THE PENTATEUCH PART I: GENESIS
LESSON 20: Genesis 49:1-50:26
Israel Comes to Egypt
Eternal God of the Patriarchs,
Your faithful love endures forever - it is as faithful and true in the age of the Patriarchs as it is in the final age of Your Church today. Each generation stands in awe of Your perfect fatherhood to Your covenant people and Your merciful call to men and women of every ethnicity in every age to come to salvation and to enter into Your eternal bliss through the gate opened by Your Son and our Savior. We thank You, Lord, for the stories of the origin of the world and the stories of the lives transformed by faith recorded in the Book of Genesis. The record of their lives, their struggles, their failings and their victories remind us that men and women really haven't changed since You placed them upon the earth. Help us to learn by their examples, both good and bad, as we continue on our pilgrim journeys to Your Promised Land. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
apprehensive or anxious," Joseph says. "I belong to God," [...]. Then to show
how great is the favor he enjoys from God Joseph says, "You acted against me
with evil intent, but God turned everything to good for me. Hence Paul also
said, "For those who love God all things work together for good." "All
things," he says. What is meant by "all things"? Opposition and apparent
disappointment - even these things are turned into good, which is exactly what
happened with this remarkable man. In fact, what was done by his brothers had
the particular effect of bringing him the kingship, thanks to the creative
God's wisdom transforming all their wickedness into good.
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 67.19 (quoting Rom 8:28)
Joseph was sent as a slave into Egypt when he was only seventeen years old. After thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment, when he was thirty years old, he was called to come before the Pharaoh of Egypt and interpreted his dreams. A grateful Pharaoh raised him up out of slavery and elevated him to the position of the Vizier over all Egypt. For eighty years Joseph held complete control of the most powerful country in the ancient Near East. Although he suffered at the hands of his brothers, struggled with temptations, suffered servitude and prison, he never lost his faith and hope in God. His rewards for faith and obedience were far greater than his hardships. Bearing his sufferings nobly and in thankfulness, God rewarded him by making him the savior of his people and a prophet of the future Exodus out of Egypt in Israel's return to the Promised Land, as St. Paul wrote: It was by faith that, when he was about to die, Joseph mentioned the Exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his own remains (Heb 11:22).
Question: In the story of Joseph did you notice the
curious reoccurring theme of twos/doubles? In reading though the story of
Joseph from Genesis chapter 37 to the end of Genesis in chapter 50 how many
doubles or pairing can you find?
Answer: Here are some, but not all, of the doublets:
In the significance of numbers in Scripture the number two can signify difference, division, or double portion. For New Covenant Christians the number two came to signify God the Son who came to divide the Old from the New and the sheep from the goats (Mt 10:34-36; 25:31-33). Joseph's sons are a double blessing. Even Jacob's sons are divided into two groups: the 10 sons by Leah and the slave women as opposed to the sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. There is also the division between Joseph and Judah and the question of which one will carry the "promised seed." In the story of Joseph the symmetry in the repetition of doubles is a sign that God's providence is at work in Joseph's life to fulfill a part of God's plan for man's salvation. For more information on the symbolism of numbers see the document: "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture" in the Documents section.
Jacob's Deathbed Blessings/Anti-blessings for His Twelve Sons and their Descendants
|Sons in order of Jacob's blessing||Birth order and mother||Symbol of blessings/anti-blessings||
|1. Reuben||#1 – Leah||Water = reckless||49:3-4|
|2. Simeon||#2 – Leah||Weapon = violence||49:5-7|
|3. Levi||#3 – Leah||Weapon = violence||49: 5-7|
|#4 – Leah||Lion = royalty||49:8-12|
|5. Zebulun||#10 – Leah||Ships = commerce||49:13|
|6. Issachar||#9 – Leah||Donkey = strong & lazy||49:14-15|
|7. Dan||#5 – Bilhah||Snake = judgment||49: 16-17|
|8. Gad||#7 – Zilpah||Raider = retaliation||49:19|
|9. Asher||#8 – Zilpah||Rich food = plenty||49:20|
|10. Naphtali||#6 – Bilhah||Hind = beauty||49:21|
|11. Joseph||#11 – Rachel||Fruitful vine = deliverance||49:22-26|
|12. Benjamin||#12 – Rachel||Wolf = predator sharing prey||49:27|
There is an odd lack of symmetry in the list. The first four and the last two names are in birth order, but the six middle names are out of order. Five of the sons have animal symbols but the other seven do not. Next, it appears the names may be listed according to the birth mothers, with all of Leah's and Rachel's sons listed together, but then Bilhah's sons are divided by Zilpah's sons and are therefore out of order. This lack of order is unusual. In this part of the narrative, the names "Jacob" and "Israel" occur exactly five times each in Genesis 49: 1, 2, 7, 16, 24, 28, and 33. Calling his sons together for a public blessing, Jacob/Israel speaks as Yahweh's inspired prophet, giving blessings/anti-blessings that will impact future generations.
Please read Genesis 49:1-2: The Call for the Final
49:1Jacob called his sons and said, 'Gather round, so that I can tell you what is in store for you in the final days (in days to come*). 2Gather round, sons of Jacob, and listen; listen to Israel your father.
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 135).
Jacob's parting words to his sons (and future generations) become the final statement of the major theme of the Book of Genesis: God's plan to restore His covenantal blessings to Adam (Gen 1:28) and to fulfill Abraham's covenantal promises (Gen 12:1-3) through Jacob's descendants. In the beginning of his poem Jacob frames the context of his blessings as directed to future generations by saying: Gather round, so that I can tell you what is in store for you in the final days (in days to come*). The interpretation of the passage must be placed in that context. This same phrase, "days to come," is found three times in the Pentateuch: here in Jacob's final discourse (Gen 49:1), in the oracles of Balaam (Num 24:14) and in Moses' last homily to the children of Israel (Dt 31:29). In each case the phrase is used in the context of God's future deliverance of his covenant people, and at the center of that deliverance is a future king (Gen 49:10; Num 24:17; Dt 33:5).
