Changing Your Future
Genesis 49:1-12, 22-26
September 15-16, 2018
As we're getting to the near the end of Genesis, we're also coming near to the end of Jacob's life. It's interesting, when Jacob and all of the family came down to Egypt, Jacob had an opportunity to meet with Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked him, "How old are you?" I don't know why he asked him that, maybe he looked old, I don't know. He said, "How old are you?" Jacob answered, he said, "I have lived on this earth 147 years, but the years of my life had been difficult and unpleasant."
Now, to me, that's a sad thing, to think back over your life and then to say, "The years of my life have been unpleasant." I believe that we should look back on our life and see that God was moving, His hand was upon us, we were so blessed. May we be able to look back and say, "God has blessed my life." Amen? Now, as was common at that time, as he's drawing near to the end of his life, he actually asked his sons to gather around to him, he's in his bed, and he gathers his sons to him and he's going to speak a word to each of them. This is very common, it's kind of like a last will. He's giving like a testament to each one, he's giving his heart to each.
Now, this is very important because the words of a father are powerful, very significant and children need the blessing of their father. Those words are so powerful, it will shape the character of the children. It will strengthen them for life, at least that's what God wants. They're very powerful words. September 11, 1985 Pete Rose, got his 4,190 second career hit, thus breaking the long-held record of career hits by Ty Cobb.
Later, a reporter came up to him and asked him what was going through his head as he was standing on that base after that hit, and the crowd was just roaring and applauding for a full seven minutes. He said, "What was going through your mind?" He said, "You know what was going through my mind? I was standing there on that base and I was thinking, my father would look down from heaven and he would be so pleased if he could see what I did." To me, that's an amazing thing. Of all the things that could be going through his mind, what's the one thing that was going through his mind? The approval of the father. That just shows you the significance and the power of the words of the father.
Jacob, he's going to gather his sons together, but his words are interesting because he's going to speak words of prophecy. Now, this is one of the first places in the Scripture where we see a prophetic word spoken. He said, "Draw near, I will tell you what will befall you in the days to come," but the prophecies that he's going to speak, have everything to do with their character and how they lived their lives and the meaning of their names. In other words, there's a direct connection between your past and your future. It's important to see however, that we can make choices that will impact our future. With God's help, with God's blessing, we can change the future.
Let's look at these verses because they're very, very powerful, starting in Chapter 49:1. Jacob summoned his sons and he said, "Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come. Gather yourselves together in here, oh sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel, your father." Now, he's going to start with Reuben, Reuben is the oldest and he's going to go down, name by name, from the oldest to the youngest.
He starts with Reuben and he says, "Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power." At this point, Reuben's probably thinking, "Well, this is great start to words about me." Then he adds, "But you are as uncontrolled as water and you will not have preeminence." Now, this is really bad for him because their firstborn in that time and culture had so many privileges, and authority was given, and extra inheritance and he took it away. "No, you will not have preeminence." Then he explains why, "Because you went up to your father's bed, you defiled it." Then he says to the others, "He went up to my couch."
See, what had happened was, his wife that he loved, Rachel, died and her handmaiden Bilhah, Reuben went and lain with her. It was an attempt to usurp that authority of Jacob and to position himself in power, so he calls him out, "No, you will not have preeminence." Then he moves on and that's it.
Now he moves on to Simeon and Levi, and he says, "Now, Simeon and Levi brothers, but their swords are implements of violence. Let not my soul enter into their council and let not my glory be united with their assembly, because in their anger, they slew men and, in their self-will, they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger for it is fierce, cursed be their wrath for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, I will scatter them in Israel." He's referring to a sad part of their history. Well, I'll talk about that in a minute.
Then he changes to Judah and when he goes to Judah, everything changes. He's going to make Judah preeminent. He's going to make him to be in the place of the firstborn, with all of the authority and everything with it. He says, "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, for Judah is a lion's whelp. From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down like a lion, and like a lion who dares to rouse him up, the scepter shall not depart from Judah."
This is prophetic, because he's speaking now of Jesus Christ who comes from the line of Judah and is in fact called the lion from the tribe of Judah. This is Jesus, our Messiah. He says, "Nor will the ruler's staff depart from between your feet, until Shiloh comes." This is very prophetic, we'll look at this particularly. "And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine and his donkey's colt to the choice vine. He washes his garments in wine." This is deep in his prophecy. "He washes his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are dull from wine, his teeth are white from milk." Very, very interesting.
