Genesis Segment 36 (49:1-33)

Gen 49:1  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, or Israel, had a family gathering near the end of his life. This was normal in agrarian societies and is still common in rural families in America. Families gathered at the end of a loved one’s life. As a country preacher, I have seen and been involved in this function many times. Unfortunately, most Americans have lost this ability because most families (including mine) are stretched out all over the country and do not have the luxury to gather together with a dying loved one. Of course they come to the funeral, but do not often make it to the deathbed gathering. This is likely in any industrialized society, especially in the west. So Jacob’s family gathered to be with their father at the end of his life. Jacob then began a series of prophecies. Apparently he had insight from God into the future of his progeny for his prophecies were accurate.

Gen 49:3-4  Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:  (4)  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.

Being the firstborn, Reuben was the one given the most responsibility by his father. Jacob remembered his youth and the birth of Reuben. We remember that Jacob married Leah through trickery (Gen 29:21-25) and that Reuben was born of that marriage. Reuben had the dignity of the office of firstborn and executor of his father’s desires and the power that comes with such a position. But, like Anointed Cherub that Covereth in Ezekiel 24:14-15, he lost it because of his sin.

The word rendered unstable in the KJV is variously translated in other versions. Some of the equivalents used are: turbulent (NIV & HCSB), unruly (NLT), uncontrollable (CEV), went astray (Lamsa) and poured out (DRB). The Hebrew word has several possible meanings; according to Brown-Driver-Briggs they are wanton, reckless and frothy. BDAG aslo says it can mean “brimming over with passion.” Unfortunately, without supporting evidence it is difficult to say why Israel thought this way about his firstborn. Our only evidence is the next statement that Reuben defiled his father’s bed by having relations with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah (Gen 35:22). We read in 1 Chronicles 51 that Reuben lost his birthright because of his relations with Bilhah. We are also told there that Joseph received the birthright.

It seems from Genesis 37:20-22 that Reuben was fairly levelheaded when he saved Joseph’s life. However, we find out from Gen 37:29-30, that Reuben was only looking after his own interests, for being firstborn, Jacob would hold him responsible for Joseph’s disappearance.

We must also look at the word rendered water in the KJV. Several other translations render it flood (e.g. NLT, CEV, GNB). From the context of “unstable as water,” we can infer that the Jacob meant moving water, which is unstable. When a glass of water is spilled, it is unclear the exact direction or directions the spilled water might take. In the event of a flood, the waters spill over onto normally dry ground in an often unpredictable way.

In addition, we should also look at the phrase, “thou shalt not excel.” The ESV and NRSB say, “you shall not have preeminence;” NLT—”you will be first no longer;” YLT—”thou art not abundant;” New Jerusalem Bible—”you will not be foremost.” Considering the history of the tribe of Reuben, it never excelled. It was not as large as other tribes when numbered with the tribes that left Egypt. Additionally, his tribe was assigned land east of Jordan where they were less protected from their enemies. Most importantly, Reuben was no longer Israel’s firstborn. Taking these things into consideration, we can observe that Reuben lost his birthright to Joseph and because of this his tribe never excelled; it was not one of the foremost tribes of Israel. In fact the first tribe taken captive by the Assyrians was Reuben.

In summation, it would appear that Reuben was as unstable as flowing water, in that he could not be depended on by his father. Was that because of the incestuous relationship with Jacob’s concubine? Possibly. After that Jacob may not have been able to see him as anything but impetuous. Consequently, Reuben and his tribe would never live up to their potential due to Reuben’s lack of self control, and his loss of the birthright because of his sin with Bilhah.

Gen 49:5  Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.

Simeon and Levi made a covenant with the men of Shechem that if they would all be circumcised then their sister Dinah could marry Shechem. It was a dishonest move on Simeon and Levi for the covenant was a subterfuge. After the men were circumcised and their wounds were still painful, Simeon and Levi took swords and killed every adult male in the town. Jacob was furious with them because they ruined his reputation and standing among his neighbors the Canaanites and Perizzites who were the most numerous and powerful peoples in the area. Jacob feared their reprisals. Read the Story in Genesis Chapter 34.

Gen 49:6  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.

Jacob had not been a party to their plans else he would have squelched them; nor did he ever want to be a part of their plans. It was not honorable and Jacob wanted no part of such dishonor. In their anger they killed a man, actually many men. The phrase “they digged down a wall” is not really descriptive of what they did. At least in our modern English it is not descriptive. Perhaps in King James’ era, this meant to hamstring animals or possibly to assassinate a leader. The Hebrew literally means to hamstring a bullock. I suppose metaphorically hamstringing a bullock could allude to killing a leader. That is how both Young’s literal Translation and the Concordant Literal Translation render the phrase. YLT says they eradicated a prince and the CLV says they felled a chief. This obviously refers to Hamor, Shechem’s father who was a local leader. Of course, Shechem himself may have been in view for he was next in line to be a leader.

