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Genesis 49 & 50


One of the most fascinating and most difficult portions of Genesis is Chapter 49, in which Jacob gives his last words concerning his sons and the twelve tribes that would descend from them. This valedictory of Jacob can be considered as both a blessing and guide for his sons themselves and a prophecy concerning future developments in the nation, extending all the way to “the last days.” In some respects it is like the prophecy of Noah concerning his three sons (Genesis 9:24-27), stemming from the actual behavior and character of his sons and yet also outlining the general future of the three streams of nations of which they were to become forebears. 


    1.    Reuben

Gen 49:4

(KJV) "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."    
(NIV) "Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it."

In the history of Israel, the tribe of Reuben never furnished a leader of any kind for the nation as a whole. In the later journeys to the promised land, the Reubenites were the first tribe to ask for a place to settle, not waiting to cross the Jordan with the others (Numbers 32). They participated in the erection of an unauthorized place of worship (Joshua 22:10-34). During the later wars with the Canaanites, in the days of Deborah and Barak, the tribe of Reuben failed to answer the call to arms (Judges 5:15,16). Jacob’s prophecy concerning Reuben has continued to be fulfilled ever since. Never has Reuben excelled in anything.

    2.    Simeon
    3.    Levi

 Gen 49:7


( KJV) "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."
(NIV) "Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel."

It would, in fact, be for their own good that they would not be allowed to band together, but rather would be dispersed. Simeon was given an inheritance "within the inheritance of the children of Judah" (Joshua 19:1), but some of the sons of Simeon were captured and dwelled in some of the lands of the Edomites and Amalekites, outside of Canaan (I Chronicles 4:39-43). In the days of the divided kingdom, many of the Simeonites left Israel to join Judah (II Chronicles 15:9). Apparently they were eventually either mostly assimilated by Judah or scattered outside of Israel altogether, little is heard of them after King Asa.

As far as Levi is concerned, his descendants never had an inheritance of their own in the land, but only cities scattered throughout all the other tribes (Joshua 21:1-3). However, the Levites largely redeemed themselves by their stand against idolatry in the days of Moses (Exodus 32:26). Moses himself was, of course, a descendant of Levi, and the Levites were chosen to be the priestly tribe among the Israelites.

    4. Judah

 Gen 49:8-12


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.
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?
10  The scepter 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.
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:
12  His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.
8     Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. 
9    You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? 
10  The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. 
11  He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. 
12  His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk. 

Israel had little that was good to prophesy concerning his first three sons, but Judah was different. His very name meant "Praise," and he would become the object of his brother’s praise. He would be the leader among the tribes; he would defeat their enemies and would become, as the lion is king of beasts, the one before whom all his family would bow down. As Joseph was to receive the double inheritance of the first-born, so Judah would receive the patriarchal dominion and responsibility of the firstborn. He was as strong as a young lion that has overwhelmed and eaten its prey, as secure as a mature lion resting in its den, whom no one would dare to rouse.

Not only would Judah’s tribe be strong and courageous, but his land would be productive and fruitful. Vines would grow so abundantly that even the asses would be tethered to them. So full would be his wine presses that whoever trod in them would appear to have actually bathed in the juice of the grapes, and his eyes would be fiery with wine. (Whether this implies drunkenness, or perhaps the good health associated generally with good food, including the grape sugar of the unfermented "blood of the grape." The land would also be rich with milk, which would make for strong and white teeth.

It is obvious throughout the rest of Scripture that Judah did indeed become the leading tribe, but it was not until the days of King David. The earlier leaders were from other tribes: Moses from Levi, Joshua from Ephraim, Gideon from Manasseh, Samson from Dan, Samuel from Ephraim, and Soul from Benjamin. There was really no way for Jacob to foretell Judah’s pre-eminence and prosperity except by divine inspiration (this shows beyond a doubt that the word of God is inspired by God and not just written by men). Judah did not actually receive the "scepter" of leadership for over 640 years after Jacob’s prophecy. Once David became king, however, Judah was the dominant tribe from then on.

