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Deeper Commentary

Gen 49:1 Jacob called to his sons, and said: Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which will happen to you in the days to come- This follows right on from the blessing of Joseph, in which Jacob had attempted to give the blessing of the firstborn to Ephraim as his son. I commented throughout Gen. 48 that he might have better learnt from his earlier handing back of Isaac's paternal blessing (see on Gen. 33:11). On the acme of spiritual perception, he confessed that paternal blessings are not worth anything compared to the blessings of God's grace. But now Jacob is still thinking in human terms, concerned about final blessings of children, when he should have realized that these are meaningless. And so we find that as many of the paternal blessings uttered by his father never came particularly true, so not everything he says here to his sons had fulfilment.

Gen 49:2 Assemble yourselves, and hear, you sons of Jacob. Listen to Israel, your father- He parallels his old and new names, in order to demonstrate that he has accepted God's grace in changing his name. The gathering of his sons may point forward to the last judgment.


Gen 49:3 Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength; excelling in dignity, and excelling in power- The way Jacob rebukes and effectively rejects Reuben, Simeon and Levi, the sons who had flaunted their natural strength and prowess, reflects the right perspectives which Jacob attained at the end. The language here sounds as if Jacob associated his natural strength with Reuben, and yet now he rejected it. Doubtless these men gathered round their father expecting to hear some sweet fatherly blessing mixed with a few gentle reproofs for past behaviour. The whole process of Israel's sons being "gathered" to him and receiving their blessing and judgment is typical of the final judgment, showing how Jacob was a type of Christ at this time. The surprise of the sons we are left to imagine, but it would point forward quite accurately to the surprise which will be a feature of the rejected (Mt. 25:44).  


Gen 49:4 Boiling over as water, you shall not excel; because you went up to your father’s bed, then defiled it. He went up to my couch- The evident problem the Abraham family had with women s emphasized in the record. One man, one woman was the declared standard of God at this time. Adam, Noah, Noah's sons, Aaron, Moses were all one man: one woman cases. The patriarchs having more than one wife at a time sticks out. Abraham's apparently casual relationship with Hagar, Judah's use of a harlot (apparently the sort of thing he often did), Esau's many carnal wives, Dinah's love affair, Reuben's incest... all this creates a certain impression of weakness in this area. Joseph's evil report regarding his brothers may well have featured news of their playboy escapades while far away from usual family life (Gen. 37:2 = 1 Sam. 2:23,24). The repeated way in which they lied about their wives also indicates that they didn't take their marital responsibilities as they should have (Gen. 12:13; 20:3,13; 26:7).

Reuben's incest, twice lamented, meant that he was stripped of the title of firstborn (1 Chron. 5:1,2). I suggested on Gen. 35:22 that the incest may not have been due to simple lust, but rather anger. So the statement that he had boiled over like water would refer to his anger problem rather than sexual lust. He 'went up' to his father's bed and bedroom, perhaps suggesting that he wanted to become the head of the family in place of Jacob. He had 'excelled in dignity' (:4), but now he did not 'excel'. The two words are related in Hebrew as they are in English. And yet despite all this, Reuben is presented as having more genuine concern for Joseph and Jacob than most of the other brothers. But clearly even on his deathbed, Jacob couldn't forgive Reuben for what he had done. He offers no blessing, only a statement that he remembers Reuben's sin and abiding shame.


Gen 49:5 Simeon and Levi are brothers. Their swords are weapons of violence- The reference is to their massacre of the Shechemites. Jacob seems to speak as if this is not forgiven, for he says that their swords are, not "were", weapons used to do violence to others. Jacob again offers them no blessing, but just wants them to know he remembers what they did and retains his sense of separation from them. In Christian terms, of forgiveness and grace, Jacob seems remarkably lacking, despite all the grace shown to him. He died not quite 'getting it'; and yet will be saved.

 
Gen 49:6 My soul, don’t come into their council. My glory, don’t be united to their multitude; for in their anger they killed men. In their self-will they hamstrung cattle- Although Jacob’s seed had become a "multitude" as promised, he says that he refuses to unite himself with the "multitude" of Simeon and Levi, as if he now saw this physical fulfilment of the promises in his lifetime as worth little. His appreciation of the promises absolutely fills his thinking at the end. The promised Kingdom was "the pride of Jacob" (Ps. 47:4 NIV; Am. 6:8; Nah. 2:2), his chiefest joy. There are aspects of Jacob's blessings of his sons which evidently have not been fulfilled. Presumably they will be fulfilled in the Kingdom, which shows how Jacob's mind was not dwelling on his children receiving physical blessings from God in the short term (cp. how Isaac blessed his sons), but rather the promised eternal blessings of the Kingdom. It is quite likely that the sons, in their humanity, expected blessings of a more immediate sort, such as a dying father of those times would have shared out between his sons. But instead, Jacob's talk is not of the things of this brief life, but of the Kingdom. And yet Jacob does come over as bitter, refusing to associate his honour ["glory"] with their extended families, their "council" [group] or "multitude" or AV "assembly", their community. It is really a deathbed disassociation from his own sons, when he himself had many sins which had been dealt with by grace alone.  

