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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 49

- Jacob Blesses His Sons

5. מכרה mekêrāh, "weapon;" related: כיר kārar or כרה kārāh dig. "Device, design?" related: מכר mākar "sell," in Arabic "take counsel. Habitation."

10. מחקק mechoqēq, "lawgiver, judge, dispenser of laws." This word occurs in six other places - Num 21:18; Deu 33:21; Jud. Deu 5:14; Psa 60:9; Psa 108:9; Isa 33:22; in five of which it clearly denotes ruler, or judge. The meaning "sceptre" is therefore doubtful. שׁילה shı̂ylôh, Shiloh, a softened form of שׁילון shı̂ylôn, a derivative of שׁל shol, the ultimate root of שׁלה shālâh, שׁלם shālam, and possibly שׁלט shālaṭ, and hence, denoting "the peacemaker, the prince of peace." It is not employed as an appellative noun. But it is used afterward as the name of a town, now identified as Seilun. This town probably had its name, like many other ancient places from a person of the same name who built or possessed it.

From the special conference with Joseph we now pass to the parting address of Jacob to his assembled sons. This is at the same time prophetic and benedictory. Like all prophecy, it starts from present things, and in its widest expanse penetrates into the remotest future of the present course of nature.

Gen 49:1-2

And Jacob called his sons - This is done by messengers going to their various dwellings and pasture-grounds, and summoning them to his presence. And he said. These words introduce his dying address. "Gather yourselves together." Though there is to be a special address to each, yet it is to be in the audience of all the rest, for the instruction of the whole family. "That which shall befall you in the after days." The after days are the times intervening between the speaker and the end of the human race. The beginning of man was at the sixth day of the last creation. The end of his race will be at the dissolution of the heavens and the earth then called into being, and the new creation which we are taught will be consequent thereupon. To this interval prophecy has reference in general, though it occasionally penetrates beyond the veil that separates the present from the future creation.

The prophet has his mind filled with the objects and events of the present and the past, and from these he must draw his images for the future, and express them in the current language of his day. To interpret his words, therefore, we must ascend to his day, examine his usage of speech, distinguish the transient forms in which truth may appear, and hold fast by the constant essence which belongs to all ages. "Hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken to Israel your father." This is a specimen of the synthetic or synonymous parallel. It affords a good example of the equivalence, and at the same time the distinction, of Jacob and Israel. They both apply to the same person, and to the race of which he is the head. The one refers to the natural, the other to the spiritual. The distinction is similar to that between Elohim and Yahweh: the former of which designates the eternal God, antecedent to all creation, and therefore, equally related to the whole universe; the latter, the self-existent God, subsequent to the creation of intelligent beings, and especially related to them, as the moral Governor, the Keeper of covenant, and the Performer of promise.

Gen 49:3-4

Reuben, as the first-born by nature, has the first place in the benedictory address. My might. In times and places in which a man's right depends on his might, a large family of sons is the source of strength and safety. "The excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power" - the rank and authority which belong to the first-born. "Boiling over as water." That which boils over perishes at the same time that it is pernicious. This is here transferred in a figure to the passionate nature of Reuben. "Thou shalt not excel." There is here an allusion to the excellency of dignity and power. By the boiling over of his unhallowed passions Reuben lost all the excellence that primogeniture confers. By the dispensation of Providence the double portion went to Joseph, the first-born of Rachel; the chieftainship to Judah; and the priesthood to Levi. The cause of this forfeiture is then assigned. In the last sentence the patriarch in a spirit of indignant sorrow passes from the direct address to the indirect narrative. "To my couch he went up." The doom here pronounced upon Reuben is still a blessing, as he is not excluded from a tribe's share in the promised land. But, as in the case of the others, this blessing is abated and modified by his past conduct. His tribe has its seat on the east of the Jordan, and never comes to any eminence in the commonwealth of Israel.

Gen 49:5-7

"Simon and Levi are brethren," by temper as well as by birth. Their weapons. This word is rendered plans, devices, by some. But the present rendering agrees best with the context. Weapons may be properly called instruments of violence; but not so plots. "Habitations" requires the preposition in before it, which is not in the original, and is not to be supplied without necessity. "Into their counsel." This refers to the plot they formed for the destruction of the inhabitants of Shekem. "They houghed an ox." The singular of the original is to be understood as a plural denoting the kind of acts to which they were prompted in their passion for revenge. Jacob pronounces a curse upon their anger, not because indignation against sin is unwarrantable in itself, but because their wrath was marked by deeds of fierceness and cruelty. "I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel." He does not cut them off from any part in the promised inheritance; but he divides and scatters them.

