c. The Blessing of His Own Sons (49:1-27)
Jacob concludes his life in a manner worthy of the patriarchs, among whom he stands as one fully deserving this honour. Other saints of God are presented in the Scriptures as having spoken a blessing before their end. In this class are Isaac (Ge 27), Moses (De 33), Joshua (Jos 24), Samuel (1Sa 12). What is more natural than that a saint of God departing this life should desire to lay a blessing upon the head of those whom he leaves behind!
Upon closer study this blessing of Jacob stands revealed as a piece of rare beauty. Lange has summarized the elements of poetic excellence as "rhythmical movement, a beautiful parallelism of members, a profusion of figures, a play upon the names of the sons, other instances of paronomasia, unusual modes of expression, a truly exalted spirit, as well as a heartfelt warmth." It seems but natural to us that a man of Jacob's energy of mind and character should have cast his thoughts into a mold of fine poetic beauty in order to make his utterances the more clear-cut and also the more easily remembered. They who have a mean conception of the patriarchs as being prosy and trivial characters, standing on a low level of faith and godliness, are inclined to take offense at so noble a production and to pronounce apodictically that Jacob could not have been its author. But before we reckon with the weaknesses of the critical position, we shall set forth a few other features of this blessing that contribute to a correct understanding of it.
The sequence of the names is readily understood. The six children of Leah are mentioned first, though it is not clear why Zebulon, the sixth, should be mentioned before Issachar, the fifth. Then come the four sons of the handmaids, though the two sons of Zilpah, Asher and Gad, are inserted between the two sons of Bilhah, Dan and Naphtali. Lastly come Rachel's children, Joseph and Benjamin. Another observation is in order on this matter of grouping. Among the first six Judah definitely stands out by receiving a much more substantial blessing than the rest. His is the pre-eminence in point of leadership. Among the last six Joseph excels by virtue of his blessing, although his is the pre-eminence in the matter of possession. Joseph is blessed by including Ephraim and Manasseh in one. The distinction between these two sons of his was taken care of in the preceding chapter.
Some question whether this poem should be designated as a blessing; they emphasize v.1, "that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the latter days." They would prefer to label it prediction or perhaps prophecy. Yet v. Ge 49:28, rightly construed, labels the words spoken by the patriarch a "blessing." So if the Scriptural estimate is at all normative -- and for us it is absolute -- we have here both blessing and prediction, or a prophetic blessing. This claim is by no means impaired by the fact that four of the sons must hear words spoken that involve a censure, in fact, in the case of the first three sons a severe word of censure. Issachar (v. Ge 49:15) gets a milder rebuke. The entire problem, however, is viewed in the wrong light if it is claimed that certain sons were cursed. Reuben is censured (v. Ge 49:4). Simeon's and Levi's anger is cursed (v. Ge 49:7) not they themselves. And rightly considered, these criticism are blessings in disguise, for they point out to the tribes involved the sin that the tribe as a whole is most exposed to and against which it should be particularly on its guard: Reuben against moral instability and licentiousness; Simeon and Levi against hot-headed violence; Issachar against indolence. Yet, for all that, not one of the tribes is removed from the concord of blessings laid upon the rest, for the blessings laid upon some redound to the welfare of all the rest. The blessed land is denied to none. The benefits of the covenant of the Lord in which all stood are cancelled for none. The dying father recognized that what some needed was not further gifts but restraint in the use of what they already possessed.
From the human point of view another matter must be stressed. The father had long observed his sons and knew them perhaps better than they knew themselves. In a pithy final word he gives to each man the counsel that he needed most. Upon this natural foundation the Spirit of God builds up and helps Jacob to foretell in a number of instances how the tribal development tends in the future. So with a fine mixture of council and encouragement the father speaks a word that the sons from the very outset value as a divinely inspired oracle. A godly man's oracles are very potent prayers made according to God's heart and answered by Him.
We can, therefore, hardly agree with those who stress the improbability of a decrepit old man's being able to utter thoughts so clear-cut and virile. We know of two possibilities: first, man's intellect may grow feeble and decay before his end; secondly, men have been known to retain full possession of their faculties, in fact, to have their powers of mind and heart at the keenest point of development just prior to their end. Jacob happens to belong to the second class.
Some have found fault with the fact that no judgment is pronounced on religious conditions in the course of these last words of Jacob -- kein Urteil ueber die religioesen Verhaeltnisse -- Dillmann. Such a criticism is rather wide of the mark. That is not what Jacob set out to offer. He says (v.1) that he proposes to tell his sons what would befall them in the latter days. From another point of view this is also a blessing (v. Ge 49:28). A man can hardly be criticized for not having said what he did not aim to say.
The critical position in regard to these words of Jacob is well known. With almost united mind and voice the critics hold that these are not words of Jacob, at least not in their present form. Instead, the words are relegated to the time of the Judges, perhaps the latter portion of that age. It is claimed that the whole chapter indubitably reflects this later age, and that it received its present shape and form perhaps no later than the days of David and Solomon. A few notable exceptions are still to be found: Hengstenberg, Keil, Delitzsch, Whitelaw, Koenig (with reservations), Strack still have the courage to hold that the words are Jacob's.
However, it must be remembered that certain presuppositions condition the critical attitude. In the first place, actual prophecy or prediction as such is regarded as virtually impossible. In the second place, the patriarchs are without good grounds regarded incapable of so significant an utterance. Thirdly, some men are obsessed with the idea of denying outstanding productions like this poem to outstanding characters and of ascribing them to insignificant, obscure and usually unknown authors -- a strange course of procedure. Then we should yet note a fatal weakness of the critical contention: Levi is spoken of in terms of an inferior position, which actually was his in the earlier days and which constituted a disadvantage and in a sense a reproof of the tribe. But this situation underwent a radical change in Moses' day, when Levi rallied to the cause of the Lord (Ex 32:25-28), redeemed itself from disgrace, and advanced to a position of honourable and blessed dispersion among the tribes of Israel. Jacob's words (v. Ge 49:5-7) reflect the earlier situation and would not be the statement of the case for the Age of the Judges. When, then, some critics (Land mentioned by Skinner) "distinguish six stages in the growth of the song," that must be regarded as the type of proof that covers up deficiency of sound logic by bold assertions, none of which are susceptible of proof.
Keil has very properly reminded us that the thing that actually appears in the song of blessings is "not the prediction of particular historical events" but rather a "purely ideal portraiture of the peculiarities of the different tribes." This is a point that must be borne in mind continually. Critics make of these generalized statements specific allusions to particular events or situations and so gain ground for their type of interpretation, which sees the Age of the Judges reflected again and again.
One last point of view is not to be lost sight of this blessing was one of the things Israel needed to guide its course through the dark days to be encountered during the stay in Egypt. A blessing like this was a spiritual necessity. By the use of it men of Israel could look forward to the blessed time when the tribes would be safely established in the Promised Land, every tribe in its own inheritance. Without words like this and Ge 15:12-14 Israel would have been a nation sailing upon an uncharted sea. This chapter was a necessity for Israel's faith during the days of the bondage in Egypt.
We mention perhaps the strangest of exegetical curiosities, the interpretation of Jeremias (Das Alte Testament im Lichte des alten Orients) which makes of the twelve sons of Jacob in this blessing the twelve signs of the Zodiac. To arrive at this result he reconstrues a number of these signs, deliberately changes portions of the Hebrew text, and discovers allusions so subtle and remote that only a very few -- Nork and Zimmern Lepsius, e. g. -- have ventured to follow him. But even if his construction should be correct, to what purpose would the chapter have been written? Men such as Jeremias would say: these are Israel's astral myths. We cannot substitute such vague reconstructions for the sound purposeful meaning that a sober exegesis knows to be the true sense of the Scriptures.
Several types of figures are found in this chapter, especially comparisons or metaphors. Judah is a lion; Issachar, an ass; Dan, a serpent; Naphtali, a hind; Benjamin, a wolf. Yet not one of these comparisons of itself involves anything derogatory. Least of all have they any reference to a totemistic state of religion through which the tribes are said to have passed earlier in their history.
