The Sons of Israel Receive Blessings
Genesis 49: 1-2
Jacob assembled his sons together as he lay on his deathbed to confer upon each of them their prophetic futures. He, being driven by God’s Spirit, would speak to each of them, and this was not going to be any ordinary conversation. The order in which he presents their individual prophecies is different than the order of the list of the twelve sons that was given in Genesis 30-31. The term “Latter Days” makes reference to an end time period for each of the twelve tribes. The term “Latter Days” is found thirteen times in the Old Testament (Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30, 31:29; Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 23:20, 30:24, 48:47, 49:39; Ezekiel 38:16; Hosea 3:5; Micah 4:1;Daniel 10:14). The prophesied outcome of each tribe will have its final fulfillment in the Messianic Kingdom, which will follow the Great Tribulation. This prophecy that Jacob gave here is similar to the one Moses gave in Deuteronomy 33. It is used here in reference to the full measure, or completion of their near and far distant prophetic future. Rabbinic tradition tells us that Jacob wanted to tell them when the Messiah would come. They write that just as suddenly as Jacob started to prophecy, the Shekinah Glory left him so he did not have the deity expressing Himself through him and he altered the prophecies. Scripture does not support the rabbinic teachings. What they show us is that the Jews did expect their Messiah and knew His prophetic appearance was given in these prophecies that Jacob gave to his sons.
Nevertheless God’s Spirit did come upon Jacob to allow him to accurately prophecy regarding future developments of the nation Israel through the twelve tribes. The blessing uses word pictures to describe the general outline of the son’s prophetic character and the historical development of the tribes in the future. The unmistakable genuineness of each of their individual characters prophetically becomes the nature of that tribe and then of the nation Israel.
Therefore the Holy Spirit of God revealed to the dying Jacob the future development of the tribes and assigned each of them position and importance in the nation into which they were to expand up to and including the last days, and not merely at some future time.
Genesis 49: 3-4
3Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might, and the beginning of my strength; The pre-eminence of dignity, and the pre-eminence of power. 4Boiling over as water, thou shalt not have the pre-eminence; Because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; Then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch (ASV 1901).
Reuben was indeed Jacob’s first born from Leah. He was preeminent of the twelve sons. As such he had inheritance rights, and he should have received a double portion of any inheritance including a high place in the conveyance of the Abrahamic Covenant. He should have had the Messiah come through his line. But he lost it. In Jacob’s poetic word pictures he calls him unstable as “Boiling over as water.” Considering the characteristics of water boiling over and matching it to Reuben’s personality we see him as very passionate but lacking self-control. He was a man of unstable emotions. So instead of a blessing he actually receives a curse. What he should have received was divided between two other sons; Joseph became the first born in his stead and the double portion came unto Ephraim and Manasseh his sons. The preeminence went to Judah.
Jacob then gave the reason for Reuben’s loss. He said, “Because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; Then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.” Reuben had sexual intercourse with his father’s concubine Bilhah (Genesis 35:22). Not only was it adultery but it was incest too. Reuben and the tribe that would come from him would not have anything of importance to contribute in the future of Israel. This tribe never provided a leader of any kind for the nation (judge, prophet, king etc.). After the Exodus wandering was through they were the first to ask for a place to settle in the Promised Land. They did not want to cross the Jordan with the others (Numbers 32). They assisted in the building of an unauthorized place of worship (Joshua 22:10-34). In the wars with the Canaanites during Deborah’s time they failed to assist with the military efforts (Judges 5:15-16). Ruben’s performance has always been dismal. His numbers in the various censuses continually decreased. As told in Deuteronomy 33:6, Moses had to intervene with God on his behalf so the tribe did not disappear altogether.
Simeon and Levi’s Blessing
Genesis 49: 5-7
5Simeon and Levi are brethren; Weapons of violence are their swords. 6O my soul, come not thou into their council; Unto their assembly, my glory, be not thou united; For in their anger they slew a man, And in their self-will they hocked an ox. 7Cursed 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 (ASV 1901).
