Jacob is not a good father. He plays favorites with his children. Joseph is his favored son, and Benjamin, whom he favored after Joseph’s supposed passing, is clearly second. Of the other 10 children, Jacob clearly had grudges against some (like Reuben, Simeon, and Levi), while thinking very highly of Judah and negatively of others (like Issachar and Dan). Then, there are some that he just didn’t seem to spend a lot of time with and doesn’t have much of an opinion on: he was absolutely wrong in his prediction of Zebulun’s future, and today we will see how little he thinks of Gad, Asher, and Naphtali.
Please read Genesis 49:19-21.
The first thing we notice about Jacob’s predictions regarding each of these sons is their brevity. Each son gets only one verse, and that verse doesn’t say much. When you look a little closer at the original Hebrew, you’ll find that Jacob is really just using poetic wordplay to say something about his children. But scholars debate what was actually predicted and whether it could have come true.
The Hebrew name “Gad” sounds like the Hebrew for “raiders” or “raid,” so Jacob predicts that he will be raided. Clever, huh?
The Hebrew name “Asher” sounds like the Hebrew for “happy,” so Jacob predicts that he will have good, quality food. That would sure make me happy!
The Hebrew name “Naphtali” sounds like the Hebrew for “wrestling,” and this is where scholars have some debate. The Hebrew wording of Naphtali’s blessing is difficult: it could be referring to a doe that bears fawns, a lambing ewe with lambs, or even metaphorically to “giving beautiful words.” No clear conclusion can be drawn on this matter, so most commentaries gloss over it. Maybe we are just supposed to “wrestle” with its meaning forever!
After looking at Jacob’s “blessings” on these sons, we are left feeling a little empty. Why is there so little substance here? The logical conclusion is that Jacob played favorites with his children. Dan and Naphtali are children of Bilhah; Gad and Asher are children of Zilpah. Jacob clearly didn’t have much to say about the sons of his concubines. He spends some time despising what Dan will become, but can’t be bothered to say much of anything about the rest. Gad, Asher, and Naphtali appear to be rather neglected by their father.
Unfortunately, many of us can relate to such neglect. Many men have grown up without knowing their father. Others have grown up wishing they didn’t know their father because of the abuse they received from him. Even if your father was present in your home and not abusive, many men have grown up without knowing a loving father. They balk at the idea that God is our Heavenly Father because they never had a father worth looking up to.
Sin is so pervasive in our society that men don’t know how to act like men, biological parents don’t know how to act like mothers and fathers, and relatives don’t know how to act like families. We are left with so many bad examples, like Jacob, that we don't know what a good father is.
But God is our Heavenly Father. God has adopted us into His family through faith in His Son. God has declared that all those who repent of their sins and have faith in Jesus Christ are His dearly loved children. He is perfect. He is loving. He is a Good, Good Father.
Whether you have a good father or not, through your relationship with Jesus Christ, you have a Good, Good Father, who is far better than any person you’ll meet on this earth. He will love you unconditionally, personally, eternally. You can trust in Him.
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