There are many more minor problems relative to this blessing, but we have touched upon all that are essential to a correct understanding of it and have shown the fallacy of at least the major misconstructions that are put upon it.
1. And Jacob summoned his sons and said: Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what shall befall you in the end of the days.
For "summoned" the Hebrew says, "he called unto" them. This is meant in the sense of dispatching messengers to gather them together. There is a definite consciousness on the old father's part that he like other old men of God is being granted special insight in reference to his sons' lives, the knowledge of which can be a substantial blessing to them. Jacob never saw more clearly and never spoke more truly. We have here more than pia desideria, "pious wishes." The solemn formal announcement on the father's part also indicates that he is clearly aware of the fact that he is about to pronounce substantial blessings. Besides, these words are to be common property heard and known by all. Each brother is to profit by what the other hears and receives. "Befall" yikra' for yikrah -- a common exchange of the verbs of these two classes (G. K.75 rr).
Much depends on the right evaluation of the expression "in the end of the days." So we have translated quite literally be'acharîth hayyamîm. Koenig says very generally in der Folgezeit, "in coming days." Luther was content with the general phrase in kuenftigen Zeiten, "in future days." A. V. uses too strong an expression, "in the last days," laying itself open to the criticism that much of what Jacob foretells does not lie at the end of time. Literally, of course, 'acharîth is "the latter part" (B D B). Some make the expression refer merely to the future, but that is made impossible by the literal meaning, "the latter part." Others construe in a fanciful way, contending that it runs up to the end in so far as an individual may see in the direction of that end, some seeing much farther than others. Most interpreters are ready to concede that the Messianic age is involved in some passages where this expression occurs and that it, therefore, in those passages bears a Messianic connotation. K. W. will allow this to be the case from Isa 2:2 onward. That is the attitude of the majority of expositors. But, as we hope to demonstrate, the Messianic future is very definitely in this chapter. Consequently, from the very first instance of its use as well as in all others the phrase points to the future, including the Messianic future. But it points not to this only but to any preceding part of the future as well, as long as this future is covered by God's promises and is a part of the divine developments culminating in the days of the Messianic age. This meaning holds good also for Nu 24:14; De 4:30; 31:29, as well as for the later prophetic passages. Consequently Keil says correctly, on the one hand: This phrase "in prophetic language denotes not the future generally but the last future, the Messianic age of consummation"; and adds, on the other hand: "It embraces the whole history of completion which underlies the present period of growth.' "Now as far as Jacob himself was concerned, the first instance of fulfilment naturally was the occupation of Canaan by the tribes descended from his sons. As far as Israel as a nation was concerned, that was the first thing to be realized. We need not wonder greatly that his blessing speaks very largely in terms dealing with this first fulfilment. To see this first word realized would serve as a pledge for the realization of all things that God might yet be pleased to reveal and to do. Perspective, as far as time is concerned, was not in evidence in prophetic words. Revelation presents all the elements of the future in its prediction without troubling to reveal the time intervals that may come between the events foretold. This explains how Jacob can see in one picture the occupation of Canaan and the Messiah's kingdom but hardly anything that lies in between. Dillmann makes an unwarranted statement in reference to this phrase: he claims that it was customary in the age of the prophets; therefore it must have been added by some narrator living in that age. Proof for such a claim is not adduced and cannot be.
We must also take issue with the question whether it is Jacob who pronounces this blessing or not. For us the question is permanently settled by the statement, perfectly clear in itself -- "Jacob -- said." The statements of v. Ge 49:6,7 b and Ge 49:10 are supposed to demonstrate that it was not Jacob who spoke, for these verses seem to move in terms of the later tribes. Quite so. But it is Jacob thinking in terms of the tribes descended from him -- not at all an unnatural thing, seeing he knew he was to develop into a number of tribes. But the critics claim that some writer of the Age of the Judges sought to recall the tribes that were fast disintegrating and losing their spiritual heritage, and to make his appeal more effective the writer assumed the name of the venerable Jacob -- this literary assumption does not strike us as particularly effective. It is far from convincing. We fail to see how a message cast into such a form could exert any particularly salutary influence.
2. Come together and hearken, ye sons of
And hearken unto Israel, your father.
At this point the poem proper begins, as is indicated by the parallelism of structure. In substance v.1 is repeated, in so far as the sons are bidden to gather round their father. The added feature of the verse is the double summons to "hearken." Good sons would in any case be ready to do that. The father's double exhortation grows out of the knowledge that his words will be doubly precious, since they voice his own best counsel as well as wisdom imparted by God's Holy Spirit. For no man ever yet by the cleverness of his own ingenuity foretold future developments in the kingdom of God. That Jacob is thus speaking in a double capacity is further indicated by the two names he uses, "Jacob," the name of the man naturally clever and ambitious, and Israel, the name of the new man who had submitted to God's leadings, had prevailed in prayer, and had been content to go as God led when native human ingenuity had failed.
3, 4. Reuben, thou art my first-born,
My strength and the beginning of my might,
The pre-eminence of dignity and the pre-
eminence of power,
Seething as water does -- thou shalt not enjoy
For thou hast gone up upon thy father's bed,
Then didst thou defile -- my couch did he
The father cannot forget that Reuben is his "firstborn," nor all the fine hopes that attached themselves to him. The father multiplies himself and grows strong through his children. Therefore the first-born may well be regarded as a pledge of what the others yet to come may achieve together with him. He may, therefore, well be designated "my strength (kochî) and the beginning of my might" ('ôni). This latter expression, "beginning of might," is on several other occasions used in the Scriptures in reference to the first-born: De 21:17; Ps 78:51; 105:36. For, surely, with all purity we may make the assertion that manly strength best displays itself in procreation. More dignity still may be ascribed to the first-born, for truly in a sense it was divine providence that ordained that a certain one be the first-born among the children of a man. Universal customs and the law itself to an extent at least recognize this distinction. Among the chosen people such a dignity is not lost. If anything, it is like all good things enhanced in value by being found in the kingdom, Jacob expresses this thought by designating Reuben as "the pre-eminence of dignity and the pre-eminence of power." Yéther, here rendered "pre-eminence" could have been rendered equally well as "superiority, excellency" (B D B). Se'eth is the construct infinitive from nasa', which means "to lift up," "to bear." From the great variety of meanings possible from this root "dignity" seems best suited to the context. Luther, following the Vulgate, arrived at a similar meaning, using the idea of nasa' in so far as it is also used for offering up sacrifices; so Luther renders der Oberste im Opfer, "the leader in sacrifice." Yet the A. V.'s rendering has more to commend it. In any case, Reuben's dignity and honour due to his being the first-born are strongly set forth in this verse. The rendering "excessively proud and excessively fierce" is grammatically possible but conflicts with whatever else we know about Reuben. The criticism and the reproof are confined to the next verse.
4. There was within Reuben's character a certain unbridled element, a boiling-up, a "seething," which was in itself "wantonness" (B D B). For pßchaz involves both these ideas, being derived from a root which implies "to be reckless" but used in the Scriptures in the sense of "being lascivious." Seething lust, "unbridled license," was within the man. This root fault incapacitated him for the position of leadership which would normally have been his. So the father pronounces the sentence, "thou shalt not enjoy pre-eminence" (tôthar -- Hifil imperfect from yathar). For, apparently, all of the family knew what Reuben's unbridled license had led him to do. If any did not, here the father makes specific mention of the crime of incest reported Ge 35:22. At that time Jacob did not score Reuben's sin, if we are justified to argue thus from the silence of the Bible. There can be no doubt as to what his attitude was toward this foul piece of licentiousness. Here he leaves a public condemnation on record and condemns the deed in no uncertain terms at a time which serves to make his condemnation all the more impressive. This was a rebuke that none who heard it could ever forget. Jacob speaks very plainly, "for thou hast gone up upon thy father's bed." He says nothing by way of accusing Bilhah. Of the two she may have been the less guilty party of the crime. "Then," speaking in more general terms, Jacob adds, "thou didst defile" (chillßta). Nothing is gained by refering to sexual irregularities by terms that specifically describe them. It is enough to note "he defiled," that is, himself, the partner to his misdeed, his father's name, the family's reputation. Then Jacob turns away from his son as from a stranger in sad reflection and speaks in the third person about him (K. S.344 m), "my couch did he mount" -- a statement accompanied, as it were, by a sad shaking of the head as over an unbelievable thing. Mishkebhey, "bed," seems to be a dual (K. S.260 h).
