Introduction: Believers can learn a lot from the final words of the great leaders in the Bible. With Noah’s final recorded words, he blessed and gave prophetic words for his children (Gen. 9:24-27). During what Isaac mistakenly thought were his final days, he sought to bless his eldest son Esau. Yet, he was tricked into giving that blessing to Jacob (Gen. 27:34-41). At the end of his life, Jacob / Israel blessed the children of Joseph and adopted them as his own (Gen. 48:13-22). In the final moments of his life, he then blessed and gave prophetic words to each of his 12 sons (Gen. 49:1-27). At the end of Moses’ life, he also blessed and gave prophetic words to each of the 12 tribes (Dt. 33:1-29). Jesus’ final words on the cross included the blessing of forgiveness for those who persecuted Him (Lk. 23:34). After His resurrection, His final words included a blessing that He would never leave or forsake His people: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20). This study traces the prophetic blessings through Israel and then through Moses. While some tribes seized their prophetic blessings, others did not. Any believer in Christ is an heir to the blessings offered to Abraham’s descendants (Gal. 3:29). Thus, these lessons from the 12 tribes apply to you. From the different examples of the 12 tribes, God reveals seven lessons for believers to both seize His blessings and to bless others.
First, from Moses’ final exhortation, God instructs believers to listen to, believe in, and confess God’s Word as true. In the New Testament, the Bible reveals the Word that we confess to be Jesus Christ. When you confess Him as your Lord and savior, God promises to bless you in heaven. Second, Moses began by recounting the blessings of three of the first four sons of Leah. The first four sons committed terrible sins. Each was blessed with God’s mercy and grace. Yet, those with the greatest blessings amongst these four (Levi and Judah) repented of their sins and served God. Like the first four tribal fathers, you also have been blessed with God’s mercy and grace. Like Levi and Judah, you too can enjoy the blessings that come from repenting of your sins and serving God. Third, while recounting the first four sons of Leah, Moses omitted Simeon. Like Levi, God judged him. Yet, unlike Levi, he never repented of its sins. His tribe only fell further into sin. Eventually, it would be absorbed by the tribe of Judah and disappear as its own tribe. It became the first of the future lost tribes of Israel. You are called to be a light to God’s lost people, like the tribe of Simeon. Fourth, Moses then blessed the children of Rachel (out of order as Benjamin and Joseph). Each was blessed for its faithfulness. Yet, the tribes that succeeded them did not follow in their fathers’ examples. As a result, they lost the blessings granted to their founding fathers. You will also be blessed for your faithfulness. You as well are warned that if you turn away from God there are certain blessings (unrelated to your salvation) that may be temporarily be unavailable to you. Fifth, Moses next blessed, out of their correct order, the final two sons of Leah; Zebulun and Issachar. These two sons would always be listed and blessed together. From this, God reveals that He will bless you when you act in unity of the Spirit with the greater body of Christ. Sixth, Moses next blessed the four sons of Jacob / Israel’s concubines. Each was a child born of the flesh. Each would be considered an illegitimate child today. Each was blessed to be an adopted tribe of God. Yet, each failed to live up to the full potential of their blessings. You as well are blessed to be an adopted child of God. You as well are called upon to live up to the full potential of the blessings offered to you. Finally, from Moses’ final praise to God, he reveals that you should always give thanks for God’s mercy and grace in your life. Like the 12 tribes, you have received His mercy by not receiving the punishment you deserve. Like the 12 tribes, you have also received His grace by receiving blessings you do not deserve.
Listen to the Word of God’s prophet. Moses began his final address by referring to himself in third person as “the man of God,” “ish haElohim”: “1 Now this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the sons of Israel before his death.” (Dt. 33:1). Here, Moses was prophetically speaking God’s Word. The term “man of God” is a Biblical term for a “prophet of God” (e.g., Jdgs. 13:6, 8; 14:6; 1 Sam. 9:6; 1 Kgs. 12:12; Ps. 90:1). Believers must listen to the words of God’s prophets and confess them as true and applicable in their lives. The Bible instructs that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Tim. 3:16). Even though Christ fulfilled the penalties for breaking the Law, are you looking for opportunities to gain wisdom, understanding and God’s blessings by mediating upon the Law?
Listen to the Word of the Eternal God Who Gave You Both Covenants. In Exodus and in Deuteronomy, Jesus (the great “I AM” (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:14)) gave the Ten Commandments in different locations and to two different generations, both times witnessed by ten thousand angels: “2 He said, ‘The Lord came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones; at His right hand there was flashing lightning for them.” (Dt. 33:2). The term “holy ones” is this verse means that angels were present (Ps. 89:5, 7; Is. 13:3; 1 Thess. 3:13). The New Testament also confirms that Jesus gave the First Covenant in the presence of angels (Gal. 3:9; Heb. 2:2). The First Covenant was His wedding contract with His people. The angels were His witnesses. There is also separate meaning from the description in these verses of how He gave the Ten Commandments to two generations and in both holy territory (“Sinai”) and in gentile territory (“Mount Paran”). This shows that His Law applies to all generations and to both Jews and gentiles as a standard of morality, not salvation. The Apostle Paul later remarked that the gentiles who did not know the Torah still had His Law written on their hearts: “in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,” (Ro. 2:15). Jesus gave the Covenant of the Ten Commandments as an eternal standard. Although freed from a legal obligation to follow the Covenant, your decision to voluntarily live by His First Covenant is a sign of your love for Him (Jo. 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 Jo. 2:3). Are you showing your love for Jesus by following His Commandments out of love?
