Genesis 49:1-28 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. For what misdeed is Reuben rebuked? (Do you recall the incident to which Jacob is referring?) What is the consequence Reuben must suffer? See Genesis 49:3-4 (printed below)

Reuben, you are my first born, my might and the beginning of my strength; excelling in honor, and excelling in power. (3) Boiling over like water, you shall not have the pre-eminence; because you went to your father’s bed; and you defiled it. He went up to my couch. (Genesis 49:3-4)

Reuben is rebuked for his immoral conduct. Jacob addresses his son, Reuben, with a tone of shock, disbelief, and indignation. He is referring to the incident described in Genesis 35:22, the occasion when Reuben committed an act of immorality with one of his father’s concubines. Although Reuben occupied the place of pre-eminence by virtue of being the first born, in consequence of his grievous act of sin he is deprived of that honor and position.

2. For what misdeed are Simeon and Levi rebuked? (Do you recall the incident to which Jacob is referring?) What is the consequence Simeon and Levi must suffer? See Genesis 49:5-7 (printed below)

Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are weapons of violence. (6) O my soul, do not enter into their council; let me not join their assembly; for in their anger they killed a man, and in their self-will they hamstrung an ox. (7) Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel. I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. (Genesis 49:5-7)

Simeon and Levi are rebuked for their act of vengeance. They are described as being “brothers”—they are of a kindred spirit. That spirit is one of violence and giving free reins to their thirst for vengeance, instead of exercising godly self-control over their anger. Jacob is referring to the incident described in Genesis 34:25-27, their act of vengeance against Shechem for raping their sister, Dinah. Jacob identifies their deed as an act of “self-will” (verse 6b); he pronounces a curse upon their anger (because of its uncontrolled and unrighteous expression); and he confers upon them the shame of being divided in the land of Israel (a perpetual reminder of their unholy alliance in taking vengeance).

3. For what type of behavior is Issachar rebuked? What is the consequence he must suffer? See Genesis 49:14-15 (printed below) Hint: note the emphasis on Issachar’s enjoyment of rest.

Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the sheepfolds. (15) He saw that rest was good, and that the land was pleasant; so he bowed his shoulder to bear the load, and became a servant subjected to hard labor. (Genesis 49:14-15)

Issachar is rebuked for his slothfulness. Issachar is described as possessing an abundance of (physical) strength: he is “a strong donkey.” But he has no ambition to use his God-given abilities and opportunities. On the contrary, he is indolent, choosing rest and inactivity rather than asserting himself in productive activity. Consequently, he is assigned the position of becoming “a servant subjected to hard labor.”

4. For what Christ-like behavior is Judah commended and what is his reward? See Genesis 49:8-12 (printed below)

Judah, your brothers shall praise you. Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. (9) Judah is a lion’s cub; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? (10) The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, to him shall be the obedience of the nations. (11) He will tether his donkey to a vine, his donkey’s colt to the choice branch. He will wash his garments in wine, and his robe in the blood of grapes. (12) His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. (Genesis 49:8-12)

Judah is rewarded for his courageous and sacrificial leadership. Jacob declares that Judah’s brothers shall praise him, honoring him for his role as defender of his people, as seen in his subduing their enemies (verses 8-9). Judah is being honored for his willingness to offer his own life for the sake of his family (cp. Genesis 43:8-9, where Judah expresses his willingness to be surety for his brother Benjamin when they go to Egypt to purchase grain), as well as his courageous intercession for his brother (cp. Genesis 44:30-33, where Judah offers himself as a substitute in the place of Benjamin). Judah receives the honor of possessing the position of pre-eminence that shall finally be exercised by the Messiah (verse 10) and the honor of receiving abundant blessing in the land of Canaan (verses 11-12).

5. For what Christ-like behavior is Joseph commended and what is his reward? See Genesis 49:22-26 (printed below)

Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine by a spring; his branches spill over the wall. (23) With bitterness, the archers attacked him, and shot at him, and persecuted him. (24) But his bow remained steady, and his arms were made strong by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, (25) by the God of your father who shall help you, by the Almighty who shall bless you with blessings from heaven above, blessings from the deep that lies below, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. (26) The blessings bestowed upon your father have exceeded the blessings of my ancestors, reaching unto the utmost heights of the ancient mountains, they shall be bestowed upon the head of Joseph, and upon the brow of him who was separated from his brothers. (Genesis 49:22-26)

Joseph is honored for his steadfast faithfulness in the midst of severe trials. Jacob sympathetically acknowledges the ordeals to which Joseph was exposed (verse 23). Jacob also acknowledges Joseph’s faithful perseverance in the midst of his ordeals—and attributes his perseverance to the grace of God (verses 24-25a). Finally, Jacob pronounces upon Joseph the utmost blessing and abundance (verses 25b-26).