Genesis 49 (NRSV)
Jacob’s Last Words to His Sons
Then Jacob called his sons, and said: “Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come. 2Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father.
Some of these are not so much “blessings” as they are prophecies regarding what God will do with these tribes in the future.
–all comments from David Guzik
3Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the first fruits of my vigor, excelling in rank and excelling in power. 4Unstable as water, you shall no longer excel because you went up onto your father’s bed; then you defiled it—you went up onto my couch!
Reuben’s immorality with his father’s concubine Bilhah (the mother of his brothers Dan and Naphtali) is recorded in Genesis 35:22.
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5Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. 6May I never come into their council; may I not be joined to their company— for in their anger they killed men, and at their whim they hamstrung oxen. 7Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
The second-born son Simeon and the third-born son Levi received the same “blessing” for the same evil deed. They were instruments of cruelty when they wiped out all the men of Shechem in retaliation for the rape of their sister Dinah (Genesis 34:25-29).
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8Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. 9Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion, like a lioness—who dares rouse him up? 10The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and the obedience of the peoples is his.
The “leadership” prophecy took some 640 years to fulfill in part (with the reign of David, first of Judah’s dynasty of kings), and some 1600 years to fulfill in Jesus.
11Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes; 12his eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.
Revelation 5:4-5 (New International Version)
I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
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13Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea; he shall be a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon.
The tribe of Zebulun seems to settle the piece of land sitting between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Literally, shall dwell by the haven of the sea can be rendered “looking towards the sea.” Zebulun did look to the sea, both to the East and West.
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14Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the sheepfolds; 15he saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant; so he bowed his shoulder to the burden, and became a slave at forced labor.
Issachar was a large tribe – third in size according to the Numbers 26 census. Because of their size and abundance, they were often targets of oppressive foreign armies who put them into servitude. Thus, they became a band of slaves.
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16Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17Dan shall be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider falls backward.
The tribe of Dan did judge his people. They supplied one of the most prominent of the Judges, Samson (Judges 13:2). But Dan was a troublesome tribe. They introduced idolatry into Israel (Judges 18:30). Jeroboam set up one of his idolatrous golden calves in Dan (1 Kings 12:26-30) and later Dan became a center of idol worship in Israel (Amos 8:14).
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18I wait for your salvation, O Lord.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 (NRSV)
For God has destined us . . . for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
19Gad shall be raided by raiders, but he shall raid at their heels.
The tribe of Gad supplied many fine troops for David (1 Chronicles 12:14).
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20Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall provide royal delicacies.
In Deuteronomy 33:24, Moses again took up this prophecy regarding Asher: Asher is most blessed of sons; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil.
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21Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears lovely fawns.
Naphtali’s land was in a key portion near the Sea of Galilee, the region where Jesus did much of His teaching and ministry.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Matthew 4:12-16).
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22Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. 23The archers fiercely attacked him; they shot at him and pressed him hard. 24Yet his bow remained taut, and his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, 25by the God of your father, who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless 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 are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
In his words about Joseph, Jacob listed five great titles for God. These titles show that Jacob did come to an understanding of who God is.
- The Mighty God of Jacob
- The Shepherd
- The Stone of Israel
- The God of your father
- The Almighty
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27Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, and at evening dividing the spoil.”
This was the tribe with a reputation for fierceness. To see the great extent of this, look at Ehud (Judges 3:15-23), Saul (1 Samuel 9:1, 14:47-52), and Paul (Acts 8:1-3). The cruelty of the tribe in general is seen in Judges 19 and 20.
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28All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, blessing each one of them with a suitable blessing.
Jacob’s Death and Burial
29Then he charged them, saying to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors—in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. 31There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah— 32the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites.” 33When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
HERE is a set of instructions for blessing your children in the Jewish way. “Blessing Your Children” by Rabbi Wyne.
“Day by Day” by Carolina Sandell Berg (1832-1903), the “Fannie Crosby of Sweden.” She wrote this hymn shortly after she witnessed the death of her father in a boating accident. Sung by the Antrim Mennonite Choir from Antrim, Ohio. (This video is a slow starter; the music doesn’t begin until you are 17 seconds in.)
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.