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How do ancient prophecies help us?

Do you ever wish you knew what will happen tomorrow, next week, or next year? I think many of us naturally want to know the future when we have big decisions to make. Sometimes we have to make decisions based on what we think will happen in the future, but then when events unfold differently, we wish we could go back and make those choices again based on what actually happened, not on what we thought would happen.

Let’s take this a step further. Do you ever wish we had prophets like they did in Bible times so that we could go and ask them what the future holds? That way we could make decisions based on what will actually happen?

That would be nice; except, perhaps it wouldn’t actually work that way. What if the purpose of prophecy was not to help people make decisions? What if the purpose was something else? In that case, having prophets today might not help us make our decisions.

Today we’re going to read some verses that give us some insight into why the Biblical prophets had the ability to foretell the future. Prophecy was not intended to help
people make decisions; however, the foretelling of the future was still an encouragement to people in Bible times, and it should also be an encouragement to us today. Let’s learn why this is so.

Let’s start with an example of God revealing the future. The event we are about to read took place when Jacob was old and knew that the day of his death was drawing
near.

Gen. 49:1 ¶ Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come.

Gen. 49:2 “Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; And listen to Israel your father.

Notice that Jacob clearly told his sons that he was telling them what was going to befall them in the days to come. In other words, he was giving them a glimpse into the future.

Gen. 49:3 ¶ “Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.

Gen. 49:4 “Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it — he went up to my couch.

These verses focus on Reuben. Reuben was the firstborn son. As the firstborn, he should have had preeminence. His descendants should have been the leaders and the kings of Israel. Instead, Jacob told Reuben that he was not going to have preeminence. This was because Reuben had defiled his father’s bed. This is a reference to an event recorded in Genesis 35.

Gen. 35:22 ¶ It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it.

It says here that Israel heard about what Reuben did, but apparently he didn’t do anything about it, at least not when it happened. Instead, when Jacob blessed his sons, Reuben’s “punishment” for his deed was that he and his descendants would not have the preeminence.

These next few verses are about Simeon and Levi. Simeon and Levi were the second and third born sons.

Gen. 49:5 ¶ “Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence.

Gen. 49:6 “Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, And in their self-will they lamed oxen.

Gen. 49:7 “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel.

Here we have this phrase “their swords are implements of violence.” Then we have these lines about them slewing men and laming oxen. This is a reference to an event recorded in Genesis 34.

Gen. 34:25 ¶ Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male.

Dinah had been raped by a man named Shechem and for revenge, Simeon and Levi went and killed every male in Shechem’s city. That is what Jacob was referring to in these verses. The “punishment” was that Simeon and Levi would be dispersed in Israel. This was fulfilled about 400 years later when the Israelites divided the promised land amongst the twelve tribes after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Map of IsraelThis was the allotment of land that was given to Simeon. Notice that their allotment was completely within the allotment given to Judah. Eventually, Simeon was absorbed into Judah and ceased to be a separate tribe. Levi was never even given an allotment of land because they were the priestly tribe. Since they were the priests, they were given various cities throughout the whole promised land so that they would live amongst all of the people instead of being concentrated in one particular area. Thus was fulfilled this statement about dispersing and scattering Simeon and Levi in Israel.

Next, Jacob addressed Judah. Judah was the fourth son.

Gen. 49:8 ¶ “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.

Gen. 49:9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?

Gen. 49:10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

Notice the phrases that indicate headship and kingship.

“Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.”
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah,”
“Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet.”
“to him shall be the obedience of the peoples”

All this was fulfilled centuries later through David when he became King. David was from the tribe of Judah. David became king of Israel and then his descendants reigned as king after David’s death and eventually David’s descendants gave birth to Jesus. Since Jesus is a descendant of David, he is also a descendant of Judah and; since He will reign someday, He will finish fulfilling this prophecy.

Jacob had more to say about Judah.

Gen. 49:11 “He [Judah] ties his foal to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes.

Gen. 49:12 “His eyes are dull from wine, And his teeth white from milk.

These are agricultural references. When the Israelites divided the promised land amongst the twelve tribes, Judah received an allotment of land that was good for growing grapes.

Next, Jacob addressed Zebulun. Zebulun was the third youngest son.

Gen. 49:13 ¶ “Zebulun will dwell at the seashore; And he shall be a haven for ships, And his flank shall be toward Sidon.

At first glance this appears to be a problem because Jacob said Zebulun would dwell at the seashore. If we look at the map, we see that Zebulun’s allotment of land was not by the sea. However, Matthew 4 has a potential solution to this.

Matt. 4:12 ¶ Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee;

Matt. 4:13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Obviously something shifted over the centuries, and by the time of Jesus, Capernaum was considered to be part of Zebulun, and Capernaum was by the sea.

I am not going to comment extensively on each of the rest of the tribes because there isn’t necessarily a verse to point to for each of the sons in order to prove the
fulfillment of each of Jacob’s predictions. Let me point out that the predictions we read so far were not intended to help the sons make decisions in the next day, week, or year. And as we read the rest of Jacob’s blessing, we will see that this was also true of the rest of Jacob’s sons. After we finish reading, we will talk about why God did reveal the future to people.

