corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible

Genesis 49

 

 

Verses 1-28

l, 2. And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last day. Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.

It must have been a great comfort to the old man to have all his twelve sons with him. What a quiet answer this was to his former unbelief! They were all there, yet he could remember the time when he had said, “Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away.” Ah! we also shall have in our later days to chide ourselves for our foolish unbelief. “Jacob called unto his sons,” so he was not bereaved after all. They are all here, Jacob. It falls to the lot of few fathers to have twelve sons, and to fewer still to have all twelve of them gathered about his dying bed. “Gather yourselves together.” They were to keep together as a family; and shall not the people of God keep together? Come away from the world, beloved, but come close to one another; be one household, be it your delight to assemble around your elder Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ. “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.” We are not told nowadays everything about the future, but much of the future is unfolded to us in the great principles of the law and the gospel, and we may learn very much of holy foresight by coming to the oracles of God.

Genesis 49:3. Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:

The patriarch fixes his eyes on his firstborn; he must say something sharp that would dishonour him, but he does not deny him the rights of birthright. He clothes him with the robes and the jewels of primogeniture, and then he strips him: —

Genesis 49:4. Unstable as water, thou shall not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.

So a man may have great opportunities, and yet lose them. Uncontrolled passions may make him very little who otherwise might have been great. Reuben was “the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power,” yet his father had to say to him, “Thou shalt not excel.”

Genesis 49:5. Simeon and Levi —

They stood next according to the order of birth: “Simeon and Levi” —

Genesis 49:6. Are brethren;

They are very much like each other.

Genesis 49:6-7. Instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. 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. 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.

Hence we do not read of the tribe of Simeon in the blessing of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy; but the Levites had this curse turned into a blessing, for, though they were scattered, yet they were scattered as priests and instructors to the other tribes. Happy is that man who, though he begins with a dark shadow resting upon him, so lives as to turn even that shadow into bright sunlight. Levi gained a blessing at the hands of Moses, one of the richest blessings of any of the tribes. This holy man, Jacob, in dying, did not express himself according to the rules of natural affection but he yielded himself up to the Spirit of God; hence he had to say very much that must have been very bitter for a father to say, and he said it in all faithfulness being taught of the Spirit concerning things to come.

Genesis 49:8. Judah, —

Now the patriarch changes his tone, for he has come to that tribe which would take the birthright, out of which the Christ would come: “Judah” —

Genesis 49:8. Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise:

They praised God for him, they praised God by him, they praised God in him; he is the type of Jesus, of whom we can say all this with great emphasis.

Genesis 49:8. Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.

In the person of David, in the long line of kings of the tribe of Judah, all this came true; and in the person of the great Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, all this has come true to a very high degree.

Genesis 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 coat of arms of Judah was a lion couchant, in the fullness of his strength, keeping still, waiting to spring upon his adversary. Our Lord Christ is such a lion today; “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” couchant, lying down: “who shall rouse him up ?” Ah ! if he be once fully aroused what power will he put forth when he shall spring upon his adversaries ?

Genesis 49:10. The scepter 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.

Jacob’s eyes were dim, but he could see a very long way; he could see to the coming of Christ, the Shiloh, the Pacificator, the Peace-maker; he could see that day when the Jews would cry, “ We have no king but Caesar,” for the Shiloh would have come, and the scepter would have departed from Judah’s tribe. “Unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Oh, that it might be so today! May many be gathered to Christ! He is the true center, and we gather unto him. May the divisions of the Church be soon healed by a general gathering unto Christ, who alone is the center of the Church. “Unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”

Genesis 49:11-12. 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: his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

They were to have a land in which would be milk for babes and wine for strong men; surely this land is “thy land, O Emmanuel!” What nourishing milk there is in the gospel, and what exhilarating wine for those who know the love of Christ!

Genesis 49:13. Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his brother shall be unto Zidon.

When the land was divided by lot, the lot was disposed by God to the complete fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy. Many things may seem to be left to chance, but they are not, the hand of God still guides and controls. This blessing is very suggestive “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for a haven of ships.” If God puts you by the mind that you are a haven for ships, the Lord, in his providence, fixes your position. See that you turn it to account for the good of others.

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

Issachar’s was a poor case; he was so idle, so fond of rest, that he was willing to become a servant unto tribute. This seems hardly a blessing yet it was true of Issachar. He was strong, but then he was an ass as well as strong, so he liked couching down between two burdens much better than bearing either one of them, yet he had to bow his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.

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

This tribe would show more cunning than courage; it would excel rather in the strategy of war than in the force of arms. Here the old man paused, and refreshed himself by saying, —

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

What a happy breathing-space is this! When you and I also are near our journey’s end, may we be able to say, as Jacob did, “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.” He could not have said that once. This is the very Jacob who had, in his earlier days, been full of crafty policy, and tricks and schemes; but he has done with all that now, and he is able truthfully to say, “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.”

Genesis 49:19. God, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.

This has been the blessing of many a child of God, — to fight, and apparently to lose the battle, yet to win it at the end. O thou who art striving against sin, or seeking to win souls for Christ, after many disappointments may you be able to clutch this sweet assurance, “He shall overcome at the last.”

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

Asher was a tribe that was placed in a very fertile region where everything was crowned with delight. Oh, to have our inheritance where we feed upon the bread of heaven, and where the deep truths of God become to us royal dainties!

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

Naphtali was a tribe notable for those that could speak freely, helped of God with a holy freedom in bearing testimony to his truth.

Genesis 49:22. Joseph —

Ah, now the patriarch comes to his beloved Joseph, and here the old man lingers long, longer than upon any other of his sons: “Joseph” —

Genesis 49:22. Is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:

The Hebrew puts it, “Joseph is a son of fruits, even a son of fruits by a well; whose daughters run over the wall.”

