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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 49

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 49:0


Israel's Prophecy Concerning His SonsJacob's Last Words to His SonsJacob's Blessing on His Twelve SonsThe Last Words of JacobJacob's Testament
Genesis 49:1-2Genesis 49:1-27Genesis 49:1-27Genesis 49:1-27Genesis 49:1-27
(vv. Genesis 49:2)(vv. Genesis 49:2)(vv. Genesis 49:2)(vv. Genesis 49:2)(vv. Genesis 49:2)
Genesis 49:3-4(vv. Genesis 49:3-4)(vv. Genesis 49:3-4)(vv. Genesis 49:3-4)(vv. Genesis 49:3-4)(vv. Genesis 49:3-4)
Genesis 49:5-7(vv. Genesis 49:5-7)(vv. Genesis 49:5-7)(vv. Genesis 49:5-7)(vv. Genesis 49:5-7)(vv. Genesis 49:5-7)
Genesis 49:8-12
(vv. Genesis 49:8-12)(vv. Genesis 49:8-12)(vv. Genesis 49:8-12)(vv. Genesis 49:8-12)(vv. Genesis 49:8-12)
Genesis 49:13 (vv. Genesis 49:13)(vv. Genesis 49:13)(vv. Genesis 49:13)(vv. Genesis 49:13)(vv. Genesis 49:13)
Genesis 49:4-15
(vv. Genesis 49:14-15)(vv. Genesis 49:14-15)(vv. Genesis 49:14-15)(vv. Genesis 49:14-15)(vv. Genesis 49:14-15)
Genesis 49:16-18
(vv. Genesis 49:16-18)(vv. Genesis 49:16-18)(vv. Genesis 49:16-18)(vv. Genesis 49:16-17)(vv. Genesis 49:16-17)
(vv. Genesis 49:18)(vv. Genesis 49:18)
Genesis 49:19 (vv. Genesis 49:19)(vv. Genesis 49:19)(vv. Genesis 49:19)(vv. Genesis 49:19)(vv. Genesis 49:19)
Genesis 49:20
(vv. Genesis 49:20)(vv. Genesis 49:20)(vv. Genesis 49:20)(vv. Genesis 49:20)(vv. Genesis 49:20)
Genesis 49:21
(vv. Genesis 49:21)(vv. Genesis 49:21)(vv. Genesis 49:21)(vv. Genesis 49:21)(vv. Genesis 49:21)
Genesis 49:22-26
(vv. Genesis 49:22-26)(vv. Genesis 49:22-26)(vv. Genesis 49:22-26)(vv. Genesis 49:22-26)(vv. Genesis 49:22-26)
Genesis 49:14:27 (vv. Genesis 49:27)(vv. Genesis 49:27)(vv. Genesis 49:27)(vv. Genesis 49:27)(vv. Genesis 49:27)
Genesis 49:28-33Genesis 49:28Genesis 49:28Genesis 49:28Genesis 49:28
Jacob's Death And Burial (vv. Genesis 49:29-14)The Death of Jacob and the Final Days of Joseph (vv. Genesis 49:29-26)The Death and Burial of Jacob (vv. Genesis 49:29-14)Jacob's Last Moments and Death
Genesis 49:29-33Genesis 49:29-33Genesis 49:29-33Genesis 49:29-32
Genesis 49:33

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This is a difficult poem to interpret. The MT and the ancient versions disagree. The Hebrew text is very difficult because of

1. rare words

2. poetic parallels

3. numerous idioms

B. It is helpful to compare this deathbed characterization of the tribes that issue from Jacob's sons and who carry on the sons' idiosyncrasies through time, with Moses' deathbed characterization of the tribes in Deuteronomy 33:0.

C. Although there are many difficult issues, for me verse Genesis 49:10 is crucial. Interpreters must always be careful of what their pet doctrines or systematic theologies or denominational traditions want a text to say or affirm. When all is said and done

1. context

2. parallel passages

3. common sense

must guide each of us in these crucial, critical, but ambiguous texts!

