God Will Surely Visit You

December 3, 2017 Series: Scripture: Genesis 50 by Chris Strevel

Grief and Caring for the Body (vv. 1-3)

When his father died, Joseph burst into tears. Knowing that he would die is not the same as seeing him dead; nothing can fully prepare us for the death of one whom we deeply love. The wages of sin is death, and the toll of death is high. At the same time, Joseph believed in the resurrection, as all his subsequent actions and confession make clear, so his grief was not the despair of one lacking faith and hope in God’s promise. Some of Joseph’s grief undoubtedly reflected a realization that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were now sleeping with their fathers. That era of God’s dealings with his people was at an end. Joseph and his brothers now had the responsibility to carry forward faith in God’s promises, even in Egypt. The promise of salvation rested upon their shoulders. These layers of grief would unfold in following years. For the moment, Joseph loved his father deeply. No two men within the household of faith enjoyed so much affinity as had Jacob and Joseph. The fires of natural affection burned much hotter for they shared the same faith and hope in God. They had lived in the same drama of redemption together; both stood in awe of his working and faithfulness. They had endured the same trials together. It was as if they shared one soul.

Let us never try to staunch these springs of grief or pour cold water upon these fires of holy affection. We must not grieve as the world, to be sure, but the ability to grieve in faith, sincerely, and purposefully is a wonderful gift from heaven. We must not pass too quickly through a season of death, for it is a good and humbling teacher. It is one of the deadly immaturities of our age that we do not want to pause at the grave and consider – the wages of sin, our finiteness and fallenness, our imminent subpoena to the judgment seat of God. We need as many sermons as possible on our mortality and eternity. Embrace these seasons, child of God. Let sanctified grief do a good work in you – to bolster flagging resolve, reset priorities, and lead to our lovely Savior. Where love is deepest and purest, it is able to weep freely at the death of a beloved family member or saint, without shame or regret but with joy and peace. Yes, with joy and peace, at a life well-lived, faith realized, hope attained, and rest entered.

The care of the body during that age shows at one level a vast superiority to today’s tendency to cremate, a barbarous practice, whatever specific motivations are. The Egyptians made a great to-do with their embalming, mourning, and funeral spectacles. Their preparations for the after-life manifest at a broken level God’s image and his truth present but buried under superstition. At least they were not rank materialists but showed a reverence for the body of the dead. Joseph did not adopt the Egyptian religion, but being a man of the true religion, he appreciated their care for the body. He knew that this life is not all there is and that the day of resurrection and judgment is coming. These faith commitments, coupled with the very practical need to preserve the body for the long period of mourning and funeral procession to Canaan, led him to have the body embalmed in typical Egyptian fashion. It required normally forty days to remove the brains and internal organs, cure the body with injections of saltpeter, and then preserve it by anointing with various ointments and wrapping with copious bandages. To this normal process the Egyptians added thirty more days of mourning, undoubtedly at Pharaoh’s command, as a token of deep gratitude for the father of the man who had saved their entire civilization from famine and ruin. 

While I by no means recommend that the expense of embalming be incurred today, for a quick burial in most situations is both sufficient and possible, veneration for the body of the deceased is most necessary. This is not because we are superstitious but because our faith requires us to view the human body as a special creation of God (Gen. 2:7; Ps. 8:5). It is part of his image. To burn it in the fire is at best an unthinking act of ingratitude and disrespect. One suspects that there is more than frugality to the modern predilection for cremation. A larger funeral is occurring before our eyes, and I pray you are weeping over the death of the West’s practical faith in the resurrection of the body, final judgment, and even of an afterlife of any description. In this, at least, the naturalists have triumphed for the moment, but it will be a short-lived victory. Science, war, entertainment, and technology make very poor deities and impotent substitutes for living faith, especially in seasons of death.

A consistent Christian witness requires that we make our boast in our Savior’s empty tomb and promise of resurrection as much as we boast in his cross and sufferings. If we hold fast to his promise, we must “sow the body” (1 Cor. 15:44) in hope of what will be when our Lord returns to raise our bodies from the dead. To maintain this doctrine requires nothing less than faith that God is able to reassemble the matter of our former bodies and reanimate them; he is able to gather what has been burned, eaten, drowned, and otherwise treated with disrespect. He who knows the hairs of our head sees all the articulated elements of our body, however, scattered, crushed, or otherwise lost beyond the reach of all human knowledge. He is God. He will raise them up to new life by the power of Christ. The way in which we treat the body at death reveals whether or not we believe this.

