Genesis 47:27-31; 48.
(Extracted from Scripture Truth magazine, Volume 17, 1925, page 4-6.)
During the first seventeen years of Joseph's life he was cared for by his father Jacob, and, with beautiful fitness the aged father during the last seventeen years of his life becomes the object of tender care on the part of the son (Gen. 47:28). At the end of this period we reach the last and brightest stage of Jacob's chequered path, the tranquil calm of his dying hours being in bright contrast to the stormy life through which he had pursued his crooked and self-willed way. To this holy and elevated scene Joseph is specially called, and in it he and his two sons have a peculiar place of privilege.
Jacob — the man of nature — is weakened by age and sickness. The world to which he had clung with such tenacity is fast fading from his view, his eyes being dim by reason of age (verse 10). But when the strength of nature is weakened, and the natural vision is dim — when all things earthly are fast slipping from his grasp — he rises above the loss of all earthly joys and finds in God his sole trust and unfailing resource. Hence it is that his mind travels back to that great moment at the commencement of his pilgrim path when God Almighty appeared to him at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there blessed him and gave the land to his seed for an everlasting possession on the ground of unconditional promise. The futile scheming, the mean shifts, and underhanded planning, that had so often marred his way are all passed over as of no avail; and for every hope for a far-reaching future he rests in the unconditional promise of God with which he commenced his journey (verses 3, 4).
But if there is blessing on the ground of promise secured to Jacob's seed, then Jacob can claim a blessing for Joseph's sons. Jacob can say, "they shall be mine." He claims them as his seed and therefore as the heirs to the inheritance (verses 5, 6).
Then, reverting to his own history, he contrasts his earthly lot with the bright future of Joseph's sons (verse 7). He sees stretching before them, and their seed, a great inheritance in the land, but as for himself, all his earthly joys in the land of Canaan were ended with the death of his best-loved wife. Rachel was the loved object of his life. Rachel was the special object of his care at the ford Jabbok. Rachel's sons were loved above all his children. At Rachel's death love marked her burial place with a pillar to keep her name in perpetual remembrance. For Rachel he had suffered, toiled, and lived, and with her all earthly joys were closed for Jacob. It was as if he said to Joseph, "Your two sons have bright earthly prospects before them, but, as for me, mine were all buried in Rachel's tomb." But the faith of the dying patriarch looks beyond the end of all earthly joys; and the man who was for ever talking of going down to the grave — now that his feet reach the edge of the grave — looks beyond death and corruption, for if he speaks of Rachel's tomb "in the way of Ephrath," he significantly adds, "the same is Bethlehem." The very spot which closed up the earthly joys and natural affections of Jacob's life is the place from whence would come the One who would bring in everlasting blessing for Jacob's seed. "Thou, Bethlehem-Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be the ruler in Israel whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2). One has said, "the tomb of Jacob's earthly hopes was the birthplace of his heavenly ones. Ephrath and Bethlehem were one and the same place. Death and resurrection go together in the counsels of God and the experience of His people. As surely as Ephrath does the work of death for us, so surely it will become a Bethlehem to us."
Jacob has spoken hitherto, but from this point in the story he speaks as Israel. Jacob the man of nature has recalled the past and seen the end of all his hopes in death, now as Israel (the prince with God) he will declare the mind of God. As Jacob he has seen death ending the plans of man. As Israel he looks beyond death and unfolds the purpose of God (verses 8-11). But the eyes of Israel were dim for age, so that he could not see (verse 10). If heavenly things are opening to him, earthly things are fading from him. And so it is he no longer thinks of the sorrows by the way, but of the goodness of God that had never forsaken him. He owns that God had been better to him than all his natural thoughts. He can say, "I had not thought to see thy face; and, lo, God hath showed me also thy seed."
With the goodness of God filling his soul, Joseph and his two sons for the moment pass from his thoughts, and in the presence of God "he bowed himself with his face to the earth." He has reached the highest moment in his spiritual life — he is a worshipper. This, we know from the Holy Spirit's comment in Hebrews 11, was the crowning act of faith in the life of Jacob. "By faith," we read, "Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff." The scheming, the supplanting, the selfishness, and the independence that so often marred his path had passed away, and at last Jacob is marked by faith, dependence, and worship (verse 12).
