Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 2: Genesis, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1 And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.
1. Postea vocavit Jahacob filios suos, et dixit, Congregate vos, et annuntiabo bovis quod eventurum est vobis in novissino dierum.
2 Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.
2. Congregate vos, et audite filii Jahacob, audite inquam Israel patrem vestrum.
3 Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:
3. Ruben primogenitus meus, tu fortitudo mea, et principium roboris mei: excellentia dignitatis et excellentia roboris.
4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.
4. Velocitas fuit tibi instar aquae, non excelles: quia ascendisti cubile patris tui, tune polluisti stratum meum, evanuit.
5 Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.
5. Simhon et Levi fratres, arma iniquitatis in habitationibus eorum.
6 O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall.
6. In secretum eorum non veniat anima mea, in coetu eorum non uniaris lingua mea: quia in furore suo occiderunt virum, et voluntate sua eradicaverunt murum.
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.
7. Maledictus furor eorum, quia robustus, et ira eorum, quia dura est: dividam eos in Jahacob et dispergam eos in Israel.
8 Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.
8. Jehudah es to, laudabunt to fratres tui: manus tua erit in cervice inimicorum tuorum, incurvabunt se tibi filii patris tui.
9 Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?
9. Ut catulus leonis Jehudah: e praeda, fili mi, ascendisti: incurvavit se, cubuit sicut leo, sicut leo major, quis suscitabit eum?
10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be
10. Non recedet secptrum ex Jehudah, et Legislator e medio pedum ejus, donec veniat Messias: et ei erit aggregatio populorum.
11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:
11. Ligans ad vitem pullum suum, et ad ramum filium asinae suae: lavit in vino vestimentum suum, et in sanguine uvarum operimentum suum.
12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.
12. Rubicundus oculis a vino, et dcandidus dentibus a lacte.
13 Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.
13. Zebulon in portu marium habitabit, et erit in portum navium, et terminus ejus usque ad Sidon.
14 Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:
14. Issachar ut asinus osseus, cubans inter duas sarcinas.
15 And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.
15. Ed vidit requiem, quod esset bonum: et terram quod esset pulchra, et inclinavit humerum suum ad portandum, et fuit tributo serviens.
16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.
16. Dan judicabit populum suum sicut unus e tribubus Israel.
17 Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward.
17. Erit Dan ut serpens juxta viam, ut cerastes juxta semitam, mordens calcaneos equi, et cecidit equitans retrosum.
18 I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD.
18. Salutem tuam exspectavi Jehova.
19 Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.
19. Gad, exercitus succidet eum, et ipse succidet ad extremum.
20 Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.
20. Aser, erit pinguis panis ejus, et ipse dabit delicias regis.
21 Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.
21. Naphthali ut cerva dimissa, dans eloquia pulchritudinis.
22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:
22. Ut arbor fructificans Joseph, ut ramus crescens juxta fontem, rami incedent super murum.
23 The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:
23. Et amaritudine affecerunt eum, et jaculati sunt, et odio habuerunt eum sagittarii.
24 But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)
24. Et mansit in fortitudine arcus ejus, et roboraverunt se brachia manuum ejus a manibus potentis Jahacob, inde pastor lapidis Israel.
25 Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:
25. A Deo patris tui, et adjuvabit to: et ab Omnipotente, et benedicet tibi benedictionibus coeli sursum, benedictionibus abyssi cubantis deorsum, benedictionibus uberum et vulvae.
26 The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.
26. Benedictiones patris tui fortiores fuerunt benedictionibus genitorum meorum, usque ad terminum collium perpetuorum erunt super caput Joseph, et super verticem Nazaraei inter fratres suos.
27. Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.
27. Benjamin ut lupus rapiet, mane comedet praedam, et vesperi dividet spolia.
28. All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.
28. Omnes istae tribus Israel duodecim. Et hoc est quod loquutus est eis pater eorum, et benedixit eis, unicuique secundum benedictionem suam, benedixit eis.
29. And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite.
29. Et praecepti eis, et dixit ad eos, Ego congregor ad populum meum: sepelite me cum patribus meis in spelunca, quae est in agro Hephron Hittaei.
30. In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a buryingplace.
30. In spelunca, quae est in agro duplici, quae est ante Mamre: in terra Chenaan, quam emit Abraham cum agro ab Hephron Hittaeo in possessionem sepulcri.
31. There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they bried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.
31. Ibi sepelierunt Abraham et Sarah uxorem ejus: ibi sepelicrunt Ishac et Ribcah uxorem ejus, et ibi sepelivi Leah.
32. The purchase of the field, and of the cave that is therein, was from the children of Heth.
32. Emptio agri et speluncae, quae est in eo, fuit a filiis Heth.
33. And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathererrd unto his people.
33. Et finem fecit Iahacob praecipiendi filiis suis: et collegit pedes suos in lecto et obiit, et aggregatus est ad populos suos.
1. And Jacob called. In the former chapter, the blessing on Ephraim and Manasseh was related Ge 48:1, because, before Jacob should treat of the state of the whole nation about to spring from him, it was right that these two grandsons should be inserted into the body of his sons. Now, as if carried above the heavens, he announces, not in the character of a man, but as from the mouth of God, what shall be the condition of them all, for a long time to come. And it will be proper first to remark, that as he had then thirteen sons, he sets before his view, in each of their persons, the same number of nations or tribes: in which act the admirable lustre of his faith is conspicuous. For since he had often heard from the Lord, that his seed should be increased to a multitude of people, this oracle is to him like a sublime mirror, in which he may perceive things deeply hidden from human sense. Moreover, this is not a simple confession of faith, by which Jacob testifies that he hopes for whatever had been promised him by the Lord; but he rises superior to men, at the interpreter and ambassador of God, to regulate the future state of the Church. Now, since some interpreters perceived this prophecy to be noble and magnificent, they have thought that it would not be adorned with its proper dignity, unless they should extract from it certain new mysteries. Thus it has happened, that in striving earnestly to elicit profound allegories, they have departed from the genuine sense of the words, and have corrupted, by their own inventions, what is here delivered for the solid edification of the pious. But lest we should depreciate the literal sense, as if it did not contain speculations sufficiently profound, let us mark the design of the holy Spirit. In the first place, the sons of Jacob are informed beforehand, of their future fortune, that they may know themselves to be objects of the special care of God; and that, although the whole world is governed by his providence, they, notwithstanding, are preferred to other nations, as members of his own household. It seems apparently a mean and contemptible thing, that a region productive of vines, which should yield abundance of choice wine, and one rich in pasturers, which should supply milk, is promised to the tribe of Judah. But if any one will consider that the Lord is hereby giving an illustrious proof of his own election, in descending, like the father of a family, to the care of food, and also showing, in minute things, that he is united by the sacred bond of a covenant to the children of Abraham, he will look for no deeper mystery. In the second place; the hope of the promised inheritance is again renewed unto them. And, therefore, Jacob, as if he would put them in possession of the land by his own hand, expounds familiarly, and as in an affair actually present, what kind of habitation should belong to each of them. Can the confirmation of a matter so serious, appear contemptible to sane and prudent readers? It is, however, the principal design of Jacob more correctly to point out from whence a king should arise among them, who should bring them complete felicity. And in this manner he explains what had been promised obscurely, concerning the blessed seed. In these things there is so great weight, that the simple treating of them, if only we were skillful interpreters, ought justly to transport us with admiration. But (omitting all things else) an advantage of no common kind consists in this single point, that the mouth of impure and profane men, who freely detract from the credibility of Moses, is shut, so that they no longer dare to contend that he did not speak by a celestial impulse. Let us imagine that Moses does not relate what Jacob had before prophesied, but speaks in his own person; whence, then, could he divine what did not happen till many ages afterwards? Such, for instance, is the prophecy concerning the kingdom of David. And there is no doubt that God commanded the land to be divided by lot, lest any suspicion should arise that Joshua had divided it among the tribes, by compact, and as he had been instructed by his master. After the Israelites had obtained possession of the land, the division of it was not made by the will of men. Whence was it that a dwelling near the sea-shore was given to the tribe of Zebulun; a fruitful plain to the tribe of Asher; and to the others, by lot, what is here recorded; except that the Lord would ratify his oracles by the result, and would show openly, that nothing then occurred which he had not, a long time before, declared should take place? I now return to the words of Moses, in which holy Jacob is introduced, relating what he had been taught by the Holy Spirit concerning events still very remote. But some, with canine rage, demand, 194 Whence did Moses derive his knowledge of a conversation, held in an obscure hut, two hundred years before his time? I ask in return, before I give an answer, Whence had he his knowledge of the places in the land of Canaan, which he assigns, like a skillful surveyor, to each tribe? If this was a knowledge derived from heaven, (which must be granted,) why will these impious babblers deny that the things which Jacob has predicted, were divinely revealed to Moses? Besides, among many other things which the holy fathers had handed down by tradition, this prediction might then be generally known. Whence was it that the people, when tyrannically oppressed, implored the assistance of God as their deliverer? Whence was it, that at the simple hearing of a promise formerly given, they raised their minds to a good hope, unless that some remembrance of the divine adoption still flourished among them? If there was a general acquaintance with the covenant of the Lord among the people; what impudence will it be to deny that the heavenly servants of God more accurately investigated whatever was important to be known respecting the promised inheritance? For the Lord did not utter oracles by the mouth of Jacob which, after his death, a sudden oblivion should destroy; as if he had breathed, I know not what sounds, into the air. But rather he delivered instructions common to many ages; that his posterity might know from what source their redemption, as well as the hereditary title of the land, flowed down to them. We know how tardily, and even timidly, Moses undertook the province assigned him, when he was called to deliver his own people: because he was aware that he should have to deal with an intractable and perverse nation. It was, therefore, necessary, that he should come prepared with certain credentials which might give proof of his vocation. And, hence, he put forth these predictions, as public documents from the sacred archives of God, that no one might suppose him to have intruded rashly into his office.
