Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Genesis 49

Verse 29

The patriarchs, being men of faith, viewed Canaan as being the land of Messiah's glory, and though now descending into the grave, they expected to see that glory in a coming day. The closing verses of Hebrews 11:1-40 sum up the situation. Though they believed they did not receive that which was promised.

They were waiting, though they did not know it, for further purposes of God to come to light, and the church was yet to be gathered out of all nations. Hence we read that they — the Old Testament saints — without us — the saints composing the church — "should not be made perfect." In a glorified condition we shall all reach perfection together at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The one event in Jacob's life which is singled out in Hebrews 11:1-40, as exemplifying the faith that was in him, is his blessing of the sons of Joseph. The importance of this act of his is evident here, for the whole of Genesis 48:1-22 is given up to the account of it. Being upon his deathbed, Joseph and his two sons arrived to see him, and it is striking how at once Jacob reverted to the moment when first he was brought into contact with God, as recorded in Genesis 28:1-22. The blessing then granted he remembered and the promises then made he rehearsed in a way that shows that he received them in faith. They were blessings of an earthly sort, but in the sons of Joseph he saw the beginning of their fulfilment.

There appears to be an element of prophecy in verse Genesis 47:5, for in the history of the nation Joseph's two sons were treated just as though they had been sons of Jacob, as Reuben and Simeon were his; each being treated as the head of a tribe, and all Joseph's posterity were ranged under the heads of these two tribes.

Then further, having recalled the original blessing received from God at Bethel, he passed on to recall the greatest sorrow of his life when Rachel, the mother of Joseph, died in the vicinity of Bethlehem. His faith could not embrace the distinction that was yet to come to the place, for centuries had to pass before prophecy indicated that spot as the birthplace of the great Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity. It was to be the place where not only was there to be a mourning for Rachel, but also where there should be a great mourning, "Rachel weeping for her children," according to Matthew 2:18.

When Rachel died Jacob was still in full strength; now his natural strength was gone, his eyes were dim, so that he could not even discern the sons of Joseph. In his days of vigour he had too frequently walked by the sight of his own eyes; now at the close he begins to walk and act by faith and not by sight, and at the same time he realizes the exceeding kindness of God toward him. He had spent weary years thinking that never again would he see the face of his beloved son, and now not only had he seen him but his seed also. Upon the two sons he would now bestow his blessing.

With filial piety Joseph bowed down before his father and then presented them with due respect to their ages, so that Jacob's right hand might rest upon the head of the elder, according to the custom of those days. At that moment it was the faith of Jacob that was prominent — faith which led to his possessing the spirit of prophecy. Consequently he reversed what Joseph had done, and crossing his hands he laid his right hand upon Ephraim and not Manasseh.

Herein we may see a parable that has meaning for us. The name Manasseh means Forgetting, which is negative in its bearing, whereas Ephraim means Fruitful, which definitely bears a positive character. The first man and his race are negative as regards God, the complete negation of all His thoughts. In Christ, the Second Man, is the Yea and Amen to all God's thoughts, and all fruitfulness is found in Him. He is indeed the Man of God's right hand, and it is a great day in the spiritual history of each of us when we heartily endorse the fact that the first man is dispossessed by the Second, and therefore we turn away from self-seeking to find our all in Christ.

Once more then we find a type pointing forward to the word, "He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second" (Hebrews 10:9). When challenged by Joseph, Jacob held his ground, and though Manasseh was definitely blessed, yet Ephraim was given priority. The probation of mankind was running its course at this time and the test was not completed. Hence the time had not come for the conclusive judgment of the first man to be set forth in type, but only the fact that the Second should dispossess the first.

Again in verse Genesis 47:21 we hear the accents of faith. Israel knew that he was about to die, but his eye was lifted from himself to God. He had done much scheming in his time, but now he recognized that the only thing that really mattered was the presence and purpose of God. No matter what he himself had been nor what his sons would prove themselves to be, God would be true to them and to His purpose to give them the land that He had promised. At last, God and His word was the stay of Israel's soul, and we shall be happy if, long before we come to the end of life's journey, we discover that there, and there only, is stability and security to be found. Thereby we shall be spared much of the fruitless and heart-breaking scheming which we have seen characterizing him.

The last verse of the chapter seems to allude to an episode not previously recorded. We read of, "the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph" (John 4:5), and Joshua 24:32 seems also to refer to this gift. If so, we must identify it with the transaction recorded in Genesis 33:19, and that was close to the bad and warlike action of his sons Simeon and Levi, yet no mention is made there as to sword and bow in the hands of Jacob. However, there was the acquisition of a portion in the land as the result of conflict as well as purchase, and it was given to Joseph, who became thereby lord of that little portion of the land as well as lord of all Egypt. It was a kind of foretaste and pledge that ultimately the whole land would be possessed.

