GENESIS - CHAPTER 49
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
Before beginning our study of this chapter we might note that in Jacob’s twelve sons we have a multi-faceted symbolic picture: of Christ, of Israel, and of ourselves.
With regard to Christ, the picture is found, less in their character, than in the meanings of their names.
Reuben meaning see ye, a son, is first, and shows God’s presentation of Christ to Israel. The angels, having announced the glad tidings of His birth, instructed the shepherds, “Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Mk 2:12). “Behold the Lamb of God,” is the annunciation from the lips of John, (Jn 1:36). On the mount of transfiguration God Himself declared, “This is My beloved Son” (Mt 17:5). All of these are God’s announcement, “See ye, a Son.”
Since one is the number of God, Reuben’s being first, points to Christ as the One, Who even while He was perfect Man, never ceased to be also perfect God.
In Simeon hearkening we have a type of Christ as the perfectly obedient One, and in his being number two (the number of witness) we have the typical presentation of the truth that the One Whom Simeon portrays was the perfect Witness to God’s holiness, power, justice, wisdom, and love.
Levi joined sets Christ before us from several viewpoints. In Christ, two natures, one human, the other Divine, were perfectly joined together. Through His sin-atoning sacrifice He is “the one Mediator between God and men” (1 Tim 2:5) Who reunites (joins) them together again.
Since Levi was the third son, and three is the number of resurrection, he reminds us that it is through a Christ Who has died, and Who has been resurrected, that reconciliation has been made possible between a holy God and sinful man.
Judah he shall be praised is the fourth son, and he teaches us that that same Christ Who is praised today only by the angels, and the redeemed, will yet be praised by all creation, as it is written, “Wherefore (because He was obedient even unto death) God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:9-11).
Since four is the number of earth and testing, Judah reminds us that this same Christ, Who will yet be universally praised, is the same One Who manifested His perfection, His worthiness of that praise, in the midst of earthly testing.
The fifth son is Dan judging: a judge. In him we see the One Who has borne our judgment at Calvary, but we see also the One into Whose hand all judgment has been committed, “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (Jn 5:22).
Five is the number of responsibility. In Dan therefore, we are reminded that Christ, having perfectly fulfilled His responsibility to God and also to man, is the One Who alone is competent to execute judgment.
Naphtali my wrestling: my tortuosity is the sixth son. Since six is the number of man, he portrays Christ as the One Who became man, and at Calvary “wrestled” against Satan and death, and came forth as the Victor. “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for ever more, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Re 1:18).
Gad was the seventh son, and his name means an invader: a troop: fortune. In him we have a picture of Christ as the One, Who having alone won the victory over every foe, will return to earth with the armies of heaven (a troop) to crush His foes, and establish His millennial kingdom. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True ... and the armies which were in heaven followed him ... and out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron” (Re 19:11-15). On that day He will have with Him also the “troop’ of His saints.
As might be expected in connection with seven, the number of completeness or perfection, Gad points us to that day when the completeness of the victory won at Calvary will be fully revealed.
As the corn of wheat that fell into the ground and died, He has brought forth much fruit (Jn 12:24). By His death He has brought “a troop” of sons to glory. “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by him are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb 2:10).
Asher means happy, and as the eighth son, the number of a new beginning, shows us Christ as the Head of the new creation, the One Who “shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa 53:11), on that day when He makes all things new. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new”( Re 21:4-5).
Issachar is the ninth son, and his name means he will be hired: there is reward: he will bring reward. His name conveys the thought of reward for work done, and in him we are presented with a picture of Christ, Who for His travail at Calvary, is crowned with glory and honor, and Who receives also as the reward of that travail, His Bride, the Church. His redeemed are the reward of His labor.
The factors of nine are 3 x 3, the number of resurrection, so that in Issachar’s being the ninth son we have emphasis upon the truth that it is not only by His own resurrection, but also by ours, that Christ will enter into the full enjoyment of His reward.
The tenth son is Zebulun dwelling. This, combined with the fact that ten is the number of Divine government, enables us to see in him a portrait of Christ as the One, Who because of His perfect submission to that government, has secured for us the fitness to “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps 23:6).
Joseph meaning let him add, is the eleventh son, and more obviously than any of the others, very clearly a type of Christ. Since in his case the typological picture is so detailed, the reader is referred to the comments concerning him beginning with chapter 37, and we will confine ourselves here to an examination of the significance of his numerical place among Jacob’s sons.
It seems that the key to understanding the meaning of prime numbers in Scripture is to remove one the number of God, and then to take the remainder either as a whole number, or as a set of factors. Joseph, then, represents Christ, Who as man, was submissive to the government of God. It is because of His perfect obedience that He is now the great Increaser. As the obedient corn of wheat that fell into the ground and died, He has produced a harvest that cannot be measured.
The twelfth and last son is Benjamin son of the right hand, and the blessing pronounced upon him by Jacob is, “Benjamin shall ravin (tear) as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.”
Twelve is the number of Divine government on display, and clearly this twelfth son portrays Christ, not as the suffering Savior, but as the victorious Lion of Judah Who will begin His millennial reign (the morning) by banishing His foes, and Who will end that reign (at night, the end of the day) by delivering up to the Father a subdued creation, as it is written, “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Co 15:24- 26). It is in Christ that submission to Divine government has been perfectly displayed; and it is in Him that the administration of that government will also be perfectly displayed.
