corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Genesis 49



Verse 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 called unto his sons. It is not to the sayings of the dying saint, so much as of the inspired prophet, that attention is called in this chapter. Jacob is prepared, like Isaac in similar circumstances (Genesis 27:1-46), to pronounce, before the collected group of his numerous family, that solemn benediction which, in the case of the first patriarchs, carried with it the force of a testamentary deed in conveying the divine premises committed to them. These communications, however, though commonly called blessings (Genesis 49:28), contained in the present instance, words of severe censure upon some of his sons; while in their prospective import they were made to indicate the future fortunes of his posterity. They were founded on a long and close observation of the character, dispositions, and habits of each of his sons; because such a knowledge undoubtedly lay at the foundation of his judgments. But his words were more than the dictates of mere natural sagacity; and although he was now arrived at that extreme age:

`When sage experience does attain To something like prophetic strain,'

The utterances of Jacob concerned the destiny not so much of his sons individually, as of the tribes which should respectively descend from them, and they were so pregnant with a meaning which a remote future alone would fully evolve, that he must be considered as having spoken them under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, so graphic are the descriptions, and so minutely exact the assignment of the several inheritances in the land of Canaan, that Dr. Davidson ('Introduction,' 1:, p. 198) has pronounced it to have been, while bearing the form of a prediction, a vaticinium post eventum. But this is a groundless assertion; for there is distinct evidence that important integral parts of this prophecy, as, for instance, the separation of Levi to the priesthood (Exodus 32:29; Numbers 1:49; Deuteronomy 10:8-9; Deuteronomy 18:1), and the appointment of Joseph's two oldest sons to be heads of tribes, were accomplished before the settlement in Canaan, and that there was no intermediate period between that and the close of Jacob's life, when the declaration could have been made, but the occasion specified in the beginning of this chapter. The patriarch, when he uttered this highly figurative and obscure prophecy, seems to have had his mind worked up to a high state of poetical fervour under the inspiring influence of the Spirit. His faith placed him as it were on a watchtower, from which, though in Egypt, he could discern, with telescopic clearness, the most prominent events in the future history of his descendants. There was no pronouncing of the patriarchal blessing after Jacob; because the process of distinguishing the heir of the promise had been completed, and that 'ancestor had appeared whose entire posterity was, without any separation from among them, to become the medium for preparing salvation' (Kurtz, 'History of Old Covenant,' 1:, p. 294).

In the last days , [ b

Verse 2

Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 3

Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:

Reuben, thou art my first-born. In polygamous families there are sometimes several first-borns; and Jacob, had he been at liberty to follow his own predilections, would doubtless have assigned the honour as well as the rights of primogeniture to Joseph, the first-born of his beloved Rachel. [But b

Verse 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.

Unstable as water - a boiling up as of water (art thou); i:e., thou didst boil up with lust and passion-referring to his incest (Gesenius).

Thou shalt not excel - i:e., thou shalt not preserve thy natural excellency in thy posterity, nor have the preeminence of rule. The criminal was degraded, but not otherwise punished personally. But he was in his tribe; because his descendants never made any figure:-no judge, prophet, nor ruler sprang up from among them, and the tribe of Reuben, together with the other transjordanic tribes, was the first that was carried into captivity (1 Chronicles 5:26).

Thou wentest up to thy father's bed - the bed being spread upon a divan, which itself is raised somewhat from the floor.

He went up to my couch. The third person is used here as if, instead of addressing Reuben directly, the indignant patriarch were pointing him out with loathing to his other sons. The only instance of this tribe trying to regain its lost primogeniture was the defeated attempt at rebellion narrated in Numbers 16:1-50.

Verse 5

Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.

Simeon and Levi are brethren - i:e., united by similar dispositions as by blood relationship.

Instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. The meaning of this last word [ m

Verse 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.

Into their secret , [ cowd (Hebrew #5475)] - a divan, a conclave of wicked conspirators.

