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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 49

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-33


Jacob’s blessing of his sons. Judah and his brethren. Jacob’s last arrangements. His burial in Canaan. His death.

Genesis 49:1-33

1And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. 2Gather yourselves together, and 3hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father. Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: 4Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest 5up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch. Simeon and 6Levi 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 7their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will 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 8Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise; thy hand shall be on the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down 9before thee. 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? 10The sceptre 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. 11Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his 12clothes in the blood of the grapes. His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. 13Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea, and he shall be for an haven 14of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon. Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between two burdens. 15And 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. 16Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. 18I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord! 19Gad, a troop shall overcome him; but he shall overcome at the last. 20Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall 21yield royal dainties. Naphtali is a hind let loose; he giveth goodly words. 22Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well, whose branches run over the wall. 23The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: 24But 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:) 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: 26The 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 27from his brethren. Benjamin shall raven as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour the 28prey, 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. 29And 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; 30In the cave 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. 31There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah. 32The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth. 33And 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.

[There is quite a number of rare Hebrew words and phrases in this 49th chapter; but as it is difficult to separate the philological and textual consideration of them from the more general interpretation, the reader is referred to the places in the Exegetical and Critical where they will be found discussed, and to marginal notes subjoined.—T. L.]


In this most important and most solemn closing prophecy of Genesis, there come into consideration: 1. The prophetic development generally; 2. the character of its contents: 3. its poetical form; 4. its origin; 5. the analogies; 6. the literature; 7. the points of particular interest.
1. The prophetic development. The blessing of Jacob forms the close, the last full bloom of the patriarchal prophecy, or of the theocratic promise of the patriarchal time. The seed of the protevangel passes, in its unfolding, through the blessing of Noah, through the promises given to Abraham (especially the closing one of Genesis 22:0), and, finally, through the blessing of Isaac, and the promises made to Jacob, to become, at last, the prophetic form of life, as it is manifested in the future of the twelve tribes. Thenceforth, in respect to its tenor, is the Messianic germ more distinctly unfolded than in the promises hitherto; whilst the poetic form, which is so peculiar a feature of the Messianic predictions, attains in them to the full measure of its bloom. We shall mistake the meaning of this blessing, unless we estimate it according to the theocratic degree of its development, or, if we do not bear in mind that it stands midway between the blessing of Isaac and the Mosaic promises.

In respect to the fundamental ideas contained in these benedictions, it may be said that the blessing of Judah forms evidently its central point, to which that of Joseph makes a corresponding contrast. The spirit of Israel finds its corresponding expression in the one, the heart of Jacob in the other. The others group themselves around these, not as isolated atoms, but in significant relations. The declarations made in respect to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, link themselves together, and have a direct view to the distinction of Judah. In those of Zebulun and Issachar, who, as sons of Leah, are placed before the sons of the handmaids, there is a reversal of the natural order of succession, since Zebulun, the younger, precedes. There seems to have been a motive here similar to that which led to the preference of Ephraim to Manasseh. Zebulun’s preference seems to consist in this, that he has place between two seas, extending from the Galilean sea to the Mediterranean, an indication of a richer worldly position. Dan closes the group which, like a constellation of seven stars, forms itself around Judah. Then follows the ejaculation (Genesis 49:18), in which there seems to be again a sound of Judah’s destiny. In the natural order, Naphtali would have come next; but the blessing includes both the two sons of Leah’s handmaid, Gad and Asher, between the sons of Rachel’s handmaid, Dan and Napthali. It is not easy to see the reason of this, unless it was somehow to reinforce the line of Rachel through Naphtali; or we may suppose that the position of the three named before Joseph led to Joseph and Benjamin. Gad is like Joseph an invincible hero in defensive war. Asher makes the prelude to the rich blessing of Joseph in natural things. Naphtali ranks with Benjamin in impetuousness and decision of character. It is strictly in accordance with the spirit of prophecy, that the picture here given of the future of Israel’s tribes should have its light and shade, its broad features, and its mere points of gleaming, and that it should be just as indeterminate in its chronology. In respect to the nature of its contents, Knobel maintains that this portion of Scripture is incorrectly called the blessing of Jacob. The blessing of Moses, Deuteronomy 33:0, is rightly so designated, because it contains only good for the tribes; whilst this, on the contrary, has much that is to their disadvantage. “Judah and Joseph, as the most important, are treated in the most favorable manner; Naphtali, also, is spoken of favorably in respect to deeds of heroism, and poetic art, as Asher for his productive territory. To a tolerable degree the same may be said of Gad, who, indeed, is overcome, but overcomes at last; whilst it is not saying much for Zebulun that he shall dwell by the seas. What is declared of Issachar, that he yields himself to labor like an ass, or concerning Dan, that like a serpent he lurks in the path, or of Benjamin, that he shall be like a ravening wolf, contains, at least, a mingling of disapprobation,” etc. This shows but a poor comprehension of the prophetic forms of speech. If, in a good sense, Judah is a lion rampant, why, in the same sense, may not Benjamin be a wolf, especially a victorious one, that “in the evening divides the spoil?” And why should not Dan, who is judge in Israel, be compared with the serpent in view of his strategical cunning? Along with Naphtali, the swift-footed deer may also be named, in no unfavorable way, the strong-boned ass Issachar, who, in his comfortable love of peace, devotes himself to peasant service, and to the transport of burdens between the Galilean sea and the southern regions. Next to these animal figures, whose characteristics are to be regarded according to the oriental usage, and not moralized upon in our occidental way, comes the figure of the plant: Joseph the fruitful vine, supplemented by the human figure: Joseph, the archer, or mark for the archer’s arrows. Less developed is the figure of Asher, the royal purveyor, or of Zebulun the shipper, or that of Reuben drawn from the instability of water. Is it an evil doom pronounced upon Reuben, pointing, as it does, to his sin, that he should be deposed from the birthright? Rather, according to the Scripture, is it a misfortune when a man embraces a calling to which he is unequal, as, for example, Saul and Judas. The prince of the twelve tribes must be something more than an unstable vapor. It was, however, by this determination that Reuben was guarded from his own destruction. He remains the first below the first-born, and, from this state of forbearance and protection he may still develop the more moderate blessing pronounced Deuteronomy 33:6. Simeon and Levi have not, like Reuben, so repented of their old guilt, that it may not be again charged upon them, with a malediction of the deed that may yet become a blessing, if it is the occasion of chastising, warning and purifying them. How their dispersion in Israel, which is imposed upon them as a penalty, may be transformed into a distinction, is shown in the position of Levi, and in the blessing later pronounced upon him, Deuteronomy 33:8. Through this dispersion, Simeon, indeed, disappears as a tribe, but he becomes incorporated with Judah, the best of the twelve (Judges 1:3). Benjamin, “the ravening wolf,” becomes, in the blessing of Moses, a protector of the beloved of Jehovah. Zebulun is praised for his maritime position; Issachar, the broad-limbed peasant, rejoices in his tents. Gad, the fighter in Genesis, becomes, in the blessing of Moses, a lion like Judah; and so Dan is a young lion, ready to spring, as before he was compared, in a similar manner, to a darting serpent. Naphtali is still described as full of grace, though in more expressive language. Asher, who, in Genesis, is full of bread, is changed, in the Mosaic blessing, to the “abounding in oil.” We need not wonder therefore, that Joseph, who is ever praised, is compared, in the blessing of Moses, to the ox and the buffalo. In the later benediction, the blessing of Judah becomes more mysterious, more individual, more spirituous, whilst yet there is a falling back of the rich development presented in Genesis. This designation, therefore: the blessing of Jacob, is well grounded, besides being expressly confirmed in Genesis 49:28. In regard to the relations, or the perspective of this prophecy, it is incorrect to say, as Baumgarten and Kurtz do, that the seer here looks at the time of the Judges as giving the fulness of his picture. Thus to limit the prophecy in the olden time, is to divest it of its character as true prediction, and make it a mere presaging. Each prophecy, indeed, has its own provisional points of aim and rest, belonging to the time in whose forms and colors it clothes itself, yet still, in its last aim, ever points to the perfection of the kingdom of God. This, moreover, is here expressed in the very letter, “באהרית הימים, literally, at the end of the days, that is, in the last time, ἐπ’ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν (LXX)—not the future in general, but the closing future, in fact, the Messianic time of the completion,” etc. (Keil, p. 284). True it is, that the period from the time of the Judges to that of David appears as the determinate foreground view of the seer, but this is, itself, a symbolic configuration, in which he looks through, and beholds the whole Messianic future, even to its close, though not in its perfectly developed features. Just so does the protevangel point already to the end, but only in its most general outlines as the salvation of the future.

2. The blessing, in the character of its contents. In each prophecy we must distinguish three capital points: 1) Its basis in the present, or its point of departure; 2) its nearest form of the future; 3) the symbolical significance of the same for the wider fulfilling of the redemption history. And so here Israel is at the standpoint of promise as hitherto unfolded; in the prophetic clearness of its illumination, he sees the characters of his sons, and the real prophetic as it lies in their individuality. What is more clear than that Judah already reveals the lion nature, Joseph that of the fruitful tree, or that Reuben, Simeon, and Levi do already show clear points of distinction in their lives. But in the character of the sons he sees, too, the first unfolding of the tribes in Canaan, even as it reveals itself from the time of the Judges to that of David. Then Reuben is no more the first-born, yet still well provided for in a way corresponding to his impatient nature. The dispersion of Simeon and Levi has already begun. The tribe of Judah advances more and more towards the royal dignity. Zebulun has his position, so favorable for worldly intercourse, between the Galilean and the Mediterranean seas. Issachar has drawn his lot in the rich regions of the plain of Jezreel, etc. But now one would go entirely out of the prophetic sphere, if he should mistake the theocratic redemption idea, as it shines through these outlines and colors, or their symbolical character. This character comes clearest into view in Judah.

