As stated in verse 1 of Genesis 49, the blessings that Jacob—or Israel—pronounced upon his sons were a snapshot of “what [would] happen to [them] in days to come.” Specifically they’re snapshots of what will happen to the descendants of each of his son’s tribes who, collectively, will become the nation of Israel. Last week we noted that Israel’s first three sons—Reuben, Simeon, and Levi—respectively lost the blessing and privileges of the firstborn due to their past evil behavior. Therefore the blessing of the firstborn skipped over each of them and passed down to Judah, Jacob’s fourth son. Having considered Jacob’s blessings upon his first four sons, this morning we turn to the blessings he pronounced upon his remaining eight: Zebulun and Issachar by Leah;[1] Dan and Naphtali by Bilhah, Rachel’s servant;[2] Gad and Asher by Zilpah, Leah’s servant;[3] and Joseph and Benjamin by Rachel.[4]

Now unlike the first four sons listed, the remaining eight do not strictly follow their birth order.[5] Too, unlike the blessings pronounced upon Reuben, Simeon, and Levi which were completely negative, the blessings on the remaining sons are either a mix of negative and positive or are purely positive as was Judah’s. As we continue to work through the Old Testament, we’ll see the ways in which these blessings by Jacob upon his sons ended up being fulfilled in their descendants.

Verse 13 picks up with Zebulun who was Jacob’s tenth son and Leah’s sixth.[6] Concerning him, Jacob states, “Zebulun will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships; his border will extend toward Sidon.” As a haven, Zebulun’s descendants will provide safety and refuge for others.

Next is Issachar, Jacob’s ninth son and Leah’s fifth.[7] Of him Jacob declares, verses 14–15, “14 Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down among the sheep pens. 15 When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor.” Issachar’s descendants will be strong but will be forced to work for others.

Issachar is followed by Dan, whose name is a play on the Hebrew word for “judge.” He was Jacob’s fifth son by Bilhah, Rachel’s servant.[8] Living up to his name Jacob states concerning Dan, verses 16–17, “16Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan will be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward.” Dan’s descendants not only will stand for justice but will be a danger to those who violate it.

Verse 18 provides a pause in Jacob’s pronouncement of his blessings: “I look for your deliverance, Lord.” Concerning this, one commentator suggests, “Jacob’s pronouncements are interrupted here by a brief prayer that highlights his concern for his descendants. Without divine deliverance they will not survive.”[9]

Verse 19 picks up with Jacob’s blessing upon Gad, whose name in Hebrew sounds like the terms for “raider” and “raid.”[10] He was Jacob’s seventh son by Zilpah, Leah’s servant.[11] Again the word play is evident as Jacob declares, “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.” When attacked, the descendants of this seventh son will prove capable of defending themselves.

Next in line is Asher, Jacob’s eighth son and second by Zilpah.[12] As stated in verse 20, “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.” Asher’s descendants will live comfortably.

Naphtali, named in verse 21, was Jacob’s sixth son, the second he bore by Bilhah.[13] “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.” Naphtali’s descendants will prosper.

And then we arrive at Joseph’s blessing beginning with verse 22. As Judah’s blessing was elaborated upon so, too, is Joseph’s who was Jacob’s eleventh and favorite son and Rachel’s first.[14] One commentator notes the irony that “Barren Rachel would produce the most fruitful tribe.”[15] Thus does Jacob begin by commenting upon his fruitfulness, “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.” Now since Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh,[16] as his own, we’ll see how these blessings will end up falling especially upon the younger son, Ephraim. Some scholars believe that there may even be some allusions in this blessing to Ephraim. For example, the double mention of “fruitful” in verse 22 may be a pun on Ephraim’s name, which means “being fruitful” in the Hebrew. And the reference to branches in the same verse may similarly be an indication that Ephraim’s descendants will one day expand their territory.[17]

Next Jacob addresses both Joseph’s battle skills and how these skills are possible only because of God’s favor. As stated in verses 23–25,

23 With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. 24 But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, 25 because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb.

As Joseph knew God’s guidance and care when, at the age of seventeen God first gave him two dreams foretelling his future greatness,[18] so he continued to know God’s guidance and care throughout his life as would his descendants. In this blessing, notice the many ways God is referred to. He is:

the Mighty One of Jacob;

the Shepherd;

the Rock of Israel;

his father’s God;

the Almighty.

These names for God are important to know for especially in the polytheistic world in which the events recorded in the Old Testament occur, Joseph could be clear that it was this God specifically—notice how two of these names reference Jacob—who would bless him and his descendants from above and below; from without and within.

