Life-Study of Genesisby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
According to the Old Testament, the twelve sons of Jacob are arranged in four groups of three. Jacob's prophetic word of blessing in chapter forty-nine is based upon these groups. We have already covered the first group, the group of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi. That group was utterly evil in the eyes of God. Reuben was defiled, and Simeon and Levi were cruel. The record of the first group is the beginning of the record of the twelve sons of Jacob. What a poor beginning it was! However, this should be an encouragement to us because our beginning was also very poor.
The second group is composed of Judah, Zebulun, and Issachar. Because Christ comes in with this group, it is the group of victory. In this group we have the gospel, the preaching of the gospel, and the church life.
Some may think that it is too much to say that in Genesis 49 we find the preaching of the gospel and the church life as the issue of that preaching. Remember, the first tribe in the second group is Judah, and the most significant aspect of the record concerning Judah is the lion. Verse 9 says, "Judah is a young lion: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lioness" (Heb.). This verse is interpreted by Revelation 5:5, where Christ is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Without Revelation 5:5, it would be difficult to interpret Genesis 49:9. But with Revelation 5:5 before us, no one can deny that Judah signifies Christ.
Although the New Testament often interprets the signs and symbols in the Old Testament, it does not always give every detail of these interpretations. Regarding Judah as a lion, Genesis 49 has three aspects: the young lion, the couching lion, and the lioness. Revelation, however, simply speaks of the Lion of the tribe of Judah in a general way, saying nothing of these detailed aspects. Those who are legal would say, "Now don't go too far. We can only say what the New Testament says. We must not say any more." This is legality. Genesis 49 reveals that Judah is a lion in three aspects, but the New Testament only gives us an interpretation in a general way. Why then should we not continue on to supply the interpretations of the details?
There are at least two or three places where the New Testament indicates that it did not tell us everything (Heb. 5:11; 9:5; 11:32). Consider Hebrews 11:32: "And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, and both David and Samuel, and the prophets." Here the writer of Hebrews seems to be saying, "I do not have time to tell you everything. I have only included part of what the Old Testament says. I have left a great deal untouched." What then should we do about this? We must go to the Lord ourselves and inquire of Him. The writer of Hebrews took the lead to give us a way to interpret the Old Testament. He did not have the time to interpret everything for us. He left something for us to work out by going directly to the Lord ourselves. No one can disagree with this principle. Nevertheless, some Christian teachers argue that if the New Testament does not speak about a certain thing, we should not say anything about it either.
Although there is a very clear interpretation of Judah in Revelation 5, what is spoken in the New Testament concerning Zebulun and Issachar? There is a partial interpretation of Zebulun in Matthew 4:15, but there is no interpretation whatever of Issachar. According to those who insist that we should be silent when the New Testament is silent, we should not say anything about Issachar. But we do not agree with such a short-sighted concept. The fact that the tribe of Judah has a spiritual significance is fully proved by Revelation 5. Should not the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar have a spiritual significance as well? Would there be a spiritual significance to Judah, but no spiritual significance to the other tribes in the same group? To say this is not logical; it is absurd.
As we pointed out in the foregoing message, with Judah there are three main points: the victory of Christ, the kingdom of Christ, and the rest in the enjoyment of Christ's riches in life. We see the victory of Christ in verses 8 and 9, the kingdom of Christ in verse 10, and the rest and enjoyment of Christ's riches in life in verses 11 and 12. These three points are not an arbitrary interpretation of these verses. If you think my interpretation is arbitrary, I would ask you why in verse 9 the young lion is mentioned before the couching lion and the lioness. Why is there this sequence? Why is the lioness not put first? Following the threefold mention of the lion, we have in verse 10 the scepter and the ruler's staff, denoting the kingship and the kingdom. Why does the kingdom follow the lion? Why is it not mentioned first? After the kingship, we have, as the third item, the rest in the enjoyment of Christ's riches in life. If you do not follow the interpretation put forth in the previous message regarding binding the donkey to the vine, how do you interpret these words? What do they mean? Furthermore, what does it mean to wash your garments in the wine? Also, what is the meaning of eyes that are red with wine and teeth that are white with milk? As the New Testament only gives us the interpretation for verse 9 in Revelation 5:5, there should be some interpretations for verses 11 and 12. What are these interpretations? Concerning all the points in verses 9 through 12, we need to spend much time quietly in the presence of the Lord, saying, "Lord, what would You say about this? What does it mean to bind the donkey to the vine?" The Lord would say, "If you look into the Bible, you would see that a donkey is used for journeying toward a goal. This journeying donkey is always laboring." Then you would say, "Surely I am such a donkey. I need to bind this donkey to the vine." The vine spoken of in verse 11 is Christ. In John 15:1 Christ said, "I am the true vine." Thus, to bind the donkey to the vine means to bind our donkey to Christ. This is just one illustration of the correct way to understand this portion of the Word.
