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Jacob, being about to die, blesseth his sons, and foretelleth what shall happen to each of them hereafter. He giveth them charge concerning his funeral, and dieth.
Before Christ 1688.
* I feel it my duty, in my annotations on this important chapter, as well as on some other parts of Scripture, to enlarge considerably for the sake of the critical reader; but shall always be careful to make compensation, in the course of the commentary, to those who are particularly attached to spiritual reflections.
Genesis 49:1. Called— Jacob, sensible that his last hour drew near, and having made an end of blessing Joseph's two sons, as is related at length in the preceding chapter, now calls all his sons together, that he may take his farewel of them.
That which shall befall you— We have in Scripture many instances of fathers summoning their children, or magistrates the people under their charge, to attend to their last words, ch. Genesis 27:4. 1 Kings 2:1.Joshua 23:0; Joshua 23:0; Joshua 24:0. where the declarations, except in the case of Isaac, are to be regarded rather as prayers for their posterity, or as directions for their conduct, than in the light of prophecies. But, in the remarkable prophecy before us, we have, as it were, an epitome of the history of the most extraordinary nation that ever existed, for near the space of fifteen hundred years. We have facts so remote, and some of them so extraordinary, foretold in it, that, as they are infinitely beyond the penetration of human sagacity, they must be allowed by every fair inquirer, when he sees how exactly they were fulfilled, to have been dictated by the unerring Spirit of GOD.
An opinion prevailed very early in the world, that the soul, when it was near departing from the body, acquired a presaging faculty. Socrates and his disciples seem to have been persuaded of the truth of it, as we are informed by Plato and Xenophon; and Tully relates many instances in proof of it, and cites Homer to that effect. Whether this was a popular notion in Jacob's time, it is not material to inquire: it is highly probable, however, that his sons, who were well acquainted with the intercourse there had been between GOD and their fathers, were persuaded that their parent's voice was to them at that juncture, as the oracles of God, and that they gave credit to it accordingly.
In the last days— In after-times. The phrase הימים באחרית in the end of days, is not used for time which is immediately coming on, but only for a remote future time, as will appear on consulting Numbers 24:14.Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 31:29. Daniel 2:28; Daniel 10:14. And as none of Jacob's children, or any of his descendants, till the fourth or fifth generation, possessed the portions assigned them, we may infer from the event, that by these words we are to understand the time which passed from the settling of the Israelites in Canaan to their general dissolution as distinct tribes.
Genesis 49:2. Gather yourselves together— Jacob received a double blessing, spiritual and temporal, the promise of the land of Canaan, and the promise of the seed in which all the nations of the earth should be blessed; which promises were first made to Abraham, then repeated to Isaac, and afterward confirmed to Jacob; and Jacob, a little before his death, bequeaths the same to his children. The temporal blessing, or inheritance of the land of Canaan, might be shared and divided among all his sons; but the blessed Seed could descend only from one; and Jacob accordingly assigns to each a portion in the promised land, but limits the descent of the Messiah to the tribe of Judah, and at the same time, sketches out the characters and fortunes of all the tribes. Bishop Newton.
Genesis 49:3. Reuben, &c.— Dr. Durell observes on this prophecy, that in the former part "Jacob dwells on the circumstance of Reuben's primogeniture, and, by the affectionate manner in which he expresses himself, seems to be concerned that his eldest son was to reap no advantage from it; he then, by opposing his great insolence to his great dignity, insinuates that the one proceeded from the other; and after having touched upon his crime in general, in the conclusion he declares that he should in no wise be eminent among his brethren; and that because he had incestuously defiled his father's bed. This is the reason that is given (and it is indeed a very satisfactory one) for Reuben's loss of those privileges which his birth would otherwise have entitled him to."
My might, and the beginning of my strength— These expressions imply one and the same thing, and are sufficiently explained by the word first-born, which immediately precedes. See Deuteronomy 21:17. Psalms 78:51.
Genesis 49:4. Unstable as water— Thou hast been unstable as the waters, Durell renders it, following the Samaritan reading, which according to his judgment connects better with the preceding verse.
Shalt not excel— The Chaldee paraphrase has it: Thou wast to have had three parts, viz. the birth-right, the kingdom, and the priesthood; but, because thou hast followed thy own will, as water spilled, thou shalt not prosper:" thou art deprived of that dignity which belonged to thee; for to the birth-right belonged, as is generally believed, two shares of the heritage, the priesthood and the kingdom; of all which he was deprived. The right of birth was given to Joseph, (for he had two shares of the inheritance,) Levi had the priesthood, and Judah the kingdom. See ch. 25: Genesis 49:31.
REFLECTIONS.—The dying patriarch assembles his sons, to inform them concerning their posterity. They come at his command, and he enjoins them solemn attention, as to matters in which they were highly interested. Note; (1.) The words of dying parents should deeply affect their children, and be long remembered by them. (2.) Though we cannot prophesy with Jacob, we can from God's word admonish men of what will be the final issue of their conduct in this world. They who do good shall go into life everlasting; and they who do evil into everlasting fire. Reuben, as first-born, is called; his birth-right, his excellence, and superiority are mentioned; but he is solemnly degraded into the lowest place; no judge, prince, or pro phet springs from that tribe; his crime is remembered to his confusion, and his unstable temper marked with indelible reproach. Note; Though sin may be forgiven of God, gross acts of lewdness leave a brand which is never forgotten among men.
Genesis 49:5. Simeon and Levi are brethren— That is, fellows in wickedness. אחים achim, rendered brethren, is used for persons of the same turn of mind. See Proverbs 18:9; Proverbs 18:24. Jacob intimates that these his sons were not nearer related in blood than in their cruel disposition, which had manifested itself in an act shocking to humanity; on the mention of which, Pro 18:6 he immediately breaks off, declares in an affecting manner that he was not privy to, and testifies his utter abhorrence of it. He comes next to some of the particulars of that infamous day, when these two chiefs, in cold blood, destroyed a whole town, from the principal to the meanest inhabitant, (as is related at length, with all the circumstances of perfidy and inhumanity, ch. 34:) In Pro 18:7 the good old man, roused with indignation at so barbarous a scene, warmly exclaims against the immoderate wrath which had produced such bitter fruits, and takes his leave of them, by assuring them that their punishment, though flow, would certainly overtake them.
Instruments of cruelty, &c.— i.e.. Their swords were instruments of cruelty. They have abused their arms, by cruelly and deceitfully killing the innocent Shechemites. The Hebrew word מכרתיהם mekeroteihem, seems very naturally derived from כרת karet, to cut off as a branch, Isa 18:5 and so to signify instruments of cutting, swords, &c. and to justify the marginal translation of our English Bibles, weapons of violence.
Genesis 49:6. O my soul, come not thou, &c.— Or, into their secret my soul entered not. But our translation is much more emphatic. Jacob, by this pathetic exclamation, testifies the higher detestation of his sons' barbarity. Their secret, means their wicked designs, which are called their secret, because such designs are commonly carried on with deep secrecy. See Psalms 64:2. He goes on, unto their assembly, Mine honour, be not thou united. Mine honour answers to my soul in the preceding line, and, like it, is frequently used in poetry for the pronoun of the first person, Psalms 16:9. Grotius explains this:—"I have not stained mine honour, or rather, let mine honour never be stained, by joining in their cursed assembly." The sentiment rises: in the former clause Jacob says, that he would not choose to be concerned in their secret designs: here he declares, that, as he valued his honour and self-approbation, he would shun the very place where they were assembled, for fear of catching the infection.
