Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Jacob called unto his sons--It is not to the sayings of the
dying saint, so much as of the inspired prophet, that attention is
called in this chapter. Under the immediate influence of the Holy
Spirit he pronounced his prophetic benediction and described the
condition of their respective descendants in the last days, or future
Ge 49:3, 4.
REUBEN forfeited by his crime the rights and
honors of primogeniture. His posterity never made any figure; no judge,
prophet, nor ruler, sprang from this tribe.
SIMEON AND LEVI were
associate in wickedness, and the same prediction would be equally
applicable to both their tribes. Levi had cities allotted to them
in every tribe. On account of their zeal against idolatry, they were
honorably "divided in Jacob"; whereas the tribe of Simeon, which was
guilty of the grossest idolatry and the vices inseparable from it, were
JUDAH--A high pre-eminence is destined to this
Besides the honor of giving name to the Promised Land, David, and a
greater than David--the Messiah--sprang from it. Chief among the
tribes, "it grew up from a lion's whelp"--that is, a little power--till
it became "an old lion"--that is, calm and quiet, yet still
10. until Shiloh come--Shiloh--this obscure word is variously
interpreted to mean "the sent"
the "peaceable or prosperous one"
--that is, the Messiah
and when He should come, "the tribe of Judah should no longer boast
either an independent king or a judge of their own" [CALVIN]. The Jews have been for eighteen centuries
without a ruler and without a judge since Shiloh came, and "to Him the
gathering of the people has been."
ZEBULUN was to have its lot on the seacoast, close
to Zidon, and to engage, like that state, in maritime pursuits and
Ge 49:14, 15.
14. a strong ass couching down between two burdens--that is, it
was to be active, patient, given to agricultural labors. It was
established in lower Galilee--a "good land," settling down in the midst
of the Canaanites, where, for the sake of quiet, they "bowed their
shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute."
DAN--though the son of a secondary wife, was to be
"as one of the tribes of Israel."
17. Dan--"a judge."
a serpent . . . an adder--A serpent, an adder, implies
subtlety and stratagem; such was pre-eminently the character of Samson,
the most illustrious of its judges.
GAD--This tribe should be often attacked and
wasted by hostile powers on their borders
But they were generally victorious in the close of their wars.
ASHER--"Blessed." Its allotment was the seacoast
between Tyre and Carmel, a district fertile in the production of the
finest corn and oil in all Palestine.
NAPHTALI--The best rendering we know is this,
"Naphtali is a deer roaming at liberty; he shooteth forth goodly
branches," or majestic antlers [TAYLOR,
Scripture Illustrations], and the meaning of the prophecy seems
to be that the tribe of Naphtali would be located in a territory so
fertile and peaceable, that, feeding on the richest pasture, he would
spread out, like a deer, branching antlers.
22. a fruitful bough, &c.--denotes the extraordinary increase of
that tribe (compare
The patriarch describes him as attacked by envy, revenge, temptation,
ingratitude; yet still, by the grace of God, he triumphed over all
opposition, so that he became the sustainer of Israel; and then he
proceeds to shower blessings of every kind upon the head of this
favorite son. The history of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh shows
how fully these blessings were realized.
27. shall ravin like a wolf--This tribe in its early history
spent its energies in petty or inglorious warfare and especially in the
violent and unjust contest
in which it engaged with the other tribes, when, notwithstanding two
victories, it was almost exterminated.
28. all these are the twelve tribes of Israel--or ancestors.
Jacob's prophetic words obviously refer not so much to the sons as to
the tribes of Israel.
29. he charged them--The charge had already been given and
But in mentioning his wishes now and rehearsing all the circumstances
connected with the purchase of Machpelah, he wished to declare, with
his latest breath, before all his family, that he died in the same
faith as Abraham.
33. when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons--It is
probable that he was supernaturally strengthened for this last
momentous office of the patriarch, and that when the divine afflatus
ceased, his exhausted powers giving way, he yielded up the ghost, and
was gathered unto his people.