Chapter 49

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Aware that he would soon die, Jacob called all of his sons to him, informing them what would develop among them in the future. His parting words to them pointed forward to the time when their descendants would be living in the Promised Land. (49:1, 2) In his Antiquities, (II, viii, 1), Josephus commented that Jacob did not die until “he had foretold to [his sons] prophetically how every one of them was to dwell in the land of Canaan. But this happened many years afterward.”

Reuben, as Jacob’s firstborn, was the son of his then-existing might or vigor, the “firstfruits” of his procreative strength (“beginning of [his] children” [LXX]), foremost in dignity and foremost in might” (or in a highly respected position). Among the sons of Jacob, he should have been a man occupying the highest rank in the family and a man of preeminent honor, but he failed. Targum Jonathan represents Reuben’s dignity and might as what he should have had. Jacob is quoted as saying, “To you belonged the birthright, and the high priesthood, and the kingdom.” Years earlier Reuben had demonstrated himself to be like uncontrollable water that wreaks destruction. He defiled his father’s bed, violating his concubine Bilhah. Therefore, he (or his descendants) would not excel or have a position of leadership among his brothers or the descendants of his brothers. On account of his serious sin against his father, Reuben, as expressed in Targum Jonathan, lost out. The birthright was given to Joseph, the high priesthood to Levi, and the kingdom to Judah. In the Septuagint, more of the words of Jacob place Reuben in a negative light. Jacob referred to him as “hard to bear” and as “hard, self-willed” or stubborn. In connection with his being like water that uncontrollably breaks out, Reuben was told, “Do not boil over.” (49:3, 4)

Jacob censured the two brothers Simeon and Levi for their use of “implements of violence, their weapons” (or their plans). He (literally, his “soul”) did not desire to share with them in their council as they schemed to use violent means to obtain their objectives. Jacob did not want his dignity or honor to be joined to their company, refusing to support or condone their ruthless acts. According to the Septuagint, he did not want his “inward parts” (or inmost feelings and intentions) to be attached to their company. Apparently alluding to what they did to the men of Shechem and, in fact, to the people of the town, Jacob said that they killed men in their anger and, in their wantonness, hamstrung cattle (a “bull” [LXX]), crippling the animals. (Genesis 34:24-31) He cursed their fierce anger that had expressed itself in cruelty. To prevent any future cooperation between their descendants in violent actions, Jacob concluded, “I will divide them in Jacob (the people of Israel as a whole) and scatter them in Israel (among the people of Israel and in the land that they would occupy). The descendants of Levi received no distinct land inheritance in Canaan but were assigned 48 cities and surrounding pasture areas in the territory of the other tribes (Numbers 35:1-8), and the descendants of Simeon had territory within the portion of land assigned to the tribe of Judah. (Joshua 19:1-9) This arrangement fulfilled Jacob’s prophetic words. (49:5-7; see the Notes section.)

His brothers would praise Judah, and his “hand” would be “on the neck of [his] enemies.” They, his father’s sons, would bow down to him. (49:8) In his own life, Judah demonstrated the capacity for leadership. He persuaded his brothers, probably especially Simeon and Levi, not to kill Joseph. (37:26, 27) Years later, he demonstrated deep concern for his father, pleading for the freedom of his half brother Benjamin and requesting that he be made a slave in his stead. (44:18-34) When the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites, finally left Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land, the tribe of Judah, under the leadership of Nahshon, was divinely designated to lead the way through the wilderness. (Numbers 2:3; 10:13, 14) Of the twelve men who were sent to spy out the land of Canaan, Caleb of the tribe of Judah and Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim were the only ones who proved themselves faithful, and Caleb participated in the conquest of the land assigned to the tribe of Judah. (Joshua 14:6-15) It was particularly after David became king that all the descendants of Judah’s brothers praised him and bowed down to him as their ruler. In the person of the king in the tribe of Judah who ruled the entire nation, Judah could be praised for the just administration of affairs and for maintaining national security. Also during David’s reign, the “hand” or power of Judah was on the back of enemy nations (Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Amalekites, and Syrians), for they were defeated or subdued, and the boundaries of the nation were extended to their God-ordained limits. (2 Samuel 5:1-10, 17-25; 8:1-15; 12:29-31) Targum Jonathan, Targum Neofiti, and the Jerusalem Targum refer to the prominence that would be assigned to Judah. The “brothers” of Judah or their descendants would take on the name Judah, for they would be called Jews.

