Genesis 49:13-27

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. 23 The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, 24 yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25 by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills. May they be on the head of Joseph, and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.” [1]

Genesis begins and ends with a blessing. God crowns the creation of mankind with an extended blessing in 1:28-31. In this next-to-last chapter, Jacob/Israel blesses the twelve sons who are destined to carry blessing to mankind. We can say that the book of Genesis is about blessings, specifically about saving grace through the person and work of the coming Promised Seed (Gen. 3:15). Genesis records mankind’s greatest problem: fall from blessed fellowship with God who dwelled with Adam and Eve in Eden’s perfect garden, and the ultimate rejoining of heaven and earth.

The book is divided between primeval history, in chapters 1-11, and patriarchal history from Seth to the sons of Jacob/Israel in chapters 12-50. Primeval history sets out the need for blessing and redemption. Adam’s fall triggered a tsunami of sin that flooded the primeval world, despite little life rafts of grace to preserve those in the line of the Promised Seed. The fall was clear in Cain’s murder of his grace-seeking brother Abel and in Lamech’s gangsta-rap of seventy-fold vengeance. Both Cainite and Sethite cultures suffered under the oppression of the violent war-lords, the Nephilim – the “men of renown.” Man’s corruption was so profound that “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5).

God brought a great deluge of water to cleanse the earth from the flood of evil, saving only Noah and his family. But Noah demonstrated he too stood in need of grace, exhibiting the condition of sin we all inherit from Adam by holding the first post-flood naked drunken wine festivus – demonstrating that none of us need any outside encouragement to sin. Noah’s descendants defied God’s command to spread out and multiply, opting instead to remain on the plains of Shinar to build their own great high-rise astrological false worship center. Mankind is unified, peaceful, and engaged in a common goal: building a tower to the heavens to become their own gods with the help of the demonic realm.

Chapters 1-11 set up the need for the patriarchal history to follow in chapters 12-50. The volume of chapters following the primeval history (39 chapters), demonstrates the major concern of Genesis is how blessing and redemption are accomplished. This is why the patriarchal portion opens with Abram’s story. Abram has been worshipping the moon god in Ur’s great high-rise pagan worship center. He is one more pagan sinner in a large and sophisticated city of sinners. But he is a descendant of the blessed line of Shem. God showed up in Genesis 12 and called Abram to follow him to a distant land:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[2]

Patriarchal history records how the blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant was passed down through the line of the Promised Seed by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and finally Judah. God’s covenant with Abraham in chapter 15, and his giving the covenant sign and seal of circumcision in chapter 17, confirmed and defined the nature of the promised blessing. Divine intervention was an essential part to the passing on of the blessing to the patriarchs as all three of their wives struggled to have children and all three men were openly flawed by various sins. God’s blessing of these women foreshadowed the ultimate blessing he would pour out on the young Virgen Mary and her miraculous conception (Lk. 128-33). We also have seen the upside-down nature of redeeming grace in God choosing the younger over the older, and the conniving Jacob over his sturdy and dependable brother Esau.

Jacob’s conniving to steal his father’s patriarchal blessing from Esau forms the backdrop for God’s gracious preservation and prospering of Jacob/Israel, whose new name can mean either “fights with God” or “God fights for him” (both being appropriate for both the man and the nation he sires). In Jacob/Israel, God worked to build a people called by his name into a nation formed around the line of the Promised Seed. He did this, as we have seen over the last few passages, by raising up Joseph to be rejected by his people, suffer unjustly in the pit of an Egyptian prison, rise from his virtual “death” and ascend to stand at the right hand of Pharaoh as ruler of Egypt and savior of the known world. Joseph the savior gave Israel’s people land in a virtual garden in which to prosper and grow as a nation until the time of their redemption by YHWH. Only they and the pagan priestly class pay no taxes and own their land, making them virtually what they will be eventually – a kingdom of priests from whom would come the blessing of the nations in the person and work of the Promised Seed.

