WORD STUDY – SON OF FRUITFULNESS
Genesis 49:1, 22: “And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you [that] which shall befall you in days to come. (22) “Joseph is a fruitful son, a fruitful son by a spring. His branches run over a wall.”
In Chapter 49 of Genesis we have Jacob giving his final blessing just before he died. However, this is more than just a blessing but it is also a prophecy. In Genesis 49:1 we learn that Jacob summoned his sons to assemble themselves so that he might tell them what will befall them in the days to come. Actually, in the Hebrew that phrase is read: ba’acharith hayomim or literally end of days. Ba’acharith comes from the root word achar which means expiration, final outcome. Although achar has been used to express just merely future events and not so much a finality. In its Semitic root it has the idea of delaying or hindering. Hence this is more of the idea of the hindrances to the final outcome. Probably, our modern translations are more accurate than the KJV if we consider the hindering aspect to achar. You could and should read this as “[that] which will befall you in the days to come [to hinder you from fulfilling God’s promise or ultimate plan]. Most our modern translations read in days to come and only a few follow the KJV’s rendering as last days. The ERV safely says latter days.
There is a lot of good things for Judah in this prophecy. There are also some rather bad things in this prophecy as with Gad; where raiders would raid them. The prophecy for Joseph is a curious one. Joseph is called a “fruitful son and a fruitful son by a spring. His branches run over a wall.”
The name Joseph means to be added, or to multiply. The name is fitting because we learn from his history that whoever teamed up with Joseph ended up getting blessed or multiplied. Potiphar or the jailor are good examples. The land of Egypt prospered because of Joseph as well during the time of depression. Joseph is called a fruitful son. Actually that is the meaning of the name Joseph gave his son, Ephraim. Yet, the word for fruitful here is different word, it is parah. In one sense this does mean fruitful, but it literally means sweet water and is the root word for the Euphrates. The use of this word as fruitful gets its idea from the fact that sweet water or water that is pure was a source of abundance and fruitfulness. So being called a ben parah means that Joseph was not necessarily fruitful, but that he would be the source of fruitfulness to others, which indeed he was as well as his descendents.
In checking ancient Jewish literature I found that the phrase Fruitful son is also an idiomatic expression for a twig of a fruitful tree. Here the fruitful tree would be God. Hence Joseph was not the source of the fruitfulness, he was just a twig of a fruitful tree. He is also called a fruitful son by a spring. The word spring is ayin which can mean a fountain, but also has the idea of a spiritual fountain. This may explain why the phrase fruitful son is used twice. Once to convey physical or natural fruit and the other to convey spiritual fruit.
As children of God we also are a twig off the tree of God. We can draw from His life and all his resources just as Joseph did to be a blessing to others, both in the natural and in the spiritual. Remember Joseph went through a lot of hardship before he reached that point where he could bless an entire nation. His rightful inheritance was taken from him, he was forced into a foreign land, he was in slavery and bondage until the day he would came into the fullness of God’s plan and became a real ben parah, where he feed an entire nation during a great depression. He also helped to set the path for his people on their spiritual journey through his faithfulness and trust in God.
His branches run over a wall. The word branches is banah which is the feminine form for ben (son). Thus, it can be translated as daughters as some translations do. However, it makes little sense to say his daughters run over a wall. So they translate it as branches to picture a vine like a grape vine climbing over a wall, That is a good and proper rendering, but there is more to this. The word banah can also mean to repair and/or restore. The word for wall is sur. This is easily confused with suk. The Resh at the end of sur can be mistaken for a Kap. Suk means to wall in or to hold captive. Sur means to wall in to protect. Big difference. Joseph’s descendents repaired or restored the wall of protection, both physical and spiritual.
Like most of you, I do not believe the Old Testament is just a book of Jewish history, but that it is the Word of God with a message and application for all of us. Some of us may find our lives to parallel that of Joseph. We have a real call on our lives, but all of a sudden we find ourselves in bondage. Yet all the time we are in bondage, we are still a ben parah, a fruitful tree, that provides natural and spiritual nourishment to others. One day we will come into the full plan of God where we will be a ben parah, one who provides for others and a banah sur, one who rebuilds a wall of protection for others. The Joseph model does not end there, remember he remained faithful, trusting in God.