Matthew Poole's 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.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.
Or, in the following times, or latter days, when you shall enter into and be settled in the Land of Promise. Hereby he signifies, that he speaks here of things which concern not so much their persons as their posterity.
Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.No text from Poole on this verse.
Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:The beginning of my strength; the first instance or evidence of my might or strength, or of that masculine rigour whereby God enabled me to beget a child. Compare Deu 21:17 Psalm 105:36. Or the first of my children, which are the strength, the stays, and supports of a father, and of his family; thence called his arrows, as Psalm 127:4, and by other authors, the pillars of the house.
The excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power. As first-born thou hadst the right of precedency before all thy brethren in point of dignity and power or privilege; the double portion, the priesthood, the dominion over thy brethren were thine.
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.Unstable as water: this may concern either,
1. Something past, or Reuben’s fault; and so he is said to have been
unstable, or light, and vain, as the word is used, Judges 9:4 Zephaniah 3:4; like water, moved with every little wind of temptation, and unbounded in thy lust; as water of itself hath no bounds, but will scatter itself every way, if it be not kept within banks, or in a vessel: or, hasty, violent, impetuous in thy lust, like water, which either overflows or breaks its banks. Or,
2. Something to come, or Reuben’s punishment; and so the meaning is, Thou, i.e. thy posterity, shall be
unstable, or unsettled, flitting and vanishing, coming to nothing, or poured forth like water, useless, contemptible, and weak. Such indeed was the state of that tribe, of which we read nothing eminent in Scripture. See Judges 5:15,16. This I prefer before the former,
1. Because it is not probable that his fault should be described here in such general and ambiguous and dark terms, which is described so plainly and particularly in the following words.
2. Because this makes the coherence most plain. Here is a description,
(1.) Of Reuben’s excellent state to which he was born, Genesis 49:3.
(2.) Of his fall from that state, in these words, and the immediately following, thou shalt not excel.
(3.) Of the reason of this fall, his great sin.
3. Because the similitude of water applied to men in this manner, notes rather their impotency and calamity than their sin, as Joshua 7:5 Psalm 22:14.
Thou shalt not excel, or, be the most eminent amongst thy brethren; thou hast lost thy pre-eminency due to thee by birthright, both for thyself and for thy posterity, and it shall be given to others; the priesthood to Levi, the dominion to Judah, and the double portion to Joseph.
Then defiledst thou it, by committing incest with Bilhah. He repeats the same thing, and that in an emphatical manner, turning his speech and face from Reuben to his brethren, in a posture of indignation and detestation; which you must not impute to Jacob’s passion, he being now a dying man, and this being forty years after the crime committed, but to the Spirit of God guiding his tongue to utter this, not only nor chiefly for the punishment of Reuben, who, as many think, had repented of his sin; but for terror, instruction, and caution to all others, and to assure them that sin, though it may be long dissembled and borne with, yet it will one time or other be sorely punished. But these and the next foregoing words may be thus rendered, Then defiledst thou my bed: he went up to it, or rather, he is gone up, i.e. he is vanished, or perished, or lost; for so this word is oft used, as Job 5:26 Isaiah 5:24 Jeremiah 48:15. And so here is an elegant figure, called antanaclasis, whereby the same word is repeated in the same verse in a different sense, as Psalm 18:26 Matthew 8:22. So here,
He went up wickedly to his father’s bed to commit a great sin; therefore now he is gone up penally, to receive condign punishment; his excellency is gone up like smoke, which ascendeth and is dispersed in the air. And this may seem to be the truest translation and interpretation, because it keeps close to the Hebrew words and their order; whereas, in our translation, there is both a transplacing of the Hebrew words, and a supplement added unnecessarily.
Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.Simeon and Levi are brethren; not only by nature, but in iniquity; of like cruel and bloody disposition, confederate in the same wicked design, Genesis 34:25. So the word brother is elsewhere used, for him that agrees much with another in his temper, or employment, or designs, as Job 30:29 Proverbs 18:9, &c.
Their bloody swords are yet in their dwellings, to bear witness against them for their barbarous cruelty. But these words may be, and are by some both ancient and later interpreters, rendered otherwise. For the Hebrew word mecheroth, here rendered habitations, is never so used, nor indeed is found elsewhere in Scripture. Nor doth that signification agree with the Hebrew root from whence this comes, which is machar, and signifies to bargain, or sell, or exchange. And accordingly this word is by the Samaritan translator, and by other learned interpreters, rendered, their conventions, or compacts, or civil contracts, or agreements. And, which is more, the Chaldee verb mechar, from whence this word may very well be deduced, signifies to espouse; and the noun mechirah, derived from it, signifies a spouse. And so the words may be rendered thus, their contracts, or agreements, ( or their nuptial contracts, ) were instruments of cruelty. Which translation seems better than the other,
1. Because it keeps closest to the words of the text, and leaves out that particle in, which is not in the Hebrew text, but was added by our translators to complete the sense.
2. Because this best agrees with the history recorded, Genesis 34:1-31, where we read that they did cover their bloody design with a pretence of an agreement and nuptial contract with the Shechemites, which was a great aggravation of their villany, that those things which to others are bonds of love and peace, were made by them instruments of cruelty.
