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Chapter 49 

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Jacob Blesses His Sons (ch. 49:1 - 28) 


Chapter 49 is all about Jacob blessing his sons before he dies, but these are more than simple blessings.  These are prophecies, foretelling some of the events that would take place in the individual sons lineage.


Certain Bible teachers put more emphasis on this chapter than others.  Some skim over it very quickly, partly because they don't understand the history and the meaning to what is said.  Others spend lots of time on the chapter trying to understand and figure out its prophetic significance.


I do believe that this chapter is very prophetic and has great historical and prophetic significance, but more than I can understand at this time.  For this reason I will not go into great detail in each of the prophecies given in this chapter.


Verse 1 clearly states that Jacob understood what he was about to say was prophetic.  He asked his sons to gather around so he could tell them what would happen to them "in the days to come."


We must take note here that the NIV translators decided to use the phrase "days to come".   The JKV translators used the term "last days'.  I can't tell you why the NIV translators used the words they did, but from my understanding, the KJV is a better translation for this verse.   The Hebrew word that the KJV translates "last" from is accurate.  The Hebrew word means, "last or end".  Therefore, I think these prophecies have lots to do with the end of this age, as well as the history of Israel up to the end of this age, but how these prophecies will, or are being fulfilled is hard for me to know.  


The term "last days' is used in two ways in the Bible.  In one sense of the word the last days began at the day of Pentecost, yet in another sense of the word it means the days, or time, just before the end of this age when Jesus returns to earth. 


In verse 2 we see that Jacob tells his sons "to listen to Israel" their father, as they gather around him.  Notice in verse 1 we see Jacob's name as Jacob, while in verse2 we see his name as Israel.  In every other place in the Bible when there has been a name change, once the name has change, the old name isn't used.  For example, Abram to Abraham.  Once Abram became Abraham, you never see the name Abram again. This is not the case with Jacob.  Many chapters back, God changed Jacob's name to Israel , but on many occasions Jacob is still called Jacob.  As a matter of fact, you see his name as Jacob more than Israel.


Here in verse  one we see Jacob, and in verse 2 we see Israel.  I'd suggest that this may be significant in this case.  Jacob, the father gathers his sons to speak to them, but the sons will hear from Israel, not just their father, but the man of God who will speak prophetically. 


In verse 3 we have the first prophecy and it is for Rueben, the oldest son.  We will note that the prophecies begin with the oldest and proceed to go to the youngest, that is for a while, until there is an interruption in the pattern. 


So Rueben gets the first prophetic word.  Remember, Rueben is the oldest, and he was the one who slept with his father Jacob's concubine, for this reason he lost the birthright of the first-born.  This means that he should have inherited the place at the head of the family, but as 1 Chronicles 5:1 to 2 says,  he lost that birthright because of his indiscretion with Jacob's concubine.  The sons of Joseph took Rueben's place.  We see their blessings in the last chapter. 


There is another thing to consider here.  We need to distinguish between the birthright and the lineage.  Joseph's sons got the birthright.  They were the head of Israel.  That being said, the lineage through which the Messiah would come was through Judah. 


Jacob says that Rueben was the "first sign of his strength".  This simply means that Rueben was born when Jacob was young and strong. 


The text also says that Rueben "excelled in honour and power".  That was the case, at least that was the case before his indiscretion with his father's concubine.


Verse 4 tells us that Rueben would be like turbulent waters and would not excel any longer.  This was the case.  No kings, judges, or anyone of importance came from Reuben, and I assume never will in the future.


The NIV uses the word "turbulent" in this verse.  Other translations use words like "unstable".   For this reason, some Bible teachers suggest that this is an idiom to suggest that Rueben, like water in a stream, will dry up. 


Verse 5 begins the next prophecy.  It is actually directed towards two sons, Simeon and Levi.  Simeon is the second oldest, while Levi is the third oldest.  Jacob says that "their swords are weapons of violence."  You might remember that it was these two sons that killed all the men of a certain town because of one of the men from the town raped their sister.  That is probably why these two men are lump together here. Jacob is referring to this event, and possibly more that we don't know of.


In verse 6 Jacobs says, "let me not enter their council, let me not join in their assembly."   The context tells us that the word "me" refers to Jacob.  Jacob did not want to associate with these two men.   Whether there is any prophetic significance to these words or not, I do not know.  There must be more to understanding these words than I presently know.  


Verse 7 tells us that because of the anger of these two men, they would be scattered throughout Israel .  When it came time for the land of Canaan to be divvied among the twelve tribes as seen in the book of Joshua, Simeon did not get his own land.  He was amalgamated into one of his brothers parcel of land.  Then, when it came to Levi, the Levites did not get any land because they were priests.  They lived in forty eight cities scattered throughout Israel. 


Verse 8 begins the prophecy for Judah.  The name Judah means praise.  That's significant because the first thing that is said here about Judah is that his brothers would praise him. 


