49:11; Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:1-5
- wine is a symbol of the coming Kingdom of God — Genesis 49:11-12; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13; John 2:1-11
- The ultimate descendent of Judah of course is Jesus Christ — Matthew 1:3-16
- Zebulun will be in favored location — Joshua 19:10-16; Matthew 4:12-16
- Issacher will capitulate to slavery in order to find his “resting place” — Genesis 49:14-15
- Dan will be a judge and sneak up on his enemies — Genesis 49:16-17; Joshua 19:40-48
- Gad’s tribe will distinguish themselves in battle — Genesis 49:19; Numbers 26:15-18
- Asher will settle in a fertile land — Genesis 49:20; Deuteronomy 33:24-25
- Naphtali’s land will be blest — Genesis 49:21; Deuteronomy 33:23; Matthew 4:13
- Joseph’s line, not surprisingly, is full of promise and blessing. Yet the Messiah will come through Judah (Genesis 49:22-26).
- Benjamin, in spite of the rather passive role he has in Genesis will be a forceful tribe like a wolf (Genesis 49:27). Benjamin’s most famous descendant is the apostle Paul (Philippians 3:4-5)
- After pronouncing these blessings (and curses) Jacob expresses his desire to be buried with his ancestors. He then breathes his last — Genesis 49:29-33
- Jacob now summons all his sons and gives basically a prophecy of their future destinies.
The Final Word — Genesis 50
- Joseph complies with his father’s request. First, Jacob is embalmed according to the custom of the Egyptians (Genesis 50:2-3). Then he is taken to Canaan to be buried with his family (Genesis 50:4-14). What is striking here is that elements of both Egyptian culture and Hebrew practice are combined. Already we have the idea that God’s promise and his chosen people will indeed include a blessing for the nations (Genesis 12:3).
- Joseph’s brothers then worry about possible retaliation at the hands of Joseph now that their father is dead (Genesis 50:15).
In this final scene of the Book of Genesis two great themes are emphasized.
- The last word on human sin is forgiveness. (Genesis 50:17). The brothers here ask for forgiveness. This is the essence of repentance (Matthew 4:17). Yet Joseph has already forgiven them (Genesis 50:17-19). God’s forgiveness precedes even our repentance (Luke 23:34; Acts 13:38; Ephesians 1:7). Joseph’s forgiveness is absolute and complete. They have nothing to fear. He speaks kindly to them. Indeed he will provide for them (Genesis 50:21).
- All this is God’s plan (Romans 8:28). God’s good purpose does not negate the harm that the brothers intended. Yet in God’s sovereign purpose that harm is overruled “for good” (Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23; Luke 22:22).
- Joseph dies at the age of one hundred and ten. He repeats the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He asks them when they leave Egypt to bring his body back to his homeland. He therefore prophesies the Exodus (Genesis 50:24-26; Exodus 13:19).
- This concludes the story of the patriarchs.
Questions for us —
- Why do you think the theme of reversal is so prominent in Scripture? What lessons can we take from God choosing Jacob over Esau or Jacob favoring Ephraim over Manasseh? Is this fair (cf. Matthew 20:1-16)?
- What are we to make of the promise to Judah (Genesis 49:8-12)? Judah is far from guiltless (Genesis 37:26-27, 38:1-26). Why do you think the plan of salvation is carried out through Judah’s line rather than through Joseph or Benjamin?
- What does it mean to say that God can bring good out of harm (Genesis 50:20)? Have we experienced this in our own lives? What do we say to the person in distress who questions God’s goodness?