Genesis 49:1-12

1 And Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days:

“Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father.

“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power.

4 Unstable as water, you shall not excel, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.

5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place.

6 Let not my soul enter their council; let not my honor be united to their assembly; for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they hamstrung an ox.

7 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.

“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down before you.

Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him?

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.

11 Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.

12 His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.

[Jacob’s discourse] is in poetic form, and thus abounds in imagery. Its very tone manifests that, though Jacob is speaking, he is speaking “in the spirit.” He is in full possession of his faculties, even though at the point of death, noting many events which had been carried in his memory for many years, and yet speaking in a manner very different from his normal mode of speech, in poetry and symbol and prophecy. — Morris, page 651.


To underscore not only the importance, but also the prophetic nature of his final words of blessing (which are in a few instances mixed with rebuke), Jacob exhorts his twelve sons to assemble themselves so that he might tell them what will happen in the end of days. Consistent with its usage elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible (including its three other occurrences in the Pentateuch: Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30; 31:29), this phrase (“in the end of days”) refers specifically to that future period, occurring towards the end of redemptive history, culminating in the final advent of the messianic king and his restoration of Israel—both spiritually as well as physically (cf. Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 23:20; Ezekiel 38:16; Daniel 10:14). The expectation is thus laid for an expression of the Abrahamic blessing that specifically depicts the promised Seed in this eschatological-ruling role. — Wechsler, page 263.


As is the case with any firstborn son, Reuben had at one time been the pride and joy of his father. The firstborn is often called in Scripture, as Jacob did here, the “beginning of his father’s strength” (Deuteronomy 21:17; Psalm 78:51, etc.), testifying to the dignity and power of his father. [But] Reuben had turned out to be weak and unstable, as well as lustful. Worst of all had been his act of adultery and incest with Bilhah. Though Israel had apparently said little about it at the time (Genesis 35:22), he had never forgotten. Consequently, now, at the end, he had to make it clear that, for this reason if for nothing else, Reuben’s right of primogeniture had been withdrawn. He would never “excel,” or, literally, have anything special to contribute or leave to the benefit of posterity.

In the history of Israel, the tribe of Reuben never furnished a leader of any kind for the nation as a whole. In the later journeys to the promised land, the Reubenites were the first tribe to ask for a place to settle, not waiting to cross the Jordan with the others (Numbers 32). They participated in the erection of an unauthorized place of worship (Joshua 22:10-34). During the later wars with the Canaanites, in the days of Deborah and Barak, the tribe of Reuben failed to answer the call to arms (Judges 5:15-16). — Morris, page 652.


[Simeon and Levi] had caused great embarrassment, as well as danger, to the whole family when they had slain all the Shechemites because of the rape of their sister Dinah by one of them. … Jacob said that “implements of violence” were their very “habitation” (however this word is used only here, and its meaning is uncertain). … It was bald anger and self-will which impelled them to kill men and to “hamstring an ox,” to wantonly destroy property. Jacob said, “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.” … This prophecy was fulfilled in different ways in the case of each brother. Simeon was given an inheritance “within the inheritance of the children of Judah” (Joshua 19:1), but some of the sons of Simeon were captured and dwelled in some of the lands of the Edomites and Amalekites, outside of Canaan (1 Chronicles 4:39-43). In the days of the divided kingdom, many of the Simeonites left Israel to join Judah (2 Chronicles 15:9). Apparently they were eventually either mostly assimilated by Judah or scattered outside of Israel altogether, and little is heard of them after the days of King Asa.

As far as Levi is concerned, his descendants never had an inheritance of their own in the land, but only cities scattered throughout all the other tribes (Joshua 21:1-3). However, the Levites largely redeemed themselves by their stand against idolatry in the days of Moses (Exodus 32:26). … Moses himself was a descendant of Levi, and the Levites were chosen to be the priestly tribe among the Israelites. — Morris, page 653


[Judah] would be the leader among the tribes; he would defeat their enemies and would become, as the lion is king of the beasts, the one before whom all his family would bow down, As Joseph was to receive the double inheritance of the firstborn, so Judah would receive the patriarchal dominion and responsibility of the firstborn. He was a strong as a young lion that has overwhelmed and eaten its prey, as secure as a mature lion resting in its den, whom no one would dare to rouse. …

It is obvious throughout the rest of Scripture that Judah did indeed become the leading tribe, but it was not until the days of King David. The earlier leaders were from other tribes: Moses from Levi, Joshua from Ephraim, Gideon from Manasseh, Samson from Dan, Samuel from Ephraim, and Saul from Benjamin. There was really no way for Jacob to foretell Judah’s preeminence and prosperity except by divine inspiration. Judah did not actually receive the “scepter” of leadership for over 640 years after Jacob’s prophecy. Once David became king, however, Judah was the dominant tribe from then on.