This solemn rebuke was the best thing that could have befallen Reuben, and it will, no doubt, have produced a salutary reaction. One more outbreak of his licentious lack of restraint appears in his descendants when Korah's rebellion flares up in the wilderness (Nu 16). Aside from that, Reuben never furnished a prominent leader for Israel. According to Jos 22:10 ff. the Reubenites at least acted inadvisedly if not wickedly. In the days of the Judges Reuben failed in an emergency when put to the test (Jud 5:15). The tribe settled east of the Jordan, demanding its share of the inheritance of Israel a bit prematurely (Nu 32). In the course of Israel's further development Reuben grows more and more unimportant. So the father's word became a reality -- "thou shalt not enjoy pre-eminence." With deep insight the father detected the major flaw of this son's makeup and read his character aright.
5-7. Simeon and Levi are brothers,
Their tools are implements of violence.
May my soul not enter into their council,
And may my glory not join in their assembly.
For in their anger they slew men,
In their self-will they hocked cattle.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
And their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will parcel them out in Jacob.
And scatter them in Israel.
It is rather obvious that Simeon and Levi are brothers after the flesh, for Leah was their mother. Here "brothers" implies that they are besides of one mind and disposition. The unfortunate episode in which they figured found them in complete agreement: one was as much to blame as the other. The rebuke administered has reference to the vengeance these two brothers took on the Shechemites because a prince of that city had violated the honour of their sister Dinah. At that time already (Ge 34:30) Jacob had condemned their deed strongly. Apparently, the native perversity of the two was yet unbroken. While the minds of the twelve sons were still shocked over the plain speech used in reference to Reuben, all of them, but especially the two addressed, hear a salutary reproof that is equally strong. Perhaps nothing more helpful could have been spoken for these two; and so again we have a blessing, though in disguise. The word mekherôth, used only here, presents difficulties. From days of old grammarians have sensed the root khûr in this noun and have been struck by the similarity of the Greek macaira, "short sword." Very likely this resemblance is purely accidental. Khûr means "to dig"; a mekherah would be a digging tool, i. e., a "mattock" (K. W., Karste). On that memorable occasion Simeon and Levi, perhaps lacking swords and also to avoid suspicion, may have come down upon Shechem with heavy mattocks in their hands and used them as "implements of violence." Jacob first expresses his disapproval of the deed and the method employed to achieve the deed when he says: "may my soul not enter into their council." His inmost being, his "soul" (néphesh), abhors such crafty schemes. Not only would he not be partner to their deeds; he would not even have it said that he in any wise shared in such nefarious gatherings where the plot was hatched out. For emphasis' sake he repeats the thought in a parallel statement: "May my glory (i. e. again: my soul -- see Ps 7:6; 16:9; 30:12; for the soul is the most glorious part of man) not join in their assembly." Some render the imperfect of the verbs involved as potentials and gain a still more acceptable form of statement: My soul would not enter (tabho') into their council and my glory would not join (techadh -- from yachadh) in their assembly. "My soul" and "my glory" are, of course, Hebrew substitutes for "I" (K. S.7 and 325 o), being reserved for more elevated strains of diction. Thus far the deed stands condemned as high handed "violence," the planning of it as done in an iniquitous assembly, which all righteous men should abhor. Now the source of the deed or its deeper motive is scrutinized. The brothers had flattered and, no doubt, at first prided themselves upon what they had done, as though it had been a deed born out of righteous indignation. But good motives do not produce murder. So Jacob, reading their hearts better than they themselves did, instructs them that they did it "in their anger" ('aph) and "self-will" (ratsôn). For "men" the Hebrew has the singular 'îsh, "man," as the language often does in the case of nouns whose plural form would be the normal thing (K. S.256b); so also "cattle" singular (shôr). "Hocked" means "hamstringed" (Meek), i. e., cut the leg tendons. "Digged down a wall" (A. V.) is not correct. It is true that Ge 34:27-29 told of the capture of the cattle. In v.6, however, we have supplementary information: what these two men did not lead away as plunder they destroyed in the fierceness of their anger. In our day we should say that these two brothers were actuated by a nationalistic, carnal pride. They particularly resented that their sister, born of the superior stock of Jacob as they felt, had been treated, disrespectfully. They did not regret so much that a daughter of the race of promise had been dealt with dishonourably.
7. Jacob wishes to remove all questions as to the estimate that was to be put upon a deed growing out of such carnal pride in the Israelite race. He pronounces a curse upon such "anger," for it was not holy but "fierce." It was "wrath," 'ebhrah, that is "overflow," "arrogance," or "outburst," something that had gotten beyond control and was also "cruel." Apparently, Jacob spared no man's feelings. It seems as though Simeon and Levi needed a bit of disillusioning, and their father did not lack the courage necessary to administer it. Lastly, a restraint is laid upon both: they are to be "parcelled out" and "scattered" in Israel. Jacob ascribes this act to himself, for in his authority as head of the race he determines that this shall happen. Apparently, this was also a word of prophecy: Jacob spoke what was God's will. Consequently this result was providentially brought to pass. There was a wisdom and a propriety about this punishment. They who had banded together to their own hurt were to be dispersed for their own good. Apparently, after they were scattered, their native bent for hatching out evil plots died out.
The fulfilment of this word is instructive. Simeon increased rapidly at first. The first census not long after the Exodus (Nu 1) revealed the count of 59,300. The second census shortly before the Occupation of Canaan (Nu 26) showed that the tribe had shrunk to the number of 22,200. The tribe received its portion of the Promised Land "in the midst of the inheritance of the children of Judah" (Jos 19:1). Its fortunes are identified with those of Judah (Jud 1:3). Already in his blessing (De 33) Moses had passed it by. Its extinction apparently involved being absorbed by other tribes, especially by Judah. Such as did survive to a later date (1Ch 4:38-43) sought out for themselves regions outside of Canaan and dwelt there. All this, especially the absorption by the other tribes, may have been for the good of this tribe. Had it stood alone as a strong tribe, it might have perpetuated the father's sinful ways.
In the case of Levi the situation is different. The Levites were, indeed, dispersed throughout the whole land in the cities mentioned Jos 21:1-40. But in their dispersion these ministers of the sanctuary served as teachers of Israel and so really became a wholesome leaven, whose influence was felt for good by all. Of course, the turn for the better in the case of the Levites came with Ex 32:26 ff., as noted above. Here it is most evident how an apparent setback may yet be a blessing (v. Ge 49:28) if those upon whom it is laid accept it as a wholesome bit of discipline. No writer of the days of the Judges could have written these words.
Thus far the father's last words have not been of a kind to cause joy or to raise hope. Rebuke and correction have been their theme. But, surely, there must be something in the future of these sons of his to give rise to words of a more hopeful and more cheerful character. The next son comes under this second classification.
8, 9. Judah, thee, yes thee will thy brethren
Thy hand shall be on the nape of the neck of
The sons of thy father shall bow down to thee.
A whelp of a lion is Judah;
Thou hast mounted up, my son, after eating
He crouches, then lies down, as would a lion,
or a lioness.
Who would dare to rouse him?