Jacob's reflection on Joseph's sufferings gave him a clearer picture of those of the future Messiah. His complaint that they "hamstrung cattle" can be understood as prophetic of the murder of God's son. It can be translated in the singular, as if referring to one individual, namely Joseph: "houghing the ox" (RV), or bullock (Concordant Version), i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ (Dt. 33:17 RV), the bullock of the sin offering (Heb. 13:11-13). Gen. 49:6 can also be rendered 'murdering the prince' (Adam Clarke's Translation), referring initially to the murder of Shechem but looking ahead to that of the Lord Jesus. The Roman historian Hippolytus says that "From Simeon came the Scribes, and from Levi the priests"; it was these groups who murdered the Lord, and Jacob seems to have foreseen this, through his reflection on their hatred of Joseph. He may mean that they took counsel against Joseph, as the scribes and priests would do against Christ (Ps. 2:2).  


Gen 49:7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel. I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel- Several times at the very end of his life (Gen. 49:2,7,24) Jacob mentions his old and new names ('Jacob' and 'Israel') together, as if to show that now he finally accepted and believed the wondrous change that God had wrought in him. First of all, he doesn't seem to have accepted his name change, and needed God to remind him of it again (Gen. 32:28; 35:10). To accept, really accept, the Name we called upon ourselves at baptism (Acts 2:21; 9:14; 22:16; Rom. 10:12-14) is difficult. To believe that God really does see us as His people, bearing His Name, with all the moral glory this implies... it took Jacob no less than 50 years to realize the implications of Jacob's name change (Jacob's name was changed when he was 97, and he only uses it freely of himself just before his death at 147). It's unusual for a man to repeatedly mention his own name when talking to others; and yet this is exactly what Jacob did in Gen. 48:20; 49:2,7,24; it was as if he was playing with a new toy, reflecting his grasp of that basic, wondrous truth he had been taught 50 years ago; that in God's eyes, his name had changed. In God's eyes, he was not the Jacob, the liar, the supplanter, the deceiver; but Israel, the prince with God. But it took 50 years for the wonder of it all to come home to him.  

And yet the immediate meaning of his words here are to call his sons for the expected deathbed blessing, and then curse them. When Jacob himself closed his eyes covered by grace for many failures in his life; his repeated recollection of their massacre of the Shechemites decades previously is perhaps because it did him shame, and he could never quite live it down.

Jacob's desire to "divide" them uses a word which can mean to divide out a portion with others; it is thus used in :27, and frequently about the dividing up of spoil or the promised land. The idea could be that their part of the inheritance Jacob wished to be taken by others, or divided up between the other sons. His idea of 'scattering' them in Israel can too easily be applied to the scattering of the Levites throughout Israel; but this is uttered as a curse, and it was intended to affect both Simeon and Levi.  Scattering throughout the eretz is the language of judgment upon the Babel builders (Gen. 11:9 s.w.) and Israel's scattering among the nations is associated with God disinheriting them of their land (Dt. 28:64; Jer. 9:16; 18:17 s.w.). It may be that this is what Jacob intended; that they would be scattered amongst the other tribes and their share of the inheritance was to be divided amongst them. There is no record of this happening; and God turned the curse into a blessing in that the scattering of the Levites around Israel was to be a blessing for all. And in a strange way, the curse upon Simeon had at least some fulfilment. Simeon became the smallest of the twelve tribes (Num. 26:14); it is given no blessing by Moses in Dt. 33; and is given no independent territory in Canaan, just a few cities  within the borders of Judah (Josh. 19:1-9); and eventually Simeon was absorbed into Judah.

Gen 49:8 Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies. Your father’s sons will bow down before you- see on Gen. 37:10. Joseph's dreams had clearly stated that all the brothers would bow to him. And Jacob had come to see that and accept it, despite his initial dislike of the idea. But now his very last words seem an attempt to make those dreams apply to Judah and not Joseph. "Judah" was so named in order that others would "Praise Yah"; but Jacob turns this around to Judah himself being praised. It seems to indicate that Jacob died somewhat bitter and without having grasped that the grace shown to him ought to have been reflected by him to others. And yet he shall be saved, as with so many believers who end their days likewise.


Gen 49:9 Judah is a lion’s cub- Jacob saw himself as the lion, and Judah as his cub. But likening himself to a lion hardly seems appropriate humility in a man who had been forgiven so much and who was now facing his grave planks. But still he will be saved, by grace.

From the prey, my son, you have gone up- This could be a reference to some unrecorded military conflict Judah had been involved in; there may be another reference to such a conflict in Gen. 48:22.

He stooped down, he crouched as a lion, as a lioness. Who will rouse him up?- Jacob may be using the prophetic perfect here, talking about future things as if they have happened, and having in mind a great Messianic descendant of Judah, the Lord Jesus. Jacob twice describes this Messianic descendant as devouring the prey in the morning of the second coming (49:9, 27); he foresaw an aggressive tension between Messiah and other beasts, i.e. the nations of the surrounding world, which would end in the glorious victory of Christ's coming in glory. This image of devouring the prey after the battle against the world in this life is the basis of other latter day prophecies (Ez. 39:18-20; Rev. 19:17-20). The faithful will eat the carcass of the beast at Christ's coming (Mt. 24:28 cp. Rev. 19:17-20), sharing in the victory of the lion of Judah who has slain his prey and now devours it. This was all foreseen by Jacob, although he would have seen the beasts which the Messiah / lion devoured as the nations surrounding his people (Jer. 15:3; Jer. 28:14; Ez. 5:17 and many others).  