3. The poetic form. With the sacred appearance of the people of God, the people of the new world, comes the speech of the new world: that is its poetry, perfectly developed. There is already the rhythmical song, the beautiful parallelism, the exuberance of figures, the play upon names (Genesis 49:8; Genesis 49:13; Genesis 49:16; Genesis 49:19-20; Genesis 49:22; according to Knobel also 15 and 21), the play upon words (Genesis 49:8; Genesis 49:19), the peculiar forms of expression, the elevation of spirit, the heart feelings; and all these form a poetry corresponding to the greatness of the objects as well as to the character of the speaker, who shows so many traits of the human heart in his deep emotion, and in the grandeur of his faith in God.

4. The last remark takes us to the subject of origin. The reckless inclination of our times to disconnect the choicest productions of genius from the names with which they are associated, and to ascribe them, in any and every way, to some unknown author, finds a special occasion for its lawless criticism in the passage of Scripture now before us. Nevertheless, the reference of it to Jacob, and in the form in which it stands, still finds its many and able supporters. Those who now best represent this view are Delitzsch, Baumgarten, Diestel, Hengstenberg, Keil, and others. On the other hand, the ascription to Jacob is wholly rejected by De Wette, Schumann, Bleek, Knobel, and others. This is due, in part, to the spirit of rationalism, a fundamental assumption of which is that prophecies must have arisen after the events they are supposed to predict. Governed by this, Knobel transfers the origin of the passage to the time of David, and is inclined, with Bohlen and others, to ascribe it to the prophet Nathan. Knobel deems it a weighty objection, that a “simple nomade” could never have produced anything of the kind, especially an enfeebled and aged one. This may be carried farther, so as to deny generally that the patriarchal nomades could have carried with them anything of the spirit of the Messianic future; which would show that this confident assumption of the critic runs clear into absurdity. In respect to the last ground see the Analogies. As far as concerns the objection of Heinrich and others, namely, if the patriarch could foretell the future at all, why did he not go beyond the Davidian period, it may be said that it is too narrow, too limited in its scope, to demand attention. On the question, whether the poem is to be ascribed to the Elohist, or to the Jehovist, see Knobel, p. 335. As it will not exactly suit either the Elohist or the Jehovist, Knobel has to betake himself to his documentary storehouse that he keeps ever lying behind the scenes. As to what concerns the age and authority of our document, a writer who lived at the time of the first formation of the Aaronic priesthood, would have hardly ventured to place the tribe of Levi in so unfavorable a light as that in which it here appears. And so, too, the tribes of Reuben and Simeon would never have allowed any Hebrew song-writer to make such a representation of their ancestors. In respect to its character, the poem claims for itself not only a patriarchal age, but also a patriarchal sanction. Nevertheless, a distinction may be safely made between the patriarchal memorabilia (whose safe-keeping was doubtless attended to by Joseph) and a canonical recension which did not venture to change anything essential.

5. The analogies. The dying Isaac (Genesis 27:0), the dying Moses (Deuteronomy 32:0), the dying Joshua (Joshua 24:0), the dying Samuel (1 Samuel 12:0), the dying David (2 Samuel 23:0), in the Old Testament, the dying Simeon, the dying Paul, and the dying Peter, in the New, prove for us the fact, that the spirit of devoted men of God, in anticipation of death, soars to an elevated consciousness, and either in priestly admonitions, or prophetic foreseeings, attests its divine nature, its elevation above the common life, and its anticipation of a new and glorious existence. The testimony of antiquity is harmonious in respect to such facts,—even heathen antiquity. So declared the dying Socrates, that he regarded himself as in that stage of being when men had most of the foreseeing power (Plato: Apologia Socratis). Pythagoras taught that the soul sees the future, when it is departing from the body. In Cicero, and other writers, we find similar declarations. (See Knobel, p. 49.) Knobel, however, presents it, as a grave question, whether the narrator means to assert a direct gift of prophetic vision in the dying Jacob, or whether there is not rather intended an immediate derivation of knowledge from God. This is just the way in which orthodox interpreters oftentimes place the divine inspiration in contrast with, and in contradiction to, their human preconditionings; whereas a rational comprehension of life sees here a union of natural human states (consequently a more fully developed power of anticipation in the dying) with the illuminating spirit of revelation that shines through them.

6. The literature of the passage, see the Introduction, p. 120. The Catalogue, by Knobel, p. 356. Note in Keil, p. 286. See Marg. Note, p. 661.

7. The division: 1) The introduction (Genesis 49:1-2); 2) the group of Judah, or the theocratic number seven, under the leading of the Messianic first-born (Genesis 49:3-18): a. The declarations that are introductory to Judah, Reuben, Simeon, Levi (Genesis 49:3-7); b. Judah the praised, the prince among his brethren (Genesis 49:8-12); c. the brothers associated with Judah, as types of the Jewish universalism, of the Jewish ministry, and of the Jewish public defence: Zebulun, Issachar, Dan (Genesis 49:13-18); 3) the group of Joseph, or the universalistic (Egyptian) number five, under the leading of the earthly firstborn (Genesis 49:19-27): a. the tribes that are introductory to Joseph’s position, the culture tribes: Gad, Asher, Naphtali (Genesis 49:19-21); b. Joseph, the devoted, as the Nazarite (or the one separated) of his brethren (Genesis 49:22-26); c. Benjamin, the dispenser and the propagator of the universal blessing of Israel (Genesis 49:27); 4) the closing word, and connected with it, Jacob’s testamentary provision for his burial (Genesis 49:28-33).

[Excursus.—Jacob’s Dying Vision of the Tribes and the Messiah.—There is but one part of the Scripture to which this blessing of Jacob can be assigned, without making it a sheer forgery, and that, too, a most absurd and inconsistent one. It is the very place in which it appears. Here it fits perfectly. It is in harmony with all its surroundings; whilst its subjective truthfulness—to say nothing now of its inspiration, or its veritable prophetic character—gives it the strongest claim to our credence as a fact in the spiritual history of the world, or of human experience. There is pictured to us a very aged patriarch surrounded by his sons. He has lived an eventful life. He has had much care and sorrow, though claiming to have seen visions of the Almighty, and to have conversed with angels. His sons have given him trouble. Their conduct has led him to study closely their individual characteristics. He lives in an age when great importance is attached to the idea of posterity, and of their fortunes, as the sources of peoples and races. This is more thought of than their immediate personal destiny. It is, of all ages, the farthest removed from that sheer individualism, which, whether true or false, is now becoming so rife in the world. Men lived in their children, for the future, as they looked back “to be gathered to their fathers,” in the past. The idea of a continued identity of life in families, tribes, and nations, making them the same historical entities age after ago, is in no book so clearly recognized as in the Bible, and in no part of the Bible is it more striking than it is in Genesis, though we are presented there with the very roots of history. Along with this were the ideas of covenant and promise, which, whether real or visionary, were most peculiar to that time, and to this particular family. In such a subjective world, the patriarch lives. At the approaching close of his long pilgrimage of one hundred and forty-seven years, he gathers around him his sons, and his sons’ sons, to give them his blessing, or his prophetic sentences, as they were regarded in his day. This is, in itself, another evidence of inward truthfulness. He had derived from his fathers the belief, that, at such a time, the parental benediction, or the contrary, carried with it a great spiritual importance. It was not confined to this family; such a belief was very prevalent in the ancient world. It was a partial aspect of a still more general opinion, that the declarations of the dying were prophetic. How much of this do we find in Homer. It is still in the world. The most sceptical would be cheered by the blessing, and made uneasy by the malediction of a departing acquaintance, much more, of a dying father. Besides this, Jacob had specially inherited the notion, and the feeling, from his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac. Thus affected, he would no more die without such a benedictory close, than a loving and prudent father, at the present day, could leave the earth without making his testament. Keep all this in vew, and think how much more impressive is the scene from its being in a foreign land, whither they had been driven by famine, and from which, as the firmly-believed promise assured them, they were eventually to go forth a great people.