In their anger they slew a man— The singular for the plural; for he means the inhabitants of Shechem, see ch. Genesis 34:25. [slew all the males]; as he means the town of Shechem by the wall, which they are said to have digged down.
Genesis 49:7. Cursed— The excessive anger and resentment here mentioned may be justly said to have produced cursed effects, and, in consequence, the curse which immediately follows. Job pours this execration not upon their persons, far less upon their posterity, but upon their boisterous passion; as much as to say, let the implacable desire of revenge, which they cherished in so settled and inflexible a manner, and the cruel and bloody issue of that revenge, for ever appear execrable in the eyes of all the world.
I will divide them in Jacob— Jacob, full of the Holy Spirit, speaks here as an oracle of GOD, attributing to himself what belonged to the Supreme Disposer of all things, and what did not come to pass till some generations after. By Jacob and Israel, he here means the land of Canaan and the other countries which were to be divided among his sons. In this division the Simeonites had only some towns and villages given them in the worst part of Judah's lot, Joshua 19:1; Joshua 19:51. which not finding large enough for them, they removed at different times, and formed colonies in different parts, which they conquered from the Idumeans and Amalekites. See 1 Chronicles 4:39; 1 Chronicles 4:43. The Levites had their forty-eight cities dispersed among the twelve tribes in proportion to their extent, Joshua 21:0. These two tribes, therefore, were not only separated from one another, but each from itself, in a great measure, according to Jacob's prediction. Bishop Newton observes from Fagius, that it hath been a constant tradition among the Jews, (which is also confirmed by the Jerusalem Targum,) that the tribe of Simeon were so straitened in their situation and circumstances, that great numbers were necessitated to seek a subsistence among the other tribes, by teaching and instructing their children. As maledictions of this kind are only temporary and conditional, this was, in future time, taken off the tribe of Levi for their zeal against idolaters, their dispersion being turned into a blessing.
We subjoin a paraphrase of these verses: "Simeon or Levi might have succeeded to the right of primogeniture, of which their brother's incest has justly deprived him, had they not proved such instruments of treacherous cruelty. May my soul be for ever preserved from such bloody counsels, and my honour unstained by such horrid guilt! for the fierceness of their anger hurried them to commit murder, and the impetuousness of their fury made them break through all obstacles which opposed them. Cursed be their anger, for it was violent, and their revenge, for it was cruel. This savage and inhuman society, which they contracted for such vile purposes, obliges me to divide their tribes, and, by the spirit of prophecy, to foretel that they shall be disunited, and scattered in Israel."
REFLECTIONS.—Simeon and Levi have still a severer judgment pronounced on them than Reuben. They were men of a bloody disposition, utterly unlike their peaceable father; and the murder of the Shechemites, though a prosperous wickedness, meets now its recompence: since they will not be restrained by their father's advice, they shall lie under his curse. With abhorrence of their deeds, he professes his innocence, and brands their cruel wrath with deepest detestation: though preserved by Providence from being scattered by the enraged Canaanites, yet God will visit them, and scatter them among the tribes. Note; (1.) The best fathers frequently cannot restrain their children from vile deeds. (2.) The greater dissimilarity of children from their parents is often observable; the meekest man has often a most passionate child. (3.) Though wickedness seems to succeed for a time, we may be assured the curse is coming. (4.) We must disdain all fellowship with wicked men and their deeds.
Genesis 49:8. Judah— Jacob, having disinherited, in part, his three eldest sons, on account of their crimes, comes now to his fourth, who, according to the ancient and established law among nations, had the best right to succeed to what they had forfeited. He takes occasion to observe in the beginning of the discourse which he addresses to him, that as his name implied praise, he, accordingly, should be praised by his brethren; and that, on account of his military exploits, they would honour him as their chief; for that reason he is compared in the next verse to a lion, whom none dared to oppose. The allegory ended, Jacob resumes the subject (Genesis 49:10.) from which he had digressed, explains what those honours should be which he had only mentioned in general, and says expressly, that they should consist in his having the supreme power; which whoever obtained, whether some of his descendants or others, they should continue fixed in the portion assigned him for his inheritance, till the Messiah, whom he should have the honour to reckon among his posterity, should come to establish his universal empire. Indeed, this tribe was highly honoured in early times. It led the van of the armies of Israel, and had the first place in the encampments in the wilderness; see Num 2:3 was, after Joshua's death, fixed upon to lead the others to battle, Judges 1:1-2. and produced David, that great captain, who made an entire conquest of his enemies: I have, says he, pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them, neither did I turn again till they were consumed; and presently after he adds, Thou hast also given me the necks ףּער oreph, or rather, the backs of mine enemies, &c. Psalms 18:37; Psalms 18:50.
Thy father's children shall bow down before thee— This is not to be understood, as some have imagined, as if all Judah's posterity were to be particularly honoured in their own persons by their brethren. It is sufficient for the accomplishment of this part of the prophecy, that they all partook of the honours of David, elected from among them, whom all the tribes acknowledged as their lawful sovereign, 2 Samuel 5:1-3. and from whom descended a very long race of kings, and THE MESSIAH himself, whose kingdom is everlasting, to whom all knees bow, Philippians 2:10.; that they had in this portion the temple, the throne, and the metropolis; and that all the tribes were enjoined to go thither to worship at all the solemn festivals, Psalms 122:4. It is in respect of these circumstances that the historian is to be understood, when he says, Judah prevailed above his brethren, for out of him came the chief ruler. See 1 Chronicles 5:2.
Genesis 49:9. Judah is a lion's whelp— The common interpretation given to this verse is, that it is an allegorical repetition, or illustration by similes of the former: the warlike Judah being compared to a lion, and his enemies to a lion's prey: in which sense a gradation is observed, Judah being compared first to a lion's whelp, then to a grown lion, then to a lioness (for so the original of the word, rendered an old lion, signifies; see Ezekiel 19:2-3.) a lioness being reckoned the fiercest and most invincible of all. Thus the beginning, increase, and full growth of the power of this tribe is expressed. Balaam uses the same similitudes, Num 23:24 and Numbers 24:9. to denote high-spirited valour and magnanimity; and these passages seem fully explicative of each other. From the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he speaks as if he saw Judah returning in triumph with the spoils of his enemies, alluding to the manner of lions, who return up to the mountains, after they have satiated themselves in the vallies. The next words, he stooped down, he couched as a grown lion, allude also to the manner of lions couching down to rest in their dens, after they have devoured their prey, Psalms 104:21-22. and very aptly express Judah's dwelling fearless and secure, after their many victories, 1Ki 4:25 as the last clause, who shall rouse him up? in a very elevated manner intimates, that it would be as dangerous for an enemy to disturb the repose of this warlike tribe, as it would be to provoke the rage of a slumbering lion. This part of the prophecy, thus explained, was verified in the many valiant worthies of the tribe of Judah, but more particularly in HIM, who is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and who will put all enemies under his feet, Revelation 5:5. Indeed they always distinguished themselves by their valour, as a tribe. The Chaldee paraphrases this verse, he shall have dominion in the beginning, and in the end; the kingdom of the house of Judah shall be magnified: for from the judgment of death, thou hast rid thy soul, O my son! he shall rest and dwell in strength as a lion, as a lioness: there shall be no kingdom which shall stir him.