The three prophecies to be fulfilled "in the days to come" coupled with the prophecy of a future king:
in "days to come"
|Prophecy of a future king|
|Gather round, so that I can tell you what is in store for you in the final days ( days to come* (Gen 49:1)||The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute be brought him (shiloh =the one who is sent* comes ) and the peoples render his obedience (Gen 49:10).|
|Let me warn you what this people will do to your people, in days to come (Num 24:14).||I see him; but not in the present. I perceive him; but not close at hand; a star is emerging from Jacob, a scepter is rising from Israel... (Num 24:17).|
|In final days (days to come*) disaster will befall you... (Dt 31:29).||
The assembly of Jacob comes into its inheritance; there
was a king (then he became king*) in Jeshurun++ when the heads of the people
foregathered and the tribes of Israel were all assembled!
* = literal translation (*Interlineal Bible, vol. I, pages 135, 547); + = shiloh is the Hebrew word used in this verse; the RSV has a better translation of 49:10: until he comes to whom it belongs and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples; ++ Jeshurun, which probably means "upright," is a poetic term for the nation of Israel (see Dt 32:15; 33:25; Is 44:2).
The key word in this part of the narrative is the Hebrew word "to bless," expressed as "bless/blessed/blessings" in the poem. In the literal Hebrew translation it is used nine times: four times in Genesis 49:25 and twice in 49:26 (in Joseph's blessing for a total of six times), and finally it is used three times in the closing statement in 49:28: ll these make up the tribes of Israel, twelve in number, and this is what their father said to them as he bade them farewell (blessed them*), giving each an appropriate blessing, (he blessed them*). * = literal translation "bless/blessing is used three times in 49:28 in the Hebrew text (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 137). The use of the word "to bless" an imperfect nine times instead of the expected ten or twelve times (perfection of order and perfection of government) may point to these "blessings" being judgments for righteous and non-righteous behavior (nine is the number of judgment).
The order of the list does not follow the birth order of the sons but begins with the "chief wife," Leah, proceeds through the sons of the concubines and ends with the sons of Rachel. Like Esau's blessing in Genesis 27:39-40, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi's blessings are in reality anti-blessings pronounced as judgments. In Reuben's case, the judgment is for sleeping with Jacob's concubine and for Simeon and Levi the judgment is their punishment for their cruelty and the massacre at Shechem. The blessings of the sons are presented with clever word plays on the sons' names and the symbols representing them.
Please read Deuteronomy 33:4-29 and compare Jacob's blessing of his sons and their future descendants to Moses' blessing of the tribes of Israel in his final homily to the assembled tribes prior to the beginning of the conquest.
Please read Genesis 49:3-7: Reuben, Simeon, and Levi's
49:3Reuben, you are my first-born, my vigor, and the first-fruit of my manhood, foremost in pride, foremost in strength, 4uncontrolled as water: you will not be foremost, for you climbed into your father's bed, and so defiled my couch, to my sorrow. 5Simeon and Levi are brothers in carrying out their malicious plans (are bothers; their weapons are instruments of violence*). 6May my soul not enter their council nor my heart join their company, for in their rage they have killed men and hamstrung oxen at their whim. 7Accursed be their rage for its ruthlessness, their wrath for its ferocity. I shall disperse them in Jacob, I shall scatter them through Israel.
* literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 135).
The phrase "you will not be foremost" (or you will not excel) is played off the two preceding phrases: "foremost in pride (excelling in pride), foremost in strength (excelling in strength)..." He who was once foremost is no longer foremost - he has been deposed and declared unfit because of the events revealed in Genesis 35:22. Later the writer of the Book of Chronicles will explain Reuben's rejection: Sons of Reuben, first-born of Israel. He was indeed the first-born but, when he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel, and he was no longer reckoned as the eldest son (1 Chr 5:1-2).
Question: In Reuben's judgment what biblical theme in
Genesis is repeated?
Answer: The loss of the privileged position of the "firstborn" by the eldest son.
Normally the "firstborn," the "first fruit of the womb," is assured the rights of family leadership the double portion of the material wealth. Reuben has forfeited these honors because he is unfit, he is reckless, as turbulent as flowing water. Reuben's rights as "firstborn" in receiving the double portion will be given to the sons of Joseph.
Genesis 49:4: uncontrolled as water: you will not be foremost, for you climbed into your father's bed, and so defiled my couch, to my sorrow.
The Hebrew root of the word translated as "uncontrolled" also means to be "wanton, reckless, haughty, boastful, or unstable like boiling or overflowing water" (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon, page 808), and explains water as the metaphor applied to Reuben. Jewish scholars have always seen Reuben's incest with his father's concubine as an act of rebellion, like Absalom's sexual exploitation of David's concubines or Ham and Canaan's rebellion against Noah. In his commentary on Genesis, Dr. Waltke compared Jacob's son Reuben to Noah's son Ham: "Like Ham Reuben's pride and passion cost him an eternal blessing" (Waltke, page 606).
Genesis 49:5-7: 49:5Simeon and Levi are brothers in carrying out their malicious plans (are bothers; their weapons are instruments of violence*). 6May my soul not enter their council nor my heart join their company, for in their rage they have killed men and hamstrung oxen at their whim. 7Accursed be their rage for its ruthlessness, their wrath for its ferocity. I shall disperse them in Jacob, I shall scatter them through Israel.
Simeon and Levi are also unfit to lead because they share the same wicked traits; they are violent, cruel, and brutal men. They tortured animals for their pleasure and attacked and massacred the men of Shechem. They will share the same judgment.
Question: What was the judgment on Simeon and Levi?
Answer: The prophecy that their descendants are to be disbursed throughout the other tribes of Israel. They are also rejected as "firstborn" status.