D. The list of sons is presented in relationship to their mother

1. Leah (listed in birth order)

2. Zilpah (Leah's maid)

3. Bilhah (Rachel's maid)

4. Rachel (the two are listed in birth order)

Verses 1-2

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:1-2 1Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, "Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come. 2Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; And listen to Israel your father."

Genesis 49:1-2 There is a series of commands in these opening verses.

1. assemble, Genesis 49:1; Genesis 49:1, BDB 62, KB 74, Niphal IMPERATIVE

2. hear, Genesis 49:1, BDB 616, KB 665, Hiphil COHORTATIVE

3. gather together, Genesis 49:2, BDB 867, KB 1062, Niphal IMPERATIVE

4. hear. . .listen, Genesis 49:2, both BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVES

Genesis 49:1 "Then Jacob summoned his sons and said" This is the final blessing which is so characteristic of the patriarchal leaders. Culturally it carried great weight. Isaac did the same thing in Genesis 27:0; Moses in Deuteronomy 33:0; Joshua in Joshua 24:0; and Samuel in 1 Samuel 12:0. This list is going to mention the sons of Leah first and the sons of Rachel last.

There is much ambiguity in this blessing. It is in a poetic form and is based on word plays (cf. Genesis 29:30-24). This patriarchal blessing is for each of his twelve sons.

The implication of this entire chapter is that God is not only in control of the destinies of nations but also of individuals (lit. "what will befall you in the days to come")!

NASB "in the days to come" TEV "in the future"

In the MT the phrase (BDB 31 CONSTRUCT 398) is used of the end-time (cf. Numbers 24:14; Isaiah 2:2; Ezekiel 38:16), but that time frame does not fit this context. This text addresses the thirteen tribes (Joseph becomes Ephraim and Manasseh) out of Jacob. Therefore, it must relate to the conquest (Joshua) and settlement (Judges, cf. Deuteronomy 31:29) of Canaan. If Genesis 49:10 does address a Davidic ruler from Judea, then a period as far as an early monarchial period (1 Samuel) is possible.

Genesis 49:2 "Jacob. . .Israel" They are obviously parallel. It says more about modern commentators and their presuppositions that they suppose these names to represent two separate authors (as they also do to Elohim and YHWH). Ancient Hebrew had its own literary forms, idioms, and patterns!

Verses 3-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:3-4 3"Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, Because you went up to your father's bed; Then you defiled it-he went up to my couch.

Genesis 49:3 "Reuben" Verse Genesis 49:3 is written in such glowing terms (no VERBS) of the potential of Jacob's firstborn son, but Genesis 49:4 is the drastic consequence of potential being flaunted. Reuben did a shameful deed of going in to his father's concubine, Bilhah (cf. Genesis 35:22). It shows an excess of passion. While some see it as an attempt to inherit Jacob's possession early, it seems to apply more to sexual passion than to greed.

Genesis 49:4

NASB, NJB“uncontrolled" NKJV, NRSV“unstable" LXX"insolvent," "wanton" Peshitta"went astray"

This term (BDB 808) can mean

1. reckless (Arabic, cf. Judges 9:4; Jeremiah 23:32)

2. arrogant (Akkadian)

3. unstable

4. wanton (cf. Zephaniah 3:4)

BDB characterizes the term as "boiling water" spilling over a container. It is a total rejection of expected norms of behavior. It characterizes personal desires over any normal restraints.

NASB“you shall not have preeminence" NKJV, Peshitta"you shall not excel" NRSV, JPSOA"you shall no longer excel" TEV“you will not be the most important" NJB“you will not be foremost" LXX"burst not forth with violence"

The VERB (BDB 451, KB 451, Hiphil JUSSIVE) in the Hiphil stem means

1. leave over, leave, Exodus 10:15; Ruth 2:14, Ruth 2:18; 2 Kings 4:43; 2 Chronicles 31:10

2. leave a remnant, Ezekiel 6:8

3. save over, Psalms 79:11 (only)

4. excel, Genesis 49:4 (only)

5. have more than enough, Exodus 36:7; 2 Kings 4:43; 2 Chronicles 31:10

6. make abundant, Deuteronomy 28:11; Deuteronomy 30:9

The NOUN is used in Genesis 49:3 twice! This shows Reuben's potential, but because of lines 2 and 3, all this potential was lost. Sin has consequences and leaves lasting scars!

