This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
God appeared to Abraham and promised him a future kingdom where he and his descendants would dwell forever. Jacob was the third generation of Abraham’s covenant seed. He had transformed into a wise man of God, waiting expectantly for all the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.
1Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, “Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come.
2 “Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob;
And listen to Israel your father.
As Jacob was dying, he prophesied to his sons and blessed them with a blessing appropriate for each one. So he called them to assemble around him to hear what he had to tell them. Like many prophecies, this blessing was given in poetic form for ease of memorization and recitation. The scope of these words span the time of the patriarchs until the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Jacob began with Reuben, the firstborn son of Jacob and Leah.
3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn;
My might and the beginning of my strength,
Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
4 “Uncontrolled 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.
Reuben should have been given the preeminence in the household. He should have received both the double portion and the kingly line. However, he disqualified himself by sleeping with Rachel’s maid. So he received neither the kingly line nor the double blessing.
Since Simeon and Levi, Leah’s second and third sons, had joined together for slaughter, Jacob addressed them together.
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers;
Their swords are implements of violence.
6 “Let 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.
7 “Cursed 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.
Simeon and Levi proved themselves to be violent and unjust fools when they slaughtered the people of Shechem because the prince of Shechem had raped their sister. On his deathbed, Jacob remembered how murderous his sons were. He cursed their fierce anger and wrath, dispersing their descendants in the land of Israel. When Israel conquered the land and divided it among themselves, neither Simeon or Levi retained an inheritance. The tribe of Simeon was swallowed up by the tribe of Judah, and Levi was dispersed throughout the land as priests.
Leah’s fourth son is addressed next:
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.
9 “Judah 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?
Judah’s growth is evident in the narratives that focus on him. He was a conniving and murderous man who stopped short of murdering his brother for the sake of making a profit. Over the years, the LORD transformed him into a leader in the household of Jacob. So Jacob prophesied that Judah would be praised among his brethren. He would be a great warrior, having the fearsomeness of a lion. It is amazing that the LORD did not disqualify Judah from having the kingly line because of his role in selling Joseph into slavery. But in His grace and mercy he groomed him to be a leader in Israel and to eventually bear the kings of Israel. From Judah would come the promised seed of the woman (Gen 3:15), the Messiah who would deal with the curse of sin and sit on the throne of Israel forever. Jacob describes the Messiah:
10 “The 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.
Though the scepter was first given to a man from Benjamin, it was taken away from him and given to David of Judah. King David and his sons ruled in Jerusalem until the captivity. Though it seemed as though the scepter had departed, it had not; for Jesus was born, who was called “The King of the Jews.”
11 “He 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.
12 “His eyes are dull from wine,
And his teeth white from milk.
This describes unimaginable prosperity. He does not need to search for old and dried out vines with which to tie his donkey, for there is an abundance of choice vines. He is pictured as washing his clothes in wine, meaning that wine is so abundant that it is used for common chores. Wine and milk are in such abundance that His eyes and teeth are changed because of it. These are the conditions that the Messiah will bring about. He came first in humility, but He will return in glory to establish His kingdom. He will restore the earth to its perfection and prosperity that it had before the Fall.
Jacob addressed Leah’s sixth son next:
13 “Zebulun will dwell at the seashore;
And he shall be a haven for ships,
And his flank shall be toward Sidon.
This could mean that Zebulun’s territory will expand out to the seashore in the Millennial Kingdom.
Jacob addressed Leah’s fifth son:
14 “Issachar is a strong donkey,
Lying down between the sheepfolds.
15 “When 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.
Issachar is pictured as a strong donkey who sees that his land of rest is good and applies his back to the burden.
Next, Dan, the son of Bilhah is addressed:
16 “Dan shall judge his people,
As one of the tribes of Israel.
17 “Dan 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.
Due to the idolatry and wickedness of Dan, it becomes the truly ‘lost’ tribe. They are not part of the tribes that are reformed in the Millennium or enter into the record of the ‘new heaven and the new earth’ (Rev 7; 21:1).
Now Jacob bursts out in a cryptic phrase. In Hebrew poetry, the middle line is often very important, and gives the main meaning of the entire poem. It is interesting that in a prophetic/poetic blessing upon his sons concerning the last days, the middle line is:
18 “For Your salvation I wait, O LORD.
Jacob is looking toward the future and awaiting the salvation that is from the LORD. Even more significant is that he specifically says that he was awaiting God’s Yeshua. Well it is God’s Yeshua who came to bring salvation and deliverance to God’s people and who will bring about the awaited Kingdom of God.
Gad, the son of Zilpah is addressed next:
19 “As for Gad, raiders shall raid him,
But he will raid at their heels.
The second son of Zilpah, Asher, is addressed next:
20 “As for Asher, his food shall be rich,
And he will yield royal dainties.
The second son of Bilhah, Naphtali, is addressed next:
21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose,
He gives beautiful words.
The son of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel is addressed next:
22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough,
A fruitful bough by a spring;
Its branches run over a wall.
23 “The archers bitterly attacked him,
And shot at him and harassed him;
24 But 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),
25 From 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.
26 “The 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.
Joseph would indeed become a fruitful bough by a spring, as Ephraim will become the biggest population in Israel. Joseph had endured many trials, but he had always remained firm and strong. I wonder if this is where Paul got his picture of Satan firing flaming arrows. Out of all of the brothers, Joseph is the one whose blessing is referred to as a blessing.
Jacob heaps blessing upon Joseph, the favored of the LORD.
Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin, son of Rachel, is addressed last:
27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
In the morning he devours the prey,
And in the evening he divides the spoil.”
Benjamin would be strong and successful in warfare, but would have a tendency to be cruel. In Judges 20, Benjamin nearly becomes extinct in an awful display of hostility towards the tribe that was set in motion when a group of Benjamite homosexuals raped and killed a concubine of a lecherous Levite.
28 All 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.
Having blessed his sons according to their nature and future, he gives them instructions for his burial:
29 Then 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, 30 in 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. 31 There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth.” 33 When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
Thus ended the days of Jacob. He died believing in the promises of the LORD God, having been transformed into a wise man of God and patriarch of an enlarging household of the descendants of Abraham. He was buried in the family tomb with his ancestors and his first wife, Leah. His spirit was gathered together with all those who were saved by faith in the LORD.