As a sign of the violence they are identified by their weapons. The tribe of Simeon will eventually be absorbed into the territory of the tribe of Judah (Josh 19:1, 9). Simeon's tribe is not mentioned in Moses' blessing of the tribes, perhaps because it has already been incorporated into Judah (Dt 33:4-29). Levi's descendants will be denied any single portion of the Promised Land but they will receive control of forty-eight towns of refuge and will receive pasturelands among the territories controlled by the twelve tribes as their reward for ministerial service (Ex 32:28; Num 3:11-13; 18:1-7; 25:7-13; 35:1-5; Dt 33:8-11; Josh 14:4; 21:41).
Please read Genesis 49:8-12: Judah's Blessing
49:8Judah, your brothers will praise you: you grip your enemies by the neck, your father's sons will do you homage. 9Judah is a lion's whelp; you stand over your prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, a mighty lion: who dare rouse him? 10The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute be brought him (until shiloh come*) and the peoples render him obedience. 11He tethers his donkey to the vine, to its stock the foal of his she-donkey. He washes his clothes in wine, his robes in the blood of the grape. 12His eyes are darkened (sparkling*) with wine and his teeth are white with milk.
* some scholars suggest "sparkling" or "flashing" is a better translation (Waltke, page 609, note 197). The same Hebrew word is used in Proverbs 23:31 where it is translated as "sparkles:" Do not gaze at wine, how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup!
For his role in reuniting the family and offering his life in sacrifice for Benjamin, Judah received the reward of family leadership and the prophecy of kingship (Num 24:7-9; 17; 1 Sam 16:1, 13; 2 Sam 2:4; 5:3; 7:16; 23:5; 1 Chr 5:2). Joseph was Jacob's choice as re'shiyt, but Judah was God's choice to be the father of the Kings of Israel (and later the Southern Kingdom of Judah) and to bear the "promised seed." It is the tribe of Judah that will lead the march of the tribes of Israel on the journey to the Promised Land (Num 10:13-14). Judah was also by far the largest tribe with 74,600 men compared to the next largest tribe, Dan, with 62,700 men (see the charts on "The Marching Order of the Twelve Tribes of Israel" and "The Encampment of the Twelve Tribes").
Jacob blessed Judah's descendants with:
The phrase your father's sons will do you homage refers Judah's descendant's dominion over all the tribes of Israel and the "scepter" and the "ruler's staff" are signs of kingship (ancient reliefs show kings like Cyrus of Persia sitting with their staffs between their feet). These are prophecies that begin their fulfillment in the elevation of Judah's descendant David of Bethlehem to King of Israel (2 Sam 5:1) and are continued in God's promise of an eternal Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:12-16; 23:5; Sir 45:25), which is fulfilled in homage paid and ruler-ship achieved over the earth in the rule of Jesus, King of Kings: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever (Rev 11:15; also see Rom 14:9-11; Phil 2:9-10; Heb 1:1-4).
Genesis 49:10: The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the
ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute be brought him (until shiloh
come*) and the peoples render him obedience.
Genesis 49:10 is a much disputed passage. To many scholars the literal translation does not seem to make sense, and therefore various substitute phrases have been used by translators. The disputed clause in the Hebrew text has the same consonants which are used for the word "Shiloh." Ancient Hebrew was written without vowels. Where one places the vowels in a Hebrew word determines the meaning of the word. Some scholars have suggested the clause sould be read: until he [Judah] comes to Shiloh, or until shiloh comes, or as the phrase is translated in the RSV: until he comes to whom it belongs.
The Hebrew word sylh in Genesis 49:10, which when rendered with vowels becomes shiloah or shiloh in Hebrew, is the word for the New Testament Greek word Siloam, and it is the same word that is used in the Hebrew translation of the Old Testament place-name "Shiloh." This same word is found in the book of the prophet Isaiah in 8:6: Since this people has rejected the waters of Shiloh.... E. A. Speiser, author of the Anchor Bible Commentary: Genesis notes that both Old Testament renderings in Genesis 49:10 and in Isaiah 8:6 have problems: ...the first runs into various difficulties, chronological as well as substantive, among them the decisive fact that Shiloh was an Ephraimite and not a Judaean shrine. The latter rendering involves the faulty grammar, in that the verb should be feminine and not masculine (page 366). But Dr. Speiser is assuming the passage is referring to the shine of Shiloh located in the territory of the tribe of Ephraim.
In his Gospel St. John the Apostle translated of the word "Siloam"; the Greek for the Hebrew word "Shiloh" as meaning "the one who has been sent: " [Jesus told the man born blind] Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam (the name means "one who has been sent"). So he went off and washed and came back able to see (Jn 9:7). In this passage St. John gives the etymology of the Greek word "Siloam," from the Hebrew "Shiloh," as meaning "until shiloh come" or meaning "until the One who is sent/ has been sent comes." The "One" who is sent is Jesus the Messiah. If "shiloh" refers to Jesus as "the one who has been sent," then of course the verb in the Isaiah passage should be masculine and not feminine. This isn't bad grammar, this is good theology! In that case the literal translation of Genesis 49:10 using St. John's translation for the word "shiloh" should read: The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until the One who is sent comes to him and the peoples render him obedience (see note in New Jerusalem, Genesis 49:10g; Anchor Bible: Genesis, page 366).
The prophecy of kingship is fulfilled in Judah's descendant King David, but the prophecy of eternal kingship is only fulfilled in David's descendant, Jesus of Nazareth (see Mt 1:1). Additional evidence for the interpretation of the etymology of this word as "one who has been sent" (Jn 9:7) is found in the apocryphal document Lives of the Prophets. In this work not only is the etymology of the Pool of Siloam the same, "one who has been sent," but the tradition of the miracles and the associated of the word with the Messiah as a healer who will use the waters of Siloam are the same (Brown, page 373).
