Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 49 The Blessing of Jacob. The Death of Jacob
The chapter falls into two divisions:
1–27 (J). The blessing of Jacob, pronounced upon his twelve sons; derived, probably, from a very early source previous to J and E, and incorporated in J’s narrative.
28–33 (P). The death of Jacob.
And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.1–27. The Blessing of Jacob
1. And Jacob called] It is possible that this first clause may be from P, and is continued in the last clause of Genesis 49:28. Notice that the name “Israel,” used eight times in the course of the previous 15 verses (Genesis 48:8-22), here makes way for “Jacob.”
in the latter days] Lit. “in the after part of days,” denoting the period which is present to the vision of the Prophet. Cf. Numbers 24:14, “I will advertise thee what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days”; Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1. See Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 31:29; Jeremiah 23:20; Hosea 3:5; Daniel 2:28; Daniel 10:14. Cf. Hebrews 1:2, “at the end of these days”; 1 Peter 1:20, “at the end of the times”; 2Es 2:34, “at the end of the world.”
Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.2. Assemble yourselves] This verse forms a kind of introduction to the main subject of the song.
and hear] The occurrence of the same Hebrew word for “hear” in the first clause, and for “hearken” in the second, is metrically a violation of the parallelism of Hebrew poetry. In English it is not apparent, as our rendering “hearken” avoids the repetition. Either “and hear” is a gloss, or another Hebrew word stood for “hearken.” Cf. Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:10.
Jacob … Israel] The use of these proper names concurrently is frequent in Israelite poetry. Here it is evidence of the somewhat formal poetical prelude to the main song. Cf. Psalm 105:23. The names emphasize the national character of the oracle, which is put into the mouth of the patriarch, and has reference to the fortunes of the twelve tribes.
Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:3. Reuben] Reuben’s early pre-eminence is forfeited. The tribe’s loss of power is here ascribed to the curse of Jacob for an act of incest (see Genesis 35:22; 1 Chronicles 5:1). The territory of the tribe of Reuben lay on the east side of the Dead Sea. In Biblical history, the Reubenites are practically unknown, except for one successful campaign against the Hagarenes (1 Chronicles 5:8-10). In the Song of Deborah (Jdg 5:16), Reuben is denounced for apathy.
beginning] Better, as R.V. marg., firstfruits. The firstborn was expected to inherit the full strength of the parent. Cf. Deuteronomy 21:17; Psalm 78:51; Psalm 105:36. The versions follow a different text. LXX ἀρχὴ τέκνων μου; Lat. principium doloris mei; Aquila κεφάλαιον λύπης μου; Symmachus ἀρχὴ ὀδύνης.
The excellency] This word in Early English had the meaning of “superiority,” owing to its derivation from “excel.” But this has now been lost sight of.
Vulg. major in donis, major in imperio; Targ. Onk. paraphrases “for thee it was provided to receive three portions, the right of firstborn, the priesthood, and the kingdom.”
LXX must here follow a different text, σκληρὸς φέρεσθαι καὶ σκληρὸς αὐθάδης.
Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.4. Unstable] The metaphor from water, bubbling over, is intended to express wanton or reckless vehemence. Reuben is as water without restraint pouring down in a foaming torrent. This is the thought of the renderings of LXX ἐξύβρισας; Lat. effusus es.
thou shalt not have] Read as R.V. marg. the imperative of denunciation, have not thou. Observe the recurrence of the note of “excelling.” LXX μὴ ἐκζέσῃς.
he went up] Notice the change from the second to the third person, as if the speaker had turned away in loathing (LXX, however, ἀνέβης) from Reuben. In the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:6) the denunciation of Reuben is brief and stern, but unexplained; “let Reuben live, and not die; yet let his men be few.”
It is a possible conjecture that the legend (cf. Genesis 35:22) concerning Reuben embodied a cause of ancient Israelite prejudice against the Reubenites. Conceivably some marriage custom, like that of the heir receiving the concubines of his deceased father, may have been abandoned by the rest of Israel and been maintained by Reuben. (See Robertson Smith, Kinship and Marriage, p. 109, n. 2).
Another conjecture is that Reuben, in some treacherous way, encroached upon the rights of the Bilhah clans, and in an isolated position wasted his strength in fierce and futile conflict with the neighbouring nomads.
Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.5. Simeon and Levi] These two brothers were associated in the massacre of the Shechemites, to which reference is possibly here made in language of indignation. (See ch. Genesis 34:25; Genesis 34:30.)
swords] The Hebrew word (m’khêrâh) occurs only here. Its similarity in sound to the Greek μάχαιρα, “a sword,” has suggested the English rendering. If it be rightly derived from a root meaning “to dig,” possibly the traditional rendering denoting “a weapon” is correct. The R.V. marg., compacts, gives another conjecture. Driver (Add. xl.) says the word “must come from karar, prob. to turn round; hence Dillm. suggests a curved knife, or sabre.” The obscurity accounts for the following variant renderings: LXX συνετέλεσαν ἀδικίαν ἐξ αἱρέσεως αὐτῶν; Lat. vasa iniquitatis bellantia; Targ. Onkelos, “mighty men in the land they dwelled in, they did a mighty deed”; Spurrell, “weapons of violence are their shepherds’ staves”; Gunkel, “deceit and violence are their pitfalls.”
O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall.6. council] or, as R.V. marg., secret. The word means either a secret confederacy, or its secret purpose. The parallelism of the clauses rather favours the former rendering.
The true spirit of Israel will have nothing to do with the savage policy hatched in the secret conclaves of these two tribes.
my glory] The word “glory” is used to denote the “soul,” or the “spirit,” as man’s most glorious possession. Cf. Psalm 16:9, “my heart is glad and my glory rejoiceth”; Psalm 30:12; Psalm 57:8; Psalm 108:2. The LXX, reading the same Hebrew consonants with different vowels, translates “my liver” = “my affections,” and, instead of “united,” renders a slightly different text “contend,” μὴ ἐρίσαι τὰ ἥπατά μου.
a man] or, as R.V. marg., men.
houghed] i.e. “mutilated,” by cutting the sinews of the leg. Cf. Joshua 11:6; Joshua 11:9; 2 Samuel 8:4. LXX gives an exact rendering ἐνευροκόπησαν. The Old English “hox” is the form found in Shakespeare: Wint. Tale, i. 2, “thou art a coward, Which hoxes honesty behind.”
an ox] or, as R.V. marg., oxen: so A.V. Instead of the Heb. shor, another reading, shur, “a wall,” is followed by Lat. suffoderunt murum, and by Targ. Onk., Syr. Pesh., Symmachus, and Jerome; probably on account of the apparent contradiction in Genesis 34:28-29, where the sheep and oxen are not mutilated, but carried off as booty.
Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.7. In the curse here pronounced upon Simeon and Levi, no mention is made of the Levitical priesthood. Nevertheless, the patriarch’s curse is evidently assumed to have produced its effect upon the two tribes. One (Levi) was scattered up and down Palestine without territorial possession; and the other (Simeon) occupied territory in a limited area, enclosed within the tribe of Judah. Cf. Joshua 19:1-9; 1 Chronicles 4:24-39. In the Song of Moses, Simeon is not even mentioned. Levi, on the other hand, is blessed, as the tribe of the priesthood, Deuteronomy 33:8-11.
in Jacob … Israel] See note on Genesis 49:2.
Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee.8. praise] The word contains a play on the name Judah, which cannot be reproduced in a translation. See note on Genesis 29:35.
The transition from the sombre oracles concerning the previous three tribes to the outburst of the eulogy upon Judah is very marked.
Thy hand … neck] i.e. as Judah pursues the fleeing foe, he shall grasp them by the neck (cf. Job 16:12). The point of this clause lies in the geographical position of the tribe of Judah. Their territory was beset on the west and south-west by the Philistines, and on the south and south-east by the Edomites and the Amalekites. The Philistines and the Edomites were the bitterest and most persistent of Israel’s foes. But they were within reach; and in their flight and retreat they are overtaken and smitten down by the victorious tribe.
bow down before thee] A reference to the Davidic monarchy which united the tribes of Israel.
8–12. Judah is the recipient of a special blessing, which is distributed as follows: (1) he is the object of national eulogy, Genesis 49:8; (2) he is strong as a lion, and has won success, Genesis 49:9; (3) to him belong the monarchy and the ideal king, Genesis 49:10; (4) his territory is blessed with fertility, Genesis 49:11-12.
Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?9. a lion’s whelp] For the comparison of Judah with a lion, which through this verse became its historic symbol, cf. 2Es 12:31-32; Revelation 5:5. The metaphor of a lion is applied to Gad (Deuteronomy 33:20) and to Dan (Deuteronomy 33:22). For its use in poetical description, cf. Numbers 23:24; Numbers 24:9; Micah 5:8; 1Ma 3:4.
gone up] The lion, having seized and devoured its prey, returns to its fastness in the hills, secure and inaccessible.
stooped down … couched] A description of the movements of a lion (cf. Numbers 24:9) stalking its prey, running swiftly and secretly, and gathering itself for a final spring. The verb describes the habitual swiftness and force in the movements of the tribe.
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.10. The sceptre] Lit. “rod.” Either a king’s sceptre, or a general’s baton. LXX ἄρχων = “ruler”; Lat. sceptrum. The rendering of the LXX, which gives a personal explanation, is unsupported by any evidence.
the ruler’s staff] R.V. marg., as A.V., a lawgiver. The same word is found in Numbers 21:18 (“the sceptre,” marg. “the lawgiver”) and Psalm 60:7, “Judah is my sceptre” (marg. “lawgiver”). LXX ἡγούμενος = “leader”; Lat. dux; Syr. Pesh. “an interpreter”; Targ. Jerus. “scribe.” The parallelism of the clauses makes it almost certain, that we have in this clause “the lawgiver’s staff” corresponding to “the ruler’s sceptre” in the previous clause.
Whether the “sceptre” and the “staff” are the insignia of national monarchy or tribal government, has been much debated. The picture of a person bearing these emblems is most suitable to the Oriental conception of a king.
from between his feet] The literal explanation is the simplest and the most picturesque. The lawgiver seated on his throne holds the wand emblematical of his office between his feet. Another explanation, illustrated by Deuteronomy 28:57, makes the expression refer to the descendants of Judah. So LXX ἐκ τῶν μηρῶν αὐτοῦ; Lat. de femore ejus.
Until Shiloh come] These are among the most difficult and controverted words in the book. The alternative renderings in the R.V. text and marg. represent the different lines of interpretation which have been followed. (1) “Until Shiloh come.” This rendering was not known until a.d. 1534, when it was first suggested by Sebastian Münster, possibly on the strength of a Talmudic tradition. There is no allusion elsewhere in the O.T. to “Shiloh” either as a personal name, or as a Messianic title. Except for this passage, the use of “Shiloh” as indicating a person would be devoid of meaning to the Hebrew reader. True, the song is full of obscurities. But the improbability of this late interpretation is so great, that it may be dismissed from consideration. (2) “Till he come to Shiloh,” i.e. “till he, Judah, comes to Shiloh.” Shiloh was the resting-place of the Ark, in the centre of the tribe of Ephraim, e.g. 1 Samuel 1:24. It was destroyed by the Philistines, and its sanctuary desolated; see Jeremiah 7:12-15. The theory, that the prediction in this verse received its fulfilment in Joshua 18:1; Joshua 18:8-10, is difficult to comprehend. The Davidic monarchy began after the days of Shiloh. The reference to a place in the tribe of Ephraim is quite unsuitable in this context. (3) LXX ἕως ἂν ἔλθῃ τὰ ἀποκείμενα αὐτῷ, until that which is his shall come, and Old Latin donec veniant quae reposita sunt ei. This rendering gets rid of the difficulty of a proper name. It assumes that the disputed word represents a dialect form of Hebrew words meaning “that which to him.” The sense may then be Messianic. The rule of Judah shall continue until “that which is reserved for him,” i.e. the age of perfect prosperity, shall come to him. (4) “Till he comes whose it is” (so Syr. Pesh.). This is also supported by Targ. Onk., “Until Messiah comes, whose is the kingdom”; cf. Symmachus ᾧ ἀποκεῖται = “he for whom it is reserved.” This rendering may be illustrated from Ezekiel 21:27, “Until he come whose right it is.” This last seems the most probable interpretation. Like many other passages in the song, the clause is obscure and oracular. No proper name is given1
 The suggestion that “Shelah,” Judah’s third son (Genesis 38:5), is intended obscurely to indicate the future hope, is most improbable.