It is important to know that the lineage of Judah produces that Messiah.  Jesus was born in the lineage of Judah, and in this sense of the word, all of Israel will eventually praise Judah.  Most all scholars see prophetic significance of Jesus in the prophecy to Judah.


Another thing to note is king David also came from the lineage of Judah.  It is interesting to note that king David was a man of praise, both in music and song.


Verse 8 goes on to say that "your hand will be on the neck of your enemies'.  This, as well as all the other prophecies in this chapter saw some fulfillment in Old Testament times.  But beyond that, there is still other prophetic significance to this chapter that is hard at times to comprehend, but maybe not so with Judah.  Jesus will eventually win the battle over all of his enemies, and of course, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15, the last enemy is death. 


The last phrase in verse 8 states that Judah 's father's sons will bow down to him.  It is interesting to note that the text doesn't say, "your brothers will bow down to you."  That would be the simplest way of saying this, but the text says that Judah 's father's sons will bow down to him".  Of course, this will take place at the end of this age when Israel finally bows down to Jesus in repentance and faith.


Verse 9 calls Judah a "lion's cub".  One of Jesus' titles is called "the Lion of the tribe of Judah".  Most likely this is where that term came from.


Verse 10 is one often quoted verse.  By far it is the most well known verse from this passage.


Note the word "scepter" in verse 10.  A scepter is a rod, and when in connection with a king was used as a symbol of authority.  It was usually highly decorated with gold and silver, or whatever kind of stone was precious at the time or in the civilization where it was used.  It could be long or short, wide or thin.


The KJV in verse 10 reads as, "the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be."  Note the word " Shiloh ".  Many scholars believe this word means rest or peace, but there is lots of division on how we should view this, or even interpret the word. 


Note how the NIV translates this verse.  They don't even use the word " Shiloh " in their translation.  They seem to interpret what they believe this means in their translation. The NIV reads, "the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is his."  The NIV avoids the word "Shiloh" altogether.  They say "Shiloh" means, "until he comes to whom it belongs." 


So what does this all mean.  This is my suggestion.  First of all, this passage does speak of the Messiah.  That's pretty well accepted.  The scepter of authority belongs to Judah in Israel , until the day come to whom it really belongs to, and that's the Messiah, and the Messiah is in Judah's lineage.  So because the Messiah is in Judah's lineage, the scepter of authority remains in Judah because that's where the Messiah is. 


When the one finally comes to whom the authority really belongs to, all nations will obey Him.  At the end of this age, Jesus will return, He will rule, and all nations will obey Him.


Verses 11 and 12 clearly speak of Jesus.  Here it is, way back in Jacob's day, and we have a prophecy of Jesus that is clearly recognizable.  The text says that he "will tether his donkey to the vine, his colt to the choice branch."  I believe this is clearly speaking of Jesus riding into Jerusalem days before He was killed.  He was being hailed as "King of the Jews".  The vine might represent Israel, while the choice branch might represent Judah.


Concerning Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  The donkey is an animal of humility.  The Law of Moses states that Israeli kings were not to have many horses like the Egyptian kings. They were to live a humble existence.  That's why Jesus road on a donkey into the streets of Jerusalem.  Yet, when Jesus returns at the end of this age, you will note, that He comes on a horse, the symbol of strength, power, and might.


The last half of verse 11 says that he will wash his clothes in wine, and his robe in the blood of grapes."  Wine in the Bible is associated with the death of Jesus, In particularly, wine symbolized blood, mainly because of the colour, but also because of the richness of wine.  We see in Isaiah 63 the blood stained robe of Jesus as seen on the cross.  In Revelation 19 we still see the blood stained robe of Jesus when He returns to earth 


Verse 12 states that "his eyes will be darker than wine and his teeth whiter than milk."  I see the dark eyes as being the dark and piercing eyes of Jesus, that pierce a person, right to his soul.  His teeth being whiter than milk must speak of righteous judgment that comes forth from Jesus' mouth.


Now in verse 13 we turn to the prophecy spoken to Zebulun.  Not much is said about Zebulun other than the portion of the promise land that he would receive in later history when the tribes were allotted their portion of Canaan in the book of Joshua.


Suddenly at this point we stop going in order of ages.  Zebulun was the tenth born to Jacob.  I would suggest this change has something to do with Judah's prophecies speaking of Jesus, the Messiah.  As I will say later as well,  the order in which these prophecies are given might suggest a historical time line.  Many people feel the seven churches of the book of Revelation is really the history of the church.  In like fashion, the order of these prophecies might suggest the history of Israel.   When it comes to Judah, we have a demarcation point.  Jesus comes.  Then with Zebulun, we have the history of the Jews after Jesus' resurrection.   There's not much said about Zebulun, maybe because after 70 AD there is not much to the history of the Jews until 1948.      