Verses 5-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:5-7 5"Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence. 6Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, And in their self-will they lamed oxen. 7Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel.

Genesis 49:5 "Simeon and Levi are brothers" These two hot-blooded brothers were apparently the planners of the slaughter of the men of Shechem (cf. Genesis 34:25-30). This text even includes the fact that they, in their anger (BDB 60 and BDB 720), lamed the oxen of that city, which is something we do not learn from Genesis 34:0 or it may be an idiom to denote the leading men of that city.

There are no VERBS in Genesis 49:5 in the original text.

NASB, NRSV“their swords" NKJV“habitation" NJB“plans" LXX"choice of action" REB, JB"counsels" Peshitta"nature"

The Hebrew (BDB 468) is uncertain, but the word (found only here) means "tools." Some assume that they came into Shechem carrying only farming tools and no one suspected that they were there for harm until they began to use the tools against the populace.

The UBS Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project gives two options which both use the same consonants,

1. their swords (educated guess from similarity with the Greek word, NRSV)

2. their destructions

It chooses the second option, but gives it a "C" rating (considerable doubt).

There is a third option from an Ethiopian root meaning "to advise" (cf. James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament, p. 57, cf. JB, REV).

NASB "implements" NKJV "instruments" NRSV, TEV "weapons"

This word (BDB 479) basically means "a utensil," "a vessel." It can refer to

1. household property

2. money

3. baggage

4. ornaments

5. hunting weapons

6. war weapons

7. musical instruments

8. yoke

9. shepherd's bag

10. cooking pot

Obviously this word has a wide semantic field. It is parallel to "swords" (or whatever BDB 468 means). In the MT this word (BDB 479) is first then BDB 468. The JPSOA has "their weapons are tools of lawlessness." The confusion of this verse can be seen in the wide variety of the ancient versions.

However, it is obvious that it refers to these two brothers slaughtering the Shechemites (cf. Genesis 34:0).

The UBS Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (p. 77) lists two ways to understand the Hebrew phrase.

1. weapons of violence

2. they decided upon

It combines the two options "weapons of violence," but gives it a "B" (some doubt) rating.

Genesis 49:6

NASB“my soul. . .my glory" NKJV“my soul. . .my honor" NRSV, Peshitta"I. . .I" NJB, REV"my soul. . .my heart" JPSOA"my person. . .my being" LXX"my soul. . .my inward parts"

The first term (BDB 659, see note at Gen. 35:18) is nephesh, which means "a person's or animal's life-force" (i.e., that which breathes). It is used several times in chapter 46 (Genesis 46:15, Genesis 46:18, Genesis 46:22, Genesis 46:25, Genesis 46:26 [twice], 27 [twice]), but translated numerous ways.

The second term (BDB 458) "kabod," means "abundance," "honor," or "glory" (see Special Topic: Glory). This form of this root appears only here, Genesis 31:1, and Genesis 45:13. These same two words appear together in Psalms 7:5. However, in this context it refers to Jacob himself and is parallel to nephesh. Both of these terms occur in parallel JUSSIVE clauses.

These first two lines of poetry in Genesis 49:6 are an idiomatic way of Jacob not wanting to be associated with the plans or actions of his two older sons which issued in the premeditated slaughter of all the males of the Canaanite city of Shechem.

"because of their anger they slew men" Jacob did not want to be identified with the rash, violent acts of these two sons.

"and in their self-will they lamed oxen" This is parallel to line 3. It apparently refers to the slaughter at Shechem in an idiomatic way. These two brothers treated all the men of Shechem as if they were animals. It may even be an allusion to the slowness of their movements (three days after being circumcised).

Genesis 49:7 "curse" This (BDB 76, KB 91) is a PASSIVE PARTICIPLE used as an exclamation (cf. Genesis 3:14, Genesis 3:17; Genesis 4:11; Genesis 9:25; Genesis 27:29; Numbers 24:9; Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Judges 21:18; 1 Samuel 14:24, 1 Samuel 14:28). It has a specialized usage in Genesis 49:3 and 27:29 related to the Abrahamic covenant, but that cannot be the meaning here because these sons are part of the covenant! The curse must be related to their rejection as leaders of the family (primo geniture). It is their "anger" (BDB 60) that is cursed, not the sons themselves. However, note that it is YHWH Himself ("I will divide/disperse them in Jacob," BDB 323, KB 322, Piel IMPERFECT, FIRST PERSON SINGULAR).