. The objection, that in such early days the Messianic hope did not exist, is a petitio principii. If this rendering be correct, the Messianic hope is here indicated in its earliest and simplest form, although its primary application may be to the dynasty of David. Many scholars, in perplexity as to the right meaning of the words, are of opinion that there is some corruption of the original Hebrew text, and that the restoration of the true text cannot be expected. There have been many emendations proposed, e.g. môsh’lôh, “his ruler” (Giesebrecht). Lat. qui mittendus est follows another reading (?).
the obedience of the peoples] The domination over foreign nations was to be the sign of Judah’s ideal sovereignty. LXX προσδοκία, Lat. expectatio, have missed the meaning.
Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:11. Binding … vine] Judah is represented as having so fruitful a soil that the vines grew richly by the wayside. The vine stem which would usually be protected from animals is used by Judah for fastening up the animal on which he rides.
The “ass” is the universal beast of burden in the East for all classes. See Jdg 5:10; Jdg 10:4; 2 Samuel 16:1-2; Zechariah 9:9.
washed] The same hyperbolical description is maintained in this and the following couplet. Grapes in the land of Judah are to be so plentiful that he will wash garments in their juice.
His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.12. His eyes] It may be doubted whether our rendering “red” gives the right meaning. The passage is usually illustrated from Proverbs 23:29, “who hath redness of eyes?” But, surely, the poet would hardly eulogize Judah by attributing to his eyes the redness of continuous drinking! It will be better to assume that the writer meant “sparkling.” The versions, LXX and Vulg., give another rendering, which is probably to be preferred, “his eyes are more sparkling than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.” In this case, the verse will symbolically describe the beauty of his personal appearance, rather than the productiveness of his territory.
Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.13. shall dwell] For the play probably intended on one of the meanings of Zebulun, see note on Genesis 30:20.
haven] Rather, as R.V. marg., Heb. beach or shore. The same word is used to describe the beach washed by the sea (Joshua 9:1), and the shore which is sought by the ships. Zebulun’s territory evidently at one time included the coast line. In Joshua 19:10-16 the tribe of Asher comes in between Zebulun and the Mediterranean. In Jdg 5:17 it is Asher who is abiding by “the haven of the sea.” But, in Deuteronomy 33:18-19, Zebulun is joined with Issachar in sucking “the treasure of the seas and the hidden treasures of the sand.”
upon] or, by. See note on Genesis 48:7. Delitzsch understood the preposition to mean “towards.” The versions, Sam., LXX, Vulg., Syr. Pesh., render “up to,” “as far as,” following a different reading (‘ad, for ‘al). “Border,” better “flank,” or “further side.”
Zidon] The famous Phoenician capital whose neighbourhood must have been a source of wealth to the nearest Israelite tribe. See note on Genesis 10:15.
Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:14. a strong ass] Lit. “a bony ass,” as Aquila ὄνος ὀστώδης; Lat. asinus fortis. Issachar is compared, not to the wild ass, high spirited and swift, but to the strong domestic beast of burden. The territory of Issachar included the southern part of Galilee and the Valley of Jezreel. Slightly different readings are represented by the Sam. gêrim (instead of gerem), i.e. “the ass of strangers,” “bearing the burdens imposed by foreigners,” “a tributary.” The LXX τὸ καλὸν ἐπεθύμησεν = “he desired the beautiful,” gives an entirely different turn to the sense.
between the sheepfolds] For this word, see Jdg 5:16, “why satest thou among the sheepfolds?,” and Psalm 68:13. Issachar is represented as lying contentedly among his flocks, regardless of his brethren. Instead of “sheepfolds,” the versions give “boundaries.” Thus LXX ἀνὰ μέσον τῶν κλήρων = “between the lots”; Lat. inter terminos. Another proposed rendering is “dung-heaps” or “ash-heaps.” Skinner conjectures “panniers,” which would be more appropriate to the metaphor.