Gather yourselves together 195 Jacob begins with inviting their attention. For he gravely enters on his subject, and claims for himself the authority of a prophet, in order to teach his sons that he is by no means making a private testamentary disposition of his domestic affairs; but that he is expressing in words, those oracles which are deposited with him, until the event shall follow in due time. For he does not command them simply to listen to his wishes, but gathers them into an assembly by a solemn rite, that they may hear what shall occur to them in the succession of time. Moreover, I do not doubt, that he places this future period of which he speaks, in opposition to their exile in Egypt, that, when their minds were in suspense, they might look forward to that promised state. Now, from the above remarks, it may be easily inferred, that, in this prophecy is comprised the whole period from the departure out of Egypt to the reign of Christ: not that Jacob enumerates every event, but that, in the summary of things on which he briefly touches, he arranges a settled order and course, until Christ should appear.
3. Reuben, thou art my first-born He begins with the first-born, not for the sake of honor, to confirm him in his rank; but that he may the more completely cover him with shame, and humble him by just reproaches. For Reuben is here cast down from his primogeniture; because he had polluted his father’s bed by incestuous intercourse with his mother-in-law. The meaning of his words is this: Thou, indeed, by nature the first-born, oughtest to have excelled, seeing thou art my strength, and the beginning of my manly vigor; but since thou best flowed away like water, there is no more any ground for arrogating anything to thyself. For, from the day of thy incest, that dignity which thou receivedst on thy birth-day, from thy mother’s womb, is gone and vanished away. The noun (ןוא,) some translate seed, others grief; and turn the passage thus: “Thou my strength, and the beginning of my grief or seed.” They who prefer the word grief, assign as a reason, that children bring care and anxiety to their parents. But if this were the true meaning, there would rather have been an antithesis between strength and sorrow. Since, however, Jacob is reciting, in continuity, the declaration of the dignity which belongs to the first-born, I doubt not that he here mentions the beginning of his manhood. For as men, in a certain sense, live again in their children, the first-born is properly called the “beginning of strength.” To the same point belongs what immediately follows, that he had been the excellency of dignity and of strength, until he had deservedly deprived himself of both. For Jacob places before the eyes of his son Reuben his former honor, because it was for his profit to be made thoroughly conscious whence he had fallen. So Paul says, that he set before the Corinthians the sins by which they were defiled, in order to make them ashamed. (1Co 6:5.) For whereas we are disposed to flatter ourselves in our vices, scarcely any one of us is brought back to a sane mind, after he has fallen, unless he is touched with a sense of his vileness. Moreover, nothing is better adapted to wound us, than when a comparison is made between those favors which God bestows upon us, and the punishments we bring upon ourselves by our own fault. After Adam had been stripped of all good things, God reproaches him sharply, and not without ridicule, “Behold Adam is as one of us.” What end is this designed to answer, except that Adam, reflecting with himself how far he is changed from that man, who had lately been created according to the image of God, and had been endowed with so many excellent gifts, might be confounded and fall prostrate, deploring his present misery? We see, then, that reproofs are necessary for us, in order that we may be touched to the quick by the anger of the Lord. For so it happens, not only that we become displeased with the sins of which we are now bearing the punishment, but also, that we take greater care diligently to guard those gifts of God which dwell within us, lest they perish through our negligence. They who refer the “excellency of dignity” to the priesthood, and the “excellency of power” to the kingly office, are, in my judgment, too subtle interpreters. I take the more simple meaning of the passage to be; that if Reuben had stood firmly in his own rank, the chief place of all excellency would have belonged to him.
4. Unstable as water. He shows that the honor which had not a good conscience for its keeper, was not firm but evanescent; and thus he rejects Reuben from the primogeniture. He declares the cause, lest Reuben should complain that he was punished when innocent: for it was also of great consequence, in this affair, that he should be convinced of his fault, lest his punishment should not be attended with profit. We now see Jacob, having laid carnal affection aside, executing the office of a prophet with vigor and magnanimity. For this judgment is not to be ascribed to anger, as if the father desired to take private vengeance of his son: but it proceeded from the Spirit of God; because Jacob kept fully in mind the burden imposed upon him. The word חלע (alach) the close of the sentence signifies to depart, or to be blown away like the ascending smoke, which is dispersed. 196 Therefore the sense is, that the excellency of Reuben, from the time that he had defiled his father’s bed, had flowed away and become extinct. For to expound the expression concerning the bed, to mean that it ceased to be Jacob’s conjugal bed, because Bilhah had been divorced, is too frigid.
5. Simeon and Levi are brethren. He condemns the massacre of the city of Shechem by his two sons Simon and Levi, and denounces the punishment of so great a crime. Whence we learn how hateful cruelty is to God, seeing that the blood of man is precious in his sight. For it is as if he would cite to his own tribunal those two men, and would demand vengeance on them, when they thought they had already escaped. It may, however, be asked, whether pardon had not been granted to them long ago; and if God had already forgiven them, why does he recall them again to punishment? I answer, it was both privately useful to themselves, and was also necessary as an example, that this slaughter should not remain unpunished, although they might have obtained previous forgiveness. For we have seen before, when they were admonished by their father, how far they were from that sorrow which is the commencement of true repentance; and it may be believed that afterwards they became stupefied more and more, with a kind of brutish torpor, in their wickedness; or at least, that they had not been seriously affected with bitter grief for their sin. It was also to be feared lest their posterity might become addicted to the same brutality, unless divinely impressed with horror at the deed. Therefore the Lord, partly for the purpose of humbling them, partly for that of making them an example to all ages, inflicted on them the punishment of perpetual ignominy. Moreover, by thus acting, he did not retain the punishment while remitting the guilt, as the Papists foolishly dream: but though truly and perfectly appeased, he administered a correction suitable for future times. The Papists imagine that sins are only half remitted by God; because he is not willing to absolve sinners gratuitously. But Scripture speaks far otherwise. It teaches us that God does not exact punishments which shall compensate for offenses; but such as shall purge hearts from hypocrisy, and shall invite the elect — the allurements of the world being gradually shaken off — to repentance, shall stir them up to vigilant solicitude, and shall keep them under restraint by the bridle of fear and reverence. Whence it follows that nothing is more preposterous, than that the punishments which we have deserved, should be redeemed by satisfactions, as if God, after the manner of men, would have what was owing paid to him; nay, rather there is the best possible agreement between the gratuitous remission of punishments and those chastening of the rod, which rather prevent future evils, than follow such as have been already committed.