Gen 49:7  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.

This sounds like the very words of God Himself. Jacob was saying that in the Name of God, they would be divided and scattered throughout Israel. This was fulfilled. Levi’s curse was later turned into a blessing because of their stand against idolatry in the wilderness (Ex 32:22-29).

Gen 49:8  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.

Judah is the tribe of the kings of Israel, including the King of kings. Christ was of the line of Judah (Mat 1:3, Luk 3:33) and David (Mat 1:1, Luk 3:31). From Judah came all the kings of Israel from David to Zedekiah. There were other kings outside of the line of Judah and David. Saul was a Benjamite. After the return from capitivity Israel’s kings were appointed by the ruling Greeks and Romans and not because of genealogy. After this, King Jesus would be the next in the Line of Judah and David. Therefore all of Jacob’s other children, through their progeny, would and will praise Judah and bow down before him. His hand on the neck of is enemies means his offspring, the kings, would defeat their enemies as long as they remained faithful to God. Israel’s other children, meaning the other tribes, would bow down to the kings of Israel who sprang from Judah’s loins.

Gen 49:9  Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?

The passage begins with Judah as a young lion—a whelp that has not yet matured. It goes on to show him a s full grown lion, who, after taking his prey and leisurely eating it then climbs to his lair to rest undisturbed in peace and security. This shows the future victory of the kings over their adversaries and ultimately the King of kings, Who came through the line of Judah. Christ would win the victory over all His enemies.

Gen 49:10  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.

There would always be a tribe of Judah and a king or ruler in Judah until Shiloh comes. Shiloh means “he whose it is” and “tranquility.” Both are indicative of Messiah. Thus we could read it like this: “until He Whose the scepter is comes and gathers the people unto Himself in obedience.” There will always be a king or some sort of ruler, be it a judge, a governor, prime minister, etc., in Judah until Christ comes. The scepter was passed to Jesus at the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, or what we call Palm Sunday. Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna!

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zec 9:9). “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass” (Mat 21:4-5). At the Triumphal Entry, Christ came as King of Israel just as the prophet Zechariah foretold. Hence the scepter passed to Christ at that moment. One of the main reasons the people turned against Christ at that time was that they expected a king like David to ride in and destroy their enemy the Romans and free Israel from bondage. When that did not happen, the people turned against their King, saying, “We have no king but Caesar,” and “Crucify Him” (John 19:15). They expected the conquering Messiah of Psalm 110:1-7. They disregarded the prophecies of the suffering servant Who would come before the conquering Messiah in Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12, and Zechariah 9:9.

Gen 49:11  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:

The prevailing wisdom on this verse is that it does not apply to a lowly individual as riding on a donkey does in Zec 9:9 and Mat 2:5. This statement of Jacob’s occurred at a time when nobles rode on donkeys or camels. The horse or war horse was unknown at the time according to Keil & Delitzsch, hence riding a donkey was not a lowly thing to do as it was when Christ rode into Jerusalem.  Therefore this passage refers to the peace and prosperity that occurred in Israel when many of the kings reigned in peace time. Solomon is an example of the progeny of Judah overseeing a peaceful period of plenty. The picture is a time of peace when one could tie his donkey or colt of a donkey to a vine and leave it there without fear of losing it. The garments washed in wine and in the blood of grapes indicated that these things would be so plentiful that it would not be wasteful to do the laundry in wine or grape juice. It was a prediction of Israel’s prosperity under several of the kings. Ultimately it points to a time when such peace and plenty will be eternal and Christ will be King.

Gen 49:12  His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

Again this is indicative of plenty; of a bountiful land (Deut 8:7-8).

Gen 49:13  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.

Several depictions of the territory of Zebulun show the northeastern part bordering on the Sea (or Lake) of Gennesaret (Galilee). Few show it touching the Great Sea (Mediterranean). Zidon, or Sidon, better known as Phoenicia bordered the Great Sea to the north of Asher. Zebulun’s western border may have been near Zidon instead of up against it. Zebulun’s borders are vague and cannot be accurately ascertained. Josephus said it bordered the Mediterranean on the west and the Lake of Gennesaret on the east (“The tribe of Zebulon’s lot included the land which lay as far as the Lake of Genesareth, and that which belonged to Carmel and the sea.” Ant 5:1:22). The modern port of Haifa was established as a small seaport c. 1500 BC, known as Tell Abu Hawam. Perhaps that was part of Zebulun. The Zebulunites could have had safe harbors for ships at both seas.

