on Genesis 49 :1
That which shall befall you in the last days - It is evident from this, and indeed from the whole complexion of these important prophecies, that the twelve sons of Jacob had very little concern in them, personally considered, as they were to be fulfilled in the last days, i. e., in times remote from that period, and consequently to their posterity, and not to themselves, or to their immediate families. The whole of these prophetic declarations, from Genesis 49:2-27 inclusive, is delivered in strongly figurative language, and in the poetic form, which, in every translation, should be preserved as nearly as possible, rendering the version line for line with the original. This order I shall pursue in the succeeding notes, always proposing the verse first, in as literal a translation as possible, line for line with the Hebrew after the hemistich form, from which the sense will more readily appear; but to the Hebrew text and the common version the reader is ultimately referred.
2. Come together and hear, O sons of Jacob! And hearken unto Israel your father.
Bishop Newton has justly observed that Jacob had received a double blessing, spiritual and temporal; the promise of being progenitor of the Messiah, and the promise of the land of Canaan. The promised land he might divide among his children as he pleased, but the other must be confined to one of his sons; he therefore assigns to each son a portion in the land of Canaan, but limits the descent of the blessed seed to the tribe of Judah. Some have put themselves to a great deal of trouble and learned labor to show that it was a general opinion of the ancients that the soul, a short time previous to its departure from the body, becomes endued with a certain measure of the prophetic gift or foresight; and that this was probably the case with Jacob. But it would be derogatory to the dignity of the prophecies delivered in this chapter, to suppose that they came by any other means than direct inspiration, as to their main matter, though certain circumstances appear to be left to the patriarch himself, in which he might express his own feelings both as a father and as a judge. This is strikingly evident, 1. In the case of Reuben, from whom he had received the grossest insult, however the passage relative to him may be understood; and, 2. In the case of Joseph, the tenderly beloved son of his most beloved wife Rachel, in the prophecy concerning whom he gives full vent to all those tender and affectionate emotions which, as a father and a husband, do him endless credit.
3. Reuben, my first-born art thou! My might, and the prime of my strength, Excelling in eminence, and excelling in power:
4. Pouring out like the waters: - thou shalt not excel, For thou wentest up to the bed of thy father, - Then thou didst defile: to my couch he went up!
on Genesis 49 :1
And Jacob called his sons - This is done by messengers going to their various dwellings and pasture-grounds, and summoning them to his presence. And he said. These words introduce his dying address. "Gather yourselves together." Though there is to be a special address to each, yet it is to be in the audience of all the rest, for the instruction of the whole family. "That which shall befall you in the after days." The after days are the times intervening between the speaker and the end of the human race. The beginning of man was at the sixth day of the last creation. The end of his race will be at the dissolution of the heavens and the earth then called into being, and the new creation which we are taught will be consequent thereupon. To this interval prophecy has reference in general, though it occasionally penetrates beyond the veil that separates the present from the future creation.
The prophet has his mind filled with the objects and events of the present and the past, and from these he must draw his images for the future, and express them in the current language of his day. To interpret his words, therefore, we must ascend to his day, examine his usage of speech, distinguish the transient forms in which truth may appear, and hold fast by the constant essence which belongs to all ages. "Hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken to Israel your father." This is a specimen of the synthetic or synonymous parallel. It affords a good example of the equivalence, and at the same time the distinction, of Jacob and Israel. They both apply to the same person, and to the race of which he is the head. The one refers to the natural, the other to the spiritual. The distinction is similar to that between Elohim and Yahweh: the former of which designates the eternal God, antecedent to all creation, and therefore, equally related to the whole universe; the latter, the self-existent God, subsequent to the creation of intelligent beings, and especially related to them, as the moral Governor, the Keeper of covenant, and the Performer of promise.
on Genesis 49 :1