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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 49

Verse 1

1. Assemble yourselves These words evidently belong to the poem itself, and are not the composition of the historian, who inserted a copy of Jacob’s prophecy in this place in his volume . The gathering contemplated was around the patriarch’s couch, whither Joseph had before hastened when he heard of his father’s sickness, (Genesis 48:2,) and where the whole family were now summoned to hear the prophetic word . What particular meaning the writer attached to the expression the end of the days is somewhat doubtful . It is too definite a phrase to denote merely after times, or the future . It suggests the idea of a limit, the end of an age, aeon, or period . Such an age had its ראשׁית and its אחרית , its beginning and its end, and the author of this prophecy proposed to speak of events belonging to the end, or closing period, of the age to which he belonged. The Septuagint translates it by the phrase so common in the New Testament, επεσχατων των ημερων , in the last days, which suggests the same idea of the closing period of an aeon. The events contemplated as befalling the sons of Jacob in the end of the days were such as belonged to the last period of the prophet’s vision; the end as distinguished from the beginning of Israelitish history. How near or how remote that end might be is left entirely undetermined.

Verses 1-27

JACOB’S PROPHETIC BLESSING ON HIS SONS, Genesis 49:1-27.

Jacob was the last great patriarchal representative and possessor of the covenant blessing of Jehovah. His grandfather Abraham had been separated from his kindred and native land, and received the promise and the covenant of circumcision. Isaac was preferred, to the exclusion of Ishmael and the sons of Keturah, and he transmitted the prophetic blessing of the covenant to Jacob, thereby excluding and supplanting Esau. Jacob is now about to die, and the chosen seed are henceforth to be represented by twelve tribes rather than by one great father. It was fitting, therefore, before this last great patriarch was gathered to his people, the voice of prophecy should issue from his lips, and, magnifying itself above the blessings of the everlasting hills, (Genesis 49:26,) should disclose unto his children some things that would befall them in the last days. Israel will have no successor like himself, and the Book of Genesis ends with the “generations of Jacob;” but the divine thoughts of this prophecy appear again in the blessing of Moses, (Deuteronomy 33:0,) and may also be traced in the song of Deborah. Judges 5:0. The student should also compare with this prophetic psalm that of Isaac when he felt his end approaching, (Genesis 27:1; Genesis 27:4; Genesis 27:26-29; Genesis 27:39-40,) the farewells of Joshua (Joshua 23, 24 ) and of Samuel, (1 Samuel 12:0,) the last words of David, (2 Samuel 23:0,) and the language of Simeon (Luke 2:25-32) and of Paul, (2 Timothy 4:5-8.) All these saints breathed the same prophetic spirit, and were divinely gifted to utter words of imperishable value. They caught in vision the outlines of future great events, the full significance of which they but imperfectly comprehended. 1 Peter 1:10-11. It was a prevalent opinion of heathen antiquity that highly gifted souls were wont to prophesy at the moment of their departure from the world . Thus Socrates (in Plato’s Apology) says to his judges: “And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain prophesy to you; for I am about to die, and that is the hour in which men are gifted with prophetic power . ”

Modern critics, of all rationalistic schools, deny the genuineness of this prophecy, and refer it to a period long subsequent to Jacob’s time. They hold that its author, after the manner of poetical writers of all nations, conceived the happy thought of transferring certain facts of his own time and nation to the prophetic vision of a famous ancestor. Similarly Virgil, in the sixth book of the AEneid, (756-891,) represents father Anchises detailing to his son a long account of the fortunes of his posterity in Italy. These critics claim that the language of this poem is too highly wrought, and its historical and geographical allusions too minute, to be the utterance of an illiterate old man, who had been a shepherd all his life.

To these criticisms it may be replied, that the quiet of shepherd life, the deep and varied experiences through which Jacob passed, and the serene grandeur of his old age, furnished the most natural conditions of such a prophecy. So far, therefore, from being an objection, these considerations furnish a strong argument in favour of the genuineness of this poem. He who had the dream at Bethel, the vision of angels at Mahanaim, and the struggle and triumph at Peniel; who had traversed hills and plains, and been exposed to the extremes of heat and cold and storms; who, like David in later times, became, by means of pastoral life and exposure, familiar with the habits of the lioness and the lion’s whelp, the ravening wolf and the bounding hind, and the horned serpent hidden by the wayside; the father, who had studied the characters of all his sons with more than human interest; who had watched the merchant-caravan to learn the ways of other lands and peoples; who had stood in the presence of Pharaoh, and abode seventeen years in Egypt; the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the heir of the promises he, of all men, would seem to have been the fittest person to voice these oracles. So we aver that this prophecy is traceable to a psychological basis in the life and experiences of the aged patriarch, as they are presented to us in the Book of Genesis.

