Jacob's Prophecies

At the end of his life Jacob gives each of his sons a prophecy concerning their future. This event along with the death of both Jacob and Joseph will close out the Genesis record.
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Two significant meetings took place in the previous chapter:

  1. The meeting between Joseph and Jacob which completed the reunification of their family and guaranteed the continuation of the promise made to Abraham and Isaac by God in the past.
  2. The meeting between Jacob and the Pharaoh. The greatest living servant of God meets the greatest king of the time.

We also witnessed the blessing of Joseph's sons which was to be significant later on because each son was to have an equal standing with Joseph's brothers, a demonstration that he received the double portion of the first born.

In this final scene we will see Jacob going on to bless and prophecy concerning each one of his sons.

Prophecy Concerning the Tribes – Chapter 49

Jacob is near death and calls his other sons in order to prophecy concerning their future. As a father he has insight into their character and patterns of behavior; as a servant of God he can also prophecy about their future. He gives each one information about their future generations as a way of encouraging or warning for correction and change. He begins with the eldest.

1. Reuben

3"Reuben, you are my firstborn;
My might and the beginning of my strength,
Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
4"Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence,
Because you went up to your father's bed;
Then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.
- Genesis 49:3-4

He confirms what is true about firstborns in general, that they are a joy and testimony to a man's youth and strength. However, Reuben, because of his sin with Bilhah, is told that he will not amount to much.

This prophecy is fulfilled in the future:

  • The tribe of Reuben never produced a great leader.
  • The Reubenites were first to settle, not wanting to cross the Jordan with the others.
  • They erected a false place of worship (Joshua 22:10).
  • In the days of Deborah, they failed to answer the call to take arms and defend the nation (Judges 5:15).

So Jacob's prophecy about Reuben not amounting to much was amply fulfilled.

2. Simeon and Levi

5"Simeon and Levi are brothers;
Their swords are implements of violence.
6"Let my soul not enter into their council;
Let not my glory be united with their assembly;
Because in their anger they slew men,
And in their self-will they lamed oxen.
7"Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce;
And their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will disperse them in Jacob,
And scatter them in Israel.

These are mentioned together because they were close and always operated together. Jacob disassociates himself from their violent acts and motives. They killed the Shechemites and destroyed their property in wanton cruelty and violence. He then says that he will split them up. Two bad boys who get into trouble together need to be separated.

Later we learn that they were divided and did not form a union between their two tribes.

  • Simeon was absorbed by Judah and eventually scattered outside of Israel. Very little is heard of them after Solomon's reign.
  • Levi, of course, was the tribe that Moses and Aaron came from and the priests and temple servants were assigned from this tribe.
  • They were not given land but dwelt in cities given to them.

It seems that the tribe of Levi put their natural zeal to better use because they became very enthusiastic defenders of the Law and were honored by serving as priests.

3. Judah

8"Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father's sons shall bow down to you.
9"Judah is a lion's whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
10"The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11"He ties his foal to the vine,
And his donkey's colt to the choice vine;
He washes his garments in wine,
And his robes in the blood of grapes.
12"His eyes are dull from wine,
And his teeth white from milk.

By the time Jacob gets to Judah, he has some good things to say. His name means "praise" and in the future his brothers would praise him for several reasons:

  • He would subdue his enemies.
  • He would assume the mantle of leadership normally held by the firstborn. Joseph received the double portion and Judah received leadership.
  • He would be as secure as a mature lion in its den.
  • He did receive the scepter of leadership but not until David (who was from the tribe of Judah) became king 640 years later. All previous leaders were from other tribes but once David became king, Judah was the dominant tribe from then on.

He says that the "scepter", the rule or role of dominance and rulership, would not pass from Judah until Shiloh came. Historically this was proven to be true. Although Israel was attacked and deported throughout the years, Judah remained the dominant tribe. It was Judah and Benjamin that came back from captivity and by the time of Jesus, the Israelite nation became synonymous with the tribe of Judah because all the other tribes had been assimilated or destroyed. The term "Jew" comes from the root word for Judah.

Shiloh is a Hebraic word that can be translated several ways:

  • Unto Him all people shall gather
  • The One who brings peace
  • Until he come whose right it is

In either translation the meaning comes out; Jacob said that the tribe of Judah would ascend to rulership and remain there until a certain "one" (who will bring peace, who will gather the people, who has the right) arrives.

This prophecy was fulfilled in Christ because Judah did remain the dominant tribe until Jesus (prince of peace, gathered the church, sent by God and therefore had the right to do these things) Judah lasted in dominance until Jesus (Shiloh) came.

