The Blessing. – Gen_49:1, Gen_49:2. When Jacob had adopted and blessed the two sons of Joseph, he called his twelve sons, to make known to them his spiritual bequest. In an elevated and solemn tone he said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you (יִקְרָא for יִקְרֶה, as in Gen_42:4, Gen_42:38) at the end of the days! Gather yourselves together and hear, ye sons of Jacob, and hearken unto Israel your father!” The last address of Jacob-Israel to his twelve sons, which these words introduce, is designated by the historian (Gen_49:28) “the blessing,” with which “their father blessed them, every one according to his blessing.” This blessing is at the same time a prophecy. “Every superior and significant life becomes prophetic at its close” (Ziegler). But this was especially the case with the lives of the patriarchs, which were filled and sustained by the promises and revelations of God. As Isaac in his blessing (Gen 27) pointed out prophetically to his two sons, by virtue of divine illumination, the future history of their families; “so Jacob, while blessing the twelve, pictured in grand outlines the lineamenta of the future history of the future nation” (Ziegler). The groundwork of his prophecy was supplied partly by the natural character of his twelve sons, and partly by the divine promise which had been given by the Lord to him and to his fathers Abraham and Isaac, and that not merely in these two points, the numerous increase of their seed and the possession of Canaan, but in its entire scope, by which Israel had been appointed to be the recipient and medium of salvation for all nations. On this foundation the Spirit of God revealed to the dying patriarch Israel the future history of his seed, so that he discerned in the characters of his sons the future development of the tribes proceeding from them, and with prophetic clearness assigned to each of them its position and importance in the nation into which they were to expand in the promised inheritance. Thus he predicted to the sons what would happen to them “in the last days,” lit., “at the end of the days” (ἐπ ̓ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν, lxx), and not merely at some future time. אַחֲרִית, the opposite of רֵאשִׁית, signifies the end in contrast with the beginning (Deu_11:12; Isa_46:10); hence הימים אחרית in prophetic language denoted, not the future generally, but the last future (see Hengstenberg’s History of Balaam, pp. 465-467, transl.), the Messianic age of consummation (Isa_2:2; Eze_38:8, Eze_38:16; Jer_30:24; Jer_48:47; Jer_49:39, etc.: so also Num_24:14; Deu_4:30), like ἐπ ̓ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν (2Pe_3:3; Heb_1:2), or ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις (Act_2:17; 2Ti_3:1). But we must not restrict “the end of the days” to the extreme point of the time of completion of the Messianic kingdom; it embraces “the whole history of the completion which underlies the present period of growth,” or “the future as bringing the work of God to its ultimate completion, though modified according to the particular stage to which the work of God had advanced in any particular age, the range of vision opened to that age, and the consequent horizon of the prophet, which, though not absolutely dependent upon it, was to a certain extent regulated by it” (Delitzsch).
For the patriarch, who, with his pilgrim-life, had been obliged in the very evening of his days to leave the soil of the promised land and seek a refuge for himself and his house in Egypt, the final future, with its realization of the promises of God, commenced as soon as the promised land was in the possession of the twelve tribes descended from his sons. He had already before his eyes, in his twelve sons with their children and children’s children, the first beginnings of the multiplication of his seed into a great nation. Moreover, on his departure from Canaan he had received the promise, that the God of his fathers would make him into a great nation, and lead him up again to Canaan (Gen_46:3-4). The fulfilment of this promise his thoughts and hopes, his longings and wishes, were all directed. This constituted the firm foundation, though by no means the sole and exclusive purport, of his words of blessing. The fact was not, as Baumgarten and Kurtz suppose, that Jacob regarded the time of Joshua as that of the completion; that for him the end was nothing more than the possession of the promised land by his seed as the promised nation, so that all the promises pointed to this, and nothing beyond it was either affirmed or hinted at. Not a single utterance announces the capture of the promised land; not a single one points specially to the time of Joshua. On the contrary, Jacob presupposes not only the increase of his sons into powerful tribes, but also the conquest of Canaan, as already fulfilled; foretells to his sons, whom he sees in spirit as populous tribes, growth and prosperity on the soil in their possession; and dilates upon their relation to one another in Canaan and to the nations round about, even to the time of their final subjection to the peaceful sway of Him, from whom the sceptre of Judah shall never depart. The ultimate future of the patriarchal blessing, therefore, extends to the ultimate fulfilment of the divine promises-that is to say, to the completion of the kingdom of God. The enlightened seer’s-eye of the patriarch surveyed, “as though upon a canvas painted without perspective,” the entire development of Israel from its first foundation as the nation and kingdom of God till its completion under the rule of the Prince of Peace, whom the nations would serve in willing obedience; and beheld the twelve tribes spreading themselves out, each in his inheritance, successfully resisting their enemies, and finding rest and full satisfaction in the enjoyment of the blessings of Canaan.
It is in this vision of the future condition of his sons as grown into tribes that the prophetic character of the blessing consists; not in the prediction of particular historical events, all of which, on the contrary, with the exception of the prophecy of Shiloh, fall into the background behind the purely ideal portraiture of the peculiarities of the different tribes. The blessing gives, in short sayings full of bold and thoroughly original pictures, only general outlines of a prophetic character, which are to receive their definite concrete form from the historical development of the tribes in the future; and throughout it possesses both in form and substance a certain antique stamp, in which its genuineness is unmistakeably apparent. Every attack upon its genuineness has really proceeded from an a priori denial of all supernatural prophecies, and has been sustained by such misinterpretations as the introduction of special historical allusions, for the purpose of stamping it as a vaticinia ex eventu, and by other untenable assertions and assumptions; such, for example, as that people do not make poetry at so advanced an age or in the immediate prospect of death, or that the transmission of such an oration word for word down to the time of Moses is utterly inconceivable-objections the emptiness of which has been demonstrated in Hengstenberg’s Christology i. p. 76 (transl.) by copious citations from the history of the early Arabic poetry.