One at once feels the glad animation that takes possession of the father as he comes to his fourth son. It is as though he had sought one upon whom to bestow the blessing of the first-born and now had found him. For Judah and Joseph share in this honour, as 1Ch 5:1,2 show, Joseph having received the double portion, Judah carrying on the line from which came "the prince." The emphatic pronoun (G. K.135e) 'attah follows the name "Judah," emphasizing particularly the object of the verb "praise." As in Ge 29:32 we have a play upon the name Judah, Hebrew yehûdha, for yôdhûkha involves the same root -- Hifil of yadhah. As Hengstenberg has shown, this verb especially figures in cases where Yahweh is praised for His faithful goodness. So here: thy brethren shall praise the Lord for what He shall bring to pass through thee. However, the reason for the brothers' praise is immediately stated: in the history of this tribe it shall be particularly evident that God achieves victories through him. His hand is on the 'o'reph, i. e., "the nape of the neck," for the enemies are represented as in flight before him. He leaps upon them and throws them to the ground. When his capacity for overthrowing foes will have become apparent, then "the sons of his father shall bow down" before him, yishtachawû, i. e. "do reverence" as before one who deserves reverence. The most significant instance appears in 2Sa 5:1-3, where all the tribes of Israel are compelled to admit Judah's superiority in David. "Sons of thy father" includes more than "sons of thy mother" -- namely half-brothers as well as brothers, here all the tribes of Israel.
9. A fuller description of this outstanding trait of heroic courage in Judah now follows by the use of the figure of the lion. First he is labelled a gûr' aryeh, i. e. "whelp of a lion," which here certainly does not mean a young cub but a young lion in the freshness of his just matured strength. He is pictured at the point where he has captured and eaten his prey; literally "from the prey thou art gone up," mittéreph, the min being temporal like "after eating the prey" (K. S.401e). Thereafter he "mounted," i. e. went up to the mountain fastnesses (So 4:8). When he comes to his den, "he crouches" with that peculiar grace characteristic of the strong beast; then he "lies down" in that bold security equally characteristic of the bold lion ('aryeh) or, for that matter, of the still bolder and fiercer "lioness" who has cubs to guard. After such a bold beast has thus lain down, "who would dare to rouse him?" All this furnishes a bold, clear picture of Judah's lionlike courage and strength. By these words a foundation is laid for great achievements yet to follow. Verses 8 and 9 create a sense of expectation, for they ascribe to Judah acknowledged pre-eminence, courage and strength.
10. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet
Until Shiloh come.
And to him (shall be) obedience of peoples.
"The sceptre" (shébhet) symbolizes rule and dominion or capacity for rule. The qualities mentioned in v.8 and 9 result in this, that rule over the tribes of Israel will sooner or later be conceded to Judah. The statement is to be set forth with emphasis, for a parallel clause that follows presents the same idea, substituting "ruler's staff" (mechoqeq) for "sceptre." This term can mean "prescriber of laws" or "commander," as De 33:21; Jud 5:14; Isa 33:22 indicate. Consequently, "law-giver" (A. V.) as such is not wrong. But the ensuing phrase causes difficulty, for "from between his feet" can only with difficulty be understood of descent. However, the meaning "ruler's staff" is also appropriate in Nu 21:18; Ps 60:7 (A. V.); Ps 108:8. This translation agrees so very well with the following phrase, because the long ruler's staff would be placed between the feet as the ruler sat on his throne and would then either rest against his shoulder or be held in the hand. Commentators here usually refer to monumental carvings of old Persian kings. A very good illustration, more readily accessible to the average reader, is that of King Tutankhamen found in Barton's, Archaeology and the Bible (1937), Figure 304. The verb "depart" (yasûr) does not quite represent our point of view in the matter, for it is an active, where we should have used a passive (K. S.97). For the idea is that no one shall remove Judah's sceptre, or Judah's dominion will not be taken away from him until a certain climax is achieved, which is here stated in double form: first "until Shiloh come"; secondly, this climax will be overtopped by a second -- "and to him shall be the obedience of peoples."
First we must determine what "Shiloh" means. It is a noun form which, as K. W. concedes and Keil and Hengstenberg have long contended, may well be derived from the root shalah, which means "to rest." Shîloh, therefore, can mean "rest" (Ruhe, K. W.), or "man of rest" or "giver of rest" by metonomy. Such a meaning could very readily have suggested itself to those familiar with Hebrew. In this passage, then, the general meaning might be found: Judah shall continue to hold rule until rest come. But then the concluding statement comes limping after rather lamely, almost without thought connection, "and to him (i. e. Judah) shall be the obedience of peoples." Into this rather pale picture one could implant the Messianic thought, letting the words be a description of the Messianic age. However, this interpretation proceeds on the assumption that nothing in Messianic prophecy even intimated that a personal Messiah would ultimately come, a thought involved, by the way, already in Ge 3:15, though not yet clearly expressed. However, another approach is possible -- that which, regards Shîloh as a proper name of a person and construes the sense of the whole verse thus: Judah's capacity for rule and sovereignty shall not be lost; in fact, it shall come to a climax in a ruler so competent that he shall be able to achieve perfect rest, and who shall because of his achievement in this field of endeavour be called "Rest" or "Restgiver" -- Shîloh; and when the "peoples" become aware of these superior achievements of his, they shall willingly tender "to him obedience."
Against this interpretation it may, of course, be urged that it does not appear in the church in this form prior to the last century. But we may well press the counterclaim that from the earliest interpretation onward the passage was always understood as Messianic, an interpretation which has the fullest support in the New Testament, where, most apparently, St. John is alluding to our passage when he speaks of Christ as "the lion that is of the tribe of Judah" (Re 5:5); and this interpretation appears already in the Targum in the very plain form -- "until Messiah come." No version prior to the A. V. offered the word "Shiloh," for they all sought to give the interpretation of the name, and, it must be confessed, they had not approached the problem from the right etymological angle, but yet all from the days of the Septuagint onward felt very strongly the Messianic implications.
Now, before we subject the other interpretations that have been suggested to a closer analysis, let us examine more closely the second half of the climax to which the statement rises, that is to say, the words, "and to Him shall be obedience of peoples." The "and to Him" (welô) definitely points back to Shiloh who was just named, and it stands first in the sentence by way of emphasis, as if to say: He shall be so great that men will readily yield him obedience. In fact, not only men but "peoples" ('ammîm). Very likely here the article is merely omitted because the statement is poetic -- a common thing in Hebrew -- and the familiar versions are correct when they say "the people" (A. V.) or "the peoples" (Luther and A. R. V.). In other words, the nations of the world shall willingly submit, for yiqqehath refers to inner submission cheerfully tendered. This, then, is an attractive description of the conquests of the Gospel, and so the critical objection falls to the ground which charges that the term Shîloh, if construed as above, is "at most a negative word, denoting mere tranquillity." For in the first place, we are justified in construing the word personally as "Rest-bringer," and secondly, that this one is not merely passive appears from the conquests that he makes among "the peoples" the world over.
From all that has been said it would appear clearly that we are not following the interpretation which makes "until" the limit to which Judah's dominion endures; in other words, we are not construing 'adh kî in the exclusive but in the inclusive sense, even as it is found in Ge 26:13; 28:15; Ps 112:8; Ps 110:1. For if this dominion were to endure only up to a certain point, the word as such would constitute a threat rather than a blessing. A rather common interpretation was the one that said that this verse means Judah must first lose her position of eminence and sovereignty; then the Messiah would appear. Yet is not the sovereignty of Judah brought to its highest point and in reality never lost when the Messiah appears?
Aside from this interpretation the one most commonly held by constructive expositors, who feel they must hold fast to a Messianic element, is the one which makes Shîloh mean "rest," Ruhe or Beruhigung, i. e. pacification. Aside from the objection we raised above, we also find the whole statement of the climax which is supposedly involved rather pale and ineffective.