Jacob’s family began with Reuben see ye, a son, and ended with Benjamin son of the right hand. Christ is the beginning and the ending of all things. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Re 1:8). “I am ... the first and the last” Re 1:11).
The God, however, Who uses Jacob’s twelve sons to set forth the perfections of His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, uses them also to set before us the pre-written history of the nation which He also calls My son, as it is written, “Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn” (Ex 4:22).
Reuben, the firstborn was set aside because of sin, and for the same reason the nation he represents has also been set aside. As the first, he represents the natural man in his independence of God, for “one” is the number, not only of God, but also of rebellious independence. Israel, however, will yet take her place among the nations as God’s obedient and honored firstborn son.
Simeon hearkening portrays Israel as the nation that was privileged to hear God’s voice, and as such was to be His witness to the nations that obedience brings blessing, and disobedience, chastisement. She has been an eloquent witness to the latter truth, but in a coming day she will hearken, and be the witness for God amongst the nations that obedience brings blessing.
Levi the third son, and meaning joined represents the nation that was separated from among the nations to be joined to God as His “peculiar people.” That separation was connected with what the number three represents - resurrection. Israel had been brought typically out of death by being brought out of Egypt, and through the Red Sea (symbol of death) to stand as it were on resurrection ground, a new nation. She will yet be resurrected from her spiritually dead state to be joined eternally to God, Who in spite of her rebellion, has declared “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3).
The fourth son Judah he shall be praised reminds us that every testing (number four) Israel ever experienced, proved to be simply the means by which God would have drawn them closer to Himself and given them cause to praise Him. The rebellious murmuring that came from their lips more frequently than praise, will be made to cease as they, in the Millennium, receive the praise of the nations, and in turn, themselves praise Him Who is their faithful God.
Dan, the fifth son, whose name speaks of judgment, and whose numerical place speaks of responsibility, shows us Israel as the nation whose delinquency in meeting their responsibility to God, has brought His judgment upon their guilty heads. But Dan points us also to the future day when Israel, judged and chastened, will fulfill her responsibility, and take her rightful place as God’s judge or ruler of the nations.
In Naphtali my wrestling we see the foreshadowing of Israel’s history. Being the sixth son (number of man, incompleteness, sin, and weakness), he shows us Israel’s character as a people living in rebellion against God. Her history has been one long chronicle of wrestling against God, and against her enemies, that past “wrestling” being itself but a picture of her coming terrible conflict in the Tribulation. Out of that final conflict, however, she will emerge as a broken, repentant, converted nation, to enjoy millennial blessings.
Seven is the number of perfection and completeness, and in Gad a troop, the seventh son, we are shown Israel as she will be when God has completed His work of bringing her to repentance and obedience. Then the type will be fulfilled, and restored to a right relationship with God, she will be blessed and multiplied. She will indeed become “a troop.”
Asher happy the eighth son shows us Israel as she will be in the Millennium. Eight, number of a new beginning, tells us of the happy nation that will enjoy a new beginning in fellowship with God as she enjoys the blessing that her sin has so long delayed.
Issachar he will be hired: there is reward: he will bring reward, the ninth son as to his numerical place, speaks of resurrection; and as to the meaning of his name, of reward. Resurrected out of spiritual death, Israel will receive the wages of righteousness during the Millennium, as she renders to God the service so long withheld.
In Zebulun dwelling we see millennial Israel restored to a right relationship with God, dwelling at last in peaceful possession of her land, in the enjoyment of God’s outpoured blessings. His being the tenth (number of divine government), points to the fact that in that coming day, Israel, obedient to God’s government, will be the earthly center of that administration on the earth.
In Joseph, the eleventh son whose name signifies increase, we may see a picture of Israel as the well-loved son, brought through suffering, to glorious supremacy among the millennial nations. As has been noted already, eleven seems to convey the truth which is connected with “one” (number of God), and “ten” (number of Divine government). As in the number eleven we see God inseparably linked with government, so in this eleventh son we see Israel, because of obedience to that government, inseparably linked with God.
Joseph will be more easily understood as a type of Israel if we remember what was common to both. While all of Jacob’s sons were the nation in embryo, it was Joseph alone of whom no evil is recorded. It was Joseph alone in the midst of his ten evil brethren, who was righteous. He is therefore a type of the godly remnant within the ungodly nation. That godly remnant, like Joseph, was always a delight to God the Father. Like Joseph, however, it has had to suffer because of its evil “brethren,” the unbelieving nation in the midst of which it has had to live. It is that godly remnant, however, which like Joseph, will be brought through suffering (the Tribulation) to stand supreme among the millennial nations.
Benjamin son of the right hand completes the picture. He shows us what Israel will be in the Millennium. Among all God’s other earthly “sons” (the nations), Israel will be the son of His right hand. His numerical place, twelve, points to the truth that Israel will display the government of God on the earth, both by her obedience to it, and by her just administration of it over the nations.
The third typological picture, Jacob’s sons as types of individual believers, remains now to be examined. The nation of Israel sprang from those twelve sons, and as it was God’s redeemed people that constituted earthly Israel, so do His redeemed people of this present dispensation constitute spiritual Israel. It isn’t surprising therefore, that we should find Jacob’s sons to be but pictures of ourselves, since we are spiritual Israel.
Reuben see ye a son shows the relationship into which faith has brought us. Like Reuben, we are weak and failing, but God says of every believer “See ye, a son.” Reuben was Jacob’s first son, and “one” as well as being the number of God, is also the number of wholeness. We have been made whole through faith in Christ.
