Series on Genesis, last sermon, II God's Family, L The Pledge of the Family, Text:49,50 Title: Not by Might but by My Spirit


We come here to the end of our studies in Genesis. We have seen the creation, the corruption of creation and the formation of a family by the grace of God. We have traced that family from Abraham through the sons of Jacob. The end of Genesis 49 and Chapter 50 record the death of Jacob and the death of Joseph, but also one of the most tender touching accounts of forgiveness in the Bible. Jacob's dying wish is that Joseph would forgive his brothers. Though he had already done so Joseph reassures them with complete trust in God's sovereignty in 50:19. The fact that this is set down more than once reminds us of its importance. No one can forgive unless he surrenders control of his life and his world to the sovereign God of Scripture. But having said these things we want to focus on the prophecies which are contained in Chapter 49. Jacob calls together his family and pronounces prophetic blessings on each of them. And what we learn here is that the hope of God's family is not in preeminence, not in power, but in the promises of God.

I Preeminence

The account of Reuben is an account of failure in 49:3,4, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.”  He had the first place as Jacob's firstborn and Jacob's confidence  and pride rested in this son. But the story of Reuben is one of decay. he started out timidly trying to rescue Joseph in chapter 37 . He proposes that they simply leave Joseph in the desert supposing that he will return and rescue him. He is weak. His weakness is further shown in 42:37  when he offers the lives of his own two sons as a surety for bringing back Benjamin from Egypt. Surely a foolhardy and callous offer.  His worst sin was that he presumptuously went in to his father's handmaid, Bilhah, and lay with her; a distinct effort to establish himself as the leader, which he was not. Like his father Jacob, at his worst, he attempted to gain preeminence by conniving. Today sometimes the Church of Christ is deceived into thinking that if they only have influence in the places of power and authority our culture would be changed, but the fact is that people in places of preeminence can be big disappointments. Many would rather hire some high powered leader than pray. It is only in God that we can find our strength. It is commonly accepted practice in our society to toot your own horn. One famous professional golfer said he learned early in his career if you have to tell people how good you are, you probably aren’t that good. Malcolm Forbes writes, “People who matter are most aware that everyone else does too.” There are no little places. “Father, where shall I work today?” And my love flowed warm and free. He pointed out a tiny spot and said, “tend that place for me.” I answered him quickly, “Oh, no! not that! Why, no one would ever see, no matter how well my work was done; not that little place for me!” The word he spoke, then, wasn’t stern; he answered me tenderly; “Nazareth was little place, and so was Galilee.” The succeeding history of Israel was one of trusting in alliances with other nations, and of failure, because they did not trust in the living God.

II Power

Simeon and Levi are condemned for their violence in 49:5-7, “Simeon and Levi are brothers-their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.” Their solution to problems was power and physical dominance. Their story is recorded in Genesis 34 when they deceived the Shekemites into being circumcised because of the defilement of their sister Dinah and then destroyed them all while they were still recovering from the operation. Their deceit worked, but it was not Jacob's way as indicated in this prophecy. Jacob was a man of peace. Even in Chapter 34 he rebukes them because they have made him stink in the nostrils of the Canaanites. The basic difference between physical and spiritual power is that men use physical power but spiritual power uses men. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, said, "Many Christians estimate difficulty in the light of their own resources, and thus they attempt very little, and they always fail. All giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on his power and his presence to be with them." Later on in the history of Israel it would be the fatal mistake of trusting in their own power as well as that of ungodly alliances that would destroy Israel. They needed to trust in God alone. Every great battle they won they won because God gave them the victory. Again today the Church sees the solution to changing the world as resting in its own power and influence, But where we need to be is on our knees. The real front line of spiritual struggles is in prayer. Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord. As a new missionary, Herbert Jackson was assigned a car that would not start without a push. After pondering his problem, he went to a nearby school in the morning, got permission to take some children out of class, and had them push his car off. Afterward he would either park on a hill or leave the engine running. He did this for two years. When the Jackson family went on leave,  a new missionary came. Jackson proudly began to explain his arrangement for getting the car started. The new man began looking under the hood. Before the explanation was complete, the new missionary interrupted, “Why, Dr. Jackson, I believe the only trouble is this loose cable.” He gave the cable a twist, stepped into the car, pushed the switch, and to Jackson’s astonishment, the engine roared to life.  For two years needless trouble had become routine. The power was there all the time. only a loose connection kept Jackson from putting that power to work. Ephesians l:19-20, reminds us of how tremendous the power  made available to us who believe in God. When we make firm our connection with God, his life and power flow through us.

