Genesis (Part 217)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 49:1-7

49 Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.

“Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob,
    listen to Israel your father.

“Reuben, you are my firstborn,
    my might, and the firstfruits of my strength,
    preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence,
    because you went up to your father’s bed;
    then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!

“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
    weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
    O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
    and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
    and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
    and scatter them in Israel.


Jacob prophecies over his three eldest sons. The three sons will become the namesakes of future tribes, however, the prophecies are not positive. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 49:1

And Jacob (having closed his interview with Joseph and his two sons) called (by means of messengers) unto his sons (i.e. the others who were then absent), and said, Gather yourselves together,—the prophet’s last utterance must be a public one—that I may tell you—literally, and I will tell youthat which shall befall you—קָרָא, in the sense of happening or occurring to any one, is here equivalent to קָרָה (cf. Genesis 42:4Genesis 42:38)—in the last days—literally, in the end of the days, not simply in future time (Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Kalisch), or in the times intervening between the speaker and the end of the human race (Murphy), but in the last age, the closing period of time, the era of fulfillment (Kurtz, Hengstenberg), which era, however, must be judged from the standpoint of the speaker (Baumgarten). Hence the period must not be restricted to exclusively Messianic times (Rabbi Nachmanides), ἐπ ἐσχάτῶν τῶν ἡμερῶν (LXX.), in diebus novissimis (Vulgate), but must commence with what to Jacob was the era of consummation, the days of the conquest (Baumgarten, Hengstenberg); while, on the other hand, it can as little be limited to these, but must be held as extending over totum tempus ab exitu AEgypti ad Christi regnum (Calvin), and even as reaching, though unconsciously to Jacob, to the very terminus of human history (Keil, Lange).

The note translates “in the days to come” as “in the last days.”

in days = יוֹם yôwm, yome; from an unused root meaning to be hot; a day (as the warm hours), whether literal (from sunrise to sunset, or from one sunset to the next), or figurative (a space of time defined by an associated term), (often used adverb):—age, always, chronicals, continually(-ance), daily, ((birth-), each, to) day, (now a, two) days (agone), elder, × end, evening, (for) ever(-lasting, -more), × full, life, as (so) long as (… live), (even) now, old, outlived, perpetually, presently, remaineth, × required, season, × since, space, then, (process of) time, as at other times, in trouble, weather, (as) when, (a, the, within a) while (that), × whole ( age), (full) year(-ly), younger.

to come = אַחֲרִית ʼachărîyth, akh-ar-eeth’; from H310; the last or end, hence, the future; also posterity:—(last, latter) end (time), hinder (utter) -most, length, posterity, remnant, residue, reward.

Looking at the words from which the translation is rendered, it seems certainly plausible that the words could be translated either way.

Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries and verse 2:

Genesis 49:2

Gather yourselves together,—the repetition indicates at once the elevation of the speaker’s soul, and the importance, in his mind, of the impending revelation—and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father. The two clauses form a synthetic or synonymous parallel, numerous illustrations of which are to be found in the succeeding verses.

Verse 1 and verse 2 feel like a ceremonial beginning for what follows. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(3) The beginning of my strength.—In Genesis 35:18, the word oni means “my sorrow,” and it is so translated here by the Vulg., Aquila, and Symmachus. But in this verse Jacob magnifies the prerogatives of the firstborn, and our version is undoubtedly right in deriving oni from a different and not uncommon word signifying strength. It occurs in Deuteronomy 21:17Job 40:16Psalms 78:51Psalms 105:36, &c.

The excellency . . . —We must here supply, “And therefore to thee as the firstborn belonged,” first, the excellency of dignity, that is, the priesthood; and secondly, the excellency of power, that is, the kingly office. As a matter of history no king, judge, or prophet is recorded as having sprung from the tribe of Reuben.

Here we find evidence from the commentary of another word with a disputed translation.

strength = אוֹן ʼôwn, one; probably from the same as H205 (in the sense of effort, but successful); ability, power, (figuratively) wealth:—force, goods, might, strength, substance.

It is noteworthy, from a prophetic evaluation, that no king, judge, or prophet is recorded as having spruing from the tribe of Reuben. The namesake’s sin of lying with his father’s wife becomes a consequence the tribe lives with ever after.