Simeon hearkening reminds us that we are part of spiritual Israel because we “hearkened” to God’s call in the Gospel, and we are responsible as redeemed men to continue to hearken and obey His voice. In his being the second son (number of witness) we learn the truth that we are to be witnesses for God on the earth.
The third son Levi joined tells us that we have been resurrected from spiritual death, and are eternally joined to Christ.
Judah he shall be praised was the fourth son (number of testing). In him we learn the lesson that we are to be a praising people; praising Him first for salvation, and praising Him even in the midst of testing, because every trial is accompanied by the assurance “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Ro 8:28).
The fifth son (number of responsibility) was Dan judging: a judge. He must surely remind us that we are responsible to judge ourselves daily in the light of God’s Word, for only he who has judged himself is capable of executing judgment, and we shall judge angels in a coming day (1 Co 6:3).
In Naphtali my wrestling we are taught that the Christian path is one of conflict, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph 6:12). As the sixth son (number of man) he brings us the encouragement to persevere in the struggle, for it is only for a little while that we are here on the earth, still in the body.
The seventh (number of perfection, completeness) Gad a troop points us to that day when “the troop” the vast multitude of the redeemed will stand in heaven, perfect, complete.
Asher happy is the eighth (number of a new beginning). He is the representative of those who are indeed happy, having had a new beginning through the new birth, which sets them before God in all the perfection of Christ. Of all the people on earth believers are they who have greatest reason to be happy.
Nine is the number of resurrection, and combined with the meaning of Issachar he will be hired: there is reward: he will bring reward, declares that at the resurrection of life we shall receive an eternal reward.
The tenth son (number of Divine government) is Zebulun dwelling. In him we see the symbolic declaration of the truth that those who have been willingly submissive to God’s government on earth will dwell for ever as sons in the Father’s house.
Joseph let him add is the eleventh (ten, Divine government, plus one, the number of God). He took the place of Reuben, who as the firstborn, represents us as we are in the imperfection of our earthly state. That imperfection will be replaced with the perfection of the One Joseph represents, Christ. We shall stand one day in heaven, perfectly conformed to His image. Then that holy law which is the divine standard of government, and which now so often finds us, even as redeemed men, to be transgressors, will be the witness to the perfection of our eternal state, when there is no longer anything of the flesh to mar. When Christ and His redeemed are one, the perfection that has always been found in Him will be found also in us. Joseph’s flawless life - as far as the divine record is concerned - is but the foreshadowing of what our state will be eternally.
The twelfth son (Divine government manifested) is Benjamin son of the right hand. He completes what begins with Reuben, but unlike Reuben, he portrays Christ in the power and glory of His millennial reign. What we are, as represented by Reuben, will give place to what is represented by Benjamin. On that soon coming day we shall reign with Christ.
49:1. “And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.”
It is necessary at this point to distinguish between three terms that are often confused: the latter days; the last days; and the last day; and it is necessary also to recognize that their application to the Church is different from their application to Israel.
First, in relation to the Church: the latter days refer to the closing years of her earthly experience, days that will be marked by Laodicean declension. It is clear also from such Scriptures as 2 Tim 3:1-5, that as related to the Church, the terms “latter days” and “last days” are synonymous, and in relation to the Church, the term “last day” refers to the Rapture.
As related to Israel, however, these terms have a different connotation. The “latter days” appear to relate to the seven years of the Tribulation, De 4:30, while “the last days” refer to the Millennium, Isa 2:2.
The “last day” for both the Church and Israel has reference to resurrection, Jn 6:39,40,44,54, so that in relation to Israel, it will be the day of the Lord’s post-Tribulation return, when Old Testament saints, and the Tribulation-age martyrs will be raised.
For the world, the “last day” will be the end of the world, the day that will see Satan cast into the lake of fire, and the unbelieving dead raised at the resurrection of damnation, Jn 5:29.
Since Jacob’s prophecy concerns “the last days” we must, then, view it as the revelation of what will befall Israel in connection with the millennial kingdom, recognizing at the same time that some of what is foretold may have had partial past fulfillment. It is from that perspective therefore, that we will discuss it.
49:2. “Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.”
Since Jacob is the name that is related to the old, the natural; and Israel, to the new and spiritual, the employment of both names has significance. These sons are going to be told the future of both unbelieving and believing Israel; and in keeping with this it is Jacob’s lips that pronounce the words, but it was to him as Israel that the revelation was given.
49.3. “Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of my dignity, and the excellency of power.”
Reuben means see ye, a son. As firstborn he should have inherited a double portion, and assumed the place of leadership upon his father’s death. As the one in whom Jacob’s line should have been perpetuated he should indeed have been all that Jacob said here; but, like every other firstborn in Scripture, Reuben represents the natural man, and the natural man can inherit no blessing. This prepares us for what follows.
49:4. “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledest thou it: he went up to my couch.”
The record of Reuben’s sin is found in Ge 35:22, and in our study of that chapter we noted that the literal offense was symbolic of one that was spiritual. It represents the old nature’s use of legalistic ordinances as a substitute for faith; all of which confirms that Reuben represents earthly, natural Israel, which was also a firstborn, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn” (Ex 4:22), and no one will dispute that the cause of their rejection was this very sin: they embraced legalistic ordinances. Like Reuben, Israel had great potential for good, but, like him, they also failed to fulfil that potential. This rejection of Reuben, the firstborn, therefore, reminds us that it will not be the earthly unbelieving Israel, but the believing remnant that will enter the Millennium.
