Genesis 49:17-19 by Robert Dean
Series:Genesis (2003)
Duration:53 mins 13 secs

Lucky, Happy and the Wrestler; Genesis 49:17-19


In Genesis 49:18 we have a pause made by Jacob. This is not part of the prophecy related to Dan. It is a personal exclamation as he has gone through God's plan for each of these tribes, and he exclaims: "For Your salvation I wait, O LORD." The word that we have translated for "salvation" is the Hebrew verb yesha which forms the basis for the name of both Joshua and Jesus. They are the same name in Hebrew. It has to do more often than not with physical deliverance. When we see that word "salvation" in the Bible is doesn't always talk about justification salvation, it is not always talking about that time when we move from spiritual death to spiritual life, that time when we go from being unsaved to being saved. In American evangelical idiom that word "saved" has become so associated with that event that when you go back into the Bible and start reading passages like this you might well start thinking: "I thought Jacob was saved; is he still waiting for salvation?" Ore we might relate it to phase three salvation and as Jacob is now on his death bed and so think that he is just making an exclamation about a spiritual event in terms of his being promoted, absent from the body and face to face with the Lord. But that is not what is going on here. We have to locate this within the overall flow of what is happening in the book of Genesis. More often than not, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, this word group, whether we are talking about yesha in the Old Testament or SOZO [swzw] in the New Testament, has to do with physical deliverance from some calamity or adversity. What he is focusing on here is the ultimate deliverance of his sons and his descendants from their being out of the land of Egypt and back into the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and himself. So as he has meditated upon the future of his sons and the tribes and what will take place in the future he says: "I have waited for your deliverance, O LORD."


And this is the kind of idea that we see in Hebrews 11 where we learn that the focus of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was on the promise that God had given them. Hebrews 11:9 NASB "By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign {land,} dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise." They never saw that promise fulfilled in their lifetime; they never owned real estate in the promised land other than the graves for Sarah, Rebecca and for Rachel. They were awaiting the promise. So this is a statement of Jacob's faith and trust in God that this would eventually be fulfilled. And this is going to be played out at the end of this prophetic section. In Genesis 49:29 he is going to charge his sons to bury him with his fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite. This is a tremendous example of the faith-rest drill. He is recognizing that he has to trust God. Even at the point of dying, which is a test in all of our lives, we are to trust in the promise of God. Back in Genesis chapter 15 God had not only promised Abraham the land, he had also promised Abraham that he would be out of the land for about 400 years but that he would bring him back to the land. That is the singular promise that the Jews had to hold on to from the time that Jacob and the seventy with him left the land to go down to Egypt until they come back to the land under Moses. So for the next 400 years they have the general promises of the Abrahamic covenant but they have only one specific promise to hold on to. That is what they are holding on to, that is what they are looking for when we get into Exodus. At the beginning of Exodus the one thing that the Jews are holding on to in slavery, in all of the oppression, is that one promise. And they know, they can count; it has been almost 400 years, it is time for a deliverer. That is what Jacob is focusing on here. He is waiting for "your deliverance, O LORD."


In verse 19 he shifts to the next son, Gad. There are three short prophecies related to three of the tribes: Gad in v. 19; Asher in v. 20; Naphtali in v. 21. These three sons are sons of the handmaids, Bilah and Zilpah. 


Genesis 49:19 NASB "As for Gad, raiders shall raid him, But he will raid {at} their heels." The basic meaning of the word Gad is fortune or luck, so we'll call him Lucky. Asher means happy, and Naphtali refers to the one who is wrestling. So that is why we have Luck, Happy and Wrestler. "…raiders shall raid him, But he will raid {at} their heels." This verse is a pun in the Hebrew, but this is completely missed in the English.


Gad is the seventh son of Jacob, the first son born by Zilpah who was Leah's maid and one of Jacob's concubines. There is some debate over what exactly the word Gad means. There are those who claim that it has the idea of a troop or a band of raiders, but it also has the meaning as a distinct word of being lucky or fortunate. Genesis 30:11 NASB "Then Leah said, "How fortunate!" So she named him Gad." Genesis 30:11 KJV "And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad." What a difference in translation! The difference is that in the Hebrew there are two consonants, g and d, and there is one word from that root that means lucky or fortunate, and another word from that same two-consonant root that refers to a troop or a group of marauders. That is where the pun comes in here because Jacob is going to have a play on words based on his name. The latest Hebrew lexicon available to us does not even list the troop or marauder group as a meaning for this particular name, they only list the idea of luck or fortune, which is what really fits the context of Genesis 30:11. Leah has been unable to conceive and so has offered her handmaid Zilpah. So the context really supports the idea of God's grace, God's fortune, God's providing for her at that time. So in the context of Genesis 30:11 the idea of the name Gad fits the concept of luck or fortune. Finally she has another child to offer Jacob. Remember that she is constantly trying to put herself in a position of favour to him to gain his love. She is always a sort of second class wife because even though she was the one married first she knows that it was under suspicious circumstances, she was slipped in under the cover of darkness, and the one he really loves is Rachel. So she is always trying to curry favour by having good male children for Jacob, though it doesn't cause him to love her any more.


