I noticed several things from our reading today. Jacob was on his deathbed and proceeded to give each son their blessing. Now when you and I give a blessing we mean we are wishing the person we are blessing well. These Old Testament blessings are a bit different. They tend to be a bit of prophecy. As such they are not always a positive thing for those receiving them. As Jacob blesses each of his children we see that he proceeds from eldest to youngest only through the fourth son. He then jumps to the 10th and 9th sons. All six were sons from Leah. You almost get the sense that these men stood around their father grouped by mother.
Reuben, who was the eldest of all twelve sons, should have had the most favorable blessing, and should have received all of the blessings that come with being the first born son. Unfortunately Reuben had sexual relations with one of his father’s four wives, Bilhah. Bilhah, by the way, was the mother of Dan and Naphtali. We learn in Mosaic Law that having relations with the wife of your father is a sin, but just because Moses was the first to right these things down, doesn’t mean these folks didn’t know right from wrong beforehand. What Reuben did was exceedingly sinful; so much so that he lost his birthright. Even so, Reuben had a redemptive moment in that he tried to save Joseph from his other brothers. He had his good side and his bad. He was still loved by his father, but his behavior came with consequences. His descendants would have an inheritance in the Promised Land but his tribe would not be the leading tribe.
So why didn’t the birthright pass down to Simeon the second born or Levi the third born? These two fellows destroyed an entire village because the son of the village ruler raped their sister Dinah. It would have been one thing if they had exacted justice from the perpetrator of the crime, but they killed a lot of men, women, and children in their anger. They did not receive the birthright.
The “birthright” came with several important aspects. The birthright of the first born son entitled him to a double portion of the father’s estate. For example, if there were three sons the estate would be divided into fourths and the first born would receive 2/4 while the other two sons would receive 1/4 each. The first born would also inherit the mantel of “patriarch” of the family. He would be the judge of the family as it were. The first born would also be the family’s one true priest. All of this was part and parcel of the “royal succession” if you will.
Interestingly, it appears that when Reuben lost his birthright, the privileges of the first born were divided up between two other sons. The longest and nicest blessings Jacob bestowed were upon Judah and Joseph. Jacob took on Joseph’s sons as his own which meant that when the tribes finally took their inheritance in the Promised Land, Manasseh and Ephraim would each get a portion. In essence, Joseph received a double portion of his father’s estate. Now it might appear that Joseph also received the title of patriarch as well and perhaps he did but I don’t think so. Judah was told this:
Genesis 49:10 ESV
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
This portion of Judah’s blessing leads me to think that he received the mantel of patriarch of the family, at least in future generations. If it wasn’t so at the time of Jacob’s death, I believe it did become so later. When the kingdom of Israel later divides into a Northern and Southern kingdom one will be called Israel and the other Judah. I think this demonstrates the preeminence of Judah. The Messiah will also be a descendant of Judah – something to which the verse above also alludes. Do you see how that verse can also be applied to Jesus? Jesus was indeed descended from Judah. In fact, it seems to me Judah received all of the blessing of the firstborn birthright with the exception of the double portion of Jacob’s estate.
Now Joseph has also been an archetype for Christ – in many ways much more so than Judah. In fact I wouldn’t say that Judah is an archetype of Christ but rather simply the one through whom He would come. Joseph, however, receives a wonderful blessing from Jacob. He is referred to as “fruitful” and in deed Joseph was fruitful. He was so fruitful that he kept his family and the rest of the known world alive during the seven year famine. Joseph was not only a blessing to his family, but to the rest of the world. I can’t help but remember in the book of John, as Jesus walked and talked with His eleven disciples on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, that He told them that they were to be fruitful. In fact, He taught throughout the Gospels that those who truly belonged to Him would be fantastically fruitful (“a hundred fold”).
We need to understand why Joseph was so fruitful. He was abundantly fruitful because of his right relationship with God. He put God first in his life. That is the source of all fruitfulness. We all seem to think that to be fruitful in a spiritual sense we need to start by putting feet on our faith, and while I think that is an extremely important and essential part of being spiritually fruitful, the first step is right relationship with God. We just can’t skip that first step.
The book of Revelation clearly teaches that we will receive an inheritance in Heaven commiserate with our deeds on Earth. The Promised Land is a metaphor for Heaven. The tribes of Israel would receive an inheritance based on the number of people in their tribe at the time they enter the land. In other words, the bigger the tribe, the bigger their share of acreage in the Promised Land. What we will see in subsequent passages is that the number of people in each tribe was significantly affected by the quality of each tribe’s relationship with God – some walked more closely with God than others. The picture accompanying today’s post illustrates how the tribes divided up the Promised Land between them. Look at the amount of land possessed by Manasseh and Ephraim. Together they represent Joseph’s portion. That portion is massive. Joseph was close to God; he obeyed God; he put God first in his life, and his reward was great.
The closer you walk with God the more you are motivated to obey Him, to put Him first in all things. When you do that, you will be very active in pursuing His agenda rather than your own. When you pursue His agenda you will be fruitful for Him. When you are fruitful for Him you will receive your reward. Brothers, be like Joseph. Put God first. Be fruitful and look forward to your great reward!