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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Genesis 49:13: A haven

Zebulun will live by the seashore
and become a haven for ships;
his border will extend toward Sidon.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance”(Psalm 16:6).

At the end of this piece I will add a couple of comments from others, but here’s what struck me as I reflected on today’s verse. I thought how peaceful and welcoming this sounds (and maybe a little unspectacular) compared to the turbulence of the language found elsewhere in this chapter. I also recognise it’s important to be where God puts you.

I heard a preacher say that the best place to be is wherever the Lord sets you down.

I have spent around three-quarters of my ministry in a small country town in West Yorkshire. I didn’t move here because I thought it would be a nice place to live. It undoubtedly is. I cannot say otherwise. But I’m as clear as I can be on this – I came to Boston Spa because of God’s call; it was not down to personal choice. However, I’ve often thought that the words of Psalm 16:6 are relevant to the place of my calling.

Wherever I may live, I want my home and my life to be “a haven”. This word “haven” is a generous word; a giving word, a welcoming and hospitable word. It’s a word that speaks of shelter and security. If you’re providing haven, you are giving to others; you’re looking out towards the needs of others. Wherever God calls us to live, it is there He also calls us to serve. Life’s seas are often stormy; its waves are frequently raging. Even when the waters are calm, there are many toiling mariners out there who need places to come for refreshment. May God bless us that we may be a blessing to many.

“Zebulun would live by the seashore. The territory in Canaan allotted to the descendants of Zebulun was slightly inland; it is not known when or for how long they lived “by the seashore.” The blessing implies that they too would be prosperous; it is written that they would feast on the abundance of the seas (Deuteronomy 33:19).’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.201.

‘While not directly on the Mediterranean coast, the tribe of Zebulun was assigned land close enough to the sea to make the transport of goods profitable for the people. Zebulun was located on an important route that carried merchandise from the coast to the Sea of Galilee and to Damascus…For the most part, the Jews weren’t a seafaring people, but the tribe of Zebulun did business with the Phoenicians east of them and provided imported goods to the people west of them.’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘Old Testament Commentary’, p.137.

PRAYER: Lord, I thank you for the strong conviction that I am where I am right now because you want me here. I pray that the place where I live will be the place where I give. Make my life, my home, my ministry a ‘haven’ for others.

Genesis 49:8-12: The marvellous prophetic telescope

“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.
9 You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The sceptre will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

11 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.
12 His eyes will be darker than wine,
his teeth whiter than milk.

This is one of many remarkable Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. For people like ourselves, reading these words centuries later, it is almost impossible not to see Jesus in them. The royal line was to come from Judah, and ultimately one of those Kings would be the Messiah.

‘Judah was a conquering tribe and a ruling tribe, and it stayed faithful to the Davidic line when the nation divided.’ Warren W, Wiersbe: ‘Old Testament Commentary’, p.137

‘Judah’s name signifies praise. God was praised for him, chap. 29:35 , praised by him, and praised in him; therefore his brethren shall praise him. Judah should be a strong and courageous tribe. Judah is compared, not to a lion raging and ranging, but to a lion enjoying the satisfaction of his power and success, without creating vexation to others; this is to be truly great. Judah should be the royal tribe, the tribe from which Messiah the Prince should come. Shiloh, that promised Seed in whom the earth should be blessed, “that peaceable and prosperous One,” or “Saviour,” he shall come of Judah. Thus dying Jacob at a great distance saw Christ’s day, and it was his comfort and support on his death-bed…
Much which is here said concerning Judah, is to be applied to our Lord Jesus. In him there is plenty of all which is nourishing and refreshing to the soul, and which maintains and cheers the Divine life in it. He is the true Vine; wine is the appointed symbol of his blood, which is drink indeed, as shed for sinners, and applied in faith; and all the blessings of his gospel are wine and milk, without money and without price, to which every thirsty soul is welcome. Isa. 55:1 .’ Matthew Henry.