Believe in and Confess Jesus as Lord and Savior and you will marry Him in heaven. Moses’ introductory remarks include a prophetic future time when the “holy ones” in heaven would follow in God’s footsteps in a gathering when the “Jeshurun” (the “Upright One”) will become King of God’s people: “3 Indeed, He loves the people; all Your holy ones are in Your hand, and they followed in Your steps; everyone receives of Your words. 4 Moses charged us with a law, a possession for the assembly of Jacob. 5 And He was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people were gathered, the tribes of Israel together.’” (Dt. 33:2-5). This had a double meaning. It means that angels followed the Tabernacle through the wilderness. Separately, this foreshadows the coronation of the Messiah who “ascended” into heaven and became King over God’s people: “2 For the Lord Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth. 3 He subdues peoples under us and nations under our feet . . . 5 God has ascended with a shout, the Lord, with the sound of a trumpet. 6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. 7 For God is the King of all the earth; . . . 9 The princes of the people have assembled themselves . . . He is highly exalted.” (Ps. 47:2-9). Jesus is the Messiah who “ascended” into heaven (Mk. 16:19-20; Lk. 24:36-53; Acts 1:6-12). When believers next join Him, they will rejoice because He will become both King and the bridegroom of the Church: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:7). Every person who hears the Word and confessed Jesus as Lord and savior with his or her mouth can join in this wedding banquet and Holy Coronation (Ro. 10:9; Matt. 10:32; Lk. 12:8). Are you inviting others to join the Holy wedding?
Overview: Moses’ blessings began with three of the first four sons through Leah. In Genesis 29, these first four sons were listed separately from the other sons because they reflected God’s mercy and grace upon Jacob’s unloved wife Leah. The next seven sons, whose births are recorded in Genesis 30, reflected the jealous competition between Leah and Rachel. The first four sons committed terrible sins. Yet, each received God’s mercy and grace. Yet, like many believers, each tribe would treat His mercy and grace differently. Some used His mercy and grace as a license to sin further. The tribes which responded to His mercy and grace by repenting and drawing closer to Him received the greatest blessings.
Reuben. Both Israel and Moses began their blessings for the tribes with the first-born tribe of Reuben. Yet, Israel rebuked Reuben for sleeping with his concubine Bilhah: “3 ‘Reuben, you are my firstborn; my might and the beginning of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4 ‘Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.” (Gen. 49:3-4). Reuben was the son of Leah, Jacob’s unloved wife (Gen. 29:30-32). Normally, Reuben would be entitled to a double blessing as the firstborn (Dt. 21:15-17). Yet, out of a lust for power, he slept with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid servant (Gen. 35:22). Reuben, like Satan, was not content with his exalted position and wanted more power and pre-eminence (Is. 14:12; Ez. 28:12). Jesus warns that many who desire to be first or pre-eminent in power will become last in importance (Mk. 10:31). Because God considered Bilhah to be a wife of Jacob, Reuben’s actions violated His Law: ‘“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness.”’ (Lev. 18:8; Dt. 22:30; 1 Cor. 5:1). He was therefore cursed: ‘“Cursed is he who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s skirt.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.”’ (Dt. 27:20; Lev. 20:11). As part of his curse, he lost his firstborn status (1 Chr. 5:1-2). While in the wilderness, his tribe failed to learn from Israel’s rebuke. Leaders from the tribe of Rueben later joined in Korah’s rebellion against Moses, possibly to regain their pre-eminent role (Nu. 16:1). Reuben was said to be like “uncontrolled water” (Gen. 49:4). Like uncontrolled water, his tribe declined as it gave into various sins in the wilderness. While in the wilderness, the tribe decreased in size for its rebellion from 46,500 to 43,730 fighting men (Nu. 1:22; 26:7). Those who are like unstable water in their faith are warned that they should expect nothing from God (Jam. 1:6-8). Yet, out of mercy and grace, Moses blessed it so that it might live and grow in number: “6 May Reuben live and not die, nor his men be few.” (Dt. 33:6). Reuben’s tribe, however, settled in modern day Jordan. His tribe did not want what God offered in the Promised Land. The outside world looked better to it. Just as Israel warned, it never excelled by offering any leaders or judges for Israel. As Jesus warned, some who are first and misuse their privilege will become last in the Kingdom (Matt. 19:30). After the later exile of the Jews in Babylon, it had no land to return to. It became one of the lost tribes of Israel. The message in Moses’ blessing for believers is that God is a God of mercy. He does not want any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Like Reuben, you are a sinner. God will rebuke all sinners. Yet, He wants all sinners to live. Every sinner can accept the free gift of forgiveness that Christ offers (Jo. 3:16). Have you thanked Him for His mercy and grace?
