Genesis 46–50. The Destiny of the Twelve Brothers and Their Tribes.
Key Notes: Israel in Goshen. Reversal of primogeniture: the blessing of Ephraim over Manasseh. God meant it for good. Assessment of your life in the presence of your family? The future of each tribe and its history. We will be assessed before God.
This passage opens the lives of the brothers to the future through the vision of Jacob / Israel, their father. He blessed each and described characteristics which their ancestors will exhibit hundreds of years later after they have occupied Canaan. In these brothers, the destiny of the people of Israel, and ultimately the destiny of the world is marked. One brother's offspring more than fifteen hundred year later will become the Savior of the world, God with us.
46:1–7 Jacob went to Joseph in Egypt with a vision from God for encouragement and blessing. God said He would go with him, as He had before.
"I am with you." (Gen.28:15)
"I will be with you." (Gen.31:3)
"God has been with me." (Gen.31:5; 35:3)
"God will be with you." (Gen.48:21)
46:8–27 Seventy members of Jacob's household (Deut.10:22) went with him to Egypt to live. If you cross reference this number to Acts, you will see that Stephen reported 75 souls in Egypt. (Acts 7:14). He did not make a mistake. He is quoting the Greek OT (LXX) which reports 75 souls both in Gen.46:27 and Ex.1:5. The difference is based on how the relatives were counted, leaving some out and adding others.
46:28 Judah was sent ahead to meet with Joseph. Joseph came out with his chariot to meet his father Jacob. He prompted the brothers to emphasize their work as shepherds to Pharaoh because this would ensure their cultural separation from the Egyptians ("...for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians").
47:1–6–12 Pharaoh confirmed their possession of Goshen, the best of the land for cattle-raising and asked for help in raising his herds as well. Jacob had a brief meeting with Pharaoh and blessed him. He said his life had been short and miserable, although he was then 130 years old.
47:13–26. This section was covered with Gen. 41.
48:1–7 When Jacob was near death, Joseph brought his sons Ephraim and Manasseh to him for blessing. Jacob adopted them as his sons and members of the tribal group.
48:8 Then Jacob blessed them, favoring Ephraim over Manasseh in spite of Joseph's protest that Manasseh was the first-born. The history of the two tribes confirms the dominance to Ephraim. Manasseh was weakened by its division between east and west Jordan. (Josh.22:7–8). “Ephraim” was later used as short-hand for the ten northern tribes, indicating its strength. He gave Joseph a mountain slope that he had taken from the Amorites and prophesied that the family would return to Canaan. (The events surrounding that capture are not recorded in Genesis. Some are surprised to think of Jacob doing anything war-like.)
49:1–2 Then Jacob summoned his remaining strength, gathered his sons and prophesied their futures. It is uncomfortable to be compared with your brothers, even under the best of circumstances.
49:3–4 Reuben, the first-born, the first of Jacob's strength, lost his pre-eminence when he slept with Bilhah, Jacob’s secondary wife. His tribe will be absorbed.
49:5–7 The anger of Simeon and Levi was condemned because of their violent attack on Shechem and they were to be scattered among the tribes.
49:8–12 Judah is like a lion and will rule over his brothers. The scepter would be in his hand until He comes to whom it belongs. To Him will be the obedience of the peoples. He would be blessed with wine and milk. In His day there will be plenty for everyone.
49:13 Zebulun would dwell by the sea and be a haven for ships.
49:14–15 Issachar, like a strong donkey, would become a slave, perhaps from being lazy.
49:16–18 Dan, like a viper on the path, would trip the horseman; he would be a judge for his people.
49:19 Gad would be raider against raiders.
49:20 Asher would live well on rich food.
49:21 Naphtali is a doe, bearing beautiful fawns.
49:23–26 Joseph is a fruitful bough, separated from his brothers, beleaguered in battle but overcoming by the power of God. He would be blessed by Jacob's God, blessed beyond measure. His hands were made agile by
the Mighty One of Jacob,
* the Name of the Shepherd,
* the Rock of Israel,
* the God of Jacob,
* El Shaddai, God Almighty.
49:27 Benjamin is a wolf, a predator.
49:28 Each received a blessing suitable to himself.
49:29 Then Jacob asked to be buried with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah at Machpelah. He got into bed and died.
50:1–14 Jacob was embalmed by Joseph's physicians, and after 70 days of mourning, a huge funeral cortege went to Canaan; Egyptian servants of Pharaoh, the elders of Egypt, all the brothers including the household of Joseph went along.
50:15–21 After Jacob's death, the brothers came to Joseph with a message supposedly from Jacob begging forgiveness. Their renewed fears for their lives were relieved by Joseph's clear understanding of God's plan for his life and theirs. Joseph wept; they bowed before him and declared that they were his servants. He comforted them with his reassurance.
“Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.”