49:5. “Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.”
It is generally agreed that this refers to their deceit, and vicious slaughter of the Shechemites recorded in Ge 34:25.
Having regard to the fact that the Shechemites were Hivites, a people almost invariably numbered amongst the enemies of God and His people, it would seem that the crime of these sons of Jacob lay, not in the slaughter itself, but in the deceit that had been practiced. Simeon hearkening, and Levi joined, combine to be a symbol of Israel. That nation professed the obedience that is implied in the meaning of Simeon’s name, as they claimed also to be what the meaning of Levi’s name implies, joined to God. As Simeon and Levi persuaded the Shechemites to be circumcised, so did the nation of Israel persuade the Gentiles to be circumcised, and as submission to that legal ordinance caused the Shechemites to die, so did faithless submission to that same rite cause the Gentiles to die spiritually. And all the while there was in the heart of the religious, but unbelieving Jew, the same deceit that lurked in the hearts of Simeon and Levi, for with all the outward appearance of piety, the heart of the Jew was filled with pride, and was very far from God. The Lord Himself declared, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites ... This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mk 7:6).
The literal translation of this verse is “Simeon and Levi are brethren! instruments of violence - their espousals.” In the cause which they had espoused, their swords had been used as weapons of violence, but since the sword represents the Word, their use of their swords pictures the use of the Word to bring destruction, which is what Israel’s misuse of the Scriptures had done for centuries. Jacob’s denouncement of them therefore, becomes the annunciation of the fact that millennial blessings are not for the nation that has misused the Word, but for the believing remnant who will not only live by it themselves in the Tribulation, but who will also risk their lives to share the truth with others.
49:6. “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; into their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall.”
One rendering of “digged down a wall” is “houghed oxen,” but the literal translation is “eradicated a prince.” Certainly Simeon and Levi did this, but inasmuch as they represent the nation of Israel, it is very possible that Jacob, speaking by the Holy Spirit, was pointing to an event then still future: Israel’s crucifixion of Christ, their “eradication” of the Prince of peace. That a future event is being referred to here is implied in the words, “come not thou into their secret; into their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united.” Since their slaughter of the Shechemites was no secret, it is hard to believe that Jacob was referring to that event as a secret. The crucifixion of Christ was what was then still “secret.”
49:7. “Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce: and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.”
No one can read the account of what these two sons of Jacob had done to the Shechemites without being impressed with their implacability, and vicious cruelty; and if this is so in regard to their slaughter of men who were guilty, how much more heinous was the murder of the guiltless Christ at the hand of the nation represented by Simeon and Levi’
Like many of the Bible’s prophecies, the threatened division and scattering have had partial fulfillment in the past, but since everything in this section relates to the “last days,” that is, the Millennium, then Jacob’s words become the announcement of the truth that the unbelieving nation, characterized by the same deceit and cruelty as was found in Simeon and Levi, will have no part in the blessings of the reign of the Prince of peace.
This, however, raises the question, What is signified by this threatened division and scattering, and when will they occur? “Jacob” here may have reference to the nation as a physical entity; and “Israel,” to what they will be spiritually, so that the threat, “I will divide them in Jacob” may refer to the literal division that will take place at the end of the Tribulation when Christ will “divide” Israel, as He will also the Gentile nations, into two classes: those who will enter the millennial kingdom, and those who will be shut out. Since Israel relates to what is spiritual, and since “scattering” is used frequently in Scripture in connection with judgment, this threatened scattering may refer to the fact that the judgment of Israel and the nations at the Lord’s post-Tribulation return will result not only in physical separation of the ungodly from the godly, but also in a spiritual “scattering” that will banish the unbelievers into hell.
49:8. “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.”
Numerically, as to his birth, Judah occupies the fourth place among Jacob’s sons, but by putting Simeon and Levi together in the second place, God gives Judah the third place. There is therefore, connected with him not only the number four, but also the number three - the former speaking of earth and testing; the latter, of resurrection. Can there be any doubt that God would have us see in Judah a picture of Him, Who on earth was tested even unto death, but Who having been delivered for our offenses, has been “raised again for our justification”?
His name means he shall be praised, reminding us that God would have us see in Judah a figure of Him Who is presented in Re 5:5 as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” acclaimed in Re 5:12 as being “worthy ... to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
In Judah therefore, as representative of the nation of Israel, God is showing us that the Israel that will enter the Millennium will be that godly remnant, tested even unto death in the Tribulation, but because of their faithfulness, found worthy of praise; the praise of God being expressed in His bringing the living into the Millennium, and in His raising the dead and bringing them into heaven.
“Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies.” As the millennial age progresses, and the world population increases, so will the number of unbelievers also, for in the Millennium, as in every other age, those born during that time will be born sinners in need of redemption; but, as in every other age, many will reject God’s offer of salvation. Unlike other ages, however, overt rebellion will not be permitted: the unbelieving will be compelled to yield obedience to Christ’s rule; but since that rule will be administered by Israel whose king will be a literal descendant of David, this prophecy will be literally fulfilled.
“... thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.” This also will be literally fulfilled because of the fact that in the Millennium Israel’s king, a literal descendant of David, will be of the tribe of Judah.
49:9. “Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?”
The frequent Scriptural references to Christ as a lion remove all doubt that the reference here is to Him, but since the prince who will sit on the throne in Jerusalem, ruling for Christ during the Millennium, will be of the tribe of Judah, the aptness of the term “whelp” is apparent: the king who will occupy the literal earthly throne will be the “whelp,” but Christ, ruling from the heavenly Jerusalem, will be the “Lion.”
