Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"One Father's Closure"

Genesis 49

Psalm 128

     Many of us have had the experience of gathering with family at the bedside of a loved one who

was soon to pass away.  It may have been in their home, or in a hospital room, or in a hospice suite.

While there are few things in life as painful as bidding someone we love a final goodbye, as they are in

that process of moving from the worldly realm to the heavenly, there is great value, and almost

always some degree of comfort - even relief - in expressing final thoughts, wishes, and blessings --- we

to them, and they to us.  We call this “closure.”  In those weeks, days, hours, last words are of huge

significance,  and carry a lot of weight for the family which will soon be forced to go on without mom,

or dad, or husband, or wife, or sibling, or child.       


      On this morning of Father’s Day, we’re going to read and study about a father; a father who was

himself in the process of moving from the worldly to the heavenly.  This patriarch’s name was Jacob;

also known as Israel.  He had called all twelve of his sons to his bedside, and clearly had some things to

get off his chest;  some things encouraging and positive; others, not so much.  We’re going to ap-

proach this study in an expository manner; that is to say, we’re going to exposit or clarify his last words

to each of his sons.  In the process, we’ll hopefully learn something about each of the so-called “twelve

tribes of Israel” those sons would head, and about the father who raised them.

      Genesis 49, verses 1 and 2: “Now Jacob called his sons, and said, ‘Gather around, that I may tell

you what will happen to you in days to come.  Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel

your father.”  It was common in that day that the father would confer blessing upon his sons during

his final days.  And while there are words of blessing uttered here by Jacob, there are also words of

admonition, and even condemnation.  What we actually find here is Jacob prophesying over his sons.

The first prophecy begins on a complimentary note, but is followed by anything but a blessing.

      Genesis 49, verses 3 and 4:  “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the first fruits of my

vigor, excelling in rank and excelling in power. Unstable as water, you shall no longer excel because

you went up onto your father’s bed; then you defiled it --- you went up onto my couch!”  Reuben is

Jacob’s eldest, born when his dad was at the top of his game.  He became an awesome leader, and

made his father proud.  But Reuben turned out to be as uncontrolled as a flood.  In a twisted effort to

help his birth mother Leah, Reuben slept with Bilhah, one of Jacob’s other wives.  Because of this, his

father makes clear that Reuben no longer deserves the place of honor as the eldest son.

      Genesis 49, 5-7:  “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords.  May I

never come into their council; may I not be joined to their company – for in their anger they killed

men, and at their whim they hamstrung oxen.  Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their

wrath, for it is cruel!  I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.”  They are brothers, and

they are Jacob’s sons.  But Jacob wants no association with what they’ve done.  For they are violent

men; slaughtering people in their anger; crippling animals for no reason.  Jacob seems so disgusted

by the way they’ve turned out that he can’t even speak to them; only about them.  In the end, Jacob

prophesies that the curse of their ways shall be that their descendants will be forever scattered.

      Genesis 49,8-12:  “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your

enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you.  Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my

son, you have gone up.  He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion, like a lioness – who dares

rouse him up?  The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

until tribute comes to him; and the obedience of the peoples is his.  Binding his foal to the vine and

his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of

grapes; his eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.”  It seems pretty obvious that

Jacob is addressing a favorite son, predicting that Judah will be praised by and bowed down to by his

eleven brothers.  With the strength of a lion, Judah would not only overcome his enemies, but would

receive their gifts.  Productive vineyards were often used as a metaphor for prosperity.  Judah would

be awash in wealth.  And all these allusions to lions, scepters, donkeys, wine, blood…… might these

be words of prophesy; not just regarding the person of Judah, but also regarding One who would

descend from the tribe of Judah; One who would be declared King by His followers; One who would

be mounted on a donkey’s colt; One who would pour out the cup of wine and declare:  “Drink from

it, all of you; for this is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness

of sins”; One whose robe would be stained by His own shed blood?

      Genesis 49, verse 13:  “Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea; he shall be a haven for ships,

and his border shall be at Sidon.  Jacob’s final words to Zebulun are short and sweet, predicting that

he would be a harbor master; providing a safe place for ships to dock.  Few Bible commentators I’ve

read express any humor, but one I came across suggested that Jacob was predicting that Zebulun

would become the “Popeye of Palestine.”  The reference to “Sidon” maps the geographical area the

tribe of Zebulun would populate, that being on the busy east coast of the Mediterranean Sea,

perhaps between the ancient cities of Sidon and Tyre.  It’s notable that during Jesus’ ministry, He

would sometimes escape to the region of Tyre and Sidon to get away for some rest; His safe haven.

      Genesis 49,14-15:  “Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between sheepfolds; he saw that a

resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant; so he bowed his shoulder to the burden,

and became a slave at forced labor.”  Issachar has been historically-described as a work horse.  In

the song of Deborah recorded in Judges, chapter 5, Issachar is mentioned as a major force in the

tribe’s battles against the Canaanites.  In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar was reputed as

producing many wise men.  Jacob basically has this word for son Issachar:  You’re strong.  You’re a

hard worker.  But like a mule, you tend to kick and bray.  You’ll find a good land and enjoy the fruits of

your labor.  Your problem is that you work so hard that you’ll become enslaved to it.  Might Issachar

be one described as both an “overachiever” and something of a “wild child?”

      Genesis 49, verse 16:  “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel.  Dan shall be a

snake by the roadside, a viper along the path that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider falls

backward.”  Jacob says of son Dan that his tribe will be the mediators of justice among the tribes of

his brothers.  Yet at the same time, this tribe would be characterized by underhandedness and dark

dealing.  Perhaps there is also a prophetic word here pointing to a particularly famous judge who

would come from the tribe of Dan.  His name was Samson.  We remember Samson as a man of both

strength and weakness; a champion of Israel as they fought the Philistines; a vain man whose, shall

we say, trust in lust, led to his downfall.  He embodied the very spirit of the tribe of Dan, which was at

once strong and weak; just and faithful on one hand; cunning and increasingly idolatrous on the


      Genesis 49, verse 18 is a brief interlude of a dying man:  “I wait for your salvation, O Lord.”

      Genesis 49, verse 19: “Gad shall be raided by raiders, but he shall raid at their heels.”  This is

pretty self-evident.  Gad, you will be attacked, then attack your attackers.  You’ll forever be fighting.

      Genesis 49, verse 20: “Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall provide royal delicacies.”  I don’t

think Jacob is saying that Asher was to become the Chef Emeril of Israel.  I believe he is simply saying

something like, Asher, you’ll eat food fit for a king.  As it turned out, the tribe of Asher never fully

inhabited the valley they were expected to settle.  According to the Book of Judges, Asher failed to

drive out the Canaanites.  So while the Asherites became a very wealthy tribe, best known as export-

ters of “rich” olive oil – and maybe the wealthiest tribe, save Judah --  they were destined to live in

the rugged hill country, all the while coveting the fertility of the lowlands.

      Genesis 49, verse 21, again, pretty self evident:  “Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears lovely

fawns.”  Did you ever hear anyone say, “They are really going to make beautiful babies.” 

      Genesis 49, 22-26: “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over

the wall.  The archers fiercely attacked him; they shot at him and pressed him hard.  Yet his bow

remained taut, and his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the

name of Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, by the God of your father, who will help you, by the Almighty

who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings

of the breasts and of the womb.  The blessings of your father are stronger than the blessings of the

eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, on the

brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.” Gosh! Thanks dad!  You know, sometimes around

that bedside in the home, or in the hospital room, or in the hospice suite, one child may get a blessing

all the others wish they had gotten.  And sadly, this often leads to ill-will within a family.  But maybe

not here.  Joseph, you’ll remember after all, had years ago been sold to a caravan by his brothers. 

They went home and told Jacob his beloved Joseph had been killed by wild animals.  Joseph mean-

while ended up in Egypt, where he was favored, and eventually became the power behind pharaoh’s

throne.  Years later, he saved his father, and his brothers and their families from their famine-ravaged

land, and brought them to Egypt where they lived in plenty.  How then could these brothers even

think of being resentful of their father’s expansive blessing on his beloved Joseph?  At the end of his

words to Joseph, he reminds the eleven brothers of what they had done in separating Joseph from his

family, while at the same time declaring him leader over all his brothers; in effect, the next patriarch.

      Finally, Jacob’s words to his youngest.  Genesis 49, verse 27:  “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the

morning devouring the prey, and at evening dividing the spoil.”  Okay. What do we make of this bles-

sing?  One might think that Jacob would speak more tenderly to his baby boy from his deathbed;

especially after having just heaped upon Joseph such accolades.  But this word is more prophetic than

expressive of natural affection.  He foresees that the tribe of Benjamin will be a warlike bunch, strong

and daring, and that the tribe would enrich itself with the spoils of their enemies.  As it turned out, the

Benjamites were equally passionate in defense of their allies, as attested by their wolf-like protection

of the cities of Gibeah and Belial.  Benjamin was a good friend to have.  It’s worth mentioning that Saul,

first king of Israel, and Paul (once named Saul), earliest writer of the New Testament, both descended

from the tribe of Benjamin.  Also worth pointing out is that according to Judges, chapters 3 and 20,

Benjamites tended to be left-handed, and great pitchers. 

      Well, there you have it, one father’s closure as he offers final words to and for his sons, and pro-

phetically and historically, for the entire nation of Israel.  Those last words can indeed carry a lot of

weight for a family forced to go on.  We’ll close on Genesis 49:33.  After a few instructions to his sons

regarding his burial arrangements, we’re told that “When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew

up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.”