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Jacob’s Last Words to His Sons


Then Jacob called his sons, and said: “Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come.


Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob;

listen to Israel your father.



Reuben, you are my firstborn,

my might and the first fruits of my vigor,

excelling in rank and excelling in power.


Unstable as water, you shall no longer excel

because you went up onto your father’s bed;

then you defiled it—you went up onto my couch!



Simeon and Levi are brothers;

weapons of violence are their swords.


May I never come into their council;

may I not be joined to their company—

for in their anger they killed men,

and at their whim they hamstrung oxen.


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, your brothers shall praise you;

your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;

your father’s sons shall bow down before you.


Judah is a lion’s whelp;

from the prey, my son, you have gone up.

He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,

like a lioness—who dares rouse him up?


The scepter shall not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

until tribute comes to him;

and the obedience of the peoples is his.


Binding his foal to the vine

and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,

he washes his garments in wine

and his robe in the blood of grapes;


his eyes are darker than wine,

and his teeth whiter than milk.



Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea;

he shall be a haven for ships,

and his border shall be at Sidon.



Issachar is a strong donkey,

lying down between the sheepfolds;


he saw that a resting place was good,

and that the land was pleasant;

so he bowed his shoulder to the burden,

and became a slave at forced labor.



Dan shall judge his people

as one of the tribes of Israel.


Dan shall be a snake by the roadside,

a viper along the path,

that bites the horse’s heels

so that its rider falls backward.



I wait for your salvation, O L ord.



Gad shall be raided by raiders,

but he shall raid at their heels.



Asher’s food shall be rich,

and he shall provide royal delicacies.



Naphtali is a doe let loose

that bears lovely fawns.



Joseph is a fruitful bough,

a fruitful bough by a spring;

his branches run over the wall.


The archers fiercely attacked him;

they shot at him and pressed him hard.


Yet his bow remained taut,

and his arms were made agile

by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,

by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,


by the God of your father, who will help you,

by the Almighty who will bless you

with blessings of heaven above,

blessings of the deep that lies beneath,

blessings of the breasts and of the womb.


The blessings of your father

are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains,

the bounties of the everlasting hills;

may they be on the head of Joseph,

on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.



Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,

in the morning devouring the prey,

and at evening dividing the spoil.”


28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, blessing each one of them with a suitable blessing.

Jacob’s Death and Burial

29 Then he charged them, saying to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors—in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. 31There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah— 32the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites.” 33When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

16. Dan shall judge his people. In the word judge there is an allusion to his name: for since, among the Hebrews, דון (din) signifies to judge, Rachel, when she returned thanks to God, gave this name to the son born to her by her handmaid, as if God had been the vindicator of her cause and right. Jacob now gives a new turn to the meaning of the name; namely, that the sons of Dan shall have no mean part in the government of the people. For the Jews foolishly restrict it to Samson, because he alone presided over the whole people, whereas the language rather applies to the perpetual condition of the tribe. Jacob therefore means, that though Dan was born from a concubine, he shall still be one of the judges of Israel: because not only shall his offspring possess a share of the government and command, in the common polity, so that this tribe may constitute one head; but it shall be appointed the bearer of a standard to lead the fourth division of the camp of Israel.210210     See Numbers 2, where the order of the tribes in their encampment is given. Judah had the standard for the three tribes on the east, Reuben for the three tribes on the south, Ephriam for the three tribes on the west, and Dan for the remaining three tribes on the north of the tabernacle. — Ed. In the second place, his subtle disposition is described. For Jacob compares this people to serpents, who rise out of their lurking-places, by stealth, against the unwary whom they wish to injure. The sense then is, that he shall not be so courageous as earnestly and boldly to engage in open conflict; but that he will fight with cunning, and will make use of snares. Yet, in the meantime, he shows that he will be superior to his enemies, whom he does not dare to approach with collected forces, just as serpents who, by their secret bite, cast down the horse and his rider. In this place also no judgment is expressly passed, whether this subtlety of Dan is to be deemed worthy of praise or of censure: but conjecture rather inclines us to place it among his faults, or at least his disadvantages, that instead of opposing himself in open conflict with his enemies, he will fight them only with secret frauds.211211     The word שפיפון, (sheppiphon,) translated “adder,” occurs only in this place. It is supposed by Bochart to be the cerastes, “a serpent so called,” says Calmet, “because it has horns on its forehead.” Dr. A. Clarke gives this translation:
   “Dan shall be a serpent on the way,
A cerastes upon the track,
Biting the heels of the horse,
And his rider shall fall backwards.”

   — Ed.

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