Gen 49:14-15  Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:  (15)  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.

The two burdens are the two satchels that lay on each side of a pack animal. Of course, the ass, or donkey, is a pack animal. A fatigued donkey with two full packs will sometimes crouch down with weariness with the burden still on its back. Thus the Issacharites were tireless laborers who would continue to labor even when very weary.

The Septuagint sheds light on how the scholars understood this passage in the latter centuries before the advent of Christ: Issachar has desired that which is good; resting between the inheritances. And having seen the resting place that it was good, and the land that it was fertile, he subjected his shoulder to labour, and became a husbandman. Most English translations lead us to believe that the men of Issachar were lazy and became slaves. Yet the LXX has a different take. The LXX says Issachar was interested in doing good works and that because the land was so pleasant, Issachar decided to be a hard working farmer.

History bears out that Issachar had good farmland and that they were good tacticians and fighters in wars (Jud 5:15; 1 Chr 12:32). The fertile Jezreel Valley was a part of the land apportioned to Issachar. Today, many refer to the Jezreel Valley as the breadbasket of Israel.

Tola, a judge of Israel, was from Issachar (Judges 10:1-2). During his tenure there was peace in the land for twenty three years. Of Issachar, Dr. Clarke wrote, “It appears they were a laborious, hardy, valiant tribe, patient in labor and invincible in war; bearing both these burdens with great constancy whenever it was necessary.” (Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible).

Gen 49:16-17  Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.  (17)  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.

Dan was born of Jacob’s concubine Bilhah, who was the maid of Rachel, Jacob’s first love, but second wife. The Hebrew root verb rendered “shall judge” in the context of this passage basically means to govern or to rule. Jacob assures Dan that he will have a part in the inheritance of Israel and will have a tribe that is governed from within just like all the other tribes of Israel. Since Dan is the first son of a concubine mentioned by Jacob in this blessing, it also assures the other sons of concubines that they will have an equal inheritance in Israel as well.

The serpent by the way refers to a poisonous snake that lies unnoticed along the road but then bites the heel of a passing horse or donkey causing it to stumble and its rider to be harmed. The 600 armed men of Dan, attacked Laish, a city whose people were quiet and secure, without warning, killed the men, and burned the city. The Danites took the city of Laish unawares as the unnoticed snake would strike the heel of a horse. The same could be said of Samson, a Danite. He waited until an opportune moment to stealthily strike the enemies of Israel when he was Judge, just like the snake mentioned above.

Some claim that this reference to the serpent is a type of Antichrist, who, they say, will come from Dan. This may be plausible to some, yet I do not ascribe to this theory. There are many antichrists but only one “the” Antichrist—1 John 2:18; anyone that denies that Jesus is the Messiah is an antichrist—1 John 2:22; anyone that does not confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh is a deceiver and an antichrist—1 John 1:7.

My conjecture is that the being known as the Antichrist will come from the religion of Islam. He may be the hidden Imam revealed, which is known as the Mahdi and as the Twelfth Imam. Alternatively the Antichrist could be the Jesus (Arabic ‘Isa’) of Islam who, according to tradition, will come and destroy all the crosses in the world, kill all swine, and kill anyone, including Christians, that does not convert to Islam 1. Read Joel Richardson’s “The Islamic Antichrist.”

Gen 49:18  I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.

There are several theories for this interjection. Some say that Jacob, seeing the future troubles of his offspring, asks God to watch out for them. Others say that the basic Hebrew word rendered salvation is Yeshua, the Hebrew Name of Jesus, and that Jacob is seeing the serpent that was to bruise the heel of the Messiah and would ultimately be crushed by Messiah’s heel. These are the ones that say the serpent mentioned in verse 17 is a reference to Antichrist. On the other hand, perhaps Jacob was just grateful that God had allowed him this opportunity to bless his sons.

Gen 49:19  Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.

The Hebrew in this verse incorporates a play on words. The Hebrew pronunciation is “gad gadud yegadudennu vahu yagud aqeb“. There is an allusion to his name is most words in the phrase. This is technically called paronomasia.

What is interesting is that Gad actually means a troop or tribe, especially a troop of outlaws. This is not to say that the tribe of Gad was composed of outlaws, for the context begets the meaning. According to Strong’s concordance it can also mean fortune. When Gad was born, Leah is quoted in the KJV as saying about Gad, Zilpah’s son, “A troop cometh,” apparently referring to Jacob’s large brood of children. Modern translations quote Leah as saying something to the effect of, “How fortunate I am.” Thus she named this son Gad.

This verse may refer to the fact that Gad, along with Reuben and Manasseh, had territory on the eastern side of the Jordan and had to fight the neighboring kings to keep their possessions. During the time of Judges, the Israelites sinned and Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh were the first tribes to be attacked by Israel’s enemies.

