Genesis 49:1-2 – This chapter begins one of the most interesting and significant portions of Scripture. It is a prophetic picture of events that will unfold in the nation of Israel through the sons of Jacob. It is similar in scope and setting to the words of Noah upon his sons (Genesis 9:24-27), These pronouncements not only describe the character of the sons but how their futures will affect all the nations of the world. When Jacob calls his sons to his side at his death bed he tells them what will happen to them in the last days.
The expression last days refers to Israel’s future in dual perspective: the period of their occupation of Canaan, and the time of the coming of Messiah. Sometimes the expression refers to Israel at the end of the Tribulation period (Deuteronomy 4:30;Ezekiel 38:16), sometimes to the history of Gentile nations (Daniel 2:28), and sometimes to the present church age in its entirety (Hebrews 1:2) or at its conclusion (2 Timothy 3:1;James 5:3).
Jacob’s pronouncements in Genesis 49 included both prophecy (Genesis 49:1) and blessing (Genesis 49:28). The way Jacob expresses himself here and the manner in which he speaks demonstrates that these words are not just his words but words from above. The tenor, tone, and meter all give indication that while it is Jacob who is speaking, it with the power of the Spirit of God.
Genesis 49:3-4 – Reuben being the oldest is the first mentioned and in his youth was the pride of Jacob. Reuben sadly lost his place of prominence because of his moral failure. He committed adultery and incest with Bilhah the mother of Dan and Naphtali, the maid of Rachel. Bilhah was appointed as a surrogate mother by Rachel. No leader has ever come from the tribe of Reuben throughout the history of Israel. When Israel came entered the Promised Land, Reuben was the first to request a place to settle on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Later when Deborah and Barak were judges in Israel they called to arms all of Israel, all responded except Reuben (Judges 5:15-16).
Genesis 49:5-7 – Next came Simeon and Levi. These brothers were kindred spirits, who were known for their tempers and cruelty. They brought shame to Israel their father and disgrace by using the Covenant of God as an opportunity to exact revenge by promising a blessing to the Shechemites following the rape of their sister Dinah. Jacob’s punishment for their actions was to dilute them within Israel so that their posterity should never fully prosper or that their bitter anger be approved in the history of Jacob’s sons.
This was literally fulfilled when Simeon=s property was placed inside the borders of Judah. Levi never had an inheritance of land, but were given cities. They redeemed themselves when they stood with their brother Moses when they killed those Israelites who were involved in idolotry, in this case their cruel nature was used to bring judgment upon those involved in such a sin as deserving death. This action caused them to be chosen as the priests of God and God would be their inheritance. So the the curse on Levi, while not removed, was changed to blessing because of their faithfulness in the wilderness (Exodus 32:26-28; cf. Deuteronomy 33:10; Joshua 13:14;14:4;18:7).
Genesis 49:8-12 – Now comes the prophecy concerning the defacto oldest son, Judah. Judah’s name means “praise the Lord”. It would be Judah who would continually be used to cause his brothers to praise the Lord. He and his children would lead the sons of Israel, and from him would come the One that not only the sons of Jacob would bow down but all peoples and creation. Judah would be as strong as a young lion that has eaten his prey and secure as a mature lion that no one would dare to rouse (Genesis 49:9).
This prediction did not begin to be fulfilled until the time of King David, some 640 years after Jacob’s prophecy. The leaders of Israel until King David came from the other tribes, Moses from Levi, Joshua from Ephraim, Gideon from Manasseh, Samson from Dan, Samuel from Ephraim, and Saul from Benjamin. Shiloh, probably means “the one who brings (or, `until he comes into that which belongs to’) peace,” referring to Messiah who would be of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5).
At His second coming, Messiah will receive international acknowledgment. Genesis 49:11-12 describe the millennial prosperity, with vines so plentiful no one will hesitate to tie an ass to them (even though asses are herbivorous animals), with wine abundant as water, and with healthy people darker than wine (which may possibly mean “brighter and more sparkling than wine”). The land also would be filled with milk, which makes for strong bones and white teeth. The announcement of Jacob is to inform all of his children and their children of the continued promise of the “Seed”.
The promised Seed of the woman is found in (Gen 3:15). This is the overriding theme of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. From the time of Adam and Eve to this present day godly men and women have been looking for the Promised Messiah. This prophecy gives further clarification to the children of promise about how we would recognize Him. Prophecy is God’s way of pointing people in the right direction so that they will be not be led astray by false messiah’s.
Jacob wanted his physical and spiritual children to know that when the promised Messiah comes He will be Shiloh bringing Shalom. John makes reference to this prophecy of Jacob in his prophecy Revelation 5:5, Micah seems to be referring to this prophecy as well in Micah 5:2-5. The Scepter is a reference to rulership, and once the scepter or rule came to King David it was passed through his sons until Shiloh (Yeshua) came. The scepter remains forever in the hands of Yeshua. Even the ungodly prophet Balaam prophesied concerning the One who would come from Jacob (Numbers 24:17).