Now, would you mind jumping to verse 22. We'll look at the other verses on Wednesday as we go through our Wednesday verse by verse study. Verse 22 now moves to Joseph. "Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring, its branches run over a wall." Now, this is a very interesting picture, because any fruit that hung over a wall, was open to the public, anyone could have it. Anything that hung over the wall was free. In other words, you will be a blessing to many people.
Then he adds this in verse 23, "The archers, they bitterly attacked him, and shot at him, and harassed him," Yes, his brothers, "but his bow remained firm. He did not shoot back. His arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, that's the power behind him. From there is the shepherd, the stone of Israel, from the God of your father who helps you and by the Almighty who blesses you with the blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound at 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.
That is a powerful thing. Joseph stood out. I love Joseph, he's a tremendous example to us of steadfastness of character, in steadfastness of faith in the midst of trouble. Year upon year did he maintain his faith and strength of character in the midst of it. He held on to his integrity. He is a great example. When you look at these and again, we'll look at more of those on Wednesday, but when you look at these, there are many lessons for our lives that we should apply.
I. How We Live Today Matters
Starting with this, how we live today matters. It matters how we live and it's interesting when in verse two, Jacob says, "Gather together and hear, oh sons of Jacob and listen to Israel your father." He uses both names that he had been given. Jacob was his name at birth, heel snatcher, one who trips other people up to get his way. He lived much of his life as that, but he was given the name Israel by an encounter with God, one governed by God, and that is interesting. Those two names describe how he lived his life. How we live matters.
A. We’re writing our legacy now
He begins with Reuben, oldest, firstborn, as was common. There's a great lesson to learn from Reuben's life and it's this, that we are writing our legacy now, how we live matters. When you look back on your life, when you look back on your life, don't you want to look back and see that your life mattered? It meant something, it made a difference in this life, you impacted people, you were a blessing to the people around you. Wouldn't you like to have a legacy?
Reuben is the firstborn. He says, "The beginning of Jacob's strength preeminent in dignity, preeminent in power, but you were as uncontrolled as water." Everything he did was for himself. Then, he mentions the great failure, "He defiled his father's bed by sleeping with his father's concubine." It was an attempt to usurp his father's authority, to place himself above everyone by his own hand. Jacob takes it from him. Apparently, Reuben tried to overlook it, tried to minimize it. Never sought repentance, never sought change. That's it, that's all. He passed over Reuben, moves on to the other brothers.
You know what? As a pastor, I've had the privilege over the years of doing a lot of graveside services. I've been in a lot of cemeteries and I've seen a lot of tombstones. There's an old saying, you probably heard it, that the most important part of what's written on a tombstone is what's behind that little dash between the year of your birth and the year of your death, for how you live your life matters.
When I think about this, I think about my mother. Whenever she would visit her relatives back in Arkansas, she always made a point of going to the cemetery and visiting her father's grave, her mother was buried there. She would bring flowers, pay respects, and then afterward, she liked to walk around the cemetery and read what was written on other people's tombstones.
She started noticing a pattern. She noticed that there was a phrase used over, and over, and over, 'Gone but not forgotten.' They're walking along. Finally, she stops. My sister was with her. She said to my sister, "When I'm gone, and you write on my tombstone, you can write anything but 'Gone but not forgotten.' We started teasing her that that's exactly what we were going to write, anything but 'Gone but not forgotten.'
Then, she was walking along, and she saw one that said, 'Mother, wife, grandmother, et cetera.' She said to my sister, "What do you think of that one?" Bless my sister because she said, "I don't like it." She said, "Well, why not?" "Because it doesn't say friend."
When my mother passed, we wrote on her tombstone, 'Our mother, our friend,' because she had a legacy. Many of you know the story of my past, my life. My father was an alcoholic, abusive, cantankerous, difficult, angry, cussed. My mother endured faithfully, steadfastly endured. She kept always pointing us to the Lord. Example of self-sacrifice and faithfulness.
When my mother passed, we were going through her things. She had a chest of drawers. I remember opening the top drawer and to my surprise, there was notebook, upon notebook, upon notebook. These notebooks where she would write by hand these notes that she would take as she's listening to radio preachers. She loved to just sit by the radio in the evening, listening to radio preachers and writing notes as she listened. What a legacy. I had no idea that she was taking all of these notes on all of these preachers. What a faithful, faithful woman, which reminds me of something funny.
Number of years ago, I came up to the office and I saw the secretary was getting ready to mail a cassette. Someone had ordered a cassette. Obviously, this was a while ago. I said, "Somebody ordered one of my messages?" Because, see, I'm surprised. "Somebody ordered one of my messages?" She's, "Yes." I said, "From what sermon was it?" "That's several years ago. Someone ordered one of my messages from several years ago. Really? Who was that?" She said, "It was your mother." "Okay, that's my mom."