Next up is Issachar. Issachar was the fourth youngest song.

Gen. 49:14 ¶ “Issachar is a strong donkey, Lying down between the sheepfolds.

Gen. 49:15 “When he saw that a resting place was good And that the land was pleasant, He bowed his shoulder to bear burdens, And became a slave at forced labor.

Apparently Issachar did a lot of hard work.

Gen. 49:16 ¶ “Dan shall judge his people, As one of the tribes of Israel.

Gen. 49:17 “Dan shall be a serpent in the way, A horned snake in the path, That bites the horse’s heels, So that his rider falls backward.

Gen. 49:18 “For Your salvation I wait, O LORD.

Notice the word “judge”. Samson was a judge of Israel and he was from the tribe of Dan. (see Judges chapter 13.)

Gen. 49:19 ¶ “As for Gad, raiders shall raid him, But he will raid at their heels.

Gad was on the “frontier” and so any raiders coming from the East would have come to Gad first and Gad would have been in position to go East and raid them.

Gen. 49:20 ¶ “As for Asher, his food shall be rich, And he will yield royal dainties.

Gen. 49:21 ¶ “Naphtali is a doe let loose, He gives beautiful words.

Gen. 49:22 ¶ “Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall.

Gen. 49:23 “The archers bitterly attacked him, And shot at him and harassed him;

Gen. 49:24 But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),

Here we see that Joseph was going to be fruitful. About 400 years later, after the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt, they took a census and the descendants of Joseph outnumbered the other tribes; thus, Joseph was fruitful.

Jacob had more to say about Joseph.

Gen. 49:25 From the God of your father who helps you [Joseph], And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb.

Gen. 49:26 “The blessings of your father Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; May they be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.

Notice that Joseph was distinguished among his brothers. Joseph always had been the favorite son. The pronoun “they” refers to “the blessings of Jacob”. Jacob placed his blessings on the head of his son, Joseph.

Gen. 49:27 ¶ “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he devours the prey, And in the evening he divides the spoil.”

This seems to indicate that the tribe of Benjamin would be hunters and/or warriors.

Gen. 49:28 ¶ 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.

We see in these verses that God gave Jacob insight into the future. Why? Why did God allow Jacob to know the future? Why did God allow Jacob to tell his sons what the future held? And not just him, why did God give anyone the ability to predict the future? Let’s see what Deuteronomy 18 tells us about this.

Deut. 18:18 ‘I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

Deut. 18:19 ‘It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.

Deut. 18:20 ‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’

The first thing to notice here is the definition of a prophet. A prophet was someone who relayed God’s message from God to man. Let me illustrate it this way, suppose a father says to his son, “Go tell your sister to come inside.” If the son goes outside and says to his sister, “Dad says to come inside”, that message has authority, because the sister knows that her brother is not the one telling her to come inside, her father is. Her brother is simply relaying her father’s message. That is what prophets did. Prophets were the messengers. God told the prophets what to say, and then the prophets relayed the message to the people.

Notice also that there is a warning here against prophets who pretended to speak God’s words when God had not given them a message. False prophets were supposed to die. The logical question was, “how were people supposed to know who had a message from the true God and who did not?”. The answer to that is in verses 21 and 22.

Deut. 18:21 “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’

Deut. 18:22 “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

The test was whether or not the prophet’s words came true. In other words, if the prophet predicted the future and the prediction did not come true, then the people were
to know that that prophet was not speaking words from God.

Now let’s look at some verses in 1st Samuel 3.

1Sam. 3:19 ¶ Thus Samuel grew and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fail.

1Sam. 3:20 All Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the LORD.

Notice here that God let none of Samuel’s words fail. In others word, when Samuel predicted something, it came true. The result was that all Israel knew that Samuel was a prophet. (Notice the word confirmed.) All Israel knew that when Samuel spoke, he spoke the words of God.

So why did God reveal the future?

First of all, revealing the future was a way to authenticate His prophets. When God’s prophets correctly predicted the future, then all the people knew that they spoke the words of God Himself.

Second, predicting the future was a way of authenticating the Bible. Once a prophet was authenticated as a prophet of God, then when that prophet put God’s words into writing, the people knew that that portion of writing was the words of God. Eventually, some of these authenticated portions of writing were gathered together and became the Bible.

Third, revealing the future was a way for God to authenticate Himself and prove His existence. We all know that a human being does not know what the future holds.

Yes, we can do things like predict that a storm is coming tomorrow, but we cannot predict that a lightning strike will strike a particular tree at exactly 6:04 pm tomorrow, we humans do not have that ability. So when prophets in Bible times did make those kind of specific, accurate predictions, and they came true, then the only logical explanation was that God exists.

We don’t commonly consider Jacob a prophet; however, the passage we read today is a clear example of God giving a man a glimpse into the future. This was part of a pattern. Throughout the Bible, there are many more examples like this of men receiving insight into the future in order to authenticate God’s prophets, authenticate God’s scriptures, and authenticate the existence of God Himself.

And this pattern was not just for the benefit of people living in Bible times. These examples of God revealing the future and proving His existence were written down for our benefit also, so that we can know that God exists and that the Bible is the very words of God Himself.

“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”