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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 49

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Here we have the final prophecy and blessing of the Twelve Patriarchs by Jacob their father, one of the most magnificent passages in the whole Bible.

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 latter days.”

In this great chapter, distinguished by one of the most marvelous of all the Messianic prophecies, we are confronted at the outset by the arrogant denial of critics that this account is trustworthy. Dummelow’s comment is typical: “This chapter gives us indeed the last utterances of the dying patriarch respecting the future of his sons, but with additions and developments of a later date.”(F1) Of course, the critical community presumptuously assume for themselves the prerogative of deciding which were his last words and which were not. For us, the words which stand at the head of this passage of God’s Word are determinative: “Jacob … said” We shall waste little time sorting out the conflicting and contradictory views of critics and pay some brief attention to some of the rules by which they guide themselves in carving up the sacred text.

The misassumptions, presuppositions, and “a priori” conclusions underlying the critical rejection of this chapter are as follows:

a) Any such thing as actual prophecy or prediction is held to be impossible.

b) The patriarchs are held to be too ignorant and unlearned to produce such a poem as this.

c) Such a glorious passage as this is usually hailed as the production of some unknown, obscure, unheard of author who adopted the sacred name of Jacob for the purpose of gaining influence or credibility for his work.

d) Those generalized statements which abound in the passage are erroneously referred to some hard historical event of a later time, and then the error is hailed as proof that the passage was composed at some later date, such as the period of the Judges, or even in the times of David.

Leupold lists these and other elements of the usual critical bias.(F2) No refutation of such critical foolishness is actually necessary, but a brief comment is perhaps in order.

a) The actual “prophetic prediction” of Christ the Messiah, along with many of the features concerning his life, person, and kingdom is the most firmly proved and established fact of human history. One of about 333 such prophecies is found in Genesis 49:10, below.

b) That Jacob was incapable of speaking such glorious words as those recorded here is such a monstrous proposition that one may marvel at the bias out of which such a thought springs.

c) That this passage is pseudonymous is patently impossible. As Robertson said, “That whole stable of pseudonymous writers (relied upon by critics) is really an astonishing confidence trick!”(F3) The scholarly myth of the pseudonymous writer is so obviously false and unreasonable that it seems incredible that intelligent men would still rely upon such things. Pseudonymity is a malignant disease that feeds upon itself, or as Robinson put it, “There is an appetite for pseudonymity that grows by what it feeds upon.”(F4) We cannot leave this without pointing out the fact that all “redactors” are merely pseudonymous writers who have been given a fancy name for purposes of deception. As regards the Holy Bible, there never existed any such thing as a “redactor”!

d) As for the device by which unbelievers try to date this chapter centuries after Jacob died, namely, that of finding descriptions in it of some particular historical event (quite unnecessarily) and then alleging their false interpretation as proof of a later date, it should be recalled that, as Keil observed, “This chapter is not the prediction of particular historical events, but a purely ideal portraiture of the peculiarities of the different tribes.”(F5)

In fact, Keil summed up all attacks against this chapter, as follows:

“Every attack upon its genuineness has really proceeded from a priori denial of all supernatural prophecy, and has been sustained by such misinterpretations (as discovering specific historical allusions) for the purpose of stamping it as a “vaticinia ex eventu” (that being a false prophecy introduced into the text after the event).”(F6)

“That which shall befall you in the latter days” This expression is used extensively in the O.T. prophecies, and the ordinary meaning of it is that Messianic times are included in the things prophesied. Despite Willis’ opinion that “It is a serious mistake” to construe this as including “Christian times,”(F7) we find full agreement with Keil who affirmed the meaning here to be, “the last future, the Messianic age of consummation, not restricted to that period, but embracing the whole history of the Chosen People.”(F8)

Verses 2-3

“Assemble yourselves, 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 pre-eminence of dignity and the pre-eminence of power.”

The natural love of Jacob for his firstborn appears in this. God had promised Jacob to make of him a great nation, and Reuben was the beginning of the fulfillment. But, alas, the firstborn, in this instance, was not destined to live up to all the high hopes that his father had in him. Nevertheless, those hopes are affectionately mentioned here.

Verse 4

“Boiling over as water, thou shalt not have the pre-eminence; Because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; Then defilest thou it: he went up to my couch.”

