Genesis (Part 219)

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

Genesis 49:13-18

“Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea;
    he shall become a haven for ships,
    and his border shall be at Sidon.

14 “Issachar is a strong donkey,
    crouching between the sheepfolds.
15 He saw that a resting place was good,
    and that the land was pleasant,
so he bowed his shoulder to bear,
    and became a servant at forced labor.

16 “Dan shall judge his people
    as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
    a viper by the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
    so that his rider falls backward.
18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord.


This section continues with the blessings of Zebulun, Issachar, and Dan. Starting with The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 49:13

Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea;—not παρ ὅρμον πλοίων (LXX.), in statione navium (Vulgate), but to, or at, or beside, the. shore (from the idea of being washed by the waters of the ocean) of the waters, i.e. of the Galilean and Mediterranean seas—and he shall be for an haven of ships;—literally, and he to, at, or on, a shore of ships, i.e. a shore where ships are unloaded (so. shall dwell), the words being a repetition of the previous thought, with only the expansion, suggested by the term ships, that Zebulun’s calling should be in the direction of commerce;—and his border shall be unto Zidon—literally, and his side, or hinder part (sc. shall be, or extend), towards, rather than unto,—usque ad (Vulgate), ἕως (LXX.),—Zidon, since the territory subsequently allotted to Zebulun neither actually touched the Mediterranean, nor reached to Zidon—a circumstance that may be noted as an indirect hint that this prophecy was not spoken, or even first written, after the occupation of the land.

As the note hints at, there is some argument that this prophecy is a failed prophecy.

An article from addresses this:

(1) Some argue that the Genesis text does not demand that the tribal allotment for Zebulun actually border the Mediterranean Sea. Leupold, for example, contends that the grammar of the text can suggest that the tribe was to live near the Sea. “[I]t is not definitely stated that he is to dwell at or on the seashore but ‘toward’ it — lechoph yammim” (p. 1185). Kidner agrees, “the prepositions in the verse could mean ‘towards’” (p. 219).

(2) Another view, suggested by Kidner, is that both the seacoast and Sidon were near enough to Zebulun’s territory “to be enriched by the seaborne trade” (p. 219). Of both Zebulun and Issachar, it was said: “they draw from the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand” (Deuteronomy 33:18-19, ESV).

In connection with this passage, Keil thought that Jacob’s intention was “not so much to show the tribe its dwelling-place in Canaan, as to point out the blessing which it would receive from the situation of its inheritance” (p. 402).

(3) One theory contends that the prophecy refers to an early period in Israel’s settlement of the land when Zebulun, along with Issachar, was attempting “to become established” on the Sea of Galilee (Elliger, p. 941). Hamilton inclines to the “Sea of Galilee” view as well (p. 664).

(4) Another idea is that the prophetic utterance “could refer to the tribe’s Solomonic borders, which extended to the Mediterranean” (Jeansonne, p. 1056; cf. 1 Kings 4:21).

(5) Professor Livingston seemed to think that the language of the Genesis text was somewhat symbolic, hinting merely that Zebulun would be associated “with sea commerce. These people would be energetic traders” (p. 162).

(6) It may be the case that the descriptive in Genesis refers not so much to the actual tribal boundaries, but to where the descendants of this tribe might have roamed and lived from time to time. Alders notes that it is possible that “later shifts in the population of that area did place Zebulun on the coast,” even though such is not explicitly mentioned in the Old Testament (p. 282).

The tribes did, in fact, tend to wander. Josephus wrote: “The tribe of Zebulon’s lot included the land which lay as far as the Lake of Genesareth [Sea of Galilee], and that which belonged to Carmel and the sea [Mediterranean]” (Antiquities, 5.1.22). Some scholars believe there is evidence that the tribe of Zebulun penetrated into the Plain of Acco, likely under the patronage of several Canaanite cities (Aharoni, p. 18).

One may recall that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth (in the territory of Zebulun), even though they were descended from the tribe of Judah.

With so many possible solutions proffered concerning the puzzling declaration of Jacob, it is wholly unrealistic to suggest that the prophecy was never fulfilled, and so to conclude that the biblical record is in error.

It is an odd circumstance that some scholars claim Zebulun never did attain the land prophesied by Jacob, while other equally competent authorities argue that the tribal settlement did satisfy the language of the Genesis text. In the meantime, all admit that the boundary specifications of Joshua 19:10-16 are quite vague — some cities not being mentioned by name, while others still lie buried in the dust of antiquity — not yet identified!

Finally, there is this important point. “The language here used, though in all material points fulfilled in the subsequent history, is just what would not have been written by a forger in after times” (Browne, p. 229). This fact tends to discredit the liberal theory of a late-date for Genesis.

Continuing on with the blessing of Issachar in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary in the next verse:

(14) Issachar.—The description of Issachar’s lot is derived partly from the cognizance he had chosen for his signet, and partly from his personal character, He had taken for his symbol the ass—a very noble, active, spirited, and enduring animal in the East. (See Genesis 16:12, where Ishmael is compared to the wild ass, which adds to these qualities the love of freedom.) His real character was slothful, inactive, and commonplace. Jacob therefore likens him to a “strong ass;” Heb., an ass of bone, that is, one coarsely bred, as animals of high parentage have small bones. He is thus fit only to be a drudge, and with the laziness of a cart-horse lies down “between two burdens.” The word occurs again in Judges 5:16, and is there more correctly rendered sheepfolds. More exactly it means the pens in which the cattle were folded during the nights of summer; and it is in the dual form, because these pens were divided into two parts for the larger and smaller cattle. Thus Issachar, stretched at ease between his cattle-pens, gives us the idea of a tribe occupied with pastoral pursuits, and destitute of all higher aspirations.