As we take up Jacob/Israel’s final blessings of his sons, we can see how important this chapter is in the flow of the Genesis account. As we noted from verses 1-12, some of Jacob’s “blessings” appear to be anti-blessings for his oldest sons. But they are blessings to the whole nation of Israel in that they prevent ultimate leadership of the nation from passing into the wrong hands. Two brothers were given ultimate leadership, but all the sons of Jacob were blessed because they each became founders of tribes that would emerge victoriously from Egypt as the children of Abraham – and from all of them would come the blessing of dwelling in a land with God and beings His people called by his name.[3]

In the first part of Jacob/Israel’s oracle, Judah was exalted as the tribe from whom kings (and, eventually THE King) would come. Ruben, Simeon, and Levi were disqualified as leaders because of their open and grievous sins. Though Judah too had committed open and grievous sins, in God’s upside-down grace that exalts the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead, Judah receives the ultimate patriarchal blessing of being the one to bear the line of the Promised Seed:

The scepter shall not pass from Judah, nor the mace from between his feet, until he possesses that which belongs to him,12and the obedience of nations comes to him.[4]

After Messiah’s death and resurrection (and immediately before his ascension) he proclaimed his rule as the ultimate King to whom all people own obedience:

 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [5]

The poetic imagery Jacob used to describe Messiah’s reign was a metaphor of extravagant abundance and joy – grape-laden vines used as hitching posts and clothing washed in wine – images appropriated in Jesus’ first miracle when he changed the water into wine at Cana in Galilee, convincing his disciples he was, indeed, the long-awaited Promised Seed.


As grand and sweeping as Jacob/Israel’s prophecy about Judah’s tribe had been, the dying patriarch continued on with his blessings for each remaining son topping off with lavish words for his savior-son, Joseph. Apart from Joseph’s blessing, the oracles for the other brothers are brief-but-positive (and somewhat obscure), containing more poetic word plays upon the brothers’ names and/or the immediately-preceding blessing. Each blessing emphasizes two main things: prosperity and fitness for battle.

For the first time in the chapter, the blessing does not reflect the order of birth of Jacob’s children as recorded in chapters 29–30. The next son to be addressed in birth order would be either Dan, the first son by Bilhah, or Issachar, the fifth son by Leah. Zebulon is the tenth son overall, and the sixth and last son by Leah. The birth order in chapter 49, unlike the birth order given in chapters 29–30, starts with Jacob’s blessings on all six sons by Leah (from Reuben to Zebulon).[6]

In another reminder of the upside-downess of grace, Zebulon’s blessing comes before that of his older brother Issachar (Leah’s 5th child; Zebulon being the 6th). Zebulon precedes Issachar in the blessing of Moses as well (Deut. 33:18). Dan, Jacob’s fifth son, is also blessed out of birth order and both Dan and Zebulon have blessings connected to the sea and to shipping trade. Jacob sins of Zebulon:

13 “Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon.”

Zebulun’s territory did not border the Mediterranean. It did border the Sea of Galilee. Most likely this is an oracle that the tribe would grow prosperous from international shipping of the goods that came through the ports of Phoenicia. “Zebulon is one of three Hebrew tribes (along with Dan and Asher) who are described as navigational. …Claims often made that the ancient Hebrews loathed the high seas and were exclusively landlubbers are exaggerated. Although Jesus by birth was of the tribe of Judah, through his residence in Nazareth he was of the tribe of Zebulon by domicile. The Gospels record Jesus’ interest in ships and fishing, and the body of water on which he fished is the same body of water with which the Zebulonites are associated here in the Blessing of Jacob.”[7]

Jacob/Israel next turned to Issachar:

 14 “Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. 15 He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant, so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced labor.”

Most scholars see this oracle as critical of the tribe, interpreting the Hebrew as stating that Issachar’s people chose to live as serfs to Canaanite feudal lords rather than fight. They chose peace and relative prosperity over conflict. The problem with this view is that no other Old Testament text confirms it. The Song of Deborah celebrates Issachar’s valued contribution in battle (Judg. 5:15). A more consistent interpretation (rather than a servant of forced labor) would be “and became a laboring worker.” The OT scholars of the LXX render the phrase “and he became a farmer.” Jacob blesses them as hard workers who do not retreat from difficult physical tasks and, so, prosper.