The two sons of Leah, Simeon and Levi were inseparable as close companions and full brothers. However, Jacob spares no time expressing their character, which he calls “Weapons of violence are their swords.” Whereas Reuben had lust and weakness, these two had outright anger and cruelty. It was their hot tempers that caused them to kill all the men in the village of Shechem after the rape incident with Dinah their sister. There was no legitimate justification for that act. It was pure vengeance. Jacob disassociated himself from their actions. He said that “in their anger they slew a man, And in their self-will they hocked an ox.” They killed men and destroyed property. The hocking of an ox in this Bible version means to hamstring it or cut the hamstring. These are a powerful group of muscles at the back of the thigh, which are larger tendons at the back of the hock in the hind leg of an animal. The hamstring bends the knee and helps to straighten the hip. When these are cut then the animal is crippled and can’t work or even eat. In short they must be killed. As a result of these destructive behaviors Israel said, “I will divide them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel.” In terms of their inheritance of the Land neither got their own separate property. Simeon was living within the tribal land of Judah and Levi was scattered in forty-eight different Levitical cities (Numbers 18:20-24, 35:1-8; Deuteronomy 10:9; Joshua 14:4, 21:1-42). The Simeonites were always bad. The Levites largely redeemed themselves by their stand against idolatry in Moses day (Exodus 32:26). Moses was a Levi and they became the priestly line. The prophecy said they would be scattered and not have any land of their own. This happened.
Genesis 49: 8-12
8Judah, thee shall thy brethren praise: Thy hand shall be on the neck of thine enemies; Thy father’s sons shall bow down before thee. 9Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, thou art gone up: He stooped down, he couched as a lion, And as a lioness; who shall rouse him up? 10The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh come: And unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be. 11Binding his foal unto the vine, And his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; He hath washed his garments in wine, And his vesture in the blood of grapes: 12His eyes shall be red with wine, And his teeth white with milk (ASV 1901).
No longer is Jacob giving bleak prophesies, and starts out this prophecy with the praise Judah will receive from his brethren. Judah is going to receive praise and interestingly that is what his name means in Hebrew, “praise”. This was pure blessing. The blessing was of inalienable supremacy and power. Jacob said, “Judah thou, thee will thy brethren praise! thy hand in the neck of thy foes! to thee will thy father’s sons bow down!” Judah had already demonstrated his superior character by not going along with his brothers to kill Joseph and then pleading with Joseph to save Benjamin. He offered himself in place of Benjamin for surety. Judah success was affirmed in other Scriptures (II Samuel 22:4; Psalm 18:40). He also gained preeminence over the other tribes. In Numbers 2:9 in the wilderness wanderings Judah “set forth first”. In Numbers 10:14 he headed the march though the wilderness. In I Chronicles 5:2 Judah prevailed above his brethren. In Judges 1:1-2 Judah is chosen by God to go up first against the Canaanites. Judah’s tribe was loyal to the house of David at the time of the revolt of the ten tribes (I Kings 12:20). He was commissioned by God to lead the conquest of the Promised Land (Judges 1:1-3; 4-21. The tribe of Judah made David King (II Samuel 2:1-11, 5:4-5). Judah received a massive amount of power in four phrases:
- Lion’s whelp emphasizes power, vigor and nobility
- From the prey he has gone up emphasizes his success in killing his prey
- Stooping down as a crouched lion means he is ready to pounce
- As a lioness who will rouse him? This means he is pictured as a strong lion.
Judah is therefore pictured as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. In Numbers 24:9 Balaam uses the same illustration for Israel. The second part of the prophecy is:
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him shall be the obedience of the people (KJV).”
The “scepter” is understood to mean the “tribal staff” or “tribal identity.” This “tribal identity” was linked, in the minds of the Jews, to their right to apply and enforce Mosaic Law upon the people, including the right to administer capital punishment. The name “Shiloh” is an idiom for the Messiah. Therefore, according to this prophecy, the tribal right of Judah to apply and enforce the Mosaic Law, including administering capital punishment would cease when the Messiah came.
The Jews were under Roman dominion since about 43 B.C. Archelaus was the second son of Herod the Great. Herod had murdered his oldest son, and he also did this to a number of other family members. At the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C. Caesar Augustus placed Archelaus over Judea as “Ethnarch”, or ruler of a province. Archelaus’ mother was a Samaritan giving him only one quarter, or less of Jewish blood. However, he was never accepted by the Jews and was removed from office in 6 or 7 AD. According to Josephus Herod Archelaus was dethroned and banished to Vienna, a city of Gaul. He was replaced, not by a Jewish king, but by a Roman procurator named Coponious who immediately restricted the legal power of the Sanhedrin and they lost their ability to adjudicate capital cases. This was the normal policy toward all the nations conquered by the Romans. The province of Judea had, however been spared from this policy up to this point because the Herods were Roman appointees. However, Caesar Augustus had had enough of the Jews and finally removed the judicial authority from them at the ascension of Coponious. Josephus recorded this transfer of power:
And now Archelaus’s part of Judea was reduced into a province, and Coponious, one of the equestrian order among the Romans, was sent as a procurator, having the power of [life and] death put into his hands by Caesar.
