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Butterfly Effect

Date: Mar. 24, 2019

Author: Bob Henkins

Genesis 49:1-28

Key Verse: Genesis 49:10

The scepter 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.

Who likes the movie “Back to the Future?” Do you think it connects to today’s passage? Interestingly it does. The premise of the movie is about how our actions of the past shape our future. For example, because Marty McFly’s dad doesn’t stand up to Biff, he becomes a wimp in the future. But Marty goes back in time and helps his dad stand up to Biff, his future is changed and he becomes confident and successful. In fact, even his children are changed and become successful. I’ve never thought about “Back to the Future” having much of a spiritual message, but it kind of does. But doubters may say, “Ahhh that’s just a movie, it doesn’t happen in real life.” And your right, we can’t travel back in time and change our past, so that means we better get it right the first time because our actions do affect our future. Think about how World War 1 ended and how badly Germany was treated. That treatment and humiliation planted the seeds of resentment and hatred that contributed to World War 2. It’s almost like a Butterfly Effect. A Butterfly Effect is the idea that one small effect could have large consequences. This is what today’s passage is about. Jacob gathers all his family together one last time and shows his children how the actions of their youth effected their future.

We are almost at the end of our study of Genesis. Jacob is sick and he knows that he doesn’t have much more time left. (48:21) He wants to be with his whole family one last time before he dies. Now the title of this section in the NIV is “Jacob Blesses His Sons,” but if you ask me, some of these do not sound very much like blessings. Verse 1 tells us that he calls for his sons and says, “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.” (v1) One of the first things we may ask is how does Jacob know what’s going to happen to his kids in the future? Maybe God had given Jacob some spiritual insight and wisdom, or maybe Jacob knew his kids and could just somewhat tell the future based upon what they’ve done in the past and what they were doing presently. Often what we’ve done in our past shapes our future.

Jacob addresses his sons in the order of their mothers (Leah, concubines, Rachel) and he tells them, who they are, what they’ve done, and what’s going to happen to them. And since Ruben is the oldest, he is up first. Take a look at verses 2-4.“Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel. “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.” Since Ruben was Jacob’s first born, he was a symbol of Jacob’s strength, the one that should get the birthright and carry on his father’s name. And at first Ruben did just that. He excelled in power and honor, but right after Jacob’s wife Rachael died, Ruben did something that he would regret, he slept with his father’s concubine. Therefore, Jacob identifies his inner character as “turbulent as the waters” because he was a mix of good and bad. Looking at 4 different translations we get a picture of Rueben’s character, NIV= turbulent as the waters, MSG=like a bucket of water spilled, NLT=you are as unruly as a flood, KJV=unstable as water. Jacob did nothing about the Rueben’s incident at the time, but he would deal with it now. As the first born, there were two things that should have been given to Reuben. The first was the birthright and the second was the position of leadership. The birthright was a double portion of the inheritance. Under the cultural rules of the day, Jacob would have normally divided his inheritance from twelve into thirteen portions, giving two portions to the first born. The birthright privilege was given to Joseph (which went to Joseph’s sons Ephriam and Manessah, thus giving Joseph two portions received through his sons) Not only would he not get the birthright, he would no longer excel in life. It’s clear that Reuben’s turbulent future was due to the sins of his past. He had great potential as a leader, but he lost it and was no longer an influence to his brothers because of his sins. The leadership was handed over to Judah, in large part because Judah rose to the occasion, providing the leadership to his brothers that should have been provided by Reuben.

Next up was Simeon and Levi. We might wonder why they were the only ones taken as a pair, but we can see the reason in verses 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.” Simeon and Levi are two of a kind, partners of hate, ready to fight at the drop of a hat. Their anger brought violence to the community. Because of their hate and violence, Jacob didn’t want to associate with them. (We see this happening in our time as well. Hate is pointed out on social media and not tolerated.) Because of their anger, they would be cursed and eventually scattered. (the MSG says I’ll throw them out with the trash; I’ll shred and scatter them like confetti throughout Israel.) In the end, Simeon would eventually be absorbed by Judah and Levi became priests, who would not inherit any land and were scattered over all the tribes to serve the people.

Judah was up next. Take a look at verses 8-9. ““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, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness — who dares to rouse him?” Judah was like a lion, he had power to be a leader. We don’t read anything from Jacob about what Judah did but we know a lot about Judah from Genesis. Judah interceded for Joseph’s life when his brothers were about to slay him. Judah also took a leadership role as Israel dealt with the Egyptians. But Judah was not so perfect, he took on two wives and treated his daughter-in-law terribly. Jacob told Judah that he would lead his brothers and he did. But then Jacob says something that is a bit of a mystery in v10-12. “The scepter 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.” What Jacob is talking about is no longer directly about Judah but is a prophecy about Judah’s descendants. Hebrews 7:14a tells us, “For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah,...” And if we look in Matthew, at the genealogy of Jesus, we see that the Jesus comes from the line of Judah. So, what Jacob is telling Judah is that he was chosen to be the bearer of the Messiah and I don’t even thinks he understands it. Later scripture will confirm this, Numbers 24:17 tells us “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth.” This is connected to verse 10, which is a messianic prophecy. It was initially fulfilled in David but ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Revelation 5:5 tells us “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.”” And Micah 5:2 says ““But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”” For centuries, Israel’s leaders did NOT come from Judah: Moses came from the tribe of Levi, Joshua came from the tribe of Ephraim, Gideon came from the tribe of Manasseh, Samson came from the tribe of Dan, Samuel came from the tribe of Ephraim, Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin (started out good, but ended up becoming godless). It wasn’t until the time of King David did a leader come from the tribe of Judah. And then there was Solomon and all the kings after them came from Judah. Think of the success of some of these leaders, David’s victories, over Goliath, he unites the kingdom. And Solomon’s wisdom was world renown. God’s chosen king, not much to look at outwardly, humble and repentant. These kings however were not the true kings, just stewards until the true king Jesus would come. They were like the “Stewards of Gondor, from the Lord of the Rings. Denethor was not the true king but only a steward so he didn’t sit on the real throne but the little chair next to it. And finally, and most importantly, Jesus, the Messiah, came from the tribe of Judah. God promised to send the Messiah way back in Genesis 3 and finally several thousands of years later that promise is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.

