Introduction: At this time of year, we ought to magnify the royal greatness of our Savior, born in David’s city as the long-awaited ruler from the tribe of Judah! Last week’s notes on Genesis 49:1-12 enlarged upon the great blessing of the royal tribe of Judah, from which King Jesus would be born, and moved us to rejoice with Jacob that there would one day be one king to rule over all God’s Kingdom. This week, we see that, through King Jesus, abundant blessings also flow on other “tribes” of God’s elect. We benefit much right where Divine circumstances have placed us – no matter what our location, country or family background – because through Jesus Christ, all graces and gifts are poured out on all His people. May these notes, therefore, remind us of our rich inheritance in Christ Jesus.
Monday: read Genesis 49:10-12, 49:22-26 and Ephesians 4:7-10. Judah is full of the blessings of God – as the luxuriant vines and “wine of the Lord” prove in Genesis 49:10-12. But Joseph also has his earthly blessings (Gen. 49:22 & 25). In fact it is Joseph who actually receives from Jacob the double portion of the inheritance, which is then passed on to Joseph’s two sons in Gen. 48:20. Judah is given the responsibility of ruling God’s kingdom, while Joseph is given the greater portion of the possessions reserved normally for the first-born. That is why, throughout the Old Testament, “Joseph’s tribes” (Ephraim and Manasseh) competed with Judah and others to claim the precedence in Israel. Joseph was the most numerous and the richest, and therefore thought he should rule, but Judah was actually given rule – to carry out no matter how costly such leadership proved to be.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that the tribe of the Messiah Jesus Christ was not chosen for its wealth, vigor or numbers. David was the smallest and youngest of his clan – and only a simple shepherd boy when he was anointed to be the first king from Judah. In like manner, let us be thankful that Jesus Christ, our King of Judah, rules us from the position of servant-hood, not prominence. Even when thinking of all the gifts and graces which Christ pours out on His church (see Ephesians 4:7-8), Paul never for a moment lets us forget that this Jesus “who ascended on high” to rule, is also the one who went down into the depths of the tomb to die for us in Ephesians 4:9! Let us make much of Christ’s condescending grace, and imitate it in our willingness to serve others. Amen.
Tuesday: read Genesis 49:13-14 and Deuteronomy 33:18-19. We come next to Jacob’s blessing of his fifth and sixth sons, borne to him by Leah. Following Jacob’s lead, Moses encourages both these sons to rejoice in God’s goodness in Deut. 33:18: “Rejoice, Zebulon, in your going out, and you, Issachar, in your tents.” Thus God’s blessings through Jacob in Gen. 49 provide a foundation for optimism on Moses’ part hundreds of years later. Because Jacob, inspired by the Spirit of God, had courage to speak of blessings yet unseen, Moses had the courage to pass those blessings on for the future years of these two tribes.
Meditate and Pray: Let us thank God for those who have gone before, who have made the way smoother for us by prayer, and who rejoiced to see us walk forward into the future bearing the great fruit of kingdom blessings. We will be surprised in Heaven to discover those (perhaps unknown to us) who like aged Jacob and Moses laid a foundation for our future blessing in Christ. What then should be our response? Well, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Wednesday: read Genesis 30:17-20 and Galatians 4:7-9. Going back to where the story of these sons of Jacob first began, we note from Gen. 30 that there is always a danger of misunderstanding God’s blessings – treating them as a matter of repayment – instead of the richly undeserved boons that they are. For example, Leah mistakenly interprets God’s listening to her cries for children in Gen. 30:17 as somehow a reward for her giving her slave as a wife to Jacob earlier in Gen. 30:9. She names this son, “Issachar,” which sounds like the word for “reward.” She then predicts that her estranged husband Jacob would now “honor” (from which the name “Zebulon” comes) her in Gen. 30:20 for all the children she has worked to give him! How tragically wrong to view God’s blessings in this mercenary way! This is why Paul warns us in the New Testament never to revert to a “works religion.” “We were slaves,” Paul says in Galatians 4:8-9, “Do we wish to be enslaved all over again?” Let us respond to Paul with a resounding “No!”
Meditate and Pray: “Lord, help us to grow each day in our great sense of undeserved privilege. When we are tired and spent in our service of you, deliver us from the temptation to treat our work for you as somehow putting you under obligation to us. Help us always to say with Luke 17:10: ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ Amen.”
Thursday: read Genesis 49:13-15 and Isaiah 9:1. It is hard to maintain what should be our overflowing sense of gratitude to God for His unconditional grace in a world which seeks to press us into its mercenary mold. Yes, Zebulon would find much blessing in going out into the world and doing business according to Gen. 49:13, becoming “a haven for ships” and extending his border towards that great economic and trade center, Sidon. But by the time of Isaiah 9:1, the territory of Zebulon is in darkness, declared by that prophet to be part of “Galilee of the Gentiles” because so many foreign “Gentile” nations marched right through Zebulon on the many trade routes which cut that territory in two. In the same way, Issachar would find the economic benefits of serving the world so attractive that, according to Gen. 49:14-15, he would settle down into forced labor as comfortably as a tired donkey lies down between its saddlebags.
Meditate and Pray: As you see Zebulon and Issachar forced into the world’s mold, ask the Lord to deliver your family, and your future generations from that slavery to the world which can so hinder our growth in grace. Use hymn # 568 in our Trinity Hymnal to help you in this prayer:
In the hour of trial, Jesus, plead for me,
Lest by base denial I depart from Thee.
When Thou seest me waver, with a look recall,
Nor for fear or favor suffer me to fall.
With forbidden pleasures would this vain world charm,
Or its sordid treasures spread to work me harm,
Bring to my remembrance sad Gethsemane ,
Or, in darker semblance, cross-crowned Calvary .
Should Thy mercy send me sorrow, toil and woe,
Or should pain attend me on my path below,
Grant that I may never fail Thy hand to see;
Grant that I may ever cast my care on Thee.
When my last hour cometh, fraught with strife and pain,
When my dust returneth to the dust again,
On Thy truth relying, through that mortal strife,
Jesus, take me, dying, to eternal life.
Friday: read Genesis 49:13-15 and 1 Chronicles 12:23-33. One of the proofs of the greatness of a biblical king is their ability to take rebels and make them willing servants. When David ascended to the throne, many former enemies and wayward tribes became his willing troops, including Issachar and Zebulon in 1 Chronicles 12:32-33. Despite the overall character weakness and worldliness in these tribes, prophesied by Jacob and fulfilled finally in their deportation by Assyria in 2 Kings 17:18-23, God still did a work of grace through David among Issachar and Zebulon in the midst of those decades of judgment. Why, 1 Chronicles 12:32 even says that compromising Issachar found the very wisdom they needed for the time in which they lived! They “understood the times and knew what Israel should do!” Well, if David could bring such wisdom forth from the tribes who served him as king, how much more can Jesus Christ, our king, light up the dark days in which we live with the wisdom of His Spirit and Word, so that we, like these two tribes, might be useful in our generation.
Meditate and Pray: “Lord, give us understanding of the times in which we live, to know what we should do. Though these are dark days, thank you that your mind and will for our lives are able to convey much light. Help us to ask you in prayer about the things to come. Help us to pray for the future of the next generation and help us to be assured that your purposes for your church will ripen fast, and you will again take us up as the work of your hands. Amen.” As William Cowper put it in hymn # 128:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.