[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—Thursday, 15 February, Pre-Lenten Feria
[The icon is by Theophilia]
Jacob Blesses His Sons and Dies
Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in days to come. Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob, and hearken to Israel your father. Reuben, you are my first-born, my might, and the first fruits of my strength, pre-eminent in pride and pre-eminent in power. Unstable as water, you shall not have pre-eminence because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it – you went up to my couch! Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. O my soul, come not into their council; O my spirit, be not joined to their company; for in their anger they slay men, and in their wantonness they hamstring oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who dares rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his ass’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes; his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon. Issachar is a strong ass, crouching between the sheepfolds; he saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant; so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a slave at forced labour. Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward. I wait for thy salvation, O LORD. Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels. Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties. Naphtali is a hind let loose, that bears comely fawns. Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. The archers fiercely attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him sorely; yet his bow remained unmoved, his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel), by the God of your father who will help you, by God Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that couches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was separate from his brothers. Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, and at even dividing the spoil.”
All these are the twelve tribes of Israel; and this is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. Then he charged them, and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field at Mach-pelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah – the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites.” When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
St. Ambrose On the Patriarchs, 4.17-24 (Tr. McHugh)
This blessing appears to be directed to the Patriarch Judah, but in reality that later Judah is meant, Jesus Christ, the true Confessor who was born of that tribe and who alone is praised by his brothers; of them it is said, I will declare your name to my brothers. He is the Lord by nature, but a brother by grace; his hands, which he stretched out to an unbelieving people, are on the back of his enemies. For with those same hands and by that same passion he protected his own, subjugated hostile powers, and made subject to himself all men who were without faith.
A lion’s whelp is Judah. Isn’t it clear that he both represented the Father and manifested the Son? Is there any clearer way to teach that God the Son is of one nature with the Father? The one is the lion, the other the lion’s whelp. By this paltry comparison, their unity in the same nature and power is perceived. King proceeds from king, a strong one from one who is strong. Because Jacob foresaw that there would be those to claim that the Son was younger in age, he replied to them by adding, From my seed you have come up to me. Resting, you have slept like a lion and like a whelp. And in a different passage you find that the whelp is himself the lion of the tribe of Judah. Therefore, seeing that he had said whelp, it was good that Jacob at once put lion; this is to say: ‘Do not to let your ears be deceived, because they heard ‘whelp’; I described that Son, I did not say he was younger. He also is a lion just as the Father is. Jacob, who confesses the Son, also esteems him equal.
Moreover, he represented the Son’s incarnation in a wonderful fashion when he said, From my seed you have come up to me. For Christ sprouted in the womb of the virgin like a shrub upon the earth; like a flower of good fragrance. He was sent forth in the splendour of new light and came up from his mother’s womb for the redemption of the entire world. Just as Isaiah says, There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse and a flower shall come up out of the root. The root is the household of the Jews, the rod is Mary, the flower of Mary is Christ. She is rightly called a rod, for she is of royal lineage, of the house and family of David. Her flower is Christ, who destroyed the stench of worldly pollution and poured out the fragrance of eternal life.
Therefore you have become acquainted with the incarnation; learn of the passion. Resting, you have slept like a lion. When Christ lay at rest in the tomb as if in a kind of bodily sleep, as he himself says, I have slept and have taken my rest and have risen up, because the Lord will sustain me. On this account also Jacob says, Who will arouse him? Who else is there to rouse him again, unless he rouses himself by his own power and the power of the Father? Therefore he is the Author of his own resurrection, he is the Judge of his death, he is expected by the nations. And he is the expectation of the nations. Jacob spoke more meaningfully than if he had said, ‘The nations are expecting him’, for in Christ lies the entire hope of the Church.