As to the poetical form of the prophecy, we may suppose a number of hypotheses. The rapturous utterances of such a seer naturally take poetic form and fervour, and the critical reader of this poem will note its intensity of passion, sudden transitions, outbursts of alarm, ejaculations of prayer, and a multiplicity of similes and metaphors. Can we suppose any of the greatest poets of the world to have spoken in such exalted strains? Certainly, but not without premeditation. Milton composed his finest passages in the stillness of the night, and dictated them to his daughters the following day. Similarly Jacob may have mentally prepared this entire poem, and have repeated it with glowing inspiration when his sons stood about his bed. Nothing forbids the supposition that months and even years had been previously given to its preparation. It has been suggested that each of the sons remembered his own blessing or oracle, and wrote it down, and afterwards the eleven separate oracles were united in the order in which they now stand. Others have thought that the patriarch blessed his sons in substantially the words which we have here, and the general sentiments were treasured up in the memory of his sons, written out in rhythmic form by a later poet, and possibly revised and supplemented at a still later day. Any or all of these suppositions are permissible with one who defends the genuineness of the prophecy, so long as he holds that, whatever revision it has received by later hands, it truly preserves in substance what the dying patriarch said to his sons.

This prophecy contains nothing in itself incredible nothing which might not, in substance if not in form, have been spoken by Jacob in his last days. It is in admirable keeping with the dream of Bethel, which was a sublime revelation of the great truth, running through the whole Old Testament, that in him and his posterity all families of the earth were to be blessed. Genesis 28:14. Such a gift of prophecy has its measure of the supernatural, but nothing miraculous . The super-naturalism of genuine prophecy implies no violence done to the prophet . The prevision with which he was for the time gifted, was as truly in harmony with his natural powers as was the far-reaching prophetic dream at Bethel .

The charge that this poem abounds with minute geographical and historical allusions inconsistent with genuine prophecy, is abundantly refuted by the fact that the adverse critics cannot agree as to its date, but have referred its composition all the way from the times of the judges to the later kings of Israel. Determining data must be sadly deficient in a production which has been assigned by eminent critics to such different times as the six following:

1) The period of the Judges. (Dillmann, Baur, Ewald.)

2) The time of Saul’s reign, and probably written by Samuel. (Tuch.)

3) The reign of David. (Eichhorn, Knobel, Bohlen.)

4) Somewhere in the period covered by the reigns of David and Solomon. (Reuss.)

5) In the earlier period of the divided kingdom, when Judah and Joseph were the two great rival tribes. (Kalisch.)

6) During the times of the Syro-Israelitish wars, to which allusion is supposed in Genesis 49:23-24.

It is evident from this diversity of opinion that when we remove this prophecy from the date and person to whom it is assigned by the sacred writer, we go out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture which involves greater difficulties than to accept it as the genuine word of Jacob.

The order in which the sons are named is: A. The six sons of Leah: 1) Reuben. 2) Simeon. 3) Leviticus 4:0) Judah. 5) Zebulun. 6) Issachar. B. The four sons of the handmaids: 7) Daniel 8:0) Gad. 9) Asher. 10) Naphtali. C. The two sons of Rachel: 11) Joseph. 12) Benjamin. If we compare the narrative of the several births, (chapter 30,) we see that Zebulun was born after Issachar, though named before him here, and Naphtali is placed here after Gad and Asher, though probably born before them. It is possible, however, that Naphtali was born after both Gad and Asher; for after giving birth to Dan, (Genesis 30:6,) Rachel’s handmaid, Bilhah, may not have borne her second child, Naphtali, until after Leah’s handmaid, Zilpah, had borne both her sons, (Genesis 30:9; Genesis 30:13. ) The placing of Zebulun before Issachar was, perhaps, designed in this prophetic blessing, like the placing of Ephraim before Manasseh, to denote that the younger should be in some way greater than the elder. Compare Genesis 48:14; Genesis 48:19; Deuteronomy 33:18. In comparing the order followed in Moses’s psalm, we find 1) Reuben, whose precedence in birth never could be denied; 2) Judah, the princely; 3) Levi, the priestly; 4) Benjamin, placed before 5) Joseph; 6) Zebulun, as here before 7) Issachar; and the sons of the handmaids are arranged as follows: 8) Gad, 9) Daniel , 10) Naphtali, 11) Asher, while Simeon is left out altogether .

As a part of the exegesis we furnish a new translation of this poem, and accordingly the notes are based upon the new translation.