Judah. Although out of the correct birth order, Moses next blessed Judah. Judah was Leah and Jacob’s fourth son (Gen. 29:35). After Reuben, Simeon, and Levi forfeited their firstborn status through their sins, the spiritual blessings of leadership fell to Judah. Yet, the firstborn land inheritance transferred to Joseph. “Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph,” (1 Chr. 5:2). Judah, however, led a troubled life even with his leadership role. Out of jealousy, he encouraged his brothers to sell Joseph to the Midianites. ‘“Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him.” (Gen. 37:27). He also failed to raise his children in the Lord. His sons Er and Onan both died for their disobedience to God (Gen. 38:7-10). He then broke the Law by withholding his third son Shelah from giving his daughter-in-law Tamar a son (Gen. 38:11, 26). He later negotiated with what he thought was a “temple prostitute,” who was really Tamar in disguise (Gen. 38:16-17). This suggested that he was involved in temple prostitution. Yet, Judah later confessed his sins regarding Tamar: “Judah recognized them, and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ And he did not have relations with her again.” (Gen. 38:26). He then appeared before a disguised Joseph and confessed his sins against God and offered to give his life as a substitute to free Benjamin from captivity (Gen. 44:16-34). Because he repented of his sins, God let Judah keep his pre-emanate role (Gen. 49:8-12). At his death bed, Israel praised Judah as the future leader of his brothers and the “lion’s whelp” against their future enemies: “8 ‘Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down to you. 9 ‘Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him up? 10 ‘The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 11 ‘He ties his foal to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; he washes his garments in wine, and his robes in the blood of grapes. 12 ‘His eyes are dull from wine, and his teeth white from milk.” (Gen. 40:8-12). Caleb, a hero of the faith, came from this tribe (Nu. 13:6). His faith and his example allowed this tribe to grow. While in the wilderness, Judah’s tribe grew to be the largest tribe, going from 74,600 to 76,500 fighting men (Nu. 1:27; 26:22). Here, Moses blessed this tribe as a mighty force that would bring justice to Israel’s enemies: “7 And this regarding Judah; so he said, ‘Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him to his people. With his hands he contended for them, and may You be a help against his adversaries.”’ (Dt. 33:7). The “ruler’s scepter” also belonged to Judah (Gen. 49:10; Nu. 24:17; Ps. 60:7; 108:8). David was a descendant of the tribe of Judah and inherited the role of the ruler’s scepter. Jesus later fulfilled all of Israel’s blessings to Judah. He became the King of Kings, He defeated God’s enemies, and He blessed His people. He was later called the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” (Rev. 5:5). The fact that He would choose Judah to be His tribe shows that He can redeem any sin and use any sinner who repents. He will also remember your sins no more (Is. 43:25; Heb. 8:12). Like Judah, have you confessed your sins and turned from them so that Christ can bless and use you? (1 Jo. 1:9).
Levi. After blessing Judah, Moses next blessed Levi. Levi and his older brother Simeon led a troubled life. Simeon and Levi were the third and fourth sons of Leah and Jacob (Gen. 29:33-34). After their sister Dinah was raped, Simeon and Levi plotted for revenge against the people of Shechem. Hamor, the father of the rapist, sought to make restitution for his son’s crime (Gen. 34:8-12). Simeon and Levi then tricked the people of Shechem to be circumcised to become part of God’s people. While the people recovered from their pain, the two killed the people in cold blood and looted their flocks and their women and children (Gen. 34:25-26). Thus, the alliance of Simeon and Levi was an unholy one. When God’s people formed an unholy alliance at Babel, He “scattered” them across the Earth (Gen. 11:8-11). At his death bed, Israel revealed that God would discipline the descendants of Simeon and Levi by “scattering” them throughout the Promised Land: “5 ‘Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. 6 ‘Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly; because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. 7 ‘Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” (Gen. 49:5-7). Yet, each tribe would respond to this discipline differently. In the case of Levi, the tribe turned God’s discipline into a good for all of greater Israel (Ro. 8:28). The Levites would receive no land (Nu. 26:62). Instead, they repented of their sins and were then set apart as priests for God’s use (Nu. 18:10-11; Lev. 6:16-18; 7:6; Dt. 18:1; 14:27-29). They were given as servants for God as a substitute for the firstborn from every family (Nu. 8:16-17; 3:41). If they had not done this, the firstborn of each family would have been given to the Lord (Ex. 13:1-16). While in the wilderness, the tribe grew for being loyal to God from 22,000 to 23,000 men (Nu. 4:39; 26:62). Their growth shows that believers can achieve spiritual growth when they are set apart for God. Like the Levities, you are counted as part of God’s “holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Here, Moses blessed Levi for doing God’s work by guiding people through the Spirit (symbolized by the stones Thummim and Urim) and for teaching God’s Law: “8 Of Levi he said, “Let Your Thummim and Your Urim belong to Your godly man, whom You proved at Massah, with whom You contended at the waters of Meribah; 9 Who said of his father and his mother, ‘I did not consider them’; and he did not acknowledge his brothers, nor did he regard his own sons, for they observed Your word, and kept Your covenant. 10 They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your law to Israel. They shall put incense before You, and whole burnt offerings on Your altar. 11 “O Lord, bless his substance, and accept the work of his hands; shatter the loins of those who rise up against him, and those who hate him, so that they will not rise again.” (Dt. 33:8-11). By being scattered throughout the Promised Land, they blessed the people everywhere by being a light to them (Is. 49:6). Like Simeon and Levi, all have been judged because of their sins. Yet, you are called upon to follow Levi’s example. This includes repenting of your sins and serving God by being a light to others (Matt. 5:14). If God has disciplined you out of love, have you repented and used His mercy and grace to serve Him out of gratitude?
The decline of Simeon. Unlike the tribe of Levi, the Simeon tribe never repented of its sins. Zimri was a leader from the tribe of Simeon. He openly brought a temple harlot home for all to see after God began to punish the nation of Israel for its temple prostitution (Nu. 25:6, 14). Of the 24,000 people who died in God’s punishment (Nu. 25:9), most were believed to be from this tribe. While in the wilderness, Simeon went from 59,300 to 22,200 fighting men (Nu. 1:23; 26:14). This was a decrease of 37,100 or 62.56%. In absolute terms, Simeon went from being the third largest tribe to the smallest. When Moses blessed the 12 tribes at the end of his life, he had nothing to say about Simeon! (Dt. 33). The Simeon tribe continued to diminish in strength after entering Israel, just as God foretold. After the Jews defeated the Canaanites, they were then interspersed with the tribe of Judah, just as Israel foretold (Gen. 49:6-7; Josh. 19:9). They were eventually absorbed by the tribe of Judah. They no longer knew their true Master, and they lost their God-given identity (Is. 1:3). Your job is to be a light to bring people back to the “upright one” (Dt. 33:27). Are you willing to be a light to the lost by fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission? (Matt. 28:16-20).
Overview. Moses next blessed, out of their correct birth order, the descendants of Rachel: Benjamin and Joseph. Each remained faithful while they were alive. Yet, the children of these faithful forefathers failed to live in the same faithfulness of Benjamin and Joseph. As a result, their tribes eventually lost their blessings.
Benjamin. Benjamin was the second and the last son of Rachel. He was also the last of the 12 sons (Gen. 35:24). The name Benjamin means “son of the right hand.” This symbolized the special status as a future ruler that Israel bestowed upon him. At his death bed, Israel blessed Benjamin as a future protector of Israel. “27 ‘Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, and in the evening he divides the spoil.” (Gen. 49:27). Through Benjamin’s example in the wilderness, God shows that believers can grow in their walk, even when they journey through the desert. While in the wilderness, the tribe of Benjamin grew from 35,400 to 45,600 fighting men (Nu. 1:37; 26:41). This was an increase of 10,200 or 28.81% in just 38 years. Here, Moses blessed Benjamin as the protector of the place of God’s future Temple, represented as the “place between the shoulders.”: “12 Of Benjamin he said, “May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him, who shields him all the day, and he dwells between His shoulders.” (Dt. 33:12). This tribe, however, stumbled after it invaded the Promised Land. God originally promised Jerusalem to the tribe of Benjamin (Josh. 18:16, 28). Yet, because they lacked faith and trust in God, Benjamin could not drive out this new Jebusite king. Through the Holy Spirit, the task for taking Jerusalem then fell to its southern neighbor Judah (Josh. 15:8). Judah was only temporarily successful in sacking and burning the city (Jdgs. 1:8). It remained a territory that was considered unsafe during that time of the judges (Jdgs. 19:10-12). The Jebusites remained in the area and continued to threaten the Jews. Araunah the Jebusite is just one example (2 Sam. 24:16). They threatened the Jews until David defeated them (2 Sam. 5:6-10). The tribe had one high point when God appointed Ehud from the tribe of Benjamin as Israel’s second deliverer or judge. He assassinated the Moabite King Eglon and then inspired the Jews to rise up in rebellion against the Moabites (Jdgs. 3:15-26). Yet, the tribe of Benjamin slid back into sin after Ehud’s heroism. Judges chapter 19 documents the brutal gang rape and death of a Levite’s concubine in the Benjamite town of Gibeah. Judges chapter 20 documents the sad civil war that broke out between 11 of the tribes and the tribe of Benjamin as a result of this gang rape. As a result of this civil war, 65,700 people died. The Benjamin tribe was almost exterminated. It was left with only 600 survivors (Jdgs. 20:36-48). Yet, because God is a God of mercy and grace, He gave the tribe another opportunity to redeem itself. He appointed Saul from this tribe as Israel’s first king. Yet, Saul failed to live by the Spirit. The leadership mantel then fell back to the tribe of Judah through David. Again, the lesson for believers is not to become complacent with God’s blessings. Your salvation cannot be lost through sin. Yet, unrepentant sin may prompt God to remove other blessings or protections to correct your walk.