The word that is translated "raiders" in v. 19 is the Hebrew noun gedud, so you see the play on words: "As for Gad, he will gedud." The word here refers to a band, a troop, a marauding band, a raiding party, or a group that makes inroads into enemy territory. The same verb is used twice at the end of this verse: "raiders shall raid him." This is the qal perfect of the verb with the third masculine singular suffix, indicating raiders shall raid him. So he is going to be attacked, that is the essence of that prophecy. Gad will be in a position of military vulnerability, and that is because of the location of his inheritance in the Trans-Jordan. But in contrast, even though initially he is the one who will come under assault, he will raid at their heels, he is the one who is going to gain the victory. He is going to become tough militarily.


At the time of the Exodus Gad numbered 25,600 at the first census. At the end of the wilderness wanderings they were numbered at 25,500. So they only lost 100 and that shows blessing from God on the Gadites. They were not involved in some of those horrendous rebellions that occurred during the wilderness wanderings.


Numbers 32 relates how Gad and Reuben sought to gain land in the Trans-Jordan. Gad was told they could have the land on the condition that they crossed the Jordan with the other tribes, did battle with them, and once the land was conquered the land would be distributed to them. So they went together and fought with the rest of the tribes and when Joshua comes to an end they are given this piece of real estate.


Moses, before he died and before the nation entered into the land, also prophesied about Gad's military strength. Deuteronomy 33:20, 21 NASB "Of Gad he said, 'Blessed is the one who enlarges Gad; He lies down as a lion, And tears the arm, also the crown of the head. Then he provided the first {part} for himself, For there the ruler's portion was reserved; And he came {with} the leaders of the people; He executed the justice of the LORD, And His ordinances with Israel.'" He is blessing Gad. There is spiritual prosperity there because they have a basis for justice and integrity and so Gad is going to become blessed and have military strength over their enemies. This prophecy dovetails with Jacob's prophecy in Genesis 49. These prophecies fit together and demonstrate that Gad will be harassed over a period of time by bands of hostile enemies but they will eventually repel those advances and they will stand as a bulwark against those who are trying to attack Israel from the east.  


Gilead often becomes a synonym for Gad because of its geographical position. The Philistines lived in the area of the Gaza strip during the time of the Judges, and ay some point during the period of the Judges gained control, dominated Judah in the south and all the way across to the tribe of Gad in the Trans-Jordan. Judges 10:8 NASB "They afflicted and crushed the sons of Israel that year; for eighteen years they {afflicted} all the sons of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in Gilead in the land of the Amorites."


The most famous Gadite of the Old Testament was a judge, during the period of the judges, who name was Jair: Judges 10:3-5. Also, it is possible that Jepthah was a Gadite. He was a Gileadite, according to Judges 11:1. According to Jewish tradition (not biblical) Elijah the prophet was also from the tribe of Gad.


What we see in terms of a spiritual lesson from Gad is that Gad was initially defeated but they eventually persevered. It is a lesson in endurance and perseverance that Gad did not allow previous defeats to hold him back. This is the same principle for every believer. We often fail in the spiritual life but we can't give up, we can't focus on our failures; we have to focus on the grace of God. In 1 Chronicles the military perseverance of Gad is reiterated. 1 Chronicles 5:18, 19 NASB "The sons of Reuben and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, {consisting} of valiant men, men who bore shield and sword and shot with bow and {were} skillful in battle, {were} 44,760, who went to war. They made war against the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphish and Nodab."


Genesis 49:20 NASB "As for Asher, his food [bread] shall be rich, And he will yield royal dainties." These are very different characteristics. The Gadites are a very strong military tribe. They are herdsmen, outdoorsmen in the sense that they are out there with the goats, the sheep and the cattle. There were a lot of dangerous animals over there in their tribal area. So they were a tough, hardy warrior tribe. On the other side we have the chefs. Bread [lehem = bread, which is where Bethlehem comes from, beth = house: house of bread] from Asher shall be rich. The noun that is used there is shamen, which means fat, rich, plentiful or robust. A cognate of this word is shemen, a word for olive oil. A term for olive oil became a figurative word, a metaphor for that which was prosperous. So this word indicates the bread from Asher will be rich. In their farming they produced grains and when they cooked their produce is going to be exceptional. Their tribal allotment is going to provide the breadbasket for the nation.