Notice the clear synthetic parallelism between lines 1 and 2 and lines 3 and 4 in Genesis 49:7. This is a good example of how so much of Hebrew poetry is structured (see article on Hebrew Poetry).

"I will disperse them in Jacob" We know from history that the tribe of Simeon, in receiving the tribal allocation close to the Philistines (cf. Joshua 19:1-9), was very quickly decimated and assimilated into the tribe of Judah. The tribe of Levi takes the place of the firstborn children (cf. Exodus 13:0) and becomes priests who are spread throughout the land, particularly the forty-eight Levitical cities. One reason to believe in the ancientness of this blessing is because there is no seeming blessing on the dispersion of Levi as there is in Moses' blessing of the tribes in Deuteronomy 33:0.

Verses 8-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:8-12 8"Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father's sons shall bow down to you. 9Judah is a lion's whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? 10The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. 11He ties his foal to the vine, And his donkey's colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes. 12His eyes are dull from wine, And his teeth white from milk.

Genesis 49:8-12 "Judah" The term Judah (BDB 397) means "praise" (BDB 393, cf. Genesis 29:35). Apparently he is described as a very strong military tribe (cf. Genesis 49:8-9) as well as the royal ruler (cf. Genesis 49:10-12) of the sons of Jacob. This metaphor is continued in Judah as a lion's whelp (BDB 158 CONSTRUCT BDB 71). This does not mean a lion's cub, but a young lion just coming into a full possession of his strength (cf. Numbers 24:9).

Genesis 49:8 "enemies" This term (BDB 33, KB 38, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) is common in the OT, but over forty times it is used specifically of enemies of the King (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 366). In this royal blessing it is just another clue regarding the supremacy of Judah.

"Your father's sons shall bow down to you" The VERB (BDB 1005, KB 295, Hishtaphel [OT Parsing Guide] or Hithpael [Owen, Analytical Key] IMPERFECT denotes an act of homage) is the same one used in Joseph's dream in Genesis 37:7 and 9. The brothers (including Judah) did not appreciate the thought of bowing down to one of their brothers, but here Jacob asserts they will bow to Judah in Canaan as they bowed to Joseph in Egypt. Judah will be the tribe of royalty!

Genesis 49:10 "the scepter. . .the ruler's staff" These (BDB 986 and BDB 349, KB 347, Poel PARTICIPLE) are in a parallel relationship implying that the king of the united tribes will come from Judah.

The phrase "ruler's staff from between his feet" is to be understood in light of the ancient pictures of an ANE ruler holding the sign of his office (usually a staff or spear) between his legs as he sits on his throne. It should be noted that the term denotes a military leader's symbol of authority (cf. Numbers 21:18).

NASB, NKJV“Until Shiloh comes" NRSV“Until tribute comes to him" TEV“Nations will bring him tribute" NJB“until tribute be brought him" LXX"until there came the things stored up for him" Peshitta"until the coming of the One to whom the scepter belongs" JPSOA"so that tribute shall come to him" REB"until he receives what is his due" Young's Lit. Translation"till his SEED come"

There has been much discussion on how to understand this phrase.

1. it could be a proper name (Sanh 98b)

2. it could be a place name, but this would be unusual because no major event occurs at this small city in the northern kingdom, either in Judah's or David's life, or the Messiah's

3. some have asserted that it is a shorthand way of writing the phrase "until what is his comes"; this is the way the Septuagint and Targum Onkelos translates this verse

4. some have said that this is quoted in Ezekiel 21:26-27 in the sense of "until the rightful Davidic/Judean king comes," which would refer to the Messiah; this is the way the verse is translated in the Revised Standard Version

5. some Targums translate this verse "until the Messiah comes to whom the kingdom belongs"

6. there is a remote possibility that the word Shiloh comes from the Babylonian root which means "prince"

The UBS Hebrew Text Project lists the options.