Jacob likened Judah to a lion cub, possibly alluding to the early evidence of boldness or courage in a display of leadership. Comparable to a mature lion, Judah, especially in the person of the king, went up from the prey, ascending victoriously to the height of the capital city Jerusalem. As a lion that crouched, as a lion that was lying down, Judah would enjoy peaceful rest. Who would dare to rouse Judah or provoke the tribe of Judah and the Judean king of the nation to battle? (49:9; see the Notes section.) Targum Jonathan refers to Judah as dwelling quietly and in strength like a lion and like an old lion in repose. The Jerusalem Targum says that Judah, like the lion and the lioness, remains “tranquil in the midst of war.”

From Judah, the “scepter shall not depart and the ruler’s staff from between his feet until Shiloh [he whose it is or to whom it belongs] comes and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” The scepter was the symbol of royal authority, and it came into possession of the tribe of Judah when David was anointed as king. When seated, a monarch’s staff would be positioned between his legs that were covered by his robe and thus the staff would be between his feet. While scepter and ruler’s staff are parallel expressions, there may be a different significance. The staff could be representative of the authority to issue commands or decrees. Targum Jonathan, the Jerusalem Targum, and Targum Neofiti seem to represent the ruler’s staff as denoting scribes who teach the law. God’s covenant with David assured that kingship, including royal authority and power to command, would remain in his line and, therefore, in the tribe of Judah. (2 Samuel 7:16) From very ancient times, Shiloh or the one to whom the royal authority would come to belong has been identified as being the Messiah or Christ. (49:10; see the Notes section.) This identification is found in Targum Jonathan, the Jerusalem Targum, Targum Neofiti, and Targum Onkelos.

The future king, Messiah or Christ, would bind “his colt to a vine, and to a choice vine his female donkey’s offspring.” He would “wash his clothing in wine, and his garment in the blood [juice] of grapes.” Possibly the allusion here is to extensive viticulture. To transport the harvested grapes, donkeys could have been used as beasts of burden, and the grape gatherers may have initially tied them to the thick trunk of the vines. Those treading the grapes to obtain the juice from which the wine would be produced would stain their garments, and so poetically it could be said that the clothing would be washed in the blood or juice of grapes. Perhaps the reference to the colt, rather than to a horse used in warfare, may point to the peaceful aspect of Messiah’s rule, and the garment washed in the blood of grapes could suggest that the harvest would prove to be as abundant as water that would normally be used for washing. (49:11) Targum Jonathan makes the application to the King, the Messiah, who would come from the house of Judah. “He has 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, are like the pressed-out juice of grapes.” Targum Onkelos conveys a different meaning. “Of goodly purple will be his clothing, and his garment of crimson wool with colors [or wool dyed red with colors]. His mountains shall be red with his vineyards, and his hills be dripping with wine.”

With apparent reference to the future king, Jacob is quoted as saying, “His eyes red from wine and his teeth white from milk.” Possibly the meaning is that the eyes had taken on a glow or sparkle, and the teeth appeared as if milk had whitened them. The Septuagint says that his “eyes are cheered from wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk.” (49:12) Continuing with the application to the Messiah, Targum Jonathan says, “How beautiful are the eyes of the king Meshiha [Messiah], 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.” “Therefore, his mountains are red with wine, and his hills white with grain and with the cotes of flocks.” The Jerusalem Targum refers to his teeth as being used “according to the precept rather than in eating of the things of violence and rapine.” Its wording thereafter is similar to that of Targum Jonathan.“His mountains shall be red with vines, and his presses with his wine, and his hills be white with much grain and with flocks of sheep.”

In a literal sense, the poetic description of where Zebulun or his descendants would reside does not exactly match the specific boundaries of the territory that was assigned to the tribe of Zebulun. The words, however, may be understood in a relative sense. For the boundary to be at or toward Sidon could indicate that the location of the territory would be in the northern part of Canaan. Although no part of it bordered the seashore, the territory was not far from the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Therefore, circumstances existed for the descendants of Zebulun to have ships anchored at the sea and to engage in commercial activity. (49:13)

The extant Hebrew text likens Issachar to a “strong donkey” (literally, bony donkey). There is uncertainty about where this “donkey” is said to lie down or stretch out. Two possible definitions provided in lexicons are “sheepfolds” and “ash heaps.” A number of modern translations contain other conjectural renderings. “Issachar is a rawboned donkey, crouching between the saddlebags.” (NAB, revised edition) “Issachar, a gelded donkey lying down in the cattle pens.” (REB) “Issachar, you are a strong donkey resting in the meadows.” (CEV) The basic meaning seems to be that Issachar, like a donkey, had the capacity to bear burdens and also enjoyed rest from labors. In the Septuagint, a different thought is expressed. It says, “Issachar longed for good, resting between the inheritances.” (49:14)

