This Torah Portion starts by saying “And Jacob lived.”[1] Jacobs’s life was not one of smooth sailing but rather depicted a man who’s soul was forged by hard knocks. He had learned to take whatever Adonai had sent his way, and when he fell he learned to get back up. The summary of Jacob’s life, as stated in the book of Hebrews, comes from 47:31, “Then Israel bowed down in worship on the head of his staff” and this became his ultimate demonstration of trust in Adonai.

[Read Gen. 48:14 – 49:33]

From these passages, we see many different prophetic anticipations of the children of Israel. What is even more interesting to me, is that Moses while writing this had yet to see the fulfilment of these promises. In (48:1-14) we see where Joseph brings his two boys (by now both in their 20s) to his father for a blessing, but in the next 2 verses we see and interesting blessing of Joseph. This was first brought to my attention by Dr. Michael Heiser in his teaching, “The Jewish Trinity.[2]” The blessing starts out by saying:

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
The God who has shepherded me throughout my life to this day,
The Angel who redeemed me from all evil,
May He (singular) bless the boys.

This is a flash back to the angel that had talked with him at Bethel (31:10-13), and once again there is this mysterious “Angel” who is associated with/at one with God. This concept of two, and yet one, was held by many Rabbis until about the 2nd century CE[3]. It was then rejected probably because it is too much like Christology.

When Jacob crosses his hands to bless Joseph’s sons, he knows that Ephraim (the younger) will be a greater tribe. In fact the name, Ephraim, becomes synonymous with the northern kingdom of Israel just as Judah was for the south. To this day, our sons are blessed, “May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh.” Ephraim and Manasseh would not trade their faith in Adonai “for the most exalted social position, or the most enviable political career, in the Egyptian state. They voluntarily gave up their place in the higher Egyptian aristocracy, and openly identified themselves”[4] with the people of Israel.

In chapter 49, we get into the specific prophetic blessings over each of the sons of Israel, and Jacob sets the stage by saying, “Gather together so that I can tell you what will happen to you in the last days.” Ruben is first, and he was given many natural blessings: firstborn of vigour and power, extra dignity and strength, but unfortunately he was lacking in moral character. He appears to be “a man who begins good actions, but does not complete them.”[5] For example: He starts to save Joseph, but does not get to follow through. Later in history, the tribe of Ruben is still doing the same thing [Judges 5:15b-16], and throughout Scripture the tribe of Ruben is rarely ever mentioned.

In verses 5-7, Simeon and Levi are listed together, as a reminder of the time that they destroyed Shechem together (Ch. 34). The judgement for this action was that they would be dispersed throughout the nation of Israel. Interestingly Jacob curses their anger, not them. This prophesy finds it fulfilment in two ways. Firstly Simeon was absorbed into Judah, based upon where their land allotment ended up (Joshua 19:1), and Levi was spread throughout the entire land without a land inheritance (Deut. 10:9).

Then we come to Judah . . . and aside from Joseph, Judah receives the greatest “praise.” It is from this passage that we hear first of the “lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5), and it is here that we understand that Judah will ultimately rule the nation of Israel. Verse 10 has several interpretations based upon the definition of the word Shiloh. Hebrew scholar, Dr. Walter Kaiser, shows that the best translation is “that which belongs to him,” which is “spelled out more distinctly in [Ezekiel 21:32 (27)].”[6] This verse therefore shows that a personal “King Messiah” would come from the tribe of Judah, and not only would he rule Israel, but also the obedience of the nations would be his.

For Zebulun (meaning ”dwelling, habitation, home”) his actual territory in the Promised Land extended from the Sea of Galilee to Mt. Carmel (close under Tyre and Sidon, see Joshua 19 for land allotments). Issachar (located directly under the Sea of Galilee) ended up with a very fertile territory. They preferred submitting to foreign tribute instead of taking up the sword (Judges 4 – 5), but they became known as “men who know how to interpret the signs of the times (1 Chron. 12:33).” Dan (meaning “judge”) ended up judging the land of Israel through Samson (Judges 13-16), and through one man God brought destruction to the Philistines. Gad (meaning “troop, fortunate”) succeeded in repelling the Ammonites, Moabites and Arameans. Asher’s inheritance was the coast north of Mt. Carmel, and as such it was a prosperous and “happy” place just as his name means. In addition the “delicacies fit for a king” could have referred to the export trade they were involved in. And Naphtali is known for their eloquence as shown in the song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5.