In Genesis 49:1-33, we find Jacob still presented to us as a man of faith. He called his sons together that he might pronounce a blessing upon them, and he was conscious that in so doing he was speaking as a prophet and foretelling that which should befall them in the last days. We are on safe ground therefore in interpreting his utterances as referring to "the last days," and not merely to the more immediate future experiences of the tribes.

Reuben was the firstborn and in him more especially the might, the strength, the dignity and the power of Jacob should be seen. The very beginning of Jacob's strength and excellency were to be expressed in him. And what was expressed? Nothing but instability and self-gratification, which was defiling and an outrage on all natural decency. What a disappointment for Jacob to see this evil manifested as the beginning of his strength!

Here surely we have predicted that which marked Israel the nation all through their sad history, and particularly when they were tested under the law. Whether in the wilderness or in the land; whether under Moses or Joshua or the Judges or the Kings; their story is one long record of unstable fluctuations between the worship of Jehovah and of idols. They were defiled by their adulterous connection with false gods. And in contemplating this we must remember that they were the sample nation, selected that the test of man might be carried out in them. In their condemnation all the nations stand condemned; ourselves included as men in the flesh.

Simeon and Levi come next. Their father never forgot their cruel and violent action, as recorded in Genesis 34:1-31, and he dissociated himself from it. They claimed to be avenging the honour of their sister, but with what they did Jacob's honour would not be united, and he denounced it as the fruit of their anger. The allusion here is again to that which was past, and in which their natural character was seen. But to what did it refer prophetically?

It refers, we believe, to that terrible outbreak of anger and cruelty in the nation, which reached its climax in the rejection and death of Christ. Stephen speaks of Him as "the Just One," in contrast to the sinful men that were slain by Simeon and Levi, and he added, "of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). Strikingly enough Simeon and Levi achieved their murderous intent by a preliminary act of betrayal.

The last clause of verse Genesis 47:6 is obscure, inasmuch as the reading is not certain. But taking it as it stands, "they digged down a wall," we may apply to the fact that in murdering their Messiah and Deliverer, they destroyed their own separated position, and digged down by so doing the wall of protection that had been theirs. They are still in a very full sense the scattered nation, and that in spite of a partial return to their own land.

Consequently there rests upon them nationally the curse of which Jacob spoke in verse Genesis 47:7. Indeed, as we know, they took the curse upon themselves in the presence of Pilate, the representative of the ruling Gentile power. Verse Genesis 47:7 is still being fulfilled before our eyes to this day, though early in their history a fulfilment of it began. Simeon was soon much weakened and relegated to an unimportant place among the tribes, whilst Levi was separated from them. But that was because after several centuries Levi was zealous not for his own honour but for God's honour, and used his sword to vindicate God's holiness.

We see, then, in verses Genesis 47:5-7, a prophetic reference to the death of their Messiah at the hands of the nation, resulting in the curse and scattering being their portion, as to this day. This is a national matter and does not conflict with the action of God's grace in still calling out from among them a remnant according to His election.

In the blessing of Judah an entirely different note is struck. In verses Genesis 47:8-12, we turn to a prophecy which refers to Christ, who though rejected and slain, as we have just seen, emerges triumphant both in grace and in judgment. There is a play upon Judah's name, for it means "Praise," and Christ is to be the Object of universal praise, as we see in Revelation 5:1-14; praise which shall fill both heaven and earth and go far beyond anything foreseen by Jacob. Two classes are seen in verse Genesis 47:8 — his brethren and his enemies. His brethren are to sound out his praise, and his enemies are to feel the power of his hand in subjugation; and how these things, spoken of Judah, point on to Christ, it is easy to see. Here his father's children are to bow down before Judah, as representing Christ, just as previously they were to bow down before Joseph, since he represented Christ.

In verse Genesis 47:9 Judah is compared to a lion, as a king among beasts. Here we see an allusion to Christ acting in judgment. Genesis is the seed-plot of the Bible. We pass to Revelation where everything reaches fruition and finality, and in Revelation 5:1-14 we find "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" about to take the book of judgment and break its seals. And the universe is filled with His praises. The connection is too plain for us to miss. In this way old Jacob must have rejoiced to see the day of Christ, though doubtless not so fully as Abraham did.

Verse Genesis 47:10 contains a striking prophecy, indicating that Judah would be the tribe out of whom should come the kingly line, culminating in "Shiloh," a term which is taken to refer to Christ as the Prince of peace. And of course we know that our Lord, as concerning the flesh, sprang out of Judah, as we are reminded in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Out of that kingly line He sprang, as is shown by the two genealogies recorded by Matthew and Luke. But at the end of that verse another striking fact is alluded to, for the word, "people," is more correctly, "peoples;" that is, it refers to the nations generally and not merely to the nation of Israel. And the coming of Shiloh has resulted in His becoming, by reason of His rejection and death, the Centre of gathering for a multitude out of all nations; and in the coming age He will be visibly the Centre not only of Israel but of the nations also.