What a legacy of just steadfastness. Reuben was self-serving, self-focused. Everything done for himself. The heart, that's the question. What happens with your life had comes out of your heart. If someone described my life, when I was young, they would have had to have said, "Construction in process, please excuse the mess," because I was a mess, but see, God can move, God can take hold of, God can change, God can transform. It's the result of God, it's the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It changes us from being self-focused and self-first to blessing other people's lives, making a difference. That's godly maturity.
Pastor Matthew was mentioning the children's ministries. Those who serve in children's ministries are doing so because they're making a difference in most children's lives. Those children are going to remember those teachers for years. They're making a difference in other people's lives. When we think about Reuben's legacy, by the way, God gave grace to Reuben's legacy. It says in the Book of Revelation, "When it comes to the witnesses for Jesus Christ, during the latter days, that one group of those comes from the tribe of Reuben." Also mentions that, "In the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, one of the gates is going to be named after Reuben." God gives grace to his legacy.
B. Master your anger
Now, we look at Simeon and Levi. Here's the great lesson, here is a great lesson from Simeon and Levi, "Master your anger." He passes over them in far as blessing, but he gives them his heart because, "In their anger, they slew men," he said, " and in their self-will, they lamed oxen." Jacob remembers what they did. Never forgot what they did. It's a sad episode in the family history.
They were living near to Shechem, a little town, and their sister, Dinah. She wanted to go into the town to make friends with some of the daughters there. She went in town. While she was in town, a young man also named Shechem, saw her, took her, forced himself upon her. Simeon and Levi were so furious at this. They strapped weapons on their sides. They went into the town during the night and they killed every single man in that town.
The next day, Jacob said, "What did you do? How could you do this thing?" They took vengeance in all the men. He says, "The cruelty of their anger, the self-will." You know what's very interesting? In the history of Israel, the tribe of Simeon almost becomes insignificant. It's almost like they just disappear amongst the tribes of Israel. They're still there, but they've become insignificant. Interestingly, however, Levi seems to rise out of this legacy, seems to rise out of it.
What happened was this, many years later, which we'll look at in the Book of Exodus, they're coming out of Egypt. The nation of Israel is now in that desert, the 40-year excursion through the desert. At one point, comes a crisis, a rebellion, a very serious rebellion against Moses. Moses stood up in front of the people and he said, "Whoever is on the Lord's side, whoever's on the Lord's side, come to me now." I love this part of the story. He says, "The sons of Levi gathered themselves to Moses." I just love that scene right there. They knew. "Take your stand. It's the time to rise, it's the time to stand, it's the time to make it known where you stand." The sons of Levi gathered themselves to Moses.
You know what's interesting? God then gave to them the privilege of the priesthood ministry. The Levites became the priest under God. Now, they were scattered. He said, "They would be scattered among Israel." They were but they were doing so, they were scattered in the priesthood ministry. Simeon and Levi are examples. When you look at these men, they're examples of why you must master your anger. Everyone gets hot at times. Everyone feels the heat of anger but blessed is the one who can keep his anger under control. Proverbs 1:19, "A man of great anger will bear the penalty. If you rescue him, you will only have to do it again."
Here's a great verse, Proverbs 29:11. Listen to this verse, "A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back." That is a great verse. Write that verse on your heart. It's like you want a principle of the kingdom that just speaks God's character, right there. "A fool loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back."
I mentioned many of you know, of course, that we adopted our boys from Russia. One of them came from a home for emotionally troubled children, and he had anger, a lot of anger. Made no bones about it, very clear. I would work with him, I would talk with him, I'd kind of coach him like, "What made you angry? Why did you say that? What were you thinking? How did it come in your heart?" We're just working bit by bit.
One of the things I would say to him is a phrase that I would repeat over, and over, and over to try to get this so clear. "He who gets angry, always loses. He who gets angry, always loses. He who gets angry, always loses." I tell you what, today, he is a gracious, kind, loving son. Can people change? People can change.
In fact, James 1:19-20, "This you know my beloved brethren, let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God, it cannot be so." Which reminds me of a funny story. It's the story of a pastor who was building a shed next to his house, and the neighbor boy came and sat down to watch. Youngster didn't say anything, so the pastor kept on working. Finally, the pastor said, "Trying to pick up some pointers on how to build things?" "No," the youngster said, "I'm waiting to hear what a preacher says, when he hits his thumb with a hammer." Yes, we'd all like to know that.