Verse 3

3. My firstborn, thou By this form of expression poetic emphasis is given to the direct address .

Beginning of my strength Allusion to the supposed superior vigour of the firstborn, as inheriting the full virile power of the father . Comp . Deuteronomy 21:17; Psalms 78:51; Psalms 105:36.

Excellence of dignity… power His excellence is his natural pre-eminence as firstborn; his dignity, (Hebrews, שׂאת , from נשׂא , to lift up,) is his elevation, or the rank to which he was thus entitled. The distinction between might, strength, and power in this verse, each representing a different Hebrew word, is this: Might and strength here denote physical energy and manly vigour, while power ( עז ) is used in the sense of authority, a right and prerogative of the firstborn . The powers and prerogatives naturally adhering to the firstborn, were, because of Reuben’s sins, transferred to Judah and Joseph .

Verse 4

4. Boiling over like the waters The figure may be the overflowing of a large body of water beyond its proper banks, and sweeping away all before it; but, more likely, as Gesenius thinks, it is that of a boiling pot of water, and denotes the violent, unrestrained licentiousness of Reuben, exhibited in his incestuous intercourse with Bilhah. Genesis 35:22.

Beds The use of the plural may here hint at repeated acts of incest on the part of Reuben . Defile is purposely left without an expressed object . The supplying, in the common version, of the word it, weakens the passage . Then didst thou defile, exclaims the indignant father, and suddenly changes from direct address to the third person, and repeats the words my couch he went up! as denoting the foul act by which he showed himself unworthy to retain the rights and glory of his primogeniture, and, therefore, he should not excel. The tribe of Reuben never did excel . The leadership was given to Judah; the birthright of a double portion of the inheritance was given to Joseph’s two sons. Comp. 1 Chronicles 5:1-2. The Reubenites were among the first to settle at their ease on the east of the Jordan, (Numbers 32:0,) and in the time of Deborah they remained at ease among their sheepfolds when other tribes arose and fought for the liberty of the nation. Judges 5:15-16. No leader, judge, or prophet is ever mentioned as springing from the tribe of Reuben, but they had among them some valiant warriors, who fought successfully against the Hagarites .

1 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Chronicles 5:18; 1 Chronicles 5:20.

Verse 5

5. Simeon and Levi are named together, because they were brothers in the twofold sense of being sons of the same mother, and so much alike in disposition and character . Hence, after pronouncing their names, the patriarch pauses, and then emphatically adds the word brothers. Their similar spirit was seen and became historical in their cruel slaughter of the Shechemites, (Genesis 34:25-31,) for in that massacre they led the way . The memory and fear of that act never departed from Jacob’s soul, and as Reuben’s incest cost him the rights and glory of the firstborn, so the bloody deed of Simeon and Levi colours all this oracle, and brought them cursing where they might have had blessing .

Instruments of violence their swords The word מכרת , rendered swords, occurs here only, and manifestly means some instrument of violence; but its derivation is uncertain. The ancient versions differ widely, and the word has been variously explained, as machinations, ( De Dieu,) betrothals, ( Dathe,) habitations, (Eng. version.) But the rendering swords, (perhaps from כור , to pierce, or penetrate,) seems most in harmony with the context, and is adopted by many of the best interpreters . According to Rashi, the Greek word μαχαιρα , sword, was derived from this . According to Gesenius, Rabbi Eliezer says: “Jacob cursed their swords in the Greek tongue . ” According to Genesis 34:25, Simeon and Levi “took each man his sword” ( חרב ) and slaughtered all the men of Shechem .

Verse 6

6. Their secret council Allusion to their private conspiracy to massacre the men of Shechem .

Unite not This uniting in secret assembly is to be punished by dividing and scattering them . Genesis 49:7.

My honour Used of the heart or soul, as the noblest and most honourable part of man’s nature . Compare Psalms 7:5; Psalms 16:9; Psalm 30:13 . But at the same time the ordinary meaning of the word may be here kept prominent: Let not my honour be compromised or tarnished by any union with their counsels .

They slaughtered men Hebrews, a man. The singular, though used collectively, gives peculiar vividness to the thought as conceived in the Hebrew idiom.

They houghed oxen Here, too, the Hebrew employs the singular in the same collective sense. The fact stated illustrates the wanton cruelty of these brothers. The common version, they digged down a wall, follows the Chaldee, Syriac, Vulgate, Aquila, and Symmachus; but the authority of these versions, which have copied from one another, is outweighed by the fact that in all other passages where the Piel of this word ( עקר ) occurs, it means to hamstring or hough an animal . Such uniform usage has greater authority than the testimony of many versions.