Mine honour , [ k

Verse 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verses 8-10

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, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise - literally, 'Judah, thou!' The name was significant of blessings (Gen. ); and there is a paranomasia in the clause that follows: "thy brethren shall praise thee." A high pre-eminence was destined to this tribe (Numbers 10:14; Judges 1:2). Besides the honour of giving its designation to the promised land, its history was one progressive course of victory, marked by putting enemies to flight (cf. Psalms 18:42). Chief among the tribes, it grew up from "a lion's whelp" [ guwr (Hebrew #1481) 'aryeeh (Hebrew #738), a cub, etymologically is used to indicate the age when it is dependent on the mother for its food, and has not yet become k

Verse 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:

Binding his foal unto the vine ... , [ `ayir (Hebrew #5895)] - a young but full-grown donkey (Genesis 32:16; Isaiah 30:6; Zechariah 9:9). Gesenius renders it, 'then shall he bind,' etc. The condition of Shiloh's kingdom is described in highly figurative terms as the reign of rural peace and plenty. The donkey is the beast of burden principally employed in the Negeb; and while under the image of the lion the warlike aspects of the tribe of Judah were aptly represented, its domestic economy, the routine of its daily life and labour was as pertinently symbolized by the donkey.

Unto the choice vine , [ lasoreeqaah (Hebrew #8321)] - to the vine of Sorek, a vine of a superior kind, remarkable for its blue or purple grapes, so called from a valley of that name (Judges 6:4), between Ascalon and Gaza, running far up eastward in the tribe of Judah, and along with Eschol, close to Hebron.

He washed his garments in wine , [ cuwt (Hebrew #5496) clothing (a hapax legomena). Judah's settlement was allocated in a country well adapted for vineyards. It was for the most part mountainous, and consequently unsuitable for agricultural produce. But it was well suited to the cultivation of vines; and it was in this article that the opulence of this tribe consisted. Vestiges of the ancient terraced vineyards are still to be traced all around Hebron, and among the mountains south of Jerusalem. In this district are still produced the finest vines in Palestine. There are excellent pasturages also comprehended in the portion of this tribe; and even still the description given of it by the patriarch is verified by the scenes that are witnessed in that mountainous region. Bovet ('Voyage en Terre Sainte') states that he saw donkeys feeding on the herbage, with their halters attached to the foot of vines and fig trees, and frequently the cattle are turned into the vineyards, after the vintage, to browse on the vines. Other travelers, who have remarked the extremely white teeth of the peasantry, were reminded of the prediction, "His eyes shall be red (animated) with wine (the grape-juice), and his teeth white with milk." With regard to the colour of the eyes, they are described as [ chakliyliy (Hebrew #2447)] not red, but dark-dark flashing from wine-the word being connected with kol, the black lead ore with which Eastern ladies paint their eyelids, to give sprightliness and life to their eyes. It is thought to add great beauty to the countenance; and hence, the Septuagint renders this passage as: charopoioi hoi ofthalmoi autou huper oinon, 'His eyes shall be graceful with wine.' Augustine has, 'oculi fulgentes.'

Verse 12

His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 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.

Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea. Although Issachar was older than Zebulun, and they were destined to occupy contiguous settlements, Jacob, foreseeing the political superiority of the latter, mentioned him first. [ L

Verse 14

Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:

Issachar is a strong ass - literally, a male donkey of bone; i:e., stout, strong-bodied.

Couching down between two burdens , [ robeets (Hebrew #7257) beeyn (Hebrew #996) hamishp

Verse 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.

He saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant. The plain of Esdraelon, on which they settled, formed as it were a deep and spacious valley, separating in a very striking manner the two mountainous regions of Palestine-that of Samaria and Judea on the south, and that of Galilee on the north. Esdraelon, with the plain of Acre, belongs geographically to neither of these districts. Its fertility has been proverbial in all ages. 'Every traveler has remarked on the richness of its soil and the exuberance of its crops. The very weeds are a sign of what, in better hands, the vast plain might become' (Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 348). The tribe of Issachar was originally enterprising and independent. They were commended by Deborah (Judges 5:15) for the alacrity and vigour with which they engaged in the defensive war against the confederate Canaanites of the north. But their character was gradually modified by the fertile character of their country. The Septuagint expresses this [to kalon epethumeesen], 'Issachar desired or loved greatly what was good.' The vast plain was so unprotected and open to the incursions of foreign invaders, that Issachar preferred to purchase peace from the dominant power, by the payment of black mail, to living in a state of continual jeopardy both for life and property. [ Way

Verse 16

Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.

Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan, though the son of a secondary wife, was to be put on a footing of exact equality with the children of Rachel and Leah. He was to be constituted one of the tribes of Israel, and to be governed by a ruler of his own tribe, notwithstanding the smallness of his possession. Dan, the last of the tribes in having a settlement allocated to it, was placed originally on the western extremities of Judah, and afterward acquired a new portion in the north of Canaan.

Verse 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.

An adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels - [ sh

Verse 18

I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.

