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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 49

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-33


With the history of Joseph, Genesis concludes what is called the patriarchal age. Yet there are two or three facts for consideration before passing to the next book.


For example, Joseph’s history was interrupted almost at the beginning by that of his brother Judah (chap. 38). Judah’s history is shameful, but recorded because it bears upon the genealogy of Jesus, since Tamar, prostitute though she were, became an ancestress of our blessed Lord (Matthew 1:3 ).


Note the past and the future of Jacob’s faith as enunciated in Genesis 48:3-4 : his adoption of the two sons of Joseph, and how in some sense they were to receive the blessing forfeited by Reuben and Simeon (see the following chapter and compare 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 ). By the adoption of these two sons the tribes of Israel were enlarged to thirteen, but by a special divine arrangement, as we shall see subsequently, that of Levi had no part in the division of the land of Canaan, and the nation was thus able to always preserve the original number, twelve.

Of the two sons of Joseph Jacob gave the pre-eminence to one contrary to the law of primogeniture and evidently by divine guidance, though for reasons we do not know. By and by we shall see a fulfillment of this predictive blessing on these sons, a kind of credal expression of Jacob (Genesis 48:15-16 ). This is the earliest creed of the true faith on record, and suggests an example to us in these days when all sorts of people say they believe in God, meaning so many different things thereby. We should be careful that it be known in what God we believe, namely, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” with all that the term implies. When in this blessing Jacob speaks of the “the Angel” who redeemed him, he means Jehovah himself, since (as we have learned) he is identical with the second person of the Trinity. Angel means the sent one (see Galatians 4:4-5 ).

Note the triumphant faith of Jacob through this closing transaction of his career. His assurance of the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people takes away the fear of death from him and leads him to regard those promises greater than all the worldly glories enjoyed by Joseph and his sons as princes of Egypt. Observe also that he disposes of that which God has promised him for his descendants with as much confidence, as he would dispose of an earthly estate.


In accordance with the curse on Reuben (Genesis 49:3-4 ), his tribe never attained distinction in Israel. Simeon and Levi for the same reason were both divided and scattered in the later allotment of the land (Genesis 49:5-7 ): see for the former, Joshua 19:1-9 ; 2Ch 15:9 ; 2 Chronicles 34:6 , and for the latter Numbers 35:7-8 ; Numbers 35:3 Joshua 21:1-42 . Levi’s curse was turned into a blessing, doubtless because of their righteous conduct, as will be seen later. Compare Exodus 32:25 and Deuteronomy 33:8-11 .

The reason Judah obtained the preeminence (Genesis 49:8-12 ) was not for his superior moral character (as we have seen) but for reasons known only to God..Judah means praise, and it is striking to see in the history of Israel how when Judah came to power in the time of David, the worship of Jehovah revived. David who came to Judah was himself the sweet psalmist of Israel who has given to the saints of every generation songs of praise that never grow old.

It is in connection with Judah (Genesis 49:10 ) that we have the clearest prophecy of the Redeemer since that of Eden (Genesis 3:15 ). His was to be the royal tribe, and the scepter should not depart from him nor the lawgiver (or the rulers’ staff) from between his feet until Shiloh should come. Jews and Christians agree that Shiloh, “peace-maker,” applies to Christ. It is noticeable that the tribe of Judah maintained at least the semblance of government in Israel until after the crucifixion, while since that time she has had no national existence. All agree in regarding this one of the strong evidences of the Messiahship of Jesus.

Zebulun, in fulfillment of the prediction in Genesis 49:13 , dwelt on the Sea of Galilee, his border running back on the west and north to Sidon, Naphtali being contiguous. Their occupations and dangers as seamen made them courageous, and “they jeoparded their lives” in the battles of the Kingdom (1 Chronicles 12:33-34 ). The territory of Issachar was one of the most fertile in Canaan, explaining their pacific and industrious life, predicted in Genesis 49:14-15 . The language concerning Dan is difficult to understand (Genesis 49:16-17 ), but Asher’s territory like that of the two other tribes mentioned was one of the best in Israel and corresponded with the meaning of his name, “happy” or “fortunate.” Of Naphtali we have spoken in connection with Zebulun. The tribe of Benjamin seems to have been always warlike and cruel in character.

The death of Jacob calls attention to the fact that his last days were not only his most tranquil but those in which we see the work of his conversion and sanctification carried to its culminating point.


What period of time was devoted to the ceremonial worship for the grandees of Egypt (Genesis 50:3 )? During this period Joseph was isolated from the court of Pharaoh, which accounts for his request of others (Genesis 50:4-5 ).

How did Joseph’s brethren exhibit needless fear on their return (Genesis 50:15-16 )? Do you think they spoke the truth in alluding to their father, or was it a ruse on their part? How does the circumstance illustrate the power of a guilty conscience? How does Joseph’s reply illustrate the kindness of God to us in Christ (Genesis 50:21 )? In what way does the circumstance suggest the ground of assurance for them who put their trust in Christ?

In what way did Joseph exhibit his faith in God’s promise concerning Israel (Genesis 50:24-25 )? Compare Hebrews 11:22 .


1. Which of Joseph’s sons received the preeminence in Jacob’s blessing?

2. What important lesson is suggested by Genesis 48:15-16 ?

3. In what way has the meaning of Judah’s name been fulfilled in history?

4. Quote the prophecy of Genesis 49:10 , and show its application to Christ.

5. State the typical and dispensational aspects of Joseph’s history as given in the last lesson.

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Genesis 49". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/genesis-49.html. 1897-1910.
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