Genesis 49:10. The sceptre, &c.— We shall not attempt to enter into the various expositions which have been given of this celebrated passage, but shall content ourselves with laying before the reader a few of those which appear to us the clearest and most unexceptionable.
I. The sceptre, i.e.. the power of government; law-giver, i.e.. a judge or a person who dispenses law; from between his feet, i.e.. of his posterity, Judah's posterity, Judah being often taken for the whole race of the Jews: Until Shiloh, i.e.. the Peace-maker, come; and until the gatherings of the nations shall be to him, viz. at the destruction of the Jewish state by Titus, Christ being then come, and the Gentiles converted. See Matthew 24:14. Shiloh is derived from Shalah, which word signifies, safety, salvation, peace, happy, fortunate, prosperous, triumphant.
II. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah— The word שׁבט shebet, which we translate, a sceptre, signifies, a rod, or staff of any kind; and particularly the rod or staff which belonged to each tribe as an ensign of their authority; and thence it is transferred to signify, a tribe, as being united under one rod or staff of government, or a ruler of a tribe; and in this sense it is used twice in this very chapter, Matthew 24:16. Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes, or rulers, of Israel. It has the same signification in 2 Samuel 7:7. In all the places wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel, spake I a word with any of the tribes, or rulers, of Israel? In the parallel place of Chronicles, it is Judges of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying, why build ye not me an house of cedar? The word does indeed sometimes signify a sceptre, but that is apt to convey an idea of kingly authority, which was not the thing intended here. The LXX translate it, αρχων, a ruler, which answers better to a law-giver in the following clause. It could not, with any sort of propriety, be said, that the sceptre should not depart from Judah, when Judah had no sceptre, nor was to have any for many generations afterwards: but Judah had a rod or staff of a tribe, for he was then constituted a tribe; as well as the rest of his brethren. The very same expression occurs in Zec 10:11 and the sceptre of AEgypt shall depart away, which implies that AEgypt had a sceptre, and that that sceptre should be taken away: but no grammar or language could justify the saying, that Judah's sceptre should depart, or be taken away, before Judah was in possession of any sceptre. Would it not therefore be better to substitute the word staff, or ruler, instead of sceptre, unless we restrain the meaning of sceptre to a rod or staff of a tribe, which is all that is here intended? The staff, or ruler, shall not depart from Judah; such authority as Judah then had, was to remain with his posterity. It is not said or meant, that he should not cease from being a king, or having a kingdom, for he was then no king, and had no kingdom; but only that he should not cease from being a tribe, or body politic, having rulers and governors of his own, till a certain period here foretold.
Nor a law-giver from between his feet— The sense of the word sceptre will help us to fix and determine the meaning of the other word מחקק mechokek, which we translate a law-giver. For, if they be not synonimous, they are not very different. Such as the government is, such must be the law-giver. The government was only of a single tribe, and the law-giver could be of no more. Nor had the tribe of Judah, at any time, a legislative authority over all the other tribes; no, not even in the reigns of David or Solomon. When David appointed the officers for the service of the temple, (1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:31.Ezra 8:20; Ezra 8:20.) and when Solomon was anointed king, and Zadok priest, (1 Chronicles 29:22.) these things were done with the consent and approbation of the princes and rulers of Israel. Indeed. the whole nation had but one law, and one lawgiver, in the strict sense of the word. The king himself was not properly a law-giver; he was only to have a copy of the law, to read therein, and not to turn aside from the commandment, to the right hand or to the left, Deuteronomy 17:18; Deuteronomy 17:20. Moses was truly, as he is styled, the law-giver, Numbers 21:18. Deuteronomy 33:21. And when the word is applied to any other person, or persons, it is used in a lower signification. For it signifies not only a law-giver, but a judge; not only one who maketh laws, but likewise one who exerciseth jurisdiction. In the Greek it is translated ηγεμενος, a leader or president; in the Chaldee, a scribe; in the Syriac, an expositor; and in our English Bible it is elsewhere translated a governor, as in Jdg 5:14 out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer. The law-giver therefore is to be taken in a restrained sense, as well as the sceptre: and perhaps it cannot be translated better than judge; nor a judge from between his feet.* Whether we understand it, that a judge from between his feet, shall not depart from Judah, or a judge shall not depart from between his feet, I conceive the meaning to be much the same, that there should not be wanting a judge of the race or posterity of Judah, according to the Hebrew phrase of children's coming from between the feet. They who expound it of sitting at the feet of Judah, seem not to have considered that this was the place of scholars, and not of judges, or doctors of the law. As Dan, Judges 5:16 was to judge his people as one of the tribes or rulers of Israel; so was Judah, and with this particular prerogative, that the staff or ruler should not depart from Judah, nor a judge from between his feet, until Shiloh came.
* Some have supposed, that mechokek signifies primarily a staff or ensign of legislative or judicial authority; and that the phrase from between his feet, alludes to the ancient custom of a judge's sitting with a staff of authority between his feet, leaning or resting his hand on the top of it, as sitting in judgment, or attending in a court of justice. See PARKHURST on the word.
Until Shiloh come— That is, until the coming of the Messiah, as almost all interpreters, both ancient and modern, agree. For howsoever they may explain the word, and whencesoever they may derive it, the Messiah is the person plainly intended. The LXX translate it, until τα αποκειμενα αυτω, the things reserved for him come; or, according to other copies ω αποκειται, he for whom it is reserved, come: and what was the great treasure reserved for Judah, or who was the person for whom all things were reserved, but the Messiah, whom we hear declaring in the gospel, Matthew 11:27 all things are delivered unto me of my Father; and again, ch. Genesis 28:18. all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth? The Syriac translates it to the same purpose, he whose it is: I suppose, meaning the kingdom: and the Arabic, whose he is; I suppose, meaning Judah: and whose was Judah, or whose was the kingdom, so properly as the Messiah's, who is so many times predicted under the character of the king of Israel? Junius and Tremellius, with others, translate it filius ejus, his son; as if it was derived from שׁיל shil, profluvium sanguinis, or שׁליה shilejah, secundina, that wherein the infant is wrapped, and thence, by a metonimy, the infant itself. And who could be this son of Judah, by way of eminence, but the Messiah, the Seed in which all the nations of the earth should be blessed? In the Samaritan text and version it is, the peace-maker; and this, perhaps, is the best explication of the word; and to whom can this, or any the like title, be so justly applied, as to the Messiah, who is emphatically styled by Isaiah, ch. Genesis 9:6. the Prince of peace; and at whose birth was sung that heavenly anthem, Luke 2:14. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men?
