- Jacob is here upon his death-bed making his will: what he said here he could not say when he would, but as the Spirit gave him utterance, who chose this time that divine strength might be perfected in this weakness. The twelve sons of Jacob were in their day men of renown; but the twelve tribes of Israel, which descended and were denominated from them, were much more renowned, we find their names upon the gates of the new Jerusalem, Rev 21:12. In the prospect of which their dying father saith something remarkable of each son, or of the tribe that bore his name. Here is, I. The preface, verse 1, 2.
- II. The prediction concerning each tribe, verse 3-28.
- III. The charge repeated concerning his burial, verse 29-32.
- IV. His death, verse 33.
Gather yourselves together - Let them all be sent for to see their father die, and to hear his dying words. "Twas a comfort to Jacob, now he was dying, to see all his children about him tho' he had sometimes thought himself bereaved: 'twas of use to them to attend him in his last moments, that they might learn of him how to die, as well as how to live; what he said to each, he said in the hearing of all the rest, for we may profit by the reproofs, counsels and comforts that are principally intended for others. That I may tell you that which shall befal you, not your persons but your posterity, in the latter days - The prediction of which would be of use to those that come after them, for confirming their faith, and guiding their way, at their return to Canaan. We cannot tell our children what shall befal them, or their families, in this world; but we can tell them from the word of God, what will befal them in the last day of all, according as they carry themselves in this world.
Hearken to Israel your father - Let Israel that has prevailed with God, prevail with you.
Reuben thou art my first-born - Jacob here puts upon him the ornaments of the birth-right, that he and all his brethren might see what he had forfeited and in that might see the evil of his sin. As the first-born he was his father's joy, being the beginning of his strength. To him belonged the excellency of dignity above his brethren, and some power over them.
Thou shalt not excel - A being thou shalt have as a tribe, but not an excellency. No judge, prophet, or prince, are found of that tribe, nor any person of renown only Dathan and Abiram, who were noted for their impious rebellion. That tribe, as not aiming to excel, chose a settlement on the other side Jordan. The character fastened upon Reuben, for which he is laid under this mark of infamy, is, that he was unstable as water. His virtue was unstable, he had not the government of himself, and his own appetites. His honour consequently was unstable, it vanished into smoke, and became as water spilt upon the ground. Jacob charges him particularly with the sin for which he was disgraced, thou wentest up to thy father's bed - It was forty years ago that he had been guilty of this sin, yet now it is remembered against him. Reuben's sin left an indelible mark of infamy upon his family; a wound not to be healed without a scar.
Simeon and Levi are brethren - Brethren in disposition, but unlike their father: they were passionate and revengeful, fierce and wilful; their swords, that should have been only weapons of defence, were (as the margin reads it) weapons of violence, to do wrong to others, not to save themselves from wrong.
They slew a man - Shechem himself, and many others; and to effect that, they digged down a wall, broke the houses to plunder them, and murder the inhabitants. O my soul, come not thou into their secret -Hereby he professeth not only his abhorrence of such practices in general, but his innocency particularly in that matter. Perhaps he had been suspected as under-hand aiding and abetting; he therefore solemnly expresseth his detestation of the fact.
Cursed be their anger - Not their persons. We ought always in the expressions of our zeal carefully to distinguish between the sinner and the sin, so as not to love or bless the sin for the sake of the person, nor to hate or curse the person for the sake of the sin. I will divide them -The Levites were scattered throughout all the tribes, and Simeon's lot lay not together, and was so strait that many of that tribe were forced to disperse themselves in quest of settlements and subsistence. This curse was afterwards turned into a blessing to the Levites; but the Simeonites, for Zimri's sin, Numbers 25:6-14, had it bound on.
Judah's name signifies praise, in allusion to which he saith, Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise, God was praised for him, Genesis 29:35, praised by him, and praised in him; and therefore his brethren shall praise him. Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies - This was fulfilled in David, Psalms 18:40. Thy father's children shall bow down before thee - Judah was the law-giver, Psalms 60:7. That tribe led the van through the wilderness, and in the conquest of Canaan, Judges 1:2. The prerogatives of the birth-right which Reuben had forfeited, the excellency of dignity and power, were thus conferred upon Judah. Thy brethren shall bow down before thee, and yet shall praise thee, reckoning themselves happy in having so wise and bold a commander.