Having thus placed before us the accessories of the vision, we may ask the question, was it real? that is, subjectively real, if the term is not deemed a paradox. Were these utterances merely formal sentences? Was it all a ceremony with the dying old man,—a solemn one, indeed, but requiring only certain usual benedictory formulas. Or did he see something? that is, was there corresponding to each of these utterances an actual state of soul, visionary, ecstatic, clairvoyant—call it what you will,—the product of an excited imagination, the movement of a weak or shattered brain, a delirious dream, or a true psychological insight, dim indeed, irregular, flitting, fragmentary, yet real as an action of the soul coming in close view of the supernatural world, and by the aid of it, seeing something, however shadowly, of the successions and dependencies in the natural and historical? Think of it as we may, all that need be contended for here, as most important in the letter interpretation, is the inner truthfulness of such a vision state, and its harmonious connection with the whole subjective life that had preceded it. This granted, or established, the outward truth these visions represent, or are supposed to represent, may be safely trusted to the credence of the serious thinker. Such a vision, with such antecedents, and such surroundings, compels a belief in higher realities connected with them; though still the vision itself, if we may so call it, is to be interpreted primarily in its subjective aspect, leaving the inferences from it to another department of hermeneutics as belonging to theology in general, the analogies of Scripture, and what may be called its dogmatic, in distinction from its purely exegetical interpretation (see Excursus on the Flood, p. 315 and marginal note). It may be conceded that commentators have been too minute in their endeavors to trace in this imagery a connection with particular events in subsequent history; as though Jacob had before him the historical event itself, just as it took place, and invented the imagery as a mode of setting it forth. Better to have left it as it was, with no attempt to go beyond what may be supposed to have been actually seen by the dying man—flitting images of his sons, as individual persons in some future aspects of their genealogical history,—these images reflected from his own spiritual experience of their characteristics,—truly prophetic, but not getting far out of their individual traits, as so well known to him by their conduct. Though all the pictures are thus more or less prophetic, they are still subordinate to one that stands out in strongest light—the vision of one coming from afar, the Shiloh prophecy, wherein is unfolded the Messianic idea inherited from his father,—a sight he catches of the Promised Seed, the one “in whom all nations should be blessed,” the “one to whom the gathering of the peoples (עַמִים, in the plural, the Gentiles) should be.” This is the central vision, coming from the central feeling, and around it all the rest are gathered. They are to it as the historical frame to the picture. All their importance comes from it. Judah is more closely connected with this central vision than all the rest. Joseph we would have thought of, though Judah’s late noble conduct had done much to draw the father’s heart towards him; but here comes in the thought of something controlling the merely natural subjective state. The main thing, however, is the Messianic idea regarded by itself, and for this the history of Jacob and his father, the feelings and belief in which he had lived, that ever-vivid idea of a covenant God, that other conception of a Goel, or “Redeeming angel” delivering from all evil,—the very name suggesting the idea of some human kinsmanship—afford an ample ground. He calls this one who is to come by the mysterious name of Shiloh. Commentators have given themselves unnecessary trouble about the exact objective point indicated by the word. It may refer to the great Deliverer, or to the great deliverance that would characterize his coming. The closest examination of this anomalous form shows that, in some way, there enters into every aspect of it, whether as proper name, or as epithet, the idea of peace, stillness, gentleness, and yet of mighty power. It is perfectly described, Isaiah 42:2 : “He shall not cry, nor lift up his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the streets; a bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking wick he shall not quench; but he shall bring forth righteousness victoriously.” Why does the dying man speak this unusual word Shiloh? Unusual then,—perhaps before unuttered,—unusual since in the form it takes, although the verbal root is more common. A reason can hardly be given for it. It was, most likely, a strange, if not wholly unknown, name to those who then heard it uttered. We can trace it to no antecedents. It was a wondrous, a mysterious name. A startling dream-like character pervades the whole chapter, with its sudden transitions, its rapt outpourings, its quick changes of scene, defying all the canons of any mere rhetorical or poetical criticism; but this vision aspect appears especially in the unexpected coming in of this remarkable word Shiloh, and the extraordinary use that is made of it. It suggests the mysterious פִּלְאִי (rendered secret) of Judges 13:18, the Wonderful, פֶּלֶא of Isaiah 9:6, and the incommunicable one, Genesis 32:30, who says, “why inquirest thou after my name? “The patriarch himself, perhaps, could not have explained, how or why he used it, or in what way it came to him, whether by some conscious association, or as having its birth in a sudden arresting of the mind by some new and wondrous thought, like that which prompted the strange ejaculation in verse 18. It was intended to be mysterious (we may reverently, say who believe in the prophetical character of the vision), that men might ponder much upon it, and be the better prepared to understand its glorious import, when it should be fully realized upon the earth. The whole vision is like other prophecy in this, that it is the remote appearing strangely as seen from a present standpoint, and through intervening historical scenes regarded as more or less near. We cannot reduce the perspective to chronological order. We can only seize the prominent point of view in the picture, and feel that the other parts, with their greater or lesser degrees of light and shade, are all subordinate.

So, too, there must not be pressed too closely, in our exegesis, what is said about Judah, and the sceptre, and the מְחֹקֵק, the ruler’s staff, or as otherwise rendered, “the law-giver, from between his feet.” We cannot square it with the monarchy of Herod, or any precise historical change of magistracy. We cannot make out, as indicated by it, a Jewish royalty to a certain period, or a Jewish independence, general or partial, to some other period. But when we view it as expressing chiefly the relation of Judah to the other tribes, his surviving as a tribal name, and giving the name Jews (Judæi) to the whole Israelitish people, after the other tribes had lost their historical identity, and when we remember about what time even this ceased to be, and the Jews (Judæi) became utterly denationalized politically, whether as an independent or a subject people, we see a light and a power in the picture which is unmistakable,—a point of view which we may suppose to have flashed upon the seer’s mind, without regarding it as occupied with any precise historical dates or dynasties, contemplated merely in their political aspects. Until here (עַד כּי) means unto and then ceasing, or unto and not after. Judah shall survive them all, but he too shall disappear when Shiloh comes, and the “gathering of the people” takes place. Then was to be fulfilled that ancient prayer which was sung by the whole Israelitish nation before they lost the world-idea founded on the patriarchal promises, and the later narrow, exclusive spirit took full possession of them: “That thy way may be known in the earth, thy saving health among all nations,—let the peoples praise thee, O God, let all the peoples praise thee.” See Psalms 67:3-4, and other similar passages.

What, then, was the historical date of this writing, and of the vision it records, whether subjective or objective, genuine or forged? There has been a strenuous effort to assign it to a later period. And why? Because it assumes to prophesy, and all prophecy must have been written after the events. This is the canon, the bare dictum rather, to which everything else must yield. Take it, however, out of its place in Genesis, and the thoughtful mind cannot avoid seeing that there is no other which does not destroy its subjective character, obliterate all the marks of its inward truthfulness, and make it not only a lie, a forgery, but a most unmeaning one. Had it been made up at any other time, it would have had more distinctness of historical reference. What it told us, whether it had been more or less, would have had a more unmistakable application. Had it been all a fiction, made after the supposed events, they would never have been left in such a dream-like, shadowy state, unless on the hypothesis of such a style being carefully imitated, with a skilful throwing in of the antique coloring, and that, for reasons elsewhere given (see p. 637), would have been incredible, we might almost say, inconceivable. There would have been no such irregularities as we find, no such shadows; the dim perspective would have been filled up; for in any such case it would have been a sheer forgery, a conscious lie in every part, with every word and figure showing design. It would have given evidence of its being the language of art rather than of emotion which uses words simply as the vehicles of its utterance, rather than with any studied aim of conveying precise conceptions, whether true or false. The metaphors which, even in their incongruities, fit so well into the picture of the patriarch’s dying condition, with its antecedents and surroundings, would have been made more suggestive of the known historical than of those individual traits on which they are so evidently grounded. The young lion, the lioness, the foal bound to the vine, the strong ass between his two burdens, the serpent by the way, the adder in the path, the hind let loose and giving goodly words, the ravening wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at night dividing the spoil—all these would either have been entirely left out, or they would have been made to mean more, in their particular applications, as well as in their general bearing. They are far more truthful in the supposed vision of the dying man, than they would be in such a conscious forgery, even though we might regard the former as only a dream of delirium. The picture, too, of the future power to whom “the gathering of the peoples should be,” would have been painted in more gorgeous splendor, instead of being left like a far-off light, guiding to a sublime hope, and yet giving so dim a view of the Messianic royalty. Thus to speak of it is not to disparage its true excellence as viewed from the place it occupies in the earliest Scripture. It is, indeed, the whole of it, a divine vision, with its central glory, yet irregularly refracted and reflected to us from a broken and uneven human mirror. This central light has grown brighter in the trance of Balaam (Numbers 24:17); how much clearer still has it become, and higher in the prophetic horizon, as it appears in the nearer visions of the evangelical Isaiah: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is rising upon thee.”

Again, when we regard the record in question as the forgery of a later date, its moral aspect wholly changes. It is strange that they who talk of prophecies made after the event do not see what a moral stigma they cast upon the supposed makers. It is usual for this “higher criticism” to speak, or affect to speak, with great respect of the Hebrew prophets as very sincere and honest men, upright, professing a stern morality, in advance of their age, etc.; but what are they, on this hypothesis, but base liars, conscious, circumstantial liars,—yea, the boldest as well as the most impious of blasphemers! It is no case of self-deluding prognostication, or of a fervid zeal creating in the mind a picture of the future, which the seer honestly believes as coming from the Lord. They know that the events are not future, but that they themselves have falsely and purposely put themselves in the past. They have simply antedated, or forged an old name, turning history into prediction, and greatly confusing and exaggerating it to keep up the imposture. And then the daring impiety of the thing for men professing such awe of Jehovah, the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, with his immutable truth, his everlasting righteousness,—the God who especially abhors falsehood, “who is of purer eyes than to behold evil,—that frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh the diviners mad, that turneth wise men backward and maketh their knowledge foolishness,—that confirmeth the word of his servants, and performeth the counsel of his messengers.” Take, for example, the prophecies of “the later Isaiah,” as this “rational school” are fond of styling him, and whom they so greatly praise for the loftiness of his morality. He lives after the events he assumes to predict, he knows that they have come to pass, and yet with what bold blasphemy he throws himself upon Jehovah’s prescience as the attestation of his prophetic power, and challenges the ministers of false religions to produce anything like it in the objects of their worship: “Let them bring forth and show us what shall happen; let them show the former things, and things to come, that we may know that ye are gods; who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? and before the time, that we may say, He is true? Behold the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” See how this impostor who pretends to predict a captivity that is past, represents God as specially challenging to himself foreknowledge, and proclaiming it to be the ground of trust in his messenger: “I am God, and there is none like me; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done; calling from the East the man that executeth my counsel, from a far country; yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass.”