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.Their secret; or, counsel, or company, as the word is used, Psalm 64:2 Jeremiah 15:17; i.e. do not partake with them in their secret and wicked designs. Hereby he signifies to all posterity, that that bloody enterprise was undertaken without his consent or approbation, and that he could not think of it without detestation, nor let it pass without a severe censure. Or, O my soul, thou wast not in their secret, as the Chaldee, Syriae, and Arabic take it, by a common enallage of the future tense for the past.
Mine honour; either,
1. Properly so called. So the sense is, Let not my honour or good name be bound up with theirs; they gloried in this wickedness, which I abominate, and which indeed is their shame. Or,
2. Improperly; so he understands either,
1. His soul, which is indeed the glory of a man, though I do not remember any place of Scripture where that word must necessarily be so understood. So this is a repetition of the same thing in other words, which is usual in Scripture. Or rather,
2. His tongue, for which the word honour or glory is commonly put, as Psalm 16:9, compared with Acts 2:26 Psalm 30:12 57:8 108:1, because the tongue or speech is the glory of a man, by which he is distinguished from unreasonable creatures, and, if well used, it brings much honour to God, and to the man that speaks with it. So the sense is, As my soul did not approve of that wicked action, so my tongue never gave consent to it, nor shall it now by silence seem to own it, but shall publicly witness my abhorrence of it.
In their anger they slew a man, i.e. men, the Shechemites, Genesis 34:25,26, the singular number for the plural, as Genesis 3:2 32:5 1 Chronicles 10:1, compared with 1 Samuel 31:1. He saith man rather then men, either with respect unto the prince, whose slaughter was principally designed, or to show that they slew them all to a man.
In their self-will: it may note, that this cruelty of theirs was committed,
1. By their own will and choice, not by Jacob’s will or consent, which they never asked nor obtained.
2. Without any necessity or sufficient provocation, but merely by their own will and proper motion.
3. Not rashly and hastily, but wilfully and resolvedly, after mature deliberation.
4. Not unwillingly, but cheerfully, and with delight and good will, as that word commonly signifies.
They digged down a wall; not the walls of the city, but of private houses; it may be only of the prince’s house, who upon the first noise of the tumult might, and probably did, retire and secure himself in some strong room of the house, whose wall they brake down that they might come at him. For neither were the walls of houses or cities so strong then as now many are; nor were Simeon and Levi destitute of fit instruments to break down a wall, which doubtless they brought with them, as easily foreseeing that difficulty in their enterprise. But because the Hebrew word is not shur, a wall, but schor, an ox, others translate the words thus, they houghed, or killed an ox, or bull, meaning Shechem, so called either from his lust, or from his strength and power, from which princes are oft so called, as Deu 33:17 Psalm 22:12 68:30. Or rather thus, they rooted out, or drove away an ox, i.e. the oxen, the singular number for the plural, as before; and under them are comprehended the other cattle of the Shechemites, which they drove away, as we read they did, Genesis 34:28. For as the words may bear this sense, so it seems more reasonable to understand them of that which certainly was done by them, than of their breaking a wall, of which we do not read any thing in the history.
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.Cursed be their anger, or, cursed was. It was execrable and abominable both before God and men; such as deserved and brought the curse of God upon themselves, which I, as God’s instrument, am now to pronounce against them.
I do here declare, in the name of God, that they shall be divided and dispersed
in Jacob, & c.; that is, among the children or tribes of Jacob or Israel. Prophets are said to do what they foretell that God will do, as Jeremiah is said to root out and pull down kingdoms, Jeremiah 1:10, and Ezekiel to destroy the city, Ezekiel 43:3. Add Hosea 6:5. Note here how suitable their punishment was to their crime. They sinned by conspiracy and confederation in the counsel and action, and they are punished with division or separation, not only of the two brethren and their tribes, but of the children and families of the several tribes, one from another. This was eminently fulfilled in the tribe of Levi, which had no proper portion or inheritance, but was scattered among all the tribes, Joshua 18:7, though afterwards God turned this curse into a blessing. And for Simeon, he had no part of his own in the division of the land; but the portion of Judah being too large for that tribe, he was taken into that lot, and was as an inmate to them, Joshua 19:1,2,9, and afterwards part of them were forced to seek new seats, and so were divided from the rest of their brethren, 1 Chronicles 4:27,39,42. And moreover, the Jewish doctors write, that that tribe was so straitened in their habitations and conveniences, that a very great number of them were forced to scatter themselves amongst the other tribes to get a subsistence by teaching their children.
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.Or rather,
Judah, thy brethren shall praise or celebrate thee. So the expression is like that 1 Samuel 25:25.
As his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him, or in him. So here the sense is, As thy name signifies praise, Genesis 29:35, so shalt thou have praise or honour from thy brethren. He alludes to his name, and to the occasion of it, but with an elegant variation. Thou art deservedly called Judah, not only because thy mother praised God for thee, but also because thy brethren shall praise and bless thee for the reasons here following. But this, as also the other blessings or predictions, do not so much declare the state of Judah or the rest in their own persons, as in their posterity.
Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies, i.e. thou shalt overthrow and subdue them. This was fulfilled in part, Judges 1:1,2,4 3:9,10; but more fully in David, 2 Samuel 8:1, and Solomon, 1 Chronicles 12:9; and most eminently, though spiritually, in Christ. The phrase is taken either,
1. From the practice of warriors, who use to assault their enemies in that part, that they may throw them down at their feet; of which see Job 15:26 16:12. Or,
2. from the custom of conquerors, who are said to put the yokes upon the necks of the conquered. See Genesis 27:40 Deu 28:48 Isaiah 10:27 Jeremiah 27:8 28:14.
Thy father’s children, i.e. all thy brethren, and my posterity; he saith not thy mother’s children, for his sons had divers mothers;
shall bow down before thee, i.e. shall own thee as their superior and lord, upon whom I have devolved this part of the right of the first-born. By this and the following words we plainly see that these blessings and predictions were not distributed according to Jacob’s affections and inclinations, (for then Judah should never have been advanced above his worthily beloved Joseph,) but by the direction of God’s Spirit.
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?Judah is as
a lion’s whelp, or as a young lion, for courage, and strength, and terror to his enemies. The particle as is here wanting, as also Genesis 49:14,17,21,22, and in many other places, as Psalm 11:1 12:6 22:6, &c. And he is rightly compared first to a lion’s whelp, then to an old lion, to signify the growth of that tribe in strength and interest; and that from small beginnings, and a precedency of order only, Judges 1:1,2, it should ascend to the height of honour, and power, and happiness in David, and especially in the Messiah, who should conquer all nations.
From the prey... thou art gone up. Having taken the prey, i.e. conquered thine enemies, thou art
gone up in triumph; or gone up, i.e. grown greater and higher after thy victories, as the manner is. Or he alludes to the lions, which usually dwell in mountains, as divers writers observe, and come down to prey in the valleys, and when they have got their prey, they go up to their habitations, and so shall Judah do.
He stooped; a change of the person very frequent in prophetical writings, as we shall oft have occasion to note hereafter.
He couched. When he hath taken the prey, he doth not convey it away to his den with haste and speed for fear the enemy should return and overtake him, but like a lion he stoops down to feed upon his prey, and coucheth or lieth down securely to rest himself after he hath eaten it, without the least fear of any enemy, as it is observed of him, Isaiah 31:4. Judah’s conquests shall not be interrupted or followed with ill successes and defeats or overthrows afterward, as it frequently happens in the course of war, but he quietly possess his spoils, and after the bloody wars, to which he will be forced, shall enjoy a sweet peace and tranquillity, which his posterity did, 1 Kings 4:25.
As an old lion, or rather a grown lion, not a decrepit and impotent lion, but one come to his full strength; who shall presume or dare to disturb or provoke him? All shall fear him, and seek peace with him.
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.The secptre, i.e. the dominion or government, which is oft expressed by this word, as Numbers 24:17 Psalm 45:6 Isaiah 14:5 Ezekiel 19:11,14 Am 1:5,8 Zec 10:11, because it is an ensign of government, Esther 4:11. So it is a figure called a metonomy of the sign, than which nothing more frequent. The sense is, That superiority or dominion over his brethren, which I said he should obtain Genesis 49:8 he shall keep; it shall not depart from him. Others, the tribe, as the word shebet signifies, 1 Samuel 10:19-21 1 Kings 11:32, &c. So the sense is this, Whereas the other tribes shall be captivated, dispersed, and confounded, the tribe of Judah shall be kept entire and distinct until Christ come. This is a great and important truth, and a singular demonstration of the all-disposing providence of God, and of the truth and Divine authority of the Scriptures; but it seems not to be the meaning of this place,
1. Because both the foregoing and following words do evidently speak of Judah’s power and greatness, and particularly this shebet, or sceptre, is explained and restrained by the following lawgiver.
2. Because this renders the phrase improper and absurd; for the tribe had not departed from Judah, nor had they ceased to be a tribe, if the other tribes had been mixed with them in their land, as indeed they were sometimes. See 2 Chronicles 11:16.
3. Because this is not peculiar to the tribe of Judah; for in this sense the tribe did not depart from Levi, nay, that tribe was kept more distinct than that of Judah; thus also the tribe did not depart from Benjamin, as appears from Ezra 1:5 10:9 Nehemiah 11:4. Nay, it is questionable whether in this sense the tribe departed from any of the other tribes, not only because there is a distinct mention of the several tribes, Ezekiel 48:1-35, which was written after the dispersion and supposed confusion of the other tribes, and which speaks of the times after the coming of the Messiah, but also because of the great care which the Israelites generally took in distinguishing, not only their tribes, but their several families, in exact genealogies, of which we have many proofs and instances, as 1 Chronicles 4:33 5:1,7,17 7:7,9,40 9:1,22 Ezr 2:62 8:1,3 Ne 7:5,64. The Jews indeed have another device to avoid the force of this text. They say shebet signifies a rod, to wit, a rod of correction, as the word is taken Proverbs 22:15. And so they say the sense is, The tyrannical sceptre, or the rod of the oppressor, shall not cease or depart from Israel till the Messiah come, who shall save them from all their oppressors and enemies. But this is a vain and frivolous conceit; for,
1. The following sentence, which expounds the former, as it is usual in Scripture, plainly shows that this shebet, or rod, is such as is proper to the lawgiver, and therefore is a rod of authority, or a sceptre, which is called also a rod, Ezekiel 19:14, and not a rod of affliction.