And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.15. a resting place] Better, as R.V. marg., rest. “Rest,” as opposed to the wandering life of nomads. Cf. Deuteronomy 12:9; Psalm 95:11.
pleasant] Vulg. optima. LXX πίων = “fat,” possibly following a slightly different reading.
bowed his shoulder] Issachar was ready to kneel, and bear any heavy burden, for the sake of a quiet life in a fertile land.
a servant under taskwork] Cf. Joshua 16:10, “became servants to do taskwork.” Issachar is reproached for being ready to undertake forced labour, and so to acknowledge the Canaanites as his overlords. The phrase is the regular one for becoming tributary; cf. Deuteronomy 20:11; Jdg 1:30; Isaiah 31:8. In all probability there is a play upon the name “Issachar” and its derivation in the sense of “a man of hire,” îsh and sâchar; cf. Genesis 30:18. LXX, apparently seeking to mitigate the severity of the reproach, ἐγενήθη ἀνὴρ γεωργός = “became a labourer.” Targ. Onk. “he will subdue the provinces of the peoples, destroy their inhabitants, and those who are left among them shall be servants unto him and bringers of tribute.”
Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.16. Dan] In this and the following verse we have two independent oracles concerning the tribe of Dan. (1) Genesis 49:16 deals with its position in Israel; (2) Genesis 49:17, with its attitude towards its foes.
judge] For the play on the name Dan, see Genesis 30:6. The word “judge” carries with it the sense of “pleading the cause of” and “helping.” Cf. Jeremiah 22:16, “he judged the cause of the poor and needy.” Targum of Onkelos understood a reference to Samson to be contained in the word “judge” (Judges 13-16.).
his people] The people of his tribe; not the people of Israel generally. The tribe possessed independence, not supremacy.
As one of the tribes] Dan, though smaller than other tribes (cf. Joshua 19:47-48; Jdg 1:34-35; Jdg 18:11), will not be inferior in position and power, within its own domains, to the other tribes. It seems probable that Dan, standing here after Zebulun and Issachar, represents only the small northern portion of the tribe. Cf. Jdg 18:1; Jdg 18:29.
Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.17. shall be] Rather, “let Dan become.”
adder] or, horned snake. The horned snake, or κεράστης, is a small, dangerous, and venomous serpent. The simile is that of a small serpent disturbed, and suddenly with deadly fangs striking a horse from behind. Dan is dangerous to his foes by ambuscades, secret raids, and guerilla warfare; cf. Jdg 18:27. The mention of the horse and horseman indicates the more wealthy, warrior class of the enemy.
I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.18. I have waited] This parenthetical ejaculation of prayer is thought by many scholars to be a gloss. But all authorities contain the verse. There is no obvious reason for inserting such a gloss at this particular point. (a) The ejaculation has by some been thought to shew that, at the time of the composition of this song, Dan was engaged in a long conflict with his foes, and the issue was still doubtful. (b) By others it has been explained as a cry of physical weakness by Jacob. It is very possible that the verse is intended to mark the point at which the song is half finished; but it is not necessarily, therefore, an interpolation.
thy salvation] i.e. deliverance wrought by Thee. For the thought of the prayer, cf. Psalm 25:5; Psalm 27:14; Psalm 119:81; Psalm 119:166; Psalm 119:174; Isaiah 25:9.
Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.19. a troop] Heb. gedud, “a marauding band.”
shall press] Heb. gad, to press. These words furnish a double play upon the name of the tribe Gad. Gad … gedud yegudennu … yagud ‘ekêbâm = “Gad, raiders shall raid him, but he shall raid their rear (lit. heel).” LXX πειρατήριον πειρατεύσει αὐτόν• αὐτὸς δὲ πειρατεύσει αὐτῷ κατὰ πόδας. This warlike and independent tribe seem to have been successful in repelling the bands of marauders, Ammonites, Moabites, and Aramaeans, who threatened the eastern border of Gilead. Cf. Jdg 10:7-12; 1 Chronicles 5:18-22. Later on, however, the tribe seems to have succumbed. Jeremiah 49:1.
upon their heel] i.e. he will repulse and pursue them closely, and hang upon their rear.
Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.20. Out of Asher] Almost certainly the marg. gives the right reading, Asher, his bread &c. The preposition rendered “out of” is the letter m, which is superfluous here, but is required for the pronoun “their,” in the words “their heel” at the close of the preceding verse. The name of the tribe will then open the verse as a kind of nominativus pendens, i.e. “As for Asher, his bread, &c.” Cf. Deuteronomy 32:4, “The Rock, his work is perfect.” So the versions, LXX, Lat., Syr.
bread shall be fat] Cf. Deuteronomy 33:24, “Blessed be Asher … and let him dip his foot in oil.”
yield royal dainties] The fertility of Asher’s land will supply the wants of the kings of Tyre and Sidon. In Jdg 5:17 Asher rests on the sea coast. There is a play intended on the name of the tribe Asher, and the Hebrew word for “happy” (cf. Genesis 30:13), referring to the “happiness” of its fertility. Cf. Arabia Felix.
Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.21. Naphtali] It is doubtful whether the simile applied to this tribe is that of “a hind” or “a terebinth tree.” The comparisons in the song are for the most part taken from animals, e.g. the lion of Judah, the ass of Issachar, the serpent of Dan, the wolf of Benjamin. On the other hand, Joseph is compared to a vine.
a hind let loose] Lat. cervus emissus, an image of swiftness and grace in movement, associated with the thought of open and extensive country. For the idea of freedom expressed in “let loose,” cf. Job 39:5, “who hath sent out the wild ass free, or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass?”
He giveth goodly words] A sudden change in the description, referring apparently to the tribe’s reputation for eloquence; but the transition to such a subject seems scarcely probable. The rendering “goodly lambs” is suggested, but the translation “lambs” cannot be supported from the O.T., and gives, at the best, a very prosaic sense.
By a different vocalization an entirely different turn is given to the verse. “Naphtali is a tall shoot of terebinth, one that putteth forth goodly topmost branches.” “Topmost branches” would then be metaphorical for “leaders” like Barak (Jdg 4:5), but this rendering is very questionable; though it may explain LXX Νεφθαλεὶ στέλεχος ἀνειμένον ἐπιδιδοὺς ἐν τῷ γεννήματι κάλλος.
Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:22. Joseph] The blessing of Joseph extends over Genesis 49:22-26. Its subject matter falls into four divisions: (1) Joseph’s prosperity under the simile of a vine (Genesis 49:22); (2) his contest with bitter foes (Genesis 49:23); (3) the invocation for aid from the God of Jacob (Genesis 49:24-25 a); (4) the blessing from heaven, sea, and earth, pronounced upon Joseph (25b, 26).
The elaborate eulogy pronounced on Joseph reflects the predominance of Ephraim and Manasseh among the tribes of Israel, in virtue both of their central position in Canaan and of their power and wealth. The impression we derive from this description of Joseph is that of 1 Chronicles 5:1-2, “his (Reuben’s) birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph … Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the prince; but the birthright was Joseph’s.”
The text in the following verses has in several places suffered from corruption. The meaning is often very obscure, and no certainty of translation is to be looked for.
A fruitful bough] Heb. the son of a fruitful tree. The word “fruitful” in the original contains a play upon the name “Ephraim”; see note on Genesis 41:52; cf. Joshua 17:14 ff. “Bough” is probably that of a vine. Cf. Psalm 128:3; Isaiah 32:12, “the fruitful vine.” The simile is that of a young fruitful tree, planted near a spring, whose tendrils trail down over the wall.
by a fountain] i.e. in a fertile spot. In Canaan, wherever there was moisture, there was fertility.
The versions give an entirely different rendering.
run over the wall] The branches and tendrils of the strongly growing vine throw themselves over the wall, which has been built for their protection and training. They hang down in graceful luxuriance, a pretty metaphor from nature.
The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:23. The archers] The simile changes. Joseph’s prosperity has attracted the attacks of jealous foes. He is beset by the archers. This verse used to be explained as containing a reference to the persecution of Joseph by his brethren. But, apart from the question whether such a topic would here be suitably introduced, the allusions throughout the song are tribal, and not personal. The enemies of Ephraim and Manasseh may have been the Canaanites (Joshua 17:16), or the Midianites (Jdg 1:6), or the nomad Arab tribes (1 Chronicles 5:19). Or, if Joseph be identified with the tribes of the northern kingdom, and a later date be possible, the reference may be to the attacks delivered from the north by the Syrians, e.g. 1 Kings 20. “Grieved” = Old English for “harassed by hostile action.”
But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)24. his bow abode in strength] Cf. Job 29:20, “my bow is renewed in my hand.” Joseph was able by God’s help to resist. He overthrew his assailants. His strength was unshaken. LXX καὶ συνετρίβη μετὰ κράτους τὰ τόξα αὐτῶν = “and their bows with might were broken,” follows a variety of reading.
the arms of his hands] Probably meaning “the strength of his hands,” which held and drew the bow.
were made strong] Better, as R.V. marg., active. The idea is nimbleness rather than strength.
