Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Genesis 49:13 Jacob's Blessing: Zebulun

Next, Jacob has a word for his son Zebulun.  Zebulun is the sixth son of Leah.

"Zebulun will live by the seashore
and become a haven for ships;
his border will extend toward Sidon."
Genesis 49:13 NIV


Jacob's word to Zebulun is a bit puzzling, because although his territory was within ten miles of the Mediterranean, the territories of Asher and Manasseh were on either side and thus Zebulun was not situated right along the seashore.  Some commentators point out that the tribal boundaries which we see on maps of Israelite territory are not exact, and that the tribe may have migrated nearer the sea at various times in their history due to agricultural or military reasons.  Others point out that a major caravan route passed through this territory and that the reference to ships and the seashore may have more to do with profit obtained from maritime pursuits or trade than to where they actually lived.  However, the verse above seems to me to indicate actually living by the seashore.  Perhaps, too, the reference is prophetic and has yet to be fulfilled.

Jesus Christ grew up in this territory, in the city of Nazareth, fulfilling a prophecy from Isaiah 9:1-2:

"Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom
for those who were in distress.
In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun
and the land of Naphtali,
but in the future he will honor
Galilee of the Gentiles, 
by way of the sea, along the Jordan--
The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned."

Isaiah 9:1-2 NIV

Some observations on the above verse:
  •  It is called 'Galilee of the Gentiles'.  The tribe of Zebulun (as did other tribes) allowed various Canaanite peoples to continue living among them instead of driving them out and were thus subject to the temptation of intermarrying with them and having their own religious practices corrupted with pagan influences.  No wonder that by Jesus' time, the area was known for its Gentile presence.  Interestingly, Jesus' ministry was largely conducted in this area.  God's intent was for the Jews to eventually spread the knowledge of God to all peoples.
  • I notice that the area is noted as being 'by way of the sea' -- which to me is another indication that the territory of Zebulun must have had some real contact with the sea in some physical way.
  • The last part of verse 2, where the people see a great light, and where a light dawns on those living in the shadow of death is also interesting, especially in light (pun intended) of the fact that Jesus claims to be the light of the world. (See Luke 2:32, John 1:4-9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35; 12:46, for just some of the verses about this.)
  • Later in this 9th chapter in Isaiah, verses 6-7 have some incredible things to say.  A son is supposed to be born who will be called, among other names,
                                              'Mighty God',
                                              'Everlasting Father' or, as some have translated it, 'Father of Eternity',
which is pretty hard to explain unless this son is somehow God.
         Also, "of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end" (v.7).  Again, how could a mere human govern indefinitely?  Moving on in this verse, "He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom...with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever."  So this one who rules forever must be from David's line.

         The end of verse 7 states that "the zeal of the Lord will accomplish this", so if it seems as though there are some incredible things going on in this passage, things which would take a miracle to accomplish, then you are right.  God Himself is bringing salvation to mankind.  I think that this fact that the Lord is the One who will accomplish this is both comforting and realistic, for we could never have the power/righteousness to do it by ourselves.

There are plenty of other interesting things about the tribe of Zebulun which you can discover if you take a look at all the passages in which this individual and tribe is mentioned.  You can take a concordance (a book which lists where each word is found in the Bible) -- there are free ones online -- and check it out for yourself.  You can just type in the word you are interested in and a list of where the term is found in the Bible will appear.  One thing which I discovered is that this tribe was known for being steadfast warriors, which I hadn't realized.  Other aspects may be mentioned when we get to Moses's blessing of all the tribes in the book of Deuteronomy.

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