Gen 49:10 The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs. To him will the obedience of the peoples be- This could be a reference to Judah's great Messianic descendant, the one to whom the Kingdom belongs, and that is how these words are alluded to in Ez. 21:25-27. The alternative reading, "until Shiloh comes", would then name Messiah as "Shiloh", 'the sent one (cp. Is. 8:6; Jn. 9:7). The nations would be obedient to this figure, as Egypt and the neighbouring peoples had been to Joseph. The preaching of the Gospel is a gathering together of God's people to Christ (Gen. 49:10; Mt. 12:30). We are now being gathered together, and yet the final gathering together will be at the day of judgment; therefore our response to the calling together of the Gospel now, is a foretaste of the gathering unto the day of judgment (Mt. 3:12 cp. 13:30). 

But Jacob envisaged Judah as having an unbroken line of descendants ["from between his feet", an idiom for childbirth] who would be the kingly rulers [with sceptre and staff] until the Messiah figure came. But this didn't come true. And Ez. 21:25-27 clearly alludes to this passage and adjusts it, saying that the kingly dynasty of Judah had been overthrown and would remain so "until he comes whose right it is". It could be that Jacob was uttering a conditional prophecy, what could have been true, but Judah's later failure precluded it. Or maybe whilst the inspired record of these last words is accurate, the fact that Jacob's predictions didn't come true (as Ez. 21:25-27 seems to emphasize) is in demonstration of the fact that he had failed to learn the lesson that paternal blessings and cursings were not that important. Rather should the emphasis be upon God's blessing and cursing, which is all anyway about grace (see on Gen. 33:11).

The alternative rendering "Until Shiloh come", or "Until he come to Shiloh" could connect with the Divine intention that Israel leave Egypt and return to Canaan, to establish His Kingdom. I have explained this idea on Gen. 45:7. In this case we would have here a prophecy of what could potentially have happened; Judah was to be the kingly ruler, until he led Israel out of Egypt to Canaan and they arrived at Shiloh, where the tabernacle was later established. There a king in the line of Judah would be established, and the Gentiles would be obedient to him.

Gen 49:11 Binding his foal to the vine, his donkey’s colt to the choice vine- Literally, "the vine of Sorek", a valley in Canaan (Jud. 6:4). Jacob's thoughts were back in Canaan, envisaging an ideal situation of peace being enjoyed in the land once Judah had led Israel back there from Goshen.

He has washed his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes- He saw Judah's great Messianic descendant as being associated with the ass, the Hebrew for which essentially means 'patience'; he foresaw the Lord's patient endurance in the struggle, and even foresaw his garments as dipped in blood (cp. Rev. 14:18), eyes bloodshot with the struggle, and yet with teeth white as milk from a true assimilation of God's teaching (49:12 cp. Is. 55:1); through his personal experience and extensive reflection on the basic need of man and the promised blessing of forgiveness, Jacob really went deeply and accurately into a personal knowledge of the future Christ. Blind as he was (Gen. 48:10), Jacob meditated upon the Lord Jesus. His mind was filled with him. He perhaps contrasted his own dim eyes with the burning, bloodshot eyes of his zealous Lord, visualizing the suffering  which he knew He would endure for his sake. The blessings of Gen. 49 are in well planned poetic form; it may be that Jacob composed these poems about the Lord Jesus as the crystallization of his extended reflection on the Lord. Would that we would rise up to the Messianic perception of the blind poet Jacob. Likewise David foresaw the Lord Jesus always before his face, and therefore his heart was never ruffled. Jacob evidently saw in Joseph's experience a type of Christ's future sufferings and resurrection (49:11,23).

The Lord’s death is described as His washing “his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes" (Gen. 49:11 RV). Treading out the grapes is a Hebraism for judgment, and yet it is used here and in Is. 63:1-3 regarding the Lord’s treading of the winepress alone in His death. Indeed, the Isaiah passage is clearly applicable to both the crucifixion and the final judgment of the Lord Jesus. The reason being, that in His death was the judgment of this world.

But despite all these cryptic references to the future Messiah, we must remember that Jacob spoke these words to Judah. Judah had deceived Jacob by washing Joseph's clothes in blood to make it appear that he had been slain by a wild animal. But now, in allusion to that, Jacob graciously projects this image as part of a Messianic prophecy of Judah's final greatness. But Jacob is far less gracious to some of his other sons, whose sins he remembers with bitterness and curses them concerning them.

Gen 49:12 His eyes will be red with wine, his teeth white with milk- See on :11. Whilst this blessing can be understood as prophetic of Messiah, the Lord Jesus, we must remember that it was also in its first instance the blessing of the man Judah who stood in front of Jacob at this time. Isaac had blessed his firstborn, as he thought, with "plenty of corn and wine" (Gen. 27:28), as well as dominance over his brother. Jacob messed up his life by desperately trying to win this paternal blessing; when he got it, it never really came true for him, and he handed it back to Esau because he then considered that the blessing of God's grace was all sufficient (see on Gen. 33:11). But now Jacob seems to have taken a step backwards, and is expressing this blessing in the same kind of terms, to Judah- who was not the firstborn, but the favourite of a moment, it seems. He has just tried to declare Ephraim as his firstborn, the son of his right hand, in Gen. 48. "Eyes... red with wine" seems a crude way of wishing Judah much wine, for this is the language of drunkenness (GNB "His eyes are bloodshot from drinking wine"); the whole feeling of these last words of Jacob is that he was not at his spiritual best, and much of what he said never really came true.

