December 9, 2018 | God's Providence Secures Future Blessings | Genesis 49:1-33

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Intro

Gather around, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the days to come. Those are the words Jacob spoke to his sons at the beginning of Genesis 49.

Those are the words we’ll spend our time together digging into today. But before we do I want to spend a moment thinking about the value of the knowledge Jacob possessed here.

What would it be worth to you to know what will happen to you in the days to come? Just having knowledge of future things that don’t even matter is extremely valuable, right? In Back to the Future Part II the bad guy, Biff Tannen, concocted a scheme to go into the past and give himself a copy of Gray’s Sports Almanac. He finds the younger version of himself and the exchange goes something like this:

Older Biff: You see this book? This book tells the future. It tells the results of every major sporting event until the end of the century. . .The information in here’s worth millions and I’m giving it to you.

Younger Biff: Thank you very much. Now why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here.

Younger Biff, though clearly not the smartest guy on the planet, went on to make a fortune for himself with just the knowledge of who would win some meaningless football games. How valuable would information be to you? So many of people are desperate to know what happens next or if—in the end—we are going to be okay that it has grown into a major industry.

Horoscopes are still printed in newspapers and available as apps. Miss Cleo may not be around anymore, but “psychic services” are still a $2 billion industry. We have an awareness that we are finite. There’s an end in store for each of us and we want to know the answer to the simple question: is everything going to be okay?

The message of Genesis 49 is that God works in the lives of His people to secure their future and bring about their salvation. God, through His good providence, ordains the events of history—ruling and overruling the evil of men and turning that evil for his purposes—to accomplish the redemption of His people for His glory.

When Jacob, on his death bed, tells his sons, “Gather around, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the days to come,” it is both a promise and a prophecy. Let’s read the chapter together:

Reading

Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather around, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the days to come.

2 Come together and listen, sons of Jacob;
listen to your father Israel:

3 Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my strength and the firstfruits of my virility,
excelling in prominence, excelling in power.
4 Turbulent as water, you will not excel,
because you got into your father’s bed
and you defiled it—he got into my bed.

5 Simeon and Levi are brothers;
their knives are vicious weapons.
6 May I never enter their council;
may I never join their assembly.
For in their anger they kill men,
and on a whim they hamstring oxen.
7 Their anger is cursed, for it is strong,
and their fury, for it is cruel!
I will disperse them throughout Jacob
and scatter them throughout Israel.

8 Judah, your brothers will praise you.
Your hand will be on the necks of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
9 Judah is a young lion—
my son, you return from the kill.
He crouches; he lies down like a lion
or a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah
or the staff from between his feet
until he whose right it is comes
and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him.
11 He ties his donkey to a vine,
and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine
and his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth are whiter than milk.

13 Zebulun will live by the seashore
and will be a harbor for ships,
and his territory will be next to Sidon.

14 Issachar is a strong donkey
lying down between the saddlebags.

15 He saw that his resting place was good
and that the land was pleasant,
so he leaned his shoulder to bear a load
and became a forced laborer.

16 Dan will judge his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.

17 Dan will be a snake by the road,
a viper beside the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
so that its rider falls backward.

18 I wait for your salvation, Lord.

19 Gad will be attacked by raiders,
but he will attack their heels.

20 Asher’s food will be rich,
and he will produce royal delicacies

21 Naphtali is a doe set free
that bears beautiful fawns.

22 Joseph is a fruitful vine,
a fruitful vine beside a spring;
its branches climb over the wall.

23 The archers attacked him,
shot at him, and were hostile toward him.

24 Yet his bow remained steady,
and his strong arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

25 by the God of your father who helps you,
and by the Almighty who blesses you
with blessings of the heavens above,
blessings of the deep that lies below,
and blessings of the breasts and the womb.

26 The blessings of your father excel
the blessings of my ancestors
and the bounty of the ancient hills.
May they rest on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of the prince of his brothers.

27 Benjamin is a wolf; he tears his prey.
In the morning he devours the prey,
and in the evening he divides the plunder.”

28 These are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this is what their father said to them. He blessed them, and he blessed each one with a suitable blessing.

29 Then he commanded them: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hethite. 30 The cave is in the field of Machpelah near Mamre, in the land of Canaan. This is the field Abraham purchased from Ephron the Hethite as burial property. 31 Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried there, Isaac and his wife Rebekah are buried there, and I buried Leah there. 32 The field and the cave in it were purchased from the Hethites.” 33 When Jacob had finished giving charges to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed, took his last breath, and was gathered to his people.

