Genesis 49


‘Then Jacob called for his sons and said: ‘Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. ‘Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel.’ Genesis 49:1-2

Before Jacob dies, he makes some prophecies concerning his sons, which would come to fulfilment through their descendants. This is the first conscience prophecy given by man in the Bible. Jacob now realises he is Israel.

‘Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honour, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it.’ Genesis 49:3-4


God had promised Jacob that he would become a great nation, Genesis 35:11, and this began with Reuben who was Jacob’s firstborn son, he should have resumed the leadership role of all the sons, but due to his sin which involved incest, when he defiled Jacob’s couch with Bilhah, Genesis 35:22, this wasn’t going to happen.

The tribe of Reuben never does excel, there’s never a judge, king or prophet who comes from that tribe, he was the first tribe to ask for a place to settle in the Promised Land, even before the conquest began, Numbers 32.

It was Reuben who erected an unlawful place of worship, Joshua 22:10-34, and later, in the days of Deborah, it was his tribe who broke their pledge and refused to join in the fight, Judges 5:15-16.

‘Simeon and Levi are brothers—their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.’ Genesis 49:5-7

Simeon And Levi

It was both Simeon and Levi who went behind their father’s back and murdered the men of Shechem, Genesis 34:25- 29. They both wouldn’t have a land to settle in but would be scattered throughout the other tribes, Joshua 19:1-9 / Joshua 21:1-42 / 1 Chronicles 4:27-43.

Their past sins finally catch up with them and their anger was their problem, it was a sin because it was self-willed, Ephesians 4:26 / Ephesians 4:31. Thirty-five years later, the tribe of Simeon were the weakest of tribes in terms of population, Numbers 26:14 / Joshua 19:1 / Numbers 1:23.

This is also a blessing for Levi as they were to be priests and the Lord would be their inheritance, Exodus 32:26 / Exodus 32:28. There was to be a nation of priests but that was lost, but now in the New Testament is found, 1 Peter 2:9.

‘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. You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. 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. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.’ Genesis 49:8-12


Because Judah had shown good mature leadership qualities, he would eventually be the leading military and political leader of the nation of Israel. The sceptre which the tribe of Judah used was that of a lion, symbolising strength and courage.

Notice Judah’s authority will stand ‘until he to whom it belongs shall come’, some translations use the word, ‘Shiloh’. No one is really sure what this word means, some suggest it means ‘rest’ and others suggest it means ‘rest giver’, but one thing is clear, Judah has the right to rule and this clearly has a prophetic meaning, concerning the coming of the Messiah, 1 Samuel 16:1-13 / 2 Samuel 2:1-4 / 2 Samuel 5:1-5.

It would be through the tribe of Judah that the Messiah would eventually come, Revelation 5:5. Jewish tradition says that Judah was afraid because of what his father had said to Rueben and Simeon and Levi.

‘Zebulun will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships; his border will extend toward Sidon.’ Genesis 49:13


Jacob says that the descendants of Zebulun would be sea merchants, they wouldn’t literally settle in Sidon but near it, Deuteronomy 33:19. 50,000 men from the Zebulun tribe went out to battle with David, 1 Chronicles 12:33.

‘Issachar is a raw-boned donkey lying down among the sheep pens. 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 labour.’ Genesis 49:14-15


Issachar turned out to be a tribe who was very happy with the physical, they enjoyed the comforts of the land and the food, which meant they would rather seek peace and become slaves, rather than fight for their freedom. We get the impression that Issachar would be strong but at the same time very lazy in character.

‘Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan will be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider tumbles backward. ‘I look for your deliverance, LORD.’ Genesis 49:16-18


The tribe of Dan, who would be few in number and not very strong, would become very good at coming up with sly plans to overcome their enemies, Judges 13-16 / Judges 18. The name Dan means ‘judge’, but his descendants would later come to be known for their deceitfulness and deception against Israel’s enemies.

They committed idolatry and they led others to do the same, 1 Kings 12:26-30 / Amos 8:14. Because of the idolatry, the tribe of Dan isn’t mentioned as a tribe in Revelation 7:5-7.

‘Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.’ Genesis 49:19


The tribe of Gad despite being attacked by raiders would eventually be victorious. They were going to be a very brave tribe who weren’t afraid to fight against any enemy, 1 Chronicles 12:8-15 / Jeremiah 49:1.

