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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 49

Verses 1-33


Jacob Blesses his Twelve Sons

It is generally considered that in its present form, this chapter gives us indeed the last utterances of the dying patriarch respecting the future of his sons, but with additions and developments of a later date. As it stands we have not the broken utterances of a dying man, but an elaborate piece of work full of word-plays and metaphors (see on Genesis 49:8, Genesis 49:13, Genesis 49:16), and of those parallelisms in the vv. which are the chief feature of Hebrew poetry (cp. Genesis 49:11, Genesis 49:15, Genesis 49:22, Genesis 49:25). It is in fact a poem, in which the fortunes of the tribes, which are impersonated by their ancestors, are delineated as they were at one special period, viz. after the Conquest of Canaan, when their territories had been finally settled, and their political importance or weakness had become recognised. Judah and, perhaps, Joseph are alluded to as ruling tribes (Genesis 49:10, Genesis 49:26). No reference is made to the times of the exodus or the captivity, but only to the beginnings of the monarchy; and it was probably during this period that the original Blessing was developed in its present poetical form. This conclusion is strengthened when we find the word ’Israel’ used of the nation, not of the person, and also that facts happening after the Conquest of Canaan are alluded to as past events: cp. Genesis 49:14, Genesis 49:15. It is also significant that many definite political and geographical details are given, in a way which is inconsistent with the general character of the predictions of the Hebrew prophets on such matters. With the Blessing of Jacob should be compared that of Moses in Deuteronomy 33 and notes there.

1. Which shall befall you] what will be the fortunes of the tribes descended from you.

In the last days] RV ’in the latter days,’ i.e. in the future.

3, 4. The prediction concerning Reuben. Reuben was Jacob’s eldest son, but the tribe never attained to any distinguished position. It was situated on the E. side of Jordan, and exposed to many attacks from the peoples surrounding them. ’Even so early as under the Judges the tribe showed itself indifferent to the national struggles (Judges 5:15.), and it continued to isolate itself more and more until in the period of the early monarchy it had practically disappeared as part of Israel’ (D.). See Deuteronomy 33:6.

3. Excellency] rather, ’preeminence.’

4. Unstable] rather, ’unrestrained,’ descriptive of ungoverned passion. Reuben’s sin is mentioned in Genesis 35:22. Excel] rather, ’have the preëminence.’

5-7. The prediction respecting Simeon and Levi. Simeon and Levi were both sons of Leah; but they also were brethren in the cruelty of their attack on the Shechemites (Genesis 34:25), The scattered state of both these tribes in their after history is well known. When the territories were assigned in the days of Joshua, Simeon only had some cities within the possessions of Judah: see Joshua 19:1-9. The Levites as priests had fortyeight towns given them throughout the country, but had no inheritance of land, Joshua 21:1-40: cp. also the picture in Judges 17-19 of the wandering Levites.

5. Instruments of cruelty, etc.] better, ’their swords are weapons of violence.’

6. Secret] RV ’council,’ referring to the treachery of Genesis 34. They slew a man] see Genesis 34:25-26; They digged down a wall] RV ’they houghed an ox,’ by cutting the sinew of the thigh: perhaps a reference to the Shechemites’ cattle which they raided (Genesis 34:28), maiming in their destructiveness those which they could not carry off.

8-12. Judah now receives the chief blessing which his elder brothers Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had forfeited. He is assured of the headship of the tribes and a fruitful territory.

8. The name Judah (’praise’) suggests the honour in which the tribe would be held. Thy hand, etc.] The tribe of Judah took a leading part in the conquest of Canaan and was first to secure their territory: cp. on Numbers 2:1. In the time of David they held the headship of Israel.

9. The tribe is compared for its bravery to a lion. The figure of a lion on a pole became the standard of Judah, and our Lord Himself is called ’the Lion of the tribe of Judah’ (Revelation 5:5) owing to His descent from David.

10. A lawgiver] RV ’the ruler’s staff.’ From between his feet] This most probably refers to the custom of planting the sceptre or staff of a prince or chieftain in the ground between his feet as he sat.

This verse has always been regarded by both Jews and Christians as a remarkable prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. The Versions generally read Sheloh instead of Shiloh, and the words until Shiloh come (AY), should then be, ’till he come whose it is’ (RM). The Jewish Targums paraphrase thus: ’until the time when the King Messiah comes to whom it belongeth.’ On the rendering given above, the whole verse foretells that Judah would retain authority until the advent of the rightful ruler, the Messiah, to whom all peoples would gather. And, broadly speaking, it may be said that the last traces of Jewish legislative power (as vested in the Sanhedrim) did not disappear until the coming of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem, from which time His kingdom was set up among men. Gathering of the people] RV ’obedience of the peoples.’ Note the worldwide rule implied.