Joseph. Moses next blessed the descendants of Joseph. Joseph was the first of two sons of Rachel. He was also Israel’s eleventh son (Gen. 30:22-25). Both Israel and Moses gave Joseph the longest blessings. Joseph had been bitterly attacked by 10 of his brothers. Yet, Israel blessed him with greatness beyond both his brothers and his ancestors because he remained steadfast in his faith while a slave and prisoner in Egypt (Gen. 49:22-26). Joseph also received a double blessing through his first two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 41:51-52). God gave Joseph’s descendants both his own land and the land that would have belonged to Levi. “Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph),” (1 Chr. 5:1-2). At his death bed, Israel blessed Joseph for his faithfulness: “22 ‘Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; its branches run over a wall. 23 ‘The archers bitterly attacked him, and shot at him and harassed him; 24 but his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25 from the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 ‘The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.”’ (Gen. 49:22-26). Here, Moses repeated and expanded upon Israel’s blessings. Moses blessed this tribe with “the choice things of heaven,” which included the fullness of the blessings of the Spirit: “13 Of Joseph he said, ‘Blessed of the Lord be his land, with the choice things of heaven, with the dew, and from the deep lying beneath, 14 And with the choice yield of the sun, and with the choice produce of the months. 15 And with the best things of the ancient mountains, and with the choice things of the everlasting hills, 16 and with the choice things of the earth and its fullness, and the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush. Let it come to the head of Joseph, and to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers. 17 As the firstborn of his ox, majesty is his, and his horns are the horns of the wild ox; with them he will push the peoples, all at once, to the ends of the earth. And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and those are the thousands of Manasseh.”’ (Dt. 33:13-17). The fullness of God’s blessings include the nine fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). You can bless others by sharing your blessings with your family in Christ, just as Joseph did in Egypt. Like Joseph, are you living to bless others?
A believer cannot rest upon the blessings of his or her faith. The story of Joseph’s children is also important because it establishes that believers must continually act in faith and obedience. If not, the blessings of a parent or grandparent can be temporarily lost. Moses blessed “the ten thousands of Ephraim, and those are the thousands of Manasseh,” which suggested that the first-born son was entitled to a greater blessing (Dt. 33:17). Joshua, a hero of the faith and the successor to Moses, was a member of the Ephraim tribe (Nu. 13:8; 14:6-9). Yet, in the third census, God reversed the birth order of Manasseh and Ephraim. While in the wilderness, the tribe of Ephraim dropped from 40,500 to only 32,500 fighting men (Nu. 1:33; 26:37). This was a decrease of 8,000 or 19.75%. After Solomon’s death when Kingdom of Israel separated into two, Ephraim was the dominant power in the north. Yet, the tribe of Ephraim was later condemned for its pride (Jdgs. 8:1; 12:1). It was then condemned for apostasy (Hosea 4:17; 5:3). Its pride led to its decline (Prov. 16:18). The Assyrians later deported this tribe. Unlike Ephraim, Manasseh initially used its blessings to serve God. While in the wilderness, the Manasseh tribe grew the most of any tribe. It grew from 32,200 to 52,700 fighting men (Nu. 1:35; 26:34). This was a staggering increase of 20,500 or 63.66%. There are three lessons here. First, believers can never become prideful of God’s blessings. Second, if a believer stays faithful to God, He will bless the believer, even in the wilderness. Third, God is not limited by human institutions of importance (like birth order) for whom He will exalt and whom He will humble. Have God’s blessings caused you to be prideful? Are you responding to His grace with righteous conduct?
Overview: Out of their correct birth order, both Israel and Moses jointly blessed Zebulun and Issachar. They both received the blessings that come from unity in the Spirit.