Then there is the rather specious claim which asserts that in every other instance where Shîloh occurs it is a proper name, namely that of the city mentioned in Jos 18:1 and thereafter till the time of Eli (1Sa 1:3), and referred to in the psalms and in prophetic writings, the modern Seilûn lying about 9½ miles NNE of Bethel. That claim is very inaccurate, for the form spelled shîloh -- long "i" and final "h" -- occurs only here. The name of the town has three different spellings, as accurate dictionaries indicate -- shilô, shîlô and shiloh. Langensheidt's Pocket Dictionary is inaccurate in listing our word and the name of the city under one head. Buhl, B D B, and K. W. list both words separately. It will help the case of the opposition but little to point to a variant reading shîlô which about forty manuscripts offer. The majority of good manuscripts have the form with final "h." And then, if the sense of this interpretation is weighed -- "until he (Judah) come to Shiloh" -- the difficulties grow still greater. Grammatically such an interpretation is possible. But it is extremely difficult to make it appear as if Judah's leadership continued till he came to Shiloh (Jud 18:1) together with the other tribes. For though this coming to Shiloh marked an epoch in the history of the tribes, it was in no sense epochal for Judah. In fact, Judah had not yet come into its own at that time, in fact, it did not do so for three centuries to come. All that had appeared thus far of Judah's capacity for greater things was that the tribe was appointed to lead the march through the wilderness (Nu 10:14). Then in the Land of Promise Judah's inheritance was allotted first, Jos 15:1; and then shortly thereafter Judah began the work of completing the conquest of Canaan (Jud 1:1 ff). Yet, to tell the truth, up to this point actual rule over the other tribes ("sceptre" -- rule) had not yet been conceded to Judah. Shiloh, the town, never was of particular moment in Judah's history. Procksch claims very correctly: "It cannot be demonstrated that Shiloh, the Ephraimite capital, ever was of any importance for the history of Judah. Besides, none of the versions ever thought of the city Shiloh."
The Septuagint translation is instructive; it runs thus: ewv an eluh ta apoceimena autw -- "until the things laid up in store come into his possession." Behind this lies a Hebrew shello, i. e. shel for asher -- "which" and lô -- "to him." So apparently the Greek translators had a defective reading -- short "i" and final "h" missing. They seem to have thought of Eze 21:32 (English, v.27) which reads, "until he come whose right it is." In any case, they thought of one to whom particular rights and prerogatives appertained.
The Vulgate translates at this point qui mittendus est -- "who must be sent." Consequently, this presupposes the altering of the final consonant he to cheth, namely shalúach. But the Hebrew text nowhere suggests that vowel change. Other modern attempts at textual alterations are equally unwarranted, like mosheloh -- "his ruler."
Lastly, there is an old Jewish interpretation that has no firm ground on which to stand. It is based on the root shiljah which is taken to mean "son" -- therefore shîloh -- "his son." Helpful as that might be, it is in reality quite impossible, for shiljah does not mean "son" but "afterbirth." Or shîl -- shalil which in New Hebrew means "embryo." Calvin and Luther favoured this. But there is a world of difference between "son" and "afterbirth."
One last objection to the Messianic import of the last clause has not yet been met. K. W. especially contends that 'ammîm, "peoples" here means "tribes." The facts are these: tribes may sometimes in a looser sense be spoken of as peoples, but nothing here indicates that only the submission of the other Israelitish tribes is under consideration. A word should be taken in its primary basic sense unless the connection in which it appears definitely indicates another legitimate meaning.
11, 12. He tethers his ass to the vine
And his ass's colt to the choice vine.
He washes his garments in wine
And his robes in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are dark from wine,
And his teeth white from milk.
A difficulty will be encountered if one insists on referring these two verses to the Messiah. But two possibilities must be conceded: either the author of these words, having reached a high point in the reference to the Messiah, may continue on that thought level, or he may drop down again to the level of Judah and conclude in describing what blessings Judah will encounter. If these verses are to be explained in reference to Shiloh, a rather fantastic and fanciful meaning is extracted from them. If they are referred to Judah, they do nothing more than to describe the exuberant fertility that is to prevail in his land, the unexpressed condition being that the uninterrupted enjoyment of these blessings would depend upon Judah's fidelity to his God. "He tethers ('oserî -- participle with old genitive case ending -- K. S.272a; G. K.901) his ass to the vine." The participle used indicates that Judah habitually does this. His reason for so doing is because vines grow in such profusion in the land -- as they still do in the vicinity of Hebron in Judah -- that a man will have no hesitation about tethering the ass to them. What if one vine be damaged? The loss is not felt because there is no end of vines. For that matter, a man would not even show hesitation about binding the more restless "ass's colt to the choice vine" (sereqah). Even these abound. If, then, the noblest and finest plants thrive so profusely, the more ordinary plants without a doubt shall also. Certainly, the verb "wash" in the next comparison is not to be taken literally. It merely describes graphically a picturesque episode from the time of treading out the grapes after the grape harvest. So full will the press be that they that tread out the grapes will stain their garments so profusely that they will come out of the press looking like men who have washed their garments in wine. Since these grapes were for the most part dark and the resultant wine dark, in the parallel expression the wine is called "the blood of grapes." The remaining two lines are entirely in the same spirit and involve absolutely no censure. In a land where wine is drunk regularly there is practically no drinking to excess. Yet the abundance of nourishing food and drink imparts a healthy colour to the inhabitants of the land: the eyes have a ruddy darkness from the wine -- "his eyes are dark from wine." There is no thought here of the bloodshot eye of the drunkard. "His teeth, i. e., the teeth of the typical inhabitant of Judah's land, are white from milk" -- a shrewd observation agreeing with the dentist's recommendation in our day. Lebushô, "his garments," and sûthô, "his robes," are collective singulars (K. S.254 c). Chakhlîlî, "dark," is a genitive: (He is) "dark of eyes from wine" -- min causal; on the genitive see K. S.272 a.
13. Zebulon shall dwell toward the seashore,
Yea, he shall be toward the shore where ships
And his flank shall be toward Sidon.
In the Spirit Jacob foresees that Zebulon's heritage in Canaan shall lie up toward the north where he can have contact with those that go down to the sea in ships. Yet it is not definitely stated that he is to dwell at or on the seashore but "toward" it -- lechôph yammîm. For though Zebulon's territory touched the Sea of Galilee on the east and swept westward over a big portion of the Plain of Esdraelon, it yet went only two-thirds of the way to the Mediterranean coastline, having Asher between it and the sea. Yet the people of Zebulon were to have contact with those whose ships touched the shore, as the further statements indicate -- "he shall be toward the shore (lechôph again) where ships come," literally, "toward the shore of ships," and the second statement: "and his flank shall be toward Sidon." Zebulon faces south; its flank is to be toward the old commercial city Sidon, prominent long before Tyre. The products of this commerce shall be transmitted through Zebulon to the rest of the tribes. The opening words constitute a play upon Zebulon's name, which means "dwelling." Consequently, Zebulon "shall dwell" (yishkon) emphasizes his being definitely located in that area. No particular achievement or blessing of Zebulon's is mentioned but merely an attendant circumstance that shall be in evidence after his settlement in the land. The prophetic vision of this fact, however, held up before this tribe a definite prospect of what God held in store for it. This fact explains why the sentence structure is cast as it is, the phrase "toward the seashore" standing first for emphasis. In fact, the Hebrew reads "toward the shore of the seas" (plural), the article being omitted in a poetic piece (K. S.292 a). It is also very true that the Spirit of prophecy did not give Jacob the ability to foresee the entire history of this tribe; but what Jacob saw that he proclaimed. This, of course, is the case in reference practically to most of the tribes. The whole future does not need to be unrolled before them.
14. Issachar was a strong-boned ass,
Couching between the sheepfolds.
He saw that rest is good,
And that the land is pleasant.
So he stooped over with his shoulder to take
on a burden
And became a toiling labour band.