1. he comes to Shiloh or Shiloh comes

2. he comes to whom it belongs (change of vowels)

3. tribute will be brought to him.

It gives option #1 an "A" rating (high probability) and links Shiloh to a son of Judah (spelled "Shelah," cf. Genesis 38:5, Genesis 38:11, Genesis 38:14, Genesis 38:26; Genesis 46:12; Numbers 26:20; 1 Chronicles 2:3; 1 Chronicles 4:21).

This verse refers to a Davidic Messiah, but its exact meaning is uncertain. Both the ancient synagogue and church thought it was Messianic. Judah is going to rule the twelve tribes, but the Messiah (his descendant) is going to rule all of the kingdoms of the earth (cf. Revelation 11:15).

The idea of a king of Israel who would impact all humanity is foreshadowed in Genesis.

1. prophecy to Abraham, Genesis 17:6, Genesis 17:16

2. prophecy to Jacob, Genesis 35:11

3. prophecy to Judah, Genesis 49:8-12

4. Balaam's prophecy about Israel, Numbers 24:7

5. Moses' guidelines for a king, Deuteronomy 17:14-20

6. specific promises to David, 2 Samuel 7:0

NASB, NKJV, NRSV“the obedience of the peoples" TEV“bow in obedience before him" NJB“the peoples render him obedience" JPSOA"the homage of peoples be his" LXX"he is the expectation of nations" Peshitta"to whom the Gentiles shall look forward"

The MT has "shall be the obedience of the peoples" (BDB 429 CONSTRUCT 766), which has no VERB. The LXX and Peshitta make the universal Messianic implication (i.e., "nations," BDB 766 is PLURAL [cf. Genesis 27:29] and is regularly translated the "nations" referring to non-Abrahamic people [Gentiles]) explicit in Psalms 2:8; Daniel 7:13-14!

Genesis 49:11 "He ties his foal to the vine,

And his donkey's colt to a choice vine" Verses Genesis 49:11 and 12 form an idiom that refers to prosperity. There are so many choice vines that one does not mind tying an animal to it who may either eat it or pull it apart by trying to get away.

"He washes his garments in wine,

And his robes in the blood of grapes" This is a parallel Hebrew structure that speaks of the abundance of grapes. However, it could refer to Judah as God's agent of judgment (cf. Isaiah 63:1-6; Revelation 19:13, Revelation 19:15).

Genesis 49:12 "His eyes are dull from wine,

And his teeth white from milk" This is another metaphor for prosperity which speaks of the abundance of wine (TEV, "bloodshot [BDB 314] eye") and the abundance of milk (i.e., healthy herds).


Verse 13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:13 13"Zebulun will dwell at the seashore; And he shall be a haven for ships, And his flank shall be toward Sidon."

Genesis 49:13-14 "Zebulun. . .Issachar" As Simeon and Levi are linked together, so are Zebulun and Issachar. Zebulun is going to be a very commercially-oriented tribe, while Issachar is going to be a very strong, but apparently unambitious, tribe.

Genesis 49:13

NASB“shall dwell at the seashore" NKJV“shall dwell by the haven of the sea" NRSV“shall settle at the shore of the sea" TEV“will live by the sea" NJB“will live by the seashore" LXX"dwell on the coast"

This phrase is literally translated "at the seashore" (BDB 342 CONSTRUCT 410). This tribe never dwelt exactly on the sea (cf. Joshua 19:10-16) because Asher is between them and the ocean. However, they were involved in trade with Tyre and Sidon (cf. Genesis 49:13c; Deuteronomy 33:19c and d).

Verses 14-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:14-15 14"Issachar is a strong donkey, Lying down between the sheepfolds. 15When he saw that a resting place was good And that the land was pleasant, He bowed his shoulder to bear burdens, And became a slave at forced labor.

Genesis 49:14 "Issachar is a strong donkey,

Lying down between the sheepfolds" These two lines of poetry have been interpreted in two ways.