‘The description in verses 11-12 certainly goes beyond Judah’s time and speaks of the blessings of the kingdom age when the Messiah shall reign over Israel. Nobody in Old Testament times would use a choice vine for a hitching post for his donkey, because such an act would certainly ruin the vine and probably cause the loss of the animal. Nor would the man’s wife waste their precious wine by washing clothes in it! This is the language of hyperbole. It describes a land so wealthy and a people so prosperous that they can do these outrageous things and not have to worry about the consequences. During the Kingdom Age, when the Messiah reigns, people will enjoy health and beauty (v.12), because the devastating enemies of human life will have been removed.’ W.W.Wiersbe.

Let us marvel again at the wonder of Biblical prophecy – and praise our Lord Jesus.

Genesis 49:5-7: Keep your distance

Simeon and Levi are brothers—
their swords are weapons of violence.
6 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.
7 Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
and disperse them in Israel.

‘Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”’ (1 Corinthians 15:33).

It is generally true to say we need to get close to people to influence them, to be witnesses by life and by lip. But there are exceptions. Sometimes wisdom dictates: ‘Keep your distance.’ Certain people are carriers of an especially deadly moral virus and we need to put ‘space’ between us and them. For example, someone who has been to rehab, and got off drugs, may well find it necessary to not hang out with her old buddies, who are taking or dealing in drugs. Can a recovering alcoholic risk spending large amounts of time with his former drinking friends? There are situations where you have to put distance between yourself and the conduct and influence of certain other people. It’s a judgment call, but I believe the Holy Spirit will enable us to make wise decisions as we keep in step with Him.

It must have been heart-breaking for Jacob to have to distance himself from two of his sons. In this case he wanted nothing to do with their actions in slaughtering the Shechemites (Gen.34:25-31).

‘Since it was dangerous to be “in their assembly,” God arranged that the two tribes would not be able to assemble or do anything together. The tribe of Simeon was eventually absorbed into the tribe of Judah (Joshua 19:1,9), and the tribe of Levi was given fourty-eight towns to live in, scattered throughout the land (chap.21). Indeed, the brothers were “divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel.” Warren W. Wiersbe: Old Testament Commentary, p.137. Wiersbe also points out that their mistreatment of animals (6b) shows how cruel the brothers were. These dumb-creatures were not in any way responsible for what had happened to their sister. ‘God has a special concern for animals, and we’d better be careful how we treat them. (See Lev.22:26-28; Deut.22:6-7; Ps.36:6; 104:10-30; Jonah 4:11.)’

Genesis 49:3,4: Fall from excellence

Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my might, the first sign of my strength,
excelling in honour, excelling in power.
4 Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel,
for you went up onto your father’s bed,
onto my couch and defiled it.

Listening to some of the Olympic results today, I heard that Johnny Brownlee came in fifth in the triathlon, and so was not in the medals. It was another Brit, a suitably modest young chap, Alex Yee, who took silver, and won the glory, and the media’s attention. At least, for the time-being. Getting to the Olympics in the first place, let alone coming in fifth in your field, is quite an achievement. But I note that the one we were previously excited about is quietly replaced by the next ‘hero’ who is put in the spotlight (for five minutes!). This is how life works for the most part, and you need to get used to the idea that there will be someone coming up behind you who will eventually eclipse you. If you happen to be ‘flavour of the month’ there will be another ‘month’ and another ‘flavour’ coming along. Well this a rather long-winded way of saying that in many areas of life there comes a time when you can’t do what you once did, or you can’t do it as well. This especially applies to sport, but not exclusively so. It works out in other arenas too. The years take their toll. Today’s gold medalist will eventually be yesterday’s gold medalist (and possibly a pundit for BBC sport!! It’s not all bad!) There can be an inevitable loss of excellence, or less of ability to produce that level of excellence, which has nothing to do with moral failure. As one of my friends says, it’s just ‘anno domini’.

But how sad it is when the fall from excellence is moral; when, for example, a Christian leader who has served impeccably up to a particular point, then blows everything in a moment, or moments, of madness. They ship-wreck their ministries, and often, tragically, others go down with the ship.

Reuben’s fall was moral. In prophesying over his sons, Jacob begins with the sons of Leah (3-15). Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son, lost his status as firstborn because of his sin with Jacob’s concubine, by which he violated his father’s honour (Gen.35:22). Therefore he would “no longer excel” among his brothers. Rather Joseph would (26).

‘An old sin he’d committed finally caught up with Reuben (35:22; Num.32:23), and he lost his privileges as the firstborn son. Jacob gave that blessing to Joseph and his two sons (1 Chron.5:1-2)…It’s difficult to find in Scripture any member of the tribe of Reuben who distinguished himself as a leader. The tribe declined in numbers between the Exodus and the entrance into the Promised Land (Num.1:20-21; 2:11; 26:7)…’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘The Wiersbe Bible Commentary’, pp.136,137.

Sins may be forgiven if we are repentant, but, as we saw yesterday, actions have consequences. We reap what we sow

PRAYER: Lord, life is a minefield, and you know where all the hidden mines are. Please help me to walk carefully through this world, looking to you at all times to be my Shepherd-Guide.

Genesis 49:1,2: Consequences

49 Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.

“Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob;
    listen to your father Israel.

I often think about the quote: ‘We make our decisions, then our decisions turn around and make us.’ Sins can be forgiven, but unwanted outcomes can’t always be unpicked. David was forgiven for his sin, but the noble Uriah could not be brought back from the grave; David’s baby died, and people knew he was an adulterer. His reputation was tarnished; his example damaged, and there were serious consequences, especially in his own family.

‘How tragic to have to live with the consequences of forgiven sin.’

If only we would listen to our ‘fathers’, to those older and wiser we might be saved many a heartache. Their wisdom could inform our ways. But the young do not always want to listen to the grey heads, and often have to learn at the feet of bitter experience.

These ‘blessings’ of Jacob are among the earliest prophetic writings in the Bible. Jacob, under the direct inspiration of God, tells his sons about future things.

This ‘is a prophecy of what the sons could expect in the future because of their individual characters and the decisions they had made.’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.45.

PRAYER: Lord, help us to be willing to learn all we can, while we can, from those whose wisdom might be able to keep us from many a pitfall. Thank you for putting these wonderful friends all around us. They are gifts.

Genesis 48: 21,22: ‘Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow’

21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. 22 And to you I give one more ridge of land than to your brothers, the ridge I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.”

Bereavement comes to all at some point in life. There is no avoiding it. Some losses are so profound, they tear our hearts out, and leave us forever marked and changed. The loss of a parent is almost always excruciatingly painful – whatever their age. As C.S. Lewis observed, the grief we feel is the price we pay for all the love we shared earlier.

Joseph was about to lose his dad. But two things remained true for him (and they remain the case for all believers as they walk this deep, dark valley of tears):

• God was with him. Whoever else we may lose, we can’t lose God. Where can we ever flee from His presence?
• God still had a purpose for his life.

Life goes on. Nothing is surer. For a period we may feel that the world has come to an end. But we eventually realise that life goes on, and life is for living. We step into what may remain of our lives with ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.’ God will never fail or forsake his own.

Genesis 48: 12 – 20: The mystery of God’s will

12 Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. 14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.
15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
on the earth.”
17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”
19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” 20 He blessed them that day and said,
“In your] name will Israel pronounce this blessing:
‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’”
So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.

Jacob’s own experience was more or less repeated in the lives of his two grandsons (Genesis 25:23). What is interesting is that Jacob, now old and barely able to see, essentially performed a prophetic action in which “he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh” (20). From God’s perspective he got the blessing spot on. Historically speaking this was fulfilled. The tribe of Ephraim became the major tribe in the northern kingdom, after the division following Solomon’s reign.

‘Since Jacob was almost blind, Joseph positioned his sons so that the elder, Manasseh, would be closest to Jacob’s right hand…But Jacob would not allow it; guided by God, he had deliberately given Ephraim the status of “eldest son.” In doing so, he repeated the pattern we have seen earlier in the book of Genesis in which the younger brother gets the blessing that belonged “by right” to his elder brother.
Why did God establish this pattern? He did so to demonstrate that His choices are not based on natural descent, or on anyone’s “rights” or “merits”; rather His choices are based on grace alone. God sovereignty chooses who He wants to inherit His blessings. Therefore, should any one of us seem for a period to be especially blessed or favoured by God, we must always remember that it has come about not by our own doing, but rather by God’s grace (1 Corinthians 15:10).’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.199

Earlier in Genesis we have seen Seth chosen over Cain, Shem over Japheth, Isaac over Ishmael, and Jacob over Esau. So the pattern continues. God moves in mysterious ways. He knows what He is doing even when we don’t. He’s in charge and we are not.

