The Blessing of Jacob
1 Jacob called for his sons and said, “Gather together so I can tell you#tn After the imperative, the cohortative with prefixed vav (ו) indicates purpose/result. what will happen to you in the future.#tn The expression “in the future” (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים, ’akharit hayyamim, “in the end of days”) is found most frequently in prophetic passages; it may refer to the end of the age, the eschaton, or to the distant future. The contents of some of the sayings in this chapter stretch from the immediate circumstances to the time of the settlement in the land to the coming of Messiah. There is a great deal of literature on this chapter, including among others C. Armerding, “The Last Words of Jacob: Genesis 49,” BSac 112 (1955): 320-28; H. Pehlke, “An Exegetical and Theological Study of Genesis 49:1-28” (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1985); and B. Vawter, “The Canaanite Background of Genesis 49,” CBQ 17 (1955): 1-18.
2 “Assemble and listen, you sons of Jacob;
listen to Israel, your father.
3 Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my might and the beginning of my strength,
outstanding in dignity, outstanding in power.
4 You are destructive#tn The Hebrew noun פַּחַז (pakhaz) only occurs here in the OT. A related verb occurs twice in the prophets (Jer 23:32; Zeph 3:4) for false prophets inventing their messages, and once in Judges for unscrupulous men bribed to murder (Judg 9:4). It would describe Reuben as being “frothy, boiling, turbulent” as water. The LXX has “run riot,” the Vulgate has “poured out,” and Tg. Onq. has “you followed your own direction.” It is a reference to Reuben’s misconduct in Gen 35, but the simile and the rare word invite some speculation. H. Pehlke suggests “destructive like water,” for Reuben acted with pride and presumption; see his “An Exegetical and Theological Study of Genesis 49:1-28” (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1985). like water and will not excel,#tn Heb “Do not excel!” The Hiphil of the verb יָתַר (yatar) has this meaning only here. The negated jussive is rhetorical here. Rather than being a command, it anticipates what will transpire. The prophecy says that because of the character of the ancestor, the tribe of Reuben would not have the character to lead (see 1 Chr 5:1).
for you got on your father’s bed,#sn This is a euphemism for having sexual intercourse with Jacob’s wives (see Gen 35:22).
then you defiled it – he got on my couch!#tn The last verb is third masculine singular, as if for the first time Jacob told the brothers, or let them know that he knew. For a discussion of this passage see S. Gevirtz, “The Reprimand of Reuben,” JNES 30 (1971): 87-98.
5 Simeon and Levi are brothers,
weapons of violence are their knives!#tn The meaning of the Hebrew word מְכֵרָה (mÿkherah) is uncertain. It has been rendered (1) “habitations”; (2) “merchandise”; (3) “counsels”; (4) “swords”; (5) “wedding feasts.” If it is from the verb כָּרַת (karat) and formed after noun patterns for instruments and tools (maqtil, miqtil form), then it would refer to “knives.” Since the verb is used in Exod 4:25 for circumcision, the idea would be “their circumcision knives,” an allusion to the events of Gen 34 (see M. J. Dahood, “‘MKRTYHM’ in Genesis 49,5,” CBQ 23 : 54-56). Another explanation also connects the word to the events of Gen 34 as a reference to the intended “wedding feast” for Dinah which could take place only after the men of Shechem were circumcised (see D. W. Young, “A Ghost Word in the Testament of Jacob (Gen 49:5)?” JBL 100 : 335-422).
6 O my soul, do not come into their council,
do not be united to their assembly, my heart,#tn The Hebrew text reads “my glory,” but it is preferable to repoint the form and read “my liver.” The liver was sometimes viewed as the seat of the emotions and will (see HALOT 456 s.v. II כָּבֵד) for which the heart is the modern equivalent.
for in their anger they have killed men,
and for pleasure they have hamstrung oxen.
7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce,
and their fury, for it was cruel.
I will divide them in Jacob,
and scatter them in Israel!#sn Divide…scatter. What is predicted here is a division of their tribes. Most commentators see here an anticipation of Levi being in every area but not their own. That may be part of it, but not entirely what the curse intended. These tribes for their ruthless cruelty would be eliminated from the power and prestige of leadership.
8 Judah,#sn There is a wordplay here; the name Judah (יְהוּדָה, yÿhudah) sounds in Hebrew like the verb translated praise (יוֹדוּךָ, yodukha). The wordplay serves to draw attention to the statement as having special significance. your brothers will praise you.
Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies,
your father’s sons will bow down before you.