Issachar (or the tribe descended from him) is depicted as seeing that his resting place was good and that the land was pleasant. So he bent his shoulder to bear the burden and toiled as an enslaved man. The wording appears to point to the productive soil in the territory of the tribe of Issachar, and the agricultural labors members of the tribe would perform. According to the Septuagint, Issachar would be a man who cultivates the ground. (49:15) The targums convey very different meanings. Targum Neofiti says that Issachar “bent his shoulders for the study of the law and to him all his brothers brought tribute.” Targum Jonathan refers to Issachar as a “donkey in the law; a strong tribe, knowing the order of the times; and he lies down between the limits of his brothers.” This targum continues, “And he saw the rest of the world to come that it is good, and the portion of the land of Israel that it is pleasant. Therefore, he bowed his shoulders to labor in the law, and to him his brothers shall come, bearing presents.” Targum Onkelos says of Issachar that he is “rich in substance” and would “have his heritage between the boundaries. He, seeing his portion as being good and the land as fat or fruitful, would “subdue the provinces of the people and disperse their inhabitants, and they who remain of them [would] become servants to him and bringers of tribute.”

Dan, as one of the tribes of Israel, would fill the role as judge or deliverer and is likened to a serpent that bites the heel of a horse, causing the rider to fall backwards. Samson was a man from the tribe of Dan, and he proved to be like a venomous serpent to the Philistines. (49:16, 17; see Judges 13:2―16:31.) Targum Onkelos, Targum Jonathan, the Jerusalem Targum, and Targum Neofiti point to the fulfillment in the person of Samson. Targum Onkelos says: “From the house of Dan will be chosen and will arise a man in whose days his people shall be delivered, and in whose years the tribes of Israel have rest together. A chosen man will arise from the house of Dan, the terror of whom shall fall upon the peoples.” He “will smite the Philistines with strength. As the serpent, the deadly serpent, lurking by the way, he will slay the mighty of the Philistines’ host, the horsemen with the foot; he will weaken (loosen) the horses and chariots, and throw their riders backward.” The other targums are specific in identifying this man as Samson, son of Manoah.

Jacob is quoted as concluding with the words, “For your salvation [or deliverance] I wait, O YHWH.” (49:18) Targum Jonathan expands on this expression of faith. It refers to the salvation or deliverance of Gideon and that of Samson as being the “salvation [or deliverance] of an hour,” and then adds, “But for your salvation I have waited and will look for, O Yy [Yeya (YHWH)]; for your salvation is the salvation of eternity.”

Gad (or his offspring) would be subject to raiders, but he would raid them at their heels. The territory of the tribe of Dan was located on the east side of the Jordan River and was exposed to raiders on their easternmost boundary. Nevertheless, with valiant warriors in their midst, they were able to launch a counterattack on raiders, putting them to flight and raiding them “at their heels.” (49:19) Men from the tribe of Gad who joined David while he was being pursued by King Saul are described as “valiant men, fighters fit for battle, armed with shield and spear; they had the appearance of lions, and were as swift as gazelles upon the mountains.” (1 Chronicles 12:9 [Tanakh (JPS, 1985 edition)])

The territory that came to be occupied by the descendants of Asher contained some of the most fertile soil in the land of Canaan. This aspect is evident from the words Jacob is quoted as saying about Asher. His “bread” or food would be “fat,” rich, or abundant, and the yield from the land would include dainties fit for royalty. (49:20) The Jerusalem Targum expresses the thought as follows: “Of happy Asher, how fertile is the land! With dainties, his land will satisfy the kings of the sons of Israel.”

