And Jacob called to his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
THE BLESSING OF THE TWELVE TRIBES.
(1) That which shall befall you.—This dying song of Jacob has been regarded alike by Jews and Christians as a prophetic hymn spoken by the patriarch under the influence of the Holy Spirit. By many modern commentators, however, it has been placed in David’s time, and even ascribed to Nathan, partly on the ground that it is too spirited to have been the composition of one lying in the last decrepitude of old age, but chiefly because, in the description given of Judah, it is supposed to refer to the elevation of David to the royal dignity. But if it was thus written by a member of David’s court, we should reasonably expect an exact knowledge of the state of things in David’s time. For this, in fact, is the argument upon which these critics depend, that the internal evidence shows that it belongs to David’s reign. Now, so far is this from being true, that not only is the whole exceedingly general, containing scarcely more than faint and dim hopes and anticipations, but, except in the matter of Judah’s pre-eminence, there is no knowledge whatsoever of the arrangements of David’s time. Thus, for instance, there is no word about Levi’s priestly functions, and his dispersion in Israel is described as a punishment, and put upon exactly the same level as that of Simeon It is said in answer that it was David who established the priesthood, and set the Levites apart for their duties. If so, this was the very reason why Nathan, a seer of his court, should have put into Jacob’s mouth some allusion to so important an event, in order to justify so strong a proceeding as the depriving of a tribe of its lands and political importance, the seizure of towns in every other tribe for the abode of its members, and the bestowal upon them of priestly functions. If however David, by an act of despotic power, was able to effect so violent a subversion of all tribal rights, it is strange that no reference is ever made to it: and, moreover, both the Pentateuch and the Books of Joshua (Joshua 3:3; Joshua 8:33, &c), of Judges (Judges 17:9-13), and of Samuel (1Samuel 2:13; 1Samuel 2:27-28; 1Samuel 6:15, &c.) must be of a date so modern as for all remembrance of David’s act to have passed away, and for the national traditions to have created for themselves a setting modelled upon a state of things that never existed, and which was contradictory to the most glorious age of the nation’s history. But national traditions precede the historical period of a people’s annals, and from the time of David careful records of all events in Judah and Israel were kept, and the history of Judah and Israel was one of the chief subjects of instruction given to the youth of the nation in the prophetic schools. But let us take another instance. At the settlement of the tribes in Canaan, it was Asher and not Zebulun to which the sea-coast upon the north fell by lot; south of Asher was the half-tribe of Manasseh, and south of this was Dan. (Comp. Judges 5:17.) Zebulun was an inland tribe, and did not “dwell at the haven of the sea.” It is unnecessary to continue this examination, but generally we may affirm that the sole argument for Jacob’s blessing having been written in historic times is the position given to Judah. Everything besides negatives this view; and we may reasonably ascribe the high rank of Judah to the fact that after the setting aside of Reuben, Simeon and Levi, he became the firstborn.
In the last days.—Heb., in the after part of days. The phrase is often opposed to “the beginning of days,” and is constantly used of the times of the Messiah. Here these “after days” apparently commence with the conquest of Canaan, but look onward to the advent of Christ.Genesis 49:1. Gather yourselves together — It was his will that they should all be sent for to see their father die, and to hear his dying words. It would be a comfort to him, who had sometimes thought himself bereaved, to see all his children about him when he was dying, and he hoped it would be a blessing to them to attend him in his last moments, and witness his confidence and hope in God, the serenity and peace of mind in which he could quit this world and all its concerns, to enter the invisible and eternal state. It appears that what he said to each he said in the audience of all the rest, for we may profit by the reproofs, counsels, and encouragements which are principally intended for others. In the last days — Or following times, when they should be settled in the land of promise. Hereby he signified that he was about to speak of things which concerned their posterity rather than themselves. “It is an opinion of great antiquity,” says Bishop Newton, on the Prophecies, “that the nearer men approach to their dissolution, their souls grow more divine, and discern more of futurity.