2. This is contrary to the whole context, wherein there is nothing prophesied of Judah, but honour, and dominion, and victory, and safety.
3. There was no reason why the rod of affliction should be appropriated to Judah, which was common to all the tribes, and came sooner, and fell heavier, and abode longer upon the other tribes than upon Judah.
4. This interpretation is confuted by the event or history, both because the rod of correction did depart from Judah, and from them more than from the other tribes, for many generations before the coming of the Messiah; and because that rod is not removed from them, but hath continued longer and more dreadfully upon them since the coming of the Messias than ever before; which one consideration hath been the occasion of the conversion of many Jews.
5. Howsoever the modern Jews pervert this word and text out of enmity to Christ and Christians, it is certain that the ancient Jews, the LXX., and the Chaldee Paraphrast, with many others, take the word as we do, as the learned have proved out of their own writings. See my Latin Synopsis.
A lawgiver; so the Hebrew word signifies, as here, so also Numbers 21:18 Deu 33:21 Psalm 60:7 108:8 Isaiah 33:22. And the verb from whence this word comes signifies to make laws, as Proverbs 8:15, &c.; and the Hebrew word chok, which comes from the same root, constantly signifies a law or statute. Some render it the scribe, and that either the civil scribe, who belongs to the ruler; or the ecclesiastical scribe, the interpreter of the law; and so it signifies, that both the civil and the ecclesiastical power should continue in Judah till Christ came, and then should be taken away, both which the event did verify. But indeed the Hebrew word for scribe is sopher, not mechokek, which never is so used in Scripture, but always for a lawgiver, as I have showed; and so Kimchi and Aben Ezra, two late and learned Jews, with others, expound it.
From between his feet; from his posterity, or from those that come from between his feet, i.e. that are begotten and born of that tribe. And thus Kimchi, and the Chaldee Paraphrast, and other ancient Jews, understand this place. And the truth of this interpretation may appear, by comparing this with other texts of Scripture, as Deu 28:57, where
the young one is described to be one that cometh from between her (the woman’s) feet; and Ezekiel 16:25, and with those places where the word feet is used for the secret parts, as Isaiah 7:20, the hair of the feet, not properly so called, for hair seldom grows there; and 2 Kings 18:27 Isaiah 36:12, where the water which comes from the secret parts is called the water of the feet. And possibly that phrase of covering the feet, applied to them that eased their bellies, may note so much, because the Jews in that action were not to hide their feet properly so called, but their secret parts, which without due care might be discovered upon that occasion.
Shiloh, i.e. the Messias; which we need not stand to prove, because it is so expounded by all the three Chaldee Paraphrasts, and by the Jewish Talmud, and by divers of the latter Jews themselves. And the word signifies, either a peace-maker, or saviour; or, as others, her son, or one that came out of the woman’s womb, or out of that skin in which the child in the womb is wrapped, which this word, or one near akin to it, signifies. So it notes that the Messias should be born of a woman, though without the help of man. Or, as others, the sent, he who was oft promised and to be sent. And this signification may seem to be warranted by comparing John 9:7, with those places of the New Testament in which the Messias is described by that periphrasis of one sent, or to be sent, as John 3:34, &c. And the phrase here used is remarkable, till the Shiloh come, for the Shiloh, or Messiah, oft goeth under the name of him that was to come, as Matthew 21:9 Luke 7:20 13:35. And hence the kingdom of the Messiah is called the world or kingdom to come, i.e. of him who was to come, Hebrews 2:5 6:5.
Unto him shall the gathering of the people be; they shall be gathered together, or united both among themselves, and with the Jews, under him as their Head. Others, the reverence, obedience, or worship; which comes to the same thing, for they that are gathered to him, do also reverence, obey, and worship him. The Hebrew word is used only here and Proverbs 30:17.