To return to Simeon and Levi. How is it that God, by inflicting a punishment which had been long deferred, should drag them back as guilty fugitives to judgment; unless because impunity would have been hurtful to them? And yet he fulfills the office of a physician rather than of a judge, who refuses to spare, because he intends to heal; and who not only heals two who are sick, but, by an antidote, anticipates the diseases of others, in order that they may beware of cruelty. This also is highly worthy to be remembered, that Moses, in publishing the infamy of his own people, acts as the herald of God: and not only does he proclaim a disgrace common to the whole nation, but brands with infamy, the special tribe from which he sprung. Whence it plainly appears, that he paid no respect to his own flesh and blood; nor was he to be induced, by favor or hatred, to give a false color to anything, or to decline from historical fidelity: but, as a chosen minister and witness of the Lord, he was mindful of his calling, which was that he should declare the truth of God sincerely and confidently. A comparison is here made not only between the sons of Jacob personally; but also between the tribes which descended from them. This certainly was a specially opportune occasion for Moses to defend the nobility of his own people. But so far is he from heaping encomiums upon them, that he frankly stamps the progenitor of his own tribe with an everlasting dishonor, which should redound to his whole family. Those Lucianist dogs, who carp at the doctrine of Moses, pretend that he was a vain man who wished to acquire for himself the command over the rude common people. But had this been his project, why did he not also make provision for his own family? Those sons whom ambition would have persuaded him to endeavor to place in the highest rank, he puts aside from the honor of the priesthood, and consigns them to a lowly and common service. Who does not see that these impious calumnies have been anticipated by a divine counsel rather than by merely human prudence, and that the heirs of this great and extraordinary man were deprived of honor, for this reason, that no sinister suspicion might adhere to him? But to say nothing of his children and grandchildren, we may perceive that, by censuring his whole tribe in the person of Levi, he acted not as a man, but as an angel speaking under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, and free from all carnal affection. Moreover, in the former clause, he announces the crime: afterwards, he subjoins the punishment. The crime is, that the arms of violence are in their tabernacles; and therefore he declares, both by his tongue and in his heart, that he holds their counsel in abhorrence, 197 because, in their desire of revenge, they cut off a city with its inhabitants. Respecting the meaning of the words commentators differ. For some take the word תורכמ (makroth) to mean swords; as if Jacob had said, that their swords had been wickedly polluted with innocent blood. But they think more correctly, who translate the word habitations; as if he had said, that unjust violence dwelt among them, because they had been so sanguinary. I do not doubt that the word דבכ (chabod) is put for the tongue, as in other places; 198 and thus the sense is clear, that Jacob, from his heart, so detests the crime perpetrated by his sons, that his tongue shall not give any assent to it whatever. Which he does, for this end, that they may begin to be dissatisfied with themselves, and that all others may learn to abhor perfidy combined with cruelty. Fury, beyond doubt, signifies a perverse and blind impulse of anger: 199 and lust is opposed to rational moderation; 200 because they are governed by no law. Interpreters also differ respecting the meaning of the word רוש (shor.) 201 Some translate it “bullock,” and think that the Shechemites are allegorically denoted by it, seeing they were sufficiently robust and powerful to defend their lives, had not Simon and Levi enervated them by fraud and perfidy. But a different exposition is far preferable, namely, that they “overturned a wall.” For Jacob magnifies the atrociousness of their crime, from the fact, that they did not even spare buildings in their rage.
7. Cursed be their anger. What I have said must be kept in mind; namely, that we are divinely admonished by the mouth of the holy prophet, to keep at a distance from all wicked counsels. Jacob pronounces a woe upon their fury. Why is this, unless that others may learn to put a restraint upon themselves, and to be on their guard against such cruelty? However, (as I have already observed,) it will not suffice to preserve our hands pure, unless we are far removed from all association with crime. For though it may not always be in our power to repress unjust violence; yet that concealment of it is culpable, which approaches to the appearance of consent. Here even the ties of kindred, and whatever else would bias a sound judgment, must be dismissed from the mind: since we see a holy father, at the command of God, so severely thundering against his own sons. He pronounces the anger of Simon and Levi to be so much the more hateful, because, in its commencement, it was violent, and even to the end, it was implacable.
I will divide them in Jacob. It may seem a strange method of proceeding, that Jacob, while designating his sons patriarchs of the Church, and calling them heirs of the divine covenant, should pronounce a malediction upon them instead of a blessing. Nevertheless it was necessary for him to begin with the chastisement, which should prepare the way for the manifestation of God’s grace, as will be made to appear at the close of the chapter: but God mitigates the punishment, by giving them an honorable name in the Church, and leaving them their right unimpaired: yea, his incredible goodness unexpectedly shone forth, when that which was the punishment of Levi, became changed into the reward of the priesthood. The dispersion of the Levitical tribe had its origin in the crime of their father, lest he should congratulate himself on account of his perverse and lawless spirit of revenge. But God, who in the beginning had produced light out of darkness, found another reason why the Levites should be dispersed abroad among the people, — a reason not only free from disgrace, but highly honorable, — namely, that no corner of the land might be destitute of competent instructors. Lastly, he constituted them overseers and governors, in his name, over every part of the land, as if he would scatter everywhere the seed of eternal salvation, or would send forth ministers of his grace. Whence we conclude, how much better it was for Levi to be chastised at the time, for his own good, than to be left to perish, in consequence of present impunity in sin. And it is not to be deemed strange, that, when the land was distributed, and cities were given to the Levites, far apart from each other, this reason was suppressed, 202 and one entirely different was adduced; namely, that the Lord was their inheritance. For this, as I have lately said, is one of the miracles of God, to brine light out of darkness. Had Levi been sentenced to distant exile, he would have been most worthy of the punishment: but now, God in a measure spares him, by assigning him a wandering life in his paternal inheritance. Afterwards, the mark of infamy being removed, God sends his posterity into different parts, under the title of a distinguished embassy. In Simon there remained a certain, though obscure trace of the curse: because a distinct territory did not fall to his sons by lot; but they were mixed with the tribe of Judah, as is stated in Jos 19:1. Afterwards they went to Mount Seir, having expelled the Amalekites and taken possession of their land, as it is written, (1Ch 4:40-43.) Here, also, we perceive the manly fortitude of holy Jacob’s breast, who, though a decrepit old man and an exile, lying on his private and lowly couch, nevertheless assigns provinces to his sons, as from the lofty throne of a great king. He also does this in his own right, knowing that the covenant of God was deposited with him, by which he had been called the heir and lord of the land: and at the same time he claims for himself authority as sustaining the character of a prophet of God. For it greatly concerns us, when the word of God sounds in our ears, to apprehend by faith the thing proclaimed, as if his ministers had been commanded to carry into effect what they pronounce. Therefore it was said to Jeremiah,
“See I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, and to build, and to plant.” (Jer 1:10.)
And the prophets are generally commanded to set their faces against the countries which they threaten, as if they were furnished with a large army to make the attack.
8. Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise. In the word praise there is an allusion to the name of Judah; for so he had been called by his mother, because his birth had given occasion for praising God. The father adduces a new etymology, because his name shall be so celebrated and illustrious among his brethren, that he should be honored by them all equally with the first-born. 203 The double portion, indeed, which he recently assigned to his son Joseph, depended on the right of primogeniture: but because the kingdom was transferred to the tribe of Judah, Jacob properly pronounces that his name should be held worthy of praise. For the honor of Joseph was temporary; but here a stable and durable kingdom is treated of, which should be under the authority of the sons of Judah. Hence we gather, that when God would institute a perfect state of government among his people, the monarchical form was chosen by him. And whereas the appointment of a king under the law, was partly to be attributed to the will of man, and partly to the divine decree; this combination of human with divine agency must be referred to the commencement of the monarchy, which was inauspicious, because the people had tumultuously desired a king to be given them, before the proper time had arrived. Hence their unseemly haste was the cause why the kingdom was not immediately set up in the tribe of Judah, but was brought forth, as an abortive offspring, in the person of Saul. Yet at length, by the favor and in the legitimate order of God, the preeminence of the tribe of Judah was established in the person of David.
Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies. In these words he shows that Judah should not be free from enemies; but although many would give him trouble, and would endeavor to deprive him of his right, Jacob promises him victory; not that the sons of David should always prevail against their enemies, (for their ingratitude interfered with the constant and equable course of the grace of God,) but in this respect, at least, Judah had the superiority, that in his tribe stood the royal throne which God approved, and which was founded on his word. For though the kingdom of Israel was more flourishing in wealth and in number of inhabitants, yet because it was spurious, it was not the object of God’s favor: nor indeed was it right, that, by its tinselled splendor, it should eclipse the glory of the Divine election which was engraven upon the tribe of Judah. In David, therefore, the force and effect of this prophecy plainly appeared; then again in Solomon; afterwards, although the kingdom was mutilated, yet was it wonderfully preserved by the hand of God; otherwise, in a short space, it would have perished a hundred times. Thus it came to pass, that the children of Judah imposed their yoke upon their enemies. Whereas defection carried away ten tribes, which would not bow their knees to the sons of David; the legitimate government was in this way disturbed, and lawless confusion introduced; yet nothing could violate the decree of God, by which the right to govern remained with the tribe of Judah.
