Genesis 49
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Jacob's benediction on his sons was a prophetic treasure, to be kept in store by future generations, and a foundation on which much faith could afterwards be built.. It has been called "the last full bloom of patriarchal prophecy and theocratic promise." The central point, the blessing on the royal tribe of Judah. The corresponding eminence being given to Joseph. The Israel blessing to the one, the Jacob blessing to the other. In each case we distinguish -

1. The earthly basis of the blessing in the tribe itself.

2. The nearest fulfillments of it in the temporal history.

3. The symbolical import pointing to a remoter fulfillment.

We may compare the many dying scenes of the Bible with this; as the last words of Isaac, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Simeon, Stephen, Paul, Peter, and the apocalyptic visions of John. Compare especially the song of Moses, and the prophecy of Balaam. It seems possible that the beautiful exclamation, ver. 18, I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord," was intended to form a kind of middle point, separating the groups of blessings into one of seven, and another of five. The first group has a Messianic character, the second a wider, cosmopolitan. In the first, Judah, the royal tribe, represents the theocracy. In the second, Joseph, the link of connection between Israel and Egypt, represents the kingdom of Christ becoming the universal kingdom, from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel. The whole is a typical representation of "Israel" in the higher sense.

1. It comes out of sinful human nature.

2. It is developed by the grace of God in human history.

3. It stands upon the Divine order of the twelve tribes, the revealed truth, and the Divinely sanctioned religions life and institutions.

4. The essential dement in the history, is the Messiah coming out o/Judah, the shepherd of Israel, the stone of help out of Joseph, the Nazarite, the tried man, the blessed one.

5. The kingdom of Christ is the universal blessedness of the world. When Jacob has handed on his blessing to his heirs, he gathers up his feet into the bed, yields up the ghost, and is gathered to his people. When the carnal Israel is done with, the spiritual Israel remains. When the promises of God shall be fulfilled, then there shall be no more concern with the earthly pilgrimage. "The blessings prevail unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills." - R.

Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise, etc. This dying vision and the utterances of the dying patriarch seem in harmony with all the surroundings in this part of the sacred record. The aged Jacob is dying. He has passed through such changes, such trials and successes, has had such seasons of depression and of exultation, but now his soul is filled with rapture at what will be the future of his children. He saw how he would live in his children, A man should not be indifferent to his name dying out. Some are, but only such as are not of intense nature. As a man nearing the close of life, great importance was attached, by his son, to his utterances. On a farewell festive occasion, Isaac partook of venison before giving his blessing to Jacob and Esau. Jacob called all his sons together, as he was dying, and seems to have had supernatural strength given to utter so many and distinct prophecies. He knew the individual character of his sons, and so could better foretell, almost apart from Divine inspiration, what would be their future. The words uttered on the borders of the other land seemed necessarily inspired. Such a man as Jacob would no more pass away, if possible, without such utterances, than would a millionaire think of dying without a will. No mere offspring of a disordered brain, or over-excited imagination, were these words. They were actual prophecies. Jacob was not only a patriarch, but a prophet. He speaks under the influence of the God of his fathers (Genesis 48:15), and the future bore out what he had foretold. We wish to consider chiefly the utterances concerning one tribe, Judah.

I. A PROPHECY OF POWER. His enemies were "to flee before him," &c. As victor he lays his hands on their necks, that they may be subject and yet live. His brethren were to acknowledge his power. He is to be as a young lion in agility, and as an old lion with the strength of years remaining, whom none will dare to anger. All this seems to be the glorification of mere physical power. Spiritual power is to be desired above the physical. And this we have in Christ.

