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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Genesis 49

Verses 1-33

Genesis 49:4

The verse which Ruskin once, in a mood of depression, thought was most suitable for his own epitaph.

'The public men of the times which followed the Restoration were by no means deficient in courage or ability; and some kinds of talent appear to have been developed amongst them to a remarkable degree.... Their power of reading things of high import, in signs which to others were invisible or unintelligible, resembled magic. But the curse of Reuben was upon them all: "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel".'

Macaulay's Essay on Sir William Temple.

Reuben

Genesis 49:4

St. John of the Cross remarks on this text: 'The Patriarch Jacob compared his son Reuben to unstable water, because in certain sins he had given rein to his appetite, and he said, " Effusus es sicut aqua, non crescas "; unstable as water, thou shalt not excel. It is as if he had said, because in thy appetites thou art unstable as water, thou shalt not excel in virtue. As hot water, when it is not covered, easily loses its heat, and as aromatic spices when they are exposed to the air gradually lose the fragrance and strength of their smell, so the soul which is not concentrated on the love of God alone loses warmth and vigour in virtue.'

Subida del Monte Carmelo, Book I. Chapter X.

References. XLIX. 4. M. Anderson, Penny Pulpit, No. 1572, p. 209. J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 1875, p. 252. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 158.

Simeon and Levi: Bad Brothers

Genesis 49:5

I. Simeon and Levi Constituted an Unholy Brotherhood. Evidently Jacob does not refer simply to physical brotherhood. A deeper community, a more real brotherhood is here asseverated; when Jacob says 'Simeon and Levi are brethren,' he means that they are brethren in disposition. What was their common disposition? We shall see somewhat of detail presently, meanwhile remember that they were passionate, headstrong, cruel, deceitful, revengeful, uncontrolled.

II. Simeon and Levi had Unhallowed Belongings.

( a ) They had sinful homes. Their habitations would not bear inspection. Many 'instruments' were necessary in their habitations, but what business had they with 'instruments of cruelty' there? I am afraid there are very questionable instruments in some habitations. Is there not a book or two which ought no longer to defile your library? Is there no picture which should be banished? There are homes which need a periodical moral cleaning.

( b ) 'Weapons of violence are their swords' is the R. V. reading. So Simeon and Levi are charged with having perverted instrumentalities. Their swords were legitimate weapons. The original intention of the sword was defence or at most righteous aggression. Simeon and Levi used their swords to perpetrate a wrong on others, not to save themselves from wrong. They transformed a legitimate weapon into a weapon of violence.

III. Simeon and Levi's Evil case drew from their Father a Godly and Reasonable Prayer. 'O my soul,' cries Jacob, 'come not thou into their secret, unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall.' Reviewing the sinful courses of these two sons the dying father prays. Jacob prays concerning his soul. Jacob gives up a lofty conception of the soul when he terms it 'his honour'. It is a wonderful thing that in these early days of the world a man had such a vision of the worth of the soul.

IV. Jacob uttered a Righteous Imprecation upon Simeon and Levi's Sin. 'Cursed be their anger for it was fierce; and their wrath for it was cruel.' Their father did not curse them, but their sin. Jacob does not imprecate all anger but such as is 'fierce' and 'cruel'. Fierceness and cruelty are very remote from Christianity.

V. A Just Judgment was Pronounced upon Simeon and Levi. 'I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel,' exclaims the departing patriarch. Simeon and Levi were not to attain to political consequence, nor did their tribes or descendants. Divided and scattered! That was the righteous judgment of this evil brotherhood.

Dinsdale T. Young, Neglected People of the Bible, p. 41.

References. XLIX. 8-12. J. Monro-Gibson, The Age Before Moses, p. 219. XLIX. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1157. O. Stanford, The Symbols of Christ, p. 35.

Genesis 49:14

'When I look at the great middle class of this country, and see all that it has done, and see the political position in which it has been to some extent content to rest, I cannot help saying that it reminds me very much of the language which the ancient Hebrew patriarch addressed to one of his sons. He said: "Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens".'

John Bright at Manchester, 1866.

References. XLIX. 15. A. Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv. XLIX. 18. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 101. M. Rainsford, The Fulness of God, p. 17.

Christian Fruitfulness

Genesis 49:22

I. The Christian in his union with Christ is as a bough. The words of our Lord Jesus which we read just now are these, 'I am the vine; ye are the branches' ye are the boughs. ( a ) This suggests to us first of all the reality which exists between Christ and His people. You cannot tear the branch from the tree without injuring the tree as much as you injure the branch; they are part and parcel each of the other. So you cannot touch our union with Christ but you hurt both Him and us. ( b ) But this suggests not only the reality of our union with Christ, but the absoluteness of our dependence upon Christ. What can the branch do without the tree? How can it exist at all but as it is sustained by the tree? Just so is our union with Christ. 'Without Me,' he says, 'ye can do nothing.' Just as the bough cannot live without the tree so we cannot exist without Christ.

II. In the outcome of the union with Christ the Christian is as a fruitful bough. If you go into the woods now you will see trees pretty much of a muchness, and the branches on the trees are very much alike. But wait you a month or two, while the spring buds begin to appear, and you will find that, while all the rest of the tree is covered with beautiful foliage, here and there will be obtruding themselves from among the rest mere black sticks, which have no vital union with the tree, though they keep up their respectable appearance as far they can as branches, and will presently be lopped off by the woodman and taken away to be burned. There are lots of people in our churches just like that. All through the winter time they pass muster very well as members. As long as there is no revival they manage to go in and out among the rest, and look very much like them; but let the time of the singing birds come, let the time when the noise of the turtle is heard in the land come, when Zion begins to awake from the dust and shake fiercely from the bands of her neck when the sun begins to shine and revigorates the dying Church, and ye will soon find who they are who live and who they are who have died.

III. In the secret of his spiritual support the Christian is as a fruitful bough by a well. That figure suggests some very precious truths to us; I see in the well what? That by which the tree lives, certainly, and therefore I see in it all the fullness of the Deity. I see in the tree what? That through which the branch lives. I see the love of Christ, the one mediator between God and man. I see therefore that every branch in the tree, having direct intercourse with the deep well through the tree, must live as long as the tree itself lasts.

In the higher attainments of the Christian life the Christian is a fruitful bough by a well, 'whose branches run over the wall'. What wall? There is a wall which divides the Church from the world today. Would you be like your Master? He is called the Branch. There was a time when from the highest glory He looked down upon this poor world of ours looked over the heaven's wall and saw us in our low estate. From yonder heaven he shook the fruits of redemption down, which we have been gathering up, and the Christian has not done his duty until he has let his branches run over the wall of the Church.

W. H. Burton, The Penny Pulpit, No. xiii.

References. XLIX. 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2113. XLIX. 23,24. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 286. Bishop Bickersteth, Sermons, p. 202. A. Maclaren, Weekday Evening Addresses, p. 72. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. No. 17. XLIX. 24. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 295; ibid. Morning by Morning, p. 53. A. Maclaren, Weekday Evening Addresses, p. 81. XLIX. 25. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2531. XLIX. 29. H. N. Powers, American Pulpit of Today, vol. iii. p. 104. XLIX. 33. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 783. XLIX. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 175. L. 12,13. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 187. L. 14-26. A Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 305. L. 15-21. A. Maclaren, Sermons (4th Series), p. 176. L. 19, 21. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p. 48. L. 24-26. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 191. W. Bull, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi. p. 371.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 49". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/genesis-49.html. 1910.