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Genesis 49

49
Jacob’s Testament.#The testament, or farewell discourse, of Jacob, which has its closest parallel in Moses’ farewell in Dt 33:6–25. From his privileged position as a patriarch, he sees the future of his children (the eponymous ancestors of the tribes) and is able to describe how they will fare and so gives his blessing. The dense and archaic poetry is obscure in several places. The sayings often involve wordplays (explained in the notes). The poem begins with the six sons of Leah (vv. 2–15), then deals with the sons of the two secondary wives, and ends with Rachel’s two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Reuben, the oldest son, loses his position of leadership as a result of his intercourse with Bilhah (35:22), and the words about Simeon and Levi allude to their taking revenge for the rape of Dinah (chap. 34). The preeminence of Judah reflects his rise in the course of the narrative (mirroring the rise of Joseph). See note on 44:1–34. 1Jacob called his sons and said: “Gather around, that I may tell you what is to happen to you in days to come.
2“Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob,
listen to Israel, your father.
3“You, Reuben, my firstborn,
my strength and the first fruit of my vigor,
excelling in rank and excelling in power!
4Turbulent as water, you shall no longer excel,
for you climbed into your father’s bed
and defiled my couch to my sorrow.#Gn 35:22; 1 Chr 5:1–2.
5#This passage probably refers to their attack on the city of Shechem (Gn 34). Because there is no indication that the warlike tribe of Levi will be commissioned as a priestly tribe (Ex 32:26–29; Dt 33:11), this passage reflects an early, independent tradition. “Simeon and Levi, brothers indeed,
weapons of violence are their knives.#Knives: if this is the meaning of the obscure Hebrew word here, the reference may be to the knives used in circumcising the men of Shechem (34:24; cf. Jos 5:2).
6Let not my person enter their council,
or my honor be joined with their company;
For in their fury they killed men,
at their whim they maimed oxen.#Gn 34:25.
7Cursed be their fury so fierce,
and their rage so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob,
disperse them throughout Israel.
8“You, Judah, shall your brothers praise
—your hand on the neck of your enemies;
the sons of your father shall bow down to you.
9Judah is a lion’s cub,
you have grown up on prey, my son.
He crouches, lies down like a lion,
like a lioness—who would dare rouse him?#1 Chr 5:2.
10The scepter shall never depart from Judah,
or the mace from between his feet,
Until tribute comes to him,#Until tribute comes to him: this translation is based on a slight change in the Hebrew text, which, as it stands, would seem to mean, “until he comes to Shiloh.” A somewhat different reading of the Hebrew text would be, “until he comes to whom it belongs.” This last has been traditionally understood in a messianic sense. In any case, the passage aims at the supremacy of the tribe of Judah and of the Davidic dynasty.
and he receives the people’s obedience.
11He tethers his donkey to the vine,
his donkey’s foal to the choicest stem.
In wine he washes his garments,
his robe in the blood of grapes.#In wine…the blood of grapes: Judah’s clothes are poetically pictured as soaked with grape juice from trampling in the wine press, the rich vintage of his land; cf. Is 63:2.
12His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth are whiter than milk.
13“Zebulun shall dwell by the seashore;
he will be a haven for ships,
and his flank shall rest on Sidon.
14“Issachar is a rawboned donkey,
crouching between the saddlebags.
15When he saw how good a settled life was,
and how pleasant the land,
He bent his shoulder to the burden
and became a toiling serf.
16“Dan shall achieve justice#In Hebrew the verb for “achieve justice” is from the same root as the name Dan. for his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
17Let Dan be a serpent by the roadside,
a horned viper by the path,
That bites the horse’s heel,
so that the rider tumbles backward.
18“I long for your deliverance, O Lord!#This short plea for divine mercy has been inserted into the middle of Jacob’s testament.
19“Gad shall be raided by raiders,
but he shall raid at their heels.#In Hebrew there is assonance between the name Gad and the words for “raided,” “raiders,” and “raid.”
20“Asher’s produce is rich,
and he shall furnish delicacies for kings.
21“Naphtali is a hind let loose,
which brings forth lovely fawns.
22“Joseph is a wild colt,
a wild colt by a spring,
wild colts on a hillside.
23Harrying him and shooting,
the archers opposed him;
24But his bow remained taut,
and his arms were nimble,
By the power of the Mighty One of Jacob,
because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
25The God of your father, who helps you,#A very similar description of the agricultural riches of the tribal land of Joseph is given in Dt 33:13–16.