‘Asher’s food will be rich; he will provide delicacies fit for a king.’ Genesis 49:20


Asher lived in the lowlands along the Mediterranean between Carmel and Tyre, this was a fruitful and fertile part of the land, later, Solomon supplied King Hiram wheat and oil products from this part of the land, 1 Kings 5:11 / Deuteronomy 33:24.

‘Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.’ Genesis 49:21


Most people aren’t really sure what Jacob means here concerning Naphtali, but it appears to be speaking about some kind of freedom. The tribe is mentioned in Judges 4:6 / Judges 4:10 / Judges 5:18, where Deborah sings a song about her victory over the Canaanite king, Jabin. They would live near the Sea of Galilee, Matthew 4:12-16.

‘Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall. With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. 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, because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb. 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.’ Genesis 49:22-26


Joseph has been through a lot in his life due to his brother’s jealousy and hatred towards him, but here, he’s told that God will look after him and bless him richly because he suffered so much. While Judah was the spiritual leader, Joseph was to become the political leader who would receive material blessings. This didn’t last long and ended when the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom of Israel and brought an end to the ten tribes.

Coffman says the following concerning the reference to ‘The Mighty One of Jacob’. He says that this is the first of five names for God which Jacob used here and in Genesis 49:25.

The Mighty One of Jacob. Psalm 132:2 / Psalm 132:5 / Isaiah 49:26 / Isaiah 60:16.

The Shepherd. Psalm 23 / Ezekiel 34:11-16 / Psalm 80:1.

The Stone of Israel. Deuteronomy 32:4 / Deuteronomy 32:15 / Deuteronomy 32:18 / Deuteronomy 32:30-31 / Psalm 18:2.

The God of thy Father. Exodus 3:15.

God Almighty. Genesis 17:1 / Genesis 28:3 / Genesis 35:11 / Genesis 43:14 / Exodus 6:3.

‘Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.’ Genesis 49:27


Like a ravenous wolf, Benjamin’s descendants would become known for their great swordsmen and left-handed stone slingers, Judges 3:15 / Judges 20:15-16, King Saul from was the tribe of Benjamin, 1 Samuel 9:21 / 1 Samuel 11:6-11ff. Over in the New Testament, we learn that Saul of Tarsus was from the same tribe, Philippians 3:5.

‘All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.’ Genesis 49:28

The twelve sons of Israel became the twelve tribes of Israel, each of them blessed in different ways, they were all individually blessed appropriately.

Notice though that there was no blessing given to Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, but rather a curse, how then is this a blessing for every one of them?

Matthew Poole writes the following to answer this question.

‘He blessed them all implicitly and really, though not expressly, or in words, because he gave each of them apart in Canaan, and his taking away from Reuben only the right of the first-born, plainly supposeth that he left him his single portion and inheritance. And he might well be said to bless them all because he left them all an interest in God’s covenant, one article whereof was the giving of Canaan, or part of Canaan, to them, and this was an earnest of the other branches or articles of it; though it is probable he also added some short blessing, or prayer to God for his blessing, upon them all.’

In the listing of the twelve tribes, Joseph is counted as one in Deuteronomy 33, Simeon is omitted, and Ephraim and Manasseh take the place of Joseph. In Numbers 2, Simeon is retained, Levi is omitted, and Ephraim and Manasseh replace Joseph.

In Genesis 35:23-26, we find the names of Jacob’s sons, twelve in all, but when we go to Joshua 13-19, we find the distribution of land to the twelve tribes, but you will notice that Joseph isn’t mentioned.

We know that the Levites weren’t given an inheritance of land as priests, Joshua 13:14, but the one tribe you never hear about is the tribe of Joseph, who was Jacob’s favourite son. The tribe of Joseph is missing, except for a reference in Joshua 17:14.

In its place, two tribes were created and were named after Joseph’s first two sons. With the removal of Levi and Joseph as tribe names, and the addition of Ephraim and Manasseh, Joshua 14:1-5, the number of tribes is back to twelve. Thus, ten tribes of Israel are named after Jacob’s sons and two are named after his grandsons!

‘Then he gave them these instructions: ‘I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.’ When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.’ Genesis 49:29-33

Jacob’s Death

Israel, now coming to the end of his life, requests to be buried in the cave of Machpelah, this was the cave that Abraham had purchased earlier, Genesis 23:1-20 and the cave where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and Leah were buried.

The reason he wanted to be buried with them is obvious, he wanted to remind his sons of the great promise of God, that they will eventually inherit the land of Canaan, Genesis 12:7 / Genesis 35:12.

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