T. PIERCE BROWN
Most religious persons are aware that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ may be referred to as “Spiritual Israel” (Gal.6:16). However, I never recall having read an article examining the qualities of the children ofIsraelas recorded in Genesis 49 and relating them to those found in the church. Some interesting parallels occur that I want to share with you.
Rueben was “unstable as water” (v. 4) and would not have preeminence. The Hebrew word seems to suggest “frothy” or boiling like water. Jacob may have been referring primarily to Rueben’s lustful actions, but the general instability of water is suggestive. It has no shape of its own, but just fits into whatever mold it is put. This reminds of us of Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:2, “Be not conformed to this world –.” That is, “Don’t let the world mold you into its forms.” Water is apt to move almost any direction but upward. Far too many in the church would fit this category. They can not be depended upon to do anything significant, but merely fit into a pattern designed by some other person, and their movements are crooked, uncertain, and downward, determined by the dirt in which they operate. Streams and men go crooked for the same reason — by following the path of least resistance.
Simeon and Levi were fierce in anger. They were self-willed and wanton in action. Anger is proper when controlled and directed, but when joined to self will, causes division and scattering of God’s people (v.7).
Judahhad courage and power. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness and determination to do that which God decrees, in spite of any fear. We still have a few, and need many, men of courage who are neither ashamed nor afraid to stand for what God wants, regardless of whether or not it is popular. Sadly, we still have some who seemingly have to check what “the brotherhood” (or the segment of it that they have the most respect for) thinks before they take a stand on any issue. And more and more are apparently denying that any “issues” are important. Of course there may be some that are always more intent on finding “issues” than they are on carrying out the will of God. But sometimes the issue IS: What is the will of God in this matter? We need to know! But it does seem a little ironic that some brethren seem to make an issue out of the fact that some other brother is interested in discussing “issues” rather than merely talking about Christ. And sometimes the sharpest criticism of others is reserved for criticizing those who are critical!
I have written articles about the advisability of having the proper focus, balance and priorities, and will probably do so again. But I want to make a minor point here: One can not write or speak only about critical and vital matters! Simon Stylites may have stayed on the top of a pole for 30 years, but he did not go anywhere and do anything important. One cannot live on a mountaintop ALL the time! But we need men of courage and determination to at least GET to a mountaintop from time to time.
Zebulun was to become a haven (v. 13). There are those in the church who provide a haven for troubled souls. We need men like Barnabas, a son of consolation. When Paul was a new Christian, under suspicion, Barnabas provided a haven for him. When John Mark was rejected because he apparently could not stand the pressure of Paul’s rigorous schedule, Barnabas provided a haven for him. We need tender, compassionate persons who help to bear the burdens of others — a haven for troubled souls.
Issachar was a strong ass (v. 14), but it appeared that he was more willing to crouch down between two burdens and find a resting place than he was to actively carry on the Lord’s work, so he became a slave at forced labor (v.15). The church is filled with people like that. They are able to bear great burdens, but it is easier to crouch down between them and talk about possible alternative actions than it is to be about the business of bearing some burden for Christ.
Dan was like a serpent in the way. A “snake in the grass” is still a danger in the church. We are to be “as wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves” (Mt.10:16).
Gad reminds us of the fall and rising of many Christians. Peter failed miserably, but Jesus said, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Lk.22:32), and he did. It is how one overcomes at the last (v.19) that really counts. We need to heed the admonition of Paul in Gal. 6:1 and “restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted.”
It is said that Asher’s food shall be rich and he shall yield royal dainties. Every Christian who feeds upon the word of God has rich food, and it is true that the soul that feeds upon Christ will indeed yield “royal dainties,” for he will also feed others the bread of life.
Naphtali (v.21) suggests to me a person who recognizes the joy of freedom in Christ Jesus. Freedom from sin — its guilt, its power, its burden, its punishment; freedom from the galling bondage of human contrivances, including denominational errors, and all opinions of men; freedom to learn and practice all truth.
Joseph was a fruitful bough (v. 22). A Christian should be like a “tree, planted by the rivers of water who bringeth forth his fruit in his season” (Psalm 1:3). Those who are that way will bring forth the fruit of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace (Galatians5:22-23), and as a result of the seed they sow, produce many other Christians. Sadly, we still have many, like Benjamin, who are “ravenous wolves” (v. 27). Some are in sheep’s clothing, but in every case, they seem to be intent on devouring the prey and dividing the spoil.
It might help each of us to do a little self-examination to see how close our character conforms to the one that is praised or condemned in those children ofIsrael. All such self-examination is difficult to do in absolute honesty, for we all tend to excuse ourselves, but it is worth the effort to try.