Verse 7

7. I will divide… scatter He speaks as one conscious of divine authority . Their guilty uniting in conspiracy and cruelty is to be punished by dividing and scattering them in Israel . In the census of Numbers xxvi, the Simeonites number only 22,200 less than any other tribe; in Moses’s blessing (Deuteronomy 33:0,) they are not mentioned at all; and in the allotment of Canaan their inheritance consisted of scattered cities within the territory previously assigned to Judah . Joshua 19:1-9.

The Jews have a tradition that the Simeonites became largely the scribes and teachers among the other tribes, and so were scattered in Israel. In 1 Chronicles 4:27, it is said they did not increase like the children of Judah, and in Gen 49:39-43, of the same chapter, it appears that they were scattered beyond the limits of Judah southward . The Levites, as is well-known, obtained no separate territory as a tribe, but were scattered about in various cities of the other tribes. See Joshua 21:0. But this curse of the patriarch did not hinder these tribes from sharing in the blessings of the covenant. Though divided and scattered, they were made a means of blessing to the whole house of Israel. Compare Moses’s words on Levi, Deuteronomy 33:8-11, where their character as priests and teachers is made prominent .

The words used of Simeon and Levi in Jacob’s prophecy have been a great trouble to the critics who would explain it as the production of a later time. So far from being an accurate detail of facts, some writers have pronounced it inconsistent with the history of those tribes, for, according to Joshua 19:1-9, Simeon did have a definite tribe-territory allotted him, and to the Levites were assigned several of the most important cities in the land, with their suburbs, and they were made the priests and ministers of the sanctuary instead of the firstborn. These facts are hard to reconcile with the theory that the song was written after the conquest of Canaan; but, in the mouth of Jacob, the language may be naturally explained.

Verse 8

8. Judah, thou Pleonastic use of the pronoun, but adding emphasis to the address .

Shall praise thee A play upon the meaning of the name Judah . See Genesis 29:35. “Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had been cursed and scattered, but as the patriarch turns his eye upon Judah, he sees that the energy and courage which have made him a leader among his brethren will re-appear in his children of remote generations, and make them illustrious above all the other tribes of Israel. His name, which signifies ‘praised,’ or ‘celebrated,’ is seen to shoot its lustre through all the future.” Newhall.

Verse 9

9. Whelp of a lion Three different Hebrew words are here employed for lion, represented in our translation by whelp, lion, and lioness. The patriarch first calls Judah a lion’s whelp, and then directly addresses him, as if, like a lion, he had seized his prey, and having eaten what he would, had gone up to his lair in the mountains. He then resumes the third person, and pictures the victorious lion as having bowed and crouched down, either for repose or in readiness to pounce upon any victim which might approach him. In this crouching attitude he is further described as a lioness, fiercest of all the lion family, and most dangerous to rouse up in the lair. Hence the apocalyptic expression, “lion of the tribe of Judah,” (Revelation 5:5. ) “The form of this vision came from remembered sights and sounds in the far-away Syrian mountains, but its substance came from an energy, courage, and might that were to burst upon the world in still increasing splendour through successive generations, yet incomprehensible to the wisest prophet in advance of their historic development. It came from Jerusalem, the Ariel, ‘or lion of God’ from David, who, in one of his loftiest lyrics, cried, ‘Thou hast given me the necks of mine enemies,’ (Psalms 18:40,) from the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah,’ whose eyes are one day to be turned upon men ‘like a flame of fire,’ and his voice to fill the world ‘like the sound of many waters . ’” Newhall .

Verse 10

10. Sceptre shall not depart from Judah “The symbol of tribal authority in Israel, not necessarily the badge of royalty . The token of tribal life and pre-eminence should not depart, but Judah should maintain its life, integrity, and supremacy as a tribe.” Newhall.

Ruler’s staff The word מחקק may denote either a ruler or his badge of office and power .

The latter best preserves the harmony of the parallelism. Some read, as the common version, lawgiver. The Septuagint and Vulgate have leader. Targum Onkelos, scribe; Targum Jerusalem, scholars of the law. Syriac, interpreter.

From between his feet Those who render מחקק ruler, or lawgiver, naturally explain this expression as a euphemism for posterity issue of his loins. But with the idea of ruler’s staff is associated the custom of Oriental kings, as depicted on the monuments, sitting on the throne with the royal sceptre between their feet.