Next up was Zebulun and Issachar. Verses 13-15 say, “Zebulun will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships; his border will extend toward Sidon.14 “Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down among the sheep pens. 15 When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor.” What’s funny is that Zebulun is land locked with no access to the sea, and yet they would live BY the seashore, not ON the shore. Issachar, which has Issac in its root would be passive, and would eventually end up becoming slaves.

After them comes Dan. Look at verses 16-17. “Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan will be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward.” The tribe of Dan was a mix they would provide justice, but yet attack like a snake. It’s interesting that Samson came from Dan. It shows they were strong, but yet couldn’t clear people out of the land, thus they ended up with very little land. At this Jacob seems a bit discouraged, because he cries out, “I look for your deliverance, Lord.” (v18) before he continues to Gad in verse 19. “Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.” Gad was located east of the Jordan river and would be raided by other tribes like the Moabites. (2 Ki 3:4)

Asher was next verse 20 says, “Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.” I like the sound of Asher. Taste food. Fertile farmlands near the Mediterranean would ensure the prosperity of Asher’s descendants. Then came Naphtali in verse 21. “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.” The tribe of Naphtali were somewhat free spirited because they didn’t have anyone on their northern border. They were also the beautiful tribe of supermodels into taking selfies.

And finally, Jacob comes to Joseph his favorite. And man does he pour out the blessings upon Joseph. Take a look at verses 22-26. ““Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall. 23 With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. 24 But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, 25 because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb. 26 Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.” Jacob reveals the secret of Joseph’s blessing. It wasn’t because Joseph was his favorite, but it was because of God who was with Joseph. We see the word “bless” repeated so many times here.

And lastly, we see Benjamin in verse 27, “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.” Israel’s first king came from Benjamin. It was the one they asked for. Outwardly he was what they wanted, tall and handsome, but inwardly he was terrible, like a ravenous wolf.

At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses gives a parallel blessing on the tribes. This slide shows the number of people that came out of Egypt. Sizes of the tribes of Israel when they left Egypt, Ruben 46,500, Simeon – 59,300, Gad – 45,650, Judah – 74,600, Issachar – 54,400, Zebulun – 57,400, Ephraim – 40,500, Manasseh – 32,200, Benjamin – 35,400, Dan – 62,700, Asher – 41,500, Naphtali – 53,400, for a total of 603,550. (Num 1)  (show the Star of David)

We see God who is faithful to his people and keeps his promises. His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He gave them the land and they took possession of it. So, what do you think we should take away from this passage? It’s evident through this passage, that what the brothers had done in the past shaped their future. Because of our past sins and baggage, our future can be doomed, “for the wages of sin is death..” (Rom 6:23a) We can set up patterns in our life that can become very hard to break. So often what we’ve done in the past shapes our future. But if that is it, then we’re all doomed because no one is perfect “for all have sinned and fall short” (Rom 3:23) So we can’t forget the second have of Romans 6:23, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” Thank God that he provides us an escape plan where Christ can help us to overcome the sinful patterns of our past. Judah is a good example of this. He may have been one of the worst of the brothers because he was the one that suggested they sell their younger brother into slavery. (Who would do a thing like that) And he got his daughter in law pregnant. Those are some pretty major mess ups. But by the grace of God, and only the grace of God, Judah had a change of heart. He repented of his actions and changed his ways. God had mercy upon Judah and didn’t condemn him. Therefore, we can thank God for his mercy, but just as Jesus had mercy upon the woman who was caught in the act of adultery, he said, “then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:11) Jesus implores everyone to leave their life of sin.

I think Jacob is an interesting person. He’s never been this steadfast, spiritual leader like Joseph was. Throughout his life he’s had this spiritual struggle, where his spirit has gone up and down, good moments and questionable ones. In a way, he really has represented Israel’s history as they went up and down too. There seems to be a final change in him after he is reunited with Joseph and his spirit is restored. His strength returns, he has clarity of purpose and identity. If Jacob would have followed the ways of the world, he would have forgot about God, quit speaking Hebrew, taught his sons to be Egyptian, never looked back to Canaan and called Egypt his home. But Jacob never forgot about God. Jacob believed God's promises and acted in complete faith, trusting God to do what seemed to be impossible. And that's exactly what God did! He did the impossible. Through this we can trust in God and have confidence in His word, even though others may reject it.

Jacob knew his sons, many of his “blessings” seem more like warnings as if, like a good parent, Jacob was telling his sons, “I’ve seen how you react and make decisions, be careful in how you live.” Likewise, God, like a good Father, warns us as well. Galatians 6:7 tells us, “Do not be deceived. God can not be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Yes, God can and does intervene in our lives all the time, but we can’t just sit back and say, “I can do what I want because God will take care of everything.” That’s not the right attitude to have. We should still be concerned with how are we sowing our lives. God continues in Galatians 6:8-10, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Remember this; be careful what you sow for when you sow a thought, you’ll reap a word; sow a word, you’ll reap a deed; sow a deed, you’ll reap a habit; sow a habit, you’ll reap a character; sow a character, and you’ll reap a destiny. When verse 28 says “giving each the blessing appropriate to him.” it eerily echoes 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

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Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
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    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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