The idea seems to be that good wine makes eyes go red, and milk gives you white teeth. Milk doesn't make teeth white; but as with the language of demons in the New Testament, we have here an example of where wrong ideas are recorded as true, with no footnote pointing this out; because the Bible is written for people at their time, and some issues God doesn't see necessary to correct at the time.


Gen 49:13 Zebulun will dwell at the haven of the sea. He will be for a haven of ships. His border will be on Sidon- If we insist that Jacob's words all were to come true, then this appears an unreconciled expositional problem. Zebulun was to dwell along the sea coast (LXX), where ships unload [a "haven"], "beside the sea" (GNB), until Sidon. But this wasn't the case. The canton of Zebulun even in Ezekiel's prophecy of the restored Kingdom was to be nowhere near Sidon, and Zebulun never had a border unto Sidon. According to Josephus (Ant. 19:10,16), Zebulun was never even bounded by the sea, being cut off by Asher. Could it be that at times Jacob's enthusiasm carried him away, and what he said was more his own wishing than the direct revelation of God? Until a satisfactory explanation can be come up with, it seems this is what we must accept. In this case, we see that even in this flurry of faith in the future Kingdom and Messiah, Jacob's interest in the physical aspect of the promises still remained with him, and carried him away in a way which God refused to work with. Perhaps this is why his old name "Jacob" and his new name "Israel" are used together so much at the time of his death, because he was still not totally transformed; and yet shall be saved, by grace. David's spiritual enthusiasm for Solomon needs to be read in a similar light; he makes statements concerning him which reflect a Messianic zeal, but also a desire to see his physical son more blessed than he was worthy of. 


Gen 49:14 Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the saddlebags- "Issachar has desired that which is good; (i.e.) resting between the inheritance. And having seen the resting place that it was good... he subjected his shoulder to labour" (49:14 LXX). The Apostle alludes to this Greek text in Heb. 4:1: "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest". Jacob imputed righteousness to his son Issachar at the end. Imputing righteousness to others, seeing the good and the potential in them, was something Jacob only reached at the end; he saw Issachar as seeing the future Kingdom, and devoting himself to labour now to attain that future rest. And the writer to the Hebrews bids us follow that man's example. Jacob's judgment of his Issachar was with regard to how keenly he perceived the future rest of the Kingdom, and laboured now to attain it. For this reason, Jacob commended him; he judged Issachar according to how keenly he desired the Kingdom.

 
Jacob's achievement of a true humility is evident in his last words. The way he blessed his sons in Gen. 49 indicates this; note how he saw Issachar's greatness in the fact he was a humble servant (49:14). He learnt the lesson of that night of wrestling; his natural strength was not to be gloried in, neither was this to be his true greatness. And yet in Jacob's words to some of his other sons at this time, and in Gen. 48:22, he is back to his old pride and trust in human strength. This is why the old name "Jacob" is juxtaposed with "Israel" at this time. And yet he died in faith and hope of salvation.

And again, we can read these words to Issachar more negatively; because to compare someone to a donkey was an insult and not seen as a compliment. Hence GNB: "Issachar is no better than a donkey". And it was a lazy donkey, who collapsed under its load. This fits with the generally terse and negative attitude which Jacob has to several of his sons. It's so sad that a man who had been shown such grace, and realized it, could not show it to others by the end of his life.


Gen 49:15 He saw a resting place, that it was good, the land, that it was pleasant. He bows his shoulder to the burden, and becomes a servant doing forced labour- Jacob may have particularly remembered Issachar's donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, coming in to the pleasant land of Goshen. But Jacob was prophetically aware that Issachar, along with all Israel, would end up "doing forced labour" in that pleasant land, which is what happened after new Pharaohs arose.


Gen 49:16 Dan will judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel- The idea may be that Dan would be independent of the other tribes, and would judge / lead his own tribe. Or the idea could be that Dan would be the judge of all Israel- but this never happened.


Gen 49:17 Dan will be a serpent in the way, an adder in the path, That bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider falls backward- This is to be connected with Zech. 10:5, which speaks of how in the last days, the invaders of Israel will be toppled from their horses by the men of Israel / Jacob. Again, Jacob's mind was on the far distant glory of his sons in the day of the Kingdom. There is also reference here to Gen. 3:15, but with an unexpected twist; Dan as the snake (not the woman) would bite his enemies, and thereby subdue them. Is there a hint here that Jacob had so meditated on the Lord Jesus, the future Messiah, that he realized that he must have our sinful, snake-like, Jacob-like nature, and yet through that very fact the final victory against sin would be won? 'Jacob' meaning 'heel-catcher' associates him with the seed of the snake, who would bruise the seed of the woman in the heel. He saw how he would somehow be rescued from his own ‘Jacob-ness’, saved from himself, by the Saviour to come. It turned out that Jacob, who in some ways was the seed of the snake, became the seed of the woman. And yet his Messianic blessing of Dan indicates that he saw these two aspects in his Saviour Lord; he was the one who had the appearance of the seed of the snake (cp. how the bronze snake symbolized him), and yet was in fact the seed of the woman. I really believe that Jacob had so deeply reflected on his own life and sinfulness, on the promise in Eden, and on the promises of Abraham's saviour-seed, that he came to as fine an appreciation of the representative nature of Christ's sacrifice as any believer has today. Thus a lifetime of reflection on the promises (rather than thinking 'Yes, we know all about them') and sustained self-examination will lead to a deep grasp of the fact that Christ really represented you, he had exactly your nature, and thereby he is your very own saviour. 