9. Judah is a lion’s whelp. This similitude confirms the preceding sentence, that Judah would be formidable to his enemies. Yet Jacob seems to allude to that diminution which took place, when the greater part of the people revolted to Jeroboam. For then the king of Judah began to be like a sleeping lion, for he did not shake his mane to diffuse his terror far and wide, but, as it were, laid him down in his den. Yet a certain secret power of God lay hidden under that torpor, and they who most desired his destruction, and who were most able to do him injury, did not dare to disturb him. Therefore, after Jacob has transferred the supreme authority over his brethren to Judah alone; he now adds, by way of correction, that, though his power should happen to be diminished, he would nevertheless remain terrible to his enemies, like a lion who lies down in his lair. 204
10. The scepter shall not depart. Though this passage is obscure, it would not have been very difficult to elicit its genuine sense, if the Jews, with their accustomed malignity, had not endeavored to envelop it in clouds. It is certain that the Messiah, who was to spring from the tribe of Judah, is here promised. But whereas they ought willingly to run to embrace him, they purposely catch at every possible subterfuge, by which they may lead themselves and others far astray in tortuous by-paths. It is no wonder, then, if the spirit of bitterness and obstinacy, and the lust of contention have so blinded them, that, in the clearest light, they should have perpetually stumbled. Christians, also, with a pious diligence to set forth the glory of Christ, have, nevertheless, betrayed some excess of fervor. For while they lay too much stress on certain words, they produce no other effect than that of giving an occasion of ridicule to the Jews, whom it is necessary to surround with firm and powerful barriers, from which they shall be unable to escape. Admonished, therefore, by such examples, let us seek, without contention, the true meaning of the passage. In the first place, we must keep in mind the true design of the Holy Spirit, which, hitherto, has not been sufficiently considered or expounded with sufficient distinctness. After he has invested the tribe of Judah with supreme authority, he immediately declares that God would show his care for the people, by preserving the state of the kingdom, till the promised felicity should attain its highest point. For the dignity of Judah is so maintained as to show that its proposed end was the common salvation of the whole people. The blessing promised to the seed of Abraham (as we have before seen) could not be firm, unless it flowed from one head. Jacob now testifies the same thing, namely, that a King should come, under whom that promised happiness should be complete in all its parts. Even the Jews will not deny, that while a lower blessing rested on the tribe of Judah, the hope of a better and more excellent condition was herein held forth. They also freely grant another point, that the Messiah is the sole Author of full and solid happiness and glory. We now add a third point, which we may also do, without any opposition from them; namely, that the kingdom which began from David, was a kind of prelude, and shadowy representation of that greater grace which was delayed, and held in suspense, until the advent of the Messiah. They have indeed no relish for a spiritual kingdom; and therefore they rather imagine for themselves wealth and power, and propose to themselves sweet repose and earthly pleasures, than righteousness, and newness of life, with free forgiveness of sins. They acknowledge, nevertheless, that the felicity which was to be expected under the Messiah, was adumbrated by their ancient kingdom. I now return to the words of Jacob.
Until Shiloh come, he says, the scepter, or the dominion, shall remain in Judah. We must first see what the word הוליש (shiloh) signifies. Because Jerome interprets it, “He who is to be sent,” some think that the place has been fraudulently corrupted, by the letter ה (he) substituted for the letter ח (cheth;) which objection, though not firm, is plausible. That which some of the Jews suppose, namely, that it denotes the place (Shiloh) where the ark of the covenant had been long deposited, because, a little before the commencement of David’s reign, it had been laid waste, is entirely destitute of reason. For Jacob does not here predict the time when David was to be appointed king; but declares that the kingdom should be established in his family, until God should fulfill what he had promised concerning the special benediction of the seed of Abraham. Besides the form of speech, “until Shiloh come,” for “until Shiloh come to an end,” would be harsh and constrained. Far more correctly and consistently do other interpreters take this expression to mean “his son,” for among the Hebrews a son is called ליש (shil.) They say also that ה (he) is put in the place of the relative ו (waw;) and the greater part assent to this signification. 205 But again, the Jews dissent entirely from the meaning of the patriarch, by referring this to David. For (as I have just hinted) the origin of the kingdom in David is not here promised, but its absolute perfection in the Messiah. And truly an absurdity so gross, does not require a lengthened refutation. For what can this mean, that the kingdom should not come to an end in the tribe of Judah, till it should have been erected? Certainly the word depart means nothing else than to cease. Further, Jacob points to a continued series, when he says the scribe 206 shall not depart from between his feet. For it behaves a king so to be placed upon his throne that a lawgiver may sit between his feet. A kingdom is therefore described to us, which after it has been constituted, will not cease to exist till a more perfect state shall succeed; or, which comes to the same point; Jacob honors the future kingdom of David with this title, because it was to be the token and pledge of that happy glory which had been before ordained for the race of Abraham. In short, the kingdom which he transfers to the tribe of Judah, he declares shall be no common kingdom, because from it, at length, shall proceed the fullness of the promised benediction. But here the Jews haughtily object, that the event convicts us of error. For it appears that the kingdom by no means endured until the coming of Christ; but rather that the scepter was broken, from the time that the people were carried into captivity. But if they give credit to the prophecies, I wish, before I solve their objection, that they would tell me in what manner Jacob here assigns the kingdom to his son Judah. For we know, that when it had scarcely become his fixed possession, it was suddenly rent asunder, and nearly its whole power was possessed by the tribe of Ephraim. Has God, according to these men, here promised, by the mouth of Jacob, some evanescent kingdom? If they reply, the scepter was not then broken, though Rehoboam was deprived of a great part of his people; they can by no means escape by this cavil; because the authority of Judah is expressly extended over all the tribes, by these words, “Thy mother’s sons shall bow their knee before thee.” They bring, therefore, nothing against us, which we cannot immediately, in turn, retort upon themselves
Yet I confess the question is not yet solved; but I wished to premise this, in order that the Jews, laying aside their disposition to calumniate, may learn calmly to examine the matter itself, with us. Christians are commonly wont to connect perpetual government with the tribe of Judah, in the following manner. When the people returned from banishment, they say, that, in the place of the royal scepter, was the government which lasted to the time of the Maccabees. That afterwards, a third mode of government succeeded, because the chief power of judging rested with the Seventy, who, it appears by history, were chosen out of the regal race. Now, so far was this authority of the royal race from having fallen into decay, that Herod, having been cited before it, with difficulty escaped capital punishment, because he contumaciously withdrew from it. Our commentators, therefore, conclude that, although the royal majesty did not shine brightly from David until Christ, yet some preeminence remained in the tribe of Judah, and thus the oracle was fulfilled. Although these things are true, still more skill must be used in rightly discussing this passage. And, in the first place, it must be kept in mind, that the tribe of Judah was already constituted chief among the rest, as preeminent in dignity, though it had not yet obtained the dominion. And, truly, Moses elsewhere testifies, that supremacy was voluntarily conceded to it by the remaining tribes, from the time that the people were redeemed out of Egypt. In the second place, we must remember, that a more illustrious example of this dignity was set forth in that kingdom which God had commenced in David. And although defection followed soon after, so that but a small portion of authority remained in the tribe of Judah; yet the right divinely conferred upon it, could by no means be taken away. Therefore, at the time when the kingdom of Israel was replenished with abundant opulence, and was swelling with lofty pride, it was said, that the lamp of the Lord was lighted in Jerusalem. Let us proceed further: when Ezekiel predicts the destruction of the kingdom, (Eze 21:26,) he clearly shows how the scepter was to be preserved by the Lord, until it should come into the hands of Christ: “Remove the diadem, and take off the crown; this shall not be the same: I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, until he come whose right it is.” It may seem at first sight that the prophecy of Jacob had failed when the tribe of Judah was stripped of its royal ornament. But we conclude hence, that God was not bound always to exhibit the visible glory of the kingdom on high. Otherwise, those other promises which predict the restoration of the throne, which was cast down and broken, were false. Behold the days come in which I will
“raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins.” (Am 9:11.)
It would be absurd, however, to cite more passages, seeing this doctrine occurs frequently in the prophets. Whence we infer, that the kingdom was not so confirmed as always to shine with equal brightness; but that, though, for a time, it might lie fallen and defaced, it should afterwards recover its lost splendor. The prophets, indeed, seem to make the return from the Babylonian exile the termination of that ruin; but since they predict the restoration of the kingdom no otherwise than they do that of the temple and the priesthood, it is necessary that the whole period, from that liberation to the advent of Christ, should be comprehended. The crown, therefore, was cast down, not for one day only, or from one single head, but for a long time, and in various methods, until God placed it on Christ, his own lawful king. And truly Isaiah describes the origin of Christ, as being very remote from all regal splendor:
“There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isa 11:1.)
