First he says, “The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3).
1) “The one who prophesies speaks to people”… In the following verse, 1 Corinthians 14:4, Paul specifies who these people are: “The one who prophesies builds up the church.” That is, prophecy is first of all for the community of faith. Soon we will see that prophecy can be directed to non-believers also, but its main audience is the people of faith. (For example, Genesis 49 is directed to Jacob’s sons, not to their Egyptian neighbors.)
2) …“for upbuilding”… It edifies, grows and matures listeners in their relationship with Yahweh. Prophecy may speak of horrible destruction and condemnation but only to those who oppose Yahweh’s righteousness. It builds up those who live by faith in His righteousness.
3) …“encouragement”… Encouragement or exhortation has three steps when it is complete:
a) it portrays the listener’s present situation and clarifies it according to God’s perspective, then communicates to the listener that he is not following God;
b) it portrays the new situation that the listener should be walking in;
c) it encourages him to make the necessary changes to leave situation a) and enter into situation b).
4) …“consolation”… Prophecy consoles the listener who is suffering for following Yahweh’s righteousness and encourages him to keep marching forward in Yahweh’s power despite the present difficulties.
Paul also explains, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
1. “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters”… Prophecy, although directed above all to the community of faith, can be directed to outsiders also.
2. …“he is convicted”… The listener now understands that he has thought and acted against Yahweh’s righteousness.
3. …“he is called to account”… Through prophecy, the listener recognizes he is guilty for his unrighteousness, that he deserves punishment and condemnation from God for his sins.
4. …“the secrets of his heart are disclosed”… His hidden sins and perverse motives that he followed are now brought to light. Notice that this aspect of prophecy is declared to unbelievers and also to members of the community of faith who are walking in unrighteousness.
5. …“falling on his face, he will worship God”… The purpose of prophecy is the repentance of listeners and their restoration to God’s ways.
6. …“declaring that God is really among you.” Prophecy is a manifestation that God is with His people.
Shortly thereafter, Paul highlights other aspects of prophecy: “If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:30-31). Note three more observations about prophecy:
1. “If a revelation is made to another”… Prophecy is distinguished from other spiritual gifts like teaching because it includes revelation. The Spirit of God reveals something to the one prophesying that is not immediately accessible by logic, previous preparation, simple observation or the repeating of a lesson learned. That doesn’t mean prophecy is illogical or mystical, but that its origin is in Yahweh and it is transmitted by the one speaking.
2. …“let the first be silent”… The one who prophesies does not enter into ecstasy. He is in complete control of himself. He can speak or right away be quiet without any difficulty.
3. …“so that all may learn”… Besides the functions of building up, encouragement, consolation, and conviction of sins like we saw earlier, prophecy also teaches: it communicates to Yahweh’s people what He is like in His righteousness and how to relate to Him in faith and obedience.
We’re going to add a little more to Paul’s definition of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14 by identifying another characteristic that it sometimes has and that appears here in Genesis 49: prophecy exhorts listeners by revealing the future. Notice that prophecy never reveals the future just to inform listeners or to give them some intellectual satisfaction, but it always exhorts them to act in accordance with Yahweh’s righteousness. Prophecy, when it speaks of the future, tries to impact the present-day life of its listeners.
Jacob prophesies with all of these intentions in mind in Genesis 49. By Yahweh’s revelation of the future of the covenant community, Jacob wants to teach, build up, encourage and console his sons and the generations that will follow them so that they avoid sin and walk in Yahweh’s righteousness in preparation for His fulfillment of His promises. As they wait, they should repeat these prophecies to one another to remind themselves of Yahweh’s faithful presence with them.
With this definition guiding us like a compass pointing north, let’s quickly review Genesis 49 to see some of its prophecies that stand out.
Reuben (Genesis 49:3-4): Notice the difference between his potential in verse 3 and what he lost in verse 4 because of his instability and sexual sin described in Genesis 35:22. Although he is the firstborn, he will not receive the birthright (as 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 confirms).
Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5-7): They are reproved for their extreme violence in reaction to Dinah’s defilement in Genesis 34. He also reveals the consequences for their sin: “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel” (Genesis 49:7). Simeon’s descendants will receive an inheritance when they return to Canaan, but as time goes on they will lose their identity and will be assimilated into the tribe of Judah. Levi’s descendants will be scattered throughout Canaan but for a more noble purpose; as we will see in the book of Exodus and later, they will be the priestly tribe of Israel.
Judah (Genesis 49:8-12): He is compared to a lion because of its noble strength and its ability to awaken fear and admiration in all its enemies. He reveals that the scepter, representing kingship, will continue with Judah until it comes to one identified as Shiloh (a difficult word to translate from Hebrew; scholars point to several possibilities, traditionally taken as messianic in meaning), and the peoples or nations will be gathered to him or obedient to him. Jacob says, “Binding his foal to the vine” (Genesis 49:11), a strange picture because you don’t tie foals to vines… they will eat them! Neither do you wash your clothes in wine (Genesis 49:11). But what Jacob is communicating to Judah and his descendants is that the common agricultural products of the region (grapes, wine, milk) will be so plentiful and with so much prosperity around them that it won’t matter if someone’s donkey eats his choice vines: there will be choice vines everywhere, and wine will be as common as water.
Zebulun (Genesis 49:13): His prosperity in maritime trading is going to be comparable to the prosperity of Sidon, one of the most famous ports of antiquity.
Issachar (Genesis 49:14-15): He’s strong, but because of his laziness and desire for comfort, his strength will be used to serve others.
Dan (Genesis 49:16-17): He will be small but dangerous to those who seem stronger than him, just like a serpent can bring down a rider on a horse.
I wait for your salvation, O LORD (Genesis 49:18). In the middle of his prophecy, Jacob wants to remind his sons that everything he is revealing to them is by God’s grace in salvation, not as a recompense for their own righteousness.
Gad (Genesis 49:19): They will suffer invasion and defeat but eventually will fight back and cause their enemies to flee.
Asher (Genesis 49:20): He will produce the quality reserved for kings in abundance.
Naphtali (Genesis 49:21): He will enjoy gracefulness in words and family.
Joseph (Genesis 49:22-26): Remember that Joseph receives the birthright that Reuben lost, the eldest son’s two portions of the inheritance divided equally among all the sons. One portion of that birthright goes to his son Ephraim and the other to Manasseh in accordance with their “adoption” and blessing by Jacob in Genesis 48. Notice that this prophecy emphasizes prosperity despite severe persecution and extends into praise for Yahweh who has protected and prospered Joseph, to the point of referring to eternal blessings that he will receive. Jacob expresses himself like someone who finds that his words are insufficient to grasp the marvels of Yahweh and the blessings that He pours out on His chosen one.
Benjamin (Genesis 49:27): As Judah was compared to a lion, Benjamin is compared to a wolf, also in a positive sense. He catches prey and since he has more than enough, he shares it with his brothers.
Through these words from their forefather Israel, his sons and descendants would be taught, built up, encouraged, exhorted, consoled and convicted of their sins for repentance in the years of waiting before returning to the land of Canaan. It would even serve as a reminder and prophecy for the years afterwards. They should remember that even though Israel and their other forefathers had died, their God would never abandon them: He would relate to them by grace and in faithfulness to His covenant, and they should respond in devotion demonstrated in righteousness.
And so we close our readings from the time of the patriarchs of Israel and the book of Genesis, with our sights set on the future manifestations of Yahweh’s grace toward His chosen people.