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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 49

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verses 1-33

Genesis 48:0 and 49

(with Deuteronomy 33:0 and Judges 5:0 )

Jacob's blessing of his sons marks the close of the patriarchal dispensation. Henceforth the channel of God's blessing to man does not consist of one person only, but of a people or nation. As the patriarchal dispensation ceases it secures to the tribes all the blessing it has itself contained. The distinguishing features which Jacob depicts in the blessing of his sons were found in all the generations of the tribes, and displayed themselves in things spiritual also.

In these blessings we have the history of the Church in its most interesting form. The whole destiny of Israel is here in germ, and the spirit of prophecy in Jacob sees and declares it. (1) Ephraim and Manasseh were adopted as sons of Jacob. No greater honour could have been put on Joseph than this: that his sons should be raised to the rank of heads of tribes, on a level with the immediate sons of Jacob. He is merged in them, and all that he has earned is to be found not in his own name, but in theirs. (2) The future of Reuben was of a negative, blank kind: "Thou shalt not excel"; his unstable character must empty it of all great success. (3) "Simeon and Levi are brethren," showing a close affinity and seeking one another's aid, but for bad purposes, and therefore they must be divided and scattered in Israel. This was accomplished by the tribe of Levi being distributed over all the other tribes as the ministers of religion. The sword of murder was displaced in Levi's hand by the knife of sacrifice; (4) Judah is the kingly tribe; from it came David, the man who more than any other satisfies man's ideal of a prince. (5) Zebulon was a maritime tribe; always restlessly eager for emigration or commerce. Issachar had the quiet, bucolic contentment of an agricultural or pastoral population. (6) "Dan shall judge his people." This probably refers to the most conspicuous of the judges, Samson, who belonged to this tribe. The whole tribe of Dan seems to have partaken of the grim humour with which Samson saw his foes walk time after time into the traps he set for them a humour which comes out with singular piquancy in the narrative of one of the forays of this tribe, in which they carried off Micah's priest, and even his gods. (7) Gad was also to be a warlike tribe; his very name signified a marauding, guerilla troop, and his history was to illustrate the victories which God's people gain by tenacious, watchful, ever renewed warfare.

M. Dods, Israel's Iron Age, p. 173.

References: Genesis 48:0 . F. Whitfield, The Blessings of the Tribes, p. 236; J. R. Macduff, Sunsets on the Hebrew Mountains, p. 23; R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. ii., p. 265.Genesis 49:1 , Genesis 49:2 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 554.

Verse 4

Genesis 49:4

I. The first thing which strikes us in the instability of water is that it has no cohesive shape of its own. It takes the form of the vessel into which you pour it; it changes one form for another without resistance; and water spilt on the ground falls asunder and vanishes. This suggests the first defect of instability, that it prevents a man gaining an independent position in life. There is a true position in the world which we should all aim at, a place where we may stand on our own feet, fill our own sphere, and meet all the just claims which come upon us in the family, in friendship, and in society. This cannot be gained without some measure of stability. If, indeed, there is entire instability in the ground of the character, it is very difficult to deal with, and if men were under fixed laws of nature the case might be incurable. But nature has its emblems of hope even for this indecision; there is a possibility of crystallising water.

II. Another thing in the instability of water is the changefulness of its reflexion. Look at the water in an outspread lake. It takes moon and stars and changing seasons into the depths of its confidence, and its seeming depths are only a surface. This is beautiful in nature, but very unhappy in men; and we may see in it an illustration of how instability unfits us for gaining either true culture or character.

III. A third thing we may mention in the instability of water is that it inspires distrust. Its very calm is danger: there are hidden rocks under the smoothness, and treacherous currents which wind like serpents round those who trust them. This reminds us that instability destroys influence. The world is governed not so much by men of talent as by men of will.

IV. Water is ready to move any way but upward. It descends, but cannot rise to its source; and it illustrates this most serious defect of instability, that it unfits a man for a successful endeavour after the higher life.

In seeking to conquer instability there must (1) be a sincere desire to escape from this defect where it is felt. (2) In arriving at decision, a man should seek to ascertain what he is capable of. (3) There are helps in this struggle against indecision: ( a ) Method or system; ( b ) associations; ( c ) the taking an early and manly stand.