Jacob concludes the blessing upon Joseph by stating, verse 26, “Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.” As we’ll see, the descendants of this “prince among his brothers” will come to play a prominent role in the life of the nation of Israel.

Last is Jacob’s blessing upon Benjamin, his youngest son and second by Rachel, in verse 27: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.” Benjamin’s descendants will be ferocious warriors.

And with that we arrive at the summary stated in verse 28, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.”

Well the practice of pronouncing a blessing upon others is one that has continued throughout the ages. At the end of each service I derive great joy in pronouncing a blessing upon you, my church family. Each week I look forward to closing our time of worship by sending you off with a benediction, a good word, from God’s Word. This is a beautiful way to close each service for, as one scholar notes, “When people bless one another, they commend the recipient to God through laudatory petitions.”[19]

Regarding Jacob’s blessings, there are some important ways that the blessings he pronounced upon his sons differ from the benedictions found in the New Testament. One difference is that in Jacob’s case, each blessing was tied to a specific son and his descendants. However, the benedictions found in the New Testament are often general and intended for the Church of God and its descendants. Therefore, whereas Jacob blessed his biological family, all who together are children of our heavenly Father are to bless each another for we are one another’s family not only during our time on earth but for all eternity.

Now a difference between Old and New Testament benedictions in general is that as God’s revelation, his disclosure of himself and plans for his creation, progressed from the period of the Old to the New, he disclosed his triune nature. Therefore, sometimes in the New Testament we find all three members of the Trinity mentioned as in 2 Corinthians 13:14:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [Son],

and the love of God [Father],

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

At other times we may find only the Father and Son mentioned as in the benediction from Hebrews 13:20–21 which is our focus this morning. Concerning the omission of the Holy Spirit from some benedictions,[20] one scholar suggests that this may be because “the Father and the Son effect the redemption of the world, and the Holy Spirit applies this blessing…. Since the involvement of the third person of the trinity is in the application of the blessing, He is not mentioned.”[21] In other words, as Christ’s Spirit who is in and among and for us, the Holy Spirit is ever at work in Christ’s body here on earth. Therefore, as we seek God’s blessings upon one another’s lives, his Holy Spirit is already bringing those blessings to fruition as he, for example, regenerates (brings to life our spirit)[22]—and prays for[23]—and convicts us of sin thereby drawing us closer to the Father and Son.[24]

Last, perhaps a similarity between Jacob’s benediction and those found in the New Testament is that as Jacob began by stating, “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come,” there’s a sense in which the benedictions in the New Testament are able to tell God’s family something of the “days to come” based upon the work that God in Christ has done.

With this brief background, let’s turn to the specific blessing found in Hebrews 13:20–21. As Jacob identified which God would enable Joseph and his descendants to do his work, so does this benediction begin by identifying which God is being supplicated, namely, “the God of peace,” an identification of the Father who “through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus.”

But not only is the Father mentioned but also the Son, “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because this Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, was fully human, the blood “of the eternal covenant” he shed on the cross was real; and because he is fully God, the covenant he wrought will never come to an end. As one commentator notes, the result of this is that “the benefits of His sacrifice are eternal.”[25]

Therefore, having identified the Father, the God who brings his peace, his shalom, upon all who believe and receive his Son, the focus of this benediction is placed upon the Son whom he “brought back from the dead.” “Our Lord Jesus” is referred to as “that great Shepherd of the sheep” even as Jacob in his blessing to Joseph stated that his bow would remain steady and his arms stay limber “because of the Shepherd” (among other names of God).[26] Given the Son’s oneness with the Father, the Divine Shepherd spoken of by Jacob and by David in Psalm 23 is one and the same with the divine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the Son of God who took on human flesh mentioned here.[27] Jesus even identified himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10. As a good—and great—Shepherd, he leads, protects, and cares for his sheep fighting off any and all enemies that may attack or seek to do them harm. Indeed, this Shepherd loves his sheep so much that he laid down his life for them. In taking away their sins and placing them upon himself, he took the punishment of those sins upon himself.[28] This is the Good News, the Gospel, for any and all who believe and receive him. As Peter similarly taught concerning Jesus, “24 ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ 25 For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’[29] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”[30]

The benediction goes on to ask that this God of peace and this great Shepherd of the sheep might care for his sheep in a specific manner. As stated in verse 21, that he might “equip you with everything good for doing his will.” To do God’s will is to live according to his purposes for us. And in short his purpose for us is that we might learn how to love him with all of our hearts, souls, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.[31] What greater benediction, what greater good word can we give one another than this?