By the hands] More lit. “from the hands.” The source of the deliverance of Joseph, rather than the instrumentality of it, is expressed.
the Mighty One of Jacob] A Divine title, ’âbîr = “the Strong One,” which appears elsewhere, Psalm 132:2; Psalm 132:5; Isaiah 1:24; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16.
From thence] No rendering gives an entirely satisfactory sense. The text is probably corrupt. (1) According to the R.V. text, the clause is a parenthesis; “from thence” means “from the Mighty One of Jacob.” “The shepherd,” and “the stone of Israel,” are appellations of Joseph. (2) According to the R.V. marg. “from thence from the shepherd,” the clause continues the thought of the previous words, and expands “by the hands of.” “The shepherd,” and “the stone of Israel,” are then Divine titles, in apposition to “the Mighty One of Jacob.” (3) “By the name of the shepherd.” This is a variety of the last ‘rendering, with the reading shêm = “name,” instead of shâm = “there.”
The rendering (1) seems to be improbable, since it applies to Joseph the titles of “shepherd” and “stone of Israel,” which certainly we should not expect to see applied to the son of Jacob. Between (2) and (3) it is difficult to make a selection, and the text cannot be relied on. But the word mis-shâm (= “from thence”) seems more prosaic and less impressive than mis-shêm (= “from the Name”); and on the whole (3) seems more probable. For the “Shepherd,” as a Divine title, cf. Genesis 48:15; Psalm 23:1; Psalm 80:1.
Prof. G. F. Moore conjectures “By the arms of the stone of Israel,” which would supply a parallel to “By the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,” and would expand the thought of the previous clause (“the arms of his hands”). Encycl. Bibl. iii. 2977, n. 14.
the stone of Israel] If used as a Divine title, the “stone” (’eben) is here substituted for the more usual “rock” (ṣûr). Cf. Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 22:2; Psalm 18:2; Psalm 18:31. It is very possible that the allusion may be to the stone (’eben) of Bethel (Genesis 28:18), or even to the great stone of Shechem (Joshua 24:26-27), the sanctuary of the tribe and the burial-place of Joseph.
“The Name of the Shepherd of the Stone of Israel” is thus a possible, though a cumbrous title with a reference to the stone of Bethel (Genesis 31:13).
Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:25. Even by the God of thy father] This verse continues the subject of the two previous clauses, the Divine source of help for Joseph. For “the God of thy father,” cf. Genesis 31:5, Genesis 50:17.
And by the Almighty] Lit. “and with (êth = ‘with the help of,’ see Genesis 4:2) the Almighty.” The Hebrew, however, for “by” is most probably due to an error in the transcription of one letter (êth for êl). Read “and God Almighty.” “Êl” was read by LXX, Sam., and Syr. Pesh.
“Almighty,” i.e. Shaddai, see note on Genesis 17:1, Genesis 35:11.
who shall bless thee] Rather a prayer, = “and may he bless thee.” The next words should be compared with the blessing of Joseph in Deuteronomy 33:13, “blessed of the Lord be his land; for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath, &c.” Here three types of blessing are invoked, those of the sky, the waters, and the human race, as three sources of fruitfulness.
blessings of] Either continuing the sentence, “May he bless thee with blessings,” or beginning a new sentence, “May there be to thee, &c.”
heaven above] The blessings of rain and dew. Cf. Genesis 27:28.
the deep that coucheth beneath] Cf. the identical words of Deut. quoted above. For “the deep that coucheth beneath” (Lat. abyssi jacentis deorsum), see note on Genesis 1:9. “The deep,” Heb. tehôm (Genesis 1:2), the great subterranean reservoir of water from which, according to Israelite ideas, the springs, fountains, and rivers welled up, and gave fertility to the soil.
the breasts] For the converse of this blessing, see Hosea 9:14. The fruitfulness of a family was deemed a proof of Divine blessing.
The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.26. The blessings of thy father] i. e. the blessings invoked by Jacob, thy father, when fulfilled in the greatness and influence of the people that shall spring from thee.
