Summary: Jacob's blessing of his sons provides an opportunity for hearers to think about their legacy. A legacy is built by choices. Our legacy does not control us. In Christ, we create a new legacy.
SHAPING YOUR LEGACY—Genesis 49
Have you thought about what kind of legacy you will leave for your descendants? I’m not talking about wealth or property, but about the impact we have on the lives of others.
We have all inherited a legacy. (Note to preacher: Personalize this!) I am a cheap Dutchman. (I think of it as knowing value.) I am stubborn, in good ways and bad. I enjoy work, partly because my parents taught me how to work, and some of my best memories of my dad are of working alongside him. I deal with life like my mother did, in some ways. I have inherited a legacy from my parents.
We also pass on a legacy to others in our family, our church family, and other people in our lives.
I once served a country church, which had an attractive brick building. The building was laid out like a T, with a bell tower in an inside corner of the T. From the beginning, the bell tower leaked. The roofers had been called every few years to stop the leak, with no success. They had rebuilt the roof to channel the water around the bell tower, but water still got in whenever it rained.
The building committee had been advised that a bell tower attached to a brick church would leak, and they had decided not to build it. A church member named Henry did not agree, however, and Henry was the wealthiest and most powerful man in the church. Henry usually got what he wanted, and when he threatened not to contribute anything toward the building project, the bell tower was built.
After several decades, the church board finally decided to tear down the bell tower. The tower was built around four pillars of reinforced concrete, and it took days of work with a jackhammer to bring it down. Part of Henry’s legacy had come down.
Unfortunately, another part of Henry’s legacy remained. Henry had three daughters, and they were not on speaking terms. It seemed that they inherited Henry’s obstinacy. And where did Henry’s obstinacy come from? Well, some people from the church took a trip to Germany, where they met some of Henry’s relatives. It seemed that they were the same way! It was a family legacy.
We all inherit a family legacy, and we will all leave a legacy behind. The question is whether the legacy we inherit will control us, and whether we can control the legacy we leave to others.
Jacob, also known as Israel, had taken his family to Egypt, to escape a famine in Canaan. In the providence of God, his son Joseph had gone ahead, to save many from starvation. Jacob was old when he went into Egypt, and now, he is near death. He gathers his sons to speak to them one last time, and to bless them.
Read Genesis 49:1-7.
WE BUILD OUR LEGACY BY OUR CHOICES.
Jacob reminded Reuben, his firstborn, of a defining moral failure. Reuben had violated his stepmother, in an attempt to take control of the family from his father. He lost the place of honor and power as the firstborn son, and the impact of that mistake would haunt him and his family for many generations.
Jacob reminded Simeon and Levi of how violent they were. Genesis 34 tells how their sister Dinah was raped by a man named Shechem. To make peace, Jacob’s sons tricked the men of the entire city where he lived to submit to circumcision. While they were incapacitated in their recovery, Simeon and Levi killed them all. The violence was out of proportion to the crime. Jacob looked into the future, and he prophesied that the descendants of those two men would be dispersed when the Israelites settled in Canaan.
Yet the prophecy about Levi demonstrates how choices can shape history. In Exodus, when the people built an idolatrous golden calf, the descendants of Levi took up their swords to protect God’s honor. Because of that, God entrusted the care of the tabernacle and offerings to them. When the time came to assign territories in Canaan, the Levites were scattered in 48 cities—not as punishment, but to represent God among the various tribes. The curse of being scattered was turned to good!
BY THE GRACE OF GOD, WE ARE NOT CONTROLLED BY OUR LEGACY.
Read Genesis 49:8-12.
Like Simeon, Judah was haunted by shameful moral failure. Genesis 38 tells the story of how Judah, living among the Canaanites, had sex with a cult prostitute, who turned out to be his widowed daughter-in-law. The sordid tale led to pregnancy and twin sons, Perez and Zerah.
Judah lived with his guilt, but he stepped up to take responsibility in the family. He was the one who represented the family when they went to Egypt to meet with Joseph, and he was the one who took responsibility for the safety of his half-brother, Benjamin.