In 70 AD, after Jesus departed, the Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem and took captive her people, more importantly there was never again a Jewish king from the tribe of Judah, to this day. So the scepter did stay with Judah until Jesus came and then was removed and given to the church. Jesus was from this tribe. Jacob predicted in his inspired prophecy 2,000 years before Christ.

4. Zebulun and Issachar

13"Zebulun will dwell at the seashore;
And he shall be a haven for ships,
And his flank shall be toward Sidon.

14"Issachar is a strong donkey,
Lying down between the sheepfolds.
15"When he saw that a resting place was good
And that the land was pleasant,
He bowed his shoulder to bear burdens,
And became a slave at forced labor.

These are two other sons of Leah, and Jacob touches on each briefly. Zebulun would live and thrive towards the sea and his later territory extended between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean. Jesus' later ministry was conducted in this area.

He says that even through Issachar was wealthy in land, he was lazy by character and eventually this laziness would cost him. Eventually this led to him being overrun and enslaved. In the end, Issachar was in servitude to others just as Jacob had prophesied.

5. Dan

16"Dan shall judge his people,
As one of the tribes of Israel.
17"Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
A horned snake in the path,
That bites the horse's heels,
So that his rider falls backward.
18"For Your salvation I wait, O Lord.

Dan was a son of a handmaid but assured by Jacob that he would have land and a place of leadership. Jacob also reveals some of the events in Dan's future:

  • The reference to the serpent may refer to the fact that Dan was one of the smallest tribes but quite fierce in defending its borders.
  • Also, the idea of the serpent suggests evil and we know that it was Dan that officially introduced idolatry on an official basis to the land (Judges 18:30).
  • Also, Dan was the place where Jeroboam, who led a revolt against Solomon, set up idolatrous calves for worship.

This is the first time "salvation" is used in the Bible.

6. Gad, Asher, Naphtali

19"As for Gad, raiders shall raid him,
But he will raid at their heels.
20"As for Asher, his food shall be rich,
And he will yield royal dainties.
21"Naphtali is a doe let loose,
He gives beautiful words.

Gad is assured that although he was geographically vulnerable from attack, he would be able to repel his attackers.

Asher would receive a choice and rich piece of land but history showed that because of this ease and luxury the tribe failed to conquer all of its rightful land and eventually became insignificant.

Naphtali would be known for swiftness as well as literate minds and production. Deborah's victory song fulfills partially this ability with words (Judges 5:1-31).

7. Joseph

22"Joseph is a fruitful bough,
A fruitful bough by a spring;
Its branches run over a wall.
23"The archers bitterly attacked him,
And shot at him and harassed him;
24But his bow remained firm,
And his arms were agile,
From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
(From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
25From the God of your father who helps you,
And by the Almighty who blesses you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that lies beneath,
Blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26"The blessings of your father
Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors
Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills;
May they be on the head of Joseph,
And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.

Jacob's best words are reserved for Judah and Joseph. To one the promise of spiritual blessings, leadership, and strength (Judah). To the other the blessings of physical prosperity in family, abundance, and strength. Both were faithful (one from a young age, the other grew faithful with time) but both became so through adversity.

God is referred to here as "the Shepherd" and for the first time, "the Rock" or "the Stone," all figures repeated by Christ in the New Testament.

Jacob acknowledges that he had greater blessings than his father or grandfather and that he wanted to shower greater blessings on Joseph and his grandchildren (played the spoiling grandparent with them).

8. Benjamin

27"Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
In the morning he devours the prey,
And in the evening he divides the spoil."

Of the final and youngest, Jacob predicts that he will be strong and aggressive but become cruel and voracious. They were almost destroyed because of a battle waged against them for having attacked and raped a woman. Later on Saul, from this tribe, became the first king.

With this, all the sons have been blessed or warned, and Jacob utters his last words.

Jacob's Last Words

29Then he charged them and said to them, "I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. 31There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah— 32the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth." 33When Jacob finished charging his sons, he drew his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.

His final instruction to all of them is to bury him with his father and grandfather and their wives. This will be a testimony of their combined faith that they believed God even though they did not receive the promise.

Gathered to his people is not just buried but gone to join the others like him who believed and await the coming of the Lord.

Jacob's Burial – Chapter 50

1Then Joseph fell on his father's face, and wept over him and kissed him. 2Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 3Now forty days were required for it, for such is the period required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.
- Genesis 50:1-3

Jacob's death is mourned not only by his sons but also by the nation. The embalming process took 40 days. The national mourning was for 70 days. It seems that Jacob had become recognized as a great man even among this pagan nation.