Naphtali is likened to a hind that is set loose and is described as one “giving beautiful utterances” or expressing himself eloquently. In the Jerusalem Targum, Naphtali is represented as a “swift messenger declaring good tidings.” This targum concludes with the words, “And when he opens his mouth in the congregation of Jacob [Israel], his tongue is sweet as honey.” Targum Onkelos conveys a completely different thought. “In a good land will the lot of Naphtali be cast, and his inheritance will be fruitful. Over them will they give praise and benediction.” The Septuagint rendering also differs from the extant Hebrew text. It refers to Naphtali as “a stump [trunk or stem] springing up, yielding [literally, giving] beauty in the offspring [possibly, twigs, branches, or fruit].” Modern translations often render the Hebrew text according to an emendation (“fawns” instead of “words”), and certain renderings bear some resemblance to that of the Septuagint. “Naphtali is a hind let loose,which yields lovely fawns.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Naphtali is a spreading terebinth putting forth lovely boughs. (REB) The basic meaning appears to be that, in bearing (like a lovely hind) and in speech, descendants of Naphtali would be deserving of commendation. (49:21)

Joseph is designated as a “fruit-bearing son [or plant], a fruit-bearing [paráh] son [or plant] by a spring,” the branches (literally, “daughters”) thereof “run over a wall.” Targum Onkelos interprets this to mean that Joseph would “increase and be blessed like a vine planted by a fountain of waters.” The Septuagint reading differs from the extant Hebrew text. It refers to Ioseph (Joseph) as a “grown son, a grown son, envied, my youngest son.” The Septuagint then adds, “Return to me.” Targum Neofiti somewhat parallels part of the wording of the Septuagint. “My son, you who have grown; Joseph, my son, you who have grown and become mighty, again you are destined to become mighty. I compare you, my son, Joseph, to a vine planted by springs of water that sends its roots into the ground and breaks the teeth of all the rocks and sends its branches high and overshadows all the trees.” The same basic meaning is conveyed in Targum Jonathan and in the Jerusalem Targum. Based on different vowel pointing, a number of modern translations have rendered the Hebrew term that may be rendered “fruit-bearing” or “fruitful”as “wild donkey [péreh].” “Joseph is like a wild donkey by a spring, a wild colt on a hillside.” (TEV) “Joseph is a wild ass, a wild ass by a spring — wild colts on a hillside.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Joseph is a wild colt, a wild colt by a spring, wild colts on a hillside.” (NAB, revised edition) These renderings do not seem to fit the context well. It appears preferable to regard the verse as indicating that Joseph’s descendants would become numerous, flourishing like a plant in a well-watered location. (49:22)

The “archers” who launched their attacks against Joseph may be regarded as his half brothers, especially Simeon and Levi. It could also be said that Potiphar’s wife, through repeated propositioning, assailed him and her false accusation against him led to his imprisonment. (49:23) Targum Onkelos is not specific in identifying those who attacked Joseph. It says, “The mighty men, the men of division, were bitter against him; they afflicted him and sorely grieved him; and his prophecy shall be fulfilled in them, because he was faithful to the law in secret and set his confidence firmly.” Targum Jonathan, the Jerusalem Targum, and Targum Neofiti make a more specific application. “All the magicians of Mizraim [Egypt] were bitter and angry against him, and brought accusations against him before Pharaoh, expecting to bring him down from his honor. They spoke against him with the slanderous tongue which is severe as arrows.” (Targum Jonathan) “The magicians of Mizraim [Egypt] and all the wise men spoke against him, but could not prevail over him. They spoke evil of him before his lord, they accused him before Pharaoh king of Mizraim [Egypt], to bring him down from his dignity. They spoke against him in the palace of Pharaoh with slanderous tongue severe as arrows.” (Jerusalem Targum) “They spoke against him, but all the magicians of Egypt and their wise men were no match for him. They spoke evil before their master and they informed against him before Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, in order to put him down from his office and to bring him from his throne of kingship. They spoke calumnious language against him in the palace of Pharaoh, which was more harassing for him than arrows.” (Targum Neofiti) Although Josephus is not specific in his Antiquities (II, viii, 1), he seems to have understood the attack to have come from Joseph’s brothers. “[Jacob] enlarged upon the praises of Joseph; how he had not remembered the evil doings of his brothers to their disadvantage; … on the contrary, was kind to them, bestowing upon them so many benefits as seldom are bestowed on men’s own benefactors.”