Note: the word "until" does not have the same meaning biblically as it does in English. In the Bible this word is not used to suggest a period of time that comes to an end but instead can point to a condition that existed up to a point and continued afterward. See for example 2 Sam 6:23: And until the day of her death, Michal, daughter of Saul, had not children (literal translation; Interlineal Bible, vol. II, page 818; this does not suggest that she had children after her death. Also see this same word as it is used in Gen 8:5 which does not mean the waters stopped receding after the mountain tops appeared).
The next verse, 49:11: He tethers his donkey to the vine, to its stock the foal of his she-donkey... The vine is the symbol of fertility (it will be the metaphor most frequently used for Israel blessed as God's covenant people). This is a prophecy that suggests prosperity - to tether a donkey to a valuable grape wine where the donkey can eat the grapes is only likely if the grapes are abundant. However, this prophecy will be repeated in part by the prophet Zechariah in his prophecy of the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah: Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem! Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zec 9:9). The prophecy from Genesis 49:11, united to Zechariah's prophecy, is fulfilled on Passion Sunday as Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on the back of "the foal of a she-donkey" to the acclamation of the crowds who acknowledged Him as the King of Israel: They took branches of palm and went out to receive him, shouting: "Hosannah! Blessed is her who is coming in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel" (Jn 12:12-13; also see Mt 21:1-9; Mk 11:1-11, Lk 19:28-38; Jn 12:14-15).
He washes his clothes in wine, his robes in the blood of the grape. This part of the blessing also suggests great prosperity and power. Drinking wine in the Bible can be a symbol of joy, especially joy in looking forward to salvation in the eternal banquet, but it can also be a symbol of God's wrath. This verse may suggest such a joyful abundance of wine that it will flow like the water used to wash one's clothes, but the next line "the blood of the grape" might suggest bringing judgment on enemies.
His eyes are darkened (sparkling*) with wine and his teeth are white with milk. This prophecy is associated with health and vitality.
But we can also see the promise of the Messiah where both phrases might be seen as prophecies pointing to Jesus and His Passion. In addition to the mention of "shiloh" (which points to Christ) there is the connection to the Messiah Redeemer as a Judahite "lion king" in what St. John will be told of Christ in Revelation 5:6: ...but one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep. Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed, and so he will open the scroll and its seven seals'. In addition to this imagery being applied to Christ in His passion and kingship, the prophet Isaiah envisioned the coming of the Messiah as a victorious king whose clothes are bloodstained like a victorious warrior who has "treaded the winepress" with garments stained as though with the "blood of the grape" (Is 63:1-6). And St. John will see the victorious Christ in Revelation 19:11 and 13 as the mysterious rider on the white horse who is dressed in a robe dripping in blood (Rev 19:11, 13). He has tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God (Rev 19:15) and has emerged victorious from the Cross and the grave! For other passages referring to the "the blood of the grape" (literal Hebrew) see Dt 32:14 (Song of Moses concerning wine as a symbol of Israel's blessings); Sir 39:26 (as a symbol of both a blessing and as a curse); 50:15 (in the context of ritual sacrifice).
Question: What is the connection between Judah and Jesus the Messiah?
Answer: Jesus is a descendant of Judah son of Jacob through King David, the first king of Israel from the tribe of Judah. Only kings from David's line will rule Israel after King Saul and only Davidic kings will rule the Southern Kingdom of Judah after the revolt in 930 BC (nine different dynasties will rule the Northern Kingdom before the exile of the ten northern tribes). The Jews always saw the prophetic passage in Genesis 49:10 as a prophecy of David with whom God will make an unconditional covenant that his throne will last forever (see 2 Samuel 7:11-17; 23:5; 2 Chronicles 13:5; 15:12-15). Christians see this prophecy imperfectly fulfilled in David but perfectly fulfilled in Jesus son of David Son of God who is the fulfillment of both Jacob's prophecy and the Davidic eternal covenant.
Beside the Siloam/Shiloh pool, there was another Shiloh which was an ancient religious center of Israel; it is the Hebrew place name Shiloh. Included in the territory allotted to the tribe of Ephraim and located about 10 miles north of Bethel and to the east of the Jerusalem-Nablus road, Shiloh came to be associated with God's holy Tabernacle (Joshua 18:1-10; 19:51; 21:2; 22:9, 12: Judges 18:31). It was also the place of the General Assembly of the Twelve Tribes after Shechem was no longer the desired site of tribal assembly. Judges 21:19-21 describes Shiloh in those terms in the setting of the Feast of Tabernacles. It became, after Shechem, the place of sacrifice and therefore the site of the annual pilgrim feasts of Passover, Feast of Weeks/Pentecost, and Tabernacles from the time of the priest/prophet Samuel and remained the central site until David moved the Ark of the Covenant (signifying the presence of Yahweh) from Shiloh and eventually placed it in Jerusalem. When Shiloh was later destroyed and never rebuilt, the site came to be associated with God's judgment on Israel (other biblical references to Shiloh the place-name include: Judg 21:12, 19, 21; 1Sam 1:3, 9, 24; 2:14; 3:21; 4:3,4,12; 14:3; 1Kng 2:27, 11:29; 14:2,4; Ps 78:60; Jer 7:12, 14; 26:6,9; 41:5; and Neh 3:15). The Greek place-name Siloam (transliteration of the Hebrew word "shiloh") is found in the New Testament in three passages (Lk 13:4; Jn 9:7, and 11).
Remembering John's etymology for this word as "one who has been sent," read Jacob's prophecy again from Genesis 49:10 but this time replace the Hebrew word "shiloh" with the meaning St. John applied to this word in 9:7: The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until the one who has been sent come(s) to him [Judah/Israel] and the peoples render his [meaning Jesus] obedience. It was to the nation of Judah, known in the 1st century AD by the Roman name Judea [Judaea], that Jesus came first, and His kinsmen in Judah/Judea should have rendered Him obedience, but Judah/Judea was blind, like the man born blind waiting to be healed at the pool of Siloam (Jn 91-41). Jesus healed that Judahite kinsman and He at least came to believe in the descendant of Judah as the Redeemer-Messiah, the new "lion-king" of His people.