1. some take it from a root that means "a day laborer" (TEV)

2. others think it means they are lazy because they lay down between hills, saddlebags (TEV), or sheepfolds (NRSV, NJB) and are turned into slaves (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 994, #4)

The exact allusion is uncertain, but the point is that they refuse to take advantage of their situation. The LXX translates it as positive.

NASB, NRSV, NJB, JPSOA"sheepfolds" NKJV“two burdens" TEV (NASB margin) "saddlebags" LXX"between the inheritances" Peshitta"by the highways" REB"in the cattle pens"

The Hebrew word המשׁפתים can mean

1. BDB 1046

a. fire places

b. ash heaps (i.e., villages)

c. sheepfold (cf. Judges 5:16)

2. KB 652

a. the two (Hebrew dual) bags for a donkey (Arabic and Albright)

b. a kettle on the hearth

c. divided sheepfolds (cf. Psalms 68:13)

Yes, moderns would like to know exactly what this means, but even with the ambiguity, the context does paint a picture. We must rely on the larger picture until more lexical or historical information becomes available. This is not a crucial issue!

Genesis 49:15 There are two opposite ways to understand this verse.

1. Issachar was lazy and became a slave.

2. Issachar recognized the fertility of their inheritance and worked hard to make it prosperous.

It all has to do with "lying down." Does this refer to laziness or rest after strenuous effort?

Verses 16-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:16-18 16"Dan shall judge his people, As one of the tribes of Israel. 17Dan shall be a serpent in the way, A horned snake in the path, That bites the horse's heels, So that his rider falls backward. 18For Your salvation I wait, O Lord. "

Genesis 49:16 "Dan" This is a play on the name Dan (BDB 192), which means "judge" (BDB 192), as Dinah (BDB 192) is the feminine form and means "judgess." If this is true the phrase refers to Dan as small, but deadly.

Genesis 49:17 "Dan shall be a serpent in the way" One of my favorite OT commentators, Leupold, takes Genesis 49:17 and 27 in a positive sense (note Genesis 49:18). However, from the context it may be negative. We have some biblical examples of those who were from the tribe of Dan (cf. Judges 18:0). Because Judges 18:0 is the first occurrence of idolatry among the tribes in the Bible and because Dan left their land allocation given by Joshua, many have assumed that Dan is stigmatized by these acts. Dan is not included in the list of tribes in Revelation 7:5-8. Many of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, and Theodore, assume that the antiChrist would come from the tribe of Dan.

Genesis 49:18 "For Your salvation I wait, O LORD" The exact purpose of this outburst of prayer into this context has been disputed. Is it from Jacob or Dan? Is it a thanksgiving for God's (only use of YHWH in Genesis 49:0) care which was brought to mind by the mention of the "serpent," Genesis 49:0:l7, referring to Genesis 3:0? Possibly it is a prayer that the tribe of Dan would recognize their waywardness and return to trust in YHWH's protection and deliverance (i.e., original tribal allocations in Philistine controlled area).


Verse 19

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:19 19"As for Gad, raiders shall raid him, But he will raid at their heels."

Genesis 49:19 "As for Gad, raiders shall raid him,

But he shall raid at their heels" There is an obvious play on the root of the name (BDB 151), found four times in this one verse. Gad will be in a tribal allocation that can be easily invaded by surrounding nations (i.e., east of the Jordan), but he will go after them and retrieve the spoils (i.e., fortunate, prosperous).

The Hebrew text has "heel" (BDB 784, I,a), but BDB mentions that the term may be עקבמ (מ from the first letter of the next line of poetry, Genesis 49:20). If so, then the line should not read "heel," but "will attack their rear" (BDB 784, I,c).

Verse 20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:20 20"As for Asher, his food shall be rich, And he will yield royal dainties."

Genesis 49:20 "Asher" The basic meaning of Asher seems to be "happy one" (BDB 81). This may be alluding to the control of trade routes through their land allotment by Joshua, which makes them very wealthy. Also, the fertility of their soil means that they will provide food items for the royal table (cf. Deuteronomy 33:24-25).

Verse 21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:21 21"Naphtali is a doe let loose, He gives beautiful words."