PRAYER: Lord God, help us to bow in wonder before your sovereignty, and trust your ways.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counsellor
?

“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.
” (Romans 11: 33-36)

Genesis 48:9-11: The God of super-abundance

9 “They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father.
Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”
10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.
11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”

A couple of things stood out to me in today’s short reading, and I could get no further:

• Joseph’s sense of stewardship (9). He recognised his sons as ‘gifts’ and not as ‘achievements’. God had been gracious, generous and good to him. (Note: “…the sons God has given me here” Underlining mine). He did not want to go to Egypt when he was sold there; and there were things that happened to him in the land of the pharaoh’s he would not have chosen. But it was right “here” in Egypt that God had very special blessings for him. His “sons” were among them (see 41:51,52). God can bring good out of the worst bad, and the Cross of Jesus shows this most clearly;
• Jacob’s sense of wonder (11). Don’t we so often find ourselves alongside him, open-mouthed?
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
The Lord repeatedly goes above and beyond anything we anticipated.

(In the conversation of both father and son notice this wonderful God-consciousness/God-centredness. They inhabit God’s world; they live in it, and suffer in it, as men deeply aware of the Lord. They live in Him. He is the ‘atmosphere’ they breathe.)

PRAYER: Thank you Lord, because not only do we see your goodness in the Biblical characters; in some ways, we step into their shoes. Without ceasing to be ourselves, we find we are similarly the recipients of your abundance. We thank you with all our hearts.

Genesis 48:8-10: A grandfather’s blessing

“8 When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”
9 “They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father.
Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”
10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.”

When I was very young, Grandad Thompson, my paternal grandfather, lived with us, in Lancaster, for half of the year. He then went to live with his daughter and son-in-law (my aunt and uncle) for the other half. This arrangement came about because he lost his wife when he and she were relatively young. I remember walking with him to the cemetery on a Sunday afternoon, when he would place flowers on her grave. (I filled the water container for him, but sometimes I came closer to washing his shoes!). Grandad T was a kind, gentle man; he was a professing Christian and regular church-goer. After we moved to Wigan, around 1963, he would regularly visit at week-ends, or come on holiday with us. I felt blessed by his presence, to be in his company, to ride next to him in his car – even when there was no conversation. There was just ‘something’ about him.

Grandad Barbour was my maternal grandfather. Unlike Grandad Thompson, who lived only into his mid-60’s, Grandad B had a life-innings of 91. After he lost his wife, my Nana, in his 60’s, I used to spend regular school holidays with him in his humble, little old person’s bungalow in Lancaster. I could be with him for weeks at a time, and I never got bored. As with Grandad Thompson, I learned so much from him, from being around him. He taught his grandson by who he was, and through many fascinating stories from his long life. Unlike my other grandad, he was not a professing Christian, but I felt from him a reverence for God, and a respect for Christianity (and for my path in life).

A week or two ago, we had a small family gathering at Lancaster cemetery for the internment of my dad and step-mum’s ashes. It was my dad’s wish for his remains to be in the family grave, along with his mum and dad and other family members. Jilly and I arrived early for the ceremony, and driving around the area where I often walked with my other grandad, I was struck by the realisation that very little appeared to have changed in 50 years.

Anyway, the thought of grandfather Jacob blessing Joseph’s grandsons led to this admittedly personal train of thought. As far as I can remember, these two dear men never placed their hands on my head and formally blessed me. But in so many ways – ways they may never have realised – they blessed with their love, kindness, presence, interest, example and gift of time. I feel blessed to have known them as special ‘friends’. They were.

Grandparents have an important ministry. You can impart something to your grandchildren no school or college or money could ever give. Long after you have gone, they may well bless your memory.

Even if you don’t have children or grandchildren, the role of spiritual parent, or spiritual grand-parent, is still open. There are many young people who need the blessing of older people, and there’s more than one way to bless.

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