Honoring His Father’s Request (vv. 4-6)

Joseph had every intention of honoring his father’s request to be buried in Canaan, but it is evident that the trip and all connected with it needed Pharaoh’s approval, even his imprimatur. Joseph was the Grand Vizier and recent deliverer of Egypt, but he was also Pharaoh’s servant. In the message he sent to Pharaoh, parental honor was emphasized – not Jacob’s “I do not want to be buried in Egypt.” Joseph sent his request with great humility. He did not presume upon the good will of his superior and was sincerely deferential. Having made clear to Pharaoh that his father wished to be buried in his native land and that Joseph had pledged to fulfill his dying wish, he humbly asked permission to keep his promise. Pharaoh directed Joseph to do so. It is always a wise thing to lay our plans before those in authority over us – even with our friends and family. There is too much presumption of the correctness of our own opinions and willfulness in pursuing our objectives. This is an application of our Savior’s “take the lowest seat,” rather than taking the best seat first. Joseph willingly took the place of a servant, as our Savior would later do in order to redeem us. And now that he has delivered us from sin and made us slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:18), rather than outdoing one another to see who is first, let us instead find our delight as he did in serving others and putting them first as far as possible.  

They Buried Israel in Canaan (vv. 7-13)

Jacob’s family became a large funeral procession. Only their smallest children remained in Egypt, undoubtedly with trusted servants. This would also have told Pharaoh that the death of Jacob would not lead to Joseph’s departure from Egypt. Hence, the large attachment of soldiers from Pharaoh’s household was not to ensure Joseph’s return. It indicates rather that Pharaoh sent part of his army to protect his most trusted advisor. Reaching the other side of Jordan, the party stopped and mourned for seven days. This was likely the main family time of grieving. Strong were the emotions upon their return to the land of promise. Would they return soon? Joseph had not likely been “home” for over fifty years. Did his heart yearn for God’s promises and to be settled in Canaan? It is likely. A man of Joseph’s sensitivities and tastes would not mindlessly pass through these events as formalities. He entered into each one of them, remembering his youthful haunts, his walks with his father, and perhaps the treasured spots of family memory where God had appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Canaanites were amazed by this procession. Perhaps leaving the Egyptian retinue at a respectful distance, Joseph and his brothers came to Mamre and buried their father in the cave of Machpelah. They fulfilled their father’s dying command. They planted his body in the hope of the resurrection; they also planted his body in hope of God’s promise.

God Meant It for Good (vv. 14-21)

14 And Joseph returned into Egypt, he, and his brethren, and all that went up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father. 15 And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him. 16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, 17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. 18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. 19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. 21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.

The Fear of Jacob’s Brothers (vv. 14-17)

The family returned to Egypt. Soon after, Joseph’s brothers send a messenger to him. They feared reprisals for their former villainy. If we wonder at their fear, remember that with a point from his little finger, Joseph might have had them all killed. But they did not understand their brother. Their lives were not as settled as they should have been in God’s mercy and sovereignty. Mercy would have convinced them that Joseph was not likely to take up an offense committed forty years earlier. A greater appreciation for God’s hand in all that had happened would have united their hearts to Joseph’s in worship and gratitude. It is not that they were unbelievers, but they are hounded by guilt. It is clear that they had told Jacob most of what happened – or he had figured it out – or Joseph told him. But had they repented? The heart may be purged from its guilt only by true confession and forsaking of its sins, looking unto Jesus as its righteousness and peace. This was very hazy to Joseph’s brothers, and their crimes were heinous. Would their assault upon every tie of family and faith be as easily forgiven as Joseph made it appear? He treated them with kindness while their common father lived, but with him dead, Joseph might easily become their executioner. They did not understand him at all. They even related a plea from Jacob beyond the grave that Joseph would forgive his brothers.

Joseph Response (vv. 17-19)

Their uncertainty of his love and forgiveness broke Joseph’s heart. By this time, he had summoned them, and they rehearsed these words in his presence. He wept before them. This is an astounding scene. Seventeen years earlier, he had wept with joy to reveal himself – is he still a stranger to them? Do they not know his heart? He had truly forgiven them. It is not too much to say that he had likely not thought much of those events for many years. He was a powerful man in Egypt; he was a humble man in Zion. He had been too happy that they were together again, safe and blessed. Joseph must have been thinking: our father is sleeping with his fathers, and we have only each other. How can we enjoy brotherly affection and live together unless we have one heart and mind in something as basic as mercy and forgiveness? How can we keep alive the memory of God’s covenant and his pledge of salvation through the coming Seed – now revealed to be coming through Judah – unless we bury the past in the ocean of mercy and see God’s hand in it? Have I ever been to you anything but gracious? I have drawn you into my bosom and nourished you who tried to kill me – I bring this up not to accuse you but to silence such foolish pleas.