Accordingly they are divided from one another in their after history, the tribe of Simon being settled in the southwest corner of the territory of Judah, and Levi having no connected territory, but occupying certain cities and their suburbs which were assigned to his descendants in the various provinces of the land. They were also scattered in Israel. For Simon is the weakest of all the tribes at the close of their sojourn in the wilderness Num 26:14; he is altogether omitted in the blessing of Moses Deut. 33, and hence, obtains no distinct territory, but only a part of that of Judah Jos 19:1-9; and he subsequently sends out two colonies, which are separated from the parent stock, and from one another 1 Chr. 4:24-43. And Levi received forty-eight towns in the various districts of the land, in which his descendants dwelt, far separated from one another. This prediction was therefore, fulfilled to the letter in the history of these brothers. Their classification under one head is a hint that they will yet count but as one tribe.

Gen 49:8-12

Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, comes in for the supremacy after the three former have been set aside. His personal prowess, the perpetuity of his dominion, and the luxuriance of his soil are then described. "Thee shall thy brethren praise." This is an allusion to his name, which signifies praise Gen 29:35. As his mother praised the Lord for her fourth son, so shall his brethren praise him for his personal excellence. Ardor of temperament, decision of character, and frankness of acknowledgment are conspicuous even in the blemishes of his early life. Tenderness of conscience, promptitude in resolve, capacity for business, and force of eloquence come out in his riper years. These are qualities that win popular esteem. "Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies." They shall flee before him, but shall not escape his powerful grasp. They shall be compelled to yield to his overwhelming power. "Thy father's sons shall bow down to thee." Not only his enemies, but his friends, shall acknowledge his sway. The similar prediction concerning Joseph Gen 37:6-8 was of a personal nature, and referred to a special occasion, not to a permanent state of affairs. It had already received its main fulfillment, and would altogether terminate with the lifetime of Joseph. The present announcement refers to Judah not as an individual, but as the head of a tribe in Israel, and will therefore, correspond in duration with that commonwealth.

Gen 49:9

A lion's whelp is Judah. - In physical strength Judah is compared to the lion, the king of beasts. At first he is the lion's whelp, the young lion, giving promise of future vigor; then the full-grown lion, exulting in his irresistible force, seizing and overmastering the prey, and after reaping the fruits of his victory, ascending to his mountain lair and reposing in undisturbed security. The lioness is brought into the comparison with propriety, as in defense of her cubs she is even more dangerous than the male to the unwary assailant. After being satiated with prey, the lion, reposing in his majesty, will not disturb the passer-by; but who shall rouse him up and escape?

Gen 49:10

From his physical force we now pass to his moral supremacy. "The sceptre," the staff of authority. "Shall not depart from Judah." The tribe scepter did not leave Judah so long as there was a remnant of the commonwealth of Israel. Long after the other tribes had lost their individuality, Judah lingered in existence and in some measure of independence; and from the return his name supplanted that of Israel or Jacob, as the common designation of the people. "Nor the lawgiven from between his feet." This is otherwise rendered, "nor the judicial staff from between his feet;" and it is argued that this rendering corresponds best with the phrase "between his feet" and with the parallel clause which precedes. It is not worth while contending for one against the other, as the meaning of both is precisely the same. But we have retained the English version, as the term מחקק mechoqēq has only one clear meaning; "between the feet" may mean among his descendants or in his tribe; and the synthetic parallelism of the clauses is satisfied by the identity of meaning.

Lawgiver is to be understood as judge, dispenser or administrator of law. Judah had the forerank among the tribes in the wilderness, and never altogether lost it. Nahshon the son of Amminadab, the prince of his tribe, was the ancestor of David, who was anointed as the rightful sovereign of all Israel, and in whom the throne became hereditary. The revolt of the ten tribes curtailed, but did not abolish the actual sovereignty of Rehoboam and his successors, who continued the acknowledged sovereigns until some time after the return from the captivity. From that date the whole nation was virtually absorbed in Judah, and whatever trace of self-government remained belonged to him until the birth of Jesus, who was the lineal descendant of the royal line of David and of Judah, and was the Messiah, the anointed of heaven to be king of Zion and of Israel in a far higher sense than before. "Until Shiloh come."

