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B'resheet/Genesis 49:2 Be gathered together and listen, O sons of Ya'akov, and listen to Israel your father.
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Yaakov' has called his sons together and prepares to deliver his last words to them together as a family. This is, quite literally, the passing of a generation. Ya'akov's beloved Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin and was buried on the way to Ephrath; Ya'akov buried Leah in the Machpelah cave and Jewish tradition maintains that Bilhah and Zilhah were both buried in the Cave of the Matriarchs in Tiberias. Ya'akov is the last parent standing. In our text, Ya'akov uses the word - the Qal mp imperative of the root , to hear or listen - twice. First, as his sons, he tells them to gather themselves together and listen; then he tells them listen to their father, himself! What is so important about this? What can be more important than common courtesy, respect for parents, or father's last words to his sons? Why would Ya'akov even need to say this? The answer is in the previous verse: Ya'akov calls his sons together and tells them, "Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come" (B'resheet 49:1, NJPS). The phrase "days to come" translates the Hebrew words more commonly rendered as "the last days."
Our Jewish tradition says that Ya'akov was about to share a long-term vision of the last days, of what would happen to the Jewish people through the course of history and howHaShem would resolve all difficulties and finally bring the whole world under His authority, but that the Holy Spirit left him so that he was unable to say anything about the future and had, instead, to give forward-looking blessings to his sons. What is interesting is that back in the second millenium BCE, over three thousand years before Hal Lindsay's "Late Great Planet Earth" and the "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the concept of "the last days" had currency. Could it, perhaps, that "latter days" means something more that we have traditionally assumed?
Starting right back at the beginning, during the account of creation, HaShem created mankind in His image and told them, "Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth" (B'resheet 1:28, NJPS) - mankind is to copy the Creator and establish His kingdom on the earth, bringing order out of chaos and establishing justice and righteousness. This mandate was passed to Noah after the flood in the verses in which the rabbis found the Noachide Commandments, ending, "Be fertile, then, and increase; abound on the earth and increase on it" (9:7, NJPS). It passed again to Avraham - "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you" (12:2-3, NJPS) - to Yitz'khak, "I will make your heirs as numerous as the stars of heaven, and assign to your heirs all these lands, so that all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your heirs -- inasmuch as Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: My commandments, My laws, and My teachings" (26:4-5, NJPS), and to Ya'akov: "Be fertile and increase; a nation, yea an assembly of nations, shall descend from you. Kings shall issue from your loins. The land that I assigned to Abraham and Isaac I assign to you; and to your offspring to come will I assign the land" (35:11-12, NJPS). Ever since the days of the Fall, it can be argued that we have been living in the latter days when HaShem is working with mankind to realise His word that "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (3:15, ESV) and reverse the first man's abdication of authority and embrace of sin.
Balaam speaks of Israel and Moab in the last days: "And now, as I go back to my people, let me inform you of what this people will do to your people in days to come ... What I see for them is not yet, What I behold will not be soon: A star rises from Jacob, A scepter comes forth from Israel; It smashes the brow of Moab, The foundation of all children of Seth. Edom becomes a possession, Yea, Seir a possession of its enemies; But Israel is triumphant" (B'Midbar 24:14,17-18, NJPS). Jeremiah speaks to the people of Jerusalem, hunkered down as the city is besieged by the Babylonians about the days beyond the Babylonian exile: "The anger of the L-RD shall not turn back till it has fulfilled and completed His purposes. In the days to come You shall perceive it" (Jeremiah 30:24, NJPS).
In the gospels, Yeshua speaks clearly of the time of the kingdom being 'now'. He tells the disciples, "Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together" (John 4:36, NASB) and "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of G-d; and those who hear shall live" (5:25, NASB). Those who accept Yeshua, "he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (v. 24, NASB), are changed in real time; already they are a citizen of the kingdom. After His resurrection, Yeshua spoke to the disciples, echoing the action of G-d when man was created, saying "'Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:21-22, NASB).
If we step up to the day of Pentecost, when Peter is explaining the outpouring of the Spirit to the crowds in Jerusalem, he says, "And in the last days it shall be, G-d declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams" (Acts 2:17, ESV). He is quoting from the prophets - "After this, I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions" (Joel 3:1, CJB) - but notice how he has changed Joel's , "after this", to , "in the last days". We are now - the year 30 CE or thereabouts - in the last days, Peter is saying, and one of the proofs is that the signs of the kingdom reserved for the last days is happening right here in front of you. The writer to the Hebrews has the same sense of present tense currency, as he starts his letter "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, G-d spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world" (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV). If that referred to those last days, how much more so, these days in which we live!
Rav Sha'ul warns Timothy of the challenges that will come: "in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of G-d, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:1-5, ESV). History tells us that this has been going on since Sha'ul wrote, but seems to be intensifying in our times. Peter confirms the picture, adding that, "you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires" (2 Peter 3:2-4, ESV).
According to Gregory Beale, in just same way that "G-d's Spirit began to transform the chaos that existed at the beginning ... the Spirit is best understood as a key agent in bringing about the inbreaking eschatalogical new creation and kingdom."1 James Dunn shows how important this is: "The Spirit was the eschatalogical gift par excellence, and possession of the Spirit would be the mark of one who belonged to the messianic community of the last days."2 Rav Sha'ul makes it clear that "Now He who establishes us with you in Messiah and anointed us is G-d, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge" (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, NASB), so that the "latter days" promises - which, like all of G-d's promises "find their Yes in Him" (v. 20, ESV) - are now being revealed in Yeshua and His people in these days. Quoting from Ephesians 2:20-22, Beale explains that "the church is growing and expanding in Messiah throughout the interadvent age ... and it is through the church's exercise of its gifts (Ephesians 4:8-16) that this expansion takes place."3
We need to hear the words of Ya'akov our father and make sure that we are gathered together to hear about the last days. We must pay attention and listen carefully to the words of the prophets and the apostles. We need to be encouraged by Yeshua's words that our citizenship is now - in real time - already in the kingdom and that because we have heard His voice and believed in Him, we have already passed from death to life. No matter what the world says, we are alive! We must also recognise and demonstrate that the exercise of the gifts and ministries of the Spirit are the evidence of the kingdom that the world needs to see to bring revival and the harvest of the latter days.
1. - G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology - The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), page 559.
2. - James D. G. Dunn, "Spirit, New Testament" in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology ed. Colin Brown, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975-85), vol 3, page 699.
3. - Beale, page 645.
Further Study: Ephesians 2:19-22; Ephesians 4:11-16
Application: Rejoice that in Yeshua you are now, already, in this age, a signed-up member of the kingdom of G-d and that G-d has promised His Spirit to enable and empower you to act as His ambassador and representative in this world. As we look to the fullness of these latter days, ask G-d to show you how He wants to work through you to bring in His harvest.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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