************ Sermon on Genesis 49:18-21 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on April 12, 2015

Genesis 49:18-21
"Gad, Asher, Naphtali"

Towards the end of his life, Jacob called for his twelve sons and said: "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come" (Gen 49:1). Jacob then blessed each of his sons in turn. As we have been looking at these blessings we have learned that each son received "the blessing appropriate to him" (Gen 49:28).

So far we have watched and listened as Jacob spoke to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, and Dan. Today, we hear Jacob's last words of blessing to Gad, Asher, and Naphtali.

I More Than Just Words
A You may wonder what is the big deal. After all, a blessing is only words.

The first time we see a "blessing" in the Bible is in Genesis 1 already. At that time God blessed the sea creatures and birds, telling them to be fruitful and multiply in the earth (Gen 1:22). God gave a similar blessing to Adam and Eve, adding that they were to exercise dominion over creation (Gen 1:28). When God called Abraham to go to the Promised Land (Gen 12:1-3), He promised to bless him, make his name great, and through him, to bless all the families of the earth.

Each of these blessings actually came to pass. Telling us what? Telling us that God is true to His Word. Telling us that God's Word cannot fail. Telling us that what God says and promises cannot be revoked. Telling us we can have faith in God and depend on God and He will not let us down.

B God is not the only one Who pronounces blessings. When Rebekah left her family to become Isaac's wife, her family blessed her by saying "may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies" (Gen 24:60). When Isaac was ready to die, he pronounced this blessing on his son, Jacob:
(Gen 27:28-29) May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness -- an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.

C Let's go back to a young Jacob. Remember how Jacob and Rebekah lied and deceived and pretended and took advantage of an elderly Isaac? Jacob and Rebekah prepared the kind of tasty food that Isaac would expect from Esau. Jacob dressed in Esau's clothes so he would smell like Esau. Jacob's hands and the smooth part of his neck were covered with goatskins so he would feel hairy like Esau. Jacob then went to Isaac and, at his mother's instruction, outright lied about who he was and what he did (Gen 27). Why? Because Jacob and Rebekah wanted the blessing!

D As God's people, we also want words of blessing. In fact, we often use the Aaronic blessing at the end of the worship service:
(Num 6:24-26) The LORD bless you and keep you; (25) the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; (26) the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Another blessing we often use is the one pronounced by Paul upon the Corinthians:
(2 Cor 13:14) May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

It is hard for people in our culture to understand the meaning and importance of blessings. It is hard for people in our culture to understand why Rebekah and Jacob so eagerly desired the patriarchal blessing. Perhaps some here don't understand either. As I asked earlier, isn't it just a bunch of words?

Patriarchal blessings were not merely a father's wishes for his sons; rather, they express God's desire. The benedictions at the end of our worship services are not merely "feel good" words so we leave on an upbeat note; they express God's desire and intent for us in Christ.

Remember how the blessings of Genesis 49 start? Jacob called for his sons and said: "Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come" (Gen 49:1). "Days to come" is a technical expression used elsewhere in the Bible to speak of the time of God's deliverance. Ever since the fall into sin, man has need of this deliverance. The fall into sin took away the peace, prosperity, happiness, and security that was God's intent for all His creatures since the beginning. Statements of blessing express God's desire to deliver His people through a future King, the Messiah (Gen 49:10; Num 24:7; Deut 33:5). The ultimate blessing, of course, is the new life and forgiveness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

So, these aren't just words. They look forward to the future King, to the Messiah, and the spiritual and physical blessings that come from Him and through Him.

With this in mind we turn to the three blessings we hear in today's Bible reading.

II Gad
A Jacob says, "Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels" (Gen 49:19).

The name Gad means "attack" (cf Gen 30:11). Three of the six Hebrew words in this verse are a play on the name Gad: Gad will be attacked by a band of attackers, but he will attack.

Now, did you notice what comes immediately before this in the opening verse of our Scripture reading? Jacob writes: "I look for your deliverance, O Lord" (Gen 49:18). These words indicate that Gad will often be troubled by enemies and needs divine help in order to survive.

"I look for your deliverance, O Lord" (Gen 49:18). These words are true for all twelve of the tribes. In fact, they are true for us today as well. The enemies of Christ are unable to attack Christ in heaven; so, they attack His church, His body on earth, instead. As sinners, we are all too weak to stand on our own for even a moment. And, our sworn enemies -- the devil, the world, and our very own flesh -- never stop attacking us. We all need the Lord to uphold us and make us strong and give us victory.

B "Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels" (Gen 49:19). All this talk of fighting and attacking doesn't sound like much of a promise, does it?! A more positive version is heard from Moses' lips before his death:
(Deut 33:20-21) About Gad he said: "Blessed is he who enlarges Gad's domain! Gad lives there like a lion, tearing at arm or head. (21) He chose the best land for himself; the leader's portion was kept for him. When the heads of the people assembled, he carried out the Lord's righteous will, and his judgments concerning Israel."
Yet, the fact remains, Gad is a fighter, an attacker, someone who defends.