Please read Genesis 49:13-21: The Blessings of Zebulun,
Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali
49:13Zebulun will live by the seashore and be a sailor on board ships, with Sidon on his flank. 14Issachar is a strong donkey lying down among sheepfolds. 15When he saw how good the resting-place and how pleasant the country, he bowed his shoulder to the load and became a slave to forced labor. 16Dan will govern his people like any other of the tribes of Israel. 17May Dan be a snake on the road, a viper on the path, who bites the horse on the hock so that its rider falls off backwards! 18I long for your deliverance, Yahweh! 19Gad will be raided by raiders, and he will raid at their heels. 20Rich the food produced by Asher: he will furnish food fit for kings. 21Naphtali is a swift hind bearing lovely fawns.
The birth chronology is broken with Zebulun. He was Leah's sixth son but he was Jacob's tenth son and he is listed before his elder brother Issachar who is Leah's fifth son but Jacob's ninth son, perhaps because his tribe will take preeminence over Issachar's tribe. Zebulun's blessing points to greater prosperity with his tribe fulfilling role of dominating the tribe of Issachar, presented as strong but lazy. Moses' blessing also links these two tribes (Dt 33:18-19).
Zebulun, located in the Galilee ten miles from the Mediterranean Sea and bordered by the tries of Asher, Naphtali, Issachar and Manasseh, was landlocked. It is hard to understand the prophecy associating Zebulun with ships since it was Asher that bordered the cities of Phoenicia, and Issachar and Naphtali that occupied lands on the Sea of Galilee. However, Deuteronomy 33:19 gives a similar prophecy for Zebulun. It has been suggested that the prophecy refers to Zebulun's borders in the time of Solomon, which may have extended to the Mediterranean. The reference to Sidon might be to the Phoenician city about 25 miles north of Tyre on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, or to the region the city controlled. Or it is also possible that since the tribe of Zebulun is linked to the weaker tribe of Issachar that Zebulun eventually took over Issachar's favored position on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and the men of Zebulun became the fishermen of the Galilee. Issachar is not mentioned in the prophecy associating the Messiah with the Galilee in Isaiah 8:23-9:1 that is quoted by St. Matthew in Matthew 4:14-16, suggesting that the Galilee in the 8th century was dominated by the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali: Land of Zebulun! Land of Naphtali! Way of the sea beyond Jordan. Galilee of the nations! (Is 8:23/9:1)
Issachar's name presents a play on the word "wages" (Gen 30:18). Issachar is both strong and lazy, like a donkey. Issachar gave a poor showing in the conquest of Canaan, preferring to submit to the Canaanite overlords and serve as vassals who submit to compulsory labor demands. The tribal lands were located in the pleasant and fertile plateau of the Lower Galilee on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, some of the best farmland in Israel.
Dan was Bilhah's first son and Jacob's fifth son, but in this list he has the favored seventh position. His name is a word play on the expression "he will judge" which explains one of his blessings (Gen 30:5-6). Dan has the distinction, like Judah and Joseph, of receiving more than one blessing:
The tribe of Dan was a small, but it was aggressive and dangerous like the judge Samson who was from the tribe of Dan and whose exploits are recorded in the Book of Judges (Judg 14-16). Verse 16 is the first time the term "tribes of Israel" is used in Scripture.
Genesis 49:18: I long for your deliverance, Yahweh! Jacob's plea of deliverance comes mid-way through the poem - it is a petition of deliverance offered for the generations of the Twelve Tribes of the future.
Genesis 49:19: 19Gad will be raided by raiders, and he will raid at their heels. 20Rich the food produced by Asher: he will furnish food fit for kings. 21Naphtali is a swift hind bearing lovely fawns.
Gad, who falls eighth in this list, was the firstborn son of Zilpah and the seventh son of Jacob in birth order. The Mesha Stele, a Moabite inscription dating to the 9th century BC, describes the vulnerability the tribe of Gad to raids by the Moabites who lived on their southern border (see 2 Kng 3:4). Gad was allotted land on the east of the Jordan River (see Josh 13:24-27). The blessing predicts a difficult existence for Gad but also as a tribe ready to defend itself in retaliatory raids against their enemies. Four of the six Hebrew words in this blessing sound like Gad's name; forming a poetic alliteration with his name (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 136).
Asher was Zilpah's second son and Jacob's eighth son. He is ninth in this list. The fertile land on the western slopes of the Galilean highland near the Mediterranean Sea will be allotted to the tribe of Asher. Rich food is associated with this tribe's fertile land which was especially suited to growing olive trees and in the production of much valued olive oil (alluded to in Moses' blessing).
Naphtali was Jacob's sixth son and the second son of Bilhah. He occupied the position of tenth in the blessing list. The hind/deer, which was this tribe's symbol, was much admired for its beauty. Naphtali occupied lands in the beautiful Upper Galilee between the Sea of Galilee and the mountains of central Galilee. In the era of the Judges, Deborah's victorious general Barak was from the tribe of Naphtali.
Please read 22-28: The Blessings of Rachel's Sons
449:22Joseph is a fruitful plant near a spring whose tendrils reach over the wall. 23Archers in their hostility drew their bows and attacked him. 24But their bows were broken by a mighty One, the sinews of their arms were snapped by the power of the Mighty One of Jacob, (from the Shepherd*) by the Name of the Stone of Israel, 25the God of your father who assists you, El Shaddai who blesses you: blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep lying below, blessings of the beasts and womb, 26blessings of the grain and flowers, blessings of the eternal mountains, bounty of the everlasting hills - may they descend on Joseph's head, on the crown of the one dedicated from among his brothers! 27Benjamin is a ravening wolf, in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he is still sharing out the spoil. 28All these make up the tribes of Israel, twelve in number, and this is what their father said to them as he bade them farewell (blessed them*), giving each an appropriate blessing, (he blessed them*).