J. Ker, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 49.

The Holy Spirit is here describing the character of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob. He is acknowledged, indeed, as the firstborn, but at the same time he is given to understand that he has forfeited his right; he is now to have no pre-eminence on authority over his brethren; he is not to excel. This passage may well lead us to serious reflection on the great and peculiar danger of unsteadiness.

I. This verse was written especially for the learning of those among Christians who have good feelings, who feel something of the beauty of holiness, who admire it, and are shocked at crime in others. All of us are by nature more or less partakers in these feelings; but we may, if we will, neglect to cherish them, and then they will die away and do us no good.

II. The true and faithful Christian is marked by nothing more certainly than by his firmness and decision of purpose. He makes good resolutions and keeps them. He sets his face like a flint, and is not ashamed. A Christian without stability is a miserable wonder in the sight of God and His angels.

III. Perseverance a kind of bold and generous obstinacy is a necessary part of Christian goodness. There is no excelling without it: nay, so many are the snares and dangers which surround us, that there is no chance, but by it, of keeping even the lowest place in God's kingdom.

IV. To all our other good purposes this one must be added, we must resolve, by the grace of God, not to measure things by the judgment of men, but to go strictly by the rule of God's commandments. We must guard against that tendency, so natural to many, to exhaust their repentance and good meaning in feelings and professions and strong words, instead of going on without delay to the calm and sober keeping of the commandments. We must pray that He who holds our hearts in His hand may not suffer our repentance to be as unstable as water, pouring itself out in vain and useless lamentation.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to the "Tracts for the Times" vol. iv., p. 105.

References: Genesis 49:4 . J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 1875, p. 252; Old Testament Outlines, p. 19; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 158.

Verses 5-7

Genesis 49:5-7

From the history of Simeon and Levi we learn in many ways the evil consequences of giving reins to our angry passions and wild desires. It is needful to consider this, for these passions and desires have great power over us so great that we cannot depend on anything else to restrain them but the principles of true practical religion made to sink into our hearts by the grace of God.

I. Consider the misery of those who set aside the love of God and the hope of His rewards, that they may gratify any desire of their own. (1) Of this number was Esau, who sold his birthright for a morsel of meat, and became a type of those who lose their heavenly birthright for the sake of worldly gain. (2) The same lesson is to be learned from the history of Shechem and Dinah, who lost the blessing and incurred God's displeasure by giving way to their evil passions. (3) Simeon and Levi formed a plan for executing a terrible vengeance on Shechem and all belonging to him for the disgrace they had sustained. Blinded by their passion, they did not see they were disgracing themselves more by their treachery and cruelty than they had been disgraced already by their sister's dishonour.

II. From this we learn: (1) the necessity of keeping a constant check and restraint upon ourselves; (2) the need of humbling ourselves for the sins of our past lives, and looking carefully into our present practice to see whether they do not still cleave to us in some form or other; (3) the need of God's Spirit to make clean what is within, to put off from us impurity and wrath, that our hearts may be fit for His indwelling.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to the "Tracts for the Times" vol. vii. p. 36.

References: Genesis 49:5-7 . F. Whitfield, The Blessings of the Tribes, p. 67. Genesis 49:8-12 . Ibid., p. 97; J. Monro Gibson, The Ages before Moses, p. 219.

Verse 10

Genesis 49:10

I. Using the word prophecy in its predictive sense, this is the language of unquestionable prophecy.

II. This prophecy contains a revelation of Christ.

III. This revelation of Christ was connected with the announcement of the particular time when He was to appear.

IV. This announcement is connected with a statement showing in what way His people will come to Him. It is at once predictive and descriptive.

V. This statement suggests an inquiry into the design of Christ in gathering the people to Himself. In harmony with His title as "the Peaceful One," his grand design is to give them rest. (1) Rest, by reconciling them to God. ( 2 ) Rest, by effecting the spiritual union of man with man. (3) Rest, by leading us to perfect rest in another world.

C. Stanford, Symbols of Christ, p. 35.

In the prediction now before us, we have three new points: a name for the seed of the woman; an approximate date of His coming; and an important effect of it.

