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Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 49

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-28

Genesis 49:1-28 . The Blessing of Jacob.— This poem had an independent origin, but if it was incorporated in one of the main documents it would be in J. It is not a mere collection of originally isolated utterances on the tribes, but was from the first put in the lips of Jacob, though expansions and alterations have, no doubt, taken place. It need hardly be said that it is not the utterance of Jacob himself. It would be inexplicable that his vision should fix just on the period here covered. The oppression of Egypt, the Exodus, the wandering are all passed over, though they lay nearer to Jacob’ s day, and were momentous in character. And beyond the time of David or Solomon the author’ s vision does not range. Why should Jacob, who can see the period of the Judges and early monarchy, see only this, especially as he claims to foretell what is to happen “ in the latter days” ? The period is so restricted because it is that in which the poem grew up. Along with the Song of Deborah it is our most important source for the history of the tribes after the settlement in Canaan. It is certainly older than the Blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33). It represents different periods and stages of development. But in the main it is quite early. Some elements in it are as late as the reign of David, but nothing need be later. It presents several difficulties for which the larger commentaries must be consulted. It should be compared with the Blessing of Moses and the Song of Deborah. Plays on the names of the tribes are frequent, and the representation of the tribes under animal symbols.

Reuben, as the eldest, heads the list. In the firstborn it was thought that the father’ s undiluted vigour was manifest ( Numbers 3:12 f.*). In Reuben’ s tumultuous nature it was in excess, and manifested itself in the transgression of his father’ s marriage rights ( Genesis 35:22 *), hence he is cursed with the loss of pre-eminence, i.e. the firstborn’ s privileges. In Deuteronomy 33 Reuben is on the verge of extinction. Israel next denounces and curses Simeon and Levi ( Genesis 49:5-7) for their violence and cruelty to man and beast, dooming them to dispersion among the other tribes. It is usually thought that the reference is to Genesis 34:25 *. Both lost their tribal status. Simeon is not even mentioned in Deuteronomy 33, and Levi became an ecclesiastical and ceased to be a secular tribe. The transition was effected apparently in the period between Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33, where Levi’ s priestly position is the subject of warm panegyric, from an early period Levites, as members of Moses’ tribe, were preferred for priestly functions, but only later probably organised into a priestly caste.

Judah ( Genesis 49:8-12), the fourth Leah tribe, in happy contrast to the three elder brothers, is praised with unrestrained enthusiasm; no jarring note is struck in the pæ an. The historical background is the time of David or Solomon, when Judah had the praise and submission of the other tribes, and his enemies were subdued ( Genesis 49:8). In his early days a lion’ s whelp, he has gone up from his prey to his den in the rocks; there, now full-grown, he crouches, none would dare rouse him. The next verse is extremely difficult, and has led to interminable discussion. Here few words must suffice. Judah is to retain the sovereignty, and the wand of office held upright between his feet. The next line seems to name a period when this shall cease. Shiloh has been popularly regarded as a title of the Messiah. Neither the Jews nor the VSS so explained it, till that of Seb. Mü nster in A.D. 1534, nor does the view possess any intrinsic possibility. RV may, therefore, be set aside without hesitation. Less improbable is mg., “ Till he come to Shiloh” ; still it is highly improbable, for it cannot be fitted into the history, Judah having nothing to do with Shiloh. The LXX is better ( mg.) , but less acceptable than the last mg., “ Till he come whose it is.” The point would then be that Judah was to hold the sovereignty till its true possessor, i.e. the Messiah, comes, and then relinquish it into his hands. This is probably the best that can be done with the text, though it is open to philological objections. A simple emendation ( mô sheloh) would give “ Until his ruler come.” In either case the passage is probably Messianic, and is for this reason regarded as an interpolation by many, the idea of Messiah being much later. This is repudiated by Gunkel, who says in an important passage, “ Modern scholars are of the opinion that the eschatology of Israel was a creation of the literary prophets, hence they strike out the verse since it contradicts this fundamental conviction. The author of this commentary does not share this conviction; he believes, on the contrary, that the prophets can be understood only on the assumption that they found an eschatology already in existence, took it over, contested it, transformed it. This pre-prophetic eschatology is here attested.” He is followed by Gressmann, Procksch, and others. It is argued in favour of striking it out that it interrupts the connexion between Genesis 49:9 and Genesis 49:11. But this connexion is not itself good; in fact, Genesis 49:10 would link on much better to Genesis 49:8. The last line predicts for the Messiah dominion over the nations. Genesis 49:11 f. describes the abundance of wine and milk with which Judah is blessed: the vines are so numerous and luxuriant that the stems are used for tethering animals, and the wine for washing clothes, and the eyes are dull with heavy drinking (happy land! the writer means, where drink is so plentiful; cf. for this attitude Genesis 5:29 *, Judges 9:13, Psalms 104:15, Ecclesiastes 10:19), while the teeth are whitened with milk.