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 136-137).
The blessings/prophecies return to the proper birth order. Joseph is the eleventh son named in the list of blessings and he was Jacob's eleventh son. He was also the firstborn of Rachel and for that reason Jacob gave him the position of the re'shiyt and the double blessing. Because Jacob has adopted Ephraim and Manasseh and they have equal status with Joseph's brothers (Gen 48:1-20), this blessing is more theirs than Joseph's.
Question: How many times is the word bless/blessing/blessed
used in this passage and in association with Joseph's tribe?
Answer: Nine times, six times in association with Joseph.
Verses 24-25a in the NJB: by the power of the Mighty One of Jacob, (from the Shepherd*) by the Name of the Stone of Israel, 25 the God of your father who assists you, El Shaddai is more accurately translated in the RSV:...the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock (Stone*) of Israel, the God of your father who will help you by God Almighty (El Shaddai*) who will bless you... (8 = literal; see Interlinear Bible, vol. I, page 136). Joseph's prophecy is the longest and the most detailed. The poem affirms that Joseph's tribe's (Ephraim and Manasseh) safety and successes are due to God.
Question: How is God identified in the poem, using
the RSV translation?
The word translated as "Rock" in the RSV is the Hebrew word "eben", which means "stone." "Rock" is a frequent title for God in the Old Testament (i.e., Dt 324, 16, 18, 30. 31; 2 Sam 23:3; Is 30:29), but "stone" as a title for God is never used except in this passage. It is, however, a fitting name for the God of the man whose acknowledgement of God has been associated with setting up stone memorials (28:11, 18, 22, 31:45; 35:14).
Joseph's metaphor is the "fruitful vine," which is probably a word play on Ephraim's name which means "fruitful" (Gen 41:52). That Joseph's "branches" reach over the wall is a metaphor for Ephraim and Manasseh's tribal expansion when they complained to Joshua (a prince of Ephraim and leader of the conquest) that their tribal lands are too small and they were promised a double portion (Josh 16:1-4; 17:14-18). These tribes will fight bitter battles with the Canaanites, but for the most part, those battles will be successful (Josh 17:7-13; Judg 1:22-26). The blessings, extended to Ephraim and Manasseh, come from heaven and from earth. They are promised blessings of fertility: in descendants, animals, and in the fertility of the land.
Question: What is significant about the combined
blessings of fertility of both man and beast and the fertility of the earth?
Answer: The first blessings given to humanity at Creation in Genesis 1:28 have been repeated to Joseph and are to be concentrated in descendants.
may they descend on Joseph's head, on the crown of the one dedicated from among his brothers! There may be a play on the words of "father" (verse 25) and "brothers" (verse 26) as opposed to "mountains" and "hills" (verse 26 but flanked by "fathers" and "brothers"). " "One dedicated" is the Hebrew word nazir, meaning "consecrated." From among his brothers, Joseph was consecrated to perform special acts in God's plan of salvation, but this does not suggest kingship - the word nazir is never used for Israel's kings (see the rite of the consecrated Nazirite in Num 6:1-22).
27Benjamin is a ravening wolf, in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he is still sharing out the spoil.
28All these make up the tribes of Israel, twelve in number, and this is what their father said to them as he bade them farewell (blessed them*), giving each an appropriate blessing, (he blessed them*).
* = literal translation (Interlineal Bible, vol. I, page 136-137).
Benjamin is the last son listed in Jacob's blessing. He is listed in the correct position of birth order as the second son of Rachel and the youngest of the twelve sons of Jacob. His animal image is a wolf, a predator who shares his prey. This is a fitting image for a tribe who will gain the reputation as fearless fighters who are skillful in warfare and loyal in battle (Judg 3:15-30; 5:14; 20:14-21; 1 Sam 9:1; 13:3; 1 Chr 8:40; 12:2-27, 29; Esth 2:5; Rom 11:1). The first King of Israel, King Saul, was a Benjaminite. When the twelve tribes divide into the nations of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, the tribe of Benjamin will be the only tribe that remains loyal to the Davidic kings of Judah (1 Kng 12:20-21)... you will remember that it was Judah who offered his life for Benjamin (Gen 44:33-34). St. Paul the Apostle, the fierce warrior for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was also from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom 11:1).
48:28All these make up
the tribes of Israel, twelve in number, and this is what their father said to
them as he bade them farewell (blessed them*), giving each an
appropriate blessing, (he blessed them*).
In the literal translation the word "bless" is use by the narrator three times in the conclusion of Jacob's blessing, ending the era of the Patriarchs and beginning the transition to God's blessings in the great adventure that is to follow.
Note: The Law of the Sinai Covenant will stimulate that a man cannot dispossess the firstborn son of an unloved wife in favor of a younger firstborn son of a loved wife (Dt 21:15-17).
Please read Genesis 49:29-33: Jacob's Death
Then he gave them these instructions, 'I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors, in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave in the field at Machpelah, facing Mamre, in Canaan, which Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site of his own. 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 which were bought from the Hittites.' When Jacob had finished giving his instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, and breathing his last was gathered to his people.
A key word in the narrative concerning both Jacob and Joseph's deaths is from the Hebrew root qbr which is repeated fourteen times. It is used eleven times as "to bury" in 49:29, 31 three times; 50:5 two times; 50:6, 7, 13, 14 two times. It is used three times as "grave" in 49:30; 50:5, and 13 (Waltke page 618). The Hebrew word for "father" continues to be the most repeated word in the narrative (50 times total) and in this last part of the narrative "father" is repeated fifteen times (49:29; 50:1, 2, 5 two times; 6, 7, 8, 10, 14 two times, 15, 16, 17, and 22).