Gen 49:18 I have waited for Your salvation, Yahweh- Jacob's hope of Messiah was the hope of his life; "I have waited for Your salvation", 'Your Jesus', he commented, perhaps in desperation at the way his sons generally did not perceive this. This is commented upon by the Jerusalem Targum with the suggestion that Jacob was expressing a very definite Messianic expectation: "My soul waiteth not for the deliverance of Gideon, the son of Joash, for it was only temporal; nor for that of Samson, for it was but transient; but for the redemption by the Messiah, the Son of David, which in thy word thou hast promised to send to thy people, the children of Israel; for this, thy salvation, my soul waiteth"

Yahweh is a saviour God, not just a provider of children, cattle and land for the present; and now, at long last, Jacob associates Yahweh with himself; Yahweh has become his God, as he promised 70 years before. Ex. 6:3 says that Jacob knew the Yahweh Name from the time God appeared to him; but it took him a lifetime to make Yahweh his very own God.


Gen 49:19 A troop will press on Gad, but he will press on their heel- Or as AV, Gad "shall overcome at the last", which reflects how Jacob's mind was focused on the final victory of his people, "at the last" . At the end of his life, Jacob had come to terms with his earlier idolatry. 'Gad' was the name of a Babylonish deity which presided over chance; Israel were condemned for believing in him in Is. 65:11 AVmg. Leah using this name reflected the sentiment of 'Good fortune at the hand of the god Gad'. The way she effectively accuses Jacob’s God of treating her like a prostitute who gave her “hire” because she let her maid sleep with her husband… doesn’t indicate that she was a great believer in Yahweh. Yet when Jacob blessed Gad, he seems to change this: "Gad, a troop (Heb. gedud, not gad) shall overcome (guwd, related to gad) him: but he shall overcome". These word plays would suggest that the god Gad would be overcome, would be 'Gad-ed', by the troop of warriors that would come from the tribe of Gad.  


Gen 49:20 Asher’s food will be rich. He will yield royal dainties- Asher "shall yield royal dainties", or 'dainties fit for a king' suggests Jacob imagining how in the Kingdom, the Lord Jesus would eat food grown in Asher? In the restored Kingdom, the tribes of Israel would each bring their royal dainties to the Messiah (Ez. 45:16). But in the shorter term, it seems Jacob envisioned Israel as being led by a king who came from Judah; and Asher would be supportive of that king. Yet it was not God's will that His people should have a human king. So again we see how Jacob even at his end was not completely in step with the Father; and yet shall be saved.


Gen 49:21 Naphtali is a doe set free, who bears beautiful fawns- Or as AV "a hind let loose: he giveth goodly (lit. 'gracious') words"; this is another Messianic hint. Ps. 22 (title) likens the Lord to a hind at the time of his death; and again, Jacob's appreciation of the quality of grace as it would be manifested in Christ comes out. The LXX says that Naphtali is "a tree trunk let loose". With all the other Messianic insights in Jacob's words, this cannot be accidental. Jacob even foresaw something of  the physical manner of the Lord's death. The idea of being let loose has day of atonement connections (Lev. 16:21). Did Jacob see that far ahead? One Chaldee text reads for this verse: “Naphtali is a swift messenger like a hind that runneth on the tops of the mountains bringing glad tidings”.


Gen 49:22 Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine by a spring. His branches run over the wall- This speaks of the descendant of Joseph as a fruitful vine, with branches. The Lord Jesus seems to have quarried his description of himself as a vine with branches from this very passage (Jn. 15:5). Joseph is only recorded as having two sons, so he was not so fruitful in his lifetime; but Jacob spoke by faith, anticipating how Ephraim would become very fruitful and the largest tribe in the ten tribe kingdom.

But the Hebrew is difficult here. The GNB offers: "Joseph is like a wild donkey by a spring, A wild colt on a hillside". The image then would be of Joseph's loneliness, separate from his brothers, silhouetted alone on a hillside. "A fruitful bough" (AV) is literally 'son of a fruit tree', thereby again elevating Jacob's own importance; he was the tree, and Joseph a branch only. When Jacob was to bow to Joseph, according to the dreams. It's rather like Jacob praising Judah as a cub- suggesting Jacob was the great lion.

Gen 49:23 The archers have severely grieved him, shot at him, and persecuted him- The figure of archery seems slightly inappropriate compared to what the brothers did to Joseph. Perhaps the brothers never reached the ideal level of repentance in telling Jacob what really happened; and Joseph didn't tell Jacob because he had forgiven the brothers. The brothers' abuse of Joseph "severely grieved him", he took it very much to heart. There were likely serious incidents against Joseph before he was finally put in the pit, and Jacob may be alluding to them.

The ecclesia in the time of Amos "chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David; That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph” (Am. 6:5,6). They drunk wine and anointed their faces with oil- rejoicing in Gods blessings. They looked back to the heritage of their spiritual ancestors (David), and on a surface level appeared to follow them. They chanted the temple songs, and yet there was no grief within them for the affliction of Gods people. The archers were to surely grieve Joseph, but they chose to ignore the terrible import of those prophecies of Messiahs suffering. There was the appearance of religion and worship, but no grief nor passion for the tragedy of Messiahs forthcoming death, no grieving for the tragedy of Gods people, who were about to be afflicted for their sins. And in this we must take our warning.