God Almighty, who blesses you,
With the blessings of the heavens above,
the blessings of the abyss that crouches below,
The blessings of breasts and womb,
26the blessings of fresh grain and blossoms,
the blessings of the everlasting mountains,
the delights of the eternal hills.
May they rest on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of the prince among his brothers.
27“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
mornings he devours the prey,
and evenings he distributes the spoils.”
Farewell and Death. 28All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said about them, as he blessed them. To each he gave a suitable blessing. 29Then he gave them this charge: “Since I am about to be gathered to my people, bury me with my ancestors in the cave that lies in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30the cave in the field of Machpelah, facing on Mamre, in the land of Canaan, the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite for a burial ground.#Gn 23:17. 31There Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried, and so are Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there, too, I buried Leah— 32the field and the cave in it that had been purchased from the Hittites.”
33When Jacob had finished giving these instructions to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
49
1 AND JACOB called for his sons and said, Gather yourselves together [around me], that I may tell you what shall befall you in the latter or last days.
2 Gather yourselves together and hear, you sons of Jacob; and hearken to Israel your father.
3 Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the beginning (the firstfruits) of my manly strength and vigor; [your birthright gave you] the preeminence in dignity and the preeminence in power.
4 But unstable and boiling over like water, you shall not excel and have the preeminence [of the firstborn], because you went to your father's bed; you defiled it–he went to my couch! [Gen. 35:22.]
5 Simeon and Levi are brothers [equally headstrong, deceitful, vindictive, and cruel]; their swords are weapons of violence. [Gen. 34:25-29.]
6 O my soul, come not into their secret council; unto their assembly let not my honor be united [for I knew nothing of their plot], because in their anger they slew men [an honored man, Shechem, and the Shechemites], and in their self-will they disabled oxen.
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.
8 Judah, you are the one whom your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down to you.
9 Judah, a lion's cub! With the prey, my son, you have gone high up [the mountain]. He stooped down, he crouched like a lion, and like a lioness–who dares provoke and rouse him? [Rev. 5:5.]
10 The scepter or leadership shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh [the Messiah, the Peaceful One] comes to Whom it belongs, and to Him shall be the obedience of the people. [Num. 24:17; Ps. 60:7.]
11 Binding His foal to the vine and His donkey's colt to the choice vine, He washes His garments in wine and His clothes in the blood of grapes. [Isa. 63:1-3; Zech. 9:9; Rev. 19:11-16.]
12 His eyes are darker and more sparkling than wine, and His teeth whiter than milk.
13 Zebulun shall live toward the seashore, and he shall be a haven and a landing place for ships; and his border shall be toward Sidon.
14 Issachar is a strong-boned donkey crouching down between the sheepfolds.
15 And he saw that rest was good and that the land was pleasant; and he bowed his shoulder to bear [his burdens] and became a servant to tribute [subjected to forced labor].
16 Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a horned snake in the path, that bites at the horse's heels, so that his rider falls backward.
18 I wait for Your salvation, O Lord.
19 Gad–a raiding troop shall raid him, but he shall raid at their heels and assault them [victoriously].
20 Asher's food [supply] shall be rich and fat, and he shall yield and deliver royal delights.
21 Naphtali is a hind let loose which yields lovely fawns.
22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well (spring or fountain), whose branches run over the wall.
23 Skilled archers have bitterly attacked and sorely worried him; they have shot at him and persecuted him.
24 But his bow remained strong and steady and rested in the Strength that does not fail him, for the arms of his hands were made strong and active by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, [Gen. 48:15; Deut. 32:4; Isa. 9:6; 49:26.]
25 By the God of your father, Who will help you, and by the Almighty, Who will bless you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings lying in the deep beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 The blessings of your father [on you] are greater than the blessings of my forefathers [Abraham and Isaac on me] and are as lasting as the bounties of the eternal hills; they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him who was the consecrated one and the one separated from his brethren and [the one who] is prince among them.
27 Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at night dividing the spoil.
28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each one according to the blessing suited to him.
29 He charged them and said to them, I am to be gathered to my [departed] people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,
30 In the cave in the field at Machpelah, east of Mamre in the land of Canaan, that Abraham bought, along with the field of Ephron the Hittite, to possess as a cemetery. [Gen. 23:17-20.]
31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah.
32 The purchase of the field and the cave that is in it was from the sons of Heth.
33 When Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his [departed] people.