Why does he mention Jesse rather than David, except because Messiah was about to proceed from the rustic hut of a private man, rather than from a splendid palace? Why from a tree cut down, having nothing left but the root and the trunk, except because the majesty of the kingdom was to be almost trodden under foot till the manifestation of Christ? If any one object, that the words of Jacob seem to have a different signification; I answer, that whatever God has promised at any time concerning the external condition of the Church, was so to be restricted, that, in the mean time, he might execute his judgments in punishing men, and might try the faith of his own people. It was, indeed, no light trial, that the tribe of Judah, in its third successor to the throne, should be deprived of the greater portion of the kingdom. Even a still more severe trial followed, when the sons of the king were put to death in the sight of their father, when he, with his eyes thrust out, was dragged to Babylon, and the whole royal family was at length given over to slavery and captivity. But this was the most grievous trial of all; that when the people returned to their own land, they could in no way perceive the accomplishment of their hope, but were compelled to lie in sorrowful dejection. Nevertheless, even then, the saints, contemplating, with the eyes of faith, the scepter hidden under the earth, did not fail, or become broken in spirit, so as to desist from their course. I shall, perhaps, seem to grant too much to the Jews, because I do not assign what they call a real dominion, in uninterrupted succession, to the tribe of Judah. For our interpreters, to prove that the Jews are still kept bound by a foolish expectation of the Messiah, insist on this point, that the dominion of which Jacob had prophesied, ceased from the time of Herod; as if, indeed, they had not been tributaries five hundred years previously; as if, also, the dignity of the royal race had not been extinct as long as the tyranny of Antiochus prevailed; as if, lastly, the Asmonean race had not usurped to itself both the rank and power of princes, until the Jews became subject to the Romans. And that is not a sufficient solution which is proposed; namely, that either the regal dominion, or some lower kind of government, are disjunctively promised; and that from the time when the kingdom was destroyed, the scribes remained in authority. For I, in order to mark the distinction between a lawful government and tyranny, acknowledge that counselors were joined with the king, who should administer public affairs rightly and in order. Whereas some of the Jews explain, that the right of government was given to the tribe of Judah, because it was unlawful for it to be transferred elsewhere, but that it was not necessary that the glory of the crown once given should be perpetuated, I deem it right to subscribe in part to this opinion. I say, in part, because the Jews gain nothing by this cavil, who, in order to support their fiction of a Messiah yet to come, postpone that subversion of the regal dignity which, in fact, long ago occurred. 207 For we must keep in memory what I have said before, that while Jacob wished to sustain the minds of his descendants until the coming of the Messiah; lest they should faint through the weariness of long delay, he set before them an example in their temporal kingdom: as if he had said, that there was no reason why the Israelites, when the kingdom of David fell, should allow their hope to waver; seeing that no other change should follow, which could answer to the blessing promised by God, until the Redeemer should appear. That the nation was grievously harassed, and was under servile oppression some years before the coming of Christ happened, through the wonderful counsel of God, in order that they might be urged by continual chastisements to wish for redemption. Meanwhile, it was necessary that some collective body of the nation should remain, in which the promise might receive its fulfillment. But now, when, through nearly fifteen centuries, they have been scattered and banished from their country, having no polity, by what pretext can they fancy, from the prophecy of Jacob, that a Redeemer will come to them? Truly, as I would not willingly glory over their calamity; so, unless they, being subdued by it, open their eyes, I freely pronounce that they are worthy to perish a thousand times without remedy. It was also a most suitable method for retaining them in the faith, that the Lord would have the sons of Jacob turn their eyes upon one particular tribe, that they might not seek salvation elsewhere; and that no vague imagination might mislead them. For which end, also, the election of this family is celebrated, when it is frequently compared with, and preferred to Ephraim and the rest, in the Psalms. To us, also, it is not less useful, for the confirmation of our faith, to know that Christ had been not only promised, but that his origin had been pointed out, as with a finger, two thousand years before he appeared. 208
And unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Here truly he declares that Christ should be a king, not over one people only, but that under his authority various nations shall be gathered, that they might coalesce together. I know, indeed, that the word rendered “gathering” is differently expounded by different commentators; but they who derive it from the root (ההק,) to make it signify the weakening of the people, rashly and absurdly misapply what is said of the saving dominion of Christ, to the sanguinary pride with which they puffed up. If the word obedience is preferred, (as it is by others,) the sense will remain the same with that which I have followed. For this is the mode in which the gathering together will be effected; namely, that they who before were carried away to different objects of pursuit, will consent together in obedience to one common Head. Now, although Jacob had previously called the tribes about to spring from him by the name of peoples, for the sake of amplification, yet this gathering is of still wider extent. For, whereas he had included the whole body of the nation by their families, when he spoke of the ordinary dominion of Judah, he now extends the boundaries of a new king: as if he would say, “There shall be kings of the tribe of Judah, who shall be preeminent among their brethren, and to whom the sons of the same mother shall bow down: but at length He shall follow in succession, who shall subject other peoples unto himself.” But this, we know, is fulfilled in Christ; to whom was promised the inheritance of the world; under whose yoke the nations are brought; and at whose will they, who before were scattered, are gathered together. Moreover, a memorable testimony is here borne to the vocation of the Gentiles, because they were to be introduced into the joint participation of the covenant, in order that they might become one people with the natural descendants of Abraham, under one Head.
11. Binding his fole unto the vine, and his ass’s colt, etc He now speaks of the situation of the territory which fell by lot to the sons of Judah; and intimates, that so great would be the abundance of vines there, that they would everywhere present themselves as readily as brambles, or unfruitful shrubs, in other places. For since asses are wont to be bound to the hedges, he here reduces vines to this contemptible use. The hyperbolical forms of speech which follow are to be applied to the same purpose; namely, that Judah shall wash his garments in wine, and his eyes be red there-with. He means that the abundance of wine shall be so great, that it may be poured out to wash with, like water, at no great expense; but that, by constant copious drinking, the eyes would contract redness. But it seems by no means proper, that a profuse intemperance or extravagance should be accounted a blessing. I answer, although fertility and affluence are here described, still the abuse of them is not sanctioned. If the Lord deals very bountifully with us, yet he frequently prescribes the rule of using his gifts with purity and frugality, lest they should stimulate the incontinence of the flesh. But in this place Jacob, omitting to state what is lawful, extols that abundance which would suffice for luxury, and even for vicious and perverse excesses, unless the sons of Judah should voluntarily use self-government. I abstain from those allegories which to some appear plausible; because, as I said at the beginning of the chapter, I do not choose to sport with such great mysteries of God. To these lofty speculators the partition of the land which God prescribed, for the purpose of accrediting his servant Moses, seems a mean and abject thing. But unless our ingratitude has attained a senseless stupor, we ought to be wholly transported with admiration at the thought, that Moses, who had never seen the land of Canaan, should treat of its separate parts as correctly as he could have done, of a few acres cultivated by his own hand. Now, supposing he had heard a general report of the existence of vines in the land; yet he could not have assigned to Judah abundant vineyards, nor could he have assigned to him rich pastures, by saying that his teeth should be white with drinking milk, unless he had been guided by the Spirit.
13. Zebulun shall dwell at the havens of the sea. Although this blessing contains nothing rare or precious, (as neither do some of those which follow,) yet we ought to deem this fact as sufficiently worthy of notice, that it was just as if God was stretching out his hand from heaven, for the deliverance of the children of Israel, and for the purpose of distributing to each his own dwelling-place. Before mention is made of the lost itself, a maritime region is given to the tribe of Zebulun, which it obtained by lot two hundred years afterwards. And we know of how great importance that hereditary gift was, which, like an earnest, rendered the adoption of the ancient people secure. Therefore, by this prophecy, not only one tribe, but the whole people, ought to have been encouraged to lay hold, with alacrity, of the offered blessing which was certainly in store for them. But it is said that the portion of Zebulun should not only be on the sea-shore, but should also have havens; for Jacob joins its boundary with the country of Zion; in which tract, we know, there were commodious and noble havens. For God, by this prophecy, would not only excite the sons of Zebulun more strenuously to prepare themselves to enter upon the land; but would also assure them, when they obtained possession of the desired portion, that it was the home which had been distinctly proposed and ordained for them by the will of God.
14. Issachar. Here mention is partly made of the inheritance, and an indication is partly given of the future condition of this tribe. Although he is called a bony ass on account of his strength, 209 which would enable him to endure labors, especially such as were rustic, yet at the same time his sloth is indicated: for it is added a little afterwards, that he should be of servile disposition. Wherefore the meaning is, that the sons of Issachar, though possessed of strength, were yet quiet rather than courageous, and were as ready to bear the burden of servitude as mules are to submit their backs to the packsaddle and the load. The reason given is, that, being content with their fertile and pleasant country, they do not refuse to pay tribute to their neighbors, provided they may enjoy repose. And although this submissiveness is not publicly mentioned either to their praise or their condemnation, it is yet probable that their indolence is censured, because their want of energy hindered them from remaining in possession of that liberty which had been divinely granted unto them.
