The chapter starts out with this:
And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days:
“Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob,
And listen to Israel your father.
Jacob refers to himself using both of his names, thus identifying his sons with both names as well.
|Jacob blesses his sons|
- First, Reuben.
My might and the beginning of my strength,
The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power.
Unstable as water, you shall not excel,
Because you went up to your father’s bed;
Then you defiled it—
He went up to my couch.
Jacob never said much back when Reuben took Bilhah back in chapter 35. But he never forgot it. Reuben probably already knew he had lost the coveted position of firstborn. Usually the firstborn was the spiritual and social leader of the clan, but because Reuben was so unstable, prideful, and immoral, he forfeited the right.
- Next up are Simeon and Levi. They paired up in Shechem over the Dinah incident, and Jacob pairs them up now.
Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place.
Let not my soul enter their council;
Let not my honor be united to their assembly;
For in their anger they slew a man,
And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox.
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.
- Next, Judah. This one is a doozy - one of the longest of all the prophecies.
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s children shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.
Binding his donkey to the vine,
And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
He washed his garments in wine,
And his clothes in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
And his teeth whiter than milk.
|Lion of Judah|
- Next up: Zebulun. Jacob now moves around in the birth order, but keeps his focus on Leah's boys.
He shall become a haven for ships,
And his border shall adjoin Sidon.
- Issachar, the older brother of Zebulun and son of Leah, is next.
Lying down between two burdens;
He saw that rest was good,
And that the land was pleasant;
He bowed his shoulder to bear a burden,
And became a band of slaves.
- Dan is next in line, the first son of Rachel's maid Bilhah.
As one of the tribes of Israel.
Dan shall be a serpent by the way,
A viper by the path,
That bites the horse’s heels
So that its rider shall fall backward.
I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!
- Gad is next. He is the firstborn of Zilpah, Leah's maid.
But he shall triumph at last.
His prophecy is short and sweet. His prophecy is a play on words, as Gad means troop. His tribe will supply many fine troops for David. And in the days of Jeremiah, Gad would be oppressed by foreign armies. Indeed, Gad's very birth was a result of war between Leah and Rachel.
- Now, Asher. He is Gad's little brother by Zilpah.
And he shall yield royal dainties.
Asher's tribe would eventually settle in land that was rich, providing both necessities and luxuries. Moses took up this prophecy of Asher in Deuteronomy 33:24, when he said Asher is most blessed of sons; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil. A famous woman of the tribe of Asher is Anna (Hannah) the Prophetess, who will get to see baby Yeshua at the temple at his dedication.
- The next prophecy goes to Naphtali, the son of Rachel's maid Zilpah and baby brother to Dan. Again, short and sweet.
Naphtali is a deer let loose;
He uses beautiful words.
Naphtali's land, along with Zebulun, was in a key area near the Sea of Galilee, the region where Yeshua did much of his teaching and ministry. Matthew 4:13-16 mentions this and quotes from Isaiah 9...
And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”
Beautiful words indeed.
- Now Joseph. His blessing is even longer than Judah's. And why not? Dad always liked him best.
A fruitful bough by a well;
His branches run over the wall.
The archers have bitterly grieved him,
Shot at him and hated him.
But his bow remained in strength,
And the arms of his hands were made strong
By the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob
(From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
By the God of your father who will help you,
And by the Almighty who will bless you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that lies beneath,
Blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
The blessings of your father
Have excelled the blessings of my ancestors,
Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.
They shall be on the head of Joseph,
And on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers.
This begins with a description of Joseph's life and a personal blessing concerning his descendants. Though he was "shot at" and hated, he remains a fruitful bough, because the hands of God were upon him. Joseph's tribes were some of the most populous. Remember, his boys had already been blessed in chapter 48. In the blessing of Joseph, Jacob mentions five great titles of God: Mighty God of Jacob, The Shepherd, The Stone of Israel, The God of your Father, and the Almighty. Jacob knows his God!
- Finally, baby Benjamin, Rachel's second son and the one to whom she gave birth as she died.
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
In the morning he shall devour the prey,
And at night he shall divide the spoil.”
Benjamin's tribe will prove to be a fierce tribe. Several important Benjamites come to mind: Ehud, who killed fat king Eglon of Moab in Judges 3, King Saul who persecuted David, and the Apostle Paul who persecuted believers before he became one himself. There is also a wild and crazy story about the tribe of Benjamin in Judges 19 and 20. You can read it when you have a chance.
This completes the blessings of Jacob over his sons. Verse 28 says,
All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father spoke to them. And he blessed them; he blessed each one according to his own blessing.
The chapter ends with the death of Jacob, but not before he reminds his sons to bury him in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, the place that his grandfather had purchased from Ephron the Hittite - the place where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah are buried. This is where we actually find out that Leah and Rebekah have died, as their deaths were not mentioned before this. Jacob is quite specific with this last wish - the only thing missing is the zip code.
The chapter ends with this:
And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people (an alliteration for he died, as his ancestors also died.) He is 147 years old at the time of his death.