Jacob’s Testament.* 1Jacob called his sons and said: “Gather around, that I may tell you what is to happen to you in days to come.
2“Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob,
listen to Israel, your father.
3“You, Reuben, my firstborn,
my strength and the first fruit of my vigor,
excelling in rank and excelling in power!
4Turbulent as water, you shall no longer excel,
for you climbed into your father’s bed
and defiled my couch to my sorrow.a
5* “Simeon and Levi, brothers indeed,
weapons of violence are their knives.*
6Let not my person enter their council,
or my honor be joined with their company;
For in their fury they killed men,
at their whim they maimed oxen.b
7Cursed be their fury so fierce,
and their rage so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob,
disperse them throughout Israel.
8“You, Judah, shall your brothers praise
—your hand on the neck of your enemies;
the sons of your father shall bow down to you.
9Judah is a lion’s cub,
you have grown up on prey, my son.
He crouches, lies down like a lion,
like a lioness—who would dare rouse him?c
10The scepter shall never depart from Judah,
or the mace from between his feet,
Until tribute comes to him,*
and he receives the people’s obedience.
11He tethers his donkey to the vine,
his donkey’s foal to the choicest stem.
In wine he washes his garments,
his robe in the blood of grapes.*
12His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth are whiter than milk.
13“Zebulun shall dwell by the seashore;
he will be a haven for ships,
and his flank shall rest on Sidon.
14“Issachar is a rawboned donkey,
crouching between the saddlebags.
15When he saw how good a settled life was,
and how pleasant the land,
He bent his shoulder to the burden
and became a toiling serf.
16“Dan shall achieve justice* for his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
17Let Dan be a serpent by the roadside,
a horned viper by the path,
That bites the horse’s heel,
so that the rider tumbles backward.
18“I long for your deliverance, O LORD!*
19“Gad shall be raided by raiders,
but he shall raid at their heels.*
20“Asher’s produce is rich,
and he shall furnish delicacies for kings.
21“Naphtali is a hind let loose,
which brings forth lovely fawns.
22“Joseph is a wild colt,
a wild colt by a spring,
wild colts on a hillside.
23Harrying him and shooting,
the archers opposed him;
24But his bow remained taut,
and his arms were nimble,
By the power of the Mighty One of Jacob,
because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
25The God of your father, who helps you,*
God Almighty, who blesses you,
With the blessings of the heavens above,
the blessings of the abyss that crouches below,
The blessings of breasts and womb,
26the blessings of fresh grain and blossoms,
the blessings of the everlasting mountains,
the delights of the eternal hills.
May they rest on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of the prince among his brothers.
27“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
mornings he devours the prey,
and evenings he distributes the spoils.”
Farewell and Death. 28All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said about them, as he blessed them. To each he gave a suitable blessing. 29Then he gave them this charge: “Since I am about to be gathered to my people, bury me with my ancestors in the cave that lies in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30the cave in the field of Machpelah, facing on Mamre, in the land of Canaan, the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite for a burial ground.d 31There Abraham and his wife Sarah are buried, and so are Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there, too, I buried Leah— 32the field and the cave in it that had been purchased from the Hittites.”
* [49:1–27] The testament, or farewell discourse, of Jacob, which has its closest parallel in Moses’ farewell in Dt 33:6–25. From his privileged position as a patriarch, he sees the future of his children (the eponymous ancestors of the tribes) and is able to describe how they will fare and so gives his blessing. The dense and archaic poetry is obscure in several places. The sayings often involve wordplays (explained in the notes). The poem begins with the six sons of Leah (vv. 2–15), then deals with the sons of the two secondary wives, and ends with Rachel’s two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Reuben, the oldest son, loses his position of leadership as a result of his intercourse with Bilhah (35:22), and the words about Simeon and Levi allude to their taking revenge for the rape of Dinah (chap. 34). The preeminence of Judah reflects his rise in the course of the narrative (mirroring the rise of Joseph). See note on 44:1–34.
* [49:5–7] This passage probably refers to their attack on the city of Shechem (Gn 34). Because there is no indication that the warlike tribe of Levi will be commissioned as a priestly tribe (Ex 32:26–29; Dt 33:11), this passage reflects an early, independent tradition.
* [49:10] Until tribute comes to him: this translation is based on a slight change in the Hebrew text, which, as it stands, would seem to mean, “until he comes to Shiloh.” A somewhat different reading of the Hebrew text would be, “until he comes to whom it belongs.” This last has been traditionally understood in a messianic sense. In any case, the passage aims at the supremacy of the tribe of Judah and of the Davidic dynasty.
* [49:16] In Hebrew the verb for “achieve justice” is from the same root as the name Dan.
* [49:18] This short plea for divine mercy has been inserted into the middle of Jacob’s testament.
* [49:19] In Hebrew there is assonance between the name Gad and the words for “raided,” “raiders,” and “raid.”