The absurdity and difficulty of such a hypothesis become still more striking when considered in reference to this patriarchal document. Had it been a concoction of later times, some things in it would certainly not have appeared as they actually do in the vision as it has come down to us. Lange has well shown this in what he says, p. 650, about the tribes of Levi and Simeon, and those condemning utterances, which, neither in the times of the judges nor of the kings, would the tribes of Reuben and Dan, much less the proud Levitical priesthood, have ever borne. Above all does such a view become incredible when this pretended ancient prophecy is ascribed to Nathan, as is done by Bohlen, Knobel and others. Who was Nathan? and what is there recorded of him that can be supposed to have made him the fit instrument for such an imposition. We have but little about him, but that is most distinct. See 1 Chronicles 17:0 where he brings to David the message concerning the Lord’s house, and 2 Samuel 12:0. The latter passage, especially, presents an unmistakable character, warranting a most intense admiration of the man. He is no mere theoretical moralist. Seneca wrote some of the choicest ethical treatises, containing sentiments which some have represented as vying with, or even surpassing, those of Paul; and yet he was more than suspected of conniving at some of the worst crimes of his imperial master Nero. How different the character, and the attitude, of the old Hebrew prophet! How sternly practical was he, as well as theoretically holy. The king had covered over his adultery by marriage. Had Seneca been there, or some philosophical courtier of his class, he would have pronounced it well, whilst of the murder, and the manner of it, he would have thought himself, perhaps, not called to speak; seeing that such events were not strangers to thrones and palaces, and a prudential, respect for authority might justify silence, when speech, perhaps, might be useless as well as dangerous. The Hebrew seer was of another school. He appears before the king, now in the height of his power, Rabbah fallen, and all his enemies subdued. He addresses him in that parable of the poor man and his lamb, which has ever challenged, and must continue to challenge, the admiration of the world. Not by ethical abstractions, but by a direct appeal to the conscience, lying oft below the individual’s consciousness, yet most mysteriously representing to him the voice of God, he uncovers the strange duality of the human soul, and brings out the monarch’s sentence, yea, even his malediction, upon himself: “As Jehovah liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die.” Every reader of the Bible is familiar with the scene. The prophet’s interview with the self-forgetting king is unsurpassed by anything in the world’s literature, historic, epic, or dramatic. The human soul never appeared purer or loftier than in that wise, that gentle, and, at the same time, most powerful, rebuke of royal unrighteousness. This is what we have of Nathan. And now to think of such a man deliberately sitting down to fabricate a lie, to personate the character of old Jacob, the revered father of his nation, treating with contempt the old records or old traditions of his day, making no scruple of rejecting them, or of altering them in any way to suit his purposes, making them falsely seem prior to events already past, and with all this, most absurdly as well as dishonestly, assuming to foist upon his cotemporaries, at that later day, what they had never before heard of as connected with the sacred ancestral name. Think of him minutely forging the scene presented by the dying old man, and the sons surrounding his bed, racking his invention, like some modern Chatterton or Defoe, to find figures, and speeches, and antique idioms, to put into his mouth, conscious all the time of lying in the whole and every part—such inconsistent, unmeaning lying, too—and then palming it off as an old prophecy! Incredible! We could not believe it of the most scoffing Sadducee of Jacob’s race, how much less of the truthful, incorruptible, holy Nathan, in name and character so like the one whom our Saviour pronounced “an Israelite in whom there was no guile.”

There is no need of going farther in this to meet the rationalist. The same mode of argument, and from the same point of view, may be applied to all their hypotheses of pseudo Jacobs, pseudo Isaiahs, apocryphal Moses, and personated Jeremiahs. The later they bring down this patriarchal document, especially, the greater becomes the wildness and the absurdity. Their theories of prophecy after the event, it will bear to be repeated, are utterly inconsistent with any moral respect for these old Jewish lights, whom they affect to admire as far-seeing men, most patriotic, most humanitarian, elevated in their views of reform, rising above the prejudices of a dogmatic legal tradition, righteous beyond the formal worship and superstitions of their times, but not to be regarded as veritable seers of the future, or as specially inspired by God in any way different from all “lofty-minded men,” or as assuming to be such, except in a rhetorical or poetical way. Most pious are they, most reverent, yet have they no scruple about announcing in the name of Jehovah events as foretold which they knew to be past at the time of the announcement, or to be utterly false as assumed divine messages. There were, it is true, some men of old who did this, but in what abhorrence they were held we learn from Jeremiah 23:25-32, and 1 Kings 22:19-20.

There arises here a sharp issue, as has been already said, but it cannot be evaded. There is no honest middle-ground of compilation and tradition mixed together. The Bible statements are of such a nature as not to allow the supposition. They are so peculiar, so linked together, they form such a serial unity, that we must believe it all a forgery, Nathan, David, as well as Jacob and his blessing, or we must give credence to it as being, all together, a coherent, chronological, consistent history. (See p. 99, introduction, and marginal note.) It is, throughout, delusion, imposture, forgery, nonentity, or it is the most serious and truthful chapter in all this world’s history. If the former view staggers even the most sceptical,—if, in itself, it is more incredible than any supernatural events recorded in such forgeries, then must we come back heartily to the old belief,—the Bible a most truthful book,—all true (allowing for textual inaccuracies)—all subjectively true, at all events, although admitting of human misconceptions in respect to the science and mediate causalities of things narrated, or that which often comes to the same thing, human imperfections necessarily entering into the language employed as the medium of their record. In other words, everything is honestly told, and believed by the writers to be just as they have told it. Whether it be narrative, description, statistical statement, precept, sentiment, thought, devotional feeling, pious emotion of any kind, moral musing, sceptical soliloquizing, as in Ecclesiastes, passionate expostulation, as in Job, prophetic announcements grounded on visions or voices believed to come from the Lord,—all is given just as it was experienced, known, or believed to be known, heard, received from accredited witnesses living in or near the very times, conceived, felt, remembered seen by the eye of sense, seen in the ecstatic trance, dreamed in the visions of the night, or in any way present to their souls as knowledge, thought, memory, or conception, most carefully and truthfully recorded. There is no fiction here, no invention, no art, no “fine writing,” no mere aiming at rhetorical effect,—no use of metaphors, images, or impassioned language, except as the expression of inward vivid and emotional states that imperatively demanded them as the best medium for their utterance.
We must choose between this or the grossest forgery. The more the issue is distinctly seen, the more certain, for every thoughtful mind, the only decision it allows. This human, so appearing, demands the superhuman and divine. This natural, subjective truthfulness once admitted, thoroughly and heartily admitted, the supernatural cannot be excluded. It must come in somewhere in both its forms,—whether it be the objective supernatural which the Scripture itself records, or the inward, spiritual supernatural, still more wonderful, connected with the very existence of such a book in such a world.—T. L.]


1.Genesis 49:1-2. The introduction.—That I may tell you.—He has called them to his dying bed; but its highest purpose is that he may tell them how he himself lives on in them.—That which shall befall you.—According to their dispositions and character, which he has long known. He announces to them the destiny which shall befall them as a consequence of their characters as shown in the events of their lives, but this as seen in the divine light.—In the last days, באחרית הימים.—The expression is used in reference to the world time as a whole, and denotes, especially, the Messianic time of the completion (Isaiah 2:2; Ezekiel 38:8, and other places; see Keil, p. 284).—Ye sons of Jacob, hearken unto Israel your father.—Sons of Jacob are they predominantly; sons of Israel must they evermore become. From nature and from grace, from human disposition and from divine guidance is their future to be formed.

2.Genesis 49:3-18. The group of Judah. a. The blessings that are introductory to Judah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi.Reuben, thou art my first-born.—My strength. The meaning of first-born explained. He is the first fruits of his vigor spiritually as well as bodily.—The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power.—A reference to the dividing of the birthright into two rights. In the dignity there lie together the priesthood and the double inheritance. The power is the germ of the warlike chieftainship. Further on Jacob disposes of the power in favor of Judah; the double inheritance he gives to Joseph. The priesthood does not here specially appear; and it is this feature that speaks for the antiquity of the blessing.—Unstable as water.—The verb used here denotes literally the bubbling and exhalation of boiling water. Spiritually it denotes a rash and passionate impulsiveness, LXX, ἐξύβρισας. For other interpretations see Knobel. This trait of character is immediately explained:—Because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed (see Genesis 35:22).—This impulsiveness shows itself likewise in his offer of his two sons as hostages. Later it shows itself, in the tribe, in the insurrection of Dathan and Abiram, who desired a share in the priesthood—a claim which, doubtless, had reference to the lost birthright of their father. At a still later period, the tribe of Reuben, and that of Gad, desire to have their inheritance specially given them together in the conquered district, on the other side of Jordan, Numbers 32:1; in which case their request was granted on condition that they should help fight out the war for the conquest of Canaan. Through this Reuben gets an isolated position on the southwestern border, in the pasture land over the Arnon. Again, in the erection of the altar at the Jordan, on their return (Joshua 22:0), there manifests itself the same old impetuosity, which might have occasioned a civil war, had they not sufficiently excused it.—Thou shalt not excel (that is, thou shalt not have the dignity). See 1 Chronicles 5:1. Joseph has the double inheritance, and, so far, the בְּכֹרָה (or birthright); whilst Judah became prince. To a certain degree, therefore, as Delitzsch remarks, the first-born of Rachel comes into the place of the first-born of Leah. “In order that God’s righteous ruling here may not be arbitrarily imitated by men, the law forbids (Deuteronomy 21:15-17) that any preference should be shown to the first-born sons of a beloved wife, over those born of one less favored.” Delitzsch. The good will, and fraternal fidelity, which belonged to Reuben’s character, appear in the history of the tribes. Points of interest in the character of this tribe: the victory, in connection with the Gadites, over the Amorite king Sihon; also over the Gadarenes (1 Chronicles 5:8-10). The less significant blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:6), simply indicating the danger of transgression. A reproach cast upon them (Judges 5:15) for their divisions, etc., in the nation’s peril.—He went up to my couch.—Jacob speaks indirectly (of him) in the third person. Was it because he turned away from him in displeasure? We may rather suppose that he turns himself to the other sons in order to fix their attention upon his sentence.—Simeon and Levi.—True brothers in their disposition, as it appeared in their treatment of the Shechemites. Therefore it is, that they are included in one declaration. Its most obvious aim is to revoke for them also their leadership.—Instruments of cruelty.—They must have been something else than swords. Clericus, Knobel, and others, understand מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶם as denoting malicious and crafty purpose, marriage proposals, etc., an explanation that seems not easy.1Into their secret.—As he would clear himself from their fanaticism, so also, in respect to the prophetic destiny would he clear his people, and the Church of God. It is the very nature of a secret plot, or of a factious conspiracy, to make itself of more importance than the community, and thus to produce disunion.2Unto their assembly, mine honor.—My life, or my soul (Psalms 7:6; Psalms 16:9). The expression here is well chosen. The believer cannot trust his personality, with its divine dignity, to a congregation in which secret conspiracies, and fanaticism, are allowed to be the ruling powers. So, too, is the expression קהל significantly chosen, as also the verb יחד. There is no union, no communion, between the soul of Israel, and the companionship of such fleshly zeal.—They slew a man.—Man is taken collectively.—A wall (an Ox Lange more properly renders it 3).—They cut the sinews of the hinder foot of the cattle in order to destroy them. This was done after the manner of war mentioned Joshua 11:6; Joshua 11:9; 2 Samuel 8:4, with relation to the horses of the Canaanites and Syrians. According to Genesis 34:28, they could not have done it to any cattle that they could carry off with them; and this, therefore, must be taken as a supplemental account.—Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce (Lange, violent).—They were not personally cursed, but only their excess and their angry doings; neither are they reproved for simply being angry.—I will divide them.—A prophetic expression of divine authority. So speaks the spirit of Israel, giving command for the future, as the spirit of Paul, though far absent in space (1 Corinthians 5:3). This dispersion was the specific remedy against their insurrectionary, wrathful temper. In the first place, they could not dwell together with others as tribes, and, secondly, even as single tribes must they be broken up and scattered. Thus it happened to the weakest of these two tribes (Simeon, Numbers 26:14), in that it held single towns, as enclosed territory, within the tribe of Judah (Joshua 19:1-9) with which it went to war in company (Judges 1:3-17), and in which it seems gradually to have become absorbed. In the days of Hezekiah, a portion of them made an expedition to Mount Seir (1 Chronicles 4:42). In the blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:0), Simeon is not named. Levi, too, had no tribal inheritance, but only an allotment of cities. At a later day, by reason of his tithe endowment, he is placed in a more favorable relation to the other tribes; nevertheless, he lacked the external independence, and because of the privations they suffered, they yielded themselves sometimes, as individuals, to the priestly service of idolatry. The turning, however, of Levi’s dispersion to a blessing, threw an alleviating light upon the lot of Simeon, who, together with Benjamin, came into closest union with Judah.

