Today's chapter is pretty long, so I'm not going to paste the whole thing in here. Please click on the link above to read the chapter. The prophecies, while picturesque and interesting to read, were not very illuminating to me. It turns out, according to Mr. Deffinbaugh, that the prophecy is general, rather than specific, however still valuable:
First of all, these are the last words of Jacob. The prophecy is literally the final word of Jacob, spoken with his dying breath.
The dying words of any man should not be taken lightly, much less those spoken by a patriarch and recorded under the superintendence of the Spirit of God.
Second, this is poetry. We might tend to think that a man’s last words, spoken with great effort, should be disorganized and difficult to follow. A look at this passage in the NASV reveals that we are dealing with Hebrew poetry, for the form is noticeably different from the preceding pages. There are numerous indications that these final words of Jacob were thought out carefully in advance. Jacob’s words are ones that have been carefully planned and probably rehearsed.
Third, this is more than poetry, it is prophecy. While the form is poetry, the substance is prophecy. Jacob’s words reveal “things to come” for his descendants. As a rule, the prophecy is general. It is not intended to spell out the future for Jacob’s sons as individuals, but as tribal leaders. The future which is foretold is the future of the nation as manifested in the twelve tribes (cf. verse 28). Normally the prophecy will not speak of a particular place, nor of a certain person, nor of a specific point in time, but of the character and disposition of the various tribes throughout their history. This forewarns us that we must be careful to look for fulfillment which is too specific.
I also really liked what he had to say about the purpose of prophecy:
(1) Prophecy focuses our attention upon future things. Our tendency is to live our lives as though there were no future. Israel’s hope, like ours, was a future hope. The ultimate reality is not in things seen, but in things unseen. Faith focuses upon the future rather than the present:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
While at the moment Jacob and his sons lived comfortably in Egypt, there was a grave danger in placing their hope and trust in what Egypt offered them. Israel’s hope and the fulfillment of God’s promises lay in Canaan, not Egypt. The sons of Jacob must look ahead.
We, too, must not fix our hopes on earthly things, in the momentary, temporal pleasures of this life, but in those things which God has yet in store for us:
(2) Prophecy focuses not only on the future, however, but on living in the present in the light of the future. The promises of God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were to prompt purity in the lives of Israel’s sons, not passivity or complacency. The future blessings (and judgments) which are in store for us are intended to encourage Christians to live in peace and purity:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:10-13).
So it was that Moses was prompted to forego passing pleasures for eternal glory:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Prophecy, then, is given not to satisfy our curiosity, but to prompt us to purity. Many Christians have an obsession with prophecy, seeking to fill in their charts and laying out God’s program for the future in minutest detail, as though it were some kind of puzzle to be solved.
We know that while all of the prophecies of our Lord’s first coming were literally and exactly fulfilled, no one, before the fact, could have predicted how it would happen. While the particulars of prophecy were known, the program was not. Dare we suppose that we will see the plan for our Lord’s second coming any more precisely than did those saints of olden days see the first? Let us be careful about a fixation on particulars when the purpose of prophecy is purity.
(3) While we may be certain that specific prophecy (such as the second coming of Christ) will be fulfilled as specifically and literally as were those prophecies of Christ’s first coming, more general prophecies may be given to warn men of the possibility of future things which can be avoided. Judgment did fall upon Ninevah, but it was delayed (from a human point of view) by repentance (Jonah 3:5ff.). And while judgment may fall on others, we may escape through the acceptance of divine grace.
In general we must say that all of the prophecy of Jacob either was fulfilled or will be in the future outworking of God’s plan for Israel. To the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, the prophecy was a warning of the potential for following in the footsteps of their father. As sons of their father, they had the predisposition to sin just as their forefathers. These words of warning were also words of hope for, through the grace which God provided, they need not follow in the steps of their fathers. The warning of sin and its consequences was designed to turn men from their sin to the Messiah, through whom deliverance would come. The sons of Jacob, like Jacob himself, must wait for God’s salvation: “For Thy salvation I wait, O Lord” (verse 18).
We should also add that none of the blessings which Jacob pronounced upon his descendants were realized apart from divine grace. No one could inherit grace from their forefathers, they must accept it personally.
Nationally, the prophecies of Jacob were certainties; they were sure to be fulfilled sooner or later in that tribe. But individually one could be the exception to the rule of the consequences of sin, or the participant in the divine promises of blessing, by trusting the Messiah who was to come.
For the unbeliever, the purpose of prophecy is to warn him of the wages of sin. For the Christian, the purpose of prophecy is to motivate him to live in this life in purity and hope, assured that God has even greater blessings in store for those who will trust and obey.