The most important aspect of Israel’s prophecy concerning Judah is in verse 10. Here, Jacob assured him that the scepter would never depart from him, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until the coming of * "Shiloh.." The scepter (Hebrew shebet), which is mentioned for the first time in Scripture at this point, is, of course, the symbol of rulership. "Lawgiver" (Hebrew chaqaq), which also occurs first here, is a little uncertain, but seems to mean "the one who decrees." The phrase "between his feet" probably had reference to Judah’s seed.

    *    There is an addition here found in the Targum of Palestine.

"….till the time that the King, the Meshiha, shall come, the youngest of his sons; and on account of him shall the peoples flow together. How beauteous is the King, the Meshiha who will arise from the house of Jehuda! He hath girded his loins, and descended, and arrayed the battle against his adversaries, slaying kings with their rulers; neither is there any king or ruler who shall stand before him. The mountains become red with the blood of their slain; his garments, dipped in blood, (Revelation 19:13) are like the outpressed juice of grapes. How beautiful are the eyes of the king Meshiha, as the pure wine! He cannot look upon what is unclean, nor on the shedding of the blood of the innocent; and his teeth, purer than milk, cannot eat that which is stolen or torn; and therefore his mountains are red with wine, and his hills white with corn, and with the cotes of flocks."     (The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel)

I like this passage found in the LXX The Septuagint Bible [ The only version of the Old Testament dating from the third century before the Christian Era] 285BC.

Genesis 49:10 LXX
"A chief shall not fail from Juda Nor a leader from his loins Till the things reserved for him shall come-Even he, the expectation of nations." 

I also like this passage found in The Peshitta which is the authorized Bible of the Church of the East.

"The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until the coming of the One to whom the scepter belongs, (Messiah) to whom the gentiles shall look forward." Genesis 49:10

The promise of a personal Messiah began in the Garden of Eden, as expressed by God in Genesis 3:15. Through all the ages, men have looked for the coming Savior, and this was certainly true of Jacob. This promise to Judah must indeed be Jacob’s specific reference to that hope. When the Promised One would come, then indeed there would be peace and rest, and all the peoples would gather to Him. Centuries later, Isaiah seemed to have these prophecies in mind, when he first spoke of the coming "Son of the Virgin" (Isaiah 7:14), and then elaborated by saying that His name would be "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). The "gathering of the peoples," of which Jacob prophesies, corresponds clearly to God’s messianic promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that through their coming Seed "shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:3;22:18;26:4;28:14, and so forth).

The New Testament clearly identifies the Lord Jesus Christ with this prophecy concerning Judah, calling Him "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Revelation 5:5). Micah also seems to refer to this prophecy when, just after saying that the coming Savior would be born in Bethlehem, in Judah, and that He would be "great unto the ends of the earth," he says: "And this man shall be the Peace" (Micah 5:2-5).

Also in favor of this rendering of the passage is the fact that it has been fulfilled. Once the tribe of Judah, under King David, attained leadership over the nation, the scepter (that is, the position of leadership in the nation) never departed from Judah until after Christ came. The Kingdom was divided, and later all the tribes were taken into captivity; but as far as Israel itself was concerned, Judah was always the dominant tribe. Even during the captivity, Daniel, of the nation of Judah, was the greatest among the Israelites, and in fact became the third ruler in the kingdom of Babylon.

After the captivity, those who returned were primarily from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, along with many Levites, as the other ten tribes had been scattered by the Assyrians. Although many from the ten tribes did manage to return to the land, Judah was essentially from then on synonymous with Israel as a whole. After the exile of the Ten tribes, when the tribe of Judah (Yehudah) remained the principal branch of Israel, the name Yehudim (translated Judaioi, Judaei, Juden, Jews) came into general use. This condition continued, of course, until the actual coming and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. Soon after, Jerusalem was destroyed (70 AD by Rome) and the Jews (a name derived from Judah) were dispersed into the nations.

    5. Zebulun

Gen 49:13


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.
Zebulun will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships; his border will extend toward Sidon.

About Zebulun, the only thing mentioned is that he would dwell "toward the seashore" (not at the sea, as in the King James Version). He also said that Zebulun would be for a haven of ships, with his northern border facing toward the ancient and great seaport of Zidon. The tract actually assigned Zebulun by Joshua was "up toward the sea" (Joshua 19:11) and "reached to the river that is before Jokneam." It is usually assumed that Zebulun was located between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean, but whether its borders actually reached either or both these seas is not known. Matthew 4:13 suggests that its border extended to Capernaum, on the shore of Galilee. In any case, it was a region in which much of Christ’s public ministry took place (Matthew 4:15,16).

The Targum of Onkelos adds something to this verse:

"Zebulun will dwell nigh the haven of the sea; he will subdue provinces with ships, and will eat the good of the sea, and his boundary shall come unto Sidon." Genesis 49:13

    6. Issachar

 Gen 49:14, 15


14   Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:
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.
14   Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down between two saddlebags.
15   When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor.

Jacob compared Issachar to a strong ass "bowing down beneath a double burden" (or, as some translations, "settled down between the sheepfolds"). Though the precise translation may be obscure, the meaning seems to be that Issachar was strong, but docile and lazy. He would enjoy the good land assigned him but would not strive for it. Therefore, eventually he would be pressed into servitude and the mere bearing of burdens for his masters. Historically, Issachar had rich lands and rich crops, which attracted marauders and captors. Again, however, there is little specific information. See Deut. 33:18.

    7. Dan

Gen 49:16-18


16  Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of 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.
18  I have waited for thy salvation,
16  Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel.
17  Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward.
18  I look for your deliverance,

The tribe of Dan, while apparently unimpressive (it occupied the smallest area of any of the tribes, along the northern seacoast, apparently vulnerable to attack), nevertheless was a dangerous adversary, well able to protect Israel’s northern boundary against invaders. Onkelos (Targum) understood this to refer to the tribe of Dan in the days of Samson (Judg. 15:20).

Note: Since there might have been some question as to whether these sons of the concubines would actually share in the inheritance, Jacob assured the first of them, Dan, that he would indeed "judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel."

On the other hand, the reference to the serpent may also refer symbolically to the fact that it was the Danites who introduced idolatry into Israel. (See Judges 18:30,31,I Kings 12:28-30; Rev. 7:4-8).

    8. Gad

Gen 49:19


Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.
Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.

Jacob prophesied of Gad that, although invading troops might assault his home (Gad succeeded in repelling the Ammonites, Moabites and Aramaeans, who were constantly raiding his borders. Jephthah was of his tribe) he would in turn repel them and press on the heel of the enemy. Gads realm was east of the Jordan, on the edge of the Kingdom of the Ammonites and other desert peoples. The Gadites were well able to fight (I Chronicles 5:18; 12:8).

    9. Asher

Gen 49:20


Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.
Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.

His brother Asher was to have and enjoy rich food and royal delicacies the allusion is probably to an export trade carried on by the men of Asher. As it turned out, Asher’s lot fell on the rich northern seacoast north of Mount Carmel, all the way to Tyre and Zidon (Joshua 19:24-31). However, they failed even to take possession of the Tyre-Sidon region, and the tribe soon became insignificant, possibly deteriorating because of their love of ease and proximity to the Phoenicians.

    10. Naphtali

Gen 49:21


Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.
Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.

Naphtali, the brother of Dan, is described as "a hind let loose." That is, his descendants would be known for swiftness, as warriors fleet of foot. They would also be known as composers of eloquent speech and beautiful literature. See Judges 4:6,15; "Goodly words" fulfilled by song of Deborah, Barak (Judges 5:1-31).

    11. Joseph

 Gen 49:22-26


22   Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:
23   The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:
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:)
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:
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.
22   Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.
23   With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility.
24   But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
25   because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb.
26   Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.

Finally, Jacob turned to Joseph and Benjamin. To Joseph he pronounced a blessing comparable only to that of Judah. Using expressive figures of speech, he compared his favorite son to a bough from a fruitful vine, with an abundant supply of water and with branches climbing over the wall, in this way predicting that his tribe (actually the twofold tribe, Ephraim and Manasseh) would be strong and numerous. He also compared him to a man beset by enemy archers who had tried to destroy him as a hated foe, but nevertheless one whose own bow was strong and steady, and whose hands were made strong by the strong God who had strengthened his father Jacob. This description applied directly to Joseph himself and to his triumph over the enmity of his brothers, but it also was prophetic of the experience of Joseph’s descendants.

This is the first time where God is actually called the Shepherd. Likewise, this is the first time when God is called either the Stone or the Rock. God thus would both nourish and protect Joseph. He assured Joseph that God would bless him with blessings of rain from the heavens, and with water from the deep, the word "deep" (Hebrew tehom) is a term referring to waters on or under the earth’s surface. He also promised an abundance of healthful progeny, of both man and animal.

The hills bounding the fertile fields of Ephraim and Manasseh were, of course, much older than the tribes inhabiting them, but actually dated back only to the great Flood. He was the one "separate from" (Hebrew nazir, same as the word later used for "Nazirite") his brothers, and thus marked out for special distinction and service.

These prophecies were fulfilled in the later histories of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, especially the former. Many of Israel’s leaders were from these tribes. Joshua, Deborah, and Samuel were from Ephraim; and Gideon and Jephthah were from Manasseh. Both tribes were strong in war, and their lands were fertile and productive. Jeroboam, and Ephraimite, led the rebellion with produced the divided kingdom; and the northern kingdom came to be called alternatively by the names Israel and Ephraim, as the southern kingdom was called by the name Judah.

    12 Benjamin

Gen 49:27


Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.
Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.

"A wolf that raveneth". Or, ‘that teareth,’ referring to the warlike character of the tribe; see Judg. 5:14; 20:16. The final son was Benjamin, and Jacob prophesied that he would become as a ravening wolf, devouring the prey and dividing the spoil. This seems like a strange forecast for a son whom Jacob specially loved. It was both a promise and a warning. The tribe of Benjamin would be bold and strong, successful in warfare, but at the same time it might become cruel and voracious. Both attributes were later evident in the tribe, as is demonstrated by the strange story in Judges 20, which almost cost the Benjamites their very identity as one of the twelve tribes. Moreover, the first king of Israel was Saul, a Benjamite, whose character quite precisely corresponded to Jacob’s prophecy.


Jacob thus concluded his blessings on his sons, calling them prophetically the "twelve tribes of Israel." Even though some of the predictions hardly sounded like blessings, they were intended indirectly to serve as such, through warning his sons and their children of those traits and tendencies against which they needed especially to guard. 

1. Reuben  1. Juda
2. Simeon  2. Reuben
3. Levi  3. Gad
4. Judah  4. Aser
5. Zebulun  5. Nephthalim
6. Issachar  6. Manasses
7. Dan (Missing) 7. Simeon
8. Gad  8. Levi
9. Asher  9. Issachar
10. Naphtali  10. Zabulon
11. Joseph  11. Joseph
12. Benjamin  12. Benjamin


BURY  ME  WITH  MY FATHERS    Genesis 49:29 

The promise Jacob had extracted from Joseph he now asked from all his sons, that they would bury him with his fathers back in Canaan, in the cave which Abraham had purchased years ago for that purpose. It was to be a testimony, to all the generations to come, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had faith in God’s promise that He would give the land to their seed.

With this last request, Jacob summoned all his remaining strength to pull his feet back up into the bed, to lie back down, and then to give up his spirit to be "gathered unto his people"-not merely to be buried with their bodies, but to join them in their life beyond the grave, awaiting the coming of Messiah and the great resurrection day.

THE PREPARATIONS MADE    Genesis 50:1-3 

    50:1     AND KISSED HIM.

When Jacob’s spirit left his body, and was taken by the angels "unto his people," presumably to "Abraham’s bosom" (Luke 16:22), Joseph fell down on his father, kissing him and weeping. Death is the great enemy, and will one day be purged completely (Revelation 21:4), so there will be no more sorrow or crying. For the present, however, death causes sorrow. Nevertheless, we "sorrow not, even as others which have no hope" (I Thessalonians 4:13). As God had promised Jacob, Joseph "closed [Jacob’s] eyes in death" (Genesis 46:4), and Jacob died content (Genesis 45:28; 46:30).