11, 12. These verses dwell on the fertility of the land of Judah. There were famous vineyards at Hebron and Engedi, as well as pasture lands about Tekoa and Carmel.

13. Zebulun shall dwell] The blessing is connected with the word Zebulun, ’dwelling.’ The land of this tribe was between Asher and Naphtali. It may have touched the coastland of Phoenicia represented here by Sidon. So in Deuteronomy 33:19 it is said that Zebulun should ’suck of the abundance of the sea,’ profiting by maritime traffic: cp. Ezekiel 27.

14, 15. Issachar occupied part of Galilee and the fertile plain of Jezreel. Between two burdens] RV ’between the sheepfolds’: as at Judges 5:16, which see. ’The bright side of the saying is that Issachar will become a robust and hardy race (a strong ass) and receive a pleasant country inviting to repose. The dark side is that through his tendency to gain and comfort he will rather submit to the yoke of foreign sway than risk his people and possessions by warlike efforts (a servant unto tribute)’ (Delitzsch). A number of Canaanite towns maintained themselves independent and powerful in this tribe.

16. Again a play on the name of the tribe, for Dan means ’judge.’ Though small in territory it should retain its tribal independence and self-government: cp. Deuteronomy 33:22.

17. Dan shall be a serpent] or, ’May Dan be,’ etc., a wish for the tribe’s success in war: cp. the conquest of Laish, Judges 18:27. The territory of Dan lay between Ephraim and Simeon. The Danites were hard pressed by the Philistines, and part of the tribe emigrated to Laish in the N. of the Holy Land, and called it Dan. An adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels] ’What the poet portrays is not as in the case of Judah an open contest decided by superior strength, but the insidious efforts of the weaker against the stronger’ (D.).

18. The connexion of this verse with the preceding is uncertain. Kalisch says, ’the poet, identifying himself with the oppressed and embarrassed tribe, utters in its name, with mingled reliance and resignation, the fervent prayer “In hope of Thy help, O Lord.”’

19. The name Gad is here connected with a Hebrew word meaning a troop or marauding band. The Gadites were settled E. of Jordan, in the land of Gilead. They were much oppressed by the Ammonites whom Jephthah conquered: see Judges 10, 11 : cp. Deuteronomy 33:20.

20. The tribe of Asher settled along the productive land on the coast between Mt. Carmel and Lebanon. Shall be fat] Asher was famous for its produce of olive oil: see on Deuteronomy 33:24.

21. A more probable rendering of this v., supported by LXX, is ’Naphtali is a spreading terebinth producing beautiful branches.’ The tribe was settled in a fertile district between Lebanon and the Sea of Galilee: cp. Deuteronomy 33:23.

22-26. The blessing of Joseph. The branches are Ephraim and Manasseh.

23. The archers] perhaps Canaanite and Arab peoples bordering on these tribes.

24. From thence, etc.] or, ’By the name of the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel.’ The name ’Rock’ is often given to God in OT.: cp. Moses’ Song, Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:13, Deuteronomy 32:31,; and Psalms 89, 94, 95.

25. Blessings of heaven] Earthly prosperity of all kinds, rain and sunshine from heaven, springs from the earth, fruitfulness both of man and beast.

26. The blessing of Moses on the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, Deuteronomy 33:13, may be studied in connexion with this difficult v. Render with RM, ’The blessings of thy father have prevailed above (exceed) the blessings of the ancient mountains, the desirable things of the everlasting hills.’ ’The meaning is that the blessings comprised things higher than merely the admirable products of the lovely mountain country (Ephraim, Gilead, Bashan), i.e. doubtless power, respect, honour, and political consequence, and, above all, the promises. In bestowing these on Joseph, Jacob makes him his father’s successor, and names him Nazir among his brethren, one separated and consecrated, a prince’ (D.).

27. Benjamin was a very warlike tribe. Saul, the first king of Israel, was a Benjamite; and so was that other Saul who ’fought a good fight’ under his great Captain, 2 Timothy 4:7.

33. He.. was gathered unto his people] his shade joined those of his forefathers in the other world. The expression may be held to embody a rudimentary hope of immortality: see on Genesis 25:8.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Genesis 49". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/genesis-49.html. 1909.