b. Judah (Genesis 49:8-12).—Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.—Luther happily remarks that Jacob says this as one who hitherto had been in vain looking about for the right one: Judah, thou art the man. For the history of Judah and the literature pertaining to this blessing, see Knobel, p. 362.—Shall praise.—A play upon the name Judah, as meaning one who is celebrated. At a later day this name (Judea, Jews) passes over to the whole people. Originally it is the name of one for whom thanks are given to God.—Thy hand shall be upon the neck.—The enemies flee or bow themselves; as victor, or lord, he lays his hand upon their necks. His power in peace corresponds to his greatness in war; a contrast which, further on, appears still more strongly.—Shall bow down before thee.—He, the foremost and strongest against the foe, shall, therefore, be chief among his brethren. “That he should be a נָגִיד, a prince, among them (1 Chronicles 5:2), is his reward for the part he took in that blessed turn which the history of Israel received through Joseph.” Delitzsch.—Thy father’s children.—All of them; not merely thy mother’s sons, but all thy brethren.—A lion’s whelp.—גּוּר is to be distinguished from כְּפִיר as quite a young lion. The expression denotes, therefore, the innate lion-nature which Judah had shown from his youth up, not only Judah personally, but the tribe especially. His faults were no malicious ones; on the contrary, he early withstood his brethren in their evil design, and, at a later period, became their reconciling mediator before Joseph.—From the prey, my son, thou art gone up.—By Knobel and others this language is interpreted of the lion seizing his prey in the plain, and then carrying it up to his abode in the mountains (Song of Solomon 4:8), which seems especially applicable to Judah, as dwelling in the hill-country. We prefer, however, the interpretation of Herder, Gesenius, and others, who understand the word of growing, advancing in strength and size, and especially because it is said מִטֶּרֶף, from the prey, in the sense of through, or by the means of, the prey; since it is with the prey that the lion goes back to the hills. At the same time, growth, in warlike deeds of heroism, forms a contrast to the quiet yet fearful ambush of the lion. The old lion is stronger than the young one; and more fearful still is the lioness, especially in defence of her young. So lies down the strong-grown Judah; who shall venture to attack, or drive him up for the chase? This prophetic lion-figure was especially realized in the royal and victorious dominion of David; although even in the wilderness, the tribe of Judah marched before the other tribes—a figure of the young lion.?—The sceptre shall not depart from Judah.—The sceptre is the mark of royal power. The ruler’s staff, מְחֹקֵק, seems, from the parallelism, to express the same thing. The word denotes that which establishes, makes laws; hence the ruler’s staff. Here, however, is meant the staff or mace of the warrior chief; and so it would be the ducal, or field-marshal’s staff. In correspondence with this the term רַגְלָיו (at his feet) would seem like an allusion to the army that follows the chieftain, although the expression would primarily present the figure of the chief sitting upon his throne, with his sceptre between his feet. In respect to the sceptre, and representations of princes with the sceptre between their feet, see Knobel, p. 364. If we had to choose, we should prefer the interpretation of Ewald and others, according to which רגליו here, according to the connection, must mean the people or army. For other explanations see Knobel. Judah is not merely to possess the sceptre, but also command with it, and rule with vigor.4Until Shiloh come.—[Lange translates, until he (Judah) comes home as the restgiver.] The expression עַד־כּי does not denote the temporal terminus where Judah’s lordship ceases, but the ideal terminus where it reaches its glorious perfection. According to the first supposition, the place has been, in various ways, interpreted of the Messiah. With the dominion of Herod did the sceptre depart from Judah, and, therefore, then must the Messiah, or Shiloh, have made his appearance. The different interpretations of the word Shiloh do not require of us here a more copious exegesis; we may simply refer to the commentaries. There are, 1. The verbal prophetic Messianic interpretations, that שִׁילֹה is the abstract for the concrete (see the verb שׁלה), and denotes the author of tranquility, the Messiah. This is the old Jewish, the old Catholic, and the old Protestant interpretation. Those who still hold it are Hengstenberg, Schröder, Keil and others, as also Hofmann, according to his later view. Modifications: a. It is from שִׁיל filius, and וֹ, and so means his son (see, on the contrary, Keil); b. the word stands for אֲשֶׁר לוֹ = שֶׁלּוֹ; until he comes to whom it belongs; namely, the sceptre. This interpretation is made to depend upon a false application of the passage Ezekiel 21:27. In a similar way the LXX, ἕως ἂν ἔλθῃ τὰ�, or ᾧ� (according to Aquila and others); the Vulgate, qui mittendus est, from the supposition of another verb (שׁלח); 2. unmessianic interpretations: a. Shiloh is the same as Shalomo, king Solomon himself (Abusaid and others).—Shiloh denotes the place Silo (Shiloh), where the ark was set up after the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 18:1); and in the sense until he come, that is, generally, until they came (Herder and Tuch); b. Knobel’s view: until they rest (שֶׁלֶה) comes, and to it shall the obedience of the people be; 3. typical interpretations: a. Until he comes to rest (Hofmann’s earlier view); b. until he comes to Shiloh, but in the sense that Shiloh is the type of the city of the heavenly rest, the type of that into which Christ has entered; c. to these we add our interpretation: until he himself comes home (namely, from his warlike career) as the Shiloh, the rest-bringer, the establisher of peace. Suggestions in opposition to the preceding interpretations: 1. That of the personal Messiah. The idea was not fully developed in the time of Jacob. Moreover, by placing him along with Judah, the connection is interrupted. Keil charges Kurtz with presumptuously determining how far, or how much, the patriarch should be able to prophecy; but he himself seems to acknowledge no regular development in the prediction. 2. Shiloh, as a place. That would be, in the first place, a geographical prediction, from which the mention of Sidon greatly differs; in the second place, until the conquest of Canaan, Joshua, of the tribe of Ephraim, was leader, so that the sceptre did not belong to Judah. This explanation would be more tolerable if taken in the typical sense of Delitzsch; only we would have to regard Shiloh as the ideal designation of the city of rest, transcending altogether the conception of Shiloh as a place. But now Keil shows us that Shiloh can be no appellative, but only a proper name, originally שִׁילוֹן. 3. There is finally the interpretation אשר לו, which is verbally doing great violence to the expression by taking it as an abbreviated or mutilated form.—Other interpretations demand from us no attention. The grounds of our own interpretation: 1. That Shiloh, as concrete, may denote not only one who rests, but also one who brings or establishes rest (see Keil, p. 290); 2. בּוֹא denotes often a returning home, or forms a contrast to a former departure from home; 3. an analogy in favor of our view, according to which we take שלה as in apposition with the subject Judah, may be found in Zechariah 9:9 : “Thy king cometh unto thee, just” (a righteous one), יָבוֹא לָךְ צַדִּיק—that is, in the attribute of righteous rule; 4. this explanation alone denotes the degree of unfoldment which the prophecy had received in the patriarchal age. First, the Messiah is implicitly set forth in “the seed of the woman,” then with Seth and Shem, then with Abraham and his seed, afterward with Jacob and Israel, and, finally, here with Judah. What, therefore, is said verbally of Judah, relates typically to the Messiah. He is here, in the same full, theocratic sense, the prince of peace, as in other places Israel is the son of God (Hosea 11:1).5Binding his foal unto the vine.—The territory of Judah is distinguished for vineyards and pasture-land, especially near Hebron and Engedi. On account of the abundance of vines, “they are so little cared for, that the traveller ties to them his beast. In the oldest times the ass, together with the camel, was the animal usually employed in travel; as the Hebrews seem not to have had horses for that purpose before the times of David and Solomon. The ass also suits better here as the animal for riding in time of peace.” Knobel. The same: He washes his garment in wine—that is, wine is produced in such abundance that it can be applied to such a purpose; a poetical hyperbole, as in Job 29:6. On account of the mention of blood, the passage has, in various ways, been interpreted allegorically of the bloody garment of David, or of the Messiah (Isaiah 63:0).—His eyes red with wine.—(Lange translates it dark gleaming.) He shall be distinguished for dark lustred eyes6 and for white teeth; a figure of the richest and most ornate enjoyment; for there can be no thought here of debauchery—just as little as there was any idea of drunkenness when the brothers of Joseph became merry at the banquet, or in the marriage-supper, John 2:0.

