2-4-3 Jacob's Blessings of his Sons
Jacob no longer saw the promised blessings as referring to him personally having a prosperous time in the promised land; he joyfully looked forward to the future Kingdom. He says that he now realizes that his blessings (of forgiveness and the subsequent hope of the Kingdom) are greater than the blessings of the everlasting mountains (49:26 RV mg.); he saw the spiritual side of his blessings as more significant than the material aspect. Despite the fact that the promises were primarily fulfilled in the peace and prosperity he and his seed enjoyed at the end (48:4 " multitude" s.w. 47:27; 35:11; 28:3), Jacob doesn't emphasize this fact as he could have done; instead, he looks to the future, ultimate fulfilments. He looked back on his life as a " pilgrimage" , a series of temporary abodes on the way to something permanent, i.e. the future Kingdom (47:9). Although his seed had become a " multitude" as promised, he says that he refuses to unite himself with the " assembly" (s.w. multitude) of Simeon and Levi (49:6), as if he saw this physical fulfilment of the promises in his lifetime as worthy little. His appreciation of the promises absolutely fills his thinking at the end. The promised Kingdom was " the pride of Jacob" (Ps. 47:4 NIV; Am. 6:8; Nah. 2:2), his chiefest joy. There are aspects of Jacob's blessings of his sons which evidently have not been fulfilled. Presumably they will be fulfilled in the Kingdom, which shows how Jacob's mind was not dwelling on his children receiving physical blessings from God in the short term (cp. how Isaac blessed his sons), but rather the promised eternal blessings of the Kingdom. It is quite likely that the sons, in their humanity, expected blessings of a more immediate sort, such as a dying father of those times would have shared out between his sons. But instead, Jacob's talk is not of the things of this brief life, but of the Kingdom.
He seems to have perceived the spiritual danger his children were in, living in the luxury of Egypt. The promises of being fruitful and being given a land were being fulfilled, in a primary sense, in Israel's experience in Egypt (48:4 cp. 47:27). Joseph was given the land of Egypt (41:41), using the same words as in 45:18; 48:4 concerning how the true land -of Canaan- had been given to Abraham's children. Jacob's children were given a possession in Egypt (47:11), and therefore Jacob emphasized that their real possession was the eternal inheritance of Canaan, not Egypt (48:4; 49:30; 50:13). Thus Jacob at the end realized the importance of warning God's people against the world, against the temptation of feeling that God's present material blessing of us with a foretaste of His Kingdom means that in fact we lose our enthusiasm for the true Kingdom, in its real, material sense. Like Paul in his final flourish of 2 Tim., Jacob saw the need to warn God's people, to point them away from the world, and towards the future Kingdom. Jacob saw that his people, like him in his earlier life, would be tempted to see God's promises on an altogether too human and material level.
Jacob's blessing of Zebulun
His comment that Zebulun would dwell at the haven of the sea (49:13) was not fulfilled in this dispensation, seeing that according to Josephus (and a careful reconstruction of Joshua's words), Zebulun never dwelt by the Sea, being cut off from the coast by the tribe of Asher. And yet according to the distribution of the tribal cantons recorded in Ezekiel, Zebulun will border the Red Sea in the Millennium (Ez. 48:26). And Jacob foresaw this, and gave Zebulun that blessing, with not a mention of any more immediate blessing. He had come to learn that in essence, the promised blessings of God were of the future, not the here and now.
Jacob's blessing of Issachar
" Issachar has desired that which is good; (i.e.) resting between the inheritance. And having seen the resting place that it was good...he subjected his shoulder to labour" (49:14 LXX). The Apostle alludes to this Greek text in Heb. 4:1: " Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest" . Jacob imputed righteousness to his son Issachar at the end. Imputing righteousness to others, seeing the good and the potential in them, was something Jacob only reached at the end; he saw Issachar as seeing the future Kingdom, and devoting himself to labour now to attain that future rest. And the writer to the Hebrews bids us follow that man's example. Jacob's judgment of his Issachar was with regard to how keenly he perceived the future rest of the Kingdom, and laboured now to attain it. For this reason, Jacob commended him; he judged Issachar according to how keenly he desired the Kingdom.
Jacob's blessing of Dan
Dan was to bite the horse heels, so that the riders fell backwards (49:17). This is to be connected with Zech. 10:5, which speaks of how in the last days, the Arab invaders of Israel will be toppled from their horses by the men of Israel / Jacob. Again, Jacob's mind was on the far distant glory of his sons in the day of the Kingdom. There is also reference here to Gen. 3:15, but with an unexpected twist; Dan as the snake (not the woman) would bite his enemies, and thereby subdue them. Is there a hint here that Jacob had so meditated on the Lord Jesus, the future Messiah, that he realized that he must have our sinful, snake-like, Jacob-like nature, and yet through that very fact the final victory against sin would be won? 'Jacob' meaning 'heel-catcher' associates him with the seed of the snake, who would bruise the seed of the woman in the heel. He saw how he would somehow be rescued from his own ‘Jacob-ness’, saved from himself, by the Saviour to come. It turned out that Jacob, who in some ways was the seed of the snake, became the seed of the woman. And yet his Messianic blessing of Dan indicates that he saw these two aspects in his Saviour Lord; he was the one who had the appearance of the seed of the snake (cp. how the bronze snake symbolized him), and yet was in fact the seed of the woman. I really believe that Jacob had so deeply reflected on his own life and sinfulness, on the promise in Eden, and on the promises of Abraham's saviour-seed, that he came to as fine an appreciation of the representative nature of Christ's sacrifice as any believer has today. Thus a lifetime of reflection on the promises (rather than thinking 'Yes, we know all about them') and sustained self-examination will lead to a deep grasp of the fact that Christ really represented you, he had exactly your nature, and thereby he is your very own saviour. And yet the fact Christ was our representative seems to be written off by many of us as a dead piece of doctrine we must learn before baptism.