And what I conceive might principally give rise to this opinion, was the tradition of some of the patriarchs being divinely inspired in their last moments, to foretel the state and condition of the people descended from them; as Jacob summoned his sons together, that he might inform them of what should befall them in the latter days.” — Vol. 1. p. 85, second edition. We cannot tell our children what shall befall them or their families in this world; but we can tell them, from the word of God, what shall befall them in the last day of all, according as they conduct themselves in this world.
The prophet has his mind filled with the objects and events of the present and the past, and from these he must draw his images for the future, and express them in the current language of his day. To interpret his words, therefore, we must ascend to his day, examine his usage of speech, distinguish the transient forms in which truth may appear, and hold fast by the constant essence which belongs to all ages. "Hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken to Israel your father." This is a specimen of the synthetic or synonymous parallel. It affords a good example of the equivalence, and at the same time the distinction, of Jacob and Israel. They both apply to the same person, and to the race of which he is the head. The one refers to the natural, the other to the spiritual. The distinction is similar to that between Elohim and Yahweh: the former of which designates the eternal God, antecedent to all creation, and therefore, equally related to the whole universe; the latter, the self-existent God, subsequent to the creation of intelligent beings, and especially related to them, as the moral Governor, the Keeper of covenant, and the Performer of promise.
Ge 49:1-33. Patriarchal Blessing.
1. Jacob called unto his sons—It is not to the sayings of the dying saint, so much as of the inspired prophet, that attention is called in this chapter. Under the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit he pronounced his prophetic benediction and described the condition of their respective descendants in the last days, or future times.Jacob calls his sons to bless them before his death, Genesis 49:1. Bespeaks their attention, Genesis 49:2. Condemns Reuben’s incest, Genesis 49:3,4; Simeon’s and Levi’s cruelty, Genesis 49:5-7. Extols Judah; prophesieth of Christ, and the calling of the Gentiles, Genesis 49:9-12. Of Zebulun, Genesis 49:13; Issachar, Genesis 49:14,15; Dan, Genesis 49:16,17. Expresses his faith on God’s salvation, Genesis 49:18. Of Gad, Genesis 49:19; Asher, Genesis 49:20; Naphtali, Genesis 49:21. Joseph’s peculiar blessing, Genesis 49:22-26. Of Benjamin, Genesis 49:27. His charge eoncerning his burial and death, Genesis 49:28-33.
and said, gather yourselves together; his will was, that they should attend him all together at the same time, that he might deliver what he had to say to them in the hearing of them all; for what he after declares was not said to them singly and alone, but when they were all before him:
that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days; not their persons merely, but their posterity chiefly, from that time forward to the coming of the Messiah, who is spoken of in this prophecy, and the time of his coming; some things are said relating to temporals, others to spirituals; some are blessings or prophecies of good things to them, others curses, or foretell evil, but all are predictions delivered out by Jacob under a spirit of prophecy; some things had their accomplishment when the tribes of Israel were placed in the land of Canaan, others in the times of the judges, and in later times; and some in the times of the Messiah, to which this prophecy reaches, whose coming was in the last days, Hebrews 1:1 and Nachmanides says, according to the sense of all their writers, the last days here are the days of the Messiah; and in an ancient writing of the Jews it is said (x), that Jacob called his sons, because he had a mind to reveal the end of the Messiah, i.e. the time of his coming; and Abraham Seba (y) observes, that this section is the seal and key of the whole law, and of all the prophets prophesied of, unto the days of the Messiah.And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the (a) last days.