“... from the prey (a torn thing) my son, thou art gone up.” The primary application is to Christ’s defeat of Satan (the prey) at Calvary, a conquest from which He has “gone up” in resurrection power and glory. But we must keep in mind that Jacob’s prophecy concerns Israel in relation to the Millennium; and in connection with the destruction of Gentile power just prior to the inauguration of the millennial kingdom, Zechariah indicates that Judah will be used by God to accomplish that destruction, “In that day will I make the governors of Judah like a hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about....” (Zec 12:6). Judah, having destroyed his foes, will “go up from the prey” leading the tribes of Israel (consisting of the believing remnant) into the Millennium.
“He stooped down, he couched.” This allusion to a lion’s crouching down before springing on his prey may be symbolic of the Lord’s humiliation: it was by “stooping down” to take a servant’s place that He overcame the enemy. As related to Israel, however, this “stooping down” may have reference to her Tribulation humiliation, a “stooping down” from which she will yet rise up as victor, having overcome every foe, through Christ.
“... an old lion” is literally “a lioness.” Inasmuch as a lioness kills either to defend or feed her young, the picture here may be first of Christ as the “lioness” Who went to Calvary both to defend and feed His young, that is, spiritual Israel (believing Jews and Gentiles). In its application to millennial Israel, it may refer to the tribe of Judah in her governmental role as defender and nourisher of the nation.
“... who shall rouse him up?” This declares that in the Millennium none will dare to defy Christ; but since Israel will be His governmental agent during that age, it declares also that none will dare to defy her God-given authority.
This blending together of what relates both to Christ and to millennial Israel is designed no doubt to show the close relationship that will then exist between the Lord and His redeemed people in that age of earthly blessedness.
49:10. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”
Since the scepter is the symbol of sovereignty, this assurance that it will not depart from Judah, becomes the assurance that the sovereignty awarded by Divine decree will not be taken from the tribe of Judah, but will, in fact, have its fulfillment in the Millennium.
Shiloh meaning peace-bringer: bringer of prosperity, is Christ the Prince of peace. He Who as to His humanity, is of the tribe of Judah, will hold the scepter in the Millennium, ruling over the earth from the heavenly Jerusalem, while a literal descendant of David (also of the tribe of Judah) will exercise that rule from the earthly throne in the earthly Jerusalem.
“... and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” “Gathering” here is literally “obedience: expectation: hope.” It is “Shiloh” (Christ) Who will command the obedience, expectation and hope of the millennial nations.
49:11. “Binding his foal (colt of an ass) unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; who washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.”
The animal that will be bound is the offspring of an ass, and while we may take this as a literal state-ment declaring that in the Millennium the people of Judah will tether their asses to literal vines, such an interpretation has little meaning. Since, however, the ass is the symbol of the body as the servant of the old nature, this statement conveys a very clear message. The ass’s colt, bound to the vine, becomes then the symbolic annunciation of the truth that the activity of the old nature will be restrained. But it is emphasized that the animal is an ass’s foal or colt, that is, it is second generation. This tells us that it is the activity of the old nature in believers (born again, “second generation” men and women) that will be restrained because of being “bound” to Christ the Vine, “I am the true Vine....” (Jn 15:1). He alone is “the choice Vine.”
And as with the ass and the vine, it is only when taken symbolically that the washing of garments in wine makes any sense. Garments in Scripture represent righteousness, either the filthy rags of our own self-righteousness, or the righteousness of Christ that clothes the believer. In Isa 61:10 the prophet exults, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garment of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
Wine is the Biblical symbol of joy, and as we read of Isaiah’s rejoicing because God had clothed him with the garment of salvation, so here also we see combined two symbols, garments and wine, that link together righteousness and joy. In the Millennium, Judah and the nation which he represents, will rejoice in the fact that they also will be clothed in the “garments of salvation.”
“... and his clothes in the blood of grapes.” This would remind us that before there could be rejoicing for salvation, there had to be first the shedding of blood, for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb 9:22).
49:12. “His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.”
“Red” here is from a word which means to flash: sparkle. It isn’t the red resulting from over indulgence, but the sparkle of joy. The eye has been rightly called the “window of the soul,” and since wine is the symbol of joy, the statement being made here is that the joy that will be in the hearts, not only of Judah, but of all Israel, will express itself in the life during that age when there will be little to mar it.
“And his teeth white with milk.” Milk is used not only to describe the abundance of Canaan, but as a symbol of food in general, particularly food that is wholesome and good. That this is the sense in which it should be interpreted here is indicated by the reference to the teeth in connection with the milk (the teeth are used in the consumption of food). In the Millennium there will be not only an abundance of literal food, but also of that which is spiritual.
Since it is by his mouth that man speaks, and since it is “out of the heart that the mouth speaketh” (Mt 12:34), the reference to the whiteness of the teeth may indicate, that unlike this present age in which man’s speech is so often evil, righteousness will characterize man’s speech in the Millennium.
49:13. “Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon.”
There are difficulties connected with Zebulun’s blessing. In the Millennium the tribal territories will consist of tracts of land stretching from east to west across Palestine (Ezekiel chapter 48), so that every tribe (except Levi, which will have a special portion in the center of the land) will have the great sea (the Mediterranean) as its western border. This raises the question of why Zebulun, any more than any other tribe, should be described as dwelling “at the haven of the sea,” and as being “for an haven for ships,” since this description might apply to all of them.