C. Do something about your future
Now moving on to Judah. Judah is so interesting, but here's a great lesson, do something about your future. You can do something about your future. Jacob comes to Judah. Here the tone of the prophecy changes. It's to Judah that he gives the scepter of authority, makes him rise above his brothers. He will be preeminent, he has the rights of the firstborn. Jesus the Messiah would be known as a Lion from the tribe of Judah. The amazing part of Judah's story is how much Judah changed. Judah had a serious moral failure, which we looked at a couple of Wednesdays ago, very serious moral failure.
Then Judah was the one who suggested that Joseph be sold as a slave. Although, it was better than killing him as Simeon and Levi wanted to do, but it was also Judah who offered himself in exchange for Benjamin. These are the verses we looked at last week, but this is a key part of the story. The famine was great, and the famine was even in Canaan, and so the brothers all came down to buy grain in Egypt, and there was Joseph in all of his Egyptian regalia. They didn't recognize Joseph, but Joseph recognized them. He worked it in such a way that they had to go back and get Benjamin. Benjamin was Joseph's younger brother, full brother.
They went back to Canaan and they brought Benjamin. Then at one point, Joseph again, he is disguised in the sense that he's wearing his Egyptian clothing of stature. They don't recognize him. He takes Benjamin and he says, "The boy stays with me. He will be a servant to me all the rest of his life. The rest of you go. Leave me, go. The boys stays, you can go." It was Judah who came and then said, "Sir, please permit me to speak. I will give my life. I would be your servant the rest of my life. Please, let the boy go. If this boy does not return to his father, it will bring our father's gray head to the grave. Please, I would be your servant the rest of my life. Let the boy go."
Joseph is so touched, that he goes to a private room and he just weeps. This is the moment that convinces Joseph, these are different brothers. It's then that he comes back and reveals himself, "I am Joseph. I am your brother." It's a beautiful, beautiful, powerful scene, but it was because Judah offered to exchange his life. Judah's life is an illustration of a profound truth. You cannot change your past, but you can most assuredly do something about your future. Psalm 37:37, "Mark the blameless man, behold the upright, for the man at peace will have a posterity. He will have an inheritance, he'll have a legacy."
You know, it's easier to trace the troubles of Jacob's family right to Jacob, but here's the question, do the aspects of dysfunction in the family, must they go from generation to generation? Do we have to live out the dysfunction that we inherited from our fathers? Must we? I suggest to you that, that dysfunction can end, and it can end right here in Jesus' name.
This is important to recognize. It's true that the iniquity of a father can be passed to the third or the fourth generation. That's true but in Jesus, all of those qualities of iniquity that you inherited from your father can come to an end. They can come to an end right here. In Jesus, they can end because Jesus takes the curse upon himself. Notice Galatians 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. Having become a curse, he became a curse for us. For it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree."
See, I came to a point of revelation in my life. Many of you know my story. My father who was alcoholic, angry, abusive, cantankerous, old cuss. I came to the revelation, I don't have to be like my father. Just because my father was an alcoholic, doesn't mean that I have to be an alcoholic. This thing can end here. I don't have to abuse the people around me because my father abused the people around him. This thing can end here. I can bless the people around me. I can edify the people around me. This thing can end. I can be different. I can honor the Lord in my life. Let the dysfunction of your past end here in Jesus' name. Whatever you brought with you, whatever you have from your past, let it end in Jesus.
It's a very interesting thing to see this connection between Judah and Benjamin. "I'll give my life for that boy." Judah and Benjamin, become bonded. In fact, it's interesting because many years later, it will be the tribes of Judah and Benjamin together that make up the Southern Kingdom of Israel and only those two tribes will stand faithfully, while the Northern 10 tribes wandered away from God. What a legacy.
II. Godly Character is a Great Blessing
Then we turn to Joseph in verse 22. Here's the great lesson from Joseph's life. Godly character is a great blessing, desire it, pursue it. Godly character is a great blessing. Joseph stands head and shoulders above his brothers in his godliness, in his faithfulness of character. Through all the troubles and the difficulties of life, he's a hero to me. Steadfastness, character. He held on to his integrity and it says of him, "Joseph is a fruitful bough. He's a fruitful bough by a spring." See, he adds the spring there, because the water is the key to everything. Water is the key.
Of course, there's a spiritual application. Let God be the spring of living water. Let God be your spring of living water. See, the thing is, God made us all to be satisfied in Him. There is a thirst, there's a longing, there's a deep emptiness. People are looking to fill this. What is the meaning of my life? What is this empty thing in my life? Frankly, many people try to fill it in all the wrong places, in all the wrong ways, but there's a thirst, there's a hunger, there's a longing.
