THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM – PART X
AND PROPHESIES OF THE FUTURE
I. Seventeen years after the encounter with Pharaoh, Jacob knows he is dying and summons Joseph first for final instructions regarding his burial and then for a blessing.
A. Joseph and Jacob
have apparently not seen much of each other, and Jacob does not know
what his sons look like. Despite the alliance, there is a separation
between father and son, on Jacob now must overcome.
Jacob wants to be buried with his ancestors and with Leah, not with
Rachel his beloved but apparently pagan wife. He now seems to
recognize that his first responsibility is with his heritage.
- As with Abraham's
insistence on purchasing the land for Sarah, Jacob here wishes to claim
the land, not by conquest or economic activity, but rather by the heritage
between the living and dead that lasts through the ages.
Jacob says that the sons of Joseph will be his along with his other
1. Joseph does show Jacob proper reverence in presenting his sons for a blessing and bowing before Jacob. But Joseph wants the elder son Manassah to receive the higher blessing with Jacob's right hand. Jacob goes out of his way to reverse his hands, giving the younger Ephraim to receive the higher blessing.
- Jacob is
among other things showing independence from Joseph and from human wisdom
generally. The primogeniture that generally prevailed in Egypt
will not be the standard among God's Chosen People.
3. Jacob then
gives to Joseph "Shechem," which could be translated a double portion
or a double shoulder (or burden.) Shechem is the place of violence
where Levi and Simeon led the brothers to avenge the violation of Dinah
by destroying the town. At one level, Jacob means that the town
is in the land that Ephraim will inherit, a land that will be marked
by violence as one king after another tries to take control in the Northern
Kingdom. There may be a symbolic meaning, i.e. that the political
power represented by Joseph will ever be marked by violence
A. He refers
both to the character of each son and to "the end of days," literally
mean the long future of Israel. However, by extension, it could
refer by analogy to different types of people in the Church, founded
upon the twelve Apostles who represented the twelve tribes (although
not one from each tribe), people who will be blessed, cursed, or in
between. See St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 67;
St. Rufinus (an Italian monk of the fourth and fifth centuries),
The Blessings of The Patriarchs
B. Jacob first
addresses Rueben, the first born. He praises Reuben for his strength,
but then says that he forfeited leadership because of his lust.
It is one among many lessons from Scripture, especially from the Books
of Sirach and Wisdom, that an immoral man or a man who respects not
his family should not be a leader of nations.
C. Jacob then addresses Levi and Simeon, saying that his spirit will not join in their violence and that they will be dispersed in the land. They were the ones who led in attacking and wiping out the town of Shechem to avenge the assault upon Dinah. Then Jacob condemned that sort of violence mostly because it would cause trouble for the family under those circumstances. Here he condemns it for the future as well.
1. The futures
of the two tribes would be very different. The tribe of Simeon
would take land in the far south of the country of Israel. However,
by the time of the kings in the eleventh century B.C., that tribe seems
to have vanished.
D. Jacob blesses the descendants of Judah, who will become the line of kings.
E. The prophecy for
Zebulon is geographic and economic, and not clearly good or bad.
It reflects the fact that that nation would be near the Sea. It
was actually on the Sea of Galilee, but the propecy seems to refer more
to the Mediterranean Sea, often called at the time the Great Sea.
That tribe did not settle on the Mediterranean Sea itself, but did seem
to engage in a fair amount of commerce with the sea faring peoples,
such as those of Tyre and Sidon.
F. The prophecy for
Isacchaar is mixed. On the one hand he receives the good land.
On the other hand, perhaps because of his prosperity and the resulting
laxness, he descends into bondage. Some Church fathers, seeing
a more positive side, see him as an image for all who are willing to
serve God and others because they see the everlasting prosperity in
heaven. See St. Ambrose, The Patriarch 6:30-31.
G. The prophecy for Dan is also strange. On the one hand, Jacob says he will be a judge. On the other hand, he says that he will be as a serpent whose bites at the heel of a horse will cause the rider to stumble.
1. One could
see him as being blessed as a judge who will defend his people; for
Samson, the most famous figure in the Book of Judges would. In
that case, the serpent represents cleverness as fending off enemies.
2. On the other
hand, one could see him as a corrupt judge that causes his people to
3. The tribe of Dan was supposed to be in the western part of the Promised Land. But the Book of Judges ends with that tribe migrating north and becoming the northernmost part of the kingdom.
- There may
have been some implication that that tribe mixed with the authorities
of the world.
H. The prophecy for
Gad is brief and reflects a fighting future, for good or ill.
That tribe would in a way represent the persecuted faithful throughout
K. The final blessing is given to Joseph, a blessing of family and prosperity, which reflects the hope that the political and religious powers will again cooperate to bring about a new creation.