The second difficulty lies in its being said, “And his border shall be unto Zidon.” Except for Gad, Zebulun will be the southernmost tribe in the Millennium, yet Zidon lies far to the north beyond Zebulun’s territory. It is this latter fact, however, that seems to supply the answer to the riddle. As has been noted in earlier studies, each tribe portrays a characteristic of the nation as a whole. Reuben see ye, a son, for example, represents the nation as God’s son; Simeon hearkening represents her as listening to God’s voice, and being obedient; Levi joined, as a nation joined to God; Judah he shall be praised, as a nation that will be continually praising God. Zebulun dwelling, therefore represents her as a nation dwelling at last in peace in her own land, having the great sea as her western border. The reference then, to her dwelling “at the haven of the sea” and being “an haven for ships” seems to indicate that in the Millennium the whole nation will be the center of the world’s maritime trade, as she will be also of its commerce in general, and also of its government and religion.
With regard to Zidon: when the spelling is Sidon the meaning is hunting; but when it is Zidon, as here, the meaning is a hunting: fishery. The mention of this one coastal city, to the exclusion of others that might have been selected, is obviously for a purpose. It may be to remind us that in the Millennium, as in the past, the borderland between God’s people and the unconverted sea of the nations, “The wicked are like the troubled sea....” (Isa 57:20), is a place of both “hunting and fishing.” Satan “hunts” for the souls of men to destroy them, but those who belong to God are to be “fishers of men” seeking to win men for Christ. Inasmuch as every tribe will have the great sea for its border, the lesson being taught is that in the Millennium, Israel will be God’s evangelist to the nations.
49:14. “Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:”
49:15. “And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.”
Issachar means he will be hired: there is reward: he will bring reward,” and the spiritual significance of these meanings is difficult to determine. The literal rendering of verse 14 is “Issachar is a strong ass crouching between two folds (rather than burdens)”; and the only thought that suggests itself in connection with the two folds is that they may represent the two “folds” of millennial believers, that is, Jews and Gentiles. His crouching as a servant between them, combined with the meaning of his name, seems to indicate that he will function in some way as a servant, though there doesn’t seem to be any indication as to whether that service will be in spiritual or temporal matters.
His contemplation of the goodness of rest, and the pleasantness of the land, may represent the remnant’s enjoyment of rest, and their enjoyment also of the earth no longer under the curse, but basking in the sunshine of Divine blessing. This, combined with the fact that he will bow his shoulder to bear, may indicate that millennial Israel will be a nation of farmers and shepherds, a concept supported by such Scriptures as Mic 4:4, “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree....”
In regard to Issachar’s becoming a “servant unto tribute,” such Scriptures as Isa 60:12 preclude any possibility of that service being in submission to the Gentiles, “For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish....” This limits the interpretation, then, either to Issachar’s being in some way servant to the other tribes; or to the whole nation’s being a servant, and it is this latter that is most consistent with the line of interpretation we have been following. This, however, leaves no other choice than that it is God Himself Whom millennial Israel will serve. Since the “tribute” seems to refer to the reward of their labor, it may be that this is to indicate that the literal harvests reaped will be in proportion to the labor expended in cultivating the land. It goes without saying that their spiritual service will also be recompensed in proportion to the measure of that service.
Having said this by way of suggestion, I must add that I am less than satisfied that this is either the full, or even the right interpretation of the significance of Issachar, and I regret having to leave it without further comment.
49:16. “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.”
Dan means judging: a judge, and since we have been taking each tribe to be representative of one characteristic of the nation as a whole, Dan declares symbolically that millennial Israel will be God’s appointed judge or ruler of the nations.
49:17. “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 difficulty in determining the spiritual significance of this verse is that both the serpent and the horse seem to be representative of evil. This is clearly so in regard to the serpent, for this creature is never found in a good connection in Scripture; and though some of the references to the horse may be less obviously indicative of evil, the preponderance of Scriptural evidence points to this animal as being also symbolic of evil. Ps 32:9, “Be ye not as the horse”; Ps 33:17, “an horse is a vain thing for safety”; De 17:16, “but he (Israel’s king) shall not multiply horses to himself....” In Scripture a horseman is frequently symbolic of human independence of God, so that the rider’s falling backward appears to represent the overthrow of such rebellion.
If we continue to view Dan as being representative of millennial Israel as judge among the nations (as consistency seems to require), then we have to view this activity of the serpent as being representative of some aspect of that judgment or government. Since there is nothing in Scripture that even hints at evil in connection with Israel’s judgment or rule over the nations, we must look for some feature of the serpent that doesn’t have a bad connotation; and subtlety or cunning, in the sense of exceptional acumen, would appear to be the one most appropriate. (The implied superior intellect of the serpent is not that of inherence, but of association: it belongs to Satan whom the serpent represents; but it isn’t Satan’s intellect that is evil: it is his misuse of it).
In thus linking intelligence with Dan, it is significant that in Nu 2:25 the assigned camping site of that tribe was on the north side of the Tabernacle, and the north in Scripture is always connected with intellect.
Dan, then, seems to portray millennial Israel as being possessed of a superior power of discernment that will enable him to rule effectively for God even when, as toward the end of the Millennium, the number of unbelievers will have increased on the earth.
These, comments however, are offered only by way of suggestion; for, as with Issachar, I am not fully convinced that this is either the full or the correct interpretation.
49:18. “I have waited for thy salvation, 0 Lord.”