The people, i.e. the Gentiles, as the Jews themselves understand it. And so it is a plain prophecy of the conversion of the Gentiles by and under the Messiah; signifying, that whereas the ordinances of God, and means of worship and salvation, were confined to the Jews before Christ’s coming, Psalm 147:19,20, when the Messiah should come, the pale of the church should be enlarged, the partition-wall between Jews and Gentiles taken down, and the Gentiles should worship the true God and the Messias. And this is no more than is foretold and promised in other prophecies, as we shall see hereafter. The sum of this verse is, The sceptre or dominion shall be seated in the tribe of Judah, though he doth not determine when it shall come thither; but when once it shall come, it shall not depart from thence till the Messiah come; and then Judah shall lose this sceptre and other privileges, and the Gentiles shall come into the stead of the Jews, and shall embrace that Messiah whom they shall reject. So now here is an undeniable argument to prove against the Jews that the Messiah is already come, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is he, because he was to come during the time wherein the sceptre was in the hands of Judah; and about that time when Jesus Christ came the sceptre was taken away from Judah and the Jews, and hath now been lost for sixteen hundred years together. The Jews are mightily perplexed and confounded with this argument; one evidence whereof is their various and contradictory expositions of the place, whilst some of them affirm this Shiloh to be Moses, others Saul, others Jeroboam, others Nebuchadnezzar, which neither need nor deserve confutation; others David; which, though some of the acutest of the Jewish doctors assert, is as contemptible as any of the rest, it being ridiculous to say the sceptre departed from Judah under him by whom it first came into that tribe, having been till David’s time in other tribes. But the great difficulty is, how this was accomplished; for if the event fully agrees with this prophecy, the cause of the Jews is lost, and Christ must be owned as the true Messias. The sceptre was for a time in other tribes; as in Moses of the tribe of Levi; in divers of the judges, who were of several tribes; and lastly in the tribe of Benjamin under Saul; but the sceptre departed from all these. But this is prophesied as Judah’s privilege, that when once the sceptre or government came into that tribe, which it did in David’s time, it should not depart from it till Christ came, and then it should depart. And thus it came to pass. Concerning the time from David unto the captivity of Babylon there is no dispute, there being a constant succession of kings in that tribe all that time. For the time of the Babylonish captivity, wherein there may seem to be more difficulty, it is to be considered,
1. That the sceptre or government was not lost or departed from Judah, but only interrupted, and that but for seventy years at most, which in so long a space of time as above a thousand years is little to be regarded. As none will say the kingdom was departed from the house of David, because of those interreigns or interruptions which sometimes fell out in that family. Add to this, that God hath given them an absolute promise and assured hope of the restoration of Judah’s sceptre; so that this was rather a sleep than the death of that government.
2. That within these seventy years there were some remainders and beams of Judah’s sovereignty in Jehoiachin, 2 Kings 25:27; in Daniel, who was of that tribe, Daniel 2:25 5:13, and of the king’s seed, Daniel 1:3; and in the successive heads or governors of the exiles, of whom the Jewish writers say so much; and they affirm that they were always of the house of David, and were more honourable than the governors of the Jews which were left in the land of Israel.
3. All that was then left of the sceptre of the Jews was in the tribe of Judah; nor was the sceptre departed from Judah to any other tribe; and that is the thing which seems especially to be respected in this prophecy: for Judah is here compared with the rest of the tribes; and it is here signified, that the power and dominion which was in Judah, when once it came thither, should not shift from tribe to tribe, as it had done, but whilst there was any sceptre or supreme government among the Jews, it should be in that tribe, even till the coming of the Messias. But if there should happen any total, but temporary intercision or cessation of the government among all the tribes, which now was the case, that was no prejudice to the truth of this promise, nor to the privilege granted to Judah above the rest of the tribes. After the captivity, the state of the Jews was very various. Sometimes they had governors put in by the Persian king, as Zorobabel, who was also of the tribe of Judah, and, as it is supposed, nephew of Jehoiachin; and Nehemiah, whom Eusebius affirms to have been of the tribe of Judah. And though he may seem to be numbered among the priests, Nehemiah 10:8, yet a diligent reader will find that he is even there distinguished from them by his title the Tirshatha, Genesis 49:1, and the word priests, Genesis 49:8, relateth only to the rest there mentioned besides him; especially if this be compared with Nehemiah 9:38, where the princes (among whom surely Nehemiah was the chief) are distinguished from the priests. And sometimes the people chose governors, or captain-generals, as the Maccabees, and others. But under all their vicissitudes, after their return from Babylon, the chief government was evidently and unquestionably seated in the great council called Sanhedrim or Synedrium, wherein, though some of the tribe of Levi were mixed with those of the tribe of Judah, yet because they, together with other members of that council, had their power both from that tribe by which they were chosen, and in it, and for it, the sceptre did truly remain in the tribe of Judah; even as it was rightly called the Roman empire, when Trajan a Spaniard, or other foreigners, administered it; or as we call it the kingdom of Poland, when they choose a king of another nation. How great and venerable the authority of this council was among the Jews, may easily be gathered,
1. From the Divine institution of it, Numbers 11:16, whereby indeed it was at first to consist of persons indifferently chosen out of all the tribes; but now the other tribes being banished and dispersed in unknown places, and Benjamin and Levi being as it were accessions to the tribe of Judah, and in a sort incorporated with it, it now becomes as it were appropriated to the tribe of Judah, as acting in its name, and by its authority; and the whole land is called Judea, and all the people Jews, from the predominancy of that tribe above the rest.
2. From the great power and privileges anciently granted to it, Deu 17:8, &c.; 2 Chronicles 19:8,11 Psa 122:5.
3. From the testimony of Josephus, and other Jewish writers, which is most considerable in this argument, who largely describe and magnify the power and authority of it; who tell us that the power of their king was subject to that of this council; and therefore one of them addressing his speech to that council, where also the king himself was present, first salutes the senators, and after them the king. They affirm also that the power of making war or peace was vested in that council, and that Herod was tried for his life by it. If it be said that the power of this council was in a great measure taken away, which the Jews confess, John 18:31, and that the sceptre of Judea was in the hand of the Romans, and by them given to Herod, who was no Jew, but an Idumean, and this before the coming of the Messias, which is the only remaining difficulty; to this many things may be said:
1. That this happened but a few years before the coming of Christ, when Christ was even at the doors, and about to come, and therefore might well be said to be come; especially in the prophetical style, whereby things are oft said to be done which are near doing.
