The patriarchs, being men of faith, viewed Canaan as being the land of Messiah's
glory, and though now descending into the grave, they expected to see that
glory in a coming day. The closing verses of Hebrews 11 sum up the situation.
Though they believed they did not receive that which was promised.
They were waiting, though they did not know it, for further purposes of God
to come to light, and the church was yet to be gathered out of all nations.
Hence we read that they—the Old Testament saints—without us—the
saints composing the church—"should not be made perfect." In
a glorified condition we shall all reach perfection together at the second
coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The one event in Jacob's life which is singled out in Hebrews 11, as exemplifying
the faith that was in him, is his blessing of the sons of Joseph. The importance
of this act of his is evident here, for the whole of Genesis 48 is given up
to the account of it. Being upon his deathbed, Joseph and his two sons arrived
to see him, and it is striking how at once Jacob reverted to the moment when
first he was brought into contact with God, as recorded in Genesis 28. The
blessing then granted he remembered and the promises then made he rehearsed
in a way that shows that he received them in faith. They were blessings of
an earthly sort, but in the sons of Joseph he saw the beginning of their fulfilment.
There appears to be an element of prophecy in verse 5, for in the history
of the nation Joseph's two sons were treated just as though they had been sons
of Jacob, as Reuben and Simeon were his; each being treated as the head of
a tribe, and all Joseph's posterity were ranged under the heads of these two
Then further, having recalled the original blessing received from God at
Bethel, he passed on to recall the greatest sorrow of his life when Rachel,
the mother of Joseph, died in the vicinity of Bethlehem. His faith could not
embrace the distinction that was yet to come to the place, for centuries had
to pass before prophecy indicated that spot as the birthplace of the great
Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity. It
was to be the place where not only was there to be a mourning for Rachel, but
also where there should be a great mourning, "Rachel weeping for her children," according
to Matthew 2: 18.
When Rachel died Jacob was still in full strength; now his natural strength
was gone, his eyes were dim, so that he could not even discern the sons of
Joseph. In his days of vigour he had too frequently walked by the sight of
his own eyes; now at the close he begins to walk and act by faith and not by
sight, and at the same time he realizes the exceeding kindness of God toward
him. He had spent weary years thinking that never again would he see the face
of his beloved son, and now not only had he seen him but his seed also. Upon
the two sons he would now bestow his blessing.
With filial piety Joseph bowed down before his father and then presented
them with due respect to their ages, so that Jacob's right hand might rest
upon the head of the elder, according to the custom of those days. At that
moment it was the faith of Jacob that was prominent—faith which led to
his possessing the spirit of prophecy. Consequently he reversed what Joseph
had done, and crossing his hands he laid his right hand upon Ephraim and not
Herein we may see a parable that has meaning for us. The name Manasseh means
Forgetting, which is negative in its bearing, whereas Ephraim means Fruitful,
which definitely bears a positive character. The first man and his race are
negative as regards God, the complete negation of all His thoughts. In Christ,
the Second Man, is the Yea and Amen to all God's thoughts, and all fruitfulness
is found in Him. He is indeed the Man of God's right hand, and it is a great
day in the spiritual history of each of us when we heartily endorse the fact
that the first man is dispossessed by the Second, and therefore we turn away
from self-seeking to find our all in Christ.
Once more then we find a type pointing forward to the word, "He taketh
away the first, that He may establish the second" (Heb. 10: 9). When challenged
by Joseph, Jacob held his ground, and though Manasseh was definitely blessed,
yet Ephraim was given priority. The probation of mankind was running its course
at this time and the test was not completed. Hence the time had not come for
the conclusive judgment of the first man to be set forth in type, but only
the fact that the Second should dispossess the first.
Again in verse 21 we hear the accents of faith. Israel knew that he was about
to die, but his eye was lifted from himself to God. He had done much scheming
in his time, but now he recognized that the only thing that really mattered
was the presence and purpose of God. No matter what he himself had been nor
what his sons would prove themselves to be, God would be true to them and to
His purpose to give them the land that He had promised. At last, God and His
word was the stay of Israel's soul, and we shall be happy if, long before we
come to the end of life's journey, we discover that there, and there only,
is stability and security to be found. Thereby we shall be spared much of the
fruitless and heart-breaking scheming which we have seen characterizing him.
The last verse of the chapter seems to allude to an episode not previously
recorded. We read of, "the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son
Joseph" (John 4: 5), and Joshua 24: 32 seems also to refer to this gift.
If so, we must identify it with the transaction recorded in Genesis 33: 19,
and that was close to the bad and warlike action of his sons Simeon and Levi,
yet no mention is made there as to sword and bow in the hands of Jacob. However,
there was the acquisition of a portion in the land as the result of conflict
as well as purchase, and it was given to Joseph, who became thereby lord of
that little portion of the land as well as lord of all Egypt. It was a kind
of foretaste and pledge that ultimately the whole land would be possessed.
In Genesis 49, we find Jacob still presented to us as a man of faith. He
called his sons together that he might pronounce a blessing upon them, and
he was conscious that in so doing he was speaking as a prophet and foretelling
that which should befall them in the last days. We are on safe ground therefore
in interpreting his utterances as referring to "the last days," and
not merely to the more immediate future experiences of the tribes.