Gen 49:24 But his bow remained strong- As in :23, Jacob is using the imagery of archery. But he is also handing out blessings which sound very similar to those given to him by Isaac. Those blessings were supposed to have been received because the firstborn had taken his bow and arrows and caught wild game (Gen. 27:3 s.w.). All this allusion to human strength, and Jacob himself boasts of how he used his bow to take Shechem (Gen. 48:22), is quite inappropriate for a man made to limp so as not to trust in his own strength. And he had earlier resigned the blessing of the firstborn which he had received, awed instead by the blessing of God's grace (see on Gen. 33:11). But now he returns to the scene of Isaac his father blessing him and Esau, and he starts to make conscious and unconscious allusion to it. Hence this imagery of bows and arrows.

The arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob- The archery allusion continues. The idea is that Joseph placed his hands on a bow, and God placed His hands on Joseph's hands, so that he was able to pull the string back further and take perfect aim. David uses this analogy about himself in 2 Sam. 22:35, and it is precisely acted out in 2 Kings 13:15-17. The idea is that God would be behind whatever Joseph did. But bows and arrows also speak of children, and the thought may be that God would make Ephraim and Manasseh go far, perhaps leading up to a Messiah figure, "the shepherd".

Jacob coins a new name for God: the abiyr, translated here "the mighty [God]". This word occurs only in five other places, and each time it is in the phrase "the mighty one (abiyr) of Jacob" (Ps. 132:2,5; Is. 1:24; 49:26; 60:16). Likewise, the Lord used new titles of God in his time of ultimate spiritual maturity as he faced death (Jn. 17:11,25). Many of the Messianic Psalms refer to God as " my God" , and it was one of the phrases in the Lord's mind in His final, glorious maturity (Mt. 27:46). Moses in his final speech of Deuteronomy often encouraged Israel that God was thy (singular, personal) God. Jacob knew God's mightiness for himself in a very special way; he knew His gentle forgiveness of all his pride and self-will, that mighty forgiveness, that mighty patience with him, that Almighty salvation of him which had been made possible. In the same way we will each be given the name of God, and yet this Name will be known only to us (Rev. 2:17; 3:12; 14:1); it will be God's Name, but in a form entirely personal to us. In dim foreshadowing of that glorious relationship with God, Jacob reached something of this even in his mortal life.

 

From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel- This describes "the mighty one of Jacob" as the shepherd and rock of Israel. Again Jacob is finally acceptant of the name change. Jacob recognizes that God through His Angel had shepherded him all along (Gen. 48:15), and He would do likewise to Joseph's seed. The references in Deuteronomy to God being the rock that Israel forsook therefore refer to the Angel (Dt. 32:15,18). It is worth noting that the shepherd and rock ("stone" of Gen. 49:24) are both clear titles of Christ- implying that this Angel specifically represented Jesus? Hence "that rock (Angel) was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:4).


Jacob describes the future Messianic seed as "the stone of Jacob / Israel". Jacob's physical stone had been overturned, rested upon, set up and anointed (Gen. 28:13-15); perhaps now at the end, Jacob thought back to that incident and saw in that stone a prophecy of the death and resurrection of the Lord. Perhaps he even saw that the anointing, the 'Christ-ing' of the Stone would be after its raising up; he foresaw that the Lord Jesus would be made the Christ, the anointed, in the fullest sense by the resurrection (Acts 2:36). "The hope of Israel", or (see modern versions), "he for whom Israel / Jacob hopes" is another title of Christ (Acts 28:20 cp. Jer. 14:8; 17:13; Joel 3:16); he was the one for whom Jacob / Israel hoped. And his hope is the hallmark of all the Israel of God.


Jacob's reflection on the Lord Jesus must have been deep indeed, for he reaches some quite advanced and deep conclusions concerning him. Thus he describes God as the God from whom is "the shepherd, the stone of Israel / Jacob", both evidently Messianic titles. Yet "the rock of Israel" is later understood to be a reference to the God of Jacob (2 Sam. 23:3). Therefore we may conclude that Jacob saw his God as manifest in the future Messiah, who would come out of the Father, i.e. be the Son of God. To understand God manifestation in Christ and the necessity for his Divine Sonship could have come from direct Divine revelation, but my sense is that it came instead from his deep appreciation of the promised blessing of forgiveness through Abraham's Messianic seed. Jacob's ever deepening appreciation of this and his progressive appreciation of God's grace led him to deeply meditate on the Lord's role. Jacob himself was a shepherd (Gen. 46:34; Hos. 12:12), and yet he gave the Christ the title of "the shepherd", as if he recognized that although the Lord Jesus would come out of God, he would also be exactly like Jacob, of his nature. He saw on a completely personal level the way in which Christ truly was his very own representative. He therefore saw in himself a type of Christ, indicated by the way in which he asks his sons to gather themselves unto him, and then goes on to say that ultimately, his people will gather themselves together unto Messiah (Gen. 49:1,2 cp. 10). See on 1 Cor. 10:4; Gen. 48:19.