2. That the Jewish senators did long struggle with Herod about the government, and did not yield it up to him till his last year, when they took an oath of fealty to him, which was after Christ was born. Nor indeed was the sceptre quite gone from them then, for that council still had the power, though not of life and death, yet of civil and ecclesiastical matters. See John 18:31. So that if the sceptre was gone, the
lawgiver remained there still. Nor was their government and commonwealth quite destroyed until the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. And therefore some translate the place thus, and that with great probability, The sceptre shall not depart—until the Shiloh come, and until (which word is repeated out of the former member, as it is most usual in the Scripture)
the gathering of the people be to him, i.e. until the Gentiles be converted and brought in to Christ. And this interpretation receiveth countenance from Matthew 24:14, The gospel shall be preached in all the world, —and then shall the end come; not the end of the whole world, as it is evident, but the end of the commonwealth and government of the Jews, when the sceptre and lawgiver should be wholly taken away from that tribe and people.
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:He signifies the plenty of vines in Judah’s portion, that they shall be planted every where, even in the commons and highways where men travel, and where upon occasion they use to tie the beasts on which they ride to any tree which is near them. Such shall be the plenty of it, that if it were convenient, men might use wine instead of water to wash their garments.
The blood of grapes; so the wine is called also in Deu 32:14; /APC 1Ma 6:34; and by Pliny, Hesiod, and others. As oil is called the blood of the olive.
His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.Which shows not only the plenty of wine, but also the excellency and strength of it, which, though not drunk in great quantity, or to excess, will make the eyes red. See Proverbs 23:29.
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.Acknowledge here and adore the Divine Providence, which directed Jacob thus exactly to foretell the portion of Zebulun, which fell to them two hundred years after this, and that not by choice, or any design of men, but merely by lot. His portion was extended from the sea of Galilee to the great Mediterranean Sea, and to such parts of it where there were convenient havens.
His border shall be unto Zidon; or, his side or coast, to wit, that which is upon the Mediterranean Sea, in near Zidon, understanding not the city, but the territory belonging to it, unto which that tribe reached upon the sea-coast; for though Asher might seem to intercept them, yet he did not reach to the sea. Or, his coast looks towards Zidon, hath it in view, and lies commodiously for commerce with that great city, which then was the mart of the nations.
Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:A strong ass, Heb. an ass of bone, i.e. of great bulk and bones, and strength of body, but of little spirit and courage,
couching down between two burdens, which are laid upon his back, and which he is contented to bear. Or, lying down, i.e. enjoying his ease and rest, between the borders, to wit, of the other tribes, with which he was encompassed and secured from foreign enemies, which made him more secure and slothful. Or, between the borders or folds of cattle; as a word very near akin to it, and proceeding from the same root, signifies, Judges 5:16, to the feeding and minding whereof he wholly gave himself, neglecting more generous things.
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.Rest, or rather, his resting-place, as this very word signifies, Genesis 8:9 Psalm 116:7 132:8 Isaiah 11:10, i.e. his portion or habitation, as the Chaldee and Syriac translate it. So this agrees with the following member, where, after the manner of the Hebrews, the same thing is repeated in other words. And if it be objected against this version, that it is not said his rest, but
rest in the general, it may be replied, that so it is in the following branch,
the land, though it be apparently meant of his land, or portion of land allotted to him. Besides, the pronouns are often omitted, and to be understood in Hebrew text; as may appear by comparing 1 Kings 10:7, with 2 Chronicles 9:6; and Psalm 41:9, with John 13:18; and Matthew 3:12, with Luke 3:17.
Became a servant unto tribute; willingly paying whatsoever tributes were imposed upon him, either by the neighbouring tribes, or by foreign powers, rather than to forfeit his pleasant and fruitful country, and his sweet repose.
Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.i.e. Rule and govern them. Though he be the son of my concubine, yet he shall not be subject to any other tribe, but shall have an absolute power within himself. What is said of him is to be understood of the rest of the sons of the concubines, and hereby all difference between the sons of the wives and concubines is taken away. It is said of
Dan, because he is the first mentioned of that sort. As the rest of the tribes do, having distinct governments and governors amongst them. See Numbers 1:4,16.
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.An adder in the path, which covereth and hideth itself in the sand or dust of the highway, watching for men or beasts that pass that way. He notes the subtlety of that tribe, which should conquer their enemies more by craft and cmlning, than by strength or force of arms.
I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.I do earnestly wait, and hope, and pray for thy helping hand to save me and my posterity from the manifold temporal calamities which I foresee will come upon them, and especially from spiritual and eternal mischiefs, by that Messiah which thou hast promised. Jacob in the midst of his great work doth take a little breathing, and finding himself weakened by his speech to his children, and drawing nearer death, he opens his arms to receive it, as the thing for which he had long waited, as the only effectual remedy and mean of salvation or deliverance from all his pains and miseries, and particularly from his present horrors, upon the contemplation of the future state of his children. And this pathetical exclamation may look either,
1. Backward, to the state of the tribe of Dan, which he foresaw would be deplorable, both for its great straits and pressures, of which see Joshua 19:47 Judges 1:34, and especially for that idolatry which that tribe would introduce and promote, Judges 18:30 1 Kings 12:29, whereby they would ruin themselves, and most of the other tribes with them. Or,
2. Forward, to the doubtful and miserable condition of Gad.
Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.i.e. Troops of enemies shall frequently invade his country, and for a time conquer and spoil it. And so it came to pass, because the inheritance of that tribe lay beyond Jordan, near to the Ammonites and Moabites, two inveterate enemies of Israel, and to other hostile nations on the east.
