Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 50:1-3

1 And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.

2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.

3 And forty days were fulfilled for him; for so are fulfilled the days of those which are embalmed: and the Egyptians mourned for him threescore and ten days.

Joseph commits his father’s body to be embalmed by the physicians of Egypt. We have never heard of any other patriarch having his body embalmed, but here it would be necessary if the remains were to make the long journey back to the cave of Machpelah without turning rancid.

It is interesting that these early Israelites accepted the embalming process, as the Jewish law forbids it. Perhaps this law was not in force at the time of Jacob, or perhaps this was considered an acceptable exception. In either case, the period of seventy days that Jacob is mourned for matches perfectly with the Egyptian custom, as reported by Herodotus in his Histories. Thus, Jacob was to be buried with his Hebrew fathers, but his funeral preparations were decidedly Egyptian.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:29-31, 33

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,

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 buryingplace.

31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.

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.

At the end of blessing his sons Jacob once again returns to the matter of where he ought to be buried. Previously he had made a request of Joseph that his remains be buried in the land of Canaan, but now he repeats that charge to everyone else.

And not just any place in Canaan, specifically the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, where his father and grandfather, mother and grandmother, and even his first wife are buried. Which, by the way, this is the first we have heard of Leah’s passing. Perhaps it occurred when the narrative focus was on Joseph sold into Egypt? Presumably it was at some point before the exodus into Egypt. In any case, she was apparently buried in this special cave, where all the patriarchs and their spouses had previously been laid to rest.

The relationship between Jacob and Leah had been a strange one. The man had been tricked into marrying her in the first place and at the time was unable to bring himself to truly love her. But where she had a complicated status as a wife, she had absolutely no difficulty in being a mother, providing Jacob son after son. Thus, she and Jacob had reason to delight together, but also reason to feel intensely awkward.

In the end, though, Jacob showed her great respect, selecting her to be by his side in the grave. We have mentioned Rachel’s burial place previously, and it is notably not in the cave of Machpelah. Why she was not buried there? No explanation is given. I can’t see it being a sign of disrespect on the part of Jacob, I can only assume that there were reasons that we do not know of. But, in any case, the end result is that Leah was the wife that Jacob first lay beside, and she would be the last.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:27-28

27 Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this is it that their father spake unto them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.

We receive a quick pronouncement for Benjamin’s future where he is described as a devouring wolf, taking a great spoil. Admittedly, this description is quite different from the image I had concocted for Benjamin. I suppose this is because his main involvement in the story thus far has been his father’s fear of losing “the lad” when the sons went down to Egypt. That sort of concern for his safety created an image of Benjamin as a delicate and quiet sort, but that was merely an assumption. We never have been shown exactly what Benjamin was really like.

Or, even if Benjamin was a gentler man, there’s no reason that his posterity would have to remain so. As it is, the tribe of Benjamin would be known as a tribe of warriors, frequently filling the ranks of the Israelite army. Notable descendants that would display this fiery spirit include Ehud, an assassin who would slay Eglon, the king of Moab, and Saul, who would be the first king of Israel and lead the nation into battle. Paul would also be a descendant of Benjamin, and though not a warrior in earthly terms, he would be a veritable lion in proclaiming the gospel to the broader world.

And now the blessing of the twelve sons is concluded. Each has received according to the quality of man they have shown themselves to be, and according to the foreknowledge of what their descendants would become. Admittedly, the biblical record doesn’t spell out the fulfillment of each prophecy, but the details we do get consistently show Jacob’s prognoses coming to pass.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:25-26

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:

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.

In the previous verses Jacob had described Joseph as a bough rooted in a permanent fountain of water. He continues those analogies of nourishment by calling to mind an infant and the breasts and womb of its mother.

The womb, with its umbilical cord, represents a direct tether to God. It is our innate understanding of what is good, our childlike certainty of self-worth, our conscience ever reminding us of our divine self. For those that believe that the immortal spirit has existed since before we were born, the womb could also be representative of a pre-earth existence directly in the presence of our Heavenly parents.

The breasts represent the more active side of our discipleship. After the womb a child changes from receiving nourishment directly to now having to work for it. This is our need to constantly return to truth, to dispel the sophistry that surrounds us in the world, to regain hope in the face of cynicism, to unburden our personal sins and shame. We do not do those things only once. We get renewed and then we get renewed again and again.

Innate and constant good, and sources of replenishing and nourishing, these are the blessings that Jacob pronounces upon Joseph. Then Jacob testifies in verse 26 that it is these blessings which have elevated and set him apart in his life. It was these sources of good that raised him to a higher station than anyone in his family had ever known before, and it was what elevated and distinguished Joseph above his brethren. So, too, countless testimonies have attested that it is this grace and goodness of God, the constant nourishment and refreshing of His love, that has made all the difference in the lives of the sincere and the saved. It is God that has taken us from being broken and ashamed, and has made us into His sons and daughters instead.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:22-24

22 Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall:

23 The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him:

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:)

Things slow down again as Jacob moves on to Joseph. He is described as a fruitful bough, which is certainly justified by how he has become a life-giving source of food and nourishment to all the land. Jacob extends the imagery by saying Joseph is a “bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall.” This well brings a constant source of nourishment to the bough, such that it thrives with abundance.