II. A PROPHECY OF PRECEDENCY. Jacob seems to have come at last upon the one for whom he was seeking. He speaks of Judah as one whom his brethren shall praise. This is said to be "a play upon the name, Judah, as meaning one who is celebrated." And the name of Judah was accepted afterwards by the whole nation. We should have thought that if the firstborn, Reuben, had not been placed first, Joseph would have been. Judah's character, however, was more noble in some things even than that of Joseph. He did not delight in the wrong-doing of the brethren. Jacob may in his mind have blamed Joseph, in that he had not sought to know whether his father was alive before circumstances of death drove aim to know of his still being alive. Judah was always ever ready to sacrifice himself, to be bound for his brother. There seems to have been much that was noble in him. Hence, we can understand, in a measure, the precedency accorded to him. Precedency is not to be sought for its own sake. It is then only another form of vanity. When precedency is forced on men, it is because their worth and their usefulness to others is recognized by others, although not by themselves. How remarkable it is that God often selected the younger before the elder, e.g. Abel, Jacob, Moses, David. Judah is taken before Reuben. A lesson evidently taught in this, viz., that God is no respecter of persons, that he seeth not as man seeth, that the course of spiritual feeling does not always follow the line of birth.

III. PROPHECY OF PERMANENCY. This permanency was comparative in one sense and actual in another. Judah lasted longer than any of the tribes as a distinct power, and, since Christ came of that tribe, may be said to be permanent still. Who thinks of Naphtali, or Zebulun, or Issachar? but Judah is a name most familiar. The "scepter" is the sheik's staff, which, like a marshal's baton, indicates his right to lead. Judah was to lead, and to give the law until Shiloh came; and he did. Shiloh evidently points to the Messiah. It is a mystic name (comp. Genesis 48:16; Psalm 9:6; Psalm 11:1). Some render this passage, "Until he [Judah] comes as the rest-giver;" others, "until he comes to whom it belongs." Christ is the only rightful rest-giver, and to him alone belongs all honor and praise. We see that the aim of God with respect to the descendants of Jacob was to provide a race which should keep alive a knowledge of God in the world until the Messiah should come. When that race had fulfilled this mission, it dropped into line with the rest of the nations. It is no longer to lead. We see that as ten tribes were broken off by Jeroboam from Judah, they were carried captive by the Assyrians, and with that nation swallowed up in oblivion, never, probably, to be known of again. And so with the Jews; they no longer lead. Although still retaining much that is distinctive, they will gradually, we believe, assimilate with other nations, and, accepting Christ, be one with other Christians in that one fold of mercy he has provided. Christ unites us to God and to others, breaks clown middle walls of partition, gives to us also "life eternal," so that when this life shall fail, we shall be received into "everlasting habitations," and know as real a permanency as that of Judah.

IV. PROPHECY OF PROSPERITY. In the eleventh verse, Jacob indicates the sort of territory Judah will have, - one rich in vineyards and olive yards. He foretells his prosperity during the period intervening between the prophecy and the advent of Shiloh. The twelfth verse means, that "his eyes should be redder than wine," i.e. brilliant with joy. The words "white as milk" refer to purity as well as prosperity. Both are found in Christ. True joy and purity shall draw souls to Christ. "Unto him shall the gathering of the people be." His truth has "the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." How much that is foretold of Judah is only typical of Jesus. He is the true conqueror, ruler, object of praise. He is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Revelation 5:5), the "desire of all nations" (Haggai 2:7), the one who if lifted up would draw all unto him (John 12:32), the one in whom all the children of God are to be gathered in one (John 11:52). Learn -

1. We find much to confirm faith in the way in which the prophecy of Jacob was fulfilled.

2. We find much to lead us to seek to be in Christ, through whom Judah obtained such blessings antecedently.

3. We find something to lead us to ask as to whether we have grown in purity, power, and whether our souls prosper and are in health. - H.

Remarkable agreement of ancient interpreters, Jewish as well as Christian, to consider this a prophecy of Messiah. The former of special value, as being before the event. The Targum of Onkelos renders the passage, "until Messiah comes, whose is the kingdom." Many others equally distinct. Some have observed that the words, "Shiloh shall come," make in Hebrew the same number as the name "Messiah." Ancient Christian writers all take the same view. The name Shiloh expresses rest or peace. Observe how this answers the need of man. Sin brought the curse of labor (Genesis ill 17-19), and unrest (Isaiah 57:20, 21), and want of peace. Hence the frequent mention of rest, which, however, was only typical and temporary (Hebrews 4:8). Hence the common salutation, "Peace be unto you." And rest and peace are ours through the coming of Christ (Matthew 11:28; John 10:28; Romans 8:38).

I. THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL A PREPARATION FOR THE COMING OF CHRIST, The moral law convincing of sin (Galatians 3:24). The ceremonial law foreshadowing restoration (Hebrews 10:1).; the prophets declaring God's purpose, arid the person and work of Christ; the dispersion by the captivity, bringing the people into contact with other nations, and thus preparing for a universal Church; their sufferings and state of subjection after their return, keeping alive the expectation of "Messiah, the prince."

II. THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD A PREPARATION FOE CHRIST. The colonizing instinct of the Greeks making their language almost universal; the contact of Greek and Jewish learning at Alexandria and elsewhere, by which the heathen language was made capable of expressing Divine truth; the widespread power and organization of the Romans, by which in so many ways the fulfillment of prophecy was brought about (Luke 2:1; John 19:36, 37).

III. FOR WHAT SHILOH SHOULD COME. To gather all nations unto himself (Isaiah 2:2, 3; John 11:52; John 12:32). To redeem mankind, both Jews and Gentiles (Psalm 49:15; Isaiah 35:4-10; John 10:16; Galatians 4:5). To bear the sins of mankind (Isaiah 35:11, 12; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 Peter 2:24). To teach his people the way of life (Deuteronomy 18:15; Matthew 11:27; John 4:25). To reign over his people (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 11:15). To give them victory (Psalm 44:5; 1 John 5:4; Revelation 12:11).

IV. LESSON OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Why doubt God's acceptance of thee? or his readiness to help? Mark his desire that all should be saved (Ezekiel 18:82; 1 Timothy 2:4). Mark how this is the ruling principle running through the whole Bible. The work of Christ was no newly devised thing, but "that which was from the beginning" (1 Peter 1:20). All our imperfections, all our weakness of faith is known to God, yet such as we are, he bids us trust in Christ's work. Judah himself was a very imperfect character. His descendants not less so. Yet of them the text was spoken. 66 Be not afraid, only believe." - M.

I. WHAT IT IS. Deliverance from evil, succor against foes, victory over sin and death.

II. WHENCE IT COMES. The primal fountain is Jehovah, the covenant God of the believer. The salvation of the gospel is God's in its original conception and proclamation, in its subsequent procurement and donation, in its ultimate development and consummation.

III. HOW IT IS OBTAINED. Not by merit, or by works, but by believing, and waiting, and hoping. "He that believeth shall be saved." "The Lord loveth them that hope in his mercy." "It is good for a man both to hope, and to quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." - W.

I. ADORATION. "O Lord!" Jehovah the God of redemption, the supreme object of worship.

II. MEDITATION. "Thy salvation!" What a theme for the thoughts to dwell on God's salvation in its origin, in its greatness, in its freeness, &c.

III. EXPECTATION. "For thy salvation do I hope." Hope is the expectation of fixture good, and presupposes faith as its ground-work and support. - W.

Joseph was separated from his brethren -

I. IN HIS FATHER'S AFFECTIONS. Jacob loved him more than any of his other sons. So was Christ the only-begotten and well-beloved Son of the Father.

II. IN HIS PERSONAL CHARACTER. Joseph brought unto Jacob the evil report that he heard circulating about his brethren, thus proving that he had no sympathy with their wicked ways. So Christ was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from Sinners."

III. IN HIS HEAVENLY COMMUNICATIONS. Joseph was favored above his brethren in being made the recipient of dreams, and the depositary, as it were, of Divine secrets. And Christ received not the Spirit by measure, so that of him it could be said, No man knoweth the Father but the Son.

IV. IN HIS EVIL FORTUNES. Joseph was hated, sold, and practically given over to death by his brethren. So was Christ not only despised and rejected by his brethren, but separated from all mankind in the character of his sufferings and death.

V. IN HIS FUTURE EXALTATION. Joseph became the governor of Egypt, and the savior of his family. And Christ after his resurrection was exalted to be a Prince, and a Savior for mankind. - W.

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