************ Sermon on Genesis 49:27-28 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on June 21, 2015

Genesis 49:27-28
"Benjamin the Ravenous Wolf"

On this Father's Day, let me start with a story about the influence fathers have on their children.
A man got a job mixing feed. For a period of about two weeks, each day when he came home from work, his two boys, ages 2 and 3 would look at him, smile, and say, "Boy, dad, you sure are dusty!" He would reply, "Yes, I sure am dusty." Then he would get cleaned up.
He didn't think too much of this until he was washing the car and saw his oldest son doing something very strange. The boy was picking up the gravel and stones that was in the driveway and rubbing them on his pants. The dad asked him, "What are you doing?" He replied, "I want to be dusty like you dad!"
If a child would copy his father for being dusty, a child could follow his father for anything. So let me ask, what are you passing on to your children and grandchildren? What do they see in you?

Here is a reminder of the Bible's teaching that we are all shaped by our ancestors -- for better or for worse. I think, for instance of what is said in the second commandment:
(Ex 20:5-6) You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, (6) but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Let's make sure we understand this correctly. The second commandment doesn't teach that we can blame our actions on our parents; we need to remember that each one of us is responsible before God for our own behavior. Nor does the second commandment teach that God punishes us for the sins of our parents (Ezek 18). Rather, the second commandment teaches us that God visits the sins of the fathers upon later generations because those generations usually repeat their fathers' sins. Did you hear that? Usually most of us repeat the sins of our fathers. We learn from them and imitate their behavior -- for better or for worse.

For good or ill, fathers and mothers have the greatest influence on their children. If parents imitate the example of the righteous and trust in the Lord and His promises, their children -- by grace -- will be far more likely to follow the risen Christ. If parents fail to follow the Lord, their children will likely follow the path of evil. And, those parents who do not walk the talk, who do not practice what they preach, can only expect their children to be the same way. So be mindful, congregation, be mindful of the example being set for our children and youth. We all learn from our parents.

As we will find out this morning, Benjamin and his offspring are a good example of this truth.

So, again I ask: what are you passing on to your children and grandchildren? What do they see in you?

I Jacob's Blessing
A Benjamin, with Joseph, was one of Jacob's beloved and favorite sons because he was born of Rachel, Jacob's favorite wife. Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. Scripture says,
(Gen 35:18) As she breathed her last -- for she was dying -- she named her son Ben-Oni [which means "son of my trouble"]. But his father named him Benjamin [which means "son of my right hand"].
So which was it? Was he "son of my trouble" or was he "son of my right hand"? As we look at Benjamin and his history we see a bit of both.

B As you know, in our Scripture reading Jacob is blessing his sons before he dies. The idea of blessing is so important that the word is repeated three times in verse 28. A word-for-word translation of the Hebrew says "And he blessed them each according to his blessing, he blessed them."

In his blessing Jacob tells his sons what will happen to them in "days to come" (Gen 49:1). The expression "days to come" is used with the prophecies of Balaam (Num 24:14), Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Dan 2:28), and the last words of Moses (Deut 31:29; cf Deut 4:30). Each time, "the days to come" points to the fullness of the Kingdom of God. At the center of that Kingdom is the Messiah, the King of the Jews. Genesis 49 tells us this King will be of the house of Judah (Gen 49:10). The New Testament tells us this King is Jesus (Mt 1:1).

We are also told that Jacob gives each son the blessing appropriate to him (Gen 49:28). As we have seen, some of the boys suffered rebuke and others were promised riches. Yet, each one was given a blessing. None of them were rejected as Esau was.

Think about it: these are Jacob's last words to his sons before he dies. What do you think will be your last words to your loved ones? More than anything else, what Jacob is doing is leaving a legacy of faith.

Passing on the faith doesn't mean we need to be perfect -- for none of us can attain perfection in this life and on this earth and in this body. Look at Jacob. We have looked at his sins, his lies, his deceit, his self-reliance. We've discovered that his sons aren't really much different from him. They are all on a pilgrimage. Some are doing well and others aren't in this walk before God. But Jacob has learned something over the years. Jacob has learned the most important thing in life is God's blessing. In fact, Jacob has an unquenchable desire for God's blessing. All of his scheming, all of his lies, all of his deceit had one goal: to get God's blessing. Jacob also learned in his life where real blessings come from -- from God and not by his own efforts and strivings. So now, at the end of his life, he strives to hand that knowledge on to his sons.

C In everyday language, we used the word "blessing" in a variety of ways. So, for example, when someone says they are so "blessed" we all know they are talking about personal gain and good fortune when it comes to material goods. When a love-smitten young man asks a girl's father for his "blessing," he is asking for approval to marry her. When our President ends a speech with "God bless America" he is asking for divine favor and protection. None of these, however, do justice to the Bible's idea of blessing.

Most often in the Bible the noun for blessing means God's covenant favor and goodness. And, frequently the verb to bless describes the reverent worship of God's people. The two meanings are related: The first provokes the second; the blessing of God leads to the praise of God's people. Think of the end of most of our worship services: We receive a blessing from God followed by our song of praise; what we call the benediction is followed by the doxology.