c. The brothers associated with Judah: Zebulun, Issachar, Dan. Genesis 49:13-18.—Zebulun, at the haven of the sea.—Zebulun extends between two seas, the Galilean and the Mediterranean, though not directly touching upon the latter (Joshua 19:10); we do not, therefore, see why the word ימים should made us think merely of the Mediterranean. The mention of ships denotes that he had a call to commerce; especially when it is said that he extends unto Sidon. This blessing (Deuteronomy 33:19; Josephus: Ant. v. 1, 22; Bell. Jud. iii. 3, 1) is in the highest sense universalistic (as distinguished from theocratic).—Issachar, a strong ass.—Literally, an ass of bone. He possessed a very fruitful district, especially the beautiful plain of Jezreel (Joshua 13:17; comp. Judges 5:15). In the rich enjoyment of his land, he willingly bore the burden of labor and tribute imposed on his agriculture and pasturage. The figure here employed has nothing mean about it.7 The Oriental ass is a more stately animal than the Western. “Homer compares Ajax to an ass; the stout caliph, Merwan II., was named the ass of Mesopotamia.” Knobel.—And he saw that rest was good (Jos. De Bello Jud. iii. 3, 2).—We are not to think here of servitude “under a foreign sovereignty;” yet still the expression tributary (לְמַם עֹבֵד) is used of the Canaanites and of prisoners taken in war; moreover, it may be said that the Israelitish disposition towards servitude was especially prominent in this tribe.—Dan shall judge.—As he is the first son of a handmaid who is mentioned, it is therefore said of him, with emphasis, that he shall have a full inheritance, a declaration which avails for the sons like him in this respect. It may, however, be well understood of them on the ground that they were adopted by the legitimate mothers Rachel and Leah. The expression shall judge is a play upon the name Dan. He shall judge as any one of the tribes. By many this is referred to his self-government, on the ground of the tribe’s independency (Herder and others). According to others (Ephraim, Knobel) the word relates to his transitory supremacy among the tribes; as in the days of Samson. At all events, in the life of the strong Samson there appears that craft in war which is here especially ascribed to Dan. Nevertheless, the expression he shall judge denotes, primarily, a high measure of independence. The tribe of Dan was crowded in its tract between Ephraim and the Philistines (see Knobel, p. 369), and, therefore, a part of it wandered away to the extreme boundary on the north, surprised the Sidonian colony Lais, at the foot of Lebanon, and established there a new city, named Dan, on the ruins of the old (Joshua 19:47; Judges 18:7; Judges 18:27).—Dan shall be a serpent by the way.—The word יהי may stand poetically for יהיה (Gesen. § 128, 2), and so the form is to be regarded; out of which may arise the question, whether the figure that follows is to be taken in a medial or in a vicious sense. In respect to this, we hold that the sense is primarily medial, but that there may be a vicious allusion. The war stratagems of Samson are not reckoned to his disadvantage; and yet cunning in war passes easily into malicious guile, as it appears in the figure of the adder, and as it was actually practised in the surprise of the peaceful city Lais. “The viper (cerast)8 has in a special degree this common property of the serpent tribe (Genesis 3:1). It lays itself in holes, and rests in the road, and falls unexpectedly upon the traveller. It is of the color of the earth, and there is danger from the lightest tread (Diod. Sic. iii. 49).” Knobel. The serpent in the path is by the Targumists, and some church fathers, interpreted of Samson. By Ephraim, Theodoret, and others, it is referred to Antichrist; whereto Luther remarks: Puto diabolum hujus fabulœ auctorem fuisse (see Keil, p. 298). It must always seem remarkable that Dan should be left out in the enumeration of the tribes in the Apocalypse.—I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.—In the exhaustion of the death-struggle, the patriarch here utters a sighing interjaculation. Was it on account of a foresight he had of the future degradation of the tribe of Dan into the practice of idolatry, or of its struggle with the Philistines, or would he declare by it that there was a higher salvation than any achieved by Samson? In no one of these ways does the position of the ejaculation seem to be clearly explained, but only by the supposition that he makes in it a division among his benedictions, separating thereby the group of Judah from that of Joseph.

3.Genesis 49:19-21. The group of Joseph.—a. The tribes that are introductory: Gad, Asher, Naphtali.—Gad, a troop shall overcome him.—We can only make an attempt to carry into a translation the repeated play upon words that is here found. Gad occupied on the other side of the Jordan, and was in many ways invaded and oppressed by the eastern hordes, but victoriously drove them back (see 1 Chronicles 5:18; 1 Chronicles 12:8-15). We must here call to mind the brave warriors from Mount Gilead, in the time of the Judges, and especially of Jephthah. In this power of defence Gad is akin to Joseph.—Out of Asher his bread (shall be) fat.—Asher had one of the most productive districts by the Mediterranean, extending from Carmel to the Phœnician boundary, rich in wheat and oil; but together with the fertility of his soil, the blessing expresses also his talent for using and honoring the gifts of nature in the way of culture. A second feature that is found in Joseph. But this is also especially true of Naphtali.—A hind let loose.—There are presented of him two distinct features: he is a beauteous and active warrior, comparable to the so much praised gazelle (2 Samuel 2:18, etc.). The word שְׁלֻחָה finds its explanation in Job 39:5; see Keil, p. 299.—The second trait: he giveth goodly words.—The first has been especially referred to the victory under Barak, of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun over Jabin; the second to the song of Deborah. At all events, Naphtali is praised for his rich command of language. As he himself, like the gazelle, is poetical in his appearance, so also is his speech rich in poetry. Not without its importance is the reference to Isaiah 9:1, Matthew 4:15, and the fact that the preaching of the gospel first proceeded from these districts. Yet they did not strictly belong to Naphtali. The word, by many, is interpreted of the terebinth, “he is a slender, fast-growing terebinth” (V. Bohlen). There is but little pertinency in this. The traits of Naphtali prepare us especially for Joseph.

b. Joseph. Genesis 49:22-26. Joseph comes before us: 1. As a fruit-tree; 2. as an unconquerable archer; 3. as the darling of his father; 4. as the Nazarite, or one separated from his brethren.—A fruitful bough (literally, son of a fruit-tree).—Its place is by a well in a garden. Its daughters—its twigs—run over the garden wall. The word פֹּרָת contains an allusion to Ephraim. Other interpretations see in Knobel (פרת = agna, ovicula).—The archers have sorely grieved him.—The figure does not present to us here the past enmity of the brethren (to which many refer it), but the enmities which the tribe of Manasseh had especially to encounter from the famed Arabian archers.9 Gideon, the vanquisher of the Midianites, belongs especially here.—His bow abode in strength.—The victorious resistance and enduring strength of Ephraim and Manasseh.—The mighty (God) of Jacob.—He who wrestled with Jacob at Peniel, the God El that strengthened Jacob, has strengthened Joseph; he who proves himself the shepherd of his life, his rock at Bethel on whose support he slept as he pillowed his head upon the stone. In a general way, too, the stone may be taken as denoting his rocklike firmness. Jacob’s wonderful guidance and support reflects itself in the history of his son. The bow is the figure of strength, of defence; so also the arm.—Who shall bless thee.—The blessings that are now pronounced.—Blessings of heaven above:—dew, rain, sunshine.—Of the deep that lieth under: fountains, fertilizing waters.—Of the breasts and of the womb: increase of children.—The blessings of my progenitors.—הֹרִום, Vulgate, which the LXX had changed into הָרִים, mountains. The word תאוה here does not mean desire, but limit, from תָּאָה. The blessings of Joseph shall extend to the bounds of the ancient hills; that is, they shall rise higher than the eternal hills, that lift themselves above the earth,—an allusion to the glorious mountains, most fruitful as well as beautiful, in Ephraim and Manasseh, in Bashan and in Gilead. These surpassing blessings beyond those of his forefathers, can only be understood of a richer outward unfolding, and not of deeper or fuller ground.—That was separated from his brethren (Lange renders, devoted as a Nazarite).—See Deuteronomy 33:16. He is a Nazarite (a separate one) in both relations—in his personal consecration, as well as in his historical dignity.‍

c. Benjamin. Genesis 49:27. From morning until evening is he quick, rapacious, powerful. An intimation of the Awarlike boldness of the tribe (Judges 5:14; Judges 20:16; 1 Chronicles 8:40). Ehud. Saul. Jonathan. The dividing of the spoil points to his higher, nobler nature. Paul, the great spoil-divider, from the tribe of Benjamin.

4.Genesis 49:28-33. The closing word.When he blessed them.—It was a blessing for all. The commission in relation to his burial is an enlargement of the earlier one to Joseph. The burial of Leah in Hebron is here mentioned first. His death a peaceful falling to sleep. Though then dying, at that moment, in Egypt, he goes immediately to the congregation of his people. It cannot, therefore, be the grave, or the future burying, that is meant.


1.The blessing of Jacob. An intervening stage in the theocratic revelation between the blessing of Isaac and that of Moses. It is to be taken together with the special blessing upon Joseph in Genesis 48:0. The nearest addition is the song of Moses and the prophecy of Balaam.

2. The blessing of Jacob denotes already an anticipation of the victory of life over death. As a prophet, Jacob is lifted over the foreboding of death. His death-bed is made glorious by a Messianic glance.
3. What shall befall you.—What lies in the innermost experience of man, that befalls him from the extreme borders of the earth, and out of the far remote in time. The relation between the heart and the destiny. In the heart lie the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23).

4. On the geography of the passage, see the Book of Joshua, and the geography of Palestine. The blessing of Jacob goes on beyond the whole intervening time of the Israelitish residence in Egypt, contemplating the blessed people as they are spread abroad in the holy land. So in prophecy, although pertaining to all time, the period next following its utterance forms its peculiar picture of life, or its foreground, as it were, without being that in which it finds its close.
5. On the prophetic consecration and illumination of pious souls in the act of dying, see what is said in the Exegetical and Critical.

