Given wisdom and foreknowledge by God, Jacob blesses each of his sons when he is an old man. These are not, however, blessings as we usually think of them, but rather, prophetic utterances regarding the future not just of the sons themselves, but of the tribes they will begin, each in his own family line. Reuben had lain with his father's concubine, Rachel's handmaid Bilhah, shortly after Rachel's death (Gen. 35:22). This unthinkable insult to his father results in the prophecy "Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel." When we get to Judges 5, it will become apparent what this means -- they become a tribe torn by indecision, incapable of leading. Simeon and Levi are given a prophecy together. This is interesting because Levi's future tribe will be those set aside by the Lord to serve in the Tabernacle and, later, in the Temple. They will not receive an inheritance of land. Simeon's tribe will receive the inheritance of land and will be 'normal' Israelites. Nevertheless, these are the two brothers who 'avenged' their sister Dinah by tricking and then killing the men of Shechem (Genesis 34), much to Jacob's horror. And so Jacob says to them both, "Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel!" They are to, as tribes, scattered in the future. And then Judah. The brother who offered himself in place of Benjamin on the second visit to Egypt. Judah will be the son through whom the Christ line runs, and Jacob's prophecy reflects this: As the seed of Eve would crush Satan's head, so Jacob says of Judah, "your hand will be on the neck of your enemies." As the coming Messiah will be the ruler of the world, so Jacob says to Judah, "your father's sons will bow down to you." Jacob compares Judah to a lion's cub, and the future Messiah will be called "Lion of Judah." And then comes the specific prophecy: "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until it comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is his." The NIV study notes are interesting here: "Though difficult to translate, the verse has been traditionally understood as Messianic. It was initially fulfilled in David, and ultimately in Christ. 'until he comes to whom it belongs' -- Repeated almost verbatim in Ezekiel 21:27 in a section where Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, is told to "remove the crown" (Eze. 21:26) from his head because dominion over Jerusalem will ultimtely be given to the one 'to whom it rightfully belongs.'" Following this, and still speaking to Judah, we have what is possibly the only physical description of the coming Messiah, Jesus, to be found in the Bible: "His eyes will be darker than wine; his teeth whiter than milk." The next prophecy is for Zebulun and it seems to be radically different in tone from the prophecies up until now. Jacob simply says Zebulun will live by the seas and be a haven for ships. This is an interesting prophecy, though, because the territory given Zebulun later is landlocked! If anyone has any comments on this, they would be appreciated. Issachar is next, and there is some ambiguity in the translation possibilities. Will be lie down between two saddlebags or two campfires? Will he submit to forced labor in the future, or rather work for tribute? Different translations give different meanings. And then Dan. The tribe of Dan will later be treacherous, as described in Judges 18. However, Samson was from the tribe of Dan and he singlehandedly held the Philistines at bay. In Revelation 7, when 12,000 from each of twelve Israelite tribes is sealed, the tribe of Dan is left out, as is the tribe of Ephraim! The tribe of Levi is there, however, as are the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and also of Joseph, the father of Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob pauses after the prophecy regarding Dan, and says, "I look for your delverance, O Lord." And then he continues. Gad is next. "Gad will be attacked." And so that tribe was, by the Moabites to the north (2 Kings 3). Clearly, however, Gad will not be vanquished for the prophecy continues, "but he will attack them at their heels." Then comes Asher. The tribe of Asher would end up with very fertile farmlands and so indeed would his food be rich, and "he will provide delicacies fit for a king." Naphtali would get an inheritance of land that was a bit isolated in the hill country north of the Sea of Galilee. There is ambiguity again about the meaning of the second line of the prophecy for this son: it either means "that bears beautiful fawns" referring to the descendants of this future tribe, or "he utters beautiful words." Both translations are possible. (A note here: the reason some of these alternate translations are so different is because the original Hebrew does not have vowels, but only consonants. Thus something like "dg" could be "dog" or "dig"; "shn" could be "shun", "shine", or even "shiny" if English were to follow the same way. So this gives the translators a real challenge when it comes to the symbolism of Hebrew poetry.) It is to Joseph the most beneficent blessing is bestowed, however. To Rachel's first son, the one who saved them all from starvation, Jacob gives blessings of fruitfulness, steadiness in warfare, and bounty from the hills. And despite the Messianic prophecy given to Judah, Jacob declares Joseph a prince among his brothers. The last is Benjamin, "a ravenous wolf" who devours prey! For evidence of the correctness of this prophecy, however, see the exploits of Ehud in Judges 3, and keep in mind that Saul was also of the tribe of Benjamin! And so was Paul, of the New Testament, who, before his conversion, was eagerly and energetically persecuting the groups of believers in Jesus of Nazareth. After Jacob gives his blessings to his sons, he gives instructions about his burial -- it is to be in the family cave purchased by Abraham. There, also, Leah is buried, but not Rachel! Leah finally is the only wife with Jacob, even if it had to wait for death! The last lines of Genesis 49 seem to be a combination of Egyptian traditional phrase and Hebrew traditional phrase regarding death: "When Jacob had finished giving instruction to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed [Egyptian idiom], breathed his last and was gathered to his people (Hebrew idiom].