Judah is a lion's whelp - The lion is the king of beasts, the terror of the forest when he roars; when he seizeth his prey, none can resist him; when he goes up from the prey, none dares pursue him to revenge it. By this it is foretold that the tribe of Judah should become very formidable, and should not only obtain great victories but should peaceably enjoy what was got by those victories. Judah is compared not to a lion rampant, always raging but to a lion couching, enjoying the satisfaction of his success, without creating vexation to others.
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah till Shiloh come -Jacob here foretels, (1.) That the sceptre should come into the tribe of Judah, which was fulfilled in David, on whose family the crown was entailed. (2.) That Shiloh should be of this tribe; that seed in whom the earth should be blessed. That peaceable prosperous one, or, the Saviour, so others translate it, shall come of Judah. (3.) That the sceptre should continue in that tribe, till the coming of the Messiah, in whom as the king of the church, and the great High-priest, it was fit that both the priesthood and the royalty should determine. Till the captivity, all along from David's time, the sceptre was in Judah, and from thence governors of that tribe, or of the Levites that adhered to it, which was equivalent; till Judea became a province of the Roman empire just at the time of our Saviour's birth, and was at that time taxed as one of the provinces, Luke 2:1, and at the time of his death the Jews expressly owned, We have no king but Caesar. Hence it is undeniably inferred against the Jews, that our Lord Jesus is be that should come, and we are to look for no other, for he came exactly at the time appointed. (4.) That it should be a fruitful tribe, especially that it should abound with milk and wine, Genesis 49:11,12, vines so common, and so strong, that they should tye their asses to them, and so fruitful, that they should load their asses from them; wine as plentiful as water, so that the men of that tribe should be very healthful and lively, their eyes brisk and sparkling, their teeth white. Much of that which is here said concerning Judah is to be applied to our Lord Jesus. 1. He is the ruler of all his Father's children, and the conqueror of all his Father's enemies, and he it is that is the praise of all the saints. 2. He is the lion of the tribe of Judah, as he is called with reference to this, Revelation 5:5, who having spoiled principalities and powers, went up a conqueror, and couched so as none can stir him up when he sat down on the right hand of the Father. 3. To him belongs the sceptre, he is the lawgiver, and to him shall the gathering of the people be, as the desire of all nations, Haggai 2:7, who being lifted up from the earth should draw all men unto him, John 12:32, and in whom the children of God that are scattered abroad should meet as the centre of their unity, John 11:52. 4. In him there is plenty of all that which is nourishing and refreshing to the soul, and which maintains and chears the divine life in it; in him we may have wine and milk, the riches of Judah's tribe, without money, and without price, Isaiah 55:1.
Zebulon shall dwell at the haven of the sea - This was fulfilled, when 2 or 300 years after, the land of Canaan was divided by lot, and the border of Zebulon went up towards the sea, Joshua 19:11.
Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between two burdens - The men of that tribe shall be strong and industrious, fit for and inclined to labour, particularly the toil of husbandry, like the ass that patiently carries his burden. Issachar submitted to two burdens, tillage and tribute.
Dan shall judge his people - Though Dan was one of the sons of the concubines, yet he shall be a tribe governed by judges of his own as well as other tribes; and shall by art and policy, and surprise, gain advantages against his enemies, like a serpent suddenly biting the heel of the traveller.
I have waited for thy salvation, Lord - If he must break off here, and his breath will not serve him to finish what he intended, with these words he pours out his soul into the bosom of his God, and even breaths it out. The pious ejaculations of a warm and lively devotion, though sometimes they maybe incoherent, yet they are not impertinent; that may be uttered affectionately, which doth not come in methodically. It is no absurdity, when we are speaking to men, to lift up our hearts to God. The salvation he waited for was, 1st, Christ, the promised seed, whom he had spoken of, Genesis 49:10, now he was going to be gathered to his people, he breathes after him to whom the gathering of the people shall be. 2ndly, Heaven, the better country, which he declared plainly that he sought, Hebrews 11:13,14, and continued seeking now he was in Egypt.
Concerning Gad, he alludes to his name, which signifies a troop, foresees the character of that tribe, that it should be a warlike tribe; and so we find, 1 Chronicles 12:8, the Gadites were men of war fit for the battle. He foresees, that the situation of that tribe on the other side Jordan would expose it to the incursions of its neighbours, the Moabites and Ammonites; and that they might not be proud of their strength and valour, he foretells that the troops of their enemies should, in many skirmishes, overcome them; yet, that they might not be discouraged by their defeats, he assures them, that they should overcome at the last, which was fulfilled, when in Saul's time and David's the Moabites and Ammonites were wholly subdued.