50:22 Joseph died at 110 years, with instructions that his body be take back to Canaan when God brought them out of Egypt. He was embalmed and put in a coffin in Egypt. Yet the story does not end with bones in Egypt, but the promise of the Exodus, which Joseph repeats a hundred years after God's prophecy to Abraham. God told him that Israel would go down to Egypt for 400 years and then "come out with great possessions." (Gen.15:13–14). The hope of liberation died over the next 300 years until God commissioned Moses to bring Israel out of slavery.
Exodus picks up the story and describes Israel’s return to Canaan centuries later.
Ephraim was chosen above his brother Manasseh. There are at least 7 times when God chose one other than the first-born, although Deuteronomy commands the dedication of all first born of animals as well as humans to the Lord. (Ex.13:2)
Isaac was preferred over Ishmael. Gen.17:18
Jacob over Esau. Gen.25:23
Perez over Zerah. Gen.38:29; Matt.1:3
Ephraim over Manasseh. Gen.48:14
Judah over Reuben. Gen. 49:10
Gideon over his brothers. Judg.6:15
David over Abinadab and his brothers. ISam:16:1
It is curious that five of the brothers are given animal-like characteristics:
Judah is like a crouching lion.
Issachar is a strong donkey.
Dan is a serpent by the path.
Naphtali is a pregnant deer.
Benjamin is a fierce wolf.
Nations are often associated with animals, notably in Daniel, but also in modern times. China is a dragon, Russia is a bear, Britain is a bull-dog, the USA is an eagle, etc. The Hebrews have twelve words for "lion", indicating their interest and attachment to that animal. (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. L.Ryken, J.C.Wilhoit, T. Longman III; IVP.’98; p.30)
It is an awesome thought to be at the bedside of your father, and have your life reviewed and to be appropriately rewarded or punished. Note that every brother was "blessed". (49:28). No one was disowned, although some deserved to be. But some got onions; Judah and Ephraim got orchids; most got carrots.
We would like to believe that as Christians we will not go through such a solemn assessment. We think we are are exempt from future judgment.
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus…." (Rom.8:1).
But exemption from damnation does not exempt us from judgment. Paul teaches two truths.
•"Everyone's work will become manifested; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done." (ICor.3:13)
•"We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body." (IICor.5:10)
•"...the Lord comes, who will bring to light things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then everyone will receive his commendation from God." (ICor.4:5)
•"...the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge will award me on that day...also to all who have loved His appearing." (IITim.4:8)
•"I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done." (Rev.22:12).
Then what of the clear conscience? What will we be thinking on that day?
"As far as the East is from the West, so far does He remove our transgressions from us." (Psa.103:12)
"...and I will remember their sins no more." (Heb.8:12)
"...gifts and sacrifices...cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper." (Heb.9:9)
"... [may] the blood of Christ...purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (Heb.9:14).
"...our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." (Heb.10:22)
Evidently the clear conscience means that we fear no condemnation. But it does not leave us home free, as Hebrews repeatedly emphasizes. The New Testament is full of exhortation for Christians to live holy and productive lives--for good reason.
THE TWELVE TRIBES IN THEIR SUBSEQUENT LIVES.
REUBEN: He had advised the brothers not to kill Joseph. (Gen.37:21,29). He later told them they had brought calamity on themselves by their treatment of Joseph. (Gen.42:22). He offered his two sons to Jacob in exchange for Benjamin (Gen.42:37).
* His father condemned his incest (Gen.49:4) and denied him pre-eminence.
*He lost the birthright. IChron.5:2
*Moses said: "Let Reuben live, and not die, nor let his men be few". Deut.33:6
*His son On, son of Peleth, was part of the rebellion of Dathan, Abiram and Korah against Moses in the wilderness. Num.16:1
*His tribe was assigned land they requested east of the Dead Sea, just above Moab. It would be pasture land, not settled agriculture. The tribe disappeared.
* The tribe did not help Deborah and Barak against the Canaanites. Judg.4:15,16
* In the days of Saul the Reubenites won a war against the Hagrites, with the assistance of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. IChron.5:19,‘-22
SIMEON: He was a hostage in Egypt for Benjamin. Gen.42:24
*He was severely rebuked for taking part in the sack of Shechem. His tribe would be scattered in Israel. Gen.49:5–7
*His tribe was not mentioned in the blessing of Moses. Deut.33
*The land given to Simeon was below Judah in the Negev and the tribe became absorbed partly in Judah (Josh.19:1–9) and partly into the Northern Kingdom. (IIChron.34:6). The tribe practically disappeared after the conquest of Canaan.
LEVI: He shared the rebuke of Simeon, with the prophecy that his tribe would also be dispersed. Gen.49:5–7
*The Levites participated in the punishment of Israel after the golden calf, and were "ordained for the service of God". (Ex.32:29). Blessing came out of judgment.
*Moses calls Levi "the godly one". Levi would teach Israel the law and perform the priestly function. “May God accept the work of his hands.” (Deut.33:8–11)
*They had no lands of their own, but occupied 48 cities through Israel. (Num.35:1–8) Their lives were to be devoted to spiritual work, not agriculture, but many cultivated fields when they were not assigned to the Tabernacle.