The result is very blessed. As a worshipper in the presence of God he learns the mind of God. He acts no longer as nature would dictate, but as God would direct. He crosses his hands "intelligently" (N. Tr.), placing the right hand on the younger and the left hand on the elder (verses 13, 14). Thereupon Jacob blesses Joseph, but does so by blessing his two sons, for the blessing that he pronounces is upon "the lads." He speaks of God according to his experience of God. It is the God that shepherded him all the days of his life — the Angel that had redeemed him from all evil — into whose hands he commends the lads (verses 15, 16). Joseph, allowing his natural thoughts to govern him, and not discerning the sovereignty of God that blesses according to His purpose, protests against Jacob giving preeminence to the younger son. Jacob, however, will not give way to Joseph's natural wishes. He is perfectly aware of the course he is taking. He can say, "I know it, my son, I know it." He is not only acting according to the mind of God, but he is doing so intelligently. His spiritual vision was never brighter than at the moment when his natural vision had become dim with age. Another has said, "There never was a man who saw more brightly than Joseph; but Jacob dying, sees the future with steadier, fuller gaze than the most famous interpreter of dreams and visions since the world began."
In Genesis 49 we pass from the private scene between Jacob and his son Joseph and we have the closing moments of Jacob's life to which all his sons were summoned, though here again we shall find that Joseph has a pre-eminent place. The twelve sons of Jacob were the nucleus of the nation of Israel, and thus, under the guidance of God, Jacob uses their different characteristics to give a prophetic outline of the moral history of the nation, and God's purpose for the blessing of Israel through Christ, more especially setting forth the condition of the nation "in the last days" that precede their entrance into blessing under the reign of Christ.
The first three sons present by their characteristics the moral failure of Israel as a nation marked by corruption as exemplified in Reuben, and violence as expressed in Simeon and Levi. As such the nation would be rejected. God will not enter into their assembly or connect His honour with those marked by corruption and violence. It is not by such means that the purposes of God will be brought to pass (verses 3-7).
The fulfilment of God's purposes is connected with Judah, for from Judah the King who wields the sceptre, and the Judge who administers the law, would arise, and the gathering of the people will be to Him (verses 8-12).
The King, however, who arises from Judah will be rejected; so for a time the nation falls under the power of the Gentile set forth by Zebulon and Issachar. These two sons foretell how the nation would fall under the influence of the world through the pursuit of commerce, and willingly pay tribute to the world for the sake of ease (verses 13-14).
In Dan we see that through this tribe the nation would fall, like a rider falling backwards. Dan is an instrument of Satan's power, bringing about the apostasy of the nation. But at the darkest moment of their history — when the mass fall under the power of Satan — there will be a remnant who look to the Lord and wait for His salvation (verses 16-18).
When the remnant look to Jehovah for salvation, then the moment of deliverance is at hand, hence in Gad we have the great fact set forth that though the godly remnant may be overcome at first, and pass through great suffering, yet in the end they will overcome. Abundance of blessing for the nation will follow as set forth by the "royal dainties" of Asher (verses 19-20).
Moreover, the nation brought into liberty will break forth in praise as seen in Naphtali, "the hind let loose," and the "goodly words" he giveth (verse 21 ).
This necessarily brings us to Joseph, a beautiful picture of the One through whom all the blessing will be brought in. As in his history he sets forth Christ in His supremacy, so in the dying words of Jacob he is the son that is chosen to set forth Christ personally. Christ is the fruitful bough. Jehovah sought for fruit from Israel, but found the nation to be but a barren vine. But in Christ there is fruit for God and blessing for man. Not only by "a well," speaking of one favoured spot, "the land of Israel," but blessing that runs "over the wall" to the far-off Gentile. But the One through whom all the blessing comes was once "sorely grieved" by the archers who shot at and hated Him. He was the rejected one of his brethren. But the One rejected by His own is made strong by the mighty God of Jacob, and "from thence" is the Shepherd the Stone of Israel. "From thence" — from the place of weakness — He is exalted to a place of strength; from the place of death where He was "shot at" He is brought again from the dead, as Joseph was brought from the pit, to be the "great Shepherd of the sheep" (Heb. 13:20). And "the stone which the builders cast away as worthless, the same is made the head of the corner" (1 Peter 2:7, N. Tr.).
The rejected but exalted Christ becomes the source of blessing far exceeding all known blessings, for He will bless "with the blessings of heaven above" in addition to the blessings of the deep "that lieth under." Blessing that will far exceed any blessing that the nation has enjoyed in the past. Moreover, the blessing will reach beyond the land "unto the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills." Furthermore, the boundless blessing that will fill this world of bliss will be to the glory and exaltation of the once-rejected Christ — a crown of glory to Him that was once separate from his brethren (verses 22-26).
Finally, in Benjamin we have Christ brought before us as the victorious King of kings, delivering His people, destroying His enemies, and sharing with his people the fruits of His victory (verse 27).