Friday, January 13, 2012

Israel Gathers His Sons Before He Dies - Genesis 49:1-2

Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what shall befall you, in the days to come.  Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; And listen to Israel your father.”

Jacob has just finished telling Joseph about his ‘double-portion’ of Israel’s estate and then he calls the rest of his sons to his bedside so that he can tell them what lies ahead for them each.  He actually refers to them as “sons of Jacob” and tells them to listen “to Israel your father.”

I have three married children, two of which so far have children of their own.  It is difficult for me to imagine gathering them together to share with them what I ‘know’ lies ahead for each of them, as Jacob seemed to have done for his twelve sons.  First of all distance may make this problematic with my eldest living over 1,000 miles away.  Secondly, I have no idea whatsoever what does lie ahead for them with the certainty that Jacob knew.  I could hazard to guess on some probabilities given who they are and the choices they have made so far, but it would only be my feelings, and certainly not unquestionable knowledge.  Yet, as I studied this further, I realized that indeed even we today can undertake such an exercise with great purpose and value.

Jacob’s authority with respect to what he was about to share came, we can safely assume, directly from God.  This was Jacob prophesizing as to what would happen to the people of Israel, broken down by tribe or group, as headed up by each of his sons.

So here we have them gathered round his bed.  Commentator Matthew Henry suggests that perhaps they had to leave their perspective employment to come to their father’s bed, although we do not know what time of day it was for this to be true.  And they were all there.  What a comfort this must have been to Jacob who for many years of his life existed as a bereaved father thinking his son Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast.  Is it also possible they were lined up in order of their birth in anticipation of learning their future?  Perhaps.  We will also see as we go through these pronouncements that there were, in some cases, elements of a “blessing” being bestowed on some by Jacob.  But clearly the emphasis is on what God will, or will not, do with and for each of these tribes.

The commentator David Guzik points out that this set of prophesies was the first “knowing” prophesies pronounced by man.  God had made some earlier ones, starting with promise of the triumph of the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15, but not man.  Man had only made some “veiled” ones that were neither communicated nor understood at the time to be prophesies.  One possible example is Noah in Genesis 9:25-27.  But here now we have Jacob prophesizing directly.

It is important to note from the outset, as he summoned his sons, the heir of Abraham and Isaac referred to himself as both Jacob and Israel.  Guzik says, he “realized he was both Jacob and Israel, and his sons are sons of each.”  Guzik calls this as being a place of spiritual maturity that this patriarch had reached, “realizing both what God made him (Israel) and what he had to battle against (Jacob).”  It is important for each of us to consider where we are in this spiritual maturity journey.  Have we reached that place?  Have we understood our full ultimate calling to be what God has intended for us while remembering that our life’s battle is still to be fought with both our own “old nature” as well as the “old nature of the world”?  Are we able to convey to our children the need for them to reach there as well?  That perhaps is what we are to gain from these two short introductory verses.

In undertaking to make these utterances upon each of his sons, Jacob wanted to share with them, as he neared his own death, how they indeed might live.  And while each utterance was declared to a particular child, he clearly chose to make them in the presence of all.  Again Henry suggests we stand to often profit “by the reproofs, counsels, and comforts, that are principally intended for others.”  I have always believed that.  I have seen it work with both young children and grandchildren of my own.  The smart ones catch on and learn from the pain and discomfort of their siblings.  In the verses that follow we will see that Jacob pulls no punches.

And is it possible that in calling them together like this, Jacob was indirectly sharing his desire that they all may be one?  Henry describes the desire of Jacob for them “to unite in love, (to keep together, not to mingle with the Egyptians, not to forsake the assembling of themselves together,) and a prediction that they should not be separated from each other, as Abraham’s sons and Isaac’s were, but should be incorporated, and all make one people.”  That, in Jacob’s mind, would have been important for God’s Covenant to be facilitated.  What a desire for a father to have for his children.  My wife and I rejoice greatly when our children and their spouses want to spend time together with each other.  It is then I can honestly confess, in some unexplainable way, that I enjoy “kid-sitting” the most.  It is then it gives me the greatest satisfaction.

It is important we point out here the possible significance of the phrase “in the days to come” in this segment of Scripture.  Jacob is not prophesizing what will befall his children immediately as individuals but rather what will happen to their specific future generations “in the days to come” maybe even after the time they return to the land of Canaan.  That is what God had shared with him in a general way.  Similarly, as Christian parents, we do not have the ability to tell each of our children what education they will achieve, what jobs they will attain, how wealthy they will get or how poor they will remain, whether they will contract some illness or not, etc.  But clearly, as students of our Bible, we can share with them what God has in store for them and the world in the days to come, and therefore, how they may want to live their lives accordingly.

And finally, there’s a lesson here perhaps for those of us who are still ‘children’ in the sense that one of our parents is still alive.  Jacob uses the words, “hear” and “listen”.  Some versions of Scripture say, “Hearken to Israel . . . ”.  Children are implored to pay attention to what a godly parent may have to say to them as they utter their last advice to them both out of love for them and for God.  Some of us were fortunate enough to have had that advice come from both our parents.  In the case of my father, it came during the last half-year or so of his life as he knew he was battling cancer.  Thankfully, my mother, who left us more suddenly, was able to impart to me verbally and in writing throughout her life.

Genesis 49:1,2 are just two short verses introducing a set of pronouncements, yet when examined closely, they yield incredible wisdom.  May we benefit from them.

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