Verse 13 says, "Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for a haven of ships." This verse does not say, "Zebulun shall dwell at the stable full of horses and donkeys." Furthermore, it does not say that Zebulun would dwell on the mountain. The tribe of Judah dwelt in hilly country, in the region around Mount Zion, where the capital of the nation was located. Zebulun, however, dwelt at the haven of the sea. This is very meaningful.
Judah signifies the victorious Christ, the One who gained the victory for the kingdom so that His people may rest in Him. Surely Judah must dwell on the mountain. But Zebulun dwelt at the haven of the sea, at a seaport. A port is for exporting goods, for sending out ships. Thus far in this portion of the Word, we have seen two methods of transportation: donkeys and ships. Pictures like these are often used in the Bible. For example, John 1:29 says, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" This simple picture of the Lamb of God depicts a great deal. Likewise, much is portrayed by the pictures of the donkey and the ships in chapter forty-nine. A donkey is an animal that transports things by its own labor. But in the ancient times the ships sailed by the power of the heavenly wind. No doubt this refers to the shipping out of the gospel of Christ. Judah was the factory producing the gospel, and Zebulun was the haven exporting the gospel produced by Judah.
Matthew 4:15 indicates that Zebulun was part of Galilee. The Lord Jesus began His ministry of the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom from Galilee. After His resurrection, the angel charged the women to tell the disciples, "Behold, He goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see Him" (Matt. 28:7). There in Galilee the resurrected Christ met with the disciples and charged them to preach the gospel. The disciples "went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus appointed them," and it was there He said to them, "Go therefore and disciple all the nations" (Matt. 28:16, 19). Zebulun was part of the region of Galilee. Acts 1:11 reveals that the first preachers of the gospel were men of Galilee. In Acts 1:8 the Lord had said to these Galileans, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the remotest part of the earth." By all this we see that Zebulun signifies the preaching of the gospel. Judah signifies the gospel composed of the victorious Christ, the kingdom of Christ, and the rest in the enjoyment of the riches of Christ. This is the gospel represented by Judah. Thus, Judah is the tribe producing the gospel. After the gospel is produced, there is the need for the preaching of the gospel. Therefore, Zebulun comes in to carry out this mission, to discharge the burden of sending forth the gospel.
The proper way to send out the gospel is not by donkeys journeying by their own hard labor. The proper way is to export the gospel by sailing ships empowered by the heavenly wind. In Acts 1:8 the Lord told the Galilean preachers to wait until they had received the power from on high, and Acts 2:2 says, "And suddenly there came a noise out of heaven like a rushing violent wind." From that time onward, the ships began to sail. One of these living ships was named Peter. On the day of Pentecost, Peter was not a donkey journeying and laboring, telling others that Jesus was the Savior and they had to believe in Him or else they would perish. He was a ship sailing by the power of a rushing mighty wind. The preaching of the gospel in today's Christianity is carried out mainly by laboring donkeys. But as you read Peter's message in Acts chapter two, you see that on the day of Pentecost he was sailing like a ship, not plodding along like a donkey.
I would also point out that the gospel goes out by sailing ships, not by steam ships powered by man-made engines. Do not use any gimmicks in the preaching of the gospel. To preach the gospel by means of gimmicks is to change the sailing ship into a steamer. History proves that the gospel has never been exported by either donkeys or steamers. According to church history, whenever the gospel has been carried out, it has been carried out by sailing boats, by saints who sailed like ships under the power of the heavenly wind.