But he shall overcome at the last, or, afterward. This was fulfilled, 1 Chronicles 5:18, &c. He shows that the events of the wars should be various, but Gad should one time or other spoil his spoilers. See Deu 33:20.
Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.i.e. Out of the land of
Asher. Or, As for or concerning Asher, his bread-corn shall be fuller and sweeter and better than ordinary; and he shall yield royal dainties; not only oil for ointments, but also delicious and excellent fruits, fit to be presented to a king. See Deu 33:24,25.
Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.A hind let loose; not pursued by hunters, nor shut up in some little enclosure, but wholly left to its own freedom, to feed upon the best pastures: see Deu 33:23. Or, free from the yoke which they, together with the other tribes, did bear in Egypt; free from its former restraints, which make it run away more swiftly. So it may note their nimbleness and expedition, either in encountering enemies, or in avoiding dangers. See Judges 4:6,10 5:18. Or, like a tame hind left to its liberty, in which the owner takes delight, as Proverbs 5:19; for he seems to be commended rather for arts of peace than war. And this may note, that his temper and Conversation was civil, obliging, and amiable; which sense the next words favour. His speeches and discourses with others are fair, and friendly, and winning. It is not strange that this tribe was generally of a sweeter disposition than others, seeing it is commonly observed that there is a great difference in the tempers of people of divers provinces or cities bordering one upon another. But this verse may be otherwise rendered according to the opinion of a late learned writer:
Naphtali is a tree (so the Hebrew word signifies, only jod is inserted here, as it is in the same word, Isaiah 1:29 61:3) shot forth, or spread forth, ( into many branches; for the Hebrew verb shalach is oft used concerning trees, and their shooting forth of branches, as Psalm 80:11 Ezekiel 17:6 31:5) sending forth goodly branches; the word imre, which is by others rendered words, here signifying branches, as either the same word, or one coming from the same root, and consisting of the same radical letters, is taken Isaiah 17:6,9. And it is usual in the Hebrew language for two words coming from the same root to exchange their significations. And this interpretation is favoured by the ancient interpreters, the LXX., and one of the Arabic manuscripts, which make Naphtali here to be compared to a goodly tree bringing forth excellent fruit.
Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:A fruitful bough, in regard of those two numerous tribes which proceeded from his two sons.
By a well, or fountain, or water-course, which situation doth much further the growth of trees. See Psalm 1:3 Ezekiel 19:10.
Whose branches run over the wall, i. e: which is planted by a wall, whose heat furthers its growth no less than the moisture of the water doth.
The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:i.e. His adversaries, as well his own brethren as his master and mistress; with their scoffs, and slanders, and injuries, which in the Scripture are oft compared to arrows.
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:)His bow, wherewith he opposed his enemies; which was no military bow, but that which he opposed to all their injuries, to wit, his own virtue, his innocence, his patience, his temperance, his faith and hope in God, whereby he resisted and vanquished all the temptations and difficulties which he met with, so that all his enemies could neither defile nor destroy him.
The mighty God of Jacob, i.e. my God; the noun for the pronoun, which is frequent. When men forsook and persecuted him, my God and his God stood by him. He showed that it was not Joseph’s wisdom or courage, but God’s gracious assistance, that made him conqueror.
From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel; either,
1. From that great deliverance vouchsafed by God to Joseph it is that Israel or Jacob hath a shepherd to feed him, a stone to lay his head upon, as once he did, Genesis 28:11, or a rock of refuge to fly to in his great distresses, or a foundation-stone, or corner-stone, or pillar, to sustain or preserve Jacob’s house. Or rather,
2. From the hands of the mighty God of Jacob, last mentioned. Or from the God of his father, as it follows Genesis 49:25. So the sense is this, Though Joseph was a blessed instrument in this wonderful work, yet the God of Jacob was the chief author of it, by whose wise and merciful providence it was so ordered that Joseph should be first sold, and afterwards advanced, and all in order to this end, that his Israel, with whom he hath been pleased to make a gracious and everlasting covenant, should have a shepherd to feed him in the time of famine, and a stone or rock to support him.
Here he explains and determines that doubtful expression from thence, by adding, even by (or rather from, as this particle mem properly signifies, and was just now used) the God of thy father, i.e. who hath chosen and loved thy father, and made a league with him, and blessed him with all manner of blessings.
Blessings of heaven above, i.e. the sweet and powerful influences of the heavenly bodies, and the dews and rains which fall from heaven, whereby the fruits of the earth are produced in great plenty. See Leviticus 26:4 Deu 28:12 33:14.