Not only because he was Joseph’s father, but because he had come to be honored in his won right by the Egyptians as a true man of God during the seventeen years he had lived in their country, the Egyptians themselves joined in the mourning for Jacob.


The Israelites had proved to be highly productive components of the Egyptian economy, and there might be real resistance to their leaving Egypt. The famine was now long past, this might be an excellent time for all of them to return to Canaan to live. Joseph was especially considered indispensable by Pharaoh and his courtiers. So Joseph (very diplomatically) first gained the support of Pharaoh’s officers for his request, and then asked them to convey it to Pharaoh. He assured them the Israelites would all return after the burial was accomplished. Pharaoh gave orders that it should be recognized as an official Egyptian state funeral, with all due honors accorded to the dead.

THE  FUNERAL  PROCESSION    Genesis 50:7-9

The procession consisted of Joseph and his brothers and their households and servants and elders of Pharaoh’s household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt plus cavalrymen for protection and many wagons.

THE  THRESHING  FLOOR  OF  ATAD    Genesis 50:10,11 

The caravan seems to have stopped just east of the Jordan, at the site known as "the threshing floor of Atad," Atad presumably being a man’s name. There the whole assemblage carried out a formal seven-day period of mourning. To all appearances it was an official Egyptian mourning ceremony, the Canaanites of the area latter, in fact, gave the place the name Abel-Mizraim ("Meadow of the Egyptians") as a result.

THE  PROMISED  KEPT    Genesis 50:12-14 

When the mourning was finished, Jacob’s sons took his body across Jordan, into Canaan, and to the cave of Machpelah near Mamre. There they buried him, as he had commanded, giving testimony not only of love for their father but also of faith in God’s promises concerning the land, which someday would go to their seed for an everlasting possession.

ONE  MORE  FEAR  TO  OVERCOME    Genesis 50:15-21 



Although Joseph had no thought of punishing them, their confession and plea did touch him deeply. He was no doubt thankful for their sakes that they had done this, since it testified further that their repentance was genuine and complete.

Genesis 50:22,23

Jacob died when Joseph was fifty-six years old (Genesis 41:46,53; 45:6; 47:28). Joseph continued to live for another fifty-four years after that, finally dying at the age of 110.

Joseph did live to know some of his great-grandchildren. His older son, Manasseh, seems to have had two sons of his own, Machir and Asriel (Numbers 26:29-31; I Chronicles 7:14), and possibly others, but apparently only the children of Machir were born whiled Joseph was still able to enjoy them. These included Gilead, the ancestor of the Gileadites (Numbers 26:29).

Joseph also saw the "children of the third generation" of his younger son, Ephraim. It is not clear, however, whether this expression means Ephraim’s children (the third generation from Joseph) or Ephraims grandchildren (third generation from Ephraim). In any case, Joseph could see that he would have a numerous progeny, in accord with God’s promises (Genesis 48:19,20).

BURY  ME  IN  CANAAN    Genesis 50:24-26 

Joseph then asked his brothers, the children of Israel, to promise that they would bury him in Canaan as they had buried Jacob there. They took an oath to do this, an oath finally fulfilled by their heirs     (Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32).

With this record of the death of their brother and deliverer-clearly coupled with the hope and promise of a future deliverance-the Book of Genesis ends. The groundwork is laid and the transition is natural to the opening verses of the Book of Exodus, when God would raise up a new prophet and leader in His servant Moses.

Joseph then asked his brothers, the children of Israel, to promise that they would bury him in Canaan as they had buried Jacob there. They took an oath to do this, an oath finally fulfilled by their heirs     (Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32).

With this record of the death of their brother and deliverer-clearly coupled with the hope and promise of a future deliverance-the Book of Genesis ends. The groundwork is laid and the transition is natural to the opening verses of the Book of Exodus, when God would raise up a new prophet and leader in His servant Moses.



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