Genesis 49: Jacob Blesses His Sons

(This resource helped tremendously in today’s study: )

1 Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. 2 “Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father.

-In this chapter, Jacob is about to die and calls for all his son’s quickly to come. But this is no mere last words as if Jacob is giving his last will and testament or just has one last word to say. This is more then that and we are going to see Jacob do something that no other individual up this point, that we can verify, will do. Joseph is about to prophesy. What is said in the following verses both applies to the present of this time, the near future, and the far future. So it is true on three different layers.

3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the firstfruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4 Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!

-Recall Genesis 35:22 when Reuben was said to have slept with Bilhah, the wife of his father and the mother of his brothers. According to this passage, this sin was great enough that it erased Reuben’s firstborn status. The description of “unstable as water” does not mean mentally unstable because we do see a display of wisdom when his brothers wanted to kill Joseph and he suggested leaving him in a pit so he can rescue him later. The description has to do with Reuben’s blessing pouring out like a container with a hole in the bottom. Reuben was the firstborn but now he has lost everything and pouring out. This also applies to the tribe of Reuben in the near future. The tribe itself is unstable and Moses even prays that the tribe does not die out in Deuteronomy 33:6, “Let Reuben live, and not die,but let his men be few.” The part about few men was Moses remembering or understanding this curse that Jacob placed on him. The tribe of Reuben will always be strong but few in number. The territory of the tribe of Reuben is located in the Southeast corner above Moab.

5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. 6 Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company. For in their anger they killed men, and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen. 7 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.

-Recall Genesis 34:7 and the story of the defiling of Dinah, their sister. In their anger, and not just heat of the moment but after careful planning, they killed all the Hivite men at Shechem. These two are murderers and so Jacob is also skipping them in his blessing. As we know, the Levites become the priests and so do not have territory of their own and the Simeonites are scattered amongst the tribe of Judah and not really have a territory of their own either. Their cities were not connected together.

8 “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. 9 Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 11 Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.

-The blessing has fallen onto the fourth son, Judah, because of the wickedness of the first three. Judah certainly wasn’t innocent himself and we know he at least once intended to see a prostitute yet slept with his daughter-in-law and he was among the brothers that wanted to kill Joseph. In time, he is the one that finally broke Joseph by humbling himself and offering himself in Benjamin’s place as servant. He is given the biggest individual blessing and his territory eventually becomes a nation of itself. But the biggest blessing is the prophesy of the Messiah in Jacob’s blessing. Jesus is the lion of Judah and this is the source of where that phrase comes from. A lion is a king and the King of the world will descend from Judah and His hand is on the neck of His enemy, Satan. Jesus defeats sin after stooping down and becoming a man. And Judah continued to exist though they were taken over as well until the “tribute” or Jesus’ sacrifice. The part about the vines and wine is saying Judah will have so much abundance that one could tie his animals to the vine and use grapes to wash one’s clothes. The tribe of Judah will have abundance and be healthy.

13 “Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon.

-In Joshua 19:10, lots are drawn as to where the tribe of Zebulun and they just so happened to have territory that situated between the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee. Though both were outside its territory, the tribe had ports and ships and was central along a trade route from each.

14 “Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. 15 He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced labor.

-It is interesting that though Issachar is older, he is mentioned after Zebulun. These verse mean that Issachar becomes a people who prefer farming and agriculture and in the future, they pay more tribute in times of war not to have to send their men. Forced labor does not mean they become slaves but rather choose the hard work of farming.

16 “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 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. 18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord.

-The tribe of Dan produces Samson but outside of that, this is something that doesn’t appear to be true. It seems to apply to all the people, not just one judge. There is a mystery in Revelation 7 when the 144,000 are listed but the tribe of Dan is not mentioned. One speculation has been that the tribe of Dan will serve as judges in the new earth in some way. But this does not explain everything. Whenever running into a wall, it’s important to go back and look at the original Hebrew. The word translated to “judge” in ESV is actually “nachash” which if you recall all the way back to our Genesis 3 study is the same word that described Satan! These verses are saying the tribe of Dan will “accuse” Israel like Satan will and cause them to stumble. This does indeed happen as the tribe of Dan are the first to fall into idolatry and move their territory to the extreme north. They seem to reject Israel and everything in it as Satan rejects God. Knowing the Hebrew changes our entire interpretation of this passage. We still don’t know why the tribe of Dan was not included in Revelation 7 but that deals with end times events, things that have not happened yet. One interesting parallel to Jesus is that he had twelve disciples and one of them betrayed him and turned to Satan. It almost seems as if Dan is the Judas Iscariot of the tribes of Israel.

19 “Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels.

-The tribe of Gad becomes warlike and because of their territory, serves as the “border guards” of Israel from the Ammonites and Moabites on the outskirts. This sentence is a prophesy as we learn in Jeremiah 49:1 that Gad had been taken over by Ammonites. But Gad produces mighty warriors and afterwards they raided at the heels of the Ammonites.

20 “Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies.

-As it states, the territory Asher receives is abundant and rich.

21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns.

-The tribe of Naphtali for the most part will contain people who are what God wants of the Israelite people and all people’s in general. Loving and obedient. The men of Galilee are what made of Jesus’ disciples all from within the territory of Naphtali.

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. 23 The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, 24 yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25 by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills. May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.

-As it seems to state, the two tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim that come from Joseph are exceedingly blessed but not without difficulty and attack. This passage seems to be describing Joseph’s story but it is also describing what will happen with these two tribes as their story will echo Joseph’s. For people like me who don’t know, “bough” means a branch of a tree. In verse 24, it states despite the attacks, Joseph will remain strong because God, who is the shepherd and the stone of Israel, is with him. Last chapter in Genesis 48:15, Jacob described God as his shepherd and this was the first description of God in this way, as a gentle shepherd guiding and protecting His sheep. We see this description many times later in the bible including the famous Psalm 23 and it becomes very common in the new testament. To this day, we call our church leaders “pastors” which means the same thing as a shepherd but of people, herding them towards God. This blessing is a promise that Joseph’s tribe will always be one of God’s sheep that He will lead, no matter what.

27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.”

-As it suggests, the tribe of Benjamin produces mighty warriors and “go-getters”. The first king of Israel, Saul, was strong and a go-getter as was Paul in the new testament, both of whom are of the tribe of Benjamin.

Jacob’s Death and Burial

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. 29 Then he commanded 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, 30 in the cave that is in the field at Machpelah, 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. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah—32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

-We had not been told about the death of Leah which brings to question whether she ever made it to Egypt or had already been there and was sent back to be buried earlier just like Jacob is saying to do for himself now. We have to assume she did make it to Egypt or else the vision of the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing towards Joseph did not come true. We know Rachel did not make it because she died giving birth to Benjamin and that was what Joseph and Jacob thought the vision applied to, Jacob the sun, Rachel the moon, and eleven siblings as the stars. Although, since Benjamin had not been born yet, they could not have understood why eleven stars bowed down unless they were counting Dinah as a sibling. But as we saw in Genesis 46, there was more than one daughter and Dinah is only mentioned because of the story. Who knows how many daughters Jacob really had. But we do know Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years before his death so Leah probably died in between arriving and Jacob’s death and was sent back.


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