Amen.

A Word on Prophecy

As we were reading through this long chapter, you may have wondered how long, exactly, will we be here today. That’s a fair concern. Our goal today is not to tease out every single truth from this chapter. Sometimes, that is the goal. But, the goal of today’s sermon is to present the truth that Moses intended to preserve for us in the entirety of chapter 49. So we’ll spend most of our time examining Jacob’s statements to Reuben, Simeon, and Levi together, then Judah and Joseph separately—so there are three main sections we’ll focus on. The words to those four men take up 15 of the 26 verses in Jacob’s prophecy.

But before we dive in let me say just one thing about this text as a whole. The words in verses 3-27 are both poetry and prophecy. These verses are an extended Hebrew poem and the language is beautiful, but just as important for us to note is that these words are prophecy. Jacob is speaking divinely inspired words into the lives of his sons. Jacob is not just looking at the character and accomplishments of his sons and guessing at what their lives will turn out like. This is not, “You, son, are good at math, I think you’re going to be an engineer. You, son, are organized. I think you will be an executive. You, son, are good at Fortnite. You are going to live in your parents’ basement until you’re 35.”

This is Jacob speaking the word of the Lord. Later in the Old Testament, you’ll often find the phrase “the word of the Lord came to” preceding prophecy. Jeremiah 1:2 is one example, where we see the word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah.

When you see the word of the Lord spoken in Scripture you know that it will always ring true, because it’s always his prophet, Jacob in the case of Genesis 49, faithfully relating the message God has given him. In this moment, Jacob’s words equal God’s words. There’s a comfort here and I hope that comfort is the primary thing you leave here with today.

But there’s also a caution. Anytime someone begins a sentence with the words “God told me . . .” I get worried. My spiritual spidey sense starts tingling. Because ‘God told me’ isn’t followed by a verse of Scripture then whatever else follows ‘God told me’ has to be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny. And that’s not because I believe that God isn’t speaking to His people today. It’s because God is speaking to his people today.

God speaks to us primarily through His word. We’re told in Hebrews the word of God is living and active. When we declare “God told me” we are declaring prophecy and that is extremely serious business. We know God will not contradict Himself and we know that His word is always true. ‘God told me’ is a serious declaration. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t still speak to His people. Scripture records over-and-over again God speaking audibly to His people. In my experience, though, that’s quite different from the way most modern Christians use ‘God told me.’ Typically, I’ve seen this come through God speaking through an inner voice, a still, small voice. Again, I’m not denying that can happen. . . but we don’t ever see that in Scripture. We see God speaking out loud, through a dream or vision, through a blinding light and through a thundering voice from Heaven among other ways but not really in the way most people say they hear God today.

What does that mean for us? I think the desire to hear from God comes from a good place. We want to be connected to God’s voice and the good news is that we can be. God speaks to us directly through Scripture as we study it. We primarily discern God’s will through knowing the Word of the Lord from Scripture. This issue is not new. It was addressed all the way back in 1689 by the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith. Its sixth paragraph starts with these words

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. . .”

We have the whole counsel of God opened in front of us this morning and the truths contained in it are sufficient for every question and every need you’ll ever have in this life. Now that we’ve talked about the nature of the prophecy let’s get down to looking at the details. Again, we’re focusing on five brothers—Reuben, Simeon and Levi, Judah, and Joseph. The truth Jacob speaks into the lives of the other seven are not insignificant, but we see more clearly God’s providence at work in these five.

Reuben, Simeon, and Levi

Let’s look first at Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. We’ll examine them together and they’re all three negative. Verse 3:

3 Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my strength and the firstfruits of my virility,
excelling in prominence, excelling in power.
4 Turbulent as water, you will not excel,
because you got into your father’s bed
and you defiled it—he got into my bed.

These are some of the harshest words in all of the Old Testament, but there’s not much comfort for Simeon and Levi, either.

All three of these receive curses and not blessings from their father in his final address and it reveals something important to us about the sovereignty of God. Remember, God is at work to preserve for Himself a people—a people He has promised to bless richly. We learn from Genesis 49 that while God is sovereign over human actions, meaning that nothing happens that God doesn’t allow (or ordain), yet man is still responsible for the consequences of his actions. I won’t pretend that’s easy to wrap your mind around but let’s see how it’s true in the text.