If you do not interpret verse 13, in this way, then how do you interpret it? Was Zebulun a haven of ships for shipping out potatoes, oranges, or olives? Do not neglect the context of the whole Bible. The interpretation of the second group of three tribes is governed by Judah. The significance of Judah controls the interpretation. Judah signifies Christ as the gospel. According to spiritual history, the book of Acts follows the four Gospels, and the Acts is the book of the Galilean preachers. These Galilean preachers were ships sailing by the power of the heavenly wind. Since Judah has produced the riches of Christ, Zebulun is needed to export these riches to the nations.
Verse 13 also says, "And his border shall be unto Zidon." It does not say that his border shall be unto Jerusalem. Zidon was a heathen city outside the holy land. It was located on the sea, and from it the sea traffic went to the uttermost parts of the earth. Because verse 13 is poetry, it must be interpreted in an allegorical way. In this verse we have the haven of ships and the border of the Gentile world. The history of the preaching of the gospel in Acts corresponds to this. In Acts the early preachers sailed from the holy land to Asia Minor and then across the Aegean Sea to Greece, Rome, and Spain. The Apostle Paul took a ship from the holy land and sailed firstly to Sidon (Zidon) and eventually to Rome (Acts 27:3; 28:14). Therefore, verse 13 was fulfilled in the history of the gospel preaching recorded in Acts.
One day I looked into Darby's Synopsis to see what he had to say about Zebulun. He said that the border being unto Zidon indicates mixture with the Gentile world. Even such a great biblical scholar as Darby was mistaken in his interpretation of Zebulun. As he sought to interpret the significance of Zebulun, he must have forgotten Judah, the first tribe in this group. Moreover, he must not have considered the significance of Zebulun as revealed in the New Testament. In the New Testament, we see that Zebulun was in Galilee of the nations, whence the Galilean preachers were sent forth. Thus, we must be careful in accepting the opinions of others. Although we have followed some scriptural teachers, we do not follow anyone blindly. Rather, we check every point thoroughly and carefully with the Bible. According to history, after the gospel was produced in Judah, the preaching of the gospel was carried out by Zebulun.
In the record of Judah the significant word is lion, and in the record of Zebulun the significant word is ships. The lion is singular, whereas the ships are plural. There is just one Christ, but many Galilean preachers. There is one gospel, but many ships. The church in Anaheim is a haven of ships. We are ships in the haven being prepared to sail out with Christ as the gospel. Young people, are you not Galilean ships ready to sail out? As ships, you must be ready to sail. But do not sail forth to start a movement.
Hundreds of years after Jacob uttered the prophetic blessing recorded in Genesis 49, Moses, an old lawgiver, said, " Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out" (Deut. 33:18). The going out mentioned in this verse refers to the shipping out. Thus, the word of Moses corresponds to the word of Jacob. Jacob likened Zebulun to ships, which, of course, are for going out, and Moses told Zebulun to rejoice in his going out. If we go out for the preaching of the gospel, we shall rejoice. The person most full of rejoicing and happiness is the gospel preacher. If you are a ship sailing by the power of the heavenly wind, you will be happy, rejoicing, and beside yourself with joy. Following Judah, Zebulun comes in as the preaching of the gospel. Hallelujah, we have Judah as the four Gospels and Zebulun as the book of Acts!
Now we come to Issachar. It is important that Issachar does not precede Zebulun. What is the spiritual significance of Issachar? Verses 14 and 15 say, "Issachar is a strong ass couching down between the sheepfolds: and he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant" (Heb.). After the four Gospels and the Acts, we have the Epistles, which cover the matter of the church life. Therefore, Issachar signifies and represents the church life.