In the minds of the Jewish leadership the removal of the power of the Sanhedrin to adjudicate capital cases signified the removal of the scepter, or national identity of the tribe of Judah. The Jewish Targum Onkelos ( a Jewish commentary) states another way of saying Genesis 49:10 as:
“The transmission of dominion shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor the scribe from his children’s children, forever, until Messiah comes.” 
Thus, the ability for the Jews to adjudicate their own capital cases was extinguished when Messiah came because He fulfilled the Mosaic Law, and it was not longer operable. But the Jews did not understand that capital punishment was gone from them because the Messiah was in their midst. They knew this had to be the case, and should have been looking around for the Messiah. But instead they failed to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, had indeed come, and that was what was actually happening. One rabbi recorded the Jew’s anguish over this at the time of Jesus:
“When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death, a general consternation took possession of them: they covered their heads with ashes, and their bodies with sackcloth, exclaiming: ‘Woe unto us for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come’” 
The prophecy goes on to say, “Binding his foal unto the vine, And his ass’s colt unto the choice vine;” which is an illustration of these vines being so strong that if the foal moves his head he will normally pull out the vines holding him. This is another illustration of the Messiah being so strong that even a strong colt could not break the vine and choice vine in an indication of abundance. The Messianic aspect of this is that when Messiah is presented He will be riding on an ass.
Next the prophecy says, “He hath washed his garments in wine, And his vesture in the blood of grapes.” This is directly from Isaiah 63:1-6 and Revelation 14:17-20. It closes with, “His eyes shall be red with wine, And his teeth white with milk.” This indicates abundance. It does not indicate intoxication abundance, just simple abundance. Jesus is All in All.
Genesis 49: 13
13Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; And he shall be for a haven of ships; And his border shall be upon Sidon (ASV 1901).
Jacob gives Zebulun the territory that will have access to shipping. The territory he received in the allotment in Joshua 19:10-16 did not border on the sea. In fact he was landlocked between Asher, Naphtali, Issachar and Manasseh. He was close to the Phoenician city of Sidon, which was a major shipping port. Ezekiel chapter forty-eight describes the territory that the twelve sons will receive in the Millennial Kingdom. Zebulun is specified in verse twenty-eight, but it does not describe the borders of his allotment there. The prophecy has yet to be fulfilled because it was not fulfilled in the Old Testament. Other factors in the history of this tribe include:
- His men risked their lives for Israel’s independence (Judges 5:18).
- Elon the Judge came from this tribe (Judges 12:11-12).
- They strongly supported David (I Chronicles 12:33; 12:40).
- His territory was in the Galilean region and was a major area of Jesus’ ministry and He was raised in Nazareth, which is within Zebulon’s territory. (Isaiah 9:1; Matthew 4:15-16).
14Issachar is a strong ass, Couching down between the sheepfolds: 15And he saw a resting-place that it was good, And the land that it was pleasant; And he bowed his shoulder to bear, And became a servant under task work (ASV 1901).
This is a sort of cryptic prophecy. It does state two characteristics. First Issachar is said to be a “strong ass” and second he is “crouching down between the sheepfolds”. The “strong ass” is a reference to his connection to agriculture and not to political rank. In Numbers 26:25 his tribe numbered 64,300. Later in I Chronicles they counted out at 87,000. Issachar is also characterized as “crouching”, which represents a lazy side to this tribe. They were not very ambitious. The prophecy “And he saw a resting-place that it was good,” characterizes him as not being too active and having an easy life. Some have characterized him as having ease at the cost of liberty. The prophesy also indicated that Issachar would become a robust, powerful race of men, and receive a pleasant inheritance which would lead to comfort and repose. He did live in the Jezreel Valley, which is agriculturally rich. It will also be a site during the final battle in the Great Tribulation.
He preferred to be a laborer instead of a leader since he was quite strong physically. He was willing to trade his liberty for material possessions. He did submit to the corrupt Canaanites. Moses drew a connection between Issachar’s wealth and the Mediterranean (Deuteronomy 33:18-19). In Judges 5:15 with much prodding from Barak they joined in the war. In Judges 10:1-2 they did produce one Judge, Tola. Finally we see in I Chronicles 12:32 they are identified as David’s supporters.
Genesis 49: 16-18
16Dan shall judge his people, As one of the tribes of Israel. 17Dan shall be a serpent in the way, An adder in the path, That biteth the horse’s heels, So that his rider falleth backward. 18I have waited for thy salvation, O Jehovah (ASV 1901).
