Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.
Genesis 49:1 (NIV)
Words have power.
Words of a parent, fathers especially, have unusual power.
Along my earthly journey, I have observed individuals whose lives have been either blessed or plagued by the words of a parent. These words get imprinted in a person’s psyche and soul for good or for ill:
“I love you.”
“I can’t stand you.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“Well done. You’re so smart.”
“Why did you do that? You’re so stupid.”
“I’m ashamed to have you as a child.”
“You’re going to go far in life.”
“You’ll never amount to anything.”
I find today’s chapter is one of the most intriguing in all of the Great Story. Jacob/Israel calls all of his sons together as he’s about to die. He then offers a poem about each of his sons to “tell you what will happen to you.” These are his final words. This is the lasting message he leaves with each one. Words have power, and final words pack an extra punch.
I found it important that Jacob does not say, “these are the words of the Lord” or “Thus says the Lord.” Those words accompany divine prophecy. Jacob’s words are not from God, but from his own observations, relationships, and experiences with his children. His words are human, not divine, and any person imprinted with negative parental words must always remember this truth. Embracing the truth of it is the first step towards healing.
A few observations from Jacob’s final words to his sons:
Sometimes mistakes follow you forever. This was true of Reuben, who slept with Jacob’s wife. It was true of Simeon and Levi, who attacked Shechem without permission. These events were never forgiven, and Jacob seals the deal by cursing them for it once again with his dying breath. Jesus, in stark contrast, came to forgive and to teach us to forgive, which has the power to heal the soul of both victim and perpetrator.
Sometimes perception and the seemingly prophetic statements of parents are simply wrong. Jacob tells his Zebulun that his tribe will live by the seashore and be a seafaring people and that his border will extend to the town of Sidon. When the Promised Land was distributed to the tribes, Zebulun was landlocked and 40 miles from Sidon. Sometimes parents say things that are simply wrong, and the only power they have is our willingness to believe them.
Sometimes words can be prophetic despite the source. It seems contradictory, but throughout the Great Story God uses strange sources to speak and foreshadow truth. Shakespeare picked up on this and used it as a device. The fools in his plays regularly speak important truths. Jacob not only makes Judah the leader of the clan, but he also foreshadows the fact that the Messiah will spring from his tribe.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself, once again, grateful to my parents. The simple words “I love you” were imprinted on my soul ceaselessly. The words “I’m proud of you” were spoken regularly at appropriate moments. I have known others who are haunted to have never heard those words from a parent. I am so blessed by my parents.
I’m also reminded this morning of yesterday’s post, which I would encourage anyone struggling with father, mother, or family wounds to read. We don’t get to choose our earthly families, but Jesus came to make the way for anyone to be adopted into an eternal family and divine inheritance. Human curses may always leave a scar on this earthly sojourn, but Jesus offers both healing and a loving new family.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.