Moses' hands being upheld by the hands of others can be seen as a type of the Lord Jesus being sustained by Angelic hands on the cross, connecting with this Messianic prophecy concerning the hands of Messiah being strengthened for His mediation by the hands of God. Throughout Scripture, God's hands are associated with His creative work in the natural creation (e.g. Ps. 8:6; 95:5; Heb. 1:10)- work which was and is performed through the Angels. The Lord Jesus was aware of the Angels in His final agony; He was painfully aware that they were at His command to lessen the physical torment (Mt. 26:53).

Jacob stated that from Joseph (Ephraim's father) would come the Shepherd / Stone / Messiah (49:24); presumably, Jacob thought, through Ephraim. Yet Jacob was wrong in this; indeed, he uses Messianic imagery about Judah's seed as well. Thus whilst Jacob showed his spiritual maturity by an enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus Christ, even right at the very end of his life, he still had an old flaw: a desire to fulfill God's promises in the way he wanted them fulfilled, a desire to turn God's word round to fit in with his preferred way of thinking (in this case, that Messiah would come through Joseph / Ephraim). The way the prophets continually describe sinful Israel as "Ephraim" is perhaps God's way of showing that Jacob's way was not His way. See on Gen. 48:19.

Gen 49:25 Even by the God of your father, who will help you; by the Almighty, who will bless you, with blessings of the sky above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb- Finally, at long last, Jacob got there. In this section, he says three times the same thing; God is my God, Yahweh- Messiah will be the my rock, my stone, yes, He is the God of your father Jacob, He is ALL-MIGHTY to save. That promise to make Yahweh his God, made 70 years previously in semi-belief, he had now fulfilled. He had made Yahweh his God. He was not only the  God of his father and grandfather. The God who can do all things, not only physically but more importantly (as Jacob now realized) spiritually, was with his very own God. No wonder he dies repeating this three times over. And remember, he's our pattern.

The word "help" used here frequently occurs in the context of military help. Again Jacob's thoughts seem to be circling around the material and physical, when his whole life's lesson was surely that the spiritual must dominate over the material. The blessings he wishes Joseph again recall those uttered by Isaac, Jacob's father (Gen. 27:28); and God had taught Jacob that His spiritual blessings are far more important than these kinds of material blessings. In a moment of spiritual desperation and perception, Jacob had grasped this, and handed them all to Esau (see on Gen. 33:11); but as with us, over the years, that perspective had become eroded.

 

Gen 49:26 The blessings of your father have prevailed above the blessings of your ancestors, above the boundaries of the ancient hills- Jacob had lamented that he had not been blessed with as long a life as his ancestors Isaac and Abraham (see on Gen. 47:9). But he finally feels he has been blessed far more than them. He certainly had more children, but materially it would seem they had more. So the "blessings" he perceives are spiritual rather than material; even though, as pointed out throughout this commentary, he still had the material and the spiritual too mixed up in his perceptions.


Jacob's progression from perceiving the promises as concerning physical blessing to seeing their essential relevance to forgiveness and future salvation is made explicit here: "The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of the ancient mountains, the delight, glory or loveliness of the hills of eternity" (this rendition is supported by the LXX, Gesenius, RVmg.). Remember that in the wrestling incident, Jacob realized that the blessing of God essentially refers to His forgiveness, and he had therefore given away his material blessing because he was so thrilled with his spiritual blessing (see on Gen. 33:11). This connection between blessing and forgiveness / salvation is widespread throughout Scripture: Dt. 33:23; Ps. 5:12  (blessing = grace) Dt. 30:19; Ps. 3:8; 24:5; 28:9; 133:3 (= salvation); Ex. 12:32; 32:29; Num. 24:1; 2 Sam. 21:3; Ps. 67:1 (cp. context); Lk. 6:28 (cp. ) Acts 3:26; Rom. 4:7,8; 1 Cor. 10:16; Gal. 3:14 (= forgiveness). Surrounded by his sons clamouring, one can imagine, for physical, immediate blessings, just as he did in the first half of his life, Jacob says that the spiritual blessings he had received, the grace, the forgiveness, the salvation, were infinitely higher than the blessings of rock-solid hills and mountains, things which seemed so permanent and tangible. His intangible blessings were, he finally realized,. much higher than his intangible ones.


Jacob no longer saw the promised blessings as solely referring to him personally having a prosperous time in the promised land; he joyfully looked forward to the future Kingdom. He says that he now realizes that his blessings (of forgiveness and the subsequent hope of the Kingdom) are greater than the blessings of the everlasting mountains (49:26 RV mg.); he saw the spiritual side of his blessings as more significant than the material aspect. Despite the fact that the promises were primarily fulfilled in the peace and prosperity he and his seed enjoyed at the end (Gen. 48:4 "multitude" s.w. 47:27; 35:11; 28:3), Jacob doesn't emphasize this fact as he could have done; instead, he looks to the future, ultimate fulfilments. He looked back on his life as a "pilgrimage", a series of temporary abodes on the way to something permanent, i.e. the future Kingdom (Gen. 47:9).

They will be on the head of Joseph, on the crown of the head of him who was separated from his brothers- This may not simply be a statement to the effect that Joseph was separate from his brothers. He was literally 'Nazirited', consecrated, from among his brothers; this could be a reference to how he was the family priest, wearing the coat of many colours; and how he was clearly consecrated by God as well to be the family's saviour.


