Jacob prophesies about each of his twelve sons; some will be wealthy and mighty while others will be weak and servile. Jacob commands his sons to bury him in the cave of Machpelah next to his wife Leah, his parents Isaac and Rebekah, and his grandparents Abraham and Sarah. Jacob dies when he finishes speaking to his sons.
Jacob characterizes Judah as a lion: “Judah is a lion’s whelp, from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion, like a lioness, who dares rouse him up?” (v. 9)
1-28. Jacob “blesses” his children
1-2. Jacob (called such) gathers his sons for a prophetic speech
3-4. The firstborn Reuben will lose his power because he went up to Jacob’s bed
5-7. Simeon and Levi will be divided and scattered in Israel because of their violence
8-10. Judah is like a lion and will be given rulership
11-12. Judah will have an abundance of grapes and beauty
13. Zebulun will settle along the Mediterranean near Sidon
14-15. Issachar will become a servant to shepherds [near Shechem; he “bowed his shoulder (Shechem)”]
16-17. Dan will become highway robbers
18. Declaration of faith: Jacob waits for Yahweh’s deliverance
19. Gad will be sea raiders
20. Asher shall produce an abundance of bread
21. Naphtali is a doe with lovely fawns (?)
22-26. Joseph is blessed with viticulture, military might, offspring, protection from the ancestral god, and separation from his brothers
27. Benjamin is a carniverous wolf (?)
28. Conclusion to the “blessings” (called such)
29-32. Jacob commands his sons to bury him the Machpelah cave with his parents, grandparents, and Leah [who we did not know had died]
33. Jacob dies
IV. Select Verses
1: And Jacob called his sons and said, “Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.
8-10: You, O Judah, your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the nape of your foes; Your father’s sons shall bow low to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; On prey, my son, have you grown. He crouches, lies down like a lion, Like the king of beasts — who dare rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet; So that tribute shall come to him And the homage of peoples be his.
24-26: Yet his bow stayed taut, And his arms were made firm By the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob — There, the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel — The God of your father who helps you, And Shaddai who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that couches below, Blessings of the breast and womb. The blessings of your father Surpass the blessings of my ancestors, To the utmost bounds of the eternal hills. May they rest on the head of Joseph, On the brow of the elect of his brothers.
28: All these were the tribes of Israel, twelve in number, and this is what their father said to them as he bade them farewell, addressing to each a parting word appropriate to him.
29-32: Then he instructed them, saying to them, “I am about to be gathered to my kin. Bury me with my fathers in the cave which is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave which is in the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre, in the land of Canaan, the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site — 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, bought from the Hittites.”
33: When Jacob finished his instructions to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and, breathing his last, he was gathered to his people.
- There is tension between the introduction/conclusion to the “blessings” and the “blessings” themselves. In the introduction we are told of a prophetic speech, one that will reveal what is to happen in the future. While many of the statements can be read this way, such as Judah’s rulership and Joseph’s might and separation (the “house of Joseph” would eventually become the Northern Kingdom of Israel), other statements are more confusing. What does it mean that Naphtali is a doe with lovely fawns (v. 21)? What does it mean that Benjamin is a wolf that eats and shares its prey (v. 27)? Furthermore, the conclusion to Jacob’s speech (v. 28) mentions the “blessings” he gave to each son, but some of the statements are more like curses. Reuben’s role is diminished (vv. 3-4), Simeon and Levi will be scattered (vv. 5-7), and Issachar will become a servant in the region of Shechem (vv. 14-15). These are but some of the many difficulties in understanding this chapter.
- In v. 31 Jacob mentions burying Leah in the cave of Machpelah. We were not previously told that Leah had died. Similarly, although we had not been told that Jacob’s mother Rebekah had died, this is made explicit it v. 31: “There Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried.”
- In vv. 29-32 Jacob asks to be buried in the cave of Machpelah with his ancestors. Note that he refers to the acquisition of the cave from the Hittites three times, an emphasis that may suggest that the cave was disputed territory.
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
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