The most important aspect of Israel’s prophecy concerning Judah is in verse 10. Here, Jacob assured him that the scepter would never depart from him, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until the coming of “Shiloh.” The scepter, which is mentioned for the first time in Scripture at this point, is, of course, the symbol of rulership. “Lawgiver,” which also occurs first here, is a little uncertain, but seems to mean “the one who decrees.”

The context makes it certain that Shiloh is intended to be the name or title of a person. It is “unto him that peoples shall gather.” The form of the word is related to the word for “peace,” and probably it means “The One Who Brings Peace” [the Messiah]. … Centuries later, Isaiah seemed to have these prophecies in mind, when he first spoke of the coming “Son of the Virgin” (Isaiah 7:14), and then elaborated by saying that His name would be “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The “gathering of the people,” of which Jacob prophesies, corresponds clearly to God’s messianic promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that through their coming Seed “shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14, etc.).

the New Testament clearly identifies the Lord Jesus Christ with this prophecy concerning Judah, calling Him “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). Micah also seems to refer to this prophecy when, just after saying that the coming Savior would be born in Bethlehem, in Judah, and that He would be “great unto the ends of the earth,” he says, “And this man shall be the Peace” (Micah 5:2-5). —Morris, pages 655-656.


scepter (v.10) = rod, staff, scepter, or tribe, since it was the insignia or sign of authority in the tribe. … The allusions to it in the Scriptures are practically all of a figurative and symbolical character in the sense of a symbol of royal power and right (Numbers 24:27; Psalm 45:6; Isaiah 14:5; Amos 1:5; Zechariah 10:11). — Bultema, page 76.

from between his feet (v.10) = from among his children

The messianic blessing falls to Judah … in connection with whom the central focus of Jacob’s pronouncement is on the preeminence of the messianic king that will descend from Judah. Specifically, three aspects of Judah’s/the Messiah’s preeminence are depicted, beginning with his filial preeminence, indicated by the clause “your brothers shall praise you,” … and even more significantly, by the parallel clause “your father’s sons shall bow down to you,” employing the same phraseology that was originally applied to Joseph in Genesis 37:10—the point being that, though the family of Israel would bow down to Joseph in the near-term, in the far-term they would all bow down to Judah, represented by his descendant, the messianic king, on his eternal throne (cf. 2 Samuel 7:16).

Jacob next depicts the Judahite king’s human preeminence, first by indicating that he would transcend all previous Judahite (i.e, Davidic) kings in the duration of his rule, for the office of ruler—represented by the terms scepter and staff—would be successively handed down only until that final king would come to take them up forever (such being the natural implication of “shall not depart … until”); secondly by indicating that he would transcend all previous rulers in his very nature as king, for the name Shiloh by which he is called means “To whom belongs tribute”—in which the term “tribute” is applied in its three remaining biblical occurrences to the tribute brought by humans (including human kings) to God (Psalm 68:29; Psalm 76:11; Isaiah 18:7); and thirdly, by indicating that he would surpass all previous Judahite kings in the extant of his rule, for to him, we are told, would be the obedience of the peoples, in which the term for “peoples” is the term regularly employed in the singular to denote the entire nation of Israel (i.e., the ethnic Jewish people).

Finally, Jacob depicts the Judahite king’s material preeminence—that is to say, the ideal abundance of both natural and cultivated provision that will characterize the land under his reign. The images [Jacob uses regarding the donkey and the wine] are, of course, primarily intended as hyperbole, to underscore the all-pervasive fruitfulness of Messiah’s kingdom. … The peoples’ physical health during that time will, naturally, also be ideal, as emphasized by the picture of the King himself. — Wechsler, page265.

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