13 “Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea;
he shall become a haven for ships,
and his border shall be at Sidon.
14 “Issachar is a strong donkey,
crouching between the sheepfolds.
15 He saw that a resting place was good,
and that the land was pleasant,
so he bowed his shoulder to bear,
and became a servant at forced labor.
16 “Dan shall judge his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way,
a viper by the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
so that his rider falls backward.
18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord.
19 “Raiders shall raid Gad,
but he shall raid at their heels.
20 “Asher’s food shall be rich,
and he shall yield royal delicacies.
21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose
that bears beautiful fawns.
22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough,
a fruitful bough by a spring;
his branches run over the wall.
23 The archers bitterly attacked him,
shot at him, and harassed him severely,
24 yet his bow remained unmoved;
his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
(from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
25 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 crouches beneath,
blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 The blessings of your father
are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.
27 “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. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. 29 Then he commanded them and said to them, “I am to be gathered to 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 at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 31 There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife. There they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people. – Genesis 49:13-33 ESV
Having blessed Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Jacob now turned his attention to his remaining eight sons. He continued to work his way through the list moving from oldest to youngest, and providing each son with a specific and personalized blessing. When compared with the blessing Jacob spoke over Judah, these pronouncements appear not only much shorter in length but less impressive in terms of significance. It is not until Jacob reaches his two last sons, Joseph and Benjamin, that his blessings become, once again, lengthier and richer in detail.
It is interesting to note that Zebulun is told that his people will be associated with the sea. Yet, the region they eventually inherited in Canaan would leave them land-locked and far from either the Mediterranean or the Sea of Galilee. But the location of this land put them in touch with Phoenician traders and prove to be a lucrative trade route from the coast to the interior of the country. There is some speculation that Jacob’s prophecy extends all the way to the Millennial Kingdom, when Zebulun’s borders will extend all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
The descendants of Issachar would inherit a rich and fertile land just below the Sea of Galilee, leading them to become farmers and sheepherders. An agrarian lifestyle would supplant any aspirations to play a political role in the future of the people of Israel. It seems that the Issacharites would even become willing to enslave themselves to the Canaanites in order to enjoy material prosperity and peace.
The Danites would prove to be a tribe of mighty warriors but they would fail to remove the Canaanites from the land given to them by God as an inheritance.
As for the tribe of Dan, the Amorites forced them back into the hill country and would not let them come down into the plains. – Judges 1:34 NLT
Like a deadly viper, the Danites would bring disaster upon the people of Israel, leading them into idolatry (Judges 18). But from this tribe would come Samson, one of the most renowned and controversial judges in all of Israel.
Next comes Gad. His name in Hebrew means “good fortune,” but it sounds similar to the Hebrew word gûḏ, which means “overcome.” From their location on the eastern borders of Israel, the Gadites would experience constant attacks from their enemies, but they would prove to be fierce raiders who successfully stood their ground.
The descendants of Asher would inherit some of the most fertile land in all of Canaan, located along the Mediterranean coast. From this location they would produce food fit for a king’s table.
It is difficult to understand the exact meaning of Jacob’s prophecy concerning Naphtali. The language of this verse is complicated and its interpretation remains illusive. Scholars have long debated the meaning of this passage and there remains no consensus as to what Jacob was trying to convey. But history reveals that within the land awarded to the tribe of Naphtali, King Jeroboam would eventually set up a golden idol in the city of Dan (1 Kings 12:29-30).
The lengthiest blessing in this section is reserved for Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob who had once been considered dead but was found to be alive and well in Egypt. Jacob had already adopted Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, and the descendants of these two boys would inherit a large section of land in the very heart of Canaan.
Jacob referred to Joseph as “him who was set apart from his brothers” (Genesis 49:26 ESV), a phrase that seems to carry a double meaning. Joseph had been literally “set apart” by his brothers when they sold him into slavery. But God had set him apart by preordaining his role as the savior of his people. While Joseph had been “bitterly attacked” and severely harassed, God had blessed him greatly. And Jacob prayed that God would continue to bless his favored son.
“…may the Almighty bless you
with the blessings of the heavens above,
and blessings of the watery depths below,
and blessings of the breasts and womb.” – Genesis 49:25 NLT
Jacob was fully aware that God’s hand had been on his son, Joseph. Had not Joseph been sold into slavery, he would never have become the second-highest-ranking ruler in all the land of Egypt. And had that not happened, Jacob’s family would have died out in Canaan, the victims of the devastating famine that God had brought upon the land. It was because of Joseph that the promises of God concerning Israel would be fulfilled and Jacob was eternally grateful.
Finally, from the tribe of Benjamin would come a host of mighty warriors. This smallest of all the tribes would have a lasting impact on the safety and security of the entire nation of Israel. Yet, the book of Judges reveal that this fierce tribe would fail to follow the command of God by eliminating the Canaanites from their allotted land.
But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:21 ESV
Jacob left no son out. He knew that each of them would have a vital role to play in the future well-being of his descendants. Some would prove more important and vital to the cause than others. But for the promise of God to be fulfilled, each of Jacob’s 12 sons would have to work together to ensure the legacy of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
As the patriarch of the family, Jacob knew that God was not yet done. The Almighty had much more in store for Jacob’s descendants and it would take place in the land of Canaan, in keeping with His promises. That is why Jacob closed out his blessings to his sons by reiterating his wish to have his body taken back to Canaan for burial. While he would never live to see the promised land again, he was convinced that his people would one day return and he was determined to have his bones interred alongside his wife, Rachel.
Even when facing the prospect of death, Jacob was hopeful and faithful. He was fully convinced that God would accomplish all that He had promised and that the legacy of Abraham would be kept alive through his sons and grandsons. Egypt had been a detour and not a final destination. The people of Israel would one day return to the land of Israel because God was not yet done.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.