I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord. The connection of this clause with the preceding context has greatly perplexed critics. Some maintain that it is an interpolation; but its genuineness is attested by the most ancient MSS. and versions. Various hypotheses have been proposed for explaining it, (Sherlock's 'Discourses,' 6:) The best seems to be that of Calvin (in 'Genesin, book 1.'), who thinks that Jacob, foreseeing, with the penetrating eye of a prophet, the many troubles, dangers, and disasters brought on his posterity generally, and on Dan in particular, by their own backslidings or apostasy, felt his mind so distressed, and almost overwhelmed by the prospect, that for his relief and comfort he betakes himself to the divine promises, in the ultimate fulfillment of which he expressed his believing confidence. The Septuagint strangely applies this verse to the rider allusively spoken of, Genesis 49:17 [kai peseitai ho hippeus eis ta opisoo, teen sooteerian perimenoon kuriou].

Verse 19

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

Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last. [ `Aaqeeb (Hebrew #6119) is here improperly rendered, "at the last:" it signifies "heel;" and by shifting mem (m) from 'Aasheer (Hebrew #836), at the beginning of the following verse, and adding it to the end of this word, it becomes: '

Verse 20

Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.

Out of Asher his bread shall be fat. [Considering mem (m), as we have done, as connected with the last word in the previous verse, we render this clause-Asher, fatness shall be his bread - i:e., the rich soil of his settlement shall supply him with plenty of food. But many writers prefer the text as it stands, though they differ among themselves as to the meaning it beats. Kalisch has, 'Of Asher the bread shall be fat.' Ewald, regarding min (Hebrew #4480) as the sign of the comparative degree, and sh

Verse 21

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

Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words , [ 'ayaalaah (Hebrew #355) sh

Verse 22

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

Joseph is a fruitful bough ... - literally, 'the son of a fruitful tree (a vine) is Joseph; the son of a fruitful tree by a fountain, whose branches (daughters) mount upon a wall.' When Jacob arrived, in the course of his addresses, at Joseph, the thought of that favourite son imparted a sudden animation to the soul of the venerable patriarch; because his bosom seems to have heaved with emotion, and he pours out wishes for the personal welfare of Joseph, or foreshadows the future fortunes of his descendants with a flow of sentiment and a redundancy of expression which shows how fully the sympathies of the father went with the utterances of the prophet. The name "Joseph" imports addition, increase; and the image by which his history is represented at the outset conveys the idea of progressive growth and luxuriant productiveness in good fruits. In the East fruit-bearing trees, particularly vines, are frequently made to entwine on trellises around a well or spring; and 'in Persia the vine-dressers,' as Morier says, 'do all in their power to make the vine run up the wall, and curl over on the other side, which they do by tying stones to the extremity of the tendril.' The figure represents the rapid growth, the numerical extent, and political influence of the two tribes that sprang from Joseph (cf. Numbers 1:33-35; Josh. 16:17; Deuteronomy 33:17 ).

Verse 23

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

The archers have sorely grieved him ... The image is here changed to that of a warrior engaged in a deadly contest. The "archers" denote the adversaries of Joseph-his brothers, as well as Potiphar and his wife; and the arrows shot at him were the envy, revenge, temptation, ingratitude of his various opponents.

Verse 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:)

But his bow abode in strength. The bow is used metaphorically as the symbol of strength and power (Job 39:20; Jeremiah 49:35; Hosea 1:5); its 'abiding in strength' signified its retaining its elasticity unimpaired, and continuing in its firm position - i:e., the weapon with which he opposed his enemies, here metaphorically described as a bow, was the stedfast virtue of his character, his innocence, patience, temperance, faith in God, and obedience to His law: with these he resisted all opposition, and triumphed over every difficulty and trial. But Jacob, tracing the moral stability of Joseph to its true source, adds, "and the arms of his hands were made strong" - i:e., his hands, young as he was, were rendered pliant and vigorous for wielding the bow - "by the hands of the mighty One of Jacob." The allusion is to Genesis 32:24-30.

From thence is the Shepherd, the stone of Israel - [ mishaam (Hebrew #8033), as used here, is an expression of doubtful meaning.] Some interpret it, 'from that time forth' (Rosenmuller (hoc loco), Glassii, 'Phil. Sacr.,' p.

