Introduction: We sympathized last week with Jacob and his sons in the trials prophesied for their lives in Gen. 49:14-19. We even heard Jacob cry out for deliverance in Gen. 49:18 in response to this daunting future. Though he had endured many difficulties in his life, (see Gen. 47:9), even in his last days he continued to see God’s Hand use trials to drive him to God’s Fatherly breast. May our study of the destinies of the sons of Jacob this week do the same for us, as Henry Lyte’s hymn puts it (# 707 in our hymnals, sung to ‘Austrian Hymn’, # 345):
Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition! God and Heaven are still mine own.
Man may trouble and distress me, ’twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me; heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me while Thy love is left to me;
Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me, were that joy unmixed with Thee.
Monday: read Genesis 49:19 and Deuteronomy 33:20-21. One of the proofs of God at work in our trials is His turning even our painful mistakes into future good. For example, because Gad settled outside the Promised Land proper, they would have to constantly fight off encroachers on their land, chasing them away like a dog defending its territory – see Gen. 49:19. Their fateful choice earned them not only a rebuke from Moses in Numbers 32:6-7 but also unending hostility from their unbelieving neighbors. Yet, amazingly, Moses turns this bitter choice into blessing in Deut. 33:20 where he blesses God for enlarging the territory of this once rebuked tribe! Only God can turn “the wasted years” of our wrong and regrettable choices into days of blessing. Truly God does re-write our histories through His gracious providence and saving purposes!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for His willingness and ability to turn our lives around, “not treating us as our sins deserve” (Psalm 103:9-10). Use another Henry Lyte hymn, # 76, to express your thanks:
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,
to his feet thy tribute bring;
ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
evermore God’s praises sing.
Praise the everlasting King.
Praise the Lord for grace and favor
To our fathers in distress;
praise him, still the same as ever,
slow to chide, and swift to bless.
Glorious in his faithfulness.
Tuesday: read Genesis 49:19 and 1 Chronicles 5:18-22. How then would God be able to turn Gad’s difficult and exposed position as a tribe across the river from the land of Canaan into a place of blessing and leadership as promised in Deut. 33:20-21? The answer is given in 1 Chronicles 5:20, which describes a revival of faith on the part of Gad and the other two tribes who shared with them the pastureland East of Canaan: “They were helped in fighting… and God handed over (their foes)… because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him.” The word translated “trust” here means to “depend upon” or to “rest secure.” Thus we see that God worked through their trials to plant within the hearts of the people of Gad a faith which looked up and away from all their intimidating foes to God’s throne itself, from whence God answered and delivered them – even in their perilous situation on the borders of the Promised Land!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for this wonderful gift of trusting and resting upon God which He works into our lives as His free gift to us in our troubles:
For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” Ps. 31:13-14
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this. Ps. 37:5
A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper. Prov. 28:25
Wednesday: read Genesis 49:19, 1 Chronicles 5:20 and Isaiah 36:4-10. Perhaps one of the most infamous passages where our word “trust” is used – “trust” such as the Gadites had in the midst of their enemies in Gen. 49:19 – is in the mocking words of the Assyrian field commander who comes to the walls of Jerusalem in Isaiah 36:4-20 in order to intimidate godly king Hezekiah into surrendering, and delivers this false threat in the hearing of the king and all the godly quaking on the walls of the surrounded holy city:
“This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have strategy and military strength – but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? … “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isa. 36:4-5 & 18).
Well, in answer to the taunt of this Assyrian we may retort: “Well, Mr. Assyrian commander: God did deliver his people from your hand! For as 2 Kings 19:35 says, very shortly after your words mocking the faith of God’s people, God sent his angel who in one night put to death 185,000 of your men! So much for your mockery!”
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the many signal deliverances which He has given His people throughout Bible history. Ask Him to use these great stories to give us the same bold trust which Gad possessed against all his foes. As Proverbs 28:1 promises, using our same word for courageous trust: “The righteous are as bold as a lion.” May it be so in our lives.
Thursday: read Genesis 49:16-21 and Deuteronomy 33:18-25. Stepping back for a moment, we must admit that we don’t know why the order of blessing on the sons of Jacob is different here in Gen. 49 (and in Deuteronomy 33) than in their birth histories. Look at the birth order. It was Rachel’s slave girl Bilhah who bore Dan and Naphtali to Jacob before either Gad or Asher were born to Leah’s slave girl Zilpah. So in order of age, these four sons of Jacob were: Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. But that order is not respected by either Jacob or Moses. Naphtali the second oldest is last in Jacob’s list, and Dan the oldest of all four is second in Moses’! How ironic, since the birth of each of these sons (and their particular birth order) was so important for Jacob’s two wives. Remember how they had each jealously vied against the other for their husband’s favor, trying to have the first and the most children, and when they couldn’t bear, resorting to giving Jacob yet more children through their slaves! But now God pays no attention to who was “first” or “last” in the eyes of either of these mothers! Grace doesn’t judge as men do. As God said to Samuel when choosing the youngest David to be the king in 1 Samuel 16:7: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Meditate and Pray: Thank the Lord for this picture of grace in the blessing of these four sons despite their dubious upbringing. As William Harrell puts it: “Such is the power of the Lord’s gracious love and just accomplishment of redemption that no one is too tainted by original or actual sin to be beyond the reach of salvation and adoption into the family of God.” Amen!
Friday: read Genesis 49:16-18 and Judges 13:1-8 & 24-25. With a new appreciation for the background to the births of these different sons of Jacob, we look now at the oldest and most famous of these sons born from Jacob’s slave-wives: Dan, from whom that great hero of the faith, Samson, arose. He, Samson, is that serpent of Gen. 49:16-17 who is able – from a lowly, unnoticed, obscure position – to unseat the mighty “rider” from his horse, speaking probably of how God used Samson to overthrow 40 years of Philistine domination (Judges 13:1). We will have more to say about Samson next week. But for now, learn this lesson: no one either expected or deserved that God should raise up a mighty deliverer from the tribe of Dan. Israel is lost in sin in Judges 13:1: they have fallen countless times into committing “evil in the eyes of the Lord.” But God takes steps once again to save His people. In a sense, God had already bound Himself to send Samson – way back when Jacob prophesied of his birth! How wonderful that the very same Spirit who inspired Jacob to speak of Dan’s might in Gen. 49 was there to stir up Samson even from youth (Judges 13:25) in answer to Jacob’s long-awaited word.
Meditate and Pray: Oh how many unlooked for blessings and answers to prayer God has yet to fulfill in our lives! Why? Because others who have gone before us have prayed, and pleaded, like Jacob for the deliverance of future generations like ours! Let us celebrate the long line of blessing which flows throughout the Bible’s history of redemption right into our lives with hymn # 570:
Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that glorious Word!
Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate
If they, like them, should die for thee.
Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.