1. Jacob called unto his sons--It is not to the sayings of the dying saint, so much as of the inspired prophet, that attention is called in this chapter. Under the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit he pronounced his prophetic benediction and described the condition of their respective descendants in the last days, or future times.
Ge 49:3,4. REUBEN forfeited by his crime the rights and honors of primogeniture. His posterity never made any figure; no judge, prophet, nor ruler, sprang from this tribe. Ge 49:5-7. SIMEON AND LEVI were associate in wickedness, and the same prediction would be equally applicable to both their tribes. Levi had cities allotted to them (Jos 21:1-45) in every tribe. On account of their zeal against idolatry, they were honorably "divided in Jacob"; whereas the tribe of Simeon, which was guilty of the grossest idolatry and the vices inseparable from it, were ignominiously "scattered." Ge 49:8-12. JUDAH--A high pre-eminence is destined to this tribe (Nu 10:14 Jud 1:2). Besides the honor of giving name to the Promised Land, David, and a greater than David--the Messiah--sprang from it. Chief among the tribes, "it grew up from a lion's whelp"--that is, a little power--till it became "an old lion"--that is, calm and quiet, yet still formidable. 10. until Shiloh come--Shiloh--this obscure word is variously interpreted to mean "the sent" (Joh 17:3), "the seed" (Isa 11:1), the "peaceable or prosperous one" (Eph 2:14)--that is, the Messiah (Isa 11:10 Ro 15:12); and when He should come, "the tribe of Judah should no longer boast either an independent king or a judge of their own" [CALVIN]. The Jews have been for eighteen centuries without a ruler and without a judge since Shiloh came, and "to Him the gathering of the people has been."
Ge 49:13. ZEBULUN was to have its lot on the seacoast, close to Zidon, and to engage, like that state, in maritime pursuits and commerce.
Ge 49:14,15. ISSACHAR-- 14. a strong ass couching down between two burdens--that is, it was to be active, patient, given to agricultural labors. It was established in lower Galilee--a "good land," settling down in the midst of the Canaanites, where, for the sake of quiet, they "bowed their shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute." Ge 49:16-18. DAN--though the son of a secondary wife, was to be "as one of the tribes of Israel." 17. Dan--"a judge." a serpent . . . an adder--A serpent, an adder, implies subtlety and stratagem; such was pre-eminently the character of Samson, the most illustrious of its judges. Ge 49:19. GAD--This tribe should be often attacked and wasted by hostile powers on their borders (Jud 10:8 Jer 49:1). But they were generally victorious in the close of their wars. Ge 49:20. ASHER--"Blessed." Its allotment was the seacoast between Tyre and Carmel, a district fertile in the production of the finest corn and oil in all Palestine.
Ge 49:21. NAPHTALI--The best rendering we know is this, "Naphtali is a deer roaming at liberty; he shooteth forth goodly branches," or majestic antlers [TAYLOR, Scripture Illustrations], and the meaning of the prophecy seems to be that the tribe of Naphtali would be located in a territory so fertile and peaceable, that, feeding on the richest pasture, he would spread out, like a deer, branching antlers.
Ge 49:22-26. JOSEPH-- 22. a fruitful bough, &c.--denotes the extraordinary increase of that tribe (compare Nu 1:33-35 Jos 17:17 De 33:17). The patriarch describes him as attacked by envy, revenge, temptation, ingratitude; yet still, by the grace of God, he triumphed over all opposition, so that he became the sustainer of Israel; and then he proceeds to shower blessings of every kind upon the head of this favorite son. The history of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh shows how fully these blessings were realized. Ge 49:27-33. BENJAMIN 27. shall ravin like a wolf--This tribe in its early history spent its energies in petty or inglorious warfare and especially in the violent and unjust contest (Jud 19:1-20:48), in which it engaged with the other tribes, when, notwithstanding two victories, it was almost exterminated. 28. all these are the twelve tribes of Israel--or ancestors. Jacob's prophetic words obviously refer not so much to the sons as to the tribes of Israel. 29. he charged them--The charge had already been given and solemnly undertaken (Ge 47:31). But in mentioning his wishes now and rehearsing all the circumstances connected with the purchase of Machpelah, he wished to declare, with his latest breath, before all his family, that he died in the same faith as Abraham. 33. when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons--It is probable that he was supernaturally strengthened for this last momentous office of the patriarch, and that when the divine afflatus ceased, his exhausted powers giving way, he yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.