For many years in the Middle East and it's still true today, they use a method of farming, which is called dry farming. It's a process by where the seed is planted, usually in winter, and the results of the harvest are completely dependent on how much rain falls. Well, there's not a lot of rain that falls in the Middle East, so the crops are often sparse and thin, but in Israel, it's very interesting. When you go there, you'll see what I mean. It's like the desert blooms. It's verdant crops, it's absolutely amazing. There's a prophecy of Israel that they will make the desert bloom. You can go there and see it. It's quite amazing.
When we were there, Pastor Matthew and I were there in this last February and March, we had the opportunity to go way to the northern borders of Israel, where it borders Lebanon. In the south of Lebanon, you might know that Hezbollah has that control of that area. There we go to Israel, we're standing on this border and the contrast was absolutely amazing. We're standing there and that we could see Hezbollah. "See those black Mercedes? That's Hezbollah, they're looking at you."
Then you see the contrast because you're looking at Israel, grows and grows of kiwis, and grapes, and oranges, vegetables. Then you look on that side in Hezbollah and they're growing poppies for drugs. It's brown and dry, but what a contrast. It's the will but it's the water.
Israel is like one of the most amazing innovators of how to use water today. Water is the key to bearing fruit, water is the key to reaping a harvest. I remember when we were growing up and we had our family garden, we'd take those tin cans and punch holes in the bottom and bury them next to the tomato plants. We had an abundance of tomatoes. I don't care how hot the summer was. The key is the water, but it's also key that he says, "It's the hand of the Mighty One." Verse 24, "It's the hand of the Mighty One." That's the key.
A. Let God be your spring of living water
See, when God is that spring of living water, you'll see a great blessing in your life. That fruitfulness, it blesses people. It will bless you, it will bless your heart, your soul, but it blesses the people around you, so that they can enjoy the fruits of that blessing and the fruit hangs over the walls for everyone. It's the hand of God. Just like Psalm 23, David writes in verses 5 and 6, "You have anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows. See, my cup is full God, you fill my cup and it overflows as an abundance to those around me. Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all that days of my life." Such is the confidence of David. "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Water, but it's not just water, it's the capacity to receive the water. You need spiritual roots to drink in the water. It reminds me, a friend of ours gave us a couple of palm trees. My wife loves palm trees and so she was getting rid of these. They were nice big ones, and vibrant, and flourishing, and, "Would you like these palm trees?" "We'd love them. We'll come dig them up." "No, no, no. The landscaper will be here, he'll dig them up."
One of them apparently was quite close to a fence and so the root ball was like, [chuckle] "Oh, no." This all happened right at the beginning of the summer. You know how hot of a summer we had. Like, "Oh no, I love these palm trees," but we planted it, and we put the mulch around it, and then it started to die. Today, I'm calling it my miracle tree because if it survives, it's a miracle, but I am committed to that tree. I am going to make that tree live.
All summer long, I've been watering that tree like three, four times a week, and I'm going to win. Because you know why? Because to me it's an illustration. It's an illustration of the fact that God doesn't quit. He keeps pouring that water, He keeps pouring that water, and pouring that water. Amen. But you got to have roots to absorb it. You got to have roots to absorb it, you got to have a spiritual desire, you got to have a spiritual thirst.
Jesus said in John 4:14, "Whoever drinks of the water that I give him, he'll never thirst. The water that I give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." He's speaking of living water, He's speaking of the Holy Spirit, He's speaking of the life of God in you. It makes a difference, it makes all the difference.
B. Let God hold you back
That's why you see in verses 23 and 24 this, "Let God hold you back." Here's what I mean, Jacob tells the sons gathered around him, "The archers bitterly attacked Joseph. They shot at him and harassed him." The brothers did that, but his bow remained firm. God bless him. He didn't shoot back. It was the hands of the Mighty One that held him back. It was his relationship to God. That's why he didn't shoot back. He makes all the difference in your life. It was because of the Holy Spirit, it was because of the presence of God in his life that he did not take revenge on his brothers.
Many would have. Many would have. "Hey, they did that to you, they deserve it." No. Not with the hand of God, you don't. It was the hand of God, it was relationship to God by which he did not compromise with Potiphar's wife when she tried to seduce him. "How can I do this thing and sin against my God? How can I do this thing and sin against my God?"
Exodus 14:14, one of the great verses, "The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent." It's faith, isn't it? It's faith. It's trust that God moves. That's the key. You draw near to God and He'll make every bit of difference in your life.
Psalm 73:28, "As for me, the nearness of God is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.”