Genesis 49:21

NASB, NKJV“a doe let loose" NKJV, JPSOA"a deer let loose" TEV“a deer that runs free" NJB“a swift hind" LXX"a spreading stem" Peshitta"a swift messenger" REB"a spreading terebinth"

The VERB (BDB 1018, KB 1511, Qal PASSIVE PARTICIPLE) can mean

1. send forth

a. people

b. things

c. message

2. hurl

3. stretch out (i.e., spreading, cf. LXX, REB)

4. send away (cf. Genesis 3:23)

5. let loose (cf. Psalms 50:19)

NASB“He gives beautiful words" NKJV, Peshitta"He gives goodly words" NRSV, TEV, NJB, JPSOA"that bears lovely fawns" LXX"bestowing beauty on its fruit" REB"putting forth lovely boughs"

The word translated "beauty" or "lovely" (BDB 1051 I, שׁפר, cf. Psalms 16:6), the same three consonants, can also be translated "horn," (cf. Rotherham's Emphasized Bible).

The UBS Handbook on Genesis makes a helpful statement, "The change from 'hinds' to 'terebinth' and 'fawns' to 'words' involves a change in the Hebrew vowel points" (p. 1094).

Since animal metaphors, not plant metaphors, are common in Genesis 49:0 and since there is a parallel between the lines of the poem, v. Genesis 49:21, "beautiful fawns" or "fawns of beauty" seems best.

Verses 22-26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:22-26 22"Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall. 23The archers bitterly attacked him, And shot at him and harassed him; 24But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25From the God of your father who helps you, And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26The blessings of your father Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; May they be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.

Genesis 49:22-26 "Joseph" As Judah was singled out among the sons of Leah to receive the leadership of the family (i.e., line of the Messiah), so Joseph is singled out among the sons of Rachel to receive the double inheritance (i.e., Ephraim and Manasseh). This is a very poetic and yet emphatic statement about the priority of Joseph.

Genesis 49:22 There is a word play and a metaphor in this verse.

1. the Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE, BDB 826, KB 963, is repeated twice

2. in line 1 "bough" is literally "son," but in line 3 "bough" is "daughter"

These are agricultural metaphors for a vigorous growing and fruitful plant (cf. Deuteronomy 33:13-16).

Some commentators are doubtful of a switch from animal metaphors (cf. Genesis 49:9, Genesis 49:14, Genesis 49:17, Genesis 49:21, Genesis 49:27, and the parallel in Deuteronomy 33:17) and change the imagery to a wild donkey on a hillside (cf. JPSOA, TEV). Poetry in an ancient language using rare words is a slippery thing!

Verse Genesis 49:22 has many questions with the Hebrew text!

Genesis 49:23-25 These verses relate metaphorically to

1. Joseph's experience with his brothers and Potiphar and prison life

2. The tribes of Joseph's sons (i.e., Ephraim and Manasseh) and their conquest of their tribal allocations in Canaan (Joshua)

Notice the different titles for God.

1. the Mighty One of Jacob, Genesis 49:24, BDB 7 CONSTRUCT 784, cf. Psalms 132:2, Psalms 132:5; Isaiah 49:26 (the Mighty One of Israel, Isaiah 1:24)

2. the Shepherd, Genesis 49:24; Genesis 49:24, BDB 944, KB 1258, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE, cf. Psalms 23:1; Psalms 80:1 (similar pastoral idiom, Psalms 78:52)

3. the Stone (or Rock) of Israel, Genesis 49:24, BDB 6 CONSTRUCT 975, cf. Isaiah 30:29; possibly linked to the Messianic title "Cornerstone" in Psalms 118:22; Isaiah 28:16 (see Special Topic to follow)

4. the God of your fathers, Genesis 49:25, cf. Genesis 26:3, Genesis 26:24; Genesis 28:13; Genesis 32:9 (i.e., Abraham, Isaac; note the SINGULAR is an emphasis on Jacob's God)

5. the Almighty (lit. Shaddai, cf. JPSOA), Genesis 49:25, BDB 994, cf. Genesis 17:1; see Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY


Genesis 49:25 "With the blessings of heaven above,

Blessings of the deep that lies beneath

Blessings of the breasts and of the womb" This is a threefold emphasis on abundance of crops, herds, and human population. This is what YHWH wanted to do to all humanity in Eden.