370) - i:e., from the period of Jacob's wrestling with God. He was the shepherd (the guardian stone) of Israel; and no doubt God is frequently represented in Scripture under the image of a shepherd, as well as of a stone (rock or fortress). But the word stone in this passage denotes not a stone, but stone, as one of the hardest and least mutable substances in nature, and therefore an appropriate figure for expressing strength combined with durability. A second class of critics take [ mishaam (Hebrew #8033)] from thence as referring to the bow of Joseph having been 'made strong by the hands of the mighty One of Jacob' - i:e. the divine favour and aid enlisted on the side of Joseph; so that in him Israel had a shepherd to feed him, a stone on which to lay his head-a sustainer and protector in the season of extraordinary privation and distress. A third class, as Calvin, Ewald, etc., render the words, 'Shepherd of the stone of Israel,' meaning by stone, the house or family of Israel. Others, as Gesenius, regard [ mishaam (Hebrew #8033) as pleonastic] the sentiment, under a profusion of pious epithets, running continuously, thus - "the mighty One of Jacob ... the Shepherd ... the stone of Israel (Genesis 49:25): Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty," etc. [ Shaday (Hebrew #7706) is here unaccompanied by 'Eel (Hebrew #410), God; and this is the only place in Genesis where it stands thus alone.]

Verse 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:

Blessings of heaven above - i:e., copious descents of rain and dew, which are so necessary for promoting the growth of vegetation (Leviticus 26:4; Deuteronomy 28:12; Deuteronomy 33:14).

Blessings of the deep that lieth under - i:e., springs and rivers in the earth, which contribute to moisten and fertilize the soil [ taachat (Hebrew #8478) is here used adverbially for 'beneath'].

Blessings of the breasts and of the womb - i:e., a numerous and healthy progeny of descendants, as well as of cattle.

Verse 26

The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.

The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors. [ howray (Hebrew #2029), from haaraah, pregnant, is put here for both parents-the father being included as well as the mother; and the import of the clause is, that the blessings which Jacob his father pronounced upon Joseph were far greater than those which he himself had received either from Isaac or Abraham, in respect to the extent of the blessing, the definiteness of the promise, and the nearness of the fulfillment. But instead of this, and 'to the utmost bound,' etc.; Gesenius, Maurer, and others, considering that the parallelism is destroyed by this translation, propose the reading of howray 'ad, the everlasting mountains (cf. Deuteronomy 33:15; Habakkuk 3:6), and render thus, 'the blessings of thy father are greater than the everlasting hills (nay, than), the loveliness (glory) of the ancient mountains' - i:e., however long and carefully cultivated. So the Septuagint: huperischusen huper eulogias hureoon monimoon, kai ep' eulogias thinoon aenoon.]

The head of him that was separate from his brethren , [ uwlqaad

Verse 27

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

Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf. This tribe, whose settlement was to lie on the border, should be characterized by impetuosity, fierceness, stealthy measures, and a warlike appetite (cf. Judges 3:15; Judges 5:14; Judges 15:1-20; 1 Samuel 11:1; 1 Samuel 13:1-23; 1 Chronicles 8:40; 2 Chronicles 14:8). 'The words will sum up the strange union of fierceness and gentleness, of sudden resolves for good and evil, which run, as hereditary qualities often do run, through the whole history of that frontier clan' (Stanley's 'Jewish Church,' second series).

Verse 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.

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel , [ shibTeey (Hebrew #7626), stems that spring from a common root] - metaphorically used for the heads of the several subdivisions or tribes which, descending from Jacob, composed the Israelitish nation. The "blessing" addressed to their ancestors was intended specially for them.

Spake unto them, and blessed them. See the introductory remarks to this chapter about the mixed meaning of "blessed".

Everyone according to his blessing he blessed them. 'The natural advantages that were to distinguish the settlement, and to modify the character of each tribe, were no mere natural gifts of God's Providance. Their several blessings were, in a manner, the heraldic mottos of each tribe, and spoke of God's foreordaining love. Still more, those portions of the prophecy which portrayed the character of the tribes. They are the banner of God hanging over them, when faithful to Him. The lion-might of Judah, of Gad, and of Dan, Ephraim's horns of power, the swift energy of Benjamin, could be put forth on each occasion as strength which God had pledged to them' (Pusey).

Verse 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,

And he charged them ... - most probably on some other occasion. Indeed, the charge had already been given to Joseph, and solemnly undertaken (Genesis 47:31). But in mentioning his wishes now, and rehearsing all the circumstances connected with the purchase of Machpelah, he wished to declare, with his latest breath, before all his family, that he died in the same faith as Abraham. (See the note at Genesis 23:1-20).

I am to be gathered unto my people. This phrase was employed by the speaker, and understood by those he addressed, in a sense totally different from that of being deposited in a tomb (see the note at Genesis 25:8). It is used in distinction from 'being buried.'


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 49:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology