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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 49

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-4


Verses 1-4:

This is the closing scene in Jacob’s long and eventful life. He calls his sons before him as the lies on his dying couch. His last words are to be both blessing and prophetic. As the head and the priest of the clan, he unfolds the prophetic vision of the tribes of which his sons are the progenitors. These are not descriptive of any one era or event in their history. Rather these prophetic blessings are sketches of the general characteristics of the tribes.

In each of the blessings, the character traits of the ancestor describe the general character and history of the tribe. This demonstrates the prophetic nature of the utterance.

The first in order was Reuben, son of Leah, and Jacob’s firstborn. His is a threefold designation: (1) his position, as the firstborn; (2) his relationship to his father, as his "might" and the beginning of his virility; and (3) his natural prominence as the eldest son, the "excellency of dignity" or elevation.

In spite of his natural advantages, Reuben was disqualified from enjoying his position as firstborn. The reason: a character defect. He was "unstable," literally "unboiling as water." He was unwilling to renounce pride, and to control his passions. Moral impurity disqualified him from a leadership role. Jacob did not disown him as his son; he took from him the privileges and responsibilities of the firstborn.

Moral impurity and pride disqualify people in every age from responsible leadership roles. This does not mean they lose their salvation: they lose the privileges and rewards of service and fellowship because of sin (Isa 59:1, 2; 1Co 9:26, 27).

Verses 5-7

Verses 5-7:

Simeon and Levi are next in line after Reuben. Their wanton cruelty in the massacre at Shechem (34:25-31) united them as "brethren" (companions) in evil. But as they had united for evil, they would be "scattered" among the other tribes of Israel and would not form closely-related tribes. Levi did not obtain a territorial inheritance in the distribution of the Land under Joshua, but was assigned 48 cities in which to dwell (Ge Nu 18:20; Jos 13:14; 21:1-42).

As for Simeon, at Israel’s second census (Nu 26:14) his tribe was the smallest in number. And Moses in his final blessing (De 33) makes no mention of him. Simeon had no clearly-defined territory in the Land, but occupied certain cities in Judah’s inheritance (Jos 19:1-9). And of the families in Simeon’s tribe who later rose to prominence, most left the Land and settled outside it (1Ch 4:38-43).

Simeon and Levi were disqualified from receiving the firstborn rights forfeited by Reuben, due to a character defect. They were bitter at the humiliation of their sister Dinah. Although justice demanded satisfaction for the crime against Dinah, these brothers did not follow righteous principles in obtaining that justice. This defect rendered them incapable of leadership in Israel. Levi’s descendants later demonstrated loyalty to Jehovah and His righteous principles, and were elevated to a spiritual ministry (Ex 32:25-29; 33:8-11). This demonstrates God’s blessings upon a repentant spirit.

Simeon and Levi took matters into their own hands, to vindicate the honor of the Chosen Family by carnal means. God’s answer to this was to scatter their tribes, to let all know that He gives victory by spiritual, not carnal means.

Verses 8-12

Verses 8-12:

While Joseph received the two-fold territorial possession as the firstborn of Jacob’s beloved Rachel, the other birthright privileges along with the spiritual leadership were transferred to Judah. Jacob’s prophetic vision enabled him to see the Messiah in Judah’s tribe.

Judah, "the lion," is to be Israel’s leader. Like the young lion as he ripens to full strength, he roams the forest seeking his prey. When he finds and devours it, he retires to his mountain lair where he rests in disregard for all efforts to interrupt his serenity. The picture is one of a strong, invincible hero. The "sceptre" denotes legislative and administrative powers. These are to remain in Judah until the coming of "Shiloh." This refers to the Messiah, the "Lion of the Tribe of Judah" (Re 5:5) whose coming shall usher in a period of universal peace throughout the world (Heb 7:14; Eph 2:14; 1Co 15:25).

Jacob prophesies of the richness of Judah’s tribal allotment. The best wine in all Palestine came from Hebron and En-Gedi. Some of the choice pasture land lay south of Hebron, around Carmel and Tekoa.

Verse 13

Verse 13:

Zebulun’s portion was to be between Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea, with Zidon (Sidon) as its northern boundary. His was to be a maritime allotment. History reveals that the tribe of Zebulun did not take possession of all that was allotted them.

Verses 14-15

Verses 14, 15:

Issachar, a "strong ass," an "ass of bone," a strong and powerful animal capable of bearing burdens.

"Couching down between two burdens," is "lying down between the folds," referring to the cattle-pens into which the livestock went by night for rest and protection. Issachar’s role was one that preferred labor with quietness to power and domination. The territory assigned to Issachar in the Land was the region of lower Galilee.

Verses 16-18

Verses 16-18:

Dan was the firstborn son of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid. He was to occupy an important role in the commonwealth of Israel. The prediction that he should judge his people may allude to the prominence of judges from this tribe. One of the most notable was Samson.

The "serpent" is the cerastes, "horned serpent," the color of sand and marked with spots of black and white. It was a dangerous reptile, very poisonous; its bite was usually fatal. It appears this is an allusion to the treachery which marked this tribe. It was Dan which led the first tribal movement into idolatry after possessing the Land (Judges chapter 18). The list of Israel’s tribes in Re 7 omits the name of Da Some of the ancient "Church Fathers" (among them Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, Theodoret) believe the Antichrist is to spring from this tribe, due to this omission of his and to the allusion to the "serpent."

After the prophecy regarding Dan, Jacob lifts us a prayer expressing his own faith, as well as his confidence on behalf of his offspring. "Salvation" here refers to national deliverance, from the hand of Jehovah, and not to the personal salvation of the soul.

Verse 19

Verse 19:

In the Hebrew text there is a three-fold alliteration, which is not apparent in the Authorized Version. "Troops shall troop on him, but he shall troop on their retreat." This apparently refers to the many attacks upon Gad in his future territory in the Land, by the nomad brigands who plagued the ancient world. But in the main, he was successful in driving them off.

Verse 20

Verse 20:

This prophecy alludes to Asher in his inheritance in the Land. It lay in the fertile region extending from Mount Carmel to the land of Tyre, and was one of the richest districts in corn and oil in all Israel.

Verse 21

Verse 21:

The prophecy regarding Naphtali pictures him as an agile, graceful warrior. In addition, he is depicted as having mental quickness, astuteness and eloquence of speech. This may allude to the song afterward sung in the territory of Naphtali (Jg 4:6-9; 5:1-31).

Verses 22-26

Verses 22-26:

Jacob’s prophetic blessing upon his beloved son Joseph is the richest of all his other sons, from the standpoint of material prosperity. His fruitfulness is like that of a luxuriant fruit-tree, panted by a well of water and abounding in fruit. His strength comes from Jehovah Elohim Himself. And Jacob bestows upon Joseph the richest of blessings, far greater than any bestowed by his ancestors. This prophecy was to be fulfilled in the two sons of Joseph, which meant Joseph had a double portion above his brothers.

Verse 27

Verse 27:

Jacob’s prophecy regarding his youngest son Benjamin deals with the warlike character of his descendants. This is an allusion to Ehud the judge (Jg 3:15) and Saul, Israel’s first king (Isaiah 11:6-11).

Verses 28-33

Verses 28-33:

Jacob’s blessing upon his twelve sons was in reality a benediction upon the tribe which spring from them. Having spoken these words, he charged all the twelve as he had privately charged Joseph regarding his burial. He was under no circumstances to be buried in Egypt. At his death, the sons were to take his body back to the Land, to the burial plot Abraham had purchased from Ephron the Hittite (chapter 23). Here Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah were buried. Here Jacob had buried Leah. And here he wanted his final resting place. This was a token of his faith that God would vindicate His Word and return the Chosen people to the Land He had promised.

Following this solemn charge, Jacob gathered his feet upon the bed, lay down, and peacefully departed this life. Thus ended the career of the most pilgrim-like of all the patriarchs.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 49". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-49.html. 1985.
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