9 You are a lion’s cub, Judah,
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches and lies down like a lion;
like a lioness – who will rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,#tn Or perhaps “from his descendants,” taking the expression “from between his feet” as a euphemism referring to the genitals. In this case the phrase refers by metonymy to those who come forth from his genitals, i.e., his descendants.
until he comes to whom it belongs;#tn The Hebrew form שִׁילֹה (shiloh) is a major interpretive problem. There are at least four major options (with many variations and less likely alternatives): (1) Some prefer to leave the text as it is, reading “Shiloh” and understanding it as the place where the ark rested for a while in the time of the Judges. (2) By repointing the text others arrive at the translation “until the [or “his”] ruler comes,” a reference to a Davidic ruler or the Messiah. (3) Another possibility that does not require emendation of the consonantal text, but only repointing, is “until tribute is brought to him” (so NEB, JPS, NRSV), which has the advantage of providing good parallelism with the following line, “the nations will obey him.” (4) The interpretation followed in the present translation, “to whom it [belongs]” (so RSV, NIV, REB), is based on the ancient versions. Again, this would refer to the Davidic dynasty or, ultimately, to the Messiah.
the nations will obey him.#tn “and to him [will be] the obedience of the nations.” For discussion of this verse see J. Blenkinsopp, “The Oracle of Judah and the Messianic Entry,” JBL 80 (1961): 55-64; and E. M. Good, “The ‘Blessing’ on Judah,” JBL 82 (1963): 427-32.
11 Binding his foal to the vine,
and his colt to the choicest vine,
he will wash#tn The perfect verbal form is used rhetorically, describing coming events as though they have already taken place. his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be dark from wine,
and his teeth white from milk.#tn Some translate these as comparatives, “darker than wine…whiter than milk,” and so a reference to his appearance (so NEB, NIV, NRSV). But if it is in the age of abundance, symbolized by wine and milk, then the dark (i.e., red or perhaps dull) eyes would be from drinking wine, and the white teeth from drinking milk.
13 Zebulun will live#tn The verb שָׁכַן (shakhan) means “to settle,” but not necessarily as a permanent dwelling place. The tribal settlements by the sea would have been temporary and not the tribe’s territory. by the haven of the sea
and become a haven for ships;
his border will extend to Sidon.#map For location see Map1-A1; JP3-F3; JP4-F3.
14 Issachar is a strong-boned donkey
lying down between two saddlebags.
15 When he sees#tn The verb forms in this verse (“sees,” “will bend,” and “[will] become”) are preterite; they is used in a rhetorical manner, describing the future as if it had already transpired. a good resting place,
and the pleasant land,
he will bend his shoulder to the burden
and become a slave laborer.#sn The oracle shows that the tribe of Issachar will be willing to trade liberty for the material things of life. Issachar would work (become a slave laborer) for the Canaanites, a reversal of the oracle on Canaan. See C. M. Carmichael, “Some Sayings in Genesis 49,” JBL 88 (1969): 435-44; and S. Gevirtz, “The Issachar Oracle in the Testament of Jacob,” ErIsr 12 (1975): 104-12.
16 Dan#sn The name Dan (דָּן, dan) means “judge” and forms a wordplay with the following verb. will judge#tn Or “govern.” his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 May Dan be a snake beside the road,
a viper by the path,
that bites the heels of the horse
so that its rider falls backward.#sn The comparison of the tribe of Dan to a venomous serpent is meant to say that Dan, though small, would be potent, gaining victory through its skill and shrewdness. Jewish commentators have linked the image in part with Samson. That link at least illustrates the point: Though a minority tribe, Dan would gain the upper hand over others.
18 I wait for your deliverance, O Lord.#sn I wait for your deliverance, O Lord. As Jacob sees the conflicts that lie ahead for Dan and Gad (see v. 19), he offers a brief prayer for their security.
19 Gad will be raided by marauding bands,
but he will attack them at their heels.#tc Heb “heel.” The MT has suffered from misdivision at this point. The initial mem on the first word in the next verse should probably be taken as a plural ending on the word “heel.”sn In Hebrew the name Gad (גָּד, gad ) sounds like the words translated “raided” (יְגוּדֶנּוּ, yÿgudennu) and “marauding bands” (גְּדוּד, gÿdud).
20 Asher’s#tc Heb “from Asher,” but the initial mem (מ) of the MT should probably be moved to the end of the preceding verse and taken as a plural ending on “heel.” food will be rich,#tn The Hebrew word translated “rich,” when applied to products of the ground, means abundant in quantity and quality.
and he will provide delicacies#tn The word translated “delicacies” refers to foods that were delightful, the kind fit for a king. to royalty.