Zebulun ( Genesis 49:13) is situated on the coast, and reached up to the border of Phœ nicia. We do not learn of this except here and Deuteronomy 33:19; in Judges 5:17 Asher occupies this position; presumably Zebulun was not able to maintain its position on the coast. Issachar ( Genesis 49:14 f.) is described as a bony ass, which, in spite of its strength, sacrificed independence for ignoble peace. To Dan ( Genesis 49:16 f.) two oracles are devoted. He is to judge the people of his own tribe, i.e. maintain his independence alongside of the other tribes. He is also compared to the cerastes, or horned snake, small but very venomous, which snaps at the horse’ s heels ( cf. Genesis 3:15) and unhorses the rider. Hence Dan, while weak, may by skilful guerilla warfare do what it could not do in open battle. Gad ( Genesis 49:19): the plays on the tribe’ s name are specially noticeable here, gad g e dû d y e gû dennû w e hû yâ gû d â qç b. Gad is exposed to attacks by marauding nomads (“ troop” means raiders), but he will turn upon and pursue them. Asher ( Genesis 49:20) has a fertile land ( Deuteronomy 33:24), and exports Gainties for monarchs; those of Phœ nicia will be intended, but also foreign monarchs served by Phœ nician ships. Whether the Israelite king also, depends on the date of the verse. Much oil is still exported from the district. The blessing of Naphtali ( Genesis 49:21) is obscure. The lack of connexion between Genesis 49:21 a and Genesis 49:21 b is evident: Genesis 49:21 a may be rendered also “ Naphtali is a slender terebinth” ; we should then read in Genesis 49:21 b, “ He produces goodly shoots.” If we take Genesis 49:21 a as in Revelation , Genesis 49:21 b should read, “ He yields goodly lambs.” In neither case is the meaning clear.

To Joseph ( Genesis 49:22-26) a glowing, lengthy eulogy is devoted, which is often corrupt and incapable of translation. Genesis 49:22 is quite simple in RV, but the text and rendering are dubious. Genesis 49:23 is important for the date. It is often explained as referring to the attacks of the Syrians against the Northern Kingdom, under the dynasties of Omri and Jehu. But archers suit bands of raiders such as the Midianites better, and it is unsuitable in blessings on the tribes to take Joseph as a name for the Kingdom. Besides, the inclusion in J of so enthusiastic a panegyric on the Northern Kingdom is very unlikely after the Disruption. The time of the Judges, perhaps that of Gideon, is suitable. In Genesis 49:24 we learn that his bow remained strong and steady, and the arms were nimble, rapidly discharging the arrows, in a strength drawn from the strong God of Jacob, through the name ( mg.) of the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel. Genesis 49:24 d is extremely obscure; the text may be incurably corrupt. More usually Yahweh is spoken of as a Rock. The Stone of Israel may have special reference to the Stone, God’ s dwelling, set up at Bethel by Jacob. Genesis 49:25 ab continues the description of God as the source of strength, and effects the transition to the blessings, in the first place from the sky, rain, and sunshine, then abundant waters springing from the inexhaustible subterranean abyss ( Genesis 1:2, Genesis 1:6-8 *), thus ensuring the fertility of the land, finally fertility of animal and human kind. Genesis 49:26 a is quite corrupt; mg. should be read in Genesis 49:26 bc, and in Genesis 49:26 e for “ separated from” read “ consecrated among,” the point being not that Joseph was the royal tribe, but that it took a leading part in the Conquest. The other Rachel tribe, Benjamin, is depicted as a warlike tribe, living by plunder, especially perhaps of the caravans. The precise meaning is not clear, whether morning and evening alike he is active in his pursuit, or he devours the prey in the morning but at eventide has still some left to divide, or in the morning he is still eating what he has taken the evening before, and by evening has fresh booty to share.

Genesis 49:1. the latter days: an eschatological expression, but not necessarily so here; it means in the distant future.

Genesis 49:6 . houghed: cut the sinew of the hind-leg ( Joshua 1:16; Joshua 1:9, 2 Samuel 8:4).

Genesis 49:14 . sheepfolds: perhaps we should read “ panniers.”

Genesis 49:18 . No part of the poem; a pious ejaculation by the scribe when he is half-way through.

Genesis 49:19 f. Omit “ out of” in Genesis 49:20 and read “ their heel” in Genesis 49:19.

Genesis 49:28 a (to “ unto them” ) is the close of the Blessing; with “ and blessed them” P is resumed.

Verses 28-33

Genesis 49:28 b Genesis 50:13 . Death and Burial of Jacob.

Genesis 49:28 b Genesis 49:33 , Genesis 50:12 f. are in the main from P; Genesis 50:1-11 in the main from J. The dying charge requires no comment. The body is embalmed simply because burial could not be immediate; the motive for the Egyptian practice was that the body might be preserved for the ka or double to reanimate it. Joseph does not make his request for leave of absence direct to Pharaoh, possibly because as a mourner, he was unclean, hardly because absence might seem to veil some traitorous design, though Joseph explicitly promises to return ( Genesis 49:5). To do his father honour, an immense company of Egyptians of high rank accompanies the body. The way to Machpelah did not pass E. of the Jordan, so that if the text of Genesis 49:10 f. is right, it is possible that in one tradition the tomb was located on the E. of Jordan. Abel-mizraim means “ meadow” (not “ mourning” ) “ of Egypt.” The actual account of the burial is not preserved in J or E.

Genesis 50:14-26 . Joseph Reassures his Brothers. Joseph’ s Death.

Genesis 49:14 belongs to J, Genesis 49:15-26 to E. The request for pardon put in Jacob’ s mouth ( Genesis 49:17) is not elsewhere recorded. Genesis 49:20 f. suggests that the famine was over. According to P Jacob was in Egypt seventeen years ( Genesis 47:28), in Genesis 45:11 we learn that the famine lasted five years after his arrival. Joseph survives to see the great-grandchildren of his younger son, but the VSS read “ grandchildren.” Machir was a powerful Manassite clan; his children are adopted by Joseph. The length of Joseph’ s life, 110 years, was regarded in Egypt as ideal. Convinced that the Israelites will go back to Canaan, he extracts an oath from them to take his bones with them, that he may participate in the return and rest in the promised land. So he, too, was embalmed and the body placed in a mummy case. The fulfilment of the pledge is recorded in Exodus 13:19, Joshua 24:32.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 49". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/genesis-49.html. 1919.
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