Look at how well Jacob speaks of Reuben at the beginning of verse 3. My firstborn, my strength, excelling in prominence and excelling in power. That’s extremely high praise! Reuben was supposed to be the son of the promise! He was the firstborn and the blessing of all the nation of Israel should have come through him. Yet it didn’t. Why? Well, one answer is because—in His sovereignty God—chose another way. And another answer is because Reuben sinned. Turbulent as water, Jacob says, you will not excel because you got into your father’s bed. Back in Genesis 35:22 we learned that Reuben slept with Bilhah, one of Jacob’s concubines. And Jacob never got over this sin. We see how severe it was in Jacob’s mind because he addressed it twice in verse four.

Simeon and Levi committed a massacre against the Shechemites in Genesis 34. When Jacob tells these two what will happen in the days to come there is nothing positive. In fact, Jacob even says their families will be lost—scattered throughout Israel. Why? Because this was God’s sovereign plan and because these three men, through their disobedience, removed themselves from their position of greatest blessing within the family of Israel. We’ll dig a little deeper into this truth next week as we come to Joseph’s interaction with his brothers in Genesis 50 so if you have questions here make sure you come back. In the meantime, I found Charles Spurgeon’s words about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility helpful as I studied this week. He said:

These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

Did these three brothers forfeit their blessing because of their actions or because it was God’s plan? Yes. That’s the best we can do. And there are two more things I want us to notice before we move on to Joseph.

First, even in these apparent curses we still see evidence of God’s grace. Joseph was within his authority to have these brothers punished at any time and Jacob could have disowned them. Beyond that, God could have poured out on them the wrath that their sins deserved, and yet none of those things happen. In fact, for their entire lives these men live as sons of Jacob and the tribes that grow from their families retain their name. They still belong to God and they still belong to Jacob’s family. This is a beautiful illustration of the assurance we have in Jesus Christ. Our disobedience may have consequences, but aren’t you thankful that you cannot sin your way out of God’s family? We’re not in on our own merit and we’ll never be out because of our failures, just like Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. If your life shows no pattern of Christlikeness, if you’re not bearing the fruits of the Spirit’s presence in your life found in Galatians 5, and if you have no desire to for holiness and the things of God then I’d strongly encourage you to examine yourself to see if you’ve ever really been in the family of God. But once you’re in the family, there is no disowning, there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation because there is nothing you did to earn your salvation.

Speaking of family, there’s one last thing I want us to catch from these three brothers. Really, it’s true of all 12 to one degree or another. It’s that your faith has consequences for future generations. Reuben’s tribe, though there was much promise, never showed any strength or leadership and Simeon’s tribe dwindles and is scattered.

We see the that truth writ large in the modern church. Parents, I hope you hear and take this to heart—particularly you fathers out there. It probably won’t surprise you to find that studies show a child is more likely to be active in church as an adult if his or her parents are active in church.

Research shows us, though, that one of the biggest factors on whether or not a child grows up to have an active faith is the spiritual role of the father. One major study found that:

(I)f a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular).

Another study found that found that if a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5% probability everyone else in the household will follow. If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17% probability everyone else in the household will follow. However, when the father is first, there is a 93% probability everyone else in the household will follow.

I share these numbers with you for two reasons. One, to illustrate how imperative it is for families to disciple their children. But two, to show you that as a church we need to be aware of these numbers and ready to mobilize in three areas. First, pursuing our men. There are children and wives who attend our church whose husbands are not spiritually leading their families. Men, we need to love those men enough to pursue them with the gospel. Second, we need to come alongside those families and single-parent household, or grandparents who are raising grandchildren and help them to disciple kids who don’t have two strong spiritual parents giving them that guidance. We see from Genesis 49 the danger for future generations when there is a lapse in the faith. We have to be proactive so that we don’t see that kind of lapse in our church family. Third, if you are parents here today and you’ve ordered your life in such a way that church is optional for your family you have made a statement to your kids about how important your faith is. We have a Scriptural mandate to gather with God’s people on a regular basis and when we put shopping, or hunting, or sports, or the weather, or ‘I really just don’t feel like it’ ahead of church we are teaching our children how they should value church. Folks, Jesus didn’t die so that we can gather and worship together when we don’t have anything better to do. If you’ve set up your life so that church is the thing that you do when you don’t have anything more important going on, you’ve prioritized your life wrong. The good news is that you can change that. You an change the way you’re prioritizing your time and the things that you value as a family and that is a fantastic opportunity to teach your children why you’re making that change. Because we desperately want to leave behind a generation with a robust faith, don't we?