Until he shall come Shiloh. By translating in this form we leave the grammatical construction as ambiguous as it appears in the Hebrew text. It is equally correct, so far as the mere question of syntax is concerned, to render until Shiloh comes, or until he comes to Shiloh. Three different readings appear in Hebrew MSS., namely, &#שׁילה שׁלה , and שׁלו . The Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachus, Syriac, and some of the Targums, seem to have read שׁלה , as if compounded of שׁ , abbreviation of אשׁר , and לה or לו . We have the cognate words שׁלו שׁלו and שׁלוה , meaning rest, or peace, and it is not impossible but one of these words was the original reading of our text . The Septuagint and other versions named above render, until that which is his shall come, or, till he come whose it is . The Vulgate reads, “until he comes who is to be sent . ” Others translate Shiloh as an appellative, meaning rest, “until he (Judah) comes to rest, or, “until rest comes . ” The English revisers (of 1885) place until Shiloh come in the text, and till he come to Shiloh in the margin . Many have adopted this last rendering, and understand Shiloh of the town where the tabernacle was set up after the conquest, (Joshua 18:1;) but against this is the decisive objection, that up to that time Judah had no notable pre-eminence . The honourable position assigned to this tribe in the desert march, (Numbers 2:3,) was by no means an adequate fulfilment of the terms of this oracle; for Moses, the Levite, was commander during all the march, and Joshua, the Ephraimite, succeeded him, and commanded the armies until after the conquest and partition of the land . It also is doubtful if Shiloh existed in Jacob’s time, and it is certain that it never appears in history as having any especial interest for the tribe of Judah, but was situated in the tribe-territory of Ephraim . Far more satisfactory is the ancient interpretation, represented in the Targums and maintained by most Christian expositors, which makes Shiloh a proper name, (meaning resting-place, or rest-giver,) and a designation of the Messiah, who was to spring from the tribe of Judah. Jacob’s prophetic vision opened for the moment into the distant future, and saw the regal position the tribe of Judah was destined to hold at the time when all the tribes should be organized into a kingdom. From the time when royalty was established in Israel by the conquests of David and his settlement upon the throne, the tribe of Judah held a regal pre-eminence, and maintained its distinct tribal character until the coming of Jesus Christ.

It is often alleged against this Messianic interpretation, that after the destruction of the kingdom of Judah by the Chaldeans the exercise of royal power was broken, and that no real Jewish king again reigned in the city of David. The Maccabean leaders were not of the tribe of Judah, and the Herods, who bore the title of kings, were of foreign birth. But, after granting all these allegations, the notable fact remains that the vast majority of those who returned from the Babylonian exile were of the tribe of Judah, and that their body of elders formed a council which virtually represented the sceptre and the ruler’s staff. Notwithstanding their many oppressions, and the occasional interruption of their worship, they were permitted during all those centuries to manage their own affairs, and to constitute a distinct and well-known body politic until finally broken up and scattered by the Romans. The sceptre of Judah was, indeed, during much of this time, of no great weight, but it was not taken away; it did not depart from Judah. The wars of the Maccabees and the government of Herod truly served to maintain and perpetuate (not Joseph, or Dan, or Naphtali but) the power of Judah. As long as the tribe retained its distinct existence and name, even though a foreigner held the sceptre, the spirit of this prophecy was fulfilled. So the Persian monarchy retained its name and power, even while a usurper occupied the throne. No one now questions, that when Christ appeared he sprang from the tribe of Judah.

It deserves special remark that the permanency of the kingdom of Judah and of the royal line of David is one of the marvels of history. While other and greater kingdoms fell, it remained. Revolutions swept over Egypt, and dynasty after dynasty passed away. Phoenicia and Syria, with their varied forms of power and pomp, flourished and decayed. The great Assyrian empire, after oppressing both Judah and Israel, and blotting out the latter, was overthrown, and yet the little kingdom of Judah, with a descendant of David on the throne, maintained its individuality, held its ancient sacred capital, and continued unbroken, resolute, hopeful. And even after its fall under Nebuchadnezzar, and seventy years of bitter exile, and after Babylon, in turn, had fallen and the Persian empire had risen into power, we find the children of Judah returning to their fatherland, rebuilding their temple and city, still led by a scion of the house of Judah. This irrepressible tribe, thus again established in their ancient regal seat, survived the fall of Persia, outlived the triumphs of Alexander and his successors, and maintained its national and political existence through unspeakable troubles and oppressions, until finally dispersed by the Romans in A.D. 70.

Obedience of peoples The Septuagint and Vulgate render, expectation of peoples; others, gathering, or congregation of peoples. But the word occurs elsewhere only at Proverbs 30:17, where obedience is the only suitable meaning . Here is the first intimation of such Messianic hopes as are more fully outlined in such passages as Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 11:1-10.