Have prevailed above] i.e. have ranked higher, are of greater excellence, than the material blessings of the fair country assigned to Joseph.
the blessings of my progenitors] Better, as R.V. marg., according to some ancient authorities, the blessings of the ancient mountains, the desire (or desirable things) of the everlasting hills. The rendering of the R.V. text in this difficult passage depends upon a practically impossible translation, i.e. “my progenitors” (Lat. patrum ejus), where the Hebrew literally means “my conceivers.” It is better to follow the rendering in the marg., which requires a very slight change in the text. Instead of “my progenitors,” read “the mountains of”; and, instead of “unto,” read “eternity.” This has the support of LXX, ὀρέων μονίμων; and it is supported also by the parallelism of the clauses. “The everlasting hills,” in the next clause, will then balance “the ancient mountains” of this clause; as is the case in the blessing of Joseph, Deuteronomy 33:15, “and for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the everlasting hills.” Cf. also Habakkuk 3:6.
Unto the utmost bound] A doubtful rendering, required by the translation of the previous word, ‘ad = “unto.” According to the better reading, this word, ‘ad, should be rendered “eternity.” Instead of “bound,” we should render “desire” (which is the ordinary translation of the Heb. word), in the sense of “the desirable things,” thus balancing the words “the blessings” in the previous clause.
They shall be] Better, “may they be,” a prayer, as in the very similar passage in Deuteronomy 33:16, with which these two clauses should be compared; “let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.”
on the head … crown] Words implying a benediction, with the hand resting upon the head.
that was separate from] In Hebrew the Nazir is “one set apart,” or “consecrated,” by a vow, or otherwise, for high duties. Thus Samson was a “Nazirite,” separated to be the champion of his people’s liberties. Perhaps, but not probably, the mention of “the crown of the head” has an allusion to the Naziritic vow. Lat. Nazaraei inter fratres suos. Some connect nazir with nezer = “a diadem,” and render by “prince”; so R.V. marg. that is prince among (cf. LXX ὧν ἡγήσατο ἀδελφῶν), a possible allusion to the Ephraimite kingdom.
Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.27. Benjamin] The fierce and warlike qualities of Benjamin, here described under the simile of a wolf, appear in Jdg 5:14; Jdg 5:19; Jdg 20:21-25.
a wolf that ravineth] i.e. a wolf that seizes and rends his prey. Cf. Ezekiel 22:27. Elsewhere in the O.T. the simile of a wolf is used only in a bad sense.
To “ravin” is Old English for “to prey with rapacity”: cf. Shakespeare, Cymb., i. 6, “The cloy’d will, … ravening first The lamb.”
at even] Compare the expression “evening wolves,” i.e. those which “at even” are most terrible and savage; Jeremiah 5:6; Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3. It is noteworthy that there is no certain reference to the reign of Saul as conferring distinction upon the tribe. But “shall divide the spoil” recalls the description of the Benjamite monarch, who “clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet, and put ornaments of gold on their apparel” (2 Samuel 1:24).
All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.28. All these are the twelve tribes of Israel] In the enumeration of the twelve tribes, in this song, Joseph is reckoned as one; in Deuteronomy 33, Simeon is omitted, and Ephraim and Manasseh take the place of Joseph. In Numbers 2, Simeon is retained; Levi is omitted; Ephraim and Manasseh replace Joseph.
28–33. Genesis 49:28 a is the editorial conclusion to Jacob’s blessing. Genesis 49:28 b–33 resume from Genesis 49:1 a, and record Jacob’s death according to P.
And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,29. gathered unto my people] See note on Genesis 25:8 (P).
bury me] Cf. Genesis 47:29-31 (J).
In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace.30. the cave, &c.] See Genesis 23:16-18.
There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.31. there they buried, &c.] See, for the burial of Sarah, Genesis 23:19; of Abraham, Genesis 25:9-10; of Isaac, Genesis 35:29. The burials of Rebekah and Leah are not recorded.
The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth.
And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.33. gathered up his feet] Jacob now lay down; he had been sitting. See Genesis 48:2 (E).
yielded up the ghost] Cf. Genesis 25:8 (P). The phrase is an English one. The Hebrew has simply “and expired.” LXX ἐξέλιπε; Lat. obiit.
unto his people] See note on Genesis 25:8. The present passage shews clearly that “to be gathered unto one’s people” is not burial in the ancestral place of sepulture (for the account of Jacob’s burial seventy days later comes in the next chapter); but the soul’s departure to the gathering-place of the deceased members of the family, i.e. Sheôl.