Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.
The heads of the covenant race had hitherto been single individuals. Abraham - Isaac - Jacob. The one now expands into the twelve. Glance briefly at this list of the patriarchs.
I. THE MEN. Here we are struck -
1. With the original unfitness of most of these men for the position of dignity they were afterwards called to occupy. How shall we describe them! Recall Reuben's incest; Simeon and Levi's cruelty; Judah's lewdness; the "evil report" which Joseph brought to his father of the sons of the handmaids. The picture in the later chapters of Genesis is crowded with shadows, and it is chiefly the sins of these men which are the causes of them. Joseph is the one bright exception. The rest appear to have been men of a violent, truculent disposition, capable of selling their younger brother into Egypt, and afterwards, to screen their fault, of imposing by wilful falsehood on their aged father. Even in Benjamin, traits of character were discernible which gave ground for the tribal prediction: "Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf" (Genesis 49:17). How unlikely that men of so ungodly a stamp, who began so ill, should end by being exalted to be patriarch-heads of a covenant nation! And neither in truth were they, till, by God's grace, a great change had passed upon them. Their crime in selling Joseph was, in a sense, their salvation. It was an act for which they never forgave themselves. Compunction wrought in them a better disposition, and laid the basis for "a train of humiliating and soul-stirring providences, tending to force on them the conviction that they were in the hands of an angry God, and to bring them to repentance of sin and amendment of life." See -
(1) The natural unfitness of man for God's service; "that which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6).
(2) What the grace of God can make even of very bad men. "By grace ye are saved" (Ephesians 2:5).
(3) How those whom God designs for honour in his kingdom, he first prepares for that honour. Whatever disciplines are needful for that purpose - and they may not be few - he will not withhold.
2. With the variety of gifts and dispositions found amongst them. This variety is taken note of in the blessings of Jacob and of Moses, and is reflected in the history. Judah is from the first a leader. He and Joseph were heads of what subsequently became the royal tribes. Reuben's impulsiveness reminds us of Peter, but he lacked Peter's underlying constancy. Levi's zeal wrought at first for evil, but afterwards for good. The other brethren were less distinguished, but, as shown by the blessings, all were gifted, and gifted diversely. Does this not teach us?
(1) That God can use, and
(2) that God requires, every variety of gift in his service. Hence,
(3) that there is both room and need in his kingdom for all types and varieties of character - for every species of gift. A type of religion is self-condemned which cannot find room in it for the play and development of every legitimate capability of human nature. This is but to say that the goal of God's kingdom is the perfecting of humanity, not in part, but in the totality of its powers and functions. Grace does not suppress individuality; it develops and sanctifies it. It does not trample on gifts, but lays hold upon, transforms, and utilises them.
3. With the existence of a law of heredity in spiritual as in natural descent. The characteristics of the patriarchs were stamped with remarkable distinctness on the tribes which bore their names. Reuben's instability, Judah's capacity of rule, Levi's zeal, Dan's agility, Benjamin's fierceness, etc. This reappearance of ancestral characteristics in the descendants is a fact with which we are familiar, and is only explained in part by inherited, organisation. Inheritance of ideas, customs, family traditions, etc., plays quite as important a part in producing the result. A law this, capable of being the vehicle of much good, but also of much evil. - as potent to punish as to bless.
II. THEIR NUMBER. The number twelve not to be regarded as fortuitous. Twelve (3 × 4), the symbol of the indwelling of God in the human family, of the interpenetration of the world by the Divinity. Three, the number of the Divine; four, the number of the world. Hence, twelve tribes, twelve cakes of shewbread, twelve apostles, twelve foundations and twelve gates of the New Jerusalem. The number twelve is kept up in spite of actual departures from it in fact. The" twelve tribes" are spoken of in the days of the apostles (Acts 26:17; James 1:1), though, counting Levi; there were really thirteen tribes, and after the Captivity only two. It was doubtless with reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, and therefore to the number of these patriarchs, that Christ chose the twelve apostles. View the patriarchs, accordingly, as representing the covenant race, not only -
1. In its natural heads, but symbolically -
2. In its spiritual privilege as a people of God, and
3. In its world-wide destiny. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob.