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The Life of Joseph (Genesis 37:2 to Genesis 50:26 )
In this section we have the life of Joseph from beginning to end. It quite clearly bears within it the stamp of a deep knowledge of Egypt, its customs and its background, and could not have been written by anyone who did not have that deep knowledge, and who was not familiar with things at court. The correct technical terms are used for court officials. And the whole of Joseph’s stay in Egypt is clearly written against an Egyptian background without the artificiality which would appear if it was written by an outsider.
Jacob’s Deathbed Blessing on His Sons (49:1-28).
‘And Jacob called to his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together that I may tell you what will befall you in later days.”
This is, and is stated to be, not so much a blessing as a series of prophecies. But that does not diminish its effectiveness. The dying words of a man were considered to have powerful effect on the future, and Jacob knew that God was with him (Genesis 48:20). Yet at the end they are called a blessing, for such words were a guide to each one as to his future, and we can always change our futures. The prophecy begins in Genesis 49:2 as is witnessed by the parallel form. The form of the prophecies suggest the expansion of the family tribe since coming to Egypt, and the building up of diverse interests by some of his sons. With their brother as Vizier of Egypt there need be no limit to their ambitions and they could give free reign to their dreams, leaving the shepherding to inferiors.
“In later days.” Compare Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 31:29. This is not ‘the latter days’ of the prophets.
“Assemble yourselves and hear, you sons of Jacob, And listen to Israel your father.”
His words are to the sons as a family, although each will be treated individually. For some they represent devastating criticism and warning, for others general prophecy, and for Judah and Joseph effective prophecy in more detail. But their main emphasis is on their current life in Egypt which belies any suggestion that they were invented afterwards in Palestine.
“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my power,
Pre-eminent in dignity, and pre-eminent in strength,
Uncontrolled as water you will not be pre-eminent,
Because you went up to your father’s bed,
Then you defiled it. You went up to my couch.”
Jacob first describes Reuben in terms of being his firstborn. As such he had been his father’s strength and the beginning of Jacob’s power base as found in his sons.
But Reuben has little future for he has revealed his weakness in his sexual behaviour. Such weakness has destroyed many men and Reuben is no exception. Because of it he is a nonentity. He was a dignified man with a certain strength of character, but he was also not of leadership material, lacking the necessary ability to control and direct. And he had revealed his weakness in the affair with his father’s wife.
“My firstborn, my might and the beginning of my generative power.” As the firstborn son, the first product of Jacob’s strength, he was the one of whom much was expected. He was set to be Jacob’s right hand. But he failed.
“Pre-eminent in dignity, pre-eminent in strength.” He was more contained than his brothers, and bore himself well and as the eldest was strongest.
“Uncontrolled as water, you will not be pre-eminent.” But he had a fatal flaw, he was unreliable, uncontrolled like a flow of surging water. Thus he could not safely take the pre-eminence, and, as we have seen, his place as leader has been taken by Judah. (The verb means ‘unstable, uncontrolled, frothing over’).
“Because you went up to your father” s bed, then you defiled it ---’. This refers, of course, to when he went in to his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22). This too was a sign of his unreliability. He who should have watched over his father’s bed defiled it. Thus he cannot be trusted.
He had his good points. He had tried to save Joseph and at least saved him from death, although he was not strong enough to stand up to his brothers. He was the one who was concerned about Simeon and wanted to go back for him, but he failed to persuade Jacob to let him take Benjamin. It was Judah who was firm and later succeeded. Perhaps even then his failure was because his father saw him as unreliable and untrustworthy.
Interestingly the tribe of Reuben also failed early. It is depicted by Moses as dying (Deuteronomy 33:6) and is mentioned with censure in Judges 5:15 where their inability to make a strong decision is emphasised. These ideas may have partly arisen from this original perception of Reuben.
“Simeon and Levi are brothers,
Weapons of violence are their swords,
Oh my soul, do not come into their council,
Oh my glory, to their assembly do not be united.
For in their anger they slew man,
And in their self-will they hamstrung oxen,
Cursed be their anger for it was fierce,
And their wrath for it was cruel,
I will divide them in Jacob,
And scatter them in Israel.”
Simeon and Levi demonstrated their strength and their fierceness when they led their men against Shechem having disabled the inhabitants by their ruse (Genesis 34:0). They were two of four full brothers to Dinah, but Reuben and Judah did not join with them in their blood vengeance, although later joining in the general destruction of the city. They wanted justice without mercy, and acted together in unison. And that is Jacob’s complaint, that they are merciless. (Their being mentioned together may suggest that they are twins).
“Their swords are weapons of violence.” Or alternately ‘Their plans (devices) are instruments of violence.’ The meaning of mecherah is not certain, but the general idea is clear. They are violent men who carry out violent deeds. Thus they are to be avoided.
“Oh my soul, do not come into their council, oh my glory, to their assembly do not be united.” They are troublemakers and best avoided, they are the kind who lead men astray. ‘Oh my glory’ is parallel to ‘oh my soul’ and clearly has a similar implication. He is warning his immediate family, his ‘soul’, not to be carried along by their aims and methods, and warning his ‘glory’, all the remainder of the household, not to be so either.
“For in their anger they slew man, and in their selfwill they hamstrung oxen.” This could be seen as referring metaphorically to their ruse whereby the men of Shechem were basically hamstrung by circumcision and slain. But it also refers to more general cruelty, that being short tempered and harsh they do not restrain themselves. They have within them a streak of cruelty and harshness. They slay men without thought and hamstring oxen. Hamstringing of oxen (cutting the tendons in the hocks) was unnecessary and may have been their way of punishing someone who had offended them. Compare here Joshua 11:6; Joshua 11:9 where battle chargers were hamstrung to prevent their use in battle.
The point here is that while all had to kill in those days if necessary in self defence, they seemed to delight in it. They were not murderers, but they were heartless.
“Cursed be their anger for it was fierce, and their anger because it was cruel.” This again suggests Shechem and may confirm that the oxen are to be seen as metaphorical. But Jacob would surely not have so dealt with them if it had been a one-off incident. So the impression is of passionate, violent and merciless men who do not mind inflicting pain.
“I will divide them in Jacob, I will scatter them in Israel.” The use of ‘Israel’ for the tribal group rather than just the patriarch has begun to be apparent (Genesis 47:27; Genesis 48:20). Here ‘Jacob’ is also used in the same way. Because of their fierce and cruel ways they must be separated by the tribe and kept apart, otherwise they will dominate. They are dangerous men. ‘Scatter’ is a poetic use to parallel ‘divide’. The ‘I’ may be God who will do the dividing, or the tribe acting in Jacob’s name.
The age of the narrative comes out in that there is no thought of Levi as a priestly tribe (although even there they were not averse to slaying their brothers. They had a fierce godliness). As a tribe Levi would indeed be scattered among the tribes, but then for a godly purpose. His descendants will have, as it were, purged his contempt. But this is clearly not what Jacob has in mind, although we may see it as having a secondary significance. As a result they were divided up.
Simeon later combines with Judah as the weaker of the two tribes (Joshua 19:9) but it retains its identity (1 Chronicles 4:41-43; 1 Chronicles 12:24-25; 2 Chronicles 15:9) although it is never mentioned after the Exile (except in the list in Revelation 7:0). Thus Jacob’s words do not directly relate to the tribes of Simeon and Levi but to his sons, with only secondary application to their seed.
So the first two deathbed sayings are analyses of the brothers themselves, depicting their weaknesses and the consequences. In the case of Reuben loss of pre-eminence, something that has already partly befallen him. In the case of Simeon and Levi separation in the tribe in order to control their blood lust. Thus it comes as some surprise when the words about Judah are more full and prophetic, for in his case his father sees wonders that lie ahead. But by now Judah had revealed his leadership potential.
“Judah, your brothers will praise you,
Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies,
Your father’s sons will bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp,
My son, you are gone up from the prey,
He stooped down, he couched as a lion,
And as a lioness, who will rouse him up?
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh come,
And the obedience of the peoples will be to him.
Binding his foal to the vine,
And his ass’s colt to the choice vine,
He has washed his garments in wine,
And his vesture in the blood of grapes,
His eyes will be red with wine,
And his teeth white with milk.”
These words spoken of Judah take into account the pre-eminence he is already showing among the brothers. He has become their leader, and this will develop until his descendants become ‘rulers’, and in view of the promise that kings would be descended from Jacob (Genesis 35:11) we can almost certainly say not tribal rulers but ‘kings’. And once the kingship is established one will be awaited who will be called ‘Shiloh’ and he will receive obedience and will issue in the time of plenty.
This raises the great question as to what or who ‘Shiloh’ means. Answers are wide and various.
1). That Shiloh is the title of a great coming king, similar to the Messiah. There is, however, no direct evidence for applying the title to the Messiah. We may do so indirectly if we follow one of the suggestions below.
2). That the verse should be rendered ‘until he comes to Shiloh’ which was the tribal sanctuary in early days after the conquest. This would then signify a particular ruler coming to Shiloh seeking the obedience of the people. Some see the fulfilment of this in the assembling of the tribes to Shiloh in Joshua 18:1 but this has no real connection with a sceptre in Judah. But this would limit the prophecy to a time when Shiloh was known.
3). That the verse should be rendered as per LXX ‘until that which is his shall come’ . That would involve a change to shelloh as in Ezekiel 21:27 (in the Hebrew 21:32). It would involve the fulfilment of some undesignated expectation which will enhance Judah’s standing.
4). That the verse be rendered ‘until he come to whom it belongs’ following a variant reading in LXX. This suggests a Messianic expectation, as the one to whom Judah’s sceptre or rod finally belongs comes to claim it. This also involves a change to shelloh.
5). That ‘shiloh’ be connected with Arcadian ‘shelu’ meaning ‘the prince’. Thus ‘until the prince comes’. This would again look forward to a unique coming prince.
6). That ‘shiloh’ be changed to ‘moshlo’ by introducing ‘m’, thus meaning ‘his ruler’.
7). That ‘shiloh’ be changed to ‘shay lo’ resulting in ‘so long as tribute is paid to him’.
Changing the consonantal text is always unwise unless we have good external reason for doing so, but some of the above only require a change in vowels (not in the main present in the ancient texts) and clearly ‘Shiloh’ does refer to some expectation connected with the rod and sceptre of Judah, which would follow after the conferring of that sceptre, and would result in the obedience of the peoples and a time of good things. And this suggests, in today’s terms, a Messianic expectation. One will come whose right it is.
We shall now consider the text in detail.
“Judah your brothers will praise you, your hand will be on the neck of your enemies, your father” s sons will bow down before you.’ This prophesies future rulership for Judah and his seed. He already has the pre-eminence among the ten and he is promised further exaltation, success and authority. His enemies will submit to him and his brothers will acknowledge his leadership and rule. He is clearly established to be a leader of men.
“Judah is a lion” s whelp, my son you are gone up from the prey, he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness who will rouse him up.’ If Judah is a lion’s whelp we may see Jacob as the lion. Certainly Jacob in his old age is remembering past glories as Genesis 48:22 demonstrates. Thus Jacob is likening Judah to himself in his younger days (as seen in his own eyes). Judah is a young lion who is successful in the hunt (he has gone up from the prey) and before whom men cower in fear. In other words he is a strong man who can impose himself on others.
“The sceptre will not depart from Judah nor the ruler” s staff from between his feet --’. This is a clear prophecy of rulership for Judah’s seed, and in the light of Genesis 35:11 we may say kingship. His seed will carry the sceptre, and sit in judgment with their staff of office and authority between their feet demonstrating their right to do so.
“Until Shiloh come, and the obedience of the people will be to him.” See details above. This surely suggests the coming after a period of kingship of a greater one who will establish his rule and bring the people to final obedience. Here we have in seed form the promise of a Messiah from the tribe of Judah.
“Binding his foal to the vine, and his ass” s colt to the choice vine. He has washed his garments in wine, and his vesture in the red liquid of grapes. His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.’ This is a poetic picture of a coming time of plenty connected with the coming of Shiloh. Animals will be tethered, not to ordinary trees but to sumptuous vine trees, clothes will be washed not in water but in wine, and he will be saturated in wine and milk (compare Isaiah 55:1). The picture is not intended to be practical but a vision of a theoretical paradise (as we may speak of a city with its streets ‘paved with gold’).
So Jacob commends Judah for his strength and leadership, and prophesies for Judah’s seed kingship and the bringing in of final blessing. We must surely tie this in with God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that in them and in their seed all the world would be blessed.
“Zebulun will dwell at the shore of the sea,
And he will be for a haven for ships,
And his flanks will reach towards Zidon.”
Having moved into prophetic mode Jacob now seems more inspired. It seems probable that Zebulun has revealed a liking for the sea and has taken an interest in ships. For the family tribe will have had constant contact with merchants who may have stimulated such an interest, and his residence in Egypt may have brought him in contact with the ships and sailors that had become his passion. This may be why Jacob forecasts such a continuing interest for him and his seed. (This would be an unusual interest in Canaan where harbours were both small and a rarity because of the coastline, which was not suited for shipping, but is understandable in Egypt).
There is no reason indeed why, with Joseph’s endorsement, he should not be engaging in some kind of activity in shipping, and this may be what Jacob is referring to. It would not need to be very large to excite Jacob.
“His flanks will reach towards Sidon.” This may refer to some proposed maritime activity aiming to trade with Sidon, a well known merchant seaport in Phoenicia.
The prophecy may include the thought that his descendants too would take up their residence by the sea and would provide harbours for the use of ships with their ‘sides’ or boundaries reaching towards Sidon. Assuming that Phoenician Sidon is meant, this last may simply indicate desire rather than fulfilment. As Sidon was famous for its maritime adventures so will Zebulun reach out to emulate them. But there is nothing in the tribe’s actual future as recorded in Scripture to suggest this. In the blessing of Moses Zebulun, with Issachar, will ‘suck the abundance of the seas and the hidden treasures of the sands’ (Deuteronomy 33:19),’ but that simply refers to a fishing industry. (It does however connect them to the sea).
Alternately ‘the sea’ may reflect the Sea of Galilee, but the mention of Sidon is against this, and besides originally Zebulun territory did not even touch on that. But the migrations of tribes were not unusual (compare Issachar and Dan (Judges 18:0)) and some may possibly have moved there.
At first Zebulun in fact resided in the area around ‘Aijalon in the land of Zebulun’ (Judges 12:11) in a broad wedge in Southern Galilee between Asher and Naphtali (Joshua 18:10-16), well away from the sea. The River Kishon formed one of its boundaries. (Later Nazareth would be in the territory). Historically, however, there are suggestions that the tribe of Zebulun may later have resided by the sea in the region of the modern port of Haifa.
So the blessing of Zebulun appears to relate very much to the time in Egypt where he would have such opportunities with regard to the sea, and not directly to the future of the tribe.
“Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between the sheepfolds,
And he saw a resting place that it was good, and the land that it was pleasant,
And he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a slave under forced labour.”
Jacob recognises in Issachar (‘man of wages’) someone who enjoys his pleasures and lacks initiative. He would always be a servant to others rather than taking the mastery. He would always prefer to be paid rather than being an entrepreneur.
“A strong ass.” The ass was a beast of burden, and Issachar is pictured as being ready to receive extra burdens as he does his work among the sheep. It may be that in Egypt he had fixed his eyes on its pleasures and in order to enjoy them had become committed to a certain level of forced labour in order to subsidise a pleasurable lifestyle.
There is no evidence that the tribe of Issachar became specifically a slave nation, but its territory which was in the vicinity of, at times, strong Canaanite cities whose fortunes varied (Judges 1:27-28) might suggest that it would itself at times be subject to strong outside pressures and never fully establish itself. Consider its non-mention in Judges 1:0, possibly there being included in Manasseh. However it was lively enough in helping Deborah (Judges 5:15), and there is no real reason for seeing it as especially enslaved.
“Dan will judge his people, as one of the offshoots (or rods or tribes) of Israel,
Dan will be a serpent in the way, an adder in the path,
Who bites the horses’ heels, so that his rider falls backwards.
I have waited for your deliverance, Oh Yahweh.”
“Dan will judge his people.” The family tribe was split up into sub-tribes. This is evidenced by the fact that Exodus 1:0 speaks of ‘every man and his household’ coming down to Egypt. This is what we would in fact expect as the sons married and built up their own groupings, as Jacob had himself done with Laban. Thus ‘Dan will judge his people’ simply refers to the common fact that he is to be master over his own ‘household’, successfully making independent major decisions and acting as arbiter when necessary (in part contrast to Issachar).
“As one of the offshoots (shivte) of Israel.” This is the first use of a phrase that would much later signify ‘the tribes of Israel’. But the latter is probably a developed meaning of shevet (used in verse 10 for ‘sceptre’) with a specialised meaning and not strictly applicable at this stage. ‘Shevet’ as translated ‘tribe’ is in fact used exclusively of Israel in the Old Testament representing those who have ‘descended’ from Israel. The one possible exception to this is Isaiah 19:13, but there it may mean ‘sceptres’, or alternately simply arise from its later established use. It is thus, at least at this early stage, not a general word for a tribe. Its meaning is ‘rod’, either as a symbol of rulership or as a means of punishment, or ‘offshoot’.
So in this early use it probably signifies ‘offshoot’ referring to Dan himself as an offshoot of Jacob. Compare for this verse 28, where the sons are described as ‘shivte of Israel’. Jacob had all the pride of a patriarch who had produced a large family tribe.
An alternative possibility is that Dan is here being seen as one of Jacob’s ‘rods’ as the one who acts as leader and judge. Compare ‘the rod of men’ in 2 Samuel 7:14 and ‘Oh Assyrian, the rod of my anger (Isaiah 10:5).’
If we do accept the translation ‘tribes’ it may serve to demonstrate that the groupings in Egypt are enlarging and expanding to such an extent that they can now be called ‘tribes’, although the word is never used of groupings other than Israel in the Pentateuch and thus has a specialist meaning. Their influence and wealth in Egypt, bolstered by having their brother as Vizier, might ensure such rapid expansion. They may well now be too large to be called ‘households’.
“Dan will be a serpent in the way ---”. Jacob’s complaint is that in his leadership and as a dispenser of justice he is devious and untrustworthy. He is like a snake waiting to strike unexpectedly, thus bringing down a horse’s rider. He will not deal fairly with his people. Alternately it may mean that although his sub-tribe is small and insignificant he will be able by subtlety to beat greater peoples than his own who are threatening him.
“I have waited for your deliverance, Oh Yahweh.” Jacob has waited for Yahweh to act to deal with the problem, and in his dying breath again calls on Him to do so. Is it not time now for Yahweh to act? This suggests that Dan’s behaviour is actually contrary to the covenant and covenant ordinances to such an extent that Yahweh’s intervention could be expected.
Alternately the prayer may reflect the large task facing Dan which he need Yahweh’s help to cope with.
The mention of, and prayer to, Yahweh demonstrates that in Egypt the covenant is still holding and Jacob expects God to act in accordance with it.
“Gad, a marauding band will press on him, but he will press on their heel.”
This rather enigmatic statement reflects Jacob’s conviction of some disaster to face Gad at the hands of a marauding band. He may indeed, with the wisdom of an old man, be aware of some trouble already brewing. But he assures Gad that he will be able to retaliate successfully. Success will finally be his.
“Asher’s food will be rich, and he will yield royal dainties.”
It would appear that Asher has ventured into catering. He may even have been given a position in Pharaoh’s palace. He is thus eating excessively well and providing royal dainties. There are no suggestions anywhere that this interest was carried into the future.
“Naphtali is a hind released, he gives goodly words.”
Naphtali has clearly been the surprise among the brothers. He is like a trapped hind which has been let loose, in that he has moved from being merely the quiet one to becoming a teacher of wisdom (see Proverbs 15:26; Proverbs 16:24). Wisdom teaching was well established in Egypt.
“Joseph is the son of a fruitful tree,
The son of a fruitful tree by a spring,
His daughters run over the wall.
The archers have sorely grieved him,
And shot at him and persecuted him,
But his bow abode in strength,
And the arms of his hands were made strong,
By the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
From there is the shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
Even by the God of your father who will help you,
And by Shaddai who will bless you,
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep which couches beneath,
Blessings of the breast and of the womb.
The blessings of your father have prevailed,
Above the blessings of my progenitors,
To the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.
They shall be on the head of Joseph,
And on the crown of the head of him
Who was separate from his brothers.”
In this word in respect of Joseph his father rejoices in the way that God has triumphed. Although Joseph has been persecuted (the archers represent his brothers sniping at him) he has been strong and has also triumphed. Indeed mighty blessings have been poured on him including the birth of sons. This is because the blessings of his father have far exceeded those of his contemporaries, and these blessings will be on him into the future.
“Joseph is the son of a fruitful tree --- by a spring, his daughters run over the wall.” The picture is of a tree planted by abundant water, not such a common sight in Canaan where water was short, with branches (daughters) that abound and climb a wall. The idea is probably of a vine tree. In other words Joseph is fruitful, and flourishing and exceedingly blessed, and will produce abundant fruit and offspring.
“The son of a fruitful tree.” Jacob may well have himself in mind here as the fruitful tree, with his twelve sons and many daughters. Once again his pride in his own abilities comes out. But he knew from God’s promises that he himself was to have abundant seed and declares the same for Joseph. Manasseh and Ephraim in fact became two of the largest tribes.
“The archers have sorely grieved him and shot at him and persecuted him.” The reference here is to his brothers who have constantly attacked him with words as arrows, and have persecuted him.
“But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong.” The persecution did not cause him to fail, rather he became strong under the persecution, and answered all their accusations. Pulling a bow required strong arms, but God gave him all the strength required (‘were made strong’).
“By the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob.” His arms were made strong by the Mighty One of Jacob. This may have been Jacob’s own special name for God, compare ‘the Fear of Isaac’ (31:42), because he had experienced His mighty power. And Joseph too had become mighty, and would continue to be so through his seed with the help of the Mighty One.
“From thence is the shepherd, the Rock of Israel.” Jacob now expands on What the Mighty One of Jacob is to them. As the Mighty One of Jacob He is also the Rock of Israel, the firm foundation, the one who shepherds and watches over Jacob and his family.
“Even by the God of your father who will help you, and by Shaddai who will bless you.” And He is the God of their father, and Shaddai (the Almighty), Who with His mighty arm helps and blesses Joseph, and will continue to do so. The God of his father is a reminder of the covenant situation which he enjoys, Shaddai is a reminder that the One Who watches over him is also the God of the nations.
“With blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that couches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.” This God will cause blessings to abound. The description is one of abundant fruitfulness. The heavens gave forth rain, the Nile sent forth its water, so that abundant corn could be stored for the famine. Strictly ‘the deep’ may be seen as referring to the sea so the idea may be more general, but even the Reed Sea could be described in terms of the deep (Nehemiah 9:11; Isaiah 63:13), so how much more so the Nile. The ancients recognised that below the surface of the earth were deeps waiting to spring forth, what we call in our scientific day the water table. The idea of the blessings of the deep in Egypt must surely refer to the beneficial Nile which is elsewhere called ‘a sea’ in poetry, and the picture is one of rising waters that bring fruitfulness. Such a picture was natural to someone living in Egypt, but not in Canaan.
“That couches beneath” like an animal waiting to spring. This splendidly depicts the overflowing of the Nile suddenly springing from its depths. Moses, who had long familiarity with the blessings of the Nile, took up the same picture concerning Joseph in Deuteronomy 33:13. The blessing also included personal fruitfulness in the birth of his sons, ‘the breasts and the womb’. The word for ‘deep’ is tehom which has been proved at Ugarit to be a standard word for deep without mythological connection.
“The blessings of your father have prevailed -- unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” This may mean the blessings he has received or the blessings he bestows, but either way they are so expanded as to reach the furthest bound of what is most sure and reliable, ‘the eternal hills”. And these will fall on the head of Joseph, even on him who was separated from his brothers, and is blessed more than all of them. See again Deuteronomy 33:15-16. Moses clearly had this blessing before him and used it in his own blessing.
So Joseph has been blessed and will go on being blessed.
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning he will devour the prey and at even he will divide the spoil.”
To a shepherd the ravenous wolf was a dreaded but awesome sight. He ate in the morning and was himself satisfied and then in the evening he provided extra for his young. Thus likewise Benjamin will be successful in all his efforts, providing for himself and for his children. The picture is not necessarily derogatory. Men liked to be thought of in terms of fierce beasts.
‘All these are the twelve offshoots (tribes) of Israel, and this is what their father said to them, and he blessed them, with a blessing suitable to each one he blessed them.’
“The twelve offshoots (tribes) of Israel.” This is the first use of this full phrase (only used elsewhere in Exodus 24:4; Ezekiel 47:13), but we must recognise here that in this initial mention there is more emphasis on Israel the person. These are his twelve offshoots (or ‘rods’ - see on verse 16), twelve leaders, the representatives of the twelve sub-groups under their father Israel himself. They represent in their persons their ‘sub-tribes’, and in embryo the future tribes. It is then emphasised immediately that the above words are words spoken to them as persons and blessings as befitted each one. Even the warnings are blessings for they can be acted on and even responded to. This comment may well have been added by Moses as he saw its fruition in the twelve groups he led.
In context ‘offshoots’ fits better than ‘tribes’. It is only if we take the dogmatic position that the later tribes of Israel are in mind here that ‘tribes’ fits as a translation. But the writer or compiler certainly describes this passage as words spoken to the sons not to the tribes.
It will be seen that this blessing of Jacob can be related very closely to their time in Egypt, and not so much (with exceptions) to their later time in Canaan. This is what we would expect from a genuine blessing by Jacob.
The Dying Jacob Charges His Sons To Bury Him in Machpelah (49:28-33)
‘And he charged 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, in the cave which is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought, with the field, from Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burial place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah, the field and the cave within it which was purchased from the children of Heth.’
Jacob is aware now that death is close. He will now join those who have gone before, and he longs to be buried with them. ‘Gathered to my people’, a synonym for dying (Genesis 49:33) and going to the grave, the place of the departed.
It is clear that Mamre was the place to which the family came when death was near, if they had a choice. Sarah died there (Genesis 23:2), Isaac died there (Genesis 35:27), Abraham died there by implication (Genesis 25:9), and Leah presumably died there - in a hot country burials had to take place within a fairly short time of death for physical reasons. Jacob can be taken there because of the possibility of mummification. And that is his dying wish.
‘And when Jacob made an end of charging his sons he gathered his feet up into the bed and yielded up his breath and was gathered to his people.’
Jacob dies calmly and at peace. There is no thought of his grey hairs going with sorrow to the grave for in the end all has worked out happily, and he is content. But nor is there any thought of an afterlife. This concept does not appear in Genesis, possibly as a reaction against the extremism of the surrounding religions. The patriarchs concentrated on what God would do in this world.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 49". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19