" I have waited for thy salvation (Jesus)" (49:18) is commented upon by the Jerusalem Targum with the suggestion that Jacob was expressing a very definite Messianic expectation: " My soul waiteth not for the deliverance of Gideon, the son of Joash, for it was only temporal; nor for that of Samson, for it was but transient; but for the redemption by the Messiah, the Son of David, which in thy word thou hast promised to send to thy people, the children of Israel; for this, thy salvation, my soul waiteth" .
Jacob's blessing of Gad
Gad " shall overcome at the last" (49:19) reflects how Jacob's mind was focused on the final victory of his people, " at the last" .
Jacob's blessing of Asher
Asher " shall yield royal dainties" , or 'dainties fit for a king' suggests Jacob imagining how in the Kingdom, the Lord Jesus would eat food grown in Asher? The tribes of Israel will each bring their royal dainties to the Lord Jesus in the Millennium (Ez. 45:16).
Jacob's blessing of Naphtali
Naphtali " is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly (lit. 'gracious') words" (49:21) is another Messianic hint; Ps. 22 (title) likens the Lord to a hind at the time of his death; and again, Jacob's appreciation of the quality of grace as it would be manifested in Christ comes out. The LXX says that Naphtali is " a tree trunk let loose" . With all the other Messianic insights in Jacob's words, this cannot be accidental. Jacob even saw something of the physical manner of the Lord's death. The idea of being let loose has day of atonement connections (Lev. 16:21). Did Jacob see that far ahead? One Chaldee text reads for this verse: “Naphtali is a swift messenger like a hind that runneth on the tops of the mountains bringing glad tidings”.
Jacob's blessing of Benjamin
" In the morning he shall devour the prey" (49:27) connects with the promises that Messiah's second coming would be the true morning (Is. 60:1; Mal. 4:1,2); this was the day when Benjamin would have his true blessing.
Jacob's progression from perceiving the promises as concerning physical blessing to seeing their essential relevance to forgiveness and future salvation is made explicit by 49:26: " The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of the ancient mountains, the delight, glory or loveliness of the hills of eternity" (this rendition is supported by the LXX, Gesenius, RVmg.). Remember that in the wrestling incident, Jacob realized that the blessing of God essentially refers to His forgiveness; and this connection between blessing and forgiveness / salvation is widespread throughout Scripture: Dt. 33:23; Ps. 5:12 (blessing = grace) Dt. 30:19; Ps. 3:8; 24:5; 28:9; 133:3 (= salvation); Ex. 12:32; 32:29; Num. 24:1; 2 Sam. 21:3; Ps. 67:1 (cp. context); Lk. 6:28 (cp. ) Acts 3:26; Rom. 4:7,8; 1 Cor. 10:16; Gal. 3:14 (= forgiveness). Jacob's final appreciation of God's grace, the way he does far above what our works should deserve, is indicated by his comment that " I had not thought to see thy (Joseph's) face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed" (48:11). " Thought" is 74 times translated " pray" , and only once " thought" ; the idea is surely: 'I never prayed to see you again, I didn't therefore have the faith in the resurrection which I should have done, just as I didn’t believe your mother could be resurrected when you spoke of her coming to bow before you (37:10); but God in His grace has done exceeding abundantly above all I asked or didn't ask for, and shewed me not only your face in this life, but also your children'.
Surrounded by his sons clamouring, one can imagine, for physical, immediate blessings, just as he did in the first half of his life, Jacob says that the spiritual blessings he had received, the grace, the forgiveness, the salvation, were infinitely higher than the blessings of rock-solid hills and mountains, things which seemed so permanent and tangible. His intangible blessings were, he finally realized,. much higher than his intangible ones. And so with us individually and as a community; we come to realize, over time, that the Kingdom of God is not so much about meat and drink, the physical, tangible things, but more about peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17); we value the spiritual side of the Kingdom far more; the reality of seeing God's face, of sin forgiven, of the collapse of the wretched barrier which there is between us, the glory of God perfectly revealed; these things come to mean far more than the fact that in the 1000 years of the brief Millennium, corn will wave on the tops of the mountains, and children will play in the now-troubled streets of Jerusalem (even assuming these passages are to be read dead literally). The spiritual graces of the Kingdom, the conquest of sin, the end of sinful nature, the true joy, the eternal felicity and true fellowship... these things, the quality of the Kingdom existence, come to mean far more than the fact it will be eternal, fascinating as this may be for us to presently contemplate. Jacob is our pattern, and will be our pattern by the end. Turn thou to thy God as Jacob did, Hosea pleads (Hos. 12:4).