When Jacob is close to death, he pronounces a variety of blessings on all his sons. The first part of this process is recorded in this Genesis 48 and focuses specifically on Joseph and his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Ephraim receives from Jacob the blessing of the firstborn, indicating that the special line traced throughout Genesis will continue through his descendants. Joseph’s promotion over Reuben to the status of firstborn, along with his dreams, initially indicates that the potential royal line will continue through him. Later, when the family is reunited and Jacob gives the blessing of the firstborn to Joseph’s younger son, Ephraim, the future royal line is linked to the descendants of Ephraim (48:13–19). Genesis, however, contains an interesting twist. In spite of Joseph’s importance here, his older brother Judah experienced a radical transformation in Genesis 44:18-34 (which we talked about a couple of days ago), and Jacob will give the blessing of kingship to Judah’s decendants (49:8–12). After Genesis, the line of Ephraim assumed leadership of Israel when Joshua led the people into the land of Canaan. In the time of Samuel, however, the Ephraimites were ultimately rejected when God chose David (from the tribe of Judah) to establish the first dynasty in Israel (see Ps. 78:67–72). Eventually, the divine promises linked to the family line in Genesis are fulfilled in Jesus, “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1; Acts 3:25–26; Gal. 3:16).
The blessings continue in Genesis 49 with the blessings to each of Jacob’s twelve sons.
Reuben (Genesis 49:3-4), the actual firstborn of Israel, loses his standing as firstborn because of his actions in Genesis 35:22-23.
Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5-7), are angry men whose descendants will be scattered throughout the other tribes to dissipate their strength and keep them from destroying the family/nation. They are the two brothers who massacred the entire city of Shechem in retaliation for the sexual violation of their sister Dinah in Genesis 34. The Levites will become the priestly tribe of Israel, so their inheritance will not be land, but a function (the priestly responsibilities) and they will live in 48 cities distributed throughout the other tribal areas. The Simeonites will get land within the tribe of Judah. Reuben and Simeon were essentially replaced in preeminence by Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manassah in Jacob’s blessing of them in the previous chapter. (Genesis 48:5) So, now, Joseph (the one who had the dream that his older brothers will bow down to him) has the rights of the firstborn son through his two children who, even though they are actually grandchildren of Jacob, have been elevated to full sonship.
Judah (Genesis 49:8-12), will inherit “the scepter” that “shall not depart from” him “until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” When God establishes a monarchy in Israel under David, He will establish a kingly dynasty that will reign forever – ultimately under Jesus himself. Both King David and Jesus (adopted into the line through his earthly father Joseph) are of the line of Judah (Matthew 1:1-16). Jesus is referred to as the Lion of the tribe of Judah in Revelation 5:5.
Zebulon (Genesis 49:13) became a major commercial seaport.
Issachar (Genesis 49:14-15) will be forced to work for others. I’m not clear on how this plays out later, or even if Scripture tells us.
Dan (Genesis 49:16-17) will judge the people. The name “Dan” is a play on the Hebrew word for “judge.” (Genesis 30:6) This was the tribe of Samson, who was actually a very powerful judge of the people (Judges 13-16). The snake-like qualities of the Danites comes through in Judges 18.
Gad (Genesis 49:19) will apparently be raided and will defend itself. I don’t have much on this, other than the significance of the name itself. “Gad” in Hebrew sounds phonetically similar to “raiders” (in Hebrew gedud) and “raid” (in Hebrew dud).
Asher (Genesis 49:20) will be very prosperous (hence, they will eat rich food). My wife and I have friends who named their fine-dining restaurant Asher, based on this verse.
Nephtali (Genesis 49:21) will become a closer for the Texas Rangers and help take them to a World Series in 2010. 😉 Actually, I can’t recall much of what happened to this tribe either. But apparently, they did well.
Joseph (Genesis 49:22-26) predictably gets the longest blessing, illustrating his favored status in the family. As I mentioned earlier, Joseph will actually get a double portion of the land when Israel comes into the promised land (he will become two tribes named after his two sons Ephraim and Manassah).
Benjamin (Genesis 49:27) will become an aggressive, warrior tribe (1 Chron. 8:40; 12:2).
Fittingly, Genesis concludes with an affirmation of God’s sovereignty in all things and His good purposes in all things. (Genesis 50:15-21)