When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. And I fall asleep counting my blessings. When my bankroll is getting small, I think of when I had none at all. And I fall asleep counting my blessings. So, if you’re worried and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep. And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings. Or so said Bing Crosby who then dreamt of a white Christmas.
In Genesis 48, Jacob blessed his two grandsons. And he blessed them not because these were his only grandsons. And he blessed them not because these were his favorite grandsons. Jacob blessed these two grandsons because they were Joseph’s sons. And despite what Jacob had believed for so many years; despite what Jacob was led to believe for so many years, this his son Joseph was still alive. And Joseph was not only still alive, but after so many years, Jacob realized that God’s will, God’s plan, God’s purpose had not been thwarted. God had done abundantly. But these two grandsons were a picture that God had done abundantly more.
And Then Jacob Blessed His Twelve Sons
And then Jacob blessed his twelve sons. Listen to this concluding remark. It is Genesis 49:28, a remark made for us by Moses. He interjects here something we must know, a point we must not miss. “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel.” Pause…right…there. How many? Twelve. Let’s continue. “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them.” Again, pause…right…there. What is this that their father said to them? This is very important. This is Genesis 49:2-27. Again, let’s continue. “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them.” And again, pause…right…there. In speaking to his boys, what did their father do? He blessed them. And again, let’s continue. “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to them.” How many sons did Jacob bless? He blessed each son; that is twelve. According to this very verse, which Moses intentionally pauses to say something to us, a point we must not miss, there should be, if we were to count these blessings, twelve blessings.
There is a big problem. If we were to count these blessings, we might only see six blessings. In Genesis 49:22-26, the word bless or blessing occurs six times. And each of those six times is directed toward one son; the son who at one time owned a coat of many colors; the son who now stood before his father arrayed in the finest linen of Egypt – Joseph. The blessing of twelve sons, Genesis 49:2-27, does not look like twelve blessings, nor does it sound like twelve blessings. Just listen. “Simeon and Levi are brothers [allies]; weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company” (49:5-6a). What does that sound like? Does it sound good? Blessings, I think, are meant to sound good. Listen some more. Still speaking to and about Simeon and Levi, their father says, “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel!” Jacob in talking about these two sons used the word curse. That does not look like blessing, it looks like the opposite of blessing. And on top of that, Jacob puts an exclamation point at the end of it.
So, What is the Point?
So, what is the point? Listen to how this chapter begins; it is verses one and two. “Then Jacob called his sons” – this immediately follows, or is meant to give the sense that this immediately follows Genesis 48. And I think it sets us up as much as it sets up these twelve sons. Meaning, in Genesis 48 Jacob seemingly overwhelmed by what God has done, blesses his two grandsons and implores God to bless his two grandsons (48:15). So, when Jacob calls for his sons, the feeling is that with that same feeling, Jacob is about to bless his twelve sons. “Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together.” I love this; I think it is a great picture. These twelve brothers have all entered their dad’s bedroom. And there he is, sitting up in his bed, a dulled white beard, face tired. He looks weak. His breathing is slowing. And each brother is so different. Joseph stands out in his royal garb. A brother or two stick to a corner of the room. There is one brother staying close to the doorway. And Jacob wants them, needs them to come closer and huddle together around his bed. Perhaps it is because his voice is already straining to be heard and perhaps he wants them close enough to hear and not mistake anything he has to say. So, each brother, maybe looking at another, comes up right to the bed. No space is left for a thirteenth person. They lean in and Jacob says, “that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.”
Already this does not sound like a blessing. Jacob does not even say, “that I may bless you.” This is already not sounding like the two grandsons (cf. 48:9). Jacob wants to talk about the future, the near and perhaps the far future. Why? These sons must be puzzled. Wouldn’t you be trying to figure what possibly could be said? There is always an inquisitive one, eager to hear. And there is always an anxious one who would rather not hear anything.
There are some then who begin to back away, so Jacob in raising his voice just a bit more says, “Assemble!” Now listen closely. “And listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to your Israel your father.” Listen is a command and he says it twice. I think he really means it. All that is required of these sons is to listen. And so it is for us in reading these verses, just listen. And keep in mind that closing remark made by Moses for us. Each of these twelve sons was blessed by their father. And count them, there should be twelve blessings. And I want to know, this is the big question because of the apparent big problem, how can Moses say that? I want to know, where are the twelve blessings?
And it all leads me to say this and it is about the point. This is a lesson in believing God, but not with the eyes and not with what is perceived. And it is wonderful. This chapter and this moment has been called the high point of Genesis.