In unison they fell before him and said, “We are your slaves.” They made this offer seventeen years earlier, when it was only right for them to express the most abject repentance and self-renunciation. To make the same offer now after seeing God’s sovereign hand and faithful provision, and recently buried their father together, it was too much for Joseph – “Am I in the place of God?” If you are still troubled about the past, go make your peace with him. Do not drag me into your guilt complexes and schemes. If he has not forgiven your sins, can I? The humility Joseph expressed is staggering. He was the most powerful man in Egypt, save one, and he placed himself on the same plane as his brothers. I am only your brother, not your master. Is it possible that a man can survive untainted such power and wealth? Yes, with God all things are possible, and Joseph walked with God as few perhaps before him did except for his fathers and Enoch. He had their lives in his hand, but he sent them packing – straight to God. He had assumed that they had grown more in love and understanding so that among them, he was simply Joseph. Never had vengeance crossed his mind. He only wanted their love and fellowship.

Life Settled When We See God’s Hand in Everything (vv. 20-21)

It is beyond wonderful that this opening book of Holy Scripture should end with such words – “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” This could easily be God’s gracious testimony to our fallen race. It is surely a fitting theme for Genesis. Everything – from the Fall, through the Flood, all the division of Babel and subsequent wars, down through Abraham’s family and all its trials – God meant it for good. For Joseph to confess this now – the Holy Spirit saved his purest and brightest work in this man until this very moment. Yes, you meant it for evil – he did not now, even now, call his brothers evil – only that their intentions were. But God was at work, ruling and overruling, to ripen his good, holy, and wise purposes. To every believing heart, this is the end of the supposed conundrum between God’s sovereignty and man’s will or freedom. To those who have stood honestly before God’s throne – where all our philosophy and reasoning is seen in its puny impotence – there is no conundrum. All the men and women who have stood there – you are HOLY! HOLY! HOLY! All the evil lies in us. You are gracious and ready to forgive; we are the villains who have spoiled your beautiful world and brought such miseries upon ourselves.

Can there be any wonder that Joseph’s soul was so settled during those years of confinement in the dungeon, separation from his beloved father, and temptation to doubt and despair? That he when given the opportunity embraced his would-be murderers as brothers and only sought to do them good? That the passing of years since did not pique any desire for vengeance but only hardened his resolve to be a blessing to his family? He had suffered more than them all, but he was the readiest to forgive, the first to embrace, the last to think of reprisals. Joseph did his own wrestling with the Lord, not at Bethel, but in an Egyptian dungeon. The Lord subdued him at this very point. Yes, I have revealed myself to you in dreams, and you will be great, but I will bring you first through the crushing vise of affliction. You will learn that I am your good and that I intend good for you, regardless of what you see with your eyes or feel in your spirit. I am working good. What a gospel lesson! All our stability in this world lies in believing that God rules and rules for good and works only good for his people. The worst evil imaginable will bring forth the greatest good for those who trust him (Ps. 31:19). Believing this is the only way we smile when dying of disease, turn the other cheek, forgive every offense, and be harmless and gentle, the children of our heavenly Father.

God Will Surely Visit You (vv. 22-26)

22 And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father's house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph's knees. 24 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 25 And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence. 26 So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. 

God Blessed Joseph Greatly (vv. 22-23)

I hardly know whether to laugh or cry when we come to these last lines of Genesis. This is our history, not only because we are men and women created in God’s image, but also because we are the children of Abraham by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26-29). The darkness of life would be impenetrable and unbearable without these precious lines – our origin and fall, God’s gracious promise of redemption through the seed of the woman, his grace to Abraham and his seed, who is ultimately Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16), and the trials of faith. And look at how Genesis ends – Joseph was extremely tested. Nothing breaks down resolve, cheerfulness, and love as much as grievous suffering through real injustice. The end or crown of Joseph’s life was God’s blessing upon him for his last sixty or so years. He lived to be 110, an ideal lifespan according to the Egyptians, and saw his children’s children. The children of Machir, Manasseh’s son, were brought up on Joseph’s knees – a poignant touch, a father’s promise to Joseph fulfilled, a long life enjoyed as the fruit of faithfulness and enduring faith. Truly, there is a reward for the righteous (Ps. 58:11), and we must never forget it!

