All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him.
The second half of today’s verse is what caught my attention. I’ve read over and over again the tribes of Israel, so the statement that “these are the twelve tribes of Israel” isn’t much of a revelation. But the second part — oh, the second part.
Israel had just pronounced some amazing things—Judah is the source of the Messiah and Joseph would be hugely blessed—as well as some seriously harsh things—pretty much everything said to everyone who wasn’t Judah or Joseph. And that got me to thinking that the truth is a blessing in its own right.
Consider: Who are the people who are honest with us? The people who are the most brutally, painfully, cuttingly honest with us are those who love us best. Not most, but best. See, anyone can love someone and not be honest because they want to spare the other person’s feelings or to not hurt them. But the old saying is true: It has to hurt if it’s to heal. While Israel’s prophecies concerning his sons comes across being harsh; sometimes brutal in their honesty (“Hey, Reuben, you’re my firstborn, but you don’t get the rights of the firstborn because you slept with one of my women which, really, just evidenced a larger lack of self-control and discipline.”), it’s that nugget of truth that communicates Israel’s love for his sons. I mean, the prophecies almost boil down to a list of sins that mar a character: Reuben is undisciplined and lacking self-control; Simeon and Levi have anger management issues; Issachar is kind of lazy and apathetic about what he does and why; Dan is harsh and judgmental; Gad is vindictive.
At the end of the day, these issues needed to be addressed and Israel seems to see more clearly as his life is closing that he has not addressed some serious issues. Working in the private sector, I’ve noticed that a project or program will realize there are issues that need to be addressed, but since their time is up—the project is over, calendar time has run out, whatever—they make a note of these issues and hand them on to the next folks to deal with that program or hand the issues off to other programs and projects that are touched by the same issue. Israel does something very like that. His life is ending and he knows it, so he gives his sons an issues log and leaves it to them to address those issues.
These “blessings” were appropriate to the person to whom they were given. Reuben’s “blessing” suited him. Joseph’s suited him. Each and every one of the twelve men got a blessing appropriate to him. Since these blessings fit their respective recipients, it tells me that the statements made and implied about each of these men can be trusted to define their character and, potentially, the character of the tribe that would come from them.
How do I apply this to me? Well, couple things: One, I need to remember that the ones who love me best will likely be the ones who cut me deepest with their truth. This is because they will be more truthful in their truth than others and because their input will matter to me. Two, when God says something to someone, it is appropriate. That means it will be true and defining in a way that nothing else ever will be.