16. Dan shall judge his people. In the word judge there is an allusion to his name: for since, among the Hebrews, ןוד (din) signifies to judge, Rachel, when she returned thanks to God, gave this name to the son born to her by her handmaid, as if God had been the vindicator of her cause and right. Jacob now gives a new turn to the meaning of the name; namely, that the sons of Dan shall have no mean part in the government of the people. For the Jews foolishly restrict it to Samson, because he alone presided over the whole people, whereas the language rather applies to the perpetual condition of the tribe. Jacob therefore means, that though Dan was born from a concubine, he shall still be one of the judges of Israel: because not only shall his offspring possess a share of the government and command, in the common polity, so that this tribe may constitute one head; but it shall be appointed the bearer of a standard to lead the fourth division of the camp of Israel. 210 In the second place, his subtle disposition is described. For Jacob compares this people to serpents, who rise out of their lurking-places, by stealth, against the unwary whom they wish to injure. The sense then is, that he shall not be so courageous as earnestly and boldly to engage in open conflict; but that he will fight with cunning, and will make use of snares. Yet, in the meantime, he shows that he will be superior to his enemies, whom he does not dare to approach with collected forces, just as serpents who, by their secret bite, cast down the horse and his rider. In this place also no judgment is expressly passed, whether this subtlety of Dan is to be deemed worthy of praise or of censure: but conjecture rather inclines us to place it among his faults, or at least his disadvantages, that instead of opposing himself in open conflict with his enemies, he will fight them only with secret frauds. 211
18. I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord. It may be asked, in the first place, what occasion induced the holy man to break the connection of his discourse, and suddenly to burst forth in this expression; for whereas he had recently predicted the coming of the Messiah, the mention of salvation would have been more appropriate in that place. I think, indeed, that when he perceived, as from a lofty watchtower, the condition of his offspring continually exposed to various changes, and even to be tossed by storms which would almost overwhelm them, he was moved with solicitude and fear; for he had not so put off all paternal affection, as to be entirely without care for those who were of his own blood. He, therefore, foreseeing many troubles, many dangers, many assaults, and even many slaughters, which threatened his seed with as many destructions, could not but condole with them, and, as a man, be troubled at the sight. But in order that he might rise against every kind of temptation with victorious constancy of mind, he commits himself unto the Lord, who had promised that he would be the guardian of his people. Unless this circumstance be observed, I do not see why Jacob exclaims here, rather than at the beginning or the end of his discourse, that he waited for the salvation of the Lord. But when this sad confusion of things presented itself to him, which was not only sufficiently violent to shake his faith, but was more than sufficiently burdensome entirely to overwhelm his mind, his best remedy was to oppose to it this shield. I doubt not also, that he would advise his sons to rise with him to the exercise of the same confidence. Moreover, because he could not be the author of his own salvation, it was necessary for him to repose upon the promise of God. In the same manner, also, must we, at this day, hope for the salvation of the Church: for although it seems to be tossed on a turbulent sea, and almost sunk in the waves, and though still greater storms are to be feared in future; yet amidst manifold destructions, salvation is to be hoped for, in that deliverance which the Lord has promised. It is even possible that Jacob, foreseeing by the Spirit, how great would be the ingratitude, perfidy, and wickedness of his posterity, by which the grace of God might be smothered, was contending against these temptations. But although he expected salvation not for himself alone, but for all his posterity, this, however, deserves to be specially noted, that he exhibits the life-giving covenant of God to many generations, so as to prove his own confidence that, after his death, God would be faithful to his promise. Whence also it follows, that, with his last breath, and as if in the midst of death, he laid hold on eternal life. But if he, amidst obscure shadows, relying on a redemption seen afar off, boldly went forth to meet death; what ought we to do, on whom the clear day has shined; or what excuse remains for us, if our minds fail amidst similar agitations? 212
19. Gad, a troop. Jacob also makes allusion to the name of Gad. He had been so called, because Jacob had obtained a numerous offspring by his mother Leah. His fattier now admonishes him, that though his name implied a multitude, he should yet have to do with a great number of enemies, by whom, for a time, he would be oppressed: and he predicts this event, not that his posterity might confide in their own strength, and become proud; but that they might prepare themselves to endure the suffering by which the Lord intended, and now decreed to humble them. Yet, as he here exhorts them to patient endurance, so he presently raises and animates them by the superadded consolation, that, at length, they should emerge from oppression, and should triumph over those enemies by whom they had been vanquished and routed; but this only at the last. Moreover, this prophecy may be applied to the whole Church, which is assailed not for one day only, but is perpetually crushed by fresh attacks, until at length God shall exalt it to honor.
20. Out of Asher. The inheritance of Asher is but just alluded to, which he declares shall be fruitful in the best and finest wheat, so that it shall need no foreign supply of food, having abundance at home. By royal dainties, he means such as are exquisite. Should any one object, that it is no great thing to be fed with nutritious and pleasant bread; I answer; we must consider the end designed; namely, that they might hereby know that they were fed by the paternal care of God.
21. Naphtali. Some think that in the tribe of Naphtali fleetness is commended; I rather approve another meaning, namely, that it will guard and defend itself by eloquence and suavity of words, rather than by force of arms. It is, however, no despicable virtue to soothe ferocious minds, and to appease excited anger, by bland and gentle discourse; or if any offense has been stirred up, to allay it by a similar artifice. He therefore assigns this praise to the sons of Naphtali, that they shall rather study to fortify themselves by humanity, by sweet words, and by the arts of peace, then by the defense of arms. He compares them to a hind let loose, which having been taken in hunting, is not put to death, but is rather cherished with delicacies. 213
22. Joseph is a fruitful bough. Others translate it, “a son of honor,” 214 and both are suitable; but I rather incline to the former sense, because it seems to me that it refers to the name Joseph, by which addition or increase is signified; although I have no objection to the similitude taken from a tree, vehicle, being planted near a fountain, draws from the watered earth the moisture and sap by which it grows the faster. The sum of the figure is, that he is born to grow like a tree situated near a fountain, so that, by its beauty and lofty stature, it may surmount the obstacles around it. For I do not interpret the words which follow to mean that there will be an assemblage of virgins upon the walls, whom the sight of the tree shall have attracted; but, by a continued metaphor, I suppose the tender and smaller branches to be called daughters. 215 And they are said “to run over the wall” when they spread themselves far and wide. Besides, Jacob’s discourse does not relate simply to the whole tribe, nor is it a mere prophecy of future times; but the personal history of Joseph is blended with that of his descendants. Thus some things are peculiar to himself, and others belong to the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. So when Joseph is said to have been “grieved,” this is wont to be referred especially to himself. And whereas Jacob has compared him to a tree; so he calls both his brethren and Potiphar, with his wife, “archers.” 216 Afterwards, however, he changes the figure by making Joseph himself like a strenuous archer, whose bow abides in strength, and whose arms are not relaxed, nor have lost, in any degree, their vigor; by which expressions he predicts the invincible fortitude of Joseph, because he has yielded to no blows however hard and severe. At the same time we are taught that he stood, not by the power of his own arm, but as being strengthened by the hand of God, whom he distinguishes by the peculiar title of “the mighty God of Jacob,” because he designed his power to be chiefly conspicuous, and to shine most brightly in the Church. Meanwhile, he declares that the help by which Joseph was assisted, arose from hence, that God had chosen that family for himself For the holy fathers were extremely solicitous that the gratuitous covenant of God should be remembered by themselves and by their children, whenever any benefit was granted unto them. And truly it is a mark of shameful negligence, not to inquire from what fountain we drink water. In the mean time he tacitly censures the impious and ungodly fury of his ten sons; because, by attempting the murder of their brother, they, like the giants, had carried on war against God. He also admonishes them for the future, that they should rather choose to be protected by the guardianship of God, than to make him their enemy, seeing that he is alike willing to give help to all. And hence arises a consideration consolatory to all the pious, when they hear that the power of God resides in the midst of the Church, if they do but glory in him alone; as the Psalm teaches,
“Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will invoke the name of the Lord our God.” (Ps 20:7.)
The sons of Jacob, therefore, must take care lest they, by confiding in their own strength, precipitate themselves into ruin; but must rather bear themselves nobly and triumphantly in the Lord.