Jacob immediately characterizes Dan as “judging his people.” We see this getting fulfilled in Samson who came from this tribe (Judges 13-16). He was frequently listed last and does not make the list of the worldwide evangelist team during the Great Tribulation. Two sections of Scripture refer to him as being last (Numbers 10:25; Joshua 19:40-48). Even though they are not selected to participated in the greatest evangelistic outreach the world will have ever known, he is not forgotten. This tribe is included in the Messianic Kingdom (Ezekiel 48:1-2,32). The prophecy goes on to describe his fighting strategies of a “serpent in the way, An adder in the path, That biteth the horse’s heels, So that his rider falleth backward.” His war strategies have been realized in Sampson (Judges 18:1-31). Finally the prophecy ends with Dan’s “salvation”. This is the first use of the word “salvation” in the Bible. It is used seventy-eight times in the Old Testament. In Hebrew it is ישׁוּעָ “yeshua”, or “Jesus” in English.
19Gad, a troop shall press upon him; But he shall press upon their heel (ASV 1901).
The main point of this one verse is that raiders will raid God and he will retaliate. The Hebrew word for “troop” is a marauding band. So this is what will press on him. The blessing, which is formed out of the name “Gad” contains no special prophecies to identifiable historical events so we can track them. Moses identified his fighting ability in Deuteronomy 33:20.1 Chronicles 5:18 proves that the Gadites displayed the bravery promised them by Jacob. In 1 Chronicles 12:8–15, the Gadites who come to David are compared to lions, and their swiftness to that of roes, or gazelle. Members of his tribe supported David.
20Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, And he shall yield royal dainties (ASV 1901).
This prophecy means he will have a very fruitful soil. He also will desire to have rich food. As his inheritance Asher received the lowlands of Carmel on the Mediterranean as far as the territory of Tyre, one of the most fertile parts of Canaan. This area abounded in wheat and oil, from which Solomon supplied and household of King Hiram (1 Kings 5:11).
Other verses in the Old Testament indicate that he will “dip his foot in oil” (Deuteronomy 33:24). Specifically this was Moses’ prophecy of the outcome of the future for Asher. Some interpret this to be olive oil in keeping with the food prophecy from Jacob. Still others sense that it refers to petroleum oil. In which case there has been much exploration for oil in Asher’s territory by several oil exploration companies such as Zion. Today some Christian geologists and oilmen are using these verses as a sort of treasure map to look for petroleum. Israel, like the rest of the industrialized world, is dependent on a steady flow of oil from reliable sources. After capturing the Sinai Peninsula in 1967, Israeli petroleum explorers discovered and developed the Alma Oil Fields on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula. For a while these wells provided Israel with a reliable source of oil. Israel “lost” the oil fields in the negotiations for peace with Egypt in 1979. Today, Israel does not have a steady, reliable supply of oil. Offshore of Israel’s northern port city of Haifa, rigs are working to tap the first major fossil-fuel reserve ever found in Israel’s territory, a store on which it hopes to build a far more independent energy future.
The Tamar natural gas field was discovered in 2009 some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Haifa’s coast in the Mediterranean Sea. In each oil well there is natural gas. It is the propellant, which drives the oil to the surface. These finds have been natural gas alone. Tamar is large enough to meet all of Israel’s natural gas requirements for 20 to 30 years, the experts say. Interestingly the find has been just off the cost of the land allotment to Asher. We know that the coming allied invasion led by the Russians and including the Muslim nations will be driven to seek a spoil (Ezekiel 38: 12). If Israel develops a significant amount of natural resources this just might be the attraction for Gog to attack.
21Naphtali is a hind let loose: He giveth goodly words (ASV 1901).
Jacob just made two very simple statements. Naphtali is described as a “hind” (deer) with free movement and he gives godly speech. Both of these prophecies indicate a refinement and a gift of speech. We see this in Judges 5:1-31 within the song of Deborah and Barak.
Jacob Prophecies over Joseph
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 (KJV).
The Testament to Joseph is of extraordinary length, equaled only by that to Judah. He gets treated more favorably than any of the others. Joseph is compared to the branch of a fruit-tree planted by a well (Psalm. 1:3), which sends it shoots over the wall, and by which, according to Psalm 80, we are probably to understand a vine. Jacob took up the promise of fruitfulness from the name of Joseph’s son Ephraim (which means “fruitful”) and lavished the promise of victory, and prosperity on Joseph’s two tribes. From the simile of the fruit-tree Jacob passed to a warlike figure that is described as the mighty and victorious unfolding of the tribe of Joseph in conflict with all its foes. It goes on to describing with prophetic intuition the future as if it had already come. It also described the persecution that he experienced as a young adult. The three phrases are:
- The archers that sorely grieved him,
- And shot at him,
- And persecuted him.