6. Since Judah is denoted as the prince, and Joseph as the Nazarite among his brethren, so evidently has the whole blessing two middle points. As, moreover, the declaration: I have waited (or I wait) for thy salvation, O Lord, cannot be regarded as having its position arbitrarily, there must be formed by it two distinct groups: one, seven in number, and the other, five. The first group has the theocratic Messianic character, the second, the universalistic. All the single parts of each group are to be referred, symbolically, to their middle point. Both groups, however, are mutually implicated and connected. Judah’s sceptre avails for all the tribes; Joseph is the Nazarite for all his brethren. The first group stands under the direction of the name Jehovah; the second, in respect to its character, falls in the province of Elohim. Typically, the first is predominantly Davidic, the second, Solomonic (Joseph the Nazarite among his brethren); the first has its consummation in Christ, the second, in his church.
7. The crime of Reuben is actually that of incest; its peculiar root, however, was ὕβρις (the violence of his temperament). Just as in the Grecian poetry it is represented as a fountain of gross transgression.

8. In respect to the fanaticism of the brothers Levi and Simeon, see what is said in the Exegetical, and ch. xxxiv. In the sentence of Levi’s dispersion, the thought of a special priestly class evidently appears in the background, yet so that Jacob seems to let it depend on the future to determine whether Judah, or Joseph, is to be the priest, or who else. This shows the great antiquity of the blessing.
9. As the remedy for Reuben’s ὕβρις, or his reckless, effervescent temperament, lies in his disposition and weakness, as proceeding naturally from such a disposition, so the remedy for the fanaticism of Levi and Simeon lies in their dispersion, or the individualizing of the morbidly zealous spirits.

10. Judah—Shiloh. In Isaac’s prediction concerning Jacob there was denoted, for the first time, the Messianic heir of Abraham as ruler, and, therefore, the possessor of a kingdom. Here the dominion branches, in Judah, into the contrast of a warlike and peaceful rule. And, truly, this contrast appears here in the greatest clearness, as announced Genesis 49:8. The lion nature of Judah is developed in the lion throughout,—the lion rampant, the lion resting, and even the lioness watching over the lion’s lair. To the same wide extent goes the warlike leadership, whose ruler’s staff, then, is naturally a marshal’s staff, and is to remain so until he has achieved a perfect triumph. Then he returns home as Shiloh, and the people are wholly obedient to him. Now follows the painting of this picture of peace. The contrast of the warlike and the peaceful rule branches out in the governments respectively of David and Solomon. But Christ is the complete fulfilling. He is the victorious champion, and the Prince of Peace, in the highest sense; he is “the lion of the tribe of Judah who hath overcome,” Revelation 5:5. He binds to the vine the animal on which he rides, as one employed in peace. As the olive tree dispenses its oil as a symbol of the spirit, so is the vine a fountain of inspiration, dispensing a joy of the spirit. The blessed joy of faith denotes the turning-point to which the old war-time brings us, and whence the new time of peace begins. On this account is the vine presented in its name of honor, שׂרֵקָה (Isaiah 5:2; Jeremiah 2:21). The washing of his garment in wine, as the blood of the grape, is here put in contrast with the warrior’s bloody panoply in which he returns home. In the festival joy of the new salvation, the painful recollections of the old time disappear (Isaiah 9:0). He prepares his festival garment; yet is ornate in the midst of enjoyment (Psalms 104:15). The figure thus approaches that later representation in which Israel itself is the vine typically, Christ really; the fairest among the children of men.

11. In Zebulun we see denoted the universalistic aspect, in Issachar the willingness for service, in Dan the might of craft in a small worldly power, as against stronger foes (be wise as serpents), all of which were needed for the theocratic unfolding of the group of Judah.
12. I have waited for thy salvation, Jehovah,—thy help—thy deliverance. There comes out strongly here the conception of salvation; and, indeed, as a future salvation, as a salvation from Jehovah, which forms the central point and the aim of every hope of Israel.

13. That a number five forms itself around Joseph should not surprise us, when we take into the account the significance of this number, and its peculiar universalistic position. In correspondence with it we see in Gad the valiant defender of culture, as, the boundary guard against the Eastern hordes; in Asher the cherisher of the material culture; in Naphtali the guardian of the spiritual; in all three, single traits of Joseph.
14. Joseph’s glory. His blessings present the blessing of Israel predominantly in its earthly aspect; still, in the expressions, the ancient mountains, the eternal hills, there lies a symbolical significance that points away beyond the hills of Ephraim and Gilead; especially when it is considered that these blessings are to come upon the head, the crown of the Nazarite, separated, elect,—the personal prince among his brethren. As Judah in his hereditary, so is Joseph in his personal figure. The early figs or bloom of the patriarchal time. As Melchizedek was a gleam from the departing primitive time, so was Elias a fiery meteor with which the law period, in its narrower sense, comes to an end.

15. Benjamin, who in the evening divides the prey. A wild, turbulent youth, an old age full of the blessing of sacrifice for others. That dividing the spoil in the evening is a feature that evidently passes over into a spiritual allusion. Our first thought would be of the dividing of the prey among the young ones, but for this alone the expression is too strong. He rends all for himself in the morning, he yields all in the evening; this is not a figure of Benjamin only, but of the theocratic Israel; and, therefore, a most suitable close (see Isaiah 53:12).


The dying Jacob as prophet.—His blessing his sons: 1. The sons themselves; 2. the districts; 3. the tribes.—The characteristic diversities of the tribes, a type of the diversity of apostolic gifts.—Moreover, the severe sentences of Jacob become a blessing (see the Exegetical).—Judah, thou art he.—Therein lies: 1. The typical renown of Judah; 2. the archetypal renown of Christ; 3. the representative renown of Christians.—Waiting for the Lord’s salvation, as expressed by the mouth of the dying: 1. A testimony to their future continuance in being: 2. a promise for their posterity.—The blessing of Joseph; Joseph the personal chief, Judah the hereditary; relation between Melchizedek and Abraham.

1.Genesis 49:1-2. The introduction. Starke: In this important chapter Jacob is to be regarded not only as a father, but, preëminently, as a prophet of God.—The words of the dying are oftentimes of greatest weight.—Schröder: A choral song of the swan.—The last one of the period that is passing away is called to bless the beginning of the new.—His blessing is, at the same time, a prophecy.—The word of God is first addressed to individuals, and that, too, in deepest confidence.—The trusted of God become the bearers of his word.—When life’s flame begins to be extinguished, there appears, at times, the most vigorous health of the spirit. There is a change of speech, an elevation of language, in this condition of clairvoyance.

Passavant: (Herder:) It is a high outlooking, a heroic announcing in figurative parabolic style; a poetical letter of donation; the most ancient poetical map of Canaan. The poetical mode of speech not arbitrary, but the self-limitation of excited feeling in a measured form of diction.—Lisco: The spiritual peculiarities of the sons of Jacob form the groundwork of the prophecy, and these the father had sufficient opportunity for learning during his long life. The main tenor is their future life and action in Canaan, where he points out, prophetically, to each tribe, its place of residence, and to which he would direct their look and longing, as persons who were to regard themselves only as foreigners in Egypt.

2.Genesis 49:3-18. The group of Judah

Genesis 49:3-7a. Reuben, Simeon, Levi. Starke: Bibl. Tub.: Parents should punish the faults of their children seriously and zealously, and not, with untimely fondness, cloak them to their hurt.

Genesis 49:5. Such cruelty will their children imitate, as sufficiently shows itself in the treatment that Christ received from the high priests who were descended from Levi.—Jacob curses only their wrath, not their persons, much less their descendants (not their wrath simply but its excess).—Levi had no territory but forty-eight cities.—Private revenge is punishable.—Gerlach: The punishment here threatened, was fulfilled in respect to Levi, but changed to a blessing for himself and his people.—Schröder: The comparison of the grace with which God prevents us, and of the punishment which follows guilt, is most painfully humbling (Calvin).—Mine honor, used for my soul: Because the soul, in the image of God, makes man higher than the natural creation.—Simeon and Levi. They were separated from each other and dispersed among the tribes; and so the power was broken which would have been their portion in the settlement of the tribal districts (Zeigler).—(Luther.) By such a proceeding God intends to obstruct the old nature and the evil example. It is especially worth mentioning that Moses exposes here the shame of his own tribe. Thus clearly appears the historical truthfulness (Calvin.) (The Rabbins pretend that most of the notaries and schoolmasters were of the tribe of Simeon).

Genesis 49:8-12. b. Judah. Starke: In his prophetic inspiration Jacob makes the announcement gradually: He calls Judah: 1. A young lion, who, though strong, has yet more growth to expect; 2. an old strong lion; 3. a lioness who shuns no danger in defence of her young. Christ, the true Shiloh, the Prince of Peace.—Schröder: The power of the figure increases in the painting; probably an intimation of that ever-growing warlike power of the tribe, which has its perfection in. the all-triumphant one, the lion of the tribe of Judah.—Gerlach: Until the peace, or the rest, shall come. A poetical proper name of a great descendant of Judah. The outward blessing here directs the mind to the inexhaustible fountain of heavenly blessing that shall proceed from him.—Taube: (Genesis 49:10-12.) Jacob’s blessing Judah.—A promise relating to Christ and his kingdom. It promises: 1. The victorious hero for the establishment of this kingdom; 2. the Prince of Peace with his gentle rule for the perfection of this kingdom.

Genesis 49:13-18. c. Zebulun, Issachar, and Dan. Starke: Zebulun (Isaiah 9:1-2); compare Matthew 4:15-16. Issachar’s land. Josephus: Pinguis omnis et pascuis plena. Genesis 49:13. It is a glorious gift of God to dwell by navigable waters. (The tribe of Dan a type of Antichrist, although Samson himself was a type of the Lord the Messiah.)

Genesis 49:18. The Chaldaic translation: “Our father Jacob does not say, I wait for the salvation of Gideon, nor for the salvation of Samson, but the salvation of the Messiah” (Acts 4:12).—Schröder: Dan. Some interpret: For thy salvation (that of Dan) do I wait upon the Lord (Judges 18:30; 1 Kings 12:29). Many church fathers expected that Antichrist would come out of Dan. The salvation of God is the opposite of the serpent’s poison, and of the fall (Roos). The omission of Dan, Revelation 7:5.—Calwer Handbuch: The tribe of Dan brought in the first idolatry (Judges 18:0), and is not in the Revelations among the one hundred and forty-four who were sealed.—Taube: Genesis 49:18; Genesis 29:33.—Jacob’s death-bed.—His confession the confession of Christian experience.—His end the end of the believer, full of confidence and hope.—Hofmann: (Genesis 49:18.) Jacob’s dying ejaculation.—The tenor of his whole pilgrimage.—Waiting for the salvation of God.