III Promise

We have already seen how Joseph trusted in a sovereign god. this is where our hope and strength is to be found. even Jacob in his death recognized this by requesting that he be buried in Canaan because God had promised that land to his descendants. In Genesis 49:29-31 Jacob says, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah.” Though they would be long in Egypt, yet Jacob believed God's promise would be fulfilled. And in Chapter 50:24 and 25, Joseph believes the same thing, and as he approaches death, he says to his family, ”I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”  And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.” That promise will be fulfilled literally in the time of Moses and the Exodus, but  ultimately that promise is to be fulfilled in the one who becomes the true leader, Judah. In Genesis 49: 8-12 we learn that he is the one who really has the preeminence because the grace of God is at work in him, “Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness-who dares to rouse him?  The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.’" The rest of the prophetic blessings in Chapter 49 are concerned primarily with material things, but Judah’s blessing is at the heart of God’s covenant and its fulfillment. There are three things stated about Judah. He is the lion, the legislator, and the lamb.

A The Lion

The lion mentioned in verse 9 is the image of successful domination and the symbol of the true king. This is Judah's character. By the grace of God he is the leader. His strength comes from what God has done in him. Three times he is described as a lion. In the New Testament in Revelation 5:5, Jesus is called the lion of the tribe of Judah. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” In this lion-like quality Judah is emblematic of the true redeemer who must be a king of righteousness in order to prevail. In fact Jesus is identified as the root or progenitor of David in the same place which means he was also the root of Judah. Thus the image is one of victory through God.

B The Legislator

The scepter in verse 10 is the emblem of kingship. If you have a King James Version Bible you will read that “the scepter will not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes.” The New International Version translators have properly rendered the Hebrew here as saying that the scepter will not depart from Judah until he to whom the scepter belongs comes. It could also be translated, until his son comes. It is a trusteeship. Judah holds the crown and scepter in anticipation of Messiah, “until” the true king of His people comes. Thus we are directed to the future in hope. At his birth the magi came seeking the king of the Jews. At his trial Pilate asked him if he was the king of the Jews and he said He was. For us this means  a change in allegiance, a change in expectations, a change in values, a change in priorities. What is our top priority in life. Jesus said seek first the kingdom of God. An efficiency expert was speaking, and to drive home a point,  he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he took a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. He placed a dozen fist-sized rocks, one at a time, in the jar. When no more rocks would fit, he asked, "is this jar full?" Everyone said "yes." Then he said, "really?" He  pulled out a bucket of gravel.  He dumped some gravel in and shook it down in the jar. Then  asked the group, "is the jar full?" They were onto him. "probably not." "Good!" he replied. And he brought out a bucket of sand. As he dumped sand in  it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Again he said, "is this jar full?" "No!" the class shouted. He said, "good!" He grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he asked, "What is the point?" One eager beaver answered, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!" "No," the speaker replied, "that's not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: if you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all." Is the work of the kingdom of God a big rock in our lives?

C The Lamb

This kingly descendent of Judah is also identified here in similar language to Isaiah 63 where God says to his son, “Why are your garments red?”  He answers that he has, “trodden the wine press of the wrath of God alone.” According to verse 11, Judah will wash his robes in the blood of grapes. If you look carefully at that passage in Isaiah 63, you will see the real significance is not just the judgment of sinful and unbelieving nations but the loneliness of the Lord in bearing our judgment on the cross. The final judgment is yet to come, but Jesus has already experienced it in shedding his own blood alone for his people. This is why in Revelation 5:6-10 He is described not only as the Lion of the tribe of Judah who has prevailed to open the seals of the scroll, but as the Lamb of God who takes away our sin, Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:  “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”


Thus I would submit to you that the conclusion of the book of Genesis is to teach the people of God, that prestige is nothing and human power is nothing but we must trust and hope in the Redeemer. The arm of flesh will avail nothing. Only the crucified savior triumphs. Just as they were being taught that they must look forward to the redeemer, so we are being taught to look not to ourselves but back to Calvary to find the source of our strength. This is what Paul teaches us in Ephesians 1:18 -21, I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.