Jacob speaks of the past; he describes a trait that he has observed in Issachar's character. But the father means these words in the sense that what Issachar the individual did is a trait that the entire tribe will develop. So the word becomes a prophecy. Construing the whole word as spoken in the past tense agrees best with the sequence "and he saw" (wayyar'). Now the chief feature observable about Issachar is that he had a generous amount of sturdy physical strength, expressed figuratively: he is "a strong-boned ass" -- Hebrew "an ass of bones" -- the noun for the adjective. The participle "couching between the sheepfolds" describes the tribe as such rather than the ass. Either sheepfolds abound in his territory, and the members of the tribe are thought of as settled in a country where sheepfolds abound; or else the tribe is thought of as a unit being situated between tribes where sheepfolds abound. Both thoughts, for that matter, may even blend into one. Most dictionaries and most commentaries regard the word mishpethßyim as of somewhat doubtful meaning. The meaning "sheepfolds" is reasonably sure however; see K. W.
15. But though the tribe has the advantage of sturdy physical strength, it is spiritually and perhaps mentally lethargic and utterly unambitious. Seeing the prospect of "rest" and a good "land" and "pleasant," this tribe would rather surrender other advantages and become a group who would "stoop over with the shoulder to take on a burden," working for others in work that required only the contented exertion of brute strength, Yea, they were ready to become a "toiling labour band" for others as long as a fair measure of ordinary creature comforts could be enjoyed. Such an unprogressive, unambitious attitude has nothing noble about it. To make the understanding of this word comparatively easier for all who first heard it there may have been a specific instance available remembered by all, where Issachar had done just this. Jacob's word to this son is a rebuke mildly but clearly administered. Issachar is thereby warned against aiming too low, against burying his talent in a napkin. Skinner's translation is too strong for lemas obhedh, "a toiling labour-gang." So also Meek's: "a gang-slave." In this case, too, a play on words is involved. The name Issachar is related to the root sakkîr, "a day labourer," and so Jacob interprets the omen of the nomen.
16, 17. Dan shall administer justice for his
As any other of the tribes of Israel.
May Dan be a serpent in the way,
A horned serpent in the path,
One that bites the horse's heel
So that his rider falls off backward.
Again a play upon words: Dan, the name, and dîn, the verb "to judge" or "to administer justice." For the word usually translated "judge" signifies to hold an administrative office or, practically, "to rule." We are at a loss to know why Jacob should emphasize this fact in the case of Dan, that he will always be able to provide the needed rulers to "administer justice for his people," that is, within his own tribe, as the following statement suggests. For "as any other of the tribes of Israel" will hardly mean that they all in their turn supplied judges. For that was not the case. Ke'a(ch)chadh, "as one," must be taken in the sense of "as any other" (K. S.78).
17. Now the word takes on the form of a wish, yehî, "may he be." The wish expressed is Jacob's own. The godly patriarch in blessing his son would hardly desire an evil and ungodly thing. Consequently the comparison involved is complimentary, a thing to be desired. Naturally, then, this thought can, not involve that all who have dealings with Dan may find him treacherous. But rather that all who wickedly oppose him may find him as deadly an opponent as "a serpent," (nachash) or more specifically "a horned serpent," (shephîphon) might be. For of the latter it is said that it is of a pale yellowish dust colour and so blends successfully with the dust of the road in which it coils itself. Then wayfarer or horseman -- here the mounted enemy is thought of, since horses particularly shy at the deadly thing -- treading near it find their "heel" bitten in a lightninglike flash. In fright the horse rears and throws its rider. So may Dan successfully overthrow all who wrongfully antagonize him. This may be considered as prophetically covering also the case of the Danite Samson, for who would have supposed that such dangerous powers lurked in that muscular young hero. Yet, though we claim this, we do not regard the word as a specific prophecy concerning Samson. It describes a tribal trait, which was also displayed in the case of the Danites who struck like a serpent in capturing the inhabitants of Dan-Laish (Jud 18). It may be that Jacob put a veiled warning into the comparison of the serpent, implying that Dan had a tendency towards treachery and should guard against it. That other fanciful notion that some fathers held we may well regard as fantastic when they claimed that from the tribe of Dan Anti-Christ would ultimately come forth, and based this largely upon the fact that in Re 7 the tribe of Dan is passed by, and concluded also without warrant that some of the persons who conspired to bring about Christ's death were of this tribe. The singular sûs, "horse," represents the plural -- K. S.256 b.
18. For thy salvation do I wait, O Yahweh.
This plainly interrupts the thought sequence, but with good reason. Repeatedly Jacob has spoken of self-help on the part of the tribes: of Judah the lion, of Issachar the strong-boned ass, of Dan the deadly serpent. Yet Jacob would not be misunderstood. Not from that source does he expect true salvation. Even when men help themselves, only then are they truly delivered if God helps them. On the latter help Jacob has grounded his personal salvation and every deliverance, hard though it was for him to learn that submission and trust. On that help he would have his sons ground their every hope. The perfect qiwwîthî expresses the thought: in many instances of the past have I waited or trusted and I do trust still. Therefore it is best translated as a present (K. S.125). Meek renders very nicely: "For succour from thee, Lord, I wait." Is it not trivial to regard such a significant word as merely a short prayer for strength on the part of the fast weakening old man, that he might be enabled to finish blessing the other sons? More correct is the claim that Jacob's prayer also includes the Messianic hope: "salvation" full salvation.
19-21. As for Gad, troops troop against him
But he presses upon their heel.
As for Asher, his food is rich,
And he provides royal delicacies.
Naphtali is a liberated deer,
He also is wont to use clever speech.
The word concerning Gad amounts to this: though he be pressed hard, he in turn presses hard upon those that assail him. The word play is intensified, because "Gad" and "troop" and "press" build upon almost one and the same root. So the Hebrew has: Gadh gedhudh yeghudhenû. We tried to catch at least a part of this by rendering, "a troop shall troop against him," but we were obliged to alter the verb to "press" in the next line in order to make sense. Jacob, therefore, foresees that Gad will be especially exposed to the raids of marauding bands. Gad was exposed to the bands of roving marauders from the desert -- Midianites and Ammonites and Arabians. But though that was the case, Gad was not slow about defending himself and striking back. Of the courage of those of Gad we read in David's time 1Ch 12:8 and before, 1Ch 5:18. The idea of pressing upon their heel involves that he comes in close pursuit, following hot upon the enemy. We have taken the initial letter of v.20 and attached it as the final letter to v.19 and read 'aqebham, "their heel," and so, besides making good sense, we are rid of an uncomfortable and practically senseless "m" at the beginning of v.20. The Greek translators, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Latin version did the same. The word on the whole is encouragement for a son who in his day will need it, because he will be particularly exposed to attack.
20: "Asher" -- the lucky or fortunate one, as his name indicates -- has a portion which conforms to his name. Situated along the seacoast north of Carmel, he has one of the most fruitful areas in the land -- "his food is rich," or "fat," shemenah. Lachmô, "his bread," signifies "his food" -- pars pro toto -- synecdoche. From the abundance of rich things that are produced he is able to provide what would grace any king's table, "royal delicacies." Here it matters little whether one thinks in terms of Israel's kings or of those who were in Phoenicia or of none in particular. Delicacies worthy of a king are meant. Moses in his blessing (De 33:24) states the case thus: "let him dip his foot in oil," i. e., a profusion of rich olive oil shall overflow so that men at times will tread upon the rich overflow. All this by no means contains an allusion, as is foolishly claimed, to the oil pipeline that now has its western terminus at the Bay of Haifa in Asher's territory.
21. "A liberated deer" or "a hind let loose" (A. V.) is a deer hemmed in by no restraint. By comparison with 2Sa 22:34, where the fleet strength of warriors' feet is pictured by the same figure, we may conclude that the fleet strength of the average man of Naphtali is the point involved. Such men were Barak and the ten thousand of Naphtali and Zebulon that came with him for the deliverance of Israel. The same judge illustrates "the clever speech" here referred to. For 'imrey shßpher are "words of beauty" like the song of Deborah and Barak (Jud 5). These may not be the most notable of achievements but they will be the distinguishing marks of this tribe. The critics try many reconstructions of this verse as though it were quite unsatisfactory, but their best is not an improvement. We regard the last participle nothen as expressing the habitual: "he is wont to use" or "give."