Gen 49:27 Benjamin is a ravenous wolf. In the morning he will devour the prey. At evening he will divide the spoil- "In the morning he shall devour the prey" (49:27) connects with the promises that Messiah's second coming would be the true morning (Is. 60:1; Mal. 4:1,2); this was the day when Benjamin would have his true blessing. Many of Jacob's blessings of his sons contain some reference to Christ's future work, e.g. "he shall divide the spoil" (49:27); "he whom thy brethren shall praise" (49:8 = Rev. 5:5). Jacob describes Judah's Messianic descendant as "my son"; he eagerly looked ahead to the Lord Jesus as fulfilment of the promised Messianic seed. He perhaps saw that the multitudinous seed he had been promised was in fact an intensive plural, referring to the one great Messianic seed.

Or perhaps Jacob was angry with Benjamin, the 'son of my right hand' who had become firstborn after Joseph disappeared. The GNB translates more bluntly: "Benjamin is like a vicious wolf. Morning and evening he kills and devours". Maybe this is some reference to an unrecorded military encounter (as in :9 and Gen. 48:22) where Benjamin, although young, had acted with great brutality. Jacob would be raising this issue as a reason for not now seeing him as the firstborn.

 


Gen 49:28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them. He blessed everyone according to his blessing- GNB has it about right: "These are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said as he spoke a suitable word of farewell to each son". And yet only Judah and Joseph got any real blessing; Jacob's attitude with most of the other sons was to raise issues from the past and curse them because of them, being quite insolent to some of them, e.g. "Issachar is no better than a donkey". And he tells Simeon and Levi that he is nothing to do with them. What was intended to be a time of blessing, he turned into cursing. When God had graciously turned his cursings into blessings for him, and Jacob himself realizes that he has been so amazingly blessed himself. It was a sad end, and yet Jacob still shall be saved, and God is still the God of Jacob. None of us will attain moral perfection by the time we die, and so in essence we are like Jacob, dying in hope of grace, in immaturity, not having got as far as we ought to have done.


Gen 49:29 He instructed them, and said to them, I am to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite- Although the rather rambling, bitter and bizarre statements so far in this chapter could give us the impression that Jacob had dementia, he speaks of his funeral and the location of the burial cave with great accuracy. His heart was truly on the things of the Kingdom and the promises. We note that he saw his fathers as lying in the grave; if he had believed in an immortal soul, surely he would have spoken otherwise.


Gen 49:30 In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite as a burial place- That this spot was bought, when it was their eternal inheritance, is cited as an example of the faith of the patriarchs (Acts 7:5). They had not inherited the land eternally, yet God keeps His promises- and therefore they were forced to look ahead in faith to the day of resurrection and eternal inheritance.


Gen 49:31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah, his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah, his wife, and there I buried Leah- In his penultimate sentence, Jacob makes the perhaps strange comment that "they buried Isaac" (his father; 49:31). The "they" meant him and Esau (Gen. 35:29), but perhaps Jacob wanted to show his separation from Esau by describing the funeral in this way. Separation from the world is thus an aspect of spiritual maturity, and also a result of sustained appreciation of the covenant promises.  

It seems that Jacob came to see his beloved parents in spiritual, not emotional terms, at the end. Consider the pronouns he uses: "There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they (i.e. he and his brother, Gen. 35:29) buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah" (49:3 AV1). He doesn't talk in the first person about "my father" or "I" buried. He sees himself as their friend in faith, more than their son. These words were said in Jacob's last breath. It shows to me how at last he had won this battle, he had shed the crutch of his father's faith, he stood alone before his God, at the very end he wasn't leaning on his parents spiritually any more, all the scaffolding had been removed, and he stood alone, on his own deep foundation. His final words are full of conscious and unconscious reference to the fathers and the promises. See on Gen. 47:9; 48:15.


Gen 49:32 The field and the cave that is therein, which was purchased from the children of Heth- Jacob’s final words reflect his resentment against the children of Heth; he saw that they were the world, the children of this world which now possess the land of promise, covenanted to be God's Kingdom, not theirs. He realized that the time was not yet ripe, and his very last words were a reminder of this. His mind was centred on the promises and the future ownership of the land, and on his connection with Abraham and Isaac; the fact that the land was not inherited during the patriarch's lifetimes (the land had to be bought from the children of Heth) is seen by the Spirit as an indication that the Kingdom had not yet come, but surely would do (Acts 7:5). And Jacob died with exactly the same perception. In doing so, he was reflecting the view of his dear mother, who detested the ways of the Godless children of Heth (Gen. 27:46). So in his time of dying, Jacob was not divided from the spiritual views of his parents. Their Hope was his Hope, but he had made it his own. He was not just living out their expectations of him. The way he got there in the end  is just marvellous to behold.


Gen 49:33 When Jacob made an end of charging his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the spirit, and was gathered to his people- At the very end, Jacob gathered himself up into his bed to die, and then God gathered him up (this comes out very clearly in the Hebrew text). That desire of God for mutuality with His servant Jacob had always been there. See on Gen. 48:8.

The idiom of Jacob being “gathered to his people” is used, despite the fact that many Bible readers will misunderstand this as meaning that he therefore joined them in some disembodied existence. The idiom is used but not corrected. God is not so primitive as to keep on as it were tripping over Himself to defend and define what He has said and the way He has chosen to say it. He speaks to us in our language, and at various times over history has dealt with men in terms they can cope with.