Genesis 49

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Jacob Blesses His Sons

A blessing from the father is traditional for all children. Jacob begins with the oldest as is traditional, but this is a very untraditional blessing. It is the last breathe of a very blunt man, and his blessings reflect that. Condemnation comes as easily as praise, and as it continues on it becomes steadily less concrete/understandable and more abstract. This could be because he was truly dying as he spoke this, he could have had some dementia, or the final ones could simply be harder to understand.

This passage is structured as poetry.

Verse 3-4: Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the first fruits of my vigor, excelling in rank and excelling in power. Unstable 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! (NRSV)

  • Put yourself in the shoes of the sons, gathered to hear a blessing from their dad. They expected praise and wonderful prayers. And right at first, it seemed to be happening. But then the old Jacob we know breaks through, the one who does as he wants and says what he thinks. All the other sons must have heard this and gone "oh no, this isn't good."
  • By rights, Reuben should have been leader, but he lost it and his tribe never became powerful. The leadership went to Judah, and the double portion of Joseph.
  • The reason for this sorry pronouncement was because Reuben slept with his father’s concubine Genesis 35:22, the mother of Dan and Naphtali, his own brothers.
  • “First fruits of my strength” is a sexual reference here.
  • It starts so perfectly, must have made Reuben feel great, and then it all goes downhill very quickly.

Verse 5-7: Simeon and Levi are brothers; weapons of violence are their swords. May 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. Cursed 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. (NRSV)

  • These two had murdered all the men in Shechem because someone in Shechem had raped their sister Dinah and wanted to marry her, Genesis 34.
  • They joined together to do this and so will be scattered among the other tribes (Keil 391), a direct contrast.
  • By the conquering of Canaan, Simeon was the weakest of all tribes and the Levites were never a full people group but were the priesthood scattered all over.

Verse 8-12: Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah 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? The 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. Binding 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; his eyes are darker than wine, (NRSV)

  • A true blessing at last. Judah would become the kingly tribe of David, as well as the one the Messiah would come through.
  • The scepter/ruling staff is the same thing. Carried in the hand or laid under his feet while on the throne (Keil 393). This is the same idea repeated twice for emphasis.
  • Nobody really knows what “Shiloh” means.
    • IWhen it is used elsewhere in the OT it refers to a town, but that doesn’t make sense here. That is where the land was divided up among the tribes in Judges, but that doesn’t appear to be what it means as the town probably did not exist when Jacob was around. It was only after they all left Shiloh that Judah became leader (Keil 396).
    • It could be a title for the Messiah, but that doesn’t make much sense either as it is not elaborated on or used that way ever again. A one time title is unlikely.
  • The drunkenness of Judah at the end is not one of character, but one of victory. He has everything he has ever wanted. He has so much milk that it bleaches his teeth and so much wine that he can use it to wash his clothes. It is hyperbole to make a point about his greatness and bounty, not a commentary on alchoholism.

Verse 13: Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea; he shall be a haven for ships and his border shall be at Sidon. (NRSV)

  • As far as we know, Zebulun never actually had a port city in territory it controlled.
  • Sidon is in what today would be southern Lebanon.

Verse 17: Dan shall be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider falls backward. (NRSV)

  • This is an odd statement to make about a judge, but it doesn’t appear to be an insult. Instead, it is a statement about what is small and yet mighty. A tiny but incredibly deadly creature is a viper.
  • Sampson came from this tribe, and the next verse might be about Sampson and the tribe coming to help as recorded in Judges.

Verse 19: Gad shall be raided by raiders, but he shall raid at their heels. (NRSV)

  • The heel is the traditional weak spot of all people, see Achilles.
  • Also, this is about “putting them to heel” ie making them run away.

{{New Chapter |Verse Number=27 |Verse Text=Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, and at evening dividing the spoil.” |Version=NRSV |Commentary=*Benjamin’s tribe became known as a very warlike one, just like this verse predicted. Saul came from it, for instance.

  • Also, there are a number of extremely violent incidents in Judges that center around the tribe of Benjamin.

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