The softest and most loving blessing is reserved for Joseph. Joseph “united whatever is best and noblest in both Ruben and Judah.”[7] Though he was wounded by the “archers”, he was always strengthened and saved by the “hands of the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isa. 1:24) Joseph had always received his strength from “the Shepherd”, from the “Stone/Rock of Israel”, and in spite of the circumstances, overcame.

Benjamin (vs.27) is called a ravening wolf and one who “devours spoils” and “divides plunder.” Their wolf-like nature comes out in their ability to band together for war. This banding together ends up being a double-edged sword when they choose loyalty over righteousness in the battle of Gibeah (Judges 20-21) and were almost wiped out as a tribe. King Sha’ul and the Apostle Sha’ul were both from Benjamin, and in a way they show both sides of Benjamin. The first Sha’ul was a disappointment who lost the kingdom because of his disobedience to Adonai, the second Sha’ul conquered the world for the Kingdom of God through his obedience to Adonai.

We see that the two individuals who resemble the Messiah are given the greatest attention. The Messiah would ultimately come as the promised “seed” of David (2 Sam. 7:12), the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5), but he would also come as a good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep [John 10:11-18] (Ps. 23, Eze. 34), and the Rock of Israel [1 Cor. 10:1-4] (1 Pet. 2:6-8, Ps. 118:22, Isa. 28:16). The Messiah would also be one whom his brothers would wound and be hostile toward. Isaiah says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, one from whom people hide their faces. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (53:3) This is confirmed by Yeshua saying, “Look, we’re going up to Jerusalem, and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be carried out. He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and He will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have scourged Him, they will kill Him. Yet on the third day, He will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33) John also confirms that, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him; but the world did not know Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.” (Jn. 1:10-11)

We should ask ourselves a few questions. Am I like Ruben, with great intentions, but lacking the character to follow through? Am I like Simeon and Levi, who allows my anger to control me? Am I like Judah, who started out willing to sell my own brother, and through teshuva (repentance, returning to God) and emunah (faithful trusting relationship with God) became someone through whom Adonai could fulfil His promises? Do I find myself “dwelling by the seashore” or working a trade like Zebulun? Am I more willing to pay tribute than pick up arms, or can I interpret the “signs of the times” as Issachar? Do I find myself righteously judging as Dan, or known for my eloquence as Naphtali? Do I find myself on the front lines like Gad, or serving the nation through political service like Asher? Do I find myself falsely accused and bitterly wounded by my brethren like Joseph? Do I then turn the good Shepherd for my strength? Or am I like Benjamin; do I allow my loyalty to be more important than righteousness?

I know that I have been many of these at different times, but regardless of where I have been I have found slicha (total forgiveness). [Psalm 130] So what must we do? Peter said, “Repent, and let each of you be immersed in the name of Messiah Yeshua for the removal of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Ruach ha-Kodesh. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away—as many as Adonai our God calls to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the Tree Of Life Version (TLV), 2014.

[2] Michael Heiser, The Jewish Trinity, Cited 12-Jan 2017. Online: https://youtu.be/lS22MPVFngs?si=_L0RdaFfNZad2lb2&t=4632

[3] Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, (Baylor University, 2012).

[4] J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. (Soncino, London, 1960), 182.

[5] Hertz, Pentateuch, 183.

[6] Walter C. Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1995), 51.   Although some rabbis disagree (Hertz), the Septuagint, Targum of Onkelos, and Jerusalem Targum all support this translation.

[7] Hertz, Pentateuch, 186.