21 Naphtali is a free running doe,#tn Heb “a doe set free.”
he speaks delightful words.#tn Heb “the one who gives words of beauty.” The deer imagery probably does not continue into this line; Naphtali is the likely antecedent of the substantival participle, which is masculine, not feminine, in form. If the animal imagery is retained from the preceding line, the image of a talking deer is preposterous. For this reason some read the second line “the one who bears beautiful fawns,” interpreting אִמְרֵי (’imre) as a reference to young animals, not words (see HALOT 67 s.v. *אִמֵּר).sn Almost every word in the verse is difficult. Some take the imagery to mean that Naphtali will be swift and agile (like a doe), and be used to take good messages (reading “words of beauty”). Others argue that the tribe was free-spirited (free running), but then settled down with young children.
22 Joseph is a fruitful bough,#tn The Hebrew text appears to mean “[is] a son of fruitfulness.” The second word is an active participle, feminine singular, from the verb פָּרָה (parah, “to be fruitful”). The translation “bough” is employed for בֵּן (ben, elsewhere typically “son”) because Joseph is pictured as a healthy and fruitful vine growing by the wall. But there are difficulties with this interpretation. The word “son” nowhere else refers to a plant and the noun translated “branches” (Heb “daughters”) in the third line is a plural form whereas its verb is singular. In the other oracles of Gen 49 an animal is used for comparison and not a plant, leading some to translate the opening phrase בֵּן פָּרָה (ben parah, “fruitful bough”) as “wild donkey” (JPS, NAB). Various other interpretations involving more radical emendation of the text have also been offered.
a fruitful bough near a spring
whose branches#tn Heb “daughters.” climb over the wall.
23 The archers will attack him,#tn The verb forms in vv. 23-24 are used in a rhetorical manner, describing future events as if they had already taken place.
they will shoot at him and oppose him.
24 But his bow will remain steady,
and his hands#tn Heb “the arms of his hands.” will be skillful;
because of the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
because of#tn Heb “from there,” but the phrase should be revocalized and read “from [i.e., because of] the name of.” the Shepherd, the Rock#tn Or “Stone.” of Israel,
25 because of the God of your father,
who will help you,#tn Heb “and he will help you.”
because of the sovereign God,#tn Heb “Shaddai.” See the note on the title “sovereign God” in Gen 17:1. The preposition אֵת (’et) in the Hebrew text should probably be emended to אֵל (’el, “God”).
who will bless you#tn Heb “and he will bless you.”
with blessings from the sky above,
blessings from the deep that lies below,
and blessings of the breasts and womb.#sn Jacob envisions God imparting both agricultural (blessings from the sky above, blessings from the deep that lies below) and human fertility (blessings of the breasts and womb) to Joseph and his family.
26 The blessings of your father are greater
than#tn Heb “have prevailed over.” the blessings of the eternal mountains#tn One could interpret the phrase הוֹרַי (horay) to mean “my progenitors” (literally, “the ones who conceived me”), but the masculine form argues against this. It is better to emend the text to הַרֲרֵי (harare, “mountains of”) because it forms a better parallel with the next clause. In this case the final yod (י) on the form is a construct plural marker, not a pronominal suffix.
or the desirable things of the age-old hills.
They will be on the head of Joseph
and on the brow of the prince of his brothers.#tn For further discussion of this passage, see I. Sonne, “Genesis 49:24-26,” JBL 65 (1946): 303-6.
27 Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
in the morning devouring the prey,
and in the evening dividing the plunder.”
28 These#tn Heb “All these.” are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He gave each of them an appropriate blessing.#tn Heb “and he blessed them, each of whom according to his blessing, he blessed them.”
29 Then he instructed them,#tn The Hebrew text adds “and he said to them,” which is not included in the translation because it is redundant in English. “I am about to go#tn Heb “I am about to be gathered” The participle is used here to describe what is imminent. to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite. 30 It is the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought for a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite. 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 in it were acquired from the sons of Heth.”#tn Some translate the Hebrew term “Heth” as “Hittites” here (see also Gen 23:3), but this gives the impression that these people were the classical Hittites of Anatolia. However, there is no known connection between these sons of Heth, apparently a Canaanite group (see Gen 10:15), and the Hittites of Asia Minor. See H. A. Hoffner, Jr., “Hittites,” Peoples of the Old Testament World, 152-53.
33 When Jacob finished giving these instructions to his sons, he pulled his feet up onto the bed, breathed his last breath, and went#tn Heb “was gathered.” to his people.