What follows admits of various interpretations. Some translate it, “From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel;” as if Jacob would say, that Joseph had been the nourisher and rock, or stay of his house. Others read, “the shepherd of the stone,” in the genitive case, which I approve, except that they mistake the sense, by taking “stone” to mean family. I refer it to God, who assigned the office of shepherd to his servant Joseph, in the manner in which any one uses the service of a hireling to feed his flock. For whence did it arise that he nourished his own people, except that he was the dispenser of the Divine beneficence? Moreover, under this type, the image of Christ is depicted to us, who, before he should come forth as the conqueror of death and the author of life, was set as a mark of contradiction, (Heb 12:3,) against whom all cast their darts; as now also, after his example, the Church also must be transfixed with many arrows, that she may be kept by the wonderful help of God. Moreover, lest the brethren should maliciously envy Joseph, Jacob sets his victory in an amiable point of view to them, by saying that he had been liberated in order that he might become their nourisher or shepherd.
25. Even by the God of thy father. Again, he more fully affirms that Joseph had been delivered from death, and exalted to such great dignity, not by his own industry, but by the favor of God: and there is not the least doubt that he commends to all the pious, the mere goodness of God, lest they should arrogate anything to themselves, whether they may have escaped from dangers, or whether they may have risen to any rank of honor. By the God of thy father. In designating God by this title, he again traces whatever good Joseph has received, to the covenant, and to the fountain of gratuitous adoption; as if he had said, “Whereas thou hast proved the paternal care of God in helping thee, I desire that thou wouldst ascribe this to the covenant which God has made with me.” Meanwhile, (as we have said before,) he separates from all fictitious idols the God whom he transmits to his descendants to worship.
After he has declared, that Joseph should be blessed in every way, both as it respects his own life, and the number and preservation of his posterity; he affirms that the effect of this benediction is near and almost present, by saying, that he blessed Joseph more efficaciously than he himself had been blessed by his fathers. For although, from the beginning, God had been true to his promises, yet he frequently postponed the effect of them, as if he had been feeding Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with nothing but words. For, to what extent were the patriarchs multiplied in Egypt? Where was that immense seed which should equal the sands of the seashore and the stars of heaven? Therefore, not without reason, Jacob declares that the full time had arrived in which the result of his benediction, which had lain concealed, should emerge as from the deep. Now, this comparison ought to inspire us with much greater alacrity at the present time; for the abundant riches of the grace of God which have flowed to us in Christ, exceeds a hundredfold, any blessings which Joseph received and felt.
What is added respecting the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills, some wish to refer to distance of place, some to perpetuity of time. Both senses suit very well; either that the felicity of Joseph should diffuse itself far and wide to the farthest mountains of the world; or that it should endure as long as the everlasting hills, which are the firmest portions of the earth, shall stand. The more certain and genuine sense, however, is to be gathered from the other passage, where Moses repeats this benediction; namely, that the fertility of the land would extend to the tops of the mountains; and these mountains are called perpetual, because they are most celebrated. He also declares that this blessing should be upon his head, lest Joseph might think that his good wishes were scattered to the winds; for by this word he intends to show, if I may so speak, that the blessing was substantial. At length he calls Joseph ריזנ (nazir) among his brethren, either because he was their crown, on account of the common glory which redounds from him to them all, or because, on account of the dignity by which he excels, he was separated from them all. 217 It may be understood in both senses. Yet we must know that this excellency was temporal, because Joseph, together with the others, was required to take his proper place, and to submit himself to the scepter of Judah.
27. Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf. Some of the Jews think the Benjamites are here condemned; because, when they had suffered lusts to prevail, like lawless robbers, among them, they were at length cut down and almost destroyed by a terrible slaughter, for having defiled the Levite’s wife. Others regard it as an honorable encomium, by which Saul, or Mordecai was adorned, who were both of the tribe of Benjamin. The interpreters of our own age most inaptly apply it to the apostle Paul, who was changed from a wolf into a preacher of the Gospel. Nothing seems to me more probable than that the disposition and habits of the whole tribe is here delineated; namely, that they would live by plunder. In the morning they would seize and devour the prey, in the evening they would divide the spoil; by which words he describes their diligence in plundering.
28. All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses would teach us by these words, that his predictions did not apply only to the sons of Jacob, but extended to their whole race. We have, indeed, shown already, with sufficient clearness, that the expressions relate not to their persons only; but this verse was to be added, in order that the readers might more clearly perceive the celestial majesty of the Spirit. Jacob beholds his twelve sons. Let us grant that, at that time, the number of his offspring, down to his great grandchildren, had increased a hundredfold. He does not, however, merely declare what is to be the condition of six hundred or a thousand men, but subjects regions and nations to his sentence; nor does he put himself rashly forward, since it is found afterwards, by the event, that God had certainly made known to him, what he had himself decreed to execute. Moreover, seeing that Jacob beheld, with the eyes of faith, things which were not only very remote, but altogether hidden from human sense; woe be unto our depravity, if we shut our eyes against the very accomplishment of the prediction in which the truth conspicuously appears.
But it may seem little consonant to reason, that Jacob is said to have blessed his posterity. For, in deposing Reuben from the primogeniture, he pronounced nothing joyous or prosperous respecting him; he also declared his abhorrence of Simon and Levi. It cannot be alleged that there is an antiphrasis in the word of benediction, as if it were used in a sense contrary to what is usual; because it plainly appears to be applied by Moses in a good, and not an evil sense. I therefore reconcile these things with each other thus; that the temporal punishments with which Jacob mildly and paternally corrected his sons, would not subvert the covenant of grace on which the benediction was founded; but rather, by obliterating their stains, would restore them to the original degree of honor from which they had fallen, so that, at least, they should be patriarchs among the people of God. And the Lord daily proves, in his own people, that the punishments he lays upon them, although they occasion shame and disgrace, are so far from opposing their happiness, that they rather promote it. Unless they were purified in this manner, it were to be feared lest they should become more and more hardened in their vices, and lest the hidden virus should produce corruption, which at length would penetrate to the vitals. We see how freely the flesh indulges itself, even when God rouses us by the tokens of his anger. What then do we suppose would take place if he should always connive at transgression? But when we, after having been reproved for our sins, repent, this result not only absorbs the curse which was felt at the beginning, but also proves that the Lord blesses us more by punishing us, than he would have done by sparing us. Hence it follows, that diseases, poverty, famine, nakedness, and even death itself, so far as they promote our salvation, may deservedly be reckoned blessings, as if their very nature were changed; just as the letting of blood may be not less conducive to health than food. When it is added at the close, every one according to his blessing, Moses again affirms, that Jacob not only implored a blessing on his sons, from a paternal desire for their welfare, but that he pronounced what God had put into his mouth; because at length the event proved that the prophecies were efficacious.
29. And he charged them. We have seen before, that Jacob especially commanded his son Joseph to take care that his body should be buried in the land of Canaan. Moses now repeats that the same command was given to all his sons, in order that they might go to that country with one consent; and might mutually assist each other in performing this office. We have stated elsewhere why he made such a point of conscience of his sepulture; which we must always remember, lest the example of the holy man should be drawn injudiciously into a precedent for superstition. Truly he did not wish to be carried into the land of Canaan, as if he would be the nearer heaven for being buried there: but that, being dead, he might claim possession of a land which he had held during his life, only by a precarious tenure. Not that any advantage would hence accrue to him privately, seeing he had already fulfilled his course; but because it was profitable that the memory of the promise should be renewed, by this symbol, among his surviving sons, in order that they might aspire to it. Meanwhile, we gather that his mind did not cleave to the earth; because, unless he had been an heir of heaven, he would never have hoped that God, for the sake of one who was dead, would prove so bountiful towards his children. Now, to give the greater weight to his command, Jacob declares that this thing had not come first into his own mind, but that he had been thus taught by his forefathers. Abraham, he says, bought that sepulcher for himself and his family: hitherto, we have sacredly kept the law delivered to us by him. You must therefore take care not to violate it, in order that after my death also, some token of the favor of God may continue with us.
33. He gathered up his feet. The expression is not superfluous: because Moses wished thereby to describe the placid death of the holy man: as if he had said, that the aged saint gave directions respecting the disposal of his body, as easily as healthy and vigorous men are wont to compose themselves to sleep. And truly a wonderful vigor and presence of mind was necessary for him, when, while death was in his countenance, he thus courageously fulfilled the prophetic office enjoined upon him. And it is not to be doubted that such efficacy of the Holy Spirit manifested itself in him, as served to produce, in his sons, confidence in, and reverence for his prophecies. At the same time, however, it is proper to observe, that it is the effect of a good conscience, to be able to depart out of the world without terror. For since death is by nature formidable, wonderful torments agitate the wicked, when they perceive that they are summoned to the tribunal of God. Moreover, in order that a good conscience may lead us peacefully and quietly to the grave, it is necessary to rely upon the resurrection of Christ; for we then go willingly to God, when we have confidence respecting a better life. We shall not deem it grievous to leave this failing tabernacle, when we reflect on the everlasting abode which is prepared for us.