We now proceed to draw the full and exact completion of this part of the prophecy. The twelve sons of Jacob are constituted twelve tribes, or heads of tribes, Luke 2:28. To Judah it was particularly promised, that the sceptre, or rod of the tribe, should not depart from him, nor a judge or law-giver from between his feet: his tribe should continue a distinct tribe, with rulers, and judges, and governors of its own, until the coming of the Messiah. The people of Israel, after this settlement of their government, were reckoned by their tribes, but never before; and the tribe of Judah made as considerable a figure as any of them. When it was promised to Judah particularly, that the sceptre should not depart from him, it was implied that it should depart from the other tribes; and accordingly the tribe of Benjamin became a sort of appendage to the kingdom of Judah; and the other ten tribes were, after a time, carried away captive into Assyria, whence they never returned. The Jews also were carried captive to Babylon, but returned after seventy years; and, during their captivity, they were far from being treated as slaves, as appears from the prophet's advice to them, Jeremiah 29:5; Jeremiah 29:32. Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them, &c. Many of them were so well fixed and settled at Babylon, and lived there in such ease and affluence, that they refused to return to their native country. In their captivity they were still allowed to live as a distinct people, appointed feasts and fasts for themselves, and had rulers and governors of their own, as we may collect from several places in Ezra and Nehemiah. When Cyrus had issued his proclamation for the rebuilding of the temple, then rose up the chief of the fathers, saith Ezra, Ezr 1:5 so that they had chiefs and rulers among them. Cyrus ordered the vessels of the temple to be delivered to the prince of Judah, Ezr 1:8 so that they had then a prince of Judah; and these princes and rulers, who are often mentioned, managed their return and settlement afterwards. It is true, that, after the Babylonish captivity, they were not so free a people as before, living under the dominion of the Persians, Greeks, and Romans; but still they lived as a distinct people under their own laws. The authority of their rulers and elders subsisted under these foreign masters, as it had even while they were in AEgypt. It subsisted under the Asmonean princes, as it had under the government of the judges, and Samuel and Saul; for, in the book of Maccabees, there is frequent mention of the rulers and elders, and council of the Jews, and of public acts and memorials in their name. It subsisted even in our Saviour's time; for, in the Gospels, we read often of the chief priests and the scribes, and the elders of the people. Their power indeed in capital causes, especially such as related to the state, was abridged in some measure; they might judge, but not execute, without the consent of the Roman governor, as I think we must infer from John 18:31. Then said Pilate unto them, take ye him, and judge him according to your law: the Jews therefore said unto him, it is not lawful for us to put any man to death. The sceptre was then departing, and in about forty years afterwards it totally departed; their city was taken, their temple was destroyed, and they themselves were either slain with the sword or sold for slaves; and, from that time to this, they have never formed one body or society, but have been dispersed among all nations; their tribes and genealogies have been all confounded, and they have lived without a ruler, without a law-giver, and without supreme authority and government in any part of the earth; and this a captivity not for seventy years, but for above seventeen hundred.
And unto him shall the gathering of the people be— Or, the obedience of the people, as it is otherwise translated. These words are capable of three different constructions; and each so probable, that it is not easy to say which was certainly intended by the author; or rather, as the different senses perfectly coincide with each other, it is probable that the Holy Spirit intended to include the whole. 1st, The words may relate to Judah, who is the main subject of the prophecy, and of the discourse preceding and following; and by the people we may understand the people of Israel; and then the meaning will be, that the other tribes should be gathered to the tribe of Judah, which sense is approved by Le Clerc and some late commentators. Or, 2nd, They may relate to Shiloh, who is the person mentioned immediately before; and, by the people, we may understand the Gentiles; and then the meaning will be, that the Gentiles should be gathered, and become obedient to the Messiah; which sense is consonant to other texts of Scripture, and is confirmed by the authority of most ancient interpreters; only some of them render it, And he shall be the expectation of the nations. Or, 3rdly, They may still relate to Shiloh, and yet not be considered as a distinct clause, but be joined in construction with the preceding words, until Shiloh come, the word until being common to both parts; and then the sentence will run thus, Until Shiloh come, and to him the gathering, or obedience of the people; that is, until the Messiah come, and until the people or nations be gathered to his obedience; which sense is preferred by the most learned Mr. Mede and some others.
Each of these interpretations may very well be justified by the event; for, if we understand this of Judah, that the other tribes should be gathered to that tribe, it was in some measure fulfilled by the people's going up so frequently as they did to Jerusalem, which was in the tribe of Judah, in order to obtain justice in difficult cases, and to worship God in his holy temple,
Whither the tribes go up, (saith the Psalmist, Psalms 122:4-5.) the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord. For there are set thrones of judgment; the thrones of the house of David. Upon the division of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the tribe of Benjamin, and the priests and Levites, and several out of all the other tribes, (see 2 Chronicles 13:16.) went over to Judah, and were so blended and incorporated together, that they are more than once spoken of under the notion of one tribe, 1Ki 11:13; 1 Kings 11:32; 1 Kings 11:36. And it is expressly said, 1Ki 12:20 there was none that followed the house of David but the tribe of Judah only, the rest being swallowed up in that tribe, and considered as parts and members of it. In like manner, when the Israelites were carried away captive into Assyria, 2Ki 17:18 there was none left but the tribe of Judah only; and yet we know that the tribe of Benjamin, and many out of the other tribes, remained too; but they are reckoned as one and the same tribe with Judah. Nay, at this very time there was a remnant of Israel which escaped from the Assyrians, and went and adhered to Judah; for we find afterwards, that in the reign of Josiah there were some of Manasseh and Ephraim, and of the remnant of Israel, who contributed money to the repairing of the temple, as well as Judah and Benjamin, 2Ch 34:9 and at the solemn celebration of the passover, some of Israel were present, as well as of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. When the people returned from the Babylonish captivity, several of the tribes of Israel associated themselves, and returned with Judah and Benjamin; and in Jerusalem dwelt of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin, and of the children of Ephraim and Manasseh, 1 Chronicles 9:3. At so many different times, and upon such different occasions, the other tribes were gathered to this tribe, insomuch that Judah became the general name of the whole nation; and, after the Babylonish captivity, they were no longer called the people of Israel, but the people of Judah, or Jews.
Again; If we understand this of Shiloh or the Messiah, that the people or Gentiles should be gathered to his obedience, it is no more than is foretold in many other prophecies of Scripture. It began to be fulfilled in Cornelius the Centurion, whose conversion, Acts 10:0. was, as I may say, the first fruits of the Gentiles; and the harvest afterwards was very plenteous. In a few years the Gospel was disseminated, and took root downward, and bore fruit upward in the most considerable parts of the world then known. We ourselves were of the Gentiles, but are now gathered unto Christ.
Lastly; If we join this in construction with the words preceding, until Shiloh come, two events are specified as forerunners of the sceptre's departing from Judah, the coming of the Messiah, and the gathering of the Gentiles to him; and these together point out with great exactness the precise time of the sceptre's departure. Now it is certain, that before the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dissolution of the Jewish commonwealth by the Romans, the Messiah was not only come, but great numbers likewise of the Gentiles were converted to him. The very same thing was predicted by our Saviour himself, Matthew 24:14. This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come, the destruction of Jerusalem, and end of the Jewish constitution. The Jews were not to be cut off till the Gentiles were grafted into the church; and in fact we find that the apostles and their companions preached the gospel in all parts of the world then known. Their sound, as St. Paul applies the saying, Rom 10:18 went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. And then the end came. Then an end was put to the Jewish polity in church and state. The government of the tribe of Judah had subsisted, in some form or other, from the death of Jacob to the last destruction of Jerusalem; but then it was utterly broken and ruined; then the sceptre departed, and hath been departed ever since. And now even the distinction of tribes is in a great measure lost among them: they are called Jews; but the tribe of Judah is so far from bearing rule, that they know not for certain which is the tribe of Judah; and all the world is witness, that they exercise dominion nowhere, but live in subjection everywhere. See Bishop Newton.
