Genesis 49 Commentary
The aged Jacob calls his sons together (like Isaac did) in order to bless them.
Reuben is the first. He is dislodged from his top slot as the firstborn because of sexual sin with his father’s wife (his stepmother). There is more about Reuben’s character which Jacob references. Turbulence. We are not at all surprised.
Simeon and Levi are huddled together as their characters are similar and so is their fate. The LORD would scatter them in Israel. There is a possible suggestion that Simeon and Levi complimented each other in violence. The scattering draws a parallel with the scattering at Babel. But it also brings us the thought of the need to separate from wrong-doing or wrong company. The thought could be that these two must be kept apart to lessen trouble…that if they continue together, their plans will succeed – the same thought at Babel. It is the same thought that we can draw from the other scatterings that the nation of Israel suffered because of sin. The notable ones were the scattering of the northern kingdom of Israel to Assyria and later on the scattering of Judah to Babylon – the famous exile. The ‘blessing’ of Simeon and Levi points to the many scatterings that Israel would experience during its long history.
The blessing reversal for Simeon and Levi can be traced to the history of these two tribes. The scattering for Levi would result in him having no inheritance in Israel. Though as priests the scattering was reduced or actually upgraded to divine service among his brothers as priests. During the division of land, Levi was not a factor as priests would get portions from their brothers. In this way, Ephraim and Manasseh were accommodated. Simeon’s future would unwind without the benefit of grace.
Simeon only got portions of land in Judah as opposed to having a well-defined full portion. Simeon’s population also diminished. At the first count, Simeon numbered 59, 300 while at the second census Simeon numbered 22,200. Other tribes recorded an increase or only a minor reduction but Simeon reduced by more than half.
When man combines in order to sin, God moves in to scatter. We saw it at Babel.
We also notice that early in the Bible, blessings, and curses are pronounced by the LORD Himself, but as we have moved on men begin to pronounce blessings and curses. These blessings and curses are not new at all. So Simeon and Levi get the Babel scattering. It is the same theme running through the scriptures.
Judah came up third. We have waited for a long time for this. The patriarch has a lot of words for Judah. But important is the mention of the scepter. The thought is that Judah would hold on to the scepter until the rightful owner comes – until the real seed. Jacob looked to the future. You would imagine that the LORD enabled him to see beyond the Davidic dynasty. Christ was clearly the real owner of the scepter that Jacob envisioned in both Judah and later on David.
Judah is a lion’s cub. He is also a lion and a lioness at the same time. The imagery is powerful. He is powerful and resolved. His strength is unmatched. You want to think of victorious Israel slicing through her enemies at ease in the manner of a fearless lion. He is a lion’s cub heavily protected by an aggressive lioness. And as a lioness, she is protective of her children. The imagery points to mighty, protection, and care. The title of Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah has its roots in this blessing of Judah here. The picture of Jesus as the Lion of Judah is often shown as a fully grown lion; at his full strength and mane fully grown and blown, is just part of the story. Jacob uses all the lions in their manifestations – male lion, lioness, and cub. The imagery is complete and truly powerful)
“Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you.
Genesis 49:8 NIV.
That is the blessing of Jacob being passed on to Judah.
The blessing of Zebulun speaks of commerce and industry. Jacob deliberately locates Zebulun by the coast in preparation for Zebulun’s occupation. Israel would be a trading nation and the LORD provisions for that. Issachar speaks of a complacent Israel falling under the yoke of slavery. 400 years later Israel would be enslaved in Egypt. Dan is pictured as one providing justice in Israel. The reference to him being a snake by the roadside is difficult to understand.
We may look at Israel’s history and apply Dan’s blessing to the many times that Israel inflicted pain on herself. The nation tumbled backward.
Gad pictures Israel under attack but not without response. Asher talks of agricultural activities on which the nation would survive. Naphtali pictures a free (actually freed) Israel bearing fruit. There is an indication that only in freedom would the nation of Israel find fruitfulness. The connection to Christ’s mission to free prisoners can be seen here.
Like Judah, Joseph has a lion’s share of words from the patriarch Jacob. The blessing speaks of fruitfulness and strength. Jacob’s strength is in essence the strength of the ‘Mighty one of Jacob’. Joseph’s blessing here is similar to other patriarchal blessings but only deeper and full of praise for the LORD of salvation. Jacob is fully aware of the LORD’S presence with Joseph and the blessing reflects this intimate relationship. Things have happened for Joseph because of the LORD’S presence. The blessing of Joseph sees the saint under attack but because of Jacob’s God, the saint stays strong.
Benjamin is a mystery character in the Book of Genesis. He is the subject when Rachel dies. He is the subject when Judah and his brothers show up in Egypt. He is the ‘reason’ Simeon is detained. He is the reason the brothers won’t go back to Egypt. He is the recipient of gifts from Joseph. He is accused of stealing the cup and must be detained but ‘forgiven’ on account of Judah’s sacrificial intervention. For all this Benjamin says and does nothing, not even in the third person. Is there something to be said of Benjamin based on the blessing that comes through him?
The general observation is that the patriarchal blessing is passed on to the nation of Israel via Joseph and Judah in the main lines. Judah underlines salvation (rule and dominion) – of first importance. Joseph looks at the saved soul’s fruitfulness (prosperity) and increase and resilience. Compare the main lines of the blessing to Gen 1 verse 28
The rest of the sons get what may be referred to as prophetic utterances regarding Israel’s long history. At different stages, the nation is either free and fruitful (Naphtali) or complacent and enslaved (Issachar), or prosperous in terms of commerce and industry (Asher and Zebulun). At other times the nation would be seen as fighting and barely finding its feet. This too is reflected in the prophetic utterances of Jacob to his sons.
Each receives an appropriate blessing. In the immediate context, individual tribes would enjoy either low or high moments accordingly.
The last portion of chapter 49 contains instructions for Jacob’s burial. What a journey! The patriarch wants his sons to keep to a rich tradition by reminding them of the significance of Mamre. That is where Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried. That is where Isaac and his wife Rebekah are buried. And there Leah was buried. It’s a place for a man and his wife and not a man and his wives. So Abraham’s other wives are not named. Even Jacob’s other wives are not named. Interesting!
Surrounded by his sons, Jacob breaths his last and transitions in peace. I guess that is God’s plan that a man transitions at an appropriate age and gets a chance to pass on blessings to his sons. Amen.
More resources check the summary of Genesis at http://www.bibleproject.com