Blessings of the deep, i.e. of that great sea of waters both about the earth, and in the earth, whence come those springs and rivers by which the earth is moistened and made fruitful. See Genesis 1:2 7:11 Deu 8:7.
Blessings of the breasts, and of the womb, whereby both men and beasts shall be greatly multiplied, and abundantly supplied with all necessaries.
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:Here he explains and determines that doubtful expression from these, by adding even by (or rather from as this particle mem properly signifies, and was just now used)
the God of thy Father, i.e. who hath chosen and loved they father, and made a league with him, and blessed him with all manner of blessings.
Blessings of heaven above, i.e. the sweet and powerful influences of the heavenly bodies, and the dews and rains which fall from heaven, whereby the fruits of the earth are produced in great plenty. See Leviticus 26:4 Deu 28:12, Deu 33:14.
blessing of the deep, i.e. of the great sea of waters both above the earth, and in the earth, whence come those springs and rivers by which the earth is moistened and made fruitful. See Genesis 1:2 7:11, Deu 8:7.
Blessings of the breasts, and of the womb whereby both men and beasts shall be greatly multiplied, and abundantly supplied with all necessaries.
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.The blessings which I
thy father have conferred upon thee, are much more considerable than those which I received from my father Isaac, or from my grandfather Abraham This was true,
1. In the extent of the blessings; Ishmael was excluded from Abraham’s blessing, and my brother excluded from Isaac’s blessing, but both Joseph’s children are comprehended in Jacob’s blessing.
2. In the distinctness and clearness of them; for that land of Canaan which was transmitted to Isaac and to Jacob only in the general, was now in some sort particularly distributed to Joseph, and to the rest of his brethren, as afterwards it was by Joshua.
3. In the nearness of the accomplishment. Now there was a more likely prospect of the multiplication of their seed, than there was to Abraham or Isaac; and in not very many years after this they multiplied to astonishment, and drew nearer to the possession of the promised land.
Unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: these words seem to note the duration of Joseph’s blessing, that it should continue even to the bounds of the everlasting, or lasting, or ancient hills, i.e. as long as the most solid and stable mountains shall last, i.e. for ever. Perpetuity is described by the continuance of the mountains, as Isaiah 54:10; or of the sun and moon, as Psalm 72:5,7,17; or of the heavens and earth, as Matthew 5:18. In the foregoing words of this verse he commends these blessings from their excellency above all former blessings; and here he commends them from their durableness.
They shall be; or, let them be; for this may be a prayer to God that these blessings may be constant and perpetual.
Him that was separate from his brethren; so he was, when he was sold into Egypt, and abode there in the court when his brethren were in Goshen. Or, the crowned of, or among his brethren, i.e. who though he was once scorned and trampled upon by his brethren, yet now is highly honoured and advanced above them. Others, the Nazarite of, or among his brethren; as he may be called either for his purity and sanctity, or for his eminency and dignity. But we must remember that the Nazarites were as yet unknown, being instituted long after this time.
Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.He notes the warlike and fierce disposition and carriage of that tribe. Instances whereof we have Judges 3:15 19:1-20:48 1 Samuel 13:1-15:35. This may be understood, either of the same wolf, which in the morning, being more hungry and greedy, devours his prey alone; but in the evening, being in some measure satisfied, is content that his brethren should share with him. Or rather of several sorts of wolves, whereof some hunt and devour alone, others hunt in couples or troops, and those divide the prey among themselves. He mentions both
evening, because these are the two seasons when the wolves prey, and to note that this would be Benjamin’s carriage both in the first and last times of that tribe, as indeed it was.
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.The twelve tribes, i.e. the heads and parents of the twelve tribes. A metonomy of the effect. The tribes are generally accounted twelve, though they were thirteen, because the land was divided only into twelve parts, Levi having no distinct part of his own.
Every one according to his blessing, i.e. according to that blessing which God in his purpose had allotted to each of them, which also he manifested unto Jacob by his Spirit.
Object. There is no blessing here given to Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, but rather a curse; how then is he said to bless every one of them?
Answ. He blessed them all implicitly and really, though not expressly, or in words, because he gave each of them a part in Canaan; and his taking away from Reuben only the right of the first-born, plainly supposeth that he left him his single portion and inheritance. And he might well be said to bless them all, because he left them all an interest in God’s covenant, one article whereof was the giving of Canaan, or part of Canaan, to them, and this was an earnest of the other branches or articles of it; though it is probable he also added some short blessing, or prayer to God for his blessing, upon them all.
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,In Canaan. Whereby he designed to withdraw their minds from Egypt, and fix them upon Canaan.
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.He describes it so particularly, both for their direction, because they had been some years absent thence; and to express how much his heart was set upon this matter; and thereby to oblige them to the more careful performance of his command.
There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.No text from Poole on this verse.
The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Commanding his sons, to wit, concerning the place of his burial. Whilst he was employed in that most solemn and religious work of blessing his children in the name and by the Spirit of God, he used as reverent a posture as his infirm body would permit, and therefore is supposed to sit upon his bedside with his feet hanging downwards. And when he had finished that great work, and wearied himself with so long speech delivered with a most raised and affected mind, he composed himself to rest, and waited for the comfortable approach of his death, which speedily followed it.