This is otherwise translated, "until he come to Shiloh," the place so called. This is explained of the time when "the whole assembly of the children of Israel was convened at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there" Jos 18:1. We hold by the former translation:

1. Because Shiloh has not yet been named as a known locality in the land of promise.

2. Judah did not come to Shiloh in any exclusive sense.

3. His coming thither with his fellows had no bearing whatever on his supremacy.

4. He did not come to Shiloh as the seat of his government or any part of his territory; and

5. The real sovereignty of Judah took place after this convention at Shiloh, and not before it.

After the rejection of the second translation on these grounds, the former is accepted as the only tenable alternative.

6. Besides, it is the natural rendering of the words.

7. Before the coming of Shiloh, the Prince of Peace, the highest pitch of Judah's supremacy in its primary form has to be attained.

8. On the coming of Shiloh the last remnant of that supremacy was removed, only to be replaced by the higher form of pre-eminence which the Prince of Peace inaugurates.

And unto him be the obedience of the peoples. - "Unto him" means naturally unto Shiloh. "The obedience" describes the willing submission to the new form of sovereignty which is ushered in by Shiloh. The word is otherwise rendered "gathering;" but this does not suit the usage in Pro 30:17. "The obedience" intimates that the supremacy of Judah does not cease at the coming of Shiloh, but only assumes a grander form.

Of the peoples. - Not only the sons of Israel, but all the descendants of Adam will ultimately bow down to the Prince of Peace. This is the seed of the woman, who shall bruise the serpent's head, the seed of Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed, presented now under the new aspect of the peacemaker, whom all the nations of the earth shall eventually obey as the Prince of Peace. He is therefore, now revealed as the Destroyer of the works of evil, the Dispenser of the blessings of grace, and the King of peace. The coming of Shiloh and the obedience of the nations to him will cover a long period of time, the close of which will coincide with the limit here set to Judah's earthly supremacy in its wider and loftier stage. This prediction therefore, truly penetrates to the latter days.

Gen 49:11-12

The exuberant fertility of Judah's province is now depicted. We now behold him peacefully settled in the land of promise, and the striking objects of rural plenty and prosperity around him. The quiet ass on which he perambulates is tied to the vine, the juice of whose grapes is as copious as the water in which his robes are washed. The last sentence is capable of being rendered, "Red are his eyes above wine, and white his teeth above milk." But a connection as well as a comparison seems to be implied in the original. Judea is justly described as abounding in the best of wine and milk. This fine picture of Judah's earthly abode is a fitting emblem of the better country where Shiloh reigns.

Gen 49:13

Zebulun means "dwelling," to which there is an allusion in the first clause of the verse. "At the haven of seas." This tribe touched upon the coast of the sea of Kinnereth and of the Mediterranean. It probably possessed some havens for shipping near the promontory of Karmel: and its northwestern boundary touched upon Phoenicia, the territory of Zidon. He is placed before Issakar, who was older, because the latter sank into a subordinate position.

Gen 49:14-15

"An ass of bone," and therefore, of strength. "Couching between the hurdles" - the pens or stalls in which the cattle were lodged. Rest in a pleasant land he felt to be good; and hence, rather than undertake the struggle for liberty and independence, he became like the strong ass a bearer of burdens, and a payer of tribute. He is thus a hireling by disposition as well as by name Gen 30:18.

Gen 49:16-18

The sons of the handmaids follow those of Leah. "Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel." He will maintain his position as a tribe in the state. When threatened by overwhelming power he will put forth his native force for the discomfiture of the foe. The adder is the cerastes or horned serpent, of the color of the sand, and therefore, not easily recognized, that inflicts a fatal wound on him that unwarily treads on it. The few facts in the history of Dan afterward given correspond well with the character here drawn. Some of its features are conspicuous in Samson Judg. 13-16. "For thy salvation have I waited, O Lord." The patriarch, contemplating the power of the adversaries of his future people, breaks forth into the expression of his longing desire and hope of that salvation of the Almighty by which alone they can be delivered. That salvation is commensurate with the utmost extent and diversity of these adversaries.

Gen 49:19

Gad also shall be subject to the assaults of the enemy. But he shall resist the foe and harass his rear. This brief character agrees with his after history. He is reckoned among the valiant men in Scripture Ch1 5:18.

Gen 49:20

Asher shall have a soil abounding in wheat and oil. He occupies the low lands along the coast north of Karmel. Hence, the products of his country are fit to furnish the table of kings. Gad and Asher are placed before Naphtali, the second son of Bilhah. We cannot tell whether they were older, or for what other reason they occupy this place. It may be that Naphtali was of a less decisive or self-reliant character.