And as Jacob stated that the only way that Joseph would prosper was by God’s enabling, so, too, here there’s a request and acknowledgment that this God of peace, this great Shepherd might, “work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ.”[32] How does Jesus work what is pleasing to the Father in us? By the Holy Spirit he sends to all who believe in him. For we can’t do what’s pleasing to God on our own, by our own strength. No, we need his help. We need his Comforter who comforts us in all of our trials, the Advocate who claims us as his own and defends us from the attacks of Satan, that ancient foe. Thus should we ever acknowledge and praise Jesus Christ, “to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

To him be the glory for ever and ever for he was sent from our Father in heaven;[33]

To him be the glory for ever and ever for he took on human flesh in order that by his example[34] we might know how we ought to live;

To him be the glory for ever and ever for he took on human flesh in order that we might also know what God, who is Spirit, is like;

To him be the glory for ever and ever for he suffered for us;

To him be the glory for ever and ever for he died for us;

To him be the glory for ever and ever for he rose from death for us;

To him be the glory for ever and ever for he ascended to the Father’s right hand and is now ruling there as he intercedes for us;[35]

To him be the glory for ever and ever for he has sent and sealed and indwells all who are his with his Holy Spirit so that we can do his will; so that we can do what is pleasing to him;

To him be the glory for ever and ever for because of his sacrifice, as Paul teaches, all who believe and receive him “will also live with him.”[36] Thus did Jesus teach that he who believes in him has everlasting life.[37] So, too, did the Apostle John: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Let us pray now to our gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as we thank him for Christ, the living Word, and for the Good Word of his Old and New Testaments that he’s given us in order that we might know him and be blessed and so bless one another.

Benediction: Let me close this morning using the beginning of Jacob’s words to his sons: Dear sisters and brothers, “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come” (Genesis 49:1): “20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20–21)

[1] Genesis 30:14–21: 14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night. 17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar. 19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun. 21 Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.

[2] Genesis 30:1–8: 1 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.” So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, and she became pregnant and bore him a son. Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan. Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.

[3] Genesis 30:9–13:When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad. 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.

[4] Genesis 30:22–24: 22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.” Genesis 35:16–18: 16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.

[5] Following the Chronology provided in Genesis, we find the following order: 1. Reuben (Genesis 29:32); 2. Simeon (Genesis 29:33); 3. Levi (Genesis 29:34); 4. Judah (Genesis 29:35) [1–4 by Leah]; 5. Dan (Genesis 30:6); 6. Naphthali (Genesis 30:8)[5–6 by Bilhah, Rachel’s servant]; 7. Gad (Genesis 30:11); 8. Asher (Genesis 30:13) [7–8 by Zilpah, Leah’s servant]; 9. Issachar (Genesis 30:18); 10. Zebulun (Genesis 30:20) [1–4, 9–10 by Leah]; 11. Joseph (Genesis 30:24); 12. Benjamin (Genesis 35:18) [11–12 by Rachel]

[6] Genesis 30:19–20: 19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun.

[7] Genesis 30:17–18: 17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.

[8] Genesis 30:4–6: So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, and she became pregnant and bore him a son. Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan.

[9] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 49:16–18.

[10] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 49:19.

[11] Genesis 30:9–11: When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!” So she named him Gad

[12] Genesis 30:12–13: 12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.

[13] Genesis 30:7–8: Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali

[14] Genesis 30:22–24: 22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”

[15] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Genesis 49:22.

[16] Genesis 48:5–6 (Jacob is speaking): Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers.

[17] These suggestions are made in the Zondervan NIV Study Bible note on Genesis 49:22.

[18] Genesis 37:5–9:Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

[19] Article on “Bless” by A.C. MYERS in The New International Standard Encyclopedia, p. 523.

[20] An example of the Holy Spirit being mentioned is found in Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

[21] Article on “Benediction” by J.W. KAPP in The New International Standard Encyclopedia, p. 457.

[22] John 3:5–8: Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

[23] Romans 8:26–27: 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

[24] John 16:7–11 (Jesus is speaking): But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

 

[25] Reformation ESV Study Bible note on Hebrews 13:20. See also the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 6:9–10: For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

[26] Genesis 49:24: But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

[27] See also Ezekiel 34:11–16, 31: 11 For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice…. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.

[28] John 11:11, 14–15: 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

[29] Referencing Isaiah 53:4–6:Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

[30] 1 Peter 2:24–25.

[31] Matthew 22:34–40:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” and Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

[32] See also Philippians 2:13:  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

[33] John 5:24: Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

[34] 1 Timothy 1:15–16: 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

[35] John 17:20–21: 20 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

[36] Romans 6:8: Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

[37] John 6:47: Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.