Zebulun and Issachar. Zebulun and Issachar were both sons of Leah (Gen. 30:18, 20). Issachar and Zebulun were the ninth and tenth sons in terms of birth order. Issachar and Zebulun appeared out of order in the later census listing as the fifth and sixth tribes (Nu. 1:28-31; 26:23-27). Both sons sinned against God by wanting to kill Joseph out of jealousy (Gen. 37:27-28). Yet, out of mercy and grace, Israel promised a blessing for both sons: “13 ‘Zebulun will dwell at the seashore; and he shall be a haven for ships, and his flank shall be toward Sidon. 14 Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the sheepfolds. 15 ‘When he saw that a resting place was good and that the land was pleasant, he bowed his shoulder to bear burdens, and became a slave at forced labor.”’ (Gen. 49:13-15). Both tribes also managed to grow from God’s blessings while in the wilderness. The tribe of Zebulun grew from 57,400 to 60,500 fighting men (Nu. 1:31; 26:27). This was an increase of 3,100 or 5.40%. The tribe of Issachar grew from 54,400 to 64,300 fighting men (Nu. 1:29; 26:25). This was an increase of 9,900 or 18.19%. Here, Moses also blessed both tribes with future prosperity. Yet, he blessed them together, which meant that they needed to work together to seize God’s blessings: “18 Of Zebulun he said, “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going forth, and, Issachar, in your tents. 19 They will call peoples to the mountain; there they will offer righteous sacrifices; for they will draw out the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand.” (Dt. 33:18-19). These tribes, however, only partially fulfilled the blessings available to them. Zebulun defeated the Canaanites in their land. Yet, instead of driving them out as Moses commanded, the tribe of Zebulun used the Canaanites as forced laborers (Jdgs. 1:30). Zebulun’s decision to turn the Canaanites in their land into slave labor would again create problems in the future. They would cause the tribe of Zebulun to become corrupted in their worship and fall into sin. Zebulun was promised the fertile lands near the seashore near Sidon in Southern Lebanon (Gen. 49:13; Josh. 19:10-16). Yet, they never fulfilled that blessing. Although Israel also promised Issachar prosperous lands (believed to be near Mount Tabor in Lebanon), he warned that Issachar would be subdued by the sins of its Canaanite enemies (Gen. 49:14-15). These two tribes later produced two righteous but little known judges or deliverers. Tola, from the tribe of Issachar, was God’s sixth deliverer or judge (Jdgs. 10:1-2). Elon, from the tribe of Zebulun, was God’s tenth deliverer or judge (Jdgs. 12:11-12). Both quietly served the greater good in Israel without drawing attention to themselves. The tribe of Zebulun again showed that it would work with others for the greater good when it at one point gave the greatest number of soldiers to David’s army (1 Chr. 12:33). The lesson for believers is that they should also work together in the fullness of the Holy Spirit to seize His blessings. “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;” (1 Pet. 3:8). “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:2-3, 13; Col. 3:14). Are you working in the unity of the Spirit with others in the body to serve God?
Overview: Israel and Moses both blessed jointly the four sons of Israel’s combines Bilhah and Zilpah; Dan, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali. Today, these children would be considered illegitimate children. Yet, out of mercy and grace, each was blessed to be included within God’s future 12 tribes of Israel. These four tribes, however, failed to fully seize the spiritual blessings that God offered. Like many, they took His mercy and grace for granted.
Dan. Dan was the son of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid (Gen. 30:6). He was also the fifth of Jacob’s sons. His future tribe would later be listed out of order again in the census as the tenth tribe (Nu. 1:38-39; 26:42-43). Like Gad, Asher, and Naphtali, Dan was a child of the flesh. He later wanted to kill Joseph out of jealousy. Out of mercy and grace, Israel blessed Dan as a future tribe of mighty warriors who would judge the wicked amongst God’s people. “16 ‘Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 ‘Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned snake in the path, that bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider falls backward. 18 ‘For Your salvation I wait, O Lord.” (Gen. 49:16-17). Even though it had origins in the flesh, it used God’s grace to live righteously and grow in the wilderness. It grew from 62,700 to 64,000 fighting men (Nu. 1:39; 26:43). This was an increase of 1,700 or 2.71%. Like Israel, Moses also blessed Dan as a tribe of mighty soldiers in God’s army: “22 Of Dan he said, “Dan is a lion’s whelp, that leaps forth from Bashan.” (Dt. 33:22). Yet, Dan failed to fully realize the blessings of Israel and Moses. After invading the Promised Land, the tribe of Dan not only lacked the faith to drive out the Amorites, its faith was so weak that the Amorites drove the tribe of Dan from its land (Jdgs. 1:34). They had to turn to the tribe of Ephraim to drive out the Amorites (Jdgs. 1:35-6). Samson, from the tribe of Dan, later emerged as God’s final judge (Jdgs. 13:2). Samson, however, was not trying to start a rebellion against the Canaanites. Instead, he was trying to marry into the Philistine nation. The tribe of Dan later failed to settle in its assigned territory in southern Israel. Its leaders stole idols and set up a counterfeit religion in the far north (Jdgs. 18:30-31). After Northern Israel broke away from Judah in the south, King Jerobaom turned the isolated city of Dan into a center of idolatry for the entire northern Israel with a pagan golden calf and a counterfeit priesthood (1 Kgs. 12:28-31). Dan’s counterfeit religion and its idolatry in turn brought God’s curse upon it (Dt. 27:15). The tribe is omitted from the 144,000 who are saved during the Great Tribulation (Rev. 7:5-8). Yet, Ezekiel reveals that the tribe will survive during the Millennial Reign (Ezek. 48:1-2). Thus, even when mankind is unfaithful, God remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). Thus, for any prophesy that has not yet come true, the prophesies will come true during the Millennial Reign. Dan’s tribe was meant to be a nation of mighty warriors for God. Today, the battles believers fight are not against flesh and blood. They instead fight spiritual battles (Eph. 6:12). God is looking for soldiers for His army. Will you bless others by being a prayer warrior for God?