Asher was the right of Jacob's sons, the second one born to Zilpah, so he is a full brother to Gad. Genesis 30:13 NASB "Then Leah said, 'Happy am I! For women will call me happy.' So she named him Asher." Asher is the Hebrew word meaning happy. The name foreshadows the prosperity of the tribe. This tribe will be one of the most prosperous of the tribes of Israel historically. They have agricultural prosperity and provide for the people.


Ashe numbered 41,500 coming out of Egypt, but when they had gone through forty years in the wilderness and the nation had gone through a lot of divine discipline with a number of the tribes having lost people and shrunk, their number had risen to 53,400. So they've increased about 12,000. This shows that God blessed them during the wilderness wanderings.


Moses also blesses Asher in Deuteronomy 33:24 NASB "Of Asher he said, "More blessed than sons is Asher; May he be favored by his brothers, And may he dip his foot in oil." The Hebrew isn't talking about petroleum oil, it is talking about olive oil. This is where we have the word shemen, which means fat or oil. It is figuratively used of richness and plenty. Dipping his foot in oil means that he is going to be prospered. "And he will yield royal dainties." A good translation from the Hebrews would be: "He will give the delights of kings." This is talking about the quality of food that is going to be produced by the Asherites.


God richly blessed Asher and they were the recipients of God's grace. The lesson there is that whenever we are the recipients of God's grace we are no to hoard what he gives us for ourselves but we are to share that with others. This is the emphasis with Asher. Because of God's blessing on Asher the produce of Asher fed the rest of the tribes.


Then we come to Naphtali in Genesis 49:21 NASB "Gen 49:21 "Naphtali is a doe let loose, He gives beautiful words." What is the connection between the hind and the beautiful words? Often we find in Scripture that the hind is used as a picture of that which is fleet and sure of foot. Psalm 18:33 NASB "He makes my feet like hinds' {feet,} And sets me upon my high places." The prophecy is that Naphtali is going to be quick and sure. There is something about Naphtali that is going to speak of speediness. The second  part of this verse says that he uses beautiful words. The Hebrew word there for beauty is the word shepher which has to do with goodness and beauty, and the word for "words" is emer, meaning word or speech or saying. So he uses beautiful sayings.


Naphtali was the fifth son of Jacob, the second born to Bilhah who was the handmaid of Rachel. He is a full brother to Dan. Genesis 30:7 ,8 NASB "Rachel's maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. So Rachel said, 'With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, {and} I have indeed prevailed.' And she named him Naphtali." There is that inner dynamic that is going on with the household that has two wives. We see this ongoing conflict between Rachel and Leah for Jacob's favour, and that is what Rachel is referring to here. Naphtali comes from a Hebrew root when means to fall or to throw down. So Naphtali is the wrestler, indicating that wrestling match between Rachel and Leah.


When the tribe of Naphtali left Egypt at the exodus there were 53,400 of them, but when they were ready to enter into the promised land there were only 45,400. That tells us something about the spiritual character of the tribe. Hey were involved in some of the harsher rebellions and disciplines that took place as they went through the wilderness. Nevertheless Moses blessed Naphtali in Deuteronomy 33:23 NASB "Of Naphtali he said, 'O Naphtali, satisfied with favor, And full of the blessing of the LORD, Take possession of the sea and the south.'" That word translated "favour" is the word for grace, so it shows a grace orientation of the tribe, generally speaking.


When Naphtali goes to drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh they instead opt for coexistence with the Canaanites. A later prophecy in the Old Testament, in Isaiah, links the two tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun together. This passage is going to be quoted in Matthew 4:16. In Isaiah 9:1 NASB "But there will be no {more} gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make {it} glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles." This is talking about the historic judgment of the Assyrians and later the Babylonians on the northern kingdom, and on Zebulun and Naphtali. [2] "The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them." That verse is picked up and quoted in Matthew 4:16 in reference to Jesus' ministry up in that northern area of Israel. That is talking about the illumination coming from the presence of the Messiah during the first advent. This is probably an application of the prophecy that Naphtali is going to use beautiful words because this area of Naphtali and Zebulun is the area where over half of the disciples came from. And what did they do? After Pentecost they hastily took the gospel throughout the world. They are the ones who within a generation had taken the gospel to most parts of the known world at that time.


Romans 10:15 NASB "How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" This is a quote from Isaiah 52:7. This is the same kind of terminology that is related to Naphtali who has beautiful words.