Gen 49:20  Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.

Asher means happy. Zilpah was his mother and Leah, her mistress, was happy and named the child Asher. The territory of Asher was one of good soil, which produced good crops and livestock. Hence, the people of Asher were happy in their bountiful territory and would produce food fit for a king.

Gen 49:21  Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.

Rachel had long wrestled in a figurative sense with he sister Leah. When Bilhah birthed a son, Rachel called him Naphtali, which means wrestling. Naphtali inherited another good land. When his descendants gained their inheritance they were free as a captive doe (or hind) let loose in a goodly land. A doe had little power to defend herself and her offspring, and had to use other means of protection such as stealth and the ability to run and jump away from her enemies. Accordingly, the tribe of Naphtali used fair words instead of force to protect itself.

Gen 49:22  Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:

Joseph was not only fruitful in that he provided for all of Egypt and his family; he also had two sons that went on the have large families. So he was fruitful in descendants as well. His progeny were numerous. The picture of a fruit bearing branch near a well is an allusion to the times of plenty in Egypt and to the times when the stored grain there sustained the entire Middle Eastern world. Joseph was the fruit bearing branch and Egypt was the well.

Gen 49:23  The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:

This started with his own brothers, who sold him into slavery. In Egypt he was propositioned by his master’s wife and then accused of attempted rape and imprisoned. Thus his enemies caused him much grief and they hated him. His brothers were inflamed with jealousy and they hated him. Potiphar’s wife hated him because he resisted her advances; Potiphar thought Joseph betrayed his trust and thus hated him.

Gen 49:24  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:)

In spite of all Joseph had gone through, he remained steadfastly committed to God and His truth. Thus God raised him up, strengthened him, and made Him the leader of all Egypt. Thus was Joseph the shepherd of his family and the rock of Israel. Joseph was a type of Christ and Christ is the great Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.

Gen 49:25  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:

Jacob placed God’s blessings upon his son Joseph. “May God help you and keep you.” Almighty God blessed Joseph with blessings from heaven, blessings from the waters, blessings of children who would grow up strong and healthy, and blessings of strong and healthy livestock.

Gen 49:26  May the blessings of your father exceed the blessings of the ancient mountains, surpass the delights of the eternal hills; May they rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the one consecrated among his brothers.

Jacob wanted all of the blessings he pronounced and infinitely more to be placed upon Joseph and his offspring. Since he spoke of eternal hills, he meant his blessings to be spiritual as well as natural. Those blessings still flow through Christ upon all who believe. Joseph alone was consecrated, or set apart, by God to be the one that provided for all his family. And Christ, as the antitype of Joseph the type, was consecrated by God to be the One that provides salvation for all.

Gen 49:27  Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.

The tribe of Benjamin was a strong one that could muster a strong and numerous army like they did when Israel attacked them for atrocities committed against a guest at a house in the town of Gibeah (Judges 19:14-30). This can also be applied to King Saul, a Benjamite that defeated many of Israel’s enemies. And it can be said of the Apostle Paul, another Benjamite, who ravenously persecuted Christians in his youth (the morning) and in his older age (at night) provided for the church.

 Gen 49:28  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.

Jacob had finished blessing his sons and their posterity. This was his swan song.

Gen 49:29  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,

Both Jacob’s bones and Joseph’s bones were buried in Canaan. Joseph took Jacob’s remains to the cave at Machpelah and buried them there. Moses took Joseph’s remains with him when the Israelites left Egypt some 440 years later. Joshua took Joseph’s bones into the Promised Land and buried them in the field near Shechem that Jacob bought for 100 pieces of silver.

Gen 49:30  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.

Genesis 23:27

Gen 49:31  There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.

Sarah—Genesis 23:19; Abraham—Genesis 25:7-10; Isaac—Genesis 35:29. This is the only passage in the Bible that tells us of the death and burial of Rebekah and Leah.

Gen 49:32  The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth.

Genesis 23:16

Gen 49:33  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.

Remember that at the beginning of this discourse, Jacob strengthened himself and sat up on the bed (Gen 48:2). Here, he lay back down and put his feet back upon the bed. Whether he died immediately or sometime later we are not told. We do know that he died peacefully with no pain or suffering. He was 147 years old—it was a long and fruitful life. It is remarkable to remember Jacob the babe grasping the heel of his brother Esau and later the young man who deceived his father and jilted his brother out of his inheritance. Yet at the hands of his uncle Laban, he got his comeuppance and eventually learned to be a wise man. Here we see the same man in his old age full of wisdom on his death bed. This points out that death comes to all of us.

  1. Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 37, Number 4310; see also Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 43, Number 656.
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