Genesis 49:11-12. Binding his foal unto the vine, &c.— In the 8th and 9th verses the pre-eminence and military power of Judah is predicted; in the 10th, the continuance of that power till a certain period; and in these two verses, the fertility of the land which Judah should inherit, and wherein he should exercise this power, is described, under such images as particularly correspond to that part of Judea which fell to the lot of the tribe of Judah. Dr. Durell translates thus: "Tied to the vine is her foal, and the ass's colt to her choice vine; and her garment is washed in wine, and her clothes in the blood of grapes." And he observes, "That the whole expresses but one general sense. To tie asses in vineyards, and to wash clothes in wine, are generally understood to be hyperbolical phrases, denoting such extraordinary abundance, that grapes would hardly be more regarded than grass, or wine than water. To attribute eyes, teeth, and clothes to a country, might seem a great licence; but prosopopoeias are so frequent in the prophets, that they need not be cited to justify Jacob's considering Judah here under that image, or in the light of his virgin daughter."
The vineyards of Engedi, and of Sorek, so famous in Scripture, Song of Solomon 1:14; Song of Solomon 1:17. were in this tribe; and so was the brook of Eshcol, whence the spies brought those extraordinary bunches of grapes, Numbers 13:23-24. That this portion also abounded with good pasture-grounds is probable, from its being the place in which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sojourned, who had all numerous herds of cattle. Besides, the vales of Bethlehem and Hebron, one of the vales of Sharon, celebrated for its rich and extensive pastures, is supposed by some to have belonged to Judah. See Univ. Hist. vol. 1: p. 415. 8vo. Josephus observes of Judea in general, that it is a good pasture-country. "The blessing of Jacob," says Dr. Shaw, Travels, p. 366, 367. Which was given to Judah, was not of the same kind with the blessing of Asher, or of Issachar, that his bread should be fat, or his land should be pleasant, but that his eyes should be red with wine, and his teeth should be white with milk;" And he observes, that "the mountains of this country abound with shrubs, and a delicate short grass; both which the cattle are more fond of, than of such plants as are more common to fallow grounds and meadows. Nor was this method of grazing peculiar to this country; inasmuch as it is still practised all over mount Libanus, the Castravan mountains, and Barbary; in all which places, the higher grounds are set apart for this use, and the plains and vallies for tillage. For, besides the good management and oeconomy, there is this further advantage, that the milk of cattle, fed in this manner, is far more rich and delicious, as their flesh is more sweet and nourishing. It may be presumed likewise, that the vine was not neglected, in a soil and exposition so proper for it to thrive in." And he mentions particularly the many tokens which are to be met with "of the ancient vineyards about Jerusalem and Hebron," and "the great quantity of grapes and raisins, which are thence brought daily to the markets of Jerusalem, and sent yearly to Egypt."
Most of the fathers, and many late interpreters, have considered these two verses as prophetical of Christ; because he calls himself a vine, and rode upon an ass, the foal of an ass: and they explain the washing of his garment in wine, of his flesh being covered with blood; which the wine in the sacrament represents. His eyes, say they, were more red than wine at his passion: and the meaning of his teeth are whiter than milk is, that in his mouth was found no guile; or the words signify, in general, the purity of his doctrine.
We here subjoin a brief paraphrase of this blessing. "JUDAH, thy name signifies praise; and accordingly, thou shalt have the praise of all thy brethren. They shall fall prostrate before thee, as before their king and sovereign, and thine enemies shall be forced to submit their necks to thy yoke. Like a young lion shall my son fall upon his prey, and, like an old lion, or a fierce lioness, ready to rush upon it; who shall dare to rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law-giver from between his feet, until Shiloh, the Messiah, come, and the people be gathered unto him. His portion shall abound with such fertile vineyards, fruitful fields, and pasture-grounds, that he shall tie his ass to the vine and palm-tree, and wash his garments in the juice of the grape, and his teeth with the milk of his kine." Note; In a more glorious sense, Jesus is this lion of the tribe of Judah, Head over all, to whom his enemies must bow, and whom his saints adore. He is the Law-giver; to him will the gathering of the people be; and in him are the rivers of wine and milk, every Gospel-blessing, richly and freely dispersed without money and without price.
Genesis 49:13. Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea— As Jacob mentions his sons according to seniority, in regard to their respective mothers, this would have been, according to that method, Issachar's place. Though it may not be thought necessary to assign a reason why Zebulun has here, in Deu 33:18 and Jos 10:17 the precedence; it seems not improbable, that this distinction was grounded on the same principles as that of Jacob, Moses, Ephraim, &c. who, in similar circumstances, and for the same reason, are mentioned before Esau, Aaron, and Manasseh, &c. i.e.. according to the election of Grace, of which more shall be said in another place. Zebulun's portion of the country was preferable to Issachar's; for, besides the advantages he had in common with him, and that our Lord chiefly resided in this tribe, and hence was called a Nazarene, he is here promised a sea-coast, with harbours commodious for ships, and bordering on Phoenicia, the mother of navigation and commerce. Durell. If Jacob had been present at the division of the promised land, he could hardly have given a more exact description of Zebulun's lot; for it extended from the Mediterranean on the west, to the lake of Gennesareth on the east side.
Zidon— The town so called is not meant here; for Zebulun's border was very distant from it; but the country belonging to the Zidonians, or Phoenicians, it being not unfrequent in Scripture to use the capital for the province. The blessing may be paraphrased thus, "Zebulun's dwellings shall spread themselves along the coasts of the sea: there he shall have commodious havens, and stretch the number of the ports he shall frequent, as far as the country of Zidon."
Genesis 49:14. Issachar is a strong ass— Heb. An ass of bone, i.e.. brawny, strong, robust. Jacob having compared Judah to a lion, to denote his courage and valour, compares Issachar to an ass, to give us an idea of his strength, his patience, and assiduity in the labours of the field: asses were highly esteemed and much used in Judea.
Couching down between two burdens— The proper signification of the word משׁפתים mishpetaim, here rendered burdens, is, the divisions in a stall or stable; i.e.. the bars or boards which divide it into distinct standings. The two bars or rails, according to Taylor, denote the labours of husbandry, and the extraordinary taxes they would submit to, to be exempted from the avocations and perils of war. Others suppose, that this refers to the boundaries or limits of the other tribes; Issachar's being an inland settlement, therefore more proper for agriculture. Our translation, between two burdens, well agrees with the context, and fitly marks the tame and indolent temper of this tribe.
Genesis 49:15. He saw that rest was good— He saw the resting-place, that it was good, as Durell renders it, after the Samaritan: and he justly observes, that the original word signifying both rest and a resting-place, the latter appears more suitable here, as it is explained by land in the next clause. The goodness of this portion may be sufficiently collected from what is said in Scripture of the vale of Jezreel, so frequently mentioned in it; from the detail we meet with of its produce; and from what Josephus says of Lower Galilee, in which this tribe was situated: for "that country," he says, (Jewish War, l. iii. c. 3.) "is fruitful to admiration, abounding in pastures, and nurseries of all kinds, so that it would make any man in love with husbandry."
