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Who got what?

Jacob’s life was nearing its end. Like his father before him, it was time to give the family blessing before he died. “Jacob called for his sons and said, ‘Gather together so I can tell you what will happen to you in the future. Assemble and listen, you sons of Jacob; listen to Israel, your father.’” (Genesis 49:1-2 NET). Although it was his blessing to his sons, like Isaac’s blessing there contained an element of the prophetic about it – he would be stating what would happen in their future.

Can you imagine the baited breath, the anticipation as the twelve men filed into Jacob’s bed-chamber. Would Reuben get the blessing of the first-born? Will he hold what we did to Joseph against us? What will he say about me?

If you remember, the blessing had never gone to the first-born, at least in terms of the first-to-be-born. Ishmael was the oldest, but Isaac received the blessing. Esau was the oldest, but Jacob tricked Isaac into giving it to him. Would Reuben be the first first-born to receive the blessing?

Jacob began in a fairly normal way: “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, outstanding in dignity, outstanding in power” (Genesis 49:3). So far so good, but…can you imagine Reuben’s shock when he heard his father’s next words: “You are destructive like water and will not excel, for you got on your father’s bed, then you defiled it – he got on my couch!” (Genesis 49:4). Reuben did not receive the blessing or anything that resembled it!

Perhaps Simeon began to think: maybe it’s me – after all, I’m next in line. But Jacob’s words were again not a blessing but a rebuke of both Simeon and his brother Levi: “Simeon and Levi are brothers, weapons of violence are their knives! O my soul, do not come into their council, do not be united to their assembly, my heart, for in their anger they have killed men, and for pleasure they have hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their fury, for it was cruel. I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel!” (Genesis 49:5-8). And what Jacob said came true: their descendants were the only tribes in Israel who did not receive a land inheritance but only cities – Levi’s throughout Israel and Simeon’s within Judah.

Then Jacob came to his fourth son, Judah. “Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies, your father’s sons will bow down before you…The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; the nations will obey him…” (Genesis 49:8-12 – you would do well to read the entire passage).

Judah received the blessing. The others would acknowledge his leadership. Kings and rulers would come from his descendants and finally the ultimate ruler would come, the one who came to be known as the Messiah.

But what about the birthright? Normally the oldest got a double portion. It is interesting that this went to Joseph, the first-born of Rachel. Rather than being one tribe of Joseph he became two tribes through his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, with the younger receiving the greater blessing (see Genesis 48). These two became very numerous within Israel. After the nation divided, the northern kingdom was referred to as Ephraim (e.g. Isaiah 11:13) while the southern kingdom was known as Judah.

Throughout all we read about in Genesis, we see two great themes: 1) God was in control and 2) God was preparing the way for the coming Messiah.

Bible Reading Schedule
14 September – Job 1-2
15 September – Job 3
16 September – Job 4
17 September – Job 5
18 September – Job 6

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Jon Galloway

After graduating from Freed-Hardeman College and teaching school for three years, as well as preaching for small congregations in West Tennessee, Jon & Arlene moved back to her home of Glasgow, Scotland. Since 1985 Jon has been involved in evangelistic work in the Glasgow area, currently serving the congregation in East Kilbride. They have three grown children. Besides writing 'Bible Bytes', Jon is also one of the editors of the "Christian Worker," a news magazine for congregations in the UK, and is a teacher and governor for the British Bible School.

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