Question: What are Jacob's instructions to his sons
concerning his death? What promise did God make to him concerning his death
before he set out for Egypt? See Genesis 46:4.
Answer: His sons must take him back to Canaan and bury him with the Patriarchs and their wives at Machpelah. God promised Jacob he would return to Canaan after he died.
Please read Genesis 50:1-6: Joseph Embalms Jacob's Body and Asks Pharaoh for Permission to Return His Father's Body to Canaan
At this Joseph threw himself on his father's face, covering it with tears and kisses. Then Joseph ordered the doctors in his service to embalm his father. The doctors embalmed Israel, and it took them forty days, for embalming takes forty days to complete. The Egyptians mourned him for seventy days. When the period of mourning for his was over, Joseph said to Pharaoh's household, If you have any affection for me, see that this message reaches Pharaoh's ears, "My father put me under oath, saying: I am about to die. In the tomb which I dug for myself in Canaan, that is where you are to bury me. So may I have leave to go up and bury my father, and then come back?" Pharaoh replied, 'Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.'
No other culture in ancient times was as skilled at preserving the bodies of the dead as the Egyptians. The expensive embalming procedure was reserved for the elite and those specially honored by the nation. The Egyptian's embalmed the dead to ensure that they had a physical body to enjoy the afterlife. The Hebrews did not practice embalming because they believed the spirit rested in Sheol while the body rested in the grave until the time came that God in His mercy would resurrect the dead to new life (Wis 3:1-9; 2 Mac 7:9; 12:43-45). Joseph saw to it that his father's body was embalmed so that it would be preserved on the long journey to Canaan. The forty days of embalming (supported in other sources) were included in the seventy days of mourning (see the period of public grief expressed after the death of Aaron (Num 20:29) and Moses (Dt 34:8). It would not be unusual that the entire nation of Egypt joined in mourning for the father of their Vizier who had saved their people from starvation. That Pharaoh would allow Joseph to accompany his father's body to its burial site in Canaan with the promise of his return is evidence the amount of trust and respect the Pharaoh had for Joseph.(1)
Please read Genesis 50:7-17: Jacob's Funeral Procession and Interment
Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went all Pharaoh's officials, the dignitaries of his palace and all the dignitaries of Egypt, as well as all Joseph's family, his brothers and his father's family. The only people they left behind in Goshen were those unfit to travel, and their flocks and cattle. Chariots and horsemen went up with him too; it was a very large retinue. On arriving at Goren-ha-Atad [threshing floor of Atad (Bramble)], which is across the Jordan, they there held a long and solemn lamentation, and Joseph observed seven days' mourning for his father. When the Canaanites, the local inhabitants, witnessed the mourning at Goren-ha-Atad, they said, 'This is a solemn act of mourning by the Egyptians,' which is why the place was given the name Abel-Mizraim [Meadow of Egypt] - it is across the Jordan. His sons did what he had ordered them to do for him. His sons carried him to Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field at Machpelah, facing Mamre, which Abraham had bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site of his own. Then Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all those who had come up with him to bury his father.
Twice the narrative emphasizes that the site of the last week of mourning for Jacob was at a threshing flood on the east side of the Jordan River. A threshing floor was a large flat area suitable for willowing the grain to separate the crenel of the grain from the chaff. It would have been a good place to set up camp and observe the mourning rites for the dead patriarch. It must have been an impressive site for the local people to witness Joseph's funeral procession as it made its way up the Transjordan on the east side of the Jordan River and then established a large camp at the threshing floor of Atad (brambles). It seems odd that the funeral procession went the less direct route up the Transjordan to the east side of the Jordan River before crossing into Canaan and traveling to Hebron instead of traveling up the Mediterranean coast into Canaan. However, throughout the Pentateuch narrative this has been the traditional way of crossing into Canaan, from the east to the west (Gen 14:5-7; 31:21-32:18), and it will be the same east to west crossing of the Jordan that Israel will make in taking possession of the Promised Land (Josh 3:14-17). When Joseph's body will be taken by the Exodus generation out of Egypt and back to Canaan, his body will travel the same route that he traveled when he took Jacob back to Canaan. It is also the way Jesus will cross back into the Promised Land after His baptism by St. John the Baptist, who offered the baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah on the east side of the Jordan - Jesus returned to Judea by crossing from the east bank to the west (Jn 1:26-28).(2)
Question: How many days did the funeral procession
mourn at Goren-ha-Atad?
Answer: Seven days.
Seven days was the usual period of mourning in Israel and the surrounding nations (1 Sam 31:13; Job 2:13; Ez 3:15).(3) It is interesting that the Canaanites identified the impressive funeral as Egyptian, even naming the site Abel Mizraim, a play on the words 'ebel, meaning "mourning," and 'abel, meaning "meadow" naming the site "meadow of Egypt" (NJB, page 79, note "c"). The Egyptian officials and soldiers who accompanied the Israelites were obviously wearing Egyptian garb, and the family of Jacob must have also been wearing distinctive Egyptian dress. They may also have been accompanied by a group of wailing professional Egyptian mourners, who were considered necessary for all proper Egyptian funerals. It was such an impressive demonstration of respect that it is unlikely the Canaanites ever forgot it. After the funeral, the caravan returned to Egypt.
Question: What was the reason they returned to Egypt? The seven year famine had been over for several years so why didn't they just
return to Canaan? Jacob was 130 when he entered Egypt in the second year of
the famine and he died seventeen years later. Cite the significant passage
referring to the right time for their final return.
Answer: According to the prophecy God gave Abraham, they will not return for four generations until the inequity of the Amorites has reached its height; see Genesis 15:16. It was not the time for the return.