Joseph

Ok, enough about the sons who failed. Let’s look at the two who were most lavishly praised in Genesis 49. As we examine Joseph’s blessing in vv. 22-26 we will learn that God sovereignly blesses His children through all their circumstances.

Jacob calls Joseph a fruitful vine in verse 22, invoking the image of a well-watered plant that is flourishing. This speaks to Joseph’s character, and we’ve seen his Godly character on display over-and-over again in this story, haven’t we? His character endured the rejection of his brothers, the lies of Potiphar’s wife, years in prison, and the hardships of leading a nation during a famine. He remained steady through all those attacks. How? Verses 24 tells us:

24 Yet his bow remained steady,
and his strong arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

25 by the God of your father who helps you,
and by the Almighty who blesses you
with blessings of the heavens above

It’s because of the Mighty One of Jacob that Joseph was able to endure. Sure, his character was great but he endured more than one man ever could on his own. Hear all those names of God that Jacob lifts up over his son: Shepherd, Rock of Israel, God of your father, the Almighty. About these names, Kent Hughes wrote:

It was God in the full significance of these names . . .who. . . delivered Joseph and sustained him— and who would effect further blessing in his life. And for us his children, God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1: 3, 4a). The promise of his care for us is equally astonishing. Our awesome God will effect our care and blessing!

Some of us just need to hear that and believe it today. Whatever it is you’re going through, God has blessings in store for you if you belong to him. That’s what Jacob looks into Joseph’s future and sees. Abundant blessings. God never promises that they’ll be on this side of eternity, though. In fact, all these brothers would be long dead before Jacob’s words become truth. Yet, every single prophecy in Genesis 49 is found true.

Judah

Especially the most important one. Let’s jump back to Judah. Look at verse 8:

Judah, your brothers will praise you.
Your hand will be on the necks of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
9 Judah is a young lion—
my son, you return from the kill.
He crouches; he lies down like a lion
or a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah
or the staff from between his feet
until he whose right it is comes
and the obedience of the peoples belongs to him.
11 He ties his donkey to a vine,
and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine
and his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth are whiter than milk.

Here, we see the means by which God is going to effect salvation for His people, undo the curse of Eden, and rescue for Himself a new nation—not an ethnic one—but one from every tribe and tongue on earth. The truth of Judah’s blessing is that God’s sovereignty secures a future of blessing for His children.

The is the continuation of the promises God has been making since the fall. In Genesis 3:15 for the very first time He told Adam & Eve how He was going to undo the sin they had just committed. He further revealed to Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed via his offspring. That blessing comes in the person of Jesus Christ, the one who would hold the scepter of Judah. If you look at either of the genealogies of recorded in Matthew or Luke’s gospels you’ll be able to trace Jesus’ family tree all the way back to Judah. What does Jacob’s prophecy reveal for Judah?

Well, the first image here is one that should sound familiar to us since we’ve been studying Joseph’s life story for a number of weeks. Jacob tells Judah that his brothers’ descendants will bow down to him—exactly what was revealed to Joseph in his dreams back in Genesis 37. He is described as a lion and the most courageous leader in the history of Israel would come from his family line. King David—of the tribe of Judah—led Israel to unprecedented success and blessing. Yet, there would be one greater than David who would come.

Ultimately, the blessing of Judah is the birth that we’ll celebrate in just a couple weeks. What does the coming of Christ mean for those in God’s family? Look at verses 11-12 again:

11 He ties his donkey to a vine,
and the colt of his donkey to the choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine
and his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth are whiter than milk.

Jacob looks ahead to the richness of Jesus Christ and His blessings here. Times will be so good and the harvest will be so abundant that you can tie a donkey to a grapevine and it will (1) be so strong it will hold him and (2) you don’t have to worry about the animal eating the harvest because it is so plentiful. He’s so wealthy he uses wine in the place of water.

The Messiah is a perfect picture of strength and power. He’s sufficient to meet every need that His people have—even though we did nothing to earn it.

Remember, Judah messed up just like Reuben. He committed sexual sin in Genesis 38. What’s the difference? Judah repented and changed. Reuben, it seems, never did.

Jacob died in perfect peace. He told his loved ones when his death was immanent, gave specific burial instructions, and then took his last breath. How can we have that kind of peace? We trust in the sovereignty of God to provide all the future blessings that have been promised to us in Scripture.