And the well, of course, is a symbol for living water, the spiritual refreshing that comes by being rooted in God and His gospel. This is a symbolism that we will see many times, trees that grow alongside rivers in the desert, immune to their harsh environment because they exist in a different reality from it, constantly nourished by cool, life-giving water. Surely that was Joseph when he was sold as a slave. It was a hostile environment all about him, but he was preserved by the grace of God within.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:19-21

19 Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.

20 Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties.

21 Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.

We start getting through the blessings for Jacob’s sons at a rapid pace now. Gad is described as being in conflict, at first giving way but ultimately prevailing. Given that the tribe of Gad would settle itself on Israel’s eastern border, right next to the hostile nation of the Ammonites, they were likely the first target in many invasions. But in the end, the Ammonites would be overcome, just as the prophecy suggests.

Asher is foretold to be a nation of bakeries and exports. Its description suggests that it will not just produce what is necessary for life but will have abundance enough for delicacies and surplus.

Interestingly, Gad and Asher were the sons of Zilpah, but their fortunes are described in between that of the sons of Bilhah, Dan and Naphtali. Perhaps the sons of Zilpah were born between the ones of Bilhah?

Naphtali is said to give goodly words. One of his descendants would be Barak and possibly also Deborah, who would be a general and a prophetess that banded together to free Israel from the rule of the Canaanites. And after this victory the two of them composed a song of rejoicing together, being at least one fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:16-18

16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.

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.

18 I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.

We now move from the sons of Leah to those of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. Dan, it is stated, would also be a leader among the Israelites. He would not have a dynasty, such as Judah, but it would have moments of rule, nonetheless.

The most famous descendant of Dan would be Samson, the mighty warrior, who would indeed judge Israel for twenty years, fulfilling the promise made in verse 16. Samson would also fulfill verse 17’s promise in how he constantly stirred up trouble for the Philistines, who at the time ruled over Israel. We will never hear of Samson at the head of the army, rather his actions would be individual, striking out at the Philistines randomly, when moved by passion, thus making the comparison to a venomous adder very apt.

Unfortunately, Dan also proved to be a poison to Israel itself, integrating idolatry into their entire society after the death of Samson. Perhaps it was the specter of this grave evil which would afflict Israel for generations that led to Jacob’s exclamation in verse 18 that he waits for the salvation of the Lord!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:14-15

14 Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens:

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 comes next, and he is compared to a donkey hunkering down between two heavy loads. From this, one thinks of qualities such as industriousness and perseverance. Whereas Judah was destined to be a nation of rulers and Zebulun a center of maritime trade, Issachar was destined for more earthy things. They are mentioned later for having their sheepfolds, and likely were farmers as well.

Though the pastoral life does come at a cost, as verse 15 describes. Those that work the land tend to be the ones that pay tribute to the ruling and warring classes. In other words, other tribes of Israel would have the courage and ambition to fight and lead, but Issachar would avoid the danger and choose to feed them instead.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:13

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.

Any map of Israel will show Zebulun entirely landlocked, not part of any coastal region. However, it rests inside of a column of land that is sandwiched by the Sea of Galilee to the East and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Thus, it would have been well-positioned to become a sea-faring epicenter. It could have easily specialized in inter-Israelite travel through the Sea of Galilee and international trade through the Mediterranean.

Admittedly we never receive any later confirmation that Zebulun did indeed become a “haven of the sea,” but presumably they were the center of maritime trade that Jacob envisioned. And as we will see as we continue to review each tribe’s blessing, several of them have specializations within the whole, just like this.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 49:10-12

10 The sceptre 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.

11 Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes:

12 His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.

Yesterday we discussed how the tribe of Judah would give rise to the greatest kings of Israel and the Savior, Jesus Christ. This is why Jacob says that the “sceptre shall not depart from Judah, until Shiloh come.” Shiloh, of course, is a title for the Messiah.

Verses 11 and 12 can be interpreted in two ways. The first is that Jacob has gone back to describing Judah, foretelling how his land would be rich and overflowing, using hyperbole like the wine being so excessive that the people of the land would use it to wash their clothing.

Or these verses can be seen as one of the first poetic prophecies we have of the Messiah. Thus, they would be referring to “Shiloh,” who was just mentioned at the end of verse 10. From this perspective the “binding of his foal unto the vine,” would be how Christ integrated his disciples into the living vine of his own teachings. The washing his garments in wine refers to his sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane, where blood drained from his pores and must have permeated his clothing.

Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that this description is twofold, meant to describe both Judah and the Savior. Indeed, many prophecies we interpret in a worldly way, and it fits perfectly fine as such, but then one day we realize there was a deeper, spiritual interpretation that was hiding within it this whole time!