I Die – Look to God’s Promise (vv. 24-26)

After the famine ended, God’s people enjoyed a period of numerical growth and prosperity. Joseph saw the first long stretch of this, but as with his father, it did not make him forget the higher blessings. If all for which our fathers then cared were full bellies and purses, then Egypt would have satisfied them. It did not, and Joseph looked for the city that had foundations. It was not Egypt. No amount of prosperity and power, even the joy of seeing his family grow and prosper, made him forget what was left behind. He must have thought much about God’s promises in those last days of his life. He called his brothers to him – he was very old, rich, and powerful. What would he say to them?” “Brothers” likely means his extended family, for some of his older brothers were undoubtedly sleeping with their fathers by this time. I die – but God will surely visit you. What glorious last words! Let none of the blessings here (or struggles) make you forget God’s promise. Egypt is a temporary home. God will call you to your true home in Canaan. Joseph put them under oath to take his bones home to Canaan when they left, which they in fact did (Ex. 13:19). Thus, Joseph died, the most imminent picture of Jesus Christ of his generation. A few centuries would pass until God raised up another type in Moses.

 Pray, believer, that your dying words may be of Canaan, the true rest that God has given us in his Son. Like Joseph, resolve to live unto him and enjoy the fruits of his mediation in your years of trouble and work, so that when it comes time to sleep with your fathers, your testimony will direct toward heaven the hearts of those remaining behind. Know that to die in good hope, you must live in true faith. Then, whether our deaths are peaceful and idyllic, a rare gift, or hard and tortuous, we share with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph the hope of God’s eternal rest in Christ. In your life and death, live by faith in the Son of God and point all men to God’s promises. They are our food. They kept hope and faith alive in the years after Joseph’s death and the horrible slavery that God’s people endured. They will keep us, for we live by every word of God’s mouth. He will surely visit us. He will keep what he has promised. He will exalt his Son’s kingdom, build his church, make the name of Jesus Christ a praise in the earth, and topple every mountain of tyranny and persecution raised in opposition to the reign of his beloved Son. Build your life upon his promise, and you will endure and overcome all the storms of Egypt.

Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. How is death a good teacher?

2. How does the care of the body at death reveal the faith of a man? Of a culture?

3. What is it about the Christian faith that enables us to grieve deeply without grieving hopelessly?

4. Explain the implications of 1 Corinthians 15:44 for our treatment of the body at death? Or, why do Christians bury the body at death?

5. Why were Joseph’s brothers fearful? What settles the conscience respecting the evil deeds that we have committed?

6. Why was Joseph able to forgive complete his brothers’ villainy?

7. Do you have a practical faith in God’s sovereign, personal hand in all that happens to you? In what those closest to you say and do to you? How can you tell?

8. Why was Joseph’s heart broken by all this? How does he manifest humility?

9. Where – when – how did Joseph learn his great confession in verse 20?

10. How is this the secret to a settled faith, patience in adversity, forgiveness when suffering wrong?


Jacob Saw Christ's Day

November 26, 2017 Series: Scripture: Genesis 49 by Chris Strevel

Words of Prophetic Blessing

Dying with a sound mind obligates us to encourage the next generation to faithfulness. Even if we are in pain or struggling with various fears – and who among us is as fearless facing death as our Savior’s victory over the grave gives us cause to be! – we should want those after us to walk closely with God and maintain the faith once for all given to the saints (Ps. 145:4). Dying and death must not enfold us in self-pity but open the very well springs of our soul so that we pour out all our faith and love upon those around us. Jacob called his sons together to give them a prophetic benediction. His words were a father’s blessing, and he also spoke as Israel, the heir of God’s covenant and leading member of his church on earth. His words, being prophetic, shaped the future of his sons. This does not mean that his words were like chains from which his sons could not escape, but they were covenantal. Life is covenantal. How we live in the present shapes our future. Some of what Jacob said was based upon his sons’ past actions. He blessed his righteous sons and cursed his ungodly sons. They might have personally repented at some level, but their actions were so evil that future generations suffered for the sins of their fathers.