And bowed his shoulder to bear— He still speaks of Issachar under the similitude of an ass; and gives us a natural image of a people patiently submitting to hardships. Le Clerc supposes, that this part of the prophecy was fulfilled in the time of the judges, when the Israelites became tributary to the neighbouring kings, and chiefly Issachar's posterity, upon account of the fertility of their soil. This tribe does not seem to have distinguished itself, like Zebulun, and many of their brethren, by military exploits; it was rather noted for having men, who had understanding of the times, 1Ch 12:32 by which seems to be understood a knowledge of the weather and seasons proper for agriculture, and withal, perhaps, some idea of astronomy, which their more retired kind of life, and necessity, had taught them. This blessing may be paraphrased, "Issachar, like a strong but indolent ass, shall choose to couch in his stall, and carry burdens in the midst of his brethren, rather than be deprived of his beloved ease in the pleasant land of his inheritance, and shall prefer servitude and tribute before the fatigues of war and conquest."
Genesis 49:16. Dan shall judge his people— From the six sons of Leah, Jacob passes to those of Bilhah, Rachel's maid. He begins with intimating, that the sons of the handmaids shall have the same privilege with those of the mistresses, and be heads and judges of their own tribes. Accordingly, alluding to the name of Dan, a judge, he declares, "That he should judge his people, that is, his own tribe, like the rest of the twelve." Onkelos expounds it thus, a man shall arise out of the tribe of Dan, in whose days his people shall be delivered; referring to Samson, who was a Danite, Jdg 13:2 and judged Israel twenty years, Judges 15:20. Durell translates this, Dan shall avenge his people; and observes, that the verb דון don, besides its signification of judging and contending, certainly signifies to avenge or assist the injured. This might be inferred from the reason assigned by Rachel for giving the child this name; viz. because she said, God hath avenged me, and hath also heard my voice, for thus the words should be rendered; therefore she called his name Dan, i.e.. avenger, Genesis 30:6. If this verse has reference, according to the general opinion, to Samson, a native of this tribe, the title of avenger will, at least, be as suitable to him as that of judge, and will be also better connected with what is said in the next verse. But I should think it preferable to understand the whole of what is here said with greater latitude, viz. as a description of the genius and manners of all the Danites.
Genesis 49:17. Dan shall be a serpent— The next word points out a particular kind of serpent: the Vulgate takes it for the cerastes, a kind of horned serpent, of a very subtle nature, which, Pliny says, hides its whole body in the sand, shewing only its horns as a bait to catch the birds: and this translation Bochart supports. Our version of adder seems as probable as any; because it is well known that this kind of reptile stings all sorts of cattle. Be that as it may, the comparison intimates, that the Danites were to be remarkable for stratagems of war, defeating their enemies more by policy than open force, like those serpents which lie in the road, and unexpectedly bite horses' heels, and make them throw their riders. Moses gives them the same character, by comparing Dan to a lion's whelp, leaping unexpectedly out of a thicket, Deuteronomy 33:22. We have instances of the Danites' policy in Samson's dealing against the Philistines, Judges 15:16 : in their sending the five spies to discover what part of their enemies' lands was weakest, and might most safely be attacked; and the destruction of the careless and confident inhabitants of Laish, or Leshem, is well represented by the rider's falling backward from his horse.
Genesis 49:18. I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord— Various have been the reasons assigned by commentators, for the introduction of this ejaculation. Some suppose, that the good old patriarch's spirits growing faint, he sighed for a happy deliverance out of this world. Some, that, referring to Samson in the former verse, his ideas were carried to a better salvation, even that of the Messiah: and others think, that, foreseeing the oppressions under which this tribe was to labour, he breathed out this prayer for their deliverance. The ingenious interpretation, which Bishop Sherlock has given of it, (Dissert. 3:) seems perfectly satisfactory, and is therefore subjoined: "The difficulty here, at least the main difficulty, is, to give an account of the propriety of this passionate wish for salvation, in the present connection. It has evidently relation to the prophecy concerning Dan, and the exposition ought to shew and preserve the relation: and yet, according to the common interpretations, this passage might as well stand after the blessing of Gad, Asher, Naphtali, or any other of the tribes, as after this prophecy concerning the tribe of Dan. They who refer the salvation here mentioned to the deliverance wrought by Samson descended from the house of Dan, do also expound the prophecy to relate to him and his victory; so far judging right, that the prophecy and the epiphonema ought to terminate in the same point of view. But how comes Samson to be thus distinguished? Israel had many other judges and deliverers descended from other tribes, many of them, in all respects, bodily strength only excepted, preferable to this strong Danite: of them there is no notice taken in the prophecy of Jacob, nor of the salvation which God, by their means, wrought in Israel. Besides, in what sense had Jacob waited for this salvation? and how, for this, rather than twenty others of the same kind, which happened to his posterity? The words plainly imply him to speak something which had been long the object of his heart's desire; the thought of which came strong upon him, when he prophetically beheld the fortune of this tribe. Further, the images here used, of serpent and adder, are odious, and very improper to describe a brave or gallant man in any circumstance of life; nor are they, as I remember, ever so used in the sacred writers. It cannot be reasonable therefore to look for the accomplishment of this prophecy among the actions of the tribe of Dan, deserving honour and praise; for the ideas, by which the prediction is conveyed, point out actions of another kind, and lead us to expect, in the history of this tribe, an account of some very dishonourable and perfidious transaction. The history will justify this expectation: for though the house of Israel stands recorded for a wilful and disobedient people, whose heart was not right with their God, yet it is the peculiar infamy of the house of Dan, to be the ringleaders in idolatry, the first who erected publicly a molten image in the land of Promise, and, by their example and perseverance in this iniquity, infected all the tribes of Israel. This idolatry began soon after the days of Joshua, and continued until the day of the captivity of the land, Judges 8:30-31. compared with Archbishop Usher's Annals.
Supposing this to be the view before the prophets eyes, in what terms more proper could he describe this new tempter and seducer, than by those which were commonly used to describe the first? If the first Tempter deserved the name of serpent, for drawing Adam and Eve from their obedience to the original law, in virtue of which they held the possession of Paradise; did Dan deserve it less, for drawing the people of Israel from obedience to the Divine law, in virtue of which they had but even then taken possession of the land of Promise? If the mischiefs brought upon the race of Adam, were justly represented by the serpent's bruising the heel of the woman's seed; did not the mischiefs brought upon the house of Israel by the idolatry of Dan, well deserve to be painted in colours of the same kind? and, when Jacob saw that the venom of the old Serpent would work in one of his own sons even to the utter ruin of his posterity, could he help looking back upon God's promise of deliverance, and the hope given that the serpent's head should be bruised? could this view, and this reflection together, be attended with any other sentiments than those which close this prophecy? I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord!
This prophecy, considered in this light, affords a very ancient evidence of the expectation of deliverance from the curse of the fall. The hope of salvation, here, manifestly relates to the mischief wrought by a serpent biting the heels: and though this image is used to foretel a mischief then to come, yet the hope was older than Jacob, had been his comfort all along, and was his comfort under the sad prospect he had of his children's iniquity.
Lay these circumstances together, and it is impossible to conceive any salvation which can answer to these ideas, but that only which arose from the promise, that 'the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head.'"