It is interesting to note, that even though Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea , He grew up in Zebulun/Naphtali.  Also, all of the disciples were from Zebulun, except for Judas.    


Verse 14 begins the prophecy to Issachar.   The text says that he is a strong or rawboned donkey.  This would be a strong tribe, but some say they were lazy.  Again, as was the case with Zebulun, if this chapter represents a time line in Israeli history, Issachar is in the time after 70 A. D.  and before 1948.


In verses 16 through 18 we now see the prophecy to Dan.  This is an interesting prophecy because in the twelve tribes in Revelation 7, Dan is left out.  We note in Genesis 46, in the list of genealogies, next to nothing is said about Dan's tribe.  The same in Numbers 26 in that list of genealogies.  Many scholars feel that God is blotting out this tribe because of certain things he did.   Dan is the last to inherit land when the land of Canaan was divided.  There are many things like this concerning Dan in the Bible.


In Judges 18 we see and event the begins a whole series of degeneration of Israel.  Idolatry is introduced to Israel in this chapter.  In Amos 8:4 we see the phrase, "the god of Dan."  Dan had there own god, and it certainly was not Elohim. 


Notice in Ezekiel 48, when the land once again is divided in the thousand year rule of Christ, Dan is the first one that gets some land.  Therefore, he is not totally cut off from God.  God has mercy on Dan in the very end.


Verse 16 says that through Dan justice would be  provided to Israel , and this came true.  Many of Israel's judges were from the tribe of Dan, including Sampson. 


Verse 17 says that Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper that bights the heals of horses that causes them to fall back.  From this, and other passages, many Jews and Christians alike suggest that the anti-Christ will come out of the tribe of Dan.  The word "serpent" here is taken by some to be a throw-back to satan who is called a serpent in Genesis 3.  The ultimate expression of a human serpent would be the anti-christ. If the time line aspect to this chapter is correct, then, the anti-christ coming out of Dan would fit in nicely at this point. 


In verse 18 we see a pause in these prophecies with just one simple thought.   Jacob says, "I look for your deliverance, O Lord."  What could this mean?  Maybe he was speaking of the deliverance of his own life when his eyes shut in death for the last time.  Or, maybe he is speaking of Israel the nation, looking for their deliverance by their Messiah.  I tend to think the second might be the case.  This might suggest the return of Jesus at the end of this age for the deliverance of Israel.  This too would fit into the time line aspect to this chapter quite well. 


Verse 19 begins the prophecy to Gad.  Gad ended up on the east side of the Jordon River and was always exposed to attack by other nations as suggested here.  This too might suggest the final war, or wars against Israel at the end of this age. 


Verse 20 speaks of Asher.  The land in which they were given was in northern parts of Israel where there was rich land that provided for rich food.


Verse 21 concerns Naphtali bearing beautiful favors.  And alternative reading for the word "favor" is "words", as in "beautiful words."   The region where Jesus grew up and spent much of His ministry was in Naphtali. 


In verse 22 Jacob turns to Joseph and prophesies to him.  Verses 22 to 25 are in past and present tense.  The statements here show what kind of man Joseph has become.  He is a fruitful vine and near a well.  Verse 24 shows us Joseph's strength in military terms. 


Note the words "Shepherd and "Rock" are capitalized in verse 24.  The reason for this is that most scholars believe this refers to the Messiah, that is, Jesus.  It was the Shepherd and the Rock that brought Joseph to the place where he presently is.  Both the "Shepherd" and the "Rock" are equated with the "Mighty One of Jacob".  That's God.  Here we see an elusion to the Deity of Christ.   The word "shepherd" and the word "rock" speak of two aspects of Jesus' character that will be clearly seen at the end of this age.  He, the Rock will crush all nations, while, He the Shepherd, will care for His people.       


Verse 25 begins the prophetic significance of these words.  There is one blessing after another pronounced on Joseph, and in many instances throughout the Bible you will note that Joseph is one of the most blessed of all the tribes of Israel. 


In verse 27 we see that Benjamin becomes a ravenous wolf, devouring everything in sight. Throughout Israel's Old Testament history you will see that the tribe of Benjamin was mighty in war.  King Saul was from this tribe, and so was the apostle Paul.    


Once again, I do not pretend to state the full meaning of these prophecies.  I'm not sure many people can.  I do believe that these prophecies have great significance, and possibly we will understand this as time goes on. 


As I've said,  a real way to look at these prophecies might well be as a time line in Israeli history.  Just as many people see the seven churches of the book of Revelation as a history of the church, I would not be surprised that these prophecies are a history of Israel.  


Verse 28 simply states that these words were the blessing that Jacob gave to his sons.  We note that not all of what he told his sons were positive blessings.  So you can't take the word "blessing" to suggest all that was said was good, because lots of what was said, although being true, was not all that nice, but that is the way it has been with the history of Israel.

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