I. The word Shiloh is the name either of a person or a place. In all other passages of Scripture it denotes the place where the tabernacle was set up after the conquest of the promised land; and in this sense it appears for the first time in Joshua 18:1 . It was situated in Ephraim, about twenty miles north of Jerusalem. The obvious reference would be that it denotes the same place here. But (1) the person often gives name to the place; (2) the place is not mentioned till two hundred and forty years after the benediction was pronounced; (3) the sentence, if referred to the place, is neither important in itself, nor accordant with history. Shiloh means the safe the safe-maker the Saviour.

II. The date. The existence of Judah as a tribe continued only till the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. Shiloh must have come in the period from the death of Herod the Great, 3 B.C., to that of Herod Agrippa, a.d. 44.

III. The gathering of the people unto Shiloh. The word here rendered gathering is in the Septuagint expectation. It means the gathering in faith and hope of all people to the Shiloh. He is to be the seed of Abraham and the source of all blessing. He is to come while Judah continues to have a corporate form and a native prince, and unto Him are the nations to gather once more into one.

J. G. Murphy, Book of Daniel, p. 15.

References: Genesis 49:10 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1157; J. Burns, Sketches of Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 232.Genesis 49:13-15 . F. Whitfield, The Blessings of the Tribes, p. 117. Genesis 49:15 . A. Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiv., p. 104.Genesis 49:16-18 . F. Whitfield, The Blessings of the Tribes, p. 137.

Verse 18

Genesis 49:18

These words are a parenthesis in Jacob's long blessing of his sons. The old man seemed to have been exhausted with the thoughts and visions which passed over his mind in such quick succession. He paused to take a spiritual inspiration: "I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord."

I. Such chapters of life, such seasons of suspense, such exercises of the quiet confidences of the soul, are to be found in every Christian's experience. They may come in different ways to different men, but they are in some form or other a necessity to every man an essential part of the discipline of the school of salvation.

II. These intervals of waiting must be filled up with four things: prayer, praise, fellowship, and work.

III. It will be a helpful thought to you as you wait, that if you wait, Christ waits. Whatever your longing is that the time be over, His longing is greater. There are many things that you have had that have turned to a curse, which would have been blessings if only there had been more "waiting."

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 9th series, p. 101.

I. From these few words we may learn what was the nature of that inheritance which the patriarchs regarded as bequeathed to them by the Divine promises. The patriarchs looked for salvation.

II. We learn from the text what had been the great characteristic of Jacob's life from the time that he was first brought under the power of Divine grace. His affections had been set on things above. His chief interest had lain in eternity.

III. The language of Jacob in the text proves most fully the truth elsewhere stated, that "the righteous hath hope in his death."

Practical questions: (1) Do you know what is meant by the salvation of the Lord? (2) Do you know what is meant by waiting for salvation i.e., ardently but patiently looking forward to it? (3) Do you know what is meant by preparing while you wait for the salvation of the Lord?

A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 147.

References: Genesis 49:18 . J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. i., p. 8; R. S. Candlish, The Book of Genesis, vol. ii., p. 285.

Verse 19

Genesis 49:19


I. Faith triumphant in doubt. The Gospel is a revelation. It is the telling of a secret. There is not one mystery either about man or about God which has been either caused or aggravated by the Gospel. Doubtless there are matters not yet revealed. There are unexplained, perhaps inexplicable difficulties, as regards God's will and man's future, which the Gospel leaves where it found them. Faith triumphs in and over doubting; and when Christ asks, " Will ye also go away?" is content to answer, " Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."

II. Faith triumphs in disappointment. Faith triumphs amidst and over baffled hopes and wasted toils. To be willing to wait, even for encouragement, much more for victory, is an essential part of his character who has seen the promise afar off, and been persuaded of it, and embraced it, and who now lives day by day in the calm, humble looking-for of a light that shall arise and a rest that is reserved in heaven for God's people.

III. Faith conquers sin. That is our most urgent want, and that is Faith's most solemn office. Faith conquering is, above all things, Faith conquering sin, Faith looking upwards to a loving Saviour, and drawing down from Him the desire and the effort and the grace to be holy.

IV. Faith conquers Death. If Death is not dreadful to the Christian, he owes the difference simply to the fact that in that other world, as we vaguely term it, there is already for him a Father and a Saviour and a Comforter One whom it has been the joy of his soul to commune with here, and the strength of his life to find real, to find near, and to find all love and strength and grace.