22-24. Joseph is a shoot of a fruitful branch,
A shoot of a fruitful branch by the side of a
Whose branches have already climbed up on
The archers have sorely grieved him, shot
at him and persecuted him,
But his bow stayed firm,
And the arms of his hands remained supple.
As a result of the work of the Strong One of
From there where the Shepherd, the Stone of
As the blessing upon Judah is richer and better than that of the tribes grouped around him in this chapter, so that of Joseph stands out in the same fashion, and its phrases and pictures are rich and rare. Some of the comparisons involved require a measure of thought before they are grasped, but the case is far from being as hopeless as some claim. It is not true that "the section is full of obscurities and the text frequently quite untranslatable." This impression of obscurity is fostered by presenting the most difficult of several possible translations. The unnecessary textual alterations resorted to as pure conjectures result in an amazingly different rendering. Note how Meek translates:
22. Joseph is a young bull,
A young bull at a spring,
A wild ass at Shur,
23. Shooting at him in enmity,
The archers fiercely assailed him.
24. But their bow was broken by the Eternal,
And their arms and hands trembled
At the might of the Mighty One of Jacob,
At the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of
The impression created upon the uninformed by such a translation is that the Hebrew text must be in a deplorable state -- a thing which is by no means the case. Besides, such unwarranted alterations undermine very effectually the confidence in God's Word. We hope to show both that the text makes sense and that the sense is good. First of all Joseph is described as "a shoot of a fruitful branch," literally, "son of a fruitbearer" (B D B), with the common use of ben, "son," for anything derived from another thing; this means, of course, that since it is derived from a fruitful branch, it is itself fruitful. Consequently, the translation, "Joseph is a fruitful bough" (A. V.), covers the case very acceptably. Porath is the feminine of the participle of parah, "to bear fruit" (G. K.80 g). As a choice phrase the expression "shoot of a fruitful branch" is repeated with the addition of the descriptive phrase "by the side of a fountain." The Hebrew says "over a fountain" using 'al, because the sturdy vine does stand higher than the fountain. Even so far we have a situation that gives a guarantee of fruit. The "shoot" was derived from good stock; its water supply is ample. So the picture does not delay to depict the meagre beginning. At once it gives the shoot in the advanced stage of growth where it has "already climbed up on the wall" -- so the perfect tsa'adhah is meant: it has been growing and now is quite spread out over the wall. The supporting wall, of course, furnishes a good hold for the vine and protection from inclement weather. Such a healthy, thriving, fullgrown, well-supported, fruit-bearing vine well portrays the fruitful sturdy tribe of Joseph or Ephraim and Manasseh. Perhaps a play on words is here intended. For the root parah appears in Ephraim -- the fruitful one. The distributive singular verb tsa'adhah after a plural subject merely concentrates more on the individual shoot that spreads out (cf. G. K.145 k).
23. The figure of this verse draws our attention to a situation radically different from the former. The successful tribe is antagonized because of its success. His enemies are thought of under the figure of "archers," called in Hebrew "masters of the bow," ba'aley chitstsim (a peculiar double plural, "masters of bows"; K. S.267 b). These archers "have grieved him sorely" -- from the root marar: yemararuhû -- "to make life bitter for one." Besides, they have "shot at him" -- robbû from rabhabh. They have lastly "persecuted him," yishtemuhû, i. e. "proved themselves adversaries." Apparently, the brunt of hostile opposition to Israel will have to be borne by Joseph, next to Judah. The three verbs indicate that he will have plenty of it. However (waw adversative in wattéshebh) "his bow stayed firm" (v.24). He, too, has a bow for defensive purposes when attacked. He uses it, and his hands do not weaken as they draw the tough bow again and again; it stayed "firm" -- "as a strong one," be'eythan. The arms behind the bow are described thus, "the arms of his hands remained supple." Arms and hands are seen in quick movements, snatching the arrow from the quiver, placing it in position on the bowstring, bending the bow, steadying it for aim, letting it fly. Every movement is eloquent with suppleness. And yet, in harmony with v. Ge 49:18, even this purely physical asset is not to be ascribed to man's native powers. Tracing it back to its true Source, Jacob says that it comes "as a result of the work of (literally: from the hands of') the Strong One of Jacob." By this time Jacob well knows God as strong and as the Source of all strength, and he knows that God will engage in behalf of his loved ones. By a second parallel statement Jacob traces back the strength Joseph will display as coming "from there where (Hebrew: from where') the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel, is." A protecting "Shepherd" is a thought Jacob and his shepherding sons could well appreciate. "The Stone of Israel" ('ébhen yisrael) is not meant any differently than is the other common phrase: "the Rock" of Israel. This pictures Yahweh's sturdy strength and unwavering helpfulness.
One would hardly venture to claim that the verses about Joseph considered thus far are lacking in clear, forceful meaning. Any tribe might well have desired such a rich blessing.
25, 26. From the God of thy father -- and may
He help thee --
And with the help of the Almighty -- and may
He bless thee --
With blessings of the heavens above,
With blessings of the deep that coucheth beneath,
With blessings of breasts and womb.
The blessings of thy father have prevailed
Above the blessings of my progenitors,
Even unto the border of the everlasting hills;
May they be upon the head of Joseph,
Upon the crown of the head of the choice one
among his brethren.
The blessings now become superlatively rich. It is hard to say whether Judah or Joseph gets the greater blessing. Jacob it still tracing all gifts and blessings back to their true Source, particularly the deliverance of Joseph. It will be offered from the God ('el, "the Strong One") of Jacob's father. Eagerly Jacob inserts the prayer for his beloved son, "and may He help thee." The next statement, also spoken in an exalted strain of thought, begins with we'eth, "and with," here used in the sense of "and with the help of" as it appears in Ge 4:1. Having told of Joseph's fortunate lot and having now again inserted a brief prayer that God might bless Joseph, the father goes on to heap blessing upon blessing upon his son. If any son was worthy of such wonderful blessings, it surely was Joseph. The following blessings are specialized: first "blessings of the heavens above" -- those would be such blessings as the heavens hold within their grasp -- rain, sunshine and pleasant breezes. Then follow "blessings of the deep," i. e. tehom, the deep source of the subterranean waters, which is pictured as a being "that coucheth (or croucheth) beneath" the earth. This involves the waters stored in the earth that are so essential to all vegetable growth as well as the sources of the much needed streams and of the fountains. Thirdly follow "blessings of breasts and womb" which means abundant offspring of man and of beast and the capacity of caring successfully for them in their early days. If it still seem strange that Jacob in pronouncing blessings offers none of a character that may be termed spiritual blessings, we must again recall to mind that Jacob set out v.1 to foretell "what shall befall." So even the blessings are largely predictions. Then, if no spiritual blessings are foretold in the case of the offspring of this favourite son, it seems to us that this was because the Spirit of truth Himself could foresee none of particular moment. This very silence must have constituted a warning and a lesson to Joseph's descendants. Spiritually they never excelled. It was among the tribe of Ephraim that one of its sons, Jeroboam, instituted the calf worship, whereby he "made Israel to sin."