From this we are confronted with a basic truth of biblical religion. Personal character and decisions exert significant influence upon our future. Most today believe that life is atomistic and that sin, if such exists, only affects the individual and only the moment, but this is far from the case. Others say that since God’s grace abounds in Christ, God no longer works covenantally or across generations, but everything in Scripture and in our own experience cries against such childish thinking. Daily we see in families and nations the consequences of the decisions of previous generations, for which we either suffer or rejoice. Since this is the case, we ought to shun sin as a plague from the pit of hell. Sins such as unbridled lust and violent anger cast long and dark shadows upon the future. At the same time, God’s visitation of our sins upon future generations assumes that we “hate him” (Ex. 20:5). To those that love God and hate their sins and strenuously endeavor to fight against them and overcome them by his strength, he promises mercy to their children. It is in this way that we take seriously the impact of the present upon the future. God rewards godliness and punishes sins, not only for the individual man or believer but also in his children’s lives, generations, and entire peoples, so that no life fails to exert some impact upon those living after. At the same time, his grace leads us to pursue holiness in his fear (2 Cor. 7:1) so that we can expect his mercy to blot out our sins if we are loathing and forsaking them, so that our children are blessed far beyond anything we deserve or can expect.

Dying Well and Treating the Dying Well

It is likely impossible to alter the way most die today – in death homes set apart to this purpose, often drugged. Any social alteration will be the aggregate of individuals choosing to die differently – with good faith in Jesus Christ, hope in God, and giving a final gift to those around them. And what is that gift? To hear words of blessing and encouragement that inspire faithfulness and even rebuke sins, as we see here. This is to die well – when we determine to fight against sin and fear to our last breath, commit our souls into God’s loving hand, and call upon the next generation to serve the Lord. For this to happen, the living must learn to treat the dying better – not pushing them off into homes unless absolutely necessary; treating them with dignity; encouraging them to trust God until their last breath; praying that they will give us some blessing before they die. Sad it is to contemplate the generally selfish way we live today so that giving such a blessing is not on our minds. Yet, if we are to serve God to the end, we must think of those coming after us, what they need to hear from us, and the way we can call upon them to serve God faithfully. Pray, believer, that the Lord will help you to live as one who must soon stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and then to die with words of faith and hope upon your lips.

Three Disappointing Sons (vv. 3-7)

3 Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: 4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou went up to thy father's bed; then defiled thou it: he went up to my couch. 5 Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. 6 O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self will they digged down a wall. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.

Reuben’s Place Lost through Lust (vv. 3-4)

Reuben committed foul incest forty years earlier, but the stain was never erased. His sin was aggravated because he was the firstborn and therefore obligated to give a better account of himself to honor his father and to set an example of godliness for his brothers. Those with higher position and responsibility in the family, church, and nation are expected to honor those in authority over them and set an example for those under them. When this does not happen, the entire fabric of society breaks down, as we see in our day. Reuben was the beginning of his father’s strength and dignity and power – but he was effervescent, bubbling or boiling as water. He would not contain his passions and defiled his father’s bed, pulling it down. Because of this, he lost his place.

He may have repented and obtained his father’s forgiveness, but the consequences of his actions were permanent. Most today think that this would be unfair – are we not washed in the blood of Christ and forgiven and made new men? Yes, our Savior does this wonderful work in his children (1 Cor. 6:11). We are not to think from this, however, that there are no consequences for our actions. The Lord forgives and chastens. And since we have greater light than Reuben enjoyed, we must be more careful to restrain our passions, for seventh commandment sins exert a particularly horrible influence upon generations to come, even upon whole societies through discontent, divorce, and disease. We are told to flee lusts and vile passions, for they plague our souls and provoke God’s displeasure with us (1 Cor. 10:7). It is God’s will that we possess our bodies in purity (1 Thess. 4:3), and the power of his gospel is felt powerfully at this very point, that where the flesh rages the most intensely, Jesus is able to subdue the body and its cravings by his power (Phil. 3:21). Nothing will lose a man honor, place, and opportunity, as well as peace and joy of conscience, as unrestrained lusts.

Simeon and Levi Dispersed Because of Angry Violence (vv. 5-7)

Jacob’s next two sons fared no better. How dreadful it must have been to hear one’s sins exposed from the bed of a dying father! Everyone knew about these particular instances, but do we not often think that time will erase the memory of our sins? For Jacob to mention them must have been like a summons from God’s very judgment seat, calling these men to turn from their sins and crimes against his majesty. Let us be very thankful when men rebuke our sins and even bring our secret sins to light, for God thereby calls us to deal with them on this side of eternity, by judging ourselves (1 Cor. 11:31) and turning to the Lord Jesus Christ with sincere confession of our filth and resolve to repent by the power of the Holy Ghost. But Simeon and Levi – brothers not simply by blood but in one mind and will – were angry and cruel men. They murdered Shechem and the men of his city. Jacob does not curse them, but their anger, but at the same time, he distanced himself from their councils and cruelty. It sounds so noble and gracious for men to say, “Love the sinner but hate the sin,” but sometimes the sins are so terrible that the sinner can be loved only at a safe distance.

