The families which belonged to Judah, Issachar and Zebulun (Leah’s fourth, fifth and sixth sons), camped on the eastern side of the tabernacle during the pilgrimage to Canaan, and moved together, through the wilderness, at the head of the column. Jacob chose to speak of Zebulun before the older boy, Issachar. Perhaps this was because, of the two, Zebulun tended to be the extrovert and was more active than his brother.
The Words of Jacob. “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships”, Gen. 49. 13. There is a play here upon Zcbulun’s name which means “habitation”, Gen. 30. 20, The territory occupied by this tribe in Canaan probably included the western shores of the Sea of Galilee, and possibly extended to the Mediterranean coast. Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote that “the tribe of Zebulun’s lot included the land which lay as far as Gennesarct, and that which belongeth to Carmel and the sea”. This lends force to the literal interpretation of Jacob’s words. Galilean fishermen, plying their trade on the storm-tossed Lake Gennesaret, must have treasured Zebulun’s havens – harbours and beaches which were frequented by the Lord Jesus during His years on earth.
“His border shall be unto Zidon’. Jonah lived at Gath-Hepher in Zebulun. Some of the apostles came from this same district, and it was specifically prophesied that the Lord’s ministry was to begin here, Is. 9.15 Matt. 4.14-16. In Isaiah’s day, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali could not accurately be described as Gentile territory. But at the time when the Saviour moved from village to village the population included a high percentage of Greeks, Romans and Asiatics, making it truly “Galilee of the Gentiles”. How precise is Biblical prophecy!
The Words of Moses. “Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out”, Deut. 33. 18. Progressive, adventurous Zebulun and quiet, inward-looking Issachar were both called to rejoice. Their joy was to spring from the realization that each was where God intended. Members of Issachar were not to regard with jealousy the prosperity of Zebulun’s bustling coasts. Zebulun’s people were not to envy the rural lives of their less aggressive contemporaries. Our attitude one to another, similarly, must be to remain content within the circumstances of the Lord’s choosing. David, after his conquests, rewarded his followers according to their faithfulness, not according to the limelight they attracted or the seeming success they had achieved, 1 Sam. 30. 24-25, Such an event from sacred history stands as a portend of the approach that the Lord Christ will adopt when the day of rewards arrives for us, Rev. 22. 12.
Zebulun was able to rejoice over merchandise of every sort. Gold and other metals, cedar and other timber, woo! and other fibres, wines of various quality, all passed through its busy ports. Greatest export of all, however, were the wondrous stories that emerged from places such as Belhsaida, Capernaum and Cana, as Jesus walked in Galilee.
“They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness”, Deut. 33. 19. The reference to sacrifice implies that the mountain was to be the site of the altar. Twenty-one times in Deuteronomy this site is anticipated by the phrase “the place that the Lord shall choose”, which was chosen by David to be mount Moriah, 2 Chron. 3. 1.
"It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it”, Is. 2. 2. It is interesting to see that it was as Moses spoke “of Zebulun" that he made reference to the nations coming from afar to offer sacrifices to Jehovah at Jerusalem. The scene is millennial. From across the seas, through Israel’s waterways, many peoples will “flow" to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, Is. 2. 3.
"When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion .. . My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed … And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising”, 59. 19-60. 3. One day there will wait “the ships of Tarshish … to bring thy sons from far … unto the name of the Lord thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel”, 60. 9.
“They shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand”. Deborah praised the warriors of Zebulun, immortalizing them in her song, Jud. 5. 14. Fifty thousand of this tribe joined in the general acclaim to David as he became king over all Israel, 1 Chron. 12. 33. They outnumbered the representatives of every other tribe on that occasion. These men were not of a double heart, but made a full contribution to the “joy in Israel”. Men of Zebulun are again mentioned with credit in 2 Chronicles 30. 11. But maybe the chief exultation of this tribe still awaits the economic development of a future age. According to Ezekiel, the area to be occupied by Zebulun during the reign of the Messiah will be to the south of Israel stretching from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea with its tremendous mineral wealth. It has been estimated that the value of the chemical resources of the Dead Sea region is potentially greater than that of the whole of North America. Zebulun shall draw of the abundance of the seas and of the treasures hid in the sand!
On the breastplate of righteousness, Exod. 28. 15-29, Zebulun’s stone, the carbuncle (Heb. bareketh) was set in the top right-hand corner. Its flashing red sparkle would beautifully balance the wine-coloured sardius placed at the other end of the top row of three stones. In these three gems we see something of Christ as Redeemer, Rewarder and Revealer. First the sardius (Heb. odem) presents the Man born to be king, the Redeemer of Israel. The Hebrew words odem and Adam are made up of the same three letters. Consequently we are bound to think of the last Adam, a lifegiving Spirit, the Lord from heaven. The middle stone was the topaz in which was engraved the name of Issachar. The root word sakar is translated “reward" in Genesis 15. 1 and elsewhere. God Himself is our exceeding great reward; cf. Is. 40. 10; 62. 11; Rev. 22. 12. In the carbuncle the Saviour is presented as Light revealing eternal truth. The root of the word bareketh is a word referring to lightning; “His lightnings enlightened the world”, Ps. 97. 4.
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