Issachar is likened to a strong donkey couching between the sheepfolds (v. 14). The mention of the donkey in verse 14 connects this verse with verse 11, which speaks of binding the young donkey to the vine. Thus, the donkey links Issachar to Judah. In Judah, in the gospel, we have the young donkey bound to Christ the vine. In Issachar, in the church life, we have the strong donkey couching between the sheepfolds. In Genesis 49 couching means resting in satisfaction. After Christ, the young lion, seized His prey and enjoyed it, He couched, rested in His satisfaction. Here in verse 14 we have a strong donkey couching down between the sheepfolds. In Judah we are young donkeys, but here in Issachar we are strong donkeys. These strong donkeys are neither laboring nor journeying, but couching. When you first came into the church life, you were probably a young donkey. But now, after a number of years in the church, you may be a strong couching donkey.
Notice that this couching donkey is not resting in the sheepfolds; rather, he is resting between the sheepfolds. Every denomination and religion is a fold. Today, we are not resting in any denominational fold. Instead, we are resting outside the folds. In chapter ten of John the Lord made it clear that Judaism was a fold holding God's flock and that He came into this fold for the purpose of leading the flock out of it. In John 10:16 the Lord said, "I have other sheep which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one flock, one shepherd." Hallelujah, this couching donkey is not resting in any fold; he is couching between the folds. Although he is not very far from the folds, he is not in any of them. This is exactly our situation today. We are not very far from the denominational folds; we are among them.
You may be wondering how a donkey could be among the sheepfolds. In a sense, we all are sheep of the flock. But according to our natural man, we all are donkeys. Many times I have been rather happy with myself before the Lord and I praised Him, saying, "O Lord, thank You that I am in Your church. I am one of the many sheep in Your flock." However, at other times I looked at myself and said, "You don't look like a sheep. Probably you are a donkey, a horse, or a cow. Sometimes you even look like a buffalo." At night when all your work is over and you are sitting quietly in the presence of the Lord, you may say, "Lord, how I praise and thank You that I am in Your flock." But at the same time you may look at yourself and say, "Poor me, I don't look like a sheep. I look like a horse or a cow." According to our nature, none of us is a sheep. Instead, we are either donkeys or horses, cows or buffaloes. Nevertheless, we are also the transformed ones. Although I was a typical Chinese, I have been transformed. I was born Chinese, but I have become a Christian through regeneration. By origin, I was a donkey. But by regeneration I am now a sheep resting among the denominations. Thus, we are a flock of transformed donkeys resting between the sheepfolds. We admit that we were not born sheep. Nevertheless, today we are the flock couching between the sheepfolds.
As Issachar couched down between the sheepfolds, "he saw that rest was good" (v. 15). We all have seen this good rest. What good rest there is between the folds! This is the rest in the church life, which is to cease from our labor and rest in Christ (Matt. 11:28). As we are couching here, we see that this rest is good.
Verse 15 also says that Issachar saw "the land that it was pleasant." As we are resting in the church life among the denominational folds, we enjoy the good rest and the rich pleasant land. This land is Christ. If you consider your experience, you will realize that this is true. As we are resting in the church life among the denominations, we see the good rest and the pleasant land, which is Christ as our green pasture. If you do not interpret these verses in this way, they have no meaning. But in this interpretation these verses are full of meaning and they strengthen our experience.
Verse 15 also says, "And bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant under taskwork" (Heb.). This is true to our experience. As we rest in the church life, couching between the denominations, realizing the rest, and enjoying the pleasant land, we are willing to lower our shoulder to serve and to bear some responsibility. We become a servant under taskwork. Taskwork does not refer to the work of our choice, but to some assigned work. It is not our chosen work, but the work assigned by the Lord. It is the task assigned by the Head to us as members of the Body. Whatever we do as an assigned portion of the Body service is taskwork. Eventually this taskwork becomes a tribute offered to our Master. After the producing of the gospel, we have the preaching of the gospel. As the issue of the preaching of the gospel, we have the church life. In the church life we all are donkeys couching down among the divisions, seeing the good rest, and enjoying Christ as the pleasant land. As we are couching, spontaneously we say, "Lord Jesus, I love You. I would like to bear the burden of the work You have assigned to me. I am willing to bear such a burden under Your taskwork so that I may have something to offer You for Your satisfaction." This is the tribute we offer to our King. How marvelous!