Simeon and Levi may have thought themselves to be justified for taking vengeance upon Hamor, Shechem, and the Shechemites for raping Dinah, but they were in fact vigilantes. No amount of family loyalty or offense at mistreatment done to our families gives us the right to take justice into our own hands. Even if we are justly defending ourselves, we must not give way to vengeful brutality, for this reveals a warped soul and one bucking against God’s government of our lives. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32). Because of their anger, Jacob pronounced their dispersion throughout Israel, which in fact happened. It is better to keep angry and violent men apart. At the census after the thinning out of the wilderness death march, Simeon’s numbers had shrunk from 59,300 to 22,000 (Num. 1:23 w/ 26:14). Eventually, they were absorbed completely into the remaining tribes. The Lord turned Levi’s curse into a blessing, as his dispersion eventually was as the priestly tribe. If Simeon shows the consequences of unrepentant sin down through generations, Levi shows that through subsequent faithfulness to God, as when the Levites stood with Moses against Israel and idolatry, blessing can be recovered. But anger blights our homes and our children. With an angry man no one should go or draw near.  Do not learn his ways. If you had an angry father, do not think of God in this way. If you are an angry, violent person – physically, emotionally, or verbally – immediately remember Simeon and Levi, confess this great wickedness, and ask the Lord to form his meek and gentle heart in you.

Judah Saves the Family…and the World (vv. 8-12)

8 Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. 9 Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. 11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: 12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah (vv. 8-9)

The salvation of Jacob’s family and of the world at this moment lay in the promise of a dying man. Pause and take in the weakness of the gospel. The whole world and all the reason of man are against such a scheme. It is utterly laughable that this family, this dying old man, and this one man Judah hold in their hands the salvation of the world. The splendor of Joseph’s reign and of Egypt was more promising, but Jacob with dim and darkening eyes looked away from all this and sought Judah. As his grandfather did, he looked ahead and saw Christ’s day – distant but clear (John 8:56). Judah will be the praise of his brothers and the terror of his enemies – certainly the days of David and Solomon are included in this vista but cannot be exhausted in them, for their years and glory faded into obscurity. Judah will be like a lion – three Hebrew words for lion are used – the young, the strong, and the lioness – perhaps the three phases of Judah’s future. When Judah seems old and tired, who will rouse him up? There will be echoes of this in Isaiah’s “tender shoot” – different metaphor but the same idea – when it looks as if the strength of the tribe is exhausted, he will yet arise and bring salvation to the world (Isa. 53:2). The Lion has come in Jesus Christ (Rev. 5:5), and like a lion, he now marches against his enemies, tears them, and then lifts up his head from the brook, looking for his next enemy to conquer and soul to save (Ps. 110:7).

Shiloh: The King of Peace and Righteousness (vv. 10-12)

Through rolling years and jarring changes, the scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes. This does not mean that God will always bestow visible glory upon the line of Judah, for through sin and judgment, it sunk into such obscurity that men doubted it would ever rise again. God’s promise does not require the sight or recognition of men in order to be operative. So it was in Judah. What we have here is really the seed of the woman promise now made extremely specific on one man and his line. They will enjoy times of external prosperity and dominion, but the true goal of God’s working out this promise is Shiloh. This otherwise unused name for the Messiah signifies peace. It is strange to human judgment to think of scepter and lawgivers leading to peace. Most think in terms of militarism and statism. But the goal of Shiloh’s reign is “peace on earth.” A later name of his will be “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). God will bring peace on earth through righteousness – conformity to his will. Modern leaders forget this again and again. There is no peace for the wicked (Isa. 48:22) because peace is harmony with the divine will, obedience to God’s revealed will in Scripture.