26. It is difficult at first to determine the exact import of the expression "the blessings of thy father." Is the genitive "of thy father" objective or subjective? If it were subjective, i. e., "the blessing that thy father bestows," then Jacob's word would convey the thought: I can bless more potently than my own forefathers. That would be presumption on Jacob's part. There is left the objective genitive, i. e. "the blessings that thy father received." Then the following statement involves: God has blessed me more abundantly than my fathers -- a word spoken, indeed, in all humility in the sense of, "Lord, I am not worthy." Abraham had one son of promise; Isaac had two children; Jacob had twelve sons destined to be heads of tribes. When Jacob came down to Egypt with his family according to Ge 46:27, his descendants numbered seventy. What wonderful provisions for the preservation of this group God had made! Truly: "the blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors" (that is horay, participle of harah, plural with the first person suffix). Only here the word appears as meaning "parents" or "progenitors." But though this is unusual, there is no need to change to the text which would substitute "mountains" (hararey) for "progenitors." Another line added to this statement says that these blessings enjoyed by Jacob extended "even unto the border (ta'avah is admitted to have this sense, even by B D B) of the everlasting hills." The land seems to be thought of as encircled by mountains. The blessings are thought of as growing in rich profusion up to the very borderland of the mountains, thus filling the whole land. With these rich blessings he himself received filling his thoughts, Jacob pronounces the wish over the head of Joseph: may they be also upon his head "and upon the crown of the head of the choice one among his brethren." Nazîr is the word from which "Nazirite" comes. Now that word may mean "one consecrated, devoted," but since that again according to the root means "a separated one," we could also find the meaning in it "the one standing apart" or here practically "the choice one" or "the prince" (A. R. V. m.). Without a doubt, Joseph was the most eminent one among his brethren, eminent in character and in godliness. If any one of the twelve deserved pre-eminence, it was Joseph. Jacob practically claims as much in these words. The 'al of the first line is practically equivalent to a comparative, for the line may be translated: "The blessings of thy father have been stronger than the blessings of my progenitors" (K. S.308 d).
27. Benjamin is a ravening wolf,
In the morning he devours prey,
In the evening he divides spoil.
This is the last word, spoken in reference to the second son of Rachel. There is no criticism involved in the use of this comparison; it is complimentary. The rapacity of the wolf is not under consideration. Yet even as v. Ge 49:17 contained a veiled warning, so we may also regard this word as suggesting to Benjamin as a tribe that he take heed unto himself lest the undesirable qualities of a wolf develop in him. The original says, "Benjamin, a wolf, rends prey." We prefer to translate as Luther does: Benjamin ist ein reissender Wolf. To describe him as successful in his depredations Jacob speaks of him as always having prey; in the morning he devours it; in the evening, with a change of figure, he is the warrior dividing the spoil. This expression, touching upon the two limits ("morning" and "evening"), is one of many similar expressions designed to cover the entire intervening area. Here, therefore, this means, he is always successful in despoiling his foes. At the same time, when he must encounter his foes, he is a fierce opponent like a wolf. Representative men of this type were Ehud "the Benjamite" (Jud 3:15) and Saul (1Sa 9:1) and Jonathan. The whole tribe displayed this attitude, though not in a holy cause, in Jud 20.
Jacob's Last Charge and His Death (49:28-33)
28. All these constitute the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them; and he blessed them, individually he blessed them with what was in conformity with each man's blessing.
Quite naturally the author now summarizes his results. He reminds that the twelve tribes have just been blessed -- twelve being the covenant number, and this, therefore, being an event that has bearing upon the covenant existing between Israel and God. The numeral strangely after a definite noun lacks the definite article (K. S.334 u). To emphasize that Jacob actually spoke all these remarkable words the author then reiterates (cf. v. Ge 49:1), "this is what their father spoke to them." Of course, this statement is either a truth or a lie. We accept it as truth. It had, however, not been said previously that this was a blessing. So after we have the words before us the author reminds us of what is really quite selfevident, that these individual words were in reality blessings, strictly adapted to each man's case and needs, as Jacob foresaw that God would bestow them. This is the meaning of the words, "individually he blessed them with what was in conformity with each man's blessing."
Skinner calls the construction 'îsh asher "impossible," for he seemingly overlooks what K. C. points out by his translation that 'asher is the cognate or factative object and to be translated "with which." Besides, criticism insists that at this point (v.28) P again begins (v. Ge 49:28-33); and so J, who spoke v. Ge 49:1-27, is regarded quite incapable of any summary statement or formal remark such as this is -- a rather unfounded limitation laid on J. Capable writers like these are capable of quite a number of different types of style. To deny to them this capacity, which all good writers have, makes of the Biblical writers a peculiar set of literary dummies of very limited ability. Very queer is the claim of Koenig that the blessing now spoken of in this verse has nothing to do with the preceding verses of the chapter. Rather, it is claimed, having spoken these words (v.1-27), he then proceeded to add a blessing, but the blessing as such is not recorded. How can a man fail to see that in all its parts almost v.1-27 are blessings?
29-32. And he laid a charge upon them and said: I for my part am now being gathered unto my people. Bury me together with my fathers in the cave which is in the field of Ephron, the Hittite, namely in the cave which is in the field of Machpelah which is over against Mamre in the land of Canaan, which field Abraham bought from Ephron, the Hittite, for a burial place of his own possession. There they buried Abraham and Sarah, his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah, his wife; and there I buried Leah -- the property consisting of the field and the cave which is in it, bought of the sons of Heth.
Joseph had already been placed under oath to see to it that Jacob be buried in Canaan. Now all the sons have the same charge laid upon them. Jacob very clearly realizes that he is dying: "I for my part" -- 'anî for emphasis, namely I, as formerly my fathers -- "am now being gathered unto my people." Ne'esaph as Nifal participle describes an act or experience which is beginning at the time the speaker utters the word and continues into the future (K. S.237 d). Jacob regards "his people" as still existing though dead, and so he gives testimony of his faith in the life to come. It is an act of faith on Jacob's part that he desires burial in Canaan in the grave acquired by Abraham. Abraham's provision for his and for Sarah's burial (chapter 23) was a testimony of faith for the generations that were to come after him. That "being gathered unto his people" is one thing, and that "being buried with his fathers" is another, appears from the fact that the two are mentioned separately. His sons may well have heard of this family sepulchre. He repeats in detail where it is, to whom it formerly belonged, that it is a cave, what other name the field bears, that it lies over against Mamre in the land of Canaan, and that Abraham had bought it of Ephron for this very purpose, that he might at least have "a burial place of his own possession" in the land where he was not privileged to own any other property or fields. The expression 'ahuzzath qébher, "a possession of a grave," means "a burial place of his own possession." Luther renders it well Erbbegraebnis, "a hereditary burial plot."
31. Shammah, "thither," is often weakened down to a mere "there," though it involves a kind of pregnant construction: they took him to that place and buried him there. We already know that Abraham (chapter 35) and Sarah lay buried there (chapter 23). Now we are informed of what we would have surmised, that Isaac and Rebekah lay there also. There Jacob himself had buried Leah. Jacob now repeats how much the property actually involved, for he wants his sons to perpetuate a correct tradition concerning it. It is "the property consisting of the field and the cave which is in it." All these directions are not the garrulous reminiscences of an old man but specific directions which are of importance for the future. All three patriarchs wanted their children to have clear testimony that they had believed God's promises also in reference to the land that was ultimately to be theirs. These clear directions help to carry this testimony down to successive generations, clear-cut and correct.
33. And Jacob finished giving his charge to his sons and drew up his feet into his bed and expired and was gathered unto his people.
Jacob's very last act on earth was an act of faith. When the charge is finished, he draws up his feet into his bed. Apparently, he had summoned up his last strength and had sat up in bed to bless his own sons, even as he had done to bless Joseph's sons (Ge 48:2). Practically immediately thereafter he "expired," whether the process of dying was instantaneous or whether it occupied several hours Apparently, death was almost instantaneous. Such remarkable instances occur from time to time where men remain in full possession of their faculties to the end and are also entirely certain that their end is just at hand. On the expression "was gathered unto his people" see v. Ge 49:29. It means here as there to go to the company of those who live in the life to come in a happier existence. For a full discussion of this phrase read our remarks on Ge 25:8.
It strikes us that at least two parts of Jacob's Blessing have possibilities as texts: the blessing of Judah and the blessing of Joseph. The blessing of Judah should centre definitely around the Messianic thought. It offers a good text for preaching Christ in so far as He displays the characteristics of "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." Note how the Rest-giver idea ties up with this. Only one who is capable of achieving such conquests as are His can also establish and provide true rest. The blessing of Joseph displays "how richly God can bless His own."