Verse 11

11. Binding to the vine his young ass This verse contains a composite picture of princely wealth and peaceful industry . Judah will be rich in vineyards and wine and milk . In the more ancient times the ass, like the camel, served for carrying the rich and noble; (Judges 5:10; Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14;) and the thought here is, that Judah will have possessions of this costly kind. The picture of abundance and luxury is enhanced by the thought that the vines of his soil will grow to such strength that the asses may be tied to them without harm. The territory allotted to Judah was noted for its vineyards and pastures. Here grew the grapes of Eshcol and En-gedi; (Numbers 13:23-24; Song of Solomon 1:14;) here were Maon and Carmel and Tekoa, famous for pastures and numerous flocks . 1 Samuel 25:2; Amos 1:7; 2 Chronicles 26:10. It is not improbable that this picture of abundance and repose was added to that of Judah’s conquests and power in order to denote the plentiful peace and quiet which he should enjoy after his great victories. But to adduce, as parallel to this Scripture, the ass and foal of Zechariah 9:9, and Matthew 21:5, and the wine-press and blood-stained garments of Isaiah 63:1-6, and explain all alike as a special prophecy of Christ, would be extravagant a reading into the language of this poem the ideas of a later time .

Verse 12

12. Lustrous the eyes from wine The Septuagint, Vulgate, and some expositors construe the preposition מן , from, as denoting a comparison; more lustrous, or more joyful than wine, and whiter than milk . This is allowable; but inasmuch as the previous verse speaks of the great abundance of wine, and fertility of the land of Judah, the more suitable thought in this verse is, that from the superabundance of wine and milk, (as the originating cause,) the eyes and teeth are affected .

Verse 13

13. At the coast of seas let him dwell These words concerning Zebulun are among the definite geographical allusions which rationalistic criticism adduces as evidence of the late origin of this prophecy . But so far from being situated upon the seas, or bordering on Zidon, Zebulun’s territory was entirely surrounded by that of other tribes, and touched neither sea nor land of Zidon . Compare Joshua 19:10-16; Deuteronomy 33:19. As designating geographical position, both this verse and its parallel in Deuteronomy would better fit Issachar and Asher, and, therefore, refute the idea that they were written after the conquest and allotment of the land . Better is the supposition that the dying father’s words sprang from what he had observed in the tastes and habits of this son a love of commerce, a desire for ships and trade upon the seas rather than by the travel of the desert caravans . Thus the allusion to seas, ships, Zidon the synonymes of ancient naval commerce would be most natural in the mouth of Jacob . Hence also a reason for the jussive rendering of ישׁכן , let him dwell . As a matter of fact, the tribe-territory of Zebulun extended between the Mediterranean and Galilean seas, though not touching upon either, and the words his side upon Zidon, or towards Zidon, do not necessarily mean that his territory would border on Zidon, but may denote that it looked that way, or that the tribe itself would come to have some peculiar dependence on Zidon, or some notable relations with the Phoenicians. In Deborah’s song this tribe is celebrated for skill in penmanship and heroism in battle. Judges 5:14; Judges 5:18.

Verse 14

14. Ass of bone Or, bony ass; that is, strongly built and fit for carrying burdens . See Genesis 30:18, on the origin of the name Issachar . Issachar’s characteristic was a disposition to look for a reward or hire rather than liberty and honour . Like a beast of burden, he loves to lie down and rest between the double sheepfolds; that is the inclosures made of hurdles, and open at the top . The word is dual, probably because these folds were generally divided into two parts . Comp . Judges 5:16, note .

Verse 15

15. Rest… good His love of ease, and a pleasant territory, including the rich valley of Jezreel, led him to bear burdens, and to submit to tribute rather than to enter into any struggle for political eminence . For this reason, probably, Zebulun was placed before him . In the war against Sisera, he was a supporter of Barak, but no leader . He followed at the feet of his leader, as one obedient to orders . Judges 5:15.

Verse 16

16. Dan shall judge A play upon the name of Dan, which means a judge, or judging . Comp . Genesis 30:6. Being the first named of the sons of the handmaids, it is fitting to emphasize the thought that he shall, nevertheless, even as the sons of Leah, or any of the tribes, exercise due authority as one of the tribes of Israel. Some suppose there is here a special allusion to Samson, the distinguished judge, who sprang from this tribe; but this is unnecessary as an exposition of the sense of the verse .

