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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.

22. Joseph is a fruitful bough. Others translate it, “a son of honor,”214214     “Filium decoris.” The original is בנ פרת, (Ben porath,) literally, “the son of fruitfulness.” The name of Joseph’s son, Ephriam, is derived from this word. — Ed and both are suitable; but I rather incline to the former sense, because it seems to me that it refers to the name Joseph, by which addition or increase is signified; although I have no objection to the similitude taken from a tree, vehicle, being planted near a fountain, draws from the watered earth the moisture and sap by which it grows the faster. The sum of the figure is, that he is born to grow like a tree situated near a fountain, so that, by its beauty and lofty stature, it may surmount the obstacles around it. For I do not interpret the words which follow to mean that there will be an assemblage of virgins upon the walls, whom the sight of the tree shall have attracted; but, by a continued metaphor, I suppose the tender and smaller branches to be called daughters.215215     בנות, (Banoth,) literally, “the daughters went over the wall.” But Calvin, with our translators, wisely interprets the expression as a poetical one, meaning the branches, (which are the daughters of the tree,) according to a very usual phraseology of the Hebrew Scriptures. — Ed And they are said “to run over the wall” when they spread themselves far and wide. Besides, Jacob’s discourse does not relate simply to the whole tribe, nor is it a mere prophecy of future times; but the personal history of Joseph is blended with that of his descendants. Thus some things are peculiar to himself, and others belong to the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. So when Joseph is said to have been “grieved,” this is wont to be referred especially to himself. And whereas Jacob has compared him to a tree; so he calls both his brethren and Potiphar, with his wife, “archers.”216216     Archers, literally, “Lords of the arrows.”
   “The archers shot at him with hpoisoned arrows,
They have pursued him with hatred.”

   Waterland in Caunter’s Poetry of the Pentateuch, vol. I., p. 223. — Ed.
Afterwards, however, he changes the figure by making Joseph himself like a strenuous archer, whose bow abides in strength, and whose arms are not relaxed, nor have lost, in any degree, their vigor; by which expressions he predicts the invincible fortitude of Joseph, because he has yielded to no blows however hard and severe. At the same time we are taught that he stood, not by the power of his own arm, but as being strengthened by the hand of God, whom he distinguishes by the peculiar title of “the mighty God of Jacob,” because he designed his power to be chiefly conspicuous, and to shine most brightly in the Church. Meanwhile, he declares that the help by which Joseph was assisted, arose from hence, that God had chosen that family for himself For the holy fathers were extremely solicitous that the gratuitous covenant of God should be remembered by themselves and by their children, whenever any benefit was granted unto them. And truly it is a mark of shameful negligence, not to inquire from what fountain we drink water. In the mean time he tacitly censures the impious and ungodly fury of his ten sons; because, by attempting the murder of their brother, they, like the giants, had carried on war against God. He also admonishes them for the future, that they should rather choose to be protected by the guardianship of God, than to make him their enemy, seeing that he is alike willing to give help to all. And hence arises a consideration consolatory to all the pious, when they hear that the power of God resides in the midst of the Church, if they do but glory in him alone; as the Psalm teaches,

“Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will invoke the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7.)

The sons of Jacob, therefore, must take care lest they, by confiding in their own strength, precipitate themselves into ruin; but must rather bear themselves nobly and triumphantly in the Lord.

What follows admits of various interpretations. Some translate it, “From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel;” as if Jacob would say, that Joseph had been the nourisher and rock, or stay of his house. Others read, “the shepherd of the stone,” in the genitive case, which I approve, except that they mistake the sense, by taking “stone” to mean family. I refer it to God, who assigned the office of shepherd to his servant Joseph, in the manner in which any one uses the service of a hireling to feed his flock. For whence did it arise that he nourished his own people, except that he was the dispenser of the Divine beneficence? Moreover, under this type, the image of Christ is depicted to us, who, before he should come forth as the conqueror of death and the author of life, was set as a mark of contradiction, (Hebrews 12:3,) against whom all cast their darts; as now also, after his example, the Church also must be transfixed with many arrows, that she may be kept by the wonderful help of God. Moreover, lest the brethren should maliciously envy Joseph, Jacob sets his victory in an amiable point of view to them, by saying that he had been liberated in order that he might become their nourisher or shepherd.

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