Deuteronomy 33:18 says, "Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out; and, Issachar, in thy tents." We have seen that Moses told Zebulun to rejoice in his going out. Now we see that Issachar is to rejoice in his tents. Undoubtedly, the tents here refer to the church life. For the preaching of the gospel, we must be joyful in our going out. But for the church life, we must be joyful in remaining in the local churches.
After the producing of the gospel, the preaching of the gospel, and the issue of the preaching of the gospel, the church life, we come to the consummation, which is found in Deuteronomy 33:19. This verse says, "They shall invite the peoples unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand" (Heb.). Firstly, in the consummation the peoples are invited to the mountain of God. In the church life today we are inviting others to the mountain of God, that is, to the kingdom of God. Of course, this invitation will be completely fulfilled during the time of the millennial kingdom. In the millennial kingdom all the peoples, the nations, will be invited through preaching to God's kingdom in Mount Zion. But we have a miniature of this in the church life today. Due to the preaching and the church life, that is, due to Zebulun and Issachar, the peoples are invited to God's kingdom, to the mountain of God. This verse with "the peoples" invited links Issachar to Judah, to whom "shall the obedience of the peoples be" (v. 10, Heb.).
Secondly, on the mountain the peoples will offer sacrifices of righteousness to God. In God's kingdom in the church life today such righteous offerings are being presented to Him (1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 13:15-16; Phil. 4:18). All the sacrifices we offer to God in the church life are of righteousness, according to the righteous requirement of God. It will also be so in the coming kingdom (Mal. 3:3).
Thirdly, the church and the kingdom become our enjoyment. This is signified by the words, "They shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand." In order to interpret this portion of the verse, we must consider the parables of the treasure and the pearl in Matthew 13:44-46. In Matthew 13, the treasure refers to the kingdom, and the pearl refers to the church. I believe the abundance of the seas in verse 19 is the church. Undoubtedly, the seas signify the nations, the Gentile world. Out of the Gentile world the church is brought forth as the abundance. All the Gentile believers are the abundance of the seas, the abundance of the nations. This is the church. The kingdom is the treasure hid in the sand, or hid in the earth. If we would apply the proper interpretation of these two parables in Matthew 13 to Deuteronomy 33:19, we would see that the result of the gospel, of the preaching of the gospel, and of the church life as the issue of the gospel is the enjoyment of the church life and the kingdom. Even today we are sucking of the abundance of the seas and of the treasures hid in the sand. We are sucking of the church life and of the kingdom life. The church life is the abundance out of the nations, and the kingdom life is the treasure hidden in the earth. Even today it is still hidden. The outsiders do not understand what we are doing in the church. They may say, "I can't understand those people. It seems they go to meetings almost every night. What are they doing?" We are sucking of the abundance of the seas and of the treasures hidden in the sand.
In this second group of Jacob's sons we have the gospel signified by Judah and fully recorded in the four Gospels; the preaching of the gospel signified by Zebulun and fully recorded in the book of Acts; and the church life signified by Issachar and fully recorded in the remaining books of the New Testament beginning with Romans. The result is the enjoyment of the church life and the kingdom life. It takes the whole Bible to understand Genesis 49. It takes the entire New Testament to interpret even the second group alone. In the four Gospels we see Judah as the gospel, in Acts we see Zebulun as the preaching of the gospel, and in the Epistles and Revelation we see Issachar as the church life. The consummation of all this is our enjoyment, our sucking, of the rich church life and of the kingdom. Hallelujah, today we have Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, and the consummation! With Judah we have the lion, the one Christ, and the one gospel; with Zebulun we have the many ships and the many Galileans; and with Issachar we have the tents, the many local churches. We have Christ as the gospel, we have the preaching of the gospel, and we have the church life. Now we are the flock couching between the sheepfolds enjoying the church life and the kingdom life.
Some Christians today only care for Judah, only care for the victorious life in Christ, and others care for Zebulun, for the preaching of the gospel. But very few care for Issachar, for the church life. In the Lord's recovery, however, we must care for all three of this group: for Judah, the victorious life; for Zebulun, the preaching of the gospel; and for Issachar, the church life, so that we may have the full enjoyment in Christ.
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