 Judah will enjoy unfolding material prosperity – the choicest wines came from Hebron and Engedi in Judah. He will enjoy the cream of the land that flows with milk and honey (vv. 11-12). Judah was a prosperous tribe, numerous, and positioned near the center of the camp. The capital of the nation would later be at Jerusalem, the city of David, in the tribe of Judah. And yet, if we are to think of these promises as referring chiefly to material blessings and Jewish prosperity in Canaan, we obviously miss the main point, as the Jews and various millenarian groups continue to do to this day. These blessings reach their climax in the person and work of Jesus Christ, David’s son and Lord, the lion of the tribe of Judah. He alone has brought in everlasting righteousness and therefore unassailable peace through his obedience unto death and sinless sacrifice on Calvary. He is the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), the seed of the woman, and the heir of all things. And he came from Judah. And Jacob here speaks of him almost two millennia before he came. He alone will save Jacob’s family and all the families of the nations so that God’s promise to Abraham will be realized and the earth filled with the knowledge of his glory.

Blessings upon the Remaining Sons (vv. 13-27)

13 Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon. 14 Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens: 15 And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute. 16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. 18 I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD. 19 Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last. 20 Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties. 21 Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words. 22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: 23 The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: 24 But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) 25 Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: 26 The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren. 27 Benjamin shall raven as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.

Jacob then turned to Leah’s remaining two sons, with their birth order strangely reversed. Zebulun means exalted. Jacob began almost to portion out the land of promise, for faith can see much farther than any earthly eyes (Deut. 33:18-19)! Zebulun will receive his land on the coast and enjoy merchant prosperity. Issachar (“recompense”) will be like a bony ass – strong and able to bear heavy burdens. He will also be indolent and willing to bear tribute, provided he enjoys prosperity. The blessing element receded somewhat as Jacob prophetically revealed the destiny of his sons. Dan (“judge”) will be as his name – a judge among his people, with something of a vexing spirit, as a serpent bites at the horse’s heel. Does this refer to Samson, who sprang from Dan, and delivered God’s people not so much by the power of the sword but by causing continuous trouble for the Philistines?

The closer to death Jacob drew, the clearer the future was to him. He saw the troubles and changes facing his sons and their descendants, and he cried out, “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord” (v. 18). He may have asked for strength to finish these prophesies before expiring. Something more, I think, is expressed – that there was no possible way that his sons could survive and see the Savior brought into the world unless the Lord upheld them. He, Jacob, waited for the Lord’s salvation – would his sons wait for it? Would Egypt gobble them up? Almost, but not quite. Would future troubles and even seasons of prosperity make them forgetful of the ultimate promise? Yes, but the Lord would preserve a godly seed, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Malachi, and later, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Anna, and Simeon, who like their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, waited for the Lord’s salvation. We must also wait for our blessed Savior. Although he has come and sealed the everlasting covenant with his blood, his kingdom does not come according to fallen human expectations but must ever be like its pure fountain – cross bearing, self-denying, humble, world defying and world hated, enduring by seeing him who is invisible but who has now come in the God-man, Jesus Christ. We wait for more glories than Jacob could see, but wait upon the Lord we must, watching unto prayer, keeping our lamps lit and filled with oil through fellowship with the Holy Spirit and obedience to his word.

For Gad (“troop”), he would be pressed or “trooped,” a play on his name, but he shall overcome at the last. This in fact happened in the days of Saul, when the Moabites and Ammonites were finally subdued by the Gadites (1 Chron. 5:18). Asher (“happiness”) shall enjoy fatness and royal dainties, as well as supply them to the other tribes. Naphtali signified “wrestling,” and he will be quick in carrying out his business and able to speak good words. Joseph received a longer blessing, which is hardly surprising, for he had suffered gross injustice from his brothers, but proved the most faithful, and then brought the greatest good to his family in terms of their temporal preservation. He will be fruitful, as he proved to be through his two sons and throughout a long and undoubtedly blessed life in Egypt. The Pharaoh’s in Joseph’s lifetime did not forget him but revered and kept his deliverance in constant memory. He was sorely provoked and shot at by archers – sad when a man’s enemies are they of his own household (Matt. 10:36) – but God upheld him and made him strong.

We must never, never forget, not until the end of the world when our Lord Jesus returns, that Joseph’s life primarily teaches us the power of God to uphold us in the worst possible circumstances so that we are not only able to endure them but also to overcome them and be used of God in them. Jacob then pronounced the richest conceivable blessing upon Joseph: the God of thy father help thee, bless thee with heaven above, of the deep, blessings of the breast and womb. Mesmerizing – the blessing of your father, Jacob, has prevailed – the total blessing of God will rest upon Joseph’s head, and we may say, upon him who is so completely the fulfillment of Joseph’s delivering work if not his direct descendent, Jesus Christ. Unto the everlasting hills, higher, enduring, solid, he shall be blessed. Jacob was breathing his last breaths as he spoke – love and hope and grace poured from his lips. Once hated and separated from his brothers, Joseph will be the source of blessing for his family. They will bow to him. God’s word must have the final say!