JUDAH. He proposed selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites. (Gen.37:26). Later he took responsibility for Benjamin to Jacob. (Gen.43:8). He made the confession for the brothers to Joseph. Gen.44:18–34
He had a troubled marriage. Gen.38
*The prophecy gives him primacy over his brothers. He is a lion. The scepter belongs in Judah until He (Christ) comes.
"Take off the crown; things shall not remain as they are.... A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it; there shall not be even a trace of it until He comes whose right it is; and to Him I will give it." (Ezek.21:26)
*Moses prayed that God would help Judah against his adversaries. Deut.33:7
*Messiah comes from the tribe of Judah, King of Israel, Son of David, as taught in Isa.9:6,7; Jer.23:5; Zech.6:12; Lk.1:32.
*Future power of Messiah over the nations is emphasized in Psa.2:8; Dan.7:13; Rev.5:5,9. The wine-stained garment (Gen.49:11) is interpreted in Isa.63:1–6 and Rev.19:11,13 as a symbol of Christ's judgment on the nations.
ZEBULUN. Although Jacob's prophecy associates Zebulun with the sea, assigned land (Josh.19:10–16) did not touch either Mediterranean or the Sea of Galilee. But Megiddo, an pivotal city, is on the trade route south from the port cities of Acco, Tyre and Sidon.
*Moses said Zebulun would offer right sacrifices and suck the affluence of the seas. Deut.33:18–19
*It was the 4th largest tribe. Num.1:31
*During Hezekiah's revival, some came from the North to live in Jerusalem. (IIChron.30:11). The rest suffered severely at the hands of the Assyrians.
*Zebulun and Naphtali are mentioned as the place where the "great light" would shine. Isa.9:1–2. This was fulfilled in Jesus' ministry. Matt.4:15–16
ISSACHAR would end in forced labor, probably to the Assyrians.
* Moses assigned the treasures of the seas to Issachar. Deut.33:18–19
DAN was set between Ephraim, Benjamin and Judah. Josh.19:40.
Moses said Dan was a lion cub leaping forth from Bashan. (Deut.33:22). The Danites could not fit in, and went north. They were occasionally violent. Judg.18
*Samson was a Danite and a judge of the southern branch of Dan. Judg.13:2
GAD would have a troubled existence.
*They decided to settle on the east side of the Jordan River (Num.32:19) between Ammon and the Jordan, opposite Jerusalem.
*Moses said Gad chose the best of the land.
* With Israel he executed the decrees of the Lord. Deut.33:20–21
*They helped David when he was in exile. IChron.8–15
*They were wiped out by Hazael along with Reuben and Manasseh when he occupied the Trans-Jordan territories. IIK.10:3.
ASHER would prosper. He would occupy the coastland from Acco to Tyre. (Curious that Zebulun and Issachar are associated with the seacoast instead of Asher.)
*Moses said Asher would be the favorite of the brothers, dipping his food in oil (?from olives). The bars would be of iron and brass (Deut.33:24–25) but evidently giving them strength.
* The prophetess Anna was from Asher. Lk.2:36
NAPHTALI is a female deer let loose. She would occupy the Galilee district. It contained some of the most fertile land and a major Canaanite city, Hazor.
*Moses said Naphtali was full of the blessing of the Lord, possessing the Lake Country (Galilee) and south. Deut.33:23
*Naphtali early on dwelt among the Canaanites. Judg.1:33
*Barak was a Naphtalite. Judg.4:6
*The district was ravaged by Benhadad of Syria. IK.15:20
Zebulun and Naphtali became Galilee of the nations (Isa.9:1–3) where Jesus did His first ministry. Matt.4:15
JOSEPH received the greatest blessing on behalf of Ephraim and Manesseh. The blessing makes some think of a renewal of the Garden of Eden, overflowing with goodness.
*Moreover, the birthright was transferred from Reuben to Joseph. IChron.5:2
*Moses gave a similar, almost verbatim blessing. Joseph is described as a bull pushing the peoples to the ends of the earth. Deut.33:13–17
EPHRAIM was given the hill country of W. Canaan.
MANESSEH had a huge territory, on either side of Jordan, the East granted by Moses, the West by Joshua. Josh.22:7.
There was a rivalry between Judah in the South and Ephraim in the North which eventually divided the kingdom. The northern kingdom of ten tribes was destroyed, the southern kingdom deported, but remained viable until the second dispersion in 70AD.
"He rejected the tent of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves." (Psa.78:67). A future union of the contending brothers is prophesied in Ezek.37:15–28 with David as their king, dwelling in Canaan.
So in spite of great blessing, "Joseph" withered in later years and primacy passed to Judah, and as Judah withered, primacy passed to the family of Jesse, and his Son, the Messiah who will reign not only over Israel, but over the nations when He comes the second time in power and judgment.
Come, O Lord, Come.