Gen 49:21

Naphtali is a hind let loose. The hind or "gazelle" is agile and nimble. When free on its native hills, it roams with instinctive confidence and delight. It is timid and irresolute in confinement. This is probably the character of Naphtali. "He giveth goodly words." Here we pass from the figure to the reality. Eloquence in prose and verse was characteristic of this particular tribe. The only important historical event in which they are concerned is the defeat of Jabin's host, which is celebrated in the song of Deborah and Barak Jdg 4:5. In this passage we may study the character of the tribe.

Gen 49:22-26

Jacob had doubtless been made acquainted with the history of his beloved son Joseph from the time of his disappearance until he met him on the borders of Egypt. It had been the meditation and the wonder of his last seventeen years. When he comes to Joseph, therefore, the mingled emotions of affection and gratitude burst forth from his heart in language that cannot be restrained by the ordinary rules of speech. The first thing connected with Joseph in the patriarch's mind is fruitfulness. The image is vivid and striking. "Son of a fruitful tree." A branch or rather a shoot transplanted from the parent stem. "By a well;" from which it may draw the water of life. "Whose daughters" - luxuriant branches. Run over a wall - transcend all the usual boundaries of a well-enclosed garden. This fruitfulness attaches to Joseph in two respects. First, he is the prudent gatherer and the inexhaustible dispenser of the produce of Egypt, by which the lives of his father and brethren were preserved. And then he is in prospect the twofold tribe, that bursts the bounds assigned to a twelfth of the chosen people, and overspreads the area of two tribes.

Gen 49:23-24

The memory then reverts to the past history of Joseph. A new figure is now called up. A champion is assailed by a host of archers. They vex him, shoot at him, and in every way act the part of an enemy. But his bow continues elastic, and his arms are enabled to bend it, because he receives strength from the God of his fathers, "the Might of Jacob, the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel." Such is the rich and copious imagery that flows from the lips of Jacob. "The Might," the exalted upholder; "the Shepherd, the Stone," the fostering guardian as well as the solid foundation of his being. His great hands upheld Joseph against the brother and the stranger. "From him." This seems the free rendering of the word requisite to bring the two members of the parallel into harmony.

Gen 49:25-26

These two thoughts - the peaceful abundance of his old age, which he owed to Joseph, and the persecutions his beloved son had endured - stir the fountains of his affections until they overflow with blessings. "From the God of thy father" - the Eternal One who is the source of all blessing. "And the Almighty," who is able to control all adverse influences. "Blessings of heaven above" - the air, the rain, and the sun. "Blessings of the deep" - the springs and streams, as well as the fertile soil. "Blessings of the breasts and the womb" - the children of the home and the young of the flocks and herds. "Have prevailed." The benedictions of Jacob pronounced upon Joseph exceed those that came upon Jacob himself from his fathers. To Joseph is given a double portion, with a double measure of affection from a father's heart. "Unto the bound of the perpetual hills." Like an overflowing flood they have risen to the very summits of the perpetual hills in the conceptions of the venerable patriarch. "Of him who was distinguished from his brethren;" not only by a long period of persecution and humiliation, but by a subsequent elevation to extraordinary dignity and pre-eminence.

It is to be noted that this benediction, when fairly interpreted, though it breathes all the fondness of a father's heart, yet contains no intimation that the supremacy or the priesthood were to belong to Joseph, or that the Messiah was to spring from him. At the same time Joseph was in many events of his history a remarkable type of the Messiah, and by intermarriage he, as well as many foreigners, was no doubt among the ancestors of the Messiah Kg2 8:18, Kg2 8:26.

Gen 49:27

Benjamin is described as a wolf who is engaged morning and evening, that is, all day long, in hunting after prey. He was warlike by character and conduct Judg. 20-21, and among his descendants are Ehud, Saul, and Jonathan.

Gen 49:28-33

After the benediction Jacob gives directions concerning his burial. "All these are the twelve tribes". This implies that the benedictions refer not to the heads only, but to the whole tribes. "Each according to his blessing." All are blessed, but the form of the blessing is suited to the character of the individual "Bury me with my fathers" - with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Leah. This dying command he now lays on the twelve, as he had before bound Joseph by oath to its performance. "Gathered up his feet into the bed." He had been sitting upright while pronouncing the benedictory address and giving his last directions. He now lies down and calmly breathes his last.

Next: Genesis Chapter 50