More on this verse from The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 49:3Genesis 49:4

Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power:—Jacob’s patriarchal benediction takes the form of an elevated poem, or sublime religious hymn, exhibiting the well-known classes of parallelism, the synthetic the antithetic, and the synonymous, not alone in its separate clauses, but sometimes also in its stanzas or verses. As was perhaps to be expected, it begins with Reuben, who is characterized by a threefold designation, viz.,

(1) by his position in the family, as Jacob’s firstborn;

(2) by his relation to Jacob, as the patriarch’s “might,” כּחַ, or robur virile, and “the beginning” of his “strength,” not “of his sorrow” (Vulgate, Aquila, Symmachus), though אוֹן might be so translated (cf. Genesis 35:18), and the sense would sufficiently accord with the allusion of Genesis 49:4, but, as required by the parallelism, “of his vigor,” אוֹן being here equivalent to כּחַ (Rosenmuller, Kalisch, Keil, ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ et alii); and

(3) by the natural prominence which as Jacob’s eldest son belonged to him, “the excellency of dignity” or “elevation,” i.e. the dignity of the chieftainship, and “the excellency of power,” or authority, which the first born claimed and received as his prerogative. Yet the natural advantages enjoyed by Reuben as Jacob’s firstborn were to be taken from him, as the patriarch proceeded to announce—Unstable as water,—literally, boiling over like water, the import of which is not effusus es sicut aqua (Vulgate), but either ἐξύβρισας ὡς ὑδωρ (LXX.), or lasciviousness (sc. was to thee) as the boiling of water (Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, &c.), the same root in Arabic conveying the notion of pride, and in Syriac that of wantonness—thou shalt not excel;—literally, thou shalt not have the יֶרֶת or excellency (Genesis 49:3), i.e. the pre-eminence belonging to the firstborn, a sense which the versions have more or less successfully expressed: μὴ περισσεύσης (Aquila), οὐκ ἔση περισσότερος (Symmachus), μὴ ἐκζέσης (LXX.), non crescas (Vulgate)—because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed (vide Genesis 35:221 Chronicles 5:1); then defiledst thou it:—the verb is used absolutely, as meaning that Reuben had desecrated what ought to have been regarded by him as sacred (cf. Deuteronomy 27:20)—he went up to my couch—literally, my couch he ascends; the order of the words and the change from the second to the third person helping to give expression to the horror and indignation with which, even at that distance of time, the venerable patriarch contemplated the shameful deed.

Though the sin was no doubt well known to his brothers, this public pronouncement of prophetic “blessing” could not have been a happy thing for Reuben to hear. Continuing on with the second and third brothers, Simeon and Levi, in Ellicott:

(5) Simeon and Levi are brethren.—That is, they are alike in character and disposition. Despising the feeble Reuben, they seem to have been close friends and allies, and probably tried to exercise a tyrannical authority over their younger brethren, Judah being the only one near them in age.

Their habitations.—This translation is universally abandoned, but there is much difference of opinion as to the real meaning of the word. The most probable explanation is that given by Jerome and Rashi, who render it swords. Apparently it is the Greek word machaera, a knife; and as neither the Hebrews nor the Canaanites were metallurgists, such articles·were imported by merchants from Ionia. Long before the days of Jacob, caravans of traders traversed the whole country, and the goods which they brought would carry with them their own foreign names. The sentence, therefore, should be translated, “weapons of violence are their knives.” The other meaning given by some competent critics, namely, compacts, if the word could be formed at all from the supposed root, would mean marriage contracts, and this gives no intelligible sense.

For some context, regarding the violence Jacob accuses them of committing, Simeon and Levi were the ringleaders of the sacking of Shechem, in the aftermath of the rape of Dinah (Gen. 34.) They were also the likely ringleaders of the enslavement of Joseph (Genesis 37.) Jacob is not done with them yet, though. Continuing in verse 6 in Ellicott:

(6) Their secret.—The word sôd used here is literally the little carpet, or cushion, upon which an Oriental sits. Consequently, for two persons to sit upon the same carpet marks a high degree of friendship and familiarity. It would therefore be more exactly translated alliance, or intimacy.

Unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united.—For assembly (Heb. congregation)see Genesis 28:3Genesis 35:11. It means here their union, or confederacy. In the first clause Jacob bids his soul, his true self, not to enter their alliance; here, after the manner of the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, he intensifies the meaning. For by mine honour, he signifies all that gave him dignity and worth in the sight of God and man. And this nobleness would be degraded and lost by union with men banded together for evil.

In their self-will they digged down a wall—Self-will is worse than anger, and signifies that arrogant temper which leads on to wanton cruelty. The last words mean, they houghed an ox. The Vulgand Syriac took it as our version does, and understood it of making a breach in the walls of Shechem; but they had a different reading, shur, whereas the word in the Hebrew is shor, an ox, and it is so rendered by the LXX. The ox was in old times the symbol of majesty, and thus bulls are put for princes in Psalms 22:12Psalms 68:30. Thus, then, the meaning is, “In their anger at the wrong done to their sister they slew Hamor, prince of Shechem, with his people; and from wanton cruelty, without any just cause for indignation, they hamstrung the noblest of their brethren, not killing Joseph outright, but disabling him by selling him into slavery, that he might there perish.”