Benjamin only remained, Rachel’s only other son. Jacob would have spoken more tenderly and more fully had he been guided by fatherly affection rather than the spirit of prophecy. Benjamin will be warrior, a tearing wolf – like Ehud and Saul, who descended from this tribe, and Esther and Mordecai through whom the Jews were delivered from their enemies in the days of the captivity, and also Paul, through whom the gospel went boldly into the Gentile world. Through the apostle to the Gentiles, the Lion of the tribe of Judah continues to divide the spoil with the great and to spoil his enemies (Isa. 53:12).  What a vista of grace and covenant and glory Jacob saw in those last earthly seconds – a Moses before Moses, standing upon Pisgah looking not simply at the land of promise but at the whole history of God’s people for two millennia, until Shiloh came, and then beyond to our own day. O Lord, we have waited for your salvation, and none who have waited upon you have ever been disappointed. Teach us to wait upon you again and to trust that your word will always be fulfilled.

Jacob Gathered to His People (vv. 28-33)

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them. 29 And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah. 32 The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth. 33 And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.

Jacob was not an egalitarian in pronouncing benedictions upon his sons. He spoke as God directed him, and each was blessed according to his blessing, as God determined. Some were given a greater future, some less. Some were deservedly chastened. God is sovereign in his grace and gifts, and we must ever bow before him. Jacob with his dying breath then gave specific directions for his burial – not in Egypt but in Canaan, in the cave of Machpelah, where my fathers are buried. Jacob did not desire to be buried with Rachel but with Leah – her son Judah was the heir of promise, the one through whom the Messiah would come, and Jacob now saw this clearly. His earthly heart may have been with Rachel, but his eternal salvation rested with Leah and her son, Judah, and through him Jesus Christ. He made sure there would be no dispute – had his sons in seventeen years forgotten this? His burial directions were a command. Canaan, not Egypt, was their home. His sons must not forget this. With dignity and effort, Jacob then gathered his feet into the bed, then yielded up the ghost, and passed into his glory. To be gathered with his people means that he joined the spirits of just men made perfect, who even then believed upon the coming Savior for life and salvation.

Few and evil may have been the days of Jacob’s life, but splendid and abundant were the glories of his passing. None of the patriarchs suffered as he did, and none of them were blessed with faith’s gaze as he was. He practically looked down the corridors of time until Jesus came, saw the rising and falling of many, and prayed only for the Lord’s salvation to come! Were those few minutes upon that bed in Egypt not worth all the trials? God repaid his servant abundantly – not because he owed Jacob anything but because he loved Jacob so much! And see how this man died – with God’s word upon his lips, commanding his sons to keep covenant with God, which covenant was symbolized by his being buried in Canaan. If we would die the death of the righteous, we must live the life of the righteous – waiting upon the Lord, enduring hardship patiently as good soldiers of the cross, and allowing no earthly glory such as Jacob spent his final years in Egypt to obscure the greater splendor of God’s promises in his Son. With Jacob’s death, it was the end of an era. Not until Moses would there be such clear communication from heaven, but Jacob’s words were sufficient to sustain God’s people until the next revelation of Shiloh’s coming kingdom manifested itself.

Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. What does it mean to say that life is covenant?

2. How do Jacob’s final words to his sons demonstrate this?

3. Do you live covenantally? How is such living hopeful? Motivating? Serious and joyful?

4. How do we die well? How do we encourage dying well?

5. What do Jacob’s words to Reuben teach about purity and honor?

6. How was it just for sins committed forty years earlier to influence the futures of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi?

7. How is this different from the way men think?

8. How is it just like God that the salvation of the whole world was revealed through the words of a dying man?

9. How does it challenge our faith that Jacob looked away from the splendors of Egypt and saw Christ’s day through Judah?

10. What is the connection between peace and righteousness in our Savior’s mediatorial reign?

11. What does verse 18 reveal about the realism of this scene? About Jacob’s faith and hope? Why was he led to make such a confession?

12. What does “each according to his blessing” teach us about God’s sovereignty in gifts and blessings? About contentment? Any connection with our Lord’s parable of the talents?

13. How does Jacob’s blessing upon Joseph encourage us to be faithful to God no matter what happens to us?

14. Why did Jacob give such specific burial commands?

15. How did the Lord reveal his great love for Jacob in allowing him this final vision of the future?