The prophetic allusions of verses Genesis 47:11-12 are not so clear, especially as the language is highly poetic and figurative. We cannot miss the words, "His foal," and "His ass's colt," which at once carry our thoughts to Zechariah's prophecy and its fulfilment as our Lord presented Himself to Jerusalem, as is shown in Matthew 21:5. It looks therefore as if the words relate to His first advent rather than to His second, and thus refer to His sufferings and to the grace which is proffered as the result of them.

In Isaiah 55:1 the Gentiles are in view for the call goes forth to "every one" that thirsts. "Wine and milk" are free for all. Our verses would indicate the reason. They are free because procured as the result of what He has done.

Verses 13-33

Thus far, in the blessing of the tribes, we have seen predicted the sorrowful history of Israel up to Christ, and Christ Himself presented as the Object of praise and the Wielder of power, though a hint be given of His suffering at His first advent.

With Zebulon, in verse Genesis 49:13 we pass to a prediction which sets forth that which has characterized the people after they rejected their Messiah. That tribe did occupy the north-western part of the land toward Zidon, which brought them into contact with the wide outlook of the shipping world, and for many centuries now the Jew has been pushed out all over the world and has given himself up to commerce, of which ships are an appropriate symbol.

With this Issachar also is connected. The figures here are very graphic. The Jew has indeed proved himself to be possessed of remarkable strength, but he has been continually pressed down beneath his two burdens, which he has endured for the sake of rest for his wandering feet and for a pleasant life. He has been burdened with the labour of acquiring wealth on the one hand, and of being "a servant unto tribute," on the other. Again and again has he crouched under the burden of having to yield up in some kind of tribute much of what he had burdened himself with.

These two tribes, then, set forth that which has characterized the people during this long period that has succeeded the rejection of their Messiah. Now in Dan, verses Genesis 49:16-18, we have a prediction of the antichrist, who is to come. When the true Judge of Israel appeared, His unbelieving people smote Him with a rod upon the cheek as Micah foretold: now another judge will appear, represented by Dan. The true Judge came with an authority which was Divine: the false will judge "as one of the tribes of Israel;" that is, his authority springs from man, for he will come "in his own name," as the Lord said in John 5:43.

Moreover there will be about him an authority and power that is of the serpent - Satanic, as New Testament scriptures show. Ungodly Jews of those days may imagine they are riding forward to victory, but in result they will be like a rider falling backward to disaster. The Jews have suffered many bitter things since they slew Christ, but the bitterest things lie before them under the brief domination of antichrist.

The contemplation of these things moved the prophetic soul of the patriarch, and led him to express his personal faith and hope. "I have waited for Thy salvation O Lord." This is the first occurrence of the word, "salvation," in our English Bible. Jacob had to wait for it. Many centuries after old Simeon could say, "Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation," and we can each now say, that in heart and life we have experienced it. But, in the sense in which Jacob thought of it, the cry still goes forth, "Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!" (Psalms 14:7).

In verses Genesis 49:19-21, the three tribes, Gad, Asher and Naphtali, are grouped together, and Jacob's words seem to set forth the experiences of the godly in Israel as the antichrist is overthrown and replaced by the true Messiah. At first everything will conspire to overcome them under the persecuting power of the "beasts," of whom we read in Revelation 13:1-18. They will be persecuted and reviled for righteousness sake, but at the end theirs will be the kingdom, as the Lord stated in Matthew 5:10-12. Like Gad they will overcome at the last.

Having overcome by the grace and power of Christ in His second advent, they will enjoy the fatness and royal dainties of the kingdom, as indicated in Asher. Further, as indicated in the word to Naphtali, they will have liberty secured to them.

The figure is a graphic one, for the "hind" is the female deer, naturally apprehensive and not furnished with horns for its own defence. Brought into this place of secure liberty, their mouths are opened with "goodly words." No longer will praise be silent for God in Sion (see, Psalms 65:1, margin), for their mouths at last will be filled with thanksgiving.

This brings us to Joseph, where again we have a striking type of Christ. If in Judah we see Him presented as the royal Lion, who came down to lowliness and sacrifice, in Joseph we see Him as the One once hated and rejected, who nevertheless rises up in the strength of the mighty God to be the Inheritor of all blessing both heavenly and earthly, as well as the Source of all fruitfulness, which shall extend beyond the confines of Israel to all creation.