3.Genesis 49:19-27. The group of Joseph.

Genesis 49:19-21. a. Gad, Asher, Naphtali.—Starke: Luther on Gad. Fulfilled when they assembled the Reubenites and the half tribe of Manasseh, as prepared to occupy the land of Canaan before the other Israelites came there. Their neighbors were the Ammonites, Arabians, etc. These people sometimes invaded this tribe, and plundered it; though they also avenged themselves.—[Comparison of Naphtali: 1) To a hind, 2) to a tree, according to one of two interpretations.] He giveth goodly words. Most of the apostles who preached Christ through the world were from this tribe (land of Galilee).—Schröder: (Luther:) Fulfilled in Deborah and Barak.

Genesis 49:22-25. b. Joseph. Starke: Luther: The blessing of Jacob goes through the kingly history of Israel.—Schröder: All the enmities of his brethren, whom the old father (who preferred him to them) compared, even in his forgiveness, to a battle array, had only made him stronger (Herder). The strong one who wrestled with Jacob had made Joseph strong. He who was his stone (Genesis 28:0) was also the protector of his son (Herder).—Calwer Handbuch: Joseph has the natural fulness, Judah the spiritual.

c. Benjamin. Starke: Interpretations of the prediction as referred to Ehud, Saul, Mordecai, Esther, Paul.—Schröder: Luther, after Tertullian: This may be very appositely interpreted of the Apostle Paul, for he had devoured the holy Stephen like a wolf, and after that divided the gospel spoils throughout the world.—Calwer Handbuch: This blessing of Benjamin is fulfilled by Saul corporeally, by Paul spiritually.

4.Genesis 49:28-31. The closing word. Starke: Moses says that he blessed each one of them without exception; but the blessings of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, had fear and shame belonging to them. They were not, however, without the benediction; the curse was only outward; they still had part in the Messiah. The punishment is transformed into a healthy discipline, especially in the case of Levi. We never read that Joseph wept amidst all his sufferings (?); but the death of his father breaks his heart. Burial with one’s fathers, friends, etc.; a desire for this is not wrong; yet still the earth is all the Lord’s.—Schröder: He saw death coming, and lays himself down to die, as one goes to sleep.10


[1][מְכֵרֹתֵיהֵם. There is hardly any warrant for rendering this their habitations, as in our English version. A better rendering would be swords, but the one to be preferred is that of Lud. de Dieu, Critica Sacra, p. 22. He derives it from the Arabic هاَـى, to deceive, practise stratagems. The whole phrase would then denote instruments of violence their treacheries, equivalent, to instruments of violence and treachery. How well this suits the context is easily seen. Late Arabic Version of Smith and Van Dyke, سيوفهم their swords.—T. L.]

[2][For verunreinigt in Lange, read veruneinigt.—T. L.]

[3][עקְּרוּ שׁוֹר. Our English version, digged down a Wall, is clearly wrong, as, to make that sense, it should have been שׁוּר besides, עִקֵּר is never used in such a way. It is applied, Joshua 11:9, to houghing, as the old English word is, or to cutting the hamstrings of cattle to disable them. The parallelism here denotes the intensity of their wrath as it raged against man and beast. There is no need of referring אישׁ to Hamor alone. It is a general term—man they slew, ox they hamstrung—everything fell before their ferocity.—T. L.]

[4][יִקְּהַת means obedience, reverence, and not gathering, as the Targums and Jewish commentators give it. This is evident from Proverbs 30:17, יִקְּהַת אֵם, where it denotes filial piety, as also from the Arabic root وقى etymologically identical with it, and which is very common.—T. L.]

[5][The best and fullest discussion of the Shiloh prophecy, with a collection and critical examination of the authorties, ancient and modern, may be found in Dr. Samuel H. Turner’s excellent commentary, modestly entitled, “A Companion to the Book of Genesis,” pp. 371–388, especially his comparison of the Jewish Targums and the old versions.—T. L.]

[6][חַכְלִילִי עֵינַיִם. The difficulty all vanishes if we read, with the Samaritan codex, הכלילו (the slightest of variations, ה for ח). The LXX and Vulgate have evidently followed it—χαροποιοὶ οἱ ὀφθαλμοί—pulchriores sunt oculi. Compare כְּלִיל יפִי, Ezekiel 28:12; מִכְלַל יֹפִי, Psalms 50:2.—T. L.]

[7][How the merest prejudice, sometimes, affects our view of events, and destroys the power of what might otherwise be most impressive! There is hardly any miracle in the Old Testament that has more of a significant moral lesson than the rebuke of Balaam, the mad prophet, by the mouth of the beast on which he rode. See the use made of it 2 Peter 2:16. As an example, too, of the supernatural, there is no more objection to be made to it (except the general one) than though an angel had spoken from the sky, which would have been thought sublime, at least. And yet for how many minds has this miserable modern prejudice, this unfounded contempt for the animal named, destroyed the effect of the miracle, and turned all allusion to it into a standing jest, as it has also irrationally belittled Homer’s really fine comparison. The ignoble view of the animal has had the same effect in making an offendiculum of our Saviour’s most significant miracle of the demons and the swine. Bible interpreters, critics, and especially “rationalists,” should be above anything of the kind.—T. L.]

[8][שְׁפִיפוֹן. Hebrew names of animals are eminently characteristic, as they are, indeed, in all languages, whenever they can be traced. It is not enough, therefore, to refer this to the Syriac root ܫܦܦ to creep, as Gesenius does. That would only give the generic name serpens. This was evidently a venomous and most malignant serpent. It is rendered adder in our version; Vulgate cerastes. As the words Double Ain and Ain Wau are closely allied, especially in their intensive conjugations, this name, as here used, may help in fixing the meaning of that difficult word, שׁוּף, as employed Genesis 3:15 (see marginal note p. 235). It may have the sense of lying in wait (insidiandi), or of stinging, both of which well suit the passage in Genesis (at least in one of its applications, to which the other seems a paronomastic accommodation) and the figure intended here. It was, probably, some thought derived from this name, as denoting a very malignant animal, and a resemblance to the old serpent, Genesis 3:15, that led some of the old interpreters to connect Dan with Antichrist. If Jacob could be supposed to have had a glimpse of such an idea, it would better explain the sudden ejaculation that follows, than any ether mere historical reference that has been mentioned as suggestive of it.—T. L.]

[9][It is difficult for us to agree with Dr. Lange here. The view seems to proceed from a misconception of the true nature of Jacob’s subjective state. “What did he see in his vision? Was it, as is most likely, the actual figures, such as the lion going up to the hills, the serpent by the way, the rider falling backward, an ass lying down, a flying hind, archers shooting at their object, a sceptre departing, and a people gathering, a ravening wolf, etc., as supposed representatives of historical events, so to be interpreted by himself or others; or did he see something like the historical events themselves, and invent the metaphors for their expression? In the last case, individual characteristics in the sons, as known to his experience, are no longer the suggestive grounds, but something entirely separate and arbitrary. Or was he, throughout, a mere mechanical utterer of words, having nothing in actual conception corresponding to them? If we take the former view, then the suggestive ground of this archer picture was something in Joseph’s individual history, though it may well be regarded as typical, or prefigurative, of that of his descendants,—an idea in harmony with all the Biblical representations of this most peculiar and typical people. The same remarks apply to what Dr. Lange and others have said in respect to the ejaculation, Genesis 49:18, as though it were prompted by some actual view of Dan’s idolatry, or of Samson fighting with the Philistines, seen as historical events actually taking place in vision. Better regard it as entirely disconnected, a sudden crying out from some emotion having its origin in view of some salvation higher than these, and for which he had been waiting,—a term which can in no way be referred to these supposed historical deliverances. Separate from Joseph personally, there is nothing in this figure of the archers that would not about as well suit any other wars, of any other tribes, as the conflicts of Manasseh with the Arabians. Besides, what is to be done with all the rest of the figures that precede and follow this in the blessing of Joseph, and which can no more be referred to Manasseh historically than to some other of the tribes? There is clearly predicted great fruitfulness and general prosperity to Joseph, and in him to the two tribes that were to represent him, but all this is made the more striking by being suggestively grounded on the sorrows and persecutions he had individually experienced. It is the remote seen as compensation of the near. See the remarks on the subjective character of the whole vision, in the excursus, p. 652.—T. L.]

[10][To the literature of this chapter (see p. 650, 6) may be added a tract just published, by K. Kohler, Berlin, 1867, entitled Der Segen Jacob’s. It is valuable as presenting a good argument for the antiquity of the piece, in opposition to the theory of its being a later fiction (see p. 9). It is very suggestive, truly learned, especially in the Jewish Midrashin, in which, however, the writer, though a Jew, has little faith, even as he shows still less of reverence for the Scriptures. He holds it to be a very ancient song, yet does not hesitate to make Jacob a myth, Jacob’s God a great idea, and Jacob’s sons to be only the names of supposed tutelar tribal deities (Schutzgottheiten). He rejects, of course, the derivation of these names as given by the mothers, but shows himself a much more extravagant etymologist than Rachel and Leah. Reuben, ראובן, he turns into ראובעל, and interprets it as meaning sun-god (Sonnengott, or Gott des Strahls). Jacob himself is only a Schutzgottheit, die verschiedenen Stämme gemeinsam beschirmende. The tract is valuable and noteworthy as showing the extreme progress of this “more refined exegesis.” It may be regarded as a specimen of “the higher criticism” evaporated, “gone up into Tohu” (Job 6:18), or of “rationalism” run mad.—T. L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 49". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-49.html. 1857-84.
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