Let Each One Hear
Each son is in this room. And Jacob will speak directly to each son about each son and for each son to hear about the other. Jacob does not call each son into his room privately. He wants all twelve to hear all of this at the very same time. And so he begins with Reuben. He was the firstborn and so was to enjoy the prominence and position of being the firstborn but he threw it all away for one night of passion. “He went up to my couch!” Jacob says, again, with an exclamation point (49:4). It was something perhaps Reuben did not know that his father knew. It was something perhaps none of the other brothers knew either.
We already know what he said to Simeon and Levi. Zebulun will apparently enjoy the prosperity of being near a trade route (49:13). Issachar will consider freedom too much of a burden and will trade it for servitude (49:14-15). Dan will be a supreme court judge of the nation. The judge Samson will arise from him. But watch out for Dan, he may just nip at your heels and cause you to stumble (49:16-17). Gad will be raided and will do some raiding of his own (49:19). Asher will be a place to get great food (49:20). Naphtali might be a poet (49:21). Benjamin will be a warrior’s warrior. He will be wanted to lead in battle (49:27). It does not sound all bad, does it?
But again, there is that lesson in believing God, but not with the eyes and not with what is perceived. Jacob has learned this lesson, it was not until old age, but he learned this lesson. Remember, and it concerned Joseph, despite what Jacob had believed; despite what Jacob was led to believe, he learned that God was doing abundantly. And so, when he speaks to Joseph it is for each son to hear. And what is really unique is that not only with Joseph does he use the word bless and then six times. Instead, it is what he says about God. Listen just to verse twenty-four. “…by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob.” He called God mighty. This is a peculiar word. And it means strong. And it is only used six times in the Old Testament and it is only ever used of God. And it is always the Mighty One of Jacob. Jacob is saying for all his boys to hear that God is mighty and God is my God. It gets so much better. He then describes this might. God is the shepherd. God is the stone, a rock, a refuge. And he is El Shaddai, the Almighty, the one who makes things happen by his might and his power. Now listen to this; Jacob is recounting for Joseph and for each son to hear how it was that Joseph endured what he endured. R. Kent Hughes called this “a waterfall of divine names.” And that “it was God in the full significance of these names who had delivered Joseph and sustained him.”
Why is that important? In the middle of speaking to each son for each son to hear, Jacob says in verse eighteen, “I wait for your salvation, O Lord.” And he just wants his sons to listen. Why? This is the blessing, the twelve blessings. Could it be that he wants them to wait too, even in view of “the days to come” for each one of them? And how will they wait? how can they wait? By God, who in the full significance of who he is will both deliver them and sustain them as they wait. But there is more and it is so much better. For what is there to wait?
There Was Judah
There was Judah. I cannot wait to show you this. Judah had a moment in his life not unlike Reuben and not unlike Simeon and not unlike Levi. But a moment that Jacob does not mention. It was a moment of failure recorded in Genesis 38, but a moment that Judah called it for what it was, his failure. It was his sin. And he confessed it for what it was and simply declared, “She is more righteous than I!” (Genesis 38:26).
And Jacob talks to Judah and he wants Judah to listen and for each brother to listen. Judah is a lion’s cub. All of Jacob’s sons, meaning Jacob’s offspring will bow down to Judah. And again Judah is a lion. Now listen to verse ten. There is much to this verse. First, the scepter shall not depart from Judah. The scepter is a sign of royalty and of kingship and of authority. And the ruler’s staff shall not depart from between his feet, meaning Judah will have offspring, a particular offspring who will hold this scepter and this ruler’s staff. It is a lion who will hold this scepter and this ruler’s staff, a descendant of Judah. And a sign that this offspring has arrived is wine. And when he arrives there will be an abundance of wine, so much wine that no one will care if donkeys are eating grapes right from the vine. There will be more wine than water (48:11).
I never noticed this when having studied it, but you must turn to John 2:1-11. It is when Jesus was invited to a wedding and at that wedding the wine began to run out. And what did Jesus do? He turned water into wine, the most expensive, most best wine! This is really important. Listen to verse eleven. “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” This sign was about declaring that the Lion of Judah was here.
And now get ready for Revelation 5:5. This is about days to come. “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” But what about the scepter and the ruler’s staff? Listen to verse six. “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Who is this Lion? He is the Lamb! He is the Lamb standing. He is the Lamb who was slain, but when he was slain he conquered as a lion. His name is Jesus! And when he died for my sins at the cross, he conquered as a lion!
And so what is the point? All of these brothers were indeed blessed…even in their good or not so good circumstances. Jacob wanted them to know that they were blessed and it is because of days to come, days when the lion would come, the salvation of the Lord. Their dad wanted them to wait! Look forward and wait!
And for us it is put best like this: “I am always aware that a hurting heart needs to understand and believe that God’s gracious plan is one of blessing and that despite circumstances [and I would add, even in the circumstances] his people are always blessed.”
 R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 561