Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
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.
Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.
Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:
Ge 49:3, 4. Reuben forfeited by his crime the rights and honors of primogeniture. His posterity never made any figure; no judge, prophet, nor ruler, sprang from this tribe.
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.
Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.
Ge 49:5-7. Simeon and Levi were associate in wickedness, and the same prediction would be equally applicable to both their tribes. Levi had cities allotted to them (Jos 21:1-45) in every tribe. On account of their zeal against idolatry, they were honorably "divided in Jacob"; whereas the tribe of Simeon, which was guilty of the grossest idolatry and the vices inseparable from it, were ignominiously "scattered."
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.
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.
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.
Ge 49:8-12. Judah—A high pre-eminence is destined to this tribe (Nu 10:14; Jud 1:2). Besides the honor of giving name to the Promised Land, David, and a greater than David—the Messiah—sprang from it. Chief among the tribes, "it grew up from a lion's whelp"—that is, a little power—till it became "an old lion"—that is, calm and quiet, yet still formidable.
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?
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. until Shiloh come—Shiloh—this obscure word is variously interpreted to mean "the sent" (Joh 17:3), "the seed" (Isa 11:1), the "peaceable or prosperous one" (Eph 2:14)—that is, the Messiah (Isa 11:10; Ro 15:12); and when He should come, "the tribe of Judah should no longer boast either an independent king or a judge of their own" [Calvin]. The Jews have been for eighteen centuries without a ruler and without a judge since Shiloh came, and "to Him the gathering of the people has been."
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:
His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.
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.
Ge 49:13. Zebulun was to have its lot on the seacoast, close to Zidon, and to engage, like that state, in maritime pursuits and commerce.
Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:
Ge 49:14, 15. Issachar—
14. a strong ass couching down between two burdens—that is, it was to be active, patient, given to agricultural labors. It was established in lower Galilee—a "good land," settling down in the midst of the Canaanites, where, for the sake of quiet, they "bowed their shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute."
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.
Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.
Ge 49:16-18. Dan—though the son of a secondary wife, was to be "as one of the tribes of Israel."
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. Dan—"a judge."
a serpent … an adder—A serpent, an adder, implies subtlety and stratagem; such was pre-eminently the character of Samson, the most illustrious of its judges.
I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.
Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.
Ge 49:19. Gad—This tribe should be often attacked and wasted by hostile powers on their borders (Jud 10:8; Jer 49:1). But they were generally victorious in the close of their wars.
Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.
Ge 49:20. Asher—"Blessed." Its allotment was the seacoast between Tyre and Carmel, a district fertile in the production of the finest corn and oil in all Palestine.
Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.
Ge 49:21. Naphtali—The best rendering we know is this, "Naphtali is a deer roaming at liberty; he shooteth forth goodly branches," or majestic antlers [Taylor, Scripture Illustrations], and the meaning of the prophecy seems to be that the tribe of Naphtali would be located in a territory so fertile and peaceable, that, feeding on the richest pasture, he would spread out, like a deer, branching antlers.
Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:
Ge 49:22-26. Joseph—
22. a fruitful bough, &c.—denotes the extraordinary increase of that tribe (compare Nu 1:33-35; Jos 17:17; De 33:17). The patriarch describes him as attacked by envy, revenge, temptation, ingratitude; yet still, by the grace of God, he triumphed over all opposition, so that he became the sustainer of Israel; and then he proceeds to shower blessings of every kind upon the head of this favorite son. The history of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh shows how fully these blessings were realized.
The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:
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:)
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:
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.
Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.
Ge 49:27-33. Benjamin
27. shall ravin like a wolf—This tribe in its early history spent its energies in petty or inglorious warfare and especially in the violent and unjust contest (Jud 19:1-20:48), in which it engaged with the other tribes, when, notwithstanding two victories, it was almost exterminated.
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—or ancestors. Jacob's prophetic words obviously refer not so much to the sons as to the tribes of Israel.
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. he charged them—The charge had already been given and solemnly undertaken (Ge 47:31). But in mentioning his wishes now and rehearsing all the circumstances connected with the purchase of Machpelah, he wished to declare, with his latest breath, before all his family, that he died in the same faith as Abraham.
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.
There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.
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. when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons—It is probable that he was supernaturally strengthened for this last momentous office of the patriarch, and that when the divine afflatus ceased, his exhausted powers giving way, he yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.