I regret being also at a loss as to the reason for the insertion of this statement, almost as an interjection, between the blessing of Dan and that of Gad.
49:19. “Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.”
Gad means an invader: a troop: fortune. Since each tribe represents a characteristic of the whole nation, Gad here portrays millennial Israel as a company, which through Christ, will have invaded and conquered Satan’s kingdom. That victory, however, will be theirs only after they themselves will have known what it was to be Satan’s bondslaves.
49:20. “Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.”
Meaning happy, Asher declares the condition of millennial Israel; and inasmuch as bread represents the Word, the implication is that Israel will be specially “fat” (prosperous) as a result of feeding on the Word of God. The yielding of “royal dainties” may refer to the special ability that will be given her to interpret the Scriptures to the nations.
49:21. “Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.”
Naphtali means my wrestling: my tortuosity, and this tribe would remind us that the Israel that will enjoy millennial blessing will be the godly remnant of the nation that has for so long deprived herself of blessing by a tortuous wrestling against God. Since the female in Scripture represents subjection, Naphtali’s being described as a female deer tells us that millennial Israel will be submissive to Christ’s government.
“... let loose” implies previous confinement, and there can be little doubt that the reference is to the long centuries in which her rebellion against God shackled her to the bondage of Satan. The word that is translated “loose” is associated with the thought of being sent out, which in conjunction with “he giveth goodly words,” confirms that millennial Israel will at last be faithful to the Divine commission to spread the knowledge of God amongst the nations. The change from the feminine “hind” to the masculine “he,” points to the fact that submission to God will produce an energetic activity of willing service.
49:22. Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall.”
Joseph, meaning let him add, speaks of the abundance of blessing that will be not only for millennial Israel, but through her, for all the nations. Bough is used here as the symbol of a son (a branch of the family tree), and since Joseph, like all the other tribes, represents a characteristic of the nation, we are being shown that just as Reuben’s place was taken by Joseph, so in the Millennium will the place of Israel, the disobedient son, be taken by the nation consisting of the obedient remnant.
The secret of the abundant blessing is disclosed in the fact that the “fruitful bough” abides by “a well.” Since a well is always the symbol of the Word, the truth being declared concerning millennial Israel, is that her blessing will come from her “abiding” by the well of the Word. It is obedience to the Word that secures blessing in every age.
“... whose branches run over the wall.” Branches is literally daughters, who represent submissive obedience, reminding us that in the Millennium, Israel’s sons in submissive willing obedience to God will go out “over the wall” of Judaism to bring blessing to the nations by instructing them from the Word.
49:23. “The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him.”
The reference is to what Joseph had endured both from his brethren, and also from the Egyptians; but inasmuch as he represents the godly remnant, the true Israel, the reference is to what will have been experienced by the remnant prior to their entering the Millennium. They, too, will have experienced the hatred of brethren (unbelieving Jews), and also of unbelieving Gentiles; that hatred reaching its peak in the Tribulation.
49:24. “But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)”
In spite of all that Joseph (and in fuller measure, Christ) suffered at the hand of the enemy, he had not been destroyed; and for Christ, as for Joseph, the secret of preservation and victory lay in total submission to the will of God; for, as always, it is in that seeming weakness that His strength is made perfect. It wasn’t in his own strength that Joseph survived, and emerged as victor: it was because he was upheld by the mighty hand of God; and it wasn’t without good reason that Jacob referred to Him as “the mighty God of Jacob.” Few have had greater cause than Jacob to acknowledge the preserving power of that mighty God, for if Joseph had been preserved in the midst of obedient submission, Jacob’s preservation had been in the midst of self-willed disobedience. But in the present context the reference is to millennial Israel. It will be she who will gratefully acknowledge the mighty God of Jacob as her Deliverer from hatred and persecution.
It is from that same mighty God that He has come forth Who is “the Shepherd, and Stone of Israel” the same One Who in the Millennium will be Israel’s Shepherd and foundation Stone.
49:25. “Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.”
This reference to Joseph’s hands having been made strong by “the God of thy father” focuses attention on the personal relationship between God and Jacob - a relationship that existed also between God and Joseph, and that will exist also between God and millennial Israel. But “the Almighty” links the warmth of personal relationship with the omnipotence of God. Millennial Israel will enjoy the privilege of being in happy relationship, not only with the God Who will be their Father, but Who is also the Almighty. “Help” is used here in the sense of “surrounding in protection.” They will be protected by a Father’s love, but the limitless extent of their blessings is indicated in the fact that those blessings will come from “the Almighty.”
First, the blessings will be heavenly, which may point to their being spiritual; but “blessings of the deep that lieth under” are also promised, and “the deep” here is the sea. Since it seems that each tribe will have the Mediterranean as its western border, this may indicate an abundant supply of fish, and of wealth in the form of pearls, etc. But we can’t dismiss the possibility that the “deep” may be used here symbolically to represent the nations, in which case then, the reference would be to Israel’s being enriched by the millennial nations. Against the idea of its being symbolic is the use of the word “deep” rather than “sea,” for the deep is used figuratively in Scripture to represent judgment, for example, Ps 42:7, “Deep calleth unto deep....” If it is to be taken in the sense of judgment, I regret being unable to interpret its significance, unless it may be that it is declaring that Israel’s millennial blessings will come out of Tribulation judgments.