“Boiling over as water” This rendition is based upon the Symmachus and the LXX;(F9) and is probably better rendered in the New English Bible which has “turbulent as a flood.” Recklessness, and wantonness,(F10) lust, frivolity and insolent pride(F11) are all said to be included in the meaning. The reference, of course, is to the incest which Reuben committed with Bilhah, one of his father’s wives.

“He went up to my couch” The use of the second person here might mean that Jacob, turning from his son, made a gesture toward him and addressed the remark to the others.

It should be noted that Jacob’s pronouncement here was fulfilled exactly in all the subsequent life of Reuben. He never furnished a leader of any kind to the nation. His was the first tribe to ask for a place to settle, and that before they ever entered Canaan (Numbers 32). They erected an unauthorized place of worship (Joshua 22:10-34). In the days of Deborah and Barak, his tribe violated their pledge and refused to answer the call to arms (Judges 5:15-16).

Verses 5-7

“Simeon and Levi are brethren. Weapons of violence are their swords. O my soul, come not thou into their council. Unto their assembly, my glory, be not thou united; For in their anger they slew a man, And in their self-will they hocked an ox. 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.”

The background of this prophecy is the shameful conduct of these two brothers in the events hinging upon the rape of their sister Dinah; but a careful reading of that passage in Genesis 34 has nothing about their “hocking an ox.” “This verse, therefore, provides a detail omitted in the previous reference.”(F12) This is a common practice in the Holy Scriptures. Another example is the additional detail that Jonah told the mariners (when he boarded with them) that he was fleeing from Jehovah (Jonah 1:10). There are numerous other examples throughout the Bible, and the foolish notion that every such detail worked into later references to an event is sure proof of some “other document’s contradictory account” is merely an outstanding evidence of blindness to the Biblical method.

“Scatter them in Israel” Since the cooperation of these brothers had produced some very shameful results, God would divide them. Jacob’s prophecy was fulfilled in the most remarkable manner.

At the time of the conquest of Canaan, Simeon had become the smallest of the tribes of Israel (Numbers 26:14). The tribe was passed over in the blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33). It received no separate assignment of territory, but merely a few cities within the limits of Judah (Joshua 19:1-9). Those were absorbed into Judah, and those who remained emigrated in two detachments, and sought out settlements for themselves outside the limits of Canaan (1 Chronicles 4:27-43).

These circumstances meet with the usual critical prejudice that assigns this prophecy of the separation and scattering to a period “after the events,” and thus they presume to date the prophecy after the conquest of Canaan. Well, if that is the way this prophecy came about, why did not the pseudonymous imposter throw in an account of the future glory of the Levites in the time of Moses? As Keil wisely observed, “Here is strong proof of the genuineness of the prophecy.”(F13) This prophetic “scattering of Levi” occurred all right, but the implied curse was changed into a great blessing in their election to the priesthood, concerning which there is not the slightest hint in the words of Jacob. “It is totally incredible that any later writer would have omitted to forecast the future glory of the Levites.”(F14)

Verses 8-10

“Judah, thee shall thy brethren praise: Thy hand shall be on the neck of thine enemies; Thy father’s sons shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, thou art gone up: He stooped down, he crouched as a lion, And as a lioness; who shall rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh come; And unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be.”

As frequently in this prophecy, there is word play called by the scholars paronomasia. The meaning of the word Judah is “praise”; so Jacob said, “Judah, thee shall thy brethren praise.”

The figure of a lion as a symbol of bold strength and courage is common throughout history, even until the days of Richard the Lionhearted of England. Significant is the change of gender from masculine to feminine; but this too is common in Scripture.

“Thy father’s sons shall bow down before thee” This is a prophecy that the right of rulership shall pertain to the tribe of Judah; but this did not come to pass at once. Moses was from Levi, Joshua from Ephraim, Gideon from Manasseh, Samson from Dan, Samuel from Ephraim, and Saul from Benjamin. However, in the long sweep through history the prophecy was completely fulfilled only in Judah and the house of David, one of his descendants whose reign prefigured the everlasting kingdom of the Messiah. The mention of “thy father’s sons” indicates that not merely the children of Judah’s natural brothers (the other sons of Leah) would be subject to him, but that all of Israel would likewise be.


