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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
1And Ya‛aqoḇ called his sons and said, “Gather together, so that I declare to you what is to befall you in the last days:
2“Gather together and hear, you sons of Ya‛aqoḇ, and listen to Yisra’ĕl your father.
3“Re’uḇĕn, you are my first-born, my power and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of exaltation and the excellency of power.
4“Boiling like water, you do not excel, because you went up to your father’s bed, then you defiled it – he went up to my couch.
5“Shim‛on and Lĕwi are brothers, their weapons are implements of violence.
6“Let my being not enter their council, let my esteem not be united to their assembly; because they killed a man in their displeasure, and they lamed an ox in pleasure.
7“Cursed be their displeasure for it is fierce, and their wrath for it is cruel! I divide them in Ya‛aqoḇ and scatter them in Yisra’ĕl.
8“You, Yehuḏah, your brothers praise you; your hand is on the neck of your enemies; your father’s children bow down before you.
9Yehuḏah is a lion’s cub; from the prey you have gone up, my son! He bowed down, he crouched like a lion. And like a lion, who does rouse him?”
10“The sceptre shall not turn aside from Yehuḏah, nor an Inscriber from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to Him is the obedience of peoples.
11“Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his robes in the blood of grapes.
12“His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.
13“Zeḇulun dwells at the seashore, he is for a haven for ships, and his border is unto Tsiḏon.
14“Yissasḵar is a strong donkey lying down between two burdens,
15and he saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, and he inclined his shoulder to bear a burden, and became a subject to slave labour.
16“Dan rightly rules his people as one of the tribes of Yisra’ĕl.
17“Dan is a serpent by the way, an adder by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider falls backward.
18I have waited for your deliverance, O יהוה!”
19“Gaḏ, a raiding band raids him, but he raids its heel.
20“Bread from Ashĕr is rich, and he gives delicacies of a sovereign.
21“Naphtali is a deer let loose, he gives words of elegance.
22“Yosĕph is an offshoot of a fruit-bearing tree, an offshoot of a fruit-bearing tree by a fountain, his branches run over a wall.
23“And the archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him.
24But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty One of Ya‛aqoḇ – from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Yisra’ĕl - ”
25from the Ěl of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of the heavens from above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26“The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors, up to the limit of the everlasting hills. They are on the head of Yosĕph, and on the crown of the head of him who was separated from his brothers.
27“Binyamin is a wolf that tears, in the morning he eats prey, and at night he divides the spoil.”
28All these are the twelve tribes of Yisra’ĕl, and this is what their father spoke to them. And he blessed them, he blessed each one according to his own blessing.
29And he commanded them, and said to them, “I am to be gathered to my people, bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Ḥittite,
30in the cave that is in the field of Maḵpĕlah, which is before Mamrĕ in the land of Kena‛an, which Aḇraham bought with the field of Ephron the Ḥittite as a possession for a burial-site.
31There they buried Aḇraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Yitsḥaq and Riḇqah his wife, and there I buried Lĕ’ah –
32the field purchased, and the cave which is in it, from the sons of Ḥĕth.”
33And when Ya‛aqoḇ ended commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.