Verse 17

17. Let Dan become The emphatic position of the verb יחי is best expressed by translating it thus imperatively . And the comparison with the serpent need not be construed as necessarily a curse or condemnation . The account in Judges xviii, of the Danite conquest in the north, illustrates the subtlety and prowess of this tribe; and so, also, does the whole history of Samson . His stratagems to overthrow his enemies might well be compared with the habits of the viper that hides by the wayside, and bites the horse’s heels, and causes him to throw his rider . The horned viper is generally regarded as the cerastes, “the very poisonous horned serpent, which is of the colour of the sand, and as it lies upon the ground merely stretching out its feelers, inflicts a fatal wound upon any who may tread upon it unawares. (Diod. Sic., 3:49; Pliny, 8:23.”) Keil. Comp. also Deuteronomy 33:22.

Verse 18

18. For thy salvation have I longed, Jehovah What occasioned this abrupt exclamation at this point, or what connexion it has with the context, is not clear . Probably the wars and dangers that awaited the chosen people were vividly presented to the patriarch’s soul as he mentioned the traits of Dan, and these again call up the ancient prophecy of the conflict between the woman’s and the serpent’s seed, (Genesis 3:15,) and as he has a glimpse of that momentous struggle, he breaks out with this ejaculation. But if no such relation to the context be allowed, we may suppose that Jacob here breaks out with these words as a refrain, or pause, in the midst of exciting prophecy, and conflicting emotions within.

Verse 19

19. A crowd shall crowd him In this verse we have a more notable play on words than in any other part of the chapter . Every word in the verse but he and heel is a form of the word Gad . We have sought in our translation to bring out, even though imperfectly, this feature of the Hebrew . The thought is, that crowds or troops of invading enemies will crowd in upon his territory, but he will resist them, and in their retreat he will press upon their heel or rear, and harass them . In 1 Chronicles 5:18, the Gadites are mentioned as valiant warriors, and in 1 Chronicles 12:8 they are described as having faces like lions, and being swift as the mountain roes.

Verse 20

20. Fat his bread Grammatically, bread is in apposition with fat. The tribe of Asher occupied the rich and fertile region along the Mediterranean, north of Mount Carmel . According to Moses (Deuteronomy 33:24) Asher should “dip his foot in oil . ”

Verse 21

21. A hind sent forth The image is that of a beautiful hind or gazelle running loose and in perfect freedom upon its native heights . The agility and prowess of this tribe are nobly celebrated in Deborah’s song .

Giver of sayings of beauty The elegance and beauty of the hind suggests that the tribe so compared might naturally have had an elegant taste for sayings of beauty; elegant proverbs and songs. As the tribe of Zebulun developed ready writers, (Judges 5:14,) so Naphtali, perhaps, became noted for elegant speakers . This seems to be the general sense of the verse; but we know too little of the subsequent history and character of the tribe to enable us to define more particularly . Several critics, following the Septuagint, render: “Naphtali is a spreading tree, which puts forth goodly branches . ” But this is scarcely tenable .

Verse 22

22. Joseph When the patriarch turns to Joseph, all the affection and tenderness of his soul seem to break forth in rapturous song . It remains for him now only to bless the two sons of Rachel, and then die . Three expressions in this verse serve to portray the fruitfulness and glory of the tribe of Joseph . 1) Son of a fruit tree; that is, branch, scion, or outgrowth of a fruit tree; transplanted from the main stock . 2) The fruitfulness of the tree and its branches is enhanced by its standing over a fountain. Comp . Psalms 1:3. Psalms 1:3) So fruitful and luxuriant is the tree that its boughs beget other boughs; the sons beget daughters, which spread and climb upon the wall beside which the tree is supposed to be planted. This great luxuriance of growth points to Joseph as having, through his two sons, a double inheritance; for this was the birthright given to him. 1 Chronicles 5:1.

Verse 23

23. Imbittered… shot… hated This verse depicts Joseph as persecuted by his brethren, and by Potiphar’s wife . His soul had been terribly imbittered; he had been a shining mark for archers who hated him, and sought his ruin . Jacob’s knowledge of Joseph’s trials, learned and thought on for seventeen years, was the subjective basis of all these metaphors; but while they had that personal basis and background, they may also point to the future wars and triumphs of Ephraim and Manasseh.

Lords of arrows That is, masters in the use of bows and arrows. Joseph’s foes are thus compared to skilled and malignant archers.

Verse 24

24. His bow He turned archer in another way, and was empowered by a supernatural energy, against which all lords of the bow found it folly to contend . He proved an unconquerable hero . This part of the prophecy, based also on Joseph’s personal experience, was further illustrated and confirmed, but not entirely fulfilled, in Joshua, who sprang from Ephraim, and led all Israel to the conquest of the land of promise . The description throughout is true to the general character of the tribe of Joseph .