We confidently hail this as one of the greatest Messianic prophecies in the entire Bible. We shall begin with a comment from Peake: “This verse (Genesis 49:10) is extremely difficult!”(F15) This is wrong, for, from Peake’s point of view the verse is absolutely impossible. The critics are powerless to get the Messiah out of this passage. Of course, they would pervert the translation if that would do any good, but that A PERSON is implied here is proved by the last clause in the verse: “Unto HIM shall the obedience of the peoples be,” which has the meaning that all nations shall obey THAT PERSON, a reference which no one would dare apply to Judah! (Except the Good News Bible!). That the Lord Jesus Christ is the person here spoken of is not subject to doubt or question. The passage is simply incapable of being referred to any other.

It is true that some versions leave Shiloh out of their renditions, substituting, “Until he comes whose it is” for “Until Shiloh come”; and of all the dozens of proposed renditions, these are the only two that have anything whatever to commend them, but as Peake admitted, if “Until he come whose it is” is used, “The point would then be that Judah was to hold the sovereignty until its true possessor, the Messiah comes.”(F16) As for us we prefer unequivocally the rendition of the ASV “Until Shiloh come.” We believe there is the very strongest Biblical support for this rendition, as outlined herewith.

SHILOH. This word occurs (with slight variations) three times in the Bible, and in every one of them, the reference is to JESUS CHRIST. As far as this passage goes,

Believing Shiloh to be the name of a person, the majority of commentators, both Jewish and Christian, the ancient as well as modern, agree that the Messiah is the person referred to, and Jacob here foretold that the appearance of that Messiah would not occur until the staff or regal power had dropped from his hands.(F17)

SHILOAH (Isaiah 8:6). “This people have rejected the waters of Shiloah that go softly.” Here the benign and peaceful government of God is compared to waters that go softly, called in this place SHILOAH! Thus, in this usage the peaceful government reaching its zenith in the Messiah is definitely meant.

SILOAM (John 9:7). “And Jesus said unto him, Go wash in the pool of Siloam (which is by interpretation `Sent’).” That the reference here is to Christ is certain. The bringing of a pitcher of water from this particular pool and pouring it out ceremoniously upon the Great Day of the Feast of Lights demonstrates that the Jews so received it as a symbol of the coming Messiah; and the apostle’s reference here confirms that.

However, NOTE: These three words, while not identical, are definitely variations of the same word, the unanimous testimony of all three being that they are witnesses of Christ and his kingdom.

The sincere student should avoid accepting any of the critical renditions of this place, concerning which there is no authority whatever. Good News Bible, for example, has:

Judah will hold the royal scepter, And his descendants will always rule.
Nations will bring him tribute, And bow in obedience to him.

Moffatt has, “The scepter never passes from Judah, nor ever the staff of sway, until he comes into his own and makes the clans obey.” The Revised Standard Version has, “Till he come to whom it belongs.” Of course, Moffatt’s and the Good News Bible’s renditions here are simply corrupted translations without any authority whatever, Good News Bible, in particular, being the statement of an outright falsehood, because the descendants of Judah did not always rule, and nations do not bring tribute to him. There are literally dozens of translations of this place available in the works of commentators, most of which, alas, are intent on finding any possible meaning that omits the undeniable Messianic message. As Peake said, “It is most difficult!” Of such renditions, we may say of all of them that they do not result from scholarship, but from prejudice.

The Revised Standard Version’s “Till he come to whom it belongs” is certainly acceptable, because the Messianic thrust of the passage is not blunted by that rendition. Ezekiel has this: I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more, until he comes whose right it is (Ezekiel 21:27).

Payne thought that Ezekiel here was referring to (and clarifying) this passage.(F18) Certainly, this rendition is a thousand times preferable to the wild and irresponsible guesses of imaginative critics. Even Payne, however, admitted that “The Hebrew text appears to say, “Till Shiloh come.”(F19) It is our conviction that this is what it does say. The dependability, accuracy, and integrity of both the King James Version and the American Standard Version should be trusted here.

Shiloh here must be interpreted personally and Messianically.(F20) “All, from the days of the Septuagint (LXX, 250 B.C.) onward felt very strongly the Messianic implications of this text.”(F21) All of the comment on this passage must not obscure the fact that the the Hebrew text of the O.T. here has SILOH(F22) — a name which is certainly a proper name in every other instance of its use in the entire O.T.(F23) Also, the personal pronoun “him” in the next line absolutely requires this passage to be understood as a reference to the Messiah, of whom alone, could it ever be said that, “Unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be.”

Verses 11-12

“Binding his foal unto the vine, And his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; He hath washed his garments in wine, And his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes shall be red with wine, And his teeth white with milk.