Genesis 49:23-24. The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hand were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)

Joseph is a type of him who is both the Shepherd and the Stone to us, the Shepherd who defends us, provides for us, and dies for us, and the foundation on which we build for time and eternity.

Genesis 49:25-28. 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: 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. Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.

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.


Verses 1-33

Genesis 49:1-3. 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. Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father. Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:

All this was to Reuben’s advantage, yet he was spoiled through one fault.

Genesis 49:4. Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; —

So it is clear that the greatest strength and dignity and power will not serve a man, so as to make him excel, if he be unstable. There are many such persons still remaining in the world; their doctrine changes like the moon, and we never know what it is. Their spirit and temper constantly change; their pursuits are sometimes in one direction, and sometimes in another; they are “everything by starts, and nothing long;” and to each of them it may be said, “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.”:

Genesis 49:4-7. Because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch. Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. 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. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for if was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.

It is a very remarkable circumstance, well worthy of notice, that this curse was turned into a real blessing, especially in the case of the tribe of Levi. It is true that they were divided and scattered, like handfuls of salt, throughout the whole of Israel, for they were attendants upon the Lord’s priests, and they had cities appointed to them so that, while they did dwell here, and there, and everywhere, it was in order that they might reach the whole of the people, and prove a blessing to them. Are any of you labouring under a very serious disadvantage? Does it look to you like a curse? Then pray to God to make it into a blessing. I believe that, often, the worst thing that can happen to Christian men is really the best thing, for, while nature would cry out, “The clouds are to be dreaded,” grace can reply, — The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.

Genesis 49:8. Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise:

His name was praise, and such was his history to be, for David came of that tribe, and great David’s greater Son, whom it is our joy to praise.

Genesis 49:8. Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.

While that was true of Judah, it is still more true of him who sprang out of Judah, even our Lord and King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Genesis 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?

Our Lord overcame his enemies even in the thicket of this world; and all power is given unto him now that he has “gone up” again into his glory. Let that man beware who would attack this Lion of the tribe of Judah: “Who shall rouse him up?” If you persecute his followers, you will rouse him up. If you deny his truth, trample on the doctrine of atonement, and reject his love, you will rouse him up. But beware in that day, for terrible is the King of Judah when he is once aroused. Wherefore, submit yourselves to him: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.”

Genesis 49:10. The scepter 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.

When did the dominion depart from Judah till the Lord Jesus came as the Seat One? And unto him, to this very day, the people gather, and more and more shall gather in the latter days.

Genesis 49:11-12. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice wine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

It was literally so with Judah, but it is gloriously as with our Lord to this day. It was his blood which yielded the juice of those rare clusters of the choice vine; and now, with garments dyed with his own blood, he comes from Edom, for he has trodden down his foes, and he cries, “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me.”

Genesis 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.

So did Zebulun dwell even until the day when our Lord came, for Matthew writes concerning him, “Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.”

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

This was a poor character for Issachar to possess; it was a tame-spirited tribe, that loved rest and ease, and therefore did not fight with the common foe. Issachar crouched down between the burdens instead of taking them up and bearing them; God grant that none of us may be of that lazy tribe! I think that I know some who are; they could do a great deal, but they see that rest is good, and the land is pleasant, so they idle away their days.

Genesis 49:16-17. Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 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 is noted among the tribes for its famous leap, capturing that distant part of the country for itself. Here good old Jacob, worn out by what he had already said, exhausted by the ecstasy into which as a prophet he had been cast, paused awhile, and panted.

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

But he soon resumed his prophecy: —

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

Many of God’s servants belong to this tribe, for their life is spent in conflict. They do not seek it, but it comes to them; and, for a time, they seem to be overcome, yet let them clutch at the promise given by God.

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

Well fed, and then yielding correspondingly. There are some people who like to have their bread to be fat, but they yield to the King no dainties. Let it not be so with us; but let us both feed well and yield well.

Genesis 49:21. Naphtali is a hind let loose: —

The type of what a Christian minister should be,— indeed, what every Christian worker should be,— “a hind let loose,” one who can say with David, “O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid. Thou hast loosed my bonds.”

Genesis 49:21. He giveth goodly words.

He has liberty in speech, freedom of utterance, he is not in bonds, he is as “a hind let loose.”

Genesis 49:22. Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; —

Where he can suck up abundant nutriment,—

Genesis 49:22. Whose branches run over the wall:

He does more than he is expected to do; nothing seems to content him, his “branches run over the wall.”

Genesis 49:23-24. The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: but his bow abode in strength,

You know how sorely Joseph was persecuted by his brethren, yet how the Lord was with him in all his troubles. It appears from these words that he was himself an archer, and that he was not in a hurry to shoot his arrows; his bow remained still. It is the strong who can afford to be quiet; as you go across the village green, a goose will hiss at you, while the strong ox lies down calmly, and takes no notice of you: “His bow abode in strength,” —

Genesis 49:24. And the arms of his hands —

Not only his hands, but the arms of his hands —

Genesis 49:24-27. Were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) 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: 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. Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.

Little Benjamin is the last of the tribes.

Genesis 49:28-33. 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. And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the came 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 burying-place. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah. The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth. 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.

It is a very sweet thing to die with a blessing on your lips, and it is equally good to live in the same spirit. Our Lord Jesus was blessing his disciples when he was taken from them; and since we do not know when we shall be taken sway from our relatives, let us be always blessing them. May the Lord, who has blessed us, make us a blessing to others!

 


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

Bibliography Information
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on Genesis 49:4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/spe/genesis-49.html. 2011.

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