Genesis 49:19. Gad, a troop shall overcome him— Jacob, alluding to the name of Gad, which signifies a troop, foretels that this tribe should have many enemies to struggle with, who should sometimes get the better of them; but that in time they, by the Divine aid, should prove victorious over all opposition. Durell renders it, A troop shall invade Gad, but he shall invade their rear. This part of the prophecy, he observes, seems to have been fulfilled the soonest of any: Sihon, the king of the Amorites, refused the Israelites a free passage through his country to the land of Canaan; and, not content with this, levied a large army, and, in conjunction with Og the king of Bashan, marched out, and attacked the Israelites. The consequence of this rash expedition was, that both those kings and their armies met with a total overthrow, and lost their country and all that they had. The country of the Amorites was given by Moses to the Gadites, probably because they had been chiefly instrumental in subduing it; for they are frequently represented as some of the bravest soldiers of all Israel; and it is with reference to that grant, that what he says of this tribe, in the parallel place, Deu 33:21 is to be understood; and I think it is so here.
Genesis 49:20. Out of Asher, &c.— The meat of Asher shall be fat, is Durell's rendering; who observes, that this patriarch (whose name implies happiness) had the satisfaction to hear his father declare, in the clearest manner, that his posterity would enjoy the greatest plenty. The paraphrase of the authors of the Universal History is, "Asher's portion shall make him happy; it shall abound with excellent corn and oil; the bread and dainty meats that shall be made of them shall be fit for a king's table." And they remark, that "the blessing spoken to Asher is capable of a double sense, and both verified by the event; namely, either that his country should be the most fertile, and produce the noblest corn in the whole land of Palestine, which it actually did; or else, that it should abound with the finest and most delicious oil, which his portion was also remarkable for; insomuch that its oil was the most famed of all Canaan's. Moses, in his blessing of that tribe, seems to intimate the latter, when he says, 'that Asher should dip his foot in oil.' See Deuteronomy 33:24." A great part of Solomon's daily provision for his table seems to have come from Asher, 1 Kings 4:22-23. Laish, the town which the Danites surprised and took from the effeminate Zidonians, was in this portion; and the report the spies made of the environs directly confirms the prophecy: We have seen the land, and behold it is very good. Ancient and modern authors agree in confirming this account.
Genesis 49:21. Naphtali is a hind, &c.— Our translation of this passage is generally esteemed faulty; for it is difficult to make out any connection between a hind let loose, and giving goodly words; the interpretation therefore of Bochart is more generally approved: Naphtali is a well-spread tree or oak, which produceth beautiful boughs. Durell and Houbigant follow Bochart. This is the sense too of the LXX and Chaldee Paraphrast; and by it is understood the fruitfulness of this tribe, which, from four sons of Naphtali, brought with him into AEgypt, ch. Genesis 46:24. grew, in the space of two hundred and fifteen years, to upwards of fifty thousand, Numbers 1:43. It may also denote the fruitfulness of their territory, which, as well as Asher, was in the Upper Galilee, eastward to the city of Damascus and Mount Lebanon; and in this sense it well agrees with Moses's benediction of this tribe, Deuteronomy 33:23. O Naphtali! satisfied with favour, and full of the blessing of the Lord.
Genesis 49:22. Joseph— The four last were the sons of the two handmaids; from whom Jacob passes with a seeming joy to those of his beloved Rachel; and Joseph, whose turn came next, heard his blessing pronounced in the most sublime and endearing terms.
This difficult verse is differently interpreted. 1st, Those who vindicate our version say, that Joseph, of whom came two tribes, is here properly compared to a fruitful bough, shooting forth two luxuriant stems or branches: and this bough is said to be by a well; i.e.. in a moist and well-watered soil, where plants grow fastest; and the same idea is here used as in the first Psalm, where, Gen 49:3 the good man is compared to a tree planted by the rivers of water. What we render branches is, in the Hebrew, daughters; whose DAUGHTERS run over the wall; for, in the Hebrew, whatever comes from another, is called its son or daughter. Ainsworth, after the Chaldee and Jerusalem paraphrase, understands here the vine-tree, which is usually planted against a wall or other prop, Psalms 128:3. Now these spreading branches, by an easy metaphor, signify the prodigious increase of these tribes. 2nd, Others think the words may be translated, Joseph is a son of beauty, the daughters ran upon the walls to see him; in which sense they are understood by the Vulgate and some other versions. "This reading has by far the most votes," say the authors of the Universal History.
Genesis 49:23. The archers, &c.— Most commentators allow, that by archers here must be understood Joseph's brethren, who hated him and sold him into AEgypt; his mistress, who tempted and falsely accused him; and his master, who put him in prison; but chiefly his brethren, who shot at him the arrows of malice, envy, calumny, and bitter words.
Genesis 49:24. But his bow, &c.— In pursuance of the metaphor, which considers his enemies as archers, Joseph himself is represented as armed with a bow, which is said to have abode in strength, to have proved firm; signifying that he sustained all their shocks with unbroken fortitude and resolution, like a tough bow, which, though long employed in battle, neither breaks nor becomes more flexible. The next words seem to justify this exposition: And the arms of his hands were made strong, by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; i.e.. his firm trust in the Divine Providence was rewarded with support and deliverance from that God, who is here emphatically called the God of Jacob, for his distinguished mercies to that patriarch. Our translation of made strong is very just, as the learned reader will see, by referring to Parkhurst on the word פז paz.
From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel— That is, Joseph, from that Divine Providence, that mighty God of Jacob, just mentioned, is become the shepherd, who nourishes us as his sheep, ch. Genesis 47:12. and the stone, or up-holder of me Israel, and my family. In the same sense Christ is called the stone, Isa 28:16 and God a rock, Psalms 18:2.
Genesis 49:25. Who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven— Jacob, having mentioned the wonderful effects of GOD's providence towards Joseph himself in the preceding verses, rapidly passes on, without any perceptible stop, to the blessings which the same Providence reserved for his posterity; blessings of heaven; i.e.. a fertile soil, well watered with the rain and dew, and seasonable weather from above: blessings of the deep; i.e.. springs and rivers: metals and minerals too may be meant, and whatever else is contained in the bowels of the earth; for thus the word is used, Psa 71:20 and yet so as not to exclude the produce of its surface. These two blessings may mean, in general, a fine air and a rich soil. Blessings of the breads, and of the womb; i.e.. a numerous, thriving progeny; a vast increase, both of children and of cattle.
Genesis 49:26. The blessings of thy father, &c.— This verse is variously rendered. The common interpretation given is this; thy father's blessings, or prayers, in thy behalf, are more ample, prevalent, and comprehensive, than the blessings of My progenitors in behalf of Me; and these blessings shall be, or, may they be, upon the head of Joseph, unto the utmost bounds or duration of the everlasting hills; i.e.. may they over-top and out-stretch the everlasting mountains, and prove to him more fruitful and lasting than they. Junius renders it, "May the blessings of thy father, with the blessings of my progenitors, whose powerful effect will continue while the lasting hills endure, may they all descend upon the head of Joseph."
The everlasting hills— The word עולם oulam, when applied to time, signifies a duration which is concealed, (for that is the import of the root,) as being an unknown or great length, with respect either to time past or to come; thus, perpetual hills mean hills which have been from the beginning, and shall continue to the end of the world.
That was separate from his brethren— Or, That was prince of his brethren. Durell renders this, On the crown-of-the-head of the prince of his brethren. That נזיר nazir, (the word here used, and in our version rendered, was separate,) implies, one highly distinguished in eminence and dignity, is agreed by the most judicious critics: and Sir John Chardin says, that it is still the very name which is given in Persia to the first officer of state, or superintendant of all the demesnes. See his account of the coronation of Solyman III. Jacob therefore might use this term with reference to the same office, which Joseph enjoyed at that very time; but yet he might very possibly carry his view farther, and here obliquely suggest, that Joseph's posterity would be long distinguished in an eminent manner above their brethren, by being vested with the sovereign power, which they enjoyed for many centuries. However that be, Joseph is called a GOVERNOR OF HIS BRETHREN, in allusion, no doubt, to this place.
The whole scope of this verse will best appear by some such paraphrase as this: "The blessing of a fruitful and numerous progeny (a blessing far superior to the possession of a delightful, fertile, and extensive country) is a blessing which thy father particularly promises as the lot of his son Joseph, who is, and shall be, of a very distinguished rank among his brethren." See note on ch. Genesis 48:20.
REFLECTIONS.—Joseph, being the beloved child, comes in for a peculiar blessing. His sons are the branches of the spreading tree. Though sore afflictions had been his lot, severely treated by his brethren, and more severely tempted by his mistress, (what fiery darts so sharp!) yet firm he stood, unmoved, unshaken: glory be given to Divine Grace! Joseph is Jacob's shepherd, to feed him in the time of dearth, and the support of his sinking family, and his reward shall be accordingly. God, his father's God, shall make his seed victorious, the best of blessings shall descend upon him, and greater than those of his progenitors, in the immediate vast increase of his posterity; and all those blessings should be as enduring as the mountains. Thus, though separated from and hated of his brethren, a crown of excellence is bestowed upon him. Note; On the spiritual seed of Jesus, the hated of his brethren, shall be the blessings of heaven above. They shall be fed by breasts of present consolations, and have their mansions on those mountains which are truly everlasting, separated from the world which lieth in wickedness, and blest with the transcendently glorious favour of Jacob's God. My soul, may this blessing be thine, and then every present trial will be light, every suffering joyous!
Genesis 49:27. Benjamin— After so remarkable a benediction had been bestowed on Joseph, Benjamin, who was also tenderly loved of his father, might reasonably have expected to have heard that some great blessing was reserved for him likewise. But, though his lot was one of the very best, yet he had not the satisfaction to be informed of it at this time; it pleased God rather that he should have some idea of the rapacious and sanguinary temper of his posterity. The ways of Providence are, in this case, as in many others, unfathomable; but yet it may be humbly supposed, that this declaration was graciously intended as a distant caution to the Benjamites against the dismal effects which they would one day bring on themselves, if they did not curb their passion. The prophecy before us does not present us with a view of a fond father bellowing his favours partially, but of a venerable prophet, declaring from the common Father of all what was of the utmost importance for the welfare of his children to know. Durell.
This last remark is of consequence, as, throughout all these blessings, the particular direction of Providence is observable. If Jacob had followed his own inclination, Joseph, not Judah, would have seen all his brethren bowing down before him, Gen 49:8 and Benjamin, no doubt, would have been second in honour and favour; but God disposed it otherwise; it was his Spirit, not that of the patriarch, which inspired these benedictions.
Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf— Or rather, Benjamin is a ravening wolf. Wolves, it is well known, are the most fierce and cruel of all quadrupeds; and, on this account, we find them in the heathen mythology consecrated to the god of war. It is observed by AElian, that nothing daunts them when stimulated by hunger; and he compares them to very wicked men, who despise all danger in the way to their infamous purposes. That there is great similitude between this animal and the tribe we are now considering, will appear by the sequel. Durell.
And at night he shall divide the spoil— The most judicious among modern commentators are persuaded that the patriarch points to the war, obstinately and unjustly undertaken by this tribe, against the united force of all Israel. See Le Clerc, Calmet, &c. And indeed this sense is built on a more solid foundation; it is an event worthy of the notice of a prophetic spirit, and is agreeable to Jacob's general declaration, Gen 49:1 and to the whole tenor of the prophecy. The account of this most abominable transaction (which arose from small beginnings, till it proceeded to such a height, that sixty-five thousand lives, at least, were lost in it, and which was near being attended with the total extinction of one tribe in Israel) has been transmitted down to us, with all its circumstances, in the book of Judges, ch. 19: and 20: In this event one may, I think, without great sagacity, trace the outline of the wolf in the conduct of the Benjamites: their fierce, but ungenerous spirit, is nearly as striking in the historian's narration as in the poetical description. But if any one expects to discern an exact likeness in every part of the piece between this tribe, in respect to the fact referred to, and the savage beast before mentioned; he should consider, that all the adjuncts in a simile seldom answer, in every respect, to the object illustrated. Durell.
Genesis 49:28. All these are the twelve tribes of Israel— Bishop Sherlock observes (Diss. 3: on prophecy) 1st, That what is commonly called Jacob's blessing his sons, may be as well called Jacob's appointment of twelve rulers, or princes, to govern the house of Israel: for, that this form of government took place immediately upon the decease of Jacob, may be collected from hence, that from this time all applications and messages are made, not to the people, but to the elders or heads of tribes, Exodus 3:16; Exodus 3:7. And we see the people and their rulers are distinguished plainly, Exodus 34:31-32. Now, as there is no designation of this form of government in any other place in Scripture, and it could not be settled tacitly by a mere devolution of Jacob's power among his sons after his decease, it must be allowed to be settled by Jacob himself, in this and the foregoing chapter: and to this all the circumstances, reported in these two chapters answer. 2ndly, Jacob, having thus settled twelve princes or rulers of people in his house, speaks to them as heads of a people, and not as single persons; and what he says, relates to them and their people collectively, and not to them personally: this is evident from the present words, all these are the twelve tribes of Israel; and hence, likewise, that the things foretold and ascribed to them, are by no means capable of being understood of single persons. When the sacred writer says twelve tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, though not expressly mentioned, are to be understood as blessed in Joseph.
And blessed them; every one, &c.— i.e.. He informed each of them what would happen in after-times to his posterity respectively, as we are told in the introduction to the prophecy. The verb, ברךֶ barek, in this place, neither signifies, to bless, nor yet, on the contrary, to curse, though it is true, that it is applicable to all Jacob's children separately; as the three eldest were cursed, and the rest were blessed: yet, whatever the precise meaning of it be, it is certain that it must be used in such a manner as to be common to them all, in the same sense. The sense therefore given to this word by Schultens on Job 1:5 viz. to bid farewel, or to take leave, will be here very suitable. It is thus used, 2 Samuel 19:39. And Calmet says, that benir (to bless) is here put to express the last sentiments of a dying father toward his children. Durell.
Genesis 49:33. He gathered up his feet into the bed— Jacob sat upon the bed's side, with his feet upon the ground, while he pronounced these blessings; the Spirit of God having supported him during the time, in this posture. But having now nothing further to add, he drew his feet into the bed, and, leaning his head on his pillow, calmly expired, aged a hundred and forty-seven years; happy, and full of faith in his death.
Jacob was, in all respects, a distinguished person; a man of a good understanding, lively sense, and natural ability. The revelations with which God honoured him, were numerous and extraordinary. A readiness to foresee dangers, and a courage always prudent to conduct himself properly through them, were discernible in him. Born to greater things than Isaac, he raised himself by his own industry under the blessing of the Most High; and, in the space of twenty years, gained such possessions, as to be able to live in credit and reputation with the princes of his age. It is true, his life was full of many crosses; but the divine succours and revelations were sufficient to support and guide him, till he arrived at the heavenly Canaan.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 49". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26