Reuben was the firstborn and in him more especially the might, the strength,
the dignity and the power of Jacob should be seen. The very beginning of Jacob's
strength and excellency were to be expressed in him. And what was expressed?
Nothing but instability and self-gratification, which was defiling and an outrage
on all natural decency. What a disappointment for Jacob to see this evil manifested
as the beginning of his strength!
Here surely we have predicted that which marked Israel the nation all through
their sad history, and particularly when they were tested under the law. Whether
in the wilderness or in the land; whether under Moses or Joshua or the Judges
or the Kings; their story is one long record of unstable fluctuations between
the worship of Jehovah and of idols. They were defiled by their adulterous
connection with false gods. And in contemplating this we must remember that
they were the sample nation, selected that the test of man might be carried
out in them. In their condemnation all the nations stand condemned; ourselves
included as men in the flesh.
Simeon and Levi come next. Their father never forgot their cruel and violent
action, as recorded in Genesis 34, and he dissociated himself from it. They
claimed to be avenging the honour of their sister, but with what they did Jacob's
honour would not be united, and he denounced it as the fruit of their anger.
The allusion here is again to that which was past, and in which their natural
character was seen. But to what did it refer prophetically?
It refers, we believe, to that terrible outbreak of anger and cruelty in
the nation, which reached its climax in the rejection and death of Christ.
Stephen speaks of Him as "the Just One," in contrast to the sinful
men that were slain by Simeon and Levi, and he added, "of whom ye have
been now the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7: 52). Strikingly enough
Simeon and Levi achieved their murderous intent by a preliminary act of betrayal.
The last clause of verse 6 is obscure, inasmuch as the reading is not certain.
But taking it as it stands, "they digged down a wall," we may apply
to the fact that in murdering their Messiah and Deliverer, they destroyed their
own separated position, and digged down by so doing the wall of protection
that had been theirs. They are still in a very full sense the scattered nation,
and that in spite of a partial return to their own land.
Consequently there rests upon them nationally the curse of which Jacob spoke
in verse 7. Indeed, as we know, they took the curse upon themselves in the
presence of Pilate, the representative of the ruling Gentile power. Verse 7
is still being fulfilled before our eyes to this day, though early in their
history a fulfilment of it began. Simeon was soon much weakened and relegated
to an unimportant place among the tribes, whilst Levi was separated from them.
But that was because after several centuries Levi was zealous not for his own
honour but for God's honour, and used his sword to vindicate God's holiness.
We see, then, in verses 5-7, a prophetic reference to the death of their
Messiah at the hands of the nation, resulting in the curse and scattering being
their portion, as to this day. This is a national matter and does not conflict
with the action of God's grace in still calling out from among them a remnant
according to His election.
In the blessing of Judah an entirely different note is struck. In verses
8-12, we turn to a prophecy which refers to Christ, who though rejected and
slain, as we have just seen, emerges triumphant both in grace and in judgment.
There is a play upon Judah's name, for it means "Praise," and Christ
is to be the Object of universal praise, as we see in Revelation 5; praise
which shall fill both heaven and earth and go far beyond anything foreseen
by Jacob. Two classes are seen in verse 8—his brethren and his enemies.
His brethren are to sound out his praise, and his enemies are to feel the power
of his hand in subjugation; and how these things, spoken of Judah, point on
to Christ, it is easy to see. Here his father's children are to bow down before
Judah, as representing Christ, just as previously they were to bow down before
Joseph, since he represented Christ.
In verse 9 Judah is compared to a lion, as a king among beasts. Here we see
an allusion to Christ acting in judgment. Genesis is the seed-plot of the Bible.
We pass to Revelation where everything reaches fruition and finality, and in
Revelation 5 we find "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" about to take
the book of judgment and break its seals. And the universe is filled with His
praises. The connection is too plain for us to miss. In this way old Jacob
must have rejoiced to see the day of Christ, though doubtless not so fully
as Abraham did.
Verse 10 contains a striking prophecy, indicating that Judah would be the
tribe out of whom should come the kingly line, culminating in "Shiloh," a
term which is taken to refer to Christ as the Prince of peace. And of course
we know that our Lord, as concerning the flesh, sprang out of Judah, as we
are reminded in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Out of that kingly line He sprang,
as is shown by the two genealogies recorded by Matthew and Luke. But at the
end of that verse another striking fact is alluded to, for the word, "people," is
more correctly, "peoples;" that is, it refers to the nations generally
and not merely to the nation of Israel. And the coming of Shiloh has resulted
in His becoming, by reason of His rejection and death, the Centre of gathering
for a multitude out of all nations; and in the coming age He will be visibly
the Centre not only of Israel but of the nations also.
The prophetic allusions of verses 11 and 12 are not so clear, especially
as the language is highly poetic and figurative. We cannot miss the words, "His
foal," and "His ass's colt," which at once carry our thoughts
to Zechariah's prophecy and its fulfilment as our Lord presented Himself to
Jerusalem, as is shown in Matthew 21: 5. It looks therefore as if the words
relate to His first advent rather than to His second, and thus refer to His
sufferings and to the grace which is proffered as the result of them.
In Isaiah 55: 1 the Gentiles are in view for the call goes forth to "every
one" that thirsts. "Wine and milk" are free for all. Our verses
would indicate the reason. They are free because procured as the result of
what He has done.