Description
In this chapter, Jacob prophesies what will happen to the twelve tribes of Israel 'in the last days'.
Commentary
In this chapter, Jacob gathers his twelve sons together before he dies and prophesies what will happen to each of the twelve tribes in the future (literally 'in the last days').

The expression 'in the last days' may represent the distant future, or it may represent the end of the age and the age to come. So although some of these prophesies may have been fulfilled, or partially fulfilled, in Israel's history, some of them will likely see their complete fulfilment in the end times.

The longest of the tribal prophesies concern Judah in verses 8 to 12, and Joseph in verses 22 to 26.

In verse 8, Jacob prophesies that the other eleven tribes will bow down to Judah, and in verse 10 that 'the sceptre will not depart from Judah…until he comes to whom it belongs; the nations will obey him'. This could be understood as a prophecy of King David who ruled over the united kingdom of Israel and subjugated surrounding nations like Aram, Ammon, Moab and Edom. More likely, it is a prophecy of Jesus who has been exalted to the right hand of God as Messiah King (Psalm 2:6, 100:1-2, Matthew 26:64, Acts 2:33), and who will return at the end of this age to visibly rule over all nations. In verse 11 he washes his robes in the blood of grapes. This same metaphor is adopted in Isaiah 63:1-6 and in Revelation 19:13 to depict Jesus fighting his end-time battles in Edom and at the battle of Armageddon. His clothing appears to have been washed in the blood of grapes because it is splattered with the blood of his enemies whom he has slaughtered. However, St Augustine understood it to refer to his passion, saying, "Moreover, the robe which he washes in wine means that he washes away sins in his blood" (City of God 16.41, p706-707). In verse 9, in the lion lying down and sleeping, then to be aroused, Augustine saw a prophecy of Christ's death and resurrection.

Although Reuben was Jacob's firstborn (v3), he lost the rights of the firstborn because he slept with his father's concubine (Genesis 35:22). Instead, the rights of the firstborn were given to Joseph, Jacob's firstborn with his favourite wife, Rachel (1 Chronicles 5:1).

In verses 22 to 28, Jacob blesses Joseph. Because Joseph received the rights of the firstborn, he received a double share of his father's inheritance. Consequently, Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, became two separate tribes in Israel, each inheriting a full share. In chapter 48, Jacob blessed Ephraim and Manasseh first, before he gathered and blessed his own twelve sons. Although Manasseh was Joseph's firstborn, Jacob gave the firstborn rights to Ephraim, the younger (48:14-20). So here in chapter 49, when he blesses Joseph, he is blessing both Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob prophesies that Joseph will be fruitful, and able to attack of enemy archers.

Later in Israel's history, after they took possession of the promised land, Judah and Ephraim became the two dominant tribes. In the golden age of Old Testament Israel, the united kingdom was ruled by David and his son Solomon, from the tribe of Judah. During the reign of Solomon's son, King Rehoboam, the nation split into two. The southern kingdom was known as Judah, but included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The northern kingdom was known as Israel or Ephraim, and included the other ten tribes. Because Joseph became two tribes, there were thirteen tribes in total. Levi, the thirteenth tribe, received no tribal allocation of territory. Instead, they received the role of Israel's priests as their inheritance and they were given settlements throughout the territories of the other twelve tribes.

Many end-time scriptures prophesy the end-time restoration of both Judah and Ephraim. Today's Jews are the descendants of the southern kingdom of Judah. The people of Judah were exiled to Babylon in 586 BC, but were allowed to return by Cyrus the Persian who conquered Babylon in 539 BC. They were again exiled after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and were scattered throughout the nations of the world. Since the late 19th century, God has been restoring the Jews to the land of Israel, in fulfilment of many end-time prophecies. The people of the northern kingdom were exiled to Assyria in 722 BC, and never returned. They assimilated into the nations they were scattered to. As far as being a distinct people group, they disappeared into the pages of history, and today are known as the lost tribes of Israel. However, God knows who their descendants are, and many end-time scripture prophecy that he will restore them to Israel in the end times and reunite them with Judah (e.g. Isaiah 11:10-16, Jeremiah 31:27-34, Hosea 1:10-11, and Micah 5:3)

The map below shows approximately the land allocations of the twelve tribes after the exodus from Egypt and conquest of Canaan.
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The map below shows the territory of Israel at its greatest extent during the reigns of David and Solomon:
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The map below shows the territories of Israel and Judah in about the 8th century BC, before the Assyrian conquest of Israel:
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Tags
Places: Israel, Judah
Symbols: Scepter
Tags: Twelve tribes, Coronation of Jesus, Jesus in Red, Death and resurrection of Jesus, Restoration of Israel and Judah, Lion of Judah
The Blessing of Jacob
49 Jacob called for his sons and said, “Gather together so I can tell you what will happen to you in the future.
2 “Assemble and listen, you sons of Jacob; listen to Israel, your father.

3
Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, outstanding in dignity, outstanding in power.
4 You are destructive like water and will not excel, for you got on your father’s bed, then you defiled it – he got on my couch!

5
Simeon and Levi are brothers, weapons of violence are their knives!
6 O my soul, do not come into their council, do not be united to their assembly, my heart, for in their anger they have killed men, and for pleasure they have hamstrung oxen.
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!

8
Judah, your brothers will praise you. Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies, your father’s sons will bow down before you.
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?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; the nations will obey him.
11 Binding his foal to the vine, and his colt to the choicest vine, he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be red from wine, and his teeth white from milk.

13
Zebulun will live by the haven of the sea and become a haven for ships; his border will extend to Sidon.

14
Issachar is a strong-boned donkey lying down between two saddlebags.
15 When he sees a good resting place, and the pleasant land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and become a slave laborer.

16
Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 May Dan be a snake beside the road, a viper by the path, that bites the heels of the horse so that its rider falls backward.
18 I wait for your deliverance, O Lord.

19
Gad will be raided by marauding bands, but he will attack them at their heels.

20
Asher’s food will be rich, and he will provide delicacies to royalty.

21
Naphtali is a free running doe, he speaks delightful words.

22
Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough near a spring whose branches climb over the wall.
23 The archers will attack him, they will shoot at him and oppose him.
24 But his bow will remain steady, and his hands will be skillful; because of the hands of the Powerful One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
25 because of the God of your father, who will help you, because of the Sovereign God, who will bless you with blessings from the sky above, blessings from the deep that lies below, and blessings of the breasts and womb.
26 The blessings of your father are greater than the blessings of the eternal mountains or the desirable things of the age-old hills. They will be on the head of Joseph and on the brow of the prince of his brothers.

27
Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning devouring the prey, and in the evening dividing the plunder.”

28
These are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He gave each of them an appropriate blessing.
29 Then he instructed them, “I am about to go to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite.
30 It is the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought for a burial plot from Ephron the Hittite.
31 There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah; there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah; and there I buried Leah.
32 The field and the cave in it were acquired from the sons of Heth.”
33 When Jacob finished giving these instructions to his sons, he pulled his feet up onto the bed, breathed his last breath, and went to his people.
(NET)