Sed oblatrant quidam protervi canes.
The reader will observe, that the entire structure of these predictions is poetical. The prophecies of the Old Testament are generally delivered in this form; and God has thus chosen the most natural method of conveying prophetic intelligence, through the medium of that elevated strain of diction, which suggests itself to imaginative minds, which is peculiarly fitted to deal with sublime and invisible realities, and which best serves to stir up animated feelings, and to fix important truths in the memory of the reader. They who wish to examine more minutely the poetical character of the chapter, are referred to Dr. Adam Clarke’s Commentary, and to Caunter’s Poetry of the Pentateuch. A few observations, in passing, will be made in the notes to such passages as derive elucidation from their poetical structure. — Ed.
The literal translation of Calvin’s version is, “Thy velocity was like that of water, thou shalt not excel: because thou wentest up into thy father’s couch, then thou pollutedst my bed, he has vanished.” This gives the patriarch’s expression a different turn from that supposed by our translators; who understand the last word in the sentence to be a repetition of what had been said before, only putting it in the third person, as expressive of indignation; as if he had turned round from Reuben to his other children and said — “Yes, I declare he went up into my bed!” Another view is given in the margin of our Bible, “My couch is gone;” which means that, by this defilement, the marriage bond was broken. To this version Calvin objects at the close of the paragraph. But both these constructions seem forced. Calvin’s appears the most natural. He represents Reuben as having lost all, by his criminal conduct. Honour, excellence, priority, virtue, and consequently character and influence, had all gone up as the dew from the face of the earth, and had vanished away. — Ed.
If this interpretation were admitted, the passage would read thus: “Simeon and Levi are brethren, instruments of cruelty are their swords.”
In coetu eorum non uniaris lingua mea This is Calvin’s version; and it may perhaps be vindicated by the use made of the word דבכ in other passages, where the tongue is metaphorically called the glory of man. Yet the passage plainly admits of another and perhaps a more simple signification. — Ed
Quia in furore sua, etc. Because in their fury they killed a man. — Ed.
Libido is not the word used in Calvin’s version, though his commentary proceeds on that supposition. His words are “voluntate sua eradicaverunt murum.” In their will, or pleasure, they uprooted a wall. — Ed.
The marginal reading of our Bible for “they digged down a wall,” is “they houghed oxen.” Some translators who think that the word ought to be rendered “ox,” and not “wall,” regard the word ox as a metaphorical term for a brave and powerful man. Thus Herder, in Caunter’s Poetry of the Pentateuch, gives the following version:
“My heart was not joined in their company,
When in anger they slew a hero,
And in revenge destroyed a noble ox.”
Dr. A. Clarke suggests an alteration in the word, which gives the passage another sense:
“In their anger they slew a man,
And in their pleasure they murdered a prince.”
As being no longer applicable to the case, because it was purely personal and belonged to Levi, only as an individual, and not to his descendents. — Ed.
The original privilege of the birthright, taken from Reuben, was divided between Joseph and Judah; Joseph receiving the double portion belonging to the eldest son; Judah the regal distinction. — Ed.
Bishop Lowth’s translationin this:
“Judah is a lion’s welp.
From the prey, my son, thou art gone up
He stoopeth down, he coucheth as a lion,
And as a lioness; who shall rouse him?”
It is to be observed that three different words are here used in the original to express the metaphor, which illustrates the character of the tribe of Judah. First, רוג, (gur) the lion’s cub; secondly, הירא, (aryah,) the full-grown lion; and thirdly, איבל, (labi,) the old lioness. These different terms are supposed to represent the tribe of Judah in its earliest period, in the age of David, and in subsequent times.
Calvin seems to assent to this interpretation, which is by no means generally accepted. Gesenius renders הליש, tranquillity — “until tranquillity shall come;” but the more approved rendering is “the Peaceable One,” or “the Pacifier.” He who made peace for us, by the sacrifice of Himself. — Ed
Scribam recessurum negat ex pedibus. But in the text, Calvin uses the word Legislator; the French version translates ir Legislateur; and the English translation is lawgiver. It is evident that Calvin had a reason for using the term Scribe; for the orignal קקחמ, (mechokaik,) rather means a scribe or lawyer, than a lawgiver; and rather describes one who aids in the administration of laws, than one who frames them. In this sense, he supposes, and probably with truth, that the term is here applied. The expression “from between his feet,” has been the subject of much criticism; but perhaps no view of it is so satisfactory as that maintained by Calvin. — Ed
Quia nihil hoc cavilla proficiunt Judaei, ad figmentum venturi sui Messiae trahentes vetustum regni excidium. Literally translated, the sense of the passage would not be obvious to the English reader. It is hoped that the true meaning of the passage is given above. The original, however, is given, that the learned reader may form his own judgment. It is well known that modern Jews regard their present depression as a proof that the Messiah has not yet come, and therefore they draw out (trahentes) or postpone the execution of God’s threatened judgments, which we regard as having taken place under Titus and the Romans, to a period still future. This seems to be Calvin’s meaning. — Ed.
On this passage, which has given so much trouble to commentators, and which Calvin has considered as such length, it may be observed, that the term rendered scepter means also rod, and sometimes is translated tribe; perhaps because each of the twelve tribes had its rod laid up in the tabernacle and temple. Hence it may be inferred that the expression, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,” means that Judah alone should continue in its integrity, as a tribe, till the coming of the Messiah. This renders it unnecessary to attempt any proof of the retention of regal power and authority in the tribe. See Ainsworth and Bush in loc. The reader may also refer to an elaborate investigation of the subject in Rivetus, Exercitations 178 and 179. — Ed.
See Nu 2, where the order of the tribes in their encampment is given. Judah had the standard for the three tribes on the east, Reuben for the three tribes on the south, Ephriam for the three tribes on the west, and Dan for the remaining three tribes on the north of the tabernacle. — Ed.
The word ןופיפש, (sheppiphon,) translated “adder,” occurs only in this place. It is supposed by Bochart to be the cerastes, “a serpent so called,” says Calmet, “because it has horns on its forehead.” Dr. A. Clarke gives this translation:
“Dan shall be a serpent on the way,
A cerastes upon the track,
Biting the heels of the horse,
And his rider shall fall backwards.”
Jewish commentators suppose the patriarch’s exclamation to have been suggested in this place, by a prospective view of the temporal deliverances wrought for Israel, by warriors of the tribe of Daniel So the Chaldee Paraphrast represents him as saying, “I look not for the salvation of Gideon, because it is a temporal salvation; nor for the salvation of Sampson the son of Manoah, because it is transitory; but I look for the redemption of Christ the Son of David, who is to come to call to himself the children, whose salvation my soul desireth.” See Bush and Dr. A. Clarke. Yet there is something affecting in the thought, that the exclamation might be a sudden burst of holy desire for the immediate fruition of the glory which the dying patriarch now saw so near at hand. — Ed.
As the word הליא, rendered hind, sometimes means a tree, it is supposed by some, that it should be so translated here. Bochart suggests this translation:
“Naphtali is a spreading oak,
Producing beautiful branches.”
Dr. A. Clarke strenuously defends this version, and says, “perhaps no man who understands the genius of the Hebrew language will attempt to dispute its propriety.” Yet perhaps the received translation is not to be so easily disposed of. It may be granted that Bochart’s figure is more beautiful; but it will be difficult to show that his translation is equally literal and correct. Caunter suggests another rendering:
“Naphtali is a deer roaming at liberty,
He shooteth forth noble branches,” — or antlers.
“Filium decoris.” The original is תרפ נב, (Ben porath,) literally, “the son of fruitfulness.” The name of Joseph’s son, Ephriam, is derived from this word. — Ed
תונב, (Banoth,) literally, “the daughters went over the wall.” But Calvin, with our translators, wisely interprets the expression as a poetical one, meaning the branches, (which are the daughters of the tree,) according to a very usual phraseology of the Hebrew Scriptures. — Ed
Archers, literally, “Lords of the arrows.”
“The archers shot at him with hpoisoned arrows,
They have pursued him with hatred.”
Waterland in Caunter’s Poetry of the Pentateuch, vol. I., p. 223. — Ed.
“The blessings of thy father have prevailed over the blessings of the eternal mountains,
And the desirable things of the everlasting hills.
These shall be on the head of Joseph,
And on his crown who was separated from his brethren.”
— Dr. A. Clarke.