Gad. Gad was the son of Zilpah, Leah’s maid. He was also Jacob’s seventh son (Gen 30:11). His future tribe was listed out of order as the third tribe in the census (Nu. 1:24-25; 26:15-18). Gad was a child of the flesh, not of God’s promise. Leah had Jacob sleep with her maid Zilpah out of jealousy to have more children than her sister Rachel. Gad, like his other brothers, was also guilty of selling Joseph into slavery out of jealousy. Out of mercy and grace, Israel also prophesized that Gad would be a great tribe of warriors: “19 ‘As for Gad, raiders shall raid him, but he will raid at their heels.” (Gen. 49:19). Yet, the tribe of Gad kept bad company and it stumbled in its walk. Gad guarded behind Reuben on the southern flank of the Tabernacle and became influenced by its sins (Nu. 2:14-15). While in the wilderness, the fighting men of Gad declined from 45,650 to 40,500 (Nu. 1:25; 26:18). This was a decrease of 5,150 or 11.28%. By their decline, they likely participated with Reuben in Korah’s rebellion (Nu. 16:41-50), the complaints about the lack of water at Meribah (Nu. 20:2-5), the complaints against God’s manna (Nu. 21:5), and the Jews’ acts of temple prostitution (Nu. 25:1-9). Yet, God is gracious to those who repent, even after backsliding many times. Like Israel, Moses also prophesized that Gad would be a great tribe of warriors. God also promised to bless those who “enlarge” Gad’s domain: “20 Of Gad he said, ‘Blessed is the one who enlarges Gad; he lies down as a lion, and tears the arm, also the crown of the head. 21 Then he provided the first part for himself, for there the ruler’s portion was reserved; and he came with the leaders of the people; he executed the justice of the Lord, and His ordinances with Israel.”’ (Dt. 33:20-21). Yet, like Dan, Gad also did not seize God’s blessings. After receiving God’s many blessings in Jordan, the tribes of Reuben and Gad noticed that they had “an exceedingly large number of livestock.” (Nu. 32:1). They also noticed that the conquered land of Amorite Kings Sihon and Og east of the river Jordan “was indeed a suitable place for livestock.” (Nu. 32:1, 4). After realizing the comfort of God’s blessings, the tribes of Gad and Reuben pleaded with Moses: “do not take us across the Jordan.” (Nu. 32:5). They only sought after their own interests. Moses then chastised both tribes. In exchange for their agreement to help with the conquest of the Promised Land, Moses granted Gad and Reuben the lands of the Amorite Kings Sihon and Og east of the river Jordan (Nu. 32:16-27). Yet, centuries later after the tribes returned to Israel from Babylon, there was no land for the people of Gad to return to. They became a lost tribe. The lesson is that believers should never squander God’s spiritual gifts. God has blessed every believer with gifts of the Spirit. Like Gad, are you using your gifts for only yourself?
Asher. Asher was also a son of Zilphah, Leah’s maid (Gen. 30:12). His was the eighth tribe in terms of birth order. His future tribe was also listed out of order as the tenth tribe in the census count (Nu. 1:40-4; 26:44-47). Asher was a child of the flesh. Like Rachel, Leah had him out of jealously and a lack of faith. Israel, however, blessed Asher with rich farmland and food: “20 ‘As for Asher, his food shall be rich, and he will yield royal dainties.”’ (Gen. 49:20). The Asher tribe then used its mercy and grace and God’s gifts to seek after His righteousness. While in the wilderness, it had the third highest growth in the wilderness. It grew from 41,500 to 53,400 fighting men (Nu. 1:41; 26:47). This was an increase of 11,900 or 28.67%. Moses responded to their righteousness by granting even greater blessings for Asher. Many who are last will be first (Matt. 19:30). It would walk in the Spirit and be favored by its brothers: “24 Of Asher he said, “More blessed than sons is Asher; may he be favored by his brothers, and may he dip his foot in oil. 25 Your locks will be iron and bronze, and according to your days, so will your leisurely walk be.” (Dt. 33:24-25). The oil referenced here alluded to the oil trees where it would reside near the Mediterranean Coast. Oil was also a symbol of the Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13). The metals also symbolized the strength and protection that God would give it. The name Asher further meant “blessing,” “happiness,” and / or “contentment.” Guided by the Holy Spirit, it would be a blessing to its brother tribes. It would also be protected and content with God’s blessings. Yet, after the 12 tribes invaded the Promised Land, the tribe of Asher failed to defeat the Canaanites (Jdgs. 1:31-32). Their failure of faith would also threaten their existence. Asher was meant to be content with God’s gifts (1 Tim. 6:6). Yet, it also needed to walk in obedience to the Spirit. When you walk in obedience to the Spirit, you can be a blessing to others with God’s gifts. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ep. 2:1). Are you walking in obedience of the Spirit to be a blessing to others? Or, are you squandering the gifts that God has given you?