C "Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels" (Gen 49:19). What is the meaning of this promise Jacob made to Gad? When we look ahead at the history of Gad we see the tribe settles east of the Jordan River, outside of the Promised Land (Josh 13:24-28). In other words, Gad's territory is right on the border with the heathen nations of Aram, Ammon, Moab, and Edom. In this location, Gad had to deal continually with raiding armies. It may seem for a time that Gad is at the brink of defeat, yet Jacob predicts that the tribe of Gad will eventually overcome their foes.

When we look further ahead in Israel's history we see that the Gadites become known for their military skill.
(1 Chr 5:18-22) The Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh had 44,760 men ready for military service--able-bodied men who could handle shield and sword, who could use a bow, and who were trained for battle. (19) They waged war against the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphish and Nodab. (20) They were helped in fighting them, and God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him. (21) They seized the livestock of the Hagrites--fifty thousand camels, two hundred fifty thousand sheep and two thousand donkeys. They also took one hundred thousand people captive, (22) and many others fell slain, because the battle was God's. And they occupied the land until the exile.

As we have already seen with Gad's older brothers, some tribes do not fare as well as others in the blessings Jacob pronounced upon them. Nevertheless, the overall message points to greater days for the entire nation of Israel. Gad's victory over its attackers finds fulfilment in King David and ultimately in Christ Himself.

When the church comes under attack, when Christians oversea face persecution, when our faith is ridiculed by the media or by our president, think of Jacob's blessing upon Gad. Even when times look dark and the world is crumbling around us, do not be discouraged. Because God has promised to exalt His people and give them victory.

III Asher
A Next, we turn our attention to Asher. About him Jacob says, "Asher's food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king" (Gen 49:20).

Jacob speaks of great wealth for the tribe of Asher. We know this tribe will settle in a fertile area. We know its territory was along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. And, we know the land of Asher was also near the ancient trading routes. The result not only was the finest corn and oil in all of Palestine but the result also was "delicacies fit for a king." Asher provided food for palaces far and near from both the land and the sea. Not just grain and corn but nuts, berries, fruit, figs, grapes, spices, fish, seafood, and honey too.

Jacob's blessing upon Asher, and its fulfilment, point back in time to the perfection of the Garden of Eden. There man enjoyed peace, prosperity, happiness, and security in the presence of God. And, it points forward to the perfection of the new heaven and new earth when man again will enjoy peace, prosperity, happiness, and security in the presence of God.

B Jacob's blessing upon Asher has more than a physical fulfilment. There is also a spiritual component. Does anyone know who in the New Testament comes from the tribe of Asher? I hope you all thought "Anna." Listen to what Scripture says about her:
(Lk 2:36-38) There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, (37) and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. (38) Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Anna of the tribe of Asher realized that true riches lie not in the treasures of this earth but in the treasures of heaven. So, Anna was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Anna was looking forward to the riches of salvation. Anna was looking forward to the blessings that come with the appearance of the Messiah.

Anna, of the tribe of Asher, was one of the first to realize that the treasures of salvation lie in Jesus.

IV Naphtali
A We end with Jacob's blessing upon Naphtali. According to our pew Bibles, "Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns" (Gen 49:21).

The name "Naphtali" means struggle. Let me remind you of what lies behind this name. Rachel and Leah, if you remember, were sisters married to Jacob. They struggled with each other for Jacob's attention. Jacob loved Rachel but it was Leah who was bearing him sons. Rachel became jealous and even angry that she was not bearing Jacob any children. So, at the birth of Naphtali, Rachel said, "I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won" (Gen 30:8).

We see this theme of struggle in the days of the Judges. Barak, who saved Israel from King Jabin at the time of Deborah, is from the tribe of Naphtali.

B "Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns" (Gen 49:21). What is Jacob saying about Naphtali? Naphtali, a tribe that carries struggles in its name, will be set free from its struggles. It will prevail. It is a deer let loose and bearing beautiful children.

Do you remember what the New Testament says about Naphtali? Its territory, with Zebulun's, is later known as Galilee. It is in Galilee that people who sit in darkness will see a great light (Mt 4:12-16). In mind here is the teaching and miracles of Jesus that took place largely in Galilee. In other words, Naphtali's struggles end with the ministry of Jesus.

Again, we see a blessing that looks forward to the future King, to the Messiah, and the spiritual and physical blessings that come from Him and through Him.

Have you noticed the animal imagery used by Jacob in blessing his sons? Judah is like a lion, Issachar like a donkey, Dan like a serpent, Naphtali like a deer, Benjamin like a wolf. Telling us what? Among Jacob’s sons is to be found a great variety of dispositions and talents, yet all contribute to the beauty and strength of the entire body.

Does this remind you of something? Doesn't this remind you of what Paul writes about the church? In Jacob's sons we are to see a picture of the church.
(1 Cor 12:12) The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.

(Rom 12:4-5) Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, (5) so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
We differ in talents and abilities, we differ in interests and hobbies, we differ in occupations, we differ in background, we differ in personality and outlook and age. As with Jacob's sons, the Lord uses our differences to build up the body of Christ today.

What comfort there is for us here. God takes us, even as He took Jacob’s sons, forges us into His people and give us His promises.
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