Genesis 49:13-15 – Following Judah, Jacob speaks to the other sons of Leah, Zebulun and Issachar. We know little about these two brothers except what insights we can glean from these words of Jacob. Zebulun would dwell at the seashore and from (Matthews 4:13-16) we learn that Zebulun’s territory is along the Sea of Galilee. Jacob described as one who was like a donkey having great strength, but liked to rest often, perhaps a hint that Jacob thought him as lazy. The assigned land to Issachar was very fertile which produced great crops. Issachar dwelt in the North and was one of the 10 Northern tribes who were enslaved by the invading Assyrians led by King Shalamanezer in 722 B.C.
Genesis 49:16-21 – Next in Jacob’s prophecy is the words for the sons of Leah’s and Rachel’s handmaids. They are not mentioned in their birth order but perhaps according to how they were standing before Jacob. Jacob by these words assures his sons from the handmaids that they too shall have an inheritance in Israel. No doubt there may have been that question from the sons of Rachel and Leah, as well as from Leah herself.
The word Dan means judge and Jacob prophecies that Dan shall live up to his name by judging Israel. This was fulfilled to a certain degree by Samson who was one of the Judges of Israel. Jacob also notes that Dan would be like a serpent. This was likely fulfilled in that Dan was one of the first tribes to introduce idolatry to Israel (Judges 18:30-31). Later when the kingdom was divided by Jeroboam Dan was the site of the northern temple with a golden calf. This is the reason that most Bible scholars believe that Dan is not listed among the 12 tribes of Revelation 7:4-8.
Yet in the millennial Kingdom as envisioned by Ezekiel in 47:13 all the 12 tribes are recorded as receiving a portion of the restored land given to Israel. You will note that following Jacob’s description of Dan as a serpent he utters the words of Genesis 49:18.
He probably began thinking of the curse of the serpent and the promise of the Messiah to come that would crush the serpent. His words are a prayer to God and reminder that Jacob waited for the promised deliverer. This by the way is the first time the word salvation is used. The Hebrew word for salvation is Yeshua or Jesus.
Gad is spoken of next and Jacob prophecies that Gad would be the subject of attack. Jacob saw also that Gad and his progeny would be able to withstand those attacks. Gad, settled on the east side of the Jordan, and was vulnerable to attack. (1 Chronicles 5:18; 12:8). His brother Asher would have wonderful foods and prepare meals fit for kings. Asher was given the rich seacoast area N of Mount Carmel (Joshua 19:24-31).
Naphtali, Dan’s brother is described as a doe let loose, He gives beautiful words. Barak was from Naphtali, he was the general chosen by Debra to do battle against the Canaanite king Siserea. Barak and his tribe were swift of foot and able to defeat the Canaanites in battle (Judges 4:6-15).
Genesis 49:22-26 – Jacob now turns his attention to Joseph and Benjamin. The blessing of Joseph is the most eloquent of all. Genesis 49:23-24 are a brief biography of Joseph. In later years, Joshua and Deborah were from the tribe of Ephraim, and Gideon and Jephthah, from the tribe of Manasseh all descendants of Joseph. The picture of Joseph as a fruitful vine with abundant water and branches climbing over the wall is an allusion to the great number of offspring.
He further gives a picture of a life under attack by many enemies, a description of the trials of Joseph and his triumph over them. It also applies to the many attacks that would come against his children. Jacob sees that the One who strengthens Joseph and his children as the Shepherd and the Stone of Israel. In Genesis 48 Jacob first spoke of God as his shepherd now he describes the Shepherd of Israel as the Stone of Israel. Jacob saw God as the Stone or Rock of Israel, which is portrayed to Moses and interpreted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:4, and by Peter in (1 Peter 2:7-8) who is quoting from Psalm 118.
Jacob assures his son Joseph that the Shepherd and Rock will protect him and his children. He further tells Joseph that God would bless him with the waters from above and from the earth below. Jacob confesses in V 26 that he has received more from God than even his fathers Abraham and Isaac, in the form of sons and fruitful land.
He passes these blessings to Joseph and these words were fulfilled in the lush lands given to his sons Manasseh and Ephraim. The two chief blessings of Jacob were placed on Judah and Joseph and it was these two that became the heirs of the two separated kingdoms, Judah in the south and Israel in the north.
Genesis 49:27-28 – The youngest son was Benjamin, and Jacob now prophecies concerning his future. He saw Benjamin as a ravenous wolf devouring his prey and dividing the spoil. This seems so out of character for Jacob to be describing the beloved son of his wife Rachel. Benjamin did live up to these characteristics. The tribe of Benjamin was successful in warfare, but like a wolf had a cruel side to its nature.
We see this in the incident described in Judges 19-21, when the sons of Benjamin are nearly wiped out for causing and then defending an incident similar to the events leading up to the destruction of Sodom. The first king of Israel was from the tribe of Benjamin, Saul, and his nature was like that described by Jacob. Jacobs concludes the prophecies concerning the future of his sons describing them as twelve tribes.
Genesis 49:29-33 – Jacob now makes the same request of his sons that he had already made to Joseph, that he would be buried with his fathers in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron where his father Isaac and mother Rebekah was buried as well as Abraham, Sarah and Leah.
At this point Jacob summoned the strength to lift his feet onto his bed and give up his spirit so that he might be gathered to his people. Once again we are reminded that God is the God of the living, not the dead. The last chapter of Genesis is the description of his burial, the detail and length seems to indicate the importance of Jacob by God in his redemptive plan.