The arms of his hands The expression is peculiarly significant when speaking of an archer, whose pliant hand must be supported by a firm arm in order to be effective . The designation of God as the Mighty One, or the Might of Jacob; the Shepherd, (compare Genesis 48:15,) and Stone (compare Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Samuel 22:3; 2 Samuel 23:3,) is peculiarly appropriate and suggestive. משׁם is rendered from thence in the common version, and this is sustained by the Masoretic punctuation, the Sept . , Vulg . , and most expositors . But it is in more perfect analogy with the word מידי , of the previous line, and the harmony of parallelism, to translate as we have done from the name; perhaps an allusion to Genesis 32:29. So the Syriac, Dathe, Turner, and others . In this way, the strength, triumphs, and blessings of Joseph are attributed to God as the Shepherd and Stone of Israel . The attempt to make Joseph and Joshua the shepherd and stone, or to render Shepherd of the stone of Israel, and understand it of God watching the stone on which Jacob slept at Bethel, seems far fetched and unnatural .

Verse 25

25. The Almighty Hebrews Shaddai, who had appeared so often to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Comp. Genesis 17:1; Genesis 28:3; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 43:14; Genesis 48:3. The blessings so variously enhanced by the terms of this verse and the following, indicate the glory of the birthright given to Joseph, and his future eminence and prosperity among the tribes.

Verse 26

26. Enduring mountains… everlasting hills This version adheres strictly to the natural meaning of the words, sustains the parallelism, and seems, therefore, much preferable to the more common reading, blessings of my progenitors unto the bounds of the everlasting hills . To sustain this latter we must derive הורי from הרה , and use it in a sense which has no parallel or support elsewhere in Hebrew; and also use תאוה in a sense which it nowhere else has . The parallel passage (Deuteronomy 33:15-16) is also against this interpretation. The blessings of the mountains, and the desire (or desirable things) of the hills, poetically denote all natural beauties, products, health-fulness and defences which one might desire in a pleasant land; and the thought here is, that Jacob’s blessing pronounced on Joseph surpasses all such blessings of the hills.

They shall be for the head They are destined to the head, or shall come upon the head, of Joseph; allusion to the custom of putting the hand upon one’s head in blessing. The consecrated נזיר, the Nazir, the separated one . From this root we have the word Nazarite, one consecrated and set apart by some sacred vow . Joseph was the separated one among his brothers .

Verse 27

27. Let him tear in pieces We prefer this jussive rendering as being in the most perfect keeping with the spirit of the entire prophecy, and as giving the passage greater expressiveness . The verse portrays the warlike and furious character of the tribe of Benjamin, and the history of the tribal war, in Judges 20:0, affords its best illustration . From this tribe came the daring Ehud (Judges 3:15) and the warlike Saul . Benjamin is portrayed under two characters, a beast of prey and a victorious warrior . Like a wolf that has prowled all night (comp . 1 Samuel 14:36) and taken prey, he devours it in the morning; like a warrior who has won conquests through the day, he divides the spoil, or booty, at evening. In this imagery Lange sees the outlines of “a wild, turbulent youth and an old age full of the blessing of sacrifice for others . That dividing the spoil in the evening is a feature that evidently passes over into a spiritual allusion . Our first thought would be of the dividing of the prey among the young ones, but for this alone the expression is too strong. He rends all for himself in the morning, he yields all in the evening. This is not a figure of Benjamin only, but of the theocratic Israel; and, therefore, a most suitable close. See Isaiah 53:12.”

Verse 28

THE DEATH OF JACOB, Genesis 49:28-33.

28. All these are the twelve tribes The sacred historian, having inserted in his book the prophetic words which the sons and sons’ sons had been careful to preserve, thus resumes his narrative, and now proceeds to add an account of the patriarch’s last charge and death.

Verse 29

29. Bury me with my fathers The great prophet has spoken his last oracle; his sons have received his dying benedictions; and now his heart turns to his fathers, to whom he is about to be gathered . There is a touching beauty and tenderness in the allusion to Machpelah (on which see notes at Genesis 23:9; Genesis 23:19) and Mamre to Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah, and Leah . He would have his body repose along with theirs, as, also, he expected his immortal part would be “gathered unto his people” in Sheol . See on Genesis 37:35; Genesis 25:8.

Verse 33

33. Gathered up his feet into the bed While uttering his prophecy he had strengthened himself and sat upon his bed, (comp . Genesis 48:2;) now he replaces his feet on the bed, and calmly breathes out his life .

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 49". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-49.html. 1874-1909.