The word blessing, then, points to an intimate relationship between God and His unworthy people. God richly blesses us and we, in turn, praise Him for His blessing. God gives and graces and we receive and rejoice.

D In Genesis 1 we learn that the first blessings were spoken directly by God: He blessed creation on the fifth day (Gen 1:22), man and woman on the sixth day (Gen 1:28), and the Sabbath on the seventh day (Gen 2:3). Life was perfect in the Garden of Eden because it was lived under the blessing of God.

You all know what happened next. God's blessing was turned into a curse because of sin: So God cursed the serpent, the woman, the ground, and the man for their rebellion (Gen 3:14-19). As a result, mankind no longer lived under the umbrella of God's favor but, instead, under the hand of God's judgment.

The rest of the Bible tells us the story of how a sinful people by means of a gracious covenant once again experiences God's blessing. Hints and shadows of how this would be accomplished were given to Adam and Eve (Gen 3:15), Noah (Gen 9:1), Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), Moses (Deut 27-30), David (2 Sam 7:28-29), Isaiah (Isa 7 & 9), as well as others. What is hinted at in the Old Testament becomes clear in the New Testament where we are told the good news that Jesus became a curse for us so we can again be blessed by God. All we need do is accept this gift of God with a believing heart. However, those who reject Jesus remain under God's judgment and are cursed forever (Jn 3:36).

When it comes right down to it, what is God's blessing? God's blessing in days to come is the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3).

So Jacob is blessing his sons. Jacob's blessing looks to the future -- "the days to come" or what we know as "the last days." And, Jacob's blessing looks back to the past -- God's blessing of mankind in the Garden. So, looking at the past and looking into the future, Jacob blesses each of his sons.

II The Image of the Wolf
A Now, what kind of blessing does Jacob give to Benjamin? And, does this blessing reveal Benjamin to be "son of my trouble" or "son of my right hand"?
(Gen 49:27) "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder."
Benjamin is compared to a wolf who eats its fill in the morning and in the evening shares his spoil with the rest of the pack. Naturalists tells us that wolves typically kill more than they can eat. So this metaphor tells us the tribe of Benjamin will satisfy itself and then divide up what is left over. What does this blessing mean?

B The imagery of the wolf is reason for concern. We know from the history of Israel that the tribe of Benjamin produced unfaithful men. I start with the awful story of Judges 19 & 20. The men of Gibeah raped and killed a woman and the men of Benjamin were unwilling to punish these evil men and added to their sin when they defended them in battle. In this sin they showed themselves to be "son of my trouble." Next comes the sad story of Saul, the first king of Israel. He was of the tribe of Benjamin but he rejected the Lord and the Lord's anointed (1 Sam 15). "Son of my trouble." And, consider the initial story of Saul who later became Paul. He was a violent persecutor of the church. In this way, too, Benjamin was "son of my trouble."

C The imagery of the wolf can also be positive. In dividing up the prey, there is the potential for the tribe of Benjamin to be very successful and popular within the family of Israel. Moses, in his final words, sees great success for the tribe of Benjamin (cf Deut 33:12).

Sure enough, Benjamin went on to succeed and fathered many godly individuals. Ehud, the left-handed judge who rescued Israel from Moab, came from the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 3:12-30). "Son of my right hand." David's friend, Jonathan, was of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Sam 9). "Son of my right hand." Esther, who saved her people from extinction during Persian rule -- and her cousin Mordecai -- also counted Benjamin as a forefather (Esther 3:5-7). "Son of my right hand." Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, was of the tribe of Benjamin as well (Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5); in the morning he devoured his prey as a persecutor but in the evening he divided the spoil as a preacher of the Gospel. "Son of my right hand." It was the tribe of Benjamin that remained loyal to the house of David and Judah when the ten tribes formed their own nation (1 Kings 12). And, with Judah, it was only the tribe of Benjamin that emerged as the people of God after the exile; all the other tribes had disappeared. "Son of my right hand." Though they had sinful ancestors like you and me, all of these persons graciously chose righteousness over evil. In this way, then, Benjamin is the "son of my right hand."

So what is Benjamin: "Son of my trouble" or "son of my right hand"? It all depends on whether the tribe of Benjamin accepts or rejects God and Christ. The tribe of Benjamin did at times struggle with rejecting God. Yet, along with Judah, there was a remnant who remained faithful.

What was true for Benjamin is also true for you and me and our children. Are we "son of my trouble" or "son of my right hand"? It all depends on our relationship with Christ.

Those who, by grace, live in a covenantal relationship with God are blessed by Him and are the "son of my right hand." Those, however, who reject Jesus remain under God's judgment and are the "son of my trouble."

On this Father's Day I want to tell you that our decisions and our actions set the tone for our lives and the lives of those after us. To quote the 25th anniversary theme of our church, if we stand firm in the faith and do everything in love, that has an impact on our children and grandchildren. If we live well, if we live by faith, then we -- by grace -- are a blessing in the church and kingdom.

"Son of my trouble" or "son of my right hand." On this Father's Day what legacy are you leaving for your sons and daughters?
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