49 1 Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather around so I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come.
2 Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob;
hearken to Israel your father.
3 Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my strength and first fruit of my loins,
first in rank and first in might.
4 As unsteady as water, you will not remain first,
for you mounted your father’s bed,
you defiled my couch.
5 Simeon and Levi, are brothers,
weapons of violence tie them together.
6 In their council, may I never be found,
may my presence never be linked to their group.
In their anger they slaughter men,
and for pleasure they tear down walls.
7 Cursed be their fierce fury,
their relentless and remorseless wrath.
I’ll divide them within Jacob,
disperse them within Israel.
8 Judah, you will be acclaimed by your brothers;
your hand on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons will bow down to you.
9 Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you mount up.
He crouched and lay down like a lion;
like a king of beasts—who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the staff-of-command from between his legs.
Tribute will be brought to him;
peoples will obey him.
11 He ties his donkey to the vine,
his donkey colt to the grape branches.
He washes his clothes in wine,
his tunic in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes, darker than wine,
his teeth, whiter than milk.
13 Zebulun will live at the shore of the sea;
his is the harbor of ships,
at his side will be Sidon.
14 Issachar is a bone-strong donkey,
bedding down beside village hearths.
15 When he saw a good resting place
and how pleasant was the land,
he put his shoulder to load bearing
and became a toiling serf.
16 Dan will settle disputes,
among all of Israel’s people.
17 May Dan be a snake on the road,
an asp on the path,
biting at a horse’s heels,
so its rider falls backward.
18 I await your deliverance, O YHWH.
19 Gad will be goaded by attackers,
but he’ll goad their heels.
20 Asher produces rich bread,
and he will create kingly delicacies.
21 Naphtali is a wild doe
brings forth beautiful fawns.
22 Joseph is a fruitful son,
a fruitful son by a spring,
daughters who stride alongside a wall.
23 They fiercely attacked him and fired arrows;
the archers attacked him furiously.
24 But his bow stayed taut,
and his forearms were relentless,
by the hands of Jacob’s Champion,
by the name of the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel,
25 by your father’s God, who helps you,
by Shaddai blesses you
with blessings of the heavens above
and blessings of the deep lying below,
blessings of breasts and womb.
26 The blessings of your father exceeded
the blessings of timeless mountains,
the bounty of hills everlasting.
May they all rest on Joseph’s head,
on the forehead of the one set apart from his brothers.
27 Benjamin, ravenous wolf who hunts:
in the morning he devours the prey;
in the evening he divides out the plunder.”
28 These are the tribes of Israel—twelve—and this is what their father spoke to them, blessing each according to their blessing.
29 Jacob commanded them, “I am soon to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite; 30 in the cave that’s in the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre in the land of Canaan, that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. 31 There Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah are buried, and there I buried Leah. 32 The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.” 33 After he finished giving orders to his sons, he put his feet up on the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
Continuing the backstory of the death of Jacob/Israel, readers learn Jacob is more than ambitious for the status of a firstborn. His interest goes beyond instruction about where he desires to be buried—with Abraham and Sarah, Rebekah and Isaac, and Leah. Somewhere along the way, Jacob/Israel moves beyond beauty and favoritism (even though he was increased by and benefited from both).
Jacob gathers his sons around him and, in elevated language, sets the family in order. The poetic fragments join together in a preview of the family in days and years ahead.
Reuben, the eldest son, looking for the lowest ground from which to curry favor, will not be the leader of the brothers. His attempt at a coup is remembered against him.
Simeon and Levi bring the slaughter at Shechem to mind. Ruled by their outrage and fury, they show no wisdom for the difficult position of the Hebrews in an already occupied land. There is no indication here of connecting Levi with a priesthood.
Imagine Judah anticipating a next word after three condemnatory curses? It comes to pass that Judah is the designated leader of the family. With the royal imagery used, it can be suggested that this closing will and testament of Jacob was composed post-David, a descendant of the Lion of Judah.
In short order, we hear Jacob’s recognition of Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, and Naphtali.
Joseph is accorded a longer section as one set apart in both Jacob’s affection and his Egyptian leadership(though not tribal leadership).
The youngest, Benjamin, is paralleled with Judah. Between the lion and the wolf, there is protection for the tribe. Judah’s leadership for the general welfare of the tribe will be protected by Benjamin providing a common defense.
Following this setting of the family, Jacob dies at the age of 147. His last instruction is to rehearse for all the brothers, not just Joseph, his request to be buried in the burial-cave of his ancestors.