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Genesis 49:3-15


49:3 Reuben, you are my firstborn,

my might and the beginning of my strength,

outstanding in dignity, outstanding in power.

49:4 You are destructive 1  like water and will not excel, 2 

for you got on your father’s bed, 3 

then you defiled it – he got on my couch! 4 

49:5 Simeon and Levi are brothers,

weapons of violence are their knives! 5 

49:6 O my soul, do not come into their council,

do not be united to their assembly, my heart, 6 

for in their anger they have killed men,

and for pleasure they have hamstrung oxen.

49:7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce,

and their fury, for it was cruel.

I will divide them in Jacob,

and scatter them in Israel! 7 

49:8 Judah, 8  your brothers will praise you.

Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies,

your father’s sons will bow down before you.

49:9 You are a lion’s cub, Judah,

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

He crouches and lies down like a lion;

like a lioness – who will rouse him?

49:10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, 9 

until he comes to whom it belongs; 10 

the nations will obey him. 11 

49:11 Binding his foal to the vine,

and his colt to the choicest vine,

he will wash 12  his garments in wine,

his robes in the blood of grapes.

49:12 His eyes will be dark from wine,

and his teeth white from milk. 13 

49:13 Zebulun will live 14  by the haven of the sea

and become a haven for ships;

his border will extend to Sidon. 15 

49:14 Issachar is a strong-boned donkey

lying down between two saddlebags.

49:15 When he sees 16  a good resting place,

and the pleasant land,

he will bend his shoulder to the burden

and become a slave laborer. 17 

1 tn The Hebrew noun פַּחַז (pakhaz) only occurs here in the OT. A related verb occurs twice in the prophets (Jer 23:32; Zeph 3:4) for false prophets inventing their messages, and once in Judges for unscrupulous men bribed to murder (Judg 9:4). It would describe Reuben as being “frothy, boiling, turbulent” as water. The LXX has “run riot,” the Vulgate has “poured out,” and Tg. Onq. has “you followed your own direction.” It is a reference to Reuben’s misconduct in Gen 35, but the simile and the rare word invite some speculation. H. Pehlke suggests “destructive like water,” for Reuben acted with pride and presumption; see his “An Exegetical and Theological Study of Genesis 49:1-28” (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1985).

2 tn Heb “Do not excel!” The Hiphil of the verb יָתַר (yatar) has this meaning only here. The negated jussive is rhetorical here. Rather than being a command, it anticipates what will transpire. The prophecy says that because of the character of the ancestor, the tribe of Reuben would not have the character to lead (see 1 Chr 5:1).

3 sn This is a euphemism for having sexual intercourse with Jacob’s wives (see Gen 35:22).

4 tn The last verb is third masculine singular, as if for the first time Jacob told the brothers, or let them know that he knew. For a discussion of this passage see S. Gevirtz, “The Reprimand of Reuben,” JNES 30 (1971): 87-98.

5 tn The meaning of the Hebrew word מְכֵרָה (mÿkherah) is uncertain. It has been rendered (1) “habitations”; (2) “merchandise”; (3) “counsels”; (4) “swords”; (5) “wedding feasts.” If it is from the verb כָּרַת (karat) and formed after noun patterns for instruments and tools (maqtil, miqtil form), then it would refer to “knives.” Since the verb is used in Exod 4:25 for circumcision, the idea would be “their circumcision knives,” an allusion to the events of Gen 34 (see M. J. Dahood, “‘MKRTYHM’ in Genesis 49,5,” CBQ 23 [1961]: 54-56). Another explanation also connects the word to the events of Gen 34 as a reference to the intended “wedding feast” for Dinah which could take place only after the men of Shechem were circumcised (see D. W. Young, “A Ghost Word in the Testament of Jacob (Gen 49:5)?” JBL 100 [1981]: 335-422).

6 tn The Hebrew text reads “my glory,” but it is preferable to repoint the form and read “my liver.” The liver was sometimes viewed as the seat of the emotions and will (see HALOT 456 s.v. II כָּבֵד) for which the heart is the modern equivalent.

7 sn Divide…scatter. What is predicted here is a division of their tribes. Most commentators see here an anticipation of Levi being in every area but not their own. That may be part of it, but not entirely what the curse intended. These tribes for their ruthless cruelty would be eliminated from the power and prestige of leadership.

8 sn There is a wordplay here; the name Judah (יְהוּדָה, yÿhudah) sounds in Hebrew like the verb translated praise (יוֹדוּךָ, yodukha). The wordplay serves to draw attention to the statement as having special significance.

9 tn Or perhaps “from his descendants,” taking the expression “from between his feet” as a euphemism referring to the genitals. In this case the phrase refers by metonymy to those who come forth from his genitals, i.e., his descendants.

10 tn The Hebrew form שִׁילֹה (shiloh) is a major interpretive problem. There are at least four major options (with many variations and less likely alternatives): (1) Some prefer to leave the text as it is, reading “Shiloh” and understanding it as the place where the ark rested for a while in the time of the Judges. (2) By repointing the text others arrive at the translation “until the [or “his”] ruler comes,” a reference to a Davidic ruler or the Messiah. (3) Another possibility that does not require emendation of the consonantal text, but only repointing, is “until tribute is brought to him” (so NEB, JPS, NRSV), which has the advantage of providing good parallelism with the following line, “the nations will obey him.” (4) The interpretation followed in the present translation, “to whom it [belongs]” (so RSV, NIV, REB), is based on the ancient versions. Again, this would refer to the Davidic dynasty or, ultimately, to the Messiah.

11 tn “and to him [will be] the obedience of the nations.” For discussion of this verse see J. Blenkinsopp, “The Oracle of Judah and the Messianic Entry,” JBL 80 (1961): 55-64; and E. M. Good, “The ‘Blessing’ on Judah,” JBL 82 (1963): 427-32.

12 tn The perfect verbal form is used rhetorically, describing coming events as though they have already taken place.

13 tn Some translate these as comparatives, “darker than wine…whiter than milk,” and so a reference to his appearance (so NEB, NIV, NRSV). But if it is in the age of abundance, symbolized by wine and milk, then the dark (i.e., red or perhaps dull) eyes would be from drinking wine, and the white teeth from drinking milk.

14 tn The verb שָׁכַן (shakhan) means “to settle,” but not necessarily as a permanent dwelling place. The tribal settlements by the sea would have been temporary and not the tribe’s territory.

15 map For location see Map1 A1; JP3 F3; JP4 F3.

16 tn The verb forms in this verse (“sees,” “will bend,” and “[will] become”) are preterite; they is used in a rhetorical manner, describing the future as if it had already transpired.

17 sn The oracle shows that the tribe of Issachar will be willing to trade liberty for the material things of life. Issachar would work (become a slave laborer) for the Canaanites, a reversal of the oracle on Canaan. See C. M. Carmichael, “Some Sayings in Genesis 49,” JBL 88 (1969): 435-44; and S. Gevirtz, “The Issachar Oracle in the Testament of Jacob,” ErIsr 12 (1975): 104-12.

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