Please read Genesis 50:15-26: Joseph's Final Years in Egypt
50:15Seeing that their father was dead, Joseph's brothers said, 'What if Joseph intends to treat us as enemies and pay us back for all the wrong we did him?' 16So they sent this message to Joseph: 'Before your father died, he gave us this order: 17"You are to say to Joseph: Now please forgive the crime and faults of your brothers and all the wrong they did you." So now please forgive the crime of the servants of your father's God.' Joseph wept at the message they sent to him. 18Then his brothers went to him themselves and, throwing themselves at his feet, said, 'Take us as your slaves!' 19But Joseph replied, 'Do not be afraid; is it for me to put myself in God's place." 20The evil you planned to do me has by God's design been turned to good, to bring about the present result: the survival of a numerous people. 21So there is no need to be afraid; I shall provide for you and your dependants.' In this way he reassured them by speaking affectionately to them. 22So Joseph stayed in Egypt with his father's family; and Joseph lived a hundred and ten years. 23Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim's line, as also the children of Machir son of Manasseh, who were born on Joseph's lap. 24At length Joseph said to his brothers, 'I am about to die; but God will be sure to remember you kindly and take you out of this country to the country which he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.' 25And Joseph put Israel's sons on oath, saying, 'When God remembers you with kindness, be sure to take my bones away from here.' 26Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten; he was embalmed and laid in a coffin in Egypt.
Question: What concerns did Joseph's brothers have
now that they father was dead? What happened in Genesis 45:5-7?
Answer: Joseph forgave his brothers and assured them that everything that happed to him was God's plan for his life in Genesis 45:5-7, but now that their father has died the brothers are concerned that Joseph might give in to the very human temptation of seeking revenge for past wrongs.
Question: What did the brothers decide to do? What
was Joseph's response?
Answer: First they sent Joseph a formal letter of contrition and the offer to allow themselves to be enslaved as recompense for his suffering, then they went to him and publically confessed their sin and asked to be enslaved. He was deeply moved by their acts contrition, refused their offer and restated his love and forgiveness.
After reading his brother's letter, Joseph wept.
Question: How many times has Joseph wept in the
Answer: This is the fifth time Joseph has wept in the narrative. He wept three times during his brother; testing and when he revealed his true identity to them (42:23; 43:30; 45:14-15). He wept when he saw his father and when his father died (46:29; 50:1). Now, he has wept a fifth time receiving his brother; letter of contrition (50:17).
Genesis 50:19-21: 19But Joseph replied, 'Do not be afraid; is it for me to put myself in God's place." 20The evil you planned to do me has by God's design been turned to good, to bring about the present result: the survival of a numerous people. 21So there is no need to be afraid; I shall provide for you and your dependants.' In this way he reassured them by speaking affectionately to them.
Joseph's story illustrates how God can take what man has intended as a great evil and for the sake of the righteous He can turn it for the greater good: In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: "It was not you," said Joseph to his brothers, "who sent me here, but God... You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive." From the greatest moral evil every committed - the rejection and murder of God's only Son, caused by the sins of all men - God, by his grace that "abounded all the more," brought the greatest goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never became a good (CCC 312).
The last part of the Genesis narrative from Genesis 50:19-26 records Joseph's profession of forgiveness to his brothers and his profession of faith in the promises God made to his family. These two speeches frame a list of three observations about his final years:
Question: What death-bed oath did he make his family
swear? Why is this significant? What connection is there to the Book of
Answer: He made them promise to take his body with them when God called them to return to the land of Canaan. The oath to return Joseph's body to Canaan will be fulfilled in when Israel makes the Exodus out of Egypt (Ex 13:19). The oath to return Joseph's body to Canaan is the prelude to the Book of Exodus.
Joseph, Moses, and Daniel were three men God used to sustain
His covenant people in a foreign land. Joseph prefigured Moses at the period
in salvation history when God called forth Israel from exile in Egypt to return to the Promised Land and to become His holy covenant nation. In the 6th
century BC Daniel entered the stage of salvation history at what seemed to be
the end of Israel's period of the Davidic covenant monarchy. He lived in exile
with a faithful remnant of Israel in Babylon where he became a minister in the
Babylonian court and later in the Medo-Persian court. These three men overcame
hostile conditions in foreign lands, maintained their faith in the One True God,
and demonstrated the wisdom that comes from God in their dealings with powerful
men of worldly wisdom. In their cooperation with God's plan of salvation they
prefigured Jesus the Messiah, God's wisdom enfleshed, who conquered the worldly
wise by dying on a cross and on the third day by raising alive from His tomb,
conquering sin and death to rule over the world as the last Davidic king from
His throne at the right hand of God: At many moments in the past and by many
means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our time, the
final days, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son, whom he appointed
heir of all things and through whom he made the ages. He is the reflection of
God's glory and bears the impress of God's own being, sustaining all things by
his powerful command; and now that he has purged sins away, he has taken his
seat at the right hand of the divine Majesty on high. So he is now as far
above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own
name (Heb 1:1-4; also see 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; Rev 12:1-5).
> Per Crucem ad Lucem!
Through the Cross to the Light!
Questions for group discussion:
1. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC) described a thirty day embalming period and a period of public mourning for a Pharaoh that lasted seventy-two days (Bibliotheca Historica 1.72; 1.91).
2. The 6th century AD mosaic known as the Madaba map has a site on it which is called "Alon Atad" (terebinths of Atad) near Beth Agla, which is modern day Deir Hajlah, located between Jericho and the Dead Sea on the west side of the Jordan River. This may be the site where the Canaanites (who occupied only the west side of the Jordan River ) observed the seven-day mourning ceremonies across the river. It was the Canaanites who commemorated the event and named the site "Meadow of Egypt," but they would have been observing the ceremonies on the west side since the Moabites occupied the east side of the river.
3. A seven day mourning period is also mentioned in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh.
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Catechism references for Genesis chapters 49-50