Genesis 49 Commentary

Blessings on Jacob’s twelve sons (49:1-28)

The last words of Jacob to his sons found their fulfilment in the history of Israel’s twelve tribes (49:1-2). First Jacob dealt with the six sons of Leah (see v. 3-15), then with the four sons of the minor wives (see v. 16-21), and finally with the two sons of Rachel (see v. 22-27).

Reuben should have been strong, but through lack of self-control he lost the leadership of the nation (3-4; cf. 35:22). Simeon and Levi had been violent, and their tribes were scattered in Israel (5- 7; cf. 34:25-26). Simeon lost its separate tribal identity and was absorbed into Judah (Josh 19:1,9). Levi, however, had a more honourable scattering because of its zeal against idolatry. It had no separate tribal inheritance of its own, but was given cities in all the other tribes (Exod 32:26-29; Num 35:2-8).

Judah was the leading tribe, fierce and powerful in conquering its enemies and ruling over

 

the other tribes. From this tribe came the royal family of David, whose greatest king, the Messiah, would rule universally in an age of unimaginable prosperity (8-12; cf. Judg 1:2; 2 Sam 7:16; Rev 5:5).

The tribe of Zebulun, which settled near the Mediterranean coast, was enriched through the trade that passed through its territory to the sea (13; cf. Deut 33:18-19). Issachar gained some prosperity from the good farming country it inhabited, but too often it submitted to the powerful Canaanites who controlled much of the region (14-15).

Though pushed out of its original territory on the coast, Dan believed it had the same right to exist as any other tribe. It gained a new dwelling place in the far north, but only by treachery and cruelty (16-18; cf. Judg 18:1-31). Gad, on the east of Jordan, was more open to attack than the western tribes, but its men were fierce fighters who drove back the invaders (19; cf. Deut 33:20).

Asher, bordering the northern coast, lived in rich farming lands whose olive orchards produced the best oil in Palestine (20; cf. Deut 33:24). The neighbouring tribe of Naphtali spread across the highland pasture lands to the Sea of Galilee (21; cf. Deut 33:23).

At the time of Jacob’s prophecy, Joseph was at the height of his power. He may have been treacherously attacked in the past, but God had strengthened and blessed him (22-24). The two tribes descended from Joseph were likewise blessed. They were large in number, and the regions they occupied were among the best in the land (25-26; cf. Josh 17:17-18). The final tribe, Benjamin, was too warlike for its own good, and brought such trouble upon itself that it was almost wiped out (27-28; cf. Judg 19:1- 21:25).

Deaths of Jacob and Joseph (49:29-50:26)

Again Jacob insisted that he be buried at Machpelah, as a final witness that he died having the same faith as Abraham and Isaac (29-33; cf. 47:29-31). When Jacob died, Pharaoh declared an official time of mourning for him of seventy days. Pharaoh also sent a large group of officials and servants to Canaan with Jacob’s family to provide all necessary help and protection (50:1-9). The Canaanites were amazed that Egyptians should come all the way to Canaan to bury someone who was obviously a very important person (10-14).

After seventeen years in Egypt (see 47:28), Joseph’s brothers still had feelings of guilt and fear because of their treatment of Joseph in his youth. Joseph was saddened that they should think he might yet try to take revenge on them. He repeated that he would look after them in the future as he had in the past, for God had overruled their evil to preserve the family (15-21; cf. 45:7).

Joseph lived for at least another fifty years after the death of his father (22; cf. 41:46; 45:6; 47:28). Like his father he saw his family grow, and he died with the same assurance that his descendants would inhabit the promised land. As an expression of that faith, he left instructions that when the covenant people moved to Canaan they take his remains with them (23-26; cf. Heb 11:22). His faith was not disappointed (Exod 13:19; Josh 24:32).

 

Privacy Policy