The safety, plenty, and peace of an abundant agricultural life are symbolized by these quaint figures of speech. It is not suggested here that Judah would ever actually wash his clothes in wine, but that the wine (and milk) would be so abundant that he could have done so!

Verse 13

“Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; And he shall be for a haven of ships; And his border shall be upon Sidon.”

What is said here of Zebulun is more applicable to Israel as a whole than to this particular tribe, and perhaps that is the way Jacob intended it, with the meaning that Zebulun shall share fully as a participant in the blessings promised to all Israel in Palestine. Many have pointed out that the actual settlement of this tribe did not place them adjacent to Sidon. Keil pointed out that the literal meaning of this place affirms Zebulun’s dwelling as being, “toward the coasts of ships, and his sides toward Sidon.”(F24) Also, “not so much to show the place of his dwelling, as to point out the blessings which would be received from the situation of his inheritance.”(F25) This is borne out by Deuteronomy 33:19.

Verses 14-15

“Issachar is a strong ass, Couching down between the sheepfolds: And he saw a resting place that it was good, And the land that it was pleasant; And he bowed his shoulder to bear, And became a servant unto taskwork.”

The thing in view here is the character of Issachar whose tribe would be satisfied with physical comfort and plenty to eat, with a complacency that would make them prefer to accept oppression and taskwork rather than fight to maintain freedom and independence. It is possible that this attitude contributed to the enslavement of Israel in Egypt. Morris read this as a prophecy that Issachar would be, “Strong, but docile and lazy.”(F26)

Verses 16-17

“Dan shall judge his people, As one of the tribes of Israel, Dan shall be a serpent in the way, An adder in the path, That biteth the horse’s heels, So that his rider falls backward.”

The thought here is that Dan, although few in number and not strong militarily would nevertheless be able to overcome by cunning strategy. Willis identified the “serpent” of this place as the “cerastes cornutus”,(F27) an extremely poisonous and dangerous, horned snake which was the color of the ground and often inflicted fatal wounds upon travelers. “This character of Dan as a judge of Israel came out in the expedition of the Danites to Laish in northern Canaan (described in Judges 18), and in the romantic chivalry of the brave and gigantic Samson, who with the cunning of the serpent overthrew the mightiest of foes.”(F28)

Verse 18

“I have waited for thy salvation, O Jehovah.”

As this inspired blessing unfolded, it suddenly struck Jacob that all kinds of hardships, disasters, persecutions, enmities, and conflicts awaited his posterity in the days to come; and here, by this timely statement, he claimed for himself and his posterity the blessing, support, and protection of Jehovah. “It is an expression of confidence that his descendants would receive the help of God.”(F29) Indeed they did receive God’s help. The entire history of Israel as unfolded in the O.T. demonstrates in the most striking manner the providential help and guidance which Israel continually received.

Verse 19

“Gad, A troop shall press upon him; But he shall press upon their heel.”

There is a triple word play here upon Gad, which means troop. Apparently, bravery in battle is the thing prophesied, a quality in this tribe which is confirmed by the scriptural reference in 1 Chronicles 12:8-15.

Verse 20

“Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, And he shall yield royal dainties.”

In 1 Kings 5:11, it is revealed that Asher lived in the lowlands along the Mediterranean between Carmel and Tyre, a fruitful and fertile region; and Solomon supplied the household of King Hiram from the wheat and oil products of this region.

Verse 21

“Naphtali is a hind let loose: He giveth goodly words.”

The meaning of this is not clear; and nothing more is recorded concerning this tribe except that in conjunction with Zebulun they won a notable victory over Jabin a Canaanite king, memorialized by the prophetess Deborah in her celebrated song (Judges 4 and Judges 5).

Verses 22-24

“Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a fountain; And his branches run over the wall. The archers have sorely grieved him, And shot at him, and persecuted him: But his bow abode in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong, By the arms of the Mighty One of Jacob (From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel).”

Both from the length of this blessing as well as from the content of it, one gets the impression that Jacob still had excessive fondness for Joseph; and we must believe that, if God had not required otherwise, Jacob would have conferred upon him the kingship already conveyed to Judah. What is indicated here is extreme strength and fruitfulness, blessings that were most adequately fulfilled in the subsequent history of this tribe, which came in time to inherit all of northern Israel, and which also gave their name to the whole kingdom.

The reference to “the archers” would appear to prophesy a continuation of the jealous hatred and persecution which had marked the early life of Joseph in his relationship with his brothers. Triumph for Joseph is clearly foretold.