All three refer to the mistreatment he suffered as a result of his brother’s envy and Potiphar’s correction for his wife’s claims.
These prophecies merely pointed to the conflicts awaiting his descendants, in which they would constantly overcome all hostile attacks. Victory in battle was experienced by Joshua, Deborah, and Samuel, all of the tribe of Ephraim, and by Gideon and Jephthah, both of Manasseh’s tribe.
In these verses are several wonderful titles for God:
- Mighty One of Jacob
- The Shepherd
- The Rock of Israel
- Your father’s God
- The Almighty
- The One who Insures blessings from the heavens above
- The One Who Insures blessings from the deep or below
- The One Who Insures blessings from the breast and womb
Jacob bestowed on Joseph the greater blessings because he was the prince among his brothers (Genesis 41:41). He gets the double portion as the designated first born replacing Reuben in that position.
27 Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil (KJV).
The picture of Benjamin drawn here is a tribal, not an individual image in which the Benjaminites are described as warlike and predator. The martial qualities of this small tribe are indeed well attested. The first judge-savior of Israel from the Moabites was Ehud the Benjaminite, mentioned in Judges 3:15, and the army of the tribe took part in the war of Deborah (Judg. 5:14). In a civil war, it is said to have mustered twenty-six thousand men armed with swords and seven hundred crack slingers and to have fought back savagely against the combined forces of the other tribes (Judges 20:15, 16, 21, 25). This tribe provided skilled archers, men “valiant in battle,” (1 Chronicles 8:40 and 12:2), and two of David’s heroes came from this tribe (2 Samuel 23:27, 29).
The historic explanation for the militancy of the Benjaminites is based in the geographical location of its territory. They occupied a narrow strip of land separating the hill country of Judah to the south from the hill country of Ephraim to the north. It was so strategically located that the important north-south central highway, as well as a main east-west road leading to Transjordan (modern day Jordan) passed through it. As a result, the territory of Benjamin became an arena for wars. Israelite opposition to Philistine oppression was centered in that tribe (1 Samuel 10:5; 13:3). Saul, first king of Israel and a strong warrior came from Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:1). Besides Saul and Ehud the tribe produced several other notable biblical characters who were Jonathan (I Samuel 14:1-52).
Modecai and Ester (Book of Esther), and the Apostle Paul (Romans 11:1-2.) Other references to this tribe are seen in Judges 5:14, and 19-21; I Chronicles 8:1-40 and 12:1-7; and II Chronicles 14:8 and 17:17.
Closing-The Death of Israel
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.
Jacob finished his blessings and the Scripture concludes this summary by showing that the prophecies go much farther than the immediate lives of the twelve sons and Joseph’s two Manasseh and Ephraim.
Now Comes The Death of Jacob
Genesis 49: 29-33
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, 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 burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah. 32 The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of 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 gathered unto his people (KJV).
After the blessing, Jacob again expressed to his twelve sons his desire to be buried in the sepulcher of his fathers where Isaac and Rebekah and his own wife Leah lay by the side of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 24). Joseph had already promised on oath to perform to do as Jacob asked (Genesis 47:29–31). This is not where Rachel was buried. This is also the only mention of Leah’s death and burial. She finally got to be close to him. She could not do this in life but in death she did.
He then drew his feet into the bed to lie down, for he had been sitting upright while blessing his sons, and “yielded up the ghost, and was gathered to his people”. He departed from this earthly life without a struggle. His age is not given here, because that has already been done at Genesis 47:28. So Jacob died after 147 years on this earth. He had many sins, but Jacob had an unrestrained desire for God’s blessing. He had a deep faith that always relied on God in spite of all else. In the end he died as a man of genuine faith. He learned in his life where the real blessings came from, and was privileged to hand them on to his sons. He knew that his progeny would populate the world and be as “the sand of the sea” (Genesis 32:12). They have become a major nation on the earth.
 Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson.
 Levy, Samson H. The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation; The Messianic Exegesis of the Targum, (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, 1974), pg. 2.
 Lemann, Augustin, Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, 1886, Translated by Julius Magath, NL#0239683, Library of Congress # 15-24973.
Daniel E. Woodhead