Despite the belief that the two were ringleaders in the plot to enslave Joseph, the anger here from Jacob seems to be focused on what the two brothers did in Shechem. However, the note above does imply that “hamstrung oxen” may have been a reference toward their actions with their brother Joseph.

Finishing the section, in verses 5-7, with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 49:5-7

Simeon and Levi are brethren (not in parentage alone, but also in their deeds; e.g. their massacre of the Shechemites (Genesis 34:25), to which undoubtedly the next words allude); instruments of cruelty are in their habitations—literally, instruments of violence their מְכֵדֹתa ἅπαξ λεγόμ. which has been variously rendered

(1) their dwellings, or habitations (Kimchi, AV; Calvin, Ainsworth), in the land of their sojourning (Onkelos), for which, however, there does not seem to be much authority;

(2) their machinations or wicked counsels, deriving from מָכַר, to string together, to take in a net, to ensnare (Nahum 3:4), the cognate Arabic root signifying to deceive or practice stratagems (De Dieu, Schultens, Castelli, Tayler Lewis, and others);

(3) their betrothals, or compacts of marriage, connecting with the same root as the preceding in the sense of “binding together” (Dathius, Clericus, Michaelis, Knobel, Furst, et alii);

(4) their rage, as suggested by the unused root כִּיד, to boil or seethe (Kalisch);

(5) their swords, from &כּוּר כָּרָה to dig or pierce through, cf. μάχαιρα (Vulgate, Luther, Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Keil, Murphy, and others). The preponderance of authority appears to be in favor of this last. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; literally, into their council or assembly (סוֹד, from יָסַד, to set or sit) come not, my soul, or my soul shall not come (cf. Proverbs 1:15Proverbs 1:16)—unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united:—literally, with or in their assembly or congregation (קָהֵל from קָהַל, to call together: cf. Genesis 28:3Genesis 35:11Genesis 48:4), mine honor or glory (i.e. the soul as being the noblest part of man: Psalms 16:9Psalms 57:9Psalms 108:2—the term כְּבֹדִי is parallel with the preceding נַפְשִׁי), do not join (Keil), or shall not join (Kalisch)—for in their anger they slew a man,—literally, man, a collective, singular for “men,” the plural form of Ge occurring rarely; only in Psalms 141:4Proverbs 8:4; and Isaiah 53:3and in their self will they digged down a wall—literally, they houghed ox (LXX; Gesenius, Furst, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, Lange, Gerlach, T. Lewis, Murphy, &c; &e.), the singular שׁוֹר, the plural of which is only found once, in Hosea 12:12, being retained here to correspond with אִישׁ. The received rendering, which is not without sanction (Onkelos, Targnm of Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Aquila, Symmachus, Vulgate, Dathius, Calvin), reads שׁוּר instead of שׁוֹר, and takes עָקַרin the primary sense of destruere, evertexe. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel:—the second synonym “wrath,” literally, outpourings, indicates the fullness and intensity of the tide of fury which by Simeon and Levi was let loose upon the unsuspecting Shechemites—I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. While for the sin (the deed, not the doers) Jacob has a curse, for the sinners themselves he has a well-merited chastisement. They had been confederate in their wickedness, they should in future, when returning to occupy their God. assigned inheritance, be disjoined. That this prediction was exactly fulfilled Scripture testifies. At the second census in the wilderness, shortly before the conquest, the tribe of Simeon had become so reduced in its numbers as to be the smallest of the twelve (Numbers 26:14); to be passed over entirely in the last blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1-29.); to be accorded no independent allotment of territory in Canaan on the completion of the conquest, having only a few cities granted to it within the borders of Judah (Joshua 19:1-9); and to be ultimately absorbed in the more powerful and distinguished tribe under whose protection and tutelage, so to speak, it had been placed (1 Chronicles 4:27). The tribe of Levi also was deprived of a separate inheritance, receiving only a number of cities scattered here and there among the possessions of their brethren (Joshua 21:1Joshua 21:40); and, though by its election to the priesthood the curse may be said to have been turned into a blessing, yet of this signal honor which was waiting Levi Jacob was completely silent, showing both that no prophecy was of any private interpretation (the seer seeing no further than the Holy Spirit helped him), and that Jacob spoke before the days of Moses. It is almost incredible that a late writer would have omitted to forecast the latter-day glory of the tribe of Levi; and this opinion is confirmed by observing the very different strain in which, after Levi’s calling had been revealed, the benediction of Moses himself proceeds (Deuteronomy 33:8-11).

Simeon – as prophecy indicates – ends up with no territory after the conquest of Canaan and is absorbed by Judah. Levi also ends up with no territory as the tribe of priests. The commentary note above makes a strong argument for an earlier dating of Genesis due to the fact that it omits Levi’s eventual positive blessing entirely. Would a scribe writing later have chosen to omit Levi’s fate from its predictions? It seems unlikely.

The next blessing / prophecy is significant and concerns Judah.