In Gen 49, we are at the end of Jacob's life and he issues a call for them to gather themselves together (v.1). Jacob churches them, and in the New Testament, we see this word for gathering being used to describe the church. The Bible's understanding of the church is not an institution, but an assembly of God's people and early on in the Bible even in Genesis, we see glimpses and the beginning of this idea. Notice also how the sons are referred to in verse 28. They have changed from sons to tribes at the end of the blessing. They are no longer individuals within a family, but have taken the identity of heads of households of a nation. Gen 49 not only helps us to see the importance of people in God's eyes, but also that God's people are assembled in some form of organizational structures. These tribes introduced in Gen 49 persist right to the end, to the book of Revelation! 

But what specifically did Jacob want (v.1)? He called them to prophesy and to bless them. He knew that he was about to die, and it was time to give his last blessings. Before we look closely at his specific blessings to each son, don't miss out the command he gave to his sons in verse 29. 3 generations later, Jacob still claimed the same covenant promise originally made to Abraham, and still believed in what his forefather believed when he bought the piece of land in Gen 23. Though Jacob was close to death, he did not forget the promise and hope of the covenant. 

What does Jacob say to each of his sons? What can we learn from these words in verses 3-27? Jacob goes in order of their birth and speaks as a father who knows his sons. 

 Son #1 
Reuben
(Gen 49:3-4)
  • As firstborn, though Reuben was meant to be supreme, it was not to be so in the end.
  • Jacob referred to him as "unstable as water", making a reference to his temperament here. Hear the words of a father who expected his son to be stable, responsible, reliable, caring for his brothers etc. Just like us today, Jacob had expectations for the first born son, and Reuben did not carry out his duties and responsibilities. At this point, it might be worth for us to pause and consider our own lives. What would people say about you? Are you a reliable person or friend? Remember that faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit too.
  • These verses also remind us that the seriousness of Reuben’s sin (c.f. Gen 35:22) was not forgotten. He had defiled his father's couch (i.e. his father’s marriage bed) and as a consequence, his birthright was erased (1 Chron 5:1-3), together with whatever dignity and majesty he might have had. Subsequently, his tribe received little or no mention in Israelite history and produced not one judge, prophet, military leader, or other important person (Judges 5:15, 1 Chron 5:1).
  •  Sons #2 and #3
    Simeon and Levi
    (Gen 49:5-7)
    • The cruelty and anger of Simeon and Levi at Shechem were not forgotten (c.f. Gen 34:25). These brothers responded to the rape of their sister by deceiving the people of the town and asked for all the men to be circumcised and conducted a massacre when the men of the town were still recovering. They were blinded by their wrath to the extent that they tried to bring God in "on their side".
    • Jacob remembered. Their lives have been stained with violence, and Jacob would not go to them for advice ("council").
    --> Simeon and Levi also remind us of our problem of wrath and anger, that works itself out sometimes in the smallest things. Have you been utterly frustrated with errant drivers, for example? These seemingly innocent pet peeves point to a deeper problem. James 1:20 reminds us that  things are not of God.
    • As a result, Simeon eventually became the smallest tribe in the second census of Moses (Num 26:14) and was omitted from the blessing of Moses (Deut 33:8). The tribe later shared a territory with Judah (Josh 19:1-9).
    • Levi was scattered throughout Israel, just as Jacob said. Only through God’s grace and their loyalty to God were they appointed the priestly tribe (Exo 32:26, Deut 33:8-11, Josh 21:1-3). Neither possessed their own designated region in the land, but the tribe of Levi reminds us of God’s grace to undeserving people. Later on, the tribe of Levi yielded people like Moses, Aaron and John the Baptist (Levi). 
     Son #5 
    Zebulun
    (Gen 49:13)

     

    •  Although Zebulun’s territory did not border the Mediterranean nor the Sea of Galilee, the tribe was situated to benefit from the important trade route, the Via Maris, traversed by sea traders moving through their territory.
     Son #6
    Issachar
    (Gen 49:14-15)
    • Issachar, an industrious, robust, hardy, and stalwart tribe, lived up to the name of their founder whose name meant “man of wages” (c.f. 1 Chron 7:1-5, 12:32).
      Son #7
    Dan
    (Gen 49:16-18)
    • Dan, whose name meant “Judge,” fathered an aggressive tribe that would also judge in the nation but would not be known for moral stature or religious faithfulness (c.f. Judg. 13:2; 18:1ff.1 Kings 12:28–302 Kings 10:29). Dan would later abandon their land allotment (Josh. 19:40–48) and migrate to the extreme north of Israel (Judg. 18:1–31).
    • Notice the snake imagery. What does this tell you about the way Jacob is describing his sons? Jacob knows his son and each blessing or speech is tailored to the son he is addressing. Father Jacob is picking up on their character traits, and warning them that there are consequences if they continued the trajectory of their actions. Jacob’s closing cry expressed hope and his prayer for Dan in the day when salvation would indeed come to Israel. Dan, however, is omitted in the list of tribes in Rev. 7:4–8.
     Son #8 
    Gad
    (Gen 49:19)
    • This blessing was a play on Gad’s name.
    • Settling in the Transjordan exposed Gad’s people to invasions, making them valiant fighters worthy of victory and commendation (cf. 1 Chron. 5:18–22; 12:8–15).
    Son #9
    Asher
    (Gen 49:20)
    • Asher benefited much from occupying the agriculturally rich coastal region north of Carmel, and provided gourmet delights for the palace. (c.f. Josh. 19:24–31).
    Son #10
    Naphtali
    (Gen 49:21)
    • Deer-like speed and agility marked Naphtali’s military prowess (Judges 4:6, 5:18). 
    • Deborah and Barak hailed from Naphtali (Judges 4-5).
     Son #12
    Benjamin
    (Gen 49:27)
    • The warlike nature of the small tribe of Benjamin became well known, as exhibited in their archers and slingers (Judg. 20:161 Chron. 8:40; 12:22 Chron. 14:8; 17:17) and in their brazen defense of their wickedness in Gibeah (Judg. 19; 20).
    • Both Sauls in the Bible were from this tribe: the first king in Israel (1 Sam. 9:1–2) and the apostle Paul (Phil. 3:5).