"Heaven" and "deep" are used as metaphors for the widest, greatest possible blessings. Both would relate to moisture for abundant crops and grasses (cf. Deuteronomy 33:13).

Genesis 49:26 There is a parallelism between line 2 and line 3, but both have difficulties in Hebrew.

1. blessing of everlasting mountains (BDB 249) or ancestors (BDB 223 also assumes it refers in parallel to everlasting mountains, as does the LXX and the parallel in Deuteronomy 33:15; MT has "ancestors," but this form is found only here)

2. blessings of the eternal hills

In the context of the parallelism both lines probably relate to mountains and hills, which was an idiom for strength and permanence.

"the head of one distinguished among his brothers" "Distinguished" (BDB 634) is from the root for "Nazarite," which means "to set apart" (cf. TEV) or "consecrated to." It can possibly denote a prince or official (cf. Nahum 3:17). It may refer to Joseph's position of leadership in Egypt.

Verse 27

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:27 27"Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he devours the prey, And in the evening he divides the spoil."

Genesis 49:27 "Benjamin" He is described as a ravenous wolf (BDB 382, KB 380, Qal IMPERFECT). Some say that he ate all of the five portions that were set before him (cf. Genesis 43:34). His father knew his eating habits! Verse Genesis 49:27 is negative, note Judges 19-21.

Leupold interprets Genesis 49:17 and 27 positively. Hebrew poetry is very ambiguous because of the genre of Hebrew poetry and the use of rare words used to make the beat (accented syllables) fit.

"prey" The root עד (BDB 723 I) usually denotes perpetuity (i.e., Genesis 49:26; and mostly in Psalm and Isaiah), but in some few texts (cf. here; Isaiah 33:23; Zephaniah 3:8) it denotes booty taken in battle using the metaphor of "prey."

Verses 28-33

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 49:28-33 28All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one with the blessing appropriate to him. 29Then he charged them and said to them, "I am about to be gathered to 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 along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. 31There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah-32the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth." 33When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

Genesis 49:29 "gathered to my people" This is an idiom for death and burial (cf. Genesis 25:8, Genesis 25:17; Genesis 35:29; Genesis 49:33; Numbers 20:26; Numbers 27:13; Numbers 31:2; Deuteronomy 32:50; Judges 2:10; 2 Kings 22:20). Whether this implies a family reunion in Sheol is uncertain. It may be a way of referring to family tombs or caves. But because of the worship of teraphim (cf. Genesis 31:19, Genesis 31:34, Genesis 31:35, see Special Topic at Genesis 31:19) it may have had a greater implication (cf. Matthew 22:31-32).

See Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 127-129, for a brief discussion on the phrase implying an afterlife.

"in the cave" This refers to the burial site of the Patriarchs which was bought from Ephron the Hittite, alluded to in Genesis 23:1-19. There is a sense in which the covenant families are united in the afterlife.

Jacob is asserting in a veiled way that his family would not stay in Egypt, but at some point would return to Canaan (cf. Genesis 15:12-21). Joseph makes the same kind of prophetic request in Genesis 50:24-25. Egypt was a temporary shelter that would turn into an exploitation.

Genesis 49:31 "Rebekah. . .Leah" This is the first account of the burial of these two. The rabbis say that Joseph may have been angry because his mother was buried by the side of the road, but this seems to be a prophetic allusion to the time when the northern tribes go into captivity and Rachel will weep for her children as she sees them go by for she is buried beside the road that they would take as they go into exile (cf. Jeremiah 31:15).

Genesis 49:33 "drew his feet into the bed" If Jacob was sitting up the whole time this simply means he laid down; otherwise it seems to refer to the fetal position. Then he will breathe his last (an idiom for death).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why does Jacob adopt Ephraim and Manasseh?

2. What is the significance of the threefold titles of God found in Genesis 48:15-16?

3. How are the blessings of chapter 49 related to the names of these sons found in Genesis 29:30-24?

4. What two sons seem to receive the greatest blessing and what aspect of the blessing do we remember them for?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 49". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-49.html. 2021.
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