The attacks directed at Joseph were comparable to a multitude of arrows aimed against him, but they did not destroy him. He remained secure as if in possession of a taut (literally, “firm” or “enduring”) bow and agile arms (literally, “arms of hands”) able to expertly handle the bow. His secure position came from the “hands [or power] of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of [from there (LXX)] the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel [the one strengthening Israel (LXX)].” The Almighty God was the only God whom Joseph’s father Jacob revered. He was a Shepherd for Joseph, guiding and caring for him, and a “Rock,” providing support. If the expression “by the name of” is to be understood as denoting “from there” (as in the Septuagint), Joseph could be spoken of as a shepherd and rock of Israel by being divinely provided as such. He supplied all the members of Jacob’s household with all they needed to sustain them during the time of famine and so functioned like a shepherd who cared well for the flock. Joseph also proved himself to be like a dependable support or “rock of Israel” for the offspring of Israel (the descendants of his father Jacob). The Septuagint rendering could indicate that Joseph was the one who strengthened all those belonging to Israel or Jacob with the help of his father’s God, providing them with everything they needed for their well-being. Joseph triumphed by mercy, kindness, uprightness and wisdom because God was with him. The God of his father Jacob helped him. (49:22-25) Targum Jonathan says that Joseph “returned to abide in his early strength, and would not yield himself to sin, and subdued his inclinations by the strong discipline he had received from Jacob.”

The Septuagint does not link Joseph to the bow. After indicating that Joseph was reviled and that masters of archery assailed him, the Septuagint says regarding the attackers, “Their bows were broken with force, and the sinews of the arms of their hands were enfeebled because of the hand of the Powerful One of Iakob [Jacob].” With forceful action from the Almighty God directed against them, the attackers were rendered powerless. (49:24, LXX)

For Joseph, blessings would come from the Almighty God. The blessings from heaven would be bestowed in the form of needed rain for crops to flourish. There would also be the blessings from water below the ground, gushing up as springs and filling wells to supply people and domestic animals with water to drink. Blessings of the breasts and of the womb assured that Joseph would have many descendants. (49:25)

The Hebrew text of the concluding words of Jacob to Joseph could be literally rendered, “Blessings of your father are stronger beyond blessings of eternal mountains, the bounties of age-old hills. May they be on the head of Joseph and on the crown of one separate from his brothers [or a prince among his brothers].” This could mean that the blessings are far grander than everything that adorns mountains and hills — forests, vegetation, and crops. In view of his exemplary conduct, the blessings should rightly be bestowed on Joseph. The Septuagint refers to the blessing of Joseph’s father and of his mother and indicates that this blessing proved to be superior in strength to that of “stable mountains” and beyond that of “age-old hills” (or dunes). It then concludes with the words, “They [the blessings] shall be on the head of Ioseph [Joseph] and on the crown of the brothers whom he has led.” (49:26) Targum Neofiti interprets the aspect about blessings as follows: “May the blessings of your father be added to you, upon the blessings with which my fathers Abraham and Isaac blessed me, which the lords of the world, Ishmael and Esau longed for from the beginning. Let all these blessings come. Let them become a crown of dignity on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of the pious man who was master and ruler over the land of Egypt and paid attention the honor of his father and the honor of his brothers.”

Benjamin is likened to a wolf. In the early part of the history of the nation, which could be compared to the morning, the tribe of Benjamin provided Saul as the first king. He and his son Jonathan gained decisive victories over enemy peoples. (2 Samuel 1:22-24) In what might be likened to the evening time, Mordecai and Esther of the tribe of Benjamin filled a significant role in protecting the Jews from those who were determined to destroy them and demonstrated themselves to be like a wolf dividing booty. (Esther 2:5-7; 7:2-10; 8:3-17) In the Septuagint, Beniamin (Benjamin) is liked to a rapacious wolf that would still be devouring prey in the early morning and distributing provisions in the evening. (49:27)

After having blessed his twelve sons, Jacob indicated to them that he would be gathered to his people or join them in the realm of the dead. He then asked to be buried in the cave located in the field that Abraham had bought for a burial site and where he, his wife Sarah, Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried. It was also in that cave where Jacob buried his wife Leah. The field itself was located at Machpelah, near Mamre (a site close to Hebron) in the land of Canaan. At the time Jacob spoke to his sons, he appears to have gathered his strength and sat up on his bed. Thereafter “he drew up his feet on to the bed, and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.” (49:28-33)


There is uncertainty about the meaning of the plural Hebrew word rendered “weapons” in verse 5. It is translated bellantia (“war-waging” in the Vulgate). The Septuagint rendering may be understood to indicate that Simeon and Levi carried out injustice on the basis of their self-determination.

In verse 9, the Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “A lion cub [is] Iouda” [Judah]. From a shoot, you my son, ascended. Lying down, you slept like a lion.”

The rendering of verse 10 in the Septuagint, although pointing to a future ruler, contains wording that differs from the extant Hebrew text. “A ruler will not be missing from Iouda [Judah] and a leader from his loins until whenever the things reserved for him shall come. And he [is] the expectation of nations.”