One of the patterns which biblical scholars have noticed in Genesis is that of younger brother over older brother. In that culture and time, the older brother got a “double inheritance”: this meant that if a man had two sons, he would split his property three ways, and the oldest would get two-thirds of it. The oldest son was considered a special blessing from the Lord, and thus they tended to get spoiled. In opposition to this way of thinking, consider all of the situations in Genesis in which God turned this paradigm on its head: Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers.
In chapter 49, we see the biggest example of this. The chapter is dedicated to Jacob’s last words, in which he prophesizes over his twelve sons. Actually, he is not so much predicting each son’s future as much as each son's descendants’. Each of his sons became a tribe in Israel, and his prophecies about each tribe became true.
Again, given their culture, Reuben would be expected to get the greatest blessing for his descendants. Unfortunately, he foolishly slept with one of Jacob’s concubines (a supreme act of disrespect), and thus he lost the his place of highest blessing. Next would've been Simeon or Levi, but they'd planned and carried out a mass slaughter of an entire town, murdering hundreds or even thousands of innocent people. Next came Judah, which we'll examine in greater detail tomorrow. In the meantime, I'd like to draw a couple of quick lessons from these first three sons.
First, Reuben made one very sinful and foolish decision, and his descendants suffered for it. We are, each one of us, responsible before the Lord for our own sin, and the Lord offers individual forgiveness to each of us. However, our sinful decisions, even if forgiven before God, can affect us for the rest of our lives, and even negatively affect our descendants. People might accuse Christianity of being easy on sin because we believe in salvation by grace through faith, but if we didn’t have any other reasons to avoid sin, this would be enough.
Second, the stories of the tribes of Simeon and Levi are very instructive in how God can turn even a curse into a blessing if we trust him. Jacob predicted that both Simeon and Levi would be “[scattered] in Jacob and [dispersed] in Israel,” and this came true for both of them, but in very different ways. Simeon was a very small tribe, and never became prominent, and was eventually swallowed up by Judah. Levi, on the other hand, was literally scattered and dispersed all over the Promised Land, and they never actually had one large tract of land to call their own. This was a blessing, however: God chose them out of all of the tribes to be his representatives. Theirs was the tribe out of which all priests would come, and their unique responsibility was to help in the maintenance of the Tabernacle, and eventually the Temple of God itself. As stated several times in the books of Moses, "That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as the Lord your God told them." What an honor and privilege!
Lord Jesus, help me to make right choices. And when I don’t, when I foolishly disobey you, help me to trust you to turn curses into blessings.
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