In Joseph's own history, that we have considered, we have seen a preliminary forecast of Jacob's blessing. His brethren hated him and shot at him, but the mighty God of Jacob stood behind him and made his hands strong, so that he became a blessing to the civilized world of his day. The language of verse Genesis 49:24 is remarkable in view of the way in which Joseph's hands are mentioned in the history — see, Genesis 39:3, Genesis 39:4, Genesis 39:6, Genesis 39:22; Genesis 41:42. Here the secret spring of Joseph's skill is revealed. Upon the hands of Joseph rested the hands of the mighty God.

At this point the thoughts of old Jacob travelled on from the type to the great Antitype. From that same mighty God would in due time come the One who is both Shepherd and Stone. We have already had Him mentioned as the Seed of the woman, which presents Him in relation to the whole human race, though as Man of another order than that of the first man, Adam. Here Jacob's words are more circumscribed, for Israel is before him. That nation will never be right until it finds itself gathered round the true Shepherd and under His care, and established upon the foundation Stone that can never be moved.

Genesis has well been called the seed-plot of the Bible. Here are three designations of Christ, which appear with increasing fulness of light right through the Book, and the figures, as we know, are expanded into the New Testament and given an application in connection with the Church, to which we belong. Considerations of space forbid our tracing out here these further references, but we trust that many of our readers will be stirred up to do so.

True to the dispensation in which he was found, the blessings that Jacob pronounced were mainly earthly, but still of the widest sort — "unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills," for the Inheritor of them all is the One who had been separated from His brethren. It was the cutting off from His people of the Messiah that brought the wider purposes into view.

Lastly we come to Benjamin, and here we close on the solemn note of judgment. The earthly blessing of Israel will not be ushered in apart from judgment. This is a fact we are often tempted to overlook, and never more so than in the day in which we live. It is probably the case that in the latter part of the nineteenth century the preachers of the Gospel rather overstressed the solemn facts of judgment and hell fire, but the swing of the pendulum has now gone much too far in the other direction.

Benjamin, let us recall, signifies, "Son of the right hand." He typifies Christ exalted to the right hand of God and exercising judgment on His behalf as is brought before us so strikingly in Psalms 110:1-7. Verse Genesis 49:5 of that Psalm reads, "The Lord at Thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of His wrath." This exactly coincides with verse Genesis 49:27 of our chapter but stating the same truth in plainer and less figurative language.

So let us allow the solemn truth to sink into our hearts that judgment is a stern necessity with God, and there will be no bright millennial age without it. The idea still persists that the age will be brought about by the gradual diffusion of the Gospel, and we cannot help feeling that the main attractiveness of that idea lies in the fact that those who entertain it can largely, if not altogether, eliminate the fact of judgment from their minds. To eliminate the idea of judgment from the minds of the people was the work of false prophets in Old Testament times. Hence such scathing words as these: — "Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness and not light." (Amos 5:18).

The blessing of the twelve tribes was now complete, as verse Genesis 49:28 states. The first verse of the chapter showed that Jacob's words had a prophetic bearing and we have read them in that light. The language used is full of figures and not nearly so plain as the later predictions which we get in the prophets. This is not surprising, as it has ever been God's way to make His revelation a progressive one. There is a progress of doctrine in the Old Testament as well as in the New.

The closing command of Jacob to his sons now comes before us, and still we hear the accents of faith. It is worthy of note that his thoughts turned to the original spot that had been bought by Abraham near Mamre. As Rachel had been so special an object of his affection we might have expected that he would have desired to be buried by her side. But no! there was this spot that had been purchased in the land, to faith a kind of pledge that one day God would fulfil His promise and all the land would be theirs. There had been laid Abraham Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah and there would he be buried.

So from the time that we found Jacob in the land of Goshen, — Genesis 47:27 — to the finish, we see Jacob acting and speaking as a man of faith. He had reached Joseph, not as the result of his own scheming, clever or otherwise, but as the fruit of God's wonderful intervention. The storms of his life were over and he had sailed into an haven of rest. The eye of his faith had been cleared of mist and dimness, and God in the certainty of His promise and His power was fully in view. In this faith Jacob could calmly gather up his feet into the bed, yield up his spirit and be gathered to his people.

This glimpse we are granted of Jacob, "when he was a dying," is very cheering. It illustrates how God can bring a saint, whose course for many years was a chequered one, to a calm and beautiful finish. Many of us in this day of Gospel light have to say,

"Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,

But yet in love He sought me,

And on His shoulder gently laid,

And home rejoicing brought me"

We thank God that thus He deals with us too.

A bright finish to one's earthly course is good. Yet it is even better to have the brightness of faith characterizing all one's course, though this may mean a less striking exit when the end is reached.

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Genesis 49". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbh/genesis-49.html. 1947.