These final chapters of Genesis record the end of the life of Jacob. It begins with him blessing the sons of Joseph. He tells Joseph that he is taking his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own sons. This is Jacob’s way of passing the birthright that Reuben forfeited on to Joseph (Gen 35:22, 49:4 – see also 1 Chr 5:1). Jacob taking his two sons as his own gives Joseph a double portion, as it were, of the brother’s inheritance, which custom dictated would go to the first born.
In the prophetic crossing of his hands and blessing of Ephraim, the youngest, over Manasseh, the oldest, we again see that pattern of God choosing according to His good pleasure rather than physical priority. And the prophecy/blessing comes to fruition in the nation of Israel when Ephraim becomes the greatest of the tribes of the Northern Kingdom. Jacob then reminds Joseph of the promise of God to bring them to the promised land, and he passes the only land he owns in Canaan to Joseph (see Josh 24:32 and John 4:5).
Chapter 49 records Jacob prophesying over his sons. We will consider only some of them.
Reuben is told that he has lost his birthright because of his laying with Bilhah. But his not having preeminence is also evidenced in the conquest, where Reuben is only the seventh largest tribe, and is settled on the east of the Jordan (of the Dead Sea, actually).
Simeon and Levi are placed together because of their part in the incident with Shechem. Jacob curses them for their cruelty, and says they will be divided in Israel. For Simeon, this comes to pass in the conquest, when that tribe is physically separated from the rest of Israel because it is placed completely within Judah. This is further fulfilled when the kingdoms split between Judah and the ten northern tribes, Simeon being effectively separated from the Northern Kingdom and engulfed by Judah. For Levi, this is literally fulfilled when the tribe does not receive a physical inheritance, but is scattered throughout the entire nation.
Judah is given the greatest blessing, and the promise passes to him because Reuben lost it (This is different from the physical inheritance given to Joseph – see 1 Chr 5:1-2) and Simeon and Levi were excluded because of their sin. Judah is likened to a king. The prophecy here will apply in part to the Davidic dynasty that will come from the offspring of Judah. The ultimate fulfillment, however, is Jesus Christ, from Whom the scepter (that is, kingship) will literally never depart.
Joseph is told that he is fruitful despite the attacks and harassment against him. This is, no doubt, a reference to all he had been through, especially at the hands of his brothers. But notice that Jacob says how. He was made mighty by God. He is blessed by God. Jacob is praising God for all He had done through the suffering of Joseph, now revealed to be for the good of the nation and the world.
The chapter ends with the death of Jacob. He asks to be buried in the cave that is the only tract of land the father of our faith ever owned. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were to be put to rest together in the land of God’s rest. And Jacob was gathered to his people – his body would soon be with the bodies of his father and grandfather, but he would be with his father and his grandfather.
Chapter 50 begins with Joseph honoring the final wish of his father. We see that the favor of Pharaoh and all of Egypt was still with Joseph in a big way. Then, Joseph’s brothers come again and bow before him, this time for mercy, which Joseph, a type of Christ, freely gives. And in the conversation between Joseph and his brothers, we get what is a summary of the entire book – indeed, all of history – following Genesis 3:6: “God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (50:20). Amen!
The chapter, and the book, end with the death of Joseph. He reminds his family of the promise of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and he makes them swear to take his body with them to the Promised Land, which they will (Ex 13:19). And thus ends the book that records, in all likelihood, a span of time that is more than half of human history.
Creation. Fall. Promise.
God’s grace. Man’s sin. God’s grace.
Everything is perfect for man. Nothing is perfect for man. God promises to again make it perfect for those who, like Abraham, believe God.
And even in judgement for sin, He shows grace to Adam and Eve (Gen 3:15). And even in judgment (the Flood), He shows grace to Noah and his family. And even in judgment (Babel), He shows grace to Abraham and his offspring. And God tirelessly preserves a people for Himself through the most dire of circumstances – even though sin abounds. And He will do that, over and over again, in the Old Testament. And He will do that again, once for all, on the cross of Calvary. And He is doing it, and will until our faith becomes sight.
Moses wrote this book to show the nation of Israel history, and only secondarily the history of the world. Primarily, Moses wanted to show Israel the history of God sovereignly preserving His people in a sinful world. He wanted the nation – now wandering in the wilderness and waiting for God to fulfill His promise – to believe God. Abraham did. Isaac did. Jacob did. Joseph did. Was it easy? Absolutely not. Did God prove that their faith was warranted? Absolutely.
And we need to remember, brothers and sisters, that what we are reading is the history of God’s people, which means we are reading the history of our people. In the promise to Abraham, God promised you. In the preservation of His people, God preserved you. From the moment sin entered the world, God has worked – through all circumstances – to preserve all those who are justified by faith alone. To know that, we need to look no further than the sinful people that God has kept His promise to: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Judah, me, and you.
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:7–9 (ESV)