Of very great interest in these verses is the reference to “The Mighty One of Jacob.” This is the first of five names for God which Jacob used here and in Genesis 49:25, below. They are:

The Mighty One of Jacob. (Psalms 132:2; Psalms 132:5; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 60:16).

The Shepherd. (Psalms 23; Ezekiel 34:11-16; Psalms 80:1).

The Stone of Israel. (Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18; Deuteronomy 32:30-31; Psalms 18:2).

The God of thy Father. (Exodus 3:15)

God Almighty. (Genesis 17:1; Genesis 28:3; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 43:14; Exodus 6:3).

This is another instance in which separate names for God afford no evidence at all of multiple sources.

Verses 25-26

“Even by the God thy father, who shall help thee, And by the Almighty who shall bless thee, With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep which coucheth beneath, 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.”

Jacob here blessed Joseph with all the blessings that he himself had received from God, but significantly the blessings promised did not partake of the nature of spiritual excellence, but tended rather to worldly glory and power. As often noted, Judah received the spiritual leadership of Israel, and Joseph the political and temporal leadership, blessings which reached their climax in the glory of the northern Israel, but which were destined to be swallowed up in the Assyrian invasion and destruction of the ten tribes. It was perhaps the introduction of pagan influence into the posterity of Joseph through their mother the daughter of Potiphera the pagan priest of On that constituted the seeds of the ultimate downfall of Joseph (Ephraim).

“Him that was separate from his brethren” is a plaintive statement of the early disfavor of Joseph’s brothers toward him; but for that he was richly rewarded. “No spiritual blessings were foretold for this favorite son of Jacob; spiritually, his tribe never excelled; and it was by a member of the tribe of Ephraim (Jeroboam) that the calf-worship was institutionalized in Israel, thus `making Israel to sin’.”(F30)

Verse 27

“Benjamin is a wolf that raveneth: In the morning he shall devour the prey, And at even he shall divide the spoil.”

“A wolf that raveneth” Literally, this means, “A wolf, he shall tear in pieces.”(F31) The ferocious nature of this tribe is exemplified in such men as Ehud (Judges 3:15) and King Saul (1 Samuel 11:6-11 ff). Whatever the failures of this tribe might have been during the history of the old Israel, the glory of it was enhanced forever by one of their sons, Saul of Tarsus, who became the most gifted apostle of the Christian religion.

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.”

Here is reiterated the fact that Jacob spoke these words. Of course, this statement is either a truth or a lie; and we receive it unequivocally as truth.

This is the first mention of this prophecy as “a blessing”; and so it is. To be sure, some have pointed out that Jacob “cursed their anger,” a far different thing. Jacob’s bitter denunciation of the sins of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi was exactly the type of blessing they needed; yet for all that, they were not expelled or disinherited among the Twelve Sons, but received their inheritance like all the rest. So indeed the whole prophecy is a blessing.

Verses 29-30

“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 cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burial place.”

Having concluded the blessing, Jacob already having received from Joseph, a principal authority in Egypt, a solemn oath that he would be buried in Machpelah, in this passage charged his sons regarding his wishes. The detailed description of the burial place was given by Jacob evidently for the purpose of enlightening his sons concerning the exact amount of property that pertained to the family burial ground. His statement here that he would be “gathered to my people” suggests that some kind of conviction existed within him that the dead were nevertheless, in some sense, still his people. If it was merely an intuition on his part, it was true. God would later speak to Moses as the “God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob,” the Saviour himself using this as a proof of immortality.

Verses 31-33

“There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah: the field and the cave that is therein, which was purchased from the children of Heth. And when Jacob made an end of charging his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.”

Only here, in the Bible, do we learn that Jacob had buried Leah in Machpelah, but nothing is said as to WHEN the event occurred. It is possible that it happened even before Jacob went down into Egypt, but all such guesses are merely speculation. The actual burial took place as Jacob requested and is next related in the sacred text.

“Gathered up his feet into the bed” This expression indicates that after Jacob finished blessing his sons, he took his feet up from the floor where he had been sitting on the bed and folded himself up in bed, assuming, in all probability, the fetal position that is naturally characteristic of one in the process of dying. The knees are drawn under the chin, and the body takes on something of the position occupied within the womb of the mother. This is an indication that Jacob died shortly after speaking these words.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Genesis 49". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/genesis-49.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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