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This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. (Genesis 49:28)

The story we are following is full of God’s grace.  We saw this first in the story of Joseph.  He suffered and went down to the lowest point.  But God exalted him to the highest place.

We have also seen this in the story of the brothers.  Their sins were many but their lives were transformed.  Last week we saw the grace of God in the life of Jacob.  The old man was full of regret, but his last years became the most fruitful season of his life.

How can you enjoy the most fruitful season of your life?

1. Look upward with faith

Jacob went to Beersheba, and God met with him there.  Jacob learned that God is always the same, God always keeps his promises, and God is always with you.  These years were blessed for Jacob because he learned to look up with faith, and your years will be blessed as you learn to look upward in faith.

2. Look backward with gratitude

When Jacob arrived in Egypt, he told Pharaoh that his years were “few and evil” (Gen. 47:9).

But by the end of his years in Egypt he was able to say, “God… has been my shepherd all my life long,” and that he has “redeemed me from all evil” (Gen. 48:15-16).  These years were blessed for Jacob because he learned to look back with gratitude, and your years will be blessed in as much as you learn to do the same.

3. Look forward with hope

We know that Jacob did this because the Holy Spirit tells us in the book of Hebrews that along with Abraham and Isaac, Jacob died in faith, knowing that he was a stranger on the earth, and that he was looking for the city whose builder and maker was God, which he saw from afar (Heb. 11:10).  These years were blessed for Jacob because he learned to look forward with hope, and your years will be blessed as you learn to look forward with hope.

And that brings us to the fourth thing which will be our focus today.

4. Look outward with love

What did Jacob do that had lasting significance during this most fruitful period of his life?

He spoke words of blessing into the lives of other people.  The first time we see this is at the beginning of Jacob’s time in Egypt.  “And Jacob blessed Pharaoh” (Gen. 47:10).

That is a remarkable statement.  Pharaoh has all the power; Jacob is a refugee fleeing from famine.  Pharaoh has all that this world can offer; Jacob, when he arrives in Egypt, is full of sorrow and regret.  How can this man who has so little bless Pharaoh who has so much?

Answer: Jacob knows God.  God said to Abraham, “I will bless you… and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:17-18).  And here, through Abraham’s grandson, we have God’s blessing coming through Israel to the nations represented in Pharaoh.

If you know the living God, you are blessed, and whatever the grief, sorrow, and regret of your life may be, you can speak the blessing of God into the life of a person who does not know him.

Today, we roll the roll the story forward to the last scene in Jacob’s life, which is recorded for us in Genesis 49.

Jacob blesses his sons

The heading at the top of this chapter says, ‘Jacob blesses his sons.’  That is, Jacob was able to speak prophetically, anticipating the future for his sons and for the tribes that would come from each family line.

“Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come’” (Gen. 49:1).  These words were of huge significance for future generations who would ask: “What was said of us?”  Years later, they could find out by reading this part of Genesis 49.

The striking thing about this chapter, when you read it, is that much of what Jacob says doesn’t sound like a blessing at all!  Imagine these sons gathering round Jacob’s bed in his last hours.  What would you expect the old man to say?  “The Lord bless you and keep you, my son.  May peace be with you all your days and may joy be your portion forever.  Amen.”  That’s what I would expect to hear.

Now put yourself in Rueben’s shoes and listen to what Jacob said to him: “Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence” (Gen. 49:4).  “Gee, thanks dad!  That’s your blessing for me?”  Then Jacob raises an old sin from the past, when Rueben had slept with Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 35:22): “You went up to your father’s bed and defiled it.” (Gen. 49:4).

Next Jacob brings up the infamous sin for which Simeon and Levi were especially responsible, the atrocity of the attack on the men of Shechem that made the name of Jacob stink (Gen. 34:30).  Jacob refers to their “weapons of violence and their swords” (Gen. 49:5) and says, “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel” (Gen. 49:7).

So here is the old man on his death bed and he speaks about these old sins.  What in the world is going on?  How is this a blessing?  It seems more like a bitter old man dredging up the past.  Hasn’t Jacob heard about forgiveness?

You read this chapter and wonder, Are these brothers really blessed?  The answer is, yes, these brothers are blessed!  When the New Jerusalem, the blessed city of God is revealed in the book of Revelation, John saw that the names of the twelve sons of Jacob were inscribed on the gates (Rev. 21:12).  Their names are written in heaven.  Without question, they are blessed.

God’s grace had changed these men, and verse 28 makes it clear that Jacob’s last words were words of blessing: “This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him” (Gen. 49:28).

These are not the words of a vindictive old man who could not forget the past.  Jacob blessed his sons – all twelve of them!  So there is something for us to learn here about what blessing looks like and what it means to bring blessing into the life of another person.  It’s not just saying some nice, encouraging words.

I want to describe these words of blessing under four headings:

  • Blessed and warned,
  • Blessed and challenged,
  • Blessed and encouraged, and
  • Blessed and honored.

You might like to ask which of these applies to you.  And, if you are like me, you will feel that many of these words speak directly into your life today.

1. You Are Blessed and You Need to be Warned

Reuben, Simeon and Levi

This is familiar to us in the Bible.  The disciples of Jesus are blessed, but Jesus says to them “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41).  God says that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3), but then he says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands” (Eph. 4:28).

Why would God say that to people who are blessed with every spiritual blessing?  Because we all experience the pull of the flesh.  And the inclination towards what is in you by nature may be a struggle for you throughout this life.  Don’t ever forget what is in you by nature.  Know it and be on your guard against it.

1. For Reuben, it was the sin of pride

“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.” (Gen. 49:3)

Reuben, you were the first.  You were the first to crawl, the first to walk, the first to do everything.  You always went before the others.  People defer to you.  You are used to having the preeminence, and that’s your danger.

Here’s what is in you, Reuben: You have a desire to impress others.  There is a swagger, a bravado, and that’s what got you into trouble when you fell into that awful sin.  Pride is the sin behind the sin that got you.  This is where the battle is for you my son.

You are blessed but you need to be warned.  Generations later, Reuben’s descendants would look at this and pray, “O God, I know what is in me.  Deliver me from the sin of pride that lurks in this heart.  Deliver me from all the folly to which this bravado leads.”

2. For Simeon and Levi, it was the sin of anger

“In their anger they killed men…  Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel!” (Gen. 49:6-7)

This goes back to the great sin of these brothers against the men of Shechem.  The sin had been forgiven, but Jacob says, “Don’t ever forget where it came from.  That violence came from within you.  The sin behind your violence was the anger in your heart.”

“Simeon, Levi, here is where Satan gets the advantage over you: You are prone to anger.  You see something that isn’t to your liking and you get yourself all worked up about it.  The pressure builds up in your soul and then it all bursts out.  People who know you see this in you.  Simeon, Levi, you are blessed, but you need to be warned.”

This plain speaking from a father who loved his sons and knew the particular battles each of them faced must have been a great blessing to these sons.  Blessing is more than saying kind and soothing words.  Jacob blessed each of his sons “with the blessing suitable to him” (Gen. 49:28).  Rueben, Simeon, Levi, you are blessed.  But you need to be warned.

2. You Are Blessed and You Need to be Challenged

Zebulun and Issachar

“Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon.” (Gen. 49:13)

Jacob speaks prophetically of where the descendants of Zebulun would live, generations later, when they came out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  They would be given land by the sea, which would be a haven for ships.

The mission and purpose of this family was that God would make them into a great nation, and that through them, “all nations on earth would be blessed” (Gen. 22:18).  “You will be a light to the nations” (Is. 51:4), that’s how Isaiah puts it.

Zebulun was given a marvelous opportunity to advance the great mission and purpose of God.  These people will live by the sea.  Ships will come from afar and find in Zebulun a haven of shelter!  Zebulun will bring blessing to people from all over the world!

I don’t have time to trace the whole story, but when the twelve tribes got to Canaan, Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of the coastal lands, (Judges 1:30).  They stopped short of the coast and the opportunity that could have been theirs went to others instead.

That’s why I say that they were blessed but needed to be challenged.  Future descendants of Zebulun would look at this, and say, “Why do we live inland and not on the coast?  The answer is that our forefathers missed the opportunity that God set before them.”

Their prayer would be: “Lord, help us not to be half-hearted and miss the opportunity that you are setting before us.”  Zebulun, seize the opportunities God gives to you.  You are blessed, now go and be a blessing.

You have something similar with Issachar: “Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced labor” (Gen. 49:14-15).

Issachar, you are strong.  You could use your strength to bring blessing to others.  Here’s the problem: You like your own comfort, and in enjoying your blessings, you forget your purpose and your calling.  Zebulun, Issachar, you are blessed, and you need to be challenged.

3. You Are Blessed and You Need to be Encouraged

Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali

With these sons, Jacob seems to focus on a particular gifting that was given by God.  And again, I find it helpful to think of future generations looking at this and seeing what God had put in them by nature that could be deployed for his great purpose of grace.

Dan: Gifts of Wisdom

“Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path.” (Gen. 49:17)

This is one of the places where the image of the serpent is used in a good way: Our Lord said, “Be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16).

Dan, you are one of the smaller tribes, but do not let anyone look down on you.  Remember this, a little snake can bite the heel of a horse and bring down its rider.  Use the wisdom that God has given you and what you accomplish will be more than you think.