Naphtali. Naphtali was the son of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid. He was the sixth son of Jacob (Gen. 30:8). His future tribe was listed out of order in the census as the twelfth tribe (Nu. 26:48-50; 1:42-43). Naphtali was a child of the flesh; Rachel had him out of jealously and a lack of faith. Naphtali also wanted to kill Joseph out of jealousy. Yet, out of mercy and grace, Israel blessed Naphtali: “21 ‘Naphtali is a doe let loose, he gives beautiful words.”’ (Gen. 49:21). Naphtali, however, abused God’s mercy and grace. His tribe also declined from its sins while in the wilderness. It declined from 53,400 to 45,400 fighting men (Nu. 1:43; 26:50). This was a decrease of 8,000 or 14.98%. This tribe shows that some who are chastened in life will never use that humility to grow in the Lord. Their bitterness will instead merely fuel more acts of rebellion and their further decline. Yet, out of mercy and grace, Moses blessed the tribe with fertile farm lands in the Promised Land: “23 Of Naphtali he said, “O Naphtali, satisfied with favor, and full of the blessing of the Lord, take possession of the sea and the south.” (Dt. 33:23). The tribe of Naphtali defeated the Canaanites in their land. They took the farm lands along the western edge of Galilee, which has some of the best farm lands in Israel. Yet, it lacked the obedience to kill the Canaanites as commanded (Jdgs. 1:33). As a result of this disobedience and the disobedience of the other northern tribes, they would eventually be swept away by their enemies (2 Kgs. 17:7-23). If God has blessed you with abundance, are you being faithful to use those resources for His Kingdom? Or, like Naphtali, are you using His blessings to enrich yourself?
Always praise God as the true source of your blessings. Moses concludes with words of praise for God. He called God the “Upright One,” the one with “everlasting arms,” the protector of Israel, the provider for Israel, and the source of Israel’s blessings: “26 There is none like the God of Jeshurun (the “Upright One”), who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty. 27 The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and He drove out the enemy from before you, and said, ‘Destroy!’ 28 So Israel dwells in security, the fountain of Jacob secluded, in a land of grain and new wine; His heavens also drop down dew. 29 Blessed are you, O Israel; who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, who is the shield of your help and the sword of your majesty! So your enemies will cringe before you, and you will tread upon their high places.” (Dt. 33:26-29). The Jews first left Israel as a clan of 70 people (Gen. 46:27). They spent approximately 400 years in captivity (Gen. 15:13- “400”; Ex. 12:40-“430”). After they escaped from Egypt, they had 603,550 men of fighting age (Nu. 1:46). God was faithful to bless and prosper His people. Are you singing God’s praise for all that He has done for you?
Jesus will also faithfully bless you when you serve Him in faith. The Bible promises: “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” (Heb. 6:10). “The LORD will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness; . . .” (1 Sam. 26:23). “The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.” (Ps. 18:20). “And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth!”’ (Ps. 58:11). Although conduct is not a test for salvation, Jesus makes clear that works done with the right motives can be a test for certain kinds of spiritual blessings. For example, He promised various conditional blessings in the beatitudes. People who stay true to their faith in Christ in the face of persecution will be “blessed” and receive “rewards” in heaven (Matt. 5:11). As another example, He promises “rewards” for those who store up their treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20). He also promises different types of crowns in heaven, some unrelated to your salvation (e.g., 1 Pet. 5:4). Are you giving Jesus reasons to reward you in heaven?
Give thanks for your unearned right to share in the patriarchs’ blessings. While some blessings are based upon faith-driven works, many more are based upon faith alone. For example, God promised Abraham that, through him, “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3; 17:4; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Josh. 24:3; Is. 51:2). Christ later fulfilled the promise to extend this blessing to believers throughout the world: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:29). “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.’” (Acts 3:25). “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.’” (Gal. 3:8). “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,” (Ro. 4:16). Have you given thanks for your undeserved right to share in these blessings?
Let no one boast about the future. Some of the prophesies have not yet happened. Zebulon, for example, did not dwell in its appointed place at the seashore in Southern Lebanon (Josh. 19:10-16). Likewise, Issachar failed to subdue its enemies (Gen 49:14-15). The tribes of Joseph and Benjamin also lost their blessings because of pride and unrighteousness. Thus, no one should boast about tomorrow (Prov. 27:1). Thus, you should never take your blessings for granted. Out of gratitude, you should always humbly and faithfully serve God.