Next came the blessing of Dan:

16 “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. 17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward.”

“Dan is the fifth son of Jacob (and the first by Bilhah) in the narrative account of chapters 29–30. In this particular list, and again only in 1 Chr. 2:1–2, he occupies the significant seventh position. It is only in connection with the oracle to Dan that one finds the sentiments expressed in verse 18, a statement of trust directed toward Yahweh, and the only time Yahweh is addressed in the poem. Also, apart from Judah and Joseph, Dan is the only tribal leader in [this chapter] to receive two separate blessings.”[8] To “judge his people” means to defend them. It’s a statement of strength. Dan was the tribe of Sampson, who defeated the Philistines by serpent-like stealth and trickery.

In the midst of his blessing on his sons Jacob says: For your saving action I wait, Yahweh. It seems like an odd place for such a pronouncement. It’s likely a liturgical element of the prophetic poem to bracket the sequence of blessings. “It is a ringing testimony by the elderly patriarch to his renewed faith in God that he shall one day be delivered by his God and experience eternal salvation. …Although the illustrations of salvation and deliverance are scattered throughout Genesis, only here is the Hebrew word that most clearly means ‘salvation’ used.”[9] This was Jacob’s shout of longing and faith.[10]

Jacob’s praise-break is followed by a series of cleverly-worded blessings on Gad, Asher, and Naphtali:

19 “Raiders shall raid Gad, but he shall raid at their heels. 20 “Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall yield royal delicacies. 21 “Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns.”

Settled east of the Jordan, Gad had to fight constantly against Ammonite and desert marauders, as in the Jephthah story of Judges 11:1–12:7. Asher is the blessed/happy tribe, evidenced by its agricultural bounty (v. 20). Asher occupies the fertile western slopes of the Galilean highland and is prosperous. Asher’s involvement in maritime enterprises (Judg. 5:17) also expanded that prosperity. Naphtali will have numerous and beautiful offspring. The tribe is praised for their willingness to leave their secure highlands of Galilee to fight with the prophetess Deborah (Judges 4:6, 10; 5:18b).

All three of these prophecies throb with hope, as does Jacob/Israel’s blessing of his youngest son, Benjamin, in verse 27:

27 “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.”

He is pictured as a wolf who during the day consumes and divides with his lair the prey he has caught the night before. We saw in Gen. 46 that Benjamin has the most “little ones” to feed of Jacob’s children. The oracle points to a future day when the tribe of Benjamin shall become a predator, engage in military raids, and seize swag. This blessing is seen in the Benjamite judge Ehud (Judg. 3:15–30) and his triumph over the Transjordanian Moabites. Later Benjamites had the reputation of being “mighty warriors, bowmen” (1 Chr. 8:40; 12:2). It is not difficult to see why Israel’s first king should be drawn from the tribe of Benjamin, given its reputation for militancy (1 Sam. 9:1).[11]


As Jacob/Israel’s aging eyes scanned the dim figures of his sons, there was one distinct from the others, the royally-attired and remarkably-handsome Vizier of Egypt – sporting his spotless Egyptian linen, gold chain with the royal seal, and his Egyptian royal headdress. Just before calling the rest of his sons to his deathbed, he had met privately with Joseph and formally adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim, and Manasseh. He had crossed his hands to bestow the greater blessing on the younger son, Ephraim (48:13-20). Replying to Joseph’s objection, Jacob/Israel stated both sons would be blessed, but Ephraim would be the greater tribe because many nations would come from him. Ephraim, meaning “fruitful,” would become the most numerous and dominant northern tribe.

Now, Jacob/Israel begins his blessing of Joseph, celebrating his life and character with a pun on Ephraim’s name.

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall.”

The alternate translation, and likely more consistent with the rest of the blessings in the oracle, is:

22 “The foal of a wild she-ass is Joseph, the foal of a wild she-ass at a spring, (the foal of) wild asses4 by a rocky rim.[12]

In the ESV translation, Jacob is a well-watered tree (Ps. 1) bearing abundant fruit for Israel. This image of the bough extends even further as the prophet Isaiah would describe the coming Messiah saying, “In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel” (Isaiah 4: 2).[13] In the JPS version, “the animal metaphor forms a better bond with the following verse. Archers do not shoot at fruitful branches, but they do take aim at wild animals grazing on hills (“a rocky rim”) and around drinking spots (“spring”). This, then, is Jacob’s designation of Joseph. Joseph, once son of Rachel (son of a ewe), is now …son or foal of a wild she-ass.”[14] Either translation is a positive statement about Joseph’s indominable spirit and unconquerable spirit because of his covenant relationship with YHWH.