Gad: Gifts of Strength

“Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels.” (Gen. 49:19)

When God’s people came to the Promised Land, Gad was one of the tribes that settled on the east side of the river Jordan.  So they were the first to face raiders coming from the east.  God positioned them as protectors of others.

This was their ministry and it was a special gift to their brothers and sisters in the tribes on the other side of the river.  Ministries and gifts of strength that allow you to protect God’s people are wonderful.  If you have this gift, use it.

Asher: Gifts of Generosity

“Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies.” (Gen. 49:20)

Asher settled in one of the most fertile areas of the Promised Land.  They had olive trees, wheat, and barley.  And unlike Zebulun, they did live beside the sea, and so they had all the abundance of the ocean at hand as well.

Asher was in a position, not only to enjoy these good gifts, but also to share them with others.  Notice that Asher “yields royal delicacies,” gifts fit for a king!  Asher, I have given to you in abundance, and your calling is to give back generously to others.

Naphtali: Gifts of Compassion

“Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns.” (Gen. 49:21)

This verse is extremely difficult to translate and some scholars think it should say “speaks beautiful words” (ESV footnote).  Either way the character of the deer speaks of grace, gentleness, tenderness and that is why I have chosen the word ‘compassion.’

Naphtali, I have given to you a special gift of compassion.  You have an ability to bless others by coming alongside and speaking into their lives with tenderness, sympathy, and compassion.  Never under estimate the importance of that gift!  Use it!  You are blessed and I will make you a blessing to others.

Dan, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali, you are blessed and you need to be encouraged.  Use the gifts that God has given to you and let it be for his glory and for the blessing of many others.  What has God given to you?  And how are you going to use that for his glory?

4. You Are Blessed and You Will be Honored

Benjamin, Joseph and Judah

Three sons are singled out for special honor.

i. Benjamin: Courageous

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.” (Gen. 49:27)

Benjamin was the youngest and Jacob had a special affection for him because, like Joseph, he was born through Rachel, who was the great love of Jacob’s life.

Benjamin may have been the youngest, but his descendants were a remarkable gift to the nation.  Every time the Israelites went to war, the tribe of Benjamin was always to be found at the front of the battle. [1]

Great leaders came from this tribe, including Queen Esther in the Old Testament, and Saul of Tarsus in the New.  The apostle Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin and Martin Luther says that he was like a wolf when he watched over the stoning of Stephen, but afterwards he divided the spoil by taking the gospel, for which Stephen had died, across the Roman Empire.

The second son singled out for special honor is, of course, Joseph.

ii. Joseph: Fruitful 

“Joseph is a fruitful bough… The blessings of your father are mighty… May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.”

(Gen. 49:22, 26)

If Joseph could be here today, some of us would want to ask him some questions.  Joseph, how did you get over the wounds of all that your brothers did to you?  How did you manage to forgive them?  How did you cope with your rather miserable father?

I think Joseph would say, “It all seems so long ago to me now.  After all, I have been with the Lord for the best part of 4,000 years.  And in the joy and glory of his presence, all of that seems to have faded away.”

iii. Judah: Exalted

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Gen. 49:10)

What was so special about Judah?  Only this, that it was into his line that Jesus Christ was born.  Notice the reference to the lion, “Judah is a lion’s cub” (Gen. 49:9).  From the tribe of Judah will come the One who holds the scepter.  And to him, people from all nations will come in obedience and in worship.

Why did God have you read this message today?

Some of us are blessed, but we need to be warned.  You are in Christ, but sin lurks at the door in all its destructive power, and the blessing of God for you today lies in the warning.

Some of us are blessed and we need to be challenged.  You are in Christ but your strength is not being deployed for God’s great purpose.  Years are passing.  When will you press into all that he is calling you to be and to do?  The blessing of God for you today lies in the challenge.

Some of us are blessed and we need to be encouraged.  You are in Christ but you undervalue the gifts that you has given to you.  You don’t feel that you matter, and God says, “Enough of that!  Stir up the gift that is within you.  Use what I have given to you for the blessing of others.”  The blessing of God for you today lies in the encouragement

Some of us may not yet be blessed.  You are not in Christ.  You haven’t submitted your life to this Lord who holds the scepter, and lays claim to the obedience of all people.  And the Word of God to you today is that God has highly exalted his Son, and given him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.  That includes you!

I invite you today come to the Lion of the tribe of Judah today.  Kneel before his scepter in faith and repentance.  Pledge to him the unconditional obedience of your life.  And, in him, the blessing of God will be yours.


[1] Judges 5:14, 20:16- 48:1; 1 Chron 12:2; 2 Chron 14:8, 17;17, 25:5, are all cited by David Searle, Joseph, p. 222.


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