4When the days of mourning for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, "If now I have found favor in your sight, please speak to Pharaoh, saying, 5'My father made me swear, saying, "Behold, I am about to die; in my grave which I dug for myself in the land of Canaan, there you shall bury me." Now therefore, please let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.'" 6Pharaoh said, "Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear."
7So Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8and all the household of Joseph and his brothers and his father's household; they left only their little ones and their flocks and their herds in the land of Goshen. 9There also went up with him both chariots and horsemen; and it was a very great company.

Joseph was in subjection to the Pharaoh and needed permission to go which he readily received. The group that went with him shows that the nation accorded this burial the same importance as a state funeral. The families, however, had every intention of returning to their prosperous land, and now home, in Egypt.

Verses 10 to 14 describe the funeral itself and the elaborate ceremonies both Joseph's family and the Egyptians went through when they arrived at the burial cave.

15When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!" 16So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, "Your father charged before he died, saying, 17'Thus you shall say to Joseph, "Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong."' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants." 19But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? 20As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. 21So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones." So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

An interesting side note here is that the brothers become afraid that with Jacob's death, Joseph would have nothing holding him back from taking revenge. They even try to make restitution by offering themselves as his slaves, like they had once forced him to become.

He is touched deeply, finally convinced of their sincerity and repentance. He refuses their offer and reassures them in two ways:

  • He promises to continue supporting them and their children.
  • He acknowledges that even though it was evil, God used it for good and thus even he had to defer to God's will not to punish.

Joseph's Death – vs. 22-26

22Now Joseph stayed in Egypt, he and his father's household, and Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. 23Joseph saw the third generation of Ephraim's sons; also the sons of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born on Joseph's knees.

Jacob died when Joseph was 56 years old. Man's longevity was declining after the flood:

  • Abraham – 175
  • Isaac – 180
  • Jacob – 147
  • Joseph – 110

Joseph was blessed in that he lived to see and bury his father and enjoy his own great, great grandchildren.

24Joseph said to his brothers, "I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob." 25Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, "God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here." 26So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

It is interesting to note that Joseph, who was the second youngest, dies before his brothers. He uses the occasion to remind them that God's original promise was to give them the land of Canaan and even though they are in Egypt (comfortably) God will eventually take them out. His prophecy will be fulfilled 400 years later by Moses.

As a testimony to his faith, he makes them promise that when they do leave, they will take his remains and bury him in the Promised Land. This was fulfilled in Exodus 13:19 where the children of Israel took his bones with them when they left Egypt under Moses. He was embalmed and like great leaders of Egypt, his crypt was known publicly.

This is the end of Genesis and the story of the creation of the world, the selection of God's people and their settling in Egypt. In the next and last chapter, some reflections on our own journey through Genesis.


1. Nothing stops God's promises

Joseph was sold, the famine (may have been a work of Satan to destroy the family), the hardship and separation, none of these could stop the promise of God to this family from being fulfilled. Satan may work against you and he will, but never doubt that God will fulfill His promises to you personally.

2. Looks are deceiving

It did not look like it but Jacob was the greater man when compared to the king.

The church looks puny and helpless at times, small and powerless in comparison to the forces in this world. Do not judge by outward, superficial appearances, the church is invincible (the gates of hell will not prevail – Matthew 16:18) nothing will destroy or outlast it. Never doubt this!

3. God forgives and forgets – even when we cannot

The brothers had been forgiven but they could not forgive themselves and kept trying to do something to make restitution, however, nothing they did could pay Joseph back for the thirteen years in prison and slavery he had suffered. His offer of forgiveness to his brothers was like God's offer, based on grace.

Jesus makes restitution for all the evil we have done and when we accept Him in repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38), God forgives and forgets all of our sins (in the sense that He covers them over).

If God forgives us then we can forgive ourselves and put our sins behind us because they will not be there when we meet God in judgment.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize the prophecy of each of Jacob's sons and answer the following questions:
    • Why would Jacob prophesy to his sons?
    • Speculate. Could the sons change the direction of their lives as given by Jacob, and if so, what would be required of them, and how does this impact us individually as God's people?
  2. Why did Jacob specify where he was to be buried?
  3. What is significant about Joseph's brothers fearing that Joseph would take vengeance on them now that Jacob was dead?
  4. What was significant about Joseph desiring to be buried in Canaan?
  5. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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