    But that's not all the sons of Jacob. There were two sons that had longer and more detailed blessings. 

    Son #4: Judah (v.8-12) 

    • Notice the description that Jacob uttered. He was as strong as a young lion and entrenched as an old lion. Therefore, to Judah’s line belonged national prominence and kingship, including David, Solomon, and their dynasty (640 years after this). More significantly and importantly, there would come one to whom “the scepter shall not depart,” i.e., Shiloh, the cryptogram for the Messiah. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is also called the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). Judah, not Reuben will become the preeminent one from Jacob’s family.
    • Jacob also paints a picture of great prosperity. This is what it meant by tying a donkey to the choice vine and letting it eat because there is such abundance. Wine will be as plentiful as water and everyone will be healthy. Verse 12, strange as it may sound, is a term and description of affection.
    • From Judah came Caleb, David, Solomon, Boaz, Joseph and most importantly, Jesus Christ. While Reading Gen 49:10 that speaks of the obedience of the people, one can’t help but think of Rom 1 that speaks of obedience that comes by faith. Through the line of Judah indeed, came one that brought about the obedience of the peoples, and obedience made possible only by faith and through faith. 

    Son #11: Joseph (v.22-26)

    • Though it was addressed to Joseph, Jacob’s blessings were also applicable to his two sons (due to events in the previous chapter). His sons eventually took their place as the half tribes of Ephraim (that Samuel hailed from) and Manasseh (the tribe of Gideon).
    • From these verses, it is not hard to see how he spoke with his son’s life and experiences in mind. Verse 23 speaks of Joseph's fruit-bearing. Though he has been through so much, using the picture of being surrounded by archers, Joseph remains unmoved. Why? There are other arms holding on to his arms (v24). Note the way God is described -- Mighty One of Jacob, Shepherd (c.f. Gen 48:15b), Stone of Israel (note: corporate identity!). No other tribe had such direct reference to the Lord God in their blessing as addressed to Joseph. The names for God reflect Joseph’s emphasis on the sovereignty of his God, no matter the misfortune and grief that attended his way. It is this God that sustained his arms in the midst of great attack. 

    --> What can we learn from this blessing to Joseph? What does it mean for us today? The same God who sustained Joseph, is the same God we worship today! Rest in these everlasting arms, for they are the same arms that are outstretched and extended for us today. This is a God who does not change (Num 23:19) and his compassions never fail. 

    • Notice also how he is blessed with the blessings of heaven and the deep, and also looking forward to his prospective children and retrospectively at what was given to his fathers. This is a full and complete blessing.

    What does Gen 49 tell us? 

    1. Jacob blesses his sons upon his deathbed, marking the end of his life and the unit of Genesis. All he cared about passing down were the promises of God and where his body was to be buried. What are you concerned with? What promises and hopes are you clinging on to? 
       
    2. Jacob extends blessing having received blessing in the covenant. (Note that this is the third blessing sequence following the reconciliation scene i.e. blessing Pharaoh, blessing Joseph’s family, blessing his 12 sons). What does this mean for us, recipients of His abundant blessings, the true Israel today? 
       
    3. Jacob uses the name Israel, showing how the story of redemption moves now from family to nation. God is really never content to keep it within a family, but extends it to a family. 1 Pet:9 reminds us that we are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession". For what purpose? That we "may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light". How does our life reflect this nature and mission? What will it look like practically? 
       
    4. In his comments, Jacob reminds us of the themes of sin and its consequences, grace and salvation which we ought to be familiar with as students of the Bible. Do the actions of his sons reflect our own sin, and the grace that we need? 
       
    5. Jacob takes time to consider each and every one of his sons. In the same way, each one of us have been shaped by certain experiences. What would someone who knows us say about our lives, who we really are, not who we pretend to be? What comfort is it that God knows us far more intimately than the way Jacob knew his sons?