Joseph’s epic life had not only been an immeasurable benefit to his nation/family, but he had lived it under intense pressure. “23 The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, 24 yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)….” Joseph had been assaulted with the wicked words and plotting of his brothers, and of Mrs. Potiphar. He had been buried in the pit of an Egyptian prison. “In all of this Joseph ably defended himself with the simple truth and no more. There was never a word of self-pity. His speech always glorified God. He had been grace under fire!”[15]

Jacob/Israel understood that Joseph’s character was the work of God being with him. Joseph uses a flood of divine descriptions found nowhere else in Genesis. God is the climax of the book as this portion of the oracle demonstrates. Joseph’s resilience came from “the Mighty One of Jacob” – the preincarnate Promised Seed who gave Jacob/Israel his permanent limp to end the Great Smackdown. Isaiah later used these names:

Then all flesh shall know that I am the LORD your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob (Isaiah 49:26b).

And you shall know that I, the LORD, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob (Isaiah 60:16b).

The empowering God was also Joseph’s shepherd. Up to this point in the book, the only mention of shepherds was as abominations to the Egyptians (46:34b). “But here Jacob tells his son (the Egyptians’ viceroy) that God is his Shepherd— that he’s been cared for as a sheep. What lavish care! Here is the initial inspiration for Psalm 23, the most comforting of all poems.”[16]  Even more, the God who empowered Joseph – the resurrected and ascended and glorified savor of Israel – was the Stone of Israel. Perhaps the name was inspired by Jacob’s erecting stones to honor God who had shepherded him to Mesopotamia and back into the Promised Land (28:10-22; 35:1-15). God as “rock” speaks to his unchanging dependability (2 Sam. 23:3; Isa. 30:29).

Further, Jacob describes God (el) as the God of your father (25) to testify to all God’s faithful pursuit and dealings with the dying patriarch throughout his life. Finally, God is the “The Almighty” (el Shaddai), the name associated with the giving of blessing and offspring (28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3). Jacob/Israel invoked a flood of divine names over Joseph the savoir because the patriarch recognized it was God’s work through Joseph, not Joseph in and of himself, that saved the young nation. And for us his children, God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3, 4a). The promise of his care for us is equally astonishing, as miraculous, and just as upside-down.

The book of Genesis is about the rich blessing of God’s grace shed out of free will upon lost and undeserving people – the last, the least, the lost, the little, and the dead. Some, if not many, of you within the sound of my voice are living in storylines you would never write for yourselves – either personally, relationally, domestically, physically, or monetarily (of some combination of all the above). Hurting hearts need to hear and believe in God’s gracious plan to make us and all things new. Despite our circumstances, we who trust into the perfectly-lived life and sacrificial, blood-shedding death of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ – the Promised Seed – are always blessed. Whatever your situation, God is always with you to bless you with a greater sense of, and appreciation for, your so great salvation. Jacob understood this and clung to it at the very end of his life. So, Joseph’s blessing closes with these words that apply no less to you who are in Christ this morning:

by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 49:22–26.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 12:1–3.

[3] Hughes, 556. Kindle Edition.

[4] Hamilton, 2:654–655.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 28:18–20.

[6] Hamilton, 2:663.

[7] Hamilton, 2:664.

[8] Hamilton, 2:669.

[9] Id, 671.

[10] Hughes, 558. Kindle Edition.

[11] Hamilton, 2:686–687.

[12] Hamilton, 2:678. See also: TANAK (JPS) Gen. 49:22.

[13] Hughes, 559. Kindle Edition,

[14] Hamilton, 2:683–684.

[15] Hughes, 559. Kindle Edition.

[16] Hughes, 560. Kindle Edition.