Jacob was a son of Isaac. A grandson of Abraham. In Genesis 49 he is an old man who knows that death is near.
Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.” (Gen 49:1)
As he turns his attention from one son to the next, he highlights some element of their past and foretells rippling effects on generations to come.
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! (Gen 49:3-4)
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 willingness 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. (Gen 49:5-7)
And so on.
Jacob knew that the earth-bound portion of his story—a story with many chapters—was reaching its conclusion. Trading a bowl of stew for his brother’s birthright. Deceiving his father with his mother’s help. Fleeing for his life from his own brother. A dream of a ladder reaching into the heavens. Waking up with the wrong woman on his honeymoon. Wrestling for hours with “a man” and confidently asserting that he had seen the face of God in the process. The rape of his daughter Dinah. The death of his beloved Rachel. The violent loss of his favored son Joseph. The shock, decades later, of hearing that Joseph had risen to power in Egypt. The family’s unexpected move to Goshen.
Jacob had an amazing story to tell. A story that had been shaped by his attitudes—the selfish moments and the humble decisions. A story shaped by his actions—the good, the bad, and the ugly. A story that took a dramatic turn when he evolved from referring to Yahweh as “the God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac” to “my God.”
In Genesis 49, Jacob is an old man. Death is near. But he can look back on his past and appreciate more than ever before the impact that his past has had on his present… and his future. He wants his sons to understand that their own attitudes will impact, not only their own futures, but the futures of generations to come. A patriarch who is “unstable as water” will not show himself unstable in a vaccum. Jacob wants his sons to appreciate that their actions have consequences. Weapons of violence can leave wounds on those yet to be born.
Jacob was right. Thousands of years later, reverberations from the attitudes, decisions, and actions of his family continue to be felt.
The day will come when the earth-bound portion of your own story—a story with many chapters—reaches its conclusion. Understand that you are contributing to that story today. Those things that are filling your mind today are contributing to the source of your actions tomorrow. Your actions tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, are shaping a story that will eventually be told. Your story.
What story do you want to be able to tell?