SynopsisI’m finally getting wise, and splitting up a section between two posts, instead of slavishly doing this one post per chapter. Most of Chapter 49 consists of the blessings Israel gave to each of his sons, but then the last few verses go along with verses 1–15 of the next chapter, so I’ll include them then.
Here are the blessings Israel gave to each of his sons:
- Reuben: Although Reuben is the first-born, and has strength and power, Israel says that he will “no longer excel”, because he slept with his father’s concubine.
- Simeon and Levi: Simeon and Levi are violent; because of their anger and rash vengeance they will be “scattered” and “dispersed”.
- Judah: Things are looking pretty rosy, for Judah. He is going to end up ruling over his brothers, and “[t]he scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs” (verse 10). (Christians would understand the “he comes to whom it belongs” part to be referring to Jesus. In other words, once there is a king in the nation of Israel, from the line of Judah, there will always be a king over Israel from the line of Judah, until Jesus comes and takes the kingship once and for all.)
- Zebulun: Zebulun’s descendents will end up living by the sea. A pretty tame blessing, in comparison to some of the other brothers.
- Issachar: Issachar’s descendents will be “worker bees”. They will submit to forced labour, but in the context, it looks like they’ll do so because of their love for the land.
- Dan: I don’t understand what is being said to Dan at all. In verse 16, Dan “will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel”. Okay, so far so good. But then in verse 17, he will be “a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward”. Perhaps it’s talking about the way that Dan will “provide justice for his people”—by attacking those who robbed his people of justice?
- Gad: will be attacked, but will strike back at his attackers—will “attack them at their heels”.
- Asher: Apparently Asher’s descendents will be cooks, and provide “delicacies fit for a king”—I don’t know if this means that they will be the official royal cooks.
- Naphtali: Will have a lot of beautiful children.
- Joseph: Joseph’s blessing is not so much about what is going to happen to him (and his descendents), as a recap of his life. He was attacked, but he stayed strong, because of his father’s God, who helped him. However, there is a mention that his father’s blessings—“which are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills”—will rest on Joseph.
- Benjamin: Benjamin is the youngest, and, while Joseph was gone, was Israel’s favourite. But his blessing doesn’t sound too favourable, to my ears. He is “a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder”. On the other hand, I can definitely see how it would be, if not complementary, at least good news for his descendents.
ThoughtsIf you don’t know what I’m talking about, when I mention Reuben sleeping with his father’s concubine, it happened back in Genesis 35; at the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal, because nothing really came of it.
This chapter is another example of the fact that “blessings”, in that day and age, were more than just well wishes; they were prophecies. And what is a prophecy, exactly? Most people think of prophecy as predicting the future, but that’s rarely what it was in the Old Testament; prophecy there was usually a message from the LORD to His people. Take verse 7, which is talking about Simeon and Levi—and, of course, does have an element of prophecy, in this case, since the LORD is telling each of Israel’s sons what will become of him:
Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
and disperse them in Israel.
When this verse says “me”, it couldn’t possibly be Israel who’s talking; Israel won’t be scattering or dispersing anyone. It’s God who’s talking. Israel is just his “messenger”—his prophet.