Concerning Asher, he foretells, That it should be a rich tribe, replenished not only with bread for necessity, but with fatness, with dainties, royal dainties, and these exported out of Asher, to other tribes, perhaps to other lands. The God of nature has provided for us not only necessaries but dainties, that we might call him a bountiful benefactor; yet, whereas all places are competently furnished with necessaries, only some places afford dainties. Corn is more common than spices. Were the supports of luxury as universal as the supports of life, the world would be worse than it is, and that needs not.
Naphtali is a hind let loose - Those of this tribe were, as the loosen'd hind, zealous for their liberty, and yet affable and courteous, their language refined, and they complaisant, giving goodly words. Among God's Israel there is to be found a great variety of dispositions, yet all contributing to the beauty and strength of the body. He closes with the blessings of his best beloved sons, Joseph and Benjamin, with these he will breathe his last.
Joseph is a fruitful bough, or young tree, for God had made him fruitful in the land of his affliction, as branches of a vine, or other spreading plant, running over the wall.
The archer have sorely grieved him - Tho' he now lived at ease and in honour, Jacob minds him of the difficulties he had formerly waded through. He had many enemies here called archers, being skilful to do mischief; they hated him, they shot their poisonous darts at him. His brethren were spiteful towards him, mocked him, stripped him, sold him, thought they had been the death of him. His mistress sorely grieved him, and shot at him, when she solicited his chastity; and then shot at him by her false accusations.
But his bow abode in strength - His faith did not fail; he kept his ground, and came off conqueror. The arms of his hands were made strong - That is, his other graces did their part, his wisdom, courage, patience, which are better than weapons of war: By the hands of the mighty God - Who was therefore able to strengthen him; and the God of Jacob, a God in covenant with him. From thence, from this strange method of Providence, he became the shepherd and stone, the feeder and supporter of Israel, Jacob and his family. Herein Joseph was a type of Christ: He was shot at and hated, but borne up under his sufferings, and was afterwards advanced to be the shepherd and stone: and of the church in general, hell shoots its arrows against her, but heaven protects and strengthens her.
Even by the God of thy father Jacob, who shall help thee -Our experiences of God's power and goodness in strengthning us hitherto, are encouragements still to hope for help from him. He that has helped us, will. And by the Almighty, who shall bless thee; and he only blesseth indeed. Observe the blessings conferred on Joseph; First, Various and abundant blessings. Blessings of heaven above, rain in its season, and fair weather in its season; blessings of the deep that lies under this earth, or with subterraneous mines and springs. Blessings of the womb and the breasts are given when children are safely born and comfortably nursed. Secondly, Eminent and transcendent blessings, which prevail above the blessings of my progenitors - His father Isaac had but one blessing, and when he had given that to Jacob, he was at a loss for a blessing to bestow upon Esau; but Jacob had a blessing for each of his twelve sons, and now at the latter end, a copious one for Joseph. Thirdly, Durable and extensive blessings: unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills - Including all the products of the most fruitful hills, and lasting as long as they last. Of these blessings it is here said they shall be, so it is a promise; or, let them be, so it is a prayer, on the head of Joseph, to which let them be as a crown to adorn it, and a helmet to protect it.
Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf - It is plain, Jacob was guided in what he said by a spirit of prophecy, and not by natural affection, else he would have spoken with more tenderness of his beloved son Benjamin, concerning whom he only foretells, that his posterity should be a warlike tribe, strong and daring, and that they should enrich themselves with the spoil of their enemies, that they should be active in the world, and a tribe as much feared by their neighbours as any other; in the morning he shall devour the prey which he seized and divided over night.
I am to be gathered unto my people - Though death separate us from our children, and our people in this world, it gathers us to our fathers, and to our people in the other world. Perhaps Jacob useth this expression concerning death, as a reason why his sons should bury him in Canaan, for (saith he) I am to be gathered unto my people, my soul must be gone to the spirits of just men made perfect, and therefore bury me with my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and their wives.
And when Jacob had made an end of commanding of his sons - He addressed himself to his dying work. He put himself into a posture for dying; having sat upon the bed-side to bless his sons, the spirit of prophecy bringing fresh oil to his expiring lamp, when that work was done, he gathered up his feet into the bed, that he might lie along, not only as one patiently submitting to the stroke, but as one chearfully composing himself to rest. He then freely resigned his spirits into the hand of God, the father of spirit; he yielded up the ghost; and his separated soul went to the assembly of the souls of the faithful, who after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh are in joy and felicity; he was gathered to his people.