In Goshen the sea breeze blows sweetly. Jacob is strong and anointed. He calls his sons together alongside Joseph and his sons, so a few things can be said. In total, 15 men are huddled together in a a tent waiting for Jacob to die. The meeting likely made them tense. He started with “O sons of Jacob, listen to your father Israel.”
The chapter unfolds with Jacob naming each son and telling them the truth. In each poetic comment Jacob expresses fatherly love, but he also unleashes the God honest truth.
Tribe of Rueben
Rueben the firstborn he blesses by calling him “The first fruits of my strength,” no small thing for him to acknowledge. He mentions Rueben’s natural qualities: dignity and power, but then come the disqualifiers. Ruenben is “unstable like water,” as in, ever try and hold water in your hand and not lose it? Then he says,”He defiled it.” Defiled what? “Defiled my couch,” as in you slept with my wife, and for such a disgusting violation, your birthright is now removed.
I wonder if Rueben blinked.
It all came true, the tribe of Rueben always lacked leadership and grit, and faded as a result.
The tribe engaged in spiritual rebellion (Numbers 16). East of the Jordan they were the first tribe to want to settle there, and wanted no part in crossing the Jordan (Numbers 32). They promoted unbiblical worship (Joshua 22:10). When Barak and Deborah made a call to arms they rebelled again, and did not go (Judges 5:15).
It’s possible none of the other brothers breathed after Jacob spoke to his oldest son this way. About the only thing they did right was to say nothing.
The Tribes of Simeon and Levi
These two had a tight bond, even sinning terribly together. They are guilty of genoicide, cold blooded murder and caused enormous problems for the family.
Jacob has nothing nice to say to them. He cries out declaring “his glory will not be joined to their company.”
After entering into the Promised Land, Simeon is no more, folding into the tribe of Judah by attrition.
Levi will not inherit land but under Moses will have cities scattered through out the land.
The Tribe of Judah
The first three brothers faced rebuke, but not Judah. If after hearing how his father spoke he tried to fade into the background it would be understandable. But Judah, over all the brothers, is a changed man. His immaturity was burned away, he stands before his father as a godly man.
Juacob will transfer the firstborn blessing to Judah. Joseph will posses a unique power and fruitfulness, but Judah has the mantle, as seen in the numerous words and descriptions Jacob gives to him.
It’s not so much that Jacob said, ” Judah your brothers shall praise you,” it’s what comes next, “Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies.” The meaning is obvious, you will choke out all who oppose you. Like Joseph, the brothers “will bow down before you.”
And Jacob was just warming up, his words are strong, direct, and prophetic.
The image given to Judah is of a lion capturing it’s prey, that is his destiny, and it came true.
Judah will rise to dominant power through King David, and his reign will point toward the messiah.
Messiah and Abundance
Judah, verse 10 says, will host the messianic line, and the messiah will bring with abundance.
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah” speaks to the kind of dominant strength the tribe will enjoy, and “the ruler’s feet,” as mentioned in the text, leads both Jewish and Christian commentators to see the reference as belonging to an individual person who is the real Messiah. Once King David was anointed, Judah never relinguished her power until Jesus came. Through all the wars and dividing of the kingdom, Judah always remained in power, but after Jesus came as Messiah she was gone. After the Babylonian captivity, Judah was still dominant.
The word tribute (ESV) is usually translated shiloh (KJV) and does not refer to a city and is cousin to the Hebrew word for peace. Later in time a small town named Shiloh hosted the Ark of the Covenant for a brief period, but the reference in the text speaks clearly to a person who will come and reign in such a beautiful way that people will enthusiastically offer obedience to their Lord and Savior.
Verse 11 illuistrates the abundance of the day to come, when Messiah rules and reigns. Wine, often the symbol of abudnace, will be so plentiful, that animals grazing in the vineyard, or people using it to dye their clothes is not a problem. Part of Jesus turning water into wine refers to the day spoken here.
You would have to be an outstanding bible student to catch what is about to happen next. Jacob’s sons are not standing over his bed in their birth order, they gathered together as best they could, not knowing what is going on. The following list is how they were standing next to each other in a semi circle, with Jacob going around the room mentioning each by name. This small seed of truth is eyewitness testimony, only someone in the room would write it the way spoken here.
The Tribe of Zebulun
Joshua assigned Zebulun’s people their inheritance (Joshua 19:11). The basic boundary line seems to stretch from the Sea of Galilee all the way to the Mediaterrean Sea, though much of that can be disputed. For a time period Zebulun weath seems to have come from port acitivity and commerce.
The Tribe of Issachar
Issachar settled in furitle land making some neighbors jealous.
The Tribe of Dan
The power of Dan cuts both ways. On the one hand, capable of defense, and also capable of leading astray. Her errors are profound. Dan made ildolatry acceptable and normal (Judges 18:30). Eventually setting up a golden calf (1 Kings 12:28), for this it seems the tribe was outed and not listed among the favored in Revelation 7:4, Dueteronomy 28:16 explains why.
In spontaneous burst of energy, Jacob shouts to the Lord, ” I wait for your salvation , O Lord.”
The Tribes of Gad, Asher and Naphtali.
Jacob blessed each with a word about strength and prosperity. Gad settled east of the Jordan and was capable in a fight. Asher enjoyed the lands around Mount Carmel, all the way to the coast of Tyre and Sidon. Naphtali’s most famous heir was Barak.
The Tribe of Joseph
The two who Israel seriously blessed were Judah and Joseph, with the latter receiving both spiritual and physical blessings.
The first description is of a tree whose fruit is so large it hangs low to the ground, and is so big it overcomes any wall generously gives fruit to the other side.
The second description is of archers attacking him. An archer in battle must be stable and agile, a near impossible feat, God graced Joseph with both.
The third description is majestic, a theological deep dive into the character of God. God is El Shaddai, the mighty one, but then comes a list of things never seen before in scripture until now. God is a shepherd and rock, or in this case he’s called the Stone of Israel.
The fourth description is of a father’s heart for a son, that Jacob blesses Joseph to go farther in life than he went. It’s the heart of parents to desire for their children greater success than they gained.
The Tribe of Benjamin
Benjamin was blessed with strength, and a business sense to divide the spoils of war. The tribe became formidable warriors, but over time crossed the line and lost balance. Judges 19-21 tells the story of the tribes demise and rescue.
We call it dying, but Jacob was alive til the Savior pulled him into the heavenly realm. He sat up in bed, blessed his sons, said what needed to be said, and then went to be with the Lord.