C. J. Vaughan, Voices of the Prophets, p. 114 (also Good Words, 1866, p. 826).

References: Genesis 49:19-20 , Genesis 49:21 . F. Whitfield, The Blessing of the Tribes, pp. 149, 173, 185.Genesis 49:19-32 . R. S. Candlish, The Book of Genesis, vol. ii., p. 300. Genesis 49:22-26 . F. Whitfield, The Blessing of the Tribes, p. 195.

Verses 23-24

Genesis 49:23-24

These picturesque words are part of one of the oldest pieces of poetry in the Bible the dying Jacob's prophetic blessing of his sons. Of these sons, there are two over whom his heart seems especially to pour itself Judah, the ancestor of the royal tribe, and Joseph. The text contains in vivid metaphor the earliest utterance of a very familiar truth.

I. Strength for conflict by contact with the strength of God is the lesson it conveys. The word here rendered "made strong" might be translated "made pliable" or "flexible," conveying the notion of deftness and dexterity rather than of simple strength. It is practised strength that He will give, the educated hand and arm, master of all the manipulation of the weapon.

II. The text not only gives the fact of Divine strength being bestowed, but also the manner of the gift. What boldness of reverent familiarity there is in that symbol of the hands of God laid on the hand of the man. A true touch, as of hand to hand, conveys the grace. Nothing but contact will give us strength for conflict and for conquest. And the plain lesson, therefore, is See to it that the contact is not broken by you. "In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us."

A. Maclaren, Weekday Evening Addresses, p. 72.

References: Genesis 49:23 , Genesis 49:24 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i., No. 17; I.Williams, Characters of the Old Testament, p. 67.

Verse 24

Genesis 49:24

These three names which we find here are striking and beautiful in themselves; in their juxtaposition; in their use on Jacob's lips. Look at them as they stand.

I. The Mighty God of Jacob. The meaning of such a name is clear enough. It is He who has shown Himself mighty and mine by His deeds for me all through my life. The very vital centre of a man's religion is his conviction that God is his. The dying patriarch left to his descendants the legacy of this great Name.

II. The Shepherd. That name sums up the lessons that Jacob had learned from the work of himself and of his sons. His own sleepless vigilance and patient endurance were but shadows of the loving care, the watchful protection, the strong defence, which "the God who has been my Shepherd all my life long" had extended to him and his.

III. The Stone of Israel. Here, again, we have a name that after-ages have caught up and cherished, used for the first time. The Stone of Israel means much the same thing as the Rock. The general idea of this symbol is firmness, solidity. God is a rock (1) for a foundation; (2) for a fortress; (3) for shade and refreshment. None that ever built on that Rock have been confounded. We clasp hands with all that have gone before us. At one end of the long chain this dim figure of the dying Jacob stretches out his withered hands to God, the Stone of Israel; at the other end we lift up ours to Jesus and cry:

"Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee."

A. Maclaren: Weekday Evening Addresses, p. 81.

References: Genesis 49:24 . S. Cox, The Sunday Magazine, 1873, p. 640; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning p. 53.Genesis 49:28 . M. Dods, Israel's Iron Age, p. 172; W. M. Taylor, Joseph the Prime Minister, p. 190; F. Whitfield, The Blessings of the Tribes, p. 13.Genesis 49:29 . J. M. McCulloch, Sermons on Unusual Subjects, p. 134.Genesis 49:29-33 . Bruce, Modern Scottish Pulpit, p. 223.Genesis 49:33 . R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. ii., p. 306; G. Woolnough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 410; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii., p. 783.Genesis 50:1-13 . R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. ii., pp. 306, 317. Genesis 50:12 , Genesis 50:13 . F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 187. Genesis 50:14 . W. M. Taylor, Joseph the Prime Minister, p. 190. Genesis 50:15-21 . F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 4th series, p. 176. Genesis 50:15-26 . W. M. Taylor, Joseph the Prime Minister, p. 206. Genesis 50:19 , Genesis 50:20 . M. Dods, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, p. 231.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Genesis 49". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/genesis-49.html.
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