(a) When God will bring you out of Egypt, and because he speaks of the Messiah, he calls it the last days.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.”Verse 1. - And Jacob (having closed his interview with Joseph and his two sons) called (by means of messengers) unto his sons (i.e. the others who were then absent), and said, Gather yourselves together, - the prophet's last utterance must be a public one - that I may tell you - literally, and I will tell you - that which shall befall you - קָרָא, in the sense of happening or occurring to any one, is here equivalent to קָרָה (cf. Genesis 42:4, 38) - in the last days - literally, in the end of the days, not simply in future time (Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Kalisch), or in the times intervening between the speaker and the end of the human race (Murphy), but in the last age, the closing period of time, the era of fulfillment (Kurtz, Hengstenberg), which era, however, must be judged from the standpoint of the speaker (Baumgarten). Hence the period must not be restricted to exclusively Messianic times (Rabbi Nachmanides), ἐπ ἐσχάτῶν τῶν ἡμερῶν (LXX.), in diebus novissimis (Vulgate), but must commence with what to Jacob was the era of consummation, the days of the conquest (Baumgarten, Hengstenberg); while, on the other hand, it can as little be limited to these, but must be held as extending over totum tempus ab exitu AEgypti ad Christi regnum (Calvin), and even as reaching, though unconsciously to Jacob, to the very terminus of human history (Keil, Lange). Genesis 28:19) his younger brother will become greater than he, and his seed will become the fulness of nations." This blessing began to be fulfilled from the time of the Judges, when the tribe of Ephraim so increased in extent and power, that it took the lead of the northern tribes and became the head of the ten tribes, and its name acquired equal importance with the name Israel, whereas under Moses, Manasseh had numbered 20,000 more than Ephraim (Numbers 26:34 and Numbers 26:37). As a result of the promises received from God, the blessing was not merely a pious wish, but the actual bestowal of a blessing of prophetic significance and force. - In Genesis 48:20 the writer sums up the entire act of blessing in the words of the patriarch: "In thee (i.e., Joseph) will Israel (as a nation) bless, saying: God make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh" (i.e., Joseph shall be so blessed in his two sons, that their blessing will become a standing form of benediction in Israel); "and thus he placed Ephraim before Manasseh," viz., in the position of his hands and the terms of the blessing. Lastly, (Genesis 48:21) Israel expressed to Joseph his firm faith in the promise, that God would bring back his descendants after his death into the land of their fathers (Canaan), and assigned to him a double portion in the promised land, the conquest of which passed before his prophetic glance as already accomplished, in order to insure for the future the inheritance of the adopted sons of Joseph. "I give thee one ridge of land above thy brethren" (i.e., above what thy brethren receive, each as a single tribe), "which I take from the hand of the Amorites with my sword and bow" (i.e., by force of arms). As the perfect is used prophetically, transposing the future to the present as being already accomplished, so the words לקחתּי אשׁר must also be understood prophetically, as denoting that Jacob would wrest the land from the Amorites, not in his own person, but in that of his posterity.
(Note: There is no force in Kurtz's objection, that this gift did not apply to Joseph as the father of Ephraim and Manasseh, but to Joseph personally; for it rests upon the erroneous assumption, that Jacob separated Joseph from his sons by their adoption. But there is not a word to that effect in Genesis 48:6, and the very opposite in Genesis 48:15, viz., that Jacob blessed Joseph in Ephraim and Manasseh. Heim's conjecture, which Kurtz approves, that by the land given to Joseph we are to understand the high land of Gilead, which Jacob had conquered from the Amorites, needs no refutation, for it is purely imaginary.)
The words cannot refer to the purchase of the piece of ground at Shechem (Genesis 33:19), for a purchase could not possibly be called a conquest by sword and bow; and still less to the crime committed by the sons of Jacob against the inhabitants of Shechem, when they plundered the town (Genesis 34:25.), for Jacob could not possibly have attributed to himself a deed for which he had pronounced a curse upon Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:6-7), not to mention the fact, that the plundering of Shechem was not followed in this instance by the possession of the city, but by the removal of Jacob from the neighbourhood. "Moreover, any conquest of territory would have been entirely at variance with the character of the patriarchal history, which consisted in the renunciation of all reliance upon human power, and a believing, devoted trust in the God of the promises" (Delitzsch). The land, which the patriarchs desired to obtain in Canaan, they procured not by force of arms, but by legal purchase (cf. Genesis 24 and Genesis 33:19). It was to be very different in the future, when the iniquity of the Amorites was full (Genesis 15:16). But Jacob called the inheritance, which Joseph was to have in excess of his brethren, שׁכם (lit., shoulder, or more properly nape, neck; here figuratively a ridge, or tract of land), as a play upon the word Shechem, because he regarded the piece of land purchased at Shechem as a pledge of the future possession of the whole land. In the piece purchased there, the bones of Joseph were buried, after the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 24:32); and this was understood in future times, as though Jacob had presented the piece of ground to Joseph (vid., John 4:5).
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