Genesis 49 clearly states the blessings of the firstborn. Jacob was holding Esau’s heel with his hand before he was even born. His spirit was not strong at first, but God’s work in him was so precious, and God appeared to him. Jacob had an experience in Peniel where he physically laid hold of God. The book of Hebrews says when Jacob was dying, he “bowed in worship over the head of his staff” (Heb. 11:21). It’s incredible how much his heart understood and realized towards the end. Genesis 48 shows that Jacob understood more than Joseph did in some respects. It’s because God revealed the future to Jacob when Jacob blessed Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob blessed his own sons according to the will of God. He divided some of the blessings of the firstborn to his other sons.
Genesis 49:1-4 reads, “Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father. Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Unstable 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!'”
We see from this passage that if the father was not around or had passed away, the firstborn would be like the head of the household. He would have preeminence (in other words, the position that comes first). But like Esau, Reuben had lost his birthright.
When you read through Genesis, you’ll see the history of each of the brothers. From them, I hope we can learn how to live gloriously until we see the Lord. Since Reuben had lost his birthright, the blessing of the firstborn was divided among his brothers. The firstborn usually received a double portion of the inheritance, as well as the great blessing from his father. However, Esau despised his birthright and sold it for mere food.
It’s so pitiful. Actually, Esau had already arrived home, so he wouldn’t have starved to death even if he didn’t take the red stew from Jacob. He should have had abundant food that he could eat. That’s why the Bible says he “despised” his birthright. As a result, his loss was tremendous!
It’s also a pity that due to his lustful indulgence, Reuben lost his birthright as well! When Jacob blessed his sons, they should’ve been quite attentive. Some of them might have felt very hopeful, but maybe some of them became afraid when they saw what happened to Reuben.
According to the order of their birth, after Reuben was Simeon, then Levi, so the blessings of the firstborn should have fallen on them instead. But what did Jacob say?
Let’s read Genesis 49:5-7: “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.”
This really happened. You can look up the history of the tribes. Simeon and Levi were really divided in Jacob. Each tribe was supposed to have its own allotted land. The Levites did not inherit a designated land, but instead they lived in the cities of refuge. Simeon could be said to have been dispersed throughout the region of Judah. A portion of the birthright related to the priesthood was given to the Levites, though it was not mentioned here. God caused Jacob to see what was to come.
Then it was Judah’s turn. I don’t know what he was thinking, as he had also done something bad before. What Simeon and Levi did to Shechem was too cruel, though Shechem was at fault. I wonder what Judah was thinking, as he might have felt he had some flaws in his life. But you’ll notice Judah’s characteristics when you read about him. Would Judah become the firstborn? How would Jacob bless him?
Genesis 49:8-10 reads, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
One of the phrases we just read was, “until tribute comes to him”. From the Hebrew version, this can be translated as “until Shiloh comes”. Shiloh refers to a person: the peace-giver.
Judah should have been very happy. I believe he had repented from his sins. You can see Judah had certain virtues especially in how he treated his brothers. You can read earlier passages in Genesis. They’re very important, and I believe you can also remember them. Judah was willing to remain in Egypt on behalf of Benjamin. He cared about his father, Jacob, and his brothers. Also, before Joseph was sold, some of the brothers wanted to kill him, but Judah tried to save him. That’s why a portion of the birthright related to kingship was given to Judah.
The firstborn receives many blessings, such as priesthood, kingship, and a double portion of the blessings. You can see that a portion of the blessings, especially those relating to kingship, was given to Judah. Genesis 49:8-10 clearly states that “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet.” This refers to authority. Revelation 2:27 reads that “he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces.” (Revelation 2:27) Psalm 110:2 reads that “The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!” (Psalm 110:2) These verses are all related to kingship.
I believe you are all familiar with Revelation 5:5, which says, “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” In this passage, the Lion is a symbol of kingship. Lions are the kings of the animal kingdom. Revelation 19 says that the Lord is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” David, the king chosen by God, was a descendant of Judah. After Solomon, the kingdom was divided into two: the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah. Many of the kings were from Judah. So, you can see that the blessing of the firstborn related to kingship went to Judah.