The blessings of the breasts and womb, if taken literally, would speak of large families, and since children are declared to be “a heritage of the Lord” (Ps 127:3), this may be what is meant. If taken figuratively, it may indicate spiritual children, that is, those led to Christ, in which case the implication is that as a result of the testimony of millennial Israel many will be led to put their trust in Him.
49:26. “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.”
Abraham had received from God a blessing which had been in turn transmitted to Isaac, and from Isaac to Jacob in expanded form; but the blessing that Jacob was bestowing upon Joseph was of wider scope than any that had ever been pronounced: it extended beyond time into eternity.
To emphasize that Joseph’s greater blessing was the result of his far more complete obedience, it is added that this blessing was to be upon “him that was separate from his brethren.” That Christ is He Who was uniquely separated (set apart) from His brethren, and that Joseph’s experiences were the foreshadowing of Christ’s, is clear; but consistent exegesis requires us, in the present context, to relate these blessings to millennial Israel. The son in view here is the believing remnant, separated unto God, and therefore, persecuted, but to emerge from the Tribulation to inherit millennial blessing.
49:27. “Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.”
As has been noted already, Benjamin is a type of Christ in resurrection glory, with the emphasis upon His power and might as the Lion of Judah ruling in the Millennium. To ravin is literally “to tear in pieces,” and the reference is unquestionably to Christ’s destruction of His enemies at the end of the Tribulation. The morning speaks of a new day, and in Scripture is frequently connected with judgment. It will be a new day for the world when Christ returns in glory to establish His kingdom. Then the tables will be turned and the oppressor of God’s people will become the “prey” that will be “devoured” by Christ.
As morning represents the beginning of the day, the night represents the end of it. That day when the returning Christ will judge the nations and banish the unbelievers from the earth, will end with His “dividing the spoil” with His own, fulfilling the words of Jacob here, and of Isa 53:12, “... and He shall divide the spoil with the strong.”
Consistent interpretation, however, requires that what is said here of Benjamin must also, as in the case of the others, be applied to the millennial remnant. It is that remnant that will fulfill the Benjamin type, ruling the nations as God”s “son of the right hand,” the meaning of Benjamin’s name.
49:28. “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; everyone according to his blessing he blessed them.”
Twelve is the number of Divine government on display, and it will be millennial Israel that will display to the nations the perfection of that government. Their being called the tribes of Israel rather than the tribes of Jacob reminds us that the blessedness of the Millennium will be the recompense of the faith of the obedient remnant, for the name “Israel” as we have discussed already, speaks of the new nature, and in its meaning he shall be prince of God, reminds us that he who would be God’s “prince” must obey God’s commands, for blessing is the reward of obedience.
The variety of the blessings points to the variety of Israel’s blessings in the Millennium, and the appropriateness of each blessing to the condition of the tribe receiving it would remind us that God suits His blessings to the capacity of the recipient to enjoy them. This is nowhere more evident than in the assignment of spiritual gift during this present age, observation indicating that the gift of evangelism, for example, seems to be given to the extrovert rather than the introvert; and that of teaching to one who enjoys study.
49:29. “And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite.”
As his life closes Jacob speaks not of dying but of being “gathered unto my people,” and that gathering required that he be buried in Canaan, not Egypt. For the significance of that “cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite” the reader is referred to the comments on Ge ch. 23. There it was noted that Abraham’s purchase of both cave and field is a picture of Christ’s purchase of this world to be the place where the redeemed could “sleep” till the resurrection of life. As that burial place was located in the land of the Hittites terror, but bought out from under their control, so has Christ bought with His life, this world to be the burial place of His own until the resurrection.
49:30. “In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying place.”
For a discussion of the spiritual significance of this verse also, the reader is referred to the notes on chapter 23.
49:31. “There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.”
As has been noted already, Abraham represents faith; and Sarah, grace, so that their marriage is a picture of salvation, which is simply the “marriage” of faith and grace. Their burial therefore, in the place that speaks so clearly of resurrection, is the symbolic announcement of the truth that the believer’s body “sleeps” in anticipation of the resurrection of life. Since the wife represents the expression of spiritual life, its being emphasized that Abraham and Isaac were buried with their wives, is the symbolic assurance that these were men of faith. Jacob’s insistence that he be buried with them is therefore, the confession that he, too, was a man of faith.
49:32. “The purchase of the field and of the cave that is therein was from the children of Heth.”
That one not-to-be-repeated purchase of the field and cave by Abraham, we have seen to be a picture of Christ’s work at Calvary. There, through the one not-to-be-repeated sacrifice of Himself He “purchased the field (the world)” in which is the “cave” (burial place) of the men of faith. Its being emphasized here that it was purchased from the children of Heth terror, reminds us that this place where believers “sleep” till the resurrection of life, is no longer under the control of “the king of terrors (death)” (Job 18:14): it has been “purchased” from “the children of Heth.”
49:33. “And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.”
As we might expect, when it comes to the matter of his death, it is the name associated with the old nature that is used: the new nature, associated with the name Israel, doesn’t die. The bed in Scripture is symbolic of rest, as the feet are of the walk or manner of life. Jacob’s gathering his feet into the bed therefore, is the symbolic announcement of the fact that for him, as for every believer, the end of the earthly journey is the introduction to eternal rest. He might die in Egypt (the world), but he was separated from the Egyptians in his death. He would “sleep” in Canaan with his people, that is, with those who were also of faith. His death is the pattern of every believer’s death brings us into a better state, for as Paul has written, “To be absent from the body (is) to be present with the Lord.... which is far better” (2 Co 5:8; Php 1:23).