(15) A servant unto tribute.—Heb., task-work. It means service paid in actual labour, such as was exacted by Solomon of the descendants of the Canaanites (1 Kings 9:21, where the phrase used here is translated “a tribute of bondservice;” and 2 Chronicles 8:8). In the Middle Ages this forced labour—called” service without wages in Jeremiah 22:13—was one of the wrongs most deeply felt by the peasantry, as they had to neglect their own plots of ground to labour for their seigneurs. The picture, then, is that of a race settled in a rich agricultural country, and content to endure a great deal of injustice because their condition as a whole was prosperous.

From wiki:

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Issachar (Hebrew: יִשָּׂשכָר/יִשְׂשָׂכָר‎, Modern:Yissachar, Tiberian:Yīśśāśḵār/Yīś’śāḵār) was one of the twelve tribes of Israel and one of the ten lost tribes. In Jewish tradition, the descendants of Issachar were seen as being dominated by religious scholars and influential in proselytism. The sons of Issachar, ancestors of the tribe, were Tola, Phuvah, Job and Shimron.

Next is the Tribe of Dan. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 49:16-18

Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. With a play upon his name, the firstborn son of Rachel’s handmaid, Bilhah, is described as one who should occupy an important place and exercise highly beneficial functions in the future commonwealth, enjoying independence and self-government as one of the tribes of Israel (Herder, and others), and performing the office of an administrator among the People not of his own tribe merely, but also of all Israel, a prediction pointing perhaps to the transient supremacy enjoyed by Dan over the other tribes in the days of Samson (Onkelos, et alii). Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. The שְׁפִיפוֹן, from the Syriac שֶׁפַף, to glide (Gesenins), from שׁוּף, to sting (Kalisch), שָׁפַף, to bite (Furst), was the horned serpent, cerastes, of the color of sand, and marked with white and black spots, which was exceedingly dangerous to passers-by, its bite being poisonous and fatal. The allusion has been almost unanimously explained as pointing to Samson (Judges 16:28), but the tribe in general appears not to have been entirely destitute of the treacherous and formidable characteristics here depicted (Judges 18:27). “It is certainly observable that the first introduction of idolatry in Israel is ascribed to the tribe of Dan (Judges 18:1-31.), and that in the numbering of the tribes in Revelation 7:1-17 the name of Dan is omitted. From these or other causes many of the Fathers were led to believe that Antichrist should spring from the tribe of Dan” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord. To discover in this beautiful and tender ejaculation of the dying patriarch an apprehensive sigh lest his strength should be exhausted before his benediction was completed (Tuch), or a prayer that God might speedily effect his painless dissolution (Hengstenberg), or a device for dividing his benedictions, and separating the group of Judah from that of Joseph (Lange), is surely to fail in seizing its hidden spirit. It is doubtful if even the usual interpretation, that Jacob here expresses his hope and expectation that God would help and succor his descendants (Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy, and others), exhausts its rich significance. That, speaking in their name, he does anticipate the deliverance of Jehovah” In thy help do I hope, O Jehovah!—is apparent; but nothing surely can be more natural than to suppose that the dying patriarch, at the moment when he was formally transmitting to his children the theocratic blessing, had his thoughts lifted up towards that great salvation, of which all these material and temporal benedictions pronounced upon his sons were but the shadows and the types, and of which perhaps he had been incidentally reminded by the mention of the biting serpent, to which he had just likened Dan (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). It is noticeable that this is the first occurrence of the term salvation (יְשׁוּעָח( noit, from the root יָשַׁע, unused in Kal, to be roomy or spacious, hence in the Hiphil to set free or deliver).

As the note above provides, Dan has an interesting place in Christian eschatology. From wiki:

Revelation 7:4–8 mentions that people from the twelve tribes of Israel will be sealed. The selection of the twelve tribes does not include the names of Ephraim and Dan, although their names were used for the twelve tribes that settled in the Promised Land. It has been suggested that this could be because of their pagan practices. This led Irenaeus, Hippolytus of Rome and some Millennialists to propose that the Antichrist will come from the tribe of Dan.

A 15th-century Latin chronicle, “Chronicon Holsatiae vetus”, found in Gottfried Leibniz‘s Accessiones historicae (1698),  states the Danes were of the Tribe of Dan. The antiquarian Henry Spelman in 1620 had made a similar claim that the Danes were the Israelite Tribe of Dan, based on the apparent similarity in name. Additionally, proponents of Nordic and British Israelism have made similar claims about descent from the tribe of Dan. British Israelite authors such as John Cox Gawler and J. H. Allen identified the Tribe of Dan with Denmark. While another prominent British Israelite author, Edward Hine, took the view that the tribe of Dan had originated in Denmark and then migrated to the British Isles.

Some Ethiopian Jews, also known as Beta Israel, claim descent from the Tribe of Dan, whose members migrated south along with members of the tribes of GadAsher, and Naphtali, into the Kingdom of Kush, now Ethiopia and Sudan, during the destruction of the First Temple. This position is supported by former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. They are said to have fought with the natives.

As is often the case, British Israelism is most commonly found in when one looks at eschatology. Research in DNA and ancestry has not yet aided these beliefs, though there has now been work to map the Jewish diaspora using DNA.

Perhaps someday many of these mysteries will be solved.